Sunday, January 28, 2007

(Ain't It Funny) How Time Slips Away

"Well, hello there, My, it's been a long, long time. How'm I doin'? Oh, I guess that I'm doin' fine. It's been so long now, but it seems now it was was only yesterday. Gee, ain't it funny how time slips away."

Yes, it's been a long time since rock 'n' roll, but I guess I like it fine, so far. Settling into my new gig which is located in Wanchai, very near Hong Kong's Flesh Trade Ground Zero. We're about a bra snap away.

Ricky's Tattoo is a block or two down the line along with a bar that has advertised itself for eons as Where the (1973 007 flick) 'Man with the Golden Gun' was filmed. And across the street next to the "American Restaurant Peking Food" eatery and the "Prince Edward Department of Social Services" (where I saw a large yellow bus for the "Hong Kong Spastics Association" parked recently) is tucked the squalid Crazy Horse bar. Not affiliated in any aesthetic or legal sense with the upscale Paris and Vegas outfits, nor, I suspect as a veneration site for the late, great Native American warrior..

Nah, perhaps the best part besides the upscale Russian hookers sometimes wandering into the ground floor lobby to use the restrooms affliated with the martini bar next door is the public hoops court next door. I go down umpteen floors about once every 90 minutes in an effort to both cut down on and sustain my bad cigs habit to watch the players, such as they are.

Spirited but not especially skillful doing their best Lebron, Carmello and Yao Ming moves. I'll sum it up by roughly quoting a tall, black sailor on leave from the USS Kittyhawk who, along with his shipmates, was awash in booze and Filipina hookers as I exited the building one recent night. "I love, love this court. Everytime we're here I'm on it. Bumping these guys, I feel like Lebron. I am Lebron!"

I don't feel like Lebron most days. Or myself on others. My new digs are great, the work undemanding and I'm with mostly American coworkers whose experience in China and multiplie linguistic skills far outstrip my ability to order ice water in Mandarin and to boast that I've eaten dog and have toured the exotic the Sun Yat Sen Museum in nearby Xujai. Or, uh, a discovered a CD supplier in Shenzhen who sells both John Coltrane and Yiddish folk songs. Sample dialogue from a couple beers- after-work:

Co-worker with mega years and multiple Chinese language/dialect skills: "So I was in (remote province accessible only by yaks or PLA choppers) and I thought she was speaking Shauguan! HarharharI Choke, spit. Turns out she was saying it in Kejia! (Table erupts in sympathetic laughter, more beers for all!) So I replied in Xiang....and then her brother whips out one of those White Storm Discipline Seung Style Long Swords and I spit out my baby panda brain salad and I say...."

Still I have some hopes. The other day the mention of a by-now old murder trial here came up. An American expat wife named Nancy Kissel had laced her hub's milkshake with a load o' sedatives and later beaten him to death, a crime for which she is now languishing for eternity in a Hong Kong prison. On the bright side, I mentioned that I'd been the keen mind who'd coined the term "Milk Shake Murder" for the first headline that had become a catch phrase and slug line worldwide for whatever wires were picking up the story.

A hush came over the newsroom and the guy who knows a zillion Chinese dialects and said quietly: "That was yours? You wrote that? You started 'Milkshake Murder?' That's cool. That's something to be proud of." Eh, maybe he was joking, gently mocking me. But you take what you can get even if you're not Lebron.

Friday, January 05, 2007

At the time it seemed like another doomed day in Shenzhen shopping hell. I'd cashed in my chips for a few days making up with C over the New Year debacle and my credit was up.

"Can we take a few minutes visit the outdoor market?" she asked casually midway through an extended trip that had originally begun as a taxi+subway jaunt of 70 minutes to hit Shenzhen's one HSBC ATM machine, buy me a new phone card and us some Western style groceries.

"A few minutes" in C speak is about 90 minutes, give or take 30-40 in real time. Nonetheless there was no mention of malls or new shoes and I sucked it up. "Sure," I said, casually using a flaming tire iron, mace and a spare pitbull to fend off the three guys pushing pirate porno dvds and the foaming, rabid one-armed beggar woman. "Let's rock at the outdoor market, whatever, wherever it is."

Turned out I'd been there before only about 2 years prior to buy bogus Calvin Kline boxers for about 34 cents each that ultimately didn't fit and which now enjoy a place of honor as dish rags in Hong Kong. But the neighborhood had changed and my original focal point, a hotel, was nowhere in sight as we approached the back end. "Hey, wait, is there where I bought the bad underwear?.."

"Yes, yes," she said. "And the two rubber Osam Bin-Laden dolls." I had forgotten about them and the fact that in a weak moment I had wound up giving them to a Thai hooker who had admired them as something her daughter might want. "What did you do with them?" C asked. "Um, er, lost them. Or one of those things, dealies, something, whatever, maybe..hmmm... Hey, look! Shoes!..." I replied.

Subject changed and we wandered aimlessly through the market that was pushing an astonishing variety of crapola ranging from shoddy lingerie to worse jewelry and shoes that could only fit a Hobbit. Until, until we I spotted a half-stall sporting photocopied pictures of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and John Lennon and from which eminated some of the coolest music I'd heard since hitting Shenzhen. kind of Curtis Mayfield meets the Kazechstan-Cuban Jive Sisters in Frank Zappa's basement. Not your usual Shenzhen fare, pictures, music and all.

Intrigued, I crept in pulling C and found two small walls of Chinese translations of books such as Lolita, Howl. and others about French film, American beatniks, Martin Scorsese, Hindu poetry and one entitled Make Money Like the Jews. "What about the music? I asked C. Do they have it?"

Did they. The sullen kid pulled out four thick photocopied notebooks of CD titles ranging from Klezmer music, Yiddish folk songs, a John Hammond collection, Muddy Waters double disc retrospective, Afro-Franco World Beat, Franco-Afro Beat World, Miles Davis, Ry Cooder, Velvet Underground, Hank Williams, Beastie Boys, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chet Baker, Diane Krall, Iggy Pop, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Blink 182, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Rosanne Cash. And many, many, many I'd never heard of. There was more diverse music in this near-closet than any chain or indy record store I'd ever been to in the US. Yeah, they were all bootlegged and there were one or two John Denvers, but nary an Eagles or Carpenters or soundtrack from The Titanic, thankyewjeebus.

"Ten yuan (US$1.30) each. Buy ten, get 1 free. But really can we afford it?" C translated and asked as I salivated and began mindlessly checking off names and titles, eating up my dwindling savings and about 2 weeks of our planned grocery money in the process.

"We can live on James Brown Live at the Apollo, and Lou Reed Rock n Roll Animal for about two to four meals, maybe more, I'm sure. The energy alone will keep us going," I reassured her.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Shoot Out the Lights
"I've been thinking hard about this and tonight has to be number two or three in my Top 3 Worst New Year's Eves," I told C in clipped tones via cell phone at about 10pm that night as I was on the bus from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.

I'd just done the mature adult male thing -- men always leave, doncha know? -- and had cut short what had initially promised to be an uneventful, maybe idyllic Dec 31-Jan 5 or 6 respite in Shenzhen. But following one of those domestic spats that flare suddenly outta nowhere for no apparent reason on -- in this case New Year's Eve -- I was outta there.

Up 'til 8:30pm things had been mostly perfect, too perfect perhaps, for an age and culturally divided couple living on the edge of the guy's dwindling unemployment savings/borrowings. A day of relaxation, slow lunch, reading, some tunes, Prison Break (thank you, PRC pirate video empire) and some separate interests as in I prepared a modest evening's repast of pasta, chicken, (hard to find) artichoke hearts, wine and (equally hard to find) avacado salad while she went to her piano lessons. (Note to discerning playwrights: if a gun or a mention of a piano appears in the first act, rest assured that chaos will ensue by the third).

She even lit candles upon returning, sigh. A night out for dancing, drinks and New Year frivolity was already planned, that is, until midway through her second helping of fake fancy pasta chicken she asked about....

Well, forget about specific details. But theoretically let's say you were unemployed at present, expecting new employment in about 15-17 days, but sucking air financially and with nothing but a half month's paycheck following that and you were already deep in hock, theoretically of course, to the Hong Kong tax leeches plus Visa etc in the USA, how would you respond, in a theoretical sense, of course, to a sudden question over candle light and (hard to find) avacados and artichokes, such as: "When will you buy me a piano? In January or February?"

As we're dealing purely in metaphors, symbols and coded language here, let's not assume that a piano was the specific point of the puzzling question. Maybe it was an F-17 jet. Or a sable-lined BMW. Or a simple request such as "When will you bring the only grandmother who loved me back from the dead?"

No matter. I sucked it in, put down my (rare, very rare to find, much less to savor in Shenzhen) forkful of avacado and without raising my voice said: "You know, it's been a swell New Year's Eve. But no (fill in the blank, piano, jet, sable lined BMW, resurrection) will be immediately forthcoming until I get my taxes and other sundry debts under control. Please be patient. And pass the pasta."

You know the whooha about global warming? Twenty seconds with C after my reply could reverse the whole shebang. 10th Avenue Freeze Out, as Bruce once sang. Big time glacial zone because Santa can't pony up a (fill in the blank, maybe a piano) in a month or two. I retreat to the bedroom to re-read a Brit thriller for the second time and she bolts to sulk on the Internet with her virtual pals. An olive branch as in "Uh, are you interested in still going out tonight for New Year's?" is met with stone, soul ummmph. Nearly silence. Worse, though.

So I thought about it. Do I want to spend this night and probably most of the next day in a stone frozen cold zone or do I want to scamper back to Hong Kong where my warm amiable CD pals Zimmy, Mick and Keef, Prince, The late, great Godfather, Townes, and Warren Z, and, yeah, Neil singing "Why Do I Keep Fucking Up?" will not only reinforce my sense of self-pity and justification but also not talk back to me? Damn sure, they won't ask me to buy them a piano. I'm outta there.

The cell rings midway to Hong Kong. It's C and she's kinda sorry. I'm also one sorry s.o.b., but the train (or bus in this case) keeps a-rollin' and we both do a blahblahblah semi-making up, but not completely dialogue.

And I reflected on the worst New Year's Eve ever for me. One of two, actually, both involving my first wife, but this one in particular whereupon we received an invite from our married Korean insurance agent and "family friend" (who had just firmly broken off a three year affair with me) for a New Year's Eve party at her home. At the time I decided to deal with the ensuing juju in an adult and entirely mature manner by swallowing a load of magic mushrooms that had been steeped in a bottle of Jim Beam for about 8 months.

Not the best decision. Wrong call. I'll spare most details like the towers of flames I hallucinated while driving to the illcit locale of many of our former assignations (she preferred her place to cheap motels) and the eerie facial and verbal tricks (plasto-people from Hell's cafeteria third shift if that makes any sense) that greeted me when my soon-to-be ex and I arrived to ring in the New Year. I wound up holing up with my former lover's 14-year-old son in a study watching reconstituted Aerosmith rock in New Year's Eve on MTV or something and midway through muttering something like: "Your mom was sure good in bed."

"Wha? Huh? Mr Mitchell?"

"Your, uh, I said, "I think, your, I said, I said, mother has a good head. Very smart. A very nice person. And, uh, do you think we can do something about those flames, by the way? Thanks."

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