Are you getting sick of this winter yet? I don’t know if it’s cold where you all are. I know the climate is out of whack, but it’s frickin’ freezing here in Seoul. The older I get, the less I can abide the vagaries of this ridiculous weather we’re creating. While King Lear can rage on the heath about being a man more sinned against than sinning, I have to confess my own culpability in the downfall of human civilization. Not to say that I’m a major player–far from it–but as a U. S. citizen who’s consumed far more than my share of meat, water, paper, electricity, oil (although not directly), coal (ditto), and plastic (also only indirectly, unless you include McDonald’s milkshakes of yore–or was it Yorick’s skull?), I’m a hell of a lot more responsible for the climate’s newfangled shenanigans than some poor schmuck living in Ethiopia or Haiti.
And the thing that pisses me off about it is that I used to like the winter. There’s something bracing about the cold air that seems to clean each oxygen molecule, scrubbing it free of all the impurities that accumulate to contaminate our lungs and hearts during the warmer months, stinging our eyes and making us cough and wheeze, especially those of us who are stupid enough to live in burgeoning megacities.
Contrariwise, the hot, humid summer was (and, I have no doubt, still is) my enemy. My body becomes a waterfall of sweat, a combination of Niagra Falls and Mount Vesuvius. I’ve got to worship air conditioners and fans, even though they only serve to compound global warming, and take lots of cold showers, depriving the world of precious water just to cool my flabby, indolent carcass. Besides, in Seoul the rain that falls without mercy in the summer, when it finally does abate, leads to even hotter, stickier weather. At least the mold and mildew enjoy it.
Here in Seoul and what goes far beyond the immediate vicinity, what once was my favorite season of all, spring, is spoiled by the phenomenon known to us laypeople as “yellow dust” (hwangsa in Korean), an insidious concoction of toxic chemicals imported on the wings of indifference from China and Mongolia’s expanding Gobi Desert–respiratory ailments and surprise tumors the price of progress in today’s increasingly insane world. Yellow dust contains cadmium, lead, mercury, and other fine products that promise to gradually decimate huge swaths of the population, especially when blended in a cocktail with plutonium from the incontinent nuclear reactor in Fukushima. The people of Japan are likewise exposed to hwangsa themselves, and so, I’ve heard, are folks in California.
It’s the globalization of poison! And guess what? We have no one but ourselves to blame. It’s as if every member of our species channeled Homer Simpson at the same time, tightly shut our eyes, smacked our foreheads, and cried, “D’oh!” Not that it’s making us change our behavior at all–how can we give up all these wondrous mass-produced goodies?
In case you couldn’t guess from my apocalyptic tone, I’m not crazy about the idea of my own longevity anyway. I’m not about to top myself, as my friend Boris from Australia would say (jokingly, of course), but if this shit is just going to keep getting worse, I won’t complain too loudly if one morning in the next twenty years or so I never wake up again. As comedian Doug Stanhope says in reply to the tacit notion of suicide as “the coward’s way out,” “If you’ve sat halfway through a movie and it still sucks, why bother watching the rest of it?”
That’s such a good question, I motion that the usher bring that man a free bucket of buttered popcorn and a vat of soda the size of a garbage can.