And lead us not into…

Keeping the Saints SoberJack’s afraid that in China his life has “gone to shit”.

Drinking, fucking.”

Disgusted, he shakes his head, tuts. Back in Cameroon, big into church, he read the Bible every Sunday at service and was faithful, at least to a certain degree, to Christian moral codes. But living in China, spending every night on Bar Street, in the company of drunks and loose women, has tempted Jack, led him away, he believes, from the church. “Maaan. You’ve read the bible right? In Leviticus God commanded the priests not to drink so they’d know the difference between the holy and the unholy. But all I do every night is drink, man, I don’t know the difference anymore. I used to be spiritual, man.”

Probably 90% of Bar Street’s premises are bars. On summer nights, all steaming neon and mosquitoes, tables and chairs are placed on the paths outside bars. Vendors sell sticks of barbecued pork, aubergine, potato. Splash and sizzle of grease dripping on hot coals. Kao rou! Smoke, illuminated red/green/blue by the bars’ flashing neon, stings the drinkers’ eyes. Hiss and fizz of the fourteenth opened bottle, foaming. Cheers! He jiu! Beggars, watermelon, plastic roses. A doctor checks the street’s pulse. Under the influence both of beer and the self-destructive impulse, he says, with grave concern, blood pressure has intensified – 130/90 mmHg. A clumsy arm knocks a beer bottle from the table onto the path, launching a million tiny pieces of glass into the frenetic night, which broken glass like tiny fireworks reflects the epileptic neon. The sun goes down; its heat, however, remains. Here are the names of some of the street’s bars: Happy Passengers, Cowboy, Destination, Together, Don’t Lose Your Face, Leave Me Alone, Happy Happy, Temptation.

TemptationJack is famous in Temptation. A bar of two floors, one on street level, one below, closing hours are usually 6 or 7AM; basically, whenever the last of the clientèle leaves, stumbling upstairs into the city’s judgmental morning Sun. The bar is busiest after 2AM, when those who’d been at the nightclubs arrive to heap oblivion on top of intoxication on top of… Ganbei! The subterranean level is where the weird shit happens. The place is wild, messy, demented. A skinhead girl who never talks to anyone and looks like she’s on ecstasy but has probably never touched any Class A’s dances like a psycho on stage. Every night. Other girls sitting on the long couch prowl the bar with shadowed eyes. Guys playing drinking games with their fingers shout numbers – Yi! Xiao di di ge! – as if shouting about to break their lungs was the only way to make themselves comprehensible. Smell of piss and puke, which smell, no matter how strong the wash of disinfectant, will never vanish. Oh man. It’s name is apt. Temptation. Jack says, “Lead us not into temptation.” He is, however, led (by whom? by whom?) there.

Finger-counting games, hua quan, are played with the locals. You lose, you drink. He jiu! Drink! DRINK! Jack speaks phrases of the local dialect. Mei nu, guo lai ma! GUO LAI MA! A wind-up action figure is probably how he’s regarded by some of the locals; not as a man with a mind of his own and with deeply personal hopes and fears. He’s a toy, a clown, a night’s entertainment. They wind him up. And he is complicit; like a character-actor, has allowed that role possess, control and to a certain degree define him.

Every glass of beer knocked back drowning out Leviticus, Deuteronomy, the Proverbs.

He jiu!

Jack’s nights are partly defined by a positive feedback loop in which feedback loop A represents drinking alcohol and B represents feelings of guilt and shame. A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A. Spiegel im Spiegel. Thus, the potential for feelings of guilt and the consequent desire for self-punishment are exponential, as is the potential for divergence from equilibrium. Fuwuyuan! Zai lai liu ping! Kuai yi dian ma! Six more bottles are opened. He jiu! System instability sets in. Jack ends up drunk as fuck, stumbling, stupefied.

This is the song that never ends,

Yes it goes on and on my

From his mouth a stream of slurred local dialect – ni zai gao na yang? and the locals laugh. Ni jia ma de pi!

The supreme happiness of life being the conviction that we are loved is maybe part of the answer for all this debauchery.

Our father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On Earth, as it is in Heaven,

Give of this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us,

And lead us not into…

Jack has a flashing thought: The Lord’s Prayer, he thinks, is asking God to lead us not into temptation, which plea implies God leading us into temptation is in fact a possibility. What the fuck? Would God lead us into temptation? Would God lead us into sin? On purpose? Is God testing me? Is this, all this, this drinking, these girls, this… – is it a test of character?

JobIn his flat, in the afternoon, hungover, Jack reads the Book of Job. He convinces himself, at least temporarily, that, like Job, he is being tested, and that if he passes the test, he will be returned to a state even more prosperous and peaceful than that which he enjoyed before arriving in China.

On Skype, he talks with his mom. She asks, “How is the Christian life over there?”

China’s crazy, mom,” he says, “China’s crazy.”

That night, he goes to a bar on Bar Street. Half in jest, half not, he tells the other guys that after talking with his mom he’s now a born-again Christian. He sits mostly in silence. In his eyes, however, a sense of inevitability about the night – probably 5AM pissed fucking drunk again on fucking shit beer in a fucking shit bar talking to a girl who is pissed fucking drunk.

Thing is, there is nothing inevitable about your course of action. It’s only telling yourself something is inevitable that makes it inevitable. This is maybe a mental acrobatic trick which excuses or justifies behaviour you know is irresponsible, reckless, damaging. Why? Because you always have a choice; so maybe the sadness we sometimes perceive as part of inevitability is simply the awareness that a particular course of action is not inevitable, is in fact avoidable, and that you choose, and the course of action you choose is ultimately making you unhappy, but you still go ahead and do it, and you don’t know why, but guess it has something to do with loneliness, or the fear of loneliness.

This is the song that never ends,

Yes it just goes on and on my friends,

Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,

And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…

This is the song that never ends,

Yes it goes on and on my

Jack, my brother, look after yourself, be generous to yourself, take care.

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4 thoughts on “And lead us not into…

  1. Nice story Dan, really liked it and this particular line “…heap oblivion on top of intoxication..” I think I`ve been there a few times!

  2. It’s 08:41 on a “sunny” Thursday morning in Chengdu and I can honestly say after reading this, I’m gonna hafta break out a couple shots of baijiu in salute to Jack. Bar Street won’t be the same place again.

    Bacchus be with him.

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