A Fist-Sized Hairy Spider That Squeezed Out of My Left Nostril: Tom Burke

[Very new work by my old friend, Tom Burke. As I remarked to him, these excerpts from a developing novel, Everett and the Cosmos, remind me of my own strange exploits and adventures which ended up sealed in journals. How interesting it is to go back and spy quick glances of those times. Amongst other great pieces, Tom wrote a poignant essay about his relationship with his memorable downstairs neighbor, Bonnie Ascher, may her memory be for a blessing. I'll see if I can dig up a link to that.]

from Everett and the Cosmos

I loved the motorcycle taxis in Pingnan—even now, thinking about it
makes me want to own a motorcycle, but I never will, too much of a
pussy. Sometimes when I was out drinking with my Chinese friends, at
the end of the night I’d get myself back to the school gates, then I’d
flag down a motorcycle taxi for a ride—it made sense to me that if I
started at home, I could explain that I wanted to end up back at the
same place. In any event, that’s all my Chinese could accommodate. At
first, these motorcycle taxi drivers couldn’t understand what I was
asking them to do—“get out of the lights of the city and drive fast”
wasn’t in my vocabulary. But, after about a half dozen drunken rides,
I think rumors spread about me within the drivers, and it got easier.
You could see stars on some nights, once you got away from the lights.
And in the dark, I imagined the land on either side of the road was
primeval. It was actually drained swampland and razed villages.

The bouncing floor disco, where the dance floor—on risers, and made of
flexible metal sheets—actually bounced. Every Saturday night at
midnight, the dance floor was cleared and there was a performance by a
troop of six midgets. Three would run onto the stage in traditional
Chinese military uniforms; they’d do a quick karaoke number to a
Communist marching ballad—accompanied by acrobatics—and then the other
three midgets would come out, interrupting the show, toting rifles and
waving a Japanese flag. They battled, the Japanese soldiers died
dramatic, limb-twitching deaths, and Chinese national anthem played.
This bar also had men who massaged your back while you stood at the
urinal. Dino danced with a female Japanese midget soldier there one
night—that same night, he fell off the dance floor and knocked over a
waitress who was carrying four pitchers of beer. He looked pathetic
splayed on the floor. We were the only non-Chinese in the place.

I dreamed that I died the night before I left for China; in the dream
I was a grunt—rucksack and fatigues—roughing it knee deep in a bog
surrounded by dense rainforest when three dark figures high in the
canopy used automatic weapons to make mincemeat of my torso. Gasping
in a puddle, I didn’t just feel death coming, but I existed for a
moment after my death where everything went black, was not just absent
of light but devoid of everything. My life seems marked by these
intense dreams, like the morning after the first time I had sex with a
relative stranger without a condom. I woke up in the morning, still
very drunk, to a nightmare featuring a fist-sized hairy spider that
squeezed out of my left nostril and scampered over and around my body
at a speed twice that of my reflexes. Or camping at high altitude when
I experienced my only wet dream: a nonsexual and strange off road
racing adventure in a dune buggy with my brother’s high school
girlfriend whose motion sickness manifested in my lap.

I had a crush on one of the English teachers at my school, Cherry. I
really dug her, thought maybe I had a chance, but then I got an invite
to her wedding. I was glad to experience a traditional wedding, but
got severely drunk; everyone did, but I got drunker. I was one of the
last people at the party. Cherry’s relatives and William were trying
to teach me how to play Mahjong, but I was too drunk. I had to throw
up at one point, but when I ran to the bathroom, the toilette was
broken so I threw up some rice and pigeon that stunk of bijou into my
hand, and tossed it out the window, which I had to step on an upturned
bucket to do because the window was so high up. I swallowed the rest
back down, then said my goodnights. I took an awesome motorcycle ride
that night. It was damp and cool out, and my driver took us whizzing
past a half mile row of neon lights shaped like palm trees that I’d
never seen before.

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