Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life Among the War Mongers

So the North Korean drama continues. Always a good time.

On Monday I’m on messenger with a friend of mine. While we live on probably one of the best countries in the world for cell service, most of us still prefer to communicate online via chat. Granted with 100MB internet access as standard it's hard not to want to use your computer constantly.

The chat is a bit like this:

F: Howdy. How are you?

Me: Fine. You?

F: A little nervous about today’s drills, but other than that normal.

Me: Nothing is going to happen. Probably.

This is the nature of the conversation for those of us living here on North Korea. At least for the ex-pats living here. We tend to think about it and follow it in the news a touch more than the average Korean, for whom North Korea mostly ceases to exist unless they do something like sink a ship or blow up an island. When these things happen North Korea becomes a major conversation for about a day. After that, everyone gets on with life as usual.

A few days after the Yeongpyeong bombing (a day that happened to be my birthday) I was up in Seoul leading a teacher training for new teachers in Korea. A few asked me about the North Korean thing, and I have to be honest, because of the joint navel drills I was a bit more concerned that day than usual. I told them not to worry, this is pretty normal. For the most part Korea has not really changed. However there are a few subtle differences.

I noticed while I was in Seoul signs that had not been there before. Signs reminding people that the Koreas were still at war with NK. I saw banners with the names of losses. I decided not to stay in Seoul that night, because if anything really was going to happen it was going to happen Sunday morning when the live-fire joint games began. I was even happier I was not in Seoul when waking on Sunday to read about the massive riots going on in the city.

That’s new.

For me the sentiment on North Korea has mostly changed in this way. Older Koreans were happy to sort of sit back and treat North Korea like an older spoiled brother. He gets his way by being pushy, fine, but he’s so cute, and mostly harmless. Now, however, you have a younger, less patient group of Koreans who have just finished military service and who are, frankly, fed up with their older brother and ready to kick him in the ass for a change. It’s sort of a fascinating shift. But the younger generation has grown up since the end of the dictatorships in South Korea, and hasn’t seen the kind of serious violence their parents generation has seen. They aren’t itching for a fight, but are much less willing to roll over.

The government response of late seems to demonstrate this same attitude. Continued live-fire drills in the Yellow Sea in the same area as the drill that started the first shoot out; evacuating civilians to air raid shelters in anticipation of an attack. Last week we also had one of the largest and most extensive civil defense drills since the 70s. Some of the foreign teachers here were helping to teach the children how to crawl under their desks in case of an attack by the North. Buildings, offices, and entire districts closed for the day for the drill. Good times. Didn’t even notice it at my place of employment, as we apparently didn’t get the memo.

So Korea has been fun at the moment. Aside from the drilling the South has also resumed the over-the-fence loudspeaker propaganda war. They also turned the lit-up large Christmas Tree in the DMZ and have vowed to protect it with extreme prejudice. The defense minister says if NK fires on the tree the South Korean army will destroy the force that destroyed the tree.

At the moment, though, things are winding down. North Korea has redirected their own propaganda machine to announce that it will not attack South Korea and basically publicly saying that all of this is because South Korea is a horrible war monger. North Korea would like to demonstrate just how peaceful it is by backing down. It hasn’t helped North Korea that their allies are also a bit fed up with the bullshit and are not supporting or advocating the way they used to. This will probably result in a return to six party talks, easing of sanctions, etc, and it all begins again.

Later in the evening I’m back online with friend and we talk.

F: How was your day?

Me: Fine.

F: Yep, seeing as how I have not been incinerated today is good.

Me: There is always tomorrow.

Life goes on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh North Korea, you're still there?

I always pick the best time to be in Korea.

Work has been eating my brain lately which has kept me from posting things like Dildo Quest the sequel, which I’m sure you are all dying to read about. In the meantime; however, I thought I would take a moment to mention the fact that while I'm not in any great trouble at the moment, I'm certainly more troubled then usual by what North Korea has been up to.

I was sitting in the middle of observations yesterday when suddenly on my Twitter feed the announcement “North Korea has started shelling South Korea” rolled across my screen. This did very little for my concentration and did not ease my nerves in general. In fact, I wondered if I should start to kiss several parts of my anatomy goodbye.

What I do know is that I have 45 minutes. Daegu is exactly 45 minutes (as the nuclear missile flies) from Pyongyang. So I have 45 minutes to contemplate the end of my existence should it get more murky than it has already gotten. 45 minutes is a long time to think about something like that.

As the notice rolled across my screen I ran a quick news search, tried to find out what was going on, and put the Boy on trolling duty, searching through the Korean news services to find out what had happened. Basically, this is what happened:

South Korea has annually scheduled war games. NK knows (and has always known) about these military exercises.

The exercises were held in the Yellow Sea near Yeongpyeon Island.

The exercises included live fire.

Before they began, NK sent a warning to SK to cancel the exercises as NK saw these as an act of aggression. (As a note, NK ALWAYS sends a note to cancel these as they always see these drills as an act of aggression.)

SK has the drill anyway, firing live rounds.

An hour after the drill ended NK starts shooting artillery shells at Yeongpyeon Island. The island is mostly a fishing center, but like the five other islands in that region of the Yellow Sea it does have a military outpost.

SK responded in kind with shells to NK.

On the SK side two marines were killed; this was known immediately. Other causalities among the civilians were feared.

The president of SK, Lee Myung Baek, was evacuated to a bomb shelter and started having meetings.

Everyone in South Korea started holding their breath and waiting to see what would happen.

The night of, I tossed it off as the normal nonsense, but as the processing sank it I realized this was a bit heavier than the normal nonsense.

There are a lot of factors at play. The SK president is a bit of a blustery braggart, ala George W. Bush, and has done a great deal to isolate both the North and end most of the measures moving toward peace and unification. This has caused things to be really tense. Add to this sanctions and a heavy rainy season that has really hurt the North’s crop, and you have more tension.

On top of that, in NK you are looking at the succession of Kim Jong-Il’s third and youngest son. At 27 years old, Kim Jong Un is seen as the next in the line of Dear Leaders set to lead the North to glory. However, in the Korean culturally hierarchy, a 27-year-old untested general is not the best match for a leader.

And what happens when you need to demonstrate your skills as a North Korean leader? Shit gets blown up.

Jong-Il, when he was going to take over from his father, bolstered his credentials by blowing up a commercial airliner about to land in Seoul. Aside from that Jong-Il was also credited for an assassination attempt aimed at the South Korean president at the time that ended in the death of the wife.

Which brings us here to what is happening now.

At the moment this is mostly likely a planned demonstration using the convenient maritime drills as a good reason to justify shelling. This is planned by (or will be greatly attributed to) Kim Jong Un and will help set him up more strongly as the next Dear Leader, or whatever title he shall take.

On the ground, where I am, Korea is mostly taking it in stride. Politicians are political, but the people... well, life goes on. As it has over the last eight years, and last six various different SK/NK exchanges I have lived through here.

With one difference.

Normally no one even notices. But lately people are just a touch more jumpy. When aircraft fly over, people look up. There is a bit more talk about it in the office. The news has been talking about it non-stop, which is really different from other incidents, which were addressed for maybe a day. In general, we are all a little wired. I’m so wired that I am actually thinking about evacuation plans again, and how to get out, and get my friends out if things go really south.

In the meantime I keep thinking about my job, and the work I have to do, and the things that will be done, and well, how life will go on. Well that and checking the amount of water I have in my place, making sure I have two weeks of meds on hand, and some American currency in cash. Otherwise life goes on.

The following are some articles I have found the most fair and balanced about the situation.

About the event:

About the public response:

About Kim Jong-Un’s involvement

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I am feeling this all encompassing sense of loneliness again. Feeling adrift, cast out. Granted I’m in Korea, it is the end of call, the nights are longer, the days colder, and I am alone.

The feeling persists though.

There is this sense of isolation here. I am so far away from everything. Far from friends and lovers, far from home. I am far from home.

A part of me wants everything to be home here, and the rest of me knows this cannot be. There is pressure on all fronts and all corners. I want to be amusing and witty, but instead I am the same person I always am. A drumming heartbeat of who am I?

I realize, as is always the case now, that I have shut myself off again. I stop writing, I close up, close down. In my apartment I sit and stare at blank walls. I am a blank wall. I think to myself, is there nothing in here to share? Where did all my words go?

Where is my muse?

What drives me to write? Does it serve a purpose? Is there anyone out there? Are you out there?

Maybe that is the question. I put a finger out, a hand, I reach across time and space for you. I want to hold you there, to feel you, to feel the heat rising off your body. To feel your warm breath on cold fall mornings, to hear you whisper in the dark with me. I want to hear you and see you and know you there, a walk, a moment in time, someone there with me to ease what feels like a constant open nothing.

I want to know you are still there with me.

The winter is coming. Perhaps that is it. Another cold winter in Korea, another year, another change…

But I miss…


I think silly thoughts on cold winter afternoons. Surrounded by people who fill me only with a wanting and a longing that I cannot fill up…and I circle back here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Business Wearing

It's business wear again.

When I flew across the seas and back to Korea I took with me roughly the same wardrobe I had in New York. It's comfortable, it works, it goes from day to night or night to day or school to home. Most of my days are spent school to home anyway, so it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I have something to wear on a daily basis.

Oddly, I find myself dressing in the morning and I think of you. I wonder, since for the short time in New York there were only so many things you could have seen me in. With my limited wardrobe I was limited. I wonder if you saw the limits. Was there more there? Did you look for more? Was the more there to inspire you? I had so little. When I saw you I thought you must think I am so boring, with so little interesting, entertaining or new. Yet...and yet...we had the wine...we had the night view of the city, I suppose.

Korea seems strange in my limited wardrobe. I dress in the morning and think about what it was that I wore that you liked best. Was there a favorite among the few pieces you managed to see? Or would you have preferred me disrobed and in your arms? There is that, also, as that outfit offered perhaps the best entertainment, and deepest satisfaction for us both.

In Chicago, when you came to see me I felt just as limited. Even though my boy helped me back, and even through my excitement, I felt limited by my outfits. Would there be anything to entertain you in my small suitcase, or would I have to win you over with my charming personality. Again, I thought perhaps you had so much more. And perhaps not. Maybe it was just being near that inspired so much.
Maybe we just had too much us for too many days.

Maybe we didn't have enough.

I look at my limited wardrobe and I think of you undressing me with your eyes in a bar. I think of my life and the closet that I haven't seen in seven months and won't see for at least another four.

I think of my limited wardrobe and wonder how it is that I have managed to be so unlimited within its confines.

I think of it, and I think of you, and you, and you, and all of you.

I think of it all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Graduation

BodyMagic remains in-country for a few days after the body painting festival. I help him find a smallish motel close to downtown. This is the same place I crashed for a few months back in February when I needed a place to stay. My stay there was comfortable; the ajumma was always nice to me. She offered me food on several occasions, kept my place clean, and was generally a gentle hand. The room I stayed in was not much, but it had a comfortable bed and it was mine. Aside from the neon-green lighting I couldn't complain about too much while I was there.

I take BodyMagic in and she is overjoyed to see me again. She comes out and gives me a hug and a kiss. I explain that my friend needs a room for a few nights and we haggle it down to around twenty a night. She is pleased and grabs a key.

On the way up the stairs her husband comes out and grabs the keys and throws something else at her. BodyMagic looks at me and I explain it is the key for a nicer room, he has been given an upgrade. The room is on the third floor. It has an element of postmodern abstract amusement. The walls are covered with sky-blue wallpaper that is decorated all over with clouds. It’s like something out of a children’s bedroom, fascinating to see. Other than that it is on the smallish side, it’s clean, and it has free fresh water.

“If this is an upgrade…”

“Yeah, I know,” I respond, “but it’s cheap!”

“There is that.”

He settles in and I walk him down to the Lonely Hearts. Sadly I cannot stay out too late on the night in question, but I leave him in good and capable hands. A few days later I get a message from him asking me about the Daegu Beauty College graduation. I recall that roughly around this time last year I had stumbled upon the graduation ceremony quite by accident. It had included, as I remember, some body painting in it as well. Apparently on the way through the park BodyMagic had stumbled upon the rehearsal and met a few of the teachers from the school who recalled and appreciated his work from the body painting festival in Daegu. He was invited to join for the official ceremony on Monday and asked if I could make it.

I moved some things around to make it more doable so I could come out. When I arrived he was already well along in discussion with the president of the school and several other professors. We smile politely and we talk quietly amongst ourselves after being seated with the president and others. As the ceremony nears the professor who recognized BodyMagic asks for my business card. I ask why, not meaning to be rude, but not wanting to be confused with an actual artist. She assured me that it was just for information, which I’m happy to share. I passed on my card to her.

We were whisked away and asked to sit dead center of the stage, roughly behind the president. Tea and snacks were brought around to our seats in the park. I was very amused. There was a small pre-show magic show that was not bad, but when you are friends with the Irish magician it is hard to be super impressed.

When the announcements began several of the professors were pointed out. The spotlight came down on the president, on professors left and right. Then suddenly there was a short and introduction and the name of BodyMagic said with an almost reverence. When he stood and the spotlight landed on him the crowd near exploded in oohs and ahhs. His presence was the bit of celebrity that the show had hoped for. The students were very familiar with his work as both a painter and judge from the festival, and overall the crowd was impressed that the college had scored such a celebrity to observe the final performance.

Immediately afterwards another introduction was presented and I heard my name being called, the spotlight shining on me and BodyMagic telling me to stand and enjoy it.

“But I’m not an artist!”

“You painted a few faces.”

I stand, smile, and quickly sit down feeling as if I must have turned the same color read as the blouse I had pulled on for the evening event. The announcements continued and then it was on with the show. The students did good work. Body painting was only a small portion of what was overall presented by the students. The show also included fashion design, massage, dance, and choreography. Overall it was fascinating to watch. The stone-and-shell synchronized massage was especially interesting.

“This could be a fascinating Olympic sport.” I commented to BodyMagic, who smiled.

We were both amused at some of the titles of the final student performances. Things like Sex, Blood, Magic, and Dance with a Vampire. The titles made less sense when you saw the shows they represented. At one point both BodyMagic and I were a bit shocked by what was happening behind the screen. In front of the principal, all the teachers, probably some parents, and definitely students, was some slightly harder-than-softcore porn. Him being a body painter and me a perv you’d think we wouldn’t mind, but both of us were a little put off, and quite amused.

I stayed until after the high-school dance routine, which may or may not have also been a fashion display. The night was warm enough, and I had work in the morning, but it was a pleasant way to spend a last evening with the Magic before he fled the country.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dildo Quest 2010

“It’s a dildo hunt, you can’t just go in and assume you are going to find what you are looking for easily. It’s a dildo quest.”

The One was amused as I tried to explain that going to the antique store where one can procure stone and marble dildos was not like going to a sex-toy shop.

“Basically it is full of all sorts of junk and antiques. What you need to do is sort through all this and find the stone dildo you are looking for.”

We met downtown in Daegu to go on the quest. We were supposed to be meeting to take a Korean friend along, but sadly she couldn't make it, so we decided to quest alone. We walked down the street as I explained the ways and means of the dildo hunt to her.

“So, are they like antique stone dildos?” the One asked.

“I’m pretty sure they manufacture them for tourists. Still they are not the easiest things to find.”

We entered the store, which was overflowing with clutter. Brass, silver, stone, marble, and wood, everywhere the eye looked. I found an ancient gramophone; I think I saw it there once before. There are old cameras, video cameras, turntables. I recalled when last I had ventured out on the Dildo Hunt that there had been several in the window, yet on this occasion there were none to be found.

“Are you sure they have dildos in here?”

“You have to find them.” She kept looking. I spotted the first dildo before she did. A large black one that I believe I had classed the executive when I had gone dildo hunting before. It was a heavy piece and she marveled at it a bit.

“It’s kinda big, don’t you think?”

“A Korean sense of either hope or delusion, not sure which way you’d want to go with it.”

We kept hunting about. She managed to find her first dildo, a wolf-like creature at the base with a protruding member that would make Ron Jeremy feel inadequate. Sadly it was also crusted in something that was either dirt or rust.

“This won’t do.” She says to me.

“Keep hunting. “

We squeeze back into parts of the shop, behind shelves and poke around. We find another, this one made of granite, porous and scratchy.

“It has some potential.” I venture.

She is starting to lose hope. She’d been poking around the front area of the store for a bit and I figured maybe the dildos really were low in stock. I offered to ask the ahjussi who owned the shop to see if he had more. I still had the executive in hand, just in case, so I would be able to explain that what I was looking for were a larger selection of marble phalluses.

“I’m going to tell him we are buying this for your mother,” I say to her.

She giggles.

And I do. I ask the ahjussi for more and he points me in the direction where the One had been standing earlier. I look around seeing nothing. He pushes carefully past me, and pass the piled antiques, and like a magician, pulls a large dildo from right in front of me. It was hidden carefully behind some petrified coral fans, and a large Buddha.

“Huzzah!” I marvel and the peaches-and-cream stone beauty. And then I spot another executive. And another. And four dozen more.

“Girly, you are really not good at finding dildos; there is like a motherlode of penis over here.”

She returns to the area she had scouted before and begins to see the dildos practically jumping out of the walls at her and giggles more.

We pick up several dozen until finally she settles on the pièce de résistance that she had been looking for. I haggle a bit with the shopkeeper to get a fair enough price for her. He wraps us up and sends us on our merry way.

“It’s so nice. I think I might just keep it on a bookshelf or something, see if anyone notices.”

“I used to display mine on the shelf you would see when immediately entering my apartment. Right next to the good-luck kitty from Japan.”

She laughs and we stalk down the street like mighty Amazons who have ventured into the fierce dildo jungle and emerged unscathed and armed for future battles.

A Little Out of Sync: New York Meets Chicago

While in Chicago I had the chance to entertain New York. She offered to come for a visit and I was only to happy to invite her to my fair city. There was a little place downtown I knew so we arranged for a stay and to meet there. She was lovely in the Chicago morning, coming in just on the crest of a heat wave, the weather slightly cooler than it had been in days. Most certainly cooler than New York. 

In a few days I’d be leaving for Korea for a short-term contract that I was both looking forward to and lamenting. Sometimes there is just not enough time in once place or the other. She agreed to walk me to the Korean consulate, where I would get my passport stamped and all my documents in order to be ready to leave. She was in awe of the city. Chicago is so different from New York.

“It’s the open spaces,” New York remarked. “There are just as many buildings but I can see the sky. It feels more open here; not so crowded.” She’s right. Chicago is a very open city. There is so much room to move and breathe. As we sauntered along the sidewalk in the mildly warm afternoon she remarked at how easy it was to walk a bit slower, to take your time. 

She was right. It was slower. Chicago is smoother. When I walked in New York I always felt like I not only needed a purpose but a destination, anything less then this would lead in no certain terms to trouble. I was constantly seeking things on my maps, constantly trying to hide the fact that I needed a map. I felt so very other while I was there. Here in Chicago, in my hometown, in my fair city, with the lovely and fair New York, I felt nothing but a wave of absolute delight. Of being settled into a single moment in time and enjoying that moment for all it was worth.

That afternoon was moving quickly and I had a bit of work to finish up before I could take a few days off. We parted company with the agreement to meet back later. I went to a coffee shop and she wandered about, seeing almost everything there was to be seen in the city in almost three hours. I sent her a text to meet me on the steps of the Art Institute when she was ready. I waited with that certain kind of tension for her to appear on the streets and when she did she was so lovely to watch. I enjoyed the sheer joy on her face as she moved down the sidewalk towards me. New York, so perfect in Chicago. Chicago, so happy to have her.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Painting, Music, Magic

The crowd was huge. This year the festival had so many more people. I was hanging out with the Irish and the Apprentice. Added to our troop was also the One, who had most recently landed in Korea to join the Irish officially as his fiancé, and no longer as the invisible fiancé who the Irish may or may not have made up.

The One and I ditch the boys and walk stall to stall, both of us dressed for warm weather. Armed with bosoms at the ready we found ourselves the recipients of several free gifts, including lipstick, shot glasses, and body gems. The shot glasses ended up being the most fortuitous gift of the day as we were both packing different bottles of liquor to drink in our bags, since neither of us drink beer. I buy some cheap body paint and we find ourselves a corner where I can do our makeup. She gets large swirls in dramatic black and red. I go for mostly black with some red highlights for myself. We make up prettily on the windy day at the festival grounds.

BodyMagic is at the festival, judging. We had all run into him earlier, but as I sit and paint the One on our little stone bench  he comes over to appraise my work. “A little too heavy on the cheek; you want it to lift.” He has a point, but I’m still annoyed. We talk for a bit and make plans to meet later.

The One and I sip our drinks and crowd watch. A team of Korean girls comes running up and asks to take pictures with us. I’m amused and explain we are not models, but they don’t care. They think we look fantastic, so we pose with them. I pass them my camera and ask them to take a picture of us for me.

The One

The Saradevil

As the sun starts to go down and dinner hour approaches I suggest potential options. The One and I are sent off to get food and the boys go to find a place for us to sit and watch the stage as we wait for the show to finish so we can join the artists for the afterparty. We retrieve boxed chicken and go to find the boys.

What we find is the Irish and the Apprentice together on the lawn, having picked up a group of older ahjussis drinking Makgeolli.

“We figured it would be better to make friends.” Says the Irish, as we join the group.

The ahjussis' faces light up when they see the two girls who have come to join the party. They offer us their own chicken and we offer them beer. Soon we are offering them Hennesy from the One’s secret stash. I manage to keep my tequila squirreled away at this point. Soju is also in attendance and soon we are singing and dancing and drinking soju with the small group we pick up. The One is practicing her Korean, but it is not so good yet. She manages to convey, though, that I am the person responsible for painting her face to the ahjussi sitting closest to her.

“He wants you to paint his face,” she says to me.


“I told him you did my face and he wants you to paint his face.”



I break out the kit I had stashed away and paint a small red devil on his cheek. He wants more though; he demands swirls and patterns. I dip my tiny brush several times and manage to liven him up with red devil horns to match his devil cheek. Very Korean style. The ahjussi next to him grabs me before I can put my kit away and asks for the same. On the lawn I sit and paint the two sixty-year-old Korean men who are drinking fermented milk and clapping along merrily as women and men wearing only paint walk to and fro on the stage.

The sky is dark and stormy; we feel rain drops for only a bit. Some of the crowd packs up to the leave. The air is full of tension, maybe from the thunder that rumbles on occasion. Or maybe there is just the right amount of revelry, the right number of people, the right concentration of elements, to fill the grounds with a special kind of colored magic.

We drink and enjoy the show, passing glasses between ourselves and our new Korean friends, waiting for the call to retreat to the tents for the later party.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Body Painting 2010

The festival this year was one of the largest body-painting events in the world.

I have stories to tell too....

From the festival...

I thought she made a perfect cover model for the event.

He was a great drinking buddy.

The art was as usual, fantastic.

Don't leave any part unpainted.

Try to stay entertained.

Judge by BodyMagic and others.

Even I got to do some painting.

On myself as well.

Stories to follow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Baklava Redeemed

After the lovely Bard learned of my baklava experience in NYC she suggested that at some point we really had to rectify the situation with good baklava. It is very hard to disagree with the good baklava about anything. Sadly on the night in question that was nominated to fix the baklava experience, Chicago experienced massive thunderstorms that made the trip suggested difficult to undertake. We planned it for a week or so later.

On the Saturday night in question the weather was sunny and clear, perfect really for a trip to Chicago, to Greek Town, to the Parthenon, the only place on Earth where one can guarantee that a horrific baklava experience can be overwritten. The only thing that could possibly be better would be having homemade baklava cooked by a Greek in your own home. Granted, at the Parthenon that is pretty much exactly what you get, sans one’s own home.

Once arriving we decided to order the most miraculous of Greek foods to eat as a dinner that would lead up to the baklava. I love the Parthenon. The sound is overwhelming when you walk in, a wall of sound, chatter, noise. Everywhere are people grouped together around tables shouting their heads off at each other while laughing, smiling, and drinking chilled wine. The tables are lined with white cloth. People break bread and dip it in olive oil, eating, laughing, cheerful. The smells from the various types of food hit like a punch that makes you want to lie happily unconscious and revel in the a moment of complete freedom from thought. As soon as we walked in my stomach turned over from the hungry and the sheer joy of anticipating the Greek food it was about to receive.

We sat at the bar and had a wine with the friendly waiter, who had so nicely given me a free drink once a upon a time. We began to think about it and realized that the last trip to Parthenon must have been about a year and a half ago. Obviously we had left this far too long.

For dinner we agreed that we had to have saganaki, flaming cheese.

“The people who decided to cover cheese in alcohol and set it on fire should be praised,” says the Bard.

“Everything is better when set on fire,” I say.

“When covered in alcohol and set on fire.” She corrects.

It’s true. The waiters go happily to and from tables with steaming plates that crackle and pop with sizzling sound, stopping for a second to cover it in booze and then with the flick of a lighter “Ooopa!” and fire, and clapping joy from those who are about to eat, watching merrily as the waiter puts out the fire with a slice of lemon and delivers the food to the table.

“Yes, flaming cheese.”

Aside from the flaming cheese we also had kolokythakia with skorthalia. While I watched the cheese go up in flames we pondered what to order for our main course. In the end I decided it had to be an all-flaming meal, there was really no other way to do it. So while we enjoyed cheese the way the gods intended, covered in booze and lit on fire, I order scallops and shrimp flambé, and the Bardwould dine one some sort of delectable Greek meat (I apologize to the Bard for failing to recall in full the details of her dinner).

When my dinner arrived I pulled out the camera and the waiter, a spry, spritely, spruce Greek waited patiently for me and asked when I was ready before my food, properly doused in booze, went up in flames. The fire shot toward the ceiling, and my whole meal went up in flames. I could not have been happier.

As we ate we revisited the tale of Howyoudoin from New York and my awful baklava experience. I had not tried to have baklava since the trauma in New York. Perhaps I was suffering form Post Traumatic Server Disorder, or service, or sweet, but I had been, well, burned by the last attempt at baklava, and my taste for sweets (not to mention my pride and self respect) were suffering for it.

I knew I was ready. As we finished the wonders that were our Greek-laden meal we called the ever-too-happy-to-help us waiter back over and ordered baklava. To be fair we ordered a mountain of baklava. We ordered a piece each for ourselves, and three pieces to take home. These were ostensibly for later, and also to be shared with Young Kubrick (who was spending the night painting rather than enjoying insanely good food with us).

I swear as they brought the baklava to the table it was like some sort of mythical procession. It was like the gods itself turned and smiled and said yes, yes…

And as we observed it on the table the only thing I could think that would be possible better would be…

“You know, they could cover this in booze and light in on fire, I think that is the only thing that could potentially improve it.”

“Does it fix the previous experience?”

“Oh yes, oh very yes…” I indulged in the honey-sweet succulent pastry and smiled.

My Solo Chicago Music Festival


After New York I needed to remember why I loved Chicago. For this I decided that I need music. What good is being in Chicago without music? Granted there is also food, and eating occurred (as did couch surfing, great conversations and traveling randomly on public transit), but then there was the music, sweet music.

In all I got to see a grand total of five great bands live by myself.

There was first Mountain Band, a trio of girls singing a cappella. Lovely with an ancient feel. The band was part of a triple header, the second band was Twin Sister. A lively little band with a dancing, jumping cutie wrangling the vocals. It was poppy and fun.

Then the main act. Bear in Heaven. The vibrations in the room made this particular band beyond good. This band was damned near transcendent, orgasmic, rapturous. It boarded on being better than sex and out-of-this-world good. The set could have been three hours and I would not have
been bored.

When I went to see Bear in Heaven I read on the theater banner that Tapes n Tapes would be playing hardly five days later. I had never really hoped to see Tapes n Tapes live. They haven’t had a new album out since 2008. Hang Them All practically defined my life for an entire year. As soon as I got home, I had tickets to go see them.

Then I found out Heartless Bastards would also be playing in Chicago. With the Builders and the Butchers. This is a lineup that would make any hardcore music listener like me willing to kill. So I got tickets for that too. Tapes n Tapes offered the opportunity for Unicycle Loves Me, a fun band, with yet another gorgeous guitarist who really knew how to wail. Fantastic little duo.

The main act was transcendent, again. I sang along to every song. My throat was sore by the end of the show.

On the night of the Bastards I combined life with food. (Hence the prior story.) I got to the theater in time for the Builder's opening set. They're one highly energetic band, that came complete with fans who bring toys. The energy they had on stage is what I want to bring to my life. They live and
breathe music.

Heartless Bastards is hard to describe. She has a voice that fills a room over and over again. Fills the mind, fills the soul. I shook and tumbled and sang along again, by the end of the show my throat was burning and my head was swimming. The finale included a gigantic mash-up of HB, The B&B and,
Peter Wolf Crier, who I had missed.

All in all, the solo musical tour of Chicago reminded me very much why I love the freaking city so much.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Red lipstick, Red Wine

I sat at the bar late last Friday night in New York. It was quiet, the music played, the bartender and I discussed wine. New York has been oppressive. I cannot recall ever feeling so alone in such a large city. Without trying I'm isolated constantly.

I sit at the bar, I order a bottle of wine, thinking to console myself, to celebrate being able to flee the big unfriendly town.

She walks in and sits next to me. She is bright red lipstick and dark hair, sun-kissed skin, big warm eyes. She sits down next to me. I offer her a glass from my bottle and we begin to talk.

There is warm and sunshine in her smile, her smell, and I can't help notice that I sit closer to her without meaning to. I wonder why she would want to be so close to me, so near me, but as the wine warms me up and soothes the nerves that have been on edge for weeks I find her charm enticing, alluring, memorizing. She touches my hand, sending those warm sunny vibrations through the air, my arm, and my mind.

I touch her back. Warm skin, warm hand under mine. The conversation is friendly with a touch of dark, sharing. Real conversation in a quiet warm bar, conversation that is not just small talk with a bartender trying to make a tip.

I'm enchanted.

I offer to walk her home as the bottle is finished. She says it's not too far. On this late-night walk I notice the city. The lights, the enchantment. I feel like I can suddenly understand that fascination it holds for so many people. Maybe it is that I am suddenly happy, suddenly have a reason to want to be in New York. Maybe it is just her hand in mind. I find myself holding onto her, Korean style, arm in arm, hand in hand as we walk.

I walk her up to her apartment. We stand by a window and look out on the view she has. New York, her slice of it, a slice I can appreciate. Here, now, something different. Something new.

I look at her, into her, into her sweet red lips. She tastes like wine, our shadows on the window like wine-tinted stains blending together into a puddle to block out the city. Her lips are red. Her hands are warm. I find myself waking up on my last day in New York, suddenly wishing I had more time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Art, Baklava, Manhattan, and Friends

I was basically midway through the course; indeed, we were almost finished. My room in Washington Heights was clean and comfortable. Aside from the fact that the neighborhood shops opened at eight and closed at nine, it was all right. The problem with the store hours is that my hours were 7 to roughly 10, which left little time for things like grocery shopping, but after three weeks I’d learned to make due and work around it.

On waking up on my last Sunday morning in NYC I had a lot of grading to look forward to, which I was not looking forward to. A mail check revealed that a friend doing a show somewhere outside of Manhattan. This meant that her husband (one of my best friends from college) would be within reach were I to get on a train and head outside of Manhattan. I wasn't sure about leaving Manhattan, as from what I have been given to understand that world stops at the end of Manhattan and you are entering whole other countries; a passport may in fact be required to leave the center of the city. Regardless, I figured it would be worth a try to see what else was going on in NYC and what else might be interesting.

Being up early I went to the local coffee shop, got all my grading done by two, and realized there was time to be killed between now and the trip outside of Manhattan. I decided to go to MOMA as I keep hearing about it. I enjoy art and figured this may indeed be a good time. Unlike the Art Institute an entrance fee is required and it’s pretty steep. Although Chicago's Art Institute has a recommended donation (you can actually donate less then what is recommended to get in) of seven dollars, at MOMA it was twenty, flat, no negotiation.

Except I noticed on the sign this thing about having a valid student ID.

It just so happens that I had had this conversation during my first week of teaching.

“Would you like an ID?”

“I don’t really need one, but sure, I guess.”

“Well, let’s make you one anyway, so the guard doesn’t give you a hard time.”

“Sure that seems fine.”

*flashing camera lights*

“So, I have the ID’s; there's only one problem.”

“Okay, what’s the problem?”

“Well, your ID here...well I didn’t have any teacher ID’s, so I just made you a student ID.”

“That’s fine, it’s not that big a deal, the guard has been pretty reasonable, and I don’t think anyone will actually notice.”

“Okay, sorry about that, here you go.”

I looked at the cost of entering with a valid student ID. Twelve dollars.



“Hi, I’d like a pass; here is my student ID.”

The art was good. I’m a fan of modern art: Rothko, Pollack, Dali, and Picasso turn most of my wheels with their interpretations on realism, abstract, love, death, life. Life.

Standing in front of Jackson Pollack’s Masterpiece One, Number 31, was awe inspiring. When I walked into the room and saw it I almost started to cry, I could feel the emotion bubbling up under the surface and there it was on canvas on huge canvas, easily fifteen feet long and roughly six or seven high. It felt as large at the world; it was so other, so extraordinary.

I like to get close to paintings when I go to a museum, as close as I can get without getting thrown out. I sometimes put my nose near this work so I can could smell what was there to smell, but more it is seeing what the artist did. On this canvas you can see his fingerprints. You can see stray hairs from the brushes. A long straight strand, maybe Pollock’s own, stuck on the canvas. There are sneaker prints here and there, shoes walked across the canvass when the paint was layered. Here are the results. I wonder what kind of shoes he was wearing to make this impression. That the artist can walk fearlessly across a work that people could be arrested for touching now. Fingerprints decorate throughout. There are fingerprints everywhere on the canvass. It’s chaotic and hectic, a swirl rapturous, desirable. I could sit there all day and meditate on it.

MOMA held some other surprises and wonders. A small collection of Marguerite, a little Dali, some classic Picasso sketches of ribald sexuality. And Klimt. I stood at the Klimt awhile. Not the stunning Judith (and only two pieces), but I got as close as I could just to see the glint of the artist living there creating within that time. It was lovely and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Afterward I still had some time before my trip out of Manhattan. I did bring my passport just in case, for fear that border guards may feel a need to forbid my exit to other parts of NYC without it. I figured since I had time I might try to get some coffee to keep me peppy. As I was walking the warm of the evening was picking up a bit. I started to think of baklava.

Yes, baklava.

My mind became fixated on baklava.

I wanted it.

I needed it.

Sticky sweet crusted walnuts in honey on phylo dough playing on my tongue and firing up all my sense. Cool honey running through my system to cool the other parts of my blood warmed by the sticky summer sun and humid clouds that hung over the city since my arrival.

Yes, baklava.

As I walked I found a deli and I thought to myself this looked like the sort of place that might have baklava. When the door opened I heard a booming “How you doin’?” from one of the chefs behind the counter. It made me smile, being the first “howdy” I’d had so far in the city. I, walked toward the cooler and saw it there. It did not look like Chicago baklava from Greek Town, but it looked all right. It looked like it could satisfy my craving with a little ice coffee.

I ordered, grabbed the tray, and sat down with my acquired goodies. Chef “Howyadoin” looked at me from behind the counter and smiled and nodded his head. I smiled back as I cut into the baklava and opened my mouth. He smiled again as I put the piece of honey-coated walnut and phylo into my mouth. He continued to watch as, in a moment of horror, I realized that what had touched my tongue represented all that was wrong with the world. Before I could even close my mouth I wanted it out, this outrage against baklava, crime against desserts everywhere. It was foul and hideous and I forced my mouth to close around it even though every tastebud in my body screamed at me to spit it out because Howyadoin was still staring at me and smiling from the counter.

I smiled around the abomination against taste that was riding my tongue and reached desperately for a napkin. I tried not to choke on the wretchedness that was tickling my tongue and inciting a riot with my gag reflex. I tried not to make eye contact with Howyadoin because I was desperate for him to look away so I could spit this atrocious thing out of my mouth. And as soon as I caught a break, two chilling, gut-squirming moments later I did spit it out. Howyadoin made eye contact with me again and I was sure that he must have seen me. I was worried, but smiled, drank my coffee (which was better but not stellar), and read my book in the air conditioning for a few minutes.

I waited for an appropriate amount of time to pass so that I felt I could finish my coffee and leave the shop and toss out the uneaten baklava and napkin without anyone being the wiser. As the coffee neared completion I packed up my things. Howyadoin had been nodding at me during my coffee drinking, in between loud bouts of “How you doin’” as customers came in. I put all my things together and prepared to head towards the trashcan with tray in hand. I looked around but could find no trash.

Howyadoin from behind the counter first called out “You can just leave it there” but then changed to “actually come here I need to talk to you.”

I figured I was busted, he saw me spit out the baklava and wanted to confront me about it. There was nothing I could do, like the baklava I was just going to have to smile and suffer through it. I took a deep breath and walked up to him, handing him the tray.

“Where you from?”

“Chicago, actually.”

“So, how long you been in the city?”

“About three weeks. I’m teaching here.”

“That’s nice. So…what are you doing at 2:30 in the morning?”

“Excuse me?”

“I get off at two thirty, why don’t you come back here then?”

“I’m….what…I’m no, I’m going….I ‘m leaving Manhattan, I’m…” I’m completely unprepared for where this conversation has suddenly gone. I mean, I was all ready to get yelled at for the baklava but had not prepared myself for a proposition.

“Where you livin’?”

“I’m, uptown, but I’m going now. I’m leaving Manhattan.” Somehow I feel that leaving Manhattan should be enough to terrify any true blooded New Yorker out of talking with me. The thought of leaving Manhattan is supposed to instill dread into the heart of most Manhattan dwellers.

“Cool. You should come back here when you finish your show. I get off at 2:30.”

“I’m sorry, I’ll be in bed at 2:30.”


Hopefully, I think.

“Look, I’m really flattered, really, but I have to go. I’m leaving Manhattan.”

“So, how about another night?” To myself I think that perhaps if the baklava had been better I might have considered it, but as I have the baklava to go on as a standard in this situation, that and some freaking pride, I just smile again and turn and leave.

Exiting Manhattan did not require crossing armed borders. My friends were surprised at my turning up at the event, as the one time we had tried to make plans they had bailed on me. At the shocked stammering of “How did you know we were here?” I replied “If you didn’t want to be stalked you shouldn’t post your whereabouts on Facebook.”

The show was good. The return trip home a little longer than usual.

The bed was thankfully empty and I slept peacefully with the anticipation of the last week of work the only thing on my mind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bondage Scouts

The hangover was epic and lasted days on end, but this did not keep me from making further plans. I contacted a tall drink of water, friend, and former lover, who is in the city. The once-country girl is now all New York City. Ex is happy to meet me, so I work out how to get a hold of her once I begin to recover from my hangover. We make plans to meet for dinner and I send her my location. I explain that I wouldn’t mind having Mexican food.

I get a message back a few minutes later that the Mexican place next to me is not very good and we will go somewhere else. I think it is odd that she knows the area I happen to be hanging out in so well, but perhaps this is some kind of thing with New Yorkers that they all know the city like the back of their hands. I accept that she knows where I am and just go finish my coffee and work on the huge amount of writing I have on my plate for that day. She texts to ask if it is all right to bring her boyfriend. Being me and being cautious I text back, asking if he knows who I am. She responds with a laugh and says they will be there soon.

She walks in, as lovely as ever. My long lost Ex. I’ve always thought of her as my Ex, the last one I feel like I ever had. The one who broke my heart (and who I got over enough to be friends with anyway). She’s smart, sexy, and looks fantastic. My pulse races as she comes through the door. Her boyfriend is behind her, I smile and resign myself to dealing with it, because that is what I am going to have to do.

We end up going to a Mexican place in SoHo. I am informed that the neighborhood that I am staying in is called Uptown. I also find out the Ex actually lives around the corner from my hotel (explaining how it was that she knew so much about where I was and the food selections nearby). I’m amused.

We walk through a lot of city after we get off at SoHo to get to wherever it is we are going. The place is nice, the food fantastic. My first Mexican food since returning to the U.S., so I am overwhelmed by how amazing it is. I have some tequila as well, and strangely it does make me feel better to drink and know that everything really is going to be all right here. SoHo is a fairly hopping area with lots of things going on. I find that the bars and the art scene remind me a lot of certain parts of Korea with all the young attractive people. We have a few drinks, but in the end call it an early night as all three of us are feeling a little put upon. I agree to meet the Ex tomorrow as it’s my last Saturday before I will officially start work. They help me get back to my neighborhood and I happily crawl into my bunk to sleep.

My roommate moves out the next morning. I say goodbye to her at five a.m. I hope my next roommate will be as nice as she has been. I will move out of the hostel in another day. So far I have truly enjoyed the experience. I’ve found it to be quiet and pleasantly enough set up for all that I was worried about. I spend the next day writing in a coffee shop and then head downtown to find a movie. It seems silly but 42nd Street and a movie theater was easy enough to find. The price is what I expect to pay to see a movie and it’s cool after a day of writing in a coffee shop. I ask the Ex if she wants to join me for dinner, but she says no. I tell her I’m going to find dinner and the wine bar my magic box says is in the neighborhood when I get back.

Sadly, the wine bar did not exist where the magic box said it should. I did find a place that made hummus so I gorged on hummus. The night before when talking with the Ex she mentioned that there was a not-bad dive bar near where I was staying. I called and said that is where should could find me. We exchanged various aspects of the location of the dive bar and I proceeded in. After a short consultation with the bartender I went for a glass of red, read my book and waited. The bar had a quiet, subtle ambiance that reminded me of the Lonely Hearts Club. I like it. It also makes me homesick. This feel of homesickness makes me wonder about home. Where is my home when all of this transition is going on? I like New York City so far, I think. That morning when I had gone to a mart to get some coffee for breakfast I discovered that the ajumma who ran the store really was an ajumma, a nice Korean lady with her husband. My brain got confused and I started speaking with her in Korean even though I didn’t mean to. I get frustrated in Korea when Koreans always try to speak to me in English, so I try to assume that Koreans feel the same way in America about crazy foreigners trying to speak Korean, and doing it badly.

She is amused by my Korean though, amused by my clumsy attempts. We talk about how long I have been there. And I have been there so long, but when I talk about it is always in the present tense, I don’t feel I have left yet. I’ve moved my house, my dogs, and my love across an ocean, but Korea is still home and I don’t want to be anywhere else but Korea. I’ve set myself up in Chicago, I have a home in Chicago, there is a house, there are dogs. And Korea still feels like home.

I’m haunted by Da-ha-min-guk even when I sit in a bar to drink. I think of Hyun, I think of the Lonely Hearts, I think of my lonely hearts there. I miss it.

The Ex comes in and joins me and we happily drink together. I ask her where her boy is and she explains that he might join us later, but wasn’t ready just yet. So it’s just the two of us to talk. We talk historonics. We make polite small talk. I try not to stare at her neck, her fingers, the body that I still recall so well even ten years later. I know this is why I have stayed in touch with her, because I miss her in a way that is difficult to define. Being near her now is just happiness. It’s subtle and quiet but I enjoy it. As she predicted her phone buzzes and her boy asks where we are so he can come join us. I like the boy. He has a funny streak, a brain between his ears, and can talk tech. We bond over aspects of rampant geekiness that we can both appreciate. When he joins us I’m well into my second airplane sized bottle of red in the dive bar. He gets a Jack neat and quickly catches up with the Ex and I. I ask them why this is called a dive bar as it seems like a nice place and I wouldn’t have called it a dive at all. Neither the Ex or the boy know exactly the origin of the name so finally when I get ready to order my next round I ask the bartender. He is only to happy to explain.

“Well, the owner is a diver.”

“Excuse me?”

“He likes to dive. Spends a lot of time on boats out to sea. He is a real diver. He decided to open up a dive bar, for divers, or anyone, but it’s all about the dive. He opened up a series of them; they are all called dive bars.”

I get it now. It’s a friendly place and I like being there for the drink. We continue drinking and talking, the three of us. We talk about old times. The Ex doesn’t mind teasing me. She asks if I remember a night where we got more than a little hot and heavy in front of everyone.

“You mean the night with the pool table?”

“The pool table? Ah, yes, I was thinking of Bondage night.”

“Bondage night and the pool table were definitely different nights.”

“Bondage night?” the boyfriend asks.

“How much have you told him?”

“A little. You can elaborate if you want.”

“I can, but I also would prefer not to get punched.”

“Actually it’s kinda interesting, I mean you knew her before I did and I find it sorta fascinating. You were her only girlfriend and I sorted wondered if it was just some LUG thing.”

“Oh, no, it was a total LUG thing. I knew that when I got started with her, but you have a girl that hot walk into your coffee bar and try to pick you up, you kinda go with it,” I say back.

“She is hot, isn’t she?”

“Yes she is.”

We keep talking. I tell him about Bondage night. It was actually fairly vanilla, and was mostly for our own personal amusement satisfying our exhibitionist needs and desires. He is more amused.

He continues talking. He asks me more about bondage. I say it always pays to be prepared and to prove it I have his girlfriend locked up in cuffs before he blinks.

“I’m like a bondage Girl Scout.” He smiles and I demonstrate how my surreptitious bondage cuffs work. He is amused.

Somehow at this point the conversation moves from bondage to my love of women. I tell a few stories out of school; he is amused, and the Ex moves closer to me (still tied up).

“I can’t believe you actually get into that much trouble.”

“It’s believable, trust me. In fact if I thought you weren’t going to punch me, I’d make out with your girlfriend right now.”

“Be my guest.”

I smile, put my hands in her hair and pull her to me. I kiss her. I remember her lips so sweet. The way she smells, the taste of her tongue. I kiss her deep. I kiss her because I loved her once. I kiss her because she is my friend. I kiss her for old times sake. I kiss her because I know I won’t be kissing her again, because as much fun as this is I am happy she has found a nice guy who is not an asshole, who is more amused than offended and not threatened by the pass. I let her go and sit back and sip my drink.

He smiles. “Yeah, okay, I can believe you get into that much trouble.”

“At least I ask.”

We drink until finally some hunger sets in. The boy suggests Tom’s Diner. “It’s the place they were always eating in Seinfeld.” I agree and so we walk there, only to find it closed. But the air and walk are pleasant. We are still hungry so share some late night food before heading back to the dive bar for last call. We all walk back to mine together, the girl, again, all chained up between us. When they leave me at the hostel he goes to take them off. I say no, leave them, with my blessing, I’ll get them later. I wave them goodnight as I walk into Chocolat. My whimsy and ennui chase themselves around in my dreams of Ex lovers gone by, New York City streets, bars, bondage, and a month of work all lie ahead.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Turksih Bars and Belly Dancing

I get up early and shower in the shared showers. I meet no one in the halls. The building is quiet and restful. I have a few days still before I get to my sublet. I decide I will do something in NYC, mostly look for a Starbucks, because I have work that needs to be done. I grab my computer and head out to look for the Starbucks I had seen the day before. I spend most of the day writing because soon I will disappear. After a day of that I want a break, something different. The day is warm, though, and I’m not sure what else to do, so I decide to take in a movie. I consult my little box of moving magic and it directs me to a movie theater on 42nd Street, downtown. I know how to get there and with the handy month-long subway pass I have purchased I'm able to get to it rather easily.

Later when I return to my area I am feeling an intense ennui. I feel this oppressive loneliness in NYC that I have not experienced before. I want to find a nice bar and drink but I also don’t want to spend an insane amount of money in the city. In the end on the walk back toward my room I decide on a Turkish restaurant that looks like it might be nice. The sun goes down as I enter. I ask if I can sit at the bar, which I do alone.

I order a glass of wine and like it. I order baba ganoush to eat at the bar, which is lovely. Before I know it I’m two glasses in and chatting up the Turkish bartender. He is friendly and reminds me of Hyun, my bartender in Seoul. He is also fairly well educated and we have a lovely discussion about Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. At some point he fills by glass for free and I find it sweet and it makes me a little homesick to think on it. We continue to talk. I stop paying attention to the time or the free refills. I get distracted the belly dancing that is part of the evening’s entertainment.

I should have paid better attention to the number of glasses I was having.

In hindsight I should also perhaps not have left my glass on the bar when I went down the long winding stairs to the bathroom. The bar closed around one and I was still there. I remember that much. After that, though it all gets a little fuzzy.

What I do remember is later being walked down the street by the bartender, he keeps saying something about rooms. I realize at this point that I’m not sure where I am. He asks me to get into a cab and go with him. I say no. I realize at this point that I am actually in trouble. I have my bag with me, and my phone, and start paying more attention to street signs and have a vague sense of where I am. I’ve not gotten to far from the hostel but am certainly about fifteen blocks away now. I start walking toward home, and bartender walks with me, persistent. He continues to talk up getting a room. I tell him that I need to go back to my own room. I’m tired, I don’t feel super well. I want to sleep.

Much wrangling ensues before I finally manage to get back to my hotel. He is with me the whole time, I cannot get rid of him. He implores me to invite him in. I explain the bunk beds and the roommates. He asks me to come to the bar tomorrow. I say I will see. I leave him on the sidewalk and get into my room and check the time, discovering to my dismay that is near five a.m. in the morning and I am not exactly sure how it got that late, or how I got to feel this drunk. I manage to climb into my bunk and pass out cold as dawn’s rosy fingers creep over the horizon and into my room.

The next two days proceeded to be followed by the worst hangover I have ever experienced. And being that I am a girl who can easily and happily do damage to more than my fair share of tequila that is saying something. I speculate about why I feel so crappy. In the end I find some other nice places to hang out in the neighborhood. I start to wonder about how long my love affair with New York will last.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I walk into the hostel, tired, a little sweaty, and dragging my bag behind me, a trip that has now been about fifteen more blocks than I had originally intended. The girl behind the hostel desk seems happy enough and I explain that I am the person on the phone and that I am here to check into my room. She looks me up and after a moment tells me that my room is not ready or available yet, but should be by the afternoon and in the meantime I can put my bags in the locker that is in the basement. She directs me toward the basement, which is basically only accessible by the elevator. The elevator has a door knob. It has a porthole-type window on it, and is at least seventy years old. I thought this was interesting.

I get into the elevator, push the pop up button for down and after some bouncing up and down, a little jerking, and something that sounds like a hiccuping whine I am borne down to the lower level and put my bags into a locker. I don’t want to have to bring everything I have with me down to the meeting/interview with the person I’m working with. I also wanted to change, as I certainly was not going to wear the outfit I needed for the interview to on the plan and train. Considering my hot walk through the subway and my unexpected fifteen-block jog in NYC I am glad for that. I throw my suitcase down on the floor, open it up and pull out the blouse I packed on top for the meeting, and then realized I don’t have a room. I look around quickly on both sides of the basement/ounge and note the absence of anyting like a bathroom. I end up back in the locker room where two young guys are locking up. I figure as soon as they move I can change.

They continue to not move. I am far too aware of how quickly my time is passing and I need to get down and out of there sooner rather than later, so I turn to guy number 1 and say “Look, I hope you are not shy, but I need to change my shirt, is that okay?”

Ne c'est pas?” He says back to me.

It is at that moment that it dawns on me that I have been surrounded by accents and languages for the last five minutes. For some reason this had not registered on my sense before, but now I am acutely aware of all the languages and accents that I am hearing. Of course.

I point to shirt in hand, point to shirt on body, mimic pulling it over my head. Guy 1 smiles. Not sure that is what I was going for, but finally decide it’s just not worth trying to explain it, turn around, pull off my shirt, and pull the blouse on for the meeting. I think this may, in many ways, be a result of having been on the road for the better part of this year. I just don’t have the sense of modesty that perhaps I should at times. I spend so much of my time changing in people’s living rooms, or dining rooms, or in my own hotel room, or in another person's guest room, or in the train bathroom, or in the plane bathroom, and I keep doing this and doing this, and finally it has just worn me down. So what, a stranger is going to see my bra, they can deal. Fortunately the French guys behind me did not care. All dressed and ready to go I flew back out the door, back up the shaky-shaky rocky-rolly elevator, down the streets and to my meeting; stressed to be sure, but none the worse for wear.

Later that evening I return back to my hostel and grab my bag to roll into my room. I’m informed that my roommate has already checked in. I’m not sure if she will be there when I check in but I figure it is cool either way. I roll down the hall with my bag, unlock the door to a nice cushy little room with a bunk bed.

It’s white and brown (as seems to be the theme of the hostel). The bottom bunk has been claimed by the placement of a white towel, so I will be on the top bunk. Fine, fine, I think to myself. I roll my bag into a far corner, check my hair in the mirror and go out to Broadway to find something to eat, which proved a dramatic and expensive set of choices. When I end up back at my room later I find that the room is no longer empty but occupied. On the bed is a girl with a German accent. We talk for a few minutes and within moments have hit it off completely. She is a writer, a professor, traveling to NYC. She understands education and multiple-intelligence theory. I accompanied her out to a cigarette, and we talked more about the publishing business, and the writing game. Being both writers we had a number of thoughts about our various genres. Under the light I realize she is a lot older than I had guessed, probably her mid-fifties. She is from South Africa by way of Germany. She is lovely and wise. We talk, but both of us are feeling drained after a day of traveling and moving in; we are both probably in bed by eleven.

I lay in the top bunk of the bed and look out the blue window on my right. The night in NYC is cool and chill, unlike the somewhat warm day. The blanket on the bed is just enough, the sounds of the city are distant, nary a passing car breaks through to interrupt me before I drift off to sleep after my first long day in NYC.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lost in the City Already

I get off the bus at the appointed station, and start to walk with my bags in the direction indicated by the map on my ever-so smartphone. What a good phone I have that is willing to walk me and guide me to where I am going. It’s happy to show me the way, to keep me moving, to give me purpose. Thank you so much phone. I must think of an appropriate name for you, phone, because you are my boon companion in this troubling time.

My phone guides me to what I am convinced is the subway station on 42nd Street and Times Square. I look around, and no matter where I look I do not see the subway. Finally, being fearless, I ask a cop on the street. He points that I am literally in front of the subway doors. It didn’t look like a subway. I feel small and silly and green in the city suddenly. I smile and say thank you and head down to the subway to get a ticket. In the end a 30-day pass that should get me where I need to go and let me do everything I need to do for the time that I am in NYC.

With my pass I now need a train. My trusty phone has advised that I take the one train to get to the Chocolat Hostel. It says this is a direct shot and will be there in no time. My phone says go in the direction of Uptown and the Bronx. My phone is very clever and I will give it a cookie later. I find the correct platform and head down to it to be overwhelmed by the first-time experience in the oppressive heat of the subway.

Heat does not describe the subway tunnel; it is an overwhelming heavy humid wash of fire that just blasts at you. Surprisingly warm, considering that the streets are actually fairly cool and pleasant. I am surprised by the insane heat in the subway. I roll my bag out on to a platform at what I think will be the 1 train. It comes shortly after I hit the platform and I push my way on board with my bag and settle in for the ride uptown. As we get closer to 96th Street I hear an announcement that the train will not be stopping at 103rd and everyone who needs to should get off at 96th. I figure this is okay, as I don’t mind a little walk after four hours on a plane and an hour on the bus. I note the inconvenience as I will now have to talk back to 96th for the train back to downtown for my interview.

I pull my bag up the stairs and onto the street and consult again lovingly with my oracle of technology, sure in its ability to tell me not only where I am, but where I want to be, and to guide me on a path that will be wrought with few obstacles. I start walking. I managed to get to 103rd and everything is going swimmingly. I read the directions and turn right. I see a hostel, but I’m quite sure it is not the hostel I want. I consult the oracle again and she tells me that I must turn right. So I turn right and walk again. At this point, I see nothing but a dead end. So, again, I check and again it says turn right. On the fourth right turn I am feeling less guided by an oracle and more so by a stooge so I pick the opposite direction and start walking. After several turns on my own I end up back at the hostel that is not my hostel.

I decide to call the hostel, which at this point seemed like the best course of action.

“I’ve just gotten in from my flight and I’m trying to get to you but I seem to have taken a wrong turn from the subway.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m on 103rd.”

“No problem, you just walk to the river and it’s right there.” I look at my phone.

I look at my phone again.

“I just landed in New York. I have no idea where the river is.”

“Oh. Uh…”

See, even big-city folks can give directions that are random and mean nothing unless you live there. We manage to work out that I DO know where Broadway is and I can walk in the direction of that, cross it and keep walking until I get to the next street after Broadway were I will, no doubt, see the hostel. And sure enough, on the appointed road is the appointed chocolate brown sign that proclaims that I have indeed arrived at the Chocolat.