I have lately become convinced that the universe will end neither with a whimper nor with a bang, but with a totally different sound that is kind of hard to describe. Also, this morning it took me a long time to get my socks on. It required great effort. By the end of the process, I was sweating. This is how I know summer is here.
And while I realize that it is structurally uninteresting of me to send consecutive interview-based dispatches, the following one has at least the advantage of brevity, and also the other advantage of being between two real persons, as well as the still other advantage of having actually occurred:
REIGNING MISS CHINA: Hi!
ME: Nice to meet you!
RMC: (Doesn’t respond, moves off to find someone taller to talk to.)
ME: (to my wife) Well, that went well.
MY WIFE: (Doesn’t respond, moves off to find someone taller to talk to.)
ME: I do believe that although it is only 11 o’clock in the morning, I will now hie mine own self to the bar for some vodka.
OTHER 40 PEOPLE AT RECEPTION: (Don’t respond.)
When read aloud, the four Chinese characters of my name—and I speak here not of any actual Chinese name I might have chosen so as to encourage myself to form a partial alternate personality for the moments when I am reading or writing or speaking or hearing Chinese, though I have been told that, language-learning-wise, this is a good idea, a healthy and useful self-deception—give a pleasant enough transliteration of my given English name: Luo Yi Kai Xi. However, if I understood correctly, that one night on the train long ago (and of course I refer to the night when the dining-car attendant demanded that my wife and I either order some of her horrible and horribly expensive food or leave immediately so as to cease using space that true patrons would soon be needing, and I said, “In that case, I’ll have a Coke,” and she would not bring me one, said that instead I should wait in my compartment and order one from a passing trolley, and I turned to gaze about me and saw that the dining car was less than half full, and I turned back to the attendant and said, “Actually, no, we’ll be staying,” and she shrieked at us—actual shriekage—and I am afraid that, in return, the two of us also became rather loud, and at that point a kindly young Chinese man said that we were welcome to join him at his table, to “share” his “dinner,” and after several minutes more of shrieking on the part of the woman and loudness on our part and quiet reasonableness on the part of the young man, the woman said that we would be allowed to sit at our new acquaintance’s table only until he put his last bite of food into his mouth), translating each of the four characters as if they were single words gives a transsignification of my name that I like far more, and starting today, I shall be known to all as Fish-Trap To Be Supported By Victorious Soldier Returning West Toward Home.
Fish-trap, for short.
(A few minutes later my wife began to yawn, and got up, and went back to our compartment to sleep. The attendant triumphantly watched her go, and turned to me, waiting for me to rise, and I happily did not. The young man then explained why the main entrances to hutong courtyards are always in the southwest corner: because if they were anywhere else, evil would enter and stay, whereas if the entrance is to the southwest, evil enters and does a complete circle around the courtyard and is thereby converted into good. The logistics of the transformation were not terribly clear, but he assured me that the theory was sound, after which he placed his last bite of food into his mouth, and before he had even begun to chew, the dining car attendant leapt to our tableside. Her attentions made my acquaintance uncomfortable, and so we left, and I immediately returned, because no one throws me out of a dining car for no particularly good reason, and I sat there and glared at her and read defiantly for several minutes and then left again, because it is not easy to read, however defiantly, while glaring and being glared at, and I returned to our compartment, where a totally different young man was hiding under my wife’s bunk, though of course we did not find out about him for several more hours.)