Saturday, December 10, 2005


My circuitous fumblings, by 1997, somehow led me to the door of Stan Riskin. As his gofer I was the assistant to the assistant producer of a television show called Win Ben Stein’s Money. It was a demanding job, heaped a’ plenty with humiliation, but I shouldered it unbegrudgingly.

A lot of my time was spent dealing with automobile or mistress crises, both of which were allotted equal priority by my superiors. Even though I promised myself I would never bear a callous L.A. regard, I did sometimes think of oil changes and overdoses as simple matters of fluids in rotation. There were flashes of Hollywood glamour and celebrity of course, but only ankles and hems from my janitorial perspective.

One morning as I passed down the hallway I heard my name screamed from one of the offices: “Ling, get your bitch ass East coast superiority complex in here". There was a couple of Network suits smirking, I’m not really sure why they used to call me Ling. Anyway, probably another dead prostitute caught in the pool filter or some such calamity.

It seemed that Stein had just found out about this guy over in China, another economics guru with a TV show, and he wanted to meet him; “You did know Stein was an Economics professor at Stamford Ling, didn’t you?” And when I intoned with a smattering of his record in service of the Nixon administration “if class is over professor LING, mind if we get back to the BOOB TUBE that pays our bills?”.

To be honest, the story was kind of touching. This fella apparently had followed a Chinese version of the route Stein had taken to TV fame. As a professor of Economics at Tsinghua University he had been remembered and cast by a former student searching to fill a droll, academic movie role. From there his memorable performance had led to a career in the entertainment industry. Stein, being a Nixon Republican, was like the rest of his ilk perpetually eager to celebrate all things Chinese and was naturally interested in all this.

Since I am Asian and we all look alike, we must all speak the same language. So I was routed from amongst the field of blond, blue eyed excrement lickers to research this guys Beijing contacts. I knew that a friend across town would have an entertainment directory from The People’s Republic, but I decided to have a bite before setting out, something that was always a bit of a challenge on my salary.

The only decent refrigerator in the building was located in the writer’s lounge, it even had an ice and water dispenser built into its door. The suits, with their usual hubris, commandeered the space inside for whatever diet food was en vogue that week. The writers, detesting both the suits and their hubris, spent the day casually and defiantly snacking from these. Swooping in, I descended upon a plump and juicy radicchio and romaine salad in a clear plastic container, and relished it knowing one of my more successful counterparts would probably be blamed for its disappearance. There was a bland, kind of earthy sourness to it which concerned me, but then I remembered that sometimes mushroom garnishes can do that.

The directory itself kind of takes on the dimensions of a steamer trunk after you’ve lugged it a few blocks, but I had such a nice visit with Yansong that the feeling carried part of the burden. As I rounded the corner beyond which my Vega was parked, I noticed a man on the opposite sidewalk flying a kite. Then suddenly I had the strangest feeling, like the mooring lines of worry and concern that seem to be the undercurrent of everyday life snapped between the dock and an ocean liner, and there was some sort of new freedom afoot. Then, just a few metres from reaching the car I was enveloped by the strong smell of bubblegum, and realized that I must have stepped in some. Looking back I could see that each step was trailed by ribbons of it, and as I walked on it got deeper and stronger and sweeter as I luxuriated in the rich pink goo. The sun sparkled on my shoulders, and the clouds and sky rung together like a wet finger grazing the rim of a fine crystal goblet. Taking a moment to drink all this in, I sat on a stoop to watch a flock of zithers in rubber tree underpants….? Then it hit me: You’re stoned out of your gourd.

In school I used to trip really well, but I guess this time they had to take me to the hospital. Anyway, when I woke up I had a shoe-box apartment in Astoria and I was commuting to the garment district to write sell sheets. It’s just miserable work, and I’ve not the slightest how I got here. But every time I come across a strange salad I take a few bites hoping it will get me back.