Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Son of SZ Zen: Hua Hin Hoo-hah (Thailand Remix)
And so, with the snapping, slavering jaws of the Hong Kong tax hounds and his landlord behind him our fearless narrator finds himself in Hua Hin, Thailand, a locale popularly described by low budget travel journals and airline magazines as an "unspoiled beach resort" 2 or so hours (depending on transportation and road repair conditions) south of Bangkok.

He had last been in the "Land of Smiles" as a tender youth of 9-10 years of age and remembered a curious, friendly, idyllic existence that in retrospect probably depended more on the naive undeveloped Thai economy, three servants, and his father's privileged status at the time as Fulbright Scholar and lecturer at Bangkok's distinguished Thomasat (sp) University than any tourist bureau dogma.

What he finds in June 2007 is himself servant-free, ass down, right leg shredded at the knee and foot and pinned under a rented 120 cc Honda on a dirt road that he has foolishly tried to navigate in an attempt at personal transportation. That he has no more business on a motorbike than he does piloting an F-18 did not factor into his rash decision. Born to be Wild had been thrumming through his head as he twisted the plastic throttle grip and had died as he swerved and spun wildly to avoid hitting a meandering 1/4 ton calf in his path.

Looking up he saw the smirking face of 10 or 11-year-old Thai boy, a smoldering hand rolled cigar clenched firmly in his tiny tight mouth. His leathery cow-herder father was beside him. Both smiled at each other, conferred briefly in Thai, of which he understood one word "farang" (foreigner) -- as in "that witless old foreigner almost hit our life savings; too bad we can't collect and cash in"). Then they heaved the bike off his leg and stood there barely giggling until he wobbbled away in a bleeding, palsied cloud of dust.

Any interested readers can read this again and future SoSZZen posts atSon of Shenzhen Zen: Hua Hin Hoohaw

Friday, June 08, 2007


Not Fade Away
And so it's time to say goodbye. I was hoping to make 400 posts in nearly four years, but will settle for 397 and the memories. Shenzhen Zen is retiring, and relocating under a name to be announced later.

The Dead's "what a long, strange trip it's been" by-now cliched line doesn't begin to cover my feelings. Mostly gratitude though for the people I've met and the places they've shown me both in their hearts and the occasional bar.

In random order I'd like to thank as many as I can here, beginning as many as I am able to remember from the Shenzhen beginning.

Everlasting thank yous go to foreign-barbarian coworker Jeff (current whereabouts unknown); Peter "It's my fate" the-SZ-Fixer; James "The Temple Guy/Laughing Buddha" Baquet; Gary, Lanni and the long scattered crew at the late, great Moondance; the Shenzhen Daily staff, particularly Helen (the first Communist Party member I ever partied with); Jennifer, Sally, Lan, Alfred, John "Flame" Woo, Mr Tan, Michelle-the-comics-lady, Lulu, Lilly, and most of all editors Alex and Jeffrey who had the mistaken, but well-meanin sense to hire me.

Also gratitude to former (and current) Shenzhen expats, scholars and wastrels, ladies and gentlemen give up the love to Patrick, Isaac, Sam, the Estonian dudes, the drunk guy from Ghana who dressed as Santa Claus one night and a few others I can't recall at the moment. Though he won't be seeing this I also owe thanks to "Skull Man," the corner store keeper who supplied me with noodles, fishballs, fractured English conversations and fireworks during my time at the Lucky Number.

In Hong Kong, John Berthelsen and Lin Neumann who hired me despite the stain on my resume that is Weekly World News and the protestations of a couple of burned-out Pom wanker hacks still cultivating their arse callouses and gin blossoms at The Standard.

On a more positive note, others who enhanced the Standard experience include Wendy, Winnie, William Sparrow, Olivia, Dr. Wu, Chester, Andrea-the-Canuk bombshell, Leslie, Teddy, Chris D., Zach, Zubair, Paris "best byline ever" Lord, Rob G., Tyronne, Mike C., Roger, John, Jonathan C., Doug C., Timothy, Michael, Una, and the Meemster. Dennis N., thank you, if only for the entertainment value your raw copy/HK experience much smoother than I ever deserved include "Katie-Katie," Elaine, Kari, Rose "Pole Dancer" Tang, Jo-Jo L., Albert (and Donna) and Judy at SCMP.
Others in HK whom I owe a debt and more include Roland Soong, Spike, Hamish, Andrew, The Three Simons (Song, World and bc), Lawrence Li, Dee the prosecutor and my faithful, nameless laundress in Telford Gardens. Outside the area but close to my heart, especially on deadline, are Jeremy Goldkorn and the crew at in Beijing, Mssr. Running Dog last-seen-in-Shanghai, and Dave at Mutant Palm.

And most of all thanks to the faithful readers who've mostly stuck with it despite SZ Zen's many downs and woefully few ups, particularly Cristobal R., L. Kim F., amiga Jean, Matt & Deb, Ben and brother Steve, Don C/, Leland, Gillers, Chuck S., Huddle ("Tanya"), Matty Dred, Tomas Fogarty, Sherry-in-Almost-Lost, NM., Rob R. (thanks muchly for the George Strait and more discs), The Dunham clan, mi familia, Nate, Da7e, Ty, and all at daverockstheuniverse, Danish Peter, Fred, Bob, Susan, Michelle, Jeeter and Devil Dog at WX, the anonymous Euro researcher at the Antarctic ice station, a dogged reader in Hungary, and a couple of English-speaking mainland Chinese readers who followed me when Blogspot wasn't being blocked by China's Great Firewall and whose names I've also regretfully lost.

The pictures here are almost equally random. Most probably meant more to me despite a lack of photogenic appeal. Anyone wanting to follow the sequel, tenatively titled "Son of Shenzhen Zen, (or something like it) is welcome to e-mail me at average underscore guy26 at yahoo dot com for a link when I finally get it together.

And yes, thanks to C. Our song will continue, just in a different format. In my life, I've loved you best.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Song for Simon

If you are reading this blog it's largely due to a Chinese photographer you've likely never heard of.

In July 2003, after a gig shooting the Clinton White House for China's state news agency, Xinhua, Simon Song (Song Xiaogang) was a 38-year-old intern/journalism student from Hong Kong University working as an intern at New York's most excitable tabloid, The New York Daily News. He'd gone from photographing the likes of Bill and Hillary, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Bob Dole, and Socks, the Clinton cat to daily weather pictures, Martha Stewart's court house visits, and various New-York-only style gatherings and protests.

I was in Boulder, Colorado in July 2003 mulling over whether I should take a blind leap to teach English at a summer camp in Shenzhen, China a city I'd never heard of until seeing a "Help Wanted - Native English Speakers" notice on the Internet. I was also reading the New Yorker faithfully and a Talk of the Town item grabbed my imagination. Filed under "Cultural Exchange Department" it was a graceful, witty write-up about a Chinese photographer named Simon Song and an English language blog he was writing about working and living in New York.

Mead described it thusly: "...a transformation of our more mundane comings and goings into exotic objects of anthropology." In particular she reprinted Song's reaction to seeing a black woman reading Sun Tze's Art of War on the NYC subway. "Oh," Song wrote, "Can you imagine seeing a foreigner, a girl, reading ‘The Art of War’ on a NY MTA?”

Well, yes, I could. But Song's sense of wonder as well as his droll observation that "I transmitted three weather pictures to the Daily News system. They like to have weather pictures" both moved me and made me laugh. I'd had an editor at a newspaper in Nebraska for whom The Weather was King. I could relate.

Shortly thereafter I decided to begin a blog about Shenzhen using the story as my inspiration. Fast forward to 2004 and I was working for The Standard and on an assignment with a soft spoken Chinese photographer named Simon. We were making small talk, getting to know one another and killing time. After some prodding on my part, he mentioned his White House experience, as well as the Daily News.

"That's cool!" I said. "You know New Yorker magazine?" He nodded. I kept babbling. "A great magazine! One of America's best! Anyway, I read a wonderful piece in it just before I came to China. It was about a Chinese photographer who was also working at the Daily News and the blog he was keeping. I can't remember his name but it really inspired me...Did you know him?"

Simon nodded slightly, but was silent for an almost unnaturally long time. Then he spoke. "Uh...that was me."

I went mildly batshit. "You? That was you? Man, that is so damn cool. The New Yorker! Do you still have the article?" Simon said he did but had neglected to frame it. He's a modest guy, as I have said. A mellow fellow who relaxes by taking classical Chinese music lessons and prefers to photograph antique furniture and architectural details when in Macau rather than hitting the casinos and bars. (This last observation comes from personal experience.)

Fast forward again to early this week. Simon had long since vacated The Standard for a better position for more pay at The South China Morning Post. We hadn't seen one another for awhile and agreed to short reunion in a small cafe/bar in Wanchai. Typically, he waited until we were about to part to tell me off-handedly that he had had just finished writing his third book, a translation of a self-help/inspirational work by a Chinese Buddhist nun.

"Your third?" I asked. "I know about the nun one now. And I know about the first one. What was the second?"

He happened to have it with him. It was a first-person account of his life overseas covering the White House and later in New York. I thumbed through the Chinese text looking at the pictures and saw one I had never seen before. It was Simon in the New Yorker office with Rebecca Mead. I kept turning the pages and saw the entire chapter was devoted to his moment of Talk of the Town fame, complete with an English reprint of Mead's story.

"Hey! New Yorker offices...what a great picture! Simon, you had hair then! Your blog! A whole chapter! How cool is this?"

Simon smiled and nodded. "Did the publisher get permission from the New Yorker to reprint the story?" I asked. The book was published by Xinhua and I already suspected that I knew the answer. Despite its aspirations to be a world class media empire, Xinhua isn't exactly universally known for high ethical standards, especially when it comes to publishing and copyright issues.

Simon winced just a bit. "No," he said. "That's okay," I replied. "No biggie. I'm just so glad to see this again. You know, we probably wouldn't be together here right now if it wasn't written."

Simon graciously gave me the book, signed it, we shook hands and went our separate ways. I read the English reprint twice while riding home on the MTR. A middle aged Chinese man near me noticed I was immersed in what appeared to be an entirely Chinese book and complimented me on reading it. "Very nice to see a foreigner reading Chinese," he said.

"Yeah," I said, closing it to hide the English text. "Uh...I, ah, actually I don't read it very well. But thank you. It's by a Chinese friend of mine. He wrote about seeing foreigners reading Chinese authors in New York."

Here's an (unauthorized) reprint of Mead's column about Simon courtesy of the New Yorker online archives.

If, in years to come, an average New Yorker is asked to recall the most newsworthy events of June, 2003, he or she will probably be stumped. The biggest story in town was the record-breaking rainfall, which, though significant in the context of global warming and footwear ruination, was soft news. We were not blighted by terrorism, or by political scandal, or even by any particularly egregious celebrity misbehavior, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s hookup notwithstanding.

However, to Simon Song, an intern on the photo desk at the News, June provided a parade of extraordinary sights and outlandish events. Song, a thirty-eight-year-old native of the People’s Republic of China who is enrolled at the University of Hong Kong, has been keeping an online diary of his activities and impressions, along with examples of his photography, at There, in slightly off-kilter English, he has chronicled his encounters with the city’s justice system (“We went to Court House to cover Martha Stewart. We stood in the chilly wind for nearly 4 hours”); the World Trade Center site (“I was deeply moved by what I saw. It gave me strength and power rather than tears and fear”); and the general cultural richness of the city. On June 4th, he recounted, his assignments included “Policemen issuing tickets, the raining day today and a naked demonstration against the animal leather clothes.”

While Song’s natural readership consists of his friends and his family, the site provides, for the New Yorkers who have stumbled across it, a transformation of our more mundane comings and goings into exotic objects of anthropology. Of the opening night of “Turandot” in Central Park, Song wrote, “It is not a Opera performance. It is more like a after-work big party.” And of a subway ride: “This morning, I saw a black girl reading a book ‘The Art of War.’ I told myself: ‘This is a nice book name.’ Then I saw the author of the book: Sun Tze. Oh, can you imagine seeing a foreigner, a girl, reading ‘The Art of War’ on a NY MTA?”

Song, whose résumé reveals that he was working in the Xinhua News Agency in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in 1989, recounts his surprise at attending an anti-police rally at City Hall Park. “It was a scene that seemed strange to me,” he wrote. “People shouted loudly against the police and the policemen stood quietly beside to keep the order and safety of the demonstrators.” The news judgments of his employer have also been worthy of note. On June 23rd, Song wrote, “I transmitted three weather pictures to the Daily News system. They like to have weather pictures.”

Not every New York moment has been easy for Song, who has been living at the International House, near Columbia University. His wife remained in Beijing, and loneliness has been a problem. After visiting Central Park, Song wrote, “The bad thing is that I don’t have a friend with me there,” and he has reflected on his incapacity for leisure. “No matter in the HKU or here near Columbia, I wonder why I don’t have time to make myself feel easy: sitting in the sunshine, drinking a coke, reading a novel. Or going to a beach, enjoying the breeze. Life is pushing hard for me.”

But Song’s New York is, over all, a place of enlightenment, amusement, and opportunity. Song attended the gay-pride parade, and declared himself amazed. “Thought I might see a bunch of people on streets. But it turned out to be such a big parade,” he wrote. “American people like to find themselves a lot of fun. People standing beside the streets cheered the parade. You don’t need to be gays or gay right activists to enjoy a colorful parade and the happy atmosphere.” Song’s photo of the day showed a parader wearing a rainbow-colored Statue of Liberty outfit, a sight that moved him to remark upon what, even in a slow news month, remains the undercurrent of all our daily affairs: “New York is a city full of surprises and wonders.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tick Tock

A few weeks ago C & I had the pleasure of hosting two, rare foreign Hong Kong visitors in Shenzhen. Not a lot of them are willing to make the plunge, unless it's a quick in-and-out involving the ol' in-and-out and/or a swift trip at the Lohou border to score quickie counterfeit stuff, a massage, some non-Cantonese Chinese food and back again.

Thanks to C's connections and a story idea I had we had a different tour agenda for my New Zealand chum, H., and an English lass, N.

"Hey, kids! Instead of Windows of the World, Splendid China or Shenzhen's Tallest Building, how 'bout we visit a counterfeit watch factory?" The factory in question is run by a first cousin of C's, a cheerful 35-year-old fellow who originally made legit time pieces in their northeast China hometown of Dandong til the lure of more money and competition with North Korean counterfeit watch makers across the Yalu River drove him south to Shenzhen. His current set-up is a slightly scarifying operation; three floors up in a non-descript structure in an older, less-developed Shenzhen neighborhood it contains at least one room reeking of toxic plating fumes where brain jangled teenage employees without masks incur long-term neural damage working 7.30am-6pm, 6-days/wk. while crafting fake designer time pieces for about US$2/day.

First an introduction: N is tall, thin - 6-1 ft, 6-2 maybe? - and blonde. She also speaks fluent Mandarin. Thus in Shenzhen and anywhere else in China she is both an object of basic curiousity (see: tall, thin, blonde, female) and also one of extreme wonder (as in: "How wonderous that a young, exotic foreign female speaks our language so well, while that old, fat, red-faced, hairy barbarian loser squiring this group around and trying to poke into my fake watch factory speaks nothing but broken phrases and babble!")

She and C were the keys to getting her cousin to open up a little more. Mr. Wong as I'll call him (not his real name, but I'd have to kill you, etc. if I told you) was entranced by N and practically crawled on broken glass as he chatted her up while escorting us out of his fake watch sweatshop to the nearest taxi artery. You can read about some of it here.

And if you're in the market for a mass order of fake Thomas the Tank Engine, Mickey Mouse, Validmir Putin (or the Lone Ranger) on a White Steed, Hugo Boss, Rolex, Omega, Fossil, Tag Heuer, Beijing Olympics etc., watches, lemme know. I know a guy who might help. And if N agrees to a dinner date, I bet he'd drop the price even more...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gallon of Gas
I love the smell of a flammable liquid in the morning and that's what greeted me when I arrived at the third floor of the mighty Sing Tao Publishing building at about 10.45am today. It reeked of gas fumes and the reception area was crawling with cops.

The third floor mostly houses the Sing Tao circulation department in addition to the temporary office where I'm working on a contract project with five other folks. It does not contain an advertising department or a newsroom, though there are two newspapers, Sing Tao Daily and The Standard on other floors.

But details like that didn't seem to bother the smartly dressed, Mandarin-speaking loonball who'd come into the foyer at about 9am, sat on a red fabric covered chair and demanded to place an advertisement. When he was asked by a receptionist what sort of ad, he didn't reply but instead poured a plastic jar of kerosene, gas or lighter fluid over himself and demanded to see "the editor-in-chief." He didn't specify a newspaper. He was also gripping a box cutter, and, reports vary, perhaps a lighter.

I gotta hand it to the receptionist who calmly told him to wait 10 minutes for the "editor-in-chief" to see him. She called the cops instead who tumbled in shortly thereafter later and hustled him out. I arrived after the excitment to see one of the humble cleaning ladies methodically soaking up the fluid with a wad of paper towels as Hong Kong's finest wandered around photographing the soaked, fume-laden chair which looked as though someone had urinated all over it.

Security guards said gas man had been here twice yesterday but because it was a public holiday (Buddha's Birthday) there was no one to take his ad, hear his demands or to watch him try to torch or cut himself. A former Standard coworker also cracked that he'd have had no luck placing an ad in that paper, even on a working day...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lost (in the) Supermarket
When I moved into my Hong Kong shopping center cum apartment complex about three years ago there were two, count 'em, two super markets. As of last week there are none, though Telford Gardens houses 15,000 or more souls, many of them seemingly on the far side of 118 years.

Expired leases and raised rents are the explanations, though the space where the latest one closed is supposed to be reoccupied by another grocer, in, "oh, not sure, maybe ... two, maybe three months?" according to the zombie housing management officer whom I beat senseless with a shovel in order to extract the informaton.

Meanwhile, if old Auntie Kao or I want basics like toilet paper, rice, eggs, chicken feet, fish heads and fresh bovine bronchial tubes the nearest option is either a shuttle bus that runs only between 8.30am-12.30pm -- perfect for the day shift working stiffs! -- to some other super market several time zones away or to hump it on foot up and down over 170-some stairs, through sweaty throngs, monsoons, 90% humidity and an overpass or two to a slightly closer purveyor of expired freshness-dated goods.

I wanted to complain, find a solution, start a petition, rally, organize, march -- whatever it took to change this sad state of affairs. After failing miserably at the housing management office where my Ugly American act got me virtually nothing but blank stares and contrived "apologies" I decided to try my luck with my District Councillor, a fiftysomething grandmother named Winnie Poon. I'd seen her office almost daily but had never ventured inside.

Winnie was thrilled to see me. "You are only the second gweilo to visit this office!" she enthused. What happened to the first? I wondered, but didn't ask.

Winnie has been a District Councillor (the HK equivalent of an alderman) for more than 20 years. She's a staunch liberal who admired the "Support the Tiananmen Mothers" T-shirt I was wearing, and she had already fought the good fight to no avail to keep uninterrupted access to groceries for Telford Gardens residents. She showed me a petition with 10,000 signatures pleading for the management to help keep a store open.

Result? Nada. "No one cares," Winnie said of the management. She also showed me pictures of creaky, wobbling outraged elderly residents picketing and waving Chinese language signs protesting the closure. It was Winnie who arranged for the shuttle bus -- she said the limited hours were the best she could do -- and said she'd also offered to collect money and grocery orders for delivery service if someone wanted to spend HK$400 (about US$50) for a minimum order.

I thanked Winnies for her efforts, declined the delivery option because of potential language/brand name snafus and then learned that she had an American son-in-law.

"Where's he from?"

"Utah," she replied. Then the kicker. "I'm a Mormon!" she said smiling broadly. She might as well of said, "I'm a transsexual Venutian bobsled racer!"

I'd never met a native Hong Kong Mormon, though I've encountered plenty of the white, ever-smiling USA and English LDS missionaries here with their name tags, permanent press shirts, cheap ties and clunky black and brown shoes trying to buttonhole me and others into believing that in 1827 a guy named Joseph Smith dug up some magical gold tablets in upstate New York courtesy of an angel named "Moroni." Joe needed two years and some magic glasses to read and translate them as The Book of Mormon, a work aptly described by Mark Twain as "chloroform in print."

"You know, it just all sounds like a fairy tale to me," I said after I'd impressed Winnie with my minimal knowledge of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Moroni, Nephites, Urim and Thummim and Jesus's post-death Tour of the Americas. I didn't press her on why Indians used steel bows in pre-Columbian America or why the Lord took until 1978 to reveal to LDS honcho Spencer Kimball that it was finally okay to allow blacks to be priests. And I didn't make any polgamist or Osmond Family jokes or mention a nasty little LDS secret called the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

"All religions sound like fairy tales," she replied, smiling.

"Yeah, a dead guy comes back to life three days after being nailed to a tree ... waters part miraculously ... Mary's face appears suddenly on the hood of a 1977 Chevy Nova..." I mumbled more to myself. I cleared my throat.

"Maybe you could pray for a new supermarket soon, though," I said more clearly. "A miraculous supply of fish and loaves that we wouldn't have to walk a couple miles to find. That would be a fairy tale I could believe in."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Son Also Rises/Smuggler's Blues

Photo by Ty Hart
It was about 10.30am Saturday in Hong Kong when my cell phone rang again for about the eighth time that morning. I sighed. "Another call from the piano smugglers," I thought, almost reflexively handing the phone to C, until I noticed that it was an unknown caller.

For readers faithful enough to recall niggling details of past posts, C's desire for a piano has never abated and to make a long story very short we were due to take possession of one on Saturday, a free(!) 12-year-old English made standup courtesy of a charitable expat pal whose 14-year-old daughter had foresaken it and Chopin in favor of Internet games like Smart Anime Mania's "Lupin the 3d" and "Virtual Joyce's" Lover Personality Test. "Thank you, Jeebus!" I babbled at the time. "You've saved our relationship!" He pried me from his ankle and wiped my drool from his otherwise spotless deck shoes. "Just get it moved, pronto," he replied.

Only one hitch. After several calls to legitimate moving companies I found it's illegal (and prohibitively expensive) for a foreigner to move furniture from Hong Kong to Shenzhen/mainland China without documents that I don't possess nor could ever come by easily. And apparently it's illegal for a Chinese citizen -- i.e. C -- to import furniture from Hong Kong, period. So, C found some piano smugglers in Shenzhen. Initially, the price was right and no paperwork needed. At least that was the initial play. Suffice to say the piano is currently being held hostage in a Hong Kong/Shenzhen border warehouse in the New Territories. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This began as a tribute to my son.

The smugglers had been calling every 10-15 minutes since 9am with excuses with why they couldn't make it on time (or at all). I'd spent the time listening to C forcefully shout, cajole and threaten them and wondering if it would all eventually result in a story reading: "The dismembered, partially decomposed remains of an unidentified foreign man and a Chinese woman were found stuffed in an abandoned, damaged piano in a New Territories warehouse Thursday after nearby residents complained of an 'inauspicious smell'..."

So it was with some trepidation I answered the phone only to hear my sister calling from a Des Moines, Iowa hotel room where it was about 9.30pm Friday and graduation eve for my son, Julian, at Drake University. A mixture of pride, love, shame and melancholy swept over me. I had no financial means to be there and it seemed only a day or so ago that he and I had been at the Drake new student orientation, with me shortly to decamp to Shenzhen for a three week gig; one which has turned into four years.

In the meantime he's gotten a journalism degree which he's about to transmute into a pr writing gig with a Major American Beer Company. I used to look down on pr gigs, especially with mainstream corporate America. But times have changed while I have essentially remained in a state of arrested emotional and professional development, circa 1972. Which is why he's on the way up while I'm without a retirement plan of any kind, semi-employed in a foreign city to which I owe massive back taxes and am worrying about smuggling pianos and writing crapola for hire. My next thought was of me begging him for a job writing press releases for Duff Beer.

"I dunno, Dad," he says in the fantasy. "We do have an opening for an under assistant fork lift driver on the 11pm-8am distribution shift in the Fargo warehouse. Tuesdays off."

Damn. I can't take credit for much good in my life, but raising him is the best thing I've ever done and I wished badly at that moment I'd been in Iowa to see another turn of the wheel instead of sitting out the 6-Party Sino-Hong Kong Piano Removal Talks. I thought about the best - and a couple of the worst - times with Julian. None were exactly Hallmark or Kodak moments, mostly just goofing on the couch as we watched The Simpsons, The Critic or King of the Hill. Or younger times, nursing him through a kinghell migraine, pushing him on swings on an cold, clear and quiet Colorado autumn afternoon, or teaching him the words to The Byrds' Chestnut Mare or Aretha Franklin's Respect. "R-p-e-c-s-e-t-t!" he'd chant, 5-years-old, squeaky voiced and off-key to Sister 'Ree.
I ached. I put down the phone after talking with him, my father, sister and after C had taken her turn.

I went into the bathroom, shut the door, turned on the water and began crying a little. The phone whooped again and C squabbled with the piano mafia and then shouted through the door that it was all a go. I wiped my face and came out sniffling some.

"What's wrong?" she asked. "You're crying?"

"Nah," I said, "Just washed my face. Allergies, maybe. C'mon. We've got a piano to smuggle."

Happy graduation, Julian. I love you. I miss you.

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