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.

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.

Life Needs A Laughtrack

A long time ago I was in therapy.  My shrink bore an uncanny resemblance to Frank Sinatra, the singer. (Disco is dead, Frank!)  I asked him his advice about whether or not I should stick it out with my girlfriend.  I still cared deeply about her, and I knew she loved me, but our sex life was on the fritz, proving that history does indeed repeat itself.

He looked at me over his clipboard of notes and said–no, sang:

“It’s up to you, you dork, you dork!” 

_

Have you ever seen that movie Alive!, about the Peruvian soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes and they had to resort to eating their dead comrades?  According to one of the survivors, during one day of their desperate struggle to hang on, they were approached by a leprechaun.  He danced a merry jig and led them to a burst compartment near the rear of the plane’s fuselage, pointing out a bunch of severed arms among the scattered suitcases and duffel bags.

“What the hell do you expect us to do with those?”  one of the starving men asked.

“Why don’t you eat ’em, you silly bugger?”

They set about doing so, at first recoiling from the frozen meat before them.  But after awhile they found the morsels of human flesh downright savory.

“What can we do to repay you, sir?”

“Nothing a’tall!”  The leprechaun then sang a familiar tune from an old childhood TV commercial:

“Frosted luggage arms–they’re tragically nutritious!”

_

Jesus came to me in a dream.

I said, “Jesus?  Is that you?  You look just like Robert DeNiro.””

“Of course it’s me.  And if you don’t pay your monthly tithe when you get up, I’ll break your fucking legs.  Understand?”

_

When I was in college, I had a roommate who avoided cursing out of politeness.  It would have been endearing if he’d been five years old, but I decided to make the most of the situation.

“Gosh, man,” he said, “I had an exam this afternoon and had to miss lunch!”

“How dare you use the Lord’s nickname in vain!”

_

You can’t believe everything you read in the papers, can you?  For example, this morning I read the first line of a news story that read:  “Yesterday in the United States a black man was not shot by the police.”

_

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, recovering from his knife wounds at Seoul’s Severance Hospital (actual name–no pun intended), was visited by a Korean man who wanted to aid in his healing with a gift of dog meat.  Lippert, a dog-lover who intrepidly walks his beagle up and down the anarchic streets of Seoul, was magnanimous enough to accept the offer and reciprocated with a roll of Psy toilet paper, along with a Kim Yuna voodoo doll.

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!

Tongue Twisters (R – Z)

Regina regurgitated religiously on Reginald’s refrigerator and roundly registered his revolted reaction, rejoicing and regaling him with her ravenously relished rebellion as Reggie retaliated by ridiculing her rudeness with a ricocheting riposte.

Steven stammered a staccato stampede of silly syllables as he sneezed, sniffled, and saluted his supercilious and superfluous supervisor Simon Sarcophagus, a sinister, sneaky snob who secretly sucked up to spineless, sputtering sycophants.

Tempted to topple the temple with a titanic tide of TNT, Tina tittered tearfully and tore apart a department store instead with tremendous trepidation, taunting a tidal wave of tuna to tear the town in two.

Unable to utter an understatement, Uncle Ulysses ululated unctuously under his unwieldy umbrella at the unfortunate universe and uneasily used a unicycle.

Valerie vivaciously vomited on the vacuous vampire’s vermilion vest as the vexed vermin vehemently averred in vanilla vowels that she’d vitiated the volunteer vulture and vanquished his vitality.

Wondering where Waldo was, Wanda wished the wizard would wipe her weeping wounds with his wobbly wand and walked woefully with Wonder Woman, waving out the window at the widow wandering on the wharf who whispered wispily, “Why will we win, and wherefore worry about the Wichita Wallabies?”

Expecting an excellent example of excrement, Xavier exuded exuberance as he exonerated the exceptional executioner of excessive executives and expectorated expressively on the expectant exporter of exalted expletives.

Yodeling Yakov yearned for a yellow yak to yoke his Yugo to and yipped at the yogurt-yielding youth in the Yosemite yurt.

Zealous Zeke zigzagged on his zebra and zoomed through the zephyr’s zipper into the zinc zenith of the Zimbabwe ziggurat.

(Zorry, but I don’t zmoke zigguratz.)

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.

It’s No Fun Being Stupid

One of the joys and wonders of aging is you can’t remember a goddamned thing.  On New Year’s Eve I lost a new pair of ski gloves my wife Jina bought me (even though I haven’t been skiing in twenty-five years) and a wool cap I used to wear in our freezing apartment as a way to expedite encroaching baldness.  (It’s easier to let your hair down that way.  Sorry to disappoint you, Hair.)

I think I left them on a shelf behind the toilet in the subway rest room, unless I put them on top of another shelf at the bookstore.  It wasn’t worth trying to track them down afterwards.  At least I still have my scarf, along with a spare pair of gloves and an extra cap.

As the Gloria Gaynor says, “I will survive.”  Temporarily, of course.

On the bright side, although the new gloves were warm, they also chafed my knuckles and made me have to use stinky hand cream.  Now my hands are free, if frozen.

Another great thing about getting older and more set in your ways is you become less observant.  At least I do.  Or maybe that’s because I’m always in a rush.  City life makes you that way.  While my wife tells me to chew my food twenty times before swallowing it, these days I tend to choke on my rice so my throat becomes ragged.

Regarding unobservant-ness, if you’ll excuse the coinage (sorry I can’t give you dollarage instead), it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I alighted on a shortcut to my workplace, after teaching the class for over nine months.  Until then I’d been going the long way around the block, passing through a cafe before entering the main lobby of the building where I work.  All I had to do was take a right at the entrance to the parking garage halfway down the block, then hang a left at the entrance of the building.  A few days later I found an even shorter way, walking past the glass doors to the mall and taking a left past the smokers’ oasis.

Damn, I felt dumb!  Still do, now that I think about it.  I’ve got to cut that stuff out–thinking gives me a headache.

A few times on my way to teach these silent, impassive businessmen whose interest in English rivals that of mine in baseball statistics (in other words, it’s nonexistent)–either because it’s eight o’clock in the morning and too early to be alive, or else because they don’t have to pay for the lessons and probably have no incentive to learn the language whatsoever, which is often how I feel about learning Korean, if only because, as I mentioned before, I can’t remember a forking thing anymore–

–Anyway, twice on my way to work I’ve nearly been run over.  Maybe I should pay more attention to those “no jaywalking” signs.  Too bad they’re written in Korean and I’m illiterate.  Another time as I was on my way to get coffee, a driver honked at me because I was in his way.  I turned my head and yelled, “Fuck you!”  I’m not a morning person, and I object to people driving cars in a city that’s already lousy with smog.  Besides, if he’d waited a millisecond, I would have been out of his way.

In fact, the other day I got up and threw my coat on over my pajamas, stuffed my feet into my boots, and went up on the roof to check out the weather.  It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day.  The wind of the previous day had blown all the crap out of the sky so I had permission to breathe for a change.  I surveyed the vast urban landscape, the land festering with cement and cluttered with concrete rectangles that appeared to have been dropped out of a mammoth cloth bag by a colossal toddler, and thought:

“Man, this city is fucking ugly!”  Make that fugly.  Come to think of it, it’s probably the ugliest place I’ve ever seen.  (Granted, it probably looked a lot better before my country bombed the shit out of it during the Korean War.)  And I live here!  Maybe that’s why I’m becoming so ugly!  And the uglier I get, the more beautiful women become.

Getting old is a ridiculously protracted punishment for a crime that happened so long ago you can’t even remember when or whether you even committed it.  As that old, misogynistic asshole King Lear would say before he finally becomes wise (when it’s too late), “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.”  At least it sometimes feels that way, so you can lavish in the luxury of being a victim instead of an incorrigible shithead (something my wife is all too happy to remind me of on a regular basis).

As for Lear’s misogyny, anyone who can refer to a woman’s vagina as “hell” has a serious attitude problem.  From a fetus’s perspective, it might be the entrance to hell, or else to heaven, depending on the cards you’re dealt and how you play them.  But as far as being able to return there, it’s always been heaven to me.  Of course, if you’re a woman and your vagina is in pain, that must be hell.

Let’s see–where was I?

On the morning of New Year’s Eve I flagged down a cab and took the short trip to the subway station.  I handed the driver, an old Korean man, a ten thousand won bill and he gave me several singles as change.  I gave him a thousand won tip–even though this isn’t the preferred practice in the culture–got out, and as I boarded the escalator into the bowels of the subway, counted the change he’d given me.  It turned out he’d only given me six thousand won instead of seven (it was a 3000 won ride–the lowest possible fare), so in addition to the gratuity I gave him, the guy had ripped me off.

Maybe that’s why his “thank you” smacked ever so slightly of insincerity.  I hope he wasn’t so guilt-stricken and blinded by tears that he plowed into an oil truck.  That would have been sad.

Later the same day (this was also the day I lost the cap and gloves), I almost left my laptop in another cab, failing at first to recall it under my distracting backpack. That wouldn’t have been the first time it happened–I did lose one about five years ago and never got it back.

While having dinner with my wife and one of her church friends last night, I daftly asked Jina what we were supposed to wrap in the leaves provided for us on a large plate.  Instead of mocking my stupidity, as she’s usually all too happy to do, albeit in Korean for the benefit of eavesdroppers, she shrugged off the stupid question; I was able to answer it myself a moment later:  we were having shabu-shabu for the second time in a week, and we were meant to boil the leaves in the pot of broth at the center of the table, as I should have recalled.

Duh.

Remember how I told you before how I’m always in a hurry?  Well, Jina’s worse.  She sometimes pulls open the door to the microwave oven before it’s finished cooking something without pressing the stop button first.  Now when I open the door to the oven to cook something, the motor starts running and I’m met with a radioactive blast.  I have to put whatever it is I’m heating up in damn fast and close the door so I don’t end up with a second head growing out of my face.

There was something else I wanted to tell you, but I’ve forgotten what it was.

Oh, yes–

HAPPY NEW YEAR!