There is a boy, ten or twelve years old, who plays a stringed instrument. It only has one string, and I should know its name by now. He is blind, and has a cleft palate, and does not play well. He sits off to one side of an open walkway that leads over a major avenue to a supermarket, and plays as well as he can, and moans quietly, more or less in tune. People put their spare change in the hat sitting in front of him, or they do not. Most do not. The wind pours around him, and he sways, slightly. Soon it will be very cold here. I hope he will move to somewhere warmer, with more generous people.
This week I am smoking Golden Crocodile cigarettes. They are okay.
My toddler daughter is running out of clothes, and so am I: she spent all morning vomiting, then she spent all afternoon and evening drinking warm soda and watching her favorite movies. Because I let her watch all the movies she wanted, and drink all the warm soda she wanted, by her lights today was a good day.
My toddler son is always happy. Where does he get that?
My wife and I are the star students of our Chinese class because no one else goes regularly. I still know nothing, except that the local accent makes Beijing natives sound like angry Swedes. (I would not say that if I knew anything about Swedish, I am sure.) The grammar is Tarzan-simple, and I am grateful. As with any new language there are vocabulary issues that make you smile, and the ones we have learned recently relate to dairy products: ‘butter’ is ‘yellow oil,’ ‘yogurt’ is ‘sour milk.’ And the tones: the tones are marvelous and maddening. On one hand, it is a system of genius, a four-fold multiplication of possible meanings. On the other hand, in English our intonation of course rises at the end of questions; now, try unlearning this. You must unlearn it. You have no choice. If you do not unlearn it, if instead your intonation rises, you have just changed the last word of most of your questions to either a meaningless sound or another word entirely.
In Peru there is a tribe that speaks only in whispers, even when they sing “Happy Birthday.” I have had many opportunities to ask why—when visiting the tribe itself, and later when visiting or drinking with anthropologists—but keep forgetting. Someday I will remember to ask.
Chinese toddlers generally do not wear diapers. Instead they wear shorts with slits down the back, and do their business wherever they happen to be when business needs doing. I am trying to be open-minded about this. It is not easy.
Because the owner of our current apartment performed extensive unauthorized defective remodeling on the apartment right before we moved in (she rearranged the plumbing, and now toilets and sinks and radiators work only occasionally; she replaced the flooring, and forgot to include insulation, so sound travels far too perfectly between us and our downstairs neighbor) we are looking for a new apartment. My daughter and I go from listing to listing, and smile at the owners, and nod thoughtfully at the furnishings. One apartment had plate glass instead of a wall between the kitchen and the living room, as if what happened in the process of washing dishes was somehow aesthetically essential. One had wallpaper everywhere, even on the ceilings, as if some things should always be covered. One had a dozen stomped cockroaches on the kitchen floor, as if the dead should be left in peace. And one had blocks of opaque shower glass set in the living room wall, dozens of them, brick-like and vaguely blue, showing through to nothing, as if… as if what? I have no idea. I nodded and smiled. I admired the curtains. I said that I would be in touch, but the truth is that I will not, not ever. Then my daughter and I went outside and she played on the swings and I sat on a cement bench and smoked a Golden Crocodile. If my daughter had not been present I would have beat my head against the cement until I had spattered it with red. Instead I watched her swing, and get down from the swing, and pick something up. She brought it over and gave it to me. It was a very nice leaf. Then she went back to the swing. I hold out the hope that there is an apartment into which I will walk, and I will know instantly: this is our home. It is a stupid hope, but it is what I have for now.