Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Are You Inside Yet?

I’m sitting here watching an icon of a little red car move along a make believe road towards the dot that is me.  I have called my Uber driver and told him where I live.  I have told him not to go to the neighboring villa, even though it may appear that this is where I am sitting, rendered on the navigation software.  The little red car has overshot the logical turn.  He is now pulling up to the wrong location.  The little red car stops.  I call him. 

“Hi.  Remember how I told you not to go to Lemon Lake?  Right.  You are now at Lemon Lake.  You need to . . . “Huh?  I can’t hear you.”  It is at this point that I lose it, for the first time.  Fortunately I am home alone.  Muttering like Yosemite Sam, I make my way out to the driveway, where there is better reception and call the gentleman back.  “Hi there.  Hey, go straight ahead to the end of the road, take a left and look for the second entrance.  Tell them this number and they’ll call me to let you in.”  “Hey?”  Man.  “Can you hear me?  Do you understand? “  “Yes.  Yes.  I got it.”

I have repeated this routine just about every time I use Uber.  I always try to patiently explain to the driver to do this, not that.  Come here, not there.  There is no vocabulary or pronunciation challenge in all this though the drivers are generally from out of town.  But it never works.  They always say “sure.  I got it.”  Then, later they say: “Oh.  OK.”

The next phase is the arrival at the gate.  “Please tell them this number.”  I can see the red car sitting there at the gate on my app.  It isn’t entering and no one is calling to confirm if the car can enter.  Temper rises, swiftly.  I try to keep doing whatever I’m doing but when I look back a minute later the car is still there and no one has called.  So I call the front gate and ask them to call the guards and have them let the guy in.  And I call the driver back to see if he’s finally on his way, which he confirms.

It got worse.  He decided to wait for me, there at the gate, a kilometer away.  I try not to yell.  He asks for my house number again. I tell him.  He repeats it incorrectly.  I yell out each number one by one so that my neighbors can hear.  He repeats it correctly this time.   I shouldn’t but I look at the app.  He’s going down the highway in the wrong direction.  This is like a bad comedy, starring me.  “Yes, hello.  Are you inside the compound yet or are you outside?’’  Maps can be deceiving.  “Yes.”  “What?  Are you inside yet?”  “Yes.  But where are you?”  Good Lord.  “Look at the map!”  “Oh right.  I’m close.” 

A few minutes later he sped past my house.  Breathing, and breathing again, I grab my bag and go out to summon him back from the dead end, down the road.   I know I should smile and give him a ‘fugettaboutit’ shoulder shrug and I will, but I’m not quite ready yet.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Pneumatic Drill

The Jam had a song called “That’s Entertainment” in which Paul Weller strums an acoustic guitar and runs through a list of urban indignities that constitute what, in 1980 or so, was contemporary “entertainment.”  One of the noises was a “pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete.”  This is on my mind here, sitting in suburban Beijing, looking out into my small patch of backyard, feeling the vibration of a pneumatic drill.  My thoughts are with Paul. 

I don’t suppose anyone likes a pneumatic drill.  The sound is torture and it cuts through any other music, closed window, drapery defense one might employ, as it isn’t merely a sound.  It’s a physical vibration that shakes your chest and your spine beyond your eardrums.  The operator of the drill can’t be having much fun either.  I’m sure he heads home sore and tired.  He squeezes it on and off, on and off and had been doing so for hours now.  My loud bee bop can’t hope to ward it off. 

My building abuts the wall that separates my compound from the next set of villas.  I can’t see anyone or certainly complain about anything.   And as I consider things I note that for well over ten years neighboring construction has been the norm.  When I lived in Pok Fu Lam in Hong Kong, they rebuilt the apartment upstairs.  It was horrible.  The last two places I lived in Beijing the neighboring buildings were completely redone.  These projects took were always interminably long.  When we moved in here, the house across the street was a construction site with dozens of workers who stopped what they were doing each time I exited or entered my home and said spoke about me loudly, as if I understood nothing.  Now it’s the neighbors to rear.

Construction suggests a growing economy and people employed and I well know it’s the price one pays for living in a place that isn’t dormant, where there is activity that keeps me and as well as everyone else working on something.  But drills whether at the dentist or in your backyard are tough to ignore.  There’s nothing entertaining about them. 

Drill man’s been quiet for the last five minutes.  I note the absence of vibration in my chest.  I'm unclenching my teeth.  There is the whine of a buzz saw but that sounds almost like peace and quiet in comparison.   

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sensible and Daunting

I think this is going to be a good idea.   But getting from ten minutes around the compound every so often to twenty miles a day for a week is going to take some doing, for my younger one.   She’s very excited about this bike trip we’re planning but she also has concerns.  Rightly.  This will be something rather different than she’s ever asked her body to do. 

I tried to come up with a next month’s routine to get in shape.   "You need to ride a half an hour in the morning and a half an hour in the afternoon everyday to get ready for this.  Otherwise you’re but muscles will be in total rebellion an hour into the first day. " This, at one and the same time, struck her as both sensible and daunting. 

"What do you want for breakfast?"  "Pancakes!" It is Sunday morning.  “Tell you what, let’s bike over to the diner this morning.” “Can’t we just drive over?”  “Nope.  The biking regime starts today.”   “Where is it again?  Wait, that’s far!”  “It is not ‘far.’  That’s about one twentieth of what you’ll be doing ever day, Tootsie.” 

And it was a nice ride over.  The sun was out.  Cool breeze.  I kept repeating that it was almost like biking in . . . Provence.  We took the long way home and I got a flat.  Fortunately we were fifty yards from the old guy who has, seemingly forever, parked his three-wheeled cart there at the intersection to offer bike services.  He suggested I needed a new inner tube as the hole was too close to the nozzle.  He wanted what seemed like a lot for a new one and I kidded him about whether that was the foreign price or the local price.  My daughter innocently said that he reminded her of Golem and it was then that I noticed that a few fingers on his right hand were lame and I thought about how constant the reminder of that loss would be if you’re trade was fixing bikes on the road side.

The tire was repaired and he spun the wheel.  He immediately noticed that one of the gears wasn’t spinning.  I’d known there was something wrong for weeks but figured the gear shaft had been bent.  He pointed out that there was some plastic spun up into the gear rendering it immobile.  He tried to pull it out to no avail.  I couldn't either.  Looking things over he then tried to work a wrench or two into the sextagon hole, to release the gear, but none of them fit.  He suggested there was nothing he could do.  I'd assumed I'd need to schlepp into the city and see a proper bike shop to fix this anyway.  I asked how much for the tire and if he had change for a hundred.  Nothing else was spoken, but soon was off rummaging through another bag.  He dug up People’s version of a Swiss army knife and after a try or two, he managed to fit the shaft in and loosen the gear.  And after some spinning of the wheel and digging at the axel we managed to loosen the plastic bag remains and free up the gear.  Wiping off my greasy fingers I pulled out the hundred I had in my pocket and gave it to him, suggesting it was all his. 

I didn’t mean to, but I looked for acknowledgement in this and he did smile. But only after a time.

Cool Gasps Like Cat's Breath

I am stuck in traffic.  Just about the most banal sentence I can think of to begin a dutiful entry.  The perennial default: arrested in the civic veins once again.  And now is when I reach for my bag and pull out my laptop.  Flip it open, pull up a blank page, look around and sigh.  If one isn’t digging very deep, if one isn’t pulling up much from out the well, just look outside. 

We crawled for twenty minutes just now in the sun, on the airport express way.    I promptly fell asleep with my hand on the space bar and woke up many pages below, another perennial observation.  We’ve a new peak on the year’s Fahrenheit waxing today.  You can feel it.  You ask one of these older cabs to turn on the air conditioning and they will, of course.  But then you’d better be riding for the next thirty minutes, as it will take that long for any of the air in the back of the cab to become conditioned.  Faint cool gasps like cat's breath hint at what’s it like up there in the front, near the tired old vents. 

Tried to plan a trip home of the summer.  There are many different pieces and so there is no point nailing down one until you’re sure about a few of the others.  Had a call with a cycle tour operating company in France.  Fortunately the lady on the other end wound up being Canadian and it was easy to determine most of what I needed.   And so if that is something we may do, then why don’t I call United to see if there are any flights I can get for free with miles.

United has one class of ticket that lets you use miles to buy a ticket just about any time, anywhere.  But a ticket wipes out whatever points you’ve built for last year.  The other type (I refuse to look it up and confirm the proper marketing jargon) gets you essentially two where you otherwise might have gotten one.  I checked to see about flights home from New York to Beijing, for three months out.  As expected, nothing was available. Then I asked her to just check to see about anything into Paris from Beijing.  “Yes, two, on precisely the day you wanted.” Nice.  “What about from Paris to New York ten days later?”  “Yes, three on precisely the day you wanted.”  I told this woman at United, who’s name I recall was Casey, that she just saved me about five-grand.  For all the times it doesn’t work, this was a fine conversation with my friends at United, and the happy residue wafted about my thinking for the next few hours.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hopscotching the Flavors

I haven’t heard Duke Jordon in a while.  Brooklyn born bop pianist who played with Bird and Miles in the forties.  Sounds like he was forced to drive a cab in New York during the sixties.  Whenever you hear those stories you can’t help but imagine getting in the back of a cab with someone who sooner or later said, “yeah, I once played with Bird and Miles”  “Yeah?  Huh.” And thinking, “Sure he did.”  He wasn’t the first jazz musician to find a happier home over in Copenhagen.  I’ve got the song “No Problem” on and it’s swinging.

For lunch my older one wanted a burrito bowl.  As has been recently rendered, this is a common call.  I decided to make our own rather than give the “Avacado Tree” all the glory.  I chopped and boiled and fried and twisted off tops and laid it all out.  Vainly I asked if it was almost as good.  And warmly she insisted that it was just as good.  I’ll take that.

And as it was, I was on point for dinner as well.  Hopscotching the flavors of the world, I sold the older one on the idea of something Middle Eastern, with humus and baba ganoush.  This is a strictly modern modality: to bounce from one taste to another, each time one cooks, as if the after taste of Italian tomatoes needs to be put down with flat black beans and then lifted with cutting lemon, garlic and sesame.  This is how we think when we go out to eat and I think that gallery rendering of global choices is how I increasingly view the evening’s meal as well. It’s kids what done it.  They have things they must have and things they won’t have again.  A Chinese stir-fry every night, just won’t do.  

The little one, in sixth grade, had a dance tonight.  I can remember the drama and the let down of a sixth grade dance.  The reviews were middling.  “It was totally boring for the first half and then a lot of people showed up and it got cool.  But then the music sucked.”    I asked if the boys all stood against the walls.”  “No.  The boys were much better dancers.”  “Really?”  This was unexpected.  Go fellas.  There wouldn’t have been a single dude amongst us who knew the first thing about shaking it in 1977.