Posts Tagged ‘great american novel’

That American Novel About Dry Cleaning…

November 21, 2008

I couldn’t pass this up. I think I have an idea that might get a fair amount of attention from me in the next few months. Chinese — dry cleaning — poet — reluctant/accidental corporate magnate — what am I missing here?

Information technology. Complex symbols. Conspiracies. Apocalypses. Among other things.

I think I would rather write about a Chinese protagonist than an Indian one. I am fascinated by the Chinese experience. Tens of millions died in this country under the rule of one dictator. When Mao died, the repression almost stopped overnight. There are crazy cultures, and then there’s the Chinese. I mean, WTF? Everything that sucks is entirely the responsibility of just this one crazy guy? There isn’t a cabal? There’s no putsch and no counter-putsch? Mao lives — people die. Mao dies — people live. The zero sumness of this is mind boggling.

What the Chinese endured in the twentieth century, and continue to endure into the twenty first, is a tragedy beyond description.

So my protagonist has to collide with his own history. His chain must take off first in the United States but then expand to Asia, particulary to China. And there he must be drawn into a world that has no recognizably rational boundaries and instruments of causation. Here, he must grapple with imaginations whose excesses exceed the flights of poetry and attempt to decode an environment that to him is simultaneously familiary and foreign.

I think this will have to be some sort of Forrest Gump story. I like the idea that the protagonist is a little clueless.

I will have to figure his name out. There’d have to be a Chinese version. That can come later. He could change it. Multiple times. Others could change it for him.

In America, his name is … Dan. Colby. Carter. Maybe Carter, because he was born during the Carter administration. And his parents thought Jimmy didn’t sound cool enough. Carter… Chang. Li. Not sure about the last name.

Carter’s dry cleaning empire starts when his mother dies in some sort of accident. She has been a major influence in his life, mainly because she’s the only one berating him till then.

The Dry Cleaners

November 21, 2008

Mother, Chinese, works in a dry cleaners that she and her husband own. Son, in college, writes poetry in the dry cleaning store, when he’s not listlessly attending his classes.

“Life? What do you know of life? Have you done a day of real work to give you any education about life? You sit there and write on pieces of paper and it’s supposed to be poetry, but poetry is about life and you don’t know what life is, then how it can be poetry?”

Not sure where to go with this. It made more sense this morning when I was in the dry cleaning store, and looking at the woman at the counter, and what I assumed was the husband behind this large metal box with strange knobs on it, and inhaling the strong fragrance of the chemicals floating around in there, I got to thinking, man, this lady’s life sucks. And it seemed to look like that on her face too. She was grumpy, to say the least. Her lips drooped downwards, like there were little invisible weights attached to the ends. She would have made a perfect clown with that face, a sad clown, not a happy one.

I thought to myself, Man, what a life. She collects the dry cleaning, then she does the dry cleaning, then she hands out the dry cleaning and then she tallies up the day’s earnings. Where does it all go? How often does she think about it, why she’s doing it, what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the day after, or at some point down the line when dry cleaning ceases to be as fulfilling as it is today?

Of course, dry cleaning will never cease to be fulfilling. She doesn’t do it because it fulfills her but because it pays the bills. It’s not what her forefathers did; she doesn’t do it for love; she isn’t making a career out of it; and she’s not going to be starting a vast chain of dry cleaning stores.

Maybe her son starts the world’s first dry cleaning store chain, even though he thought he was going to be a poet. He’s an accidental dry cleaning store magnate.

Why are there no dry cleaning store chains in the US? I don’t get it. On Google, a search for “dry cleaning store chains” reveals two in India. Obviously, dry cleaning is big in India, but not really so in the US. It must be something to do with the chemicals used, maybe the regulations are so tough, it’s not very cost effective to run a whole chain of these things and battle each county or city or whatever for the right to pollute it.

So if the Great American Novel must be about something that hasn’t been done already in this country, I can’t think of a better idea than a nation-wide dry cleaning store. Started by an accidental capitalist. The bemused Romantic hero, failed intentional poet and successful incidental owner of a conglomerate of establishments for the lavage of fine clothing.