Through the gloomy chill of dawn, a slightly hunched figure can be seen shuffling across Exchange Square towards the beckoning warmth of the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee. It is wild American friend Odell, on his way to the dreaded early shift as assistant head security guard – sorry, Chief Guest Behavior Management Artist – at Disneyland. He is stopping by for a chamomile and organic calendula latte, getting visibly irritated by the fat man who always pours tons of sugar into his cappuccino, and then making his way over to join me in the most comfortable and spacious yet discreet corner of the thinking man’s Starbucks.
“Jeez, those three whatever-they’re-called guys are out there with the leaflets again.”
“Down Syndrome,” I remind him. He nods.
For several days now three young men – teenage boys, really – with the unmistakable features of the chromosomal disorder have been handing out advertising materials to passers-by on the walkways linking the office towers of core Central. They are among many dozens of people who publicize pedicure, food delivery, tailoring, gym and other services in this way. But they are doing it wrong. First, they are out early in the deserted morning before crowds of commuters invade the district. Second, they bunch themselves together between adjoining footpaths and office lobbies so they end up offering the pamphlets (for herbal medicine, as it happens) to the same person in quick succession, while other human traffic bypasses them just yards away.
“I wonder how much money they make doing that,” Odell says.
“I bet you,” I tell him, “some heartless bastard is paying them in beads or something.”
My ex-Mormon companion picks up a magazine left on the table and looks at the cover. It shows someone from the other end of the mentally disabled wealth scale: Stanley Ho, Macau’s casino king, who has just been released from hospital after reportedly having a blood clot removed from his cranium. At least he didn’t die, as some rumours had it. According to the gossip, his medical bill was HK$200 million.
Did they remove the part of his brain responsible for saying extremely stupid and embarrassing things? Comparing the voluble tycoon at Macau’s chief executive ‘election’ last July with the broken apparent stroke victim wheeled out of the hospital a few days ago, it appears they might have.
On my left shoulder… No, never mind him. On my right shoulder, a small, shining winged being with a halo around its golden hair flutters gently up to my ear and whispers, “don’t forget – one must never, ever mock the afflicted.” After thinking about it for a second, I grab the little angel, hurl it squealing onto the floor, stamp on it a few times and kick the remains under the chair. But Odell beats me to it.
“Good! Looks like that’s the last crap we’ll have to listen to from that dickhead!”
Indeed. The world of sleazy, casino-monopolizing, polygamist, democrat-baiting, North Korea-linked plutocrats whose opponents’ lawyers mysteriously get beaten up seems set to become a duller place.