Good Gore

Sometimes a story is so good it doesn’t matter how it’s told. The facts against a flat surface remain dense, flamboyant, no matter how simply they are thrown. Which is not to say that Paul French’s “Midnight in Peking” is a poorly told, simple read. Quite the contrary.

The Edgar Award-winning true-crime tale is the kind of book one stays up past midnight to finish. Indeed, creepy, quiet late night is the correct frame for French’s reconstruction of a young British girl’s vicious murder in 1937 Peking, a time when Beijing was barely still Peking. Barely because the Japanese had invaded the mainland and were fast approaching the as yet colonial city, barely because the Kuomintang was clumsily hunting the Red Army in caves, barely because the world was about to seize with war.

French solves the still-open murder mystery by being a better story-teller than the police were investigators. Hermaphrodites, brothels, opium, Russian oligarch refugees all play a part, tracked down by the author in relevant detail so fun one is tempted to forget the story’s sad end.

Fortunately , French doesn’t let us stray too far into Peking’s underworld. He leads the way out, back to the murdered girl’s home, where her father, in many ways the hero of the tale, is at his desk, stringing all the dim pieces for someone someday to tie.

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Medieval Times

As we strolled under the S train underpass at the intersection of Franklin and Lefferts on the way home from my son’s construction camp he asked: why do people need to be dirty. I was about to correct him. People don’t need to be dirty; some people just are dirty.

But, he was right. We all really do need to be dirty. We have no choice. Unless we dedicate our lives to living trash-free, our life is necessarily dirty. Innocent things are dirty: straws, lollipops, floss.  Sexy things are dirty: matches, razors, cell phone chargers. Books are dirty. Moving is dirty. Staying warm is dirty, as is staying cold.

The reason why is we are living in medieval times. Our technology is small. We have computers that can do some,  but not much. They cannot take us out into space where we can find new planets to sustain our way of life. Not yet.

They cannot replace coal/gas/oil with self-generating sun/moon/water energy, whatever that means. Although I am sure it exists. The energy of the universe does not require things burning into black smoke. But we haven’t figured out it out. Not yet.

Dark matter, dark energy — our century’s astrological terms. Google them. The universe is expanding, despite the “laws” of physics. We know nothing.

So I choose to believe in rebirth. Because at some point I will be born into intergalactic flight. At some point, we will not need to be dirty. I told my son all this, actually. And, of course, a few blocks later, as we crossed Lefferts onto Classon, he understood.

 

Image/Identity

About a week ago I visited the Georgia O'Keefe retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum: Living Modern. The exhibit not only centered around her well-known paintings and photographs, but also around her self-made clothing, and how her choice in dress was part and parcel to her conscious artistic identity. Her clothes were black and white, androgynous and practical, refined and subtle. Céline-like.

Parallel to that, I've traversed the Jewish Orthodox neighborhood in South Williamsburg several times in the past month. You know the neighborhood's invisible borders are breached once everyone is suddenly dressed the same. There is a single group identity immediately transmitted by a communal way of dress. In this neighborhood, there is no risk of a Stranger in Our Midst; here, there are Strangers Dressed in Jeans.

Then, at dinner with a friend, a mutual acquaintance came up who'd become a serious body builder. My friend showed me images of a transformed person, whose life revolved around and was surrounded by heavy weight lifting. The dress, colors, angles of our acquaintance's identity had been wholly transformed; too me, he was unrecognizable.

While it may be said that all neighborhoods in all corners of the globe have a particular coda, New York is a city where way of dress almost determines what area a person will seek to inhabit: Upper East Side, North Williamsburg, SoHo, etc. Here, as is the case with Georgia, the body builder, Orthodox Jews, there is an intentionally visible commitment to dressing in a way that reflects who you are.

I feel no such commitment. I like a dress that makes me feel like myself as much as a dress that makes me feel unlike myself. Stuff is exciting when it is new. That is all.

Does this mean I am identity-free? Does identity exist without any conscious external markers? I fear it cannot.

The uniform, be it imposed or adopted, is eerie because there remains a knowing that beneath the cloaks or the wife beaters, lie the several selves. The comfort of the uniform denotes a sacrifice, a negotiation: buy to belong.

But, those who dare commit to the Self dress it forth as a demonstration of will.

Dodging Bullets vs. Shooting Them

By bullets I mean unwanted, unyielding change. By dodging I mean dodging. By shooting I mean effecting. This, then, is the title with which I catalogue the past year and a half, not only my own life, but of many of those close to me.

There may be cosmic reasons for the dodging, the shooting. If you add up the digits in 2016 you end up with 9, which according to numerology is the number of finality. But if you add up 2017 you get a 1, from whence the infinite is launched. Going from end to start, and not the other way around, is sloppy. Sloppy, sloppy.

The Chinese calendar had 2016 as a monkey and 2017 as a rooster. Both are highly annoying animals, at the very least acoustically.

Then there is my blood type. O-, the universal donor bitch. But that is a bad example of what I am trying to get at. My point is that there is something amiss in the air these past few years. Something smells, and it is recent and I am not the only one holding her nose.

What is going on?

America had a perfectly decent terrible candidate to elect, and instead elected an armed child. Beer sales are dropping in poor countries. All clothes look the same. Sorrow is the city, is the suburb, is the soon-to-open train.

I wish I knew what the lesson was. So I could learn it enough to play the shooting game.

 

 

 

Return

The silence of the poem returns:

Perhaps it is by sudden, suburban death

Close enough to cry in dry heaves of breath

Perhaps it is by ever-lasting absence

Of right mother —

The slamming down of my infant head

Confirms all sweetness now is fled

But then there are benches in this town

To go around

And I had a moment of silence

Where the pen my poem has found