MRS CHU'S STORY
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”
— Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013)
Mei-Ling ‘Lola’ Poon was born judgmental. She was also born in the Year of the Rat.
From the moment Lola was delivered into the cold, sterile environment of the labor ward of Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in the summer of 1960, she was not a happy camper. The first thing she did upon entering the world was to 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 Poon 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 clearly hungry and quite frankly desperately in need of nourishment, Lola adamantly would not drink her mother's breast milk. The doctors suspected Lola may have an intestinal malabsorption syndrome, or perhaps an occult case of pyloric stenosis, but the absence of vomiting and diarrhea, and a normal upper GI endoscopy and biopsy made these diagnoses unlikely. Lola Poon was simply a willful infant. She’d steadfastly decided that she didn’t 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 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 precious perfect milk formula might no longer be available in the future.
Soon after Lola’s second birthday, her mother, Mei-Yee, went through another frustrating experience 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 was some prolonged and very painful bouts of constipation that required several visits to the emergency room, many doses of laxatives, and the occasional suppository to clear.
By the time Lola turned three, Mei-Yee had noticed another disturbing behavioral issue. 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 again was Lola’s habit of punishing the dolls who didn’t do as she commanded. The non-compliant dolls would be positioned facing a corner of the room with their hands pinned behind their backs with clothes pins for days at a time. When questioned what they’d done wrong Lola would simply say, “They haven’t learned how to play properly. They will, though. They just need to some alone time.”
Despite Hilary being three years Lola’s senior, she was always afraid of her. The two siblings never played together despite sharing 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 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’d 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 aid 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 just 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 behavior changed precipitously; Mei-Yee couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Lola stopped being willful and expressing her displeasure when things weren’t going her way and 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, disciplined. Mei-Yee could see how hard-working and disciplined might apply to Lola, but helpful? Courteous? Who was this child, and where had this new, compliant version of Lola come from?
The simple answer was that upon commencing school it had been glaringly obvious to Lola that she couldn’t get her way there by being defiant. She realized that she had to control her environment in more subtle ways. This meant being good. Lola had learned quickly that good students were given options, while disruptive students generally had their options taken away. Good students got to make decisions and direct their own learning, whereas bad behavior led to having freedom and control taken away.
It was soon after starting school and developing her new behavioral 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’d first pointed the mumbling out to Lola.
Lola was fond of Angelina because she spoke her mind when other less interesting students—those who didn’t appear to have opinions of their own—kept quiet. 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? thought Lola to herself. Are they completely stupid, or just plain lazy?
The two girls were sitting on a bench in the playground eating their lunch together one day when Angelina decided she’d ask Lola about it.
“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 . . . dooooooonnnnn’t!!”
“But you do mumble Lola, all the time. Why is that?”
At this Lola Poon 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 braids with all her strength, 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 her friend’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 Angelina’s arms against her body with her legs—Lola was strong for her age—and started slapping Angelina’s cheeks with her open palms. With each slap, Lola would shout into Angelina’s cringing face, “I do not mumble!!” Slap!! “I do not mumble!!” Slap!! “I do not mumble!!” Slap!!
Lola was red in the face and breathing heavily by the time 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 of some kind, and unable to speak. As the principal wasn’t able to get any sense out of Lola, she was taken to the school nurse for observation. An hour later Lola sat bolt upright, looked around herself suspiciously, 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 about the incident—either at school or at home—though Angelina Winkelstein did transfer to another third-grade class, and her friendship with Lola Poon abruptly ended. Lola also noticed more of her fellow students eyeing her suspiciously and avoiding sitting next to her. She found herself—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 eventually 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, so she kept her mumbling to herself.
If someone had made a recording of Lola’s mumblings it might have sounded something like this:
“That boy doesn’t even know what religion the people of Pakistan follow. How can he not know that? Stupid idiot!! My handwriting’s 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? Politicians are so stupid!! When I grow up, I’m going to run for Congress, and start cleaning up the mess this country’s 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’re in love? That they’ll 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 neighborhood safety, childhood immunization rates, the availability of abortion, the cold war in Eastern Europe, the nuclear arms race. All she ever thinks about is what she looks like. She's such a mindless twat. You’re so stupid, Hilary!!”
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 also proved time and time again that she was 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 all social and political issues. Her fellow students gradually 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 Poon 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 sixth 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 fully 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 impossibly mammoth task would have been simply overwhelming, but for Lola Poon it lit a fire in her belly. The anger she’d suppressed for so many years, expressed as mumbling through clenched teeth, 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 listen to her!!
It was also at Evergreen that Lola found her own kind, her tribe, united through a shared love of political correctness and ecological caring. She could finally breathe a sigh of relief. She wasn’t the only one trying to fix this mess of a planet after all. Lola had felt isolated and different amongst the mind-numbing mediocrity that had 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 could feel in her bones that 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 planet Earth infuriated Lola Poon more than anything else.
At Evergreen, Lola learned she could monitor the United Nations Environment Program 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, that 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 this planet is doomed.”
Lola, clearly the energetic 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 the forum to promote their upcoming social events—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 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, leaving him doubting his commitment to the group. Just fifteen 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 the 1982 mid-term elections.
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’s heartfelt cause. Her 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. Rearranging and organizing other people’s mess was also a great joy to Lola. Initially Lola started cleaning offices at night, 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 labor-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 travel 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 Chief 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, trousers, cap—Lola’s lips became tighter and thinner, her forehead more furrowed, and her already small, narrow eyes somehow became 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 pulled her prematurely grey hair into, and the hunched posture she’d developed with all the bending, cleaning, squinting, and worrying, 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 just 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.
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’d 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, and the third floor by an elderly spinster, Isabelle Jones. 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 neighborhood in New Eden in the early ‘90s, generally reserved for migrants and people of color, 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.
It was in 1994 that Isabelle finally passed away peacefully in her sleep, and not long afterwards I moved into the vacated top-floor apartment. Despite significant cultural differences, and despite my often-shy social awkwardness, Lola and I hit it off, and we became the best of friends. Lola liked the fact that I was open and friendly without being intrusive or needy, and that 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, theatre, and, of course, the environment.
Lola met her future husband, Lawrence Chu, at a speed dating event held at the Chinatown Community Center early in 1995. I was the one who’d suggested Lola attend; she wouldn’t have freely attended such a banal gathering without significant outside pressure.
Lawrence was tall, big-boned, and heavy-set. He was also fun-loving, charming, 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 created a comfortable position as a notary public for himself 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 otherwise. Lawrence’s work as a notary made him a small regular income; his income from the sale of the illegal sweets and fireworks far outstripped his legal earnings, however.
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 liked to drink; his drink of choice was whisky—the more the better. He kept a bottle of the finest Scotch single malt in his desk drawer, one beside the La-Z-Boy armchair in his living room, one in the kitchen, one on his bedside table, 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.
Lawrence’s upbeat optimistic demeanor, his sparkling eyes, and his infectious laughter had all caught Lola’s attention, so she’d decided to give him 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 outing that Lawrence had proposed to Lola, and she’d 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 was called away suddenly on an unscheduled work trip.
The wedding 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 spiraling gambling debts meant it was unlikely he would do so any time soon. Laurence’s presence in her home caused Lola some short- and medium-term consternation as she realized, 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’d burst Gareth Bradley’s ear drum and lost his respect—and she’d maintained one long-term sexual liaison with an older male acquaintance in New Eden in the late '80s, but Lola 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. Somewhat to Lola’s surprise, 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 whiskey of her own; she found it quietened her mind and relaxed her body, both of which elevated her pleasure levels significantly.
Three pregnancies and three miscarriages followed in rapid succession, then, in April of 1997, Lola gave birth to a healthy baby boy that the couple named William after Lawrence’s recently deceased father.
As the turn of the millennium rolled around, Lawrence’s gambling debts became unmanageable, and the debt-enforcers from the Vietnamese mafia ring on Avenue C began to put increasing pressure on Lawrence to pay up. Having been on the receiving end of Lola’s temper on several occasions by this time, Lawrence was unprepared to reveal the extent of his debts to his new 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 endeavor 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 thought he was home-free.
Lawrence was greeted 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 to let Lawrence 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 Lawrence’s ever-present smiling facade didn’t even have time to transform into one of fear 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 started to worry. For Lola, the worst part was having no idea where to even start looking for her missing husband; she was not used to being that 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—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, and 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. In 1989, Lola had been a founding member of the New Eden branch of the Progressive Liberal Party. 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 New York’s congressional district 7. Now 46 years of age, Mrs. Chu had acquired the maturity to deliver her opinions with conviction and gravitas that she’d 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 in the campaign it had been the polished face of Ken Abercrombie that Lola saw as her fiercest competition, but a news scandal had erupted in September that resulted in Mr. Abercrombie pulling out of the race completely. Lola knew nothing about the Partisan Party’s replacement, although the rumors did not paint a very positive picture of Dennis O’Brien’s character.
Lola campaigned tirelessly, visiting factories in Brooklyn, community centers 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, the spark went out of Mrs. Chu’s political drive for many years after the humiliating election scandal.
It was just a few months before the election that Lola and I had had our first encounter with the metaphysical. In early August of 2006 Mrs. Chu invited me to see a documentary film at the Chinatown Community Center 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 philosophy scholars from all over the globe talking about ego, pain, and suffering, and about freedom, peace, and love.
Mrs. Chu was quite interested in what the speakers were 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 she had no free time or energy to put towards such banal past-times as meditation, or naval-gazing, as Lola liked to call it.
The fire—which changed the lives of all the residents of Eldridge Street in dramatic fashion, and which you’ll hear much more about later—happened just days later. Lola then found out that the one speaker from Keys to Life Eternal who had touched both of us more deeply than all the others, Evelyn Bourne, was scheduled to hold a meeting and retreat in New Eden City for the first time in more than a decade just a month later. She insisted that we attend, which we did, sitting in the back, not knowing at all what to expect. Lola promptly thrust her hand up when Evelyn called for questions, and Lola reported being at war with the world’s inept leaders. Evelyn pointed out to Lola that the external war was merely a reflection of the war that was going on in her own mind. Lola was stopped in her tracks. She’d never heard such a preposterous statement before.
Evelyn Bourne then invited Lola to stop thinking, just for a moment. She invited her to stop holding a position or a view on anything, just for a moment. To stop being at war with anything, just for a moment. She invited Lola to give up control, and to not know anything . . . just for a moment.
Mrs. Chu hesitated—her lifelong compulsion to need to always be in control literally holding on for dear life—then she accepted Evelyn’s invitation, and she experienced a moment of deep rest and peace. In that moment of surrender Mrs. Chu saw how her mind was creating her reality, then judging that reality as imperfect, and in fighting with that imperfect version of reality she was causing herself, and those around her, to suffer.
After the meeting ended, and as her rational 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 truth and relevance of this ‘spiritual awakening’ that Evelyn Bourne had invited 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. This resulted in a profound shift in Lola’s worldview, and she started putting more and more of her attention on Self-realization.
Later, Lola was deeply grateful for this accidental discovery of spirituality at the Chinatown Community Center. 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, as well as 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 perfect or right either. This was a great relief for Lola . . . and for everyone around her.
What slowly dawned on Mrs. Chu was that any happiness she attained from acquiring or achieving anything—altruistic or material—in the outside world didn’t last. The happiness that she was now discovering from quieting her mind and giving up control, however, was 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 realized. I must be willing to change myself first.
Mrs. Chu followed the congressional career of her arch-nemesis, Dennis O’Brien, with special interest. While revenge wasn’t in the forefront of her mind, Lola was at the very least scanning the tabloids and internet looking for evidence that Dennis O’Brien was, as she had suspected from the very first mention of his name, morally bankrupt, and that he should be removed from office forthwith. When the bribing scandal broke, in which Dennis O’Brien was found to be literally buying his way back into office in the lead up to the 2014 mid-terms, Lola was most pleased. Later the same day Mrs. Chu received a phone call that came completely out of left field, and which totally surprised Lola.
“Is that Mrs. Lola Chu?” said a sharp efficient voice.
“Speaking. Who’s calling, please?”
“Putting you through to congressman Harris now.”
A brief pause. Lola frowned as she exhaled deeply and looked up at the ceiling; her mind scanning for a reason for the call from the Egalitarian Party senator.
“Lola!! Hi!! So nice to speak with you. Chuck here. Chuck Harris.”
“I know who you are, Congressman. What do you want?”
“Oh sure. Yeah. Well. We’ve been doing some research into the opinions of the constituents of district 7, and I gotta tell you, your name is coming up a lot. In fact, the latest polls say that if you joined with us, you could take the seat with a comfortable margin. Whatta ya say, Lola? Are you in?”
“Mr. Harris. I don’t know who your sources are, but surely you must know that I retired from politics after 2006; I’m not even a member of your party. History shows that it’s extremely unlikely that a Libertarian such as myself will ever win a seat in Congress. I’m sorry, but it sounds like you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“But that’s just it, Lola. We want you on our ticket. We wanna make you a fully-fledged member of the Egalitarian Party today, and we have a unanimous caucus that wants to make you our endorsed candidate for New Eden’s congressional district 7 next month. Isn’t that great?”
“No, Mr Harris, it’s not great!!” Mrs. Chu rebuked. “This is a very serious matter, and not something to make light of. I have to put some serious thought into it. I’m not going to just say ‘yes’ and be your patsy to manipulate and use as you please. Who do you think you’re dealing with here, buddy? And my name is Mrs. Chu, to you.” Lola was fully worked up by now, and effortlessly let the Congressman have it with both barrels. “I will consult with my team, and I shall call you back with my answer tomorrow, Mr. Harris, and not a moment sooner. Goodbye.”
Lola hung up the phone, stood silently for a moment as the enormity of the proposal sank in, then leapt three feet into the air, spinning around in a circle as she did so. Almost losing her balance as she landed, Lola narrowly avoided knocking herself unconscious on the corner of the kitchen table; she was excited.
“Yippeee!! I don’t believe it. This is too funny; I have to tell Angel O and Bernard right away.”
Lola immediately conference-called Bernard and I and gave us a blow-by-blow description of the phone call. “The most hilarious thing is that after the O’Brien scandal hit the press last week, I’ve seriously been thinking about approaching the Egal’s myself, and proposing that they take me on board to run in the election. I can’t believe it.”
“Well,” said Bernard, impatient to know, “are you going to do it?”
“Hell, yes!!” cried Lola. “This is the stuff my dreams are made of Bernard. Look out Congress, here comes Lola Chu. And believe you me, I have some agendas that I intend to have heard loud and clear in Washington!!”
“How exciting!!” I’m ecstatically happy for my dear friend. “Well done, Lola, you deserve it. You’re one of the most morally correct people I know, and you are going to make this country a whole lot better, I know you will. Good for you!!”
The election run was smooth sailing for Lola. She smiled sweetly at the posse of old, rich, white men who greeted her at her first Egalitarian Party meeting, happy to let them believe that she would be their pawn and puppet for now. Lola won the seat in Congress by a landslide, which temporarily put the attention of the press more firmly on Mrs. Chu, and for a few weeks reporters could be found hanging around outside Eldridge Street hoping for an exclusive.
On arrival in the House of Representatives Lola quickly made her presence felt, and there were more than a few eye rolls coming Lola’s way even before her first speech in Congress was over. There were enough liberals—mostly women—on the floor, however, who were very happy that Lola had arrived, and that she was shaking things up. There’d been a heavy sense of pessimism circulating in the House through the first part of 2014, but with Mrs. Chu’s arrival things were starting to look interesting again. In only a matter of years Lola built a solid reputation for her political savvy, and her drive and energy to get the difficult process of congressional reform on important issues up and running. She found herself being approached by other Representatives and even the occasional Senator to advise them on how to get their motions heard and responded to. By the time Lola was re-elected in 2018 she’d become a household name throughout America, and young girls, women, the LGBTIQA+ community, immigrants, and people of color had banded together to start the Lola Chu Fan Club on Twitter. The head of the fan club sent out a ‘Lola Chu for President’ post one day early in 2019 which had quickly turned into a meme, and Mrs. Chu found herself on the radar as a possible presidential candidate at some point in the future . . .
And so, Mrs. Chu’s story now arrives, along with all the others, at that fateful day: July 4th, 2020.
Mrs. Chu is keeping a keen eye on the presidential race but with the clean-cut, charismatic Ken Abercrombie of the Partisan Party already holding a commanding lead in the polls, it feels like the result is a foregone conclusion. Lola had given some thought to running, but it had only taken a few minutes for common sense to prevail. She knew only too well that America was not ready to elect a female president, and an Asian female president . . . not a chance in hell. Lola is, however, feeling happy with herself, having just been asked today by James Brody to be his VP running mate; she can’t wait to tell William, Bernard, Adam, Angel O, and the others the exciting news.
Mrs. Chu knows in her bones that Ken Abercrombie has some dirty laundry that he’s hiding, and she would dearly love to be the one to expose it; a little pay-back to the Partisan Party and their smutty rumormongering holding a certain appeal to Lola. The rumors that have circulated in the mainstream press around Abercrombie’s tax evasion recently made a small splash, but Lola knows there is more. To date she’s not been able to find out what Ken Abercrombie’s darkest secrets are, but time will tell.
The COVID-19 lockdown has frustrated Lola to no end, given that she’s had to share her pristine apartment throughout with her eternally messy son. William is back in New Eden after bringing his three-year globe-trotting adventure to a close just before the coronavirus pandemic had hit, and all international travel had come crashing to a halt.
Members of the newly formed Eco-Vigilante Action Group (E-VAG) are gathered in Bernard’s Bookstore tonight. Mrs. Chu—an external consultant for the group rather than an official member, needing to distance herself given her new high profile in the political arena—is chatting with Bernard and Amir prior to the meeting starting. Adam, William, Alex, and four other members arrive after our evening performance at The Garden Cabaret, and the meeting gets underway . . .