Each day was better than the next. Mornings were a vicious struggle to get out of bed and then a miserable death march to the office to face the inescapable. Its tolerability decreased as a function of time.

The lobby attendant at the building where he worked had become the focal point of his morning rage. Tall and bulky, with cadaverous skin and a cylindrical head, he stood at the elevators with his hands clasped behind his back and said good morning sir or good morning miss to the arriving workers. Jack found it excruciating. The man looked like Herman Munster. The way he shouted good morning at everyone, even from a great distance as they were fumbling through the security barrier, struck Jack as aggressive and challenging. He wanted to sock the man in his pasty, misshapen face.

It wasn’t personal, Jack reasoned. The lobby attendant was merely a symbol of everything Jack hated about his morning routine: a scapegoat for his generalized rage against the system. Perhaps that was why the man existed, why the system had put him there: as a psychological whipping boy.

And what was this 8am shit. Why did people have to be in the office at eight o’ fucking clock in the morning. At his company in Chengdu, the workday started at 9am, but most people moseyed in between nine and ten. Wasn’t 9-to-5 the standard in America? When did it become 8-to-6, with “lunch” being a bestial act of ingestion performed in front of the computer? China might be completely dysfunctional, but at least people knew how to eat lunch properly. Lunch was a relaxed, social affair that lasted a full hour, not one goddamn second less. What was wrong with this country.

Whenever he paused to think about the accelerating disaster of his life, which was often, Jack wondered why he had moved back to the U.S. To be closer to his family, of course. So now he saw them several times a year instead of just once a year, and he could call them at all hours of the day. Which was nice.

And then there was something about his career. How he needed to go back ASAP because the longer he stayed in Asia, the harder it would be to escape. And how was that working out for him? He had traded a fun-filled existence in China for the grim life of a castrated corporate drone. Sneaking out of the office for mid-afternoon beers now unthinkable. Sexual debauchery worthy of the late Roman Empire replaced by fruitless swiping on Tinder. His expat friends left behind. Every day a desperate battle against the swirling chaos at work.

The pointlessness of his job gnawed at him, a faint but chronic irritant. Staring at Excel sheets all day so he could afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment and eat at Whole Foods. He was essentially a bot that converted unstructured information into actionable insights so that some jock wearing a pocket square could make more money.

Scanning the newspaper headlines every day as he waited for the elevator. ONE KILLED AS HUGE TORNADO TEARS THROUGH INDIANA. Good. What else? 11-CAR CRASH LEAVES TRAIL OF BLOODY DESTRUCTION IN AVON. Fantastic. A GUNSHOT, A CHILD’S DEATH AND…ah, fuck it. Enough of this negativity. Focus on happy things.

The problem was that his happy thoughts revolved around China, not here, not fucking Indianapolis, not these disintegrating United States. Putting aside his occasional visits to friends and family at home in Boston, his most joyful memories lay in that parallel universe called the Middle Kingdom. The mystical Orient of lore.

Sometimes, as he trudged to work or filled his shopping basket at Walgreens, he remembered. Endless, lavish banquets lubricated by rice wine. Riding the bullet train across China from north to south, like flying on land: 1,300 miles in eight hours. That threesome at Shanghai’s Puli Hotel.

That expat bar in Chengdu. What was it called? Two fat, middle-aged men with bloodshot eyes, Canadian and American, slumped on stools and downing beers there every night. One had a walrus mustache. And the sensual Chinese stewardess there who had tossed a Negroni in his face (an overreaction, Jack thought).

Visiting Japan with his then-girlfriend. The endless megalopolis of Tokyo and those tiny, intricate backstreet restaurants. He should move there, get outta Dodge. And the girl: just thinking about her face triggered a paroxysm of emotion so intense he almost had a cardiac event.

Everything he had left behind: memories so vivid, they made his life in America seem as drab and depressing as a Soviet apartment block. But what could he do? He couldn’t just go back. He had to give America a chance.