Category: Fiction

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 21: Gwongzau

People build their lives out of a mixture of reality and symbols. I’ll provide an example from my earlier Chicago days. I once rented the upper floor of a house; the owner lived on the lower floor. He was out of town one winter and asked me to keep an eye on the central heating unit’s pilot light to make sure it was always on. That much at least, the reality principle guided his life. One day I was back down in the basement and noticed the smell of gas coming from a gas line along the ceiling. The most prompt and reliable public service in any city, even faster than an ambulance or the police, is the gas company when you call their emergency number. They were there in a few minutes. They shut off the gas and unscrewed the leaky pipe. “He put his pipe in bare? What the hell is he doing attaching pipes without pipe dope!” they yelled, as they applied glue to the threads and screwed it back in.

I got on the phone to inform my landlord he had to have all his gas lines refitted with pipe dope as soon as possible.

“Pipe dope?”

“It’s a glue, a sealant, to prevent gas from escaping through the joints.”

In other words, his house was possibly days or hours away from being blown sky high. That didn’t stop him too from yelling at me. He was outraged I had approved the gas company’s bill for the service without consulting him first. He was moreover incredulous he could possibly have improperly fitted his own gas lines. Again I tried to explain it was the gas company, not me, that fixed the leaky pipe, and as it was an immediate public threat they didn’t need his permission. No matter. How dare I authorize an unjustified intrusion on his property? It was as if his very identity had been violated. I had messed with his independence, his self-sufficiency, his rights — his symbols. He did finally swallow the humiliation and accepted the need to refit the pipes, but it goes to show how strong resistance to reality can be among symbol-driven types.


The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 20: Roma


“Stop shooting!” yelled Malmquist.

“What happened?”

“Get out of the cage.”

“It’s not a cage. We’re stuck under a board. I can’t move my arm.”

Malmquist crawled out from under the board. It was a toppled litter. He extracted Danny’s arm and dragged the rest of him free. There had been screams. A pair of Roman ladies lay flung on the ground next to them. Several slaves bent over another person who was prostrate. A growing pool of blood and commotion. Voices exclaiming, “Quid accidit?”

“Let’s get out of here, now! Follow me.”

“Where’s my gun?”

“We have no time to talk.”

Confusion and the crush of the crowd enabled them to escape. Malmquist’s tunics were both torn open and he grasped them to hide his nakedness as they dashed out of Trajan’s Forum and through the marketplace in back.

“Don’t you tell me what to do, bandage head. You were trying to assault me just now! Where the fuck are we?”

“Listen, you brat. This is Ancient Rome. One of your gunshots caused that pool of blood just now. You’d better pray it was only a slave or we’re going to be executed on the spot. I’m taking us somewhere safe.”

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 19: New Gary

Ganja haze hung in the air and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy blared on the stereo when the buzzer rang. Delilah turned the music down. Gunther entered with a strange woman. “Leroy dropped her off. He said to take care of her.”

“Hoc est lupanar?” the woman asked.

“Who is she?”

The woman walked around the room as if looking for something. She went up to the stereo and pointed to the speakers. “Ubi musici?” she asked, peeking around and behind the speakers.

“What’s she doing?” asked Gunther.

“I don’t know.”

The woman then noticed the spinning record on the turntable and grabbed the tone arm, making a blood-curdling scratch.

“Oh, fuck, you just ruined my record!”

She looked up at them in confusion, the tone arm still in her fist. “Ubi musici?”

“What’s the matter with her? Is she retarded?”

Delilah pulled her away from the stereo and sat her down on the bed. “Who are you?”

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 18: Zigaago

“Where the hell am I?” Delilah whispered to herself.

She was seated on a toilet in what should have been a toilet stall except there was no stall, only exposed toilets projecting from a wall. The seat next to hers was occupied by a black female. To one side sinks, to the other urinals, one being used by a white female facing forward, tunic hiked up over her hips. The only thing separating the so-called restroom from the noisy space on the other side was a screen. Then a white male came up and grabbed the toilet on Delilah’s other side. “Neihou,” he said to her.

She jumped up and went over to the sink. The black woman was soon at the sink next to hers, washing not only her hands but her face and chest as well, sticking her hand through the sides of her sleeveless tunic to get under and between the breasts. Delilah stared.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 17: Xinluoma

“Poxie! Chou biaozi!” cursed the naked man as he punched and kicked the prostitute. “Ni ge jianbi! Ni die wo yijing ba ni bi cao lan le!”

“Bie da wo le!” she begged him.

Malmquist was just as startled by his sudden appearance in the attic brothel as they were, but he recognized the man and the man him. Dispensing with formalties, he knocked the wind out of the man with his fist, put his head in an armlock and bashed his face against the wall until he grew limp.

“Shenme yisi?” said the startled proprietor as Malmquist dashed down the ladder and out of the eatery.

The prostitute appeared on the steps to announce while pointing at Malmquist, “Nage nanren feichang ouda keren le. Kuailai ba!”

He had already disappeared down the lanes across the Palatine in the direction of the Circus Maximus.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 16: Chicago

“Haidou dangzyu ngo,” she said.

“What’s going on? You’re putting me in a jail cell full of guns,” Malmquist said, grabbing her by the arm.

“Ng!” She pulled away.

“Wingyee, please don’t leave me.”

She was already gone. The cell’s bright lighting dimmed and all that remained was the glare of a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. It was a basement. Industrial steel shelving housed a comprehensive gun collection and stacks of ammunition. Dug out of one wall was a hole big enough for a person to go through. Malmquist went up the basement stairs and placed his ear against the door at the top. Fragments of a conversation were audible.

“….What’s bandage head’s name again? Heard he’s in the area….”

“….Set the sick fuck on fire….no trace….blow him away.”

“….Lemme get the….”

One of the voices grew louder and closer. “What’s he got to do with it, rectum face?”

“I didn’t mean that.”

“You stupid cum-eating dumster mouth feedbag fucktard!”

The door opened. From behind the stairway where he had hidden himself just in time, Malmquist could see someone’s legs trotting down through the steps. They stopped halfway, then headed back up.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 15: Zigaago

His rainbow-tattooed penis proudly displayed, the old hippie considered what to say next to Malmquist,. “It’s like this,” he said, an imaginary sphere poised on his fingertips.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“That’s what I was getting at.”

“Haven’t we had this conversation before?”

“All conversation is the same. What’s different is the man.”

“Cool. Here’s to Ray.” Malmquist clinked glasses with Cornelius. “Damn this ale is good. Why did I just toast to Ray?”

“That’s just what I was getting at.”

“One minute I was talking to her, then I’m talking to you. I don’t remember you coming back.”

“I never left, man.”

“But you clearly did.”

“Yeah, I left for a moment, but I didn’t really leave. I’m always here. Ray left.”

“I don’t remember that. Didn’t I already leave and come back?”

“You did. You two left together before I returned.”

“I know as a fact I left because I’m still frying from the acid I ingested in ancient Rome. But I didn’t know I left with her.”