In the lobby of our hotel the next morning a broad-faced Chinese man held a sign that said, “Mr. Tull Price, Ms. Lauren Bucquet, Mr. Adam.” We climbed into his van, picked up Tull from another, more expensive hotel, and drove towards the Chinese border. When the brand Lauren worked for wanted to start a footwear business, they approached Tull, an Australian, who years before started a sneaker company called Royal Elastics. In a few years he grew this brand, which was like an urban cool sneaker brand, into something that the owners of a much larger footwear company called K-Swiss decided would be a valuable thing for them to own. So Tull got pretty rich at a pretty young age.
On the ride into China I told Tull about my business. As I spoke I noticed a whirring behind his eyes, which struck me as distinctly impatient, entrepreneurial, business-like. I felt him sifting my words, hurrying me, and it was a reminder to communicate clearly and say only what was necessary.
“Tommy said something I’d been thinking about for a while—“
“Tomey’s yow brethah?”
“Yes, my younger brother.”
“Something like, ‘operating a laundromat would be fun.’ We were walking past a guy pushing a wheeled rack of blazers on a busy sidewalk near the occupy demonstration.”
I had taken a picture of Tommy smiling before a group of young anarchists and a sign that said, “Reagan Sucked Balls.” Concerning the dry cleaner, I had said something like, “look at that Chinese dry cleaner. Look how hard his life is. The world is so unfair. If that was my life I would probably kill myself.”
Tommy said, “you don’t think that would be fun? You get your retail space, make sure to hire good people and treat them well, try to save money…”
I turned to the guy again, as he braced one side of the rack and jammed the fore-wheels through a sizable gap in the pavement. The rounded, thick tone of a megaphone test came from somewhere behind us.
“Do you really mean that?” I said.
The light had changed and Tommy was fifteen feet ahead of me dodging through pedestrians. When I almost caught up with him halfway through the next block, he turned, gave me a quick glance as to be sure I was still there. I inferred his remark was not intended as a jest or gambit.
“We had developed polarized and incompatible world-views.”
“Is he consehvatihve?”
“He only cares about money.”
The van slowed as we came upon the checkpoint for the Chinese border. The buildings of Shenzhen—curving, glass covered, recent, suggesting clarity, development, investment—stood to our left across the bay.
“Passports,” said the driver.
“So tell me about…” said Tull.
“The business. Well, it’s a Chinese Visa business.”
“Like… credit cards?” said Tull.
“No, like passports… like the Chinese consulate.”
“How do you… make money doing that?”
“We help people print out Visa forms.”