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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

Thieves Jargon

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Doug Milam

Doug Milam, a frequent contributor to THE2NDHAND, lives and writes in Bellingham, WA. Visit him here.

"What do you think of main Chinese personality?" Lotus, our tour guide, sitting next to the driver, a stocky heavy tan with an easy smile. If a Chinese (person) is (a) tan, it's uncouth to compatriots, means means, he or she (she or he) could very well be a laborer from the sunny fields, or from within buildings not yet boutiqued with brand Schrager. The person could be sun-eaten but not bowed, nor arched with trimmed eyebrows...

Main Chinese personality, I consider. I want to be serious with my answer, so I reply "calm" -- which Lotus is not. But I see )this( come by honestly on the polluted streets which are cleaner than the air. Honestly for me at least.

Lotus looks at my wife. My answer is/isn't sufficient/desired. "Very, hmm," my wife begins. "There are many types of Chinese," Lotus breaks, on a Beijing highway weaving with lines of exhaust. She d'splays a hand high. "Manchu," she lists, "Mongol, Han. Manchu woman not good looking, horse face, loooong." She draws down her face. "Man not so handsome; you see in Qing dynasty portrait."

They do look a tadpole long in the face. The neck vertebrae like a carpetbagger's stick, perhaps? This tribalist critique, if I will (to power) pleasure, I recall this from our hasty tour of the Ming tombs, the Ming toms, where the dead steamrise on a hot tiled roof in the rain. All the slaughtered ones or not, yellow earth for the royal yellow silk, more alive to the sun than flesh. And there is red for fortune, always blood read for fortune.

"Yellow for earth," Lotus plains. "Earth the first element, then metal, metal come from earth." She bends over slightly and taps her fingers one. "From metal water, then wood, then fire. Fire create ash which earth once more." Yes the kilns were in the eyes, yes they were, all of Mao a modern emperor, and this logic fascinates. Never mind Cartesian mind(within/)body dualism Renaissance man(kind) is king again. Five elements. Within and/or without. Your body is earth tasting metallic water flowing with fire as iron rusts back to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adam's to Eve.

"Yellow always for emperor," she points none too silkily. Main Chinese personality "was in Sung dynasty soft, not so strong, as Tang dynasty also, clever. Very beautiful woman in Tang dynasty time, smart. But not strong like Mongol. Mongol tough, hard." She riffs on Genghis Khan like a fretboard for all the anxieties of our age, the sure scales of murder, the surety. "He very successful, because he achieve goal. Yes, you see Hitler not successful, but Genghis Khan very successful." She points to the air's substance, a thickening haze of lesser known lies somewhere in between the comfort of warm blood's bath and the sharpened steal of breath from the edge cracked-out and crazed, a shelled soft yoke under Heaven's son.

"Mongol Empire biggest empire of all time," she weaves again. "He share with soldiers, not like Manchu. Because he share, he have success. Mongols were in Russia, 'open gates or die' because they could not resist. In China, Iraq, Persia, North Africa, now people from Mongol time." My wife and I, listen, we take in or take it as, pains of salted wounds. "Baghdad like you say big pile of skulls; today Arab know fear of Mongols because only Mongol kill so many. Mongolian president, he recently make a speech, say go back to our glorious time when Mongols successful."

Lotus points again "where you from?" at my wife. "U.S.," she ., "U.S.A.," I ... A pleased look on the mouth of Lotus which "strong" with a fist in succession, (not) a word said about being free.