Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Day 226 (Hello Cruel World)

In Taipei on March 31, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Andy has been overtaken by the need to dance and stands next to his desk, a sinner at a revival, gyrating his body and his arms like Thom Yorke wishes he could do. He has never learned the schematics and limitations of dance, so he moves utterly how he feels like moving, avant-garde by virtue of ignorance. Nobody else is seeing this, their eyes trained on their songbooks and their ears on the synthesized piano and drums, but I am seeing this. It’s so happy I can’t help but laugh. A caveman discovers aesthetic motion. Joy inhabits the limbs. If only the rest of us had such innocence that when a tune plays, we simply stand and jive if that’s what we want to do.

Suddenly, somebody has turned in their seat and is looking at him and laughing. The rest of the class keys on the distraction and soon everyone is looking in his direction, hysterical at his absurd moves. At first, Andy thinks they are laughing with him, sharing his joy. He smiles as he sways. The class is undecided on whether they are laughing at or laughing with. In a second, they conclude that they are laughing at, and the pleasure of seeing someone else as not-cool is born. Andy begins to pick up on it. His dance slows. I yell. The laughing, then the song, fade. Andy sits down.

Four minutes later, when students are repeating a passage one at a time, it’s Andy’s turn and his head is down in the crook of his arms. I say,

— Andy. Andy. Then I shout: ANDY!

He picks his head up a little bit. He is absolutely sobbing, tearful beyond all recognition. His mouth is contorted, his cheeks soaked. His are terminal cries, the highest level, the kind of cries that you have to suck in lots of air in between to even keep yourself breathing. God. Teacher Tracy takes him out of the room. I try to keep teaching.

Andy shuffles back in after a few minutes. He is still inconsolable and heaving. Teacher Tracy says he was crying because he thought the class was laughing at him. She addresses the class:

— You weren’t laughing at him. You were laughing with him. Right?

They don’t understand her. I do, though, and I know she’s wrong. Their laughter was that hysterical type, that disgusting squeal these kids get when they see somebody else who is not them be bad or stupid or make a mistake. Andy’s cries were caused by the harsh, sickening news that you can’t show outwardly the joy you get from things, that it’s not cool to let happiness overcome you, that enjoyment has to be clandestine and understated, that you can’t just get up and dance. I want to howl uncontrollably at the rest of the class, berate them for taking from Andy the innocence that they’ve already lost. It’ll take him years to unlearn this. Mixers, homecomings, proms, weddings, he’ll be crippled by inhibitions, an internalized pointing, laughing class. God. He may never be able to dance again.


Day 225 (Pitter Patter)

In Hash Runs on March 31, 2011 at 11:53 am

Pat. Pat. Pat. Pat.

The way the soles of your shoes strike the packed mud path, symmetrically except for roots hopped over. The way your thumb-size high-beam light illuminates only what you need illuminated. The way the cold air changes when it meets fabric and sweat. The way your lungs have composure, your torso has composure, atop the swift movement of your legs. The way it is nearly silent. The way the woods at night would be fearful, were it not for the task of following the Rorschach flour.

Whoo. Whoo. Whoo.

You trot. The bushes hem in the narrow path. There is so little in this universe. It is so tranquil. Limbs. Breath. A floating blue-white light upon a dark path.

Day 224 (The Perpetual Foreigner)

In Taipei on March 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm

The server hollers down the stairs as I descend,

Waiguoren something something!

I crack up and point at myself, and she knows I’ve fathomed a bit. Nobody’s flustered. Nobody’s offended. All parties are in good humor, admitting their strangeness to one another, trying to bridge it anyway. In the States you’d never yelp,

— The foreigner wants soup and a chicken breast!

Here, though, nobody’s in the business of beating around the bush. Look at me: I’m white. It’s true. I do want soup and a chicken breast. Linoleum stairs, movie posters in French and English, sizzling cuts of meat cooked streetside. Another everyday arena for the little victories. Everybody smiles. Everybody wins.

Day 223 (Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Taiwan)

In Taipei on March 29, 2011 at 11:00 am

As we leave, the girl with the crazy blue eyes is holding up a sign that says in purple crayon, What is your name? Behind her the entire female contingent of the kitchen is giggling. We walk up to the counter. Ari introduces himself in Chinese. I introduce myself in Chinese. She holds her hand out and says, in big, exaggerated syllables,

— Hello, my name is a-Big Bear!

— Big Bear? we ask.

—Yes, my name is a-Big Bear.

We shake her hand. The kitchen staff is in hysterics. We walk off as she nods at us with a big, goofy smile. It’s like elementary school all over again.

Day 222 (Toucheng Again)

In Hash Runs on March 29, 2011 at 12:52 am

It’s depressing, man, running backwards on one of these trails. Whereas normally you finish and the excitement and adrenaline is at a peak that comes down organically, softened by the less-transcendent pleasures of beer and humor, heading out again in reverse enforces the narrative arc of the run, as you pass the exhilarated near-first finishers, then the in-the-running-but-got-screwed-by-contingencies folk, then those who never hoped to win, then those who alternate jogging with walking, then those who have crept carefully across every inch of the course, then those who got there late and are leisurely checking it all out. Then you are alone. The trail has been run, its usefulness used, and you are an afterthought, an unanticipated element, a consciousness not provided for. You notice your hands are cold and your feet are sore and the rain isn’t so fun anymore. The views are nice, but you want to be back at the bottom of the hill. From this point on, you will see no one. The jungle seems thicker, less penetrable. The checks seem threatening, without the air of a mid-run challenge. The earth reclaims its territory. The mud becomes mud. The stones become stones. They are no longer for you. Soon all you wish to do is turn back and run as fast as you can, retracing your steps once more. To avoid the desolation of a course, traveled then so soon forgotten by man, which has thereby forgotten about you.

Day 221 (Such is the Insistence of Instinct)

In Taipei on March 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Que sabor quieres?

In that way a whim, a musing, one of those things you suggest jokingly but would never even consider, being rational human beings with finite wallets and a consciences about your waistlines and future cardiac health, becomes a reality, both of your eyes widening at having discerned that it could, in fact, take place, a whole ‘nother scoop of ice cream between two whole ‘nother cookies, a perpetuation of the time bought on the corner bench you sit on resting your heads against canvas prints, spoons and flavor chewing all once more. That this could go on forever, theoretically speaking. That the grooves into which you fit along with the other ambling night market attendees, stopping to point, commenting on other pedestrians, purchasing the occasional bon-bon, lingering for only so long, could be climbed out of. That excess sometimes is favorable. That this time, if you wanted, you could get strawberry.

Day 220 (Rayuela)

In Taipei on March 25, 2011 at 9:06 pm

I feel a little dissociative on the MRT. I am a little sick. There is phlegm all in my brain. I am fresh off a run. My endorphins rush through my body too quickly. It’s as if I am propelled forward, more than I want to be. I have a surplus of breath. It’s like I am floating in the free air. Reading takes my mind off the feeling.

Then I am told to turn to chapter 34. It is incoherent. Its lines read like verses cut from other sources and pasted atop one another. I read it again. What the hell. I read it again. Oh—oh! Every other line flows together. Half the chapter is written between the lines of the other half of the chapter. I see that I have to skip every other line to make each half coherent. I begin to, with the aid of my finger. Sometimes I forget, and I lapse into an entire other world. Sometimes I get it right, but am convinced that I have not. Words fly by like trains you don’t know if you’re supposed to be counting. I begin to feel a little nauseous. A headache threatens. I am hamstrung in my little blue seat. Cliffless, airless. The train is on the tracks. You wouldn’t know it.

Day 219 (Los del Río)

In Taipei on March 25, 2011 at 12:28 am

The woman nearest the tinny little radio seems most into it. She is geared out in faded bright sweatpants and a vest. Her face bespeaks a slightly annoyed concentration, likely at the two women meters away who chat while they half-heartedly go through the motions in fluffy, sportless coats. In the middle is a man, who pays less attention to things outside him. His unselfconsciousness reflects a quotidian greatness: the song’s motions are nearly spot-on those of the Macarena. Even the copious butt-wiggling is included, though in a somehow desexualized way, the four dancers being, as they are, in a tiny neighborhood park where old people—older than the dancers, even—congregate for yoga at ungodly hours of the morning.

Though these sorts of things happen every day, the American on the bench eating the ice cream cone, studiously avoiding eye-contact with any of the dancers, has never sat and watched it. The four of them seem so lonesome under the park’s lamps. From the radio comes an instrumented chanting, an unequal synthesis of the rich ancient and the cheap contemporary. There is some telos here. There has to be. If there is, it is buried far beneath this lighthearted whisping of hands and gyrating of hips. For the life of him, the American can’t figure out what it is. Every day twirling pettily in the park. Wèishénme?

Day 218 (The Performance)

In Taipei on March 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Small flocks of pedestrians are stopped at the borders of the scene, snapping photographs on their cell phones. The hair girl and the makeup girl are preparing warm-warm bags and putting them in your pockets and in the back of your waist. Between takes, another girl holds your jacket out so you can slip into it without having to stray from your spot. Cameras and lights and cameramen and light-men tinker and relocate their equipment. You try to practice being wildly agreeable in your mind’s eye, how to drink while smiling, how to say with aplomb and surprise,

— Wow. This is so tasty!

The set-up is delightfully ramshackle. The thing they click before each take is strewn with scraps of numbers, old and beaten by use. From beneath the sound man’s hat descends a ponytail. He is clothed in gadgets, a massive black machine with wires and assorted offshoots hanging from his shoulders by something like weight-bearing suspenders. Most of the personnel wear goofy sweatshirts. They stand stoically. There is much waiting.

Megan tells you to smile more, and bigger. Your fake smiles are transparent, so you think what you can think of to keep you beaming. Yourself as Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. The uncanny resemblance of this moment to that. The five warm-warm bags strewn about your body. The pedestrians who think you are a celebrity. The laoban in a bikini.

Day 217 (The Dress Rehearsal)

In Taipei on March 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm

At the costume try-on session, you get to find out what everyone is supposed to look like. The laoban: short and stocky, with aboriginal blood and a tanned, pockmarked face. There are decision-makers around, women with taste and lensless glasses. The laoban’s wife: charming and simple, taller than her husband, beige highwaters and an apron. They ask you to change into this, and then into this, then, no, back into this. The typical Taiwanese teen: cute and thin-hipped, a Mickey Mouse shirt under a hoodie, creased jeans and high-top Chuck Taylors. These are your own clothes, and this is your own hair, and somehow you are entirely foreign to yourself. The American: fluffy Beatles hair, khaki shorts, a plaid button-up and a backpack. Or jeans, Chucks, a t-shirt and a backpack. They haven’t decided yet. You’re happy to learn that your archetype is still under consideration.