Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Day 166 (Ask Questions First, Handcuff Later)

In Taipei on January 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm

The man being pressed up against the pillar is wearing awfully nice shoes. Though I guess the law doesn’t distinguish between that sort of thing.

The policeman jams the tanned, middle-aged man into the concrete cylinder with all his body has to offer. He has tools of destruction hanging from his belt, indeterminate glittering black things. I notice that they’re remarkably close to the hands the man has pinned behind his back. Luckily the situation is under control. And then I notice that the suspect and/or criminal doesn’t have any handcuffs on, that the policeman is holding them locked there with his own force. Seems like an unsustainable enterprise. And it seems like the gathering convened on the other side of the pillar, between other officers of the law and those aggrieved by the situation, is taking its sweet time to do whatever business it is trying to do. All the while this middle-aged man with his hands pinned behind the back. A static exertion of force. Tension hums.

The Taiwanese police, I conclude, are a polite bunch.


Day 165 (Nameless Rapper Arrests a Table)

In Taipei on January 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm

We’re seated on two benches at a skinny table up next to the windows. We drink Boddingtons, and its froth is unmistakeably sweet. Groovy hip-hop plays. The kids, what we call kids, pass by outside. A table of Taiwanese have set up camp inland, shaking dice in cups. A long-haired waiter surveys.

Our words begin to dim. The beat behind the hip-hop has cut out. Mouths and tongues stop and ears attune to the stereo. The rapper is spitting an extended curse-strewn monologue. It’s no longer a platform upon which to base our own musing. It’s a lament, or a call-to-action, or unignorable poetry. He’s going after it. His hawked syllables take on a nose and mouth and eyebrows of their own. They splatter on the fake wooden phone booth. They smear the windows we looked out before.

Then boom. The beat is back. Our ears are relinquished. The looming disaster sighs. The snowball disseminates.

We talk again, about the monologue.

Day 164 (Two Hours)

In Taipei on January 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm

The bell rings, a disconcerting prance up absent stairs. It means you have to get up too, from a wobbly, reflective black table captained by yourself and no one else. Chinese teachers’ red shirts are everywhere, but your own shabby whatever is singular. You groan as you rise, sneaking your arm underneath a pile of books you never use and cradling them toward the classroom. There are five clocks on the wall: London, Taipei, Seattle, New York, and Dubai. Who the hell cares what time it is in Seattle? In Dubai? You step up the single classward step that has nearly killed nearly everybody. You take the stringent left turn. The last line in your notebook reads Friday. Between its folded-back covers are ten slips of paper. And that’s it. You have nothing else.

You cross the threshold and let your books mount a vacant front-row desk. What do you do?

You create.

Day 163 (Tapping Away at the Order of Things)

In Taipei on January 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm

As I step onto the escalator there’s a squeegee noise. I look down, and from the toe of my boot, between the sole and the material, bubbles are blooming with every step. Ripe mud on the bottom of the soles meets the escalator’s immovable tines. Red dirt up to the knees stain my khaki-colored nylon pants. My bottom is wet from the seat of the scooter on the way down the mountain. My hair is soaked and out of sorts. It’s incongruous that I would ride downward rather than descend under my own steam, so I ride downward, a platformed yeti straight out of the hills, face and legs all flecked, yellow jacket a soiled flare to the dissonance.

Day 162 (Another Circadian EKG)

In Taipei on January 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Not like there’s a horizon to keep track by way of, but it’s dusk, it must be. I round the corner to the MRT station, plugging ahead, getting through it. Lights start flickering. Half-cylinder lanterns, first, proceeding along the concrete wall from the street to the entrance of the station’s base. Then, even more hesitantly, the MRT sign itself, a milk and blue signifier I never noticed was off. The station is prepared for the dark.

This happens to each of us once every few months, these miracles of timing, impossible to anticipate, magical in their daily singularity.

Day 161 (The Cold Having Seeped into Your Bones)

In Taipei on January 26, 2011 at 12:09 am

You are disaffiliated from your body. You put your hand on your bulging stomach and try to calm the goosebumps on your thighs. Nothing doing. This is someone else’s body, finally broken by the perpetual chill.

You step into the shower, steaming hot. The scalding water is brilliant. It’s liquid you pegging your arms and back and dribbling down your body. The you tries to sneak through your skin, propelled by the shower head. It tries to burrow into your muscles but only time will heal. Shampoo is blown off by the you. The you froths the soap. It’s beginning to work. Searing you is penetrating back beneath your skin and finding the places it left. Your fingers are nearly back in business. Your knees expel foreign cricks. A little more time. Let the you sink stinging in.


The bathroom is in total darkness. You scramble to turn off the water. It will get cold soon. You’ve still got soap on your hands. You pluck your damp towel from the counter. Damn it. The water heater tripped the circuit breaker.

Day 160 (Compromise)

In Taipei on January 25, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Your Mission, Whether You Choose to Accept It or Not: Get this girl a not-failing grade on her oral test without entirely flouting fairness and all the accompanying things that hold society together.

Your Method, Unfortunately: Ask the girl a question. Listen to her response. Her grammar will have improved dramatically but she won’t be able to think of what sort of object it is that Chuck wants, or that the handsome man and the pretty girl have, or that she likes. Thus she utters two words, an unfinished sentence, and shuts down, staring across the table at you expressionless. Stare back at her. Cross your legs, sending the message that you’re willing to wait. After minutes—minutes—of complete silence, burst into an explanation that she can say the same object, apple, for every answer, if she likes. You’ll be met with the same unmoved, expressionless eyes. She’ll keep looking at you. She could sit there forever, a machine on off. Try to be unperturbed, leaning back in your chair. She’ll be driving you nuts. In the end, concede her mind-numbing stare and look for correct execution of the grammar points, regardless of the gaping hole at the end of each sentence. Hold your head in your hand as you scribble a twenty-seven out of thirty.

The Inevitable Result: Another nascent realist patted on the back, and another chunk out of your dwindling personal integrity.

Day 159 (Jinshan)

In Hash Runs on January 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

Across the partition is a pool of ice cold water. Your body rejects it when you hop in, but then you submerge your head in it and the temperature begins to seem natural. You sit in it for a couple minutes. There is unmitigated delight, though, across the way so you step around a water bottle and a few beers and dip again into the steaming hot spring. People are holding their white cans from the bottom so their hands don’t have to emerge from the water. I want to sigh in pleasure every six seconds when I understand the warmth I’m enfolded in. It rains beyond the slanted corrugated hot spring cover. The concrete is cold to feet. These things are irrelevant as they never have been. Speedos and bikinis are worn. Glasses are fogged up. People without sitting spots kneel in the center of the spring.

Clusters shift and bask.

Warmth. Warmth. Warmth.

Day 158 (The Couch Being a Little Too Low for Other Sorts of Conversation)

In Taipei on January 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

Chris sits next to us and rests his Guinness on the plank table. He’s here to see the Man. U. game. His white hair is pulled back in a short ponytail and he’s got glasses that are simple and unclassy. He used to sell trains. His manner won’t be fluttered. He watches us boys sip Tiger beer and talk business. Little kids and profits. He tells us this story when he has a chance. It’s of how he had retired in Paris and his wife got tired of him being around the house. So she signed him up for a TEFL course and reminded him there’d be lots of American girls with nice features there. He goes. There are. When the instructor asks them to say why they’re there, he says, because my wife told me there’d be lots of American girls with nice features. The instructor is aghast. A few weeks later, he has a few of the students to his house for dinner. They ask him if his wife had really told Chris that there’d be lots of American girls with nice features there. She says of course she did. Man. U.’ll be on in about an hour and a half.

Day 157 (Whatever the Opposite of Remote Control Is)

In Taipei on January 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm


The six of you are an idyllic first-grade scene: sitting in a semicircle on desks, rapt at the big-print big-illustration storybook that educates how monsters aren’t worth being frightened of, the teacher verbalizing upside-down, eyebrows up evidencing his engagement in enlightening the class, the rest of them slight centers of energy perched on the desks’ edges encumbered with sheer, inquisitive hope.


The scene erupts. Jennifer stands on her desk and endangers herself. The teacher tells her frantically to sit down. Cynthia and Andy are now standing up against the teacher’s knees, pointing at the pictures and making extravagant statements about the monsters’ location in the floor and under the floor. The teacher validates their efforts and shoos them back to their seats. By this time Melody has tuned out and has to be reeled back in, but Andy has failed to sit back down and is again at the book, smiling diabolically, his English creating more surrealities. He needs to shoo Andy again, but now Cynthia has grasped his directions and raises her hand  to comment and so he must affirm her model-student ways before investing the energy in Andy and then in Melody and then in, for goodness’ sake, Jass, the brilliant student, who’s been an automaton this whole time and for all the teacher knows may feel as deluged as he does, his mug of patience filling as briskly as the Ohio river with brown water and three-eyed frogs.