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.


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