First, it was 6,000 dead pigs floating in Shanghai’s water supply. Then, 1,000 dead ducks surfaced in the Sichuan River. Now, hundreds of thousands of dead fish are floating in the Fu river in Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei.
Workers are digging trenches along 25 miles of the river in which to bury 110 tons of rotting fish. They must do this to prevent people from eating them. Birds who eat the dead fish die miserable poisoned deaths. People would, too. Peasants with little round hand-held nets are standing on the riverbank as we speak, skimming off scoopfuls of slimy dead fish. It’s as hopeless a task as any ever faced by a peasant.
This has not been a good environmental year for China. If only its biggest worries were those of its Japanese neighbors! (Godzilla, rising from radioactive waters). Instead, the Chinese are drowning in soup they can’t slurp: Hot and Sour Pork, Duck, and now Fish Chowder – all with plenty of fermentation from kimchee and carcasses.
“Oh, I’m sick of messages from the front,” says Rufus T. Firefly. “Don’t we ever get a message from the side?”
Asides are the meat of Mirth. I can’t digest heavy tons of gasping polluted fish. I stew helplessly over the world’s atrocities. I can’t swallow savagery. I’m poisoned by the problem of evil. I have to find smaller fish to fry. My hope is that small doses of hurtful things, taken with humor, will boost my immunity — allergy shots for the psyche.
Vicious little cruelties are sometimes harder to bear than major tragedies. You’re the casualty of war, famine, or pestilence? You understand your position. You fall prey to some petty personal tyrant? Cold casual heartlessness is often beyond comprehension.
To this day, I harbor deep and abiding hatred for a girl who humiliated me in high school. She’s been dead quite awhile, now – and happy I was to hear it, by God! No, this is not apt to go over well with Saint Peter. But at least I don’t try to fool myself (or him) with pretensions to Christian grace and forgiveness.
Brandi Russ is a few years older than I. She’s a cheerleader — popular, athletic, and pretty. She swans like a goddess through the halls of the high school. I pose no threat to the goddess. I am young for my age, and quiet. I wear glasses, play the violin, and get As. I am always the last person chosen for teams in gym class (or almost the last; I rate a bit better than the unfortunate fat girls born into generational poverty who have black teeth and body odor and vacant eyes). All might still be forgiven if I weren’t flat-chested. I am insecure, and rightly so: the whole Missy package means social death in my small hometown.
I am in 10th grade, stuck in a gym class full of haughty upperclassmen. We are playing softball. Against all odds – it is a miracle! – I whack the ball when up to bat and send it flying far into the outfield. I run to first base, flushed with excitement. The ball hasn’t been recovered. I keep running. Brandi Russ, the second baseman, suddenly hunkers down, waves her arms madly at me, and yells, “Go back! Go back! Go back! Go back!”
I go back. I know nothing about softball, but remember hearing something about X number of bases on an overthrow or some such damned thing. I assume that the universe is just. I assume that I am wrong. I assume that the second-baseman is right. I assume that the second-baseman is not a mean shallow bitch out for a cheap laugh at my expense.
I am wrong, and I am out. The second-baseman rolls about on the ground, clutching her sides and laughing. So do all her teammates. So does the gym teacher, who sponsors the cheerleaders and is a pal of the second-baseman. My own teammates turn away, rolling their eyes. Even the fat girls with black teeth scorn me (I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge them the off-chance to feel better about themselves). It is, naturally, the third out in the last inning of a close game. I lose my pride, and we lose the game.
Is it any wonder that I skip gym class for the rest of the semester, earning a 67% on my report card? (an otherwise unblemished document, except for math — a story for another day). Is it any wonder that I hate sports? Is it any wonder that, to this day, I can’t join a fitness club? Is it any wonder that I see Brandi Russ in every botoxed spandexed fake-tanned liposuctioned bleach-blonded-and-waxed high-fashioned jogger who passes me by?
Then there’s random cruelty for personal financial gain. A nervous but brave 18-year-old student arrives in Chicago from China. He has very little English. He has worked terribly hard since he first drew breath for the opportunity to study in the United States. He is excited and happy. He is living his dream. His future is at hand.
He is flagged down by a cabbie, who tells him he has missed the last train to the Urbana-Champaign university campus. The cabbie offers to drive him there for $1,000 – a trip of 150 miles for which the going taxi rate is $300. The boy, tired and friendless in a strange country, gets in the car and is ultimately charged $4,200 – stripped of every cent he has with him.
“It’s hard to know why this would have happened,” says Julie Misa, director of the University’s International Student and Scholar Services program.
What a stupid-ass comment! (and badly written, to boot). It’s not hard at all to know why. My feisty little New Hampshire grandmother stoutly maintained that people are no damned good. She was cheerful enough about it, but she was right.
The shame of it! That cabbie deserves Ordeal by Water, preferably in China’s Fu River (and no, I didn’t invent that name for the occasion. Serendipity does sometimes rule).
The witch and her daughter, below, deserve dunking, too. They’ve been arrested for scamming more than $1 million from lonely women who thought they were having electronic love affairs with handsome servicemen abroad. These two broads stood with little nets on online shores and scooped bushels of gulls and suckers from the sea of desolation. They reeled in 374 victims from more than 40 countries. Karen and Tracy Vasseur face a dozen or more years of prison time after pleading guilty to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.
The shame of it! Imagine them cackling around the caldron, reading their impassioned love letters aloud to each other! Deeply personal letters, outpourings of desire and hope – and money. “This one!” waves the mother. “She wants to take me to Paris on my next leave!” “Ha!” says the daughter. “This one wants to cover me with kisses! And she can’t wait to meet my mother!” They roll about on the ground, clutching their sides and laughing.
So perhaps it’s time to forgive Brandi Russ after all. She ought to be ashamed, too, but she’s small fry, and she’s dead. Time to take out my hook and practice catch and release – into that eternal Fu River.