In early December in Kansas, there is grass to smoke and Camus provides bedside reading. The Beat spirits warm the icy rooms, the icy rooms laden with quilts handmade and handed down to the new generation swinging, reading and painting and bopping.
In Shanghai, the cold morning comes. You wake up and blow the electricity with the bathroom heat blasting.
You knock on the next door neighbor’s front door. He answers. The next door neighbor is friendly. He is kind. He is an older man. He chats to you in Chinese. You do not know what he is saying. His son looks at your fuse box. He must do more than flick switches he must operate. He looks at your wire. The problem is in the wire. Your wire is blown. He nods his head.
You have your door open. The chill invades your apartment. The neighbor motions for you to go inside to your apartment. That is what you do while his son operates. This could take five minutes. This could take twenty. You hope this does not take an hour. You hope you have electricity on Monday morning. You hope you never hear ‘Hotel California’ or ‘All Right now’ ever again. Suddenly, you realize you no longer mind hearing 'Stairway to Heaven' as overplayed as it has been in your life.
Nothing is hopeless. There is always hope.
There is always the Velvet Underground and songs about the Velvet Underground. There is Lou Reed performing ‘Berlin’ in New York City or maybe Brooklyn. This must be for the 30th anniversary of 'Berlin's' release. You wonder about this as you try to go on about your morning.
You drink the coffee that you forgot to stir. You did not stir the grounds. You reprimand yourself for not being a proper coffee maker, a non-grounds-stirring man. You waited the four minutes for it to set in the French press.
The next door neighbor presents the new wire. The new wire is put into its place. He explains something of great importance to you. You try to call Michelle, Athena, random Chinese friends…maybe one of them can explain. Your switch is fixed. You are relieved. You do not know what your neighbor is saying. Maybe he is telling you, you cannot run the bathroom heat and the living room heat and the computer at the same time. Maybe he is giving you a recipe for Mao’s perfect chicken feet soup. You do not know, you must go to school.
The time is 8:05. You are not dressed. You throw on a FCUK long sleeve art fag pullover and your favorite pair of Club Monaco cords. You chug the coffee and head to school.
On the stairwell, you bump into Jenny the Australian exchange teacher and Sam and Jordan (Australian exchange students). Sam (short for Samantha) told Jacky on Friday that he has a girl’s name. He did not know how to take this. She then told the eighth graders that Aaron Carter and any other boyband or boy band affiliate was music for 12 year old girls. This was after you asked the class if they could listen to something less gay. This gay musis was in Rebecca’s phone/mp3. Jack and William looked stricken when you called boyband music gay.
Woke up got out of bed dragged a comb across my head…
Today is easy. Today is hard. Today is typical. Today is becoming like all days.
In the art classes we finish watching Time Bandits. In the English classes, the students continue their research. For the lecture class, I need to print out Texas questions with information. Mondays are always hectic. My boss is not in her office. Her office is locked. I cannot retrieve my printing. After I email the document to myself, I head down to the principal’s office to print it. I pantomime to the people there that I need the computer. Everyone shakes their heads okay. I sit down. The keyboard types in Chinese.
With this, I decide fuck it. The lecture class begins soon. In class, I sit at the back of the room Jacky has to translate Chinese to English, something to do with Thanksgiving which will be presented at the English festival on December 27th, in honor of Christmas. He wants me to help translate something that absolutely makes no sense, something that seems to say “We come dirt and see like sky.” Maybe this is some lost Star Trek episode that I have wandered into unwillingly, willingly, unwillingly, willingly.
I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike.
Every time he wants me to put in a word, I put in ‘butt.’ This makes him laugh and he says I am making him crazy. He laughs more and I cannot stop it. I keep saying ‘butt’ each time. I can absolutely not stop. Why I think this is so funny I do not know, but it is funny really funny because he laughs every time. Each time before I say butt, I wait. There is a pregnant pause.
He says that this is to thank parents. Now I get serious, not thinking I tell him we can thank parents from the bottom of our hearts. This sends him over the edge when I say ‘bottom.’ He start laughing and cannot stop.
She puts the weights into my little heart.
I tell Eric - who I just call Piggy now which always makes the Korean (who may or may not have one extra chromosome) laugh – I tell him we were going to do something fun but I cannot print the fun stuff that we are going to do. He tells me I can go down on the second floor and use that computer. I tell him I did but it is typing in Chinese. He tells me he will go with me to translate. He then tells me Neisha will go. Neisha would love to get out of the classroom anyway. She asks Noam to go. I love Noam. She is from Israel and is the sweetest student. I ask Venus to come with us. When we leave the room, I tell these three girls I would prefer to have the three of them in my class. I could do without the others.
Because Noam is shy, Neisha tells me that Noam would like to get into my English class. I tell Noam I would love to have her in our English class. Frankly, I had not thought about it but now that I think about it I am puzzled that she is not in my English class.
We walk into the office. The girls tell the Chinese staff in the office what we want to do. Neisha actually knows how to switch the computer from Chinese to English. She does this. I print out the Texas questions. The print shop lady takes the documents and prints them while we watch her. We go back upstairs. I hand the document out and tell everyone to get busy. Eric tells me that I had said it would be something fun. I tell him I lied.
At Metro, which is basically the Chinese equivalent of Sam’s club, I walk around and check out the gadgets. The Denon home theater system is out of my price range. Actually, I could afford it but there is that not knowing how long I am going to be here syndrome that I deal with daily.
Yes, I thought I was maybe taking a job in West Africa. This turned out to be a scam. Yes, I have the job - the acceptance letter stated I need to send the lady (from the finance department at the school) $650. Needless to say, I did not send the cash to this lady.
But now, now I think I am here to stay. I will go to the States to see friends in the summer but I love my apartment and I love that I get so many cheap movies. Maybe that is where I should truly focus my talents. Maybe I should not be a teacher. Maybe I should work in pictures be a grip, be a best boy, be a gaffer.
At the appliances in Metro, I stop and look at a bright red toaster oven that is approximately $30. This is something that I may come back and get. Here, no one has ovens. Most people use stove tops, rice cookers and microwaves for cooking.
There are so many things that would be nice in an oven. Instantly, the picture of a medium rare sirloin steak flashes into my head. Some people prefer filet mignon, T-Bones, prime rib; but me, I like a good old sirloin. Probably of all of the sirloins I have ever had, the best sirloin I have had was grilled outside on the grill by the pool on one June evening by Midway Bob. No one, absolutely no one can cook a steak as perfectly as he can.
Nachos are the other thing I would like in an oven. At the moment, I do not have a microwave and I have been hearing all of these scary things that microwaves do to food so I am trying to not break down and get one. Really, when it comes right down to it, I do not need my food that fast. Nachos in a toaster oven, I can live with that. Of course, I do have to find chips.
Finally, I find a somewhat savaged bag of generic brand tortilla chips. The second bag of tortilla chips that I have found the 9 months that I have been in China. This bag costs $3.50. I bend over and pay it. I must have chips. Visions of finding Tostitos, Doritos, or Santitas go down the Yangtze.
In my head, I rationalize. In New York, when I drank, I thought nothing of buying a few martinis for $7 apiece. Of course, I did not buy many but I would buy a few. Now, I do not drink and I see a tin of Twinnings English Breakfast Tea for a little less than what one martini would cost me in New York. I think about it do I need a tin to keep tea in? Yes, I am ridiculous. I do drink a lot of tea these days, probably more English tea than anything else. And yes, I probably drink as much tea as the typical British tea drinker. I grab the tin of tea. It is nice, classic, something I will use. When I was drunk, I would drink and drink and drink until I had at least a $40 bar tab. Those days are gone, I hope.