MRS CHU'S STORY
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”
Mei-Ling “Lola” Poon was born judgmental. She was also born in the Year of the Rat.
From the moment Lola Poon was delivered into the cold, sterile environment of the labour ward of Mount Sinai Doctors – Chinatown she was not a happy camper. The first thing she did upon entering the world was express her displeasure at having her warm, comfortable, intrauterine existence rudely terminated by crying loudly for exactly one minute. Lola then lapsed into a stern, sullen, silence that lasted until her second birthday.
While Lola was healthy and of average weight at birth, she gained minimal weight through the first six months of her life because she simply refused to feed. Even when she was clearly hungry, and quite frankly desperately in need of nourishment, Lola adamantly would not swallow her mother's milk. The doctors suspected Lola may have an intestinal malabsorption syndrome, or perhaps a mild case of pyloric stenosis, but the absence of vomiting and diarrhoea, and a normal upper GI endoscopy made these diagnoses unlikely; Lola Poon was simply a wilful infant. She had steadfastly decided that she did not like the taste of her mother’s milk—nor nine out of ten of the baby formulas that were on the market at the time. Months later, having finally found the one milk formula that she would actually drink, Lola started putting on weight, and she bounced back to a generous 150% of her expected body weight by the time she was twelve months old. It was as if she was stocking up in case her favourite milk formula might no longer be available in the future.
Soon after Lola’s second birthday, her mother, Mei-Yee, went through another round of frustration with little Mei-Ling: toilet training. For no reason that Mei-Yee could determine, Lola simply would not open her bowels when given the opportunity to do so. The outcome of this new form of defiance, some prolonged and painful bouts of constipation that required a number of visits to the emergency room, many doses of laxatives, and the occasional suppository.
By the time Lola turned three, Mei-Yee had noticed a number of other disturbing behavioural issues. When Lola would play she would line up her collection of dolls—as well as those of her older sister, Sui-Feng “Hilary”—arranged in order from smallest to tallest, and she would shout orders at them. More disturbing was Lola’s habit of punishing the dolls who didn’t do as she commanded. The non-compliant dolls would be positioned facing the corner of the room with their hands pinned, with clothes pegs, behind their backs for days at a time. When questioned what they had done wrong, Lola would simply say: “They haven’t learned how to play properly yet. They will, though. They just need to spend some time alone.”
Despite Hilary being three years older than Lola, she was always afraid of her. The two siblings never played together even though they shared a room for the first five years of Lola’s life. For her fifth birthday, Lola insisted that the Poon family move to a larger apartment—one with three bedrooms. She got her way, of course. Lola always got her way. No one in the small Poon family was willing to disagree with Lola. They all knew what the consequences of such action would bring; the wrath of Lola was not something any of them would ever choose voluntarily.
Lola’s father, Chi-Kung “Henry” Poon, had met and married Mei-Yee only months before moving from Guangzhou to New Eden to further his studies in engineering. Henry and Mei-Yee had been born in the same village—which was in the hills above Guangzhou—but Henry’s family had moved to the city when he was a young boy. It was Henry’s parents who had arranged the meeting with Mei-Yee; they couldn’t bear the thought of Henry moving to New Eden and marrying an American girl.
Henry had taken to his adopted country enthusiastically; Mei-Yee pined for her homeland. She desperately wanted to be with her family, particularly to aide her with the rearing of her two daughters. It was lonely for Mei-Yee in New Eden despite living right in the middle of Chinatown where there was no shortage of Cantonese speakers. Mei-Yee couldn’t understand the obsession Americans had with consuming, and the busy lifestyles that the people all around her seemed to thrive on. She craved quiet and solitude—things nigh on impossible to find while living at the corner of Grand and Bowery . . .
Upon starting elementary school, Lola’s difficult and unpredictable behaviour changed precipitously; her mother couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Lola stopped expressing her displeasure and being wilful when things weren’t going her way, and she started being kind and helpful. Mei-Yee was even more surprised when Lola’s first report card came home describing her as the model student: courteous, helpful, hard-working, and disciplined. Mei-Yee could see how hard-working, and disciplined might apply to Lola, but courteous? Helpful? Who was this child, and where had this new, compliant version of Lola come from?
The simple answer was that on arriving at school it was glaringly obvious to Lola Poon that she couldn’t get her way there by being defiant. She realised that she had to control her environment in more subtle ways. This meant being good. Lola learned quickly that a good student was given options. Good students got to make decisions, whereas bad behaviour only lead to having freedom and control taken away.
It was soon after starting school, and developing her new behavioural strategies of compliance, that Lola started to mumble. The mumbling was subtle at first, but by the time she turned eight Lola’s mumbling was quite noticeable to everyone around her. It was one of her fellow students—and Lola’s closest friend at the time—Angelina Winkelstein, who had first pointed the mumbling out to Lola. The two girls were sitting on a bench in the playground eating their lunch one day when Angelina decided she would ask Lola about it. Lola was fond of Angelina because she spoke her mind when other less interesting students, who didn’t appear to have opinions of their own, kept their mouths shut. Lola despised people—children and adults alike—who didn’t have an opinion about important matters. What’s the point of living if you don’t think about stuff? Are they completely stupid, or just plain lazy?
“Why do you mumble all the time, Lola?” asked Angelina, genuinely interested to hear Lola’s response.
“I don’t mumble,” was Lola’s matter-of-fact reply.
“Yes, you do. You mumble a lot actually.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“NO . . . I . . . DON’T!!”
“But you do mumble Lola. Why is that?”
At this Lola jumped up, threw her cha siu bao sandwich in the dirt, knocked Angelina’s bagel with lox onto the ground beside it, and started pulling on Angelina’s ponytails with all her might, all the while shouting “LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!” into Angelina's face.
“Nooooooo. Oooooowwww. Let me go Lola. What’s wrong with you?” Angelina tried to pull away from Lola’s grip, but by this time Lola had wrestled Angelina off the bench and onto the bitumen of the playground. Lola straddled her friend, pinning her arms against her body with her legs—she was strong for her age—and started slapping Angelina’s cheeks with her open palms. With each slap, Lola shouted into Angelina’s face: “I DO NOT MUMBLE! I DO NOT MUMBLE! I DO NOT MUMBLE!”
Lola was red in the face and breathing heavily when the lunchtime duty teacher grabbed her from behind, under the arms, and lifted her kicking and screaming off her friend. Lola was marched to the principal’s office where she appeared to be in a trance, and unable to speak. The principal wasn’t able to get any sense out of Lola, so she was taken to the school nurse for observation. An hour later Lola sat up, looked around, and asked the nurse politely:
“What am I doing here?”
“You don’t remember what happened, honey?”
“What do you mean, what happened? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
A letter was sent home to Lola’s parents outlining the incident; Mei-Yee and Henry weren’t surprised by what they read. Nothing more was said—either at school or at home—though Angelina Winkelstein transferred to another third-grade class, and her friendship with Lola Poon came to an abrupt end. Lola noticed more of her fellow students eyeing her suspiciously, and avoiding sitting next to her. She also found herself strangely—though not unpleasantly for Lola—more often alone at lunchtime.
Lola’s mumbling continued unabated. No one was game to mention it to her, however. After the incident with Angelina something changed on an unconscious level for Lola, and she did become aware of her tendency to mumble little by little. Lola found she could control the mumbling when she was in company, but when she was alone she mumbled louder than ever. Lola knew that only insane people mumbled out loud for no reason, and she certainly didn’t want to have that label attached to her—it could result in more of her own authority being taken away from her—so she kept her mumbling to herself.
If someone had made a tape of Lola’s mumblings, it might have sounded something like this:
That boy doesn’t even know what religion the people of Pakistan follow. Stupid idiot. My handwriting is too messy. I must make more effort to be neater when I write; nobody respects someone with messy handwriting. Why does the government think they can cut spending on education when no one I know has received enough education to even get a job, let alone make a difference in the world? How stupid are politicians? When I grow up I’m going to run for Congress and start cleaning up the mess this country is in. Can you believe that car just ran a red light and almost knocked that old lady over? He should be locked up. Harsher penalties for driving badly; that’s what’s needed. Look at my hair. It’s out of control. I must get it cut shorter so that is behaves better. Stupid Hilary just started dating a boy, and she’s only thirteen. What does she think? That they are in love, and that they will get married and live happily ever after. She’s the stupidest one of all. In fact, I think Hilary is the stupidest person on the planet. She’s so obsessed with her appearance. She doesn’t ever think about anything important, like neighbourhood safety, childhood immunization rates, the availability of abortion, the cold war in Eastern Europe, the nuclear arms race. All she ever thinks about is herself. She's such a mindless twit . . .
Lola Poon proved time and time again that she was smart; no one ever questioned the fact. Academically she was the top student in her class by a proverbial mile every year through elementary school, and her outstanding scholastic achievements continued unabated into high school. Lola Poon was also judgmental; no one ever questioned that fact either. No one, however, was ever game enough to mention it to Lola. That would not have been a safe course of action.
Throughout high school Lola developed a reputation for being the most reliable source of up-to-date information on any and all social and political issues. Her fellow students learned they could approach Lola for advice on these subjects . . . so long as they were prepared to sit through the lengthy discourse that would follow such a request. When it came to being informed about politically sensitive issues, Lola was in a league of her own. At Seward Park High School—located at the corner of Grand and Essex streets in the Lower East Side—Lola won the annual school debate each year from 6th grade onwards. In her senior year Lola applied for, and received, a full scholarship to study political and environmental science at the low-key—but highly socially conscious—Evergreen State College in Washington state.
It was at college that Lola really discovered her life’s passion. The world was dying, she learned, and Lola increasingly came to the realization that it was her solemn duty to save it. To most mere mortals, this mammoth task would have been simply overwhelming. For Lola Poon, however, it lit a fire in her belly. The anger she had suppressed for so many years was now allowed a means of expression: she could rant and rave as much as she desired when delivering her arguments outlining the impending ecological disaster associated with global warming . . . and sometimes people would even pay attention to her.
It was also at Evergreen that Lola found her own kind, her own tribe, united through a shared love of political correctness. She could finally breath a metaphorical sigh of relief: she wasn’t alone on this mess of a planet after all. Lola had felt isolated and different—not in a good way—amongst the mind-numbing mediocrity that surrounded her on the Lower East Side, where no one cared about greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of the ozone layer, or global warming. In fact, in 1978 no one living on the LES of Manhattan had even heard about greenhouse gas emissions. A little bit of hype was just starting up in the media about ozone depletion, but knowledge about its cause and treatment were rudimentary. Lola felt people didn’t care about their planet home. They simply used it, abused it, and expected it to provide for them. This laissez-faire attitude that the entire human population seemed to have towards the health of the planet infuriated Lola Poon more than anything else.
At Evergreen, Lola learned she could monitor the United Nations Environment Program in order to keep up to date on the issues that were so vitally important to her. Along with two of her fellow freshman environmental science majors—Gareth Bradley and Dilip Shah—Lola started the Evergreen Environmental Action Group (EEAG). A handful of passionate devotees, numbering five at the height of the group's popularity, would meet each Tuesday evening to discuss the state of the planet. The atmosphere at EEAG was generally grim. They were able to see where the accelerating rape and pillage of the environment was heading, but they were generally unable to envision solutions. Despite the general gloom, Lola always remained energized and positive in her fight for reform: “Education has to be the foundation,” Lola declared. “We have to let the people know what we know, and make them start caring, or else the Earth is doomed.”
Lola, clearly the leader of EEAG, was unanimously voted into the role of spokesperson for their cause. Initially this involved filling a five-minute speaking slot each week in the cafeteria at the Evergreen Union. Most speakers used this forum to promote their upcoming social event: The Evergreen Gays annual cake bake-off; the Evergreen Engineers spring keg party (free entry for girls); the Evergreen Theosophists attempt on the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest group Ouija board séance, etc. The other students quickly came to despise Lola and her five-minute chastisement for their part in helping to destroy the planet. Backs were turned, conversations were started, and whole tables of students would collect their things and flee the building en masse when Lola started to speak. Dilip offered to take over the slot, but Lola wouldn’t hear of it. Gareth made some helpful suggestions about how Lola might improve her delivery, but Lola’s high-decibel reply had burst Gareth’s left eardrum, and left him doubting his commitment to the group. Just nine months after its inauguration, EEAG’s numbers had dwindled to just one remaining member, and Lola made the difficult decision to disband the action group indefinitely . . .
Back in New Eden after college, Lola aligned herself with the most left-wing political groups she could find. While her political beliefs were generally in alignment with the Egalitarian Party, Lola just couldn’t believe how ineffectual they were when it came to governing the country; it came as no surprise to Lola when they lost their majority in the Senate to the Partisan Party in 1981. Lola did her best to find groups interested in climate change, but these were sorely lacking, even in the progressive atmosphere of New Eden in the mid 1980s. Lola soldiered on regardless, standing alone on street corners spruiking her views to passersby. Occasionally someone would stop and listen to her speak for a few minutes. Sometimes a hand would even be thrust into a pocket to retrieve a few coins—their contribution to Lola Poon’s heartfelt cause. Lola’s response to such a donation was usually to retrieve the coins and throw them at the back of the retreating stranger while yelling, “A few pennies won’t save the planet, you idiot. Wake up. WAKE UP! WAKE UP EVERYONE! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Don’t you see?"
To make a living during this period, Lola started doing what she did best (other than stressing about the state of the environment)—cleaning. She loved to remove dirt wherever she saw it. Re-arranging and re-organizing other people’s mess was also a great joy to Lola. Cleaning offices at night was where Lola started, but her reputation for her exceptional cleaning abilities and attention to detail quickly grew. Lola's services became sought after for private residences, and she soon had to hire an assistant to help her with the labour-intensive work. This was problematic for Lola, because any assistant—even the hardest working and most capable—was never going to achieve Lola’s standards of perfection in cleanliness. Pretty soon Lola realized that her best course of action was to hire two more assistants to perform all the physical work, while she supervised each step of the process.
Within a year Lola needed to expand her horizons even further as her reputation grew, and she started running cleaning workshops to educate her growing staff on how to achieve the results she aspired to. Another year and Lola was ready to franchise. Lola branded her business Perfect Clean, and her role of inspector started to take on onerous proportions. She would drive around New Eden, day and night, stopping at each of the cleaning locations to inspect the final state of the job before dismissing her staff to go on to their next assignment. In keeping with her new title of Quality Control Officer (as well as CEO, CFO, and Head Educator) of Perfect Clean, Lola adopted a more corporate look that she felt was needed to command respect in her rapidly expanding company. Along with a crisp new uniform of dark grey cotton twill with red piping and trim—jacket, shirt, pants, cap—Lola’s lips became tighter and thinner, her forehead more furrowed, and her already small, narrow eyes somehow became even smaller and narrower. Add to this the heavy eyeglasses she now wore on a chain around her neck—required to magnify her vision in order to spot any lurking dust particles—the tight bun that she now pulled her prematurely grey hair into, and the hunched posture she had developed with all of the bending, cleaning, and squinting, Lola’s appearance as she approached 30 was anything but attractive. Lola wasn’t concerned, however. She did want a husband—and perhaps a child—one day, but she wasn’t interested in dating, or going out to bars to find one. Lola had decided to simply allow life to find her future mate, and she put no conscious effort of her own into the process . . .
Lola’s future husband, Lawrence Chu, was living just a few blocks from Lola when they met at a speed dating evening held at the Chinatown Community Centre: the year, 1994. I had escorted Lola to the event; she wouldn’t have gone to such a banal gathering voluntarily.
In 1991, with the money that was rolling in from her burgeoning cleaning business, Lola had purchased the middle two floors of a four-storey apartment building on Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side. She had moved Mei-Yee and Henry into the first-floor apartment, and taken up residence herself on the second floor. At the time of her purchase, the below-street-level ground floor apartment was occupied by a sour-natured bachelor banker named John Buchanan. I had moved into the top-floor apartment the following year. A few years later Lola purchased the other two apartments and became the owner and supervisor of the whole tenement.
The LES was not a sought-after neighbourhood in New Eden in the early ‘90s, generally reserved for migrants and coloureds, and with a lot of low-income, social housing. Lola liked the mix of down-to-earth people living there, however. Most were living on or below the breadline, and they had real problems related to survival to deal with on a daily basis, yet they remained friendly and supportive as a community. Lola couldn’t think of anything worse than living uptown amongst the privilege, paranoia, and isolation of the wealthy of New Eden.
Despite significant cultural differences, and despite my often-shy awkwardness, Lola and I hit it off and became the best of friends. I was open and friendly without being intrusive or needy, and I liked to talk about—and offer my own opinions on—weighty issues. Initially our relationship consisted of short conversations snatched when passing each other on the stairs. Later Lola would invite me to her apartment for tea and more lengthy discussions on politics, art, literature, and, of course, the environment . . .
Lawrence Chu was tall, big-boned, and heavy-set. He was also charming, fun-loving, and he possessed a booming laugh that he gave away liberally, and which made people smile. Lawrence's family had emigrated from Hong Kong four generations before, and the Chu’s had made Chinatown and the East Village of New Eden their adoptive home.
Lawrence had found himself a comfortable position as a Notary Public that required him to sit around in a small office all day doing very little. He would occasionally witness documents for people when they happened by, and on the side Lawrence sold illegally imported Chinese candy bars and fireworks. Lawrence was well known in the Chinese community of lower Manhattan so he didn’t need to promote himself or his work—legal or illegal. Lawrence’s work as a Notary Public made him a small regular income. His income from the sale of the illegal sweets and fireworks, however, far outstripped his legal earnings.
Everyone liked Lawrence. He would regularly gather his friends and family together for large, rowdy dinners at restaurants run by various friends and relatives, and he was generous with his time and money. Lawrence also liked to drink. His drink of choice was whisky; the more the better. He kept a bottle of the finest Scottish single malt in his desk drawer, one beside the La-Z-Boy armchair in his living room, one in his bedside table, one in the kitchen, and one in his bathroom cabinet. The first thing he would do when a client sat down in his office was offer them a shot. Lawrence wasn’t a drunk—that is he didn’t get inebriated, often—he just liked to drink whiskey, often.
The other compulsion that Lawrence had developed over the years was a love of gambling. Horses mostly. While Lawrence had never physically set foot at a racetrack, the path from his E 10th St office to the illegal, Vietnamese mafia-run, gambling ring on Avenue C was a well-worn one.
It was Lawrence’s upbeat demeanour, sparkling eyes, and his infectious laughter that had caught Lola’s attention. With her freshly open and optimistic worldview, Lola decided to give Lawrence a chance. They courted for a few months, dining and drinking together, walking Tompkins Square Park in the evenings, taking the ferry to Ellis Island, and even strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge one especially warm, clear summer night. It was on this particular outing that Lawrence had proposed to Lola, and she had accepted without hesitation.
The wedding was quite a big affair thanks to Lawrence’s large network of friends and family. I was Lola’s sole friend in attendance, while Mei-Yee and Henry were Lola's only relatives present at the nuptials; Hilary had been called away suddenly on an unscheduled work trip.
The reception took place at Chong’s restaurant on Canal Street. The traditional twelve course Cantonese banquet—as well as the consumption of numerous bottles of the finest Scotch whiskey—continuing well into the early hours of the morning. The newlyweds enjoyed a relaxing honeymoon at the Florida beachside destination of Boca Raton before returning to their new life together in New Eden.
Lawrence Chu was happy to move into Lola’s apartment on Eldridge Street. He didn’t own real estate of his own, and his spiralling gambling debts meant it was unlikely he would do so any time soon. This caused Lola some short- and medium-term consternation as she soon realised that Lawrence’s off-hand and fun-loving way of living translated directly to his level of household cleanliness; picking up after Lawrence became another task that needed to be added to Lola’s ever-growing list of daily chores.
The one area of this new life with Lawrence that Lola was extremely pleased about, however, was the enjoyment she experienced with him in the bedroom. Lola had lost her virginity at Evergreen—that had happened before she had burst Gareth Bradley’s ear drum and lost his respect—and she had maintained one long-term sexual liaison with an older male acquaintance in New Eden in the late '80s, but she had never found sex entirely satisfying. With Lawrence, however, Lola discovered she could relax and let him pleasure her without needing to offer advice on how to do so. Surprisingly, Lawrence seemed to know what to do all by himself. Lawrence’s performance in the bedroom was always enhanced with a few extra whiskeys under his belt, and Lola was happy to allow him this indulgence. On some occasions she would even join him, and have a couple of whiskeys of her own; she found it relaxed her, and enhanced her enjoyment enormously.
Three pregnancies and three miscarriages followed in successive years, then—in April of 1997—Lola gave birth to a healthy baby boy who the couple named William after Lawrence’s recently deceased father . . .
As the turn of the millennium approached, Lawrence’s gambling debts became unmanageable. The debt-enforcers from the Vietnamese mafia on Avenue C began to put increasing pressure on Lawrence to pay up. Having been on the receiving end of Lola’s temper on a number of occasions by this time, Lawrence was unprepared to reveal the extent of his debts to his wife, so he agreed to act as a drug courier—one time only—for the ring. This job, they informed him, would wipe his slate clean.
The risky endeavour involved a quick-turnaround plane trip to Hanoi, a visit to the processing and packaging factory on the outskirts of the city where sheets of heroin were strapped to Lawrence’s body, a nerve-racking security check-in at Hanoi airport, then a sleepless 18-hour plane trip, via LA, back to JFK. Once back on U.S. soil Lawrence passed through immigration and customs without incident, and he felt he was home free.
Lawrence was picked up outside the terminal building at JFK by a limousine containing some of his Vietnamese associates. Despite the trip having gone without incident, the gang had never intended for Lawrence to be let off the hook. He was taken to a remote warehouse on Jamaica Bay, the drugs were removed from his body, and he was unceremoniously shot in the forehead at close range. The end came so quickly that the ever-present smile on Lawrence’s face didn’t even have time to transform into a look of surprise or horror. His body was bound, weighted, and dumped into the sea, never to be recovered.
On the fifth day after Lawrence failed to return home, Lola filed a missing persons report. She hadn't been concerned at first; Lawrence had an annoying habit of forgetting to tell Lola where he was going and what he was doing. By the time the second week rolled around without any word, however, Lola really started to worry. For Lola, to have no idea where to even start looking for her missing husband was the worst part of all. She was not used to being this out of control, and it ate away at her insides.
On the anniversary of Lawrence’s disappearance, finally resigned to the undeniability of his permanent absence, a memorial service was held at the East Village Uniting Church, and Lola made the decision to move on with her life, leaving Lawrence Chu firmly in the past . . .
The following year, 2002, Lola—by this time known to everyone simply as Mrs Chu—leased the below-street-level ground floor apartment on Eldridge Street to a young scientist, Bernard McCall, and his four-year-old son, Adam. Mrs Chu warmed to Bernard immediately. She liked his quiet intelligence, his pragmatism, and his withdrawn, gentle, sensitive nature. While Bernard was less inclined to come for tea in her apartment—as I still liked to do on a regular basis—Lola and Bernard had ample opportunity to communicate with each other as he rarely left the building. Mrs Chu also discovered that Bernard was a suitable babysitter—much needed since Lawrence’s disappearance—for her now five-year-old son, William. William and Adam loved playing together from their very first meeting. They quickly became the best of friends, and were inseparable. This was the start of a long, close friendship between Mrs Chu, Bernard, Adam, William, and myself that blossomed and grew progressively over the years.
With Lawrence’s disappearance, Mrs Chu felt an unfamiliar emptiness in her life. To fill this void, she decided to throw herself back into the political arena once more. Lola had been a founding member of the New Eden branch of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1989, and she now devoted more of her time to promoting the PLP’s extreme left-wing agendas. As the deadline approached for nominations for the congressional mid-term elections of 2006, Mrs Chu found herself the unopposed PLP nomination for US district 7. Now 46 years of age, Mrs Chu had acquired the maturity to deliver her opinions with conviction and gravitas that she had so blatantly lacked when she was in college. Through the large network of people Lola had become connected with courtesy of her marriage to Lawrence, Mrs Chu’s popularity in the polls rose to a level that became troublesome to both the sitting Egalitarian Party member, as well as the new Partisan Party hopeful. Early on in the campaign it had been the polished face of Ken Abercrombie that Lola saw as her fiercest competition, but a news scandal erupted in September that had resulting in Ken pulling out of the race completely. Lola knew nothing about the Partisan Party’s replacement, although the rumours did not paint a charming picture of Dennis O’Brien’s character. Lola campaigned tirelessly, visiting factories in Brooklyn, community centres in Queens, and of course every home, office, shop, and school she could manage in her backyard of the Lower East Side.
On the eve of the elections, however, a Partisan Party sponsored newspaper published a front-page article outlining Lawrence Chu’s illegal business activities and gambling proclivities. The following day Lola lost by the smallest of margins to her opposition candidate, despite his obviously poor moral standing.
While it was impossible to remove her political passion entirely—and she continued to be involved in the PLP for the remainder of her life—the spark went out of Mrs Chu’s political drive for some years after the humiliating election scandal . . .
It was in the months leading up to the elections that Lola and I had first stumbled across the metaphysical. In early August of 2006, Lola invited me to see a documentary film at the Chinatown Community Centre that was entitled “Keys to Life Eternal.” Lola, ever the pragmatist, was expecting a scientific discourse about how to extend the longevity of the physical body. Instead, the film showed a series of interviews with spiritual teachers and scholars from all over the globe talking about ego, pain, and suffering, and about love, peace, and freedom.
Lola was quite interested in what they were all saying—something deep in her subconscious mind pricked up its ears, and heard a message that was filed away for researching at a later date—but at the time she was so fully occupied by the various challenges of her life circumstances that, clearly, she had no free time to put towards such banal past-times as meditation and naval-gazing.
I, however, was mesmerized, and completely captivated by what I was seeing and hearing. When Mamaji—a radiant American woman with white hair, and soul-piercing eyes—came on the screen, I was utterly stopped in my tracks. I didn’t hear a single word that she spoke, as my mind had been shocked somehow into a state of pure astonishment. But words weren’t what I was receiving in that moment; Mamaji’s presence had pierced my heart, and finally I knew that I’d found what I’d been searching frantically for for the previous three years.
The fire—which you’ll hear more about soon—happened just days later, and that changed all of our lives dramatically. Then, we discovered that Mamaji had scheduled her first visit to New Eden in more than a decade, and a Satsang (a Sanskrit word meaning a gathering of Truth-seekers) meeting was to take place just a few blocks from the Eldridge Street apartment building. I insisted that we go, of course, and Lola and I were in the front row. Lola promptly thrust her hand up when Mamaji called for questions, and she reported being stuck in her mind. Mamaji invited Lola to stop thinking, just for a moment. She invited her to give up control, and to not know a thing, just for a moment. Mrs Chu hesitated—her lifelong compulsion to be in control literally holding on for dear life—but then she accepted Mamaji’s challenge, and experienced a brief moment of rest. In that moment, Lola saw for the first time that she was creating her own suffering—even though her main fight was to save the planet—as well as contributing to the suffering of others.
As her rational thinking mind resumed its incessant task of searching to find meaning—and perfection—in everything, Lola found she needed tangible proof before she could be convinced about the reality and relevance of this Spiritual Awakening that Mamaji was inviting her to. Once she’d performed her own thorough investigation into the numinous and all things spiritual, however, Lola had to admit that perhaps she’d overlooked this rather important aspect of her education after all.
Later, Lola was deeply grateful for this accidental discovery of spirituality at the Chinatown Community Centre. In fact, it was Lola’s discovery of spirituality that was truly the turning point in her life. Through both her voracious intellectual pursuit of the many esoteric spiritual traditions, and the regular Transcendental Meditation practice that she embraced with a passion, Lola came to realize that she didn’t need to always be angry and judgmental towards people and the world, and that she didn't always need to be right or perfect either. This was a great relief for Lola . . . and for everyone around her.
What dawned on Mrs Chu, thanks to Mamaji's teaching, was that any happiness and fulfilment she attained from acquiring or achieving things in the world didn’t last. The happiness and fulfilment that she was now discovering from quieting her mind and looking inside herself, however, were unconditional and endless. This life-changing discovery also served to completely alter Mrs Chu's view on activism and change in the world: It isn't all about changing them, she finally realised, it has to start with me . . .
And so, Mrs Chu’s story now arrives, along with all the others, at that fateful month: July 2020. Mrs Chu is keeping a keen eye on the presidential race, but with the clean-cut, charismatic Ken Abercrombie of the Partisan Party currently holding a commanding lead in the polls, it feels like the result is a foregone conclusion. Mrs Chu knows in her bones that Ken Abercrombie has some dirty laundry that he is hiding, and she would dearly love to be the one to expose it—a little pay-back to the Partisan Party and their smutty rumour-mongering has a certain appeal to Mrs Chu—but at present she has not been able to find out what his secrets are; time will tell.
William is currently back at home living with Mrs Chu for a few months before he heads off overseas on another one of his adventures. He’s doing his stand-up comedy routine at my club, The Garden Cabaret.
Members of the newly formed Eco-Vigilante Action Group (E-VAG) are gathering in Bernard’s Bookstore, and Mrs Chu—the new spokesperson of the group—is chatting with Bernard and Amir prior to the meeting starting. Adam, William, Alex Abercrombie, and I arrive after our evening performance at The Garden Cabaret, and the meeting gets underway . . .