Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Keepin' it Real

As you'll recall, we have a couple of "handlers" here who keep us on the straight and narrow, who handle all of our paperwork filings, and who generally show us a good time while in Guangzhou. The two handlers have also gone above and beyond the call of duty, like accompanying me and the bambina to the hotel clinic at all hours to translate between me and the doctor when she's been sick. Really great guys who work 7am till about 10pm every day, dealing with high maintenance Americans. Or worse, high maintenance Americans who get righteously indignant about their kids. (To briefly digress, I want to say that I love the USA, think it's the greatest country on earth and I am so glad my parents moved us there when we were little. I'd take a bullet for my country. However...can we all agree that sometimes it is embarrassing to watch other Americans on tour in foreign countries? Can people of good faith agree that we are perhaps not, to a man, the most gracious visitors to foreign lands? That sometimes we see our fellow Americans acting rudely and know that they are the national family equivalent of the Uncle Drunkypants at the family barbeque telling dirty jokes in front of the kids, feeling up the brother's wife, and in general making an embarrassment of himself and his family but no one wants to engage in an intervention to change his behavior because they don't think it will do any good? That is how I have felt quite a bit here, as have a couple of the other parents. Okay. Just needed to get that off my chest).

So back to the handlers. They are amazing English speakers but are not well-versed in a lot of idioms or western culture, as would be expected from people who have not traveled outside China. As such, they want to learn as much as they can from the visitors to Guangzhou. The main guy, S, is really cool, and keeps asking me to tell him some cool phrases to use for the next group of parents who come. So I started racking my brain trying to think of something. "Whatupdawg?" "Howdeedoo!" Nope. No luck. All I could come up with when asked for a better hello and/or farewell than "heya" and "see you later" was (and I'm not proud, I'm just saying): "Keep it real." As soon as I said it and he breezed out of the hotel room, I immediately wanted to call his cell and beg him to not actually say that to anyone from the states or they'd think he's a total dork and then I would consequently look like either a total loser or like I'd played a joke on him. I was smacking my forehead saying it out loud in disbelief that it had actually emanated from my own lips: "keep it real?!! Are you KIDDING?!! When have you, E, ever said Keep it Real in a serious manner? Never! That poor guy is probably walking through this hotel right now exhorting westerners to Keep It Real, like it's 1995."

So tonight at dinner I had to confess to S that, as cool and funny as I am (hah hah hah. oh-start!), I am the whitest chick in show business and I have no business coming up with ANY cool greetings that are representative of any culture or era. I started explaining to him until the blank face told me he had no idea what I was saying, "Remember in the Old Navy commercial where Fran Drescher says 'fo shizzle ma nizzle"? THAT was the sign that the phrase was dead and should not be used by anyone purporting to be remotely cool or au courant." Seeing the confusion, I tried another route: "Ring a ding ding out of the mouth of Francis Albert Sinatra is a guaranteed invitation to a swoonfest. Ringadingding out my mouth makes me look like a weirdo." Not a glimmer of recognition. None.

And that was when I realized that the challenge facing China (and my handler) is far greater than simple language. It is a lack of knowledge, pure and simple, of Frank Sinatra. How can ANY nation hope to achieve superpower status without having even HEARD of Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack?!!! I almost fell out of my chair and got the vapors. No "Mack the Knife" with Dino, no "Live at the Sands with Count Basie" where he did his 50th birthday concert and was hilarious, charming and sang with those still-amazing pipes as in his younger days. No buddy movies with Sammy and the gang, no Manchurian Candidate (oh, er, em, right. of course not)...but you get my point. A world without any trace of Frank Sinatra? He made so many singers/actors/politicians possible. He was a prototype for so many elements of our culture today that you can't even enumerate.

And then I realized that this was my moment to truly make a difference in S's life. Forget stupid phrases. Forget communism vs. capitalism. I, E, was going to rock this town and rock it hard. I was going to expand S's brain and life to the outer limits of cool and hip and dames and booze and banter and class and brawls and men being men and broads being broads...(okay, well not ALL the facets of the Rat Pack). So I started just rattling off random facts: "You've never heard of Frank Sinatra?! Born in Hoboken New Jersey?! Ol' Blue Eyes?! From Here to Eternity?! Oceans Eleven? Hung out with presidents and mafia dons?! Sang every song like he was singing to you and for you? Refused to eat at restaurants that wouldn't serve Sammy Davis Jr?! Who is Sammy Davis Jr??! Water! I need water! Ayudame!

So, my friends, my job for the remaining few days I am here is to teach S some new and exciting facet of Frank Sinatra. Why he matters. Why he was cool. Why so many crooners want to be him but are only Joey Bishop. How his singing represented a generation--a couple of generations--and continues to this day because my daughter goes to sleep to me singing You Make Me Feel So Young. When I get home I want to send him some stuff, which he will no doubt not get, about Frank just to show him a little slice of American cultural history.

In the meantime, as a goodwill gesture, I've told him to tell his next group to "hang loose," that they are "peachy keen" and "waaay groovy." That oughta keep him busy till my Frank stuff arrives...

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