Friday, November 25, 2016

Angular and Demanding

My colleague reminded me as he was departing from our Thanksgiving feast, that we had a meeting at Tsinghua University at 9:30AM tomorrow.  I tried to weather this blow the way MacArthur might, unfazed, focused on clarifications.  But inside I knew that this meant the morning would be angular and demanding. 

Up against my will at 3:45AM.  I’m up.  My wife is beside me and it wouldn’t be appropriate to turn on the light read my book.  That’s what I want to do.  Invest in something gentle that will invoke Hypnos to lead me back off to nod. I’m up to the “Six Days War” in my history of Jerusalem.  The story is seductive, the pacing is familiar as we drive into the end of this six hundred page journey.  I’m up.  I don’t want to lie and vex. 

I consider my phone.  There are messages.  People are explaining why they hadn’t made the party.  People wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving.  “Thanks for last night!”  And emails from people who could care less that America is having any such holiday.  Downstairs I read through the emails, obligatorily.  Fortunately nothing needs immediate action.  I reconsider the evening’s progression imbibing this and imbibing that, and I notice the bottle of Aleve sitting on my desk . I pour a glass from a bottle for sparkling water.  Soon, it’s all gone. 

The front page of the New York Times has grinding, Trump news for me to consider.   The Huffington Post is flaming Donald for the haphazard way he is chasing his cabinet.  One gets the sense that this will be a rather familiar theme and that it wont matter and we’ll all just be numb to this mediocrity by the time of the inauguration.  Reading from a screen is unpleasant though. I read my book for a while sitting at my desk.  But I want to lie down and hug a pillow when I read. 

Upstairs I crawl back in bed and reckon I’ll read with the light of my phone.  Crawling in, it is clear that someone has taken my place.   I consider sharing the bed with my wife and my daughter but then it dawns on me that my younger daughter’s room is now free. I could flip on the light and read as read for as long as I liked.  And that’s just what I did, until a more reasonable hour materialized.

Fatigued, Taste Buds

Thanks.  Was the ritual observed?  The part about wherein we stop and consider how remarkable life itself is and how blessed we are that live in a time of comparative peace.  That providing a feast for ones own and for others is not an unobtainable burden.  No.  This acknowledgment did not happen.  I was too busy cooking.  And by the time folks ate, I felt as if I’d just limped to the end of a marathon.  Middle school kids were eating, high school kids were eating, adults were eating.  It was all underway and I wouldn’t have wanted to interrupt the buffet, second helpings line to say:  "And now, let us give thanks.”

What rituals are left then?  There’s the food.  The bird and the gravy and the cranberries  There’s the family and the friends and the kids and the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato pie.  Our own traditions are only fifteen years or so but they involve inviting people who aren’t from the U.S. to join.  In California we’d invite the Chinese expats, here in China there is a richness of non-American candidacy, and perhaps a few U.S. citizens who are let in on a dispensation.  The kids used to do a play about the pilgrims and the Indians but they don’t want to do that any longer. 

One guests wants to do another shot of vodka.  Yes, he’s from Russia.  Another has taken an Anthology of Japanese Literature from my shelf.  I search in vain for a remarkable poem about a woman sailing from Honshu to Shikoku.  She can't set sail because of the threat of pirates. I try to explain to someone else with a bit too much enthusiasm just how it I have my book shelf orgnized:  “you see, here is everything about India . . .”  A colleague’s young daughter has taken to following me around and slapping my backside.  I smile and try to find the cat for her to play with.  They have much in common.

You prepare dishs all the day long, but it’s picking at them along the way when you really get to enjoy the tastes.  Mush up the rice and the tapenade and the apricots and the parsley and the olive oil and adjust to make the pepper stuffing taste right.  That is when tasting is alive.  Tasting things along with everyone else it’s too late.  Fatigued, taste buds saturated, the time for experimentation is over when dinner is served and all you do is make sure there no tastes that are particularly off.

Everyone seems to be eating well enough.  The kids are happy that there are so many pies.  These were the biggest risk of all and they blossomed into something that didn’t look like a first-time effort.  And flitting from conversation to conversation I noticed how tired my legs were.  I’ve been standing all day.  That never mattered much in the past but this drain is notable.  It happens when I teach for hours in a row as well, standing, pacing around.  And as I sit down and give my legs a rest it becomes clear that I am rather tired.

Staring Down Unfathomable Risk

I’m not a Libertarian.  I can see great value in the government keeping an eye out for the populous.  I’m think it’s often appropriate to concede and allow the state to protect the populous from it’s lesser tendencies, some of them anyway.  You won’t hear me crying out about the “nanny state.”  But savoring the precious air of freedom, here in China, my shoulders shudder when I consider the long reach of the state, back in the U.S.A. I’m gonna say it:  I don’t need the state to protect me against the improper usage of contact lenses.  Thanks, but I got this.

In the U.S. I’d need to get a prescription or present such a thing to the ophthalmologist in order to buy contact lenses.  If I walk into a “Lens Crafters” as I have in LaDeeDa Mall Number 107 in New York State, and present a box of disposable contact lenses saying, “I’d like to buy one of these, or indeed three of these, as I’m out,” I am prohibited from doing so, in my own best interest.  “Do you have a prescription here?”  “No, I do not.  I don’t live here any more.”  Shops won’t sell it to you unless you do an eye exam.  And their smug about it too as all entitled people tend to be.  If I could vote on Proposition 101-X: Allowing the public to assume the risk of potentially buying the wrong prescription of contacts, there on the ballot, I know precisely how I’d vote.

China has long since been ‘liberated’ and the people are free to buy contact lenses at their own risk.  I flew into Shanghai last night.  Across from The Le Meriden, at People’s Park, where I have stayed many times there is a Raffles Mall.  Down in the basement there is a Lens Crafters chain.  I’ve bought contacts lenses staring down unfathomable risk, with only my old box to vouch for my prescription.  And it’s usually ‘buy three boxes and get one free’, compounding my risk immeasurably. 

Turns out though that they’ve closed up shop, for good.  I got there late around 8:45PM hoping to catch them before the 9:00PM closing I’d assumed was pending.  Now I confronted the fact that I would need to make this current pair of contacts last through the night and into the next day.  There’d be no other place open past nine tonight. 

Looking on-line the next morning and as we all know, you have to be careful.  I found one, two and three Lens Crafter outlets that all proved to be closed.  It would appear they are undergoing some transitions in their Shanghai strategy.  I went to the company’s local web site and this seemed a bit more authoritative.  OK.  There’s an outlet on Huaihai Lu that should open in 40 minutes. I had no idea if this meant that would have contacts the way the other stored did, though I reckoned it was a good bet.  

They did.  I bought them from two young ladies who couldn’t have cared less about my prescription.  They assumed I knew what I was talking about and in this case, I did.  Sitting in the cab I immediately changed my lenses and considered myself lucky.

Lacerating My Right Profile

Awful nice up here.  This morning I was driving back down there, beneath some clouds and an old, late sixties version of Bob Marley’s “Kaya” came on.  I visualized for a moment his lyric: “I feel so high, I almost touch the sky above the falling rain.”  ‘Above the falling rain’ is a pleasant vantage to consider, especially when it’s manifest.  It matches his other lyric to the sun: “I know you’re out there somewhere, having fun.”  Apollonian Rasta. It isn’t raining but I’m above the clouds now and there is nothing but sun, and blue skies and cloud cover off out there, below me.  It’s a bit boring, I suppose if that’s all you had all day to consider.  But for a change of scenery for the next few hours, it’s a grand vista. 

Iggy just came on the mix.  James Williamson, I suppose, just yelled out “can you turn it up?!”  And now Iggy himself is yelling out the lyrics to “”Head On.”  It feels like an uncompromising truck barreling towards a bridge that is just too low for safe passage.  Strong, strong solar, and because its winter, sun is lacerating my right profile.  “Now listen to this:  I was born in a trailer camp.  Days were cold nights were damp. Incubator baby I was half alive.  I’ve been eatin’ like a shittin’ jive.  Head on!. “  You can’t fake that shit.  Scott Ashton claims the adjacent trailer on his commanding bass solo, as bottles crash around Lord Osterberg.

I’m reading the Chinese paper.  Is it me, or has state run media succumbed to the same fate as our “free” American press?  I couldn’t make it past the first few pages of the Global Times without considering a half a dozen articles on our U.S. president elect:  Mssr. Dumpf,  “Trump Won’t Affect U.S. China Ties”  ‘Trump Pull Out of Trade Deal Will Only Hurt U.S.”   Even in the “good news” China press, I’ve got to consider Dumpf at every page turn.  We all do now, every day. 

And Daimler has fired a CEO.  He lived in my compound.  Apparently he got into an altercation with a Chinese person and was heard to yell, “all you Chinese are bastards.” No one confirmed what it is the Chinese gent said to elicit this imprecation. “Not important.”  But things got heated and our Teutonic friend apparently pulled out some paper spray.  That’ll cost you. Every time. I don’t know where it is one procures pepper spray in any country.  I’ve never gone out looking for it, myself.

My wife came home last night saying some one-hundred person chat group of the school where my kids both attend were all typing away about this.  “We should send all the German mad dogs home!”, were the words of one thin-skinned parent.  I felt bad about all this.  I imagined weighing-in, in Chinese on the wechat parents group about how we all ought to be reasonable.  I was tempted to add that often misquoted Maoism: “revolution comes from the barrel of a gun”, Jack.  If you got real balls do something, about it, besides typing in wechat.  Everybody’s courageous when they’re thumb-tapping.  But my commentary wouldn’t be helpful.  And I’d likely miss much of the nuance of how things had been said and assert something sharp that felt great, but landed with a flat thud.

Franco now on the ears.  “Azda.”  I love this song.  What a sad, brilliant place the Congo must be . . . Must have been in 1973?  Apollo is still roaring on my face while Franco solos with his masterful echo.  I see him here playing there at Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ concert, sharing the pan-diaspora stage with James Brown and the Fania All Stars.  We’re heading down into the clouds above Shanghai.  Down now.  Farewell my sun.  I know you’re out there.

So Many Women Up Front

He was great, and not in a way that I necessarily expected.  I think I took a quick look at the posting on the Blue Note page and noticed the word “Nonet” but never paused to consider what the other eight members might be playing.  Our cab was late in the rain, the little one couldn’t find shoes acceptable to both her and her mother and traffic sucked spiky cucumber for the first half of the journey.  I knew we’d get there late. 

We were ushered in to our table, with the first song already underway.  Looking up I saw Ron Carter’s unmistakable visage directing all, (I kept thinking of Q-Tip rapping “My man Ron Carter, is on the bass”, over and over again . . .) and was surprised to find four cellos lined up along side him.  Every cello manned by a lady, and every lady bowing away with confidence and perhaps a decade’s worth of years beyond my own.  If The Beijinger is to be believed they were: Carol Buck, Maxine Neuman, Zoe Hassman and Claire Bryant.   Donald Vega was lovely on the keys, Payton Crossley was hard to see from my perch but not hard to confront on the drums.  Rolando Morales got off a commanding bongo solo that had me thinking of Roberto Roena towards the end of the show.  And perhaps the hardest job of all fell to Boots Maleson who was playing a second stand up double bass, there behind the greatest living stand up double bass player. 

The arrangements were spacious, lofty with beautiful string lines that allowed Mssr. Carters’ bass to sound out properly and be heard. I turned to check my kids.  They had ordered a bunch of food, which was clearly the immediate priority.  I knew it would be harder for them to follow when there weren’t any vocals.  I pointed out that you rarely see so many women up front on instruments in a jazz show.  They took that in.

He played a range of originals, some Miles, some Leon Russell and this theme of honoring those who had recently passed, (Mose Allison was also mentioned), was repeated, during the times in which he spoke to the room. I considered the crowd with a glance here and a glance there.  As with the last time I was here, most everyone in attendance, was Chinese of one stripe or another, paying good money on a Sunday night. 

The manager of the club is, we found out last time, from my wife’s hometown.  I suppose if I found out that they guy who ran the Blue Note in New York was from Poughkeepsie, we might milk it for another half smile or two and move on with our respectiv evenings.  “No way.”  “Yeah.  That’s wild.”  And that would be the end of it.  That is not how it works in China.  My wife had already connected with this gent on Wechat and he saw to us having a great evening for my wife’s belated birthday celebration.  At the end, he presented her with a bottle of wine, which I wasn’t sure we needed after having finished the first, until he pointed out that the esteemed Mr. Carter had signed it.  That was very kind indeed.   

This morning our first snow of the year had fallen.  I don’t have a scraper for the car windshield.  We’ll have to wait for the car heat to wax and melt it all.  Every resilient leaf as fallen over night.