It’s a Brand New Day in the Store of Life

I can’t believe it finally stopped raining.  Monsoon season in Korea has been a feisty one this year, with rain spewing from the clouds like it’s going out of style (which, in some parts of the world, I suppose it is).  In fact, it’s been so damp, I’ve only been able to do my laundry once in the past two weeks.  Korean people don’t use automatic dryers (to their immense credit; I try to avoid them back in the States too as they burn your clothes and the atmosphere in a two-for-one deal), so during the rainy season it can take forever for your clothes to dry, and by the time they do, they still stink.  Doing laundry during this wet time is an elaborate exercise in futility, as well as a reminder that nature is still boss (and guess what?  Pretty soon we’re all going to be fired!  Just a guess. . .).

In the last blog entry, I forgot to mention in the Mr. Spock quote a crucial adjective; instead of “Please prevent a large celestial orb from committing fellatio on my person,” it should have read, “Please prevent a large incandescent celestial orb from committing, etc.”  

Now that that’s out of the way, I also want to part ways with atheist blogger Greta Christina on one point:  while she says that many atheists are happy, upbeat people, I submit that some of us, while capable at times of absurd feats of glee, are also, like many believers, beat up.  You can read that either way–meaning literally or figuratively–but the main thing is that atheism is the more intellectually honest position to take, in my view, than faith.  As Christina points out, there’s an overwhelming absence of evidence for any particular deity, or such far-fetched claims as an afterlife or creation by a divine anthropogenic bearded stern-faced old man in the sky (still depicted as buff by Michelangelo, hence perhaps a source of inspiration for fellow atheist Ray Kurzweil in his struggle to preserve eternal youth and longevity by trading in all the individual members of our species for a new improved uniform model cyborg, a semi-human, plastic, silicon, and steel hybrid; death is apparently not good enough for Mr. Kurzweil–something to be outgrown like acne or bellbottoms).

In the heated argument with my wife Jina I mentioned in a somewhat watered-down account the other day, I neglected to add that she got in an additional tizzy about the theory of the Big Bang, writing it off as poppycock (as if the Creation story described in Genesis had any more factual validity than the accounts derived from ancient Greek mythology–mythology being the term given to religion after former believers have woken up and smelled the coffee).

Ms. Christina also says that atheists’ lives can be as rich and meaningful as those of believers; I propose that they can likewise smack of a dizzying dearth of meaning, at least in any absolute sense.  The key to seeing through everything around and inside you is that it enlightens you to a kind of universal insubstantiality.  As far as I can tell (or as near, if you prefer), no one and nothing lasts forever, and that’s the point.  If that makes life more valuable for the urgency of its fleetingness, congratulations on seeing the glass as half-full instead of half-empty.  I just don’t think you can “get” life in the sense of either understanding it or appreciating it without remembering the wisdom of the old Chinese proverb:  “Life contains ten-thousand joys and ten-thousand sorrows.”  (Don’t ask me where they got the number ten-thousand; whoever can afford to count these things definitely has too much time on–or with–his or her hands.)

Hamlet mentions “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”  That reminds me–I have to see my doctor one of these days–if I can remember where his office is.  It’s in a labyrinthine part of town, and the nurse who doubles as a receptionist is a minotaur.  On the contrary, both of his nurses are incredibly fetching, not that they’d probably fetch anything for me unless I traded in my dentures for a simulated diamond ring.

This week I started a short-term teaching job that involves three hours of commuting all told for only an hour and a half of work.  The students in the class are great but the company they work for has a lot of Mickey Mouse rules and security procedures that bring back childhood memories of doing the hokey-pokey in nursery school.  The woman who works for the company that farms me out in the corporate orchard gave me a laughable textbook to use, along with an inscrutable supplement full of inaccessible activities, which neither the students nor I have any interest in employing.  Business English is as dull as dogshit.  Instead we’ll talk about current events and I’ll provide them with my own materials.  If they complain about those, I’ve got a certain bridge in Brooklyn they might be interested in purchasing.

Meanwhile, one of my recruiters has asked me to write up an overview of what I taught a group of students in a class that ended a month ago.  She sent me an ever-so-helpful template that’s written in Korean, even though I’m illiterate in that language (I can read the letters; I just have no idea what the words mean).  When I mentioned it to my wife, she lashed out at me for complaining.  I was going to ask her to help me by translating the thing into English, then realized that she doesn’t have time as she’s busy trying to find us a new space to rent so we can teach our elementary school kids there.  To her credit, she told me I should refuse to do it.  As the saying goes, “I don’t do windows.” (Or, as Freddie Prinz would say in Chico and the Man:  “It’s not my job, man.”)

And the knuckleheads sponsoring me for the job I just started also want me to submit a gratuitous extensive lesson plan for their ostensible perusal; maybe I can whip one up while standing on the subway next to some whack job yapping to himself on his smart phone.

Finally, despite the comparative lack of complications involved in teaching children (since Jina and I don’t have any corporate functionaries breathing down the backs of our necks–only each other), I’ve discovered that children can in fact be a royal pain in the ass.  In accordance with the stereotype, boys are much more of a handful than girls, being more obstreperous, hyperactive, and unmanageable.  Over the years I’ve cultivated a laid-back teaching style that suits adult classes fine, but it doesn’t cut it while teaching kids.  The other day I got so flustered by two boys who kept getting out of their seats to skitter across the room and scribble on the white board that I shouted at them so loudly I nearly resuscitated the ghost of Ella Fitzgerald in the old Memorex cassette tape commercial (or Oscar Matzerath, the boy with the piercing scream in Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum) and shattered the frosted glass windows.  I scared the one girl in the group so much she refused to talk to me for the rest of the period, even when Jina tried to cajole her to.  

I felt a little embarrassed about it afterwards, but it did manage to get the attention of the diminutive adorable demons.

Jina invited one student from our second class to join us for dinner afterwards.  He’s a twelve year old boy with the appetite of a killer whale and the belly to prove it.  She felt it only right, considering we’d treated two of his classmates to the same fare last week.  They at least had the presence of mind to offer perfunctory bows and mumbled thanks in Korean before they skedaddled home, but this boy, after gobbling his pork cutlet with ravenous aplomb, refusing to interrupt the act of eating with either idle chit-chat or eye contact, left after five minutes without so much as a nod.

I intend to have a word with him about it in class today.

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