Monday, September 13, 2004

My Back Pages
Once in awhile the novelty of living and working on an overcrowded small foreign rock teeming with 90% humidity, Venusian lead paint skies, dengue fever bearing mosquitoes, relentless public service commercials warning against putting fresh chickens in your suitcase and visiting poultry farms while on vacation, and seemingly hundreds of small, wiry froggy men shadowing you hissing "Rolex copy? Fake Rolex copy, sah?'' gets to be a little old and you find yourself yearning for a taste of home.
So you hop on the MTR and head for Central -- more or less Hong Kong's downtown -- elbow your way through the hordes of expensively clad HK up-and-comers who look right through you and your Dead Kennedys T-shirt, faded cargo shorts and Japanese reed flip-flops and go to Al's Diner. Inside, except for the Filipina waitress, it's a dead-on replica of an American diner, complete with the (non-working) table juke boxes. You order the first Greek omelette, home fries and Texas toast you've had in a year and start listening to the piped in music.
It's an unintentional soundtrack for your life. Some good, some sad and the memories kick in. Goddamn Winchester Cathedral of all things. You're 13 or so singing that lousy song along with a neighborhood near-misfit Bill Kroeger who, barely 17 years later, would die of AIDS. Pictures of Matchstick Men and you're a 14-year-old Boulder Ranger digging hiking paths and listening to it on a Wards transistor radio as future semi-rock star Eugene Chadbourne lectures you on what a simplistic, but killer lead guitar riff it has.
Gimme Some Loving and you're a 16-year-old dishwasher in Boulder restaurant watching a lanky older waiter ("a college guy!') named Tom Wick do a killer Stevie Winwood impersonation and later sell you your first full lid of pot. Tom did a U-turn and bottomed out as a "Clown for Christ" a few years later. And you? Well, you've bottomed out a few times, but thankfully none of them involved Christ or clowns.
Go Now before the Moody Blues got cosmic. No real first-hand memories, but you're at a Paul McCartney concert with your second wife hearing ex-Moodies/then-Wings member Denny Laine rework it. You sure miss her.
The omelette tastes great, the feta cheese is fresh, there's just enough grease to coat the crispy home fries and it's real New Zealand butter to spread on the toast. Savor the small things, you tell yourself as the clatter and buzz of Hong Kong begins to reassert itself through the glass.
Then it's time to find Grossman Visa because your China visa is about to expire and you want to keep visiting the mainland. After a few days of calling various visa services, you settled on Grossman because, unlike the others they answered the phone; answered your questions; spoke fluent English and had a good Jewish name even though the guy who answered the phone and your questions wasn't named Grossman and was about as Jewish as Deng Zaopeng. He was also brutally frank and told you that due to tit-for-tat international relations bickering that China has raised the prices and stakes for US citizens who want multiple entry visas for the mainland. It's supposed to be a poke at Bush for making it harder for Chinese tourists to enter the US, but you're taking it personally and immediately pissed at both regimes.
"A year ago? Six or seven months ago? Eeehh, no problem. But now, I'm not so sure we can do it. I'll let you know soon, maybe tomorrow and if there's a problem we'll try a, what do we say? Plan B?"
He's a naturalized American, law school grad and a member of the New York and Massachusetts bars. That's what the diplomas and certificates on the walls say, at least. So what's he doing back in Hong Kong pushing visas? And where's Grossman?
"He's in the States. His name, but I run the business. I am a defense attorney here, too - lots of drug cases, tong members, but ..." He stops and changes the subject and you don't press it.
You're just hoping if the visa doesn't come through he can use those tong connections for Plan B.
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