Sometimes I wake up surprised to be alive. I checked my blood pressure at the drug store yesterday and found it normal (114/77), although when I had it read at the doctor’s office last week it was on the high side (144/73). This morning while I was lying in bed my heart must have been beating about a hundred times a minute (hey, got to keep up with those city rhythms). I’d been having a dream in which I gave all my albums to a friend of mine whose sister committed suicide in “real” life (it seems rude to suggest that dreams are any less real than life itself, which is such a tenuous business after all).
On to the number one source of stress.
A lot of people look forward to time away from work as a chance to spend more time with their loved ones, specifically their spouses. Not that I’m crazy about having to get up and go to work every morning, but I find that time with my wife can be a lot more trying–in both senses of the word. In other words, I often feel as if I were on trial. Could it be more than a coincidence that she and I started dating around the same time George W. Bush & Co. orchestrated their Supreme Court-fortified coup d’etat? I was so caught up in befuddled outrage about what had happened to my country, I didn’t spot the coup she was staging against me.
About ten days ago she noticed while glancing at my alien registration card that I’d overstayed my visa by a week (maybe she was insinuating that I’d worn out my welcome with her; guess what? The feeling’s mutual). Because I’m what people used to call retarded (although, at least I don’t think, literally) before that became a taboo expression for its callousness towards the mentally disabled, I’ve always depended on Jina to help me out with such matters. She can be pathologically needy in her own way, which may be why she’s gotten so adept at emotional blackmail over the years, but when it comes to practical matters, I often slough them off and defer to the more competent people around me for help.
I stand accused of being pathetic, lazy, and self-indulgent.
I tend to rationalize by telling myself it’s a mental block built of indefatigable neurosis. One reason I avoid having children is so I don’t have to relinquish the luxury of forever remaining a child myself. Jina likes to behave childishly too. Considering her and my advanced age, relatively limited collective income, incompatible views on religion, persistent language barrier, and the increasingly unstable and desperate state of the world, having children would seem to be at best a fool’s errand, at worst a suicidal prank.
Anyway, to get back to the visa crisis, she downloaded the forms from the immigration office and filled out the address section for me in Korean, since my writing skills in that language barely rival those of a newborn Korean infant. We agreed to get up at eight the next morning and go to the local town office to complete the first part of the procedure.
When the time came, however, she suddenly lost her shit. We were approaching the sleek blue-black glass government building with the angled walls when she balked and said I should take care of the whole thing myself.
“How many years do I have to do this for you? You’ve been here for nearly ten years!“
“I thought you wanted to spend more time together,” I said lamely.
“Not this way. It’s not delightful!”
Jina has certain catch-phrases she likes to use when she’s mad. That’s one of them. Another word she enjoys employing is “stuffy,” although she thinks it means “irritated” or “frustrated,” something I’ve never been able to disabuse her of. I’ll have to hand her a dictionary some time. But I kind of like the way she’s co-opted the word and given it her own twist.
She stormed off, leaving me to my own devices, and I muttered a variety of oaths, my less flattering pet names reserved exclusively for her. I went inside the building and saw a desk with a sign overhead that read Foreign Services. But I couldn’t find the machine that spits out the slips of paper with the numbers on them, so I veered over to the information booth. There was nobody there. The sign on the desk there read What Can We Do For You? I took a picture of it with my phone camera to cherish as an example of Korean bureaucratic irony.
Then Jina called and we started barking at each other over the phone. I went outside to avoid making a scene.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m taking care of it.”
“How can you? You don’t even have the forms.”
Thanks for reminding me.
“Where are you?” I asked. “I’ll come and get them from you.”
“Why can’t you ever do these things yourself?”
“Because I’m an idiot. That’s why I married you.”
She refused to tell me her exact coordinates, so I walked back to the place where we’d parted ways. She was nowhere in sight. I went back towards the building. She called me again and asked where I was. I told her. I also needed to take a leak. I returned to the spot I’d just been too, peered around, couldn’t see her. Gave up, went and found a men’s room inside the building and used it.
She called me and told me to go to window number 9, the foreign services desk mentioned above. Then she said to come and get the forms from her by coming through the “turning door.” I saw her outside and went to retrieve the info.
She had to register the new address of the school she opened last month at a separate window. Then she came and helped me with my situation. The clerk told her that we needed to go straight to the immigration office, but we’d probably have to pay a fine.
Fine! (speaking of irony.)
I had to go teach for an hour. Jina’s tone abruptly shifted to a more conciliatory mode. She motioned to a pizzeria and asked if I wanted to buy a slice before getting on the bus. How could I resist? But something prevented the transaction from happening–too long a wait, the pizza was too expensive–the all but inevitable deal-breaker (sorry for resorting to that trendy and overused expression I loathe).
So I got on the bus and heaved a sigh of relief, glad to have a little time away from her to recover from the trauma of such profuse abuse.
After class I met her at a halfway point in a subway station. She escorted me to our destination in a taxi and I did my best to remember the route so I could do it myself next time.
When we got there, it only took about half an hour for our number to be called. The beautiful clerk told Jina that I’d have to pay a hundred dollar fine for overstaying the visa deadline. That entailed taking the elevator up to the sixth floor. The Kafkaesque fellow there gave me a form to take down to the second floor along with the hundred thousand won Jina handed me to submit as penance for crimes against humanity. (At first I passed the money to a female clerk and told her to buy something pretty with it. She looked at me uncomprehendingly and her male counterpart didn’t smile. I was in an assholic mood, partly due to being excoriated by Jina so much earlier in the day, and partly because the intermittent pain in my chest and left arm was persuasive enough to make me think that this might finally be the Big One.)
I went down the stairs whistling (the excellent acoustics of stairwells make such a practice irresistible), entered the overgrown penalty box where many sinners stood, handed the money over to a flunky like a chump, and went back upstairs.
As resentful as I was at having to pay the Korean government a hundred dollars, considering how high some of the other fines posted on the walls were for various uncommitted infractions, I got off light.
Jina and I retired to the first floor and went to see our lovely clerk again to have the alien registration card updated. Jina had had to shell out another thirty thousand won for three stamps in order to seal the deal, which she picked up at yet another windowed desk. I pointed out a typo to the clerk and made her laugh, although I think she appreciated the correction instead of recognizing me as the anal-retentive grammar Nazi I am (not that I don’t misuse grammar myself sometimes; I’s only human).
Jina told me I should stop using my old backpack since it’s “dirty,” and should use the one her sister gave me as a birthday present instead, even though it hurts my neck. To make peace, I told her I would, and would just go back to the acupuncturist again if the pain in my neck became unbearable.
At night she came and woke me up and asked me to help her make the bed. This involved pulling the sheets back behind the edge of the mattress, which is tricky as it’s flush against the wall. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to pinch your fingers. There’s also a chair on my side of the bed I keep my alarm clock on, which further restricted freedom of manual movement.
Since nothing I do is ever good enough for her, she told me I needed to pull the sheets farther back and secure them under the mattress–always a futile task.
“You’re not doing it right!”
“I’m doing my best, honey.”
She snapped, “Why do I always have to make the bed? Why don’t you ever do it?”
“BECAUSE IT’S A FUCKING PAIN IN THE ASS!”
She stormed off to sleep on the couch.