That’s what America had turned him into, a hungry ghost.
Damn this crazy country! It was a love-hate relationship. Or as the Chinese say so magnificently 热脸贴冷屁股: hot face-cheek sticking to a cold ass-cheek. Why was America so damn nuts? So schizo? So bipolar?
On the one hand you had a supremely developed society with enormous resources to develop human potential and realize incredible and amazing works of technology and art, and on the other you had complete fucking morons who dared accuse the victims of a gun massacre of being at fault because they weren’t packing concealed weapons.
Only in America.
Hobbit burst in on Zen’s ruminations.
“I want you to watch this new show on Netflix!”
“I don’t have time.”
“You have time. You watch Dexter over and over. Dexter! Dexter! Dexter!”
“I do not! You know, Hobbit, shouldn’t you better occupy your time by reading up on Tennis Williams?”
“This is my relaxing time.”
“Seems to me you’re always on relaxing time. When are you gonna finish reading Streetcar Named Desire?”
“Shut up and watch this show. It’s very interesting but I hate one thing that makes me really hate it.”
“Then don’t watch it.”
“No, I have to watch it. You watch it. See if you agree. See, everyone is very rich. That’s not like real life living people. All the peoples can get money rich. Even the poor guy is in Africa. His mother is die of AIDS but then someone, someone, the rich drug dealer, even drug dealer is rich, he gives him a job and gives to him the expensive medicine to cure his mother. This is not like real living life.”
“Well, Hobbit, it’s a science fiction program.”
“But why they do that? Why can’t they show poor peoples like us who struggle to making even a few coins? Look at us. No money. Can’t even pay doctor to see us.”
“Hobbit, our lives are not that bad. We’re not working outside like the 瓦工, working with our hands in the heat and cold. Those poor people are working themselves to death for a pittance. We’re okay; we’re just not rich.”
“Still, I would like this show much better if they had some peoples with real life problems.”
“Look I agree with you. The writers are probably falling back on the old formula of presenting characters that the audience can wish they were. People would rather pretend they were a famous dashing sexy Mexican actor than a broken down teacher in some backwater city in far northern China.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“Look, you’re right; I’m not arguing. Obviously the average Indian woman does not fit this profile. But who wants to watch a show about an ol’ broken down toothless hag who has to scrub outhouses for a living? No one in America, that’s for sure. Americans don’t want to be reminded how much better off they are than the rest of the world. Outside of America there is still another 99% that most would prefer not to hear about.”
“Well, like YOU. EYE belong to the 99% in America. And as such I am now going to ignore your existence.”
Hobbit, muttering to herself, left Zen. Zen bent back to his task: American Drug War. How to end it? That was his problem. He didn’t have a good ending to his novel. Maybe because in real life there was no end in sight for the drug war he could not imagine an ending to his book. Perhaps if he could imagine one, then the real Drug War could also finally be terminated.
If Zen were honest with himself, he felt pessimistic about anything actually getting accomplished. The world was fucked.
It would continue to become overpopulated. Resources would become scarcer and scarcer. The masses would suffer first and suffer worst, but eventually the entire globe would become embroiled in one long massive struggle for food, water, and then air. None of the world’s governments could take that brave massive step towards a sustainable existence. There was as much chance of that happening as there was of aliens visiting the planet with world-saving technology. Or the Second Coming for that matter.
No, the world was firmly in the grip of first and foremost Big Business. Then Big Government. The two forces colluded in agreements that facilitated the accumulation of wealth for the few and only incidentally allowed a few benefits to trickle down to the starving, thirsty people. Every so often their financial bubbles burst and while the Wall Streets of the world scrambled to cover their collective asses, the common people suffered ruin, scarcity, hunger, pain and death. This cycle would continue over and over in a relentless spiraling gyre until there was nothing left to hoard and the dragons themselves choked to death on a planet full of gold and jewels but bereft of water and air.
That was the future for humankind.
Skype rang on his computer. Friends from Los Angeles, a sweet retired couple from Wisconsin calling. Although Zen wasn’t in the mood to talk to them, he welcomed the distraction.
They chatted desultorily and then Zen had shared his apocalyptic vision with them. It caused a small ruckus and feelings were hurt on both sides. The wife of his close friend came out very undiplomatically and told him that no one wanted to read about that ‘political pablum.’
“Pablum? Do you mean to say pabulum? Don’t hurt yourself with those five-dollar words. Been reading the dictionary have we now? Where’d you learn a word like that? Crossword puzzles, huh?”
“You ought to write about Chinese holidays and festivals like Dragon Boat Day. Isn’t that coming up?”
“The hell with Dragon Boat Festival! If you wanted to learn about it, you could just look it up on Wikipedia. I got bigger fish to fry.”
“And stop writing about your lovelife. It’s indecent and unseemly. Have a little self-respect.”
“Actually I don’t mind that part,” the husband laughed, his image freezing and unfreezing on the screen, “it’s whatchamacallit. Stimulating. Bout the only part I do like.”
“Writing about my love life? What the hell are you talking about? I don’t write about my personal life.”
Zen opened up his blog. He normally posted his political rants, but never bothered to actually look at the web page. Thus Zen discovered a curious fact.
Someone had hijacked his blog and had been posting information about him. HIS blog was a rarefied articulate philosophical discussion on the socio-political differences between China and America. But someone had hacked his blog and was posting about Zen’s life. His blog was called ‘american citiZEN,’ with the letter zee-ee-ehn in all capitals. Some jackass had been writing diary-type excerpts about a middle-aged man living in far north Harbin, China teaching English. When Zen looked at it he was astounded. The verisimilitude was uncanny. Who was writing about him? Why? His life was so boring and undeserving of attention. At least of the public kind. But who could it be?
“I gotta go. Talk to you later. Bye.” He snapped closed the Skype window.
Zen’s paranoia kicked into overtime. Was the CCP cheesed off at his representations of real life behind the Great Firewall of China? Was the CIA angry that he wrote articles about their invisible fingers in the illicit drug trade? Pissed off DEA agents who didn’t like someone telling the truth about how pathetically redundant their jobs really were? Someone else who was just stealing his identity for some other nefarious purpose? Who? Who?
Zen was frazzled.
He spent the next hour and twenty minutes changing every single password, from AMEX to Zenni Optical. He notified his Astrill VPN service that someone had hacked his blog. He screamed at Hobbit that her country was full of larcenous hacking motherfucking bastards. She shut her door.
Zen paced in the living room. He needed to go into the green.
He grabbed the bow and arrows and the small target made of cardboard and old clothes. Anyway, he wasn’t getting any work done on his novel. Damn. It would never get finished.
(End of Dragon Boat Festival 2015)
Dragon Boat Festival 2016 (roughly one year from now)
Zen was hung upside down by his feet, his arms tied behind his back with thick coarse rope. He thought his head would explode from all of the blood rushing into his head. But it didn’t and he didn’t die. Nor did he feel much pain. Or rather he felt the pain but it didn’t bother him. The pain was there. Exquisite pain. Real pain inflicted upon him by his interrogators. Zen was in point of fact grateful to them.
He could feel—really feel—every blow, every laceration, every shock, every cut, every burn, everything they did to him. Hanging upside down in this concrete bunker, his mind spun off into memory, the pain was a catalyst for a surreal hippie-trippy journey down memory lane, into reverie and reminiscence. Hanging upside made him recall the film Batman directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. His mind was able to recall the entire plot, some scenes out of sequence, but he remembered much of the dialog and the music. The entire time he was upside down the movie scrolled behind his blindfolded eyes. It was bliss.
He had been rendered eighteen days before on his birthday. He was on his way back from China to visit Hobbit and her son in Austin. His passport set off a mute clandestine signal in a room filled with computers and pale young men, soft hands unused to work, typing quickly and quietly into all hours of the night. One of the men sent an instant message to another man, equally young, but whose hands were rough and calloused, whose arms and legs were like iron, and whose compassion had been stunted by years of training in one of America’s special schools. Soon, a team of his peers descended on Zen in the San Francisco international airport.
The men were very polite and very professional. And very discreet.
One very striking woman approached Zen and distracted him, while two others closed on him from the sides and administered a tiny pinprick on the back of his hand. In seconds, befuddled, dizzy, nauseous, Zen allowed himself to be led out of the airport customs hall and into another quiet room. Someone else collected his luggage and passed through the final security checks.
Zen was gone.
No trace of his having ever been there, cameras scrubbed, vanished as perfectly and as completely as any desaparecido in Mexico or Argentina.
When he woke, into complete and utter darkness, on a freezing cold concrete floor, his dedicated team beat him roundly. They left his hands free. Zen stumbled in the blackness. He strove to fight back, his martial arts training kicking into high gear, but it was of no avail. The younger, faster, more powerful men and women of his interrogation team were equipped with night vision and electric batons. They laughed at his pathetic attempts at self-defense.
He was beaten. He yelled in rage at them and fought back, swinging, kicking, trying to grab his shadowy assailants in the pitch-black. He could not. He was beaten very carefully. Slowly his will ebbed, his strength faded, his ire seeped from his broken bleeding body. He cried in fear, in frustration, in anger. They left him sobbing on the cold concrete floor. During the whole time, no one uttered a sound except for cruel barking laughter.
Zen was kept in complete darkness in a sound proof room. He was given no food and no water. Thirsty, he licked the moisture from the walls. And every day at no certain appointed time, he was beaten. He was beaten very methodically. Waiting until his breath slowed and he had entered a troubled sleep, his interrogators entered the seamless room and pounced on him. They inflicted pain, but left no permanent damage. They were nothing if not consummate and practiced professionals. They knew where to hit him and with how much force. After all, they had a team of ivy-league scientists who had calculated every single ATP molecule, every last joule of energy, every possible psychic contingent, and could predict with unnerving accuracy when Zen’s mind would snap from this phase of his treatment. Until then, Zen had to endure.
Hanging upside in the utter darkness, he heard someone enter the concrete chamber. Zen stiffened reflexively, expecting the blows to fall any second.
“Zen,” a rough, bass voice called from the dark.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me. Batman.”
“Michael Keaton Batman?”
“Michael Keaton Batman.”
“You have to escape from here.”
“I know. But I don’t know how.”
“Your arms are free. Reach up and free your legs.”
“I can’t. I feel so weak, so tired.”
“You can do it. You have to.”
“Can’t you help me? I mean, you’re THE Batman. Shit. You’d think you’d use a Bat-torch or something and cut these chains off me.”
“You’re thinking of another Batman Zen.”
“Hmm. Yeah. Adam West Batman. Sure could use that Bat-torch right about now.”
“This is something you have to do yourself.”
“Why? Why do I have to do this myself? Why can’t you help me? I’m fucking hangin’ upside down in the dark! Getting’ beaten to death by-by-by a bunch of motherfuckin’ psychos!”
“No. You did this to yourself and you have to get yourself out.”
“Why? Why can’t you help?”
“Two reasons, Zen. It won’t do you any good if I help. That’s one thing. It will happen again. You have to free yourself.”
“What’s-what’s the other reason?”
“I don’t really exist.”
Oh. Well, there is that.”
(End of Prolepsis)