Harbin Diary October 4, 2011

October 4, 2011         Tuesday

I am having difficulty recalling what happened Tuesday. Ah yes! I awoke as usual, perhaps a bit later than usual. I suppose I returned from MacDonald’s at some point and then Gabe, Abraham, and I found ourselves all three together and without Eve’s inestimable company. A dangerous situation. We were staring at the walls avoiding eye contact.

“Shall we have lunch?”

A chorus of agreement.

Hammy was very tired after we ate lunch so I suggested that we go to McDonald’s and get a cup of coffee. He was ok with that—just ok—but Gabe certainly wanted to go. When Eve—a female—is not around, Hammy becomes very depressed. He is not far from the branch of hominids that descended from the trees when food became scarce. The limbic mind of a male is grooved for only the simplest and most basic of drives. Dear Hammy is no exception. Accordingly, he lives to spread his achromatic tail feathers, shake his rotund ass in the red-lipped face of a female, rattle broken branches, and beat his sunken chest. Without a woman to impress, he paints a sad picture, as depressed as a punctured party balloon discarded in the gutter.

Gabe on the contrary experiences a bloom of intellectuality. Without Eve around, his mind is unfettered by the constraints of his libido: we begin to discuss art, culture, history, politics, books, and ideas—you name it. I feel a genuine love for this young man, a love as sincere as is my disgust of Hammy’s lowbrow Cro-Magnon mentality. Don’t misunderstand. I am Hammy’s brother and if he needed a kidney I would without hesitation give it to him, but I loathe, I abhor listening to his low class theatrics, his endless posturing. And honestly what rankles my heart most is how the diverse youngsters are all titillated by his antics. I find no humor in it. It is the silly hijinks of children. Hammy, the corpulent Mozart Comedian of the Barrio; I, the slumming Salieri, piffling, peeved, and pathetic. Now, without anyone to show off in front of and Gabe’s predilection to engage in topics that do not involve flatulence or curse words or Ebonics, Hammy seems crestfallen.

I try to bring him into the conversation, but his analysis is stuck in the sophomore year of high school; he has little to contribute when we discuss the sinister ulterior reasons that led the US to delay their entrance into the World War, even though England was reeling, France was occupied, and Russia was throwing everything including the samovar at Hitler’s Panzer divisions. As I have been reading Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, I shared with them the incredible analysis of the young Mailer on the reasons underpinning the Pacific Theater in which he fought. Moreover, his prognostications on the future direction of US foreign policy were chillingly accurate. TNaTD is truly a prophetic work, a powerful book that describes the actual conditions of combat in gripping detail and also lays bare the mentality of the military, probing the deeper ramifications of modern warfare on the individual as well as on the psyches and perhaps also the souls of the nations involved. It is not a Republican apologia on the economic benefits of war.

I cannot recall who had the idea, perhaps Hammy suggested it after Gabe’s historical tour of WWII, but we went to the Xue-fu Shu-cheng: the Xue-fu Book City or Book World. We ran to catch the bus. We jumped on the # 104 south to Hei-Da, riding the bus as if it were a boat crashing through the waves of a rough sea. Abraham had fallen behind and almost missed getting on even though Gabe was carrying his backpack. Yes, Gabe was carrying his backpack, as a man would do for a woman. Hammy has no concept of manliness despite his bluster and posturing. He was reluctant to go directly to Xue-fu because his backpack was too heavy. He wanted to go back to Eve’s and drop it off. I understand that Hammy is a fat slob, horrifically out of shape, but my God, have a little pride. Gabe offered to carry it for him. And Hammy said ok. He let Gabe carry his book bag for him, and Gabe being the angel that he is was only too happy to do so. It’s wrong. In this perhaps I am being a Cro-Magnon, but what galls me most is the discrepancy between reality and Hammy’s gangsta posturing, his bling-bling rattling, and his endless self-promotion based on the green-black ink wasted on his weak white flesh; the reality of his manhood is that it’s close to nil. Hammy has about as much of a hunter’s strength in him as does a newborn fawn. He has tons of talk, but nothing to back it up. And I despise hypocrisy.

They say that we despise most in others what we see in ourselves.

I have to remind myself that Hammy has a disease. I am not dealing with a healthy person. I must tamp down my anger and indignation and increase my compassion. After all, I brought him here to heal. I brought him here to make good on his talents as an educator. All else I must forgive. Or Eschew. Or forget. This is my challenge. This is my mandate where it concerns him.

Even unburdened by his pack, Hammy kept falling behind as we walked briskly down the street. Alone, he was an easy target and was trapped by one of the lunatics that roam free in China. This man—Hua Sheng (like the word for peanut)—claimed to be an English professor at Hei-Da, but he could not manage his cell phone with enough proficiency to be able to give us his phone number or input ours. I sized up the situation quickly and asked the man to exchange phone numbers with us. I used this ploy just to get rid of him, but Hammy did not understand and thought that I was trying to steal his new best friend. He began to jockey for position to exchange numbers, literally inserting his ponderous bulk between Mr. Peanut and me. Ridiculous. As Adam and I watched this terrible scene unfold, I winked at him. We were flabbergasted while Hammy and Mr. Hua Sheng tried to share cell numbers. Abraham did not get it that Mr. Peanut was a nutter. Poor man. There are many people like that in China who receive no treatment because of the stigma of mental illness. Perhaps they fail upwards.

We finally got rid of the mental patient and descended into the bowels of Xue-fu where we found a veritable treasure trove of goods for all and sundry. Hammy found actual pirated copies of Tyler Perry’s Madea films. I am not very familiar with this man, but according to Hammy he was a man who was homeless and perhaps an addict or alcoholic and somehow got a break to write a comedic play based on his experiences. It thrust him into the limelight and then he went on to make films and I think a TV series about his fictitious and bizarre family and the eponymous elderly black woman Madea. There is some social commentary mixed in with the African-American slapstick.

I searched for a proper organizer for Eve, something I had wanted to give her for some time because she is atrociously disorganized. I had some trouble making myself understood by the fuwuyuan. After diddling about with a few incompetent female workers, one sharp-minded young lady understood what I needed. It was brilliant. I also found art materials for Gabe: he got some decent sketching pencils. He also purchased a copy of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Anthony Burgess was the author of the book upon which infamous film was based.  It created a scandal at its viewing. The book was a brilliant work of art, and I thought too that the film was wonderful; I enjoyed it immensely, but Burgess was disgusted and indignant at the obvious pandering to the lowest common denominator. The protagonist was much too sympathetic and the sex scenes, which should have been horrific, were made to seem comedic, especially the rape of the middle school girl. They chose a woman who seemed in her early twenties, not middle teens. Moreover, the scene was shot in such a way as to suggest the antics of the Keystone Cops and not a horrific moment of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, which is what it was in the novel. I remember arguing with my English professor that Burgess had a decent case for being upset and subsequently disavowing the film. My professor argued that the film, following the narrative events almost exactly, was a faithful rendition of the novel, and that Burgess was merely being a difficult writer—suffering literary PMS, I think was how he phrased it. I vehemently disagreed. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that the American Edition was published without its last chapter, which hammered home the fact that the novel was not a glorification of sex and violence. The professor was an advocate of New Criticism, close reading of the text, disregarding authorial intent, etc., and he might have been partially correct, but one has to wonder: would the author have written a book that indeed placed such thuggish behavior on a pedestal when it was initially inspired by the vicious robbery/assault of his wife?

In addition to the organizer for Eve, I found a pair of serviceable nunchakus and a halfway decent soccer ball. Hammy also bought Eve a gift and I marveled at the irony and parallelism of our behaviors. It is as if we were suitors competing for her favors. Hammy made a preemptive phone call, priming the pump for his gift and telling her that he had found something special for her. I remained quiet. My gift was a selfish one: I wanted Eve to be more efficient so that the English teachers would not suffer so much from her lack of organizational skills; she would no doubt feel less stress when she adopted better work habits. Still, I realize that Hammy’s gift will bring smiles while my gift implies work.

Hammy and I are the two faces of Janus. My comedic talents are overshadowed by his foppish, puerile, and philistine jokes. The tragic, melancholic, and serious aspects of my character are thrown into vast relief and it is as if I never cracked a smile or made a jest. Hammy effectively makes mention that we should not talk about sad things or depressing things. In other words, anything of importance. Let’s not discuss the economic world crisis that stripped millions (including me) of a job while the CEO of Goldman Sachs collects billions in salary and bonuses; let’s ignore America’s endless war machine that murders hundreds of thousands of innocents; ignore China’s ruthless crackdown on Tibet; ignore Russia’s military buildup that can only result in bloody suppression and future world war; ignore the widening disparity between the rich and the poor; ignore the subjugation of women the world over; let’s all just eat, drink, and be merry! Ignore the dying, scrawny, suppurating child at our feet. It will die soon and we won’t have to look at it for much longer. We can put its corpse into the meat grinder and feed it to the mad cows.

Sorry. I get worked up. We went back to the apartment where Hammy gathered everyone for a viewing of Perry’s Madea.

I tried earnestly to get along and subjugated myself to Abraham’s beloved film. I tried earnestly to laugh a few times. I tried earnestly to suppress my boredom. But it was just stupid humor, the kind of thing that mentally defective troglodytes might find funny and cause to cackle like deranged crones. I noticed that I was not the only who found the film tiresome and irrelevant. Several of the English teachers got up and went out to the balcony to smoke cigarettes. They did not return quickly and lingered. I almost joined them, preferring to risk cancer than potential brain damage.

After the film was over, Gabe and I took the soccer ball out into the street and kicked it around for a good while. Our bodies heated up and we worked up a decent sweat, juggling, passing, kicking the ball. We finished up by heading the ball back and forth. It was good fun. Clean fun. It was exercise. I must apologize that I am not a profligate. Gabe, I think, had a good time, but he acts nervously around me, and I could almost see the physical relief in his thin body when we returned to the apartment. I suppose that, at the end of the day, I have to keep looking for my lost tribe. Maybe it’s the other way around: I am the lost one and seeking my tribe from whom I have been separated. For so many, many years.

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