was on a mission to find a one-legged Rickshaw Boy. I told Mr P about my story
idea and he said it was a very good one. Mr P was my producer, which means, as
you can guess, that I am in the TV business.
My agent arranged our initial meeting in a wine bar in London’s Soho. To my astonishment, Mr P told me the cheque was in the post, that I was his man, and that he loved my shoes. “Policeman’s boots,” he called them, and then showed me his own moccasins. I didn’t understand the significance, but I think it was his way of telling me to relax and buy some more comfortable shoes. We drunk a bottle of Merlot each and I told him my story idea. He said the one-legged Rickshaw Boy element was a hoot. I said I thought it a very important statement. This made him laugh.
That was how I came to be in a cockroach-infested apartment eight thousand miles away from home without toilet paper. More important members of the film-crew were put up in a four star hotel, but there had been some deal over real estate and this apartment was available. Apparently I was very lucky to be put up there. Long term stays in hotels, so Mr P told me, were unnatural, as well as expensive. Apparently, someone once stole his shoes from his hotel room. He had a thing about shoes, did Mr P.
So I was met off the plane, dumped in the apartment by a driver called Larry Lau, and left without maps, food or phone numbers. Extremely annoying, but there was little I could do about it then.
I had succumbed to jet-lag and was dreaming, for reasons that escape me, of three legged turtles when the telephone rang.
“Where are you?” asked the phone.
“Where are you?”
“I wish I knew,” I said.
The voice at the other end said she was Mr P’s secretary. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I was late for work.
“Then send a car for me,” I said. “And have you found the one-legged Rickshaw Boy?”
I heard a giggle as the phone went dead. I could tell that my quest was a true crusade. We would have a disabled actor hired if it was the last thing I did. I would also have it credited that no tiger penises were used in this production. Like I said, it was a very important statement. There were disability and environmental issues at stake here, all of which were very important in my world of wine bars and UK creatives.
When I looked out of my un-curtained windows, I thought Hong Kong looked promising. The sky was smog laden. Dogs howled. Pile drivers drove. Horns hooted. And schoolgirls in white socks paraded below in the sloping mess of streets. I had imagined an anthill of snake eaters in pursuit of money. And here it was. Just the place where an artificially legged Rickshaw Boy with a penchant for blow-torching his victims crispy-skinned might operate. It was an entertaining prospect.
I dripped like a rusty tap as I waited on the sweltering unknown street for the Toyota. The driver, Larry Lau, wore a yellow T-shirt rolled up over his stomach. He also had a mobile phone and pager strapped to his belt. I think he suffered Bandwidth Anxiety problems. For a man obsessed with communication, I was surprised that he rarely spoke.
Larry pushed an LPG canister off the back seat onto the floor. I assumed this was to make me more comfortable. However, sitting with legs straddling the cylinder had an unnerving effect. It occurred to me that I was being taken off to have my blood drained and my body dumped piecemeal into the water tanks of tall buildings.
This was cop-show writer anxiety syndrome. There is no known cure.
I dreamt of falling off the roofs of financial institutions and plummeting with the Hang Seng Index. Then the car rumbled down ramps into a basement car park and woke me. Luckily, we were beneath the studio and not the lounge of a chainsaw-wielding, rolling-eyed madman. I do not know why, but somehow I associate such characters with this mission.
Mr P leaped about his office explaining that “heroes never sit down.”
“Heroes never sit down,” I repeated as I jotted the words into my notebook. “Because?” I asked.
“Because they don’t,” he replied. “Heroes do what heroes do. And one of the things they do is always stand.”
“Except when they drive cars?”
“They’d do that standing up if they could,” he explained. “But mentally, they are on their feet.”
Then he regaled me with many stories about his buckskin moccasins. He took his shoes very seriously, and since it pays to ingratiate with the man who gives the pay check, I smiled and nodded appreciatively at his insight into life and footwear. As he spoke, he fed ant-eggs to Martian goldfish swimming in a small tank on his desk. Every so often, he had a bug-eyed expression on his face not too far removed from that of his fish.
“I tell you, thingy,” he said. “Jet lag is shit lag. I haven’t been for two weeks. Heh heh heh!”
“Yes Boss,” I said. “It sure seems that way.”
There were limits to my sycophancy and I suspected that he could see them approaching. So tiring of my company, he pushed me through a door into a darkened room and introduced me to one of the film editors. “Hi Ed,” he said, “Here’s thingy, you know, the writer, come to do some work. Heh heh heh!”
“Hi thingy,” said Ed. “Sit down.”
“I’m being heroic.”
“Ah, you know, he’s right. Look at this lot. They don’t sit down.”
Ed had a grizzly look about him. He sweated before images of scrawny, sinuous men in greasy vests bouncing, kicking, and dodging bullets while never sitting down. I recognised Larry the Driver on the screen in mid-death throe, screaming like a young Jamie Lee Curtis. Driving was obviously his forté.
Ed frantically cut and slashed at the rushes. He grabbed the strips of film from big wheeled tubs, slapped them onto the Steenbeck editing suite, and seemed able to run the film upside down and backwards and still know where to make the cut. Even so, he groaned, “Oh God! Call that acting? Don’t they understand anything?”
“Well at least they don’t sit down,” I said.
On the screen a hairy-chested, muscle-bound monster wielded a flame-thrower and growled, “Eat death scumbag!”
“Oh Jesus!” groaned Ed. “Can’t we kill that bastard?”
I was not sure whether Ed referred to the character, in which case it would have been my fault, or the actor. I plumped for the actor.
“He was cheap,” I said.
“Well he’s costing them plenty now.” Ed replayed the line over and over again and I realised that the hero was actually saying “Eat beth thcumbag!”
“To think,” muttered Ed. “I could have been in Hawaii working on an Eastwood movie.”
Ed had not seen daylight for fifteen years. In the darkness, I think he was secretly crying. He was definitely sitting though.
I escaped from the editing suite to look for the one-legged Rickshaw Boy. There had to be such a character or the whole episode would make no sense. The Korean casting lady said I was insane. She was an ex-porn star who’s last acting role was a naked hog wrestler. She snarled when she spoke and exhaled cigarette smoke from her nostrils.
“But,” I pointed out. “In movies the serial killer always has a physical disability.”
“Never wear panties, darling,” she snarled. “That’s the only rule that means anything in this business.”
She called herself a dragon lady. It was a well rehearsed little speech for the likes of me. She was show business. I was an upstart. She was the old China hand. I was an ignorant fool. We got on like a house burning down.
“One-legged Rickshaw Boy!” she snarled, exhaling more smoke. “You gweilos haven’ got a clue, have you?”
I felt ignorant, but there was a moral imperative to hire a disabled actor. It was my contribution to human rights. Something that I felt more people should know something about.
The golden reflections of Hong Kong’s unblinking lights swam across the wet windscreen of my black Toyota. I scoured the streets seeking limblessness. My driver Larry, if I read his sign language correctly, knew a one-legged beggar who would fit the role. However, when we found the man, he was sprawled on the concrete floor of an overhead walkway with two legs: granted crippled, but bi-pedal nonetheless.
“He has to be able to pull a rickshaw,” I mimed to Larry, hopping and tugging at the air. Larry nodded as if he understood. “And of course, avoid sitting.”
We bent over the beggar again. He was not sitting, but he was lying facedown on the floor, banging his begging tin like a Saturday afternoon TV wrestler submitting.
I dropped him a hundred Hong Kong in memory of my grandmother howling down the ancient English wrestling personality called Billy Two Rivers, doing his stint of tag and grudge matches at Bridlington Spa. It was one of those moments when one wonders how one got here from there. Indeed the beggar was probably thinking much the same thing. One moment his mum was wiping his nose and drying his eyes, and then suddenly he wakes up a stain on the pavement.
“Even if we chop a leg off it won’t work,” I said. “And I don’t think we can budget the recovery time for trauma.”
Larry looked at me and grinned. I grinned back. We liked each other because although we could not speak the other’s language, we could see in our eyes that we knew the truth.
I returned to my apartment saddened that I could not reach the day’s goal. Inside the room, it was dark. I switched on the lights and noticed that even though I switched, nothing went on. On closer, groping, examination, I saw in the shadows that all the light bulbs had been removed. I wondered if somewhere there was a god who knew the reason. Maybe they had never been there in the first place? Maybe I had a rare form of stroke that disabled light bulb perceiving brain cells? Maybe there was a market for stolen light bulbs in Hong Kong run by one-legged Rickshaw Boys? It was a mystery like the source of our dreams and the course of our lives.
Since there was no light I went to bed and dreamt that I was in a sampan. An old woman in a black frilled straw hat sat at the tiller. She gnawed on a live snake that was featured in episode three, and saw that I had fifty thousand Hong Kong in my wallet. She called her husband, who had a chopper.
It was the sort of dream that conjured up one-legged Rickshaw Boys who would spit on my dismembered parts, call me a devil, and tell me I had no right to appear in their dreams. Then I remembered how part of my research for this project was viewing a documentary on Cambodia. It became clear whose dream was being dreamt, and the fragments of my reality were but bits of shrapnel randomly blown in my direction.
I woke up, more or less, and telephoned Mr P.
“Landmines,” I muttered to his recording machine. “Cambodia! Princess Di just before the mystery assassins caught up with her, or not. Good publicity for everyone, that is the cause, not the assassination, or not, but the “Good Cause.” Anti-anti-personnel mines. Authenticity found in using a real victim. And a mere...”
I almost said, “hop away.”
I did say “hop away.”
I made a note to castigate myself for bad taste, but also breathed a sigh of relief. I had discovered I wasn’t completely crazy, merely geographically off-centre. The mission could thus be accomplished. I hoped, before I drifted off into exhausted slumber, my crazed memo would not be taken as a sign of mental breakdown, more of inspiration.
Either way it was, as we say in showbiz, a done deal.
I spent the next day writing the script for episode six. It featured a story about doping horses for the Happy Valley Races. I thought it would be amusing to have a bunch of hapless criminals try to get a doped horse into a high rise lift. When I told Mr P this, I thought he would tell me what a hoot that was and I was his man. Unfortunately, he told me what a pain getting a horse into a lift would be. He said I should do the same story with cockroaches instead. He had heard of triad run beetle races, how in Mexico City people painted beetles, sprinkled diamonds on them and tethered them to their shoes as decoration.
It did not seem quite as challenging for a gangster to get a doped cockroach into a lift, diamond studded or otherwise, but Mr P told me to use my imagination. He said maybe there was one special cockroach and it got loose in the building with a small nuclear detonator attached to it. I said I was not quite sure that the animal rights angle would be fully exploited in this situation. I think he noticed that I was almost angry. He looked me firmly in the eye and told me God had an inordinate fondness for beetles. “But,” I said as I stared into his wild bug eyes, “what has he done with my light bulbs?”
Mr P decided that he had to go to the toilet at that point. I was passing into a typical scriptwriter faze of unreasonable insistence on common sense. So I took my notes and decided not to write any more that day until I had digested all these ideas, or gotten drunk enough. I settled on getting drunk. Then I’d get back in the correct state of mind for working like this.
Larry took me to a bar in Lan Kwai Fong. It was a ghetto for Westerners, and thus a place held in much contempt by Westerners who liked to think themselves above the sort of Westerner who hung about with no one other than Westerners. However, nearly all the customers in the bar were Chinese. Larry left me alone as he went off with friends. I did find one Westerner though, drinking pints in a corner. He was an English soundman from the film crew: a miserable pot-bellied man with podgy fingers. I told him all about the impossibility of trying to think up a story about cockroaches. He told me he hoped that I would fail.
Like Ed, he too could have been on a shoot with Clint Eastwood in Hawaii. Instead, he told me, he was sitting in cesspools trying to catch the essence of the East, or rather, avoid catching it. His main sources of complaint so far were lizards that could not act, trained monkeys that ran up sides of buildings to plummet to their doom before startled tourists, and the hog-wrestling scene...
The Hog Wrestling Scene?
I was thankful he did not mention one-legged Rickshaw Boys, but my left eye began to twitch. I could feel sensations creep through my mind like rats through the sinking corridors of the Titanic.
“The hog wrestling scene?” I said.
“Whoever thought that one up,” he said, “must need his head examined.”
“Don’t look at me!” I protested, increasingly concerned. It was always possible I had thought that one up in the same way as I had thought up the cockroach racing.
“Have you ever seen a frightened pig?” gurgled the soundman into his lager. This sound was supposed to represent the intestinal activity of a frightened pig.
I immediately went and dragged Larry away from a Filipina dressed in what looked suspiciously like a Minnie Mouse costume. Every time my eye twitched, she said “Fuck the British!” I did not know whether she was making an offer or an insult.
“Diu!” snapped Larry. I guessed by the look of his face that the word was Cantonese and not an offer.
“Take me back to the studios,” I demanded as I discovered my voice had raised an octave.
He glared at me as I mimed him driving and said “studios” three times in varying degrees of hysteria. He put a cocktail stick into his mouth and chewed on it a moment. Finally Larry said “Che!” and walked out. I followed, and he drove me to the studios in silence, apart from the noise of a jiggling plastic cat on the dashboard.
“Hello Kitty!” I said as I pointed to the curious writing on its side. “The Trend of Life Style” said a sticker on the dashboard. I couldn’t help reading it out loud to try see if its meaning could be shaken loose.
“Chisin!” said Larry, spitting bits of the cocktail stick down the front of his T-shirt.
“I am doing this for us all,” I explained to him. “Everything must have a meaning.”
“It is what makes us human,” I added, stating the essentially humanistic and benevolent goal that motivated my urge to make money through my writing and bring a little joy into the otherwise humdrum lives of the masses.
At the studios I went to see Ed, who sat in one of the film tubs smoking a large cigarette and giggling. I told him that I wanted to see the Rickshaw Boy episode.
“Yeah,” he said. “But I strongly recommend you smoke one of these before sitting through the whole thing.”
“The whole thing?” I said as I threaded the film into the editing machine. “They finished it without my politically correct anti-anti-personnel devices Cambodian?”
Ed burnt what I hoped were useless out-takes of film. They melted and dripped to the floor as they emitted startling whizzing noises. Finally I sat back and watched a mad moustache of a Vietnam war veteran in hot pursuit of a one-legged Rickshaw boy. As the stuntman hopped down Queen Street, it was obvious that his spare leg was strapped behind.
Mr P stepped through the door, perhaps alerted by Ed. I think there was an emergency red button that could be pressed when the writer demanded to see the rough-cut.
“Hey thingy, don’t worry,” whispered Mr P. “If we get hold of a stump for some close ups, then people will be too frightened to look closely! Heh heh heh!”
“But he’s got two legs!” I choked. “Didn’t you get my memo about Cambodia? That country is full of limbless people.”
“But can they act?” asked Mr P.
“They can act limbless.”
“No,” he said. “The Americans would not like it. And we’re pinning our hopes on cable syndication.”
I felt a sting of defeat. There was no arguing with American taste.
“Ah,” said Mr P, spying a consolatory opportunity. “The Hog Wrestling Scene!”
I sank down into my seat and saw my hairy-chested hero grab a squealing pig, slip on something disgusting and fall flat on his back like a clown.
“I thought you said heroes never sat down,” I whined.
“The pig’s good though,” said Mr P. “He’ll be a star. Or is it she’ll be a star?”
“But it makes no sense,” I cried. “It’s a piece of shit!”
Mr P placed his hand on my shoulder and pointed at the screen. “With a bit of work, you can make it make sense. You can polish it till it shines. I believe in you, thingy! You’re my man.”
I looked up and studied the film from a professional perspective. The soundtrack was not yet finished, so I could add a few pieces of dialogue over the back of people’s heads.
“Hey there, you guy,” I tentatively ventured as Ed sat down beside me. ”You not point that thing at me!”
“I don’t think he’d say that,” said Ed with a smoke-fuelled giggle.
“Well what would he say?” I snapped, trying to make sense of my pig-wrestling movie.
“Well,” suggested Ed, “He’s supposed to eat the guy so he’d say something like, “You might be stirred but you ain’t fried yet!”
I looked at Ed, who burped and giggled, then I looked at Mr P, who nodded sagely. I heard a rumbling from deep inside myself. It was hysterical laughter. I suppressed it and calmly said, “The guy does not have any teeth. He cannot eat anyone!”
Ed examined the situation, running the film backwards, forwards and then backwards again. “Why the fuck did you want a one-legged Rickshaw Boy?” he asked.
“God knows,” I said as I buried my head in my hands.
Then something came over me. I turned to Mr P and said, “You know, some people say travel broadens the mind and art is a means of increasing one’s understanding, empathy, and spiritual health. But I’m not quite seeing it somehow.”
“Whatever,” said Mr P with a shrug.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I’m going to scream.”
I slipped out of the door into the warmth of the night and took the lift to the roof. I found a washing line hanging with dried fish. I studied it for a moment and decided that once they must have been wet: therefore to dry them, one hangs them on the line. It made perfect sense. Then I looked down upon the hazy streets and imagined sending parcel bombs to prominent cultural figures. That too made perfect sense.
“It’s a jungle out there, Mr Wong,” I muttered as I looked down upon the people scurrying from shopping malls to housing blocks. They were crying as well. Which also made perfect sense.
I quickly returned to the editing suite, slapped Ed on the back, and gave him the “jungle” line that would lead into the end credits where it said: “No tiger penises in this production.”
“And you know what?” said Mr P. “There ain’t!”
After that, work proceeded relatively smoothly, though there was a revolt by the camera crew over the cockroach story. It then became a grasshopper story, which they thought more acceptable.
“Right,” said Mr P. “There’s this singing grasshopper with the same frequency that sets off bomb alerts in the cross-harbour tunnel.”
“And the guy who steals the light bulbs in my apartment, lets off a swarm of these things to disguise the fact that he really does have a bomb!”
“But why?” asked Mr P.
“One of the mysteries of the East?”
“Exactly,” he said.
“And my toilet paper keeps going missing as well,” I told him, which made him smile.
decided Mr P was the result of a UFO abduction and artificial insemination. I
suppressed the thought though. I suspected it was crazy. And also, I might have
to work for him again.
At the wrap party a pig’s skin was roasted and served. I was certain we were eating the famous pig. The evening ended with Mr P going to every table, yelling “gon bui”, and shooting down several shots of XO brandy. He made a speech about synchronicity and then with a wink at me, told us how a Red Indian pro-wrestler called Billy Two Rivers warned him that his pig skin moccasins were slippery when wet. “But,” said Mr P, his eyes focused upon each other, “I never really heard him until one stormy night - Heh heh heh!”
Even those that understood him failed to laugh, which must have meant the job was over so we no longer had to. Mr P sank into the shadows in an alcoholic stupor that apparently he never left until the next series was underway. Mr P considered himself a people person, and if he was not entertaining or bullying them, he didn’t exist at all. It was a sign of his calling.
Larry drove me to the airport. We shook hands and I presented him with a new T-shirt that he immediately put on over his old one. He handed me a box with a dried tiger’s penis in it.
“We’ll work together again,” I said.
“Che!” he said, “Could a-been in Hawaii!”
My mind immediately started to work on the next project. I was already late in delivering a script on “Country Nurse.” I needed an outline and the flight back to London would give me plenty of time to think and write one. I was on a mission to find a set of Siamese twins for Nurse Kilkenny to deliver. I was on a mission to encourage compassion. I was on a mission to stop the world crying, especially in Nicam digital stereo between the hours of eight and nine p.m.