Sunday, December 25, 2011

Semisweet

Perhaps it was an inherent sense of masochism that led me to do some of the things I do; however, I still did them.

So, while I had finally recovered a little from the cold and was happily getting ready to spend my last week and a half in the states, I figured it was as good a time as any to embark on a frivolous self-improvement project.

I liked frivolous self-improvement projects and this one is a doozey. I’d been reading for a while about the impact of sugar on the body. Seeing as how I had given up red meat, pork, pasta, rice, and potatoes, already, taking the leap off the no-sugar cliff really didn’t seem like all that big a deal at this point.

As it was October first I decided to go for it and just stopped eating sugar. To prepare for this I spent the better part of the road trip really enjoying sugar. Each time I stopped to enjoy the sugar I would read the label, just to let myself know how much sugar it was I was enjoying. Each time saying goodbye to some food that I really didn’t want to give up, but you know, the sugar thing; maybe it’s just that I like to be impossible to eat out with.

Overall my experience had been positive. I stopped basically all grains, fruit, and processed food. My diet consisted of lots of chicken and fish when I want it, green veggies that I enjoyed, and cheese. Toss in some wine every now and again and you have happy me! In reality it wasn’t that much of a change. The worst week, was in fact, the hardest.

There was something about sugar, that sweet syrupy mistress. She was always there to comfort you, beckoning your taste buds with promises of the sweet, sweet reward that she had just in reach for you. Oh, sweets...you could smell her everywhere you go, that wispy warm perfume rising up from baked goods, sweetened coffee, and thickened sauces.Your mind just salivates with the potential of such saccharine succor. Mind and tongue, to be true, and without thinking it was easy to find oneself reaching forward to pick up just the tiniest morsel to prove your love once again and cave into sweet comforting satisfaction.

This was was struck me the most about the first few days without sugar. That sugar was just simply everywhere; it was as unavoidable as the rising sun. It could not be avoided, around you everyone else was enjoying it, and you alone are sitting there, neglecting that simple satisfying sanguine release that sugar is most sure to provide. Since I had spent a week reading labels and before that a good three weeks researching sugar, I knew what I was getting into. I trained myself to think about all the foods I was eating as a form of non-food. Sure, I will see people eating them, but I will remind myself that there is nothing in those things that is actually representative of food.

The first day this worked well. The second day I avoided it by barricading myself in my office and being offended at my unsweetened naked coffee. The third day I wanted to sell the monkey for a little bite of sweet. That’s when I realized the most intense grip of the sugary addition. I love the dog to tiny little judgmental pieces, but the thought of trading him in a heartbeat for some pecan pie occurred to me several times throughout the day. The fourth day it just stopped.

It was an odd and unexpected thing, in fact. Everything just stopped. Craving food, food desires, food dreams, hunger pangs, all of it was just gone. There was sort of a patina on the world that made everything a bit dull. I ate because I knew I sort of needed to, but there was not sense of desire or frenzy in it. I looked at sugary, lovely, processed, foods and felt nothing. All things considered, my break up with sugar had one of the shortest mourning periods ever. By the weekend I was ready to go to a restaurant, and did so, having amazingly good Greek food with the Bard at Santorini’s downtown. I picked a meal that was in line with my new found look at life, and enjoyed eating out for the first time that week.  I explained to her what was going on.

“You know, with this, it means there is basically only one person I know who is not on a restrictive diet,” she told me. As a gang we really do take the fun out of eating together.

Since then I had had many more meals both in and out and all of them lacked that sweet undercoating that girds the world. There were days now when I could say with honesty that I missed sugar, but what I missed was not the taste, but the convenience. When you stopped eating sugar you gave up the convenience of being able to eat when you want to eat, what you want to eat, what you can eat. Eating on the run was a handful of almonds and a hope for some cheese. There was a great deal of water and a great deal of waiting. There was also the patience and the sometimes heartbreaking trauma of watching as everyone around you enjoyed food they could eat while you realized you would have to make do on sparkling water and coffee until you could find a tin of tuna somewhere to break into.

As a grand experiment it was going about as well as can be expected. Because I do nothing half-assed, I expected this one to last from anywhere from six months to a year before I re-evaluate and determine if I missed sugar enough to give her another chance to be a part of my life. In the meantime I would continue to getting by as best I can while comforting myself that it is all for the best.

The inherent masochism continued to present itself as a much more understandable reason.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Aftermath

The Tapes and Tapes show was so good, I figured that being sick was mostly a result of having walked around a very chilly Chicago during the late fall.

On the train after the show my head hurt a bit, but I chalked it up to general tiredness and went off home and slept. By the next day I had lost all hearing in my right ear and my ear was very tender. I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong, but being that I was in the US I knew that I couldn’t afford to do much about it.

The earache turned into a right proper head cold and for the next week I went through the thrashes of a full-on sinus infection. My worry was mounting as I was about to board a plan for Korea and wasn't sure if I would still have a stuffed-up head for the flight. While I still felt punk during my trip, for the most part I was okay.

However, once in Korea the hearing did not improve. Nor did the low-level earache that seemed to have decided to become a constant thing. I wanted the earache gone, which meant it was time to go see my friendly ENT.

The last time I had been to the ENT was for the final checkup after having had my tonsillectomy back in 2009. They took great care of me for the months of catastrophic tonsillitis that eventually lead to the loss of tonsils, and I knew they would do right by me in regards to the earache, so I went there.

Being between health insurance cards did not bother me in the least, I knew the price would be more than a little affordable, so I went. It was a late-evening visit because the office would not be so busy. Today I had the older doctor, who spoke great English and looked like he was 90. He took at a look at my ear and said, “There is a some kind of bad waxy buildup.”

He filled my head with ear drops and asked me to come back the next day to get the earwax out. After the diagnosis I was more than a little embarrassed. I tried to keep my ears clean, so I was surprised to learn that I had very alarming waxy buildup that had caused deafness. However, to keep my spirits up, I reminded myself that I had had a rather nasty sinus cold and whatever it was could be left over from that.

I went back the next day to see the ENT and was greeted by the younger doctor, who was happy to see me alive and well after the tonsil debacle and asked how I was doing generally. He looked in my ear and said, “Yes, I can see the obstruction. We need to work on that,” and put me up on the table.

They laid me out on a table and stuck long sharp instruments that I don’t want to imagine in my ear and pulled things out of my ear.

“Have you been putting things in your ear?”

“No?” I said confused.

“No, you put something in your ear.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“All finished.” I sat up and he showed me the  pieces of ear plug that I had used during the Tapes and Tapes concert. The doctor also thoroughly scolded me for putting things in my ear, even after I tried to explain it was a really, really cheap ear plug. In the end, I was just happy to be able to mostly hear again. It took a few days for the ear to totally start doing its job again, and I still have a little trouble, but over all my general health has returned.

The show was still worth it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tapes 'n Tapes Again, My Love of Music

Is my writing out of order?

No, you’re out of order.

Ridiculous to say, since you, dear reader, have nothing to do with the order in which I write and couldn’t really be out of order if you tried. Well I suppose you could if you wanted to comment upon it, but I’d probably not respond because I am entirely wrapped up in myself most of the time. I also realize that this journal is my own little universe and I am at the center of it.

While in Chicago, and just before the crazy randomness that was my departure, I did get a chance to go to at least one rock show, and this was important because I need my concerts. It makes me so happy to join with a happy group of audiophiles and just simply geek out to my favorite bands.

This was a second take on a favorite band, Tapes 'n Tapes. Just like the first time I got to see them live they released a new album. Oh, Tapes 'n Tapes. Theirs is an album of transcendent, swinger, guitar bliss that occasionally included trumpets. The trumpet is an under-appreciated instrument and more people should include them in bands. So when I saw that just before I was flitting out of the country again I’d have a chance for Tapes 'n Tapes, well it was a chance I would have to take.

I went to the city a little late for the show. It was cold and I was wearing a fairly warm hoodie, but the weather for some reason began to put me off. My magic box of knowledge was not helping matters by leading me in all the wrong directions when I was out and looking for a coffee shop to write in before the show. I eventually ended up walking a good mile the wrong way before walking a mile back the other way to find a Starbucks. On the walk I started to feel more than a little dizzy and unsure as to the exact nature of the dizziness. A cup of coffee later and I was feeling more like myself, with writing almost completed. To finish up I took a quick break in a bar and then headed off for a lovely dinner in a fabulous Mexican place where the bartender politely hit on me and bought me a couple of drinks. Always appreciated.

The show started and it was…

Imagine these tall lanky men on stage with their guitars, but the guitars are not just instruments but extensions of their bodies. The keyboard is a tool that expresses in musical notes words that express joy and pain and sorrow and absolution all at once. The words are so real, and so deep, and so pressing, that you are lost under a pressure of appreciation. The voice is loud, and just slightly off, with a subtle growl and nasal twang that rides under the notes and yet this only works to give the artist more character and the lyrics more meaning. They don’t play the music, they are the music, the audience is the music, there is nothing but the most transcend appreciation for what they play. They love what they play, and you can tell as you watch them work the instruments and play the songs, and sing, and jump, and dance, that they love it. They love every minute of playing and the audiences joy.

I will admit to putting in some cheap ear plugs, but only because I was standing dead in front of the front of the stage and didn’t want to be entirely deaf at the end of the show. After finishing the show they gave me the set list, and that didn’t hurt, but that wasn’t why I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it because it moved beyond merely enjoyable to a most satisfying musical experience. 

The show was more than worth the punishment I later endured for it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Six Days Later

The sun is really shining this morning. It’s Friday in Korea, and Monday's news has interrupted the other blogs I still need to post. I'm getting around to it, I promise. In the meantime, since there is some curiosity as to what is going on in Korea, I thought I might mention a bit more.

On Monday afternoon while I was trying to finish up work so I could go have lunch, the reports started to role in that Kim Jong Il had died. I waited until there was confirmation from at least three other news sources to believe it.

I was sitting with the Irish and we were about to have lunch, so a quick discussion ensued.

“What happened?”

“Kim Jong Il died.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“What should we do?”

This was a pretty reasonable question because, sitting in South Korea at the moment, a moment that many world leaders have had high-end think tanks trying to work out for years, was suddenly very uncomfortable.

So, I called people. I was trying not to freak out, but it was kind of freak-out news.

“I want to run into the street and tell every foreigner I meet the news,” The Irish said. It was that kind of news.

A quick call to the Kiterunner brought no new news.

“I left my bailout bag at home. Bad day to do it.”

“You think the shit is going to hit the fan that hard?”

“Probably not, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep your passport on you for the next few weeks. I’d put in water and some food to.”

“Yeah, we will stock up on that.”

“Anyway, you guys have much less to worry about, that far south. Much closer to the bailout point if it comes to that.”

The bailout point was Busan to Japan and then to America. It was a route we went over every couple of years just to be sure.

After the phone calls we went to lunch. Life in Daegu was pretty much normal. Then we went to a movie, which seemed like a good way to distract from the news.

The next day I was talking to my business partner and I asked what his wife thought of all the goings down, her being Korean and all.

“Mostly she couldn’t understand why there was nothing else to watch on TV.”

The Korean on-the-street reaction is about the same. For the most part, people just didn't care that much. We knew it happened, we knew it was important, and the South Korean government was taking some flack for not knowing that Jong Il had died on Saturday, but other than that, things had gone smoothly.

Since the transition to Kim Jung Un’s regime was holding up, everyone just wanted to remain calm. It seemed that Jung Un’s first official act as head of the military was to have the military stand down. The morning of his father’s death troops were ordered to basically stay put and pulled back a bit from the border. There could have been a number of reasons for this, but the primary one appeared to be to prevent defectors during the transition. South Korea expressed its condolences to the people, something that did not happen when Jong Il’s father died which increased tensions for a while.

In all, Jung Un’s control of the military seems firm. The unofficial but reliable source in North Korea is saying that Jung Un does not have an iron fist, his youth being part of the problem. Instead he is sharing power with a cabal that includes his elder uncle. However it also looks like the younger generation is beginning to move into power gaps to shore up Jung Un’s control in the country and legitimize his claim a bit more.

The North Koreans are mourning. The screaming, shouting, falling down, that can all be pretty typical of mourning; even in South Korea we see that kind of display. In the North the rumors that many are faking it to prevent themselves from being disappeared; is most likely true.

Interestingly enough there has been absolutely no word from the US Embassy to those of us living in South Korea, which means that either the Embassy doesn’t think it’s that big a deal, or doesn’t want American citizens freaking out and jumping the country for any number of diplomatic reasons. It’s hard to say.
I’m trying to sort out work things and watching the moves China makes closely. Since China is the only country that has real diplomatic relations with NK, they are a pretty good predictor. At the moment they are expressing condolences, and imploring everyone to remain calm. Until further notice that is what I’m going to do.

With my passport on hand, of course.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kim Jong Il has died

While workingafter a weekend of nothing but workingI was sitting in a coffee shop when my virtual co-worker mentioned that State TV was reporting that Kim Jong Il had died.

So far it has been confirmed now. This all happened about ten minutes ago:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2011/12/201112193620221153.html


I like Al Jazeera. CNN, Reuters, and AP are all confirming, as has Yonhap.

I have a feeling we are about to have exciting times in Korea.

The funny thing is, as I look at the window on this bright and sunny day it all just looks like business as usual.
Life, in Korea, goes on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Take Off

A road trip later and I was back in Chicago. I barely touched the ground, had some Greek food, and saw the Balance with a small contingent of house guests before I headed back on my way to Korea.

It does sound rushed; it is. It felt like a blur and during it I had no time to think about much anything at all. I was getting my bags packed at the very, very last minute and trying to figure out the best way to get to my plane and to get back on the ground in Korea.

Again.

It seemed like after all this time getting on a plane and taking off should be the most uneventful thing in the world, but it still, after all this time, amused some part of me. Ten years ago I got on a plane for the first time, and now getting on a plane to head to Korea was just the most normal thing in the world. The seats were comfy enough, and while I was supposed to bring my dog, alas, the monkey decided to come down with the kind of cold that would not pass quarantine so I could not bring him back on this trip. He shall visit a vet again soon, and should be all clear to return to the ROK in late December. This is a day that I am much looking forward to; the munchkin is missed.

As it was, since I did not have my dog, it seemed that the airline decided that I would be a good choice to sit with a dog owner who was flying with her pet on the trip. The very polite Korean girl had a three-year-old miniature poodle in the case under her seat, and he was a rambunctious dog. What he wanted, more than anything else, was to be in her lap. And he was more than happy to bark to make that happen.

The girl very politely kept apologizing for the barking dog. The dog kept barking, escaping from his crate and crawling up to her legs. This went on for about five minutes before she finally just put the dog in her lap.

“The stewardess will want him in the case for take off.”

“Oh, yes, of course, for take off.”

That dog never went back in the case. He did stay warm and snuggly on the flight, did not bark or make a stir aside from a bit of snoring, and everyone seemed happy to ignore his presence.

I landed in Korea feeling both happy to be back with a sense of homecoming, and sad, with an odd wave of homesickness that has yet to shake me.

I kept reminding myself the monkey would be coming soon.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Road Trip

We took an extensive road trip while in the States. The purpose of the journey was to see family on the east coast that is getting frailer as time passes. It’s amazing how quickly time can pass. I think of time in Korea as a drop in the bucket, but ten years have come and gone here. There are pieces of me scattered all over multiple countries now. Time keeps moving, and one day you stop to realize everyone else has gotten older, and everyone else has changed, and every place else has changed, and even more surprising, you have changed. I look in a mirror and see the same person, but with subtle little signs that tell me I am not the 25-year-old that landed in Korea ten years ago.

Packing the car with the dogs, a tent, a boy, and myself, with a few suitcases and a unicycle for good measure is fun. Leaving at six a.m. is less fun. I didn’t sleep well the night before, constantly tossing and turning. When I woke I was frightful and not well put together and my mind was fuzzy, but I insisted on driving at least the first leg of the trip. This was a bad idea.

I’ve been driving a bit more now every time I go to the states. Getting used to the practical application of it again. The entire act of driving has come back to me much as it was expected that it would, but there is a part of me that still prefers to passenger. Perhaps it is just that I would prefer to be in the car alone. I remember when getting in the car and going was absolute freedom. Constantly being saddled with an observer removes some of the element, which may be why I would rather ride. Hard to say.

As it was, I took the first leg of the drive through the long, endless Indiana highway. My eyes were burning and we had failed to get coffee on the first try. I should probably have forced the coffee issue but a little over an hour later we finally managed to find someplace to get coffee.

We stopped, I walked in and asked for four shots of espresso on ice. The girl behind the counter looked at me like I had lost my mind.

“You..basically you just want four shots of espresso on ice?”

“Yeah, with a little water to top it off, if that’s all right.”

“Four shots?”

“Yep.”

“Do you want sugar in that?”

Not a trace. Not me. Black as death and strong as the hammer of Thor to my brain is what I desired. She smiled and laughed uncomfortable as she told her assistant what she was doing. When they passed the cup back to me I took a sip. I think she half expected me to spit it out.

“Perfect.”

“I…I just could not do that.”

“Thanks.” I smiled and walked away, happily sipping until I got back to the car and realized that I could not walk in a straight line. I abdicated the driving then and basically rode along for the rest of the trip. Each time I do this trip I realize just how much road there is in America. This endless, never-ending road. I begin to feel a kind of sympathy with settlers from once upon a time. There is just So Much Road. This never-ending, never-stopping America and it just goes everywhere. Each mile is a mile taking you to anywhere you can imagine going. Highway after highway, connected to interstate, or turnpike, or street, and all of them leading to a door somewhere.

In a single day we passed through sunshine, clouds, violent thunderstorms, rushing gale-force winds, back into sunshine, and back into rain. I packed a lunch so we could pull off when we were hungry and have a picnic. The rain haunted us the whole time, so in the end we ended up having the picnic in some highway oasis spot, but enjoyed it, none the less. We talked, planned routes, discussed the drive, the timing of it, the paths that we would take. A kind of old-fashioned driving. As GPS becomes more popular it is so easy to fall into the trap of constant navigation that actually having to plan seems almost a silly waste of time. I admit that even I am spoiled, with my magic box of knowledge I could look up routes, find upcoming coffee stops and pit stops, and look for places that would be good to walk the dogs. Still, there was a rather amusing blend of both old and new as we drove through the endless amount of America.

There is something about being in a car that I completely enjoy, and maybe that I miss. You’re brain does nothing but drift on the clouds that are passing outside the window and scenery. I remember being a child in a car on long seemingly endless road trips through sprawling Americana. For all the technology that intercedes there is still something so archaic about driving through small towns and small cities. Time doesn’t seem to touch things as deeply on the road. I imagine what it would be like to be in these small places, to be born, grow up, live, love, and die in that same place without any change. Maybe there is some envy in my contemplation as the roads unwind.

Somewhere in the center of Pennsylvania we had to give up the ghost. Both of us were tired, the dogs were annoyed, and it became abundantly clear that we were not going to get out of the most recent rain we had driven into. The magic box of knowledge pointed out likely towns and we finally managed to find the type of motel I wanted. What happened to the classic Bates-style drive up, where you could park away from the office and have a space all to yourself? Most places seemed to be way too bright, or require way too much entering, and it would make smuggling the dogs in damned near impossible. However after a shot, we managed to find just such a place, off the beaten path, and with a room we could drive up to. The dogs made it in quickly enough and we were finally able to get out of the car and spread out on an engulfing bed, to enjoy just not being in a car anymore.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Cranes

Up in the air is probably the easiest way to describe my life at the moment, which may explain why I have not been describing it. As it stands I have more than a dozen stories to tell. Sometimes the best place to start is in the middle and just jump back and forth until I am caught up and then move forward.

It was the time of year in America when the sandhill cranes migrated from one area to another. The migration took place twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. In the spring, the cranes would fly over my section of the Midwest on their way back north. In the fall, the same on the way south to luxuriate in the warmth of Florida or some other milder climate than the bitter cold that is the northern winter. While I would love to be able to see them every year on their migration, I’ve only managed to visit maybe three times.

The place to go is Jasper Pulaski park about an hour and a half south in Indiana. The park is surrounded on all sides by farmhouses and cornfields. The drive, once off the expressway, feels like a drive through corn country. There are fields and fields and fields, and where there are not fields there are quiet rows of trees standing guard over the land.

I learned about the crane migration from the Boy, who also took me on the first drive down to see them. It is an experience that I’m not sure I can do adequate justice to, with my poor fingers. You park in an open lot, and as soon as you step out of the car you are flooded with the noise of the birds talking to each other in the field. A lilting call begins, which at first makes you quiet, whispering to talk, but as you get closer the birds become a louder cacophony of sound and you would have to shout to be heard over them.

You walk down a windy path from the parking lot. Along the path there are a dozen signs, each with a question about the cranes. Some true and false, some general knowledge; a pop quiz. You can imagine parents stopping with children and holding them up to read each sign while trying to puzzle out the answer together. The signs are a bit ragged and warn, paper under plastic to protect them from the wet weather, and doing only so well. I have read the questions and have few answers, but the Boy can answer each one. At the end of the trail an arrow points to a master sign that has facts and truths and you feel like you have learned something for going through the experience.

You get to the end of the path and there is a wooden fort in front of you. You almost feel like a sentry about to go on duty as you climb up to take post overlooking the field below. At the top it is thin and narrow. There are three magnifying sights mounted for looking out into the field at the birds. Now, you are right in the thick of it.

I still remember the first time I went. An hour before sundown, climbing up the stairs to look out into a field on a cool spring day. I skipped work to go, I needed to do something to live. When the Boy suggested it, it was all I could think about. So we went, and there was magic and wonder as I stood in the middle of the tower and looked out on thousands and thousands of birds, dancing, and whooping, roosting, resting, after their hundred miles flight that day. Overhead they fly in, sweeping down in well formed lines until the very end when they are cocking their legs down to come in for the touchdown.

There is a simple quiet majesty about it, that is beautiful.

Recently I had been doing some writing. I feel like I am always doing some writing. For some reason I was looking up dinosaurs or writing about dinosaurs. The thing about dinosaurs is that they don’t exist and they do exist. Dinosaurs have essentially evolved into birds. The writing was something about modern-day dinosaurs, and birds are basically the only modern-day dinosaurs that we have. This is important because it is hard not to think about dinosaurs when you are watching the cranes fly in.

We drove down to Jasper Paulaski after a long day of work for both of us. The dogs came with us making it rather an affair. Tino, of course, demanded to ride in the driver's seat, even though I’m terrified he is going to cause a car accident some day with his insistent lap riding. Gracey, however, being the size of a dinosaur herself, rode in the back.

The air was crisp and we listened to Phil Ochs and John Prine as we went down the quiet country roads. The music fit the setting and the sun began to hang low as we reached our destination. We parked in the mostly empty lot. The birds were loud, a noisy volume that just hands in the air. The dogs were excited, I was excited. I found that I couldn't help but to look up and around and behind me to see if there were birds coming in.

We walked past the tattered quiz questions and up to the overlook, pushing mosquitoes out of the way. For the most part we were alone, aside from a lone biker couple that came in later. It was me, the Boy, the dogs, and the birds. I took pictures with my camera phone as they swooped in over us. With each well-conditioned V that entered our view we watched with quiet amusement as during the approach the formation got sloppy and eventually dissolved. I thought of dinosaurs as I watched the legs extend out in front of one bird, and fall behind another. Each bird had a different thought on how to come in for a landing. Each executed it differently. However, we could agree that it did seem fairly accurate that the birds were saying “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap,” until they finally hit the ground.

I could see by looking out over the fields where the hot spots for landing were. The sound of the the cranes grew louder as they begin to whoop and dance, tossing bodies up into the air in the most carefree ritual ways. Finally they had a chance to stop and rest after a long day of flying. In the field there were about twenty deer scattered about and relaxing in the side of the park that was strictly off limits to hunting. The birds twirled about. Gracey, the large dog, really wanted to go down to the field and say hello and investigate the noise a bit further; however, we were content from our perch to look down.

The moon broke into the sky to hang opposite the sun, and for a while it was bright blue sky, with an orange glow in the distance, the moon on one corner, and hundreds of birds overhead. It was beautiful and I was lost in it.

The sun set on us as we walked out of the woods, all our speech was overwhelmed by the whoops of boisterous dancing birds in an expansive field.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pieces

These are the pieces of me.





Each is a strand, each strand makes up some part of myself.
They are collected less than a handful. They are fragile things, hardly
strings, and yet each carries so much weight.


A piece is torn off by my mother as she digs into that last
vestiges of what I would call my soul. She rips and she shreds and she tears
her way in. She racks the piece, ripping off tendrils and strings until there
is but the barest thread left in its place. It hangs there, held together by nothing
but hope and its association with somewhat stronger threads.


This piece if my pride, my desire, my dreams, all rolled
into one. A craving for acknowledgment and realization. A belief that I am
worthy and a cry in the dark for praise, for accomplishment for anything. Years
wear down the strands over the years, and slivers of silky tendrils hang in the
air, almost as tired and beaten as the first piece.


Then there is love. The anger, the hatred, the rage, the
jealousy and the love, this strand of feelings and emotions, love being the
thread woven most often and the one wrecked equally. Rage, and anger, and
despair and pain, and folly, and foolishness, and hatred, and desire and twine
themselves around; making a strand that is strong a piece that is sold, but for
all the breaks in love. Each break rends deeper and more painfully than the
last making the moment of its final demise impossible to tell.


And here is my body; this vessel meant to hold me together,
and barely functional. Alone it has ripped itself apart several times, without prompting
and without check. Less than skillful work holds it together, that and will.
Will keeping it moving and keeping it strong, though it shows the wear of use
and age and looks almost fragile enough to break at any moment.


Then there is will, a glue binding all these pieces together.
Will, the will to believe that I am more than all these tiny pieces of me. The
will to push through it all, the pain, the angry, the loathing, the
hatred, the rage, the fear. The will is
strong, but the smallest pieces it holds together remain fragile and worn. How
much will to keep it all together? Will it be enough or fail and it all be lost
in the end.




These are the pieces of me and
they are barely more now than a gathering of frayed ribbons on a strong wind
moments way from permanent distribution into the great unknown.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chicago

I'm here. For like two more weeks, although I will miss a weekend. As soon as I can stop icing my hands every night from too much writing, I will write more.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Breathe Just Breathe

Sometimes I get lost down there.

I become so consumed by who I am professionally that I forget about me personally. There is nothing but the work automaton who takes over and goes. She is professional and smiling and bubbly and kindhearted and liked. People like her. She is this surface creature, a construct for the waking world, a projection.

And somewhere underneath there is me, and I get lost in creating the shell and I become nothing. I get so caught up in being on that I don’t appreciate how far away I am from any semblance of myself.

And then there is nothing.

Nothing true. The construct feels, has awareness, interacts with reality, but the truth is that there is just nothing. Nothing.

And I get so lost in it. I spend weeks down underneath something, without being freed from it. There are long stints of work, and moving, and life on the road. I lose my sense of reality and suddenly life loses color and is nothing but grays and pop songs. Music with so little emotion and feeling becomes trapped in my brain and I am stuck in it. There is mediocrity and I am the paradigm of mediocrity; with my smiling and laughing and cajoling and handshakes. I do understand you, I do, I am with you, I am here, surface and smiling, and aren’t we warm and friendly, and aren’t we close, and aren’t we loved? No hint, no trace of anything that might be darker, or secrets, or surprises or emotions that might be tucked away and buried and hidden from you and your belief in this waking, working person. Nothing, nothing, nothing but who you think you know?

And then I’m lost in it.

Lost in the dark with no option to bring in light, so deep under the construct thing that I feel like I cannot breathe. So far down that I am drowning in me and I don’t know how to get back. Suffocation of the worst kind because I am in control of it in some way, and at the same time so far removed from control of it in others. I fight to bring me back.

Struggle.

Wrestle.

Deny and twist and turn and push away from truth, from reality, from the surface. I fight because part of me thinks it will be easier to stay buried and just ghost walk through life. When people like the shadow of you, there is something about it that is easier and maybe truer.

Struggle and push and pull against reality until finally I feel myself back at the surface and I am here, and I am free and breathe, like life, like rebirth, like coming home.

And suddenly there is reality and it is real, and it is bright and wonderful and full of colors and sounds and pain and emotion.

I’m almost back…more freedom, more pushing is what I need. Just a bit more and I will break free completely and be returned to myself; a few more steps and then I will slam into the world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bloggishness

Scheduled to resume regular bloggishness soon. At the moment, my hands are so sore by the end of the day that I can barely type.

Stories are coming. I need a good house party.

~S

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Gin and Lime Juice

“I’m trying to decide if I should move from wine to gin.”

The Kiterunner, who was sitting across from me, paled. “I’m still vomiting after last night.”

“And this is my fault how?”

“You should get the gin.”

“I know.”

Gin seemed like a good idea at the moment. It was 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon and I was in Itaewon after having rushed up to Seoul for yet another weekend of work and meetings. Tomorrow I would be on an early train to another part of the city before taking a late train to the destination, which was where I was currently working. Where I was currently working was the ass-end of nowhere, but I was willing to let it stand as it would be over soon enough and then I would get paid.

“Well, what do you want to do?” asked the Kiterunner.

“What I always want to do when I’m in Itaewon. I want to be on vacation.” Itaewon was like a trip to America for the price of a train ticket. You got to go to a bunch of restaurants which were all within walking distance, eat, drink and be merry. And if you did it right you didn't have to speak Korean for an entire 48-hour period. Granted I was not doing it right, since this weekend I only had 18 hours off. (Which was actually better than last weekend, when I only had 10 hours off.)

“Finally, someone who believes as I do. Why is it so hard to explain that when I am in Itaewon all I want to do is eat, drink, and eat?”

“Then let's do that.” We packed up from Buddha’s Belly and went across to another western-style bar with food. We sat and drank at three in the afternoon and discussed work and our lives and what we were doing with our lives. The last was the most difficult and unsatisfactory of our conversations because the what-we-are-doing-with-our-lives bit seemed a bit unclear; neither of us were sinking, although swimming required a continued acceptance of the Korean way.

“I’m not sure there is booze in this.” I said after my fifth gin and tonic.

“So order another one.”

I did, and this time I asked for it strong. They brought a much smaller glass with a straw.

“What that hell is that?” asked the Kiterunner.

“The better question is, what the hell have I been drinking?”

“I think that is just a straight glass of gin.”

“It’s a possibility.”

She took a sip and said that it was pretty much just a glass of gin. I giggled and suggested we head someplace else. It was only five and I had been drinking what I was pretty sure was just straight tonic water for the last three hours.

“Maybe you have to earn the gin?” suggested the Kiterunner.

“Yes, you drink enough tonic to prove you are worthy and then you get the gin.” I giggled some more and finished the glass.

We headed out into the hot, steamy Korean early evening into the ‘Won, giggling more. We walked up and down the streets looking for a bar or a place to eat, as while we had been drinking since two, we had only been been picking at food and decided it was time for a bit more to eat.

In the end, after being rejected from Circus and not interested in waiting forever to get into a Tapas place, we headed to Margaritaville.

“Our guy will be there.”

“Our guy rules,” I responded.

And sure enough, the King of Margaritaville came over and grabbed us and put us in seats. He pampered us with chips and salsa. Rushed over with margaritas, and even some swag. He brought us free tequila, and smiled and flirted with us.

“He runs this place,” she said.

“Yes he does. That’s what we should do. We should open a restaurant and put him in charge.”

“Yes, yes,” the Kiterunner agreed.

Maybe it was the craziness of the day, the drinking, or the reoccurring discussion of what it was we are doing with our lives. Maybe it was just the strong margaritas and free tequila. Maybe it was just food or life, and the lack of any time off.

I drank the tequila and just after eight at night I said good night to the Kiterunner and walked myself up the hill and toward this night's particular room and board.

The bed was inviting and I drifted to sleep before ten on gin-fueled dreams.

Gin and Lime Juice

“I’m trying to decide if I should move from wine to gin.”

The Kiterunner, who was sitting across from me, paled. “I’m still vomiting after last night.”

“And this is my fault how?”

“You should get the gin.”

“I know.”

Gin seemed like a good idea at the moment. It was 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon and I was in Itaewon after having rushed up to Seoul for yet another weekend of work and meetings. Tomorrow I would be on an early train to another part of the city before taking a late train to the destination, which was where I was currently working. Where I was currently working was the ass-end of nowhere, but I was willing to let it stand as it would be over soon enough and then I would get paid.

“Well, what do you want to do?” asked the Kiterunner.

“What I always want to do when I’m in Itaewon. I want to be on vacation.” Itaewon was like a trip to America for the price of a train ticket. You got to go to a bunch of restaurants which were all within walking distance, eat, drink and be merry. And if you did it right you didn't have to speak Korean for an entire 48-hour period. Granted I was not doing it right, since this weekend I only had 18 hours off. (Which was actually better than last weekend, when I only had 10 hours off.)

“Finally, someone who believes as I do. Why is it so hard to explain that when I am in Itaewon all I want to do is eat, drink, and eat?”

“Then let's do that.” We packed up from Buddha’s Belly and went across to another western-style bar with food. We sat and drank at three in the afternoon and discussed work and our lives and what we were doing with our lives. The last was the most difficult and unsatisfactory of our conversations because the what-we-are-doing-with-our-lives bit seemed a bit unclear; neither of us were sinking, although swimming required a continued acceptance of the Korean way.

“I’m not sure there is booze in this.” I said after my fifth gin and tonic.

“So order another one.”

I did, and this time I asked for it strong. They brought a much smaller glass with a straw.

“What that hell is that?” asked the Kiterunner.

“The better question is, what the hell have I been drinking?”

“I think that is just a straight glass of gin.”

“It’s a possibility.”

She took a sip and said that it was pretty much just a glass of gin. I giggled and suggested we head someplace else. It was only five and I had been drinking what I was pretty sure was just straight tonic water for the last three hours.

“Maybe you have to earn the gin?” suggested the Kiterunner.

“Yes, you drink enough tonic to prove you are worthy and then you get the gin.” I giggled some more and finished the glass.

We headed out into the hot, steamy Korean early evening into the ‘Won, giggling more. We walked up and down the streets looking for a bar or a place to eat, as while we had been drinking since two, we had only been been picking at food and decided it was time for a bit more to eat.

In the end, after being rejected from Circus and not interested in waiting forever to get into a Tapas place, we headed to Margaritaville.

“Our guy will be there.”

“Our guy rules,” I responded.

And sure enough, the King of Margaritaville came over and grabbed us and put us in seats. He pampered us with chips and salsa. Rushed over with margaritas, and even some swag. He brought us free tequila, and smiled and flirted with us.

“He runs this place,” she said.

“Yes he does. That’s what we should do. We should open a restaurant and put him in charge.”

“Yes, yes,” the Kiterunner agreed.

Maybe it was the craziness of the day, the drinking, or the reoccurring discussion of what it was we are doing with our lives. Maybe it was just the strong margaritas and free tequila. Maybe it was just food or life, and the lack of any time off.

I drank the tequila and just after eight at night I said good night to the Kiterunner and walked myself up the hill and toward this night's particular room and board.

The bed was inviting and I drifted to sleep before ten on gin-fueled dreams.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Naughty Tables

I don’t want to do anything work related this morning so I’m doing this instead. Also I know my readers seem to really enjoy hearing me talk about buying sex toys in Korea. This story is out of order, as it actually happened sometime in November of 2010; however, it has not been told. However, rarely do I attend a sex shop and not remember the details, so have at it for another adventure in sex-toy shopping in the good old ROK.

We’d had dinner and some drinking somewhere nearby and decided on the coldish night to walk back to the apartment. The troupe included myself, the One, the Irish, and the Apprentice. The boys were walking a bit faster than the girls, and we decided to let them, agreeing to meet up back at the apartment at some point in the future.

As we walked we talked about getting a bottle of wine, but much to our disenchantment we couldn’t find anything that resembled drinkable wine in the shops on the way home. As we walked I asked the One if she was ready to go home yet.

“What do you have in mind?”

“A wander. Also, I’ve been wanting to check out that sex shop near your place if you’re interested.”

“There is a sex shop near my place?”

“Yes. Yes, there is.”

“That would be fun.”

“Just as long as you promise never to go in there without me.” I said.

“Why not?”

This is when I explained that in her neighborhoodand with her insanely good looksgoing in there by her lonesome would be a no-no. One, men would look at her lasciviously, two, they would probably think she was a prostitute, and three, that was not baggage she wanted to have nearby her house. In agreement we turned down the street to the sex shop.

On the way we found a furniture stop. In the window, gleaming like a beacon from heaven was a wooden folding table that reminded me of one I had very long ago.

“You must buy that table.” I determined. Or I would buy it for her, because a table was always useful when you needed it and never a waste of time or money. I went in and haggled with the shop owner for a bit and in the end it resulted in having a large wooden folding table.

This, however, did not distract us from the original goal of going to a sex shop. So we took turns carrying the table down the street, and into the sliding door of the Korean love shop.

When we walked in the proprietor was talking with another Korean gentleman, who looked about ready to swallow his tongue at the sight of us. Granted we must have been confusing, walking in with a table between us and setting it down in the corner. We did look a bit like we were about to set up shop ourselves. The poor guy stumbled and sputtered and mumbled before eventually getting out as quickly as possible after arranging to come back later to get his pleasurable body segment of a love doll. (I did not indicate that I understood what he was saying, but I totally understood what he was saying.)

After he left the One and I wandered about the tiny place looking at what was for sale. This one was slightly more modern than the tiny little sex shop that I had visited once upon an age ago. It had dildos and bullet vibes, and we even found a little cleverly disguised lipstick vibrator that amused the One to no end. Then we stumbled upon the flavored lubes.

“They have cherry.” I pointed out.

“Ooohhhh...but

“But what? They have cherry.”

“Yes, but it’s not my cherry.”

“Uh…”

This discussion continued for a while as we checked out the different flavors that included vanilla and also pineapple which seemed to achieve a level of wrong I found difficult to put into words. In the end, while the shiny plastic accessories were exciting, nothing inspired a deep enough passion for us to desire parting with 50,000 won, which seemed to be the bargain-basement price the shop owner was willing to let merchandise his merchandise go for. I’m sure he did a lot of business at those rates.

After a few more minutes of browsing we finally picked up our table and left. The shop owner watched us walk down the street, carrying our table between us, chattering, and shifting it from hand to hand as we pushed it up the mountain toward home.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shopping in Korea

There is this realization that I do things in Korea that most people wouldn’t even consider trying to do. The Irish and the One want to move into a different apartment, so I go around and find a real-estate agent and negotiate to get a new apartment for them. This requires some walking about, getting in and out of strangers' cars, and generally relying on the Korean I know not to lead me astray. Surprisingly enough, this works out more often than one would believe.

When anyone asked me I said with all honest that I didn't actually speak that much Korean. This was true. I didn't really speak that much Korean. What I did very well, however, was refuse to give up when I wanted something. I believed that if I wanted itand I have a basic understanding of what I need to dothan there was no good reason why I should not be able to get what I wanted.

Perhaps it was conceited, but it worked.

So it was that I found myself standing on the street after dinner, about an hour and half before my ticket to Harry Potter, wanting a smartphone.

My reasoning for this was simple enough: going out to the sticks, living in a love motel for five weeks, and the chance of being completely without a WiFi connection were enough to make me want a smartphone. I knew that with a smartphone I could link up my computer to the data connection and have WiFi. And WiFi was what I really wanted. It made sense to get a smartphone.

The Irish, having nothing better to do but to tag along, came on my little adventure. While the most likely place to go in Daegu would be Phone Street, I decide to eschew Phone Street for some of the various phone shops on the main strip. We walked together into the first one and I just asked for what I wanted.

Smartphone pirohada.”

ARC isseyo?

Crap. This was when I realized that I not only didn’t have an alien registration card, I also didn’t have my passport, as both of these forms of identification were currently residing at the school and I wouldn’t get them until Monday. But I really wanted my phone to be much smarter before Monday.

With this in mind I wondered how exactly I was going to pull of the getting of a phone, but pushed on.

Yeah, ARC isseyo, jiggam opseyo. Number ara.

The guy asked me what type of visa I had. So I told him.

“No. No smartphone for you. Only this.” He held up my phone.

I’m pretty sure that the only answer that guy liked to give to waygooks was that based on the visa it was impossible to get a smartphone.

I wasn’t buying that.

We said okay and walked down the street to the next phone shop. I walked in and walked straight up to the smartphone counter. A friendly, much older, Korean guy walked up to me.

I told him what I wanted.

“Yeah, okay okay.”

He asked about my ARC and I told him I didn’t have it with me.

“Okay. Okay.”

He grabbed my phone, asked me what I wanted, and started the process. The only big demand I had was not changing my phone number. They guy promised that it wouldn’t happen and ran off with my phone. I deleted pictures, took the SD card out and waited. The Irish and I had discussed my situation while we waited.

“You don’t have your ARC?”

“Nope.”

“Isn’t that going to be a problem?”

“So far, not so much.”

“But

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure technically this is illegal as all hell, but hey, he is doing something.”

“You really think you are going to get a smartphone?”

“Probably.”

The guy came back over and asked for my ARC number, which I give him. He was able to quickly verify that I had in fact had an account with SK for several years and had no intention of changing it up anytime soon. He seemed pretty confident and had me sign a contract on several dozen pages. We talked for a while about a phone number. He told me the number wouldn't change. I was pretty sure he was lying. We went back and forth for a while and he disappeared.

He asked about my enhang.

Enhang. Crap I know that word.” I turned to the Irish. “I know I know that word. Enhang.”

“Yeah...I don’t know.”

“Crap. I know I know that word. Crap.”

I played this dance in my head for a while, trying to figure out the word. Finally the guy came back over, grabbed my credit card, and wondered off again. I was wondering about the time, but we still had about forty minutes before the show. “Bank!” Bank, enhang means bank!

The Irish figured there was no time like the present for boozing, so he left me to negotiate while he went and picked up a couple of bottles for the movie. I negotiated some more and finally determined that the guydespite all promises to the contraryhad in fact changed my phone number. This annoyed me, as now I would have three business cards that would all need to be updated with new phone numbers. To pay for this misstep, the guy gave me a free smartphone cover as a consolation prize. Ah well.

As he explained, I would have number forwarding for at least one year, after which time I would need to update my number. While still not amused, it did result in him handing me a smartphone, while I sat and waited for my credit card and the Irish to come back.

The guy walked over with a business card and explained that tomorrow I would need to have my school fax over my ARC and passport info. I told him no problem. He said this three more times while I waited, and I said three more times that it was not a problem; I would fax everything over.

When the Irish arrived I showed him my phone.

“Cool. Can we go?”

“I’m waiting for my card.’

The guy came over and said something else. I was totally distracted by the shiny lights and oooh ap store...droolllll…

Ten minutes later, the Irish asked again if we could go.

“I’m waiting for my card.”

Then I remembered they guy coming over.

“Wait.”

I opened my wallet. My card had been in my wallet for the last ten minutes. Genius. I asked the guy if we could go, and received an affirmative, so I collected my new phone and the Irish, and together we wandered into the muggy Korean night to go catch a movie.

In the morning I sent an email to the school and asked them to fax over the documents for me. As I wrote, I thought rather amusedly to myself, that while my mission was almost certainly impossible, I managed to accomplish it completely, with a minimum of fuss and a minimum of Korean ability. Sometimes it was just all about being willing to engage and be completely incapable of taking no for an answer.

This message was sent from my computer using the phone as my WiFi connection, because, as predicted, my love motel room has no interwebs.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rain and ROK

My return to Korea was marked by white arms, long blonde hair, and monsoon rain.

Nights on the couch, wishing that the air conditioner worked at all when the temperature was 30 degrees with 100% humidity.

I got back to the house from a long meeting in Seoul. The Irish and the One took one look at me and demanded I sleep.

“I’ll be fine.”

They tossed me into bed anyway and I was asleep before I could argue with them more. I woke up thirty minutes later, staring into the flowing canopy of the mosquito net over the bed, although July in Korea meant the net was not really necessary.

As I sat up in bed trying to reorient my brainwhich was trapped in a body that had decided not to sleepI heard a deep thundering rumble on the streets below. I looked out the picture window and saw white smoke rising up from the street. The mosquito fogger was hard at work. It was early enough that there were probably some children playing in the noxious fumes I could smell rising up and into the third floor apartment.

The rains fell and fell.

I tried to sleep again, but found myself still awake at one a.m., and again at five with no help for it. I tried to sleep, tossing and turning, but the falling rain was the trickling tick, tick, tick in my waking mind and it would not let me go.

Rain, rain, my inner five-year-old hummed. The rains keep falling down anyway.

The morning monsoon was full of thunder and lightning. I watched the sky as it crackled with light flashes and listened as thunder rolled through the valley that is Daegu city. Drip, drip, drip.

The rain fell off the buildings in waterfall-like waves. A never-ending stream constantly replenished by the moist, water-laden sky. The weather broke a little around the storm, but it was still humid and moist, retaining all the water that was tossed into it.

I hopped into the shower for my morning meeting and wondered at the irony of it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Wings and Things

On the way home from my trip East, after a long and tiring flight (although one where the crew decided to show up on time) it was determined that I needed food. The Electrician was playing chauffeur, and it only took a few minutes for me to figure out how to give accurate enough coordinates to get picked up from O’Hare. Fortunately, he knew the airport better than I did.

Unfortunately, my phone chose that exact moment to die, so I found myself scrambling in O’Hare looking for an outlet so I could jump-charge my phone enough to get a message out about my potential coordinates. The tiredness, lack of sleep, fear of missed connections, fear of heading the wrong way, and fear of forgetting general things all contributed to my unease. By the time my chariot arrived I was a tad more strung out that usual.

With patience the Electrician got us on the highway and toward home, the monsters, and the Boy.

“Food.”

“You know, funny you should say that cause I didn’t get my dinner.”

“What now?”

“Well, I was having dinner at the usual on my way over here, but somehow my order got shuffled off to someone else at the party and by the time it was figured out I needed to leave to pick you up.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes.”

“Buffalo wings.”

“What?”

“I want Buffalo wings.” Buffalo wings were my favorite default comfort food after anything that put me on edge, and I figured I was in the proper country for them. Granted what I REALLY wanted was Kocheon chicken wings, but I was definitely in the wrong country for that, so an American Buffalo wing would have to suffice.

“Sounds doable, but I don’t know where to go.”

I consulted with the magic box of knowledge as we drove down the highway in the dark. The night sky was as clear as glass and stars twinkled overhead in the temperate cool Chicago evening. Downtown glittered as we passed through it, and the nighttime road opened smoothly before us, ushering toward Buffalo wings and home.

As we drove the dark highway we passed the line from city to city outskirts, where the strips clubs and off-track betting establishments held more real estate than houses or Buffalo-wing establishments.

“There be naked women in there.” said the Electrician.

“Indeed. You ever been in a strip club?”

“No.”

“Heh.”

“Have you?”

“I spent a weekend working in a strip club once long ago. Also I paid my rent in strip clubs for a good six months once upon a time.”

“What now?”

“Let's find Buffalo wings and I will tell you a story.”

It turned out that Buffalo wings were across the border and served up at a place that was essentially a chain and did mostly nothing but Buffalo wings.

“Is this okay?” I asked.

“Sure; I like Bdubs.” More nicknames for restaurants. I obviously did not spend enough time living in this country.

We walked into the mostly empty place, which was not surprising seeing as how I was making my run home at something like 10 p.m. We found a table and I asked the Electrician to get things he liked, since I had no idea and I knew that would not have Kocheon chicken wings.

With food ordered it seemed most appropriate to tell the strip-club story. To fill the time.

“So, I was destitute.” There really was no other way to start that story. After two years of volunteer service (which I do not regret in the slightest) I was basically destitute. I have not had money overflowing in my bank account in many years, but that was a particularly lean period.

During that time, looking for work, taking any odd job I could get, I was also becoming good friends with my landlord. I cooked dinner one night and he was duly impressed. He offered to take me out for dinner and a few weeks later there invited me along on a group outing to dinner and a movie. A good time was had by all.

My landlord was looking for conversation and found that the two college-educated people who had landed in his housing were much more entertaining than most of this residents. So we started to hang out a bit more often, enjoying movies, discussing life, the universe, and everything. I think once we even had him over to sit on the floor with us and watch a movie in the TV closet. (Literally. It was a long closet under a flight of stairs and we had put the TV in it to keep it from taking up room anywhere else. We’d sit on the floor to watch TV on the few occasions when we did.)

Norm, my landlord, was a pretty normal guy, and I liked him. During the lean months before I ran off to Korea he asked me if I might like to go out to dinner with him by my lonesome, and I said sure. He seemed harmless enough. We had dinner at a Greek restaurant in Chicago and afterward, since we were both riding hi on great food and a small amount of wine, he asked me if I wouldn’t like to go out and meet some of his friends.

I said sure, again. I’m adventurous.

We hopped back into Norm's car, drove around a bit and then into a parking lot for a bar. The bar was named Wiggles.

It was a strip club.

I did a mental check to make sure I wasn’t leading anyone on, and followed him into the club. We sat at a table and he asked me what I wanted to drink. At the time I was on a gin kick so I ordered a gin and tonic. As we drank and talked I looked around and took in a bit of the stage show, then turned back to Norm and asked “So, when do your friends get here?”

“They are here. They work here.”

“Ah.”

“If you want to talk to anyone, just let me know.”

In a strip cluband I know this from working in onein order to talk to girls you buy girls drinks. The girls more often than not have a standard drink that is either juice or cola based. More often than not the drink has no booze in it. The girls only have four or five real drinks a night; the rest are just plain juice or soda. If the girls actually drank the amount that was being bought for them the conversations and the dancing would suffer.

We enjoyed our drinks and continued to talk and finally a few of the girls (and Norm's favorite girl) came over to join us.

Girl 2 asked me if I’d like to buy her a drink.

“I’m with Norm.” I answered. We looked at each other and she knew, as I did, that I was doing roughly the same thing she was. I may not have been taking off my clothes, but I was earning my keep through conversation and entertainment. She asked Norm who confirmed with me and then he got her a drink. Then he gave me a stack of singles so I could tip the girls later when we moved to sit closer to the dance floor.

By the end of the evening (if dinner and drinks were included in the tally) Norm had spent more than double my rent on the night out. It was the first night of many that would take place over the next several months. I became friends with several of the girls. On several occasions I brought my sketch pads and paints in and did portraits of the girls for Norm. He paid commission for the drawings as well.

It was an amusing time.

The Electrician cracked a wide smile and giggled.

“What?”

“You’re life is really more interesting than mine.”

“Not really. I just never pass up an opportunity to be amused.”

“Indeed.”

The wings were all right, but in the end we had to reject one batch and get something different. All around it was tasty, and the conversation more than agreeable.

I paid for the dinner.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Captains and Conductors

I was on a plane that was flying to Philly. The plane was an hour late taking off. As I was not on a specific traveling schedule it didn’t really bother me that it was an hour late taking off. What bugged me was that it was an hour late taking off and I had to get up at 5 a.m. to catch a plane that was going to leave at 8:30 am instead of 7:30 am. Had I known that this would be the case I would have slept in a bit. The flight crew, apparently, thought better of the early hour and decided not to show up for the flight at all. I understood completely, since I was pretty sure my brain was still in bed.

The funny thing about Monday morning 7:30 a.m. flights to Philly was that apparently many of these flyers were going someplace important, or to a meeting. Had the flight been on time, all would be well. Since it was not, people were missing connections, meetings, and the random minutia that made up their lives. People with schedules get righteously pissed off when someone else decides to interrupt their schedule. I knew exactly how they felt as I didn't like it when people interrupted mine, but I felt a bit bad for the flight crew that got boos and catcalls coming into the concourse carrying McDonald's breakfast in hand. On board the captain asked us to please reign in our ire as they were actually the afternoon crew who had been called to come in early to help out with our missing flight crew situation. The flight, once in the air, was uneventful.

Being that I was now in Philly I needed to get a connecting train to 30th Street Station to get to my final destination on another train. I made calls to let people know when I would show up and mentioned that I was at the mercy of the train as far as that went. Then I asked several dozen times if I was in the right place for the train and still almost got on the wrong train until a friendly conductor informed me that the NEXT train was the one I wanted, and then continued to wait for the next train for Philly.

Something at this point should have been bugging the back of my brain or tickling my synapses to think about something other than getting to point B. But my synapses were clearly focused on  reading my book and finding just the right song on my MP3 player for the train. It was not until I  boarded the train and started to look around at small pieces of parchment stuck into seats that my brain put the brakes on.

My brain had a little conversation with itself:

What is that little piece of parchment?

That one right there, with the numbers on it?

Yes, that very one.

Why, that is a ticket.

A ticket, yes, to indicate destination.

Indeed. You need to purchase one of those to get to Philly.

Of course.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

At this point my brain was catching up with the fact that I had not stopped at any point this morning to get cash. The blame for this rest squarely on rushing to catch a flight that was an hour late. Had I not rushed I might have had coffee, had I known the crew was not going to get there till eight, I might have had coffee. Had I had the coffee I might have reminded myself to get cash.

If I had cash I would have been able to easily buy a train ticket. It played out, however, that I was sitting in a seat, suddenly realizing that I had nothing but credit cards and some change, no idea how much the ticket was, and a pit in the bottom of my stomach of getting kicked off the train. I watched with dread as the conductor walked toward me. I flipped open my phone, seeing my 10 a.m. alarm announce my ride to Chicago and realizing why I didn’t think about getting a ticket: I always had one for my more normal commute, but this was not my normal commute.

As the conductor approached I dumped out every hidden and secretive nook and cranny I could find looking for change. I rejected all the Korean Won and Japanese Yen to come up with a grand total of $2.38. I was pretty sure that was not going to do it.

The conductor stopped.

“I forgot to get cash. I’m really sorry. I have $2.38.”

“How much is that?”

“$2.38”

The conductor looked at me for a moment, shook his head and said he would come back for me.

I sat on the train feeling like an ass. We hit the next stop and I do not get ejected from the train. I was waiting for it when the conductor called out for 30th Street Station, Philly. I gathered my bags and walked off with the rest of the crowd. As I left I caught the conductor’s eye and said Thank you. He smiled and nodded and moved the rest of the passengers along.

One end of my trip may not have included the best service, but I cannot complain at all about the kindness of the conductors on the Philly airport transit line.

Friday, July 01, 2011

On being non-Korean in Korean Medical land

The worst thing about not being Korean in Korea is that doctors simply don't get it. End of the day I'm from the good ole USA and that means a couple of things. First, even the lowest back-birth has some education in the field of medicine particularly in diagnosis. At an early age Americans learn to diagnosis illness, determine the cause, create a treatment plan, and then implement a treatment plan. This is a necessity because, as all Americans know, going to the doctor is too damned expensive or requires insurance and one are both will prevent going.

However being very well versed in the medical sciences we also know when it has become apparent that a doctor must be brought in damn the cost. You know how it is you are having a conversation with your neighbor....

"Bill, you think that bone should be poking through the skin like that?"

"Well, no Chuck, that looks like it might need a doctor."

Or...

"Bertha I been coughing up blood for a few days, what you think?"

"You try mustard?"

"Yep, lot's of mustard."



"Time for a doctor then."

Or....

"Joe, take a look at this rash will you?"

"Um, dude, go to a doctor, seriously, that's disgusting."

So, yeah, we know when it gets to a certain point that The Doctors Book of Home Remedies has been maxed out and it is time to hit up the local quake and get either a)antibiotics, b) the prescription for actual condition, c) a diagnostic to find out whats wrong, or d) surgery, jesus man it's freaking broken already.

As an American, when going to the doctor it is a safe bet that I have spent some time researching the possibilities of what is wrong with me (god bless Google and Web MD which saves Americans thousands in insurance and health care dollars each year). And yet, I live in Korea.

There is a basic Korean truth. Koreans don't know the first thing about the human body.

I had a girl in class once that was pale, flushed and running an easily 103 degree fever. She was shivering and sweating. I brought her personally to the office and asked that she be taken to a doctor. The teacher talked to her for a few minutes and then told me she wanted to go back to class. I was irate. She needed at the very least an IV and definitely something for the virus she was suffering from.

In other instance in the middle of summer I would excuse students to go drink water. I kept telling teachers that hydration would help calm the kids down and get them to concentrate. I was told that they kids had water at 10 am and should be fine after a day of sweating and gym at 2 for a class.

Had a kid with a broken finger. Took him to the office. Said, pointedly, "his finger is broken."

"No, it's not, he's fine."

He came to class the next day with a splint on.

This is Korea. Korean's don't really know if something is wrong until an actual professional diagnoses them. At the same time, while stubborn, Koreans will go to the doctor for pretty much anything. Docs are a three dollar visit with not waiting. You have a tummy ache, go to the doctor after work. Kid not well, take them to the doctor (after school, you leave classes only on fear of death). You have a runny nose, head to the doctor and get a three day run of antibiotic to clear that up. It's a little wacky.

Doctors here are also completely infallible. You go in, the tell you what is wrong, you thank them, pay them, and come back for every follow up visit they demand.

So imagine the surprise of the doctor I went to see on Tuesday when I practically begged for a blood test diagnostic.

Instead he told me I had an interesting story and he wanted to do some trials. At first I was all for it. What kinds of trials.

What he then lays out is the exact same "trial" I've been running on myself for the last six years. I pointed this out mentioning that I did not believe that his "trial" would be effective, that what I needed was to stop hypothesizing and to actually test some freaking theories. What was his response....


"Sara, Sara. You don't listen. I'm a doctor. Okay? First I will talk with some other Doctors about your problem."

I hold out my arm. "Take my blood. Please, run some kind of test on it."

"First I will discuss the case with another doctor."

I want to kill.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that illness in Korea is like Korea itself. It's homogeneous. Most people here get the same sick. Even major illness have consistency. Stomach cancer, gall bladder problems? Come to Korea you can't get better care. Have a strange disorder like say celiac disease? You will die before they figure out what is wrong with you.

It is both the blessing and the curse of the Korean system. Here I have full health care coverage for $25 dollars a month, no co-pays, or deductibles or premiums or being told what doctor to choose or confusing plans. I can walk into a doctors office and see someone within five minutes and pay three bucks for the visit no matter how long I'm there. For getting my prescriptions refilled or for other basics its no problem. For something that might be major, though, the cheapness and the ease truly fails.

And so here I sit a week later still wondering what is wrong and trying to find out if I can order home kits on the internet to test myself.

American medical know how, Korea style.

A Burlesque Bake Sale

Tendrils of music were still flitting through my head as I jumped into a cab to head for the Green Door Tavern where a number of very strange and altogether left of the normal people would be gathered for the Burlesque Bake Sale. This Bake Sale was an event by the local area Chicago Burners to raise money for Burner projects in the Chicago area. Specifically it is run by the Bold Urban Renaissance Network NFP, or BURN for short. Among other things funds from these events go to supporting grants for artists and performers who can use the extra cash. You can find out all sorts of things about them and their fantastic projects at either http://www.boldurban.org or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/boldurban.



As I got out of the cab I admired the big and gaudy signed the signified my entrance to the Green Door. As I walked in I was sure that I had somehow managed to go to the entirely wrong place. I checked the address and knew I was where I was told to go, but it just seemed so…normal.



It was overwhelming normal, far to normal for me to really trust that I was in the right place. There were a number of girls that looked like just out of college cheerleaders in cami tops and short shorts. Beside the girls were a series of men all with short cropped hair, polo shirts, or stripped button down shirts and half cargo shorts. The smell of the place was that overwhelmingly alcoholic stain of high end perfumes, the smell that makes them all smell alike even though individually they cost a hundred dollars a bottle. It just felt wrong.



I was sure I was in the wrong place.



I started heading towards the back thinking there must be a secret door, or secret room, I was feeling a bit out of me league surrounded by so many obviously normal people. And then I saw her, my dancing partner from the Firewater lounge, looking lovely in a flowing skirt.



“Thanks the gods.” I said to her.



“Hey, you made it.”



“Yes, where is it? I feel like I’m lost.”



“Just go downstairs, it’s in the basement.”



She points out the direction so I find myself down the stairs, and like Alice down the rabbit hole, suddenly the world makes sense again. I’m greeted by a jester in a cowboy hat, and Krueger, who tells takes my price of admission and tells me to go buy some baked goods. I walk into a room full of the most wonderful collection of people. Girls in tight corsets, steam punks, regular punks, Goths, freaks, all of them; surrounded from left to right by a throng of the most wonderfully unique and individual people. On stage a girl was performing her burlesque out, starting out as a Mexican cowboy. We laughed as she removed her boots to take off her jeans, revealing red fishnet stockings. We laughed harder when she nodded at the audience as she put her boots back on.



At the bake sale there were so many tantalizing goodies to eat, but I had to be aware of the fact that a) not supposed to eat flour, b) not supposed to eat too much sugar, c) allergic to milk d) allergic to eggs. It’s the last too that make me very wary of baked goods, as they tend to always contain more than a fair share of eggs and milk. I gave the lovely goth girl in a black corset with purple dreads a breakdown of what I couldn’t have, and she directed me to some vegan balls.



“Just what I needed tonight,” I quip back “a bag of balls.”



“Actually you get three.”



“That gives me a ball up on the competition.” My dancing partner laughs. I ask her where I can get a drink and she directs me towards the bar upstairs, which requires us going back up to normal land. We venture up stairs through the throngs of people there to talk about sports and look for random casual hookups. Dancing girl accompanies me as we put in for some drinks and get back out as quickly as possible.



Downstairs we grab seats for the next round of burlesque that includes among other things a great performance with a hula-hoop, the wonderfully classy Feral Kitty, an amazingly nice strip tease done under sort of sheer see-through cover up. While this was all going on, it was also morning in Korea when it is prime time for conversation. As it happened the Irish popped up on the phone having some extreme stress and, being that I am a good friend I felt obligated to discuss with him the particular stress. However discussing the stress with him also meant not watching the stage.



I do believe at least one of the girls took some offense at having me looking at my phone because suddenly I had a whole lot of bra in my face. This being followed later by panties. Dancing girl started laughing. I tried to explain to her, and while doing so got pelted by another piece of underwear. With all that happening I was finally forced to tell the Irish :Look I have to go, I keep getting pelted by women’s underwear.



In between the acts there was also an auction of the baked goods and some excellent performances by our master of ceremonies at the keyboard, with a great deal of help from his lovely assistance Sin. In all a good time was most certainly had. The sweet potato cheesecake was auctioned off for $40 dollars, and the nipple red velvet cupcakes were also popular. There was an all out bidding war for the bacon laced maple and onion cupcakes. Which sounded delicious I’m sure, but still weird.



As the show wound down, decisions were made about eventual after-parties, Dancing girl took my arm and asked me if I would car to join her. I took the offered hand and happily followed her into the chilly Chicago night and out for more adventures.

And they Said: The Artwork

My camera is now fixed. These are the five new pieces that went into the art show. Part of a series titled: And they Said...


And Ramon Said, "Transiency."


And Psyche said,"Psyche."



And Michael said, "Punk."


And Marla said, "Empty."


And Tom said, "Jesus."


Me at the Eternal Reflections 2 art show with the excellent graffiti art background. More to come on that end.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tired

I am too tired and drained and emotional to write you.

I know you want me to write you, and I promise it is there. I've made a list and checked it twice and probably tomorrow I will write, but at the moment the wine is too weak and my heart is too full to write.

There is family drama heaped upon family drama. Knowing looks, some anger, and resentment. Love, though, so much love.

Pain.

Reflection.

Bike riding and baked goods...yes that too.

Trains, planes, and automobiles are covered.

Sandwiches to cheer one up, and random acts of kindnessnot deserved, but truly appreciated and hopefully repaid.

Rain.

Sun.

Loss.

Gain.

I want to write you. I know you may be angry with me for not writing, but I will write you. I have much to write about, and do not plan on letting it go amiss.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

House Party: Epilougue

Now it was nothing but flashes. The drive up Lake Shore was dark, with clouds clogging out all the night sky. Street lamps were stars. I was dancing in my brain; my nerves were firing and my body felt like it was under a steady stream of electric stimulation. I was thumping, heartbeat, warm, desire…and light, light, light, danced in my head, in my fingers. I wanted to run my hands through the clouds. I wanted to run my hands through the world.

The light glowed orange in northern Chicago, the trees were talking to us and urging us home, home, home...I was passing into the otherworld, where everything was bright electric light, and swirls of colors and sounds.

Young Kubrick was in the chair when we walked up the stairs, and he told us about his adventures with Tino, who had won over the hearts and minds of his boyfriend's family.

“He was much loved; he soaked it up, and when he had enough he went and passed out on a rug.”

I can imagine; my dog could be such an attention whore.

My brain was swimming. I kept thinking flashes, moonbeams and silk, and fuzzy finger passing and my phone tick, tick, ticked.

“The Electrician is here, I’m going to go say hi.” And I tripped down the stairs, out the doors and found the Electrician an orange glow in a pool of light.

“I’m drunk.”

“I can see that.”

“I’ve had a crazy night.”

“Want to go for a walk and tell me about it?”

The thought was nice. I think I said yes. I think I said yes but let’s sit down for a moment. I think I said no. I can’t remember. I was on the edge of universe and it all became a squishy darkness and an unbearable light. I talked, talked, talked and spilled out words into the heavy pressure of Chicago, it weighed down on me, and I was talking to the city and telling it about how magical it was.

“Sara.”

“Mmm…mmm…”

“Sara, come on; time to go home.”

I was asleep, or had fallen asleep, or I was awake and dreaming. The Electrician grabbed my hand and took me back toward the Bard’s.

“I can do it.”

“I know you can, but I don’t have anything better to do.”

I let myself in on the first try or the tenth try or we scaled the building or we fly I can’t remember. I opened the door “I have company,” I announced and promptly disappeared into the bathroom to pull on a bathrobe for sleeping. The Electrician and the Bard and Young Kubrick were talking.

“It’s about being engaged.”

“It’s what?” I tried to catch up. I moved the Electrician so I could make up the couch for sleep.

Engagement; the ability to engage others in conversation, or in life. It was about being the opposite of Boring and boring. The Bard sometimes called it having a project. I interjected, I tried to talk about engagement and it somehow devolved into more dreams and randomness. I talked about Korea. I talked about girls. I remembered them all, the whole line of them. They were standing there watching me and smiling and giggling, and they were beautiful. I invited them into my story. I was surrounded by girls and laughter and soft talking.

I wasn't sure if I was still talking or if I was asleep and dreaming. The world was quiet and dark, with my being running around the universe peaking in light corners. A hundred hushed voices, soft hands, and quiet whispers. They were all whispering. The sound was deafening, dangerous, and desirable.

I woke up on the couch alone. The world had grown cold and quiet. I wondered when it had all ended. My head was throbbing. My tongue was heavy and felt full.

I tried to remember what happened last night.

Friday, June 24, 2011

House Party, Part 6: This is Not the End

Two people emerged from the bathroom. A third a moment later.

I was giggly with a gigantic rush of endorphins and tequila flowing through my system. I was amused, and full of devil-may-care, which seemed all too appropriate for the moment. The filthy whores had perhaps exceed our reputation more than usual. Boring, even with the opportunity to become interesting, was still just as boring.

“Brian come with me,” The Balance swooped in, grabbed Boring and dragged him to the couch.

“What have you been up to?” someone asked me.

“Foxy and I were discussing Boring's relationship, in detail. He listened. Where is my tequila?”

The Bard has been looking for me as she is about ready to go. I looked for my bottle so that I could also be ready to leave. Boring was on the couch, but Moxy was still at large. Moxy and I played cat and mouse for the next few minutes, running in and out of various quiet corners of the house to see what we could get away with in several seconds of alone time. You would be surprised how much we could get away with in several seconds, in several discreet locations and several completely indiscreet ones.

“Where is my bottle?”

“We cleaned up!” said the Jedi, with a wicked grin.

I supposed they did have enough time to clean up. It was one in the morning and time to go home. The doorbell rang. Up the stairs came the friend and erstwhile Texter to Ms. Moxy. “This is the Texter,” she introduced him to me.

I smiled. Sometimes you couldn't help but smile. I shook hands, wondered if my hands were clean, and tried to figure out how to get everything I need and say goodbye.

My own cell phone was sending me messages. The Electrician was up late and wanted to know if I was still up.

I was.

Somehow I doubted sleep was going to be hitting me anytime in the near future.

Text: Want to meet up?

Text: I’m quite drunk!

Text: Breakfast?

Text: Ooooooh breakfast!

So I decided that once I got back to the Bard’s I would go get some food and have a discussion with the Electrician. We continued to hug and say our goodbyes.

“Ms. Devil, a pleasure as always,” said the Balance with a hug.

Ms. Moxy smiled goodbye from a seat on the floor. Her Texter looked charming and somewhat confused, which could be the late hour or the random crowd of kitchen regulars.

 I was suddenly very aware of myself, very aware of smell and sound and touch and feel and taste. I was suddenly realizing that I had drank ¾ of a bottle of Jose Cuervo. I was suddenly realizing that I needed to get away from any more temptation for the night.

And so we bid the party adieu and the Bard and I left. The Bard, who had been drinking nothing but water for the last two hours would be at the wheel. She directed us down the stairs and out to Delilah. 

The city was cool and moist. The Bard drove us cleanly up the sparkling Lake Shore Drive and toward home.

I was mesmerized by the passage of twinkling lights and slipped ever further into a tequila trip of my own devising.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

House Party, Part 5: Second Performance

And the world was silent, with nothing but moonlit illumination and city streetlamps through the windows.

“Wait. Where did they go?” asked the Balance.

I was sure the Bard gave him a look. The discussion around the table was first on where they must have gone and quickly turned into the slightly more obvious question of ‘what is going on in the bathroom?’

What was going on in the bathroom?

The Jedi, who was sadly not included in the agenda walked down the hallway to spy.

What can be seen between the small sliver of door crack exposed for a second?

White skin in the moonlight, hands, a flurry of activity. Four busy hands or six? The door was closed.

What was going on in the bathroom?

Listening at the door, what could be heard? Is that soft panting? Or giggling? Or crying? What did she say? What did she say? Who was interesting now? Another push on the door, a tiny crack appeared.

Soft lights, fingers, long hair in motion, who was in motion?…just a little more, the door closed again.

The Molester, who was sadly not included in the agenda, walked down the hallway.

A tap, a knock, small, soft subtle. “It’s just me, let me in.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Perhaps an ear to the door, what could be heard now? Something different, some kind of pressure, a moist wet sound; girls sighing…

Tap, tap, tap.

“It’s me. I just want to watch. I just want to watch.”

A silvery crack in the door. Small light, white flesh, standing, kneeling, against the wall, hard to make out shapes in the dim light, smell of girls, dank, moist…the door closed again quick.

A more solid thump against the door. More hushed whispers behind the wood.

What was going on in the bathroom?

Another push. Another slivery crack in the door, closed faster this time. A giggle, a movement, a knock from inside the bathroom. Feline, female sound…

A tap from outside.

Tap, tap, tap.

“I just want to watch.”

The hallway was quiet.

The discussion at the table continued.