Sunday, June 29, 2008

Marjorie Daw

The weather being again too miserably damp and rainy, and the air too heavy with pollution, for me to contemplate straying far from home last night, I dropped in mid-evening at my old stand-by, Room 101.

They were having a hastily put-together mini-rock festival, with 6 or 7 small local bands that I'd never heard of before playing 20 minutes or so each in quick succession. No door fee, so I thought I might as well give it a try. How bad could it be? (Actually, it ended up being pretty good. I'd just missed the first band, but the next four were surprisingly decent. Only the last two sucked - and by then, around midnight, after the excitement I shall now relate, I was about ready to go home anyway.)

Crazy Chris - who, in his short time in our capital, has become an even more notorious bar prop than me - is pretty much a fixture at 101 these days, so I'd been hoping I might run into him there. I had forgotten what a music snob he is: the level of musicianship we can offer here in Beijing is, apparently, beneath his contempt. Thus, he felt driven into exile from 101 last night, and was skulking around the corner in the Pool Bar instead.

Since there was no-one I knew in 101 (only a small crowd of Chinese rock fans), and I had no great confidence myself in the likely quality of the music to come, I entered into a series of text-message exchanges with Chris to try to divine if there was a livelier, more tempting scene at the PB.

Well, what I initially sent to him was the query:

"Any hot chicks at the PB tonight?"

"Man, it's full of hot women tonight." he answered.

Such a phenomenon is not unknown at the PB, but..... well, what with the weather being so lousy and all, I was a little sceptical. And I'm not sure that I trust Chris's taste. So I decided to seek clarification. "Tall, single, non-Chinese, non-psychotic? Any tall, thirty-ish, American redheads??" I fired back (I know what I like!).

"One 36-year-old, but not natural red," he teased concisely.

I have a big, big weakness for redheads (even if it's out of a bottle), but I was still trying to maintain my reserve and dignity. "They've got Creedence on the sound system during the changeover between bands. I'm a happy man here. You've got a tough sell on your hands!"

But the thing was, I was tormented by the thought that maybe, just maybe it was Target A, the focus of my ill-starred 'Plan', the woman who'd made my heart go flip-flip when I'd glimpsed her across a crowded bar months ago, the woman whose image haunts me still, The One. So I queried further, "She's not a schoolteacher by any chance, is she?" I believe The One is a schoolteacher.

"Yes, she is. How did you know?"

"Talk me up. Get her e-mail. Get a photo! (I bet Y [one of the Chinese 'invariables'] has a camera-phone.) Where does she teach?" I replied, immediately rather too obviously interested.

"All girls Catholic school," came the reply.

I was immediately deflated. I wasn't quite sure which school The One teaches at, or indeed if she really is a teacher; but I was pretty sure that there's no single-sex Catholic school in Beijing yet. And this did sound a little too much like one of Crazy Chris's own perverse erotic fantasies. "A tourist?? Disappointing! I was starting to think she was The One......" I commented.

"No, she lives in Beijing," he taunted me further.

This did not compute. I really was pretty damn sure there was no Catholic School in Beijing. But maybe it was very small, or very new. Or maybe Chris had just been confused on that point, or was making a joke.

I think he may have volunteered one or two more pieces of information. I fired off one or two more queries. (I wasn't able to preserve the entire correspondence on my phone, and my memory fails me now, after all the drinks that ensued.) I didn't think this could be The One. But then again, how could I be sure? If she were, then I couldn't afford to pass up the opportunity. Then again, if it were her, after all these months of anticipation and frustration, I'd be scared witless at the prospect of actually talking to her at last. Then again, perhaps this could be a new romantic interest for me. Tall, reddish hair (dyed, what the hell?), a teacher, the right kind of age - it sounded very promising. Very, very promising. Almost too good to be true.

I needed time to weigh my options and get my courage up. And I really didn't want to miss any of the bands, who were turning out to be surprisingly good. So I kept up the regular text exchanges with Chris, to try to make sure that he wouldn't leave, to try to make sure that she wouldn't leave until I got there. (We'd begun this nonsense around 10, and I was anticipating moving to the PB at midnight.)

"I'm talking you up! She sounds interested," Chris goaded me.

I confided some of my misgivings to Chris (only some of them, not really the most pressing ones): "The Catholic School thing bothers me. The fact that she's talking to you so much bothers me. The fact that I seem to be using you to chat her up bothers me!!!"

Then, at last, it suddenly occurred to me that I had a simple means of divining if she might indeed be The One. I had first seen her back in February at a gig in Room 101, so I asked: "Has she ever been to 101? Important question!"

"No," came the brisk and dispiriting response from my collaborator.

"Ah, then it's not The One," I sighed, digitally.

But heck, she might be playing coy about it (did she suspect who I was??). Or Chris might be yanking my chain. And, as I had mused just a few moments earlier, she sounded like the kind of person I ought to be interested in meeting anyway. So, I was still pondering heading over there to say hi. But the next band came on just then, and they were pretty good too. And I was getting in a bit of a funk about introducing myself to a potentially very wonderful woman - who'd been 'warmed up' for me by Crazy Chris!

I procrastinated a little longer about whether to quit 101. By this stage, I was feeling under some obligation to keep up my side of the conversation - or to help Chris keep up his side of it (I tried not to think too much about what he might have been telling this lady about the strange friend he kept exchanging text messages with!). However, I was starting to run short of inspiration: "Presumably she's a Catholic? Um, what does she drink? What's her favourite TV show? Have you tried her on the Live Underwear Challenge yet??"

Chris informed me that she was not a Catholic. I breathed a large sigh of relief - I don't feel comfortable with people who are too serious about their religion, and Catholics (well, Catholic schoolteachers, anyway) tend to be. He said he hadn't initiated her into his signature bar conversation, "If you absolutely had to wear underwear made out of creatures that were still alive, what animal would you choose?" I breathed a second, even larger sigh of relief.

The shit band came on. I decided I'd really better bite the bullet, summon up my courage (and my humour, charm, conversational inventiveness), and go and meet this woman.

It was at this point that Chris sent me the message:
"Sorry, man, I was just fucking with you."

"About what? The Catholic School? The red hair?"

"The whole thing. No hot women in here tonight. No women at all. It's all just Chinese dudes."

Dammit, Chris, you suckered me good. Well done.

It passed an evening, I suppose; an evening that at times threatened to be quite dull (his more so than mine, I suspect).

Does anybody get the title reference? You can find the answer here.

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