Shanghai

The other night, I ate a meal cooked by people I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I should help them, what they were cooking, or what they were saying, at least part of the time, because they occasionally spoke to each other in Hebrew. At first I thought they were speaking Hebrew to keep something a secret, like their opinions of me or the exact location of their jewelry and valuables, but later, I realized with some excitement that they were saying things like “the eggs are burned” and “our son is annoying, get him out of the kitchen” or “take out the trash” or “did you remember to put my underwear in the dryer.” I too would like to use a language other than English to convey banal questions and instructions to my spouse. The only things I can say so far in Hebrew are “thank you,” “hello / goodbye,” “no,” “girl,” “boy,” “woman,” “man,” “cook,” “read,” “write,” “run,” “swim,” “dog,” “egg,” and “apple.” I don’t know how to say “does this food have meat in it,” or “please,” or “where is the laundromat.” Meanwhile, at the house where I had only just met the people who were cooking for me, my children and their children shot each other with Nerf darts and played with chinchillas, even though they—the children, not the chinchillas—did not share a language. Playing with Nerf guns and the softest animals in the world obviates language.

Dream: I’m sitting on the conveyor belt. It’s moving forward at its maximum speed of 8 miles per hour. The person in front of me announces that he has won an Olympic medal. The strap is visible around his neck. I can’t see what mint the medal is, and if it’s a bronze medal I won’t care, but it may be a gold medal, so I sit up straight with good posture and act like someone who also has a medal. The only thing around my neck is a chain with a car key on it. The key is black and it flips open like a switchblade. I like the way it opens very much. I close it and flip it open with the little silver button, for fun. It can be stored compactly when it’s in my pocket. It can ignite a 2.5-liter engine. These engines are manufactured in the factory in Shanghai where I’m sitting on the rolling conveyor belt. I have the key so that I can do quality control checks on the engines once they have been mounted on a chassis and inserted into a car. The key can turn on any of the engines. It will render most aspects of quality control meaningless, but I am not motivated to make waves or to complete my job in an ethical way. I am only motivated by my paycheck. I press the silver button again and again. The man in front of me turns around and we look at each other. His medal is silver, like the button on my key. I’m relatively impressed.

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