She was late.
I looked down at my Brietling Chronomat and watched the minute hand as it swept across the seven o’clock hour marker.
She was this woman. This woman from Beijing.
We’d agreed to meet at Lola’s restaurant for the exchange. She was supposed to have been escorted to Martha’s Vineyard on one of Foxwoods Casino’s twin-turbine powered catamarans, over from a private dock near the US Naval base in Groton, Connecticut.
But the wind had kicked up a bitchy chop, which can make getting over to the island from any mainland port a nearly impossible task. Winters out here can be cold and cruel. A chilling gray ambiance takes hold of the Vineyard starting in October and the wind begins to thrash around as if it were being fanned by a flock of pterodactyls on tainted steroids.
Come November, Vineyard residency plummets by 90%, leaving the few bars that stay open to deal with the remaining "10 Percenters," drunkards and inbred loonies who weep openly on the blustery streets as soon as their unemployment stipends run out. It’s not a bad racket for the 10 Percenters: they work four or five months during the summer, stash the massive cash profits made off the tourist trade in offshore banks, then hunker down for the winter months and use money divvied out by the government to get juiced to the gills. But few are able to artfully pace themselves on these monies and they fall to pieces when they realize that they have to dip into their offshore funds.
Indeed, the island becomes a saucy ghost town for most of the winter, but not all of it. During the last few weeks of December a breath of rustic chic is resuscitated throughout the Vineyard. A considerable number of summer residents creep back to the island in search of that homey New England Christmas Experience. You can stroll into Lola’s a few days before New Years and bump into anyone from Diane Sawyer and Mike Wallace to Carly Simon and James Taylor…or even me, for that matter.
"I walked over the spot where the friendly fire took so many of
our men and the mujahadeen yesterday. It was just, the whole
place, just fried, really, and bits of uniforms and tattered clothing
everywhere. I said theLord's Prayer and really choked up
--Geraldo Rivera, Afghanistan, Fox News
I was rapping my knuckles on a small candlelit table near the bar’s television and trying to stomach the spin of the evening news when the woman from Beijing arrived. She came prancing into Lola’s like a Frederick’s of Hollywood train wreck. Atop her head was a candy-apple red wig and a furry white baker boy hat. A pink feather boa was looped around her neck, it’s ends draping down on her chest, barely concealing her pubescent breasts, which were smushed up against the clear plastic corset that she was vacuum packed into. Her lower half was done up in black lace stay-up stockings, gold panties and black leather boots with such an absurdly tall heel on them that she must have been walking on the edges of her toenails.
"You like?" she asked as she raised her leg out in front of my face and placed her foot on the edge of my chair. The zebra print pocketbook that was handing over her shoulder swung between her arm and her side.
I looked around nervously and saw Tony, the bartender, laughing at my predicament.
She slowly kicked her foot back and forth in front of my face, then pushed her heel into my chest.
"Brand new. Kid leather. What you think? You like, or no?" She dangled her boa into my face and fluffed it in an attempt to cajole a emphatic answer out of me. For some ironic reason this seemed to cause her to sneeze instead of me.
"Oh, stupid cold." She stumbled back away from the table, sneezing several more times, nearly toppling over. "Too, too cold here. Why you make me come out to such cold place? You like me get ammonia?"
"Pneumonia," I corrected. "And I think you should sit down and put my overcoat on." I stood up to retrieve my oil-treated duster from the back of my chair, with hopes of swaddling her in it, but she quickly stutter-stepped her way back over to the table and reseated me with the heel of her boot.
"How easy you Americans embarrass." Saturated with Chinese, Cantonese, and Parisian accents, her dicey articulation of the English language rode on the coattails of the blinking Christmas lights that were strung throughout Lola’s. "I think I go elsewhere. I think I do business with real man."
I looked at her balefully.
"Me just joke." She fluffed her boa in my face again. "Me just have fun."
My expression didn’t change.
"Me sneeze before me come to island." She pulled a tissue out of her pocketbook and swiped it down over her nose.
"NOW ON DVD"
--Herculean voice from TV
The news had cut to a commercial and Nicole Kidman was now on the screen in a somewhat similar, yet considerably more coordinated, outfit as the Woman from Beijing’s.
I pointed up to the Kidman movie clip that was airing on the TV and said, "I think you’ve watched Moulin Rouge one too many times."
"Ahhh. Yes, yes. Merci. Me like. They just release on DVD. Just this week. But me have long time ago."
I nodded at her outfit. "Obviously."
"Yes…" before she could get on top of her next sentence, she whipped her head to the side and stumbled back into another sneezing frenzy.
"The New York Times says Kidman's performance
makes the, ‘HEART…EXPLODE!’"
--Herculean voice from TV
"A movie with ‘FEELING,’ raves Rolling Stone."
--Herculean voice from TV
"Rouge gets two gargantuan ‘THUMBS’ up from Ebert and Roeper."
--Herculean voice from TV
"Pick up your copy on DVD TODAY"
--Herculean voice from TV
"Speaking of which…" I looked away from the television, back toward the Woman From Beijing. She was about to take a drink of silty gray liquid from a small plastic bottle.
"What which you speak of?" she asked right before starting to sip.
"The DVDs…the…" I pointed at the bottle. "What is that?"
She swallowed her sip, then, with a horrid expression, said, "This my cure for the sneezing. This mushroom tea."
"Care to share the wealth?" I winked at her and felt myself drooling from every anticipation gland in my body.
"Not that kind mushroom. This Kombucha mushroom. This cure cancer. This turn gray hair dark, improve sex, help lose weight."
"Well, it’s doesn’t sound as tit-ripping as the mushroom tea I’m use to, but I wouldn’t mind taking a swig." I reached for the bottle.
"Not for you." She pulled it away from me, capped it and stuffed it into her pocketbook. After rummaging through some of the bag’s other contents, she pulled out several DVDs and handed them to me. They were separated from each other with parchment paper and wrapped in a black chamois clothe and a rubber band.
"This which you speak of," she said. "This what I bring you to see."
I snapped the rubber band off of the discs and fanned them out. "No artwork?"
"Artwork? What you mean, artwork?"
"Packaging for the DVDs…some writing explaining what they’re about. Titles. Chapters."
"You say you want DVD. They DVD. You no say you want package for art."
"It’s not that big of a deal, but if they came with some sort of cases it would have been a lot better, detail wise."
"Oooh, cases. No, no. No cases. No be able to get through customs."
"I suppose not." I looked at the Chinese characters that were painted on the tops of the discs. "What about the translations?"
"They already on disc. Even on pirate discs. You see when you play. Now how about my doll?"
I held one of the DVDs up to my eye to check for light holes from disc rot. "Yes, of course," I said inattentively. "How about you doll…"
"Rivera reported he had said the Lord's Prayer over 'hallowed ground' where three American servicemen were killed by friendly fire. But, in fact, he washundreds of miles from the site of the friendly fire incident."
--CNN special report, 2-27-01
I was definitely going to have to put on my sleuths hat to discover a way to remain impartial while watching these DVDs. Cool and savvy rational would have to be called upon in full force. After all, the only virtue of a journalist is objectivism.
Back at my cottage, I inserted all of the discs into my DVD changer, sat up against the headboard of my leather sleigh bed--a decanter of Sapphire gin, a bottle of tonic, a bucket of ice by my side on the night stand--and hit play on the remote.
The first three discs--produced by the Xinhua information agency, China Central Television and Beijing Television, respectively--were laden with vulgar images from the September 11th attacks on the WTC. Some scenes were overdubbed with melodramatic opera music and the theme from Jaws even sounded off during one of the shots of United Airline’s flight 175 approaching the south WTC tower.
Needless to say, I started mixing my gin and tonics on the strong side.
As rescue workers pick through the rubble of the twin towers, the translation of the commentator scrolled across the bottom of the screen…
"This is the America the whole world has wanted to see. Blood debts have been repaid in blood. America has bombed other countries and used its hegemony to deny the natural rights of others without paying the price. Who until now has dared to avenge the hurts inflicted by unaccountable Americans? New York has reaped the consequences of decades of American bullying of weaker nations."
When Attack America, the Beijing Television production, came to an end, a bold postscript came scrolling across the screen...
"Thanks to all the employees of Beijing Television for working round-the-clock to produce this documentary."
"Doesn’t look like I’ll be needing the tonic anymore, " I muttered to myself as the 1st pirated disc started to play. I took a mouthful of Gin straight from the glass decanter and swallowed.
The black market disc showed clips from Chinese video games that "glorify the September 11th strikes as a humbling blow against an arrogant nation." Small children with Nintendo controllers were directing graphics of airplanes and hazardous waste vehicles to crash into a number of America’s other prominent military installations and skyscrapers. Then scenes from Hollywood films were shown spliced between shots of the terrorist attacks, including footage from the 1998 remake of Godzilla, in which the monster demolishes many New York buildings.
At several points, random Chinese people were questioned about what they thought about so many of these discs being made available to them. A shop assistant at the Xinhua Book Store on Wanfujing Street, Beijing’s most celebrated shopping area, told an interviewer, "Crowds push and shove to get to the table to buy these discs and games. Before people were interested in the movies but this is more compelling. What happened in New York could have happened in a movie but this is real life. It's better."
When I read what one of the commentators was saying over the footage of the second tower collapsing I began guzzling the gin.
"Look at the panic in their faces as they wipe off the dust and crawl out of
their strong buildings--now just a heap of rubble. We will never
fear these people again, they have been shown to be soft-bellied paper tigers."
My gin ran out long before the last of the DVDs ended playing. But I couldn’t watch anymore of the foul propaganda--propaganda openly condoned by the Chinese government. The last thing I let air was a clip of a spokesman for Beijing Television defending the production of these discs as "educational films" that will meet "market demand."
"There's this need for more information on world terrorism in the market," he told an interviewer, "so we've got to meet it."
"Market demand?" I asked, raging. "That’s a pretty nifty phrase for a communist country to start embracing." I hurled the empty glass decanter across the room and it shattered against the wall. In a fit of madness, I ran out of my cottage and toward the street, howling and screeching and sobbing into the frigid Vineyard ambiance, regretting I hadn’t chosen to take the Woman from Beijing up on her offer.
"Unfortunately for Geraldo Rivera, his track record
is marred. He has been significantly criticized in
the past for everything from hyperbole to factual
inaccuracy. This incident raises profound questions
about his journalism and his ethics."
--Bob Steele, ethics director at The Poynter Institute
"R ed flag! Red flag! Red flag!" yelled the Woman from Beijing…and she wasn’t referring to her country’s.
"INS, INS, INS," she continued. Tony, the bartender, was cringing as she hit him in the forearm with a handful of Polaroids.
Evidently, when she went to go fetch the bags of dolls that I had given to Tony to stash behind the bar, she discovered that he had taken a few pictures of us.
Tony apologized to her with a playful and mischievous grin. "Sorry. It’s not every day we get a courtesan in here. I just wanted to capture the moment of you with one of our best customers."
"What court-san?" she demanded. "What you mean?"
I rushed over to the bar and interjected, "Beautiful woman." I feigned a cough. "He meant it's not everyday he gets to see such a beautiful woman."
"Ooooh. I see now." She looked down at herself with pride. "Yes, yes. I see." She thumbed through the photos and handed him one that portrayed her from the waist down. "You keep this one. My leg very sexy." She lifted her thigh up and kicked her foot out several times. "You like?"
"Very much," chuckled Tony.
"Okay you have enough peek, now I want doll."
Tony smiled and handed her a couple of bulging shopping bags.
"I'm a courtesan. I'm paid to make men believe
what they want to believe."
--Satine, Moulin Rouge
I had met the Woman from Beijing last spring, while throwing craps dice at Foxwoods, the world's largest casino, in Ledyard, CT, on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's reservation. She was dressed up like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. It was quite a sight, but a considerably less draw of attention than the outfit she chose to wear to Lola’s. You can’t argue with good luck, though—and she was definitely blessed with it while at Foxwoods. I would keep the drinks flowing for her, she would keep blowing on my dice, and everyone at the table kept winning.
After we finished playing and I cashed in my chips, she finally introduced herself.
"Me you woman for tonight," she said.
"You certainly are," I replied as I waved a stack of hundred dollar bills in the air in hopes of quickly flagging down one of the Native American costumed waitresses. One immediately scurried over to us, her Pocahontas skirt flouncing up as she dashed, exposing her bloomers.
"What can I get you sir?" she asked, eagerly.
"Get my friend here whatever she wants."
She redirected the question, "What can I get for you, mam?"
"Me want hotel room for this man and me. Tell manager at front desk it for the Woman from Beijing."
"Rivera quit his CNBC talk show and took a pay cut to report
from Afghanistan. He drew attention for saying he would kill
Osama bin Laden if he had the opportunity, and for carrying
a gun for protection."
--CNN special report, 12-27-01
We sat back down at the table in Lola’s and the Woman from Beijing took a couple of the fiending-eyed dolls out one of the bags. I had gotten her an assortment of Ghetto Kids. They were this year's highly sought after Christmas gifts for children. Basically, their concept is the antithesis of the flowery and cherubic Cabbage Patch Kids, the highly sought after x-mas gifts of years gone past.
Each Ghetto Kid came with a pamphlet explaining the doll’s own "personalized story" of its gloomy lot in life.
"The boy is New York Sammy and the Girl is East L.A. Lupe," I said to the Woman from Beijing as she ripped a couple of them out of their boxes.
"My nieces going to love. This going to make them very happy. Yes, yes."
"They all have different backgrounds. East L.A. Lupe’s mother was a heroin addict. To get money for her drugs, her mother became a prostitute and ended up abandoning Lupe in a crack house…actually…I think that might be San Juan Carmen’s background story. She must be in the other bag."
"Me no care of background." The Woman from Beijing jumped into my lap while holding the dolls and hugged us all together, as if we were a reunited family. She began to kiss me all over my face and neck. When she stopped she began to giggle and smile and kick her feet back and forth like a little schoolgirl.
"So you like boots, or no? You never say?" She put East L.A. Lupe down on the table, grabbed my hand and forced it to palm the curve of one of her boot sheathed calves. "Nice leather, no?" Kid leather."
"Yeah, I like…But the heels are kind of…too much."
"They ballet boots. They suppose to be so much."
"Ballet boots? Hmmm...I don’t suppose you'll be doing any of those fancy twirly-whirlies out on the dance floor with them?"
She became hyper with laughter, then slid my hand off of the boot leather and on to her lace stockings, coaxing my fingers toward her gold panties.
"This September 11 stuff no good," she said with a seductive smile. "September 11 and Hainan spy plane make it very hard for me to get in and out of country. Me no go back to Beijing until it right time." She nodded toward the DVDs. "You no need to watch tonight. We have fun tonight. Christmas fun. We give each other gifts, so just like Christmas for us."
"That’s certainly an interesting way of looking at it."
"Yes, yes. Now we exchange real gift. We play Mister and Misses Santa."
"I didn’t think they let you believed in Santa Claus in China."
"I could make you North Pole very happy, Mr. Santa. Good and stiff. Stick it right in me and me do all the twirly-whirly you want. We get suite somewhere on island tonight. Just like when at Foxwood." She began to aggressive fondle my crotch and added, "Nutcracker Suite."
"Cute. Very cute." My anticipation glands began to drool again, but they quickly dried up when she suddenly sneezed and sent a spray of mucus and pasty saliva out of her nose and mouth to coat my face.
As I wiped the spray of thick phlegm from my cheeks and eyelids, I pick up the DVDs, waved them at the TV news and said, "Sounds grand, toots, but I’ve probably got all the spin I can handle for the time being."
Probitas laudatur et alget
--Martha's Vineyard / December 2001