Is it me causing all the ruckuses?
Is it me blowing down all the brick walls?
I went to the Centrifugal Theatre downtown because I wanted to watch a movie that made me spin. Halfway through the picture, an old black and white, the usher came up to me in his red uniform and monkey hat. He pointed his flashlight right in my face and inquired if I was a doctor.
“What kind of doctor are you looking for?” I asked.
“A doctor that can deliver a box of popcorn to that young lady right over there.” He nodded with his head and smiled. “Isn’t she just dreamy?”
“Why do you need a doctor for…”
And then I realized I was mixing reality with what was happening up on the movie screen. The usher was really telling me to get my feet off the seat in front of me. The movie scene had a guy buying popcorn for his date. It was a centrifugal mixing of the thoughts in and out of my head. Then I looked around the theatre and I was the only one there. Then the projector started acting up and the film became all tangled and warbled. I got up and walked out. It had been a decent piece of cinny up to that point though.
The next thing I did was walk out into the night air of Fortune Street and that made me think of fortune cookies and then I became incredibly hungry for some good Chinese food. So, I walked and walked and walked along the dirty sidewalk of the big, big city until I came upon a place called the Alabaster Wok. I went inside and the host, a small man in a red uniform, seated me at a round table covered in a red tablecloth. Everything seemed to be red and golden. There was a Buddha shaped candle jar in the center of the table. The flame inside flicked like a fiery tongue being unfurled from the mouth of the Egyptian sun god Ra. It was mesmerizing to someone like me.
A waiter brought me a menu the size of a small book and I flipped through the sticky, plastic pages. There must have been a thousand items to choose from. I noticed a lot of misspelled words. I suddenly had to go to the bathroom and got up and went to find the restroom.
The entire restaurant was bathed in a dim, yellow light, and the same went for the bathroom. I stepped up to the urinal and started to make pee when suddenly, a man came bursting out of one of the stalls and he made a wicked Kung Fu stance and then started wildly chopping and kicking at the air. He did spins and jumps and flips while he jabbed at the space around him, and the whole time he was shrieking at the top of his lungs: “Hiiiiiiiii Yahhhh!” repeatedly.
I jumped back out of his way, and I was pressed up against a cold tiled wall when one of his feet came bolting toward me in a high kick and smashed into the area right next to my ear. “Don’t fuck with me, bro!” he hollered. Debris crumbled down to the floor. “My name is Hai Chin and I’m a badass Kung Fu master.”
I was shaking at this point, and my heart was pounding so hard I half expected it to burst right out of my chest cavity. “Jesus, man,” I said. “You scared the shit out of me!”
He took great pride in that and grinned wide. He slapped me on the shoulder. “Sorry about that. I was just practicing for an upcoming territorial gang rumble… But hey, I’ve got to get back to work. I’m the dishwasher.”
With that, he slammed his way out of the restroom chanting some crazy battle tune.
I braced myself at the sink and tried to regain my composure. After a few calming breaths, the door to the restroom burst open and Hai Chin was now soaring through the air, and he planted both feet into my back. The blow was intense and caused me to violently jerk forward and my face smashed right into the mirror and broke the glass. I fell to the floor with a thud and my hands went immediately to my face to assess the situation. When I pulled them away to look at them, there was blood.
Hai Chin was standing above me, hands on his hips and he had the biggest smile on his face. “Gotcha mo’ beans!” he said, and he laughed out loud.
I yelled at him. “Dude! What is your fucking problem? I’m really hurt here. Give me something to press against my face.”
“Huh? Like what?”
“Like a warm, wet towel!”
“Okay… Be right back!” And with that, he ran out of the restroom again, but quickly popped his head back in just to say, “Don’t forget to jiggle the handle!”
I got up and steadied myself against the sink. I looked into the busted mirror and the jagged reflection made me look like a cut up monster. It wasn’t long before Hai Chin returned with the warm wet towel. He handed it to me, and I put it to my face. “Thanks,” I said.
“You are welcome, sir. Welcome to the Alabaster Wok. Can I get you something to drink and perhaps an appetizer?”
I turned my aching face toward him. “We’re in the bathroom. Can I at least get back to my table before you take my order… And I thought you said you were the dishwasher.”
“I am the dishwasher… But on slow nights like this, waiter go home, and I take over for him. I’m what you say—multi-tasking. And the boss man cheap.”
“Right. I’m going to go sit down at my table now. I haven’t even had a chance to look at the whole menu yet.”
“It’s big, like my woman whopper… Ha ha!”
I just shook my head and brushed by him. I was hurting and very hungry and in no mood for his bullshit outlandish behavior.
When I returned to the table, there was a bag of frozen stir fry vegetables there with a note attached: Sorry for the brutal attack. You can use this to relieve any swelling. No charge. Hai Chin.
I looked up and saw him peeking at me from behind a red curtain on the other side of the restaurant. But I was hungry and so I gently pressed the bag of frozen vegetables against my now swelling face and looked over the menu once more. What was I thinking? I had made my mind up long ago, before I even got here. Orange chicken with a side of fried rice. Why don’t I ever just trust my own gut? Why do I always second guess myself? Sometimes I could just throw myself out of a window, or in front of a speeding train, or into a flock of doves.
And that’s when Hai Chin suddenly appeared behind me like a flash of lightning. He just seemingly popped up from some portal beneath the floor. “It’s because you lack confidence in yourself,” he told me. “You need to explore your spirit. You need training.”
My head whipped around. “How did you…”
“It no matter,” Hai Chin said, and he raised his little notepad and pencil. “Are you ready to order?”
“I’ll have the orange chicken with fried rice… And throw in a side of the crab Rangoon with some sweet and sour sauce.”
“Something to drink?”
“How about an oolong tea.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else for you?”
“No. That should do it.”
He bowed and scampered away. A moment later I heard him shouting my order to someone in the invisible back.
The food arrived quickly. The chicken was steaming, the rice was steaming, the tea was steaming. I moved the plastic broccoli aside for it was an unnecessary addition to the plate. The crab Rangoon called to me, and I took one of the starfish shaped treats and dipped it in the sweet and sour sauce. I took a bite. It was glorious Heaven upon glorious Heaven, oh my friends. It too, was hot. But sometimes a craving overtakes a burn.
I ate as much of my dinner as I could. There was still a mountain of food left. Hai Chin came to the table and bowed. “Everything fine then?”
“It was delicious. May I get a to-go box?”
Hai Chin went away and quickly returned with the box, check, and a fortune cookie. “You pay up front,” he said. “Thank you for dining at the Alabaster Wok… And I hope your face is better. You can keep the vegetables.” He bowed again and walked off.
I was too full to even eat the fortune cookie, so I put it in my pocket for later. I went to pay and was soon out on the gory gloryhole of neon Fortune Street again. The lights sparkled, the air was cool, a breeze cautiously touched the city. Other people moved by me like in a dream. I heard their voices, their laughter—as if it were coming from another realm. I felt like Ichiban Kasuga in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve. (Even though he was Japanese, not Chinese Yes, Karen. There is a difference). My stomach was stretched, my face still hurt. I walked toward home.
I decided to cut through the park and sat down on a bench to rest. I placed my bag with the leftovers beside me. The stars above managed to squeak a bit of their ancient light in through the treetops. The moon breathed through the veil of backlit moving clouds. I reached into my pocket and retrieved the fortune cookie. I unwrapped it and pulled out the small slip of paper inside. It read: You’ve got a big surprise coming to you, Wendy. A very big surprise.
“Who the hell is Wendy?” I thought aloud to myself.
And that’s when Hai Chin, the dishwasher and fill-in waiter from the Alabaster Wok, came dropping down from out of the trees above me like a runaway elevator heading toward the ground floor. He was suddenly right in front of me on the walkway, and he was furiously whipping around a set of nunchakus, and he cried out “Hiiiiiiiii Yahhhh!” The end of one of the sticks grazed the tip of my nose.
I leapt up and backpedaled away from him. “What the hell are you doing!?” I screamed. “Are you trying to kill me? I sort of thought we were friends.”
He suddenly stopped whipping the nunchakus about and tucked them neatly under his arm in one svelte move. “Friends?” he said.
“I mean, yeah you kicked my butt, but you were still kind enough to give me that sack of frozen stir fry vegetables.”
He bowed to me. “It was the honorable thing to do.”
There was moment of uncomfortable silence before I said, “That thing you were saying about my spirit and training… I think I need that. I need to get out of this damn city and away from all these idiotic fools and clear my head and cleanse my soul. Where shall I go?”
Hai Chin put a finger to his own chin and thought about it. “You will come with me to the great mystical mountain in the clouds and there I will teach you the ways of Kung Fu.”
“For real. You’re not fooling with me, are you?”
Hai Chin became dejected and sat down on the nearby bench. His usual Wisconsin bubbler-like personality drooped. “I only wish I could. But the truth is, I really am just a damn dishwasher. I’ve never been able to fulfill my dreams of being a Kung Fu master. I’m a fraud.”
I sat down beside him. “I know what you mean. I wanted to be a million other things than what I turned out to be. It sucks, but society presses it into us. Society strips of us our dreams in exchange for meaningless work. We’re all just loaded into the boxcar and shipped off to Doldrums City, merely pieces of a machine.”
He nodded his head in agreement. Then his face suddenly brightened. “What if we just say, ‘fuck it,’ and do it anyway. Let’s not let society tell us what to be and how to act. Let’s go be Kung Fu masters. Let’s go to—Bhutan, Nepal, or Tibet. Let’s find a new way to live. Let’s find our true selves… I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“David. David Pearce Goliath.”
“Let’s just do it, David Pearce Goliath.”
We both paused and thought about it, and then I asked the ever deciding question, “Do you have money?”
“Money,” he repeated bitterly. “No.”
I shook my head. “Neither do I. You got to rob a bank to have a dream come true in this fucking world.” I looked up to the sky and some green comet or spaceship arched over us and across the banner of night. “Can you imagine what the world would be like if we could all just be what we really wanted to be?”
“But instead, we putter away at mostly pointless things. It will never change,” Hai Chin said. He started to get up. “I must get back to the restaurant. Boss man want me to clean kitchen.”
I looked up at him. “Why don’t you just say, ‘fuck it’ and come over to my apartment and we’ll have a few beers, maybe watch a documentary about monks.”
He nodded his head in excited agreement. “Right, right mo’ beans! Let’s do it. Let’s get what we can get while we can get it.”
I grabbed my sack of leftovers and stood up. We started walking to the other side of the park and across the wide avenue and to where my apartment was in a low-key high-rise called Vandenburg Arms. What arms are those? The arms that squeeze us tight and hold us against our will. The arms that keep us cold and make us tired and ready for another day as small brass gadgets in a big and ferocious world of dreaming saints and sinners.