"You shouldn't eat Ramen."
Mind you, I'm translating, this was said to me in Korean by a Korean teacher who I am sure is really just trying to be helpful but who is starting make me a little nutty.
I stood there and smile while she said it opening up the Cup Ramen container I was holding to take out the small wad of dried Ramen that was in the bottom of the cup. I could have told her I don't eat Ramen but it was hard to explain. I figured if she watched she would see what I was going to say and would leave me alone.
The small dried wad of Ramen looks like hardly anything, perhaps a little dried up brain. I broke of a small chunk, less then a quarter of the actual little dehydrated clump of noodle. Without a lot of guilt I threw the rest of the Ramen away. I don't actually eat Ramen. I put a little bit of the noodle in the bullion. What I wanted was the tasty bullion soup that came with the cup Ramen. In Korea this is so spicy it will blow you away, but I like that. I just don't like all the noodles, but a couple, makes it feel homey, I suppose.
Teacher watched me do all this and grabbed my arm.
"You shouldn't eat Ramen. That's why you are fat. You eat Ramen. You need to eat rice. You need to exercise. Then you will not be fat. No Ramen." She starts to grab my hand and I finally extract it as gently as possible while on the edge of wanting to punch her.
I want to yell at her. I want to scream in her face. I want to be the rude, ugly foreigner, because she is making me feel like the rude ugly foreigner, but I smile and take my cup of warm bullion with some noodles floating it and go upstairs to my classroom to eat my lunch alone in solitude. My lunch, everyday my lunch, a vegetable sandwich, a cup of broth, and some sun-chips. Some days I have a piece of fruit or a cookie depending on my mood. I have a lot of coffee. It works for me. I eat alone because it is easier then eating with the teaching staff. When I try to eat with the teaching staff they would ask me to eat rice, and pork, and beef, and chicken, and squid, and korean pancake (egg and flour) and tofu, and white rice, and beans, and all other manner of things. They want me to eat large quantities of food because they eat massive, massive quantities of food for lunch. Lunches here are like course meals with no limit. People just pile it on. I can't eat like that, especially when I have classes to teach, I just don't want that much food on my stomach when I'm working.
I get bitched at for a few pieces of noodle floating around in my broth, fine.
This was yesterday.
Today I'm working, plugging along at my desk. I usually work in my classroom but I had no good reason to work in my classroom today and I know it upsets the teachers when I don't work in the office. Here there is a big group office where everyone works. It's loud, it's noisy, the students are allowed to come and go at will. The principal comes in and when he comes in you have to stop what you are doing to be deferential and polite to him. It is a mad chaos. It makes concentrating difficult so I avoid it if I can. However on occasion, if I have no classes, I will work in the office to show that I understand the teamwork; to pay my respects, to play the very intricate Korean office politics game. Today was one of those days.
Teacher who got me yesterday walks up to my desk at 11:30. She has a lunch ticket, and grabs my arm. "Come," she says "we go eat rice now, come." She grabs me. She doesn't speak any English and everything I want to say to her in Korea is very rude. She keeps grabbing me. Two of the other teachers join her in pawing at me. I keep shaking my head and smiling through gritted teeth and saying "Thank you, thank you sun-sang-nim, no, no. Thank you, sun-sang-nim, no." Over and over again. Finally they give up. She says to me in Korean. "You're too fat. You eat Ramen and you need exercise." She thinks I don't understand her and I grab my desktop to keep from launching at her, to keep from screaming at her, to keep from ranting that just because everyone in Korea eats for three and still manages to be less then a size 0 does not mean that I am fat. I want to scream I work out everyday for an hour, I work out three times a week for two, I walk a mile to work and then the same mile back home every freaking day, so kiss my fat foriegn ass! I want to rail. I just smile through my clenched teeth and turn back to my computer to be left alone.
She finally leaves me disgusted with me. I am pissed, I keep working. I keep working, I try not to think about it and how much it bothers me. I try not to think about the laughing. All the teachers who have watched this scene and who are now laughing because I, the stupid foriegn teacher, the silly fat waygook, do not understand what is going on around me and so it is funny. It makes me seethe with a violent rage that I cannot explain to anyone. I'd rather demonstrate by splitting their skulls with my computer and then playing in their brains, but I won't. I won't because I'm a professional. So I close my laptop and retreat to my classroom where I can work in peace.
I am having what I like to lovingly call an "I hate Korea day." It will pass by tomorrow. I know it will pass. I'll go to the gym and do my sets and go home and ride my bike, and then walk the mile and a quarter downtown tonight and drink till I'm pissed or someone hits on me, which ever happens last, and then I'll go home, and sleep and feel better. In the meantime I will chant my mantra over and over again for the rest of the afternoon..."Must not Kill! Must not Kill! Must not Kill!"
Thursday, March 29, 2007
"You shouldn't eat Ramen."
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Thunderstorms are passing over head. The sky lights up a bright flash, and silence, absolute, and then a crackle of sound, and then nothing; the rain falls and the splash of light and rumble of thunder continue. It's a beautiful dance, one that does not come to
I struggled with the mosquito for at least an hour before I finally managed to corner it. I woke and turned on the lights to look for it. I didn't want to move. I wanted to let sleep pull me in and my warm soft covers hold me and keep me in sleep, better then a lover, more conforming, more willing to just let me be in my rest; but no, the covers were being wrenched from me by the buzzing in my ear. I was angry. I pulled the blanket over my head. I was not going to move. I was not going to wake up for a mosquito that I was convinced was all in my head. I get paranoid about the little flying parasites. I make them up sometimes when they are not really there. So I talked myself out of this mosquito, it did not exist I was going back to sleep.
It took only a few seconds of breathing my recycled air to make me come up. I pulled off the covers and took a fresh breath, told myself again that there was no mosquito and worked to drift into sleep. It worked, I was passing away into silence when "buzz". Now I was angry. I knew it was in here with me, I knew it could not be my imagination. I knew it had to be real. So I sat up and turned on the bedside light and looked for it. I looked at the clock at the same time 5:30 a.m. Lucky me.
I put my hand out in front of me. Rested it on my leg, rested it, waiting, hoping, wondering if I was really going mad. After a few seconds the warm blanket surrounding my leg started calling to me and I drifted back towards my happy slumber when I felt my finger itch. I snapped my eyes open, woke, looked down and there it was, the evil little fiend that was going for his morning snack. He moved my other hand fast, I was ready, I was going to be a murderer before breakfast, but the bastard pulled away to quickly and all I ended up doing was slapping myself around. I rested back against the headboard and began to sulk.
My eyes closed for a second, but it must have been longer, as suddenly I snapped awake as a buzzing passed by my ear. I moaned, load, a grunt of rage, of absolute hatred for this pestilent little monster that had invaded my peaceful home. It's too cold, I thought, it's too early, it's too much. It's not fair. The howl of the wronged at 5:30 am. The howl of the haunted.
I sat back and looked around in the soft orange light thrown around by the lamp. I waited, I looked, I looked. There it was. I could see it, was there, looking at me, waiting on the wall. I could see it against the cream colored wall. There it was. I grabbed the book next to my bed. I waited, I breathed. I was the hunter and here was my prey, here it was I just had to be patient. I lined up my book, I held my breath. I stopped.
I slammed it hard into the wall. As I pulled it away I saw the slight grey sludge that was left behind in the wake. I win, I thought, a cold, comfortless victory. It was grey. This was not the mosquito that had been eating at me. Somewhere it's blood sated sister was laughing at me as it bred a thousand more mosquitoes into my apartment. I swore, I shook my fist angry at the circle of life I was being drawn into against my will. It was useless, so I tried to go back to sleep.
Five minutes later I got up and made a cup of coffee. I'd lost. This was yesterday and I'm still tired. And it's only the beginning of mosquito season.
Monday, March 26, 2007
I feel visceral today. I woke up this morning and I was raw need, energy, something else; a tangle of dense things that I cannot describe. I try to untangle the web of them to find the place where I start to emote but I can find nothing. I pull one thread and it is
I walk to work and I can breathe it in the air, the lungful of dust makes me feel powerful and weak at the same time. I can conquer anything and nothing. I want to create and I want to destroy. I want to laugh and I want to cry. Ah, ah, I think, I’m paradox again. Has it been so short a time since I was last paradox?
Stand before the temple bell in the bell park. Fal-un-gong guy is gone, he has disappeared and I worry about him. For the last year I would see him each morning practicing his ritual for the rising sun before the tempered ancient bell. He wears a yellow rain suit and is there each morning. He rides a motorized bicycle and on it there is a small cube. The cube rings out the chants which resonate through the park. He is alone for his mediations even with everyone walking by him. I feel for his passion and his dedication. In the hot hot of summer he removed the rain coat on one or two occasions. Each time I saw underneath the coat he wore a blue t-shirt that said “Learn Math” in big block English letters. He never acknowledge me and I never acknowledge him but I was acutely aware of him each time I walked past. In my mood today, my gut racing, my brain falling behind, I walk by Fal-un-gong guy’s spot and I feel a sense of loss.
The birds chirp at me as I cut through the park, the sun rises, my students see me and wave trying to cut through the angry music that blares at my from my walkman. I want to say walkman, I want to feel that ancient power I felt when I was twelve years old and I would walk with my walkman, holding the play button just so to get the songs to play at speed when the battery was dying. It was the only thing for it when the battery died, new batteries were expensive so I forced my music as long as I could, the sounds important. I could not tolerate silence. I still cannot; but the desire for silence is there.
No today is internal, must control everything or be controlled by everything. I follow the lead that takes me. I know what I want and what I want is good. I walk, pound the pavement, enjoy how it reverberates through my boots, each hard step on the sidewalk. There is a marble strip down the center of the sidewalk. It runs the entire length from my apartment to my school, a strip of marble tile. It is death during the monsoon to walk on the sidewalk, one wrong turn and you slip and fall on the marble tile. I have always wondered to myself why a country with seasonal rains would put a slick polished marble center in all the sidewalks. I step carefully. I rule the world in my own mind. I am the world. I am the sun and I move through it because I have too.
Trees are blooming and my hair is filled with the white snow of the cherry blossoms that line the walk in the park. The petals drift down from those trees that dared to break out, break free early and become something. They drift into my hair and I feel like a spring snow princess covered from head to toe in white. It reinforces my instinctual desire to plow the world. I want to force and conform it all today to my perfect ideal. I want to be the raw energy power of the place around me.
I am full of too much living this morning, and last night full of too much day; and possibly a bit too full of myself.
I feel visceral today.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
The yellow dust has settled in, an invisible plague that clogs the air and the landscape. You cannot see it, you just breathe it in.
Breathing becomes difficult and uncomfortable. The dust hangs in the air filling everything with a dirty heaviness that cannot be pinpointed. Later one remembers that the Mongolian desert is invading the very pores. It is tiresome.
Every cough is full of yellow and green mucous flowing up and choking the airways even more. The face is bruised and scared with blemishes born of the dust falling in the skin. Coupled with the already heavy pollution of the city and the pollen of spring one wonders about giving up breathing altogether.
The air is oppressive and tomorrow is Monday. Hard to work when everything is coated by invisible yellow. Hard to think, or speak, or dream. An itch in the back of the throat bothers and cannot be scratched, cannot be choked out. The head swells with fluid and blood and fever. Yellow becomes the most malicious color of them all. Each rise and fall of the chest full of it. Yellow is worse then blue. I want Monday to be something other then yellow.
Perhaps tomorrow I'll wear pink.
Monday, March 19, 2007
I'm walking home from school and I'm just about to get to the crosswalk to cross the large street before heading down the bend around the corner at the next large street and the two extra blocks to my gym. I'm thinking as I begin this walk, about ten blocks in all, that my life is really boring. I'm thinking this because I am trying to think of some story to tell, some blog to write, something to give me cause to stack electrons together, but I've got nothing. All I can think about is some homework I have to do when I get home, figuring out how to plug object a into slot b and getting it all done in time for deadlines that are ever looming for those uncompromising masters that keep us slaves driving. Aside from that, I've got nothing but extremely boring silliness at work. So I'm thinking this and wondering to the mighty gods what I might do for excitement when I am suddenly kidnapped.
Just as I am walking up to cross the right turn lane to get to the cement island before crossing the street a little blue car pulls up and three Korean jump out and run up to me. I have three different arms on both of mine, and one hand on my back and a nice woman in a white coats says "We have festival, okay? You come, we have big celebration. We love foreigners, come on, let's go." I pull away from the nice psychotic woman in the white coat and smile and shake my head no and say that I'm going to the gym and I don't have time for a wine and cheese festival, or whatever else it is she is on.
"No, no, come. We have big festival, lot's of people, you come on, okay?" And with that the three woman proceeded to lead me to the car. I took about two seconds to think about it and decided that since I was just the moment before wondering to the mighty gods about my boring life that I might as well take this as a sign and go along with it. Plus the lady in the white coat was strangely smiley in an unstable sort of way and I was intrigued. One of these days I'm going to get myself killed getting into cards with strangers, but of the fifteen or so times I've done it, either hitchhiking or just randomly trusting people I don't know to drive me out into the middle of the countryside, I have not landed in any trouble. So why not. I tossed off my backpack and let the woman drag me into the car and we were off.
The lady in white was driving, but she spent so much time looking at me in the mirror I was worried she was going to get us all killed.
"We go to festival, okay?"
"Where you from?"
"Where are we going?" I ask in Korean.
"Oh, yes, we go to festival. Our festival. Many people." Uh huh, I think, wait for it.
"Where are we going?"
"Big festival. Foreigners love it. Here, pictures, we have pictures." And here come the brochures. The brochures lead us to pictures of the woman as they greeted people at all the big sporting events in Daegu over the past three years. And then pictures of their congregation. And then pictures of the parish. And then pictures of the pastor. And then Jesus and the lamb. Ah, finally, I think. I've been kidnapped by church ladies.
So the women who had kidnapped me drove me around several corners and promised to drive me home after the festival. We pulled up in front of a ten story building where the church was located and I was shuffled in by the nice church ladies to enjoy the festival.
"You like wine? You like bread? Let's have some!" I'm feeling like Persephone in the underworld. I've read that story, I think. "No, thanks, I'm fine." I say.
They start talking to me and out come the bibles. They point me towards Revelation first to explain to me that their church follows a particular belief that they are in the third age of our lord, somewhere after the father and Jesus and what they label the age of the Holy Spirit. They point me towards bits of Revelations that they have underlined and for some reason the word that is highlighted in the scripture over and over again is "Come."
Lady in white says "You see. You have to come. Come to the spirit. The spirit will come on you. It will come on you and you will understand." I keep smiling and try not to let that smile split further into the borderline hysterical giggles that I want to have because I know that my hysterical giggles will not be understood.
"If you like Jesus will come on you. First you eat him. Then he comes on you." I'm thinking that this all sounds very familiar for some reason, like dubbing on bad Asian porn, I continue to smile and nod. "Have you ever eaten him? If you eat him, he will come on you, then you will swallow him and you will be saved." My fingers grip the table in a white-knuckled hold of doom. My other hand I'm using to pinch my leg, and my teeth have been firmly chomped down on my tongue. I. WILL. NOT. LAUGH. I think to myself as the hysterical giggles move even closer to the surface.
"It's okay. I'll go get the man. He will come on you. Then we will all eat him together. And then he will come on all of us. Are you ready to go eat him and swallow him now?" White church lady asks me quite imploringly and I just look at her, and smile and shake my head no.
"No? Why not, don't you want to be filled? Don't you want him to come on you? Don't you want to swallow him? You swallow him and eat him and you will feel better!" She is so emphatic so convinced in her belief, and I am so amused so close to my hysteria. I shake my head no again and politely refuse to eat or be come on and try to explain that I hold religious beliefs that are very different from hers.
After a few minutes of trying to explain the lady in white glazes over and I realize that she is completely incapable of understanding the dense argument I'm trying to pass on her. Fortunately she doesn't pull out "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." But instead says "Wait a minute," and runs off to get someone who speaks better English.
The poor seminary student they pull in to try to convince me is not doing any better.
"You have to eat the flesh. See Adam and Eve. Adam comes first. Then he comes on Eve. Then Eve comes, but she cannot come without Adam, so Adam goes to her, but they can't be okay until Jesus comes. And when he comes everyone is happy and everyone comes." I smile and nod some more and go back to my table gripping.
"You need to eat and drink Jesus, when he comes on you, then you will feel the power. You will have it in your ear." At that point I realize this is only going to get worse and I'm going to end up offending someone if I don't get out of this place soon. So I finally very, very politely say that I'm a Buddhist, which immediately makes everyone stop trying. The look of despondency in their eyes tells me they will no longer try to convert. Buddha, that great big bellied enemy has won again. But they smile and press on.
"He will come on you another day. You eat him and he will come. Next time, he will come." I smile and nod and the lady in white shuffles me back off to her little blue car and the churchies actually drive me most of the way to the gym. I thank them politely for the ride and the conversation before stepping out of the car and waving goodbye as they drove away.
I waited until the car turned the corner to let go of all that laughter I was holding back. It was really the only polite thing to do after such a big come on.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
There is a madness in the weather here and it may be driving me crazy. Some days
Monday the air is crisp and cold and I wrap up in my scarf to brave the cold. Monday is bad and full of bad omens. I trip, fall, stumble, drop, break, destroy, obliterate, all manner of things throughout the day. My mood in class is effected by the weather and my cold and my clumsiness. I am loathsome and distracted. I'm resolved. I'm any manner of indescribable things. I want to be warm, I want relief from this constant revolving of change.
Tuesday is little better but my mood is lightened for some reason. I feel found, I feel light. I leave the scarf at home and just go out bare headed not minding the wind blowing through my still tangled wet curls. I smile and the birds which hid on Monday are out and alive. Trees are blossoming. The cherry blossoms have started to bud in the park and soon they will perk up. By the end of March my walk will be a cherry blossom white covered snow path. This make me feel full, alive, happy. Creative. I go to my art space that night and I paint and bring to life my own creation, my death, my rebirth. All manner of things are good. I feel good with it.
Wednesday is a bit warmer still. My mood holds from Tuesday but the day and the schedule wear me down. I forget some Korean words, have teachers yell loudly in my classroom which always upsets me. I go to the gym and pull a string in my arm which makes lifting my weights nearly impossible. I give up after pressing about 51 kilos and decide that anymore might actually be harmful. I walk into the dressing room and the naked hajuma has a leg up on the stool and is yelling loudly into the phone at her daughter. I feel tired of yelling.
Today is Thursday and it is a mix of hot and cold. My feelings waver between the two and I'm not sure where I can be found in between them. I want sex and I want love. I want fucking and I want quiet time alone. I want to eat and I want to work out. I want to watch T.V. and I want to write. I want to play scrabble and I want to cut out all the words and make them disappear. Shove them into something so they cannot exist independent of thought, feeling, sentence, rhyme, structure, reason. Scrabble is a wicked game. It gives you so many words but so little context. It's cruelty to language in 72 square tiles. I rule the scrabble board by writing little vignettes in disconnected words across the checkered path.
The weather for tomorrow is slated at clear and sunny. I am filled with thirsty impetuosity for the coming day, the coming weekend; the thought of drink, and new friends, old friends, adventures, life and living makes my body warm and I'm sure it's more then the tequila I'm sipping now. It must be so much more.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
You might think between my full time job, the gym, my regularly scheduled workout (they are not the same thing) drinking, debauchery and any of the other things that I might be up to, that I would not have time for a silly little thing like painting. But I do, I do, and I did.*
In my head it is a set of windows looking at sorts of different things. It's a series I'm fairly pleased with. It is primal. The colors are bright, stark, unforgiving. There are some secondary colors but for the most part it is red and blue and yellow cross my canvases. I paint three four at a time some days. Must create, driven to complete, inspired, oh so inspired. Tonight I'm inspired by my new found resolve to live and let everything just happen.
I'm happy today when I leave work and head to my place. I'm happy and in love with the coming spring and life and colors and it pours into my waiting works.
I'm visited by a spirit while I work and I cast her on the canvas. I search in vain for twenty minutes for her head, but finally she tells me she never really cared for thinking all that much and she just wanted to move, to be free. I set her free and call her finished.
I move and I paint and I paint. My finger go numb in the cold and finally I have to peel off the painting shirt and just accept that I can't work anymore. I stand half naked in my studio and notice my breasts are covered in paint. Again.
I smile and lock the doors.
Faces in the Window 1,2,3 Acrylic on Paper 8"x11"
Windows of Myself Acrylic on Paper 4'x2'
Sunrise in the Window Acrylic on Paper 4'X2'
Entrance Acrylic on Paper 4'X2'
*What I don't have time for is blogging so your comments are appreciated!
Sunday, March 11, 2007
It can be amazing what you can see walking down the streets of Korea from day to day. I'm always a bit surprised by the life here. Everything is so fast, so quick, movement doesn't cease. You become acclimated or you get left behind. In most instances you do not want to get left behind. I was gone for only a few weeks and in that short time the landscape changes, there are things I had not seen, events I was unprepared for, new people coming, new people going. There was a building on my way to work that sold Jim-Kal-Bi (a steamed beef stew arrangement). I walked to work on Friday and it was pumping out sweet smelling smoke. On Monday it was gone.
This is how it happens. One moment it is standing there a testament to time. Unchanging, unmoving, unwilling to be upended and turned away. It is as solid and predictable as the rising sun. It knows what it's place is. This is its place, this corner, this now, this spot that has been claimed. Here it will remain. And then a few days later this is nothing left. Massive upheaval, trauma, destruction occurs. The building is torn away, plucked up by it's very roots. It' leaves nothing but tilled earth and chaos, not a pipe mars the ground. It has been destroyed and it is left as nothing.
This nothingness fills the void where once something strong and solid lived. Black, engulfing emptiness. It cannot be filled by anything. It seems to make as much of a claim of ownership on the territory as the building once did. It is blankness and will remain so, unmovable, unending, black welling blankness.
I walk by the buildings rage spilled out on the street, the anger, pain, at depth and collapse. I notice it, I feel for it. Koreans pass by left and right and fail to see the torment that this destruction has wrought. The feral cats run by and pick at the bits and pieces of mice holes scattered about. The hajumas' dogs released from their homes for the morning run come and shit on this place that was once so pure. I see it, but otherwise it is not seen.
And then it begins to happen. Where there is nothing suddenly you see foundation marked out. It takes only a day and the well of nothing begins to take shape. It is not a joyous building, not a happy recreation, but merely the shaping of a thing that once was. There are the memories of that old building painted on this foundation surface. A pleasanter time, perhaps, or perhaps what can be seen is merely the remembrance of destruction being constructed into something new.
Days pass and more foundation. Steel pipes are shoved into the earth and brick and mortar start to be passed about. Large shovels come in and dig up trees that have shared this earth longer then the buildings. Destruction and creation occupy the same space. Fires are lit and burn through the night and where once was the sweet smell of sustenance is now only black oily tar drifting left and right. I walk, the building grows.
Koreans work fast. Gangs of men come together and push, pull, prod, shape the square patch that once existed. It grows and it grows. It becomes something new with hints of that old dedication to it's service industries. Shiny offices will occupy the top levels, while the Jim-Kal-bi will be cooked again on the first floor down below. A sameness and yet not so. For all the shiny exterior it has been forever changed by the dissolution of original being. It is the same and not so.
I walk by and the building is renewed. In a few more weeks it will be once again and whole and functioning place. The families with gather and feast below while the tax accounts rush to complete their work and sleep at their desks above. It moves on, life moves on, all things continue. The building stands with a sense of relief, but something more. A quivering knowing that any day could hold a new wrecking ball to tear up all those moorings once again. I don't know if that makes me happy or sad.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Power traveling is not for the week or heart of flighty of spirit. To be a power traveler one must be willing to accept two fundamental facts about traveling 1)the gods hate you 2) basic chaos theory applies making all travel erratic, disrupted and increasing the complexity in inherently strange ways. Knowing this I boarded a train for Chicago anyway, hoping to see good friends, enjoy good drink, and share good times. Knowing this I stepped out my door on yet another leg of my power travel US Winter tour 2007.
The trip was ill-omened to begin with as the snow had started falling around the beginning of time and had not thought to relent. The snow was supposed to clear up, it was supposed to pass us over; because it was supposed to do these things it decided to politely decline and do whatever it damn well pleased. My regular driver had bowed out on this particular trip having already experienced the joy of travel for a week straight, and so Back Up Driver #1 took the wheel to cart me down to the waiting South Shore. Back Up Driver #1 being not only meticulous but also a fastidious weather.com checker was prepared for the drive. Unfortunately the habit to watch a train wreck, or at least a good car accident, in progress almost put us in dire straights and into a ditch ourselves. It did not, fortunately, but the omens, like the snow, were piling up.
I managed to get a ticket for the train, a rather short train and the last one to Chi-town for a while. The trip was going pleasantly with most people ignoring me. Ah, my native city, my native town, my wonderful blissful anonymity. Only in Chicago can one truly disappear because in Chicago no one cares. They don't know you, they aren't going to see you again, and the really could give a flying fuck about your story, your fate, your goals, your dreams, or you hair style. Fuck you, it's Chicago. As soon as I got on the train I felt like I was at home.
I sat being all ignored in my own corner of the universe provided with all the personal space that I could desire when the train suddenly stopped. The tracks had been covered by mountainous snow drifts piling up along the way. People with torches were dispatched to correct the problem but we passengers had to wait for such help to arrive. It was roughly twenty minutes before the train kicked over and the South Shore grumbled on. We got stuck again around 12th Street, and then in Hyde Park, and then on Wabash, before finally hitting Randolph street to disembark. I was impassive in my desires. I was on the road again and the road, no matter how it might like to turn, was not going to tame me. Ah, foolish human, how little you know.
So it was that I climbed up the stairs with my little red wagon behind me, pulling on the odd assortment of clothes and amusements to entertain me while I was house-pesting on the north side. I didn't mind the snow and slush that was gathered around my feet. I did not mind the cold stickiness in my hair and on my lips. I did not mind the slush kicked across my legs by the passing cabs and busses. I watched the sun set at the end of down town, the buildings blazing up with orange-ish grey, and I was happy. The gods, however, were not amused by my optimism.
I boarded the express bus onto Lakeshore Drive. Good ole LSD around the city and out to the northern end. It was commuter time so I picked a seat for comfort not for view, put my bags between my legs, opened a book to amuse myself and cranked up the volume on the angry music blaring out of my MP3 player. I just wanted it to pass me by. Let this trip happen, forget that I can be hyper sensitive to claustrophobia. It was only going to be about fifteen minutes before people started disembarking and I could handle that fifteen minutes no problem. Hell, I had stepped onto a flying tuna can to cross and ocean in conditions that were at least this clustered and hadn't wigged out. A few minutes with someone in my lap on a bus I could do no problem. The gods, finally, smiled.
Ten minutes into the trip we pulled out of the loop and onto LSD. Five minutes after that we stopped moving. For the next hour we had the churning stop and start of a commute made from hell. The jarring stomach turning, bladder squeezing, heart seizing journey that makes even the most stoic traveler want to lose lunch on the pretty girl sitting pressed against your leg. I held on. I would not hurl. I would not wet my pants (though I must admit the thought crossed my mind on both counts) I would last, I would be a stone, the immovable traveler set in her journey. It wasn't for at least another half hour before I started to think about who I was kidding and chomping at the bit, clawing at the windows, and fiddling with emergency exits before I realized that I was not going to make it. I started to look at street names and try to figure out the distance in my head. I thought about getting off that bus and walking.
Now, under regular conditions, this might have been a nice walk. In fact Sheridan Road can be rather a pretty place to take a leisurely stroll. However in negative wind chill with blizzard size snow drifts piled waste high along sidewalks and gust of over thirty miles coming of the lake Sheridan road is not such a nice place to be. I had actually packed myself up to go and was preparing to walk the last two miles over to the appointed local when I felt the gust of wind off Lake Michigan half turn the bus over and realized that maybe I should stay on for a little bit longer. Then I heard the grinding sound coming form the front wheels and started to reconsider walking. Then my bladder started to makes its presence known. "Ignore me, will you?!" it screamed at me. I was starting to wonder about the gods and how they might be watching over me. I was starting to guess at the true nature of my travel.
The bus became a plow forging a road into a place where there was no road to be had. It made an indent into large piled snow drifts very slowly. We were moving a foot every five minutes. I was going to die on this bus. My bladder was going to explode before I could hope to make it to safety. In my will I would leave everything to my dear friends. I started playing out my eulogy. "Carry on, good friends; continue my work to bring absurdity, insanity, and inconsistency to the periphery. Drink well and listen to obscure music. Kiss the girls for me." I had it all planned out. I wanted my ashes scattered over Lake Michigan in the snow since it was the bringer of my fate. I'd bequeath my art and writing to the world. The flute would have to be burned up with me. It is how I would have wanted it I thought to myself. Of course, if I could have picked my own fate I would not have died of bladder explosion but we all have to go sometime.
While I mused and pondered all of this the bus started to pick up speed. We were moving down Sheridan, passing Bryn Mawr and Berwin, and other oddly names blocks, we were getting close we were going to make it. I was not going to die on the bus, but I might well wet my pants before I got out the door. My death scenario and planning had not ended as I figured the hypothermia would catch up with me in a snow drift before I managed to get to where I was going. Oh good-bye cruel word, and cruel fate and cruel gods. I get it now, you laughed at me.
It was not however to be. I got off the bus and in pure Chicago tradition the wind was blowing square in my face. I turned down the side street and the wind was blowing square in my face. I took another turn in a different direction and the wind was blowing square in my face. I pushed on through the snow and the wind to the gate and the doorbell that were not that far away. The wind did not stop blowing in my face until I had made it into the building.
When I arrived the gracious Ms. Skimmel presented me with options, after of course I had gladly taken some time in her lavatory. We had planned at some point before the madness to have dinner together. Over a glass of just poured wine, or maybe it was three glasses in quick succession, we discussed our choices. Our choices were travel in the snow and hope to find someplace, cook breakfast as that was all that was available in the larder, or be evil and call someplace and make them travel. I smiled at Ms. Skimmel. I shook my fists at the gods and their chaos.
We ordered pizza.
Friday, March 02, 2007
I am in love. Not with people or things but with places. A place in particular, I suppose, I'm in love with Chicago. My big beautiful steadfast city on the edge of an ocean lake. Buildings that rise up and up in the air without stopping, the sparkly glass that will take one's breath away, the madness that is the city, the calmness, the peace, the glowing orange sky on a cloudy night when the snow falls down. Bright lights, Chicago city, my home sweet home.
I went to the states for any number of reasons but in the end I knew that I was not leaving this time without some time in Chicago. I wanted to go downtown and play on the streets, walk the sidewalks, disappear into a crowd that would not turn an eye my way as I walked through or past. I wanted to get eaten alive by the city, swallowed whole in the beauty it inspires.
When I worked in the city I worked on the West Side, first exist off the tunnel if you were traveling up from the South on the Dan Ryan. I'd sit on the steps of the Milwaukee Avenue building and watch the sunset over the lake with downtown sparkling in the foreground. I loved the sounds of the city when it crashed into night like that, the traffic from the snarled Ryan, the strum of music, madness, gangs, people, community, the hodgepodge of it all thrown together to make up a place that is at the same time close knit and without closeness. I'd watch the sun set over my city and wonder how anyone could ever leave.
And then I left it. I came to Korea and discovered Daegu. I feel sometimes like I'm cheating on Chicago, sleeping with some shiny new wench of a city, a little Asian jewel who talks with an accent and entraps me with alluring, mysterious beauty, uncharted territory, unfamiliar and because of this desirable; and I do love Daegu. Daegu has it's own fascinating features which make it just as dear to my heart as Chicago, but in the end Chicago is the home I long for at night when I feel like life has grown to placid and dull. I will sit entranced in my apartment and watch any bad movie that might come on TV if I hear the city name mentioned. I'll watch with baited breath looking for a street I know, a shop I've visited, a place I once ate, met friends, watched a movie, caught a show, saw a game, traveled to with students. It doesn't matter how bad, how long, how dreary a film or a show is, if I can see Chicago in it, I'll sit enthralled until the ending let's me go.
So it was that I found myself scarfless in downtown Chicago during the beginning of what would become one of the better blizzards to hit my fair city. I stood on the cold at the corner of Randolph and Michigan waiting for a bus to come looking up into the sky as white flakes fell all around me. I couldn't look away. I was transported by the beauty of swiftly falling snow onto my head, onto my tongue, into my eyes. The city gleaming and standing tall all around it, not caring, just being, just being there, I wept for how beautiful it was and how much I missed it. I wept for my unfaithfulness to my home sweet home. Someday, Chicago, I promise, I'll come back to you.