Thursday, August 31, 2006

But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas

This is what happens. This is why I get frustrated. This is why I want to Mao it on back to the States. This is why I am not overly friendly to the gathering of people that sit in lawn chairs outside my apartment door. Most of the time, I do not mind showing them what is in my shopping bag, what I am eating for supper, the DVDs I have purchased; but today I am in a bit of a foul frustrated mood.

School starts Friday. All of the sudden, it has hit me that I have to have a game plan for the year which I do have somewhat but everything seems to happen at the last moment no matter how much I plan beforehand.

With minimal guidance, for the last few months, I have developed the syllabi - four subjects, three grade levels – for the coming semester. Without a doubt, I want to start the semester with a bang. Since I no longer drink, I have time on my hands to devote to tasks as unglamorous as syllabi development, by no means is this as decadently beautiful as hitting the Viper Room after a show at the Roxy with the Kittens, or an MTV music video awards after-party or the Virgin Suicides Premiere party.

No, my new self is not steeped in glamour nor, fortunately is my new self steeped in vomit. But that is as it is and so it is. I am not complaining. Waking up in the morning without a hangover is somewhat glorious.Actually, just waking up and not drowning in my own vomit in the night is somewhat monumental. Today, as I was writing an email, I realized yesterday was my one year anniversary of sobriety. I do not mean to brag but I am somewhat amazed with myself. I absolutely thought that not drinking would be impossible. Nevertheless, that is not important now.

As I mentioned, I have been given minimal guidance - as in no guidance - in regards to my syllabi. With the lit class which will be two grades (I was just told that both grades will be during the same period), I have asked friends with kids (Thank you Christy) to give me an idea what their kids are studying. At the same time, I have spent countless hours surfing the net trying to build a curriculum that would be entertaining yet educational with a focus on classic literature. My mind has been saturated with the International Baccalaureate Organization mantra. Furthermore, I have done all of this research and writing for NO pay. I get summers off sure but here I do not get paid for them.

With the design class, I was at odds until a light bulb popped in my head. I stumbled upon a design book at one of the two foreign language bookstores that inspired me. This is all very hard to explain if you have only lived in the West. The person that I report to has told me I needed to find a design book to assign to the students. Yes, I would love to have the Auer design book but it is not available here in the People’s Republic.

Okay, this is a world city. That should not be difficult. Guess again. I should add plenty of design books are actually available here. I am sure they have a ton of design books all over the city. However, I do not read Chinese so the selection dwindles.

Here there are two book stores from which to choose. These two book stores I would say have fewer design books than a bookstore in somewhere out of the way like Winfield, Kansas. As a matter of fact, I would almost bet you can find more design books in Winfield. And, I am not knocking Winfield. I may even say ‘SCREW IT’ and move there very soon.

At one of the two bookstores, there is a locked display case holding the design books. I ask a worker to unlock the case. I start perusing the titles. Most of the books deal with computer design. A few cover landscape and public area design. Okay, so I find this book that I really like What is Design Today by George H. Marcus. I thumb through it. It seems like it would be really good but I hesitate to pay the $30. (Later, I get online and find it for $4.00 that is of course $4.00 if I am in America.)

I look through the book and it is really what I think of when I think of design and it is fairly simplistic and it does not look like some boring textbook. Unless things have changed, I was never that excited by textbooks and when it comes to a class like design, I feel as if the book should be somewhat aesthetically pleasing. However, the price tag throws me off because I have been told I would be reimbursed for items which sometimes this means I may get the money in payments in like 6 months which I will go into in detail in a moment.

Okay, I have that book as the failsafe incase I do not find another text. Fortunately, the other bookstore is across the street. This bookstore has a whole floor of art books. Here at this bookstore, I do not have much faith I will find something because I have looked here several times already.

After I wander around the floor for thirty minutes or so, a clerk asks if I need help. He knows Basic English. I tell him I am looking for a book on basic design. He does not know what I mean. He points out the different sections – architecture, photography, computer graphics. I tell him I am looking for something that encompasses all of that. He does not understand. I thank him. I keep looking. At this point, I realize there is no design section. Somewhat crestfallen, I keep pointlessly looking.

And then, I stumble upon a design book - the only design book. I do not jump for joy but I know it will work. It is a nice book. Taschen is the publisher and it is simply titled Design Handbook. This will work. The price comes out to roughly $10 which seems reasonable. As I said, this will work. The language may be a bit advanced but since this is the only choice I have, this is the only choice I have. I buy it.

Finding this is like having a weight lifted off of my shoulder. As soon as I get home I email my contact and tell her that I have found the design book. She is relieved I know. I tell her I will come to give her the receipts for the books tomorrow.


10 am, after drinking a cup of instant coffee, I go to see my boss. Here, I should add that I really do like her. She is a very kind person. She is not intimidating. She is definitely not the Ningbo Dragon Lady. She is very supportive. She means well.

I show her the books that I have bought for the classes, the books I have bought with absolutely no guidance whatsoever. The literature books, I have chosen because they are very popular choices in the middle school curriculum I have been researching. My literature students are Language A which means that English is their first language. Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol, and H. G Wells’ Time Machine are a few of my choices. She tells me they may be a bit advanced.

I show her the design book. With the design book, there were no other choices. Basically, that was the only choice I had. She looks through it and she says it may be hard for them to understand. I tell her that I will simplify it for them. If there was a design book for children I would have nabbed it so fast that it would have made _______________ (pretend this is Matchgame ’74 and fill in the blank). Would she like me to pull a design book out of my lily white ass I wonder? I do really like her. She is very kind.

I then produce the receipts which I have exhaustively collected everywhere I have purchased anything that I will be using. She tells me they are not receipts. I tell her they are in fact receipts in the rest of the world. When the cash register prints out a piece of paper, this is a receipt, not in fucking China. The receipts are something you ask for special.

I tell her I do not speak Chinese. I cannot ask for anything ‘special.’ If I could ask for something fucking special, many of my fucking problems would be solved in this fucking place where you have to ask for special fucking receipts. Immediately, I am in a bad mood.

She tells me to go back to get the real receipts. At this point, I do not explode but I nicely explain to her with that edge that I get in my voice, I tell her that I have worked for two months very hard to do everything right and be ready and now this. I am really angry. With a brief meeting, I have been told all of my work this summer has been a waste.

She is still very nice about it all which is good. She says that she will get the receipts. I tell her that most of these cashiers barely know any English. Sometimes they know absolutely no English.

I know I have chosen this path. I am not complaining. If you have not lived in the East, you do not and cannot understand. I do love it here. I love the people but when I am told something like “Oh how could you not know that?” I get angry.

When I leave the office, I am still angry. As I write this, I am still angry. For the last two months, I have put a lot of time into trying to come up with some sort of curriculum for this semester and I have had no help, zilch. For most of the summer, my boss was in Japan so none of my questions were answered while I was writing my syllabi for the semester. Another reason I am so angry is because I do want to be a really good teacher. Sure, I could have taken a much easier route but that does not seem worth it. This is something I really care about.

There are just so many things that are perturbing to the point of making you want to scream. She tells me I will be reimbursed in three weeks or so. I tell her when I was told to buy all of the supplies I was not told it would take so long. From now on, anything that is needed, someone who speaks the language and knows the procedure will have to do it. I am done.

Yesterday, I went to the company who employs me to get half of my flight reimbursement; at the same time, I wanted to take care of getting my expenses from six months ago when I bought dishes and stuff for my apartment. It has been 6 months. I was told by the man who owns the company that they still have to itemize it and they will take care of that next time with me. Before, when I have asked, they told me I had already been paid. They would show me the receipt. No, I have not already been paid. So all of this builds and builds and it makes me crazy. Now, I am told the next time I go into the office this will be handled. It just builds and builds.

This evening, I went to the bookstore in the mall by my apartment that has a few English literature titles. That is where I bought Wizard of Oz and a few other books. I had my receipt - or what I call a receipt; the paper that comes out of the cash register that lists what you purchased and what you need if you want to return said items. I had told my boss at school that I could go back there and get the proper receipt. When I told the girl at the register what I wanted, she had no idea what I was saying. She did not understand. Yeah, I can just ask for the receipt. I finally pulled an invoice out of my wallet and then she knew but this is not just something that they know, that the sales clerks learn in Sales to English Foreigners 101. Yes, I felt somewhat vindicated but still in a rotten mood. Tomorrow is the first day of class. I wish I had a bit of positive reinforcement.

Nevertheless, if you want to find the Rolling Stones The Stones in the Park – the 1969 concert they performed in Hyde Park two days after Brian Jones was found floating face down in his swimming pool - here on DVD for one dollar, that is no problem. Fuck the design book. I make myself a Hyde Park sort of supper – French bread, grapes, apples, CHEESE, shrimps – and I watch Mick and the gang in Hyde Park. Jumping Jack Flash – It’s a gas, gas, gas.

Monday, August 28, 2006

12xU Fly in the Ointment Wire Strange

6:30 AM – Afraid I have overslept, I wake in a panic. I look over at the clock and go back to sleep cherishing that I have an hour before the alarm sounds. Yes, the morning is good so far for a Monday.

7:15 AM – I stir again. The alarm has not yet sounded.

7:30 AM – The alarm sounds. Slowly, I stir, slowly, very slowly.

7:35 AM – I stir enough to crawl onto the couch in the living room and lay back down. I think of something to bribe myself to actually get up and start the day. Usually, I can bribe myself with early morning email. I get up and go over and turn on the computer. The time on the computer reads 7:33. My bedroom clock is ten minutes fast. I have thirty minutes more or less, depending on when I am supposed to be at orientation which is on the East Campus.

7:35 AM – Déjà vu, I feel as if it was 7:35 AM ten minutes ago. That was when I woke up in some strange one bedroom apartment in Shanghai. This strange apartment supposedly belonged to me. Strange. Wire Strange. Fly in the Ointment Wire Strange. 12xU Fly in the Ointment Wire Strange. The Shanghai-me puts water on to boil in my kettle, in my kettle that was recently shone by my landlord the kettle and steamer shiner. Sometimes I wonder if I have grown up to become Mean Mister Mustard. I ponder this. I check my email. I look at headlines. “Mean Mister Mustard sleeps in the park…”

Last night, I forgot to grab a little carton of milk at the store so I make instant cappuccino instead of French press coffee. I drink it as I wash my hair and face and prepare for the day. I throw a load of laundry in the washing machine which is new by the way.

7:50 AM – I give thanks that I am sober these days, happy that I am not waking up hung-over. Fortunately, nursing a hangover is passé for me.

7:55 AM – I call Mary to find out what time we are to go to orientation. She tells me that she is ready to go now. I tell her that I am finishing getting dressed. I will meet her in a bit. Since I do not know what the orientation entails or whom I might meet, I put on my pastel striped Yves St Laurent shirt (courtesy Bob V, by the way), my brown Prada slacks (my standard issue), and the brown striped John Varvatos tie that I found at a Salvation Army in Queens when I went to hang out with Farhana one drink filled weekend involving the Bolivians.

8:05 AM – I pour the rest of the cappuccino down the drain and head out the door. Mary calls to tell me she is waiting in front of the West Campus School gate. I am on my way I tell her. I am walking through the apartment complex.

8:13 AM – She and I walk to the orientation at the East Campus, sweating as we walk. As we are sweating and walking, I ask her how long it stays hot here in Shanghai. She tells me it will be hot until the end of October. I am a bit dumbfounded by this.

8:18 AM – Mary and I are stopped at the gate of the East Campus by the guard. This is like some Stalag 13 movie or something. Mary says teacher in Chinese and the guard lets us pass.

8:25 AM – At the international division office, we ask where the orientation is being held. A man who may or may not be a teacher tells us it is on the first floor in room 121, the auditorium, at 8:45.

8:30 AM – Mary and I are the first to arrive. The auditorium is much like a medium sized auditorium at a university.

8:35 AM – The teachers and staff start arriving. The place fills up fairly quickly.

8:45 AM – A man – who later I find out is the new principal – takes the stage. He gives what I assume is an introduction (the whole presentation is in Chinese) and then he introduces the new teachers. The only way we know we are being introduced is by listening for words that sound somewhat like our given names. There are 100 or so people in the auditorium who clap when each teacher stands and said teacher waves after these introductions.

8:55 AM – This man goes into a lecture which is completely and undeniably in Chinese.

9:15 AM – This man is just starting, just warming up; he has power point and projection capabilities. Nothing is going to stop him. He is as impenetrable and boring as the Jefferson Starship catalogue of hits. If any of those hits play in my head, I may have to go shoot someone. I mean it.

9:30 AM – Hare Kari, is that only popular in Japan? Does anyone have a filet-of-guts sword handy that I could impale myself with?

9:45 AM – Could I go into a coughing fit and leave, acting as if I am typhoid Tyson?

10:00 AM – The principal leaves the stage. Yes, I am so happy. Oh hell, some older woman – who is the retired principal I am later told – is now at the podium. This, I do not mean in an unflattering sense at all, but, she reminds me a bit of a Chinese version of Anthony Perkins when he is sporting that crazy wig in Psycho. Upon closer inspection, I realize, the hairstyle is the link that reminds me or Norman.

10:15 AM – My patience for rambling Chinese speak has abruptly ended. I lean over to Andrea who is sitting next to me and ask her if she has a gun.

10:25 AM – The female, female impersonator (actually the psychologist at the end of Psycho says Norman Bates was not a female impersonator but that is for the audience to decide.) exits the stage and – God Almighty – the new principal goes back on stage. Andrea leans over to me and tells me we are to meet for a meeting in the principal’s office after this. This is excruciating. A poison pen? A strychnine capsule?

At this point, I must have an out-of-body experience because at some point about three days later (or ten minutes later, space time continuum and all, who knows?) the principal stops speaking and we are excused. The auditorium captives burst into the hallway like a smashed tick.

Once the foreigners have regrouped, I meet the two new additions from the UK, William and Laura. They are English language assistants sponsored by the British Council. They have been in China for two weeks training.

Us foreign teachers go to the principal’s office to be briefed by Percy, who I believe is part of the English department but also handles some of the foreign teacher acclimation responsibilities. We talk about nothing important and then she shows us around the school which is somewhat pointless for me because I will not be at this campus. We end our tour in the English dept meeting room which is a nice big room with expensive modern (not the hideous overstuffed stuff) leather furniture and chic Lucite tables. I feel a bit as if I am in some sci-fi cocktail lounge courtesy of P.K. Dick’s or J.G. Ballard’s imagination.

Again, we have stumbled into a long excruciating meeting which we have to sit through before we are to be introduced. Of course, the meeting is being conducted in Chinese. At this point, I am getting perturbed because it is pointless to have six English speakers in a meeting conducted exclusively in Chinese. This is the second one that we have had the displeasure to attend today. Finally, forty five minutes later. We, the English speakers, introduce ourselves. After that, the rest of the English department follows suit. We then file out. I stop and talk to Celia who I met the other day at the other meeting. She is really sweet and has offered to help me in any way she can. I then talk to Michelle who is assigned to help me assimilate. Soon, I will be Chinese. I need to learn how to speak the language.

I get separated from Mary and the others. I duck my head into a classroom. Lunch is being served. Michelle walks up behind me and tells me it is time for lunch. I ask if I am invited. She accidentally said it in way that was non-committal. She tells me of course. She asks me if I like dumplings. I love them I tell her.

The dumplings are in a stainless steel covered tray. They are hot and delicious. During the meal, I talk to William. He is from the UK and Hong Kong. I cannot tell what ethnicity he is. He may be Malaysian; he could be Chinese. He does not speak Chinese. He just graduated from Kingston University. From what I gather, he just received his masters.

He is to go back for the graduation ceremony in January. He is not sure if the classes will be over by then. I tell him I want to go back and teach a film class in New York so I need to figure that out. He tells me he studied film at university. We talk a bit about Truffaut and Godard. Someday, maybe we could have a discourse over Godard's Sympathy for the Devil. Now, however, we will just eat dumplings.

1:05 PM – after lunch, I am on my couch resting - more or less watching a DVD. The landlord honks his scooter horn and calls my name. I am not in the mood. I wish I was given some sort of ten minute warning when he is going to pop in on me. He keeps banging and honking. As I am going to open the gate, I notice some renegade candle wax that has dripped on the shelf that I meant to clean last night. I hope he does not notice it, oh well. I go open the gate.
“Mr. Wang?”
This means call Michael. I call Michael and hand the phone to the landlord. The landlord talks to me and then flashes me the ‘x’ which means that Michael will come to my apartment in ten minutes. Ten minutes is an eternity to spend with an overactive Chinese man that you cannot understand.

As the landlord is sitting on the couch, I start to deal with the clothes that I put in to wash before the orientation this morning. I have no clothes dryer so I will have to hang them up. Something tells me the landlord will have to get involved with this domestic activity.

Yes, he is by my side conducting how the activity is to be done within a minute. I know he is only trying to help. While he is helping and driving me nuts at the same time, I try to tell myself this over and over. He is kind hearted. He is kind hearted. He is kind hearted.

Michael shows up. Michael is someone that works for the company whom I really like. He has been a big help. He has come by to figure out the bills with the landlord. As the landlord likes to do, he wanders around the apartment, he says something to Michael about the old television on the large windowsill in the bedroom. Michael tells me the landlord is going to bring a table over for it. At this point, I just don’t care. I tell him that is fine. I know the landlord probably thinks some hideous early American table is going to be perfect, oh well. Well well well, Oh well.

7:43 PM – I hear someone banging on my patio gate. If the music had not just stopped, I would not hear them. Probably this is the landlord with the table. Today, as sweet a guy as my landlord is, I have had my fill of landlords. I ignore the knocking. The knocking persists. I am not sure how long I can ignore it. The knocking does not seem like it will stop anytime soon. I put on a shirt and I go open the door.

My landlord is not standing at the door. A policeman – or a commercial airline pilot, the dress is similar here – is standing there amongst a gaggle of neighbors. This is like something out of Polanski’s The Tenant or Rosemary’s Baby. The policeman starts talking to me. Of course, I have no clue what he is saying. I had my stereo up but I did not think it was that loud.

The neighbors are either nosy or trying to help him communicate with me. The optimistic part of me thinks they are trying to help but realistically I think they might just be nosy. He pulls out his wallet and shows me his ID and says something. Okay, I assume he may want to seem my passport for a random foreigner check. I do not have my passport at the moment. My company is renewing my work visa. My passport is with Michael. He will have it back this next week for me.

All I can say – in Chinese - is that I do not understand. The neighbors all repeat my simple phrase to one another like I am solving one of life’s riddles. They nod as if this is coming from a sage, a punk Confucius. We have hit a snag. This is a stalemate in communication. There is actually not communication so it is not even a communication breakdown. I call Logan.

Embarrassed, I tell him a policeman is at my door and I do not know what he wants. I hand the phone to the policeman. He talks to Logan as if they are old friends. This is very bizarre. I am not sure exactly what is going down. Finally the policeman hands the phone back to me.

Logan tries to tell me what the problem is but the policeman says something at the same time which is annoying because there is no fucking way I can understand a fucking thing the policeman is fucking saying and I can barely fucking hear Logan. Needless to say, I give the policeman - who looks like he might have a kind heart - I give the policeman a dirty look. He steps out of the patio back into the back drive. I walk into the living room. Logan tells me the policeman has come around to check to see if I have registered at the local police station. Foreigners have to register each time they move. I tell him I registered the day that I signed the lease. He then tells me ‘No worries’ which makes me smile because Logan can make anyone smile. He has the purest of hearts. I thank him. We talk a bit about our jobs. We hang up. I am so happy I am registered. When I get off the phone, I wonder why I have a headache.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Some lonely pathetic weirdo….

My landlord has just arrived. Yesterday, Michael told me he was going to send the cleaning lady over today. I told Michael to tell him not to because I was going to spend the days getting my supplies for school. Michael told me he would tell the landlord. Ten minutes ago, I heard the familiar honk of the landlord’s scooter outside my office window. London Calling plays on my stereo. As he starts knocking on my window, I go to open the metal gate that opens onto the patio. Before I go, I turn off London Calling. I do live by the river. River apartments are prime real estate.

Our conversations are the most ridiculous non-verbal pantomimes imaginable; the conversations between the landlord and me. The first thing he pantomimes is phone which means call our mutual mouthpiece Michael. The recording tells me Michael’s mobile is power off. The landlord has a bag of cleaning supplies. He then pulls out a receipt for 126 yuan. Am I supposed to reimburse him this amount? This seems a bit presumptuous since I already have cleaning supplies. And 126 yuan seems to be an exorbitant amount for said supplies.

A few minutes later, another player comes onto the scene. This player is the cleaning lady. She is young. The landlord guides her around the apartment and gives her instructions of what to do. She shakes her head in agreement. Occasionally he looks over at me for my approval. He seems very adamant in his instructions.

After he instructs the cleaning lady, he pantomimes ‘Call Michael’ again. The power is still off on Michael’s mobile. The landlord pulls out the receipt again. He then pulls money out of his wallet. Is he giving me money, no he wants me to reimburse him for the cleaning supplies. I reimburse him. He has just blown my 50 yuan a day budget that I have tried to keep. Oh well, I start working on paperwork at my computer.

The landlord cuts out little scuff pads and he applies them with glue to the bottom of my bistro set. Each time he finishes one, he scoots it over to my desk for me to inspect it. I smile and thank him. He smiles back.

The cleaning lady attacks the bath first. After he is done scuff proofing the bistro set, the landlord goes to inspect the cleaning lady’s work. Occasionally the landlord calls my name in that broken accent of his and I go to investigate. He makes a motion. Yes, the bathtub is nice and clean thank you. He smiles. The cleaning lady smiles. I smile. Everyone is smiling. ‘Here comes the Sun King.’

After the bathroom has been properly attended, the kitchen is scrutinized. First the landlord brings my kettle out for me to inspect. He has steel wooled the tarnish off of the blessed little object which I have accidentally left on the stove a few times – imaginary water boiling, real water not. Now, it has a Zen-like beauty to it. He then sets about to breathe new life into my miniature steamer, which has dumpling residue now residing in the bottom of the pan. This is more than a little embarrassing. Oh well - another ‘oh well’ – that is why I have a cleaning lady.

After she sanitized the bathroom, shined the kitchen, and crawled over me to thoroughly dust the window sill by which my desk is placed, the cleaning lady goes out to the patio to rinse the patio tile. She washes out her rags and hangs them from the pole where I hang my clothes.

While she is finishing, the landlord draws a clock. He then draws a diagram of how long the cleaning lady has been cleaning my apartment. He then writes how much she makes hourly. I try to write the equals sign so I know what she is to be paid but in Chinese the equals sign is the word ‘two’ hence the two slashes. Finally, I realize for an hour and a half she should be paid 30 yuan ($2.75).

At that point, my cell rings. Michael is calling. I tell him that the landlord is at my apartment. He apologizes. His phone was off. He has been sick. I tell him I am sorry to hear he is sick. It has worked out that my landlord is at the apartment. I can get my school supplies later. (I had not looked forward to sitting in my apartment two days in a row waiting for folks which is part of the reason I thought I would go get school supplies but since the landlord just showed up and I did not have to wait around it worked out fine.) I then tell him that I gave the landlord money for cleaning supplies. He tells me he had told the landlord to pick some up for me. He will reimburse me.

Am I to pay for the cleaning lady I ask? He tells me the landlord pays for the cleaning lady. I tell him it seems to me that the landlord expects me to pay. Michael tells me the cleaning lady is included in the rent. He asks to talk to the landlord. Something tells me, as much as I like the landlord, he would try to bilk me if he could.

The landlord and Michael talk as the cleaning lady finishes rinsing the patio. The landlord leaves with the cleaning lady. I go back to work typing at the computer. I hear the landlord’s scooter fire up and roar away.


With the television, everything worked out. It always does. At the time, I got very frustrated. That evening, Winnie came over with her partner (which may have been her boyfriend or maybe they have a partnership in which they support the morale of foreigners in the community. Who knows?)

I was certainly glad to see them when they showed. I apologized like a self-proclaimed jerk. The young man was very nice. Winnie told me she knew that it must be frustrating to live where you do not understand the language. They came in and hooked my DVD to the television. They got my cable rocking. They programmed everything. Her friend showed me how everything worked. With the owner’s manual open, he kept pointing to the Chinese to explain things as if I would see a character and suddenly I would understand Chinese completely. As they were leaving, I invited them over to watch a movie some night. Now I wonder if they think I am some lonely pathetic weirdo.


At the meeting with Sophie on Tuesday, Mary and I were told to report to the school at 8 am on Friday. Friday is our first day. The students start school the following Friday. Surprisingly, I do not have trouble getting to sleep. A chapter of Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ puts me under. And, fortunately, I do not dream of blowing up bridges in Italy. I do not dream of dynamite at all. ‘I’ve got a New Rose; I’ve got it good.”

Friday morning is filmed in new improved cinemascope. At 7:53, the morning is already mind-numbingly bright. As I am walking to school, no one notices me. Everyone is busy starting there day. Some people seem to be midway through their day already.

Bombastic orchestra music is playing over the public address when I walk into the school. In the classes, students in their uniforms – blue shorts, white shirts, scarf-ties - sit and listen to teachers. Inadvertently, I go up the wrong staircase. As I am walking, I am starting to sweat. The day has already become hot and wet.

At the moment I come upon the proper staircase, students descend in an impenetrable wave. At the bottom of the staircase I stand. The last few students to descend call out ‘Hi Teacher’ to me as they pass. I smile. Fortunately, I am still a few minutes early.

My prediction, I will walk into the teachers’ room and it will be full of Chinese teachers. Chinese teachers for the most part are very dedicated. The international section is on the fourth floor. This seems to be the only deserted area in the whole building. The teachers’ room is locked. This means I need to go all the way back down to the guard gate to get the key. I am the only one in the international department. “Yes, I knew that I always would.”

Now, I am sweating profusely and not happy about the situation in the least. The ensemble I chose for the first day of preparations - in case I meet the principal, I want to be well dressed – my brown Prada slacks, my black Miu Miu dress shoes, my black Calvin Klein belt, my pink shirt with brown and green stripes, and a antique Saks Fifth Ave. brown tie. My back feels as if I have been sunk in a dunk tank.

Crestfallen, I take a walk back down to the guard house. When I get there, I realize I do not know exactly what room key I need. I guess. I tell him 404. He gives it to me. I walk back up to the fourth floor. I have the wrong key. By now, the time is 8:05. I call Mary. I ask here where everyone is. She tells me she thought we were not supposed to be at school until 8:30. I specifically remember Sophie telling us 8 am. Mary tells me she is on her way. She will be here in ten minute. For the time being, she lives in the school’s dorms.

I wait for a few minutes but the heat is making me miserable. Without a doubt, I need to go back home and change. I send Mary a message that I have gone back home to take a shower. I send Sophie a message to call me when she gets to school. I get a message from Sophie that she is at the other campus. She is not even coming to the campus where she wanted us to meet. This is typical of how things are done here. I should not even be surprised.

After I rinse off, my mood improves immensely. I lie down and listen to the second side (or now, on CD format, the last half starting with Gallows Pole) of my Chinese pressing -with upside down printing on the sleeve - of Led Zeppelin III. Yes, life is not bad.

Later, I go back to school. However, I cannot access my computer because I do not know the password on my computer. The hint is ‘ribbit.’ I enter ‘frog’. That is not it. In the movies, they can always figure it out. Maybe this morning has not been shot in New Improved Cinemascope after all.

Sophie is now at the school. She emails the former teacher. Until she finds out the password, she tells me to work at home if I would like since I have a laptop. I tell her thank you. She tells me we have a staff meeting at 1 pm in the library. She will introduce me to the Chinese teachers then.

At 1 pm, I go back to school. I go to my desk and ‘froggy’ is written on a piece of paper. I try it as the password. It works. I log on just like in the movies. The meeting was set for 1 pm but everyone is still chattering at that time so I decide to look for a desktop background. Since I will be teaching the arts, I use the cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band as my desktop. This is something I would probably not do anywhere else because it is probably on a million screens in the world but here in China it fits. Here, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band has not arrived at the CD stores. Maybe in a year on its fortieth birthday, it will make it here as a new release.

Finally, we go to the meeting. Sophie asks me where Mary is. I do not know. Did she know about the meeting? Yes, Sophie tells me. Sophie assigns a young teacher named Michelle to interpret for me at the meeting. Michelle – Chinese – teaches English grammar. Most of the meeting Sophie conducts in Chinese. Most of the meeting, Michelle does not interpret. This I do not mind. She will tell me what I need to know. Sophie at one point hands us a calendar for the semester. On the Fridays on the even numbered weeks we will have International Baccalaureate Organization workshops. Mary shows up at this point. She had a meeting with her landlord. It was hell.

After the meeting, Mary tells me she signed a lease on a place that she is not crazy about. She is frustrated. She gave 500 yuan to the agent but she is not crazy about living in the space. I ask her if she would like to see my place. She could get an idea of what she should be getting for her money. She tells me yes; she would like to see my place.

We come over straightaway. She walks around my place complimenting me on it. I tell her I really like it. She tells me this has helped her make her mind up. She has a line on another place that she may go see. I ask her if she would like to go to the realtor that I used but not the one I went with because this place where I live I got through the company for which I work. I take her over to really nice female agent who showed me the places that I liked the best.

The really nice female agent, Mary and I stumble through English, Chinese and drawing pictures. This is how we communicate. Mary tells me I do not have to stick around. I tell her I may go back to my place and have a rest. We agree to meet for supper later with Andrea, a young German student teacher from Frankfurt.

Back at my apartment, I drift in and out of sleep and I debate not going out to eat because I am so exhausted. Nevertheless, when Mary calls at 6 pm, I get up which I am glad I do. This is the first time I have been around Andrea. She is quiet but really nice. She is the entire German department at the school. Mary tells me that she sat at the school (the East Campus) with nothing to do and at the end of the day they just told her to come back Monday. This is very annoying. She is a student teacher so this might be why this happened. Now, I am glad I took the initiative to take off since I did have nothing to do.

There is a place I tell them I would like to try that is at the intersection of the Guilin Road West and Guilin Road. They think that it might be a bar if it is the place of which they are thinking. To me, it looks a bit like a hip restaurant. We walk past and people are eating. A bar sign is on the front but it is nice inside, nice in a much different way than most of the other restaurants that I have been to here. Most restaurants, that are nice, seem nice in that formal way in that you would take your parents or your grand parents there to eat.

This place, Bamboo, is nice in that it is funky with pastel walls and looks as if it could be in some hip little East Coast American sea town. There is an absence of families eating. Most of the diners are young professionals, male and female and a few college-looking types. We are a block away from the Shanghai Teachers’ College.

Andrea has a five page printed out list of Chinese food with her that she consults. She seems to know many languages. The waitress brings the menu but when we get the menu Andrea is not able to read any of it except for the drinks. She is perplexed. The waitress brings back six separate Xerox pages that represent the English menu. We all like spicy food which makes me happy. We order spicy beef, spicy fish, spicy pickles, and spicy bamboo. Andrea and Mary split a tall beer which really looks good. I tell them about my alcohol exile. I try not to make it that dramatic. I have my third coke of the day. I tell myself at least I am not drinking liquor.

The meal is indeed spicy, spicier than we had planned. We enjoy our dinner. We are a very compatible trio. This is really nice to meet two people that I am really looking forward to having a good time with this year. At one point, I am explaining something to Mary. I tell her I am planning to stay here for the long haul unless something unforeseeable happens. She tells me if I just leave with little notice she will hunt me down. We are all in this together. This is a good feeling. At last, at last.


Young mothers sitting in lawn chairs away from the glare of the streetlamps cradle their babies as they talk to each other. Their chairs dot the apartment complex’s drive. Tonight is Saturday night. My new friends Mary and Andrea are going to see a Shanghainese rock band tonight at a local club. If my stomach was not doing somersaults from the spicy food last night at Bamboo, I would join them.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

By the time I leave all days, I am smiling.

In my head this morning, I did the math. Math haunts me, always haunts me. As a youngster, my parents were willing to help me with any sort of homework except for that ‘new math.’ It seems like my life has consisted of nothing but new math.

The odd thing about this; something I have not mulled over until this second is that my dad used math – some of which I would assume was new math - all day in his job at Phillips 66. His job was a job of calculations. He was a draftsman. He would show me these plans of plants that he had drawn up. He was one of the men who decided where pipes and such went in the refineries. His job was of aesthetics and math. His head was and still is one big calculator. Years of his life he spent calculating.

This morning, as I stated, I did the math in my head, roughly I did the math, the math from the last year and the amount of money I have not spent in the last year on alcohol. In my head, I did a very conservative estimate. When I was drinking, I figured I spent four bucks a day at least on alcohol. That, as I said, is a very conservative estimate. August 29, 2005 is the day that I stopped drinking.

When I was a drinker, every other day, I bought a bottle of vodka that cost eight almost nine dollars. Usually, I drank a half of bottle of vodka a night. This does not even begin to count the times I would plop down twelve or fifteen dollars on what I considered a nice bottle of wine or the nights I would spend at least forty dollars on drinks at a bar.

My estimate is conservative. Without putting it down on paper, I multiply 4 dollars times 365 days and I come out with around $1,300 a year. When I actually compute it, I come out with $1,460. To most people, that is not that much money. To me, however, that is twice what I paid for the television that I just bought which was a bit of an extravagance. $1,460 would buy a pretty nice stereo which would include a nice pair of Klipsch Heresies (used probably but you could find them).

My estimate, I said was conservative. If I were to figure in bottles of wine, drinks with friends, birthdays and other special occasions for buying drinks; the figure – I am positive – would dramatically increase.

When I go back to Suning to find out what the story is with this ephemeral television, this electronic spectre. Winnie is not there. No one else that works there seems to know English. Winnie is my only hope. As soon as I get there, the young man manning the floor pantomimes receipt. How I figure this out, I am not sure. Maybe I am getting more intuitive.

I give him my two receipts. He motions for me to sit down and then he disappears. I sit down and wait…and wait…and wait. Here, there is always a wait. No matter what, wherever I go, I wait.

Browsing couples pass in and out of the Skyworth sales area. Finding Nemo plays on multiple televisions with the sound muted.

Winnie returns. She was at supper I assume. As is the rule with retail, supper and lunch are taken during the slower times. Her break must have been at 4:30 pm. The time is now 5:30. I have waited a little more than 30 minutes. I have come prepared to ask for my money back. Suddenly this business of buying a television has become a pain in the butt. My last days of freedom, before school starts, are being spent in showrooms or waiting on a television that seems as if it could be non-existent, the Loch Ness monster of televisions .

As soon as Winnie arrives, she apologizes. She is very personable; I cannot be angry. Actually, I am no longer mad. She tells me the television she sold me is no longer in production. This seems odd since the television seemed to be in production a few days ago when she sold it to me and when she disappeared countless times to make sure it would arrive on Wednesday. All of that made me assume it was still in production

She points to the display model and tells me she will give that one to me. Here, we have a bit of a miscommunication. Does she mean the actual display model (which I do not want since it is a display model and that is not what my original agreement was. She keeps telling me “This one.” “This one.” “This one.” I keep asking her “This one or one like it?” She keeps repeating “This one.” Still, I do not know if she actually means that actual physical one.

I am not sure how to make her understand what I mean. I ask her if the television will arrive in a box. I ask her if it will be new. Suddenly, our conversation has turned into a game of fifty questions. When the breakthrough happens, I am not sure. I am never sure, something finally clicks.

She tells me that I will have a new television. It will come in a box. She asks if I would like to have it hung on the wall. I tell her I do not think I want it hung because I have these wood tiles on my wall where it would hang and I do not want to mess those up.

She tells me I will still be able to hook it to the computer; the television will still be delivered tomorrow.


Today, the television arrives. This is exciting. In my head, I have made a list of the DVDs that I want to watch as soon as I get said television. There is a Pulp performance video that I am aching to see. I have tracked down the Beatles Anthology of which I have only seen parts. This is very exciting. At some point, I may splurge and spend like ten dollars on a buttload of DVDs.

Since, I have been so patient, I think that the television will be delivered before noon. I wake up have some coffee, steam some buns and wait….and wait. Noon comes; early afternoon comes. I call Winnie. She tells me the television is on the truck. She will call me before it arrives. I tell her I am going to go eat.

I go to a place up the street. I order noodles with slices of beef and cilantro and sit in the picture window. Every vehicle that goes by is carrying my television, I fantasize. I gulp down the meal before it has actually cooled down enough to eat comfortably.

I hurry back to my apartment. I go to my front door to see if a note or anything has been left. A note has been left. I do not know if it is the television or something random. It looks official like it is from a delivery of sorts. It is completely in Chinese. I have no clue who left the note or what it says. There is a number I can call. It seems to be a phone number. I call it. Before I call, I look up the word for television in my Chinese dictionary. When the person answers the phone I say television in a question of sorts. Of course, I do not know if I am pronouncing the word right and I absolutely do not know what I was expecting would happen on the other end. Did I suddenly think I would be able to converse with someone? I hang up.

Winnie tells me the television will come this afternoon. I am starting to get very impatient. My patience is at its end. At times like this, I wonder how long I would last raising a child. I try to read. I try to do all sorts of busy work to make time pass. As the time passes, I am sure that the television will not be delivered today. This voice in my head taunts me. The voice tells me everyone is taking advantage of me. I start to react to this weird inner voice. I send Winnie a message that afternoon is turning into evening, if the television is not delivered today; I am coming to the store to get my money back.

She calls to tell me the television is on the truck. At the latest, the television will be delivered at 7 pm. The traffic is bad today, she tells me. My patience has vanished. I have used every last bit of it.

The time creeps along. The time is now 6 pm. Every time I hear a scooter, a car door, a voice; I go to the kitchen window and look out. I try to be patient but patience is a hard thing to muster. Major purchases can be a drag. I ask myself what I was thinking, buying a television without an interpreter. They could bring me some strange little broken thing and tell me that is what I bought. Trust, I have to have trust.

By now, I have given up. They are not coming. The runaround is in place. I can say goodbye to that money that I spent with no interpreter, I have a receipt with no proof. I am screwed.

But, then, I hear another vehicle. It has that sound, that delivery chugga-chugga sound. Once again, I go to the kitchen window and look out. Lo and behold, there is a truck with a box tied on to the back.

I go outside to guide the guys in to my living room. The driver stays behind. One guy lugs the television to my door by himself. When he is climbing the three step stoop to my living room from my patio, the packing cord breaks, he drops the television. It is still in the box and he did not drop it far so I think it is okay. He sets it down and says something to me. I pantomime putting it on the spot where the other television is. He stands there dumbly. I stand there dumbly. We stand for a long enough time that the driver comes in wondering what the hold up is. The driver yells at the other guy and quickly takes the television out of the box and sets it on the built in television stand.

In America, I could take it from there but here I do not know how to hook it to my DVD because the instructions are all in Chinese. Again, we stand there dumbly. They are not going to help anymore. I have to figure it out myself. They want to take the delivery receipt from me. I am not giving it up. We stand and argue. I just say ‘I do not understand’ in Chinese. Over and over, I try to call Winnie. She does not pick up. They are pissed. I am pissed. Finally, I give them the receipt because I tell myself they are not paid much and I do not want to be a foreign ass. They leave.

Now, I figure maybe I can hook it up myself. I look at the instructions but there are no diagrams. Everything is written in Chinese. Blindly, I try to figure it out. I am not even able to get the cable to work.

I call Winnie again. This time she picks up. I am trying to explain what happened. She cannot hear me. I tell her they dropped the television. She does not understand. I tell her again. She cannot hear me. My frustration is turning into a storm blowing out of proportion enormously as if it is a hurricane inside of me that I cannot control. She tells me she will call me back when she can hear.

At this point, I yell louder than I have ever yelled. Suddenly, over a stupid television, I feel powerless and alone. Without a doubt, I know this is stupid. This is on par with a Paris Hilton shoe tantrum - when she cannot decide whether to wear (Stella) McCartney or Blahniks. And, I am sure the whole fucking neighborhood heard me.

I try to calm myself down. When did I become a spoiled child? Who am I? Why am I being so stupid? I take a few deep breaths.

Winnie, I would not blame you if you did not call me back. What right do I have to take my Chinese retail frustration out on you? Unfortunately, I have no where else to vent my anger.

The part of me that actually has the capacity to think and have a bit of sympathy knows that Winnie, more than likely works long Chinese hours for not much money. She sees me. I am the foreigner who breezes into town and starts buying televisions, scooters, sports cars, real estate. I feel like an ass.

The phone rings. Winnie says “Mr. Meade?”
“Hi Winnie, I am really frustrated.”
Without taking a breath I calmly (or I feel as if I am talking calmly) tell her that the men came and delivered the television, they dropped the television on the ground on the way into my apartment. I was told the television would be hooked up. They did not hook it up. This makes me really sad. (I have learned that saying something makes you really sad is a trump card in the card game of negotiations.)

Winnie, who is very sweet, tells me she is really sorry. She will come to my apartment with her partner after work and hook up the television. Now, I really feel like a jerk. I ask her when that might be. The time is now half past seven. She tells me this will happen before nine. I thank her.

Fortunately, I feel human again. I take a walk to grab a cheap movie. Now I must decide what I will premier on this television that I just bought and will, I hope, soon be broadcasting movies into my living room.

Off to my favorite DVD stall I walk. Of course, the boy who is always so sweet to me is there. While I am browsing, he hands me a piece of fruit, peeled. It seems to be a hybrid of an apple and a pear. I chomp on it – and try not to let the sticky juice drip all over the DVDs - while I browse. Finally, I make a choice. I choose three movies which will set me back nearly two dollars. Hellboy, Apocalypse Now, and a Chinese gangster film are my selections. The pear giver gives me the thumbs up on the Chinese gangster film. This seems to be a sound endorsement.

On the way back to my apartment, I look for batteries for the television remote. At the grocer by the DVD stall, a pack of Energizers were nearly two dollars which seems really expensive. (You know you have been in China too long when two dollars is too much to pay for an Energizer 8 pack.)

There is a Quik by the gate of my complex. I will stop in there. However, before I get there, I notice an all days, I had not noticed before. It is off the road down a driveway. I love all days. It is my Chinese 7/11. Unfortunately, there are no Slushies or Big Gulps but all days has still been my quick stop Chinese friend.

In the all days, I spy a four pack of no name batteries behind the counter. I point to them and the salesgirl puts them on the counter. I write a dollar sign on a piece of paper which I am sure makes no sense to her. I point to the price tag on a pack of gum. She writes down 2.20. I go to the beverage cooler and grab a can of coke. On the way, from the cooler back to the counter, I grab a gallon of water.

The salesgirl rings me up. I thank her. My stormy mood is lifting. I tell her bye. She tells me bye as if practicing her English. By the time I leave all days, I’m smiling.
August suddenly becomes October...

Here in China, I am sure I have said this before, everything is much more difficult than you expect. I did buy the television on Saturday. Today is Wednesday. I am waiting for it to be delivered. I have been waiting all day for it to be delivered. There seems to be no concrete time when it will arrive. When I went to the store yesterday to inquire they told me sometime today my television would arrive. Frustrated, yes, I am frustrated.

The television saga so far….

Saturday, I went to check my balance and realized I could buy the television without draining my Chinese bank account. Good, I thought. The television is a good deal. I will enjoy it. It has a three year guarantee. It will be nice in my new apartment. They are basically knocking three hundred dollars off of the sticker price.

I went back a little after 7 pm and purchased the television. The salesgirl, English name Winnie, told me that the one that they promised me with the USB was not available. These were all sold out. This was a bummer. I had looked forward to putting my thumb drive in the television and playing some tunes that I have stored on my computer. Oh well.

The television that they have is better than the display model it has a metal frame. Okay, I think. I really was jazzed on the one with the USB but that is how it goes. The television is still a good price. I had thought about it long and hard. I buy it.

She then comes back to tell me all of the televisions are sold. The television will not be delivered tomorrow. They will not have any until Wednesday. They will have one then. It will be delivered on Wednesday. Okay, I whine a bit but that is okay. I will get the television on Wednesday. Really, this is not that big of a deal.

As I write this birds are singing outside my window. All is not dire. I have been waiting all day for the television to arrive.

Winnie writes out a ticket and we go to the cashier to pay. I am very excited to have a new television. This is the second television that I have bought in my lifetime. Back in 1993 when the Kittens just signed to Atlantic, I was living in the most fantastically ghetto garage apartment in an alley off of Boyd street. Looking back, I was not making that much money but it seemed like I had a lot of money. For weeks, I looked at televisions driving my pal the Jennerator nuts. I finally decided on a 27” screen from Best Buy. We took Jennerator’s Ford Escort to grab it. That television served me well for many years. If this television serves me as well, I will be a very happy man.

The television I have now is actually fine for the most part. It is just an old television. However, since I watch so many movies and I do not really spend that much money, I would like to have something that will make movie watching even better.

I do not buy some random gadget every time I get the urge. Do I need a Blaceberry, Ipod or whatever the latest novelty is? Probably not. That is fine for those people who have those things but not for me. I barely have a mobile phone which I mainly use to tell the time when I forget to wear my fake Omega watch that I bought for a little over six smacks. After years of trying to pass myself off as this complicated person, I realize I am a fairly simple guy. Bells and whistles, I do not need them.

As I leave the store, Winnie tells me again the television will arrive on Wednesday. I leave the store. At this point, nightfall has hit the city. In front of the store, the stage that had earlier featured dancing girls now has random children playing, doing what children do on a stage after the performers have left. The parents and bystanders watch the children as if they are a professional ballet troupe.

In the evening, Shanghai is wonderful. The streets are alive with friends, lovers, families. The neon lights of the noodle shops light the passersby. I stop and look at DVDs at my favorite stall. When I walk up to look at the movies, the boy there smiles his usual forget-all-of-your-troubles smile. Sometimes, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Sometimes, the magic of life overtakes me and I cannot help but smile the biggest smile ever. I live in Shanghai. I am Tyson. “I wish life could be Swedish magazines.”

At the DVD stall, I grab Evil, a Swedish movie that takes place in a boarding school. The movie is good. However, I have one huge problem with it. That problem is that it is supposed to be set in the 1950s. 1950s rock music does not make a movie a 1950s movie. I think of the outrageousness of the Beatles hair on the Ed Sullivan show and unless Sweden was really cutting edge, I do not think the haircuts in this movie are historically accurate. I know this is a little thing but we are not talking Napoleon-era France here. We are talking the 1950s in which photos of that time period exist. How hard is it to get some 1950s prep school hair and be done with it?


On Monday, 28if-Paul comes over to watch the Beatles in Help. Before we settle down to watch the movie. He pulls some white tea out of his backpack as a present. I thank him and add while I am thanking him that I never know what sort of tea to buy.

We watch the movie with English subtitles so that he can read as they speak. The humor is somewhat abstract. He asks me what ‘brain drain’ and ‘outrageous’ mean. I try to explain both meanings within the context of Help. He loves the Beatles but he has trouble differentiating between George and John. At the end of the movie, he asks me why it is dedicated to the man who invented the sewing machine. I try to explain. I think he understands.

There is so much I want to tell him about the Beatles but I never even know where to begin. I do tell him what an enormous impact they made on the world. Feebly, I try to explain John Lennon’s importance as a spokesperson for the young people of the world. Of course, how can I say world when China was not impacted by Beatlemania.

China is a major part of the world. According to the people here, China is the center of the world. But then, I suppose in the States we are raised to believe we are the center of the world.

When 28if-Paul is leaving, he asks me if anyone has told me that my apartment is bad luck. There are a lot of 4s in the address. I tell him no one told me this and I really did not need to know that. He adds that the word ‘four’ in Chinese sounds similar to the word ‘death’ in Chinese so it is bad luck. There are probably many ghosts in my apartment. I tell him I did not need to know this.

I get a message from Sailor. He wants to know if I am free Saturday. He has been taking an SAT preparatory class. I had told him I would help him. He tells me he will bring his guitar. We may not be preparing for the SAT after all. All is always a mystery here.

I get a call from one of the organizers at the school. Sophie, my contact at the school, wants to meet tomorrow at 1:30 pm. Can I make it? I tell her I will be there.

A week ago, I sent her the grade criteria for the classes, using the International Baccalaureate Organization criteria as a guide. I decide to go ahead and finish the subject lesson plans so that most of my paperwork will be done. Taking breaks from a Russian film, I finish the paperwork. I send this off to her. The time is 2 am.
The days are zipping by at such a rapid pace. This is like summer as a child, those long Oklahoma un-air-conditioned summers that were never really long enough, slow (but fast at the same time and you really wanted them to last forever). Before you knew it, school was starting again. Structure came and firmly set itself right in the middle of life again. Today, the same thing is happening. August suddenly becomes October.

The school is a five minute walk from my apartment. It would be a two minute walk but I have to walk all the way through the apartment and all the way back up the block to the school. I leave the apartment at 1:15 to give myself plenty of time to arrive at the school.

As I am entering the school gates at 1:20, someone is leaving. I pay no attention. I am hoping that the guard will let me pass with no problem. He stops me. He does not know English. I am trying to explain the situation by saying Sophie over and over. Probably, he does not know her English name. The young woman - who was leaving as I was entering - turns around and asks “Are you Tyson?”
“I’m Mary. Are you meeting Sophie?”
“Yes, I am. Are you?”
“Yes, but I thought we were meeting at the East campus.”
“Oh, well I think we are meeting at the West campus,” I respond. “That is how I understood it but I could be wrong.”
“I’ll call,” she pulls out her phone and hits a callback button. She briefly converses with someone.
“You are right. We are meeting here.”
“I was not positive because I do not even know which campus is which but I thought this was the right one” I tell her.
We make small talk on the way into the building. She is a mathematics teacher from the Philippines. She will be teaching a reading class too. She has just arrived from Beijing where she was teaching at a high school. We are both on a virgin voyage into the rocky waters of middle school.

We wander around the building. Assuming she knows where we are going, I follow her. We land in the dormitory area of the school. I meet two other teachers Peyton (male) and Andrea. Everyone, so far, seems fairly young which is really nice. Already, I have a really good feeling about the approaching year.

Odd, when you are an adult, you have many of the same reservations that you once had as a child. You hope to make some new friends. You hope that there are no mean people. You have more of a perspective. You tell yourself you will be liked because people seem to like you. As an adult, you laugh at the awkwardness that embarrassed you and mortified you as a child.

Mary and I find the place where we are to have the meeting. We sit and discuss our hopes for the year. Both of us are anxious. We are ten minutes early.

Sophie pops in. She is surprised we are already there. She tells us she will be right back.

The meeting is spectacular. I could go into the particulars but I won’t. The attitude is so much different than the one that I left in Songjiang. All of my ideas were greeted with enthusiasm by both Mary and Sophie. Mary presented some options for the next year that were really fresh and she presented them with a ton of energy.

In Songjiang, it seemed as if it was the older teachers versus the young at heart. Jennifer was usually the only one in my corner. The older teachers would get stuck on some inane topic which led to Jennifer and I doodling away most of the meetings. We would always compare doodles afterward.

Sophie tells me that the paperwork I turned in was perfect. She noticed that I sent the email at 2 am which was impressive. She called the principal to let him know how hard I worked on it

While I am in the meeting, my phone rings three times. The caller is unknown. I press ignore each time it rings. Nothing could be more important at the moment. After the meeting Sophie gives Mary and I both treats which she bought for us at Christine bakery. This is such a sweet touch. Yes, I am looking forward to teaching at this school.

After I leave the meeting, I get a text that my television is no longer available. I am about to blow a fuse with the television business. I gear myself up for whatever is about to transpire at the Suning Electronics.

With the meeting looming over my head, I did not eat. I had coffee and toast that was it. I am hungry but I decide to walk the mile or so to the store in the heat to find out what in the hell is going on with this television.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best - make it all up - but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.
Ernest Hemingway

Standing in line always makes me think of Karen Ross. Karen Ross is one of those people who I may not see that often though she frequently pops into my head. She is one of those bit players in my life as much as I am a bit player in hers. We add dynamics to each other’s worlds.

She entered my life when I spent endless lazy days at the Midway Market in Norman. This started in the time of Eric’s tenure there which is over ten years ago now. I had known Karen before I had gone back to school but then it was after I had gone back to school to complete my journalism degree that I remember her the most vividly.

At some point, during my second and final semester, I started a Midway Market Newsletter. In the newsletter, I made note that Karen and her husband - I do not think they had children at the time – had bought a local rooming house, a rooming house in which a student had gone mad and hacked a few others to pieces in the 1950s. Karen and her husband were restoring this back to its formal glory as a farmhouse. I thought them very brave.

The story is one of legend, the story of the hacking, that need not be repeated in this forum. Now, I am not even sure of the particulars – a student, end of the year final exam pressures, the increasing cold war, a girlfriend who dumped him, all of the ingredients to make a young man not yet twenty go berserk like some Okie Fassbinder.

Exactly who told me the story, I do not remember; it may have been my pal Midway Bob (now a councilman), or Bob V. Now, without a doubt if I asked Bob V, he would feign he knew not of what I spoke; oh, the intrigue of madness. Not that Bob V. is mad; I am referring to the madman who did the Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte hacking.

For a time, we talked about nothing but this house that Karen had just bought- this house and the hacking past of the house, the Lizzie Borden type dementia of this. Karen took this all in stride. She laughed with us. We always went too far but she still laughed.

Like me, she was raised in Bartlesville. She is a few years younger than me. She went to Sooner High School. Maybe she was a homecoming queen or cheerleader or something. I think she may have been popular.

Later, when I moved to Atlanta for a couple of years, upon return visits to Norman and to the Midway, Karen - who is one of the best bakers and pastry chefs ever - would bring me the most delicious turtle cheesecake. In my entire life, I had never had anyone prepare a turtle cheesecake for me. To say I was touched is an understatement.

Those lazy Midway days, I think about those wonderful lazy days often. Often, midday at Midway, Eric would play Clash Sandinista. Bob let Eric run the place. It was a cross between Sam Drucker’s, a speakeasy, and a Marxist Holiday Camp.

Bob gave Eric the privilege of ousting certain customers out of the store, customers that Eric for some reason (that never had to be explained) might not want to see that day. If for instance, one of the locals walked in and rubbed Eric the wrong way, if he just looked at Eric wrong; Eric just pointed his pointing finger at the cad to the door and the cad walked. Eric reigned during lunch. He reigned like some mad punk-rock – Costello circa 1979 - deity. Luckily, I never rubbed him the wrong way. I never got the pointer finger pointed at me.

Oh, by the way, I am standing in the line at the Jiadeli Grocer. Standing here in line made me think of Karen Ross which made me think of Midway which in turn made me think of Karen Ross again and Ross Dress For Less. Karen is one of those people that seem to cause a lovely commotion wherever they go.

Why this particular instance sticks in my mind, I do not have the slightest idea. During one of my lazy day jaunts out of the Midway and into the summer heat of Norman, I went out to the Ross (Dress for Less) out there in West Norman. This was perhaps when I moved back from New York the first time.

I found a belt or socks or underwear or something of the sort at Ross. I am standing in line. It is a typical midday weekday. For some reason, for no apparent reason, the line is unexplainably long. It seems the only people in the store are in the line. At first, I think nothing of it. As I often do in lines, I start daydreaming. What I daydream, I do not remember. I may have been daydreaming of Don Knotts but probably not.

After a few minutes, I shook myself out of my daydream and looked at the front of the line to see what all of the commotion - and non-movement of the line - was about. There was a woman with a stack of clothes exchanging some and buying some putting some on credit cards (a few different ones) and paying cash for some – there may have also been a personal check involved. As I was rolling my eyes, I noticed it was Karen – Karen Ross, the deliverer of turtle cheesecakes, the one and only. Of course, I started laughing and said somewhat loudly “Karen, I should have known it was you holding up the line.”
Shocked and surprised, she turned around and saw me behind her and just squealed. Both of us laughed. A few other clerks came up and opened other registers so I was then right behind her.

At the Jiadeli, I think about this, about Karen at the Ross. Afterwards she told me they give her special treatment because she could very well be a Ross since her last name is the same name as the store.

At the Jiadeli, I smile while I am in line because I think of Karen with all of her credit cards and piles of clothes that she was exchanging and buying. However, I am not daydreaming as I am daydreaming. I am looking around the store. I look at an end aisle marked ‘abstergent’ and I wonder if it is really a word or a Chinese approximation of a word. Under the sign are deluxe cans of Raid. I am buying sticky rice and beef wrapped in bamboo leaves. This I will steam for supper. With this, I have a big plastic bottle of the Suntory tea that I love and a small tub of Nestles chocolate ice cream.

Since I bought a big whopping television the other day which gets delivered Wednesday, I have decided to put myself on a budget, more for fun than anything. I am trying to see if I can spend 50 yuan ($6.25) a day or under. Sometimes, I can do it; sometimes, I cannot. If I were to buy a season of Arrested Development on DVD ($5), I would only have a smack twenty five for the rest of the day.

The Television (Elevation Don’t Go To My Head)

Saturday, I had a craving for a milk shake, chocolate. A mile or so from my apartment is a nice new somewhat-luxurious Dairy Queen. In that area, an enclave of American eateries all within a block of each other – Mr. Donut, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and a newly opened Papa John’s – which just makes me laugh, the voluptuous horror of papa john creach’s pizza.

Across from Dairy Queen (which serves only fountain drinks and ice cream products, no burgers or steak fingers here), Suning – a three story electronics chain store - was celebrating a grand opening. A stage was set up in front with dancing girls and a caravan in the shape of a dragon that housed a Chinese drum corps – gongs, Chinese kettle drums, various cymbals, shakers.

For the past few weeks, I have shopped for a flat panel television. The urge to buy one just hit me one day as something I had to do, something important in some sort of electronic Lee Harvey Oswald way. From the day, the subliminal message (Buy a flat panel, You deserve it, Assassinate John Davidson – Okay, do not assassinate John Davidson but c’mon buy the flat panel already) started playing on repeat in my head I have had this mission to find the perfect flat panel.

Oh, right here, I should interject that the part earlier about Karen moving into some sort of Stooges Deathtrip house is false. At the time, when the Ross’s bought the house we made up some crazy story about it being a axe murder sort of place but that was absolutely never probably true.

Back to the televisions…
At first, I was looking at the small ones – the 16 inchers. Then I thought, if I am going to spend the money, I might as well spend a 1,000 or so yuan more and buy the 27 incher. I am calling them inches but we may be talking centimeters here. I have no clue. I am shopping for a something that would be a major purchase and I cannot speak the language. I’m pretty smart (said with sarcasm).

Suning is calling me like the Hee Haw mule call called ex-playmate Barbi Benton who has absolutely never walked into any of my sex dreams. I usually reserve those for Lorne Greene, Ann B. Davis and Mr. Ed. Okay, I’m lying about Lorne Greene. Okay, okay, I am not lying about Lorne Greene. Okay, I am lying about Mr. Ed. As sexy as his voice is, I have never had a thing for him. Wilbuuuuur!

After I have downed my shake which was maybe one of the most delicious chocolate milk shakes I have ever had the privilege to suck down, I brave the throng of people watching the dancing girls at the Suning entrance and take the escalator up to the third floor to TVland.

However, this TVland is not showing Green Acres, Brady Bunch, My Three Sons. This TVland shows off the lime green and oranges of the bathing suits which the models on the television are showing to interest the consumer in the realistic look of these televisions. Naturally, these televisions are marketed for the male market. I stop at the Skyworth Television display area. Skyworth is an electronics company out of Hong Kong that has interested me.

A salesgirl approaches me and gives me the spiel. This has to be a variation of the usual spiel she gives to customers because I am the only foreigner that I have seen so far in this packed showroom. Her English is actually not bad. I look at the 27” models which are priced around 4999 which is more than I had originally planned to pay when I was looking at the smaller models. She is very helpful. I tell her I am going to look around at the other brands. She tells me that Skyworth is the best. I tell her thank you.

Here, I should address the difference between the electronic superstores here and the ones in the USA. The big electronic stores here, or at least the ones that I have visited, have each brand in its own section with sales people for each brand. These sales people all wear the same uniforms so I am not sure if they work for the brands or for the store or maybe a bit of both.

Across the aisle from the Skyworth brands are the TCL televisions. A few salespeople try to help me with limited English but no one is quite up to the task. While they are trying to converse with me, I notice a 32” for 5,500 yuan. The spiel I am given from the TCL side is much less verbal. There is a lot of grunting and pointing. This television, I keep in mind as I am walking around the store.

Most of the brands are these Chinese and Taiwanese brands. Elsewhere in the store, I come upon Sony and Phillips but they are both quite a bit more than the Skyworth and TCL. Even a piece of crapola like Sanyo is more expensive.

After I have walked around and looked at all of the televisions, I go back to the salesgirl and tell her that next door to her little Skyworth paradise, there is a nice TCL on sale for 5,500. No longer am I interested in the 27” that she and I discussed. I want to know if she can bring the price on down on the television that is one sale from 7999 to 5999. Can she bring it on down to 5,500? At this point, she tells me that TCL is a piece of crap. She tells me it’s Taiwanese - which is like saying the child is not hers it’s a stepchild that has not been reared properly – cheaply made.

She tells me she will be right back. She tells me to sit down. I watch the girls in the bikinis on multiple televisions showing their contrasts. The salesgirl reappears. She tells me she can knock one hundred off the price of the television. Plus they will give me a free gift which is a set of questionable headphones. I tell her thank you but I am going to go and look at the TCL television again. I leave.

I saunter back over to look at the TCL. Before when I was looking at the TCL, I did not think the picture was as good as the Skyworth picture. Picking out televisions is a bit like picking out speakers, with speakers you have to trust your ears, with televisions you have to trust your eyes. Maybe it is just that aesthetically the bikini-clad ladies look better than the washed out landscape that is featured on the TCL. I go back to the salesgirl.

She tells me that she can sell the television to me for 5,500 yuan. She then tells me the television she is selling me is a better television than the display which sounds a bit fishy. The television that they will sell me has a USB port on the bottom which sounds pretty dang cool. I can actually play MP3s through the television. And the television is guaranteed for 3 years. I am mystified.

I ask her how long she will be there. I tell her I have to go check my bank balance. I will be back before 7 pm. She tells me she will still be there.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Jukebox of Eternity

Out of respect, and because China is China – I carry on with my daily life, cleaning the debris out of my old apartment, fiddling with my syllabus, buying cheap movies, endlessly struggling with communication; I cannot blog at the moment. Sometimes, while you are lost in your day to day struggles, an event - personally cataclysmic - stops you in your tracks. The tragic (yet life affirming) death this last weekend of Tod Lilburn is such an event. I add life affirming because he most certainly lived life to the fullest. His premature death because of a helicopter malfunction is a testament to that.

Tod Lilburn was the ultimate mixer – and welcome wagon. He was the most up person I think I have ever met. He was always smiling, always laughing and he enjoyed a good ribbing. He was David Melton’s childhood friend. Sadly, David was in a car accident which took his much too young life almost twenty years ago.

Whenever we went out to eat, Tod would always order the deluxe. He was well versed in downhome food culture before I knew there was such a thing. If there was chicken fried steak on the menu he ordered it. If you had the option to add chili and cheese on the burger, he took it. He loved food. Having a meal with him was always a giddy endeavor. When he ate, he enjoyed every last bite. He was the same about life. He enjoyed every bit of life.

In the summer of 1982, he and Bill B. and I took a road trip in Tod’s questionable decade old B210 Datsun to California. Before the trip, Tod took the B210 to a mechanic to get a tune-up and check-up. The mechanic did not give the car a favorable prognosis. We went anyway. The car made it across the desert and through the mountains with no problems. The mechanic did not know the stamina of a loved and abused Datsun. Nor did he know the power of three boys in their late teens ready for the adventure of their lives.

Now the details of the trip have faded into that place of mythology and folklore. We drove at night across the desert listening to T.Rex, Joy Division, and Motorhead. The person in the back seat got the best listening experience because the speakers were mounted in the back. I assume the speakers were Jensen. There was no air conditioning so we kept the windows rolled down.

We stayed with a friend of a friend’s sister’s in a tiny apartment which already had more than a full house. We walked around Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Westwood so much that Tod got blisters on his feet which made him complain which of course made the sadist in me laugh which made him complain more which made me laugh harder which finally made him start laughing. He always always laughed. I do not think ten or twenty minutes went by without him laughing.

In San Diego, we stayed with my aunt and uncle in their house on the hill. We went to see Fear at an in-store at Off the Record and we went to see them that night at a packed VFW. None of us were drinkers really. We were powered by adrenaline and youth. And, of course, our mutual love of music.
On an unseasonably chilly day, we went to Black’s Beach, a nude beach in San Diego. Whether this was liberating, I do not remember. Due to the weather, there was not much in the way of frolicking. The only other bather on the beach was an otter. Or, maybe the otter was in a beach story I read by Fitzgerald or Forrester.

The highlight of the trip was an all night party at Magic Mountain which was supposedly thrown for the local high school graduates in the area, but was actually just a way for Magic Mountain to re-open after close and make more profits for the day. New wave girls struck up conversations about Sparks and 20/20. I was donning buttons in support of both bands. We rode a few rides with the girls and then went our separate ways.

By the time we got to San Francisco, I was starting to get ill. There was the ultimate punk show that could not be missed which I believe was the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. While Bill and Tod went to the show, I stayed in the car in the parking garage, not that I blame them one bit for leaving me. At the time, I would have done the same without giving it another thought.

Nevertheless, while I was incapacitated so to speak, I was afraid to leave the car because there was a parking attendant in the garage and I was afraid he would kick me out so I was very incognito. When you have to piss and hack loads of phlegm, it is hard to be incognito. Needless to say, in my less than stealth way, I accidentally (and I do want to emphasize accidentally) peed on Tod’s pillow –he was the only one who thought to pack a pillow - and perhaps I hacked a bit on it too. When they came back from the show, of course, I did not tell him. I was able to clean it to some extent. “That must be some water I spilled.”

Eventually, I told him and I heard about the event for years to come afterward. Of course, I would counter with the time he tried to kill me. We were both working at the Phillips 66 employee cafeteria. He worked from 4 pm to 7:20 pm. I worked from 10:30 to 7:30 pm. When I got to work, the parking lot was full so I had to park in the nosebleed section. By the time he got to work, many of the morning shift workers had left, so he got a good spot.

We walked through a tunnel under the train tracks to get to the lot. At the lot, I asked him to take me to my car. He said “Sure, hop on the hood.” What I was thinking, I do not know because I did, I hopped on the hood. Incidentally, this was soon after we met. I knew him through David. I was a few years older and probably not that nice - in a few years older sort of way.

As soon as I hopped on the hood, I swear he floored it. Granted it was a somewhat stalling Datsun B210 but as we careened across the parking lot, I thought for sure we were going about 80. In retrospect, he was probably pushing 30.

Somewhere in the vicinity of my car, he does some sort of quick turn because he was acting as if he was going to hit my car. I go flying off the hood and land on my back and elbows which I still have small scars on my elbows where the concrete ripped the skin off. When I picked myself up off of the pavement, I was furious – in that same few years older sort of way. He could not understand why I jumped. “I didn’t jump,” I screamed. “I was thrown off.” Now, over 25 years later, I do not blame him in the least. What kind of fool would hop on the hood of someone’s car and take a ride?

That was probably my first real memory of Tod. Fortunately, I have much better memories. As I said, Tod was the ultimate mixer. Before I lived in Norman, each time I went to visit, he had a new group of people to introduce to me. He introduced me to Terry Slade – the doctor of music. Terry is one of the smartest people I have ever known. He introduced me to the beautiful gregarious Lori Vincent. When she went to model in Paris, all of us thought it was the coolest thing ever. She was one of us and she modeled for the same agency as Isabella Rossellini. And of course, he introduced us all to Meridith -Meridith who was probably the Dorothy Parker of our group. Or maybe he introduced them to us. We were all from other groups but Tod was the catalyst that brought us together.

Before I was a student at the University of Oklahoma, Tod lived with these young upstarts that called themselves Defenestration, me being one of the young upstarts. We all shared the top of a two story house that had been converted to a rooming house – three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Tod had one of the rooms since he was the only one in school. Clark Walker drifted from room to room in a sleeping bag. He never could be tied down to something as mundane as a bass. He had Kerouac and Burroughs in his veins. He would someday become a writer. I slept on a army cot (which had been liberated from South Base) in the bandroom. Todd Walker had a couch and Paige had a bed; they shared the third room. We each paid 80 bucks a month, bills paid.

At this point, I needed a job so Paige and I went out applying together one day. The job we got, which Paige quit soon after, was the unprecedented distinction of being Pizza Shuttle’s first pizza delivery guys when it was in the strip mall where Christie’s Toy Box is now. This lasted from September to November. The band played one show. We argued all of the time. I moved back to Bartlesville.

At this point, I checked out, I started a new life; I enrolled in a junior college in Kansas and disappeared for a year. During this time, the seed to have a band – Defenestration - grew. Back then we had nothing but landline phones (calls were expensive) and snail mail. Occasionally, during the next year, I would visit Norman. Each time I visited, Todd Walker would get me excited about the band. At a pivotal moment, Todd W. found a 5 bedroom house for rent. This house had a basement where we could practice. This sealed the deal; I moved back to Norman and continued with my degree.

Tod Lilburn was the welcome wagon. The night I arrived, after doing my stint at the junior college in Kansas, Tod took me everywhere to a ton of parties. He introduced me to a ton of people. He knew everyone. All of the girls loved him. All of the guys loved him. He was very popular.

That night, he introduced me to tequila slammers. I had never seen or tasted anything like it. I loved the slamming of the glass on to the counter to make it fizz. For the first time, I thought I was in love, in love with tequila. In Kansas, my preferred drink was Mellow Corn, a very disagreeable whiskey. This tequila drink went down smooth, nice. I kept drinking them. By now, we were stationed at one party. I was probably babbling about Patti Smith, Cheap Trick or the Psychedelic Furs.

Needless to say, I have never been as sick as I was the next day. I threw up until 7 or 8 the next evening. At one point, Paige (Defenestration’s original drummer) who was living in the 5 bedroom told me to shut up I was getting on his nerves. In retaliation, I puked more bile. Abruptly, my love affair with tequila slammers was over before it began..

Tod was the curator, to some extent; of college party culture in Norman for a few years starting in 1984 (some might say 1983). There was nothing cooler than walking into a party with Tod and a gang of 7 or 8 other friends who had been introduced to each other by Tod and seeing someone from a French class or an astronomy class. Usually, we would leave as soon as we arrived. We would then trek to the next party.

Later that spring, Tod had another friend Todd (Felker) who was helping another friend do a student film. The name of the film was to be called ‘Night of the Living Drag Queens.’ The premise of the film was a seductress, our friend Gretchen, brought boys back to her room and seduced them and that turned them into drag queens. This was done in Gretchen’s mess of a room that had cooked chicken parts hanging from the lights. Volunteer drag queens were needed. Tod, Todd and I (I was once a Todd) said why not.

We showed up on site which by coincidence was the place where Defenestration had lived during my pizza delivery stint. All of us started putting on the make-up that the young filmmaker or Gretchen provided (I cannot remember which). We were all made up and then this cackling and clunking of feet and tripping of feet progresses up the stairs.

An actual real live drag queen arrived. Later I would learn that drag queen’s name – Scott Belson. Said drag queen was tripping on acid. This drag queen collided into the room in a flurry of clumsiness and hallucinations. She gave us the once over. She looked at Tod L and exclaimed “Helen, we have got to do something about the dress.” She looked at Todd Felker and exclaimed “Josephine, who did your eyes?” She looked at me and just shook her head no and said “Sister Jesus.” She then got busy remaking all of us for our cinematic debut. During the filming of this film school master stroke, the real drag queen would raise her head and ask if we saw various flying objects flittering across the room.

After we finished filming, I was dropped back at the house. My mom was staying with me that weekend. Of course, I had traces of make-up on when I came into the house. I told her I had been helping with a film. She was not surprised; in Kansas I had actually starred in a few plays. She thought it was nice I think were her words more or less.

My mom and Tod would occasionally run into each other at thrift stores in Bartlesville. She adored him. Actually she adored all of my friends. However, when she would see him at the thrift stores she would check out what he was purchasing, making sure it was not something I might want. She loved to tease him. He loved being teased by my mom.

Those days have slipped into a murky pond, a pond which each day seems to get farther away. Sometimes, I wonder if they happened at all or if they are some sort of experimental implants.

I saw Tod Lilburn two or three years ago. I was in Norman. I may have been back living in Oklahoma City at the time. He came into the Midway where I would loiter around the metaphorical pickle barrel. He had tracked down Paige. They both came in together. We talked for a few minutes, sadly, not long. Sadly, I did not tell him how important he was to me, to my social skills development and all of that. I did not tell him how much I now appreciate his welcome wagon skills, his mixer skills. Obviously, I thought I would see him again. Obviously, I thought in the future, I would come visit him and Corinne(his wife) and their son David in San Diego.

As I am walking to the bus, the bus to take me to Songjiang to clean the last of the debris from my old apartment, I get angry. I get really fucking angry. I have not been this angry in a long time. I want to hurt someone. I want to scream. I want to run through the street shouting and punching. All I can mutter is: ‘Wo ting bu dong.’ ‘I do not understand.’

This is not what I pictured. This is not how it is supposed to be. He has a wife, a kid. He loved life. He seemed to love life everyday that I was around him. He is not supposed to be taken. He is one of the ones who should grow old, have grandchildren, talk about the skirts he used to chase with those grandchildren. Wherever you are Tod, we love you.

However, I do have this vision, this crazy vision, part Ballard, part Dickens. I have to keep this vision in my head to pacify myself. There is this crazy hereafter; a small town with the best thrift stores, flea markets ever and the best diners, and places to see bands. The flea markets are unimaginable they are so big. The thrift stores and diners are the sort of secret finds you would find in Memphis, Dayton, or Topeka.

Tod has just arrived. He walks in the door of the best thrift store. David, my mom and Russ (another dearly departed friend) are there to welcome him. It is a perpetual sunny Saturday. They go to the town diner filled with laughter; music is playing on the jukebox of eternity; the music is from the past, present and future. During lunch, they talk about everything, they talk about us. They cannot wait to see us. Tod meets the whole town. The town though it seems small stretches to infinity. This small infinite town is inhabited by the greatest artists and minds through the ages from Plato and Socrates to Shakespeare and Da Vinci to Mother Teresa, Jackson Pollock and John F. Kennedy. Immediately, they love him. He is home.

Tod – Wherever you are, I am writing this for you and you alone buddy. By now I know you must have hit 40. But, in my book, you will always be 21. I love you and I know without a doubt, when I get to where you are; you will introduce me to a whole new cast of characters. We miss you. You belong here with us.

The story from the Daily Oregonian:
From the Daily Oregonian

3 die in helicopter crash off coast

Three members of a San Diego-based team retracing the Lewis and Clark expedition by air died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning off the Oregon coast near Astoria.

Coast Guard rescuers found the debris field left by the helicopter soon after receiving an 8:20 a.m. call that the chopper was missing and later recovered the bodies of two men and one woman, said Coast Guard Lt. Brooks Crawford.

Scientists and aviators with the Flight of Discovery traced the westward journey of the famed explorers in 2004 and 2005 and planned to leave Monday to follow the trail east in several private aircraft, according to the group’s Web Site. The volunteer group of about 40 said it was dedicated to furthering the scientific history of the expedition and to uncovering environmental changes in the 200 years since Lewis and Clark crossed the continent.

On Sunday, the crew was scheduled to film elite Army runners on the Discovery Trail on the Washington side of the Columbia River and then to follow them on the trail from Fort Clatsop to the sea on the Oregon side, according to Sally Freeman, a Fort Clatsop park ranger. She said it was her understanding both events were canceled because of the crash.

Crawford said two helicopters from the team were flying together off the coast in early-morning fog when one, a Robinson R44, lost contact with the crew of the other helicopter. The second helicopter landed in Astoria and called the Coast Guard, which responded with an H-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Astoria and a 47-foot motor life boat from the Cape Disappointment Coast Guard station.

Crawford said the names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of next of kin. He said they were all from Southern California.