Babes in Dreamland

 Babes in Dreamland

by James L. Secor

 

We are lost in a dream world, people often say. But. . .don’t we control that dream world–which is only too real to us, the dreamers? And don’t we rule others out of it–and back into it again when it serves our purposes?

I used to have dreams. I don’t any more. I made sure of that. I take drugs to keep me awake at night. And during the day. For if I’m not sleeping at night I will fall asleep during the day. Right? So now, I don’t have any dreams. I mosey along doing my daily everyday routine without much notice of the world around me. A not-so-unpleasant side effect of the drug. That is, I move through reality as if it were a pleasant, dissociative. . .dream. As if I am not really in it as I watch it pass on. That is the only way I can keep my sanity.

Lest you think me insane. Lest you think me out of touch with things. Let me tell you of my dreams. The dreams that brought me to this reality state. They were recurrent dreams. Very vivid. Very frightening. Not only in Technicolor but in Techni-odor and Techni-touch. I often couldn’t get back to sleep, sitting staring into the darkness, a rabbit alert for the lurking predator. Panting. Heart racing. Always they were the same. Always the same plot and story line. Like a peddler of popular fiction, my dreams were made-to-order formula-written dramas. For years, I had my own little shop of horrors right in my head. Right in my bed. Lying beneath my pillow to bushwhack me at the first sign of inattention. Whenever I closed my eyes.

The worst thing about these dreams was that they began to impose themselves on the real world. The daylight world. I would feel disoriented at those times. Breathless. Frantic. I was told this was only anxiety and given some medication. But the variant occurrences continued to occur in a vast amalgamating array of ways. Without warning, like a jack-in-the-box with a fiend’s head. And, of course, at night I’d dream. Not every night, you understand, but repeatedly nonetheless.

So I stopped taking those drugs. I stopped believing there was something wrong with me, thinking I was insane because I couldn’t stop dreaming and seeing the same fearful unreality in the cold, clear light of day. Which, of course, put me right smack-dab in the middle of a conundrum: only the insane say they are sane so to maintain my sanity, my belief in what I’m seeing and experiencing in the world is to admit I am insane but since these dreams-in-reality are insane. . . .

“There are reasons for their being there. Let’s look at them. They are your dreams. You are projecting your irrational fears on a rational world. Now. . . .”

So. To maintain that the insanity that I see is insanity when in fact it can’t be because it’s reality is to prove my insanity. That is, I’m not seeing what it is I’m seeing. I’m not experiencing my experience. I’m not living what I’m living.

This was more unsettling than the reality of the dream.

As I say, I stopped the legal drugs. I found other, more effective drugs to solve the problem. In my frenzy I found how accessible illegal drugs were. Here was another case of invisibility–or visibility–when advantageous. Drugs were only menacingly underground when it was necessary for them to be so. That is, they were no problem until they were needed to be. Now, the appearance of my dream-like reality in reality does not bother me. Not in the least. If it bothers others, I wonder why they don’t invest in drugs to kill the pain. Shopping and extreme sports and sensual stimulation pall. Eventually. There is only so much you can take before numbness sets in. It’s irrational to put up with irrationality, so be rational and make the irrationality disappear. Take drugs! Make tolerance.

If you can’t see your dreams, you’re not having them, are you? If you’re not experiencing pain, you’re not having it, are you? And, of course, drugs produce a state of alternative reality and that’s not real, right?

At first, the dreams were only a part of what they became. They were only the chase scene. I was being chased. I was frantic. Eyes darting here and there. Behind me. These people were after me for. . .for. . . for what I’d done. They were hunting me. In the coarsest, most obvious way. No attempt to hide themselves, not attempt to follow me secretly. So sure of themselves. Their prey. Frightening, this kind of stalking. It makes you do things, believe things–I was something they had to have. This kind of hunting forces you into making incriminatory behavior. The simple attempt to escape is a sign of guilt. And, yet, I had to get away. There would be a loss of. . .of. . .of. . .what had I done.

What had I done?

I remember there was a priest in the first dream. A church, really, because I never saw another person. Just a form, the smooth concrete blocks of the building, the Doric columns out of an old movie. I’m not sure I heard a voice. A calm, assuring voice. Half whispering, “This way.” And showing me around the side of the building. Helping in my escape. A man who would lie for a just cause. A follower of God, a god of jealous vengeance–and, some said, love. Tough love under Gothic eaves. Were those monsters up there watching and passing judgment?

I was never inside the church. I was always running around the church, around the side and down into the. . .street? alley? It was dark. I could not tell. But I think it ran along the side of the stark, Gothic-Art Deco structure. In this stark black-and-white movie set world so much was unseen, unknown. I could not tell where the raw light originated from. I look for it but. . .I just saw black, black shadows and highlights. I couldn’t tell where I was. I couldn’t see the end of the. . .alley? I couldn’t tell who I was. I was running. Why? I didn’t know where I was going. But I was going–

And then I’d wake up.

I never got anywhere and they never got me. They were uniformed police, military police. No. Fascists. They were dutiful Fascists hunting down traitors to the cause. Like wild dogs. Clubs and knuckles and guns for claws. Black leather-gowned hands. Insistent in their starched shirt duty. And beating the found up. And torturing them. That’s what Fascists do. Tyrants. People who have a right to be right. And I was wrong. So. . . they could kill me. Dying for someone else’s a purpose.

An Inquisition.

A movie of myself. Being chased. Over and over again. Across the portico. Alongside this church. Down around the side into the shadowed passageway. Always helped by this unknown, unseen priest. “Come this way.” Always chased by Fascists. Wild dogs running their dinner to ground. Steady. Remorseless. Never tiring. Because they don’t go too fast. They’ve got all day. All night.

They got closer with each dream. I saw them clearer and clearer. Definitely Fascists. Brown uniforms. Sam Brown belts. Stiff high-crowned and steep beaked hats. Shadowy fox faces without movement and red glowing eyes. No definition. Yet stark. When they came out of the shadows. Stark. Well-defined art deco men-machines skulking quick-step, eyes glaring out of their darkness. Perpetual motion machine-men.

And always I would wake up in the same place. Caught in that side street or alleyway. Frozen in naked light. Ready for flight. Fear and anxiety mounting and filling up my eyes, making my breathing come faster and harder. My nostrils flared. Caught in the act of going. . .where? Where was I going?

When I started awake I was panting. Sweating. My nostrils flared.

In the streets outside, during the day, in the evenings before I went to sleep, I began seeing more and more uniformed police. Military-looking sorts in brownish clothing. They wore Sam Brown belts with mace canisters and guns and nightsticks and radios hanging off of them. Making it difficult for them to move quickly. They had come out of their cars and back on the streets. The cars were still there. They circled and circled around the block, watching. . .following. Looking for trouble. But now there were forces on the ground. And like their car-in-pursuit buddies circling, circling they knew nobody. Except he whom they were running to ground.

Where had they all come from? Ubiquitous.

Was I dreaming? No matter where I went, there they were. Watching. Walking easily along. Too easily. Looking for something. Stern faces. Glaring eyes. Knowing they’d find it. They always get their man.

If you look hard enough long enough, it is said, you’ll find what you are looking for; that is, you see what you want to see. Which is making it happen.

Did these crisp-shirted policemen make things happen? That’s not rational. Dispose of that thought. They are only peacekeepers. So was the Colt .45. Lots of people had them. Colt .45’s.

Then the dreams would stop for awhile. Months. But the inversion into the real world kept moving on. Inevitably, like amoebae eating. Slow and methodical. Fingers oozing to swallow up the intended. The marked. Every once in awhile I’d see riot-geared and plastic-shielded and space-helmeted policemen chasing people down blind alleys. Down streets toward other riot-geared and plastic-shielded and space-helmeted policemen. Nightsticks flashed brilliant black in the harsh light. Daylight. At night on television. On the News. Would they soon be chasing them across the rooftops? The Scarlet Pimpernel and Robin Hood flushed out into the open–I tried to laugh but it caught in my throat and gagged me. Sweating. Panting. Flared nostrils. I could not believe what I was watching. My dreams come true. Heaven help me, Mr. Disney!

And then the dreams would start up again. More intensely. Two men became three became four. Always running me into the black-and-white night gangland movie set. The outlaw cornered. Along the church portico and down into the shadows and highlights. Caught in the spotlight.

I was always running down a blind alley. A dead end street. Maybe it wasn’t but that’s the way I felt. I never saw the end. I could have projected my fear, my paranoia. Yes? That I couldn’t escape? Just what they wanted me to believe. If I believe I’m lost. If I believe I’ll fail. I will. Right?

I’d wake up before I got caught. Before I got anywhere.

Why am I being chased? What is it these Gestapo-like troops are wanting? What’s their story? What have I got? Is there no release from this manifested paranoia? It’s not mine. It’s imposed from outside. To what purpose?

I don’t know. I stand sweating and wondering. I grow dizzy with the pressure. The pressure of not knowing. The pressure of always being run to ground. . .and never getting there. Stuck at the mouth of the trap. Neither they nor I get to the far end. They do not catch me. I do not get caught. But I don’t get anywhere either. I wake up.

Why am I being chased? What is it I have that they want? Who are they, these costumed hunters?

So shaken. So shaken. Shaken and disoriented. Eyes wide, expecting. . .

Were they hiding here in the room? Would they be waiting for me outside my door? I’d get up and look about the house. Look out the windows into the blackness.

What happens next? What will happen in the next dream?

I became afraid of the night. Of closing my eyes. What if I blinked? And missed it.

And then I see on the news night-flying helicopters with bright piercing eyes scanning the ground, the streets, the buildings for. . .people? For runaways? For problem children? For trouble? Lighting up pieces of the night, pieces of the city like underworld crime movies, like slice-of-life-pies. Paranoid conspiracy theory mania. Art’s constructed worlds become life. And I fear for myself, for I have the same sensations as with my dreams. But the newscasters calmly announce they are out, these black night-flying helicopters, to make the city safer. These cyclopean machines appearing out of nowhere despite the thwack-thwack of their rotors.

In my dreams, the Fascists appear out of nowhere despite the bone-chilling studying of their boots on the pavement. Always somewhere else. And always right here. I’m already running, seeking a haven, when they come into the picture. They’ve been waiting just off camera. Waiting for their cue. They’re never late.

What is it I’ve done to be running from? What evil looms and billows like dark gathering clouds in the night over my head? Where am I going? Where am I going to go? I don’t know where it is I’m going. Where I’m trying to get to. Just away. Just–safety is just away from my pursuers. A place for me to catch my breath. I’ve got to catch my breath. There’s a stone in my diaphragm stealing my breath away. My lungs fill and there is no air there. It seeps back out leaving a hollow empty place. I can’t hold my breath. My head feels thick. I need a place to think clearly. Look at things and see what is happening. Where I’m going. What is in all this? But I’m alone and out of breath and running away from Fascists that suddenly appear out of the darkness to chase me through the black and white patchwork streets.

If they suddenly appear, they had to already be running after me, right? That part’s already established, right? Or have I manufactured them in order to give me a reason to be running? In the dream I hunt for rationality, a Frankenstein monster: there has to be reason, no?

Then I am being shown around the church building, half open large door off to one side, to an alleyway. A means of escape. And. . .caught! In the act. End of movie still shot, head turned, eyes wide. I’ll be back.

Then I began seeing pictures in the papers. Bad reprints of the movie set in my dreams. People being run down. Frightened rabbit eyes bulging for the camera. Taut faces. White teeth beneath stretched lips. Hands and arms extended in warding-off gestures. The wild dogs are upon them. I read episodes of people being run to ground. Captured. Manhandled. And then never heard or seen again. A neat Las Vegas disappearing act. Clearasil® and pimples: here today, gone tomorrow.

Notices were posted on walls and telephone poles and announced on the radio, on the television in stentorian voices of authority. Notices about a threat to our safety, to our way of life, to. . .us. Stories of why the new military-style police. They were everywhere. At the airport to greet everyone who disembarks, armed with semi-automatics. On the streets. In the buildings. At the shopping malls. In the bus/train/subway stations. In the hotels. On the elevators. Following us on the streets. Protecting us without smiling. The Great Freedom. Always with guns ready to bark.

When I saw them following me, I went to the doctor. The paranoid codswallop of my dreams becoming reality in reality. Is something wrong with me? Only anxiety, he said. Don’t worry. Projection of my fears on outside others. I’m being irrational. These things are not there. Here. Take these. You’ll feel better in a few days.  We’ll talk about it when you’re normalized.

No effect–other than more frequent dreaming. More furious running. Chasing. I could almost see those Fascist faces. Looming into my light. But always severely shadowed. Fox-like and piercing. Grimacing grins of glistening teeth. If I could see them maybe I’d know–but. . .always umbraed. I just couldn’t quite get a fix. When I was highlighted, they were in the shadows. When I was in the shadows, they were at the shadows’ edges. So close. So close. I almost knew why. I almost knew what was up. But I couldn’t stop to see. That would be the end.

Increased tension. My ability to function at work, doing mundane everyday things, was affected adversely. I would forget things. Or do them in reverse. I’d lie about what I’d done. Find excuses. It was never my fault. I was threatened with termination. Ha!–I was threatened without termination. What was I to do?

So. . .I found these other drugs. These drugs that keep me from sleeping. These drugs that keep me from dreaming. Day or night. And now, when I see what was once in my dreams out in the streets and on the TV I am unperturbed. Yes. . .it’s happening. But out there. Beyond me. Outside of me. I’m not included. I do not now see the dream inversion into the outside world, my world of the everyday, as real. Reality. Because there is no perception. Drugged, I go merrily along. Nothing affects me now.

I feel better not seeing the dream-reality. The dream-reality is invisible. I control it.

I must keep it that way or else. . .

 

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The Wonderful Potion

 The Wonderful Potion that Calls One’s Name

by James L. Secor

 

Even the moon all too soon sets and spreads the shadow of mountains across the once highlighted landscape and life is lost in the ensuring darkness. Often enough, the blazing dawn breaks too late and the enlightening sun reveals desiccation and the taut stretched skin of a once exuberant life. Is this chance masquerading, bells ringing and tambourine popping and jingling, as fate? For fate is more easily understood as a power than chance which, in its transiency, is without form, direction or, most importantly, meaning. Or is the desiccation due to a man-made impetuosity? Reason is a thing we all need in order to cope with living. Reason is predictable as the moon’s setting and the sun’s rising. And then there is the occasional eclipse to throw a pall over the world of man, the world humanity has made in his image.

Hundreds of years of war gives life a shallow arid bowl to live in, sifting through the fine dust of civilization for a gleam of hope, for Pandora’s box cannot be far off, certainly not beyond reach and certainly no longer full of the plagues and infestations that so beset humankind upon its first opening. War being the carrier of the diseases. War and fear that rise up out of even the basest ground to strangle like noxious weeds the flowers in their innocence. Yet, after the horror of wars’ devastations, life again blooms, shoots and tendrils spreading the plenteous nature of humanity to the far corners of the world. But as smiles soon fade and prophets come with dire predictions, so the gaiety of reprieve is eclipsed.

The higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his tail and people can rely on others about as much as a monkey who falls from a tree.

* * *

Only one ferry ran from the mainland to Rún Eyll and back again. A day trip on an old tug that had seen better days and received none of the benefits of the new world. Creaky, slow and reliable, the Obygo Ferry plied the calm waters delivering little in the way of goods and returning with barrels of olives and olive oil, purportedly the best in the land, albeit Rún Eyll was all but forgot in the merchants’ rush for enrichment.

Aside from the richness of the olive business, Rún Eyll was considered a mysterious island inhabited by ghosts and ghouls and other creatures wailing and crying out in the night to freeze the blood of the most inveterate trader. The people, too, were considered weird and all but ignorant, for they spoke little and grunted often. Stories abounded nevertheless that more normal, that is more human, inhabitants abided there. But since they were never encountered, the stories were deemed without merit, silly folktales. If you only see short, bowlegged and bespectacled Japanese with black hair, buck teeth and of superior intellect, all Japanese are thus so. It stands to reason.

The leaves of the forested hills of Rún Eyll were faded yellow and reds falling to cover the ground in crisp brown suggesting to Mr. Jada the evanescence of life, filling his heart with a vague feeling of grief. Mr. Jada, a man of 50 or so, sighed at the drab and empty life on Rún Eyll and felt the pull of irrepressible yearnings unfulfilled. He was a man of means with no outlet to enjoyment. As such, his riches and the making of more held no fascination for him in a backward island. Overwhelmed by the bleakness of this life, he set out for the Capital. Appropriately disposing of his assets, with light step Mr. Jada, along with his house servant of many years, boarded the Obygo Ferry on the way to his dreams of leisure and pleasure as he’d been told were for the asking–for the man with the means and will to satisfaction–in the Capital. Tasty as the peaches on the lower limbs, true succulence resides higher up in the canopy.

Mr. Jada bought a little but appropriate dwelling in a moderately fashionable district in which to begin his new life. A great adventure opened up before him, a roaring good time of luxury all aglitter with rainbows of color only ever dreamed about on dusty, dusky Rún Eyll. The stories told by the merchants and ferrymen were true after all.

Mr. Jada was ready to dive into the exuberant life of the Capital, throwing off all chains of restraint and good judgment that so bound him upon the little island. Now! Now, Mr. Jada was in paradise, no longer blind to temptation and no longer bound by tradition from enjoying himself in the name of making money that, in the end, was no more than a dragon’s treasure–where could the dragon spend it? Sitting on money did not hatch more and even if it did was it not worthless and useless on the floor of a cave beneath the heaving abdomen of a great beast?

Even so, Mr. Jada did not comport himself like a popinjay during the day, strutting about the city calling attention to himself in order to satisfy a vanity he did not have. During the day, Mr. Jada could be found lounging before his house, sometimes sleeping, sometimes waking. His hard working neighbors called him “The Man of Dreams.” Everyday life was so filled with duty and obligation and the rush to make a living that no one bothered with Mr. Jada except to tell themselves stories of his indolence and rustic origins. Secretly, in their deep hearts, Mr. Jada’s neighbors envied him. No one wished to spend all their days working and yet never getting ahead, never rising beyond the essentials of living, with neither money nor energy for more than a frugal existence while the Capital blossomed fireworks and raucous laughter nightly heedless of all care. So that even sitting about enjoying the weather daily as Mr. Jada did was a mouth-watering dream of paradise.

At night, like an owl emerging from his barn hideaway, Mr. Jada ventured out into the gaiety of the pleasure quarter losing himself amidst the flashing lights and bright ringing laughter. People clothed in colors ranging from eye-opening splendor to tasteless gaud roiled around him in waves, catching him up on whirlpools of partying and flinging him back out into the street to repeat the same dizzying experience. There seemed no end to it.

Yet Mr. Jada was no nearer the realization of his dreams than he was on the ferry crossing. He could not break through the translucent curtain that kept him from the most prestigious tea houses and restaurants, he could not gain access to the best seats in the theatre and he was barred from the more exquisite women of the night, those who shone brightly and chose their companions as suited them. Mr. Jada, for all his money, was a foreigner. He did not know the culture of pleasure, the language and teasings that were appropriately the keys to accessing heaven. Nor had Mr. Jada found any friends likely to teach him the much flaunted ways of extravagance and dissipation, a form of forgetfulness of great worth, albeit as fleeting as a shooting star. As soon as you note it, it is gone.

* * *

One fine night, sitting at a gaming table in the common room of a certain tea house, Mr. Jada fell under the supercilious gaze of a young rakehell. This splendidly dressed peacock, known to all and sundry for his loose ways and lack of judiciousness, was yet known simply as Maurice. Maurice had no stable employment, if he ever had any, for there was no memory of his ever having worked a day in his life. The spoiled son of a prosperous cloth merchant and money lender, Maurice came into an enviable inheritance when his father suddenly died. Even the most robust fortune deemed to last a lifetime can be squandered in loose and care-free living and giving no heed to the businesses until they begin to fail and he is made a modestly good price to take them off his shoulders. An unfettered life is like the caged canary set loose that flies higher and higher until there is no oxygen to keep its frantic heart beating and then plummets to the ground. Thoughtlessness, too, is a prominent characteristic of humanity. Brain size is of no consequence.

By the time Maurice’s fortune ran short and threatened to thrust him into the direst poverty, a place so low that life rubbed roughly against the soft, calf skin caused Maurice to shudder–at this precipitous overhanging to hell, Maurice’s well-made acquaintances, sons all of prominent, prosperous families, favored him with their support, fearful of losing their meal ticket to the best that life had to offer. Friendship at such heights is an expendable thing. Often enough a cumbrous thing in the world of utilitarian pleasure-seeking.

Maurice fancied himself the possessor of an acute sense for ferreting out the moneyed fool. To be honest, Maurice had never yet been steered wrong. A veritable bloodhound. So it was that Maurice insinuated himself to the left shoulder of his prey, Mr. Jada. Mr. Jada did not appear to care whether he won or lost, enthralled in the playing of the game. Yet, Mr. Jada quit the tables nightly with more money than he began, as Maurice gathered from the gambling regulars. Looking over Mr. Jada’s left shoulder, Maurice occasionally approvingly touched the old man as he bided his time, for sooner or later Maurice divined he would be of use to this foolish old man.

Mr. Jada collected his winnings and passed out into the glare of the Capital’s night life that he so longed to be an integral part of. For all his will and determination, for the loss of home and the throwing around of his riches, Mr. Jada could only wander through the crowded and lively streets vicariously living his dream. He sighed as his senses were over-run by the ebullience of the nigh-nonpareil. An itch eluding his spider-like groping fingers.

At this point, Maurice caught up to Mr. Jada and put a hand on his shoulder. Mr. Jada turned to face Maurice.

“Maurice.”

“Jada.”

“I could not help taking notice of you at the gaming table. You do enjoy gambling, don’t you?”

“Why yes, I do. But I am limited to such second rate places, so it palls.”

“And why is that? You certainly have the money.”

“That is true. But I have moved to the Capital from. . .the provinces. I do not know the ins and outs and have no friends who might help me along.”

“I can solve that problem.”

“You can?”

“I am quite well-known in these pleasure quarters. With a snap of my fingers I can get you the answer to your dreams.”

“This is too good to be true!”

“I know. I know. I am your humble servant and, I hope and pray, your friend.”

With such ease does the snake slither into the hen house.

Pleasure, the least hateful form of dejection, is a habit, an addiction more potent and insidious than sugar, alcohol or drugs. Pleasure sinks into your skin and without noticeable effect besots you until all you know is stimulation, stimulation, stimulation. Elation to leave you blind drunk. All the easier to obtain such inebriation because Mr. Jada wanted to experience the Capital Dream before he died. There was no reason why others should wreak the wonders of civilization and not him. To live such a life, to pursue happiness was everyone’s right. A life of drudgery, a life of trials and tribulations is a wasted life. It is spirit abuse. With pleasure and satisfaction at the tip of one’s fingers, there is no flight or fight syndrome. High blood pressure, heart attack and sleep apnea are also silent killers. The only pleasure here is for the family members who are relieved that you are gone. Mr. Jada had no family. Nor no friends, if truth be told. But what is truth in the face of gaining the gates of paradise?

Friendship is, after all, a ship built big enough for two in fair weather but only one in foul.

Maurice was the one-eyed man in the forest of Mr. Jada’s blindness and he, bell-weather like, led Mr. Jada a willy-nilly trail through the gambling houses, exquisite tea houses, public baths with washers and masseuses and into the best brothels. Like a happy dog, Mr. Jada followed Maurice and his friends as they ran after one treat or another. Discrimination was thrown out the window. Besides backstage visits with the leading actors, Maurice managed a meeting–one night only–with the Queen of the Courtesans who, because she repulsed Mr. Jada thereafter, left the old man writhing in fits of unrequited lust. Mr. Jada was beginning to discover happiness.

* *  *

Into even the most enchanting fairy tale, reality–or a sort of reality–must inevitably intrude. Reality being no more than that left in the filter if one assays a phantom, Mr. Jada could not discern the shiv upon insertion. But he was an open and jolly old fool, as far as that goes. Not all fools are gallows-bound when their usefulness is gone, however, and horror comes wearing a fair mask more often than a grisly one. Pretty words are the most acceptable form of hypocrisy and Maurice had an unparalleled silver tongue. So charming could he be, he could wrangle a smile from Medusa and live to tell about it.

One fine evening, Maurice and his five friends arrived early at Mr. Jada’s house before sallying forth for another night of excess and exhaustion. Maurice had a little favor to ask. To ask weighed heavily on his heart, he said, but he knew Mr. Jada was an equable man and a good friend of unequaled means. Of course, any niggling guilt Mr. Jada might harbor because of the wondrous life he, Maurice, had opened up could not be discounted. Guilt was perhaps too strong a world. Debt might be better–and more conducive to the business at hand.

Maurice explained a rather complicated series of events that led to the unwonted and unwarranted financial distress in which his friends now found themselves. Without too much obsequiousness, Maurice, wondered, on the off-chance, if Mr. Jada could possibly bail them out. Of course, it need not be mentioned that these five friends were rich and not at all in need. They were, however, greedy and devoted to the god Mammon, a faith in which the making of money and more money was the only form of worship. These five also had a hot tip on high interest investment but did not want to lighten their own purses in the venture. Their fine-feathered friend Maurice had let them know that Mr. Jada possessed an enormous fortune and was a soft touch.

Mr. Jada did not think long on the request as he had adapted himself, like a harlot, to the urges of the moment. This was an attitude Mr. Jada found refreshingly different, thinking back on his rustic frugality on Rún Eyll where a wayward, capricious thought was a criminal act and shut away in some dark dungeon corner of the brain. Mr. Jada had discovered since coming to the Capital and immersing himself in the various sensuous delights, with Maurice’s help, what he had denied himself for so long. This discovery of the unabated joy of living would, he felt, extend his life some years past his expectancy. Mr. Jada had more money than he could ever use and had a knack for making more–mostly at the gaming tables–so that offering the loans was of no consequence. The more dandy friends along on the night’s dissipations, the better, though in this looking glass world the desmaine of the fop is a passing show. But in the world we have made for ourselves to live in, we lie to ourselves with great gusto to hide the pain.

So Mr. Jada agreed–but he had one condition.

“I am lending you each $5,000. Since this money is part of the fortune that is to last me to the end of my days, you will return to me each and every month enough to pay for my personal expenses with a bonus to be determined at the end of the year. If, before the loan is fully repaid, and I should–heaven forbid–quit this world, I have no one to whom the balance owed should be paid and I therefore charge you for giving me memorial services every year thereafter for the repose of my soul.”

The five friends deferentially agreed, for a dead man is no longer cognizant of this world and they did not believe in vengeful spirits. Mr. Jada would never know whether his wishes were honored or not. Spending money on the dead is money used to carpet the bottom of a bird cage.

Mr. Jada went into the back of his house and returned with the money. Maurice raised a well-manicured eyebrow. In such manner, Mr. Jada believed he would be protected against robbery as so much of his fortune was now elsewhere. His needs were taken care of and he could, at any time, call in the loan. He felt good about himself.

Despite the fun and games of their carousings through the pleasure district, Maurice became rather droll as he began obsessing about Mr. Jada’s money. The old man had so much that it must have rained down from heaven in great gouts of magnanimity. Mr. Jada was no more deserving of this benison than he, Maurice, so why did Mr. Jada benefit and not Maurice? This was patently unfair. In fact, Mr. Jada was less deserving than Maurice, according to Maurice–and the old fool was not giving any of this gold mine to Maurice in spite of all he had done for him, though Mr. Jada did indeed pay Maurice’s way now and then. Maurice nevertheless nursed a wound until it festered. His vanity was hurt. So it was that a young will-o-wisp who had ingratiated himself in order to polish up his self-image grew to cherish evil thoughts and turn himself into the worst sort of rogue: a traitor. A man with a travelling ethics commission.

Maurice became so obsessed with Mr. Jada’s stash that avarice flooded over him filling his veins with a bubbling poison that burned for fulfillment. The ship of despite with Maurice aboard set sail for a limitless horizon from which there was no return.

So, one evening at the height of pleasure when Mr. Jada was drunk to satiation, Maurice slipped some of his blood lust poison into the old fool’s wine. Mr. Jada did not feel its effects until he returned home where his friends abandoned him to his house servant and loudly wended their ways home.

The following morning, Mr. Jada was unable to move his body and lay abed mumbling incoherently. Mr. Jada’s house servant, fearing the worst, rushed off to the doctor and to the police. He swore out a statement as to the people with whom his master had spent the night, carousing until the wee hours of the morning.

“They are his constant companions,” he said.

The old servant, the police and the doctor returned to the house to find Mr. Jada foaming pink-tinged spittle. In no time at all, Mr. Jada passed into a coma. The doctor spent some time examining the unresponsive Mr. Jada and shook his head. He sent the old servant to fetch two more doctors of his acquaintance for a second opinion. Upon further examination, the doctors stood around Mr. Jada’s death-like form nodding in unison over their diagnosis.

“He is not long for this world, I’m afraid.”

“This is the effect of some poison, I think.”

“This is a case of willful murder, then. Go and fetch the six,” said the policeman to the servant.

The six friends, dressed to the hilt and suspecting nothing, gathered round Mr. Jada’s death bed and the policeman began interrogating them, believing that the guilty,  come face-to-face with his crime, would break down and confess. However, success was not to be had, for Maurice was a master at deception, at hiding behind a well-made and appealing mask. Maurice was so detached and dissociated it was not he who spoke but the becoming lips of the mask that mouthed the appropriate lies. Maurice had abrogated his skin to a smooth carapace in order to save his bones, for he had no soul. Maurice had convinced himself that he was not at all responsible. Someone else had done this terrible thing to his friend. Maurice’s nights would never be the same, he lamented.

“There is little we can do at this point but wait for the inevitable,” said the first doctor.

“I know of an amazing potion we might try. There is nothing lost if it does not work.”

“This miracle is. . .”

“No miracle. This is a potion whose ingredients have been handed down from the ancients of China.”

“Oh pooh!” exclaimed Maurice. “Everybody knows those old remedies are worthless. You’ll poison him.”

“He is already poisoned, young sir.”

Maurice pulled himself more erect. He liked being called sir.

“This potion is made from the tinder of old drums dissolved in pomegranate juice, boiled and left to steep with a certain number of laurel leaves in the brew. It is written in the ancient treatises on medicine that once in the stomach of a poisoned man, he will speak the name of his poisoner.”

“Do you have this potion here?”

“As chance would have it. When the servant told me he suspected poison, I brought a vial with me just in case.”

“Shall we then?”

“Shall we?”

The potion was poured into Mr. Jada’s slack mouth and his nose held closed to insure the natural function of swallowing would be activated.

The gathered waited expectantly, one with growing anxiety.

Nothing happened.

A collective sigh of disappointment and relief floated about the near-corpse. But as the attendees to Mr. Jada’s last moments moved toward the door, a long, low moan issued from the near death lips.

Everyone stopped dead in their tracks.

“Maurice. . .Maurice. . .you fool. . .”

And then Mr. Jada died.

Maurice was immediately clapped in irons and carried off to jail, sobbing and protesting his innocence every step of the way.

“It was not me! It was another!”

A man who has so earnestly pursued pleasure must ever come face to face with the misfortune of overtaking that life. The greedy and avaricious are seeking the water level both day and night without rest, leaving the landscape littered with empty wells. In the end, there is not a drop to drink.

this was written in the style of old Chinese tales
(c) James L. Secor, 2016

Where No Self-respecting American Would Go–Part 3

The Third Day?–I’ve really lost track of time. . .

The electricity in the house is an afterthought: originally, there was none. Outlets are set on a wooden base that is hammered into the wall, there being only two. Otherwise, extension cords are the wound, old style cord draped everywhere like Christmas tinsel decoration, several plugs coming out of one extension end leading to other extension cord box–ends. Extension cords in China are different from those in the States. The cords are larger and more sturdy and the female end is usually a box with 4+ male connections. More often than not, the cords are white. I’ve added my own, of necessity, so that, when I’m using the rice cooker there’s an electric burn somewhere–I’m not sure which plug-in as I pass three, though the first does not seem to be a problem. Could simply have been because my hands were wettish when I plugged it in and water got down into the connection. Howsomever. . .with the cords draped hither and thither, this is a fire hazard. . .for the West. As this arrangement is not out of order, I begin to see how over-protective we Americans are, paranoid of the smallest thing. We go overboard. Yes, this arrangement can be dangerous and I do kind of shiver as I add more to the mess; but it is not prohibitive. Americans are so über-safety conscious that we almost prohibit ourselves from fully living; we repress ourselves. We are safe and more safe where it is not so very important. At the same time, I think the situation is that the Chinese are aware and, therefore, are more careful, more attentive, though it may not look like it. We Americans are afraid of everything.

Light bulbs hang naked into space, some in rather inaccessible places, some in corners that illuminate naught else but the ceiling and walls. To turn on the bedroom light, I must have the main room lit or I’d never find the cord with the switch: it is halfway along one wall around the side of a storage cabinet, near the old charcoal stove. Then, when it’s glowing, I can’t read in bed because the book is in the shadow as the light is across the room. Even during the daylight hours reading is difficult, as the windows are high up and to the side. I must buy another extension cord, one of the cheaper variety, so I can plug it in and have my bedside lamp. Lord–another plug to fill up a female end!

This type of arrangement is not out of the ordinary, so many people still live in these older houses where there was once no electricity. The extension cord phenomenon is everywhere because of the usual dearth of outlets in a room, even if built when home electricity was available–which was, in the scheme of things, relatively recently. This, I think, is unbelievable for Americans as we have come to expect electric homes and we can only see this, our way, as the acceptable way and that any other way is outré. Well, it may be but, in fact, it may be, as in this case, just everyday. Not only do we find these living conditions outrageous, if we allow ourselves to get so close, we cannot understand why these conditions exist since we avoid knowing of such in America and see any such poverty characteristic that we see in pictures as the problem of the people living in such conditions. The people have a character flaw. A very common characteristic of the classism that marks America. We push aside and deny such limited, backward, dangerous. . .situations and pretend they simply do not exist. Ignore it and it doesn’t exist, yeah?

The breaker box is a breaker and main power source boxes on a board on the wall. The breaker is of the old style: a lever with metal legs connecting into a ceramic holder. Actually, I like this better than the modern, Western variety. I’ve even repaired one, running thicker copper wire inside so that blowouts don’t happen as often, thin wires giving out under any kind of load easier than heavier wire. Easy enough to do; there’s no trouble knowing whether the electricity is on or not–the switch is right in front of your face, connection broken. No fuses. I would say that fuses don’t last as long, don’t tolerate overloadage as well as these old hatchet type devices, which you can make more tolerant by supplying higher gauge copper wire. Would fuses, then, be a means for the electrical industry to make more money in the name of technological advancement? I think returning to this type of breaker box, which is where the name (breaker) comes from (breaking the connection), would be better and less costly–and might make us more independent, less reliant on the electric supply companies. We might take on more responsibility for our own lives, do you think? We would be directly involved in its continuing functioning. But, hey, why would we want to do this when someone else can do it for us, eh? If someone else can do it for us–and there are definite situations where this would be best–we must pay more to live.

If you buy your own home in America, you are responsible for all its workings. If you can troubleshoot some situations, you save yourself money. However, there are so many laws about who can work on what and what can be done that it’s almost impossible to do anything yourself without breaking the law. And the insurance companies think you’re ignorant of any of this, whether you are or not, so they up their rates at the top of an extension ladder that just keeps right on going and going and going.

Because I was raised differently and because I worked electric construction for awhile, I found this set-up rather barbaric and unsettling. But nothing happened and when the lights went out and it wasn’t old bulbs, I was able to fix things. Meiwenti! I kept larger gauge wire on hand; I kept extra light bulbs; I kept candles and matches. Although I did have lighters, I preferred–and still prefer–matches, aside from the fact that they cost less and last longer. Even now, back in the States, I have boxes of safety matches in various rooms about the house, along with candles just in case. Nature and poor quality craftsmanship mess with technology. I have found that 4-5 candles set up on a table where I happen to be writing are good enough to illuminate the page so I can write and read. Granted, I don’t do this very often, but it is romantic! It is difficult to find acceptable candle holders; most are either tacky or over-priced or both. It is fun to improvise. Which means none of the candle holders I have match. . .nor do the candles.

It isn’t just China that is “behind” the US. Most countries in the world are not so invested in technology that imposes reliance. In fact, most of the world utilizes this kind of technology different from America, so much so that it might even be unsettling. But Americans are very narrow in assessing these situations and, like the Brits in the 19th century, are totally incapable of letting go of their lifestyle and culture. I think, with this inability to adapt, that most Americans overseas miss out on much of the culture and identity of the people. We do not let ourselves enjoy.

Far too often have I run into Americans who lambaste the Chinese for things Chinese because they do not come up to American standards, as if America is THE standard for everything great, wonderful and positive. Very many Americans look so far down on Chinese, and are not at all shy about going off openly on these situations and these people in front of “these” people, that I am embarrassed. We Americans are such a fucking judgmental lot!

Perhaps my adjustment was easier because I had lived in Japan 15 or so years before. In Japan, there is no heating in older housing. I lived in older housing–or even country-urban housing. No heat. No AC. Heavens to betsy! I would wake up in the mornings to an iced-over beard and moustache, sit up to turn on the kerosene heater and then lie down until the room warmed up. Electricity was limited, though less anxiety-provoking. And the Japanese are more apt to modernize because they can do it without losing their Japaneseness. Mao has all but wiped out Chinese culture. Mao, a man who had little understanding beyond himself and his opinions.

Eh bien. So it goes.

Now. . .a bit more needs to be said about the kitchen, a subject we may be revisting on and off. Not only are the side walls separating from the main room–there was no interweaving of the bricks, just an abutment with concrete filler–but the floor is moving away from the walls, moving westward. There is no foundation as we know it, so the floor and sometimes its walls in its entirety shift. There is a crack in the foundation, to give the simple bed of concrete laid on top of the ground character–about halfway into the little burrow hole. It stretches from one side to the other, making for a slight rise to the edges of the crack and then a kind of leveling off of the floor. I must remember to pick my feet up or I stumble forward–not enough room to fall to the floor without hitting the sink unless I twist to the side and bounce off the walls. (You can see I’ve done this before.) The floor is wet and sticky with something-or-other as my house slippers stick and slap when walking through. It never dries. Looking back when you’ve exited into the main room, you can see the darker, dampened area. Z. I imagine this is from the grease from cooking: there is no exhaust fan. The broken open window does no good, for there is no circulation of air in the kitchen to begin with.

The cooking corner itself has a different problem, aside from no fan, no outlet for the spattering grease and the steam or, in some cases, smoke. . .as last night when I could not move fast enough to get the chicken–which turned out to be spoiled–into the pan and fried and toasted the garlic. This kind of non-cooking makes for a blackening of the walls and ceiling beams. Remember, the ceiling itself sheds, so there’s a little discoloration up there, too. I imagine this situation is why the double window is forever open, aside from the fact that its hinges are broken. Not that it would help anyway. This little corner is like a den where meat has been roasted, meat gotten on the hunt, and the housewife labors and sweats to provide for her man–and her little ones. Once, little ones; now, one–unless you find a way to cheat. There are not, however, any fat deposits on the floor. The concrete here is dry, miraculously.

Although there was the usual two burner cooker top and some bottled gas, I brought in my own. Well, Fanfan and her father did. Made sure I did. Quite simply, mine worked and was clean. There was not much I could do with the little flimsy cabinet upon which it sat but not use the implements left to grace its dusty shelving.

I think some explanation is in order here. In China you cook with gas. You have a 2-burner cooker. No stove. And–hallelujah!–you cook with gas. Bottled gas that is delivered when needed. Large bottles. You learn how to turn it on and off. It is a must to turn the gas off, for there may be leakage. And, then, BOOM! Unless you are on a rotation with the gas company, the only way you can tell you are getting near replacement is to knock on the side of the bottle. Great empty metal bottles make hollow sounds. I must admit, over the seven years I lived in China, I ran out more than once. Because, although the university supplied the housing, you, the foreign teacher, had to make sure you did not run out of gas. At the university, I did not have to pay; on my own I did. However, there was so much gas left in my tank that I did not need to have it refilled. Fanfan and her father took what was left for their own when I went elsewhere.

I never figured out how people baked, for they do bake. Perhaps in ovens of clay? However, I did see students’ mothers steaming or stewing or whatever in the guo 锅 (wok in Japanese), the guo covered and over low heat. In some cases, the heat was not gas but wood. The wood was delivered or, more often than not, chopped yourself. In winter, the wood-fired stove made the kitchen the warmest place in the house. Indeed, in one especially snowy cold winter I was up in the mountains and, when I went in the kitchen to be with my student’s grandmother, she got up from behind the “stove” and made me sit there, adding more kindling because, well, Americans are not so capable of withstanding the cold. Up to a point, she was right. But anywhere I might have found myself with this woman would have been warm enough for me; however, other members of her family would not allow us to get together. There was a lot of culture involved in this and I learned it but I was none too happy. Neither was she. In fact, she was more “modern” than her children and grandchildren.

She had been a widow for nigh onto 40 yrs. Her husband died young, secondary to the Long March. That he or anyone survived is a miracle, for Mao was selfish, self-centred and manipulative–as long as he won, other people did not matter. According to some sources, Mao did not need to go through the hell he dragged people through; but it was strategically and politically expedient. Mao did not walk, he rode in a litter or rustic palanquin. When it was over, grandma’s husband returned home to farm in the mountains south of Hangzhou, on the south central east coast. This time of my visit was during the big snow of 2008. (I have written elsewhere of this.)

Day Four?

I washed clothes again this morning; I’m almost caught up. But it’s so overcast, so humid today that even after six hours outside the clothes are not dry. No direct sunlight. Breezy, though none really gets down in here, walls and buildings being on all sides. Some trees. I’m sitting in the pathway of the fan in the main room or I’d be sweating like a stuck, roasted pig.

This is where fans come in handy. Old people wave then slowly; younger people faster, more frantically. I’m somewhere in the middle. And everyone carries a fan, whether small or large. I have several, including one small one and one that folds up and fits into a shirt pocket. Mine are not masculine, as judged by American standards; sometimes, grandmother, nainai 奶奶, give me fans–even from stores, no charge. I make a point of going back to those stores for whatever it is. How can one forget such kindness? Such caring? Which is one reason they are so caring: customers return. It is more appropriate to shop in your immediate neighborhood, unless what you need is elsewhere, for this solidifies your relationship with the people. . .and it makes you, the foreigner, appear more normal.

I must admit I was a tad shy about whipping out a fan and fanning myself. But I soon learned. And I learned, too, that my Japanese fans, theatre fans, were too big and, no matter how subdued colorfully, were too much. I amassed several different kinds of fans, even went out of my way to buy some, on the cheap if I could find them. Now, if they are not lying around on tables, they are somehow suspended from the walls.

Fans and tissue, for use in the toilet, are mandatory accoutrements to living. Public toilets don’t have “paper.” Some hotel toilets don’t have paper. Neighborhood restaurants may not have a toilet–they may not have napkins, as we know them, either but, rather, a roll of toilet tissue, as we know it, on the table for wiping your messy mouth–not too many Chinese manage this–or your hands.

Which leads to a discussion of public toilets. This will not be a tasteful discussion.

I am so disgusted by the nearest local public WC that I won’t use it, preferring to suffer through constipation or the possibility of a leakage until such time as an opportunity for a better place happens. I am appalled. It’s almost enough to make you puke. My students would not use it either. The floor was wet, glistening wet, with papers, news and other, strewn about. Some of the squat basins had not been flushed, of anything. The huge plastic vats for pissing in were full. And it was dark in there. No electricity. Small windows placed high up near the ceiling.

The WC cleaners, whom you rarely see during the day time, only empty the piss tubs–except for the older variety where you shit into a pot. No one cleaned the floor, even as little as throwing water about. Then, the night soil men trundle down the street, piss and shit stinking to high heaven and slopping around in their huge vats. With the condition of some of the roads here, it’s a wonder there’s not a trail of waste down the street and spillage on streetside vending places. Everyone but everyone who might be out at all hours of the night gets out of the little truck’s way when the driver shouts he’s coming through.

However, some of the public WCs were no more than latrines, long channels dug into the hard, discolored ground up against one of the walls. Piss or shit, it didn’t matter. Splish splash, take a bath. And most assuredly bring your own paper. Around the corner from one restaurant I frequented, I ran in distress and hunkered down to do my business when the darkness was invaded by several men who did not even bother to pretend: they were there to see if it were true that Americans were so fucking big. Or maybe just to see if an American could do it the proper Chinese way. I could and it was too dark to see my things.

I noticed that the WC doors are not marked 女 or 男. I think there may be a method, with the 女 always being on the left, as you stand contemplating the outlets. I was helped by seeing boys come out of one; no one ever exited the other in my sight. I’m sure it would have been more exciting if I’d gone in the “wrong” one. I’m quite good at playing absolute idiot here. Such behavior is one of the 36 ways to victory found engraved into stone at Yunmeng shan (云梦山) outside Hebi City: act the fool (to gain information).

Yunmeng shan is the first military academy in China. It is on a hill, stony and cave-ridden; perhaps low mountain is a better description. Apparently, Sunzi studied there under the then old founding master. Any more information is not remembered. Yunmeng shan is not on tourist maps, unfortunately, as it is most interesting and, therefore, most unassailed by touristy fixing up. I’d like to go back for another tour. I wonder who I can get to come with me. . .

The wheel ruts in the hard stone of a great war chariot were pointed out. And the platform from which Sunzi was supposed to have jumped, without hurting himself, in order to be allowed to study. Someone said, in the neighborhood of 14′ right onto stone. Sunzi did not injure himself. The entire academy and its myriad buildings is a religious monument where people come to ask for help and, I suppose, meditate. I was not allowed to take pictures. This was considered rude as the people were praying, I was told. I acquiesced.

When I rode by the market last evening, at 5:30, there was no one there. No food vendors. Only grandfathers gathered at the far wall playing majiang (mahjong, to you). So, I rode back to my veggie haunt on Wenhua lu (文化路), Culture Road, only to find the meat places were not open. I bought veggies: 4 RMB (about 50 cents), enough for several meals. Wenhua is only cultural because it is lined with food vendors, fresh, and restaurants and stores/supermarkets. The Chinese like to eat. Alot. I think you could say the loves of the Chinese are sex, eating, drinking and talking. And more eating. No business is ever conducted without eating. . .and drinking.

We foreigners hear this as a story but, in fact, I was once at one of these business meetings, being part of the business enacted and to come. However, I bowed out of drinking as I had a class to teach. My behavior was much approved of, though I had to decline drinking even the polite first sip three times before it was acceptable.

But back to the house. . .

There is a bulging crack in the middle of the main room floor, though not of the split in the kitchen; here, the halves are still connected. I looked behind the curtains of the cabinet and found dishes, pots and pans, kettles and bowls. With the filthy dishes in the kitchen, a population of 20-30 could be fed and watered. Things just do not seem to get thrown away here, like poorer, what used to be known as white trash, neighborhoods in America, where cars and trucks long past use are rusting in the yards along with you-name-it all. . .sinks, water heaters, washers. . . . Happens here, as in everyday, inside and outside the houses. Chinese are pack rats–and yet there is little appreciation of art or antiques. No one fixes up an old house or building; one destroys it and builds a more modern one. Box-like and without character or any redeeming cultural value.

The storage house across the yard was once a lived-in house. It’s front wall of brick extends above roof level. There is a drain there where, in Europe, there would be a gargoyle spouting water. Cross-like openings extend across it. So, probably, there was a way up there, for other houses of a similar bent sport rooftop gardens. It would be nice to get up there, too. Above the rooftops, what could be seen? However, the next building over is at least two storeys high, with a brick balustrade around the roof. Only junk juts up over this. There are no windows on this side. But if I’d climbed up there, everyone and his mother would have seen me invading people’s privacy.

Between the storage house and my neighbor’s concrete block style house–most likely brick beneath the concrete face–is a wall of old bricks stacked up ¾ of the way. Are they hiding something? Are they “just there”? Being saved for some future use? Walls will be made thus. Unused, unwanted windows and doorways are blocked off by stacking old bricks in them, not finishing them off. Sometimes, when they are walls, the wall will gradually dwindle as these bricks find use. And, then again, temporary often becomes permanent. Better, I guess, than leaving them lying in a disorganized pile, as with the rest of the courtyard, at the far end.

The windows to the storage house are gone, all but one panel and ¾ of another. Why bother to fix it? Bicycles and basins don’t freeze. . .though I do wonder what the boy bathes in in the winter–and where. Now, he is in a big tub on the centre concrete slab as his mother pours cold water over him. Probably the public showers where the wind will not get you and the water is hot. In Jinhua (金华), pretty much in the centre of Zhejiang Province where once the elite of society and government officials lived during the Southern Song (南宋; 1127–1279)–and one of my student’s lived without knowing diddly of this history–the water was wood stove heated. Wood heated water feels different: softer and more truly hot. Other places use charcoal. I wonder if any go electric–the bill would be outrageous.

In an hour or so Tony will come by for dinner. He owes me for France’s win the other night. Tonight. . .Germany plays Argentina. I don’t know who the second game is between. Today is 30 June 2006. I start teaching part time on Monday.

Dinner tomorrow night with Carnation and Yuki.

 

Where No Self-respecting American Would Go–Part 2

Quite coincidentally, it rained the night after I moved in, though not very hard: the ground was only dampened. A little bit of thunder, a little bit of lightning, a little breeze. I certainly miss Kansas thunder storms with their black, roiling clouds, Zeus-like lightning and Thor-given thunder; those in this area of China are pretty anemic. Though, while I was out east and a tad south south in Henan at Shangqiu 商丘 over the past weekend, there apparently was a huge storm here in Anyang, evidenced by downed branches and limbs (tree, not human). However, still rather puny compared to the winds in Kansas that would take down great limbs and uproot entire large girth trees. Although it was a relief to be away from such danger, it was also not nearly so exciting.

Opposite #7 sits a grandfather on his little stool holding a fly swatter. Every day. Sometimes he stands up and walks a little way down the street. He smiles and nods to my “Ni hao.”

The people in #6 gather outside their entrance tunnel to watch me pass and comment upon the foreigner. I understand nothing, not so much because they are speaking Chinese, at which I am not especially competent, but because they are speaking Anyanghua, the local dialect, of which I know one word: kebei, which kind of means “okay.” I am very familiar with the word for foreigner, laowai (老外). They do this every day, members of the group changing on occasion.

I’m fairly well inured to the stares of people but Yuki is not, as she commented on it and the “unfriendliness” of the inmates of my living area (the first and larger, more well-developed courtyard) because they became quiet and stared. She’ll get used to it when she goes overseas –well, perhaps not “used to it” but she’ll understand it and why I don’t react so much. Many foreigners, mostly Americans it seems, never get used to stares and forever comment loudly and unkindly about the rudeness of people. They, of course, are not rude. . .and Americans, at home, don’t stare at foreigners. Americans, the ubiquitous “ugly American,” seem to not be able to adjust to a foreign culture or life style, always putting up theirs as the pinnacle of civilization, the superior cultural medium. This is too bad; they miss much, they miss learning people, learning the whys and wherefores of living logic. Seeing the world in a different way, including the prejudicial which ought to teach them something but it doesn’t. When you’re right everyone else is wrong. They return to America the Great with stories of horror, of the unbelievable, of the snidely joking, stories of lies. Americans like fiction, though not the reading of it.

For the most part, the bricked-over first courtyard is intact. For the most part. Beaten, mossy earth abounds; there are a few trees and flowers. It’s a nice, homey area. One resident, an older auntie, was sitting outside in the shade of a tree making jiaozi (dumplings). I commented in passing and the next time I came through, she gave me a bowl for lunch. It was not bad. Not bad. She gave me kuaizi (chopsticks) and I fed Tiger and Tony in my house, like a good grandfather. Standing in the entry room, concrete over brick floor. Because there were not enough chairs.

Wooden door, pretty much square once, low framed and with four window panels–one missing and filled in with a piece of wood–is my front door. Similar to those old country farmhouse doors in the States that do not any more fit their frames. Green peeling paint. Bamboo curtain before the door that must be lifted to enter. When inside, I leave the door open for air and a modicum of light. It’s dark inside, like living in a cave. Years before, when living in basement apartments I’d get depressed. Same kind of darkness. High electric bill. But I get to go out and, when I lift the bamboo curtain I get light. I raise it when it rains–and pay: the floor gets muddy-ish from all the dirt of years “ground” into the floor.

The landlady says I can have this house because she rarely comes here–and it’s obvious, especially in the kitchen, which is kind of like a closet with gas top alcove. It’s built onto the main room and the joining of the two structures is pulling apart. I can see daylight through the cracks. Cracks, hell–crevices! When will it separate and fall off, I wonder. . .

The dishes she left–not using!–are coated with so much dirt and dust and whatever it is that falls from the ceiling that I’m sure they could come clean except at a car wash using steaming, furiously pounding water and hard brushes. The shelves are coated with the same fine signs of life making them unusable–if there were any space. There are only two below the cooktop. I brought over my remaining gas and my gas cooker; hers did not work. If it did, I doubt I’d have used it, it looked to be something out of a Poe or Lovecraft story and very well might have done something other than cook when it lit, if not blow up, at least some creature might emerge from the flames–not a genii.

The sink is a concrete square basin with bare pipe with faucet running into it from above, about chest high, which makes for nice places to hang things–and I cleaned it and do so. But, still, there’s lots around it that is disgusting. The walls flake off. I kept falling against them last night as I hurriedly worked and turned around having consumed considerable vodka. I stopped because it began tasting like hell. Perhaps because I made it cold; warm–room temperature in which you sweat while breathing–was good, smooth, though not nearly of the quality I had in Moscow in 2001.

There is one light bulb in this kitchen area: just inside the entryway, to the right in the cooking alcove; when cooking, your shadow falls over the gas range and food. Well, at least you know what you put in the guo, after washing it, of course. One cannot say it is bright, though it does enlighten the tunnelishness of the kitchen, something a large mole or Hobbit might find just right. The two-panel windows look out on the courtyard, hanging loosely on rusty hinges and supporting themselves, otherwise they would crash to the ground. There is screen in the window. The light it lets in is minimal. Not really enough to make shadows. The smaller one over the sink is pitiful–but there’s enough penetration of Mr. Sun that if I lay frozen meat on the sink rim it will thaw in more than enough time for dinner. Yes! There is a refrigerator with freezer! In the bedroom.

The ceiling is old; I think I can see the original thatching. Lots of. . .things fall from it. I’m afraid to look up for what might catch my eye. So, I went to the fabric shopping centre downtown–marvellous place!–and bought some light colored, printed material and hung it from beam to beam. I had seen this done in a student’s family’s home. In the eyes, in the hair, in the ears, in the mouth–all sorts of falling objects. But the end result was good. Good. Even Yuki thought that was a good idea. No more wondering what’s in my food other than what I put in it.

This front room is full of the landlady’s shit, hers and her daughter’s. On the north, door-facing wall is a bureau with old things on the top; a table that I’ve cleaned off and am using, lots of dusty baskets and boxes beneath; a dressing table loaded with things. My rice cooker is there. In front of this is a pile of round, holey charcoal with a round, folded down table before it, hiding it from view–but only if you stand directly in front of it. The dusty, rusting stove is in the large bedroom through the door on the east wall, a door similar to the front door and which I leave open. Just before the kitchen tunnel and next to the bedroom door is a tall bureau or maybe shiffarobe. Filled on the inside, piled high with dusty things. Behind the open front door, which opens inward, is a device for hanging clothes and towels and such; this also sports a shoe rack with lots of female shoes, virtually all out of fashion. I will wash the rags and towels hanging there, they might come in handy. Beside this, on the wall at the right height for me (short person), is a mirror that I’ve wiped down but is still vague. I’m able to use it because I’m so shiningly handsome that I can still see myself in its depths. There are nails and spikes sticking out of the walls hither and thither; some are usable by me, others are in use and I dare not look into the aged plastic bags; some are rustily bare.

To east (right) and west (left) are the other two rooms, bedrooms. The west room is smaller and concrete floored with white-washed walls. . .except for the west wall of the house which is covered in its middle from one end to the other with tacked up paper and cardboard where the plaster has fallen off and the underbrick is visible. Things fall from it onto the bed that’s there. This is the original single room of the house, the main room being built on and showing separation. The larger bedroom is also showing continental drift. I only use this room for storing my suitcases–one with clothes, one with books–and for the desk, where I sit typing this, looking, occasionally, out the screened window (two-paneled) onto the courtyard and the house across the way (the one with the broken door) and my clothes hanging on the wire “line.” I washed them in a basin in my kitchen sink this morning, about two hours ago.

There is no telling how clean or devoid of soap they are but they are wearable evidence of American handwashed clothing. I think my mother used to wash by hand, for I remember the washing board we ruined by making it an instrument; I know my grandmother, Grandma Secor, washed by hand. I remember our first wash tub, a great white thing with wringer at the back end. Mom would hook it up to the kitchen sink faucet and wash, wring the soapy clothes, drain and refill the tub and rinse the clothes–more than once. I used to like wringing the clothes, watching them come out the other side hard and flat.

Here, I wring by hand.

It’s kind of a muggy day; there’s no telling how long it will take the clothes to dry. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got all day. Tree branches occlude the sky somewhat. Although it’s somewhat cooler than it has been this past month, it’s still humid to the point that you could cut it with a knife. Thinking causes one to become dripping wet. Just riding downtown (to get my front tooth repaired) and back left my shorts and shirt so wet I could very well have climbed out of a swimming pool. Chinese dentistry is quite good–and far more affordable than America’s dentists who are nothing shy of greedy. You can almost see them drooling over what you’re going to give them: one leg, an arm, you next born. In China, everything is human-priced, affordable. And it’s all cash-and-carry. A cash economy is nice. The people at the bank have gotten to know me and have taught me to count in less stilted fashion. We can chat a bit. They love my name and, at this point, I can say it properly. But, then, they know me from before.

I like my Chinese name. It sounds nice. It has meaning. And it is a real Chinese name, not a sound-alike, which is what most foreigners get, if they decide to take one. Yes. It does sound like my name but it is also truly Chinese.  史可, Shĭ Kějiàn, the mirror of history. The jiàn is not your everyday character and I’ve gotten good at telling them how it is drawn. They are so amazed that I know it and know the meaning. I tell my students that my great-great-great grandfather (yéye de yéye de yéye de yéye [爷爷]) is Shi Kefa 史可法, Ming dynasty hero, standing tall before the invading Manchurians that we know as the Qing dynasty emperors.

Contrary to folk history and government propaganda, China has not been ruled by Chinese all these many years. They were invaded many times by the tribes to the north, on the north side of the Great Wall, which originally wasn’t so great or so long. Manchurians, Mongols, Jin, Qin and lots of civil war and minor “invasions” for many years after the Han Dynasty. Even the Uyghurs of Xinjiang got involved and many folktales exist for these people. There is evidence that the people of Xinjiang are descended from the Celts, as a mass grave of redheaded Caucasians has been found on the western border of the province. But, of course, the present government doesn’t want to hear this.

A dove just flew in and perched on the flat roof of the house to the west. This is the house my neighbor lives in. The broken-doored one she uses as her storage shed. Perhaps I should get some bird seed and put it out; I wonder what other denizens of the air would descend upon the little courtyard? I’d hate to see bird shit all over our clothes, mine and the other family’s (a mother and son). Actually, I’m thinking I might take a chair or little stool (called a bench here) and sit outside my house before the gathering darkness and read or just look around. I’d get to know my neighbor. I might very well learn some Chinese while here, though most of it will be Anyanghua, which I’m not interested in learning: it’s useless outside of Anyang.

I cover my computer and printer with a sheet, the self same sheet I used as a curtain in my old campus house. There is no sense in letting whatever-it-is that falls from my ceiling find its way into the rented computer and ruin it. I’d have to pay then. I cover my dishes, glasses, cups and silverware too, making sure, anyway, to turn things upside down (not the silverware which is kuaizi, but the spoons, yes). If I had the money or the inclination, I’d buy more material to hang on the ceiling beams. However, the main room ceiling is far too high for me to reach from a chair. A chair seat is not so high off the ground and nor are my raised arms. It would be nice, though, to not feel things falling on me–or see them falling on the furniture.

The East bedroom is the larger, including larger double bed. There are three cabinets, one a chiffarobe with a storage cabinet above; the aforementioned ancient charcoal stove with new pipe leading out one window, otherwise unusable I should think but, then, where else is the charcoal in the centre room supposed to go; two arm chairs and the refrigerator. The wall around the head of the bed is protected by a cloth, most probably to keep the wall from spilling its surface bits and contents onto the bed, into the sleeper’s mouth and hair, maybe even eyes. The floor is brick, well-worn. Nice. A small window is high up in the east wall looking out over a concrete wall and a bricked up doorway (or window-way, I can’t tell). But I can see sky and tree branches above the wall and the slight breeze is a minor aid to the stuffiness inside. The room is musty and mildewy smelling. Not good for my allergies. Perhaps with the house open much of the day, this will dissipate.

I put my little fan atop the fridge at night to cool me down. Last night I had to turn it off and fetch a blanket it got so cool. Odd for a mid-summer evening in Anyang. This morning was close but by nine or so it began to get comfortable. Now, at 4:30, it’s muggy hot and I’ve brought the fan in here, into the central room. Where else would I be writing this? It would be nice to sit outside and write but there’s no table. Not enough cord for the laptop to go. Clothes from this morning are dry; now my gym things are sending my sweaty odor wafting up over the roof tops, for the wind is blowing.

The ceilings of the rooms are covered with some kind of tar paper to keep the filler between the wood–and whatever else–from falling onto chicken little’s head. Except in the kitchen where the wood–sturdy tree branches spread between little tree trunks–and stuffing is exposed and dropping powder and lord knows what else onto the floor and whatever else may be in its way down. Like the pot. Which is why I want something to cover over the ceiling and into the cooking alcove.

It’s very quiet now. The woman and her son have not returned. A pair of her pants hangs from her line, so they were here over the noon break. The garden to that side is rampant, unattended, cluttered with bricks amidst the weeds. There were once houses here, too. The dog, dirty and not-so-friendly lies in the dirt. In the centre of our courtyard is a concrete slab. Actually, two blocks next to each other. To one side is a spot of concrete, looking like something construction workers left behind. Construction workers often do this, leave shit behind. The steps to our houses are stone blocks, mine more than one. The little boy pees on this central concrete block. Mom says nothing.

Why is it little boys the world over like to take their peters out in public and pee? Awhile ago, I saw, in the park, three boys standing on the edge of the greensward peeing, seeing how far they could make their streams go. I think I was the only one looking, watching.

The unkempt garden is full of weeds with an occasional baby tree, stray stones, jaggèd bricks in a big pile, huge pots and smaller pots, some with flowers, broken vast pots, a bicycle tire and a pile of debris of all sorts along the far east wall. There is a clothes line here; it gets little sun at one end. I think I’ll start using it so my clothes (on the other line) don’t interfere with her getting into her house, as I noticed was the case this evening. Sometimes I’m so fucking thoughtful it makes me sick.

I used the public toilet this morning. Walked up there, about ¼ mile. Inside, the entranceway shows a line-up of huge vats for pissing in; deeper inside the filthy structure are squat toilets, stainless steel, lined up along each wall. No dividers. No privacy–only really a problem for foreigners who can’t evacuate but alone and in silence. The flush mechanism–I was surprised to find one–is a button in the floor. As I learned, to the right of the toilet used. Obvious to me that there’s no light at night–and, to be quite frank, I wouldn’t want to stray in there in the dark anyway. Aside from the very real possibility of slipping in the muddy wetness or on the wet paper dribbled here and there there’s a great possibility that something might materialize out of the slop and filth and jump on me. Frankenturd! No sink to wash hands afterward. Highly unusual.

I was, of course, watched. I think I took a shit like everyone else. I hope my parts were exposed and large enough to be satisfactory, all Americans being big, you know. The guys did not watch from outside to see me go in and use their toilet. No. They came in and either pretended to piss or just stood there staring at me. No attempt to hide their curiosity. How many foreigners do they get to see semi-naked and taking a shit in their pot? This wasn’t the first time by any manner of means. The Japanese, who are just as curious having heard tales, are a tad more polite about checking the foreigner out.

I guess it’s not so far fetched as you might think, for white males are forever sneaking peeks, if they are polite, at black males’ penises which, as we all know, are horse-sized. We do this just to be sure, you know. And if we catch one who’s wanker is normal white-sized and appropriately thin, we’re sure they’re not so fucking superior sexually as we believe they are. If we see one/them well-endowed indeed, we gab about it with our male friends, like old women over the backyard clothes line gossiping, gossiping.

The condition of this toilet–and the entire train station waiting room and WC in Shangqiu 商丘 (very far east in Henan Province and the first capital of the Shang Dynasty which eventually made its home in Anyang, old name Yin or Yinyi 殷邑), which elicited an “It’s dirty” from Guo Lifang, who would not then use it–brought home again to me how filthy this country is. The people are fairly clean but the environment is a mess. Dirt, dust and trash everywhere; people spitting, even in restaurants and hospitals; men pissing against walls, in the bushes, in the showers (I see and smell this at the gym); children shitting and pissing wherever. The people in Hong Kong are most upset at mainlanders because they filthy up the city. The younger generation are complaining but no one is doing anything about it. Mostly, people do not use the trash bins on the streets or in the parks, just tossing their litter on the ground. I was somewhere yesterday where some guy had hawked a lugey in the middle of the entry carpet. I stop class and make a spitting student clean up is wad. He never does it again: acute embarrassment. The girls like this, for they don’t particularly like spitting boys. But spitting is so de rigueur that most all do. They’d get along well in a group of rednecks leaning on a fence stile.

Perhaps my frozen chicken, taken out just awhile ago, will thaw out so I can cook tonight. In any case, I must truck along Dongnanying jie and go to the marketplace at the next cross-roads, hand unwashed and itching for water; no veggies in my fridge. Not much of anything, actually. This turned out to be just another trip to familiarize myself to the neighborhood. Eventually, I’ll become a fixture of only passing worth–a good thing. Well, actually not. Being noticed and accepted and spoken to is comforting. My strangeness at least becomes acceptable. In the end, the old women on their stoops and I became easy speaking companions. I didn’t understand much they said, even though they learned quickly that I did not do Anyanghua, but we got along. I was able to joke some. I found this a welcome ability to have. Most foreigners, it seems to me, are not so easy. You know, we are so much better.

Loud AC/DC at 9:30 PM got the people around me upset. Must be louder outside than in. This house sucks up the sound. Didn’t complain, though, when it was different music. So. . .now I know.

Had a visit earlier this evening from my landlady, as I was fixing dinner. I didn’t turn down the music and only stopped preparation briefly. I detest this kind of thing and wonder if it will happen often. The son looks just like her; the daughter (15?) is beautiful and speaks quite good English after three years of study. The girl emptied my kitchen trash, so I still don’t know where to get rid of it. Forgot a third of the Chinese Yuki taught me yesterday to accomplish this.

Yuki came by last night and we sat in the bedroom talking for hours. I calmly drank half a bottle of vodka. Entertaining guests, as it were, in the bedroom, including sitting on the bed, is de rigueur. I found, later, the reason for this is that the bed was the only sitting/lying structure in the old houses. Always made up. The first time I came upon this, visiting a friend’s grandmother, she patted the bed beside her for me to sit. Kind of flustered and embarrassed I sat. In America, this would have had a different connotation than please sit. Bedrooms are so private in the West.

My girls–well, my students, when they came to my house checked out all the rooms, including my bedroom, which was a mess, as per usual. They just walked right in and looked around to see how the foreigner lived. I don’t know why I just let them. Most of my fellow foreign teachers did not. Indeed, they did not invite their students into their homes.

It turned out this and the time I spent chatting with them or eating in the cafeteria with them and taking an interest in their goings on around campus and elsewhere was a boon. All the students wanted was to be noticed and taken seriously for human and welcomed by the foreigners. Not that the Chinese teachers did any of this. They, the Chinese teachers, are not interested in their students as people, only as bodies sitting at desks sucking up (?) their teachings. Not so likely as Chinese students are prone to doing homework for some other class during other classes. Why bother to pay attention when everything is done not only by the book but in the book, including answers to the exercise questions.

My teaching style was very different and elicited much excitement and, at the same time, much irritation and complaining. In the end, they benefited and were happy when they saw their test scores. Did I teach for the test? No. I taught a skill that could be used–and not just for the English sections. But when it came to the tests, I gave them some tips on how to take tests. Regardless of whether they listened or not, they did better on their important nationally standardized tests.

Where No Self-Respecting American Would Go — part 1

Where No Self-Respecting American Would Go

or

living like most Chinese

 The adventure begins with petty revenge taken over having gotten caught attempting to cheat–or, less politely, extortion. I was the victim. In the end, the present circumstances led to a deeper understanding of China that is otherwise prejudiced by my culture, my learning, my worldview. That is, irritating and fretful as the punitive behavior was, I came out ahead. And I am certainly pleased at having had this adventure into the heart of China, where no self–respecting American would ever go. However, having won was, in the end losing, as evidenced by the circumstances leading to my living down at the bottom of city life. . .where I gained more cultural information.

One year ago, upon leaving Anyang shifan daxue 安阳师范大学 (Anyang Teachers University), there was an attempt to cheat me out of one month’s salary from my first month’s hire of three years. I had been hired in February when the administration of the school was away for Spring Festival, Mao’s ludicrous attempt to rid the language, putonghua, of ancient, royalist oppressive thought supposedly contained in New Year’s that included ridding society of all celebration: everyone was supposed to go home, go to their family home, and sit around and eat and drink, no noise or wild celebrating. Because the school was shut down, there was no way to institute a salary, albeit the unpaid foreign affairs teacher, Zhang Xiangang 张显刚 Robert, had the contract to hand and had brought me in from the RR station. So, no salary until March when the school administration would return. I had the money to live the month that, though a nationwide holiday, was still a paid month as my hire began on 1 February. All things considered, by the time I left to return to the States due to illness, this lost salary was already pocketed, leaders and institutionalized corruption being what they are. Still, it was my money and I wanted it.

The first lesson: do not challenge authority, especially if it is wrong. Expect a huge battle, beginning with denial and ending with administrative pressure on close teaching staff. At this time, three years after beginning at AYTU, the foreign affairs person was not Robert Zhang. The foreign affairs officer was a woman and, so, easily manipulated by her superiors, women really not being equal despite government/Mao’s rhetoric to the contrary. Indeed, people in general are not equal. There is open classism here.

At any rate, there was no admittance of wrong doing or mistake by the College Dean. But I would not be deterred. And I needed the money.

There seemed little change from, say, the Song dynasty and The Outlaws of the Marsh, when rightful petition was denied and aggressively fought against. Like those outlaws and, in fact, the Medieval outlaws of Britain and Europe, I would not relent, something people in power positions (authorities) do not understand, especially this man who seemed to be interested in demonstrating and maintaining power (I noted this in other situations during my 3 years at AYTU—-and not just with him). However, I did not become violent or revengeful, as the Outlaws had. Although I had come across corruption before in Lanzhou, a far more petty and insidious and destructive sort, I’d not been introduced to the corruption of thievery, a much more common corruption. The corruption of getting ahead at any cost, always to the detriment of another, is endemic in China. Endemic to the point of being normal, everyday behavior. Definitely expected of higher ups.

Despite shows of egalitarianism, there is no equality to the new China. Women are still less than men; city or common folk are lower than entrepreneurs, academics and government officials; farmers are dirt. In fact, I learned that my students did not like to admit their families were farmers, if this were true, as they would be looked down on. Foreigners are China’s niggers: we gots rights but who cares? When you wrong, you wrong. No queshuns ast.

Since I did not relent, I was a real bad, out of step sort.

As everyone is supposed to be equal in the face of higher salaries and better treatment of those above, getting ahead is the order of the day. Getting ahead at any cost, in any way, as if to say that having or making more money equates to serving the State better, more assiduously, than others (below you). All employment is working for the State, according to Communist doctrine, so the more work, the more monetary gain, the more status and the more a Worker of the State you are. The more Communist. Rhetoric in practice. In fact, no one wants to be the same as everyone else. Everyone wants to be better, better off than the norm, which is poverty. . .according to Communist Doctrine. Since Deng Xiaoping 邓小平 had revolutionized Mao Zedong’s 毛泽东 policies, such behavior became, if not more pronounced, more possible. Indeed, I was to find in the ensuing years that the behavior in academia of The Red Guards and The Revolutionaries was not dead at all, only simmering and bubbling below the surface like a spot–specific earthquake waiting to happen. This is one way to get ahead. One way to eliminate threats.

As the situation surrounding the regaining of my lost salary elevated, things got out of control. It is generally assumed that I (the foreigner), as I was told, got out of control. However, if truth be told, the Dean of the College–the person under the microscope here–was the one to get out of control. He fought for his life, that is to say, he fought for his ill-got gains. More than likely, he’d already spent the money. Not so very much as I’d taken less than originally agreed upon in order to attain a better situation than that in Lanzhou Jiaotong Daxue.

My last official evening in Anyang, the Janus-faced Foreign Affairs Office Director had relented and was ready to pay up–as was proper; however, the Dean, Mr. Shi–I don’t know his putonghua but this Shi was not the same as my Shi 史–got out of hand and called a friend of mine, a faculty member, Robert Zhang, to get him to convince me that I was wrong, and because I raised my voice–and I do have a large voice when the occasion warrants it–because I went ballistic. I fumed at him and, when the FAO Director entered my house right as this odious phone call was terminated, I shouted at her with all the power and fury I could muster–she left precipitously, eyes wide, frightened and slightly confused and talking into two cell phones at once. She left the door open. Later that evening, the Vice Dean of Foreign Languages dropped by with the FAO Director to smooth things over and give me the rationale for giving me the money to which I was entitled but not entitled: I was not totally blameless, I was told, as if this had anything at all to do with the issue at hand. However, it was calculated to show up the good-heartedess of the Dean in relenting in the face of my ignoble persistance and, thereby, making the school and save face: placating the bad guy, me. Though perhaps buying me off would be a better assessment. That I was owed the money was of no account. Getting rid of an irritant and someone who was exposing corruption (cheating, thievery) was uppermost in Dean Shi’s mind. I was supposed to feel honored at being so generously treated. I did not. It was my due. I won. How embarrassing for the Dean, the school. It was important, then, to understand the error of my ways, my errant behavior that should by all rights have resulted in termination (I refused to teach after two weeks of promises for a new washing machine that never materialized resulting in no clean clothes–I acted out, something I had found the Chinese and hospital nurses responded well to—I had my washer by noon) and, therefore, how nice and good the school was in giving me the money. I was supposed to accept such behavior, put up with such conditions—after all, the Chinese do. I wanted to say something but understood that this rhetoric was necessary to saving face.

That was lesson number two, if you will.

I had, to be honest, learned innumerable lessons of culture during those three years, not all of them pleasant.

One year later, having returned healthy and ready for another wonderful stay in China, academic people notwithstanding, I was to find petty revenge must have its day. I returned to Anyang to visit friends and adopted daughters and rented an old house on campus belonging to a friend of my 干女儿 gan nü er‘s  father.

Now, I must take a little side road here and explain this adoptive situation. A  gan nü er is not a true daughter nor, as we in America understand it, a true adopted daughter. God-daughter does not even come close. There is no expected legal paperwork involved. This situation is old fashioned with the exception, in the modern day, of gan nü er implying that I had adopted the girl and am waiting until she grows up to marry her. The adopting is unofficial but culturally binding.  gan nü er translates as “dry daughter,” meaning not really mine. Moreover, I did not adopt her–or the other two involved in this–she/they adopted me. They wanted to do this as they wanted to take care of me when I got old. Of course, they wanted to take care of me “now,” since I did not know Chinese ways.

These three girls were students; we had become close over the three years I taught at AYTU. They were at my house often; they and their classmates were at my house monthly for a feed-fest, TV and movie watching, and general conversation. Even now, 10 years later, I miss this. With their adoption of me as “father,” I had what I did not have in my own life: family. A family that cared. This particular daughter, Zhang Fan 张帆, was closest to me then. The situation has changed over the years with the more aggressive, protective daughter showing an intolerance that has resulted in her, now, not talking to me; and the youngest of the group, Qin Lixiao Young 秦李小, taking on the role of protective daughter. Young is, in some respects, very much like me in that she goes her own way, has her own ideas and wants and desires, and will be damned not to follow her dream.

At the this time of my life, Young was elsewhere finishing her studies, Zhang Na Anna 张哪 was in Scotland getting her masters and Zhang Fan Yuki (now, due to marriage, Salimah) was the only one left in Anyang. We were the close ones.

I made no bones about this return to Anyang and my living arrangements; I did not hide my living on campus in an old empty house (apartment), abandoned because the original owner had opted to move to the newer teacher housing of the old campus. Why should I? I was guilty of nothing. Had nothing to hide. Expected nothing. I was simply returning to see friends, old students and my daughter.

The Dean of the College, the very same Dean who was bested a year ago, was, however, not pleased. His loss still rankled, apparently, and he considered me a threat when I could have cared less. He was not important any more. He pressured my gan nü er‘s father and his friend, the owner of the house, to get rid of me or else the apartment would be confiscated by the school and there would be further trouble for these teachers, my daughter’s father and his friend. In a week I was expected to vacate the premises. It was hoped, I’m sure, that this would put me out on the streets; definitely, it was to discompose me. I did not understand the why screw others instead of me behavior. Me, the bane of his existence. I still do not. I find it the same as making life difficult for someone for no reason but to make life difficult for them. As with the old Buddhist tale of the two monks travelling down the road in the rain–always in the rain–Dean Shi was still carrying the woman met while I had set her down on the other side of the road, as she wished.

However, I marshalled friends–who found the Dean’s actions to be as incomprehensible as I did–and we managed to find a manageable place. I was focused on not having a job and, therefore, not having money to squander on more or less top-of-the-line accommodations, as a good foreigner ought to seek out. This place I settled into was gotten less than a week after the threat to others had been made. Perhaps the threat, aside from being petty revenge where hurting everyone in your path to get to the one you want is acceptable (à la George Bush II), was also a (further) move to power, of which he had no need. That is, he was the power in the school, what further show of force was necessary? I could have cared less about him. Apparently, though, full dictatorial powers. . .here in a more or less backwater town at a no-name school, means a man who wants it to be known that he is the boss and, like George Bush II, is not going to tolerate any who help the enemy.

Let’s see if we can discover why my presence at AYTU was a threat to this man’s power. . .honor. Hate. Childish petulance. Fear of losing status. Humberto Marriotti might consider this behavior that of an incompetent. Perhaps more akin to Elmer Fudd’s frustration at never being able to bag that siwwy wabbit. Hopping mad. Yuki suggested that, after I moved, I could further frustrate this man by simply showing up on campus–often. Impotent rage. I could just see him turning red, steam pouring out of his ears, “Ooooh!” spouting past his saliva-speckled lips. I thought, yes, but that showing up only 2–3 times a week at rather inconsistent occasions would be better, for he’d keep waiting for the next time, anxious and fearful, ready with a means to put me out of his misery. Which never occurred.

I’ve found a way to put this event into my book (The Constant Shell Game, as yet unpublished, as so many of my writings are not). The absurdity of it all. The parallel will be more than obvious to those in the know. Also, it will restore my sense of humor, which seems to have gotten lost in this particular writing.

Well. . .on to the adventure.

As I said to Yuki as we traversed the back roads and narrow byways to what was to become my new house, I was getting deeper and deeper into China. Certainly no foreigner would have bothered to go as deep into living areas as this; none would even consider actually living in such a place. I saw this as learning some more about China, things that most all foreigners are ignorant of–discounting that they are ignorant of China in the main to begin with. Most foreigners, most especially Americans, only see and wish to know the more prosperous side of life and the tourist attractions, believing these facets of China are “China” and become the experience of a lifetime. I, however, was going to discover what it was like living like the Chinese live. Once, though, for a couple weeks, I had lived in similar circumstances while spending New Year’s with a student’s family in a village outside of Jinhua 金华市, during the Southern Song Dynasty the chosen home of the government elite. So, there was some foreknowledge of what I was getting into. This time, I was not ill, not living through walking pneumonia which was, eventually, what sent me back to the States.

Off the not-so-wide back streets of Anyang there are smaller what might be called paved alleyways, though there were other less wide streets, which we’re not concerned with here. Off Dongnanying jie 东南营街 East South Road, is a smaller roadway, perhaps 2 ½ bicycles wide at its widest. There is an archway-tunnel entrance, under which, in the street, the construction workers slept over the noon break (2–3 hrs, standard). It would be easy, I found out, to run them over. Luckily, I was quick on my bike.

On the east wall of the tunnel is a sign and a further hand-written notice: Linfu jie 林府街, Forest Home Road. No trees. It bends as it goes along, finally ending in a cul de sac; there are a couple of other alleys and streets that are also dead ends leading to larger houses. But Linfu jie was where I was destined to live. This was old central Anyang so, probably, there once was a forest or woods here. “Now” the area was all built up, newer levels obvious via style.

I was both appalled and pleased at discovering this local hutong 胡同. I knew immediately this was real China, not the modern economic wonder most Americans expect, even though Fanfan had been taking me places off the beaten path, as far as foreigners are concerned. If we had any reason to go down these streets, we would only ogle and comment disparagingly. Very much as the British in India and Africa, Americans carried their culture and their attitudes with them wherever we go, never seeing the world of China but through the cultural prejudices of American middle class. We are so insulated, we are unaware of Chinese responses to us, especially those of us who can find nothing positive to say about this new world or its people. As odd as we find Chinese behavior at times, they find our behavior as odd. Even my behavior of getting on with the people and visiting and living in old town.

I got on so well with my students, paying attention to them and their student activities that I was invited into their culture and homes and learned a lot. Not to say I had no biases. I did. I just kept them to myself.

I could not believe that people lived, as a matter of course, in such horrible conditions. I could not understand it, even though I knew of parallel living conditions in America, had lived in poverty, had even squatted in abandoned buildings in order to live. However, since those days–early 20s, college days–I had taken on a more middle-class view of things. Not that I ever was middle-class. At least not above the lower end. Perhaps, though, I was better prepared than most as I’d just spent the prior 10 years involved in disability affairs and, indeed, for part of the time living the throw-away life given to the disabled. Grudgingly given to the disabled.

Along the east (right) wall of Linfu jie, after passing through its tunnelled entryway, were the entrances, through their own little tunnels, to the living areas–more than one house, more than one family, gathered about little courtyards or common areas. There were only one or two double-doored entrances to living areas on the west wall. I lived in #7. Quite a ways down the street. The entryway was paved; where it turned left concrete civilization ended: the ground there was pounded down by use and mossy-ish. Trees and bushes grew all about these houses, so the first courtyard was shady and green. This open courtyard must be passed through to get to the even narrower passageway that led to my courtyard, bounded by three houses. Old houses. Clay tile-roofed, white-washed brick or plastered concreted brick; or, like mine and the one right across the yard, brick with a concrete lower third. There is a large hole in this other small, out building-sized house’s door where the thin plywood type panel had gone missing. Must be cold in the winter. This courtyard was sans trees, seemingly older than the front area and most certainly much less well–cared for.

Once a long time ago, the narrow, between houses passage that led to this back living area was bricked over, cobbled; now it was a tumult of tsunami-tossed bricks sticking up into the non-sunshine, embedded in the hard, hard earth. I thought of staying in when it rains, as, though I do have boots to counter both the running water–a little watercourse rushes not necessarily down the middle–and the mud, it was impossible to hold an umbrella aloft through this back alley entryway. The rain water running down some of the neighborhood streets was less conducive to slopping along. How Chinese of me! Ha! The Chinese did not appear to go out in the rain. I used to tease my students that they were afraid of the rain.

Janus-faced Prejudice

One particular prejudice not often considered, perhaps because it is all too obvious and common, is the prejudice of face. That is, keeping or saving face. Some people might prefer to call this reputation, as if that somehow makes it more acceptable. Be that as it may, it prejudices decisions and excludes people as things dispensable–as all prejudices do.

I worked for an Independent Living Organization (ILO) in a moderately large mid-western city. ILO’s are supposed to be fighting prejudice, specifically prejudice against the disabled that keep us sidelined, out of work and second class citizens. Let us call this ILO The Healthy & Entire Mortal, THEM. Many ILO’s are members of ADAPT, which began as American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit, an organization that is dedicated to active demonstration against entities in society that show great prejudice and little concern for the disabled, such as Greyhound Bus, metropolitan transportation systems, air terminals/air lines, landlords and supermarkets. These protests are nonviolent yet extremely disruptive.

THEM is a member of ADAPT and takes part in demonstrations; however, only in demonstrations that are considered to be safe. That is, that will not result in bad press, which might disturb the delicate balance THEM’s Director has built up with the local business community. Thus, both sides of THEM’s face are saved: they appear to be activists and they appear to be more sensible minded members of the business community.

At THEM I was a certified and Social Security trained Benefits Specialist working to move the disabled on government benefits back into the workplace through the Social Security maze and without losing their medical benefits. I also advocated for my clients whenever problems arose. I was quite good. Several of the networking and information grids I developed were disseminated throughout the West and Midwest. I sat on the Kansas State board of the National Association of the Mentally Ill. I worked tirelessly for mental health parity and for extension of Medicaid benefits to those disabled who managed to find employment–in both Kansas and Missouri.

In dealing with one client, I came upon corruption within the very government organization that was set up to help the disabled: Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). This was in Missouri. My client was systematically being denied her benefits from VR by way of misleading information, sexual harassment, administrative Catch-22’s and lack of sensitivity to her disability. This situation had been going on for several years. In advocating for her and following her case through appeals and a move to legal action, I discovered that the administrative side-stepping and unwillingness to adhere to its own directives went to the top.

When the heat became too great for VR, trumped up malfeasances against me were used to bring pressure on THEM. THEM was told that if I was not fired, VR would cease funding THEM’s medical and assistive living programs. This is extortion, or perhaps bribery. Did THEM support me and thereby my client? No. Though VR was told I wouldn’t be fired, I was conveniently moved to the Kansas side of THEM’s organization, a rather fledgling, undeveloped aspect of the ILO. For THEM, though, this was simply the first of a number of moves to get rid of me while I became my own advocate, discovering that neither the legal branch of the government nor its head (the Governor) would do anything to right the obviously illegal situation.

A hostile environment was developed by THEM utilizing my big, 400 lb bullying supervisor who was, without the official title, assistant to the Director. This man continually gave me false leads as to my new job guidelines, limited my ability to do advocacy, engaged in baiting with disingenuous substandard performance ratings and indulging in administrative procedures that were a neverending labyrinth of incompleteness. Although I brought this to the attention of the Director and even utilized our hired harassment expert, a friend of the Director, it became obvious that this treatment, the hostile environment, emanated from THEM’s Director himself. My only victory was to resign at a highly inappropriate time and before enough information could be constructed to fire me. My big, bullying supervisor was furious. Throughout this entire process, I kept good records. Now, several years later, I still have this documentation (14 typewritten pages).

Why, one wonders, would THEM do this when its mandate is to help the disabled? My client withered and never obtained her legal right to benefits. Because, really, THEM was not dedicated, was not willing to go out on a limb–for either client or employee. THEM could have sought legal action against VR for their strong arm tactics in getting rid of me. THEM could have ridden the iron horse of legal action against VR for denial of appropriate benefits for my client. But, no, THEM folded under pressure in order to save face.

Denial of benefits to quite a number of disabled within the community would have accrued with the withholding of VR’s medical support funding–if made public, this would have had a devastating effect. Employees would have found themselves out of work because their position depended on this VR medical support money. But. . .a major aspect of VR’s wish to have me terminated was that I was disabled and not appropriate for “such a position” of responsibility. Thus, THEM was not only not supporting their employee but again not upholding their mandate to aid the disabled. This allowed THEM to remain a viable, business-friendly ILO that would not rock the boat. This allowed THEM to engage in the same prejudicial behavior that THEM was supposed to be fighting.

And so THEM saved face. At my expense. At one particular client’s expense. And at the greater disabled community’s expense, for THEM will not stand behind either their employees or their clientele. After all, what is important is what one appears to be.

THEM still takes part in safe ADAPT demonstrations and still helps clients who offer no threat to them or the workings of government. I am still in contact with this client, though my e-mail has been blocked by THEM. I still maintain contacts with ILO contacts in other States.

I sought several position in the US, missing most by one day and, eventually, one hour, before signing a contract to teach literature and drama and writing at a university in China. I am a published writer and have 30 years’ experience in theatre, including producing and running my own theatre before doctoral studies. I am presently engaged in academic research. I am engaged in recruitment and PR activities for this college. I am acting in commercials. I am in contact with the fledgling disability rights movement in China. Yet I am too disabled to do the job of helping the disabled; too disabled to hold a position of responsibility.

Although I have succeeded in the face of prejudice, it is sad that this situation exists; that is, that the very organization that is supposed to be helping the disabled is actually disabling them. THEM, though, is not alone.

James L. Secor, Ph.D.

Murder Most Foul

ICE is all about rounding up hundreds if not thousands of “illegal immigrants,” people who have crossed the border (the Rio Grande) without permission–as if they don’t come from elsewhere. All, in fact, have been, and are acknowledged so, running from violence and oppression in their countries. That makes them refugees. But as they are Latino–every country south of the Rio Grande unto the southernmost tip of Patagonia is Latino–they are illegal immigrants. Illegal Immigrants are The Unwanted. ICE is not doing this alone, Homeland Security is involved, giving it the ultimate sanction of government approval, and the FBI and local police forces–and probably these guns for hire known as Private Security Companies. All of these, as it is difficult and trying to figure out where and when someone is going to be some particular place. Surveillance is the key. These people will be immediately deported, they say. Which means they will be sent back to their countries to face death. This is murder by proxy, a kind of Münchausen disorder. If we, via ICE, the FBI, Homeland Security, et al., send these people away to be murdered, our hands are clean. “We” because “we the people” do nothing about it. Hell, we don’t even say anything about it! But this wholesale rounding up of Unwanteds (Latinos are not the onlys; there are drug addicts, petty criminals, the homeless, the mentally ill, the Muslims) is not a new thing. It is a commonality, as common as the SS and the Fascists rounding up Jews or. . . just about anybody rounding up so-called dissidents. We did this with the Indians; we did this with the Japanese; we did this with the. . .you name it, all coming to us by way of our European heritage. This kind of behavior is expected of oppressive regimes. Of dictatorships. Of Tyrannies. We see it in the modern era in the Fascists, the Communists, North Korea and, now, the United States, Land of the Free. Yes!–we have engaged in this behavior often in the 21st century, to the tune of several thousand at a time. The result? No one is safe. Some definition of a kind can be manufactured to encircle any number of people and imprison or immolate them. You. All of the Yous out there. And now the common everyday police: Murderers.

The Pro-Lifers are, in fact, murderers, though other people and situations do the deed. The fetus is vital and important and needs to be saved; but the life outside the womb is of little import. By refusing abortion, they are putting the child alone on the superhighway of starvation, neglect, abuse; and if the child survives, then he and she is fodder for the War Machine. The Pro-Lifers support and encourage the War Machine. They encourage guns. They do not apologize for the violence their members XX upon Planned Parenthood. Once again, Murder by Proxy, that old Münchausen disorder.

The Pro-lifers are not deep thinkers.

The movie Gaslight.

Christians who turn away or ignore people it’s tenets disapprove of. As if Christians and the Church are free of sin and corruption! Duh! This includes those pharmacists who maintain they cannot dispense prescriptions ordered by doctors because such drugs are against their religion. Included in this group of cretens, irresponsible humans are those who do not “believe in” vaccinations. Vaccines have saved the lives of 10 million infants and children since their discovery by Edward Jenner and their institution as standard treatment in the US in 1969. The lives saved could be double this if vaccines would be used for all childhood diseases. . .and those that do not manifest themselves until adulthood. These virulent Christians also include those who have withheld the drugs necessary to alleviate HIV-AIDS to African citizens. Why? HIV-AIDS is still seen as a disease of the gay, the fucking sinful faggots who engage in buggery, that is sodomy–a sexual act that, of course, no heterosexual ever engages in–and, being the result of sinful behavior, is but the God-given punishment meted out for ill-got behavior. Murder.  In the name of their loving God. To be fair, God may be loving but his people, i.e. Christians, are not. The narrow-minded tyranny that the Enlightenment philosophers and practitioners wished banned. Murderers.

Health insurance, as it withholds drugs and treatment that might save lives because people don’t have health insurance. The going aphorism today is, if you can’t pay for it, you deserve to die. Which is a very much coarser statement of common Communist doctrine: if you don’t work, you don’t deserve to eat. At least Communist doctrine gives you an out!

The movement against universal health care is based on one item only: money. How much is a life worth? Depending on the professional nature of the job, you can buy a “hit” for $500. The cost to save lives from childhood diseases rose from $10/child to $385/child in 2001. Not so much due to the cost of living as to the egregious practices of Big PHRMA, where profit trumps life every time. For administration of the injection, $11.85, though health insurance coverage does not reimburse enough to cover this. Doctors lose, children lose = deaths. But, of course, the Health insurance companies don’t pay anything. Ergo, life is worthless.Murderers.

Doctors’ offices who vet prospective patients to “make sure” they are acceptable. And doctors who refuse any, even private, insurance at all, the so-called Concièrge Medicine practice. Health and well-being are only for the acceptable and the affluent; the rest of the people can just die, get sick and die. For there are some privately owned hospitals that do not accept people without insurance. Some of these doctors chose medicine as a profession as a Calling. From being God-driven, they have fallen to Murderers.

Modern day American movie heroes.

Utility companies, because no one has a right to be warm or cold except in summer and winter, respectively.

Sam Brownback and the Koch brothers.

The entire American round table of the Chiefs of Staff of the US Military who not only kill others in emotionless righteousness but kill our own, much like the Muslim Terrorists or the frantic hysterical Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution or Deng Xiaoping at Tiananmen Square. Political murderers but murderers all. The modern version of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens post-Spartan quashing?

Mitch McConnell and his ogre minions in the Senate. Passive or passive-aggressive murder is still murder.

Sharks.

Pinterest, for Pinterest murders intelligence by withholding information for a buck, as it were, you must be a member of a select few. The Internet version of Social Darwnism?

My cat, Hextor, for tripping me up at 4 a.m.–attempted murder, for I survived. He did tried to hang me from the left ankle. However, the other night he did kill and eviscerate and rip off a hind leg of a bunny tother night, leaving me a present right at my door.

Watching the TV series Buffalo Bill, Jr. Even worse, Two Broke Girls. But that would be suicide, right?

The NRA. For money. That’s the death penalty in some states, like Brownbackistan–I mean, Kansas. Kansas. . .the centre of the American continental shelf. The geographic centre is in a pig farm in Lebanon. That’s right, folks! We got the middle east right here in the mid west. This is the place to bring your children if you don’t want them any more, as Brownback steals money from public education and gives it to his rich cronies; this includes closing down lunch programs. Jee-zus! At least Marie Antoinette let ’em eat cake. Murder most foul.

But, hey!–why stop with children! Get the lazy, ignorant horde that live on a handout, aka Welfare and other misnomers. Take it all away. No more support. No more food. No more health care. Of course, this type of murder is not solely to be found in Kansas. It is also found in Houses of Congress. Murderers.

HFCS, high fructose corn syrup.

Dr. Oz, who no longer saves hearts. Selling trash is better.

Allowing a rapper into the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame, for it murders music’s good name.

The City government of Flint, Michigan.

The Third Rock from the Sun via earthquakes, tornadoes, thunder storms, hurricanes/typhoons/cyclones, heat waves, cold snaps and, like, whatever.

Alas and alack.

Minna binna do-bee