Confessions Of A Human Pinball

It feels good to be back.

In the fall I was underemployed, and it seemed all I did was sit around reading books.  That was okay.  At least I learned something.  Of course, by now I’ve forgotten it all, so I guess I didn’t learn anything after all.  Reading can be inefficient that way, at least when it comes to nonfiction.  The only way you can retain information is if you go back and review, take notes, and memorize passages, and who has time to do that?  Or else you can share what you’ve read with others while the material is still fresh in your mind.

These days I have little time to read and hardly any energy to write.  I teach English in Korea for a living, and since I’m a freelancer my schedule fluctuates from month to month.  To avoid another dry spell like the one I had last fall, I try to be vigilant about picking up new jobs whenever old gigs expire (also to humor my wife Jina, whose arm must be getting tired from holding a gun up to my head for all these years).

Anyway, I lost a good gig a few weeks ago.  Although I wasn’t exactly fired, I’d been expecting it to continue for a whole year, but the students only let me teach them for three months.  I’ll tell you why I think so in a second.

It was a sweet deal, considering it wasn’t that far from where I live–only one bus ride and two subway rides away–and I got paid fifty bucks an hour, the going rate for teaching classes of adults in a Korean company.  Because the students are so busy, they’d often only wanted to study for the first of the two hours they’d signed up for, but I still got paid for both hours.

My kind of job.

As with this blog, I have a tendency to sometimes put my foot in my mouth when I teach and bite my toenails.  It’s a little awkward, especially when I don’t take off my shoe, but the yoga classes keep me from getting a Charley horse.  In this case the boo-boo I made was saying something that wouldn’t have elicited any gasps or sanctimonious horrified shudders back in New England, but in modern Korea proved a premature announcement.

We were talking about differences between men and women, and somehow the subject of gays came up.  I said that as far as I knew, people were born gay and could not change their sexual orientation.  I added that it was wrong for others to try to change them, regardless of what the Bible (or the Koran, a book I didn’t mention at the time) says.

I noticed a few of my students exchanging looks, and the next day I received a phone call from my recruiter, who said the students wanted to bail on me after my initial three-month period was up two weeks from then.  I ventured to tell her why I thought they wanted a different teacher, and she sounded sympathetic–to me, not them.

The remaining two weeks of the class went all right, even though one especially religious student stopped coming, reinforcing my assumption about what had happened.

Of course, when you work as a foreigner in Korea, you can second-guess until your ass flies off your body and goes into orbit around Jupiter and still never figure out why something went down.  After awhile, you just get used to not knowing and shrug it off.

Obtuseness is bliss.

I have a new job in the same time slot–well, that’s not quite right.  I picked up a job for five hours a day that pays approximately half as much per hour as the previous gig, teaching kids.  It takes about an hour to get there.  It’s in the boonies.

That job is from one pm to six pm, twice a week.  What sucks is that on the same days I have to get up and teach a one-hour class in another part of town at 7:40, then go back home, grab a shower and a ten-minute nap if I can squeeze one in before taking a taxi to the train station.

Those days I spend about four hours shlepping back and forth, using a complicated network of buses, subways, and taxis.  Waiting is always involved, whether for one of the above conveyances or for a streetlight to change.  Patience is not always my strong point.

On alternating days I teach a class from 7 am to 8 am in yet another part of town.  That one’s not too far away, although it entails a short cab ride to the station.  (I could take two different buses instead, though that would entail getting up even earlier in the morning.)

After class I walk past the restless river of cars and wait for one of the local bookstores to open, usually stopping for a bite to eat in the meantime.

Then I go home and take a long nap while my wife goes off to teach kids all afternoon.  All the constant movement (which miraculously leads to an incredible absence of weight loss, probably because I stuff my face with too many carbs throughout the day to keep my energy level up) means more showers and changes of clothes, which means having to do the laundry every other day, usually as a way to punctuate the epic naps.

In the evening I take a bus to the subway station, go down to the far end of the platform to reduce the distance I’ll have to walk when I make the transfer at the station where I pick up the connecting train, take that one to my destination, and walk to the building where I teach four times a week (including Saturdays).

The commute home from there is twenty minutes shorter.  Since rush hour’s over by the time the class ends, I can take the bus most of the way home, then transfer to another bus, then another, or else skip those last two transfers and walk.  I’m happy to do that on those nights when the air has the decency to be breathable.

Mind you, the work itself is satisfying, but all the commuting is for the birds–or would be if they didn’t have wings to fly.

It’s an absurd way to live, but at least it makes the absurdity of death that much more comprehensible.

And that’s something.

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All Systems Stop

Hi everyone.  How are you doing?  Me, too.

I just wanted to apologize for the humpteenth time for being out of touch lately.

I’ve been super-busy.  My three hours a day of commuting is killing me–not literally, unfortunately.

But I feel guilty for not writing anything lately, which is why I’ve asked a member of ISIS to come to Seoul in order to behead me in person.  Unfortunately again, I can’t afford to buy him a plane ticket 😦

Uh-oh–now I’m repeating myself.  I promised I’d never use an emoticon again and have broken my promise.  I guess that means I can’t join the Promise Keepers, so that’s something anyway.

Another problem is my prime blogging time has been eaten up by the demands of my new schedule.  I usually like to post stuff at around five in the morning, then go back to bed for a few hours as a reward.  It’s the best way to make constructive use of my insomnia.  But these days I have a class at seven in the morning so I don’t have time to write then anymore, and I can’t get up before then or I’ll interrupt my wife’s insomnia (we work in shifts).

It’s now afternoon here in Korea, so I guess I’ll make this my new writing time, except for the times when my wife takes the computer with her to work.

It feels good to get the fingers moving again after such a long absence.  I feel like Fred Astaire born again as an octopus.  No–make that Gene Kelly.

I guess only other old folks like me will get those references.  Cultural solitary confinement is the best way to get out of touch.

Anyway, that’s all for now as I have to correct a speech written by one of my evening students, then mosey across town on the underground jointed silver serpent from hell.

I hope you’re doing well, and I appreciate your taking time to read this.  Now you can go back to the arduous demands of being an air traffic controller.

Vaya con chili con carne!

Heaven Is Just A Cliff-Jump Away

My wife Jina believes that people who kill themselves don’t get to go to heaven.  That’s awfully nice of God to punish them further by consigning their souls to hell after their lives have been just that (otherwise why would they go to the trouble of offing themselves?).  I wonder if they can tell the difference between life and death.

“Oh my God, I’m still in hell.  I thought it was supposed to end after I killed myself.  Hey Satan, could I please have a refund?”

Yesterday in church Jina forced me to stand up in front of the congregation and sing a hymn about loving Jesus with the rest of our Sunday school-teaching staff.  Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t dislove Jesus; it’s just that singing a love song to a man–and a long-dead one at that–feels wrong somehow (with a small “w”).  Maybe I’d feel different if it was to Shakespeare. I heard he was a switch-hitter so he might get a little too turned on by it if his corpse could still budge.

Next thing you know the pastor will be in cahoots with Pfizer and they’ll be passing out Viagra during the eucharist in a quixotic effort to resurrect the dead member of the Lord’s charismatic cadaver.

Sorry–I’m brain-damaged.

Anyway, when I say Jina forced me to sing along, I don’t mean she used a gun or a handheld crucifix the way you would to fend off Dracula.  She just resorted to her trusty, tried and true method of emotional blackmail, drawing me aside to say if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get to teach the Sunday school class anymore (although I’m more of a glorified babysitter than a teacher), or guide the old men through the treacherous waters of English in the dictation after lunch from one of their ludicrous modern religious texts laden with glib tripe, or–and this was the one that broke my resistance, since I was broke–get to tutor two of my Sunday school colleagues for fifty bucks a week.

As with the last time she coerced me into parading my phony faith in front of the true believers, exposing my humiliating hypocrisy like a slimy bug lodged under a rock lifted by God Himself before He raises his sandaled foot and crushes the quivering, squinting insect, I refrained from making eye contact with anyone in the congregation, and mumbled my way through the hymn.

I was also even more out of breath than usual, thanks to being exceptionally out of shape, and to the pestiferous plague of toxic dust blown in from China that had parched my throat and stung my eyes over the past twenty-four hours.  (Mercifully, the wind blew most of it away from the time being, though it took all day and a precipitous drop of the temperature to execute the environmental exorcism.)

I belted out the treacly lyrics with all the fervor of a mummified Egyptian, exhaling tiny mushroom clouds of desert dust.

And I raised neither my eyes nor the corners of my mouth when the whole mortifying charade was over.

That didn’t stop people from congratulating me for my Elvisian performance, including the pastor himself, who had the gall to mention me by name to his rapt listeners, as Jina translated for me how he was delighted I could “rejoice” with the rest of them.

In fact, I rejoiced so much that yesterday I took twelve hundred milligrams of ibuprofen to quell the pain of prostatitis, along with a thousand milligrams of acetomenophen (fuck if I can remember how to spell it), and 300 mgs of something called doxyprofen, which is like iboprofen, only stronger.

I’ll let you know which internal organ explodes first–my stomach, kidney, prostate, brain, or heart.

Who knows?  Maybe the whole thing will happen in sync.

I’m sure that would make God smile.

And if Jina’s wrong, and he doesn’t exist, maybe I’ll finally be out of pain instead of in it–and to hell with heaven.

Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

Life is only a cliffhanger until your fingers finally give out.

Then you drop dead.

Hostages Of The World, Unite!

Sorry I’ve been out of touch.  I had a hangnail.  Actually, I did have a nasty case of stomach flu last week, but at least I got a lot of exercise getting up several times throughout the night to dry heave my soul into the toilet, where it belongs.

My wife has been in full-on harridan mode lately as well, an enervating phenomenon (I was going to write “development,” since it harmonizes better with “enervating,” but since she’s been in harridan mode off and on throughout our fifteen hellacious years together, it’s not exactly an accurate choice).  I just don’t know how to appease her.  Neither the Neville Chamberlain nor the Winston Churchill strategy seems to work.

Defeat is the answer!

I share this computer with her and the screen has gotten so gunky–probably from having been manhandled by her primary school students–that it’s hard for me to see what’s going on.

Anywho, before signing on I read a sad post on the blog onlypeaceandlove about Kayla Mueller, who I assume is the woman who was recently beheaded by ISIS, ISIL, IS, the Islamic State, or whatever it’s called.  (Fellas, you seem to be having a branding issue.  Pick a name and stick with it if you want to market your product of indiscriminate mayhem and ghoulish bloodshed.  I used to live in a bloodshed when I was a little boy.  My pappy taught me how to finger-paint political messages there.  Sorry–I’m in a sick mood.)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see the point in an organization going out of their way to deliberately execute not only innocent but likable, sympathetic, exemplary people (which means at least I’m safe) as a way to promote their cause (sorry to belie the “indiscriminate” factor mentioned in the previous paragraph).  Why can’t they be like the Slim Reaper and just use Predator drones?  The remote-controlled missile-firing aircraft is mightier than the sword–and more expensive (this message has been brought to you by McDonnell-Douglas Incorporated, and is also compliments of Raytheon and a big wet smooch from Lockheed-Martin, the most lovable and affectionate weapons-makers in the world today, our dear friends who are keeping the world safe for hypocrisy and extortion).

When I was a little boy, one of my favorite nursery rhymes came from a book my brother and I all but memorized (although I eventually went on to forgetize it) entitled The Best of Sick Jokes:

“I love life and life loves me.  I’m as happy as can be.  A happier man nowhere exists.  I think I’ll go and slash my wrists.”

I just found the contrast between the can-do optimism of the smiling man in the cartoon that accompanied the rhyme and his casually dismissive twist of despair hilarious.

Little did I know at the time that the joke would become something in between a mantra and a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Although I’ve never attempted to commit suicide in any concrete fashion (but hey, the night is still young), my choice of spouse was downright suicidal–not that I can say I dived right into the arrangement without considerable prodding–and the years we’ve endured together have not only ruined my health, but made me question the possibility of ever finding happiness–or even sanity–with anyone else.

(The enforced-happiness aspect of the rhyme I’ve discovered both by living in the U.S., where cheerfulness is mandatory, and by being a teacher of Korean students, many of whom seem to think the best way to answer a smile is with a scowl–or, more precisely, an inscrutable face of stone.)

I can’t pretend to understand the pain my wife personifies, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, I can safely predict that although I’m probably better suited to find a new mate after our marital nightmare ends, I’m so far gone I’ll be lucky to survive another ten years, which means I won’t be able to get front row seats for the apocalypse 😦

(That’s the first time I’ve ever used an emoticon, and probably the last as well.  Under the circumstances, I couldn’t resist.  Does anyone know if I need to put a period after it?  Who can navigate the treacherous waters of emoticon-related punctuation?)

My wife, on the other hand, will be an old maid, untouchable as far as her misogynistic culture is concerned, but she’s made of sterner stuff than I am, so she’ll probably live to be about a thousand years old, chronic aches and pains notwithstanding, lonely and guilt-stricken, flagellating herself endlessly in the nickname of Christ (Little Jeezy?).

Posthumous revenge may not be as sweet as the kind you can live to enjoy, but at least it’s something.

Sorry to see Jon Stewart go, and right on the heels of Stephen Colbert.  Who will be there to pick up the mantle of sacred satire?

By the way, I want to apologize for comparing myself in an earlier post to the heroic cartoonists who sacrificed their lives in the name of free expression working for Charlie Hebdo.  I’ll try not to be so pretentious next time, not that it will be easy to contain my flatulent blue whale of an ego, illusory as a soap bubble though it is.

Have a good day and a nice weekend–and make sure to smile, but only if you feel like it.  Remember, it’s hard to laugh your ass off and frown at the same time.

I’ll leave you with one last joke-let from that long-lost book of evil gems:

“Mommy, Mommy, Daddy just got hit by a car!”

“Don’t make me laugh, Gladys.  You know my lips are chapped.”

The Storm Before The Calm

Last Sunday after my holy colleagues and I dispatched our lunch, while I was groaning on my haunches, trying to reassemble my scrambled vertebrae, the geeky pastor who’d be harmless if he weren’t a skilled manipulator of toddlers’ tender young minds distributed documents to us teachers (I don’t know why I’m counted among the teachers since I don’t believe in God, don’t understand Korean, and would prefer to let all the kids go out and play instead of wasting their time listening to a lot of high-falutin’ fictitious pre-masticated infinitely recycled mumbo-jumbo) and went over them with us in detail.

My wife Jina had somehow escaped the proceedings (not that, unlike me, she’d wanted to), and I couldn’t understand the pastor’s mumbled explanation of where she’d gone.  I took it she had other pious duties to attend to, like giving Christ a tetanus shot to prevent his ghost from being infected by those pesky nine-inch nails.

Since the deathless text, edited by God Himself and jizzed upon by Jesus to invoke his seal of approval, was written in Korean, a language that remains incomprehensible to me, I was under no obligation to either read or understand it, at least in my view, the only one available to my eyes when it comes to these infinitely mysterious, somberly ludicrous matters.

In my case, the dorky pastor’s kindly presentation likewise fell upon trampoline-like eardrums, even if it was digested more tenderly by the Korean teachers, who have both the wherewithal and the presence of mind to take these sacred matters seriously instead of responding with a symphony of raspberries and armpit-farts (something that might inspire the children more, and that would be more in tune with contemporary Korean corporate culture, a watered-down Asian version of what’s available in the United States, only that much more sanitized and gutted and lacking in any edge whatsoever–cardboard entertainment with a styrofoam heart).

The stapled document he gave us was no fewer than seven pages long.  Seven pages!  It’s fucking Sunday school, for Christ’s sake.  Next time he’ll give us a list of topics for the kids to write their dissertations on.

Respond to the claim that Jesus was actually crucified at Herod’s department store.  Provide existing evidence, cogent counter-arguments, and a hermeneutical analysis of the exegetical dichotomy implied by Dorothy the dancing dopy diplodocus.

Korean people generally don’t say much during meals, unless there’s alcohol involved, so most of the sounds produced during the lunch we’d eaten before this pseudo-academic assault involved steel chopsticks clinking against steel bowls and the muffled slurping of noodles.

For some reason–probably just a valiant attempt to break the ice–the pastor asked me about my work.  Although I’m a ham and don’t mind being the center of attention during social gatherings due to gnawing neediness and a morbid desire to be liked even by people I respect even less than myself, it’s not always my bag, and at these kind of manufactured proceedings I prefer to blend into the plastic woodwork and be a fake fly on the wallflower.

But since after three months of financial constipation my teaching schedule is finally starting to pick up, I didn’t mind telling my fellow mortals a little about what I’m doing to make a living these days (not that they’d return the favor, either because they were too insecure about their English ability or since it’s considered impolite to say much over meals in this culture unless everyone’s getting shitfaced–and fat chance that’s going to happen in a fucking church).

When Jina finally appeared--deus ex machina, if you’ll pardon the blasphemy–and please don’t go all Islamic State on my Charlie Hebdo-ish ass–that was my cue to get up and leave, which I did with considerable difficulty, considering we were sitting on the floor.  I felt like someone untied from the rack.

Besides, I had to go dictate a page from a religious article to a group of old guys whose hobby is studying English once a week after church.  It only takes twenty minutes, so I don’t mind doing it too much, and they’re always gracious and appreciative, apart from being condescending due to their choice to be among the chosen.

I felt like asking them, “Why do you guys believe in God?  Don’t you realize it’s all just a bunch of bullshit?”  But I thought it might come across as disrespectful and they could take it the wrong way.  Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses, but it’s never done much for me.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s all one long bad acid trip.  I guess what makes it popular is its communal nature, even though that’s the same thing that makes it so corruptible and so dangerous.

Insane, in fact.

I believe in my wife more than I could ever believe in God, if only because she sometimes scares the living shit out of me.

For instance, a couple of days ago she freaked out all over again about my anal-retentive collection of photocopied teaching materials I’ll probably never use again, stored in cardboard boxes in the corner of this room, and the double rows of paperbacks on the shelves, many of which I haven’t even read and may not live long enough to get around to unless I can get my hands on some telomerase (no, thanks; seventy or eighty years, assuming that’s the number I’ve got, is long enough–let someone else take my seat on the roller coaster for a change).

“Get rid of these books or I’ll burn them all!”

Whatever you say, Gregorio Cortez.

As if to underscore her point, she proceeded to hurl them from the shelves onto the floor.  Luckily she stopped short of sabotaging the lion’s share of my library, even though she demanded that I pick the books up and trade them in for cash.

Two days later I chose twenty titles to part with, stacking them on the table and placing them in bags to take down to the bookstore.  It wasn’t easy to do, since there were a few things I would have liked to re-read (for example, Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist, Mark Leyner’s The Tetherballs of Bougainvillea, Jonathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Richard Price’s Lush Life, and Antonio Lobo Antunes’ The Land at the End of the World.  There were even a couple I would have enjoyed reading at least once, such as Stephen Wilson’s The Bloomsbury Book of the Mind and Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth.  

(I couldn’t get into Sweet Tooth–through no fault of the author, as McEwan’s a great writer–because I have a mental block that doesn’t allow me to read serious fiction written by a man in a woman’s voice.  I just can’t “hear” the woman’s voice, for some reason.  I have no problem with it the other way around; Gillian Flynn’s Nick Dunne is a convincing narrator in Gone Girl, although I thought the chapters written in the second half of the book in Amy Elliott Dunne’s voice were much stronger.  Maybe we’re all prisoners of our gender to a greater extent than we’d like to admit.  Or maybe I’m just a sexist shithead.

The same thing happened to me before when I tried to read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha.  Again, a great writer–and a phenomenal creative writing teacher–but when I tried to read it, all I could hear was Golden speaking in a high-pitched imitation of a Japanese woman’s voice, which sounded silly in my inner ear.

As John Cleese of Monty Python would say when asked if the rumors that Dimmesdale Piranha nailed men’s heads to the floor and stitched people’s legs together, “Well, it’s better than bottlin’ it up, innit!  Dimmesdale was a gentleman.  And what’s more, he knew how to treat a female impersonator.”)

When I came home from trading the books in, I told Jina how much the clerk at the store had given me.  She looked at me sadly and apologized, contrite about her outburst a few days before.

But she’s right–I do have to get rid of some more books, because, like a couple of claustrophobic astronauts, we’re running out of space.

(P. S.  I’d like to apologize for the two typos in the previous entry.  I didn’t have time to go back and proofread it before hitting the publish button as Jina suddenly popped up out of the bedroom like a Jacqueline-in-the-box.)

Odds And Ends

NNewsflash!

Disney has decided to go out on a limb and hire Bill Cosby to provide the voice of one of the characters in their new computer-animated film.  Their choice seems uncomfortable, if apt.  The movie his voice will be appearing in?  Sleeping Beauty.

I feel sorry for New York City mayor Bill De Blasio.  Those cops who turned his backs on him at their fellow officer’s funeral should all be fired.  I mean, can you imagine if you did that to your boss?  (I couldn’t, since I no longer have one.  That’s one of the great things about being self-er, un-employed.)

Have you seen the New York Times video clip of the three French cartoonists who worked for Charlie Hebdo?  They seemed like really nice, funny guys.  I guess that’s why they got killed.  See?  Sometimes nice guys do finish first!  How wonderful that life is always fair.

(By the way, I might not be so ready to joke about such a thing if I weren’t dying faster than usual myself.)

In the entry I wrote a few days ago (“Self-Contained Chaos”), I forgot to describe a key scene in my wife Jina’s temper tantrum.  She pulled a Jack Nicholson and shoved all the contents on the table on the floor.  I helped her clean it all up afterwards, sciatica notwithstanding.  This wasn’t the first time she’d pulled such a stunt.  Several years ago she pulled all my books from the shelves and scattered them on the floor, and a long time before that she did the same thing with all the chess pieces on the board after I’d narrowly defeated her in a grueling match, nearly injuring my parents’ puppy.

Speaking of puppies, I had a dream that my family’s pet dog from my childhood was cutting a piece of watermelon for us.  A few days later I dreamed I was on the phone with Johnny Cash, calling him from Rome, telling him about all the city’s beautiful women and works of art.

In my unofficial analysis, both dreams had to do with my fears of encroaching death, since the dog died thirty-seven years ago, the same year my aunt did, and Johnny C. died a few years back.  His last album The Man Comes Around features a number of songs that revolve around death and is worth a listen if you’re in that kind of mood.

This blog has been a treat for me to write, and as always I want to thank you for taking the time to read it.  You keep me going, and I both celebrate and salute you.  You make me feel that much less like the tree falling in the woods when no one’s around (apart from all the other trees, squirrels, owls, insects, songbirds, etc.).

Now I’ve got to go endure my weekly crucifixion.

Have a great weekend!

To Each His (Or Her) Own

The other morning as I was rolling onto my back in bed to take the sting out of my left shoulder, I said to my wife Jina, “The one good thing about death is it means no more pain.”

As someone who’s been a Christian “since I was inside my mother’s belly” (remarkable memory some people have), she said, “That’s what you think.  But you’re wrong.”

It’s always refreshing to be outdone by a rival in a pessimism showdown.

The main pain I was alluding to was the one that lives in my right butt-cheek and forces me to sleep on my left side most of the time, although I can occasionally get away with lying on my back, at least until it leads to snoring and nightmares.  Sleeping on my right side is out of the question.  In earlier posts I’ve blamed this pain on an overzealous urologist I saw fifteen years ago, but my brother insists the trauma from such a painful digital penetration couldn’t have lasted so long.  Maybe the wound has never had time to heal due to the demands of the flesh (ironically, the only thing that can make it go away for awhile, while caffeine and delayed trips to the bathroom during sleep are the other culprits for bringing it back).

Jina suggested that I could only save my soul by turning myself in to (versus “into”) Jesus Christ, like a criminal who’s opted to go into spontaneous retirement, say, John Wayne Gacy (what she evidently thinks of anyone born with normal human appetites).

Since I’m constitutionally incapable of ever subscribing to any organized faith–and too much of a misfit to ever belong for too long to any organized anything–I always just agree to disagree, apart from her stern disapproval and fascistic unwillingness to let me think for myself, as if marriage demanded not only giving someone your heart but also the rights to your brain.

“Be logical,” she said.

Whatever you say, Reverend Spock.

“Open your mind,” she continued.

As soon as I can find the key that opens yours.

We ended the discussion by going back to sleep, where we were each able to dream freely and in our own distinct ways, alone.