Chinese Iron Rooster BET ON CRAZY

My teenage nephew stopped by 47th Street yesterday evening. It was closing time for our exchange. Zeb goes to a mid-town high school. Public. His father works over at Rockefeller Center. He does something with TV.

“You going home?” Zeb and I lived in Fort Greene. His father worked late. The long-haired student liked my company. He was one of my few contacts with the youth subculture. We shared mutual tastes.

“I’ll buy you a beer at Frank.” He was tall for his age and Vixen the Chinese bartender never carded him. He was my nephew and family counted for something at that Fulton Street bar.

“I have to stop at the bookstore to get a Clive Barker book.”

“Okay.” I packed up the jewelry at a near-record pace and got my pay. It was $100 short. Manny had taken out my advance. Zeb bid good-night to Manny. It was way too far past sunset to say anything about Shabbath. We walked over to the 5th Avenue bookstore. On the way Zeb declared that he was obsessed by going to Hong Kong, if only to purchase a tailored shirt.

“Only one problem. I don’t want to fly there. I want to take the Trans-Siberian Express. 6 days and night to Beijing and then another train south.””

“That’s a trip I’ve always wanted to take.” Samovars, Siberia, and vodka. Dmitri was supposed to be my travel companion. He ODed a month before our departure. A long time ago. “London-Paris-Moscow-Lake Baikal-Ulan Bator-Beijing.”

“The summer of 2012.” The names of those places were a magical incantation for Zeb. “The end of the world.”

“My 60th birthday present to myself.” I never lied about my age. My body didn’t either. It was a good alternative to the 28-hour flight from JFK to Bangkok. We entered the bookstore and Zeb headed to find the Clive Barker section. I searched out the travel section and pulled out a new edition of Paul Theroux’s 1975 classic THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR. This narrative of his rail voyage throughout Asia was an epiphany to long-hair hitchhiker in the 70s. I wanted his life and reading the first line rekindled that desire.

“What’s that?” Zeb asked with BOOK OF BLOOD 3.

“A travelogue from the 1970s about a train ride from London to Beijing.”

“The Trans-Siberian Express?”

“Some of it.” Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and Mongolia covered the majority of chapters. Only the last chapter is devoted to Zeb’s dream journey.

Zeb looked at the first line and nodded with appreciation. The tall teenager put down Clive Barker’s book and went to the check-out.

“I only have money for one.”

The store worker was surprised at the switch. He was also a fan of gore. I told them about THE DAYBREAKERS.

“Exploding bodies, cannibal vampires, and mutant dead with Willem Dafoe as a motorhead hero.” I actually enjoyed the film and my old friend was a heroic counterpart to Ethan Hawke’s traitorous undead.

Zeb and I decided to walk over to Grand Central Terminal. The station was crowded with weekend travelers and commuters. The gigantic vault rippled with conversations, as we traversed the concourse toward the Lexington Avenue subway.

“You ever travel by train in Asia?”

“A few times.” My trips by rail in Asia were Singapore-Chiang Mai, Kunming-Chengdu, Jogjakarta-Jarkarta, Varanasi-Agra-Delhi, and Delhi-Goa. Paul Theroux and I probably rode the same trains. Only the Chinese had the money to upgrade the rails these days. “They were all brilliant in comparison to driving on an Interstate. In 1995 I was traveling north from Yunnan to Sichuan along the Yangtze River. It was a night train without any available sleepers. The conductors sat the westerners or fan-gwailo together including several Tibetans with knives in their belts. The Chinese were scared of them, although a drunk berated them, until a very attractive female soldier snapped a collar around his neck and led him away. She was so beautiful.”


“It was summer time and the open windows cooled the passenger car. Sleep was impossible, so we drank beer and ate food. The Chinese threw their garbage out the window. We put ours in plastic bags. During the night a cleaning lady swept up the mess. Upon seeing our bags of garbage she threw them out the window. After that we did too. It was so liberating to not worry about littering. A great train ride. From Chengdu I took a plane to Tibet, but that’s another story.”

“You have a lot of them.”

“Yeah, and they’re all true.”

“All of them.”

“If it sounds like a lie, then it’s true.”

“And if it sounds true?” Zeb liked most teenagers didn’t trust anyone over 20.

“Then it’s even more true, because I’m too lazy to lie.”

And that’s the honest truth both on the Lexington Avenue train and all those everywhere else in the world. The track runs straight except for where it curves and then it gets straight again. Just like the truth.

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