Dead Guy Shanghai or My Name is Daniel Olzewski

by Danielle LeClerc

“Zapata’s?  Oh fuck no.”  Paul spat through the meat smoke onto pavement.  He took a long slug from a large Tsingtao and used his hand as a napkin, which was okay by me.

“Yeah.  Those bitches can forget it.”  Xiao Dan leaned back on wide shoulders.  He lifted his chin like he was somebody and chewed a hunk of lamb off one of his skewers.  Fat gelled in his teeth.  The little plastic stool and China in general, made him look huge.  Bigger than life.

“No way I’m putting up with the faggy fuckin’ Eurotrash that hangs out at that place.  I’d like to smash one of those French fuckers right in the head.”

(Our Mom’s French, asshole.)

Paul and Clay haw-hawed and tore at their meat sticks.

“One French fucker’s not enough, I’d like to take my fist and..”

And on it went ’til the Xinjiang BBQ stand shut down, at three am and behind a garrison of empty beers.  That was the night I first knew I had lost, and Xiao Dan had won.

My name is Daniel Olzewski.
I am 34 years old.
I was born in Lethbridge, Canada.

That was a bit over 3 years ago now, I don’t much see Xiao Dan anymore.  I try not to follow like a dog in his footsteps.  Most nights I just kill time here, outside Windows Too in the light and funk of Jing An.  Maybe it’s the smell of potato skins, or the way the place leaks The Cure and The Pumpkins.  Whatever, I don’t know.  Is what it is.

Me and Zhang Wei Lai used to cruise People’s Square, drinking Harbin that tastes like Molson and checkin’ out the birthdays.  Mothers, brothers, childhood friends turning up in the weirdest places: crammed between noodle shacks, and pink-lit shops sellin’ knock-off perfume that smells exactly like roast turkey, and notebooks filled with old phone numbers, recipes, and bike lock combinations.  Those birthday boys and girls in their paper hats.  One eye on their cakes and the other on telephones that never ring.

“Maybe it’s the time difference,” they tell themselves and their guests.  Like watchin’ Jerry Springer, it’s the kinda thing makes you feel better about your own shit.   But you can only take so much.

Zhang Wei got forgotten a year ago when his girlfriend moved here from Hefei.  She “went city,” as we say.  Started dating her new boss, got an LV bag.  Repainting furniture for 2000/month, Zhang Wei couldn’t win.  Sometimes we see her, picking up foreigners at Muse or Baby Face and I have to hold him back, literally put my arms around his thin chest.  You got to move on.  One look at those fucking pathetic dead-eyed zombies haunting whatever bastard put them here, and you know you got to move on.

My name is Daniel Olzewski.
My first girlfriend was Sherry Marshall.
Me an my brother used to drive to the river with our dog Duke.  Drink Dad’s beer and throw hardware shop cans into campfires, watch them blow.

Yeah, I know it’s funny I got a Chinese guy for a best friend.  It’s much more Xiao Dan’s thing; fuck he speaks Chinese just like a local, least as much as I can tell.  But Zhang Wei says Xiao Dan sounds like a stroke victim.  Zhang’s a cool guy.  Sure, he’s into chicken’s feet and I prefer pizza, but he’s my boy.

We hear Xiao Dan talking shit, three stories tall and a pocket full of yi bais, and my temples pound I want to smash the guy so bad.  Fucking hypocrite’s got at least nine Shanghai dudes he calls friends, and a Yellow Pages sheet of girlfriends, but get him in a group of Westerners and next thing they’re “small dicks”, “dumb bitches”, and “lazy fuckin’ stupid Chinese.”  If Dad ever heard our brother or us sayin’ that he’d smash us to Tuesday.  I’d like to do the damn job for him.  Maybe he’s just a small town mechanic, but he knows something about respect.  If Mom or Dad ever turn up here, I don’t know what I’ll do.

I remember the night I ran into Sherry on Nanjing lu.  Couldn’t believe it.  She was our first woman for chrissake.  For years that first night with her was the greatest of our life.  Still, it was awesome to see her, even if it meant Xiao Dan had forgotten.  For a while it was like old times.  We’d spoon at subtitled movies, her soft white neck, and the smell of her all over, exactly how she’d smelled on our pillow for days.  Pack some beers and meet at Lupu Bridge, she looked and tasted as good as our best dreams.  In those days I could almost stand this place, I really could.

But she couldn’t take it, being forgotten.  Couldn’t stop following Xiao Dan, looking for answers.  One night she turned up with a red nose and eyes so swollen blue, so red and blue that I almost wish I could forget.  She overheard him saying somethin’ awful.  Wouldn’t tell me what, but I can imagine.

I once heard him tell Paul he’d sooner “jerk off to Asian porn than fuck a real white bitch”.  Well after that, Sherry wouldn’t see me.  I tried to tell her that me and Dan weren’t the same person any more, but she just couldn’t look at me without seein’ him.

Now whenever I run into her she’s drunk, drunk and wandering the French Concession singing to herself.

“…pieces of note fall down, but the letter said uh huh, it was good livin’ with you, uh huh it was good oh o-whoah-woah-woah.”

Her dead eyes and that same, straight fire-light hair all in her face.

And for months I was drunk too, drunk and thirsty for blood.  Xiao Dan who took everything.  Even Zhang couldn’t pull me out of it.

“Well maybe I’ll call or write you a letter
Maybe we’ll see on the 4th of July.
I’m not too sure and I’m not to proud to say,
Uh huh, it was good livin’ with you.”

My name is Daniel Olzewski.
I like meatloaf and rootbeer.
When I was a kid, we got to open one present, whichever one we’d been eyeing, on Christmas Eves.

The last time I saw Xiao Dan, me and Zhang ran into him outside Manhattan’s, heard him shouting from across the street.  He was drenched in sweat and baijiu in the middle of the hot, reeking night.  He and Paul surrounded by six snarling Chinese guys and you could actually taste the fear and aggression in that hot-soup air.  Seemed Paul had thrown a cherry tomato at one of the dancing girls and started some shit.  We watched Xiao Dan, gleaming in the street lamps, knocking heads to the shrieks and sighs of women who’d poured from the bar.  Xiao Dan, a million stories tall and stronger than Dad or anybody.

When we’d had enough, me and Zhang walked up Nan Yang lu to get a pizza and catch a goddamned Monkey King rerun.