Heartfelt praise and gratitude, thou saucy soul who affixed the upside-down penis sticker to the mailbox down the street. You give me strength. You give me hope – hope that, even in these debased and conforming times, even as the road before me narrows, straightens, and becomes ever more monotonous, even as each day’s food and music tastes and sounds the same; still there frolics the subtle prankster, still there sports the creative, visionary vandal. You render the common unique. You alter the uniform, making it irregular and baroque. With you lurking, I have no fear. With you on the loose, I might relax. Bless thee, Holy Pervert, for by you, we are all saved.
My Taiwanese employer would frequently open its doors to a variety of hustling salesmen and invite them to peddle their wares to the staff. By far the most popular of these characters was the fake Rolex man, who graced our workplace every couple of months.
The rapturous tidings “The fake Rolex man is here! The fake Rolex man is here!” accompanied by eager foot beats, would herald his arrival. The honored huckster would set up shop in the conference room next to my boss’s office, and I was able to observe the stream of breathless coworkers, arriving singly or in groups, carefully appreciating the counterfeit treasures and, more often than not, emerging with small handfuls of them, grinning proudly. Returned to their desks, they enjoyed much celebrity, as others of their departments gathered around to marvel at the loot before succumbing to envy and hurrying over to see what bargains remained. It was all very amusing to me and broke the monotony of long afternoons poring over telexes.
One afternoon, on the day after a visit from the fake Rolex man, my boss, whose English name was William, took me aside. He put his arm around my shoulder.
“You know, ah, we’re very concerned about you,” he said.
“Is everything all right?”
“Yes, William. Everything’s fine.”
“Are you homesick? You’ve been away from your own country for a long time.”
“I’m not homesick… Have I made some kind of mistake on the job?”
“No, that’s not it. You just don’t seem to be fitting in very well.”
“No,” William said, and then he grew even more serious. “For example: Yesterday, the fake Rolex man was here, and you didn’t buy anything. You didn’t even take a look.”
“Well, I don’t need a watch. I already have one.”
William tisk-tisked. “But surely you sometimes need to give presents. Don’t you have a friend who would like a nice fake Rolex?”
“Why would I give a friend a fake Rolex?”
“Harry, Harry.” He looked around to ensure that no one had overheard my sacrilege. “The fake Rolex man is here to help,” he said. “You should take advantage of every opportunity to obtain good fake merchandise. If you don’t, you’re just… It’s just not healthy.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Promise me you’ll take a look next time,” he implored. “You really owe it to yourself.”
I promised, but I was bummed. The watch I wore every day was an art-deco knockoff I’d picked up in Gongguan for twenty-five cents, and it kept perfect time; but did anyone notice? Did anyone give me any credit?
Everyone always assumed I was the maladjusted foreigner. I was tired of it.
Bothered of late by hardened bits of mucus in my nasal passages, I resolved to irrigate the latter with my trusty Ocean Spray saline solution, which I purchased from Rite Aid in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1984. Locating the familiar orange and white plastic bottle after a brief search of my cluttered bathroom closet, I inserted it into my left nostril (I’m left handed) and squeezed. A thin jet of solution erupted from some unseen puncture in the bottle and shot directly into my left eye. Somewhat jarred, I let loose the usual exclamations and maledictions, to register my shock and discomfort.
Now, I am a man not easily dissuaded from my course, once I have chosen it. Furthermore, I have found that the lowering of expectations, and of standards, is the key to fulfillment and happiness, in the full range of human endeavor. In this particular adventure, saline solution did in fact reach the intended target (my left nostril), and so as far as I was concerned, the operation was a success. Getting shot in the eye, while a misfortune, was simply one of those things I have learned to tolerate, certainly no occasion for despair – or for reevaluating the situation. Nothing was really wrong, in other words.
Accordingly, I transferred the apparatus to my right nostril, to complete my project. At the first application of pressure, the entire bottom half of the bottle exploded, launching a massive payload of spilth into my gaping, protesting mouth. The viscous liquid had a dreadful, musty taste, which seemed to convey to every corner of my being all the wintry malaise accumulated in that bottle since the Reagan administration, when it was first used. It also rained downward onto my clavicle and shoulder, soaking my woolen turtleneck sweater and feeling very clammy and nasty.
My howling could be heard at the Rite Aid in Middletown, Connecticut.