The nanosecond of truth has arrived. My wife Jina and I have just about finished renovating our new school. She’s put a lot more hours into the project than I have, although I did help her for several hours on Thursday. I built wood decks as a carpenter’s apprentice for three weeks twenty-five years ago, quitting as soon as I got tired of the commute and the increasingly chilly weather, not to mention the ignominy of getting sawdust up my nose (otherwise known as Amish cocaine), along with the maddening sensation of having George Harrison’s overplayed song “I Got My Mind Set on You” stuck in my head like Steve Martin’s arrow for the whole time I worked there (the foreman liked to have the radio on non-stop).
That said, I know fuck-all about carpentry. And that despite having had to endure a fusillade of Carpenters’ songs while trying to grow up and survive the dress rehearsal for the holocaust that was junior high school. (A few years later, in a high school in a midwestern town that got so cold in the winter the building had hardly any windows, except for a few narrow numbers adorned with chicken wire to repel overzealous simian adolescents like me, I contemplated compiling a list of girls I liked, walking around with a clipboard, and asking them out, anticipating relentless rejection and a future career as a telemarketer.)
Nonetheless, I managed to assemble four identical chairs made of pine Jina ordered online, while she put together a couple of tables that were more challenging to build, requiring a more experienced craftsperson. The result of our steady labors was a handsome set of durable furniture ideal for smashing windows and the heads of students with.
The previous evening she’d enlisted the help of three of her Christian colleagues who chug the same visceral venom of God-fearing propaganda Jina does and attend the same church. (One of them is to the pastor as an overworked nurse is to a doctor riding on his reputation; “I graduated from Harvard, MIT, and Columbia–I’ll have the nurse cut you open so I can get in eighteen holes of golf with one of my fellow saviors.”)
These Christian mensches devoted themselves to helping Jina glue plastic strips of fake wooden flooring onto the fake plastic floor that was already there, much to the dismay of the mold that was growing in the corners. When I arrived they were merrily squatting away and laying town the floor segments, happy as a bunch of kids doing a jigsaw puzzle together. I had to admire and envy them for their pluck, especially considering what an inveterate shirker I am.
Jina told me later when I suggested we repay them with a generous meal at a fancy restaurant that she’d already done them lots of favors, but agreed that it would be nice to take them out and treat them to a feast. (Another Last Supper, anyone?)
One of the more annoying tasks we had was putting up the molding, as it involved making precise measurements ahead of time. I’d somehow managed to break the plastic switch that locks the tape measure into place, so keeping it from getting sucked back into the housing like a tinny metallic frog’s tongue posed a challenge. One thing I hate about tape measures is that the steel hook at the end you use to steady the thing makes it hard to lay it flush against the surface, so it’s all but impossible to get a precise reading. Another factor is being a late adapter to the metric system and going through withdrawal from inches and feet. Yet another is having to squint at the teeny rows of lines and make sure I’m counting correctly so everything fits.
I was using it to measure the walls for the wooden molding Jina had ordered, then the boards before sawing them and helping her glue them to the wall. A few times I got it wrong, but luckily she’d gotten plenty of wood, enough to crucify a modern Korean Christian family (Jesus would be proud, if pride weren’t a sin).
Jina doesn’t approve of profanity, whereas I do. I find it especially helpful to express my dismay in frustrating situations. For example, several days ago when I was already running late for work, I had to try on three pairs of socks before I could find one that didn’t have holes in them. This required the recitation of trusty oaths from the salty lingo catalogue. It probably wouldn’t amuse Jina if she knew that my favorite curses are “God damn it” and “Jesus Christ.” Maybe I’m just fed up with having been force-fed her evangelical cud to chew and spew for so long.
The holy sock problem had a silver lining, however: last Sunday when we arrived twenty minutes late for church (Hallelujah! We missed the beginning!), we went up to the balcony where the tardy parties have to sit on the floor like livestock in the manger where Jesus first soiled himself with holy shit. When I took off my shoes to enter the stultifying sanctum, Jina eyed my foot and noticed a hole in my sock.
“Go downstairs,” she said.
I didn’t quite make it downstairs, though. Instead, I went for a nice walk, buying an egg sandwich and a cup of coffee, despite some stentorian throat-clearing from God the voyeur in the heavens. It was a clear and beautiful day in Seoul, and we get so few of them, I had no choice. Besides, if God loved his creations, He wouldn’t insist that they waste so much time listening to some wanker with snake oil running through his veins.
After that I had to consume some more food in order to keep up appearances and thwart any countervailing impulse towards losing weight. I was one of the first members of the flock to arrive before the bleating multitudes poured up the stairs and baaa-baaa’ed up to the cafeteria counter. Despite the rare moment of both solitude and silence in the dining room of God, I ate my noodle soup seasoned with kimchi and a salty brown concoction of soy sauce and sesame oil more gradually than I otherwise would have. (Usually when I eat alone, which is most of the time, I scarf my food down with reckless abandon–choking is a surefire way to lose weight, especially if whatever it is that’s lodged in your throat stays locked in your windpipe long enough to permanently separate you from consciousness.)
Then I played ping pong with a friend in the church basement. But something else happened in the interim. When I approached the table tennis zone, I heard the awful, cloying sounds of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) pouring like sap from the instruments and mouths of some kindly yet deluded teenagers whose early exposure to rigid indoctrination has hamstrung their capacity to rock out and cut loose like Dionysian wild men and women.
As a lark and a piss-take, I lapsed into my Elvis impression while coming down the stairs, singing:
“Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. It’s down at the end of lonely street, that’s Heartbreak Hotel. . .”
I sang a bit more but decided to cut my own virtual mike when I noticed the kids looking at me as if they were preparing to throw tomatoes and hand grenades to get me to stop. I guess Elvis wasn’t white enough for them. (Elvis was a white man with black bones, at least until he joined the army, filled out, grew sideburns, donned sequins, and started singing the likes of “It’s Now or Never” for tourists in Las Vegas too shy to kill themselves.)
The good news is I may be in love. But I don’t want to jinx things. Besides, as you know, my situation is incredibly complicated. Crazy little thing called life.
The other good news is that thanks to my brother, I’ve discovered the funniest man in the world. His name is Mark Peters and he writes a never-ending Twitter feed that’s absolutely hilarious. He recently interviewed Jack “Call Me John” Handey, but I daresay Mr. Peters is even funnier. He’s also formidably intelligent and voraciously veracious.
Please check out his work. He’s at the cutting edge of the cutting edge. The easiest way to access the link (pardon my tech-unsavviness) is to type in “Mark Peters Wordlust” in your Google search window. Then click the first thing that comes up.
Otherwise, I’ll post it for you tomorrow.
I guarantee you’ll soon be laughing so hard you’ll wet your pants. If not, you’d better contact your doctor, as you may have an enlarged prostate gland (having a constipated bladder is no laughing matter–unless you’re someone else who doesn’t like you). But don’t despair. If you keep reading and end up laughing your ass off, you won’t have to get prostate surgery–just a prosthetic pelvis).
Also, if you don’t have a nice weekend, I’ll kill you.
(How’s that for hospitality?)