Rodney Chang was carrying his shopping bag back to his apartment. Orange juice, a couple of eggs, a pint of milk, sugar and a loaf of bread. This part of town was not exactly hospitable to the pedestrian. It made no difference how long you had been living in the locality. Buildings that were once pristine and matters of pride for Asian immigrants settling into the American way of life, were now dilapidated to a post-apocalyptic degree. These were the good houses of yesterday’s China Town. Houses in which lived doctors and engineers. He had dreamed in living in a place like this, as he stared at a blackened door with broken windows to match and rude graffiti all around, he found his childhood dream amusing.
Rodney walked along pulling up his bag over his shoulder, as a young boy on a red bike whizzed past him. The unmistakable logo of Papa Jones smiling from the drivers back. There was a time that this part of town, was famous for its Chinese food. Families had rallied together to open those very establishments which would define the stereotype of a Chinese Takeaway and an oriental Laundromat. His first job had been as a delivery boy for Chong’s Egg Roll center. The Americans seem to be fascinated by them. He was a lad of 14 and there were dozens of small restaurants all over the street. The competition was immense, a difference in minutes in delivery time could do wonders for business, and he had always been fast. But it was easier then, the alleyways were not as dangerous as today.
His parents had named him Rong Tiang, till he was 17 he didn’t have any trouble with that name. He had hardly spoken any English till then, besides whatever needed to make his rounds. On one delivery to a rather distant location he had what you’d call a life changing experience. Porn stars need egg rolls too, he had walked in on a shoot of a particularly low-budget amorous movie. He could still remember how fantastically red he had become when the completely nude busty 40 something had asked him, if he had a spring roll for her. But that’s where he met Clive, or Rock Hard as he was mentioned in his film credits. Clive was a cameraman/ logistics / set designer for such productions. A resourceful man Clive, was impressed with Rodney, it was he who gave the boy his Americanized name and a job. So our friend graduated from delivery boy to spot boy in smutty films.
Rodney turned with the curb, remembering what those days were like. There is so much more to the world of porn than what meets the eye. It’s sad to see people with STDs and sure shot death sentences humping their last scenes out as insurance for their families. Luckily Clive did some work for mainstream cinema as well. He’d let Rodney tag along in exchange for some bag carrying and grunt work. These shoots behind the scenes were not very different. Like any other American teenage boy he had fantasized of Hollywood and action flicks. It was the early 70’s and Martial Arts movies were catching on. The nation’s love for the orient had gone beyond pyramidal frustum like delivery boxes. So there was always a demand for foreign extras to add to the scenery of any production.
His first, ‘role’ was as one among a 40 other boys of his age and built, as the henchmen of the underpaid villain in a James Bond ripoff movie. He got paid less than what he had for being a delivery boy but still the feeling was great. Soon he became a regular on sets where a Chinese face was needed. No lines, only appearances. His fellow extras began taking lessons from an assistant stunt director in martial art moves. Then you had the hope of being one of those guys Bruce Lee might polish off with a flick of his wrist. Rodney joined in as well. His general agility helping in the cause. The classes were purely ornamental, how to look menacing and play with a nun – chuck without actually hurting yourself or anyone else.
He then had more tomato ketchup oozing out him for the next 3 years than he had eaten in his lifetime. Bottle breaking over the head, falling off boats, bridges, lofts and generally taking a whacking became daily business. Then there was a slump, the nerds and kids had gotten bored of perpetual limb raising and shouting vowels. Things like space travel and pirates, wizards and the sort were catching on. Perhaps that was the bugle of the oncoming generation of obesity and laziness, as idols moved from athletic to those with special powers and weapons. This change in genres hit people like Rodney the hardest. There was no more any place for extras like him. Quite a considerable number went back to their homeland or to other nations in the far east and made a name for themselves in the local movie industry. One friend even managed to bag 2-3 title roles in a Thai flick.
But Rodney, he stayed on. Recession forced a move back to the parent’s old place where he lived now. He tried his hand at everything from exercise videos to working at a local video store. But sometimes life doesn’t work out. Happy endings are always rare, satisfactory ones are rare too. He had a tussle with drug problem which ate away what was left of his enthusiasm. He was clean now, had been for some years, but this much-needed maturity in his life had come very late. If only he could write, he had an autobiographical story to tell, as good as any claiming to be a best seller in the self-help and motivational category. With the exception of course of him not having found any mention-able success. He now repaired bikes for a living, not a bad job but a man aged 50 should have something better to show for his life.
That is what was going on in Rodney’s mind as he bumped into another figure. It was a short one, lean and definitely mean.
“Where’s your eyes bozo?” said the figure,
“You bumped into the wrong dude. You better be sorry old man.”
Rodney knew this kid and those that were heading towards him, a local gang, struggling to keep control of this street. Hoodlums, cause they were born in a neighborhood which was seeing dark days. Rash, stupid boys who you couldn’t reason with. He’d have apologized if he had been paying attention, but these walks and his days swallowing LSD left him blank at moments. Before he knew it he was surrounded by these loud youngsters, each pushing him and reducing the real estate surrounding him. As the kid he’d bumped into raised an arm to his face, almost as a reflex action from his old movie days, he let the bag go and swept his hands to push the kid. As the boy fell to the pavement the others startled for a second and were upon Rodney. His first actual martial move, he tried to defend himself but these kids, they are merciless. A reputation to keep and all that. The kid on the floor was up, seething and with a small blade in his hand as the others rained kicks onto the prostate extra.
Life flashes in front of your eyes, Rodney had heard people say. But it had flashed before, much before any of this. A life worth living is one defending and somehow the spark was out of our Chinese immigrant. He closed his eyes and felt a sharp cold pain in the side of his stomach. There were yells and screams, not his as his face lay in his spilled orange juice. The boys fled, guilty or scared, Rodney knew not. He could feel people in the distance shouting and running. He wondered if anyone would miss him, remember him? Somebody who he delivered egg rolls to perhaps, or a young boy who mimicked a hero kicking the bejeezus out of Rodney in an old film?