FIVE HUNDRED AND THREE

From Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, which I read this week and loved.

“For my friend Fong,” he says, and begins singing John Denver. If you didn’t know it already, now you do: old dudes from rural Taiwan are comfortable with their karaoke and when they do karaoke for some reason they love no one like they love John Denver. Maybe it’s the dream of the open highway. The romantic myth of the West. A reminder that these funny little Orientals have actually been Americans longer than you have. Know something about this country that you haven’t yet figured out. If you don’t believe it, go down to your local karaoke bar on a busy night. Wait until the third hour, when the drunk frat boys and gastropub waitresses with headshots are all done with Backstreet Boys and Alicia Keys and locate the slightly older Asian businessman standing patiently in line for his turn, his face warmly rouged on Crown or Japanese lager, and when he steps up and starts slaying “Country Roads,” try not to laugh, or wink knowingly or clap a little too hard, because by the time he gets to “West Virginia, mountain mama,” you’re going to be singing along, and by the time he’s done, you might understand why a seventy-seven-year-old guy from a tiny island in the Taiwan Strait who’s been in a foreign country for two-thirds of his life can nail a song, note perfect, about wanting to go home.

THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN

I picked up Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe yesterday and I’ve just been plowing through it. A passage from early on in the book:

The earliest memory I have of my own dad is the two of us, sitting on my bed as he reads me a book we have checked out from the local library. I am three. I don’t remember what the story is, or even the title of the book. I don’t remember what he’s wearing, or if my room’s messy. What I do remember is the way I fit between his right arm and his body, and the way his neck and the underside of his chin look in the soft yellow light of my lamp, which has a cloth lampshade, light blue, covered by an alternating pattern of robots and spaceships.

This is what I remember: (i) the little pocket of space he creates for me, (ii) how it is enough, (iii) the sound of his voice, (iv) the way those spaceships look, shot through from behind with light, so that every stitch in the fabric of the surface is a hole and a source, a point and an absence, a coordinate in the ship’s celestial navigation, (v) how the bed feels like a little spaceship itself.

People rent time machines.
They think they can change the past.
Then they get there and find out causality doesn’t work the way they thought it did. They get stuck, stuck in places they didn’t mean to go, in places they did mean to go, in places they shouldn’t have tried to go. They get into trouble. Logical, metaphysical, etc.
That’s where I come in. I go and get them out.
I tell people: I have a job, and I have job security.
I have a job because I know how to fix the cooling module on the quantum decoherence engine of the TM-31. That’s the reason I have a job.
But the reason I have job security is that people have no idea how to make themselves happy. Even with a time machine. I have job security because what the customer wants, when you get right down to it, is to relive his worst moment, over and over and over again. Willing to pay a lot of money to do it, too.