Saturday, April 21, 2018

The City Looks Young

If you let Youtube just run its own way it seems to find itself in some likely eddies.  I had some Ron Carter on and it led to an album of his with the guitarist Jim Hall.  They’re walking down some street in what I assume is the West Village, as the title is “Live at the Village West.” They look purposeful.  The city looks young.  Born in Buffalo in 1930, it’s all a matter of how you look at it, as Jim Hall would have been the same age as I am now, when he recorded the album in 1982. 

We’ve moved on though.  I haven’t looked but I can tell we’ve left Ron behind and moved on to another date with Jim Hall and a pianist who turns out upon inspection to be Bill Evans.  I enjoyed Jim Hall, before I knew him, listening to him for years on albums like “The Bridge” by Sonny Rollins.  Looking over his discography as a leader and a sideman, he must have been in the studio every other month of his adult life.  He played with Hampton Hawes?  I love Hampton Hawes and his punchy key slaps.  How’s that gonna work with Jim Hall’s gentle plucking? I needn’t wait long to find out.  Click. Click. 

Began a new book yesterday.  I always think of this as a treat.  I’ve twenty or more that are waiting there to be commenced with.  I’ve a few threads I’m pursuing in parallel and as regulars know I’ve been ravenously consuming things on a Russian theme for the past few months.  And though the Issac Babel collection, is looking very attractive, sitting up there by the window, especially after Trotsky overtly commented on him, in the Robert Service’ Trotsky biography I just finished, I feel like ought to do some China pushups. 

I’ve a course I’m to teach in a few weeks.  I know what I want to teach. But I bought several supplementary books.  Sixty pages in to “Will the Boat Sink the Water?” It reads more like a glorified magazine article, tracing small town injustice in rural China, setting up and walking me through at the scene of this and then that crime.  I think of the small-town people and the small town CCP officials I know myself.  No doubt things are often just like the authors Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao suggest it is.  No doubt administering justice or demanding justice in the countryside is a very dangerous thing to do in this enormous country with so much change afoot.

I bring my book to dinner at our local Italian place.  I ask my daughter not to use her phone at dinner.  But then my wife starts thumb tapping.  “It’ll only be a minute.”  I give up and begin to read my book.  I notice now that the book boldly claims to be “Banned in China” on the cover.  That’s nice.  I wonder if it’s true?  It’s many years since I’ve worried about any such thing, wrongly perhaps.  This work was obviously translated (only so well) from Chinese originally.  It must be the Chinse text they’re referring to with this claim on the cover.  Certainly, written in English, the book jacket phrase is unlikely to catch the eye of anyone who’d care.  I show it to my daughter though.  Reading, my love, is a privilege, not a chore.

Sunday 4/22/18

Rain Can Make You Feel

Was up so early this morning.  I’m not going to lay around and think about sleep while I try to sleep.  Finish off your book.  Do some meditation.  Mid silence there is tremendous thunder clap outside and April showers begin in earnest with the early morning light.  Rain can make you feel young when you don’t get it very often. 

Rainy shopping.  Our windshield wipers need to be replaced.  Stray pieces of rubber flop around like octopus’ arms.  Coffee, per yesterday’s entry, must be replenished.  Coffee is needed right now.  Before anyone else wakes up.  My little one has a friend over.  They’ll want a proper breakfast, as well. 

Returning from Starbucks I stop at the grocery inside our compound.  Outside are a dozen young seven-year-olds milling around like ducks, oversized and oblivious beneath their colorful umbrellas.  I walk around one.  Hold the door for another as two others collide into me, laughing.  Huevos Rancheros are on the mind.  That will make my daughter happy.  And between grabbing the black beans and checking for salsa she calls.  “You're up?”  “Where are you?”  “Getting things for Huevos.”  “Oh.  Good.” 

She and her friend went to a school dance last night.  It was . . . boring.  They are . . . always boring.  They have never come home from one of these and said anything to stray from this.  Everyone hangs out on the walls.  The DJ said he would but then he didn’t play our music.  A few people dance.  Then everyone decides to leave early.  It was, I believe, precisely the same for us in eighth grade.  “Stairway to Heaven” would bring a few couples out.  I can see them now in my mind’s eye.  And they would all break apart as the song picked up.  I would have been snickering on the sidewall if I hadn’t already left. 

Saturday 4/21/18

To Ignore the Pull

I talked and I typed and I didn’t pay much attention to where I was, here in Dong Cheng till I looked up and saw a canal path I didn’t recognize at all.  Where am I heading?  Is it this far south?  The driver knew what he was doing though and now we cut north, unexpectedly and pulled right up to the building I now suddenly remembered, just south of Changan Jie. I gathered my things, checked the seat and confronted the sharp blue day.  The plaza was packed with young people beginning their lunch break and I followed one and then another alluring office gal with my gaze, as she walked confidently across the street.

Up to the seventh floor.  A quick meeting.  One person I’ve hired doesn’t agree with the other person I’m working with.  They’re both polite.  I can only see one face in person.  The other is one the phone.  Internally, I’ve sided with the person on the phone.  Back to the lobby, and out to the plaza still scanning around expectantly.  I call another DiDi and wait now, already busy on another call. 

I look up once again, twenty minutes into the ride and I don’t know where I am.  We must be all the way over on the East Fifth Ring Road, but I’m not sure.  I’m speaking with a job candidate on the phone.  Someone I respect has introduced us.  I don’t think he’s said eight words yet, but from his verbal queues, his “Yup”s, his “Sure”s, I can tell his English is very good.  For this particular role, spoken English will be critical.

Back home in the early afternoon.  I’d meant to get coffee downtown.  I meant to buy coffee this morning.  The bag of Ethiopian espresso we’d been working was exhausted this morning.  That’s alright.  You don’t need coffee in the afternoon. Do you? If you’re tired take a nap.  But to paraphrase the late Lemmy Kilmister, I ought to be tired but rather I’m wired.   I could ride my bike over to the Costa.  I check.  The front tire’s full of air but the rear tire’s flat.  Wife’s not going to be home till seven.  I try once again to ignore the pull but I really want coffee in an uncommonly strong way.  Out in the kitchen I check the usual drawers and shelves and then, miraculously I come upon a long-forgotten tin of La Tazza with enough grinds for a good strong mugful.   The kettle’s on and the filter is full as I imagine the first taste absorbed in my shoulders. 

Friday 4/20/18

Much They Understand Everything

Well, Thursday is your day.  I’ll take it.  Roof top place in San Li Tun.  Why do we still come to San Li Tun?  It used to be gritty and, now it’s antiseptic.  People come through.  That’s good enough perhaps.  People like to watch people.  I suppose that’s all the reason you need.  There are lots of young people who are quite happy to bounce around this place.  What was cool has been mandated as cool by the authorities, invested in as cool by the developers and so is necessarily uncool. 

This roof top place has a flashy menu and I’ve now confirmed, uninspired food.  There is a waiter who seems Eastern European who is speaking good Chinese.  He intrigues me.  I recognize the former Maître D of what had been the city’s poshest French bistro.  Bald, French, not so young any more.  Does he work here?  I can’t tell.  I consider making eye contact, starting a conversation.  He’s talking to a loud guy from L.A. who talks about Beijing the way people do when they have been here for a few months and need to let people know how much they understand everything. 

I requested and they’ve moved me to a couch area that lets me look down on all the pedestrian traffic below.  James Baldwin used to do this, with his fingers propping up his cheek into one of his enormous eyes, sitting there on the Terrace of the Village Gate.  Music comes on suddenly.  Clichéd lounge loops, amplifying the aspirational quality of this perch.  I consider telling them to turn it off, but that’s a bit too imperious for this public venue, even if it is my day. 

There is the wonderful line from “In My Bed” on the first Amy Winehouse album, wherein she comments that “everything is slowing down.”  That’s about right.  Life is somewhere over there, with those people, perhaps them.  Not here at this roof top.  Look at the silly restaurant down there, that tries to be a diner, that tries to be something important and authentic.  Perhaps someone had high-hopes for that facsimile.  Over to my hard left there is a place that wants to suggest Kowloon neon.  But it isn’t neon, it’s just wall paper.  Dozens of people are chatting away, outside.  Does everything necessarily seem more derivative as we get older?

I need to head home.  The guy just tried to take my plate of spinach pasta.  Slow down bro.  Amy and I are taking it slow on purpose. This music is trying so hard to reach my core.  It’s knocking on the reinforced steel door.  There is a minor descent and a voice that is almost credible.  But the door is encrypted by logic your efforts cannot pick so simply.  “Stay out.  I know what you are.  You weren’t made for me.”

It will be a ride home to remember.  Robert Service “Trotsky” has waxed to poignancy.   It isn’t graceful.  It isn’t artful.  But the leaden point is noted:  Trotsky wasn’t overly concerned with the interiors of those around him.  The world around him?  Sure.  He was fearless and recondite with voice and pen and prognostication.  But him or her?  That guy?  His son?  His old comrade?  Trotsky struggled to empathize and connect emotionally with most of the immediate world around him, and in so doing missed Stalin’s treacherous potential until it was too late.

Thursday 4/19/18

Heading for the Shoals

Is it OK to take a call on a stair master routine and toggle back and forth between mute and un-mute on a scheduled call?  I tried to do this, this morning.  I started the call on the drive over and managed all pretty, well, parking, walking through the building, heading up the stairs, chatting away.  I didn’t need to say much more than “Yes.”  “Indeed.”  Until a point where it became clear that the conversation was heading for the shoals and I was huffing too loudly to be able to calmly return to the chat-stream without sounding like I was in a boxing match.

Soldering through a post-tired groove right now.  Could write for a while or slip off to nod tracing a nonsense thought . . .  There.  I was just in nod.  Y’all didn’t know.  I did.  I was considering a painted turtle.  Why?    Painted turtles are the logic repository of my six-year-old mind.  Painted turtles were achingly important at that time.  They haven’t been especially important since then.  But my napping mind needed a protagonist, it needed something I have at one point or another invested meaning in.  It found turtles and sure enough my consciousness rose to the occasion and began to weave a flimsy narrative around this.

The news is literally overwhelming.  DJT has the brand spankin’ new CIA director setting up a meeting for his sagacious-self with Kim Jong Un.  Trump is pinioned in with lawsuits from all directions.  His popularity among Republicans doesn’t seem to have waned much. Trade war looms.  Return to Pacific trade talks?  Bomb Syria again? I think the wisest editorial I read amidst all I consumed on the topic was Jim Newell in Slate suggesting his impeachment was not going to happen any time soon.   We all want out.    We’ve all got a long way to go. 

Now It’s late.  My wife is typing at my desk.  She has late night stuff to do to.  My older one will get up early and head to Shanghai for a soccer match.  She was all wrapped up in what she had to do this evening, frustrated, short, impolite.  I think it dawned on her that she wasn’t alone on this space craft when I called loudly for her to get down and set the table.  Yes.  “And wash your plate off.  Don’t just leave it there.”  Oh right, other people.  

Wednesday 4/18/18