Brautigan and the Plastic Buddha

We stumbled around the corner and found ourselves in Chinatown. This stretch of street was experimental poetry with Peking duck hanging in the window. The rain had stopped and the naïve world was washed clean by green tea and paper dragons.

We were on a mission for dim sum. We wandered down an alley with the sweet fragrance of opium hanging in the air. We settled in at Hang Ah, one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in the city. I pointed at the noodle rolls, tarts, and dumplings as the carts rolled by.

“Smell that coming in?” I asked.

“Opium. The Chinese smoke opium in their bathrooms,” Brautigan said.

“Put that on a postcard and send it home,” I said. “Hey, try this noodle roll.”

“The old people sit in the tub,” he said taking the last swallow of his beer.

“That’s just bizarre, man—the bathtub?”

When we got up to pay the ticket, Richard said something to the busboy in Chinese and we were nodded and motioned to the kitchen area. In a darkened storage room off the kitchen a clay pipe was passed around. It was a dream scene set in a Chinatown fog. Old Chinese were sitting in the tub and young children gathered around on the floor. Paper lanterns were stretched across the ceiling on fishing line and bobbed to the sound of an Erhu breeze coming from the alley. A plastic Buddha sat winking on the window sill. I listened to the ping, ting, sing, for minutes, hours or days. Time did not move when the Erhu played.

Finally, inching our way out of the alley, we saw a Chinese princesses riding a lotus flower to the sun weaving down Grant Street in a slow motion display of waving silk. This image stopped us along with a head of cabbage being yo-yo’d down on a string from a balcony above. Smiling elders grinned and waved at us on from above. It splattered at our feet and plastered bits of damp cabbage on our jeans. The old Chinese celebrated from their loft—smiling, nodding, and clapping.

“Ah, man–look at my jeans” I said. “Now what?”

“I need to find a paper, he said.”

Brautigan put the coin in my hand and disappeared behind the paper dragons.


14 Responses to Brautigan and the Plastic Buddha

  1. ybonesy says:

    Nice vignette. Do the old people sit in the bathtubs sans water? I flashed on a memory of an old grandma of my next door neighbor. The grandma sat in the bathtub with her spittoon and chewed her tobacco I sat on the toilet and stared at her.

  2. Paul says:

    Multilayered connecticon, whispy and allusive,

  3. jo says:

    You did a great job here, loved it.

  4. Bob says:

    Yes, there’s definitely a Brautigan-esque quality to this. Not quite reality, not quite fantasy… nice job.

  5. Not quite reality, as Bob said, not quite fantasy. That’s the Chinatown I remember, a strange and mysterious world unto itself. I never trusted Chinatown and its hordes of slow-moving Asians shuffling down the sidewalks and in and out of dank dim sum restaurants. Every weekend there was a funeral procession down Grant Street, proceeding slowly from the funeral home on Green Street and ultimately to the cemetries way down south on the peninsula in Colma (there are no active graveyards in the city of San Francisco).

    I still shudder when I think of Chinatown.

  6. Scot says:

    there is a story there

  7. Scot says:

    as always in these an easter egg hunt as Rodger calls them

  8. Scot says:

    there is something not there?

  9. Scot says:

    for sure the reality is jaded–no pun intended

  10. Scot says:

    there was one for the tourists and one down the alleys

  11. It was the Chinatown “down the alleys” that I was most familiar with, Scot.

  12. I give up, Scot. Where’s the Brautigan text buried?

  13. Scot says:

    two places actually–the opium reference comes from “Postcard from Chinatown,
    and the end to this is based upon the quote from “Revenge of the Lawn” (I think.
    “The sun was like a huge 50-cent piece that someone had poured kerosene on and then had lit with a match, and said, “Here, hold this while I go get a newspaper,” and put the coin in my hand, but never came back.”

  14. Excellent! Seamlessly wove in.

    BTW, we have a poem by Rob Plath at Hemingway’s Shotgun today. Pretty good one. He sent quite a few along.

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