Friday, May 29, 2009

Asian Men Are Cowboys

The man hanging 60 feet off the scaffolding is fully engulfed in flames. Yellow and red cracking sparks popping out his ears and shirt sleeves. He is barefoot, having just kicked off his flip-flops a moment ago to climb higher. The concert is tomorrow and the crew will be working through the night. I will hear their chatter and the clanking of hammers on rebar and in the morning the grass will be littered with bottles and paper lunch boxes and wooden planks, but there will be no trace of the man except for a circular pyre of ashen soot.
The man smoking a Marlboro on a scooter at a red traffic light is free falling from the sky. He hits his shirt pockets like a parachutist searching for the rip cord but nothing happens. Trousers. Socks. Under his hat. All are empty. His face is beaten and blown withered by wind. His voice is howling but lost in the vacuum. Turning, he bums a match off a buddy just as the light turns green and he slams to the ground. Impact.
The store owner who caught a rat in his bare hands is being buried alive. Brown soil showers down on his head as he crushes the vermin’s skull in his thick palm then holds up the lifeless carcass by the tail as the dirt reaches his shoulders. He is laughing as he goes under. A pink gummy smile, his teeth have all rotted away.
The man who falls asleep drunk on the park bench is encased in metal. Arm rails and seat slats slowly trickle around his legs and torso, wrapping his body in a cocoon as he scratches his toes and yawns. It is 6 o’clock in the morning and his belt is undone, necktie rolled up in his jacket pocket, a folded up newspaper serves as pillow. His pager goes off and from deep inside this metal bed it sounds like a muffled scream.
The hawker in the market who cuts the heads off live chickens has been turned into a tree. His cleaver a branch with blossoms, his hip-waders a mighty stump. There are knotholes bored from his eye sockets and leaves sprouting where once sat the smattering of blood. He smells of solid oak while the headless bird runs in circles around him until she trips on an exposed root and falls dead against the hard bark sinking into the ground.
The delivery truck driver is drowning in water. He makes stops along his route, but he is treading in rough seas. Pouring streams run from his nose. He is gasping and gulping and clearing his throat, coughing up puddles of liquidy blue. He is spinning in a whirlpool of salty surf down the drain. Stop after stop, honking in congested traffic, he makes a move cutting off a taxi and narrowly misses a city bus. Wiping sweat from his neck he mumbles, “Next time I might not be so lucky,” then checks the clipboard, flipping invoices as he is flushed out to sea.
I’ve always read where Asian men must adhere to so many societal rules of honor in their language and conduct. They must become master of their emotions because for all the hardships and trials of life, they are expected to act collectively but face the elements alone. This is true. I have witnessed this and seen it first hand. Over the years I have seen them. The old man sweeping leaves beside the temple with the straw broom. The drunken grandfather pissing alongside the parked car. The young boy flying down the highway on a motorcycle, his feet propped up on the steering wheel. The father stretching in the park, doing windmills and jumping jacks and crouching into a stance he holds forever.
If you speak to them they will listen. They will bow and move directly and with purpose. But when alone, they answer to no one but themselves.
Asian men are cowboys. But don’t tell them because they’ll resist the urge to shoot.

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