Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship

by James L. Secor

David Longshanks was an entrepreneur, a self-made man. Not that he began poor or on the dole. He was the son of an undertaker, Dunns Longshanks. Dunns had made a single horse town concern into a thriving business, for people must die and they must be buried, appropriately or not. As civilization bloated the town into a city, there was little call for the inappropriate sort; however, there was the Green Pastures out on the far Northeastern edge of the city where the poor and penurious and unknown (usually street people) were buried with no to-do and little in the way of respect, respect being costly, even just moderately so. Dunns served anybody who had any money.

David, before taking over the business, expanded its purview to taxidermy, for he was a hunter who liked to display his trophies. As were his friends. People in the surrounding countryside heard of David Longshanks and his superior taxidermy skills and this end of the Dunns Family Mortuary grew in distinction as the hunting seasons became glutted with guns and displaced animals. Civilization with its unlimited development and expansion led to animals losing their habitat and food source and, thus, becoming easy targets for both the city slickers and the preying country folk.

Dunns Family Mortuary.

David’s Taxidermy.

David’s next entrepreneurial endeavor arose out of the immediate needs of the Mortuary business. The business had to expand, so more land had to be bought. Empty lots and old houses alongside the Mortuary were bought up. The lots were easy to acquire; the houses, more often than not, had to be condemned. The families were forced to relocate and David then waited to buy the property at auction. The houses came down. Some of the acquired land, what was not used for renovation and expansion of the undertaking business buildings, was turned into parking lot. As the winter wind could be icy and the summer sun blazing, David made sure the parking areas were dotted with trees. This also made the business more aesthetic and caring-appearing.

Which led to David’s landscaping business. There were no shade trees in any of the parking lots around the city and the city streets needed sprucing up. David made sure that both city and businesses saw the advantages of having trees, if for nothing else than the aesthetics of the place. From trees, general landscaping grew, as did a gardening and florist business in several locations around the city to forestall too much competition. Two of any kind of business in the same area was not good for either business, so David made sure he was on site first. On site and large.

Fortune Realty.

Longshanks Landscaping.

Emma’s Exquisite Floral Shop. Emma was Mrs. David Longshanks. Emma Sue Denniker Longshanks.

The Greenery.

Fortune Realty naturally grew into speculation which naturally led to the founding of a consortium focused on developing and building lucrative ventures. It did not matter if the venture was productive or not. The Ivy League Consortium owned the land and the buildings and managed to rent out the properties if, indeed, the original idea tanked. As happened with a couple shopping centres. They were interested in high end development. Of course, The Ivy League Consortium had nothing at all to do with the East Coast Ivy League colleges and universities. But it was suggestive.

Through it all, David Longshanks’ most engaging business was the Mortuary and the Taxidermy business. David loved embalming.

Despite his drive for neverending development and the furthering of civilization, David was also socially responsible. Socially active. Because of the fight to save his father’s life, David Longshanks became involved in organ donorship. His father had needed a liver. There were too few to go around or any liver available was too far away to make it a viable replacement. Thus, his father died a painful, wasting away death. David worked assiduously to make organ donorship a socially edifying behavior, albeit to begin with the religious battled against such heresy, until one of their own died in need. David made donorship a voluntary additive to licensing: if you joined the donor program and you were involved in a fatal accident, your organs could be harvested in order that another should live. Without advertising, David always gave the families of the organ donor program a discount on their casket and in-house services, if they were in the area.

So, David and Emma Longshanks became upstanding social citizens. They were asked to donate to this or that charity. They were asked to serve on this or that board of directors. They were sought out for this or that sponsorship. Life was good.

The first sign of a chink in the Longshanks well-tempered and lustrous armor was rather innocuous. Even a tad humorous. Sometime during prohibition, a notable area resident involved in rum running was shot and killed. Briskin Swipes, AKA Sousee. Not shot by the police, though they claimed the prize, but by a rival running crew. New Brummagem was not big enough for two such lines of transport. As New Brummagemens enjoyed viewing the unrepentant dead in proof that crime never pays, Briskin Swipes was exposed in a pinewood coffin, as per tradition, and photos were taken and displayed in various shop windows and church signboards around town. Before putrification set in, Briskin Swipes was turned over to David Longshanks for burial. But David wished to preserve, for posterity and example, the body. Briskin was not the most handsome of men and in death was downright gruesome looking. He was a modern day outlaw, revered by some, reviled by others. Face was important in this time of ignominy and David wanted to save this face. So, instead of embalming the man, pickling him, you might say, David decided to stuff him, taking especial care of the external taxidermy details. Perhaps, stuffed, Briskin Swipes appeared more real than real. Not surreal, super-real, über-real. Later, David began exhibiting his stuffed man in order to showcase his skills. Taxidermy was, after all, about preservation.

There was, however, a more offing aspect to the taxidermy: inside the stuffing was the real skeleton of Briskin Swipes. David did not tell anyone this. He found it, in fact, quite humorous and often giggled at his joke, assuming someone discovered the skeleton. How shocking! How ludicrous!

Dreams have a way of coming true in the most unimaginable ways.

The local New Brummagem film studio, Cantery Studio, borrowed the stuffed bootlegger for some independent science fiction film, The Forelanders by name. Briskin Swipes was a prop, a re-occurring prop. It so happened that during one removal and repositioning of Briskin, the arm fell off. The cast and crew were accordingly astounded and horrified.

The police were notified and the State Bureau of Investigation was called in to uncover the identity of the skeleton. They had a top forensic anthropologist, Necessity Bluffing—Nessy to her friends—who returned the diagnosis of Briskin Swipes. And so the history of the man rose up in the news. This could not be tolerated in the filming, so another dummy was found and the stuffed man—with skeleton—was disposed of. Apparently, a carny bought it, sewed the arm back on and displayed it in his Wonders of the World exhibit until the skin began to scale off and the joints to fall apart. By then, everyone had forgotten all about Briskin Swipes, except, perhaps, myth and legend.

In the meantime, David’s skill with a knife and needle did not go unnoticed. Even to David’s entrepreneurship. How could he make good use of these skills to enhance his businesses? Wealth, like development, was limitless. And his desire was unslaking. Emma did not know what he was doing but enjoyed no end the benison that accrued from it.

Now that organ transplanting had gained respectability and more and more people required new organs in order to continue living, cheating death, you might say, it was discovered that there were not enough organs to go around. The sick and dying were not being saved. People had to die in horrible pain, faces and bodies distorted. Organs could not be grown but could be harvested. David Longshanks was in a privileged position in this respect, as the newly accident dead came his way for embalming and assigned donation. But who was to know that a kidney or lung or liver or, less likely, heart was removed sans visé and sent on its way to someone in need. A secret social conscience is a self-satisfying thing. It is, too, delusional.

Fresher organs were needed even though David Longshanks had insinuated himself into the legion of organ rescuers. David beat his breast over the loss of life due to the shortage of good organs, as much by less death as by those who selfishly, in his eyes, kept their organs for themselves in death. Many still believed it was sacrilege to give away organs and for others to live with these second hand vestiges of humanity. Someone here was playing God, it was thought by these people. It was of little consequence that people died in the face of their superstitious intransigence.

And so David Longshanks got involved in illegal harvesting. It is true he would not kill the unwitting donor but, still, the donor was none the wiser until after the fact. The first inklings of this new business came via grisly newspaper and TV reports of bodies found in bath tubs full of ice water. The surgical-quality scars were, of course, suspicious and, while the recovering person was hospitalized, scrutinized and medicated into a stupor, the discovery of the missing organs was revealed.

This was worse than stories of Frankenstein monsters and mad scientist experiments. The grizzly details and gruesomeness, the inhumanity of the illegal harvesting was splashed everywhere. Investigations were initiated but never elicited findings. No notice was taken of the life saved somewhere in the land. David Longshanks was not, after all, after publicity. That kind of adulation was not soulful.

Stories began emerging of the sort of a person who meets someone at a bar and they have a few drinks, a few laughs. The unsuspecting tipster becomes inebriated. Together they go to a hotel room and the person passes out. Not solely from the alcohol. Knock out drugs were casually added to the drinks. The person wakes up in the morning in a bathtub filled with ice and an abdominal incision that was not theirs. Tales of injured construction or oil or mine workers waking up days later lying on a cold metal table without certain of their organs and writhing in pain. These latter unfortunates usually died. Though the two harvesting techniques were not related, they were conflated, adding to the inhumanity of the black market organ salesmen. Organ pushers.

The organ pusher is a monster. He’s not a natural man. The organ pusher will ruin someone’s body and leave its mind to scream, all in the name of goodness and right but truly for greed. God damn the organ pusher man.

As with criminals, organ harvesters—and David Longshanks—leaned toward repetitive behavior. Humanity is both blessed and cursed with such repetitiveness. It is comfortable.

It is in such wise that David Longshanks’ shenanigans were brought to light. This was, of course, the end of his entrepreneurship. The end of unending expansion and resource development. There is a limit to the things of life. A balance, the median way, must be found for continuance to be assured. David Longshanks was over-stepping his—society’s—bounds. Exposure and punishment was inevitable, though not by the outlaw. Was not David Longshanks a Robin Hood?

The fallout from David Longshanks’ greed, his delusion of social goodness, the lie he needed to tell himself in order to make life tolerable—the fallout was immediate and long lasting. Emma Longshanks became hysterical and would not wear any of the finery she had acquired secondary to her husband’s nefarious dealings. The mortuary and taxidermy businesses deteriorated and were, eventually, sold at great loss. Emma was attentive enough, however, to dispose of the landscaping, gardening and flower businesses before they became tainted beyond repair. She retired to a ghost town out in the middle of the plains along an abandoned railway line and lived out her life in seclusion. It was a miserable life. The David Longshanks family dispersed around the country, changing their name in order to escape censure and ostracization. The Ivy League Consortium dissolved in a hole-and-corner way, the assets being divided between the owners and then new venturisms begun.

New Brummagem faded away, turning into a historical village. A tourist trap.

And, then, there was nothing.

(c) 2015, James L. Secor

Old Country Baggage: The Making of America

Oh, my! It’d been a long time since we posted! A combination of a wicked mixed type manic-depressive episode & shoulder surgery for Jimsecor. He’s a bear to take care of when he’s restricted. Rehab will begin on 11 Dec: daily manipulation. But, here is a filler:-

Old Country Baggage, or The Making of America

We all know vampires suck the blood of the living to continue living, even though they are dead. The living dead. A curse.

We don’t know where vampires come from. They just suddenly appear in folklore. The most famous being European. Central Europe, to be exact. Though the Chinese had vampires, too, they did not travel to the West with their fabled RR builders and laundry entrepreneurs.

European vampires had not migrated to Britain before the 19th century, else they would surely have made their appearance at Salem, if not Jamestown or Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony. As it was, America had to wait for a later mass migration of Europeans.

George Calvin Brown and family and friends are prime examples of vampire baggage carriers. As always, the opening of the carpet bag was innocent, however traumatic. Very like Pandora’s box.

Ephemera Gladys Brown, George Calvin’s loving wife, died of tuberculosis one day. George and the children were crestfallen, as one would expect. Losing a caring, loving, thoughtful mother was not expected or wanted. While the family mausoleum was being built and readied, the family mourned. Mother Brown was en-coffined and discretely kept in a corner of the Ice House, which the Brown family owned and operated. With all but the carving of the alabaster monument completed, public mourning ensued with the requisite religious broodings and blessings.

And then life went on, albeit with Leonard Gardener Brown coughing a wee bit more than usual. The grocery store side of the business suffered as Leonard’s coughing increased in frequency and intensity. In fact, Leonard was excluded from both the grocery and the Ice House. Left alone, his coughing and whitish pallor led to a drinking habit that wormed its way into the family’s profits. Eventually, he, too, succumbed to the wasting away disease and was laid to rest alongside his mother. Another name was chiseled into the alabaster and life more or less went on.

Lena Mercy Brown was so distraught and beside herself and so very fearful of the future, specifically her future, that she became a frequent visitor to the grave site. Early in the morning just before dawn and late at night well past the waning moon, Lena Mercy could be found at the cemetery. So regular and spectral was she, she was spoken of as a ghost. Lena Mercy haunted the graveyard with an unhealthy obsession. So said the town doctor. But Lena Mercy would not desist, even as her pallor paled and her eyes reddened. And then she died. She told her father, one day, that she didn’t feel so good, coughed once into her white, white hands and died.

The doctor said that Lena Mercy Brown also died of tuberculosis, no history of coughing notwithstanding.

What kind of curse was this laid upon the Browns?

Surely, some townies said, this was the result of a prior life-sin. Others pooh-poohed such a superstition. Still others believed that the family was particularly susceptible to invasion by minute, even unseen animalcules. Animalcules being animalcules, this was difficult to deny. Invisible things forever manifest themselves into life. People breathe air, don’t they? And they dig in the dirt. And wash and bathe in the water. Everyone does. Some few were more susceptible than others to invasion by animalcules.

George sold the grocery business. People were wary of infection. As long as he ceased operating the Ice House, he was able to hold onto the business. The income was enough to keep him and his youngest, Edwin Prentiss. They could find no one to help around the house, though.

But tragedy again struck.

This new wrinkle to the family horror came via the cemetery grounds-keeper. This elderly gentleman began seeing the ghost of Lena Mercy wandering through the cemetery to end up hovering around the family vault, raising her hands and looking upward as if mourning her mother’s and her brother’s and her own demise or calling upon God. All in utter silence, of course, as ghosts make no noise, though their mouth holes be open. The old night watchman also reported the silence of the cemetery. That is, no scurryings of night denizens and no owl hootings. Not that owls tended to be very communicative to begin with or while hunting. The oldster’s repetitive sightings brought out the ghost hunters, ghost busters and ghost curious. The crowding of the cemetery brought about less Lena Mercy walking. This phenomenon led to a generalized exodus but for the curious, who tend to be quite persevering. Their nightly vigils paid off. Sightings were reported and substantiated. Though not by an outside, objective, uninterested individual.

Much to the discomfiture of the remainder of the Brown family, this ghostly appearance of Lena Mercy became a hot topic in the district. Curiosity seekers began visiting the Brown house. The worst of the lot were the various newspapermen. Rude and invasive, if they got no story they made one up.

Eventually, George and Edwin shut themselves up in their house. Groceries and sundries were delivered, ordered by messenger. Eventually, interest flagged somewhat. At which time the true tragedy struck.

It was here that the European old world baggage was opened and spilled out its contents all over the ground. The soil was fertile. The horror grew like kudzu, choking the hell out of reason.

How could this happen?

The mind’s job, as it were, is to make sense of things. Make sense of the world. Make sense of chaos. Make sense of the senseless. For this purpose, pre-laid pathways in the neural network of the brain are activated, for your brain forgets nothing. This is how we can remember how to walk without thinking about it. The baggage that sometimes ought not to be carried with us is opened like this; that is, habit of mind. We are creatures of habit. Habit helps us cope with the world. Habit helps us find meaning. Some of these habits are deep-seated and enduring, enduring like fairy tales, folktales, folklore.

How the mind does this is by putting various happenings together and coming up with an answer. It is this solution that is most often influenced by deep cultural memories. Memories of explication. Memories that are connected to an answer and a solution. Habits of mind. Short cuts for thinking.

First were the deaths of the Brown family. Three out of five.

Second was the ghostly sightings by all and sundry of Lena Mercy.

Third was the haunting of George by Lena Mercy. She became a nightly occurrence, dancing around George in bed, George at the kitchen table. Lena Mercy was insistent. According to George, she harassed him. Eventually night and day.

Fourth was Edwin Prentiss’s illness. The same as his mother’s and his brother’s and his sister’s, Lena Mercy not having suffered the coughing. Edwin began his coughing and increasingly wan coloring within two weeks of Lena Mercy’s haunting the house.

Surely there was a connection here.

Ghosts are not known to be benevolent.

George sought solace, sought answers with consultations of the town elders, the doctor, the various ministers and the travelling Chautauqua professors. Though not all were in agreement, those obsessed with their old baggage, those in the majority, convinced George that Lena Mercy’s hauntings and Edwin Prentiss’s advancing illness were connected. That is, Lena Mercy was responsible.

Something needed to be done. Proof was needed.

So it was that the Brown family tomb was opened. Of the three coffined bodies, only Lena Mercy’s was not decomposed.

A great cry rose up and it was decided Lena Mercy was a vampire.

What other reason could there be? Only vampires feed on the living. Edwin was declining while Lena Mercy was not. Not dying. So?

There could be but one conclusion.

The townies cut out Lena Mercy’s heart. They burned it, cringing somewhat as it sizzled. They made Edwin drink a concoction of ash of heart and red wine.

All was well. No more hauntings. No more coughing.

Edwin Prentiss died in silence two weeks later.

How could this be? Lena Mercy the vampire had been appropriately done in. Maybe Edwin Prentiss was too far gone by then. Maybe more needed to be done.

So, Edwin Prentiss’s heart had a Palo Santo wood stake hammered through it. Both the heart and the stake were burned. The remains were buried. Holy water was cast upon the ground.

Everyone waited, fretting. For lifetimes they fretted and worried.

Would it ever, really end?

Vigilance could not be relaxed.

And so it was.

(c) 2016, James L. Secor

 

The Magic Mirror

 The Magic Mirror

by James L. Secor

 

I’ve come across the

magic mirror again, it’s

the same old story

you see what you want to see,

you hear what you want to hear

 

Steven was proud of himself. He had accomplished considerable, quickly passing all his tests to become the top student. It was good to be the greatest learner, the favored. So, he was not at all surprised when he was sent to undertake the comprehensive contemplative leg of his journey to knowledge and liberation. Appropriately wide-eyed and humble, Steven could not help but smile as he accepted the books and writing tablets from his master.

Yes! He thought to himself, I am on my way.

At his exultation at having reached this stage in his scholarship so soon, the climb up the mountain to retreat was not at all strenuous. He cruised along the narrow path, rushing past trees and bushes and vines with little to no hesitation. No thought was given to the skitterings of tiny animals or the twitterings of birds or the spider webs he tore through in his headlong rush to fulfillment. There would be time enough and then some to contemplate the sensual joys of the life around him when he had settled into his little hut. He had a year but assumed that it would take him less time to accomplish this task.

There is nothing to hold me back, he said to himself as he stood at the foot of the steps to his tabernacle.

The stoup was a temple-like affair snuggled up against the hillside and all but hidden by over-hanging branches from the ash and aspen and alder trees. Four tree-trunk columns marked the corners of the veranda, which ran around three sides of the hermitage. The low railing was missing a few posts yet refused to sag. To the right of the double doors stood a love-seat sized mourner’s bench worn smooth by prior sitters. There were no windows. The retreat was in shadow as the afternoon sun stood on the other side of the mountain. Steven was well-pleased, for this must be one of the grander cloister-houses that dotted the forested cordillera.

The old wooden stairs, worn from countless passing feet, creaked as Steven mounted them. The doors were, of course, not locked but they were swollen shut. He was forced to set his pack on the mourner’s bench and shoulder the warped panels open. A great musty sigh issued forth from the interior. The room was darker than he expected. It took awhile for his eyes to adjust. A table stood along the back wall, backed by a bench. At one end of the table, candles were piled. Steven set his bag on the table and lit a taper, holding it above his head to survey his new home. Along the right wall a sitting cushion lay bent and with stuffing protruding, wisps of it around the dusty floor. Next to the door, an old birch broom waited to go into service which it would need to before evening encroached much closer. Along the left wall stood the Hestia stupa, directly opposite the cushion. Its niche rose up to the ceiling, flaring out like a blossoming flower. Before it stood a large cauldron. Steven walked over to inspect it. Stones covered the bottom. Ashes covered the stones.

At the back corner was a narrow door. Beyond was a narrow room where Steven found a stone-recessed cook area, a small pot on a swing-arm suspended over it. Along a low table, various kitchen implements were neatly, if dustily arranged. In the farther corner, along the front wall, was a wooden bunk, the blankets tattered and, as would be expected, dusty. They would have to be aired out before settling down for the night.

Steven set the candle down on the low table and carried the bedding outside, shaking it out and draping it over the railing. He walked round the veranda to the right and found a small stack of wood and a small ax. Steven was astounded.

Surely, he said, they do not expect me to cut my own wood! I haven’t the slightest idea how to use a farmer’s implement.

Around to the other side were various pots and bowls and containers of one size or another. And it was then that it dawned on Steven that there was no water near-by. He would have to walk to the nearest river–and carry it back. How utterly rustic and uncivilized!

Steven sat on the mourner’s bench to mull over his present predicament. Whatever were they doing to him? Whatever did they expect of him? He as a scholar. A contemplative after liberation and supremacy. There was no reason for him to be reduced to such a state as this. Where had he gone wrong? He had done everything correctly. There was nothing for which he would be–could be so ill-used. There was not even a mirror in this place! How was he to maintain himself appropriately?

* * *

After several months of study and contemplation–and considerable loss of weight–Steven was sitting one day in rapt concentration of the Hestia stupa when he was interrupted by the chaotic chirping of a little bird. It flew into his refuge and perched precariously in the beams. And it would not remain quiet. An occasional tweet or cheep might not have been so ill-suited to the environment but this little creature lay about with ailing squeals spaced between thin, whistling pipings. Steven was necessarily quite annoyed at this. He had been progressing nicely when this cacophonous renting of the air disturbed him. He harrumphed and coughed and spluttered to himself, totally unable to reassert his previous contemplation. This fine feathered friend had no right to interrupt the exercises of so dedicated a man.

As this thought crossed his perturbed mind, Steven turned his scowl upward and, at the very moment, the bird dropped dead at his feet.

Steven was amazed. He sat bolt upright. This was a test! A sign along the road, for there were no such things as coincidences. Synchronicities, yes. Entanglements, yes. But unattended, disconnected coincidences? No. He had learned early on that there was a plan, an order to everything. Pre-destination was predestined only to be altered by free will, the next step, and the appropriate interpretation of events. This ability was, of course, part of his search for liberation and knowledge. This glance of power was telling him something. He would have to think on it–but not too long, else he’d lose the influx of energy.

Steven looked from the dead bird to the beam. From the beam to the dead bird at his feet. From the dead bird to the Hestia stupa, from whence his eyes rose to the top of the niche and, as it blossomed, the light blossomed in his soul. Astonishment and the greatest pleasure flooded over him. His little bothy became haunted with a suffused light as it dawned on him that he had to power to kill by some force or other within him. He had touched the core of life and death. It seemed to him that his body and mind, in a great unified field, exploded, flooding his little chancery with pointillist lights, each gleaming brighter than the sun, each assuaging his past privations.

I must indeed be great! bleated from his parched throat.

He rose, still embossed with his discovery of power and glory, and walked down the mountain and into the nearest town. It was time for another test.

The first house he came to was a rather elegant abode with colonnades and fluted roofing surrounded by colorful gardens. This would suit his purposes just fine, for the inhabitants must be of the upper class and unused to people of his ilk coming to their door, dirty and unkempt, with scraggly hair and beard. In truth, he did not know how he looked, so long had he been without a mirror to gaze into. But he had no comb nor had he fashioned one from wood or horn or bone, as many before him had done. He assumed, rightly, that he was a sight to behold, though he did believe that his new-found insight had somehow realigned the natural mountain ascetic appearance he had gained, a manifestation he had too often seen from those returning from their comprehensives, some broken, some not. The broken ones were pitiful to behold. Aside from their slovenly appearance, they were slobbering and crying in their desperate failure. Steven, of course, would surpass them when his time came.

He banged on the door. When it was opened, he spoke aloud for the first time in months. And, as with months of alcohol use, months of silence encrusted his larynx and his vociferation was strained and coarsened.

“Bring me some food. I am a liberated comprehensive contemplative.” He paused to catch his breath. Coughed. Continued, “Merit shall be yours for feeding freely those on this path to enlightenment.”

The woman regarded the beggar before her for a moment, not at all disturbed by his presence. She licked her lips.

“As soon as I can, reverend sage,” she said and shut the door in his face.

Yes! His plan was set in motion. Reward would be his, for her refusal would arouse his scowling approbation and all would be right with the world.

Steven waited a long time. And, of course, he became more and more agitated. Finally, as his impatience was about to overtake him, she returned with a small bowl of stew. Despite his mouth’s salivation, Steven was nonplussed.

“Consider yourself lucky that I do not direct upon you the withering gaze of a liberated sage. Ill-fortune can come through disobedience to our elect wishes.”

“Ill-fortune can come indeed, unless you are able to resist it through some experience that has come upon you.”

“How dare you answer me in such manner!” Steven spluttered. “What do you mean?”

“I am not a bird in a forest clearing.”

Steven was taken aback. He scowled hard at the woman, a common unenlightened person. He recoiled, for she continued to stand there looking down on him.

“My wrath is not harming you. . .”

“Nor does the wrath of my children harm me and they are wont to disobey at every turning. It is the way of things.”

“But,” gagged Steven, “I have done everything. I have obeyed my teacher. I attended all his lectures and did all the right exercises. My inner life was constantly expanded and I was chosen for comprehensive contemplation. I have studied and focused my energies and inner eye and touched great powers. . .” he trailed off in disbelief.

“Eat the stew, young nigh-saint, and return to your teacher. Leave the bowl on the stoop.”

The woman handed him the stew and shut the door.

So disconsolate and appalled was he that Steven did not bother to eat the stew. Nor did me leave the bowl on the step but immediately made his way back to his master’s anchorage. But Steven was not allowed to enter its precincts. His master took the bowl of stew and sent Steven away.

“Go to the capital city and find the scavenger Inkblot. You are only fit to study with him.”

What could Steven do? He had such reverence of his teacher that he could only do as he was bid, repugnant as it might seem. There must be meaning in this or it would not be happening.

So, off he went to find Inkblot.

He was not difficult to find. He was, however, difficult to approach. Inkblot stood, on the day Steven found him, at the foot of a mountain of garbage. He stank. He was covered with filthy rags, his skin darkened from sun and blackened by lack of soap and water. He sniveled and wiped it away with the back of his hand, wiping this on his rot-encrusted clothing. Steven recoiled, as if hit by a donkey’s kick.

Inkblot spit.

“What’s it to ya, Steven? Ya don’t look much better yourself.”

“I do not smell,” Steven squeaked.

“Nor do I. I been around myself so long, if you get my meaning.”

“I’m afraid I don’t–”

“What bird’re ya gonna kill today, Steven? Who’s gonna read your thoughts, Steven? When’re ya gonna get some other revolting duty, Steven?”

“How can you know this? You are just a scavenger!”

“I only look like a scavenger because that is the work that I do. It is inappropriate of me to wear a top hat and tails. Though I’d like to, it is true. I have felt such cloth and it is anodyne to the skin. But I’ve my duty to perform. I can’t be bothered with looking like something I’m not. No. I must concentrate on my duty. As you must yours. You are now the servant of the people and they will not show their thanks in any way, shape or form, for they do not like to think about their waste. If ya get my meaning.”

“I am not sure I can. . .do this. . .”

“Aye, I know. Make of it what you will.”

“I’m a scholar. A sage. A released contemplative!”

“So you say. I don’t see no one here telling you so, do you?”

“Who would want to be here?”

“Right you are, Steven old boy. Right you are.”

“I am not meant for this.”

“And why not?”

“I’m meant for something better.”

“And what is so bad about wiping the ass of mankind? You gotta wipe the ass of a babe to keep it from smelling so’s it can get on its business of growing up, don’t ya? It’s the duty of a good parent, Steven.” Inkblot pointed off to his left. “There’s a little kiack over there that’s yours. We go out scavenging tomorrow.”

“I’m not sure. . .”

“People know me for what I do, not what I pretend to be. The only mirror I got is that of a dutiful man.”

“But I don’t want to be a scavenger! I want to be a sage.”

“Scavenger. Sage. What’s the difference? Both require knowledge and you don’t get none of that unless you do your job. Learn your duty, boy.”

“I don’t want to be a scavenger!”

“You ain’t got no choice, boy! Besides,” Inkblot continued in a more calm voice, “what is it you think scholars and sages and whatnot do but scavenge through mankind’s outpourings?” He wiped his nose, sniffed. “Go on over to your cuddy and rest. I’ll see what I can get ya to eat.”

“I feel a little nauseous. . .”

“Get over it. You got a duty to do.”

“I might destroy my reputation.”

“What reputation have you got to lose?”

“I shall never rise above this, I fear.”

“Yeast makes the bread rise. That’s its job. You can’t talk bread into rising.”

“What are you talking about?”

Inkblot squatted on his haunches, ran his hand through his hair, scratched his head. He did not look up as he spoke.

“There was a man once who knew something. Granted, it was nothing new. But he knew it. Many people did not appreciate what he knew, only seeing the not-newness of it all. They could hear the words but they could not understand the language. But, never mind. There were always a few who heard.

“There was also a man who believed he was a scholar and academician. He had a title and some position. He criticized this other man no end. In fact, he ran this other man out of town, you might say. The scholar and academician could say those things he said just as well. And he was proud of himself, this scholar and academician. He was real interested in himself, y’see. People like this cannot see the Day of Calamity. Indeed, they cannot even see opportunity when it comes knocking on their door with a calling card on a silver platter that says, ‘Opportunity Knocking.’ So he did not know the difference between knowledge and a polished mirror. Like a giraffe, he took the glitzy thing. You could say he ate the tray and let the calling card fall to the ground. Calling cards are, after all, nothing new. Just pieces of paper, eh?

“This other man, the man who knew something that was not new, he became a beggar, a junk dealer, a scavenger. No one pays him any mind. But if he does not do his work, everyone knows it.”

The scavenger looked up at the nigh-saint.

“And the scholar?”

“You see? You hear the words but know not the language.” The scavenger stood up. “The scholar is sitting in his chair contemplating his navel and wondering again and again how clean he has made it. Now, go on over to your hovel and I’ll bring you what I got so you don’t starve to death.”

 

for Si Tang, Jan 2010

(c) James L. Secor, 2010

 

The Unimaginable Unmanageable World

I’ve been listening to Lettice Rowbotham Virtuoso Violinist and in the process, because neither YouTube nor Google can see their way to give you just exactly what you want, I’ve been listening to spin-offs and derivatives who fit nicely into the not-quite-so-good-but-easier-to-deal-with performers and came upon the worst of the lot. It is perhaps not so surprising as the maker of it all was modern Disney Corporate Empire. And the performer? Tyler Davis. With the background music–not counting the roiling sea waves crashing against the rocks–there is only one thing that stands out: it is a rip off of Lettice Rowbotham’s musical versatility, even to sounding like her 2014 Britain’s Got Talent performances. What is this raping of art? The violin cover for some one of The Pirates of the Caribbean movies and sound track. An American virtuoso would sue; Lettice just laughs her ass off because, in the end, what the hell else is this second rate, coat tail rider going to amount to? Disney’s hired nig? They might have the money to buy Lettuce–not Lettice–but they’d never figure out just what the fuck to do with real art. (Once, many years ago at the hand–and mind–of the mustachioed one they would have known and capitalized on it. But today. . .? Let’s look at the bias, the cultural perversion, the common denominator world, the cliché conservative-based values that never ever existed anyway production perpetrated on a mindless–so perceived–mass.)

Right? Well, I searched for the most NASAL SOUNDING INSTRUMENTS and Google got me to “the saddest sounding instruments.” Not only a lack of imagination but a lack of the ability to read and produce understanding. This is called “an inability to comprehend.” I’m very familiar with this psychological syndrome–that the DSM idiot consortium do not recognize–as it is a major component of my migraines: you understand every SINGLE word and not one bit of it all makes the least sense. Hi, Google!

I just watched the most amazing Western with and by Jack Nicholson. 1966. Ride in the Whirlwind. It had no real ending, just the guy riding, riding, riding into the sunset, further and further along and for what? To what? Which is the point. The movie was about people stuck in a situation who have limited options open to them for survival. This was no vehicle for some lame, timely real world situation; no cliché bad vs good or getting richer = less human and more greedy so that money, making money, becomes evil; no perpetuation of a shallow old rundown supposed ethic because “that’s always the way it’s been.” This movie did deal with obsessive behavior and vigilante justice, and the wide generalization and jumping to conclusions that this kind of justice creates and thrives on. The movie was three guys caught in a bad situation and people jumping to conclusions and there being nothing left but to break the law to escape, to get away from an unjust situation. No special effects. Nice to see a movie that is a movie, about people, rather than a movie that’s only raison d’être is as a vehicle for special effects. The movie was about people first and foremost, people reacting in context–with context, of which there is little these days and apparently people were seeing 50 yrs ago. And people who bring things down upon themselves. The stage coach robbers were not violent, they did not steal horses–the sin of sins in the West–and they did not kill anybody. There was no strong box to steal. But vigilante justice labeled them, in their affront to their good person, good name and society, violent killers. Three drifters get caught in the middle of it all; two die. An innocent man is killed solely due to  vigilante justice mentality and narrow conclusion-making. Just to say, if you’re in the vicinity of bad guys, you are bad guys.

The upcoming election is a choice of tyrants. One tyrant is angry and irrational and downright ugly and if you don’t do what he wants you to do, he will kill you. The other tyrant will trap you with pleasant words but is, nevertheless, interested in control and “what I want.” I love the conspiracy over Hillary post collapsing in NYC. No conspiracy at all; but, yes, a double was used, not an unheard-of thing. Centuries old. It was easy to see, even from the distance allotted, that the “new” Hillary was not as age-old, wrinkled or jowled as the real Hillary. There is no way she could have had plastic surgery and had it heal in such a short span of time. And, then, suddenly, the old Hillary appears. This is only upsetting for those considering getting her into office.

The fact that the Houses of Congress are not moving to do the work of government and won’t because of ideological narrow-mindedness is apparently of no account to people who have, it must be admitted, been cut out of the deal, forgetting, it seems, that without people they have nothing. As an old Chinese aphorism has it: People are the root of the country, food is the first necessity of people.

I think it’s no wonder, with the floating propaganda of fear and the socio-cultural demands on behavior and belief–falling into line–that I meet so many narrow minded, shallow, ignorant, fear- and paranoia-filled, ugly people. Lots of psychological projection with absolutely no insight and no ability to make judgments–probably because Americans have no context, not in the world, not in the country, not in their individual lives. Everything is isolated and “this moment.” Lots of self-conceit resulting in assumptions and presumptions that ruin the lives of others. Opinionators. Judgmentalists. Americans are like the vigilante justice riders of Ride in the Whirlwind. . .and they are all derivative and unimaginative and just fucking inhuman. Like our modern day heroes: old heroes who are as violent and destructive as the villains; heroes who must fight amongst themselves to see who is the most best heroic blah-blah-blah. And, so, a nation of people alone, people who do not relate or work with other people. When the country collapses, no one will come in and take it over; there won’t be anything worth taking over. It’ll be a mess. Hell!–manufacturing is already elsewhere, manufacturing and technology. Elsewhere. Who wants a country filled up with ugly people, people who are fighting amongst themselves and have no goal in sight–other than dictating that all do it “this” way. People filled up with propaganda and perverted ethics. Chaos. Anarchy. And when it’s exhausted. . .it’d be nice to believe that something worthwhile will grow out of the mess; but probably not. Not in the long run. When you’ve got a country full of ugly people, how can you “export” anything other than ugliness? We are living in a Twilight Zone world.

I’ve met a bunch of people who don’t read. They can read. They choose not to. And behind their clean faces and pretty voices, they are fucking ugly and stupid. Ignorant: when you choose not to read, you choose ignorance. Not only are we told not to read, that it’s not necessary; we’re flooded with passive news and entertainment telling us “this is the way it is,” whether it is or not. We spend our lives in front of a computer–cellphone/iPhone/tablet/android–to the exclusion of the world we live in, as if all knowledge is there. Well, even if it were, no one would be able to access all of it. Same for a library. Library? What’s a library? Maybe no more than that place with those books that our teachers made us hate. That school made us hate. That society likes us to hate. If we fucking knew anything, we’d be dangerous (to the society-makers).

Fear runs society. All sorts of fears, most all fictions. Ergo, fear is used to control us. Adage: if someone is trying to control you, you can be they’re lying to you. Here’s a good one, the latest: Zika made it all the way to Florida from Brazil without infecting anyone in any country inbetween, nor the airlines personnel. AND it’s “reported” in various states, none of them contiguous, and none of the states inbetween has had any incidence. How is it, too, that so many women are becoming pregnant and getting sucked by mosquitoes that are indistinguishable from any other mosquito and their babies are dying in instants of time? As in. . .I got fucked today, I got pregnant today, I got my blood sucked by a mosquito and my baby microcephalic died yesterday. Oh my god! There’s a mosquito in my room! I’m going to die of Zika virus! And the bird flu that was supposed to be a worldwide pandemic and perhaps 26 people died? WHO neglected to tell the world that that flu was only transmitted between people, not bird to people (to death). And the African Army ants that were rampaging through Mexico to Texas–whatever happened to that fiction? How about the invasion of the body snatchers? The fear of ISIS, a group with no land, no home, no Air Force, nothing but media savvy who, at its greatest, equaled the population of Kansas and controlled a territory almost the size of Pennsylvania. Yup! Those assholes are going to come over here and wipe us out, take over the whole world. The DoD, the Pentagon need more and more threats in order to validate their increased budget and to practice using their new killing machines. And then there’s Alex Jones and conspiracy theories. What kind of drugs is he taking?! It does not help that we are surveilled in every aspect of our lives–and we let it happen. We believe giving up our liberties makes us safer. Yeah. Safer for the rise of tyrants–which includes Mitch McConnell, the penultimate Do-Nothing Machine. He would never be included in Romper Room’s Do-Bee Club. AND. . .when it comes to reality, we deny it.

Oh, lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. . .

 

 

 

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. . .

 

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.

Social Studies 3

“Good morning, class.”

“Good morning, teacher,” appropriately answered the class in unison.

“My name is Mr. Kruztashun.” He fiddled with some papers on the little lectern on the table. He did not sit. “Mr. Drumpfelstilzchin is away on business.”

A hand went up in the back. Mr. Kruztashun nodded in its direction and pointed.

“Where’s our usual substitute teacher?”

“Mr. Braunesel has better things to do.” Mr. Kruztashun set his hands firmly on the papers on the lectern. “Today we are–”

“We hate this class,” said a little boy in the far corner. The rest of the class snickered.

“That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about! Hate.” Suddenly the class was quiet, so quiet the windows rattled with the breathing of the students. “This is Social Studies 3, is it not?”

“Yes!” answered the class in unison.

“Well, then! There’s nothing better to talk about in relation to social studies than hate.” Mr. Kruztashun put a hand on his left hip, bent forward from the waist and pointed out over the heads of the students, a good teacherly thing to do, for it kind of included everyone. “What do you hate?”

A great intake of breath in the classroom. They’d never been asked about this before. They’d been told that hate was bad and not to be disseminated out in public–and surely not toward parents, the greatest thing in the world to hate.

“I hate niggers.”

“I hate spicks.”

“I hate camel jockeys.”

“I hate girls.”

“I hate rich people.”

“I hate poor people.”

“I hate smarty pants.”

“I hate chinks.”

“And gooks.”

“And nips.”

“Injuns!”

“I. . .hate. . .parents!”

The class erupted into tremors of chaos. Girls and boys were shouting and laughing and generally whooping it up. Mr. Kruztashun did nothing to quell the uprising. After all, getting people, even little people, enthusiastic and involved was part of teaching. Only when you’ve got them on your side, as it were, interested in what you are teaching, can you succeed in teaching them the right stuff.

When the class settled down somewhat, Mr. Kruztashun put up his hand. “Wow! We’re doing so good! You hate a lot.”

The same hand that shot up at the beginning of class shot up again. Mr. Kruztashun nodded in its direction again.

“Hate is good?”

“You betcha. Before you can do anything about it, you have to get it out in the open. Then you can do something with it.”

“Like what?” asked a tow-headed little girl in the front row.

“Well. . .what happens when you hate?”

“You get left alone?”

“Right. And what’s the big word for being left alone?”

“We don’t know any big words, Mr. Kruztashun.”

“Well! Would you like to learn one?”

“Yes!” from the now enthusiastic class.

“Okay. Here it is. . .isolation.”

“Isolation,” the good students parroted.

“Right. Isolation. You hate it when people don’t leave you alone, don’t you?”

“Yes!”

These kids were good, Mr. Kruztashun thought. “So, that hate makes them leave you alone, right?”

“Yeah. We get sent to our rooms.” Lots of murmuring agreement.

“And you hate that, right?”

“But,” Mr. Kruztashun held up a knotty knuckled index finger, “when that happens and you are isolated, there are no more hateful people with you. They are all outside. Right?”

Yes! You are isolated.” Mr. Kruztashun leaned over the lectern. “And inside.”

“Yes!”

“What do you do when you’re left alone?”

“Masturbate,” said a little boy at the far end of the front row.

Everyone else snickered and giggled and held their breaths. To say such a thing in public! To say it in the classroom! What was Johnny thinking?

“Exactly!’ Shouted Mr. Kruztashun. “You win the prize.”

“What prize is that?” A smiley face? A star? A gold sunburst?

“You get to feel good!” Quiet reigned. “You do feel good when you masturbate, don’t you?”

Half-hearted assent.

“Sir?” a little blonde girl put her hand up. “You mean it’s okay to feel good when you. . .masturbate?”

“Of course it’s okay.” Mr. Kruztashun leaned over the lectern. “You do feel good when you masturbate, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then. How can that be bad?”

Lots of mumbling and rumbling and giggling.

“So!” Mr. Kruztashun brought the class round to him. “When you hate, you are isolated, right?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s a good thing, right?”

“Yes!”

“And it makes you feel good that all that you hate is outside, right?”

“Yes!”

“So, now you can hate all you want in your isolation, right?”

“Yes!”

“What better kind of place could you live in?”

“None!”

Yes!” Mr. Kruztashun wiped the wetness from his lips. “Now. You’re left alone.”

“Yes.”

“And you can hate to your heart’s content.”

“Yes.”

“That’s like masturbating til your hand hurts.”

“And you’re all sticky!”

“Ee-yew, Johnny! You’re dizgusting!” shouted a group of girls in the middle of things.

“What do you care?”

“Yeah!” shouted another antagonistic boy. “What happens when you tickle your moose?”

The class erupted in joyous laughter and taunting.

“I bet you wet your pants,” said a shy little boy.

“I want to watch.”

“Well!” said Mr. Kruztashun, clearing his throat. “When you’re isolated, you can watch because everyone’s masturbating.”

“Cool beans, Mr. Kruztashun,” said Johnny. “You’re the best teacher ever.”

“Oh, thank you, Johnny!” Mr. Kruztashun tried hard to blush but only got his eye lashes to flash up and down. He had short eye lashes, too. “Well! So. You’re isolated. What else can you say about it?”

“Nobody bothers you.”

“Right.”

“You don’t have to pay attention to what anybody else says.”

“Right. You don’t have to share.”

“Yeah. And you don’t have to do things like other people do.”

“Right.”

“You don’t have to share!”

“Exactly! You’re your own boss. You don’t have to trade with those others.”

“Trade?”

“Yup. Like, I’ll give you this and you give me that.”

“Does that mean, Mr. Kruztashun, that, like, I can, uhhm, wear things that are mine?”

“You mean, like things that are only made by you?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes. Only things made by you, for you.”

“Like. . .no Chinese stuff?”

“Right.”

“No Japanese stuff.”

“No German stuff.”

“No Mexican stuff.”

“And no African stuff.”

“That’s right. Only American stuff.”

“Then we’ll know it’s good, right?”

“Right.” Mr. Kruztashun rubbed his hands together. “Boy! You guys are great.”

“Yeah!” shouted one girl. “We can do what we want! We can do for ourselves. And we can keep it all for ourselves.”

“Masturba-aaation!” shouted little Johnny. “Uhn! Uhn! Uhn!”

“Yes. And. . .what happens when you’re isolated and everything is for you and by you and you don’t want or need anyone else and your masturbating to your heart’s content?”

The bell rang just as the kids raised their hands, clamoring to be the one with the answer.

“Oops! Looks like we’ll have to wait for next time to talk about stagnation.”

“What’s stagnation?”

“Time’s up. We’ll talk about that next time.” Mr. Kruztashun opened the door and held it for everyone. “See you next time, guys,” he said as all the students filed out. “You’re the greatest.”

“Hate!” said one boy, giving Mr. Kruztashun a high five.

“Isolation!” said another.

“Masturbation!”

“We’re the best!”

“It’s my land.”

“Right. Hey! See you next time.”

 

© James L. Secor, 2016