In front of the Jiadeli Grocery, there is a neighborhood social that starts - like a drive-in movie - at nightfall. Men in boxer shorts and pajamas play cards under the streetlamp. Some of them sit on straw mats; the others sit on the concrete.
Families of three, drink orange juice and talk. Perhaps they munch on the talons of chickens. Maybe they talk about the future. Maybe they talk of trading in the family scooter, getting a car, a Honda, a Toyota, or a Volkswagen.
My television is messed up…again. After I watch my movie, I put in another movie and the picture goes fuzzy. This seems like it might become a continuous ordeal. I have looked at those little flat televisions at some of the electronic stores that dot the area around my apartment. A decent sized one (that is not a behemoth) is around three hundred and fifty dollars. In my head, I try to justify this. Probably, I am here to stay indefinitely, at least a few years. The minimum I would stay is a year which is the length of the contract I just signed.
Justification is what it seems to come down to. ‘Down to you’ by Joni Mitchell plays on my head jukebox. Okay, if I spend $350 on something that I will use every night for a couple of hours to watch movies; that seems like it would be worth spending the money. When I do the math, for a year, the cost comes out to a little less than a dollar a day. So that I get my money’s worth, I should just go buy one right now. If I wait, that means that I will not get my money’s worth, I should probably go buy one right this fricking minute. Each day I wait the more the television will cost me each day because that will be that many less days I will have to enjoy it if I do not sign the contract again after a year. This logic through math is very exciting to me; I have never really thought of problems this way before.
Will I be here in a year? Jennifer and I have talked about this. She has signed up until December; I have signed up until June. If I went somewhere else, I do not know where I would go. Maybe I would go to another foreign country but I really do like China. Now, to some extent I have the food thing licked (so sorry about the pun). So, I should just buy the television, get it over with, I have some money in the bank. Buy it. Since I cannot watch the second movie, I decide to go to bed which is not a bad idea. It is 1 am; I no longer party. I might as well go to bed. I have no reefer to smoke, no Quaaludes, no Black Mollies.
I wake up; I know my television is jacked up. To make sure, I turn it on. Yes, there is weird colors and snow flittering across the screen.
I put on the kettle to make my hot coffee in my French coffee press. After the water has boiled, I put some French bread in the toaster. I try to call Michael to tell him that the television is kaput. He does not answer. By now, I am sure he is done messing with my bellyaching. He probably imitates my broken record to his friends.
This morning, my soundtrack is Lennon’s ‘Woman is the Nigger of the World.’ When this song came out, it seemed very abstract to me which it is absolutely not. It is very direct. On the AM radio, I suppose, everything is abstract. I get an email from Debby in New York who has one of those beautiful vaudeville chanteuse voices that can have the volume and the emotion of the Memphis Horns. I email her and tell her she should redo the song. The song suddenly for no reason whatsoever means so much to me.
I turn off my computer and think about what I want to do for the day. For some reason, the air conditioner has stopped. This is odd. As I assess the situation, I realize my power is out. Now, I am sitting in my apartment sweating, not sure exactly what to do. Once more I call Michael. No answer. ‘There’s no action. Every time I phone you, I just want to put you down.’
Now, I am not sure who to call. There is no one at the office on Saturday. Now that I do not live on campus, I cannot just drag some unfortunate maintenance man into my apartment with the pretense of needing something fixed. For ten or fifteen minutes, I sit sweating, thinking on the couch.
Finally, I think of who to call. The Sofa Negotiator is indeed a good guess but that is not who I call. Logan seems to be a good choice.
“Hello Tyson?” He always answers the phone as a question, probably because he knows I am calling for a reason which I hate doing because I adore Logan. He is, well, uh, adorable.
We chit chat for a bit even though I have a bit of a hard time hearing him. I am not sure why that is. He was the one who took me shopping when I arrived in Songjiang. A few times we have met for lunch. He is a very sweet and kind person.
He tells me he has found a job. The job is at a school; I cannot make out what the name of the school is because I am having a hard time hearing him. I ask him if he is teaching. No, he is not teaching; he tells me he will be a program coordinator. I congratulate him and then I go into my usual cry for help.
He tells me there are three possibilititties – the first is that the area where I live has had the power shut off for a short time; the second is that the apartment has old wiring and I need to have someone come fix it (which I hope this is not what is happening because that could be awhile); the last is that as he explains it I had more than one electrical item going and it knocked the power out (which basically means I need to flip the switch on the circuit breaker). This is what I hope has happened because that is an easy fix.
This is the thing; here I do not know what is the same as what I am accustomed to and what is different. Yes, I would assume that I could flip a switch on a circuit breaker and the power would come back on but this is a different country which is rapidly changing its status from a third world country to a global super power.
The other thing is that I am paranoid to just flip a switch. How do I know it is just flipping a switch here when there could be special instructions like putting on gloves or flipping the switch with chopsticks or standing on a wooden broom handle while said switch is being flipped. When it comes to my friend electricity, I am pretty dang paranoid of one thing and that is ELECTROCUTION!
Someone who was not paranoid of (to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme) E-L-E….C-T-R….O-C-U-T-I….. and that is as far as the theme goes because as I was saying, someone who was not a paranoid android of (to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme, again) E-L-E….C-T-R….O-C-U-T-I…..okay, okay we get it…Someone who was not paranoid of being shockadelicked was one Mr. Gary Thain. The news report from the New Musical Express tells it more concisely than I could.
“Uriah Heep’s current tour has been disrupted by a(n) injury to Gary Thain…after collapsing on stage during a gig at the Moodie Coliseum. He appeared to have suffered a severe electric shock and burns. A spokesman in London told NME: “Gary was seen to leap about three feet in the air, and then collapse unconscious, face down on the floor.”
Never mind that this happened in 1974, this has been brewing in my brain like some sort of hyena gopher matzo ball stew. Electricity scares me. Some of this has to do with
when I was a kid I thought Maxwell’s silver hammer was about Thomas Edison and that he was a hammer horror murderer on the side. When he was not inventing, he was out hitting those afraid of electric with his silver hammer. Thus, if I did not get electrocuted his silver hammer would come down upon my head. Do da do do!
Logan asks me if anyone in the complex speaks English. Not that I know of, I tell him. I ask him if I could have him call the landlord if I give him the number. He tells me that would be okay. The number is in my phone of course so I have to hang up to give it to him.
Not that I meant for this to happen, or wanted this to happen, but in a way, I guess I could have predicted this, ‘Easy Livin’ by Uriah Heep plays in my head. Ken Hensley’s Hammond organ is turned up really loud in the mix in my head. Did Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman do this headmix or something? Shouldn’t the bass be playing really loud in my head since I am out of my mind with the fear of electrocution and being a Gary Thain casualty in Shanghai?
Oh, speaking of Rick Wakeman (I know I have electricity to turn on but…), I remember when the Sex Pistols were making their way around to record labels and immediately getting dropped before they even recorded anything- of course they got to keep any advances because that is how that works. Once you are dropped from a label, all monies (legal jargon) are taken out of royalties. If you have no product, then there are no royalties.
Supposedly, Rick Wakeman told the head of A&M if he kept the Sex Pistols on the label, he was walking. Which is funny because Wakeman wore a cape and put out mind numbingly self-involved pseudo intellectually boring solo records on A&M, but the band he was in (or actually was no longer in at this time) was Yes. Yes put out their albums on Atlantic and sold a lot of them for Ahmet. Most teenagers who listened to Zeppelin and Floyd at that time had a Yes album or two as well.
This is the million dollar question: why would a label drop a band that the label foresees bringing in a lot of money because another artist on the label who does not sell many albums tells the label it has to?
That is somewhere along the lines of Kip Winger (who was actually probably not on DGC) telling David Geffen to drop Nirvana. At the time of the Pistol’s boot, Wakeman would have been about as popular as Kip Winger when Nirvana got signed to DGC. And, although Nirvana had a huge underground buzz when they were signed to DGC, they did not have the same sort of buzz that the Sex Pistols had. That came when they released their first single that actually seemed to be a tribute to Boston’s ‘More than a Feeling.’
I call Logan back with the landlord’s mobile number. After I hang up the phone, as I am walking to the kitchen, I hear some activity next door. An older man is walking into his apartment. Maybe he can help me. But what happens now, the front cage door sticks. I cannot seem to unlock it. I have no problem unlocking the front door but a foot beyond that is another door that is like a cage that you can put your arms through but you cannot squeeze your body through. I get the man’s attention. I hand him my key and he works on unlocking the lock and letting me out of my cage.
As he is doing this, Logan calls back to tell me the number I gave him has been disconnected. The man is reaching through the cage door messing with knobs and locks on my side. It’s a double sided key lock and it is Chinese so it does not work how you would assume it works. Or actually, it seems to not work at all.
I tell Logan I have found someone to help, which is more like I have shanghaied someone to help. I hand the phone to the man. He looks at me and then takes the phone and starts talking. I work with the door some more. I get the door free. The man hands the phone back to me. I tell Logan I have got the door open but I still do not know how to turn my electricity back on.
During my conversation, I am not sure when it happens exactly but I keep thinking I am finished talking to Logan and I hang up and then I have to call him right back. Some time around this time, we hang up and I have to call him back because when I got the door open that is what the man thought I needed help with. He did not realize that was an unrelated problem.
As I am calling Logan back, I give the man the hang-on-a-second sign. Logan picks up. I tell him that I still need him to explain that I need my electricity turned back on. Once again, I hand the phone to the man. In between the cage door and the front door, high on the wall is the breaker box. I had not seen it. I get a stool for the man who is an older guy – perhaps in his 60s. He climbs on the stool using my shoulder as support. He flips a switch. I try the kitchen light, no action.
At this point, a young man comes out from the apartment next door. I assume he is the older man’s son and I also assume this young man is in his early- to mid-twenties. They bicker with each other like fathers and sons tend to do. The father climbs down from the stool. The son may have come out to tell his father he is nuts climbing around on stools at some idiot next door neighbor’s apartment.
The son climbs on the stool. He flicks some switches. He pantomimes switching to me. I try the switch. The kitchen light comes on. I thank them. They leave. Still, I have not decided what I am going to do today.