News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Ch07 Exam Time (Crude and unrevised 6300wds)

When I showed up, opening the appointed shabby tan panel door and entering the austere examination room, I found only a handful of impoverished Chinese students muttering in low voices and a pair of silent monitors, grad students judging by their age, martial stance, and poverty-chic rubber flip-flops and green army jackets. On hearing my shuffling noise, my stuttering query in the ambient white noise of chatter, no one turned.

For perhaps the first and last time I was a certifiable white ghost, that dated term, that retro-fact that had inspired insurrections and revolutions in earlier generations. I had a sudden urge to shriek, to make an impression of force, to regain the unearned self-importance instilled within me, forced on me by a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand deferential encounters off-campus. The all-too-human will to power was pushing me to reclaim my station as white ghost and in effect to defend my bizarre status as white master. I blinked shyly, coming into awareness, the cross-cultural filters flickering into life, bringing me in touch with the other self, myself in my homeland, that edition of myself that found racialism appalling, crude, self-serving in the most primitive and brainless fashion. As the filters came full on I was suddenly appalled at the lunacy of this sudden fantasy and shrugged my shoulders awkwardly in a farcical gesture of nonchalance, retaining face by affecting not to care, launching into the air a soliloquy in body language to an audience that wasn't listening.

I retreated, early for once, into the corridor, away from the indifferent crowd and back to the more reassuring anonymity of solitude. The building was a brick leftover, a pre-Mao Christian mission put up in a tasteful architecture. Call me a philistine, but it shone and I gaped: a richly textured, polychromatic yet moderate edifice far superior to the usual lobotomy monstrosities planted around town: the flesh-tone wall-tiled cement shithouses with gleaming purple porcelain roofs, the rust-stained rebar shoe boxes of the residential architecture, the low cinderblock casket factory buildings. The political science department was housed on a separate campus from the rest of the university, and located closer to the City Hall. The brick was a warm red tone offset by a black and grey mildewed mortar. Sections of concrete stippled by smog and the corrosion of acid rain gave it a damaged but worldly and distinguished aura. There were creeping vines augmenting this effect, looping up and onto the roof, their Mandelbrot patterns catching the eye and fetching the imagination. And there were scattered collections of tropical parasitic arboreal growths which had gained a purchase on sections of the roof and found suitable cracks in the concrete above doors, below windows, and around rooftop gutters. All of this further contributed to a healthy and appealing, a refined sort of decay.

Walking around and exploring, I was surprised to find that the rest of the building was practically deserted. I'd been hoping for a high student population and some nubile babeage to breathe life back into my staid sex life. But there was no one in the long corridors, only the secretaries behind the closed door in the dean’s office who I could see through a window, like a food establishment convincing customers the staff was on the up and up. They were scratching away with economy pens on the traditional resource-saving paper, a sort of translucent tissue-like parchment similar to the thin weedy Cold War era papyrus for airmail letters. Waste not want not was still the prevailing theme.

Returning to tramping around the corridor, the emptiness was emphasized by the ten foot ceilings that maximized ventilation and minimized sweating, and attendant skin infections, during those hot paleotech summers during which only mad scientists talked about a Flash Gordon future with air conditioners. I found two students at last, sweeping a section of the corridor with straw brooms. They were also wearing army gear, the cheapest clothing, the global surplus garment. Their cleaning attempt was clumsy and half-hearted, the swings of the broom spastic and the stroke too short, doubling the amount of energy needed. Their grip was too high and they manhandled their brooms like canoe paddles, with one hand at the apex and the second only three or four hands down the wood. The refused to choke lower as if horrified by the thought of filth. It wasn't that they were just moving the dirt around, but that the standard for cleanliness was different. All around Southeast Asia, the low-budget Chinese hotels are swept, but not mopped and the walls are seldom wiped.

I smiled and asked them what they were up to but the boy in a crew cut just smiled shyly in return, while the other, a girl in rustic pigtails, giggled. I asked them again, knowing of course what they were doing but they answered with silence yet again. Children, even adult children, were meant to be seen and not heard. It was the tradition that students cleaned up their own buildings, that students picked up after their professors, indeed that students were less students in the modern sense of the word and more like medieval apprentices. On the other hand, we foreigners would be given a free ride, this being one of the principle advantages of unequal and unfair treatment.

I was bewildered by the abandonment, the penny-pinching in the classrooms, the nickel and diming of the administration office. Was this because international relations was a field dangerously close to political science in general and thus ominous for anyone while the communist crew was still managing the workers paradise?

I continued strolling. On my return to the examination room I was just thinking that there was no sign of Frank, when who should appear but the cantankerous crank himself. He spied me first and asked hurriedly, as if trying to get the jump on me, in a hoarse voice, "So where's all the people in this place. It's deader than a meeting of Free Thinkers for Mao."

I turned fully around and, while he cleared his throat rudely and interrupted my reply, replied, "Know what you mean. It's too bad about the communists still being in power. If they were gone, we could have, like, a real school and real intelligent conversations, eh? I'm starting to get a sixth sense about how good, I mean bad, this program's going to be."

He tried to shrug while rubbing his nose at the same time, the light gleaming off the slippery pitted appendage. "Well, what did you expect?" he commanded, "Then again,” he opined proudly, “It's hard to say. There are pockets of independent thinking all over China. And…" finding himself a perch and leaning into the dusty brick wall, "Given the fact we're in the countryside, it might be safer here to venture opinions. Loose lips are not likely to sink ships out here. During the Cultural Revolution, there was cannibalism in Guangxi, right?"

He was testing my knowledge of the country, the sneaky devil. I forced my tongue under my upper lip in a child's imitation of a monkey, belched, and pretended to chew on something for effect while talking out the side of my mouth, "There was a lot of mystic stew going around. A lot of traditional dinners, eh? A lot of livers did double duty as both a food group and an herbal medicine. It was safer out there to dodge the government ordained PC and get back to basics, traditions."

He chortled insincerely, "Cute. Very cute. But it was a tragedy. Not funny to the people who died while this lunacy to take place."

Caught off guard by his spinning a clearly funny situation around and hitting me with an implied accusation, I whined, "Yeah, but all humor's based around sadism."

"What do you mean?" the sadist barked, pushing himself off the wall and standing now in the middle of the corridor, blocking escape, not that I had any plans, and armed with a creeping frown which, politically speaking, achieved hegemony over his face.

"Well, I don't know." I moped and looked at my scuffed shoes, the steadily bursting seams in the fake fabric leather making me self-conscious and further unraveling my self-confidence. "You know. I mean. I mean. I mean..." I realized with a start that I was hyperventilating. I held my breath like a pouting child for a moment and then thought better of the poor impression that would make. Silence was an admission of defeat so I tried sucking up and aimed my best saccharine charmer of a smile at him, "I guess, but...but I just wish the communist government would go away. They don't do anything for the people, you know what I mean? The party's just a parasite holding everyone back."

He made an impatient face. He feigned disinterest and pretended to be doing me a favor out of long-suffering good conscience. "All governments are parasites holding people back. That's the optimum condition of government, you twat. Elemental political economy. The problem starts with governments when they're no longer parasites, when they've become financially independent of the people they're supposed to represent. That's when things really start to get out of hand. I mean, look at the oil-rich nations. How many of those nations are either democracies or are even headed in the direction of democracy?"

"I don't know." But these words were my dithering complaint, my jelly-spined reproach.

"Yeah?" he said gruffly, not giving an inch. "Well, democracy's just not going to happen when governments are rich on the basis of oil profits, when the government doesn't need to explain its policies to justify tax revenues to the public. The problem with large oil revenues is that taxes don't count for jack anymore as part of governmental revenues. The government doesn't need the public's money. So the government doesn't have to listen to the public. It doesn’t need it. In fact, the public becomes a sort of nuisance, a pest. Or kinda like breakfast leavings; fiscal crumbs to be wiped clean from the table of state. Get it?"

"Yeah." I fibbed. "No really. Sure. Of course..."

He deadpanned, but I knew he was hot with happiness deep inside as he said, "Government become its own sort of independent state, independent of the people and indifferent to their needs. Government becomes necessarily repressive to maintain its independent wealth and keep it out of the greedy hands of the needy: the have-nots and the want-to-haves. With these oil states, government is a private kingdom, the public an almost colonized people."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yuh!" He snubbed.

He put me in a contrary mood and I tried taking the fight back to him. "Oh Yeah? Well what about job creation? At least governments create job opportunities.”

"What?" He rolled his eyes. "Governments are not in the job of creating job opportunities. Puhlease... If anything, the case can be made that governments are in the job of destroying job opportunities." He hesitated, stared at me expectantly but I dared say nothing, "Well" he said to rub it in, "Aren't you going to say something stupid?"

I yammered, "No, eh? Since you're such a smarty, I thought I'd let you cover that end of things as well."

He stuck out his tongue in response and while my eyes were widening and I was realizing I'd have to radically reappraise my conception of Frank, he said, "Okay smarty-pants. It works like this. Governments shut down criminals. What are criminals, but people engaged in a form of unwanted economic enterprise? Governments shut down unethical companies and unethical individuals such as white-collar criminals. But, in the process of preventing unwanted individuals from engaging in unwanted economic activities, governments often inadvertently prevent other companies, honest and law-abiding ones, and individuals, from operating effectively as well."

Emboldened by his campy maneuver I said, "Well, I guess. But so what? Everyone knows that, eh? What about when governments come up with make-work projects? You know, like back home?"

"Maybe back in your home in Canada. But not in America. The only way for the government to create a job is to tax people, which is to say by taking money away from people who know how to use it and make it. Then the government pays a bureaucrat to invent an excuse for hiring somebody who doesn't know how to make money and put them to work on a project that's guaranteed to lose money. For, otherwise, if it was profitable someone in the private sector would already be doing that project. What do bureaucrats know about money-making projects? If they knew how to make that kind of money, would they stay in the civil service? No, of course not. They'd quit their jobs, get a better looking secretary and get rich in the private sector. In other words, what governments do is hinder people who know how to make money by taxing them and then use that tax revenue to hire a lard-assed paper shuffler to come up with a fiscally incompetent project in order to give some fiscal numskull a job."

It sounded convincing. At least I thought it did. What was he saying? I’d already forgotten. Anyway, it didn’t matter. So much of what he said seemed persuasive so much of the time, when it stuck to my ribs, which wasn’t always.

It was hard to say if he was on to something or was just a swinging-dick Julius Schweitzer who could give change for a nine dollar bill in a triplicate of threes. It already felt like it was going to be a long semester. At least what little of it we were going to see before all hell broke loose.

I stepped over to an alcove and leaned on some cool amethyst brick and looked outside into the atrium. There was a garden in the midst of which was an oval goldfish pond bordered by naturally streaked white granite blocks and benches with planks the color of boiled chicken but complemented with a simple wrought iron design. The pond was overpopulated and shallow, almost anaerobic, the water surface broken by shoals of oval mouths gasping for air. A flutter caught my eye and I saw an egret circling above, likely getting wise to the game after a futile picking through of the plastic bags, Styrofoam, and chemical suds in our local excuse for a mountain cataract.

Frank joined me, though I didn't want his company. On the other hand, nature seemed to calm him, as it did me; bubbling up soothing memories of a quiescent somewhere. He gazed innocently upon the scene, proclaiming, "Look, the fish must be hungry. It must be feeding time."

I didn't think to contradict him and get his ire going again and be festooned with more of his verbose verbiage and unanswerable answers. I tried to grunt in a manner straddling the line separating yes-man from alpha male.

I peered at a collection of vines hanging like clumps of seaweed from a power line and at the planted peeling eucalyptus trees that rounded the campus. They had been imported from Oz to perform a hasty makeover of the farce of yesteryear when the original trees, planted by the original white ghosts, had disappeared into the maw of the people’s furnaces to melt down the nation’s woks and flatware and recreate itself as a nation incapable of cooking its own food. The awning directly above us was held down by cloudy plastic bags full of debris. Half of the yellow, rubberized awning was torn through, the stitching having rotted and given way, exposing a bleaching skeletal frame of ungalvanized aluminum beneath. And yet, compared to the potholed grey smoky city, it was verdant, bucolic, reassuring, the red Martian sky shining down above.

Then my stomach began to rumble, pressure building up and then heading south, moving rapidly down the digestive tract, pushing, feeling about, taking the s-turns like a race car driver, probing for an exit. The morning ritual was starting late and I trundled off down the corridor looking for a cheese room. Threading the cracked cement floors of the corridor, past dusty bulletin boards containing peeling yellow notices above a residue of bloodless mosquitoes and failed meat flies, leftovers from the lean previous semester. I was in no position to stop and look closely. Nature's call was ringing out from my bowels like a klaxon. I took the bulletin board in stride as a sour portent, if an unsurprising one, of intellectual lethargy. With nothing to say, there was naturally nothing to write. As I turned a corner and found my destination, picked up the pace to beat the message racing from through my nervous system to my sphincter, I pondered whether I was really here to learn anything anyway? Wasn't I just part of the great national fraud? I smiled. Just another ground-feeder at the socialist trough, another straw-man stuffing his shirt, going through the motions, allegedly earning a degree so-called to pump up a resume needing an additional infusion of hot air.

Coming up to the battered chocolate brown door, above which was the universal Olympics symbol for man, I took a breath and hauled open the door, tugging on the thinnest of diminutive handles, a curve in metal stained by a thousand needy hands. It was dry, unlike the oft wet door handles of toilets in bathrooms that come with running water. I opened it and felt a hollow relief at the absence of water. The protoplasmic residues were still there.

Inside, I squinted from the yellow light flooding in from outside the window and brightly illuminating the tiled wall, the raised brick trough, the foot rests above the trough that one climbed onto, the human deposits below in the usual inspiring chromatic range from monsoon leached orange soil to temperate rich brown loam, hilighted with the occasional layer of yellow sediment. A billow of water was rushed through at some interval, flushing the mess away and saving water otherwise wasted by the multiple flushings of the profligate developed world. All of which left the room zinging with aromas and fragrances inspiring the nickname cheese room among the local foreigners.

I scaled the communal commode and got to the business of dropping my knock-off jeans. At least it was a men-only convenience. In other locales the toilets were unisex and guys and dolls could do their thing together, making romantic interludes possible if hard to conceive. But, given everything else I'd seen, I chalked that up to a lack of imagination.

My mind racing with wandering conversations as usual, having got my pants down to my ankles, at first I crouched like a monkey and then remembered to perch still like a kingfisher, getting there like a penguin maneuvering on ice. Takes getting used to. The aim is to find a balance point through lining up your skeletal structure such that it requires no muscle control, no nervous-system servo-motor micromanagement of your posture. Once there you find yourself completely relaxed, no doubt by nature's design, and nature does the rest of the job via gravity effortlessly and minus pushing, squeezing, harrumphing. Goodbye to 'here I sit brokenhearted, paid my dime and only farted.' Goodbye and good riddance to the porcelain inconvenience of the West.

Having taken a load off, I reached into my leather jacket for a crumpled sheet of Kleenex, for a remaining a sheet of the local wrapping paper that slandered the good name of tissue and was better suited for constructing origami figures. Nothing. My eyes widened and I tittered nervously. I stood up, family jewels swinging in the wind, to haul up my jeans and rummage through all available pockets. Nadda. I hysterically considered ripping up my shirt into rags. Or faking the wipe and walking around soiled and complaining about a foul wind blowing in from somewhere. It wouldn't have been the first time. But in walked my saving angel, Noah.

"Jesus, am I glad to see you."

Noah jumped, the whites of his eyes leaping out at me. "Motherfucker! English sure become a scary language jumping out at ya in a place like this." He started moving again, shuffling past me, looking for the berth where the assembly of turds was lowest and threatened blowback the least. He was mumbling while he looked over the place, another connoisseur of Chinese commodes, "Just like the white man to scare the black man for no good reason. Cruelty is in his genes. He just cain't help it. I pray for you boy, every night I pray for yo soul. Right now it's still in limbo. You gots to try and help. I cain't save yo ass from the eternal hell-fire all by myself." He was still carrying on with this mumbo-jumbo as he clambered up like a four legged crab onto the public convenience. "This is a dang obstacle course for ninjas. Why they make these so damn high for?"

"To test fortitude. To discourage dilettantes and amateurs."

He tried not to hee-haw and under duress pushed out a monotone, "Just like the white man to try to fool the colored man with his forked tongue."

I laughed wickedly in revenge. Noah started getting ready to do his business and looked over at me still standing there, smiling with an addled expression. "Wachoo so happy about? Put that thing away. I don't want to see it. There's good reason white men hide their peckers. For shame they be so small."

"Hey, be serious for a minute."

"I be serious as a heart-attack." he was saying as he shifted on his feet and straightened his back, getting comfortable like a chicken warming her brood.

"I need some bum-wad. You got any."

"Maybe? What's in it for me?"

"What? You scalpin' ass-wipe now?"

"Mighty fine idea." He pursed his lips and pushed them out, looking self-satisfied as he nodded. "Thanks. You're getting it. Takes a while but even the white man comes around to sense." And then he coughed off to the side and spat into the steaming pile below. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a slim-pack of Kleenex and prepared to toss it to me.

"Don't throw it. It might end up down below in that reeking pile. The gusts could catch it. Let me come over and get it." I balanced astride the trough and waddled over like a flasher with his pants down at his knees.

He extended his hand with the Kleenex, not wanting to contemplate my rotten form, as if homophobic. "So what are you doing here, anyway?" he asked.

"I told you before Noah. I'm taking the exam for the grad school of poly-sci. The real question is what are you doing here?"

"The black man cain't read or write, is that it? Keep him illiterate and ignorant. That way he makes a good slave."

I showed him my ass by way of retort, while saying "Thanks for the wad, man. Really appreciate it." I waddled back to my slot and got to wiping myself down to something approximating clean. I stretched my neck, moving it in a full circle around its axis and then back again. Free of bodily concerns, I paused and looked out the window at the dancing sunshine and the branches of a eucalyptus tree undulating in the breeze, the papery leaves revealing patterns of flow in the unseen wind. "So what's with the black man schtick? I thought you'd given that stuff up after the episode in the cop shop. Besides, you're no more black than Ward Churchill is an Indian."

"Who? Who’s that dude?" Dude was code for uptight white man.

When I got back to my berth and squatted again, exhaled a deep lungful, and got comfortable and back to the business at hand, I continued, "I mean, it sounds like you're about ready to get some reparations shtick going too. Like you're psyching yourself up to start charging a reparations tax on your scalped tickets."

"You're getting it!" He was nodding his head affirmatively. "No man, really you are." He stopped and looked out the window pensively, still squatting, his ass hanging out but unconsciously in the dramatic pose of the renowned Renaissance sculpture, The Thinker. "You know, to be frank Charlie I've always thought you was the loser type of jiveass mofo. Look at yo ass, you ain't going nowhere." He shook his head and pushed out his lower lip, looking down below at the tiled yellow floor, fixating on the grid patterns emerging from the grey mortar. "If it wasn't for the Chinese propping up yo ass, you'd never get nowhere, dude. You're just coasting. Scamming. The lazy scammer. That's what you are. You wouldn't last five minutes in the world of the black man."

I was still squatting myself, but dressed. I felt vulnerable nonetheless and chuckled defensively, "But you're not a black man either."

"Exactly. And look how well I do. You wouldn't last a minute in the ghetto. You don't have the social skills, you don't have the flexibility. Most importantly, you don't have the ambition, the drive, the panache. You're weak and aimless. You're soft. Putty. A punk with a high potentiality to bitch out. Know what I mean? How many motherfuckers does it take to screw in a light bulb at Charlie's house? One punkass whiteboy and 1.3 billion Chinamen to hold up the highchair and spin it around. That's how I've always seen you, Charlie. No offense."

"No offense?" I asked with annoyance. "None taken God dammit!"

"Don't blame the messenger, boy." He smirked. "So who's this Ward Churchill dude. Is he a player?" While wiping his ass.

"Yeah. You'd like him. An ethnic impersonator who faked his ancestry, his military record, his wife going alkie on account of the white man, and a fake artist who passed off the work of Indian artists as his own."

Coming down gingerly from his potty, Noah looked around. Where's the water in this place? These be some rough people."

"Nah, over here." I pointed, to a cubicle, right in front of the door. It was a cast iron affair in a dull finish, retrotech ripped out of the 19th century. The tap was shaped like a steam gauge propeller, with the pipes external and snaking up the wall. I spun the propeller and out came a dribble of lukewarm, sun-heated water. "No soap, though."

"Cheap shit motherfuckers. No mirror neither. Well, black is beautiful, come what may." He sprinkled the wet stuff on his mitts. I couldn't be bothered. "So what happened to this dude?" he asked.

"Slow news cycle. Iraq held its first elections and nothing was going down. All the old reliables were dusted off and given an earnest scrub and shine: Global warming, bird flu, AIDS. All these old reliables, like a show tour of Las Vegas has-beens, were trotted out. But everybody and even the press itself wanted some fresh meat. Martha Stewart wasn't out of jail yet. Michael Jackson's latest trial hadn't started. Nothing was happening. It was dog days and editors all across Christendom were shouting hell and damnation. Some savvy entrepreneur dug up one of Ward's masterworks from years back and wrote him up. Slow news cycle meant poor Ward became game. The local scandal went national. Great fun." I beamed.

"You're an evil bastard, laughing at the troubles of others."

I ran my fingers through my hair, preening myself for the examination room. "He called people working in the World Trade Center buildings, he called them facilitators of the problems that led to 9-11. Called them 'little Eichmanns' and said they had it coming."

As I was the one yapping, Noah yanked the door open for me as we left the cheese room, "Bet that didn't go over well." he said.

"Yeah. Ironic too that his statement only got press two years or more after he published it on the web."

"What the fuck's up with that? What about freedom of speech? A man can say what he wants, or it ain't no democracy anymore is it?"

"I guess. No, I mean I agree. He can say what he wants as long as he doesn't incite violence. Which he did of course. On tape in a public lecture. Anyway, what amused me was that he went whole hog, the full Styrofoam treatment. Can you imagine? Here was one whitey wearing his ethnicity like a Halloween costume, scaring the shit out of other whiteys by playing the race card and cadging the sympathy vote. But he was hollow as a jug. Got to give him credit though. In for a penny, in for a pound. He'd have got his dick bronzed just to get attention. Just like Asa Carter."

"Slow down a minute. I don't want to here about no Asa Carter. I need to know more about..."

"Nah, nah. Before I forget. You'll like this. Right up your alley. Asa Carter. A classic. Ward's spiritual mentor. Master to Little Grasshopper."

"You always did enjoy abusing people. You're a real sadist Charlie. You just giving it to people when they're down. Hitting them below the belt's your specialty."

"No it ain't. Besides, we're all guilty of that. But check out this guy. Asa Carter was a KKK higher-up who was a speech writer for George Wallace of Alabama."

"Who's that?"

"He was a fake white supremacist governor in the 1960's who pretended to hate black people."

"Oh shut up!"

"No way, man, I'm serious. He was just like Strom Thurmond who pretended to disrespect black people as well. They just do it for the votes. You can never tell what a politician really thinks. They'll do anything, advocate cannibalism if that's what the polls indicate. Come on man, I thought you knew how things worked?"

"Now don't you be giving me no lip."

"Yeah. Yeah. Anyway," and I picked up the tempo again. "This Asa Carter guy helped George Wallace write that speech, the famous one on television where he said 'Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!' Later, in another election, when George Wallace went and showed his true colors, revealing that he was a bogus racist, Asa Carter ran for election as Alabama State Governor on the true racial supremacist ticket. But he flunked out. He was the real McCoy, but he got out-done by George Wallace who had said publicly, after a previous electoral failure, that he would never be 'out-niggered' again."

"I hear that. George is the man."

"What?" I cocked my head at him, shocked at his reaction. "No, man, they're all bad guys. Every last one of them. I mean..."

"You're still just a chump." Noah interjected, shaking his head dispiritedly.

I didn't get him at all now, but I didn't care either. I was having a rush telling this story and wanted to get to the climax. "Anyway, in 1979, Asa Carter reinvented himself as a Cherokee Indian. He wrote a book, a best-seller, and it still sells shit loads every year." I howled with laughter. "It's called The Story of Little Tree and every year it's sets herds of do-gooders everywhere to a weeping and wailing, to a gnashing of teeth, at the plight of the American Indian underdog and his white oppressor. Remember now, this is Asa Carter a dyed in the wool racial supremacist. Want to know how he died?"

He looked away, like I was spoiling the story and not wanting to be played. "It's not like I have much choice. You're going to tell me anyway."

I gushed with delight, "He got himself beat to death in a bar brawl in Texas! He was always picking fights with people, even though he was a small dude. What a monkey! What a fucking clown. Right to the dismal end," I said with great satisfaction.

"Did his book make any money?"

"Damn straight. Still does. Serious bucks."

We pulled up at the entrance to the examination room, Noah putting out his arm like a parent, to stop me from going in. He peered inside, as if looking for a sign of friendlies. Whispering, he turned back to look at me and said "You see? The man knew what he was doing. Let's say your version of what happened to this Carter fellah is true. I don't really think it is. But let's just say so, for the sake of saying so. He went out the way he wanted to go out. A man has a right to the way he wants to live. He has just as much a right as to the way he wants to die. So I ain't gonna judge that. And you're a fool if you do. You're also a damn fool for not understanding that a man like that is making the best of his possibilities. And he made it work. Not everyone's got the right skin tone, the right family, the right connections."

"Yeah, but..."

"I'll tell you what. Let me give you some advice. Fuck this blackface shit I been doing. It's just for fun. For practice." I squinted and held my breath in anticipation, wondering where this was going and if it was going to be an interesting confession. "It goes like this Charlie. We're all strangers in a strange land. Flip the bird to the Man and we're some dog's breakfast. This is the wrong country to be a straight arrow. Honest John's in this country get flushed down the toilet. So, as one friend to another, I recommend you learn to bend like a reed in the wind. Because this is the wrong country to get your back up against the Man."

"Awe, come on." I was giggling and my speech became jerky. "Don't get paranoid on me. No conspiracy theories."

This riled him and hissed angrily, "Don't be such a ignorant jerk, jerk. I learned my lesson the hard way or have you forgotten the punishment I suffered to get your ass out of the pogey? What's it going to take for a fat-assed cockbiter like you to learn, boy? Wake up! Take a fucking look around you man," he exhaled in my face, his eyes rolling a full 360 for maximum effect. "There's some fine people around here. Some of my best friends are Chinese. But the people who matter, the people with weight to throw around, when it comes to those people, this ain't no town of motherfucking friendlies. You dig? You don't, and you all be digging your own grave, I promise you that, white boy." And he left me standing in the doorway, my mouth agape. He was talking like that nutball Michael and again I was back to step one, when I got off the bus in this hoggish backwater little town, wondering if someone knew something of critical importance that I'd missed.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

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