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

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hitching the Wagons (part two – haven’t written part one, three, etc. yet)

Dehydrated, I wake up bleary, the colors of the world limited to autumnal grays and wintry yellows, anything else too much for an alcohol and meth overwhelmed system. My eyes are slits, my eyelids shields protecting me and mine from stimulus overload.

Water! That's what I need. "Where's the aqua, dude?" I say to the fellow cadaver-in-training. But he isn't listening, still asleep and curled around his babe like they're two worms exchanging eggs and sperm. I inhale through chapping lips and realize I’ve got cotton mouth and that bone-drying aridity peculiar to speed. I'll need sugar to pull me out of the dumps while I'm at it.

We're in her Spartan concrete pad. Four corners, walls and a ceiling. That pretty much covers the decor. That and the generic candy-apple red, embroidered blankets she's generously laid on the floor for us. I wonder where she's got to. She's the responsible one. For what looks like a squatter's residence, it’s surprisingly comfortable and we slept well considering the circumstances. Maybe this is a poor relative's apartment. She brought us here last night, or should I say early this morning. The sun was up and burning our eyes, that's all I remember. This is our first time here.

'She's my girlfriend. My girlfriend of the month. My home away from home. I suppose that sounds callous but anything other than honesty is something other than honesty. Or something like that. I could have said she was a yellow cab or an ornamental, which is partially but not wholly true. I don't want to sound more cynical than I really am. I mean, I like these people.

She... She needs a name, a fake name though to hide her identity. Something respectful though. How about 'A-qua': for her refreshing nature, her sparkling brightness, the transparency of her motives. That last riff should be a hint that she's not Chinese. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with the Canaries. But she belongs to a minority tribe, one of the region's indigenous peoples.

A male voice, impatient, breaks in: "No she's not. She's a fucking abo!" Dude snickers playfully and unwinds himself from his pet, who squirms still asleep, unconsciously alarmed at the absence of his warm embrace. He yawns, stretches, hunches his shoulders and makes a painful face, blinking and squinting. "Time for some yoga to unwind this mortal coil. Jesus I'm stiff." His cheeks are sunken. His eyes, what I can see of them, are painfully red. He blows out his cheeks and stands, stretching his hands high, pushing them in the air in parallel to reach each other, stretching his tendons. Looks painful. So I remain sitting on my haunches.

I should apologize. He doesn't mean that comment about abos. Or at least he doesn't mean it in a bad way.

He complains through clenched teeth, reaching for the sky with his fingertips, "I don't need you to apologize for me. Get real."

"I am. I'm keeping it real," I say plaintively. Truth is, cynicism around here is mostly an affectation, a tool for fending off the fear that we're flotsam and jetsam washed up on an aboriginal shore, a barricade for keeping at a safe distance the growing apprehension that we're sinking below our level, never to return.

He says nothing. He's tongue-tied because he's embarrassed. He's looking the other way because I've struck blood.

He barks, sending an insincere shot of laughter across my bow. "Would you stop taking yourself so freakin' seriously?" But now he's back to grinning. "It's like that book, 'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress', that I lent you." He exhales from his diaphragm, blowing out a gust of stale air from the unused part of his lungs. Then he shrinks his body up and puts on an expression of mock earnestness, like he's looking at the stars and speaking to the heavens. In a Michael Jackson sort of faux-children's voice, he moans: "It's such a beautiful book. A true work of art." He cackles, looking at me for results, his force of personality testing my resolve. Will I crack?

"Well, it is a great book. And it sold really well. I did a search on You know that search engine for getting through the commie firewall."

"'El Goog? Sounds like Spanish for Google. Yeah, I know all about getting around the Great Firewall of China. But I thought that mirror for Google was down or blocked or something."

I shrug. "Well, anyway, I mean, I read they're making that book into a movie. It's quality art."

"Quality art? What the hell is that?" He laughs amiably to take the sting off it, but I still feel stupid. “Was that was set Van Gogh apart? Quality control? Money back guarantees? Rebates?"

"Okay. I goofed."

"Were Da Vinci and Boticelli down with the Better Business Bureau."

"Enough already! I get your point." I'm looking away, trying to be bored.

He softens up, but insists on continuing. "I like that book. That's why I gave it to you. But you got to recognize it's slapped together as mechanically as your ma baking a tray of cookies. The author is a film director. The book's was written in sections about a thousand to two thousand words long, like his audience's attention span. Each section ends in a climax or a question. I grant you it's smooth, and he's got his game down, but it's as mechanical as constructing a brick wall out of... you know... fucking bricks!" He throws up his hands in frustration, as if I'm deliberately messing with him. Then he extends his arms, gently shaking them at me, his head reaching back for balance like he's humping a heavy load. "The book doesn't challenge. It's not even intelligent. It's... it's observant that's all, I guess. The best thing you can say about it is that it's smooth. Which is..." and his body bobs and weaves as he mentally threads the forest of answers emerging in thickets between his ears. "Which is pretty cool, when all is said and done."

I sense weakness in his hesitation, in his inability to find the right words. "Admit it. It's art! It's an ambrosia of the mind. A palate tickler. A..."

"It's a plate of grandma's cookies presented to suckers as a piece of Dada Art. Okay? End of story." He struggles to scratch his head, his hand creeping along like a spider, searching for a flaw in that impenetrable carpet so he can reach his scalp. "Hey, you all dehydrated out? I'm just desiccated, man, like I've got one of those desiccating pouches from a pack of snack food inside of me. You know what I'm saying?" He shivers. "I'm just drying in the wind here."

"I feel like Indian corn."

He chortles, "Yeah, I can sort of see the resemblance now that you mention it. The freckles, the bruises, the red patches of prickly-heat. 'Indian corn.' Maybe that's what we should call you from now on."

"Yeah right!" He loves to tease. But I glance at my arms to reassure myself that he's exaggerating, just taking the piss. "My bones are cracking too. Water's what we need. Food too."

"I got water in my satchel. What we need is more z's. I got medicine for our condition."

"I don't need no medicine, dude. Just food and water will do me."

He's walking over to the satchel, "I've got some of nature's oldest medication in here. All natural. You'll be loving it soon."

He pulls out a grey and black vial the size of his thumb, like one of those old-fashioned plastic containers for housing camera film. He pops it open and knocks out a baggie with a brown ball of something. Ever the joker, he tests me, "Mr. Brownstone? Nope. Too artificial. This is au naturel."

"Is that what I think it is?" My eyes are open wide now, ready to do battle with all light settings, every color and every hue. My mouth drops. "Opium? You're shitting me. That stuff's highly illegal in China. We could get shot for that."

"C'mon. You don't know me that well yet, but did you really think I'm just a straight up and up English teaching schmo?" He titters, afraid that I underestimated him.

"That shit's dangerous, dude." I whisper, becoming more and more paranoid by the second.

He shakes his head slowly. "I'll never understand people who break the law without first clearing it with the authorities. Some people just don't have a head for bidness, I guess." He shakes his head, pursing his lips, then giggles, and then launches into a CEO style belly-laugh, feeling powerful and in synch, in harmony and grooving with an inclement environment he's mastered on his own. The Third World is his oyster and his shaggy rasta locks swing like the tassels of an antique wool carpet.

"You're going to love this..." he confides. "The best abo traditional medicine around."

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