Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Day 344 (This Is Donghu)

In Taipei on July 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Wait and the thing is he doesn’t know where he is, leaning over me and glancing up at the light-up station map in the traincar to figure out whether he ought to be rushing off.

Zhe shi Donghu, I say. He doesn’t know I’m talking to him. Zhe shi Donghu.

He looks at me. He thanks me and sits, a little comforted.

I’m thinking how awesome it is to be the one telling someone how to do something, to be the regular, to be the one who knows more than someone else about this place, at least this small moving corner of it.

He asks me in Chinese how long I have been here. I know what he is saying, mostly because that is the first question everyone I meet asks. I reply in Chinese.

I’m thinking how awesome it is that I can even pretend to speak Chinese for thirty seconds.

He asks me more. I don’t understand. I sort of understand. I reply, still happy to have been able to help, to have been deferred to.

I’m thinking how I should ask him something about himself but what can you ask a middle-aged person about himself that does not sound prying or offensive?

The man’s stop has come and he gets off. He says nice to meet you, and it was, we both can see. There is that awkward moment when you know you will never see someone again and it doesn’t really bother you, though you feel it should because you have shared something with that person, however briefly.

Then he is out of the train. Then I am in my book.


Day 343 (The Place Where You Want to Eat Lunch)

In Traveling on July 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm

The place where we eat lunch is the place where you want to eat lunch, the treeless ridge of some mountain somewhere, your feet hanging over the first irrecoverable meter of cliffside, your arms resting on the rope strung snugly through protective railings cemented into the rock.

Where you look out, you see the mountains in their torn-paper gradations off into the threat of the dark clouds and the rain that grays the panorama. Thunder booms each time you forget that there is thunder. It is supposed to pour, it is supposed to be a big rain, but the drops are small and refreshing and harmless.

We pass the pizza-flavored Pringles and the Seven-11 mixed nuts back and forth. We are wet with sweat. The approaching storm lends a sense of significance to the snack lunch on the ridge of the mountain. We are exposed. We are in the middle of it. We are tempting the elements, asking them to come for us. We are eating granola bars. We are at the height of the nature. We are silly. We are humans and we do things that do not entirely make sense and if we did not have that, we would not have anything.

The thunder booms and booms. The serious rain coats the nearby hills. It never gets to us.

— It’s so strange, I tell Inma. I don’t want it to pour but why doesn’t it?

She laughs at me. I’ve said this hundreds of times yet.

Day 342 (The Concrete Electrical Tower Base Meets Its End)

In Taipei on July 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm

The monster lays on its side, felled.

The monster is gray and concrete and cylindrical and twisted beams of rebar trace its trajectory from upright to sideways, right angles of the crash of the cylinder’s head to the ground between the intact base and the crunched, defeated top.

The monster suffers the poke of pointed steel on the end of man-made metal arms and it refuses to yield anything more than slowly, chips of solid rubble tumbling loose at the persistent stab of the giant nails.

The monster was a fixture and to see it a sick, industrial wreck is somehow nuclear, a glance of the foreboding of the destruction of what we have made once we no longer need it, functionality canceled, unkillableness killed when we want it not to be unkillable anymore.

The monster showering stones scarily near a shining red car in the parking lot just outside the striped tape.

The monster dying in a series of cinematic stills, most monstrous when its guts pour or scream from inside it, the exposed, reinforced heart of the characterless object.

Day 341 (Kate’s Game)

In Taipei on July 25, 2011 at 11:29 am

It looks pretty much the same as when we practiced, to tell you the truth. They are a little more disciplined, standing in soldierly lines and paying attention to the timing. But mostly it’s elephants, cats, ducks, and pigs talking to one another in monotone English, not moving very much, facing the crowd as if it were the crowd they were talking to. Which it is, in reality. And I guess that is the point. Not how entertained I am, but how the parents in their rows and rows, lined up with high-powered cameras to snap photos of their children, get to see them dressed up as animals and speaking—English—in a room full of other people. The embarrassment on one’s face, the determination on another’s: the public presentation of the parents’ kids, the stageness of it, the little steps toward having a self outside the world of their parents. They are like intimations at the moment when a kid heads out for the last time and the only coming back he will do anymore will be officially designated as visits. The kids on the stage developing personalities. The parents understanding their kids as separate individuals. The kids who fidget, the kids who want to stand at the front of the speaking group. The kids whose eared hats are not tied tight. The kids who look at what other kids do before they do it. The kids who alter their expression as they speak, trying to match the emotional timbre of their character. The kids who are bored.

This is the point. The high-powered cameras are afterthoughts, no matter how forward they are in the parents’ minds. They are for preserving the image of the kid when the kid is older and will not dress up as an animal anymore. The purpose of the play now, the thing you can’t capture because time moves forward and forward, is the personality the kids are expressing more fully every moment to this room full of people, the hints at their future selves, the growing notion that they exist, these kids, whether or not you do.

Day 340 (This Is What Nice Is)

In Taipei on July 25, 2011 at 11:00 am

It’s Taiwan but it’s like, nice, planned and neon and big-buildinged, Paul says that that one you can’t rent, you have to buy and it costs NT$40,000,000 for one apartment. I think there is no way but then again you look around and you are standing on a concrete walkway going, I don’t know, nowhere, with a billboard of Nicolas Cage in a Lost in Translation pose, hand on his smirking chin, promoting an ultra-expensive watch. Below cars drive almost civilly, the streets are broad, and people are here to spend money on items. The air does not stink and there is a statue on the roof of the building adjacent to the inconceivably expensive one. It is reaching to the heavens. There are places to wonder and be and sit and stand and when we go inside there are public bathrooms, saintly ones, and a stretching hall of skylit verandas with porch furniture beneath where you can sit to the tune of raging up-tempo electronic music, if you want. There are stores and all sorts of items you don’t need. There are clean floors. We stroll sort of aimlessly and that’s ok, in a spot where aims can not be had, shouldn’t be had probably, where you can make money and buy things and jellify in the sites that have been created for you.

Day 339 (Allowing Events to Develop Organically)

In Taipei on July 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

Amazing how it goes from a few cats sitting around watching people play video games avoiding the food on the coffee table and turning down beers, anticipating that moment when they will declare they have to leave early because they have to work tomorrow, to a bunch of cats standing up and meeting one another, eating chips and drinking beer and drifting into the kitchen—you know it’s good if they are drifting into the kitchen—and holding the balcony door open to smoke cigarettes out by the trash and the hanging clothes where the nasty tile and the barred airspace hover under and next to the sort of exhilarated ennui of the instant.

Day 338 (Artistic Talent at a Young Age)

In Taipei on July 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

Some kids have an eye and some do not.

Some kids cut out random geometric shapes and color them haphazardly with marker and paste them at random points on their posterboard. These kids color over the words the teacher has written about them and glue on balls of cotton just below their names. They fold the cards that say their names so you have to lean your head upside-down to decipher who they are.

Other kids strike a keen balance of photographs, written blurbs, and drawn pictures, space apportioned evenly and pleasing to the eye. These kids understand that combinations of color excite the human being and if they put a number of colors together the viewer will be happy. They intuitively sense that variety and evenness make their posters pop.

And then there are the kids who spend most of the class making a crab out of pipe cleaners and ask you to fasten it to a close-up photo of their face.

I pat myself on the back. I think I used to be one of the eyeless ones but I’ve made myself have an eye.

Day 337 (Tamu)

In Taipei on July 21, 2011 at 10:22 pm

On my bike back down the lane. It looks different today, emptier. Hardly the same alley as yesterday. Without people it is the neon stare of the white cross on red and the brown blacks of every formerly movable part that make it look the way it looks. I still feel like hell and all the salvation’s gone, flashes in the night, minutes of joy in the life we participate in every single second it goes on.

Then a man comes fast out of the alley to the left and it’s Tamu. Again he says in his strange accent, How do you do, like a British person coming from the library on a sunny day. He is shirtless and dark and he waves as he halts so I don’t hit him. I tell him I am doing fine and turn to inquire how he does as I sail out of earshot, smiling my ass off again.

Day 336 (The Barrio)

In Taipei on July 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

The day has sucked.

Then I go down the street to the locksmith and the woman sitting with him in the tiny shop with a cute kid takes an interest and we talk a little and she is from China and the keys only cost NT$50. I walk away swinging the copies, them happily doing business at eight on a Tuesday night, chatting in the greasy shop waiting for someone to come by who needs to get in somewhere.

Then I walk back up the lane and nod to the same scary-looking man with a mustache sitting on a crate outside a shop. He says hello. I say hello. I ask how he is doing. He says his name is Tamu. I go back and shake hands with him and say my name is Dennis. I walk back up the lane smiling.

Then I walk past a fat man who is with a girl and addresses me in Chinese. He asks me about my country. I tell him I am from America. He asks about where. I tell him I am from Ohio. His name is Jack. His girlfriend’s name is May. My name is Dennis. I say good night. I walk away enthralled with the conspiracy of the neighborhood to make me happy.

Who are all these people, being unflappable between the disgusting buildings and the insalubrity of every element of the city? Who are these people who can stand up straight where exhaustion is the only option, who can make me stand up straight too?

Day 335 (Bad Morning)

In Taipei on July 18, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Toby wakes up and the bridge of his nose is red and purple. His eye is ringed in visible pain. He checks his phone and goes back into his room.

From the living room he hears a crash and a string of curse words that are unrepeatable. He comes back out and his roommate is scraping a bowl of oatmeal and a few slices of apple from the floor onto a cutting board with a knife. His roommate gets up and walks brusquely to the kitchen. Toby inquires.

— I just dropped my oatmeal on the floor. Nothing to worry about, says his roommate.

Toby sympathizes. His roommate says:

— You know, you wake up and make your favorite breakfast and put your favorite book on the table and then BOOM! Good morning motherfucker.

His roommate throws the dishes into the sink and gets to making a new batch, pleased at the sonorific arc of the words. Yes, he thinks, this is how a bad day should start.