Although Stephen had considered a career in the arts, he opted instead for business school and joined Bank of America’s International Department. Speaking good Spanish at the time, he was bewildered—but not entirely surprised—when he was assigned to the Asia Division and later transferred to Indonesia. His banking career involved assignments in Jakarta, Singapore, London, East Africa and Chicago. He describes Chicago as the most dangerous, Singapore the cleanest.
Despite his initial misgivings, Stephen found living in Asia fascinating, frustrating, and life threatening at times. Inspired by Paul Theroux’s Asian collection, The Counsel’s File, Stephen has written a collection of short stories centered in Southeast Asia. EastLit, the online journal promoting English literature on South and South East Asia, published two of Stephen’s stories in 2014: “Raju” and “A Complete Overhaul” (which made EastLit’s list of Top Thirty of Asian popular literature):
Creative Writing, Literature and Art focused on East and South East Asia
I loved “A Complete Overhaul.” It’s so vividly written that the images jump off the page and seem so real. With “Raju" I was entranced with the wonderful humor and poignancy. --- Lenore K.
Just read the two stories in EastLit, they were delightful. I can especially relate to them having lived in Jakarta for three years and visited there and East Java regularly for the last 30+ years. --- Patrick T.
“A Complete Overhaul” is not excessively embellished but paints a clear picture of this time and place, and these people and their Peugeot project in the courtyard. --- Christine N.
“Snake Charmed” was published in Gem Street: Collector’s Edition 2014, a print-only anthology by Labello Press in Ireland; Stephen received Labello’s Excellence in Contemporary Narrative Award.
“Snake Charmed” was a pleasure to read and was very funny. --- Bill H.
This was a wonderfully evocative piece. One actually felt the "Mad Dogs & Englishman” heat and mood. --- Mary Lou M.
I was greatly impressed with your ability to convey context and mood. The descriptions of the climate and ambiance of Java and the whole context for this story were very impressive. --- Rick C.
Daphne and Dostoevsky
Stephen Evans Jordan
The middle of my junior year at Stanford, I wasn’t sleeping well; my appetite was off, and I was irritable. The woman I was dating told me that I was moody. At the student health center I met Dr. Lillian Tan, an attractive Chinese woman who seemed somewhat bewildered. After describing my problems, I said, “Perhaps I’ve contracted an illness that provokes moodiness?”
She checked my temperature, blood pressure, knee reflexes, and looked into my eyes and mouth. “Any skin problems?”
“During puberty zits blossomed at precisely the worst time. The morning before the senior prom, I woke up with an angry zit on my forehead the size of Mt. Vesuvius just before it erupted. I phoned my date and told her that I had contracted St. Vitus Dance, a medieval disease.”
“It’s still around,” Dr. Tan said. “Now it’s called Sydenham Chorea. You’re pasty; Caucasians become chalky when they’re sick or stressed. Problems? Girls? Grades?”
“My grades are fine. A woman I was dating dumped me. She thinks I’m moody and juvenile.”
“Daphne, the woman I was dating, fashions herself a high intellectual. She loves Ingmar Bergman’s movies. His movies are incomprehensible; like I’m lost in a Swedish blizzard. Last weekend on our third date, we went to a Bergman Festival in San Francisco and watched four mind-numbing films. That did it: I told her that I loved movies like Fort Apache and The Horse Soldiers. Daphne said my taste in movies was juvenile; worse, my moods were volatile. I called her a pseudo intellectual; we haven’t talked since. I never really cared for her.”
“Men say such things when relationships end,” Dr. Tan closed the subject with a sad shrug. “You seem mildly depressed; I suggest that you see Dr. Sinclair, a psychologist here. I’ll forward my notes from this conversation. Between you and me, watch yourself; he’s… what’s the word? Sardonic, that’s it.”
Late the next afternoon, I met Dr. Sinclair. Probably in his late thirties, he was dressed in cords and a tweed jacket. Talking about Daphne’s taste in movies, Dr. Sinclair and I discovered that we both liked John Wayne westerns. Changing the subject, he asked, “What courses are you taking this quarter?”
“I’m a history major with an art history minor. This quarter, I’m taking Early French Impressionists, upper division Spanish, British history since 1918, and Dostoevsky. I’m reading one Dostoevsky novel per week. So far it’s been: The Idiot, Demons, The House of the Dead, Poor Folk, Humiliated and Insulted, and Crime and Punishment.”
“Uplifting titles,” Dr. Sinclair said with an ironic smile, “Your grades so far?”
“B+ on midterm and an A on the paper.”
“Why that particular course?”
“Russia has always fascinated me. I’ve taken all the Russian history courses offered and branched out with Dostoevsky.”
He put his pen down. “Almost every winter quarter, a slightly depressed student shows up here. It’s that Dostoevsky course.” He rolled his eyes, “I’ve told the Russian Department that they shouldn’t schedule all that Dostoevsky during winter quarter, but they won’t listen. Imagine reading Crime and Punishment during a Russian winter.”
“Maybe that’s why Russians drink so much.”
“And you, you’ve doubled down with Bergman movies.”
“What should I do?”
“For starters, no more Bergman. What about Daphne?” He said.
“We’re finished. What about Dostoevsky? There are two more novels before the final.”
“Do something enjoyable before and after reading those two,” he snapped his fingers. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence is playing at the Varsity Theater; it’s great. John Ford directed with John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin.”
“I’ll do that. Anything else?” I asked. “Pills or therapy?”
“You don’t need those. Cheer up; spring is coming. Let me know your final Dostoevsky grade.”
I left a phone message for Dr. Sinclair saying that I nailed the final and got an A- for the course. He phoned me, “So you’re doing okay?”
“Yeah, eating and sleeping well. Daphne and I ran into each other. After some starts and stops, we apologized and shook hands. You know, I didn’t like her that much anyway.”
“That’s a rationalization.” Dr. Sinclair said. “And a pretty lame one, if you ask me.”
Dr. Tan came to mind. I concluded she and Dr. Sinclair had a relationship that had ended, perhaps with the rationalization he and I had employed. “Enjoy the spring, Doctor.”
Tree Pruning—the Chicago Way
Stephen Evans Jordan
It was October of 1984, and we lived about six blocks from Wrigley Field on Grace Street between Pine Grove and Lake Shore Drive. I was at home that Friday with the flu in its second day. Although my temperature was over a hundred and one, I was tired of bed, moved to the living room, and was reading a biography of Leon Trotsky. To combat the chills, I had set a low fire in the fireplace; Hilda, our Dachshund, was snoring on my lap. I was in a lousy mood, nothing I ate or drank that morning stayed down, my eyes were heavy. Trotsky’s biography was badly translated. I put the book down and joined Hilda in a nap.
After five minutes of sleep, pandemonium broke loose outside: shouting, trucks honking, revving chain saws, one of the crew tried to direct hostile car drivers who made rude gestures. Several Chicago city trucks had parked in front of our three-unit brownstone; one truck had a cherry-picker crane. A large red-headed man, apparently the supervisor, was issuing orders like a Marine drill instructor—loud, demeaning and nose-to-nose. I wondered why his men put up with that loud-mouthed jerk. I went to the kitchen to see if a cup of tea would stay down. The phone rang at 3:00 that afternoon.
It was my wife, Emily. She asked if I was doing better physically and mentally. Instead of sounding pitiful, I made a mistake by telling her about the tree-trimming crew outside.
Emily said, “Great, ask them to remove that large dead branch on the tree in front of the building next to us—piece of cake.”
Given my brief preview of the boss, I doubted Emily’s piece of cake assessment. I took my time with the tea that seemed content to stay put. A brisk and cloudy day, I put on my overcoat and went downstairs.
I approached the boss who was larger and more powerful than I had assumed. I pointed to my unit on the second floor in the brownstone behind us, introduced myself, and extended my hand. He rolled my knuckles as we shook hands. “Mike Harrington,” he said.
“Gosh, ya think?”
I managed a friendly tone, “I’m half Irish; the other half is Welsh.”
“Jordan isn’t an Irish or Welsh name.”
“It’s a Norman name. Normans were Vikings who grew tired of barrels upon barrels of herring. They left Norway and moved to northern France where they thrived on over-sauced food. Vikings had anger management issues and killed anyone who got in their way. After they conquered England in 1066, some of them invaded Ireland and became Irishmen. Other Norman-Irish surnames include Joyce, Dillon and Fitzgerald.”
“How do you know all of that?”
“I read a lot. People should study their roots. I did. Now I root for the Minnesota Vikings instead of the Bears.”
“Attempted humor, I don’t follow professional sports.”
“You don’t sound Chicago; where are you from?”
“San Francisco,” I said.
Instead of asking what his observation implied, I said, “Could you take a look at the large dead branch on that tree to my right? It died a couple of years ago and will fall soon. Perhaps you could remove it?”
He was carrying a folder and showed me several large photographs. “See those branches circled in white; we’re taking those down today. The branch you want removed isn’t circled; so, pal, you’re out of luck.”
I explained the potential liability for the damage the falling branch would initiate. “So, you see…”
He cut me off, “Better luck next time.”
I countered with a prolonged sneezing and coughing fit.
“Wow, you look as bad as you sound,” he said.
“The flu. You know, I pay a ton of property taxes…”
“Well, you chose to live in a fancy neighborhood. And your overcoat with the velvet collar, what are those called?”
“It’s a Chesterfield coat, rather formal. What’s my coat have to do with anything?”
“Fancy-schmancy, just sayin’.”
“What should I do about that branch?”
“Why don’t you climb up there and saw it off, in that fancy coat?”
“Mr. Harrington, I tried being helpful, and you retorted with an attitude and a questionable insinuation. Good day to you.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“I’m thinking of calling my alderman…Sorry, alderperson.”
“She’s a type of Communist, more of a Neo-Trotskyite. They believe in the permanent revolution; in other words, firing squads twenty-four-seven to cleanse the body politic. On the other hand, maybe she’s a touchy-feely Pol Pot, you know, the Cambodian idealist.”
“Wait a second,” he said and directed me away from his men. “Look, there’s another way we can fix this problem, ya know?”
“How would a problem like this get fixed in San Francisco?”
“San Francisco is a one-party city that isn’t as corrupt as Chicago; but given time, it probably will be. I know where this conversation is going, but I’m not going to pay you. My wife has the car. I have four dollars in my wallet and won’t make it on foot to the grocery store that cashes my checks.”
“Treasure Island on Broadway?”
“Right. Look, I don’t park or walk under that tree. And I’m not about to report you to your boss, or my crazy alderperson, or anyone else. So we’ll walk away and forget this conversation, okay?”
“Fifty bucks could settle the problem, right now,” he said. “I’ll drive you to Treasure Island.”
“I lived in Indonesia for two years under a military dictatorship. Corruption was rampant; the army spent a good deal of time shaking down people with road blocks and armed men. I learned how to say in Indonesian, ‘If you take your finger off the trigger, we can get this settled quickly.’”
“Did you pay the army guys?”
“Of course. They were pointing automatic weapons at me.”
“Have you paid off cops here?”
“Oh, sure, the transition from Indonesia to Chicago was easy.”
“Why the cops and not me?”
“Because Chicago cops have an implicit threat; when I pay the cop, the threat vanishes.”
“If he gives me a ticket, my auto insurance rates increase.” Another sneezing fit ensued. He stepped back. I began shivering and said, “I’m going back to bed.” I started walking away and turned back, “Those photos of the trees that need trimming, you took those pictures and drew the white circles?”
He replied with a sheepish smile.
I got into bed around 3:30 and was sleeping when Emily returned from work at 6:00. She asked, “How’s it going?”
“Oh, that dead tree limb we discussed was removed,” she said. “Any problems getting it done?”
“A piece of cake.”