It’s almost impossible to tell from her books but S.J. Rozan is only 37cms tall. She’s the same height as her suitcase. S.J. Rozan arrived in Shanghai. Her suitcase didn’t. We were appearing at a literary luncheon together but she didn’t have any clothes. I offered to remove all mine and call it the Naked Lunch but New Yorkers are inherently modest when it comes to sharing their attributes with strangers. I, on the other foot have nothing to be ashamed of. The volunteers at the Shanghai Literary Festival are called ‘elves’. I was surprised how many elf jokes I remembered from primary school and how quickly people tired of hearing them. S.J.’s elf was a two-meter tall American lady. She kindly brought along samples from her wardrobe obviously believing that S.J. was the literary giant she’d heard about. It was like dress-up day at the crèche. We had to burrow through the enormous cloths until we found S.J. tucked down between the folds. This obviously wasn’t going to work.
S.J. sprinkled one more layer of talcum powder on her unmentionables and we headed off to the luncheon. Fortunately the stage was set well back from the front table of diners. Being a literary lightweight my job was done with the lunch but S.J. had to appear at a formal evening event. I recalled a Doris Day movie where all her clothing was ripped from her nubile body by a sex-craved, machete-wielding maniac in Central Park. Doris had an evening appointment with Rock Hudson – probably the one where he tells her he can’t marry her because he’s already living with a teenaged Pilipino houseboy in crotchless leather biker gear. Of course, Doris doesn’t know this yet so she wants to look pretty for Rock. She comes across a city traffic cop sunbathing topless during his lunch break and makes off with his shirt. With a discarded dog leash as a belt she turns the shirt into something glamorous. With her well-formed calves highlighted by her high-heels, Rock is immediately mesmerized by the sight of her and abandons all that homosexual nonsense and they get married. (Damn. What WAS the name of that movie?)
Which brings us back to S.J. at last. I travel with my lucky festival shirt. It’s bright blue, doesn’t need ironing, and beer just seems to roll off it like milkshake off a sheep. That’s why it’s lucky. You never have to wash it. In my lucky shirt, tied at the waist with a length of rubber shower hose, her shapely calves highlighted by her orthopedic cowboy boots, S.J. converted more than a few gay men that night. I smiled with pride as I watched her being tossed from one TV interviewer to the next after the event. She was the media darling.
On my morning walk today I noticed two things. In Bangkok, if you step into slow-moving traffic to cross the road, the drivers brake. In Shanghai they accelerate and run over you. I was run over several times. But as I convalesced by the roadside I couldn’t help noticing just how many Chinese women were shirts tied at the waist with rubber tubing and orthopedic cowboy boots. Such is the pull of celebrity.
I Didn’t Mean to Eat the Ornamental Fish and Other Blunders in China