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Loba

30 Sep

Loba

My four year old grandson, Yalith, waved his hand at me and said in Spanish, “Andale.” He began running up the steep dirt road outside our house in Mexico. I hesitated a moment then followed him, puffing and panting under the sun. Our dog Kuma followed by my side, and our cat Brandy hustled to keep up. I’m not proud of much, but I’m proud I have a cat that likes to go on walks with me.

At the top of the hill, Yalith pointed west at the Pacific Ocean, about two miles away. Instead, I looked east, at a parcel of land we owned, where a week before I’d buried Loba, one of our dogs, a Belgian shepherd.

My wife Sophy woke up one morning and looked out the window. She saw Loba lying in the dirt, a bit of pink tongue showing. After calling out “Loba… Loba” she turned to me and said, “I think Loba’s dead.”

I looked out the window and yelled out Loba’s name. She didn’t move. Sophy and I both went out and it was as bad as we thought. The night before, around midnight, I’d walked out to say goodnight to the animals. Loba had been fine. This morning, I knelt by her side and saw there wasn’t a mark on her.

“I think she was poisoned,” said Sophy.

“Poor Loba. She was always eating all kinds of crap.”

When Loba was a puppy, before we bought her for five bucks, she never had enough food. It gave her a sick appetite. She’d attack her bowl like a buzz bomb. She was always slinking into the yard, dragging in bones from dead animals. It was gruesome, especially the day I found her gnawing on an animal’s white jawbone lined with teeth.

I got some duct tape and heavy duty garbage bags and trussed her up. Sophy and I loaded Loba’s body into the trunk of our car and drove up the hill to our spare lot. I dug a grave until I hit solid rock, then slit open the bag and poured five pounds of lime over Loba’s body. I covered her with dirt and piled rocks on the grave.

Today – at the top of the hill – as Yalith ran around overflowing with an excess of joy, I looked over at Loba’s grave. In the back of my mind I was intent on honoring Loba’s memory, telling her I was sorry she was dead.

Instead, I saw the rocks were scattered and white lime marked the ground. I took a few steps and saw black plastic shining in the sun. A few steps more and I saw what remained of Loba. Two thirds of her body had been eaten, but her jawbone remained, with strips of flesh like melted caramel. I looked away, not wanting to see anymore.

I realized Yalith had followed me, so I put an arm around his shoulder and led him away, so he wouldn’t see what I had just seen.

That night, I woke up in the dark and didn’t sleep again for hours. I wasn’t sure what to do with what remained of Loba’s body. Different scenarios played out in my mind until I decided I would get some gasoline and set Loba’s remains on fire. I’d burn it until there was nothing left to be eaten; then I’d bury the ashes.

The morning after discovering Loba’s disturbed grave, I learned that a neighbor’s dog had died a few days ago, from what they were calling a virus. The neighbor’s dog was a small and scruffy mutt who was always hungry. Neglected. Most times when I’d walk by the lot where Loba was buried, I’d see the little guy. I couldn’t help but wonder if the mutt had taken more than a few bites out of Loba and had succumbed to whatever poison had killed her. It made me even more certain that burning Loba’s body was the thing to do.

It was two days before I went back, carrying a shovel and a can of gasoline. My mind kept flashing images of Loba’s skull. I’d imagine scooping up her remains with the shovel and seeing maggots or staring down at an unseeing eye socket.

Two German shepherd mongrels were in our lot, growling at me as I walked toward the grave. Something snapped in me and I picked up a rock and yelled, “It’s my lot, motherfuckers!” They ran off as thrown rocks bounced around them in the dirt.

I got to Loba’s grave and there was nothing there. I looked closer and saw a tuft of black hair tangled in the grass. I searched the brush around the grave but the body was gone.

All I found was Loba’s skull on the ground, picked clean, as though it had been lying in the desert sun for years.

It made me think of the Wall of Voodoo song, with the line, “Just like the spokes of a wheel… you’ll turn ‘round with the rest.”

Rosarito, Mexico Sept. 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Way

4 Jul

my way 2We were at a backyard barbecue in Tijuana. Father’s Day. I’d never seen it celebrated this way – with lots of families getting together in appreciation of their fathers. Growing up white in the suburbs, we gave dad a card if he was lucky; maybe my mom cooked him a special meal – if she did it didn’t register on me.

Sophy and I, and Denisse and the kids were the first ones to arrive. I made a Squirt and tequila and sat in the concrete backyard, playing with the dogs. Eventually the yard filled, the grill was fired up and the family DJ got out the karaoke mic. Everyone had to sing and the mic was passed around the table. I was fourth in line. Up to then it had been all Spanish songs. Part of me was nervous and part of me was itching to sing.

When they handed me the mic I asked for “Always on My Mind.” No luck. “House of the Rising Sun?” Nope. I flailed around, trying to think of a song to sing and blurted out, “My Way. Frank Sinatra.”

The melody started and the lyrics appeared on the screen. I started to sing, and instead of keeping it light, I found myself hurtling down into the song. It’s a bombastic song, but for me, at that moment, all of its lines of triumph – of having seen things through, having few regrets – were to me declarations of failure. I almost started to tear up. I thought of my son refusing to talk to me, hanging up when I called, emailing me that he threw the book I’d bought him in the trash. It seemed the height of failure to crow “I did it my way” in the face of such failure.

By the last verse of the song, instead of looking down at the table, I felt like I was peering into a deep pit.

I must have kept my feelings hidden. At the end of the song there was lots of applause and Sophy’s aunt leaned over and said in Spanish, “You sing that better than Frank Sinatra.”

But inside I was a wreck.

June 2015

Death

7 Jun

lions eye

Years ago, on an evening game drive in Zambia, driving along in an open Land Rover, we come across three lionesses huddled over a fresh zebra kill. Our guide says, “We’ll come back later.”

An hour passes, where we see elephants, giraffe and other creatures. But my mind kept going back to the zebra kill. When we finally circle back we see several hyenas skulking around the kill waiting for a chance to snatch up the leavings. Two of the lionesses were on their sides, resting after the meal. Then I saw the zebra’s body move in a hollow way and I realized the third lioness had its head and shoulders inside the carcass.

Then I saw something that epitomized the contract between the spirit and the flesh – the lioness’ huge eye peered out at me from the asshole of the zebra.

Ghosts of Koreatown

17 May

gHOSTS OF kOREATOWN

The first chapter from an unpublished novel of mine, about a young working class white guy who gets caught up in a centuries old blood feud between two Korean families in LA’s Koreatown:

GHOSTS OF KOREATOWN – CHAPTER ONE

As usual, I was the only white guy in the place.

I watched as the cordless microphone was passed down along the bar to Chin Ho, a pale faced Korean with huge bags under his eyes. I looked up at the wall mounted TV behind the bar. A Korean ballad began to play – words I couldn’t understand. Chin Ho dug into the tune – he was a good singer.

Once or twice, when I got really drunk, I’d try to sing in Korean. No one ever told me to shut up. No one ever grabbed the mic out of my hand. Instead they’d smile and slap me on the back as I gutted their language.

I looked over at the front door where a tall floor fan whirred and buzzed, doing its best to cool off the bar. Cars drove past. It took some getting used to – sitting in a bar and being on public view.

There was only an inch left in my bottle of Hite. At five bucks a pop I could only afford one or two a night. I looked up at the queue of songs running along the bottom of the video image. My song was next – I’d sing and then go home.

Chin Ho finished up and Min Jee, the good-looking barmaid, took the mic out of his hand. With a smile she handed it to me. Min Jee had her hair dyed an auburn color, with streaks of blonde highlights. She almost always wore golden earrings of some kind. For weeks now I’d been thinking of asking her out but I always took a step back. I liked coming to the Saja Room every night for a song and a beer – I didn’t want to do anything to fuck it up.

The first notes of “Moon River” began to play and I looked up at the karaoke screen. I knew the lyrics by heart but I liked the reassurance of seeing the words crawl slowly up the TV tube. The screen showed a flurry of disconnected Korean images unrelated to the song – a bungee jumper, animated cell phones, kids bouncing a ball, cherry blossoms waving in the wind – the images made no sense at all.

I weighed the mic in my hand. It had a lot of reverb and it made almost every singer sound like he was in the shower, his voice bouncing off the tiles. There were a few singers the mic couldn’t save – guys who sang angry, loud and desperate. Most patrons would stare into their drinks when a singer like that roamed the floor – they rarely sang from their seats since they were in too much pain to sit still. But karaoke Korean-style was all about flushing out the jim-jams. It was no American Idol fantasy. It was a balm for the psyche.

I began to sing, enjoying the feeling. “Moon River” was my song. My grandma back in Pittsburgh used to play that tune over and over. It had gotten under my skin in an odd way and when I first dropped into Saja and they handed me the mic, without thinking I asked for “Moon River”. The regulars all had their signature song and this was mine.

I glanced over at Ms. Tam, the owner of the bar. She was smiling. She liked it when I sang. The Koreans were middle class and were pleased when a white guy showed them respect – even a white guy like me, in jeans and a black T-shirt.

Ms. Tam looked to be in her 50s, still put together well, always wearing a sheath-like dress. I think her black hair was a wig, since it never changed shape. She always had a Marlboro pasted to her lower lip. The rest of LA had won the war against smokers but you’d never know it in Koreatown. It seemed like everyone in Saja smoked – the air was blue with it. I didn’t have the habit, but I breathed in so much second-hand smoke I’d probably have to start wearing a patch if I ever changed bars.

There was a young Korean woman standing next to Ms. Tam. I’d never seen her before. She kept her head down and leaned in towards Ms. Tam, like a shadow. Dressed in a white shift, she looked demure next to the older woman’s flash. I’d noticed that most Korean women had a really hearty sensuality about them. This young woman looked bled out and shy.

I dug into the lyrics –

Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way

There was polite applause at the end of my song and some of the patrons raised their beers in a salute. I gave a little wave of thanks and handed the mic to Min Jee.

Min Jee said, “I like the way you sing that song. So much feeling.”

She brought the mic down to a grey-haired Korean and the old guy started singing an upbeat Korean number.

Maybe it was worth the risk, asking Min Jee out. Maybe there was a way I could approach it without feeling like a jerk if she said no. There was a fancy-looking Korean barbecue restaurant a block away. I could ask her to show me the ropes when it came to Korean cooking. I’d examined the menu on the front door a couple of times – it looked confusing as hell.

I was imagining sitting across from Min Jee, maneuvering a pair of chopsticks, eating something gooey and strange, when I saw a Korean dude walk into the bar. Instead of finding a seat, he stood in the open doorway. The guy had presence – a sense of style. He wore a sharp-looking suit without a tie; his glowing white shirt was open at the neck. He had the fresh look of a guy straight from the barber shop. It was strange the way he stood there, his eyes searching the bar. There wasn’t much to see – just a long row of stools, a tiny dance floor and a couple of restrooms off the kitchen. The guy’s eyes fastened on Ms. Tam and the young woman standing close to her.

The man smiled –

Then his head exploded in a burst of shotgun fire from the street.

Sucker Punch

1 Mar

Sucker Punch 2

From 2013 – My first year   as an expatriate in Mexico:

 

There have been many sunny days in Rosarito, where Sophy and I drive around town with the windows down, shopping for the evening meal or checking out the tile and ceramic shops lining Highway 1. Life had been humming along with only the usual assortment of challenges and setbacks.

Then the temperature dropped and the wind kicked up and the rain rolled in. I’m not sure if it was the change in the weather or a new set of microbes to contend with, but the household got sick. Ugly throat infections and fevers. The baby was crying, we were losing our voices and our coughing made it hard to sleep.

I had a tough time concentrating on my work but I didn’t have much choice. There was nobody to lend a hand. I was trying to meet a project deadline with only one cylinder of my brain firing. It was a contract my company had with Paramount Resorts to create an e-magazine for them. This company is my most important client and the money I would make from this project would carry us through the Christmas holidays.

I was already working on an accelerated schedule when my designer in New York fell a day behind. On Tuesday morning we had a five hour window to get the files to the client and implement their changes – major changes. My designer felt overwhelmed and I was coughing into my keyboard, watching the clock. We finally reached the hour where I knew it was going to be impossible to make the afternoon deadline and get the approved files to the database company that sends out our email projects. I’d never missed a final deadline before and I felt miserable. I bit the bullet and contacted the Paramount people and had to admit to them that I had missed the deadline, but I had managed to get us a slot on tomorrow’s schedule to send out the project. Luckily they were understanding and just asked to send the changes when they were done so they could give them final approval. My designer and I finished in the evening and I emailed the files to Paramount, asking them to get back to me as early as possible in the morning.

I was hanging low when Sophy came back from the doctor with a bunch of pills and elixirs. She lined them up on the dresser and said, “The doctor told me these would help both of us.”

I held out my hand. “Great. Maybe they’ll knock this sickness out of me. I have a really heavy day tomorrow.”

I washed the pills down, did an hour or two of work and climbed into bed with Sophy.

Within seconds, a series of hypnagogic images started to float behind my closed eyes. I’m used to these. If I relax and let them flow they can be intriguing, kind of a Rorschach test from my subconscious. Usually they’re herky-jerky figures that shift and change, similar to watching clouds change from one inexact depiction to another. But these images behind my eyelids grew in intensity and became distorted faces, with features bulging forward and then receding. My interior organs began to pulse and compress in strange ways. There was nothing hypnagogic about it. Then the saliva began to flow in the back of my throat –

I got out of bed and hurried towards the bathroom. The vomit was hurtling out of my mouth just as I made the toilet. I retched and retched. I knew exactly what was happening, but I hoped I was wrong.

Sophy stood in the doorway, saying, “Oh, mi vida…”

I asked her if there was penicillin in any of the pills.

“It’s called amoxicilina.”

“That’s gotta be penicillin. Shit. Give me some privacy. Here comes the diarrhea.”

I’m allergic to penicillin. Sophy knows it. I know it. But we were both too rattled to check the box.

I’ve gone through two allergic attacks in the past and it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to dying. The last time it happened was 20 years ago, when I was physically stronger. With some people penicillin allergy registers as anaphylactic shock, where your tongue and throat swell so much you’re in danger of suffocating. I can’t think of anything worse than that. My body’s reaction is different. I puke. Then I blast out a stream of diarrhea. All the while my I’m sweating and my nose is running. My body is working furiously to rid itself of the poison, using its water content as the vehicle. At 15-minute intervals the puke/diarrhea process is repeated, getting more and more painful each time. When my stomach empties I can feel it twist and turn in a wringing motion as it draws water from the surrounding organs. As soon as my stomach derives an ounce of fluid it makes me retch it out until I’m reduced to painful dry heaves that sprain every muscle in my back. Then comes the explosive diarrhea, as though I had a high-pressure hose in my ass.

This goes on for hours. I’m scared, in pain, exhausted. I don’t know when it will stop. A smarter person would call a doctor; I prefer to ride it out. I also know I have to get up in the morning and finish the Paramount project. My client is on the east coast; I’m on the west. When I wake up in the morning I’m already three hours behind.

Somewhere in the predawn hours the flushing out of the poison stops. I get under the covers feeling that a hard day tomorrow just got harder. I can’t afford to miss tomorrow’s deadline. Let’s put it this way: My billings to Paramount this year paid a year’s worth of rent, utilities and car payments.

When the alarm goes off at six I put on a bathrobe and hobble down the hall towards my office. I think I know how a prizefighter feels after a tough bout; every muscle in my body aches. I turn on my computer and check my emails. Paramount received the files and will get back to me with their final changes in an hour.

So far so good. I set the alarm for 7:00 and catch a bit more sleep. It looks good. We’re going to ace this.

The alarm goes off. I get up and check my computer. My inbox has the changes from Paramount – eight separate emails, one for each page of the project.

I click on the first file –

I lose my internet connection.

Okay. This has happened before. My PC often functions like it’s had a penicillin attack or two. I try to reconnect to the internet.

Nothing.

I’m swearing as I grab the laptop from the bedroom and power it on. I feel cursed when I can’t get an internet connection on the laptop.

Then it becomes clear and I shout out to Sophy, “Babe! Did you pay the internet bill?”

There’s some frantic conversation between Sophy and her daughter Denisse. The bill wasn’t paid.

Sophy hollers from the other room, “I told you it was due on the 16th.”

I yell back, like a wounded boar, “And every time you told me I said take the money out of my wallet and pay the bill.”

It’s now 8:00; 11:00 on the east coast. The internet office won’t be open until 9:00. Once we pay the bill, it may take an hour or two to restore service.

I’m actually moaning now.

I pick up the phone to see if my designer was cc’d on the emails. I dial the number and then realize I have Vonage – without the internet, I have no phone service.

I can hardly stand up. I’m gulping down tall glasses of water to restore my fluids – in the words of a black cook I saw on TV, I have hot pipes. The internet cafes in my neighborhood don’t open until 10:00 but I decide my only option is to drive around Rosarito in the hope of finding one that isn’t padlocked shut.

Sophy tells me she’ll go to the internet office and pay the bill. I grab whatever clothes are handy and get in my RAV 4. Backing out of the driveway I drive over the curb like a drunk. I’m in another dimension. Something is wrong with my reflexes. One, two, three times I drive over curbs.

I finally find an internet café that’s open. It’s 9:00. I settle down in front of a computer, my body probably giving off toxic rays of desperation.

I open up my emails and begin the process of making edit changes with my designer, knowing we’re under the gun. Sour sweat is dripping off my hair. I have a family that literally depends on me – I have to do this and do it well. There’s no allowance for error. In the background, the internet café clerk stares at the TV, watching a blow-by-blow account of the Manny Pacquio/Marquez fight.

At 11:00, Sophy comes into the internet cafe. I’m surprised she found me. I look over my shoulder and barely hear her words that the bill has been paid and the internet service has been restored at home. I feel like a clam dislodged from its shell. All I can do is nod and say, “I’ve got to finish this.”

I’m still going back and forth with my designer when I get an email from the company sending out our email project. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, they’re closing early. Can we get the finished files to them in 45 minutes?

The margin of error is now minus zero.

Mentally, I’m in a cube – a soundless room without furniture. No windows. Just a ticking clock on the wall.

Through a miracle we make it. The project goes out. The invoice will go out. The check will come in. No December wolves at the door.

As I type this three days later, the final signs of the penicillin reaction are making themselves known – large blotches of rash spreading over my thighs and belly and up to my chest. It could be my imagination, but I feel as though the rash is on the flesh under my eyelids and around my tear ducts.

There’s a silver lining. I’ve been trying to lose some weight. The night of the allergic reaction, I dropped from 203 pounds to 200. The next day I figured I’d swell back up with all the water I drank.

Instead I dropped down to 197.

The next day, 196.

Chicken Bone

13 Jan

Kuma 2

I’d grown up hearing warnings about feeding chicken bones to dogs – that the bones would splinter and the dog choke. Then in Mexico I learn its common practice. The dogs love them and I’m soon treating Kuma, Toby and Loba to leftover bones from our chicken dinners.

Everything went fine for a while, until one day I stepped out of the back door with a plate of chicken bones and began feeding the dogs.

I fed Kuma a leg bone, then Loba, then Toby. I started a second round and saw Kuma standing stock still. Then he started to hack and claw at the roof of his mouth. I thought, Fuck – he’s choking.

I was alone at the house without a car. Getting to a vet was impossible. Kuma scratched at his mouth so desperately that in seconds blood covered his paws and dripped from his teeth. I wasn’t sure what to do. I remembered the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm, but I couldn’t watch and do nothing. I lifted Kuma up and peered down his throat. I couldn’t see the bone. I was afraid to push my finger down his throat and jam the bone even deeper. Then I wondered if a splinter had gotten into the roof of Kuma’s mouth, but a quick look told me that wasn’t the problem.

I put Kuma down on the ground and stared as he scratched in desperation at the roof of his mouth. A resigned voice came into my head. “You’re going to watch your dog die right in front of you.” It was disturbing – the voice wasn’t frantic or panicked – it was calm – too calm. What was wrong with me, that I could react so calmly, as though part of me was dead inside?

I picked Kuma up and wrapped my arms around his chest and squeezed hard in the Heimlich maneuver.

Nothing.

I figured there was only so much air in Kuma’s lungs. I might only get one more chance. I squeezed harder this time, hoping I wouldn’t break his ribs.

I set Kuma down and seconds later he spit out a jagged one-inch piece of bone. Maybe my squeezing did the trick; maybe he dislodged the bone on his own.

A minute later, Kuma was wagging his tail, the experience behind him. I washed the blood off his paws and put the rest of the bones in the trash.

I was left with the disturbing memory of my calmness in the face of my dog’s imminent death. It frightened me, wondering how far this calmness could extend.

(Rosarito, Mexico 2015)

Dog Fight

5 Jan

 

Modern Art and Design auction, October 12, 2014

It was noon and the dogs were barking loud. I ran outside and saw a Mexican guy standing in the road holding a staff with a metal hook on its end. He had two dogs with him. One was huge and black – snarling and gnashing at our dog, Toby. It was a full bore dogfight. Toby was trying to sink his fangs in the black dog’s neck. Blood was going to flow any second.

I glanced at the Mexican and he was unperturbed, as though I should invite him in for tea.

I lost it. This was my house – my property. “Hey, motherfucker. Get your motherfuckin’ dogs under control!”

The dogs were locked together, beating up dust from the road.

The Mexican looked at me with a pleasant expression.

I took a step toward him. “Motherfucker! You think this is funny?”

He backed away, frowned, lifted a hand. “Tranquil… Tranquil…” and then yelled out “Marley!”

The dog didn’t stop trying to kill Toby, so the Mexican had to grab Marley by the collar and drag him away.

By then Sophy and Denisse and the kids had spilled out in the road.

Things calmed down. The Mexican said, in fractured English, “You don’ recognize me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“I’m live in the brick house.”

This meant nothing to me.

He pointed to the stone steps leading to our door. “I made those steps.”

I looked hard at the guy. “You grew a beard.”

The Mexican fingered his heavy beard. “Yes.”

The Mexican – Jose – made a gesture like he was flexing his muscles. “You were very fuerte.”

I took a breath. “You’ve got a big dog.”

By now, Jose had once again let go of Marley’s collar. My grandson Yalith wandered too close to the dog and Jose said, “Careful with the boy.”

I shooed Yalith away while Jose tied Marley to a utility pole.

Jose pointed at his two dogs. “Marley and Rita. After Bob Marley and his wife.”

It turned out Jose had come by to borrow our power drill.

When he left, Sophy said, “He brought that dog here before. It bit Antonio (our worker). Antonio told me if he saw that dog again he was going to kill it. Why does he have to bring that dog here? There was no reason. I told him not to bring that dog here.”

Is it madness? Or Mexico?

Twist

28 Nov

MX Mask

The Sunday morning subway ride to work. There was a Spanish family sitting in front of me, heading for the beach. The wife and husband were sitting together. She was young and had a sweet smile; in profile her tongue flicked in Spanish. The husband was older. His hands were up near the braid of her hair. They seemed to be twirling her hair with the love an older, heavier man feels when he’s successful in love with a younger woman.

My mind played out scenes of hard work and lonely days for the man that surprisingly led to love. But I soon saw this wasn’t so obviously so. His hands, close to her braid, were twirling and unwrapping a piece of hard candy that he popped into his mouth.

Later, as the candy pushed out his cheek, his nervous hands played with the bra stretched across her back.

She jerked her body and said, “Stop it!”

Two stops further she held her head between her knees as though she was going to be sick.

From my book, Breakfast Special. NYC 1980

Piece Work

13 Nov

Featured image

Last night, when the sun was down, I rounded the corner of our house and heard a rattling sound. The sound stopped – then started again – the unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake. Even if I have only heard it in movies, I knew what it was and I froze. Looking down I saw a coiled rattlesnake only a few feet from my leg.

I backed away, and ran towards the basement for a spade, intending to slice it in two. By the time I got back it was gone.

Like my character Grizz said in my screenplay Swallow, “It’s always something…”

Two days later, I heard a cry from outside. I ran out and saw Denisse, the kids and the dogs circling the same rattlesnake in the dirt road in front of our house.

This time I was quicker with the spade, and sliced the snake into thirds and buried it under a rock.

Three days later my neighbor asked if he could have the body of the dead snake, to make “medicine.”

Fortune Cookie

22 Oct

 

Man Drowning

Jon, the producer trying to get me to write a film shot in China, told me a story about one of the Chinese industrialists he’s going to tap for money to finance the film, a friend of his named Yunru.

Ten years ago, Yunru was homeless and friendless, living in a mausoleum in a graveyard outside Chengdu. After seven straight days in the darkness of the mausoleum without a crumb to eat, he became delirious with hunger. Yunru staggered out into the sunlight, wailing, “I’m hungry… I’m hungry.”

In seconds, other homeless people emerged from the surrounding mausoleums, moaning, “We’re hungry, too.”

The others – a group of about a hundred – pooled what little food they had and gave it to Yunru. With his strength restored, the others began looking to Yunru as their leader. He told them he’d go to a nearby factory to try and get them work.

Yunru spoke to the factory manager and said his people would work for half what he was paying the other workers.

The factory manager turned down the offer.

Yunru then said, “Twenty of us will work for free for one week. We’ll show you that we can work harder and better than your other workers.”

The factory manager agreed and at the end of one week Yunru had made good on his claim. The factory manager hired all 100 of the workers from the cemetery. Over the course of a few months, production and profits at the factory were way up, attracting the attention of the factory owner in Hong Kong. He flew to Chengdu to see for himself why this particular factory was outperforming the others he owned. He first spoke with the factory manager who hemmed and hawed and didn’t give a satisfactory answer. The owner then interviewed a worker who said, “It’s all because of Yunru.”

The owner tracked down Yunru and in the course of their conversation asked, “Are you happy working for ten dollars a day?”

Yunru answered, “We only make five dollars a day.”

The owner confronted the factory manager, asking, “What are you doing with the extra money we are sending you?”

When the manager was unable to come up with an explanation, the owner said, “You’re fired. Yunru will take your place.”

As time passed, Yunru eventually had 3,000 workers under his control. He invested in coal when it was pennies a ton – now it’s over $50 a ton. Yunru is a rich man with a beautiful home and family. When friends come over to visit, he breaks out $100K bottles of Lafite Rothschild.