Tough Love (or: The Clash of the Infants)

There’s an old saying that you become what you hate–though some versions say it’s you become what you despise–take your pick.  

“I don’t hate myself–I just despise myself.  There’s a difference, you know.”

(Case in point:  when the victims of the Nazis start behaving like Nazis.  Kudos to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netan-yahoo for turning the Gaza Strip into a plate of New York strip.  Nice work, buddy!  Hitler would be proud.)

In the truncated entry I posted yesterday, I mentioned losing my temper in front of a group of students whose impassive timidity I mistook for indifference.  I never set out to be a bully, even though I was bullied myself during the various stages of my childhood and adolescence, always getting knocked down whenever I started to get too big for my britches by repeatedly having to play the role of the new kid, which reminds me of that god-awful song by the Eagles.

(Correction:  nothing is as awful as God, except maybe church.)

Since I wasn’t that good in sports and was always more of a loner than a team player (read:  geek, nerd, dork, loser, pathological TV-watcher whose main goal in life was not to finally find a girlfriend, fall in love, and get married the way the rest of the boys wanted to, but to become a professional jerk-off.  How many other people can say they’ve succeeded so blatantly in achieving their dream?), I was red meat to the kind of bitter little shits who like to pick on other kids, enabling me to become a bitter little shit myself.

Of course, I ended up marrying a bully, and since I’m only (a partially animated chunk of) human (flesh) myself, I occasionally stoop to her primitive emotional level and snap at my students, the way she snaps at me.  Like her, I always regret it afterwards.  Like me, they probably buy my apologies about as much as I buy hers.

Yesterday in another, more talkative class (by the way, these classes consist of adults–my wife’s the one who yells at elementary school kids–though I don’t think as often as she used to, not that I’m usually in the forest when the trees fall), my students took turns telling me what it was like for them when they were children and teenagers.  Corporal punishment used to be as commonplace as irrelevant subject matter that will get you nowhere in life.

“What did teachers used to use to hit you?  Their hands?  Sticks?”  I asked.

“A long wooden rod.”

“Teachers would punch, scratch, and kick their students.  I don’t think it was so much for the sake of maintaining order as relieving their stress.”

“It was martial law.”

“Didn’t you hate your teachers?  Didn’t you want to kill them or get revenge?”

I always say I would have.  But whenever I ask a group of students this question, the replies are generally mild and noncommittal.  I guess these psychotic displays of antisocial behavior were so omnipresent that the students just took it for granted.

Now corporal punishment in Korea is illegal.

“There’s no way that teachers could get away with it anymore,” said one student.  “All the kids have smart phones.”  He mimed taking a picture.

On Friday after I taught the group of office workers I yelled at for being such vegetables, then said sorry with the most endearing smile I could muster with a little help from my friend caffeine, I rode the subway to the other side of the river, to the land sung about by that pony-dancing phony and talentless, overrated hack Psy (who’s also a shameless corporate whore who wouldn’t turn down an offer to do a TV commercial if he had to sacrifice his own mother to Kim Jongun’s chef), otherwise known as Gangnam, to tutor two sisters in their twenties who both happened to have double-eyelid surgery (one of the most common procedures here, exceeded only by nose jobs, or so I’ve heard; I recently met a woman whose nose was so straight I thought she had a flesh-colored double-barreled shotgun built into her face–don’t leave home without it).

They’re the first female students I’ve had in months, and it helps to be able to teach people who are naturally inclined to kindness and who express themselves in soft voices and don’t hide behind a stoical facade the way a lot of Korean men do.

By the way, Korean males are only supposed to cry three times in their lives:  once at birth, and once at each of their parents’ funerals.

I probably would have gotten my ass kicked a lot more often had I grown up here instead of in the United States–and not only by my teachers.

Anyway, they’re good, capable students who are a joy to teach.  I’m not quite sure why they’re learning English, though, as their plan is to go to Germany to live for five years.  Maybe they figure German and English are both Germanic languages, so at least they’ll be in the right linguistic ballpark.  (We also both use the same alphabet–God bless Rome!)

Two hours later I schlepped back home via subway, a procedure that invariably involves several transfers, hence extra waiting time and lots of lumbering up and down corridors and dormant steel indoor sidewalks that are supposed to be moving (they look like flattened escalators, which, I suppose, they are), along with toilet breaks.

Some Korean rest rooms, instead of having toilet paper rolls hanging from mounts on the walls of the stalls, will have just one large roll of toilet paper stationed near the sinks, so you have to calculate how much bum-wad you’ll need before retreating to the stall.  If you prefer a Western-style toilet you can sit down on instead of a porcelain hole in the floor you have to squat over and flush with your foot, sometimes you have to do even more waiting.

It’s a great way to breed irritation and impatience.

Since I knew I wouldn’t have to see my wife Jina when I got home to take a shower, I elected to go have a slice of pizza and a draft beer to help beat the heat, asking the cashier to turn the music down so as not to widen the ever-ringing hole in my right eardrum.  Jina is vociferously intolerant of any trace of alcohol detectable on my breath, so whenever I want to sneak a beer in, I have to give myself plenty of time for the scent to wear off.

In fact, the other day after downing a can of beer I’d bought at a convenience store, I decided I’d better hide the evidence in the pocket of a jacket hanging in my wardrobe (rather than go out of my way to find a trash can to toss it in; besides, with my cumbersome, book-laden backpack and spare bag of shoes to accommodate for rainy weather, I already had enough shit to lug around on my way to my next gig).  

This entailed stomping on the can to flatten it.  Instead of doing the smart thing and putting on my shoes and doing it in the entryway to the apartment, I set it up next to the washing machine, stuck my foot in a plastic flip-flop, and said, “Just don’t cut your foot.”

Which of course I did.

Not badly, but still.  Stupidity works in strange ways.

Luckily, I had some antibiotic ointment to daub on it, along with a crumpled bandaid I found in a plastic baggie in my backpack.

So anyway, and I’m sorry I forgot to tell you about this before, but while I was in the subway station in Gangnam, I noticed I had received a Kakao Talk message saying I should tell the students in my evening class to bring their ID cards for the TOEIC test they had to take the following day.

Naturally, by the time I saw them early in the evening I’d completely forgotten about the message, and didn’t remember I had to tell them till I stumbled upon it while looking at the phone on the subway ride home.

I figured I could just text them when I got back as I had a list of their names and phone numbers in one of the piles of papers in the room where I’m sitting right now.

What I hadn’t counted on was my wife’s shifting into Attila the Hun mode (call her Attila the Honey) for no apparent reason.  When I asked her to show me how to send a text message to several receivers at once, she at first calmly obliged.  She even went so far as to type all six phone numbers in the space at the top of the display for me, not that I’d asked her to.

“Here you are,” she said.  “Now you can write your message.”

I thanked her and started to write it.

Then she started yelling at me.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU DO THIS BEFORE?”

“What do you mean?”

“WHY DO YOU HAVE TO DO IT NOW?”

“Because I forgot.”

“WHY DO YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM?  HAVEN’T THEY TAKEN THE TEST BEFORE?”

“Yes.  A couple times, I think.”

“THEY SHOULD KNOW THEY HAVE TO BRING THEIR I.D. CARDS.”

“It’s just to remind them.  Besides, my boss asked me to.”

“SHE’S NOT YOUR BOSS.”

“So what?  It’s the polite thing to do.”

“WHY DIDN’T YOU DO IT BEFORE?”

“BECAUSE I FUCKING FORGOT!  I’M HUMAN, OKAY?  I DIDN’T HAVE THEIR PHONE NUMBERS ON ME.  THERE WAS NO WAY I COULD REACH THEM TILL I GOT HOME.”

Our exchange went on like this for several more minutes, the mutual hostility building to a crescendo.

“WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO GET RID OF ALL THIS STUFF?” she asked, continuing her Owen Meany impersonation (cheers to John Irving for the idea), and gesturing at the piles of papers and shelves chock-a-block with books, including some read, some not, and some somewhere in-between.

“I’ll do it soon,” I said, opting not to give myself a sore throat.

“YOU SAID THAT THREE MONTHS AGO!”

“I DON’T KNOW!” I said, figuring I’d better match her tone so as not to appear flippant.  “MAYBE THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME.”

She threw a bunch of books and papers on the floor.

“Please don’t do that,” I said, trying in vain to placate her.

“I’M GOING TO BURN ALL YOUR BOOKS!  WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS READING BOOKS?  WHY DON’T YOU EVER TALK TO ME?”

(Hey, I thought, we’re talking now, aren’t we?)

“GO BACK TO AMERICA!  DON’T COME BACK TO KOREA!”

“I WON’T!”  I lowered the volume for the sake of the neighbors.  “I never should have come here in the first place.  Our marriage has been a disaster.”

“YOU THINK I’M HORRIBLE?  WELL, YOU’RE HORRIBLE, TOO!”

Ah, such loveliness!

Meanwhile my heart was beating like the love child of an Uzi and a carnival barker or a meth-head moonlighting as an auctioneer.  Chronic prostatitis demands that I pop ibuprofen pills like potato chips (prostato chips?), and they ain’t so good for your ticker.

In fact, the following morning I had a dream in which both of my maternal grandparents–who passed away decades ago–had just died and we were getting ready to bury them in the yard in front of their house near the ocean (whenever I dream about water, it means I have to take a leak–so much for symbolism).

I woke up wondering whether I’d be joining them soon.

Mind you, much as I’m dying to see my family again in September and get the hell away from Jina–maybe even for good–one mitigating factor about death is that once I’m a stiff there’s no way on earth I’ll ever have to see her again (unless she’s right about her second-hand version of the afterlife.  If I had to go to heaven with her, it would be hell.)

It reminds me of something an old Aussie co-worker of mine told me he’d said to his ex-wife, who’d tried with her loved ones to bilk him out of all he was worth:  

“I’d rather be dead than be with you!”

I can dig what he meant as easily as my own grave.

I hope for your sake that if you’re involved with someone, your relationship is better.

If not, grab a shovel.

 

 

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