There were fifteen people in the room representing eight nations. A Filipino couple was onstage performing like a pair of high school music teachers. A plump Indian man and his partner meshed ballroom dancing and sweet third grade swaying to a castrated rendition of “She’s a Little Runaway.” An Austrian and an Italian were, for god knows what reason, doing lines of salt into a rolled up hundred Yuan note and squirting lemons into each others eyes prior to taking one of what must have been many tequila shots.
The bar room was big and dimly lit except for the neon lights illumintating the synthetic fog around the stage as if it were our own very little Vegas. With just us fifteen it should have felt empty, but united by a common boredom which had brought us to demand the most of out limited chances for camaraderie and by a general fish-out-of-water existence that accompanied a desperation pregnant with all the magic potential of life in someone else’s borders, we could revel in the bars emptiness. We could fill out nostrils with salt and our eyes with lemon if that’s what we so chose. Of course, we could also choose not to.
Randy, a Laotian man whose constant head nodding affirmations led one to believe he knew much more English than he truly did, stepped, rather uninvited, up to the stage and began to play the bongos along with the band. He fit the scene with the same casual awkwardness as the middle aged Bangladeshi fellow that tends to grace Wes Anderson pics. A few nights before I had been walking with Randy when he pointed at a bar.
“Three years ago, I get in fight there.”
“Yikes,” I said, putting on a fighting-is-icky face. “Did you win?”
Randy nodded leading me to believe that he had understood. “Not yet.”
Our international dance extravaganza fizzled to a halt despite some hoofers’ sodium based efforts to feed the party’s faltering energy. I found myself riverside, moralizing to the salt and lemon Austrian and Randy about the evil tax swindling wealthy who hide their funds offshore only to find that the Austrian was just such a one. I drunkenly laid into him about his secret stash.
“The money needs people to make it hospitals,” I explained.
“Why should I feed people hospitals?” I was pretty sure he meant ‘give’ in place of ‘feed.’
“Because people shouldn’t have to eat…” I paused for far to long having forgotten what was supposed to come next “…whatever you give them.”
Randy nodded. I sensed I had gained the victory, but then I was the only real speaker of the argument’s language.
The Austrian then let out the age old argument: “I am making jobs. My factory puts food inside of 30 Chinese families.”
Just what kind of factory is involved in the task of filling Chinese people with food? Was this some kind of still crueler fois gras? Which thought led me to another, more disturbing still, of a sea of young Americans who’d been fattened up for the slaughter… I’ll abandon that image for now.
It’s moments like these, almost as divisive as someone trumping fossils with saviors, that I realize I’m involved in an extension of the same conversation I’ve been involved in since I started having conversations, but that somehow life has advanced to the point when, rather than some naive defense of the Russian Revolution laced with too much caffeine, I’ve moved to drunken attacks of an economic system that I scarcely understand, essentially putting my faith in the pundits who have stolen my smile most of the last 2, 500 mornings. How had the midwestern high school classmate who once insisted to me that her father earned every last dollar of the twelve-million he inherited by also inheriting a last name, magically transformed into the Austrian owner of a Chinese underwear factory.
In the midst of all this I came to three realisations: A) time is really quite strange and only aided in its being so by intoxicants, B) I really should avoid conversations about economics as if they were conversations about religion, and C) I will always be right-er than people who put finger quotes around the word ‘ethics’ (sorry Nietszche) when talking about the working conditions of their employees.
Back to A) for a moment. What happened to all the time? When did it start to be measured in hangovers, break ups and years gone by without a savings account? Which brings me to B):(by the way that is not a frowny face in either direction, just an unintentional puncuational pun followed by a slightly more intentional one) I shouldn’t talk about economics. Despite this self-applied advice, I’ll probably continue to do so, because as much as I wish it was not the case, economics matter. They are the instruments through which the finger quoters from point C) are busy baffling us, stealing our taxes and often even our wages themselves and helping our planet to devour itself. Most offensively of all, they do it with the help of guns and god soaked lobby money which situates all of the wrong politics in all the wrong places so that the greasy machine will move faster and faster. But we all know this by now…
Let’s go back to the start. There we were. Fifteen representatives of our various nations at a bar in a small industrial center of a country that may or may not be emerging as the world’s leading economy. Fifteen over-educated and variously employed representatives. Fifteen representatives who fear for the future, who look with the same distant weariness at the tips of their cigarettes at the mention of words and phrases like global warming, and marriage, because these words and phrases bookend their justified anxieties and beleagured intentions; justified anxieties that all too recently seemed paranoid, and beleaguered intentions that were through most of their lives reasonable expectations.
I don’t know… maybe they would have been snorting salt and squirting lemon in each other’s eyes anyway, but for the moment, just briefly, I wondered if there wasn’t some tinge of insanity, insanity based on hopelessness, feeding on these well equipped members of this well equipped generation. I wondered if they had been knocked out of contention before even arriving to fight. I wondered how we could continue to allow ourselves for so long to be duped, and how we could more often than not go to the bar for our revenge, which was really a sort of non-revenge. I wondered how we could accept allowing our friends, ourselves even, to sink into the machine, to feed it even, or perhaps worse still to be fed by it, to be fed well by it. To be fattened.
And I wondered when we would realize that eventually what is fattened is eaten.
I looked up at Randy, calmly hovering over his Bongo.