I kid you not.
That’s the text at the top of the thing in the package in the bag that we picked up at the place that arranged for us to go over there. I’d provide some details, but it’s obviously important to keep things… General.
The number of days between us and a flight to Beijing dwindle. I have a new facial expression because of it: the cautious wince that precedes an apologetic brow lifting. Why? Well. It all seemed like such a good idea at the time, you know. The waters were rising (or the helicopters were dropping unassembled earth movers into the gorge so they could be built on the spot), the markets were exploding, paul theroux’s little volume was packed with a bizarre arrogance… and I just announced one afternoon that I was going to float down the Yangtze River, would you like to come along?
You said you wanted to. I took it from there. It takes an extensive and complex booking that involves trains planes boats and coaches to bring out personal facts about me. Facts that amount to, um, Remorse:
Golly I hate crowds. Why am I visiting a place with 6 billion inhabitants?
Stupified without language, I quickly enroll in an accelerated university course in mandarin and perform moderately well. Or is the instructor not invested in me because I admitted on my form I was using the course to prepare for travel while she, a polyglot, has committed herself to asian languages for life? My audacity! Did my request to take the course on a not-for-credit basis make her less inclined to review my work, to insist on my mastery of the four tones, the dian vs. pie strokes?
How can I speak, talk, express, dialogue, expound, chit chat when all I can create from the 135 characters I pounded into my head can only be arranged in the form of a discarded draft of a french new novel from the 50s? Tour of 20 or Tour of 2? Anti-malarials, or no anti-malarials? Capitalist running dog or battle seattle anarchist? Victim or perpetrator? DAT or mini-disc? Mini-disc of course but OEM or Clone?
To go all this way to get inside my head, or out of it? For sights that, well, kind of intriguingly, are going to be submerged by the willfulness of my species to create megawatts of power? That’s it? That’s what turns me on?
American breakfast provided… isn’t that cheating?
So I devour everything I can about where I’m going and what I’m about to do. I suffer from overpreparedness, rough guided, lonely planeted, state departmented visa clutching ready: that bug-eyed metabolic disorder of pretending not to be a homebody who dreams, while standing, barely, due to middle-aged back, in oppressive clubs in the middle of the night waiting for the main act to take the stage, of being at home, in bed, with the television tilted in overhead, watching Mad TV…
which I’ve seen once in my life, but it was an idyllic moment I immediately inserted into my catalogue of greener grass items. I could be at home right now, I say to you. I could be at home right now in bed watching Mad TV. And the last part you recite with me, because you’ve heard me say it many times before.
So here I go, stuffing tampons in a ziplock bag so I can use them somewhere between Chonquing and Wuhan, while reading the material especially prepared for general information. Or is it pronounced General Information? An unfortunate moniker for someone with real talent and passion for military service? I could have the General’s packet and s/he mine. I’m feeling a bit of panic just tilting into the thought with you, much less tearing into my bulging plastic folder and checking the name on all the vouchers and tickets. I’m going to resist, of course, because it’s ridiculous. Military travel is booked completely separately from civilian travel. Everyone knows that.
We’ve had some good names, though, which we launch into the overnight air on KPFA: Lisa Snatch, Tad Lowe, Les Messie, and the one you’ll hear before our only listener, a cab driver in Fresno, does: Proscenium Archie, which has more of a blues moniker effect and doesn’t really count, but just sharing it with you makes me step away and laugh. I mean… just laugh out loud. And during that time I forget all about the fact that my passage is too soft, my courage is too beset by tiny kissinger beetles, the sense of adventure is marred, in advance mind you, by the sense of pre-co-option… Sorry. That is so not a word.