The Unreliable Narrator Strikes Again

I apologize with sniveling vehemence and abject obsequiousness for being out of touch for so long.  Please allow me briefly to catalogue my excuses for you:

My wife had a baby, but the child wasn’t cute enough for her, so she made her get plastic surgery.  Now we’re putting her up for adoption.

We got stuck for three days in an elevator that suddenly developed in my apartment building with an astronaut with Asperger’s Syndrome who re-enacted all of Shakespeare’s plays independently, a la Spalding Gray.  We gave him a standing ovation; granted, we were already standing anyway, and maybe we were just applauding because the elevator doors suddenly breathed open and we were finally able to get the hell out of there.

Due to a bizarre loss of gravity that happened later that day, I fell up the stairs of the same building, off the roof, and into the sky, bumping my head on a cloud.

My overzealous dentist yanked out all of my teeth and buit a tiny xylophone for his insane son with them.

My wife decided to have a dinner party, inviting the ghost of Jesus.  He brought a bottle of red wine, but she said, “I’m sorry, but there’s no alcohol in this home,” so he left.  It was too bad, as I’d prepared a series of questions to ask him, along with some jokes.  Anyway, he seemed like a great guy and I was sorry to see him leave so abruptly.  To compensate for her bad manners, Jina started praying at a thousand miles an hour after he left.  The Korean word for God is “hananim,” so when she gets into her praying-hyena routine, it sounds like Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden having a fit on the old TV show “The Honeymooners.”  

Okay–back to real life:  it’s been a tough week.  For those of you who’ve never been unhappily married before, it takes a lot out of you.  It’s like a slow blood-letting process that makes you feel as if you’ve traded in all your red cells for a few quarts of molasses.  Or maybe it’s just the winter weather paralyzing me, encroaching old age, or some primordial depression, the gift of an ancestor who spent his life staring at the wall of a cave, trying in vain to change the channel by repeatedly pressing an imaginary touch screen on a stone until he developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

Getting beaten at chess by an elementary student whom I’d just taught the rules of the game was bad enough (mind you, Lisa, the student–that’s her English nickname–is a quick study and probably a genius, so I shouldn’t feel too bad about it); and getting trounced twice more by a slightly older student, a middle school kid named Alfred who probably will grow up to play computer games for a living–he’s got that kind of temperament–was not so much galling as predictable.  I know it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I just can’t seem to win at chess–ever.  I think I might have won the game–once, when I played against Jina about ten years ago, before we were married.  I’d just taught her how to play a few days before, and she’d already beaten me several times.  She was so mad that she lost, she cleared all the pieces off the board like Jack Nicholson “clearing” the table at the diner in “Five Easy Pieces.”  Since they were made of glass, they shattered.  Luckily, the puppy patrolling the kitchen where we were playing at the time sustained no injuries.

I must be either a masochist or a glutton for punishment, because I absolutely adore chess and intend to keep playing it until the day I die.  I love it so much, I don’t even care if I never win (much as I’d whoop and kick my heels together in mid-air if I did).  It’s an infinitely fascinating pastime.

Anyway, the nadir of the week was losing two out of three students in my middle school reading and writing class.  This happened on Wednesday.  We’d had a class on Monday afternoon, and my wife had suggested we continue working on the chain stories we’d begun the previous Friday, so I had them do that while I proofread their homework.  I didn’t get the news until after losing the two chess matches to Alfred, whose mother Carol is a co-worker who teaches math at the academy.  Carol’s sister-in-law Nancy may have been behind Alfred’s two cousins deciding to quit (but maybe not–I’ll never know the truth; that’s a common outcome both here in Korea and presumably anywhere else you live in this mysterious world).  Reason?  Nancy wanted Jina and me to lower our teaching rates, even though they’re already dirt-cheap.  Jina balked.  ‘Nuff said.  Case closed.  Roger Wilco.  10-4.  Over and out.  That’s all she wrote.  End of story.  Point taken.  The jury has reached a verdict.  I rest my case.  Out of the ballpark.  One for the history books.  

Losing students is an inevitable side effect or by-product of this business–hey, we can’t all be Tony Robbins.  But it rankles when they happen to be in reading and writing, a class that’s especially dear to my heart since it represents two of the activities I love and cherish the most in life, all the more so since they’re endangered species in a world grown illiterate at worst, and aliterate at best.  

Many Koreans pride themselves on having one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and I don’t blame them.  Reading looks like phun.  Ryting too.  One of the country’s greatest heroes is King Sejong, who invented the Korean writing system or alphabet of hangeul about five hundred years ago.  It’s scientifically-based and extremely logical.  Google it and you’ll dig my vibe.  Supposedly, it’s the easiest alphabet in the world to learn, even easier than Arabic, Russian (Cyrillic?), Chinese, Japanese katakana or hiragana, or our good old Roman alphabet, my personal fave.  

After living in Korea for nearly six years, I’m still not entirely proficient in hangeul, partly because I’m a culturally-insensitive, phlegmatic, boorish, American imperialist swine (God bless the red, white, and blue!) who’d just as soon let everyone else learn his language so he doesn’t have to go out of his way to learn theirs.  But it is a nifty alphabet, and I can see why Koreans are proud of it.  What I’m less sure of is how and why, at least according to my students and from what I’ve observed during my peregrinations on the bus and the subway in Seoul, so few people here seem to read books, captivated as they are by handheld devices and whatever is secretly flowing into their brains through their earphones.  

Not to sound overly predictable, but (and I’m quoting Philip Roth here from his book “Exit Ghost”) “it doesn’t bode well for the future of civilization.”  Roth, despite his own world-renowned success as an author who’s managed to become ever-more prolific over the years, predicts that books will probably go the way of the dodo bird, and I fear he may be right.

I confess to having trouble getting through heavy tomes myself these days, which I consider a betrayal of the muse and a pity, seeing as a literary life is, or at least ought to be, its own reward.  Nicholas Carr provides an eloquent defense of the analog tradition in his book “The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.”  I’m as much of a web-junkie as anyone else, but I’ve got to admit, he makes some excellent points.

We’ll have to wait for another post for me to finish telling you what went wrong with the week.  It hasn’t been a total wash; there have been a few mitigating factors.  Suffice it to say that in spite of Jesus’ tip to love your enemy, it’s much easier in theory than in practice, especially when you happen to be married to that person, and when it seems her raison d’etre to drive you to an early grave, a mission she appears to be succeeding in so far.

Please bring party favors to my funeral.  Remember those little plastic champagne bottles you pull the string on, the ones that pop and burst open with a colorful eruption of streamers like a squid’s tentacles embracing the faceless head of an invisible sperm whale?  I want New Orleans-style all the way, with a ragtime band playing and people singing and dancing in the streets.  Mardi Gras, Carnaval–anything to celebrate life itself, the only game in town–especially when you consider how boring and uneventful the alternative is.

P. S.  Jina is averse to divorce, regardless of her pathological love for (or is it an addiction to?) me, because she read somewhere in the Bible–probably Leviticus or one of the more sadistic books–that people who get divorced have to go to hell.  And what else could hell be but having to spend the rest of your days married to the same person you were trying to get away from while you were alive–for all eternity? 


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