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During That Meeting Regarding Neverland

October 13, 2016


While you were sitting in that Saturday meeting for the both of us, the one with the adults oscillating between stress and delight of how to make theatrical Neverland over plenty of language and cultural hurdles, I wandered in the bright noon sun.

I’d gotten the day off to adventure.  I went to the Beijing South train station and handed the ticket agent my note written in magical code.  The next train wasn’t for four hours.  I hit internet stumbling blocks at Chinese Starbucks.  So I enjoyed the classical music with my book, but then went wandering.

I realized suddenly in the bright fall day, that for all my little depression about being here and isolated, all I needed was a good, aimless walk.  I walked along the vast and blank boulevards, highways, taxi stands and security entrances that surround transportation hubs.  I memorized the roadsigns when I turned and took the sidewalk below the overpass. I aimed towards pedestrians and found a dusty Chinese-French bakery.  I got a wifi network with the business’s Mandarin characters and pilfered enough internet to get your messages about the meeting (descending into minutiae by that point) and to let my host in Nanjing know when I was due to arrive.

A childlike man came up to me, perhaps a teenager that the village took care of as he wandered the streets.  He tried his language on me, and when he came up short he scooched in next to me on the small, outdoor step I’d settled on.  We exchanged some hand gestures, particularly a pinkie-finger pointing down that is still a mystery to me.  I had my phone out.  He pointed to the back wanting to see its tag, saw the “S” and said it was a 5.  Proud that I knew my numbers, I tried to explain that it was a 6S and the difference between a 5 and an S.  His hands were worn, his fingers and nails bruised. I unlocked the phone and handed it to him, somehow figuring that the things were made here so maybe he had more of a right to know about it than I did.  As he fiddled with it, he handed me his grubby water bottle as an offering with no guilt. I took a sip and realized I’d just had my first hard drink of the day.  He opened the app with the panda icon and we did a couple of beginner Chinese exercises together.  That was not engaging for long and he handed the phone back.

We sat, and I felt relief that I had nowhere to be, nor reason to pretend.  I thought, oh that we could have the patience and openness of the bum, a big, present heart.

He pointed to my phone then gestured like headphones.  I opened my music app and played near the top of the alphabet.  I showed him where the speakers were.  He held them up to his ear and started ingesting the rock beats of A.C. Newman with firm, full-arm points into space and emphatic, sporadic head shakes.  I enjoyed his curiosity trance, then suggested something new.  Ahmad Jamal held no interest and got a “mayo” (“no”).  I put on Akron Family and the tribal beginning had him serious and smiling again, until he got up and got me up and we were dancing on the street, kicking the air erratically like a late night in college.  Some spectator walked up and I didn’t give them much heed.  We had a bit of abandon-over-language-barriers there.  Maybe the audience presence made me choose a bit more fully that I did need to get back to the station to be sure I wasn’t late for my train.  So I coaxed the dance to an end and got my phone back.

My partner asked for 5…yuan it was clear.  We all want something, I was reminded.  I turned my shoulder a bit to mask my wad of traveling hundreds – suspicious they made me vulnerable or mean, and got him five.  I realized quickly that was almost certainly the cost of his next drink.  So maybe I killed him, but if we’d been in a bar I would have done the same.  The spectator was a smiling cop who seemed familiar with my partner and didn’t step in to me at all, but stepped closer.  My partners well-glazed eyes got lost again in the mundanity of the day.  I bid them farewell.

Oh that we could all have the openness of a bum, and perhaps the judgement of the sober.

Something like that, I thought as I retraced my path to the station.

I made it to Nanjing and played with a toddler who walked straight up to me upon arrival at my friends’ home.  After the child was asleep, the grownups all drank, including something potent enough to be in that grubby bottle.

More aimless walks please.

Glad we’re sharing this wondrous, strange trip together.




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