November 25, 2010

Notes on Going to See Mao Zedong

If you haven't checked out my latest story on Matador Network, Notes on Going to See Mao Zedong, you can read it HERE. 

"With a half-mile of folks standing side to side and butt to loin, a woman in a plaid shirtdress filed me back with her cane. It seemed unintentional, and at the time I thought nothing of it. But the folks behind us smelled blood in the water."

Big ups to the sultan of stoke, David Miller, for his fine editing work. 


November 24, 2010

A Preview from: My Moving Diary

2 January, 2008.  Raleigh, NC:  “I don’t think you can fly into China on a one-way ticket,” the woman at the Delta check-in counter says.  Her vest has these sad plastic wings pinned on. 
            “Are you saying that I can’t get into the country, or that I need to buy a return ticket?” 
            She thinks for a second.  “I don’t know,” she says.  “How long do you plan on staying in China?”

I'm actually moving to China, but two different people told me not to say that.   This is what I say instead:

“I’m just going to roam around the country for a while.”   
“Um, OK, you can figure this out when you get to JFK.  Have a good flight.” 

JFK Airport:  I check into Air China, get my boarding pass, and keep my mouth shut.   

Air China:  I’m the only White person boarding the plane.  Oops – there’s one more.  The plane is a double-decker.  I’m downstairs.  Everyone around me is speaking Mandarin or shouting Mandarin.  I have a window seat.  I sit down and watch people in the aisle shove each other from behind. 

There's an impulsive air onboard.  As we taxi down the runway, a man stands up to rummage through the overhead compartment.  The stewardess storms over and berates him.  I mean she lets him have it.  She points to his seat, and yells at him like a dog.  The man looks away like a dog, too.   
     “No!  Bad!”  I imagine her saying.  “You know what you’ve done.  Now sit!”   

I half expect her to bust out a choke collar.

The man behind me has his knees in the seat, talking to the man behind him.  They’re using ‘outside voices,’ even though they’re close enough to play patty cake.  The captain comes over the speakers and speaks Chinese.  I look out the window to make sure we’re still in America.   

I eat a Xanax.  We are prepared for takeoff. 

Somewhere over the Arctic Circle:  I wake up feeling naked.  The overhead lights are off.  My wedding ring is gone.  I use my iPod as a light and search the floor.  A knot tightens in the pit of my stomach. 

I search my immediate area before hitting the flight attendant CALL button.  I still have a pretty good buzz on; otherwise, I don’t know if I would have done that.

The girl comes over.  “I lost my wedding ring,” I say.   

She shakes her head.  She doesn’t speak English.   

At this point, I don’t know why this surprises me.  I point to my finger, tapping the spot where my ring used to be.  No luck.  I point to the ring of the man beside me.  He’s asleep.  Everyone’s asleep.  She’s trying real hard to understand what I’m saying. 

In a last ditch effort, I point to my ring finger again and say “Poof!” 

Poof is a magical word to this flight attendant.   It gives her clarity.  And not only that, it gives her the power to disturb sleeping passengers without remorse.   

The woman in the aisle seat gets it first.  The flight attendant prods her on the shoulder.  She comes to with a jolt.  I’m standing.  The flight attendant’s standing.  We’re both looking at her.  Before she can figure out what’s happening, the flight attendant launches an interrogation on missing jewelry.  The woman looks around like a chameleon, muttering the Chinese equivalent of “No, no, no.” 

I feel awkward about unleashing this flight attendant, but it’s out of my hands. 

She’s jostling the passengers in the row behind me now.  Their reading lights are turned on for them.  Their faces recoil.  They’re ordered to search the floor.  The man in the window seat is still asleep.  When he comes to, he is very confused.  The passengers beside him have their heads between their knees.  This, coincidentally, looks like the crash landing position.  The man looks to the flight attendant, but she offers no relief.  She is using her outside voice in a dark plane somewhere over the Arctic Circle. 

By this point I am freaking out.  What will I do, I think, wait until the plane lands? 

The nervous man doubles over now.  There is a commotion.  He comes up, pinching my ring between his fingers.

November 17, 2010

Getting Even

So here I am, again, standing across from the mailman.  Actually, it’s a mailwoman.  The woman’s in her fifties, fair skinned with a curly, round head of hair.  She’s not looking at me, but I’m looking at her and thinking This is a broad who’s played life by the rules.  I’d never say that of course.   

Maybe it’s just the uniform rubbing off on me.  It’s one of those sky blue, Government Issue two-pocket oxfords.  What a mouthful, and for what?  The thing’s practically wearing her, and yet, I can’t stop staring.  There are four plastic pens in the left pocket; three blacks, one blue.  The blacks are crammed into a corner, but the blue one, the misfit, is hovering over Nipple Territory. 

The mailwoman lets out a sigh.  It’s for me.  Her colleagues look over, but they know the score.  Beads of sweat are rolling down my back.  After seven minutes, she’s still counting the three-pound-bag of change I tendered as payment.  There was some regular change on top, a few 10 and 20 cent pieces, but now it’s down to the nitty-gritty:  The 1 cent pieces.  Back home we call them pennies.  The European ones are even smaller.  You can’t spend them as fast as they come in unless you’ve got a motive.

I found a motive two hours earlier.  I rode my bike over to pick up the package my mother sent from the States.  She sent it two weeks before my birthday, and now, a month later, I get a memo in the mailbox.  It’s in German.  I don’t know what it says, but something about the layout seems to communicate:  It’s your lucky day.  I left my apartment and cut through the park, taking the cemetery trail to the 704 line.  The Deutsch Post is further up on the right. 

There were only two people in line.  When I reached the counter, I handed over the memo and the woman went back and found my package.  I asked her if she spoke English in German.  She said “yes,” in a way that reminded me of rainbows.  “Great!” I said.   

She asked for my ID.  I told her sorry, I didn’t bring it, and recited my mother’s address instead.  She looks carefully at the package, which she hadn’t handed over yet.  She raised an eyebrow.  It was good enough for her. 

She scanned the package and gave me another test.  I wouldn’t be able to charm my way out of this one.  To take home my package, my birthday present, I would have to pay 33 Euros and 56 cents.  The package, it seemed, contained items the German government wished to profit from.  It was a business tactic based upon the popular model of consumerism:  I desired the package more than the money. 

This tactic was also, coincidentally, based upon the model of ransom.  Ransom is the practice of holding a prisoner or item to extort money to secure their release.  Most cases of ransom involve kidnapped people, but not always. 

I am reminded of an incident where thieves broke into the tomb of Argentine president Juan Perón.  They weren’t looking for gold or jewels.  They wanted the president’s hands.  This was no arbitrary detail, however.  Perón's hands were viewed as a symbol of national power.  The thieves sawed them off.  Newspapers worldwide ran stories on the Hands of Perón, as the incident became known.  As the story unfolded, it was also made public that the thieves removed another type of symbol:  The president’s genitals.  They requested $8 million to return the hands.  It wasn’t made clear whether or not the genitals were included in this deal.  It didn’t matter.  The government refused to pay the ransom, and the items were never recovered. 

My situation was a matter of ransom disguised as customs charges.  Be that as it may, I wasn’t going to react as the Argentine Republic had.  I was willing to pay the Post’s ransom. 

But I was not able.  I had 20 Euros on me.  When I told the mailwoman this, she understood.  I had never incurred customs charges on a package before.  I made it quite clear that this charge was unexpected.  She whisked my present back into the bowels of the Deutsch Post.  I walked out to my bike empty handed, ruing my ill preparedness.  While peddling home, however, those feelings of self-pity turned to anger.  I would, amongst other things, plot revenge on the post office.  

The only question now was "how?"

November 8, 2010

We're Chugging Right Along

I've published another story on the Matador Network called Hitting the Skids on Emerald Isle. 

"A lot clearing business, a man named Brian, and life in a trailer — 
C Noah Pelletier describes growing up in a family of Beach People."

Nick Rowlands, editor of Matador Life, did a great job working behind the scenes with this story.

If you haven't checked it out yet, you can read it here.

And please leave a comment!!

November 7, 2010

Where do I fit in, exactly?

Germans have the damndest ideas of a good time.  Haul in a wiener wagon and a beer truck to any open area and folks will get dressed up in autumn-colored shirts and corduroys and drive their Audi’s or Mercedes station wagons as fast as they can to get there, honking horns and shouting to pedestrians along the way.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, but much like accordions and lederhosen, the novelty wears off rather quickly.

What doesn’t wear off so quickly is the German’s sense of moral resilience.  You might, for example, find yourself standing with others at the crosswalk of a long, deserted street, waiting for the signal to turn green.  Crossing the street may look safe, but the people around you will literally hiss if you cross prematurely.  And folks are hesitant to speak to each other even at the park – that is, unless you toss a Frisbee too close, and then even an old woman will make a fist and curse your ever-loving soul.  Many people leave the house, I’ve decided, just to ensure that things are in order.  When they’ve finished inspecting the outside world, they come home and find still more things to correct.


            I moved to Düsseldorf in the summer of 2009.  Shortly after arriving, I met a Kiwi who was kind enough to give me a bike.  The thing was beat up, “Cursed” he called it, and showed me where he broke his wrist.  He wished me better luck with it.

There was a long bicycle rack in the parking garage under my apartment building.  Many of the bikes were sick with flat tires or rusted chains.  I found an open space and wedged my front tire between the brackets.  All was fine until a month later, at which point I found a note stuck to my handlebars.  Actually, note wasn’t a strong enough description.  This was an official document typed in perfect MLA format, folded into thirds, and sealed in an envelope.  No detail was overlooked. 

I couldn’t read German, but the implication was clear:  There were many spaces, but this one was his.  The whole thing was, I felt, a tad ridiculous.  I put the letter back into the envelope and, when I returned from the store, stuck it back onto my handlebars.  There didn’t appear to be assigned spaces on the rack, so I went home, hoping the situation would blow over.  The next afternoon, I found my bike propped up against a cement pillar near the end of the rack, the letter still attached. 


This glimpse into my neighbor’s psyche was interesting, but to think that everyone handled matters in such a passive aggressive manner – that was disturbing.  I tried to imagine things from my neighbor’s point of view.  To do that, I gave him legs which were as hairless and thin as sign posts.  His face was bony, but healthy, and it glowed before the pale blue screen of his computer.  I imagined a tall, slick brow that furrowed easily, and a tongue which poked out from the corner of his mouth when he typed.  The voice in his head, which sounded like my own, told his soft, pink fingers to type this:  “Re:  Bike Parking.”  Did he use spell check?  Certainly.  He would save this letter (for future reference) in a folder labeled “COMPLAINTS.”  


I brought the envelope upstairs to my own computer and attempted to translate it.  Still, I couldn’t stop wondering what kind of man would go to such lengths.  The more I dwelled upon it, my mind searched for more reasons to dislike him.  What was his private life like?  Was he married?  If so, what was it like to make love to this man?  From his letter, I didn’t get the impression that he was particularly tender.  No, with him it was all about control, so I imagined his wife lying under him like a wounded sparrow, twitching in cold, rhythmic sync with the clock on the nightstand.  That probably wasn’t fair of me, but aside from the letter, I didn’t have a whole lot to go on. 

It’s a funny thing, passive aggression.  I used to think myself above it, but when you have enough free time on your hands, the stuff spreads like the dickens!  For a minute there, it was almost like having a secret admirer, but instead of possible romance, there’s misdirected resentment.  When I went down two days later and saw his shiny new bicycle sitting in my old spot, I almost let the air out of his back tire.  That’s my idea of fun, but it would have been childish, and far too obvious.  Instead, I parked my bike a few spaces down the line.  That was nine months ago.  There haven’t been any new complaints yet, but the suspense is killing me.