Sunday, April 18, 2010

Saloon Doors

By the time I finished that last blog post, I had so much Nescafé in my system that I was peeing every twelve seconds and trembling on the verge of a grande latte seizure. Lisa called and wanted me to come play at the Jack Bar, so I jitterbugged my way outside and launched myself into the back of the nearest cab.

Lisa was profoundly drunk somewhere, so I was able to play fourteen songs instead of my usual six. And for an audience that didn't once acknowledge my existence, I played the best guitar of my life. My setlist was as follows:

1. Via Chicago - Wilco
2. Long Way Home - Tom Waits
3. Our House - CSNY
4. Random Rules - Silver Jews
5. Nobody Does It Better - Carly Simon
6. Lola - The Kinks
7. Love Song - The Cure
8. Lonesome Whistle - Hank Williams
9. Sad Songs And Waltzes - Willie Nelson
10. I Wish I Was The Moon - Neko Case
11. Joan Jett Of Arc - Clem Snide
12. Ruby Tuesday - The Rolling Stones
13. Do It Again - Steely Dan
14. Restless Farewell - Bob Dylan

As you can see, I am no longer covering albums front-to-back. I have opted instead for a schizophrenic barrage of songs that I like, or that Chinese people might like. But of course, Chinese people don't like my songs. Only I like them. I usually screw up a lot, but this time I played to my satisfaction. So I bid the crowd a restless farewell and took my seat at the bar, grinning broadly. The surly teenage cowboys slid two Bud Ices my way. I saw that they had scavenged a bottle of wine for themselves, so it was a good night all around. I picked up the bottle and gave it a look: Cabernet Chawuyvnon, the label said.

"This is fake," I told the cowboys.
"Fake? It's French!"
"No, it's Chinese. This name's not right."
"But it cost 200 kuai!"
"Fake," I said, and offered them a couple of consolation cigarettes.

But fake or not, the cowboys had scavenged a bottle of 200 kuai wine, which was nothing to laugh about. They were triumphant, chatting on QQ, chainsmoking and passively watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And I, too, was triumphant, though with Lisa out of commission and the teenage cowboys lost in the interwang, I had absolutely no one to talk to. I went to the bathroom and there I heard a girl weeping in the stall next to mine.

"Are you okay?" I asked. "Do you need help?"

She stopped weeping.

"Hello?" I called.

No answer. Perhaps I'd scared her sober. I washed my hands and returned to the bar.

It makes for an odd social scene, Nanchong. Nobody wants anything to do with me unless I've been introduced by an affluent Chinese woman. Without Lisa, the only affluent Chinese woman I know, I was powerless. I sat watching the salarymen play their dice games. A college kid ushered his girlfriend into the bathroom, where she vomited loud enough for all to hear, and then he ushered her back to his table for more drinks. A gentleman.

I began to daydream. I can't play acoustic guitar here forever, I thought to myself. That's background music. That's Kenny G. I ought to put a band together. Maybe get Poodleface to manufacture some synth-pop beats for me, enlist those hyperenergetic Mennonites to play percussion, hire Jacob to do some popping and locking and heckling. Something to get a reaction out of these people. We'd call ourselves Kung Pao Panda and show up at the Jack Bar in glam sunglasses and funny hats. We'd gain a steady following in Nanchong and move onto bigger and better: Chongqing, Chengdu, Changsha, Shanghai, Beijing. Then we'd succumb to substance abuse and spend the next two decades pursuing ill-fated solo careers, paying off our alimonies with the proceeds from our Greatest Hits box set. That could be fun, I thought to myself. And then all of a sudden it was closing time. The cowboys removed their hats, the strobe lights went out, the cavemen dragged their booze-clubbed cavewomen out into the street, and the saloon doors hit my sorry ass on the way out ...


patti s said...

I sure am glad the earthquake didn't get you. Your writing is always well worth my time. What am interesting life you lead.

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