Chang Li's Shanghai Palace

Ah yes, those neon dragons that have buzzed in my ears these many years, slowly electrocuting the soul within me.    In the summer, they sometimes sizzle in the nighttime rain; in the winter, they flicker in the cruel, cruel cold.    Those ancient dragons  have always guarded the entrance to Chang Li's Shanghai Palace Restaurant, a landmark in this part of town.  

Before I was ever breathing the air of this world, those dragons in their pimp house pink and cobalt blue had been seducing souls to come in, leave the world behind and let's sail away to other worlds.  Before the war, the back rooms of Chang Li's had the smell of opium; in the hippie years, the place choked with the sweet, sick fragrance of Mary Jane; nowadays, it pretty much has the odor of ... well, the odor of nowhere-else-to-go.  

One night at the far end of a bottle of Jack Daniels, I named my dragons, Yin and Yang.  They seemed okay with it.  And somewhere along they took to calling me, Starbuck.  No, not after those overpriced coffeehouses you see springing up everywhere like some sort of contagion, but after that star-crossed mate, that poor son of a gun, who went down with the whaling ship in Moby Dick through no fault of his own.  Kinda fits.  It really does.

My dragons and me keep an eye on all these lost souls who wander around in these parts.  Souls like Preacher Jones over there who runs the Hallelujah Mission.  Every night, he comes out at this hour and tries to drag us residents inside his place for some soup, some preaching, a hot shower and a surplus army cot.  Some of the boys take him up on his offer, I usually don't.  Nothing worse than trying to sleep to the chorus of fifty drunks snoring away.

Preacher Jones once slept these streets before he got religion and sobered up.  Big old boy, once worked the fields in Alabama before he went off to fight in the Big Muddy in Nam.  He came back with one arm missing and a whole lot of misery in his mind and gut.   But he turned it around and I have to give the old boy credit - he means what he preaches.    Maybe one day, he'll get me on my knees, but not yet.  I am not ready yet to come home to Jesus and I sense maybe, Jesus ain't quite ready for me.


The End

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