Author: peterellis

Ni Hao Ma?

i spent the month of January traveling through China.  China.   CHINA.  And dipped briefly into Vietnam.  It was very surreal and very super.  I’d like to post some excerpts from my leather-bound travel journal, accompanied by photographs of the wildest, strangest, most frightfully hilarious place I have ever been.

January 6th, 2011.

The bus ride from Nanning, China to the Vietnamese border was five hours.  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring Nicholas Cage played continuously.  I talked to a soft-spoken, kind-eyed Vietnamese teenager named “Nam” in his broken English for the entire ride.  I don’t think he knew his name was how vets abbreviated his country.  He was from Hanoi but studied in China.  He had been hopping from bus to bus for five days to make it back to his family for the New Year.  He said his overgrown cocaine pinky nail was for scratching.  Later, he finished the rest of his blow before his father picked him up at the border.  He told me that once Vietnamese girls find a boyfriend, they stop speaking with other men.  I asked him if his girlfriend talked to other guys.  He quietly responded, “yes, becuss i let her.”  I asked him if his girlfriend and his female best-friend get along.  He paused to search for words.  “They play wis each ozzer while i am away.”  Nicholas Cage shot magic from his wand.  Nam smiled at the bus TV.  “Oh.  I…lub…Nicholas…Cage.”

Vietnam is a completely different animal.  We left China through Friendship Pass.  How optimistic.  The border is a haphazard mob waving passports at three military-clad agents behind glass.  Halfway down the list of forbidden items on a hanging placard reads “NO ANIMAL CARESSES”.  It may have been worth risking my camera being smashed on the tile floor by a Chinese police officer for a picture.  We drove through hills of burnt red mud, past terraces of dry rice paddy stubble.  Straw, conical farmer’s hats spotted the fields.  Arbitrary trash fires, haze, and people just shivering.  Not shivering while doing something else but shivering as if it were its own complete activity.  Closer to the capital city, old men gather and chitchat on exit ramps.  Old women sell fruit to bikers on the side of the highway under bright red Party billboards.


Don't Do It
Since 1998

Aphorism Day!

Who says you have to own a frock coat, a bowler hat, and have intercourse through a hole in a sheet to write an aphorism?

Let’s say the following are gestating.

Flirting: the cause of, and solution to, adultery.

Virtuosity simply means freedom from the fetters of mimicry.

If you can’t think of something new, resuscitate something old.  The universe recycles; context conceals.

Comedy is the poor man’s philosophy.

There are no new ideas, only new ways of putting them.

If a walk doesn’t make you feel better, you didn’t walk far enough.

(Ok, that one’s not really an aphorism; it’s just a spoonful of cold, distilled Truth)

Caricature is the birth of art, honesty is its life purpose.

Paul Auster said “stories can only be told backwards.”  Improv tells stories forwards.

What you learn from your parents is never what they mean to teach you.

And a couple from the pros:

You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.

– Camus, The Fall

In the end one loves one’s desire and not what is desired.

-Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil


Harold Night
Hunter/Poacher (the improv duo of which I comprise slightly less than 50%) performing our debut Harold at ImprovBoston Theatre, an improv theatre in Boston. Improv photo due to the aphoristic comedy/improv references above.


I just found a short story I’d written for 9th grade English. I think it was our first assignment. I have no memory of writing it, which makes it seem like it was written by a different person.  In a sense, I guess it was. I’ve often wondered what was truly on my mind at fourteen. The answer is: the Dust Bowl. Apparently, the Dust Bowl was on my mind.  When I was fourteen, before I had ever kissed a girl, I spent time thinking about the Dust Bowl.

So, here it is:

Peter Lang-Stanton

9C English

Miss Bishop

Sometimes…I thinks about jus’ pickin’ up an’ leavin’ this here place. I thinks about leavin’ the dustbowl, an’ livin’ somewhere that dust don’t control every aspect of my life. My whole world revolves around dirt. An’ if that ain’t sad I don’ know what is.

This mornin’ I went to take a shower, but all that came out of the faucet was thin mud…that don’t bother me though, not even eatin’ dust-caked food at every meal will bother me. What gives me a bother it that my four-year-old brother, Joey, is sick, he has worms—at least tha’s what Mr. McDuffie said. Mr. McDuffie ain’t a doctor but he is pretty darn close. Mr. McDuffie says that Joey probably got worms from falling down the hole in the out-house. I say he got them from sharing a water bowl with T-Bone, our sheepdog.

I on’y goes to school two times a week. My teacher is Mrs. Lesher, she don’t know that both of my parents is past away. Mrs. Lesher believes we’s is in for a big dust storm pretty soon. She is a real smart lady, Mrs. Lesher, and she is probably right, I don’t want to believe ‘er, even though I do. All this talk about a monster dust storm reminds me of what happened just over a year ago.

I remember the weatherman said it was gonna be big, the biggest. Pa said it was gonna be bad, the baddest.  How is you supposed to prepare for something like this? That’s how we was thinkin’. Board up the door an’ all the windows? Well, we did, but that didn’t help any one bit. The entire town was supposed to go to the church for the dust storm, but we didn’t make it in time, an’ then we was afraid to go to the church ‘cause we thought we might get trapped in the storm while we was travellin’ to the church. So we ended up takin’ refuge in our tiny, creakin’ wooden cottage that we called home. The storm came in like a lion, an’ left like a…lion. The storm had the unearthly screech of fifty locomotives. The whole house moaned and whined while the dust tore at its sides. We was all scared, especially Joey, who didn’t quite know what was goin’ on. Then Pa stood up an’ he started to get on his coat.

“Where are you goin’ Dylan?” Mama asked.

“I’ve got to secure the cattle,” Pa said back.

“I’m gonna come with you,” said Mama.

“No, Marie, it’s not safe.”

“I know that. Tha’s why I gotta come,” insisted Mama.

I begged both of ‘em not to go. Before I knew it, though, they were both out the door, an’ I was covered by a wave o’ dirt. We waited, Joey and me, huddled in a corner for hours an’ hours on end for my parents to return… I think Joey might still be waitin’.


Dirt. South Dakotan, Bad Landian Dirt.

Family Tree

‘Family tree’ is a good analogy.  As a tree grows, limbs divide and sprout off one another, as progeny sprout from their parents.  The newest, most immature, green branches sit always at the highest or furthest point from the trunk.  They are the most delicate and most flexible.  They soak sun and wave and sway and dance and shake and shiver in high winds.  Their parent limbs are dry, hard, wooden and do not sway so easily.  As the tree grows outward and upward, the immature limbs become stiff and thick, and eventually become covered by their children, who block the sun and breeze.  Every branch, at some point in the tree’s life was limber and bendable, and fluttered in the sun and warm breeze until the twigs sprouting from them radiated in all directions and left them fixed in the leafy shadows of the blotted sun.

Berlin trees...some might even say a "family" of trees.

Waiting on a train

The stuck subway air smelled of hot metal and worn concrete.  Metal fans shifted dead air across sunken tracks.  The air was limp and lifeless as a well-traveled doll.  Crowds crowded and emptied from the containers like the ebb and flow of an awkward tide.  I waited.  I let my train come and go.  Each arriving car sucked the platform clean.  Left alone; the sole survivor each time.  Company trickled cautiously down from the escalators and swelled nearly to capacity before being emptied again.  I thought of moments in the history of Earth when its surface had been wiped clean by plague, famine, eruption, disaster, or collapse.  Each time the populations of life regrowing and rebuilding— slowly and cautiously—until the next peak when the slate was purged once again.

Anyway, I’ll follow that image of a train station with this one:


Why.  Why?  To log and summarize everything as I go.  That’s what these are for, right?

March 9th, 2010.  Tuesday.


My chipped red winter-beaten bicycle carried me across the cold months.  Creaking, squeaking, straining, complaining.  Across Mass Pike and the railroad onion behind the chain-link fence before the background city.  Basket full of work-stuff for my new job in Cambridge, home of the true have and have-nots.  I went over the Charles past the Harvard Colosseum where river reflections of bridge arches look like watery eyes welling up.  I rode with my acoustic on my back in the city night, by groups of students talking and smoking, to Charlie’s Kitchen to do stand-up.  Those ska mohawk punks have a misplaced ‘fuck the crowd’ mentality.  The only people listening were the ones that cared, you idiots.  The clouds always hang so perfectly out my window over Ringer Park.  I wish they could pull me out of bed.  I bought donuts and we walked in the Sunday sunshine and sat on the Mission Church steps before finally opening the heavy wooden doors and sitting silently in the back while everyone, black and white, received Communion.  The schizophrenic from Espresso Royale and the 57 bus sat and watched too.  The bright blue and warm sidewalks make it seem like the grey December drizzle never came and never wet our black cotton coats and leather gloves and never wet our damp heads; never made us depressed and wonder why we stayed in this city.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Boozan