@

Shreveport

By Ryan Day

Memoir

A man with a creepy Will Rogers smile and eyes like a snake ready to eat the eggs from the nest of some absent mother duck stared at me from the opposite bank of seats. His hair could have been finger-painted on his scalp by a slow-learning kindergartner. His broad torso was draped in a Steelers jersey.

A moment passed before I registered the awkward rising and lowering of his shoulder. Yet another moment before I saw that the hand at the other end of that arm was buried beneath the fly of his Levi’s. This was something like a first date in the eighteen-wheel-iverse—what I’d taken to calling the world I’d been living in for the past couple of months.

Three-Legged Dogs

By Ryan Day

Memoir

“I can’t give you no cash, but if you wanna come work for the day, I’d be happy to pay you for that.” There was a certain Fife-iness, or Gilliganism to his gummy cadence.

It wasn’t what I had in mind, but it would do.

I jumped into his Dually and we headed out towards God knows where. Judging by the giant mound of sod overflowing the truck’s bed, I imagined the work would be long and grueling, and by the end of the day I’d be a lot dirtier than I was to begin with.

“Saul,” he said extending a thinly muscled arm with a grimey hand at the end of it.

I shook it.

He rolled a cigarette with one hand as he drove with the other. I couldn’t tell how old he was. A haggard thirty or a well-preserved fifty. Either would have been believable.

“Smoke?” He offered.

“No. Thanks.”

We had passed a couple of small towns and kept on going. I was getting a little nervous.

“You laid sod before?” he asked.

“No.”

There was a dog in the back seat, a German Shepherd, that was missing one of its front legs.

Saul caught me staring.

“Daisy got cancer,” he said. “Ain’t none of us safe.”

A half hour later he pulled up to a giant house built on the edge of a pond. Saul jumped out of the truck and took off his shirt revealing a concave chest and a stomach that was muscular only due to its lack of any other type of tissue. His khaki shorts sagged heavily, and every couple of seconds he had to pull them up. He was shoeless and bald. I noticed his left foot was missing the big and second toes.

“Come on,” he said, heading for a giant patch of bare dirt extending from the pond to the deck of the house. There was a huge pile of sod already waiting for us.

We didn’t talk at all for the next six hours. Just laid one strip after another and watched that big brown patch slowly turn green, as the dog alternated between swimming, sleeping and harassing us.

When the yard was finally green, a man in a white sweater came down from the deck. I hadn’t noticed him once all day.

When the man got to Saul he stopped. Saul looked at him for a minute, but didn’t say anything. I thought maybe he was trying to catch his breath, but there was something in between them that wouldn’t let itself be addressed. Saul’s eyes stayed down towards his knees. The man’s posture was straight and unforgiving.

He handed Saul an envelope. Saul whistled. The Dog and I obeyed his call, hopping in the truck so the three of us could be on our way.

“Wanna swim?” he asked.

“Alright,” I said, even though I really just wanted my money, and to get out of Iowa.

I assumed he was heading to a lake, or a pool, or a creek, or a reservoir, but he pulled his truck straight onto the sidewalk next to a fountain on the University of Iowa’s campus. He slid on flippers and a snorkel and dove into what couldn’t have been more than two feet of water.

“Come on in,” he said through his snorkel and goggles, “The water’s real nice after a long day work’n.”

I took off my shoes, sat on the edge and rolled up my jeans for a foot bath.

“Don’t be a scaredy cat,” he said. “They know me ’round here.”

Daisy jumped into the fountain too.

Just then a cop car pulled up to the fountain, and my pulse shot into my throat.

Saul just waved a goofy wave from behind those big goggles.

“Howdy, Saul,” said the cops, “We didn’t see a thing.”

“Told ya,” said Saul.

Then one of the cops turned back to us. “You gotta keep that dog on a leash, though.”

“Can’t put a three legged dog on a leash,” said Saul. “It’ll choke her.”

The cops seemed to accept Saul’s difference of opinion.

 

He offered to make me dinner, and seeing as I still hadn’t been paid, I accepted.

He cooked seitan and beans on a fire outside of his cottage on the outskirts of Iowa City.

He drank tall cans of Old Style and began to slur.

“You see this here,” he said pointing at the missing toes.

I nodded.

“Fell asleep in a cornfield last December. They was black when I woke up.”

It was getting dark and the fire was smoldering.

Saul had gone inside for another beer and hadn’t come back.

I peeked past the door. There was no furniture in the apartment. Just a rug with a pillow and a sheet where Saul was curled up in a ball next to a syringe and a spoon.

I saw the envelope that the man had given him earlier that day laying on the floor and decided maybe it was best to pay myself and leave.

Inside there was a fifty dollar bill and a note.

Saul,

Hope this gets you through the week

Love,

Dad

I left the fifty in the envelope and walked along the river back towards the city.

Two Pilgrimages

By Ryan Day

Essay

“Which way is Chueca?” asked a girl, American, about twenty with a pink streak in her hair and a shirt that proudly announced the Pope’s upcoming visit to Madrid. “I am B-O-R-E-D to D-E-A-T-H with these pilgrims.”

I pointed down the road.

“Are you going to the kiss in?”

I shook my head.

“I didn’t come all the way to Madrid just to pray.” With that she was off in the direction I had pointed her.

Orleans

By Ryan Day

Memoir

It was dark, so it had been at least eight hours since I fell asleep. I wasn’t sure which direction we’d been going. Eight hours from West Memphis, Arkansas could put us in Texas, Utah, Tennessee, Indiana… The truck’s cab was small and crowded like a tokyo apartment that had been decorated by a dedicated fan of Southern rock and duct taped.

There were posters. ZZ Top, Skynrd, 38 Special, Government Mule.

Beards and Les Pauls everywhere.

The blanket smelled like fast food and sweat.

I was groggy like I’d just come out of surgery, and I couldn’t remember getting into the truck.

I pulled the curtain to the side revealing the front of the cab and the wide window with dark expanses rolling into the distance. The driver was a big greasy man like a beach ball covered in sun tan lotion. He kept his jeans up with suspenders.

“Boy, you bout the dumbest fucking thing I done met out here.” He was holding a black plastic square with metal prongs. He pushed a button and a bolt of tiny blue lightning flashed along with the cracking sound of an electrical storm in miniature. “Coulda tazed yo ass.” When he smiled, his beard opened up to reveal the gray tops of otherwise yellow teeth. “Out cold. Do what I want with ya.”

I shuffled up through the curtain and plopped into the passenger seat.

“Where are we?”

“Texas.”

Shit.

I noticed a copy of Conversations with God, on the floor of the trucks cab.

“Here,” he said, handing me the taser. “You hold on to that. If you’re gonna be runn’n round out here best have a way to defend yourself.”

More than anything, this was a gesture to let me know I was safe.

I took it.

“Thought you was a lizard at first. Wouldn’t a picked you up.” He took a shallow pull from a bottle of Mountain Dew. “You held that door for me back in the Waffle House, though. Thought to myself, that boy has manners. Ain’t no lizard, or killer for that matter, got manners that good.”

“What’s a lizard?” I asked through a yawn.

“What’s a lizard?” he repeated. “A Lot Lizard. A whore.” He turned up the radio. Skynrd.

I said I’m beggin’ for mercy, won’t you take me if you please.

I hit the button on the taser and watched the lightning jump the gap between the pair of metal tongs.

“Careful,” he said.

It was still a little hazy. I had gone forty hours without sleep before finding Orleans. Orleans, or Orl’ins as he pronounced it, was the drivers name it turned out. I barely remember a middle-aged mother handing me a ten dollar bill in the parking lot of a truck stop. I must have asked for it. Maybe not. I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, and ten dollars goes a long way at a Waffle House. Two grilled cheese sandwhiches, a couple of scrambleds, and a cup of coffee still left a buck for tip.

I’d been looking for rides in the parking lot. No luck. Orleans had passed me by on his way into the Waffle House. He was heading in as I was heading out. I remember that now.

I remember holding the door for him, too. I nodded and may even have added an earnest, “thank you, sir.”

I was a polite kid.

Catholic school boy.

After eating I hit the on ramp hoping for someone to take me towards Georgia. I had friends there, and in my mind at the time it made as much sense as anything to head to Georgia and start over. The trip back to Chicago was too long, and besides I didn’t want to backtrack.

Georgia was the plan, but I’d settle for anything other than Arkansas.

Orleans stopped. I got in and fell asleep before a word was spoken.


“You about my boys age,” Orleans yelled over Skynrd.

I was still fingering the taser.

“Hungry?”

I nodded

A few minutes later he stopped the truck.

“Get in back,” he said. “Just in case someone from the company’s out here. Not s’posed to pick people up.”

I got into the cot and covered myself with the sweat stained blanket until he came back with a big paper bag full of Burger King.

I ate fast while he sipped on a coke.

“Not hungry?” I asked through a mouth full of beef, mayo, bacon and cheese all ground to a paste.

“No appetite.” He said lifting his shirt. “Not no more.” There was a scar across his belly like the one from my mom’s cesarian. “Had my stomach stapled.” He pulled his shirt back down. “Barely eat no more.”


I don’t remember if I slept that night, or if we talked, or sat in silence. I imagine we talked, as Orleans was a talker, and I imagine he told me all sorts of stories that I wish I remembered now. But if he did tell me, I don’t remember. Not most of them anyway. I know, however, that he had been a roadie for ZZ Top for a long time, and a drinker, and a philanderer, and that now he was none of those things.

In the morning, somewhere in West Texas, I don’t remember where, we stopped on a small empty highway in front of a house. All that surrounded us was the vacant brown horizon of Texas.

“That’s it,” said Orleans looking at a little house, which, aside from the highway itself and the truck we’d just jumped down from, was the only sign of human habitation.

“That’s what?”

“That there is the house where Billy Gibbons grew up.”

“Hmmmm…” I wasn’t sure if this was important, but for Orleans it was religious. He was sharing something.

Orleans set himself down onto the brittle brown grass that stretched across everything in sight. I followed.

He slid a little hair away from his forehead and pointed to an old scar above his eyebrow. “You see that?”

I nodded.

“Came home late once.” He smiled a smile that came from some deep well. “Wife didn’t like that.”

“Jesus,” I said. “How late?”

His smile became a profound belly laugh. “Couple weeks I guess.”

“At least you earned it.”

“Frying pan. Cast Iron.”

“That’s cartoon stuff. Only Fred Flinstone actually gets hit with a frying pan.”

“More common than you’d think.”

I doubted that it was.

His eyes focused in on that house in the distance. “Coulda killed her back then.”

“I bet,” I said.

“Then, not too long after that, she died.”

For some reason, I remember imagining that house on the horizon emitting the loud amplified sounds of a young Billy Gibbons perfecting his staccato brand of blues. I wondered if his mom got pissed off at the volume. I wondered if he had a dad. I wondered when his first whiskers came in, and if he’d ever shaved.

I wondered if he walked out of that front door every morning and saw all this emptiness as a challenge.

“Funny how the worst moments end up making the best memories,” said Orleans. “I sure as hell never thought getting hit in the face with a cast iron skillet would be the memory of her I kept closest.”

“Your son?”

“Marines,” he said. “I think.” He rolled onto his back exposing the bottom of the scar on his belly under his T-shirt. “Hell, I don’t know.”

I didn’t realize that he was crying until after he’d grasped my hand.

I wasn’t sure if I was scared, or just shaken by his bareness.

“You fucking take care of yourself out here.”

I nodded, unsure of why my eyes were tearing up.

“You fucking take care of yourself you little dumbass.”

He squeezed my hand harder and looked at me with eyes that were meant for a lover.

“I will.”




I really really meant to write something about how sweet it is to be in Spain writing stories and reading all the things I’ve been meaning to, but I went for a coffee, opened the paper and BOOM!

Yesterday’s article in El Pais, Spain’s biggest national paper, had a rundown of the immigration debate in Arizona. Oddly, the article seemed most outraged about Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s strange demand that the prisoners in his system wear pink underwear. That quirky bit of homophobia has never really struck me as central to the debate, though it is troubling, and if not cruel, certainly unusual.

Of course, they also showed photos of the march and rally in support of the law. Signs reading ‘go home illegals’, and ‘for English press 1, for deportation press 2’ and somewhat out of place ‘an armed society is a civilized society’ and even more confusingly ‘Karl Marx was not a founding father.’

These are not things I overheard, but signs waved high for all to see.

The article made the clever choice to introduce Arpaio as ‘of Italian origin’.

The rally was in a football stadium where a majority of the workers were of Latino (which determination, ironically enough is also Italian in a sense) origin. They were the only visible attendants, according to the article, that were not white.

“Can you hear me Mexico? Can you hear me from here? You should be clear that this land is our land, not your land. We paid for it. We worked for it,” said Larry Wachs, a journalist from Atlanta.

Who are we? I don’t mean that in any national existential angst sort of way, but seriously, who is this mythic ‘we’ that ‘paid for’ and ‘worked for’ this land? The bold and industrious English, who sailed over here and set up shop in a way that is not unambiguously heroic? The Germans or Italians or Irish or Norwegians or Danes or Czechs or Poles who came for myriad reasons at different historical moments? The Africans who were dragged here, only to suffer three centuries of slavery before being released into a battle for equality that’s still underway? The Indigenous who wandered here God knows when and have suffered indignity after indignity since the establishment of the colonies? The Chinese who labored in the construction of our nation’s infrastructure and later sat in prisons for the crime of being Japanese? Who are we? And why did only the white ‘we’ show up to this battle (covered/sponsored by Fox News)?

Conservative, I mean here the word itself not the ideology or the people who ascribe to it, refers to the preservation of something, no? It means to limit change. It is tied to an ideal and static moment, an edenic past, an originary place that depends on mythology to make it more pure than the present. To conserve something is to save it as it is, which in a world subject to physical laws and the perpetual movement of time, is impossible. So, I guess my question is, what exactly is it that people are trying to conserve? Was it represented by the homogeneity of that rally’s attendants? At what moment exactly do you locate the United States that is escaping into some threatening new entity, the United States that is and can remain ‘our land’.

That type of thinking, the type that leads people to concrete imaginings of some certain, codified establishment of borders between nations and people, of the investing of nationality with a substantive reality beyond the coincidence of location and time, is to me, well, totally foreign…

And so, I want to establish a nation for people who fear those who believe fervently in nations, and to draw up a long, meandering and in places nonexistent border that can be respected or ignored by the UN and all its constituent nations at their whim. The border will probably loosely trail the equator. Which side of the equator is ‘ours’ will remain undetermined until some future congress, which shall meet at an undetermined time and which shall consist of undetermined members, convenes…

We will have passports drawn in crayon and stamped with lipstick-y kisses. Our origin myth will be that one day from the chaotic ashes of beaurocracy and hate rose a Phoenix who flew drunkenly around the planet with a crayon in its beak dividing the world roughly in two, but not indicating which side was inside of the border and which side was out. We will wander back and forth until we are certain, which may be forever. Also, in honor of the bird (Is a Phoenix a bird? or does it enter into dragon territory?), their shall be regular festivities which will include hefty amounts of drink and failed efforts to draw straight lines. We will seek that bird until we die. One day, we hope, we can all be just as free as that bird. Oh, I’ll leave you to guess as to our national anthem, ahem…

Oh, yeah, and at the suggestion of that duder from the rally’s sign, Karl Marx will be our founding father, or at least one of them, possibly the other Marx Brothers will be asked to sign our Declaration of Complete and Utter Dependence… on What We Are Not Sure.


I was sitting outside of a coffee shop in Phoenix which sold what was advertised as ‘Fair Trade Coffee.’ That seemed like a reasonably decent product to me. Certainly nothing that could inspire ire in anyone. And the price was good. Not skyrocketing like the radio said about the prices of so many other things touched by liberal fingers. These prices were ground low and seemingly wingless.

“God damned liberals have gotten everything around here… Fuck’n coffee too?” said a woman in a green felt sun-visor walking hand in hand with a man in a beard.

The bearded man shook his head as if he could hear the breath leaving the last of his father’s generation.

People were gathering for the Reverend Sharpton’s speech opposing SB 1070. I imagined this couple wasn’t present for that.

Before I moved here, my image of Arizona was filled with cute adobe archways, artists colonies producing annoyingly pastel-only creations that spoke to the soft palate of local souls and a unique intermingling of Southwestern cultures that would surely include, if not a generally open-hearted community, at least some interesting foodlets.

I was wrong. Except about the annoyingly pastel-only creations. Those, thanks be God, are everywhere, alongside a general bigotry, a willful closed-mindedness and some of the shittiest food a major metropolitan area has ever boasted. Come on people. You’re bigger than Philly now. It’s time to come up with a sandwich… or might I suggest… a taco?

A quick list of the complete insanity that has recently ravaged my adopted home thanks largely to the known fascism of sheriff Joe Arpaio and that lesser known fascism of the unelected governor Jan Brewer (she took office when Janet Napolitano went to the White House to head up Homeland Security): There is the famous SB 1070 which requires police to demand papers of anyone they deem ‘reasonably suspicious’ of illegal immigrant status, and simultaneously makes it legal for citizens to sue their government if they think local authorities are not upholding immigration laws stringently enough; then we have the lovely right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit; and the new law BANNING ETHNIC STUDIES in public schools

But, lady and her bearded cohort, I concede, the “God damned liberals have gotten everything around here… Fuck’n coffee too.”

A quick retort: You are mad at what? At the fact that South American farmers are getting a fair price for delivering you a superior product? Retort abandoned. It seems unnecessary.

I have quite sincerely tried to see both sides of most issues for some time, and despite liberal tendencies, I’ve always been careful to attempt to understand conservative ideologies and respect differences of opinion.

But conservatives, you gotta work with me on this. You are looking way too stupid to try to understand.

Stupid things overheard in Phoenix this week:

“I’m just glad we don’t have no unions turning us into D-troit.”

Phoenix… you wish you were Detroit.

“I don’t know why we gotta spend taxes to build public transit just to move illegals around the city.”

Not worthy of response.

“If people can’t carry guns, you’re just gonna have more violence.”

Seriously?

“What don’t people understand about the word ‘illegal'”

This is exactly the question I would like to ask Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer in regards to what strike this legally uneducated citizen as totally outside the confines of legal.

By the way, thank you Al Sharpton for coming out here and assembling such an awesome resistance to what is undoubtedly one of the least American laws imaginable.

And thank you everyone involved in turning what could have been nothing but a shameful moment for all Americans into one of the best organized campaigns against rampant idiocy we’ve seen since W. left office.

And seriously, Phoenix, if you’re going to keep calling yourself a city, embrace the taco.

Mania!

By Ryan Day

Essay

When I was 10 we lived in Augusta, Georgia. A friend of my mom’s adopted a baby. The baby was a giant. Not literally a giant. It was neither jolly nor green, nor iron, but it was a really big baby. My mom’s friend insisted that the agency told her that the father was a professional wrestler. She was convinced, due to the size of the baby, and the strangely morose eyes that sat above big black half moons, that the father was the Undertaker. This was a serious point of pride for the mother, not to mention a really cool origin story for a kid that may one day need one.

After two days, the radio had switched off. I assumed it was safe to bathe. I slipped down the stairs from my room in the attic, towel in hand, and took slow, elongated steps over the creaky second storey hallway floor boards. I locked myself in, exhaled, turned on the faucet and had just barely begun to enjoy what I thought was to be my first full term, risk-free shower in three days when the door flew inward from the force of a kick, and I felt my body yanked from under the comforting flow of water, dragged across the bathroom floor and pushed halfway through the open window.

“I fucking got you, man!” Said Big Bear through a tearful laugh, as he dangled me by the ankles two floors above the snow covered ground.

Indeed, I had been got.

My Suge Knightesque roommate was a man named Andrew Big Bear. Big Bear worked nights for a shipping company. Four nights on, followed by three off. On his off nights he drank and blared Puff Daddy on his stereo. He was not in the habit of sleeping at any point during his non-work periods.

“Waste of a life, man,” he said, “to sleep when you ain’t work’n.”

I agreed, and though I have started many a new day by staying, rather than waking, up, I have never had the kind of endurance that would bring one into a third day. I couldn’t sustain the severity of the tugs upon lucidity that must be soldered to that experience.

Big Bear and I were at a party early in our tenure as friends and roomies. We were sitting on the couch across from a girl I was interested in, drinking beers, rolling cigarettes, engaging in the kind of small talk that people make in the early stages of flirtery. Avoiding the depthy subjects, resisting urges to let loose the more general theories about God and Government which never seem to impress their intended audiences, yet always seem to fanagle their way past the teeth at some point, usually around the time that the religious glow of fresh love dwindles itself into the sputtering candesence of a 40 watt bulb powered by a generator that’s running low on fuel.

That night conversation was in low gear: the origin of pomegranates, the best shade of green, favorite non-canonical instrument…

Big Bear looked a little bored. A little angry. I asked him what his favorite melon was.

“Honey Dew, you soulless fuck.”

I waited to see if he would release the jaws of the gaze he’d locked on me with a chuckle or a scowl, but he chose neither. It was me who looked back to the conversation in the awkward interval between recognizing the sincerity of his attack on my mortal soul, and arriving at the point of participating in a stare down. There are only so many seconds you can look straight into someone’s eyes without consequences, whether they be kisses, punches or tears.

This wasn’t the last time that he would accuse me of soullessness, which phenomena, I should probably mention, has always been a chief concern of mine… There was a moment in grade school when I was all but sure I’d sold the old soul to Satan in return for being the sweetest eighth-grade hoopster in the Chicago Catholic League. Despite the notably absent results (I was far from even the top ten sweetest players on my own second-rate, twelve-member team), I was pretty sure I’d dealt away the most prized of my possessions. Duped.

Strange that we think of the soul as something to be had, or for that matter, lost. Strange that we position it as a possession to be bought, sold, traded, prized, undervalued. Putting an exchange value on the immortal bits of human being points pretty directly to the bankruptcy (irony not lost) of our spiritual situation.

Big Bear, who was a Native American of the Winnebago tribe, started speaking angrily in his language. I didn’t understand the specific content, but got the general emotional gist which was in line with the spirit of his previous comment. It was somehow comforting that Big Bear was speaking from a native tradition. At the risk of forwarding Big Bear as a representative of his culture, a risk made especially grave by the stereotypes this piece is already dabbling in, it made it clear that this paranoia of separation from some essential self was not an exclusively western psychosis. That is to say, it was comforting to, rather than sentimentalize certain perspectives and peoples, to recognize that all of us humans are battling similar fundamental schisms.

Then again, it was me, not him who was soulless. Maybe rather than projecting, he was just particularly adept at noticing my phobias. Maybe the fact that I was thinking about it this way in the first place was why I was soulless.

Things didn’t go well with the girl.

On the walk home Big Bear continued to inform me about my soullessness, but mostly in the inarticulate and monosyllabic vein. “No.” He would say, before letting a few seconds pass. “Fucking.” A brief stumble. “Soul.”

I listened, terror creeping up from frozen toes.

In the park that we crossed on our walk home, we saw a boy asleep face down in the snow.

“Look at this fucker,” said Big Bear.

I looked. I was fairly sure I’d been that boy in that park on one or more occassions.

Big Bear approached him with slow stalking steps, leaned over him with tender eyes, and converted those same eyes into a brief scowl in my direction before snatching his shoulders like he was ripping a salmon from a river, flipping him around quickly and shouting into the boys startled face, “Do you wanna die out here in the fucking snow?”

The face of the boy, who reasonably interpreted this as a threat rather than emergency assistance, lost what color remained. He leapt like a freshly popping kernel of corn and was halfway across the park before I remembered to take another breath.

“Fucking kid,” said Big Bear. “Could’ve died out here.”

We walked home in the abbreviated steps that the snow demanded, Big Bear cursing me, or blessing me for all I know, in his native tongue.

I remember thinking that I probably would have left that kid right there in the snow. Maybe not, but probably.

A few weeks later, we had a party. Big Bear was working in the morning, though he’d been off for the last three days, meaning his senses were at their limits, but so was his need for sleep. We, the rest of us in the house, were twenty-one-year-old indie rockers who really didn’t give a shit about much besides ourselves, whatever bands were in town and our T-shirt collections, especially when we’d been drinking. Soulless maybe. It didn’t feel that way at the time, but in retrospect…

Big Bear usually wasn’t opposed to a party and I guess I missed the signals that he was not inclined that evening.

He came out of his room, eyes scorching whatever they met from behind a face that was as still as the moments before an earthquake. He approached me with steady measured steps,  hands behind his back.

“Beer?” I asked.

He nodded a head that showcased no little fury.

I reached into the the cardboard package and pulled out a warm bottle of La Crosse, but before I could hand it to him he charged me with a corkscrew in one hand and scissors in the other screaming, “I’m gonna kill you, you fuck’n Leprechaun!” I’m still not sure if that was racial slur or alcohol-fueled delusion.

I jumped behind the couch and ran across the room. Big Bear got to me, but his weapon-bearing arms were restrained, so all I felt was the weight of his body pushing against me, like a dolphin out of water trying to chest bump me to death. Someone called the police in the middle of all the hubbub, and they came and took Big Bear away.

No charges were pressed, and he was home the next afternoon. He’d lost his job because he had not shown up. He was angry, but he was sober, and therefore non-violent.

I’ve never felt guiltier in my life. I still feel guilty. I mean, attempted murder may be a bit of an overreaction to a party that’s running late, but I still feel as though the first crime, being inconsiderate of a roommate’s sleeping schedule, was my own, and that a man, dysfunctional and violent as he could sometimes be, had lost his job and gained another tick on an already marred criminal record.

I had recently bought my brother’s car for the price of a bus ticket when he suddenly had to return to Oklahoma after some romantic drama. Big Bear was going to Oklahoma now too. Back to the res. I gave him the car, hoping that somehow I was helping to buy back the soul I’d sold in the gymnasium of my Catholic grade school.

I’m not sure if it worked. I still can’t make a free throw. I guess that’s a good sign.

I was in a Memphis parking lot. It was early morning. Before sunrise. Mother’s Day. A dark skinned man with a powdery white beard hobbled towards me.

“You gotta smoke?”

“No.”

His head bobbed like an egg in boiling water as he scratched at his cheeks. “You want one.”

I declined.

“Suit yersef.”

A woman with the shortened shuffle of a wind up robot approached from the far side of the parking lot.

The man yelled in her direction, “Hey, Mary. What you fry’n up for Motha’s day?”

“Same thang I’m always fry’n up,” she shouted back through a cough.

I walked to the pay phone and slid in quarters. She answered.

“Hello?”

“Wendy?”

“Ryan?”

It had been a month since she left me in Indiana with no money, no car, no idea what to do with myself. I had slept behind truck stops in Arkansas, in the woods of Missouri, in Waffle House booths across Tennessee. All in an effort to arrive where her Mom had told me she would be… Memphis, on Mother’s Day.

Her mother was not biologically her mother, but a friend of her sisters who had adopted her when she was twelve. Her birth mother had passed when she was young, and was buried in Memphis.

And that was where I was.

I got on a bus in the morning’s version of dusk and headed up Poplar. She had said to get off two stops past the second McDonald’s. The first one came quick, but the second was far enough away to make me second guess whether I’d missed something.

Finally the second pair of golden arches which were meant as my  landmark appeared. I wondered if the somewhat epic subtext of the sign had anything to do with the appeal of the restaurant. I wondered if the sacred was aided in its march towards the profane by the daily vision of golden arches rendered as plastic fries. It occurred to me that McDonald’s was something like the costume jewelry of food, faux-regally filling the void of the delicious. Also, I wanted a Big Mac. It’s near impossible to be in the vicinity of the chemically created wafting aroma of Big Mac without triggering involuntary salivation. And, as they seem to line city streets like mile markers, we must salivate way more than we realize.

I got off two stops later, crossed the street and entered through the open wrought iron gates of the cemetery. Wendy had said she’d be in the Southwest corner. “By the big black angel,” she’d said.

And that was where she was.

She was smoking as I approached. Her eyes were watery, which made her smile seem a little inappropriate. I felt like I was being hugged to death by the thick morning air. I put a hand on her face, which felt wet and sticky, like a kid’s cheek covered in the invisible residue of mashed carrots. She threw her cigarette down, but the cool air still facilitated tangible exhalations.

Her laugh made the moment shiver slightly into the psychotic, but she returned things to order with a few solid words, “I’m glad you found me.”

I nodded and moved close to her.

She took off a glove and put a frigid hand under my sweater onto my bare belly. I took off a mitten and ran my fingers through her greasy hair.

In the lingering psychosis of her laugh we sought each other, first cautious, then manic. Soft touches disintegrated into grasping at flesh, distrusting the solid and aiming to touch whatever lay beneath it. The wool of sweaters was thrust upward, denim and the rough white cotton of long johns tugged down as anatomy found unlikely paths towards communion.

I swear I heard her mother’s voice, though I couldn’t tell you what it said. It was like a scream in the tenor of the careless wanderings that led us to this moment. It wasn’t a condemnation, but not exactly a celebration either. A howling ode to the bacchanalian undercurrents and a warning all at once.

She put a finger against my throat. I wondered for a moment if she was trying to choke me before realizing that she was checking my pulse.

I looked her in the eyes and she smiled lucidly.

I put my fingers against the beat of her pulse, too.

We both lay laughing under the wings of the big black angel.

“Now what?” I asked her.

“Now we get Miles,” she answered.

Miles was the dog she had grown up with in foster care. She had spoken of him often.

I hid behind the McDonald’s as she hopped a fence. I sat, back against a dumpster, still wishing I had a Big Mac. If there were any real sacred spaces left they would smell like McDonald’s. I imagined a priest swinging a burger box attached to the end of a long chain as he stepped slowly through the isles of a Walmart, chanting something about baby back ribs in a muffled hum.

After fifteen minutes, she appeared, holding what seemed to be the end of her belt attached to the collar of an overweight Beagle I could only assume to be Miles. We ran, thumbs extended along the side of the road, but to little avail.

Miles was breathing hard before we made it a mile. Ironic.

Finally, a mini-van pulled over. A woman, a large woman, dressed in what seemed to be a floral patterned table cloth, and seemingly missing only the rolls in her hair and the threateningly brandished rolling pin, leapt, surprisingly athletically, from the sliding side door and ran towards us shouting loudly, “That dawg has diabetas!!!”

I ascertained that this was not someone offering a ride.

“That dawg’ll die if he don’t take’m his meds.”

Wendy let go of the belt that was serving as a leash, hiked her pants up and continued to run down the highway.

I looked at the large angry woman, who was now grabbing Wendy’s belt and securing Mile’s safe return, and then at the girl running fast away from me down the side of a Memphis highway, and decided the best thing I could do would be to scream at a cloud.

I was a little wobbly in front of the urinal. Left and Right seemed to call my shoulders from center, while my head surfed evenly above their oceanic bobbing. My aim was good at least.

I caught the guy to my left, a short chubby fellow with long hair and a black leather jacket, peeking down.

He saw that he’d been caught and smiled. “American?”

“What?” I shook. “Yeah.” Stuffed. “How’d you know?” and zipped.

He kept his eyes up as he gestured towards my nethers with his whiskered chin. “You’re cut… and you don’t strike me as the Jewish type.”

“Cut?”

“Your Peepee wears a V-neck, mate.”

I sat down at the bar next to my friend Elaine. She was a good friend from Chicago who’d lived in London and taught high school science for five years. Her friend Isabella was tending bar. Isabella was from Argentina, but had been in London long enough to sound British. I had a bit of a crush on Isabella.

Elaine looked tired. It was a school night. “Well, I’m heading back to the flat if you wanna come.”

“No,” I said. “I think I’ll stay for another drink.” In the hope that maybe I’d be able to walk Isabella home when the bar closed.

As Elaine left, the man from the bathroom emerged and took her stool. “So, what’s that like?” he asked.

“What?”

“Being circumcised.”

“I dunno. Fine.”

His eyes excreted an angry flame, like a solar flare, that was gone as quickly as it came. “Fine my ass. It’s bloody child abuse.”

I felt a little ashamed. “Well, I didn’t do it to myself.”

“Damn good thing. I’d a kicked yer ass if ya had.”

I nodded.

Isabella smiled from behind the bar. I wondered what her feelings on the subject were.

“You know it steals the sensation.” He pointed towards his own crotch.

“It’s been alright for me. Sex, I mean,” I said loud enough to be heard by both the bar’s patron and tender.

Now he smiled. “That’s cause you haven’t tried it with my cock.”

Another nod.

Another smile from Isabella

At that point a six foot blond Asian with a waist as thick as a pipe cleaner and roughly head-sized fake breasts threw in her two cents. “I don’t give a damn if it’s snipped or it isn’t as long as there’s coke on the tip of it.”

“Well, that’s just filthy, doll,” said the man as he put his arm around the small of her back.

The woman made a gesture as if sniffing coke from the tip of a handheld phallus, and the man and I exhaled long-lost breaths from the deepest places in our diaphragms, united in some primordial frustration that can only be tapped by the mimicry of sex acts.

Isabella was closing the bar, but it seemed that the man and a few others, including the Amazonian Asian Brit, and myself would be allowed to stay.

He ordered drinks for everyone. Shots of whiskey and pints. “You a musician mate?”

“Not professionally.” I took the drinks he offered. “You?”

“I play a bit.” He sipped thoughtfully. “Where you from?”

“Chicago.”

His head tilted like a puppy that hasn’t completely grasped that human speech will always be unintelligible. “Is that the one with all the buildings and whatnot?”

I decided to go along. “Ummmm… yeah.”

“I think my band played there.”

“What’s your band called?”

“The Darkness.”

I nodded.

Two hours later, we were still talking foreskin. I’m not sure where he obtained his stores of knowledge on the subject, or even if the facts he was spouting were accurate. There was a world out there, conspiratorial without a doubt, but frighteningly feasible, in which every human peril was symbolized in this one little snip of the scissors: Global warming, Ebay, the Iraq invasion, Mel Gibson… I can’t for the life of me remember how, but it all came together, ever so briefly, that night only, in the act of circumcision.

The giant Asian woman was now sitting in his lap, which made for the impression of a greyhound sitting in the lap of a pug. He continued to explain it all. I continued to absorb.

Finally, Isabella said it was time to go, and we all ushered ourselves under the metal shutter and stood their beneath sharp pellets of rain on the cold London street.

He lingered like a little kid under a tree, protected from the rain by the arching branch of the giant Asian’s arm. “Come back to our place for a drink?”

I was tempted, but thought better. “I gotta get back, man.”

“Make it worth your while.”

I couldn’t even begin to imagine exactly what his making it worth my while would entail, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t up for it.

Isabella and I stood in the rain and watched them walk off.

“Who the hell is the Darkness?” I asked her.

She sang in her highest pitched voice, “I believe in a thing called love.”

“Weird…”

“Yeah…”

I thought I might want to touch her hand, but I didn’t.





Marketocracy

By Ryan Day

Essay

Unfortunately, I am in no position to refuse $75 for an hour of my time no matter what the the contents of that hour. They could have asked me to drink six bottles of catsup (ketchup?). They could have asked me to have tea with Glen Beck and soothe his uniquely bruised ego with prefabricated whispers about the peaceful forces at the center of the conservative universe (you are a child of the marketplace… the invisible hand will always lead you towards the light of the DOW…). I would have mowed lawns, bagged leaves (though I imagine the going rate of yard maintenance is somewhat lower), run backwards into the weird smelling basin at the end of the Salt River. But, alas, all they wanted was that I watch some movie trailers and tell them, no matter what I really thought, that the Rock was just the actor to breathe renewed life into that excalibur of cinematic roles, the Tooth Fairy.

I got to the industrial park fifteen minutes early and drove, as the instructions dictated, to the Southwest corner. There were others milling about the door aimlessly all with the same green sheet of paper that I had been given.

“You here for the market testing?” Asked a man in an LSU football jersey.

“Yeah.” Answered a girl with a nose ring that seemed misplaced by a few centimeters.

“How we get in?”

“Dunno.”

That static sort of quiet that accompanies strangers in a crowd ensued until finally, LSU man broke it with a loud exhale that was clearly meant to be communicative of a desire to communicate. His lips fluttered from the force of the air he’d pushed out.

“Geez, breathe much?” Said a middle aged woman clinging to her purse as if she’d just cleaned out her bank account and accidently stumbled onto the yard of a maximum security prison. She giggled, indicating that what had seemed like a rude comment had really been intended as playful banter.

“Sorry. Deviated septum.” Said the LSU man.

“I dreamed I was eaten by a crocodile last night,” said the purse clinging lady. “But, I guess that’s not the same.”

LSU man smiled, nodded and waited exactly long enough to seem as though he had made the decision to move away from her subsequent and unrelated to the comment.

Just then another man, a teen really, wearing a fedora and All Stars, approached nervous purse clinging lady. “I dreamed the supermarket was out of clam chowder.”

I switched my attention to another conversation which was midstream. “… Mormon.” This would be good.

“So how many heavens are there, like, for you all?” It was nose ring girl talking to a mormon in a Linkin Park shirt.

“A lot. I dunno exactly like, but a lot.”

“Don’t you, like, believe in other planets and stuff?”

Mars, Venus, Saturn all those fictitious orbs.

“No.”

Just a bunch of average Americans going to rate movie trailers.

The door opened and we were ushered in, given name tags and assigned tables in rooms with two way mirrors, white boards and conference tables. There were pictures of a Phoenix past on the wall. City Hall 1888. It was wrapped in a bow leading me to believe this was some sort of inaugural. There were carriages parked out front. The streets were otherwise mostly empty. Just this one municipal building asserting itself in the center of this arid expansion of sand and brittle fauna that we call desert.

It reminded me of the violence that is involved in creating a shaped something from an amoebic nothing. Forgive my blatant Eurocentrism here (I am, emphatically, aware that there was not ‘nothing’ here), but I am speaking of perceptions, and for the European consciousness (which could be thought of as a lack of consciousness) this motion westward was involved in creating and defining an area that had not existed, almost like making a movie, or painting. Of course, they were painting over someone else’s painting, and painting in Neons that clashed with landscape instead of the more appropriate pallet of their predecessors.

There was a sandwich tray. Nose ring girl quickly folded two slices of square ham, two cherry tomatoes and a Kraft single freed from its cellophane wallet into a Miracle Whip slathered slice of Wonder Bread, and then just as quickly folded all of that into her mouth never ceasing her conversation with the Mormon.

“So, how do you get into the best heaven?” She asked him, her voice muffled by the mass of partially chewed sandwich.

He cringed just a little, but seemed to gauge that this mortal soul related info was more important than his own offended sense of etiquette. “Well, I dunno exactly, but I know you have to be Mormon.”

She stopped mid chew to frown, and her shoulders sagged. “Balls.”

Then our leader, Jan as her name tag indicated, arrived. She asked us to name our favorite comedians: Farell, Sandler, Rogan, Carey, Gervais, Carell, Black, Gallafenekis, Rock… The list went on and was no more or less surprising than you might expect.

We were asked why we thought one was funny and another not… A question that I imagine as more the grounds of philosophers than market researchers.

The point here, I guess, is that this exploration into the why is in itself so cynical, so scientific, so disgustingly clinical, that by the end of the session I had a hard time thinking of any of them as funny. Funny is spontaneous. Funny is the incorruptable corrupt at the center of a humans anarchisticly oriented wildly giggling self.

And the saddest thing: this is a moment indicative of our compulsion to capitalize every last tendril of our giggly human innards.

Funny is putting a big stone building in the middle of the desert, tying a bow around it, claiming that you have somehow carved this space from the meaty mass of reality into the tasty steak of a cultured locale, and convincing people to gather around it. Just look at all the sweaty Phoenicians on a 93 degree November afternoon, walking through one of a thousand recently converted ‘lifestyle centers’, long tracks of spritzers running along the facades of stores, keeping people from panting like dogs as they gait along the window lined corridor as if storefronts were fire hydrants.

That gives me an interesting new concept for debit.

So, myself, purse clinging lady, nose ring girl, LSU fan man, Mormon boy and a few unexceptional others sat around a table and ventured to carve out a theory of humor that could help these people better sell Adam Sandler’s newest excretion of reductive homophobia (Chuck and Larry anyone?).

I kept thinking of the weird Mormon heaven hierarchy, which I have not researched and know nothing about. I wondered if it would be better than Phoenix. Salt Lake City is not such a great place and if it is at all indicative of the Mormon architectural imagination, which could really in some pre-symbolic way be based in nothing but their conception of paradise, then it would probably have pretty crappy transit and be generally unfriendly to the pedestrian.

Jan shook me from my contemplation. “Mr. Day, would you find a film about the Tooth Fairy more or less attractive because it starred the Rock?”

“…Ummmm. I think I would probably scrap the film and invest in public transit.”

“Excuse…”

“Less. I would be less interested.”

I took my $75, multiplied it by 12, the number of people in my group, then by 5 the number of groups that day, then by 14, the number of days this research would be conducted to arrive at the conclusion that I haven’t done math since my Freshman year in college. Nonetheless, I was convinced that whatever number I would have calculated would have disgusted me.

Driving home past downtown Phoenix I didn’t see the lonely City Hall building from the photo. I saw the arching metal beams of a modern stadium, the glossy black windows of high rises, the crawling chrome worm that is Phoenix’s first line in a new rapid transit system, people sitting in front of cafes and bars the walls of which were lined with local artwork.

I thought about how we are still in control of these communities, these ’somethings’ that we are carving from ‘nothings’, from deserts, forests, plains, mountains…

If only someone would have offered us $75 to talk about about that.

So, he dropped me off at the edge of this mountainy type geological formation that was covered in forest. I was glad to be dropped off. The 40 minute drive out to this seemingly random point had been filled with little bubblets of conversation like:

“That’s when I knew that Jeremy was a total psycopath and there was no choice but to pull the trigger. Him or me. Feel that?” He offered his finger for me to examine tactilely. I was assuming it was his trigger finger. There was a nodule. “Got caught in the trigger mechanism. Saved his life. Lucky, huh?”

Uh huh.

Then there was the moment when he busted off the cuff into an acapella rendition of the prayer of serenity set to the tune of ‘Uptown Girl’. Don’t try it yourself. The rhythm doesn’t fit and there’s really no explaining the oral acrobatics it took for him to ‘make it work’.

Worst of all, I was headed, do to novel worthy circumstances that I ain’t about to try and shove into an abbreviated post, somewhere that I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be heading, to a Rainbow gathering.

The short of it was I was stuck in Indiana with no money and needed to get to Memphis. Someone told me that this would be the best place to procure a free ride.

He offered me once more to hit the bong which I’d already thrice refused, the bong which I’d displaced by riding shotgun. I refused it for a fourth time, nodded my thanks and headed up the mountain trail. It was near dark and darkening. I was following the sound of a drum which I assumed made up part of a circle. A drum circle at a Rainbow gathering. Jesus save me.

And oddly enough, that’s just what happened. If bowled over can be considered saved.

A man, whose name I was later to learn was Jesus, a hippy from El Salvador, came running full-throttle down the dark hill and plowed into me from behind, causing me to trip and plunge my head into a little baptismal puddle. Amen.

“Oh, man…” He said, laughing. “Sorry, dude. Puta.”

I got up slowly and wiped the mud from my forehead.

He was in his mid thirties, long hair in a pony tail, beer-bodied, but not fat. He offered his hand. “Jesus.”

Which I shook. “Ryan.”

He led me down to the drum circle, in front of which I tried not to cringe visibly, and introduced me. There was Bazzle, a heavily tattooed ex-con in his Fifties who informed me that he would be on ‘flapjack duty’ come morning, Rake, a very, possibly too, young-ish girl with incredibly pink hair and Chris, who did very little in the way of distinguishing himself which sort of made him stand out. There were others, ten or fifteen, but I don’t remember them beyond as an amorphous populous meandering at the periphery, emitting the occasional howl, or tossing a loose log on the fire.

We stayed up late, deeply involved in fireside conversations about the failure of material possessions to provide meaning, the allure of the road, the entrapments of monogamy, work, technology and all sorts of other awesome hippy metaphysicals, which in truth found me fully engrossed and considering a massive investment in hemp products.

They told me I was lucky to have found them. Bazzle said that he was like a talisman who brought fortune to peoples lives.

I woke up in the morning with a spider on my face. I screamed and swatted at my own nose long after I was sure the beast had been banished. It was then that I realized how quiet it was. How alone I was. How gone all the people that had been there last night were. How gone my wallet and bag were. And I walked to the road hoping there would be something a little better this side of the rainbow.

Bio-Baby Daddy?

By Ryan Day

Humor

I was sitting on a patio watching a lightning storm over the mountains that linger at every edge of the valley when a couple of girls walked up to my table.

“Are you having a good night?” the tall one screamed into my ear, startling me into spilling a little beer on my pants. There was an athletic grey rabbit tattooed on her neck.

“No!” I screamed in return.

“Why not?” she screamed back, disappointed.

“Cause it’s hot as hell and everyone in this town’s brains seem to have melted!”

She tilted her head sideways like a puppy in an earnest attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible. Now she spoke in a normal tone. “Do you ever just wanna dance like a hippie?”

“No!”

The two girls sat down in a chair at my table, a table at which I had been happily sitting alone watching my lightning storm, and started kissing loudly. This was not a fantasy moment. This was the way that genie’s get revenge when people rub their bottles and request fantasy moments. All the elements were there, the promise legalistically fulfilled, but wrapped in something unsavory, like a birthday cake with kelp frosting.

I sipped my beer and tried not to listen to the sound of lips smacking together. Out of the corner of a kiss the tall one squeezed, “What’s your name?”

“Ryan,” I answered honestly for some reason.

“I like your flannel.”

I was wearing a T-shirt.

“Are you having a great night?” She was screaming again. This time at a table full of men next to mine.

The men at the table shifted awkwardly into positions from which they could avoid eye contact. The girl from the upper portion of the lap-sitting arrangement took this as an invitation and moved to their table.

I was left with the shorter, spikier girl, who had as of yet not spoken.

“I love that girl,” she said. “She my baby mama.”

I nodded.

“I just can’t be with one woman though.” She looked to me for validation, which technically I could give because there was one woman I had been trying to be with for months, and I couldn’t because she wouldn’t let me. Not really a monogamy issue, but lexically I slid into the truth zone.

I nodded.

“Lots of me to go round, dig?”

I sized her up because it seemed like she was asking me to, but then I was immediately self-conscious about it and returned to nodding, which seems to be an ever effective conversation with oppressive strangers technique.

“We used to be married, but shit, you know women.” She shook her head.

I shook mine. I was unsure if I did in fact ‘know women’, but it seemed like a moment for commiseration.

I realized I was contributing too little to this conversation and that if I wasn’t going to leave I should think of something, anything, to say.

I should back up here and explain that I was on the lookout, and these two were fitting the bill. Earlier in the day I’d spoken to a good friend who works for a certain Jerry Springer and had mentioned that there was a not unsubstantial finders fee for tip-offs for good segment material. I sensed that I may be staring some ‘A’ material, as they say in the industry, right in the glow-in-the-dark nose ring. I had asked how exactly to approach people when angling to lure them to expose their not insignificant vulnerabilities to a national audience.

“Just offer them smokes. Everyone wants to be exploited and most of these Springer types smoke.” Spoken like a true prison guard.

I questioned his ‘everyone wants to be exploited’ logic, but I nonetheless forged ahead.

I opened the pack on the table and offered it towards the short spiky haired glow in the dark nose ring girl. She accepted. Hooked.

She lit the cigarette. “Plus, she’s back with Tommy. Bitch.”

I could already see them clawing at each other’s metal adorned appendages from either side of the formidable Tommy, upturned chairs surrounding them, whoever replaced Steve Wilkos sauntering slowly to the rescue.

“Tommy’s the bio-baby daddy, but he was just supposed to be the donor. Now they’re all like in love or some shit.” She pronounced that last stretch in a kindergartner’s oooo-that’s-icky voice. She took another smoke from the pack.

I was seeing a limited number of dollar signs flash in slow motion before my increasingly intoxicated eyes.

“So…” I went in gently. “…Have you ever been to New York?”

“Fuck New York.”

“Statue of liberty…” my confidence waned, voice trailed at the sight of her disgusted stare. “…Time Square, Brooklyn Dodgers…” Wait that’s not right. I’m not a baseball fan.

“Ain’t no liberty in this fascist shithole.”

I wasn’t sure if she meant America or Phoenix (the great Maricopa county sheriff Arpaio always makes for good local fascism references). I needed a new approach and I went with direct. “I got a buddy who works for Springer and I think they’d like your story. Free…”

The sound of the slap registered before the sting, which was quickly cooled by a Miller Lite applied as a projectile.

She was gone before I knew what happened.

She took the smokes.

It turns out not everybody wants to be exploited, but yes, most of these Springer types do like cigs.

One thing that makes me sad about the prospect of one day not  living in China: nothing will ever seem weird again. I’ve spent so many of my favorite Sundays walking about, having dispensed to me, by my companions of necessity, such Midwestern subsidized corn kernels of observation as “holy shit-troopers!” upon the sight of a Chinese abortion ad that describes the process as, ‘seven minutes in a dream,’ or the strange pronunciation of, “Look at them’ens!” when the rare and lone Shantou punk rocker presents himself, or even just hearing it stated plainly, “That’s weird, like R. Simmons weird!” when the old man makes the finger of one hand in the hole of the other gesture everytime we pass. I’m not sure who he’s trying to sell us, though I’m hopeful it is not himself.

I am all but certain that China has been the apex of my favorite pastime: walking around and listening to the loosely tethered ramblings of the hungover and displaced that spring up in the tired and unguarded mind of the expat suffering from his or her own self-inflicted wounds. One day I will miss my Sundays in Shantou.

The veneer of caution, regulation, accuracy and concern for health and safety, that covers up the utter disreguard for the individual in the face of profit, makes the United States not only a hypocritical country, but more importantly, a decidedly less exciting place to take a foggy Sunday stroll. The raw honesty of Shantou, a city with little veneer, sets an apt stage for the wonderings of a mind stripped to its most basic function: noticing stuff.

For instance, to find Nazi themed porn in America, one may have to do an internet search, or go to a specialty store, where one would suffer embarrassment upon making such a request. And seeing as one’s desire for such a product (if such a desire exists) is mostly based on the shock arising from the arbitrary discovery that such a medium exists, seeking it out would diminish the thrill. In China, these things find you.

I didn’t even know Grand Theft Auto 12 existed, or Rambo 5 starring Kevin Kostner, and though I saw them both on my Sunday stroll, I’m still almost 100 % certain that they do not exist. China poses these sorts of challenges to phenomenolgy on a daily basis. Does the experience of a thing make it real? If so, Kevin Kostner is owed some serious royalties, and our current generation of delinquents should be about 7 editions better educated in car thievery.

In the US, no one ever insists upon making me a suit, especially not one with my name sewed neatly on the breast pocket combining jet set style with just a touch of grease monkey down-to-earthiness, and even if they did I wouldn’t be able to afford it. No such problems in these parts. I have two such suits and I didn’t even skip a meal.

In the US, no one ever asks me if I can use a fork, especially not while I’m using one. And if they did ask, they wouldn’t laugh hysterically for a minimum of twenty uninterrupted seconds upon hearing the answer, yes. Yet, in China, on a weekly basis I am confronted with the Chopstick conundrum: You are in front of me and eating with chopsticks, yet you’re white so that fact is impossible. These are the sources of the tares in the space time continuum Doc Brown warned us about.

Creative evasion of copyright infringement that may or may not just be bad translating provides a constant source of amusement. Watch the digression of this Chinese wine brand into the lesser form of its imitators: Great Wall, Grape Wall, Great Will, Greet well, Greek Welts, Grit Wilp… all fine products might I add.

Or the wonderful tobacco shop across the street: Pipesmoker.

Or the Jazz Classical Steak Museum, which is of course, a sushi restaurant.

Or the regular sight of a family of five, from infant daughter to grandpa, travelling on one motor-scooter.

There’s the constant joy of poor translation, but I don’t want to sink into that territory in written form. I do chuckle, but I feel guilty about it, plus there are whole websites dedicated to the perils of Chinglish, so I’ll leave you to seek elsewhere.

I’m talking about the mind boggling visions that you bring home from walking about the streets, and I’ll leave you with two that I saw today.

First, I saw a man trying to push a wheel barrow brimming with bricks onto the back of a semi, using a 2X4 as a ramp. He took a running start. There was a crowd of onlookers including myself, but nobody said, “Excuse me, sir, have you taken the laws of physics, or even those of Murphey, into consideration during the planning phase of this operation?” The result was as expected, but it was followed with laughter and a defeated cigarette break rather than anything somber or angry.

Second, a man in a business suit (without embroidered name) but no shoes, was holding three strings in his hand. Naturally, my eyes followed the strings to their ends, where they were tied to the fangs of three rats in such a way that forced them to appear as though they were smiling like fat little kites that would never become airborne.

I asked if I could take his picture, but was heartily denied.

All of this can be taken to signify the craziness of China, but I rather take it to signify the caution gone awry of the US. Who’s afraid of a little competition? Why not let MecDoneld’s enter the market? Or Nake? Or Adedas? Or Koppa? Why not save a little money on these fancy ramps, seat belts, accurate translations? Why not let Kevin Kostner be Rambo for a change? All this brand loyalty and perceived caution is allowing us to live in a fantasy, while in reality we are being recklessly hurled towards a cliff by the profiteers of our loyalty and the writers of the tenants of our false caution (a hardy yarl for all the pirates about us).

Ultimately, and most importantly, China is just way more fun to walk around on a Sunday afternoon. Who wants to live in a land where everything is spelled right, and people wouldn’t dream of tying strings to the teeth of a rat? On the off chance rats do well on leashes, who will find out first, the person who tied the string to his fangs, or the person who shut down the best burrito restaurant in the neighborhood because one was spotted?

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.

“Not yet.”