Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The more contact I have with a few other foreign barbarians here, the more the feeling grows that perhaps it's better for their families, ex-girlfriends and Western Civilization in general that they are here and not exhorting from a crowded street corner or breaking into a church service or day care center in New York, Toronto, L.A. or London to spread the urgent news about the demonic little squirrel people that live in their socks.
A fellow American I'll call "S" is a case in point. S also lives in the Lucky Number complex, though - thankfully - I've had little contact with him since I first encountered him about three days after my arrival in September.
He's always "very busy." Very, very busy "teaching" and "editing" and "setting up deals" and "marketing trade deals." He's about 33 or so, wiry, has brown curly hair, an intense gaze that never rests or focuses from behind triangular wire rims and is about 5-9. And, despite his strident claim to be an L.A.-native, he has New York - more specifically, Long Island - written all over him. It's in his accent and gestures and in occasional small details like calling a "pizza" a "pie." We run into each other occasionally coming and going from the apartment elevator and the exchanges have been mostly one-sided.
Me: "Hey, S. How's it going?"
S: (eyes skittering like green marbles in a paint shaker) "I'm busy. Very busy. Gotta run. What's new? I'm working on a trade deal, on deadline. My computer's down. Gotta find an Internet bar. Yeah, yeah. Busy. Trade deal. Editing it and marketing it. Teaching, too, all the time. What's your name again? I'm so busy I can't remember. It's crazy. You got a girlfriend? Mine moved out. Gotta find an Internet bar for my deadline. Girlfriend moved out. Gotta go. We gotta have coffee sometime."
Me: "Uh...OK. Coffee. Bye."
So imagine my surprise a few nights ago when we met on the way up the elevator and he asked if he could drop by my apartment.
"What do you do about medicine here?" was his first question before telling me that my place needs airing out.
"Uh, like what kind?" I said, thinking that Prozac or Lithium weren't probably readily available at the local pharmacies.
"You know. If you need medicine from the States, what do you do?"
He still hadn't said what kind, so I skipped the followup question and told him how I'd had problems getting blood pressure meds shipped here and - thanks to Peter-the-SZ-fixer - had finally found what appeared to be a trustworthy equivalent marketed by a Western pharmacutical company in China.
(Kids, don't try that at home.)
I offered to fix him up with Peter and asked again what he needed meds for.
He sighed, looked a little embarassed and ran his hand through his bushy brown hair.
"My hair. Baldness."
"Like Rogaine?" I asked in bemused disbelief.
No, not Rogaine. He followed a mind-numbing lecture on how Rogaine was one kind of hair growth treatment and he needed another kind, and, to be exact, some of kind medicine that is used to shrink prostates but also helps hair grow.
"But you've got plenty of hair," I said almost apologetically.
"You don't see! But I can," he replied. "A lot of people can't see it. But I know. I know." He tugged at a lock. "See! I'm losing it!"
I began edging toward the door.
"Yeah, OK. You're losing it. Right."
I again mentioned Peter and then suggested that he order some of the Prostate-Shrink/Hair Miracle Grow from the Internet, maybe from a Canadian pharmacy.
"But you don't know what you're really getting!" he said. "I've thought of all that. It could all be counterfeit, expecially from here. Lemme see your meds!"
I showed him the English language package and he'd heard of the company.
"But it's made here! It could be fake! How do you know?"
I told him I'd had my blood pressure checked before and after taking the stuff and it was back to normal since I started.
"But you still don't know for SURE!"
I was getting increasingly nervous and also felt my blood pressure beginning to rise.
"Uh, so what do you want to do? Why are you asking me if you've checked all the alternatives."
He sighed and for once looked straight at me.
"No one can help, I know. You know why? I want to buy it from Walgreens. It's got to be from Walgreens. Then I'll know it's real."
There is, of course, no Walgreens in China and no answer to a revelation like that, unless you're a trained therapist. Which I'm not. I just occasionally play one at the Lucky Number.

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