What kind of stuff have you been reading lately? I try to vary fiction and nonfiction (using one eye for the former and the other eye for the latter for optimum efficiency as well as confusion). Right now I’m reading two books at once: Nicholson Baker’s The Everlasting Story of Nory and Oliver James’ How to Develop Emotional Health (another title from the excellent School of Life series). Baker’s story was published in 1997 and even though it’s written in the third person, the narrative revolves through the mind of his nine year old daughter (it’s a work of non-fictitious fiction). It’s also funny as hell–maybe even funnier; I don’t know–you’d have to ask Satan. He’d probably say, “That joke is so old.” The James’ book is useful and informative; it’s in the self-help genre (otherwise known as the literary buffet table).
Anyway, before that I read The Dude and the Zen Master, by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman, a conversation between two old friends. It’s a rambling dialogue that touches on Buddhism, current events, and the lives and loves of the two in a highly readable format, at least if your native language is English. Unfortunately, as soon as I finished reading it, I was unable to retain much, which is usually what happens these days, especially when it comes to nonfiction. I don’t know whether it was all those decades of alcohol abuse (I beg your pardon–these decades) or the sleep deprivation induced by working a split shift for four years, or just your garden variety brain damage (I grew up in Braintree, Mass., after all), but nothing seems to stick to the old dried-out sponge known as the noggin anymore, except for all the petty little shit I get obsessed with, all the persnickety synaptic fixings that piss me off the face of the map like a fly pausing for station identification on a urinal cake.
The past several weeks have been especially harrowing in some ways, underscoring as they have the essential futility of my life and my own inescapable irrelevance and infinite replaceability in the job market and dating scene by other yutzes. When I lived in Boston, I was in my thirties, so even though I felt a little older than your average Joe in that city (keeping in mind that it’s a college town), I was still able to have lots of fun enjoying my extended adolescence, playing the field and hitting the occasional home run.
These days I’ve been put out to pasture and if I got a chance at bat I’d probably strike out anyway, or else take a pitch to the side of the head and lie down and croak. One problem with being a middle-aged man is that unless you’re either rich or famous or incredibly good-looking or lucky enough to have a wife who loves sex as much as you do, you can’t help feeling like a creep half the time. (Have you ever noticed how there are no female creeps? Think of all the creeps you know–whether real or fictitious. What sex are they? I rest my case.)
As I mentioned in my last post, compounding matters is that I have no female students these days, and no close female friends apart from my wife, who’s more of a frenemy (although we have been getting along better for the most part lately). Seoul is replete with beautiful young women, and even some stunning middle-aged ones, although a lot of them tend to “hit a wall” as a friend of mine put it once they reach fifty or sixty: their voices deepen and grow gravelly, they get perms and dye their graying hair, and the swaying walks they once had turn to swaggers. In other words, they undergo natural sex change operations and their ovaries turn to bowling balls.
Not that I can’t speak for myself in that area, at least to some extent. My wife Jina claims that my butt has taken on Homeresque proportions and my man-boobs (or “moobs”) put Lord Simpson’s Duff Beer-enriched rack to shame. I already told you about the time Jina and I dusted ourselves off for a sexual encore a few weeks ago and I couldn’t get it up due to having taken too many ibuprofen earlier in the day. I hope I still have a job in ten years so I’ll be able to afford a regular dose of Viagra if my dick decides to resume its primordial life as a clitoris. (As Grace Slick would say, “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small.”)
The other thing is that for a guy who’s grown as far as you can get from Mel Gibson–meaning what women want (that’s meant to be a joke, by the way; if you tell me it’s not I’ll send you my mailing address so you can buy me a gun to blow my brains out with)–I can’t say I’m exactly bursting with virility when it comes to some of those other stereotypical skills my gender’s supposed to have, meaning a vital knowledge of how to use certain other kinds of tools besides the replicas of ourselves we hide in our trousers.
Jina, on the other hand, is a handywoman. She’s got a knack for fixing things when they break and a fearless approach to turning around a fixer-upper. I’m more geared toward cultivating dust bunnies. Several days ago she had me help her prepare some wallpaper to put on the walls of the three-room apartment we’re renting so she can set up some after-school classrooms for elementary school kids to practice their English in. (She decided to bail on the other place she was teaching in after a conflict over a “stolen” student with another teacher, the one who owns the place.)
I’m so unsure of myself and afraid I’ll make a mistake, particularly when it comes to doing anything practical for the first time (“Are you sure this is the right way to tie a shoelace?”), that I had to keep asking Jina if my measurements of the wallpaper I was cutting for her into strips were correct. At least that’s how she made me feel by lashing out at me enough to re-open a treasure trove of childhood wounds. She reminded me out loud that everyone has to learn these things on the job (maybe true, but she had put up wallpaper before, whereas I’d only taken it down, a far more thankless job), and accused me of being passive and called me a coward. I had to raise my voice to match her temper, even though I thought I’d better not overdo it since we were both holding razor knives and I didn’t want to besmirch the new wallpaper by daubing it with huge crimson letters that spelled “HELTER SKELTER” and “PIGGIES” (these Beatles song titles used with the kind permission of the late Michael Jackson’s estate and the Charles Manson Corporation).
I also had to get up early and go to work in the morning. It was getting late. We’d already been there for several hours. Jina showed me how to daub the inner surface of the wallpaper with a mixture of glue and water I’d prepared by stirring it in a bucket for an hour in the kitchen sink. She said I could fold each sheet of wallpaper twice lengthwise and stack them on the floor for her to put up after she got back from church. My plan was to get the job done soon enough so I could get the hell out of there before she returned. I even said to her, “I’m scared of my wife” (quoting Barack Obama). That made her feel a little guilty, if only for a moment.
After she left, I did my best to coat each sheet of wallpaper with glue, although it was hard to see whether it was covered, since the glue and the surface I was treating were both white. I kept going when I’d finished the first set, deciding to use up the rest of the glue in the bucket and do Jina proud for a change.
She got back from her mid-week religious brain-beating treatment, accompanied by a friend, in what couldn’t have been more than an hour after she’d left. Jesus was also with them, dressed in his usual invisible garb (it’s always wise to bring an experienced carpenter along for these kinds of jobs). Jina showed her non-imaginary friend the work she’d done and they commented on it in fluent Korean, a tongue that remains incomprehensible to me. I asked her if she minded if I left; she said that was fine.
The only problem was that I hadn’t done a thorough enough job baptizing the wallpaper in glue, and Jina had to stay up all night compensating for my shoddy work. She was nice about it when she got home the next morning, though, unless she was just too exhausted to chew me out. I rationalized my incompetency by mentioning the difficulty in discerning whether the glue had reached all the corners and edges due to the camouflage effect alluded to above.
Yesterday after work I went to meet her at a huge outdoor market, standing around wearing a suit and a backpack while she talked shop with some craftsmen about what kind of wood to buy for the wall paneling. (She wants to put up a kind of waist-high boundary between the two levels of wallpaper on each wall.) I contributed exactly nothing to either the conversation or the project, and even had the gall to gripe about nearly being made late to meet a friend for beers in the evening. (Jina also later pooh-poohed my decision to tip the cabbie two thousand won–she got out early to do some more work on the place while I went the rest of the way home–saying the eight thousand–about eight bucks–I already owed him for the ride was enough.)
As soon as she got home, while I was hanging up a sea of wet socks on the stainless steel laundry rack on a balcony between two windows, she asked the immortal question: “Did you fart?” I promised her I hadn’t, unless I’d done it unconsciously; and since the sense of smell is the most evocative of the five, I didn’t think I could lie about something so unforgettable. “Did you burp?” The answer remained no. I told her the flatulent aroma may have emanated from the Great Outdoors outside the open window.
Finally, she solved the mystery when she opened the styrofoam boxes full of homemade food her mother had lovingly prepared and sent us.
“Oh, it’s the kimchi!”
Can you think of a more appetizing description? If I weren’t already hooked on the stuff, I would have been inspired to vomit.
According to a friend of mine, there’s a place in Arlington, Massachusetts called Rent a Husband. It’s evidently a place where single women can hire guys who know how to build and fix things, solve minor plumbing problems, do routine car repairs, change flat car- and bike tires, etc. Maybe if we ever move back to the States, Jina can make use of their services.
Who knows? Perhaps they’ll even offer her a job.