The Masochist’s Stomach

Hi.  Sorry I’ve been out of touch for several days.  I haven’t been able to write as I made myself sick.  It’s not the first time it’s happened.  Usually all I have to do is look in the mirror (rimshot drum, please).

Last Saturday my wife Jina and I accepted an invitation to go “camping” with some Korean friends of ours, the Kims and the Parks.  Jina and I boarded the subway and rode for forty minutes or so before transferring to a different line.  At the intermediary platform we met a gentleman from Chile who couldn’t speak much English, so I broke out my high school Spanish to chat with him.  He turned out to be a Christian missionary, which fact delighted Jina, making her intone later that his presence could have been nothing other than an act of divine intervention (au naturelle–is that spelled correctly?).  The dude was even a minister–a single man, at that.  Maybe I can fix him up with Jina!

We parted ways with our new Friend in God (F. I. G.) and got off the second train.  At the station Jina picked up some snacks for our friends’ children.  I was going to get some booze, but I thought I’d better wait till our friends arrived to pick us up to find out what they needed.  We’d also bought a pound cake at a bakery before leaving Seoul, so we weren’t empty-handed.  And Jina had treated the Kims to a fancy dinner the last time we got together, about a month ago.

Susie Kim came in to say hello and told us we didn’t need to buy any beverages as they were well-equipped.

“We have beer, makgeolli, and soju.”  (The second item is Korean rice wine, which has been around for a thousand years, according to Jim Kim, Susie’s husband, while soju, low-grade and low-octane Korean vodka, has only existed for about fifty.  I far prefer the former, as it’s natural.  Soju, on the other hand, is laden with all kinds of nasty chemicals and smells like something you clean your toilet with.)

May Park, whom I’d never met before, had given Susie a ride and was there to pick us up and drive us to the campsite.  When we got there, we were greeted by Sarah, Susie’s daughter.  (By the way, these are all made-up names.  It’s not uncommon for Korean people to have English nicknames, not that all of these folks do.)  The campgrounds were bustling with tents and tables with food and provisions laid out in front of the tents.  I knew Jina and I weren’t going to do anything too Outward Bound-ish, as we were only going to be there for a few hours, but it was nice to be in an area surrounded by trees and fresh air instead of the usual smog, steel, and concrete.

We sat down and Susie offered me a beer, which I humbly accepted.  I hadn’t drunk anything in two weeks and felt I had some catching up to do.  I had a nice chat with May, who was very attractive, perky, and quick-witted.  She also spoke good English, which enabled us to converse in the first place.

Her husband Mike, who sat next to her and across from me, was, as she pointed out, “silent.”  I thought it might just be because he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, which is probable, and which made two of us.  But later, after the sun went down and he was using a blow-torch to heat up the logs employed to barbecue some pork and beef to augment the soju, he proved himself to be a consistent non-conversationalist, even in Korean.  This is not at all unheard of in this culture among men, and I pointed out to him that he was “the strong, silent type,” instead of a garrulous, spineless windbag like me (for some us, it’s as if we fear that if we stopped talking we’d die; of course, the case may be that the opposite is true).

(In helping to stoke the fire, Jim Kim used so much lighter fluid he may have marinated the meat in it, but then I wouldn’t have been the only one to get sick to my stomach.)

In between the beer and soju, I drank makkgeolli too (sorry if I’m misspelling it), defying my own advice not to mix too many different kinds of drinks.  This proved a fatal error, as did eating too much meat, some of which may have been undercooked, which would suggest that the symptoms I incurred later came from food poisoning.

Little Johnny Kim, who was only about sixteen months old, was remarkably gregarious for someone with only about a three-word vocabulary, a veritable social butterfly making the rounds at the campfire.  The sky had grown and the air cool but not too cold (it’s since warmed up considerably; although it’s only the last day of April, it already feels like summer; yesterday it was like July weather).

Jim Kim, who was a delightful host, also likes to specialize in awkward remarks that spring from an excess of interior intensity.  He said things like, “Eating and drinking together are an important way to establish a good relationship.”  (Most of his comments were along those lines.)

They’re also, as it turns out, a good way to wound your gut.

Since everyone except Jina and the children had been drinking and no one was fit to drive, Jim called Jina and me a cab.  The cabbie arrived five minutes later.  He was drunk too (just kidding).  He drove us to the station, where I bought a bottle of water and popped an ibuprofen, anticipating a horrendous hangover.

On the train I sort-of slept while Jina humored a middle-aged drunk guy sitting next to her who tried to cajole her into going drinking with her when they arrived in Seoul.  When she told him she was with me, he said she could bring me along.  She said he should go back to his family and find Jesus.

Back home, I took another painkiller after eating two little jars of home-made plain yogurt, then went to bed.  The next morning when I woke up, my head felt all right, but my stomach was in rough shape.  It was gurgling and bucking like Rosemary’s fetus, so I thought I’d better have some Chinese herbal stomach medicine with some water.  This led to a brief episode of diarrhea.

I thought that was the end of it, but a little while later things came out the other end.  One of the great things about throwing up is that for a moment your body takes over completely, so that you’re like some kind of jacked-up fountain or fire hydrant, utterly without an ego or a self.  The concentration on the act of discharging the poisons from your body is so focused, powerful, and precise that you don’t have the time or energy for anything else–not even groaning.

Later, when Jina got up, we went to church (hooray!), where I had to do some more puking–in the men’s room toilet, if you don’t mind.  Luckily it didn’t reach that dry-heaving point I experienced over ten years ago when I got food poisoning from a contaminating Dunkin Donut.  Each gut-wrenching retch had felt like a sharp knife twisting in my innards.

“Et tu, Brutus?”

Not wanting to miss any of the excitement, I ran back to the church–well, okay--walked, slowly, and stopped to call a friend whom Jina had turned off my cellphone on the night before in a moment of antisocial indignation.  Jina was sitting on the floor of the upper area with the rest of the suckers.  I joined her, grunting from the trauma, and worked on some anagrams to pass what little time remained (blessedly, we’d shown up twenty minutes late, and I spent the next twenty minutes in the rest room).

After the interminable sermon, the “service” climaxed with a hymn (will find the author for you later) entitled “Hover O’er Me, Holy Spirit” (that would be a great Pentagonian euphemism and theme song or anthem for a Predator drone), which we didn’t have to stand for–thank God.

In the last entry on this blog, I mentioned an article on Alternet that suggested that Jesus, in all likelihood, was gay.  I think I even made some off-color joke afterwards, like:  “That’s why they killed him!”

Jesus’ sexuality is neither here nor there (which isn’t to say that he was transgendered), but that of some members of his ostensibly heterosexual congregation has to be called into question when the chorus of the chosen him (sic–and Freudian slip–hymn) goes as follows:

“Jesus, come and fill me now.”

Whatever happened to the magic word?  Poor Jesus must be feeling mighty shagged (pardon the irony) for putting in so much overtime.  I guess since he’s God he can replenish his seed endlessly, making him the opposite of Monsanto (have you heard about their sterile “terminator” seed?  A great way to cheat both humanity and Sister Nature!).

Afterwards, we met a cute Korean-American woman from California, exchanged pleasantries, and had some lunch at the church cafeteria.  My stomach continued to plague me off and on throughout the day, as it did the following day, and continues to now.  While greeting our fellow sheep at the church, I noticed how the Korean word for hello, “Annyonghaseyo,” when you say it fast, sounds a lot like “nausea.”

I haven’t been able to eat or drink much of anything for two days; my stomach is a trampoline.

Jina bought me some medicine at the drug store after work yesterday, which helped with my symptoms, but since the Chinese herbal stuff she bought was particularly potent, it re-awakened my Lyme disease symptoms.  Lyme, in case you don’t know, derives from a bacterial infection transmitted by a deer tick bite.  The Lyme bacteria, or spirochetes, infest the brain and, as far as I know, the joints where they act as little drills or microscopic tornados* laying waste to your nerves and spreading the message of pain through in your knees, elbows, fingers, what have you.  My symptoms include rheumatoid arthritis, which gives me a sneak preview of the joys of old age.

One bit of consolation:  Buddha taught that although pain is inevitable, suffering need not be.  The difference between them is that pain is a physical reaction, while suffering is the ego’s attachment to the feeling–“my pain,” “my sorrow,” “my hardship,” etc.  Once you’re able to separate the two, an ongoing, life-long task, you can find some relief.

Please read Chris Hedges piece at Truthdig.com, entitled “Welcome to the Asylum.”  Athough he’s a tad pessimistic, he makes some insightful observations about the value of indigenous cultures, and how their imaginative, communal approach to life and reverence for nature was far more sustainable and nourishing than our me, me, me, atomized, disembodied, celebrity-worshipping, brand-name-addled version of capitalism.

Jina loves to say I told you so, and I have to admit that she was right and it was probably the drinking more than anything that made me sick.  My stomach gurglingly concurs.

* Apologies to Jeffrey Harrison, whose poem “My Personal Tornado” makes use of this metaphor and has always been a favorite of mine.  Please don’t sue me for plagiarism.

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