Monday, September 30, 2013

Ruminations on Danzig


I stood there waiting for the show to come on, thinking about my original introduction to Danzig, an introduction made to me by my oldest best friend, a girl I met in the gifted program when I was all of 8 years old. I think Danzig entered our lives when we were 12 or 13 and began our self-righteous/smart girl/goth outcast period. (It was not a phase.) We would sit in the cafetorium (yes that is what it was called) and listen to Danzig, wearing black and upside-down crosses, with black nail polish and doing our best to sneer at everyone else because it was either that or always be at the end of someone’s wrecking ball. High School. We were the abnormals: well educated, well read, sexually aware, and smarter than everyone else and they knew it. Were it not for the fact that they thought we sacrificed babies in our spare time, the jocks, cheerleaders and more socially normal crowd might have made a point of letting us know that the knew it. As it was they didn’t. We had Danzig.

One morning we were sitting and trading back pieces of porn we had authored or books we had read (being that we would either read trashy smutty pirate porn or write our own) and got into a long conversation about how the guitarists in Danzig really turned our various wheels. This lead to us decided to have a Danzig festival on our next sleepover, which was at my house something like a week later. My parents were gone most of that night, and somehow I had managed to vanquish my siblings somewhere, and Iz (yes, that was her name) and I sat in the living room watching Danzig videos while describing in vivid sexual detail the things we would like to do to them. That and eating ramen was how we spent a of these sleepovers.

Which was all well and good until suddenly the VCR started to eat the Danzig tape and it got stuck.

“Shit,” said Iz.

“Shit,” said me.

The last thing either of us wanted was for my parents to find out we had broken the VCR while talking about masturbation over our devil-worship music. We spent a frantic forty minutes taking apart the VCR with a screwdriver until we finally managed to free the video tape in question, which finally popped out, film all twisted, and gigantic smiling skill with horns looking up at us accusingly.

We put in an old copy of The Little Mermaid, as I recall, and went to my room to hang out and talk and laugh about it until sleep claimed us.

Danzig is one of the few happy time memories of my childhood. Iz and I owned Danzig until around 1997, when “Mother” became such a huge hit and suddenly everyone was trying to horn in our isolated creepy goth schtick. It was fine with me; by then I had moved on to Nirvana, Sonic Youth and the Violent Femmes, so high school could suck it.


I was going to see Danzig live.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Everything Does Feel Pretty Tame

I had decided previously that I wanted to see Gwar, but didn’t need to see the whole thing, I really wanted to see Joan Jett, and if I was in the back of the crowd for Danzig I could deal with it. I worked my way through the crowd and got a reasonably good spot on the stage for the Joan Jett concert, but started to wonder why the crowd was so small about five minutes to set time. Finally, I asked the guy standing next to me who he was waiting for and he answered “Sublime.”


I was at the wrong stage.

I backed out of the crowd and started to sprint across the thirteen-hundred acre park to the right stage. I really wanted to get close enough to see something, but the crowd was awe inspiring in size and there was no way I was getting to the stage. The crush of people was intense and tight and I was not going to get though it at all. What was worse, the sound on the stage really sucked so I could barely hear from where I had managed to squeeze in. So I made the decision to back out and head back to the Gwar stage for the Danzig show and figured I could deal with being on stage for Danzig after all.

As I was working my way out of the crowd two girls pushed in front of me, and I was just behind them but we were all working together to get out when suddenly one of the girls stopped and bent over, putting herself tightly up against my crotch as I was still being pushed forward to the crowd.

“Um,” I said into the rock music-filled air, but was pretty sure she couldn’t hear me and the crowd kept pushing. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable when she finally popped up and we started moving again.

As we made it out of the press she turned to me and smiled “Sorry, but you see I had to, I had to…” she kept saying this like it was clear, although I was clearly confused. Finally I started to pay attention to her hands and realized she was waving a joint around to make a point about why she suddenly had to stop. She’d dropped her dope. Got it. I was amused. Being back in America less than a week, I had rather forgotten about the ridiculous drug culture in this country, I waved her off and moved to get back on stage for the Danzig concert.

I managed to be on the rail just to the left of center stage. Not a bad vantage point for the show. As the crowd started to fill in I noted a mother with her son right behind me. Her son looked to be all of about 8, wearing a cutup jean vest with lots of patches, and a white T-shirt with some minor Gwar splatter (she had a little herself). She was talking to her son as we waited for Danzig.

“Tomorrow the Celtic festival is going to feel pretty tame next to this.”

The kid just sort of looked at her. He seemed faintly amused by the whole thing, and so was I.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Oh, and yes...

I did get a minor amount of Gwar-ed!

It took three days to get that to come off. I can't even imagine what happened to the people at the front of the stage who were literally soaked from head to toe in Gwar!


When I got to the stage I took a look around. Every single piece of equipment on that stage was covered in plastic. Every inch of speaker, mic, amp, and soundboard was taped up, and even the camera that was going to be used to record the show was wearing a plastic raincoat.

A few girls in the crowd who were near the front had their own plastic ponchos, and as the crowd started to fill out more and more people packed in wearing white T-shirts.

I moved into a nice location that I hoped would keep me from getting coated in blood but would allow me a good view of the stage. From where I was standing I watched as the sun in Chicago magically set, sending the park into a sudden twilight darkness illuminated by stage lights. Suddenly a gigantic gimp wandered on to center stage.

The gimp was holding a ridiculous (bulbous?) woman’s body, which looked in some ways like the Venus of Willendorf, a bit of a stump, recognizably female, but with no real head or arms or legs. The gimp then proceeded to rip it in half and spray the audience with the first jets of blood that would eventually coat the audience. The crowd erupted in frenzied screams and surged forward to get caught up in the soak. I edged back just slightly, trying to stay out of the direct spray, as I did have to work on Monday and I was not sure exactly how lasting that was going to be.

Shortly after the stump was bled dry, another imp snuck up behind the gimp and promptly beheaded him, around the same time as the band took stage, so that the first song was thrashed out along to the dancing, bobbing, and swaying of a headless gimp spraying the audience with blood gushing from his artery.

The crowd loved it.

This was followed by a few more songs and the announcement of the band. The leader, Demon from hell the first, wore very realistic make up, and was sporting a gigantic erection as he thrashed along with the guitar, his demon spawn wings pinched and rotting around his shoulders. The other members of the band wore little more than thongs or leather chaps, also with their own masks, and they all thrashed away.

The second part of the act was the onstage sacrifice of a priest. This is part of a regular routine, where a familiar cast of characters are paraded on stage for some conversation with the lead singing Demon, where after saying something untoward to the Demon (or in some cases just because) they are promptly disemboweled, spraying the audience with gore and blood.

The priest was ritually disemboweled and the crowd laughed and cheered and swooned. After the second song, as the character finished his bleeding-out routine, the Demon noted that there was not much real rioting going on at Riot Fest, but maybe they could fix it. This went on with another round of smashing songs, and suddenly the crowd waved and I could see the mosh pit that had opened up behind me. A large circle cleared out by riot boys throwing themselves at each other, some throwing knuckles, others just running and jumping at each other, all eventually falling backward into the group that ringed the edge of the pit, some who were less amused than others. One poor girl kept getting smashed into by disoriented moshers, and she reacted by violently throwing and kicking them back into the pit, while still not jumping in herself. To my amusement, in the middle of the mosh pit, there was one man who stood out. He gently swayed to the death metal coming off the stage as if it were the music of Sinatra, not the music of the damned, in a three-piece white suit, with a pink shirt.

As the mosh pit started to engulf more of the crowd and the blood flew off the stage (they had just sacrificed Queen Elizabeth and the new baby prince, swinging the corpse around like a bloody bolo) I moved to get out of the crowd and head over to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

I overheard from the stage as I was working my way out of the crowd, and managed to catch a glimpse on the big screen, of the lead Demon saying “Would you like us to recreate the cruxification for you? Would you like us to sacrifice Jesus Christ for your amusement?” The crowd screamed. I just laughed. It was so ridiculous it was hard not to laugh.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Have you heard of Gwar?

You could hear the music coming out of the park as you were coming up on it. Apparently I was in time to catch a small part of Bad Religion as I entered into the park, but I didn’t stay to listen. The stage I wanted to be on was going to be Gwar and I had to find it.

I’ve not been to this park before for a festival, and the festival did not provide any information guides at all. There were a few large maps posted here and there, but it was damn-near impossible to figure out where everything was. I finally managed to put together that the stage I wanted to be on was basically straight ahead of where had I walked in, so I headed in that direction until I came to the riot stage. There wasn’t much of a crowd, so I was only a few back from the front of the line, but since it was Gwar, this was a show where I actually didn’t want to be on the stage.

I’d heard the rumors. I’d seen a few videos.

I’m not a fan of Gwar’s music, but I like the ridiculous theatricality of the concept behind Gwar and I figured if for no other reason that was a good reason to go and see Gwar. I can enjoy anyone that puts on a good show.

The thing with Gwar is, it is basically an act. They play their own band of speed/thrash/death metal, where most of the words sound like “rwarrawawarrarrar ararrrrararr mmmrarrawwraram rrarararrar”. I’m sure there are Gwar fans somewhere that would disagree with me on the point of lyrics, but whatever, that is basically what it sounds like.

During the act itself the band members wear wonderfully outrageous costumes; they are basically “demons from hell” here to play rock and roll. Seems perfectly appropriate to me. The other part of the whole Gwar experience is being sprayed with an array of fluids, primarily the blood of the various victims who are murdered on stage for the amusement of the audience, who are then soaked in blood from various spurting arteries. From what I’d heard the blood splatter can really be something else.

I was looking forward to some ridiculousness.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Riot Fest, Chicago 2013: It's Like High School for Grownups!

Also, I didn't need to steal anyone's car or have to worry about getting busted for underage drinking.

I knew Riot Fest was happening in Chicago before I had gone back to Korea in July, but since I didn’t  know what was happening with Korea I had not gotten tickets.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go, but as it was I was back in  Chicago in plenty of time. I knew I was going to be headed out around the fourth so when a friend posted that she had to sell her Riot Fest ticket I pounced on it. Lucky for me I was Contestant Number 2 in the game, and Number 1 backed out, so I got the ticket.

The hard part was arranging a meet, but on a much cooler Chicago Wednesday night we managed to meet on the street. I handed over 100 dollars, she handed me a ticket and I sprinted so not to miss my train. Thus it was that I was going to Riot Fest.

I knew when I was still in Korea that I was going to Riot Fest, so I had made the Kiterunner and the Irish read the setlist.

The Irish was the best.

“Bad Religion? Rancid? Fall Out Boy? Blink 182? Sublime! I hate you.”

I smiled.

The Kiterunner was also sort of priceless.

“The Misfits? Blondie? The Pixies? Suicidal Tendencies? The Violent Femmes? Mission of Burma? Joan Jett! I hate you.”

Yes. There was much envy. That didn’t even include that fact that Riot Fest also had Gwar, Public Enemy, Danzig, and a mighty fine host of others, all coming to rock out (presumably without their cocks out) for a weekend of music and madness in Chicago’s own Humboldt Park.

Excited was a polite word for how I felt about it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Aragon Ballroom is no Aragorn...Not so dashing...

One of the major ways that I am dealing with readjustment is with rock concerts. Music helps. Music becomes the happy little center  of my world when I can’t otherwise function, and if I have enough music I can do almost anything. After a weekend of recovering from jetlag by moving naked from one couch to the next, I was ready for music.

I had two events lined up, the first being an Alt-J concert and the second being Riot Fest. Alt-J was up first, a Monday evening show that I was really quite excited to see. It was supposed to  be at the Congress Theater, which is an awesome venue, but for some reason all the shows at the Congress had been canceled so far, and the show got moved over to the Aragon Ballroom.

I remember seeing the ballroom  off the Lawrence exit for what feels like my entire life; sometimes, I’d watch the winking lights on my way down to the city from Shimer and wonder at what sort  of mysteries it might hold in  there. When I heard the show got moved I was not very upset, more excited and curious and full of a delighted wonder to see what it would be like.

And Alt-J.


This is a band that consumed my life for some months since I first discovered them back  in November and they have been  around, close, there, since then. There is something in it that speaks to the happy and sad part of my soul. I have lost  myself countless times in rhythm and motion, forgetting everything but, entranced by music, fluid movement. It is wondrous when a band can do this to me and I love it. I love losing myself in it.

Watching these things live is even more powerful for me. Perhaps I’ve written live music, but watching an artist perform live is like being in bed with them. It’s sexual, it’s powerful. I like to watch their lips and bodies move and take a moment to be alone with them, regardless of the number of people there, to fall down into their voice, into the rhythm and sound and disappear.

Combining all of that with Alt-J, yes, this would be the sort of medicine to make my soul sanguine once more.

I caught the train after work to Lawrence and got there in plenty of time for the show. Chicago was hot and sticky on this particular fall day, which was annoying, having just left the constant heat of Korea. I was looking more for a cool, balmy, fall afternoon, but instead I got the palm-sweaty humid splay of Midwestern weather unable to make up its mind. Apparently it was close to forty-degree weather in Chicago (something like 96F) on a nice September day.

Fine, I could deal. I had, in fact, dealt with rather a lot of hot weather in Korea just before leaving, what with our three-week streak of weather in the forties. Weather so bad that I actually took my dog to work to make sure that he would not be harmed in the heat. So we were going to have hot weather in Chicago, I figured I could handle it.

I had dinner in the bar restaurant downstairs from my job, and then hopped on the train to head north, getting to the show just before seven. I was on the train with a number of other people who clearly were also  headed the same way, which lent an extra air of excitement. So popular, my obscure little band. I didn’t care, I was looking forward to seeing them.

I got to the ballroom and went through some rather thorough security.

“You sure have a lot of stuff in that bag.”

“Yes, I’ve just come from work.”

She had me open every nook  and cranny until finally I said to her “Look it’s all tampons, and coffee mugs, can we be done here?” To which she waved me past.

I got up to the second door and pulled out my phone to load my ticket. And of course, my phone lost internet signal so I couldn't get my ticket to come up. This started the first round of fresh hell, as they wouldn’t let me progress without a ticket. I got sent back to the ticket booth where I explained my problem.

At the booth they said it would be five dollars. I said fine, and laid down some money.

Then a scruffy man came forward. Thinking I was to follow him I went back through  security, again (still tampons, lady) and headed to the door. They wouldn’t  let me in, I didn’t have a ticket. Back to the booth. Booth lady told me to wait a minute. Finally after five minutes of waiting while I watched hundreds of people go up the stairs, I got a ticket and moved through.

The ballroom itself is huge and garish. The stage is set squarely in the center on the second floor and all around the edges are booth selling drinks, popcorn, hot dogs, and pretzels. There is a balcony above that overlooks the show. The crowd was not too deep in front of the stage, so I pushed through and managed to  be just one person behind front of stage, which was fine with me.

Since I had been running back and forth from security to booth I was hot. I figured I’d cool down once I could just stand, but that was not to be.

I just got hotter.

It took me a minute to realize that the reason I was getting hotter was because there  was no air-conditioning. Occasionally we might get a hint of something cool, but for the most part there was no air-conditioning. I hoped that once I calmed a bit it would be okay.

It would not be okay.

The first act was interesting, but so much like a Phish-inspired troupe that I was bored. The third song sounded so much like the first song that I actually thought for a minute they were repeating their set. Eventually it finished up and I was standing there: hot, dripping sweat, and feeling slightly sick to my stomach.

Jet lag, I told myself.

I waited stoically through the 45 minutes that it took the stage to get set up for Alt-J, wiping my brow on the edge of my skirt, as I did not have a handkerchief. The ballroom was full at this  point, and I was in the thick of it. My stomach started to hurt more and I felt dizzy.

When Alt-J took the stage it was transcendent. Fortunately for me they played my favorite song second, because three bars into the third song, I was pushing through the crowd reflexively, knowing that I was about to pass out. At one point I got stuck with  my arms out, trying to move forward, and someone grabbed my hand and helped me keep going. I ended up against a set of stairs and then in the medical tent, which had  been busy that night. I was not the only person who had been overcome by the heat. They kept me for a few minutes, but eventually I stood up to try to find a better, slightly cooler, position to enjoy the show. One of the security people pointed out there were fans near the stairs, so I walked that way. Where I ended up was so far back in the hall that I couldn’t see the show and was still miserably hot.

I called it, texted a boy, and took the next, fabulously cold El downtown to head home.

My consolation prize was, that although this sucked, I was going to Riot Fest on the weekend, and I was severely looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Looking Back On The Past and Reflecting

I wrote this in 2004 to deal with my first time home in two years after being in Korea. It interests me now as a matter of reflection.

side note to my pants-less editor: I used to be a horrible abuser of commas. See how I've grown?
Ed note: Comma abuse has been preserved for posterity.


It was hot when I stepped off the plane. The 12th of May and it was hot, sweaty, sticky, and raining in Chicago. It was cold when, raining, and humid when I left Korea the day before, and somehow I thought that it would be pleasant in the US when I landed. I wanted it to be pleasant, friendly, cool, inviting, and sunny. It was instead, what it was, for good or ill, the US of A. They say the culture shock is always worse when you come back to the US after leaving Asia, but I always assumed that couldn’t possibly be true. I mean, I know America, it’s only been a couple of years, really, I hadn’t been gone that long. Like many people I bugged out in 2002 after the general countrywide nervous break down of 911 I needed a change, a job, and money in the bank. So hi-ho I went, but eventually I intended to return.

A year later the return had still not taken place, and I realized that I was scared. I was scared of the US and what it was becoming. I was scared to go back, I didn’t necessarily love Korea, but I wasn’t afraid of Korea anymore. Once I got over the three in the morning Blade Runner flashbacks while driving down the streets of Daegu, I actually liked Korea. There are parts of it that were certainly like living in a sci-fi novel of Dickian proportions (that’s Phillip K. proportions).

 The news did not help my fear of the US at all. The more I read, the more afraid I became. The US had always had it’s police state like tendencies, but as time after the 911 crisis rolled inevitably on, America got scary. The Homeland Security act was the biggest knife of fear working in my back, and so I stayed in cool, comfortable quiet Korea. The only thing I had to fear there was an invasion and possibly nuclear war with the North, I figured I’d take my chances.

All good things come to an end, and so did my job, a bad end, mind you, that made me realize that maybe America wasn’t such a bad place after all. I mean at least in the last couple of jobs that I’d quit or gotten fired from I still at least got my last pay check and any other money I was owed. Hell, I remember the telemarketing job I spent exactly one night at before walking out on it, and they sent me a check for the evening of “training”. Korea, however, has a contract finalization clause that is very close to Murphy’s Law “anything that can go wrong will” and it did. Actually the scary US Korean Embassy has an entire portion of it’s website dedicated to warning teachers from coming to Korea, with the “don’t come crying to us if you get the shit” clause printed loud and clear.

So, after two years, my safe haven look a little less safe and friendly, and a lot meaner, and so off I was, on a plane for the US, swallowing my pride, my fear, and tucking my tail between my legs and coming back to the land of the patriotic troglodyte, and alas, uninformed. However, I thought to myself, how bad can it be,  there’s NPR, there’s Burritos, there’s a whole country of people that understand that pork is meat and not a vegetable, surly, I will find myself at home again, once I get there.

A fifteen-hour plane ride later we disembarked in the good ole US of A. After running the lanes to immigration, I saw the mother of all lines. It stretched out for a mile from the area, and I realized, that there was hell to pay for exiting the country. Fortunately I was traveling with the slightly more conscious friend Sam who quickly pointed out that the line I was stepping into was the line for non-US residents, and that the lines we wanted where the emptier and more numerous ones on the other side. On entering and leaving the US to go to Korea I spent a total of about 30 minutes in immigration. Immigrating into Korea two years prior had taken only 5 minutes of my life, far less time that collecting my bags.

However, those unlucky souls who were entering the US had not only to wait in a line that stretched to Wisconsin, they would also be fingerprinted, and photographed like criminals. There was also a bench, among the woven maze of line, were several people were sitting. Three of them were Muslim or Hindu men, who were wearing turbans. There were three other men of obvious Middle Eastern origin. The bench was for that special run through security that was not “racially profiling” visitors to the US.

Finally we managed to get through our lines, and get our bags, and I was specially selected to have my bags run through the extra X-ray machine because I might be disreputable. Unlike the Arab gentlemen behind me who had to open his bags and was asked exceedingly condescending questions about his loaf of bread in this carry on “you cannot import foods, flora, or fauna to the US, sir.” I was waved through with nary a glance, and no confiscation of the Korean cookies, snack bars, and other foods in my bag.

And then out into the hot sun. And on the long drive across Illinois to my lodging in Indiana. I realized that the time it took us to drive from Chicago to my summer home was longer than the time I spent on the train that traveled across the entire country of Korea bringing me from Southern Daegu to Northern Seoul. It took two and a half hours to get home after we got off the plane; it took 1 hour and 45 minutes to get from Daegu to Seoul.

I’ve been back for two less than two months. I leave for Korea again in less than 20 days. I have found my time in America to be fruitful. There are things here that are more convenient, like pharmacies and Mexican restaurants, and clothing stores with sizes that extend beyond 0, but the number of inconveniences has overwhelmed me. Where are the 24 hour, 90cent an hour internet cafes? Why aren’t the bars open 24 hours a day? Why are there so many commercials on T.V.? Why is it so hard to get Kimchi? I have no idea. I couldn’t begin to answer any of these questions.

The faults of Korea are more than numerous, don’t get me wrong, but in the long wrong, it is perhaps easier to be in a county that is not in favor of war, trying to make peace with North Korea, has universal health care coverage for both foreign and native, and provides my living expenses (like an apartment) without my help. I like those things. I like being able to go to a doctor for 3 dollars a visit. My back hurts, since I’ve gotten back, and I can’t go to the doctor. I need to see a gynecologist and will have to go to Planned Parenthood because I have no insurance. My president, who I did not vote for, who so many people did not vote for, is a fool, and worse, criminally sadistic.

With plane tickets in hand, packing begins, and back to Korea I will go. Two years from now perhaps I will see it differently. Maybe by then the US will have caught up with Korea and have become more convenient place to live, one that believes in taking care of citizens and treating them like human beings, rather than like prisoners; One that has a cautious respect and even admiration for it’s foreign citizens, rather than a foaming at the mouth paranoid fear. One that is not terrorized by it’s elected officials, but rather be real threats, like it’s next-door neighbor with nuclear arms (Koreans, don’t fear North Korea, many embrace it).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to miss the US. I will miss the girls. Beautiful girls of varying shapes and colors. I love the variety of women in the US, variety is sparse in South K. I’ll miss pornography (you can’t get porn in Korea) and I’ll miss cheese. This yellow golden vicious plastic that comes in so many shapes, colors sizes and flavors from sweet to smokey that I could write and entire article about it alone. I will have to forgo Gouda, and Swiss, cheddar, and Havarti, for a steady paycheck, and a place to live. Onto a plane I go, and off to South Korea for good or ill, until things get better or worse again and I come crawling back, eating my words, swallowing my pride, and accepting again, the mantle of American.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Last Meals

So many things happened in the last month, that I can barely contain them all. I want to spill it all out so I don't forget, so that as the memories fade some of them stay fresh forever, so I can stumble through my own writing and find them and smileand maybe weep, but mostly know that there it was at some point and that it is okay.

After calling her twice in the last week crying, the Artist insisted I spend my last night in Korea at her house. I was hesitant as she had only just managed to rid herself of a rather overstayed housepest.

"You and your husband need some time," I said to her on the phone.

"He insists you come too."

I ate in Seoul, had lunch with a friend and met her later for dinner. We went to a small quiet French restaurant, the quiet being a big part of the experience. We did not want to be disturbed.

"I can't order; it's been too much, too stressful," she said.

"Then I will take care of it," I replied. "I am not going to be stressed today."

So I ordered us a dinner and a very expensive bottle of wine to share. We had lamb and foie gras and wine and we smiled and talked and tried not to think about tomorrow. We walked hand in hand to a cab and toward her home. The cab (of course) screwed us on the driveincreasing our levels of stressbut we managed to let it go and go to her place.

I wanted to love her, kiss her, hold her and never let her go, and yet we were both so tired and strung out that the best we could do is fall asleep in each other's arms. We woke in the morning to kisses and holding our soft bodies together. I buried my head in her waist, feeling my arms wrapped around her. I told myself over and over again, we will see each other again, again, again, again... Yet I was very aware of how time passes now, how things will move and change.


I took a shower, skipping the workoutmy mind is too frazzled for it and I will work out again soon enough. While I showered she started some breakfast. We both laughed and giggled at her husband on the couch, who had been turned into a comfortable dog bed by my suddenly very calm puppy. Something about her place has eased his panic and for the first time in a week he is not shaking, he is just perched up on a shoulder and restful.

"What are you doing?" I asked her.

"I've got coffee for you, and I'm making some vegan sausage." I didn't complain. I smiled as I watched her move about her kitchen, putting together a breakfast we can both enjoy. Hers had a fried egg. Mine was composed of cheese, vegan sausage, Thai basil, bell pepper and some sort of Argentinian sauce that she is fond of.

And coffeeof course, always coffee.

I ate, and we talked and smiled, and didn't think about the day. Later she walked me to my train anddespite all Korean conventionwe kissed goodbye on the platform.

I will see her again, again, again...but I will miss her like hell for a while.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Piano

She has been sitting here for almost three years untouched.


I could not bring myself to touch her, to lose myself in her warm rich sounds, with fingers flying across her body, discovering new areas of mystery there.

Such beauty in that body, and always the desire to possess it, but with my life unsettled I always thought to wait, wait, wait, until I had settled down again. Then I could take up where I had left off.

Three years.

Three years.

There is not a spec of dust on her. I've kept her well, made sure she was cleaned when I was away, but I had not touched her myself.

When I decided I was coming back to the States, one of the first things I decided was that I must play again. The first night home, looking at that piano, seeing it... I opened the lid and let my fingers slide across the keys and I could feel this chill, this realization of how long it has been.

During my jet-lagged Thursday I found everything I needed to get her in proper working order and sat down on the bench. I opened the lid again and just put my hands on the keys. My fingers were shaking, everything was shaking, there was such emotion there. I've forgotten how I pour my emotion out onto the keyboard, how I let all the bad things go into the harp hidden in a box. This was where I found stability, a place to shelter myself from pain, even from my own self loathing. When I was younger I would lose myself for hours in the keyboard, the only sense of belonging I had was in an old, untuned piano; a shelter from the many storms of my youth. In college, too, I had followed the moving piano around, tuned or untuned, I'd find it. Hidden in the back of the gym, or posted in an office building, or silently sequestered into a classroom building. I would sneak in to buildings at two a.m., sit at the keyboard in the dark and play my worries away for hours. Once I looked up from the keyboard and my fingers hurt. There was a dim light in the room and I realized I was bleeding.

Music has always been my fastest friend, and the Piano was always my first and best lover. It listens to my heart, hears me, interprets my soul, and comes back at me, so raw, pure and honest and when it is done I know the shakes will lesson and there will be pieces of my psyche back in place, in check, suddenly whole.

I don't know how or why I let it go this long. It has been too long.

I put my trembling fingers on the keys and I let go into the warm embrace that is my emotion in the vibration of the air.

Saturday, September 07, 2013


There is a need to readjust my way of thinking.

Yesterday I had three suitcases. I opened them up and put everything away. Everything in its place. I closed each suitcase and put each away.

And now, I think to myself, I am home.

This is home; this is where I should be, and yet I can't help thinking that it is strange to be here without a time limit. I've been living life on intermittent pieces of time for so long I don't know how to settle and be in one place without knowing when I am going to another place.

Korea was home. There will always be a part of me that wants to be there. For all the frustration and tears and heartbreak, it was home.

I remember when I first went there.

A look back, on my third day in Korea, I wrote this:

"I suppose it is day three. For those of you who don't know the shower in the middle of the bathroom is a rather strange thing. There is no tub, or indentation where the shower proper would be. Instead imagine that the toilet was in the middle of the tub, and the sink was off to the side. There is no curtain or separation. It's a moveable shower head, and surprisingly enough, even though I worried about this the first time, it is so excellently well designed that even though the toilet seat gets wet the toilet paper is set perfectly aside so as not to get wet. It's very odd, very unusual...
.... There is a McDonald's down the street, and a Dunkin Doughnuts about a block from my apartment. Aside from all the signs being in Korean it's surprisingly like Chicago..."
Maybe this is why Korea was always so easy and comfortable. It reminded me of here. Now, somehow, I must get my head around thinking of how here reminds me of Korea. At least for a little while, at least until I reset myself and remember that I have always been a part of here. That this city has always been a part of me. That my love is here, and that regardless of how many loves I have around the world, I have missed this one the most.

That I need to be domesticated again, after three years of being what feels like on the run. On the run from stability, from my home, from my heart. Here is where I need to be, even if it doesn't feel like it. In the morning I kiss my boy awake and see him off to school. On Monday I shall become a commuter once more, heading to and fro from work. I shall find ways to be good at this, as I often find that I am good at almost anything I put my mind to.

Korea is not going anywhere, and for the foreseeable future, neither am I. I need to be where I am right now, even if my head, my heart, and my wanderlust want me to be elsewhere. There will be more wanderingthat will not stop. Maybe even soon there will be more wandering, but perhaps with less loneliness, less sorrow, and less feeling of disconnect and lack of belonging.

The weather is beautiful today. The sky is clear. My mind is full of dreaming and thoughts. Perhaps I will ride my bike to the lake and just sit for a while in the sun on the beach. Dreaming of home and being home all at once. There is a small shop on the beach that carries boutique goods. It reminds me of a shop I frequented in Daegu. It's a lot like Daegu here.

And I need to readjust.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Also, before I left...

"We should go," yawns the Irish.

I'm all maudlin.

"I really wanted to play," I pout.

"There is, like, no one here."

I look around and I have to agree. At best we have six teams all-told tonight. I wanted a last quiz night before I left Korea. It had been on hiatus for a month and this was their first night back. My last night, last chance to play.

"What if we just play one round?" I say.

We watch as they start to pass out baskets and realize that there are at least six teams with us.

"Fuck it, let's play," says the Irish and he goes and gets a paper.

And so we played. The first round was about robots. Perhaps it was a sign. 30 minutes and twenty questions later and they reveal  the answers. We had a perfect round.

"So, it's ours to lose," says the Irish.

"Seems to be."

The next round was theme music. Between me and the Irish, we easily had almost every question in the  round. We missed one item.

"What the hell?" I ask.

"We seem to be doing well."


The final round comes up. Sometimes these are quite tricky, but tonight it seems pretty straightforward. International Slang. Almost all of it was Irish.

The Irish smiles.

When  they announce the final scores we finished at the top of the list, having missed only 3 questions the entire game.

"It's her last night, folks."

I buy the quizmakers a drink (called a "Red-Headed Slut"), to thank them. It was a special.

"Goddamn, that is fucking foul, now isn't it?" declares Quartermain, one of the quiz crew. "It's like it coats your throat and won't go away."

His female compatriot just looks at him. "Sort of like a red-headed slut?" she says.

I smile and join the Irish for another round of drinks, watching him flit around the bar, making friends and doing his social thing.

We barely made enough money to cover our bar tab. It was a good win.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

My Farewell Party

We met for dinner. Which was a good thing. The Irish and I sit across from each other talking. Both of us were acutely aware that this will be our last dinner together for a good long while.

“It’s just for a while,” he said.

“I know.”

A while can be a long time.

When the waitress came over, I told her it was my last night in Daegu.

“I’m leaving. I need wine.”

“You can’t leave.”

“No, really, I am leaving.”

“When will you come back?”

“I’m not coming back.”

“Noooooooo….” Her face scrunched up into a half smile and she dragged it out in disbelief.

“Jinja. I need wine.”

“Okay, I have something.”

At this restaurant I stopped asking for the wine menu about eight months ago. I just went in, told her how much I wanted to pay for a bottle, and trusted her judgment. She knows I like Chilean reds, she knows I don’t like things too spicy, she knows I like round notes and lots of berry flavors.

She brought a bottle to the table a few minutes later.

“It’s my treat,” she said as she opened the bottle and poured a taste.

2005, Italian Grape. It was perfect.

I smiled and drank it happily. The Irish and I enjoyed our dinner and conversation, and pretended as much as we could that nothing was changing, and that we were okay, and that things would be good.

They will be, but it’s been a hell of a month.

When I paid up, the waitress really did give me the wine for free.

I researched it later only to discover that my going-away present was a 150-dollar bottle of wine.

I’m going to miss this country.

Expensive wine.

An amazing chef and hostess who always had a table for  me.

And, well, this. Always this.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Daegu Body Painting Festival 2013

In 2011 it was one of the biggest parties in Daegu. It was actually pretty awesome. This year it was very, very small. They had only one international artist. The Korean artists were good, but the size was so much dramatically smaller that it wasin many ways just not the same.

Originally I had not intended to go, but a train wreck in Daegu caused a bit of a logistics problem with my monthly meet-up group. The group was going to have the festival first, and later dinner. I arranged the dinner, but I wanted to skip the festival. With the crash, the leaders of the festival could not make it, so I was on point. 

I picked up the motley crew and guided them to the train station for the festival. 

In all the work was good,  but the energy was different. 

It was entertainingas alwaysbut clearly not the same. Another sign of all things changing.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Leaving Time

And so here it is.

I’m sitting in a café in Seoul looking over the street to Itaewon. The traffic is moving below at a frightening pace. I watch it slipping over the road and under the bridge. It is like time. There it is, moving in a flow, moving with its own purpose in mind.

Here is my time. I go forward. I go back.

An hour on the floor weeping bitterly.

A beautiful woman on the phone, coaxing me up, getting me to drink, calm down.

Time keeps passing.

A dinner party. People I know, people I don’t. Someone to serve all my needs. Together we break each other’s hearts and try to build them back up.

Backward and forward goes my time.

Someone else on the floor crying while I kneel over them. Later, they smile. I smile. I leave and don’t sleep.

One day ending, another beginning.

I knock on the door. He whispers come in. Together we move my bags out of the room that was my room, that is now no room. I find shoes I had forgotten. My bag breaks. We smile and laugh about it.

It’s time to go.

In a restaurant with a chef who has taken great care of me for five years. He gives me free eggplant and asks why I am crying. I can’t talk. I need to eat. I haven’t eaten in days.

I smile and eat the eggplant.

I look at the clock on the wall and count down the minutes.

There are people everywhere. A train wreck. I want solitude for the afternoon to deal with my head. Instead I am the host of the party. I wear a tiny dress. People are surprised by me. In spite of myself I enjoy what I see. Color and beauty and laughterenough to fill me and make me real for a few hours.

Time to go and walk a small dog.

A hug that lasts forever. A meal and angel wings. We laugh. I cry a little. We make promises we both intend to keep. We broke promises we never meant to break. We talk about our broken hearts and we mend them. We know time will mend them too.

We just need more time.

And now there is no more time.

A bathroom all to myself. I fill a tub with water and it glows at me. I cry until the water turns cold.

My emotions have been slipping all over.

There is a knock at the door. I pour glasses of wine for us, noting the frazzled edges in both our faces. We lie in bed and hold each other for an hour, not speakingan exchange of peace and light and warmth and feelings.

I wake up alone.

The sun keeps moving along and carrying me with it.

So many things to do. Pack, buy tickets, go to offices, cancel things; it goes on and on and I keep trying to get it all done. All the while my dog is a wreck and he cannot be calmed. I try to calm him, but instead must take him everywhere with me. I understand his panic. I cannot stop panicking.

More time, late for a bus. It’s only supposed to be an hour, instead it is three. I end up in the wilderness. A beautiful place, quiet, lonely, isolated. I dazzle everyone with what I do. I’m alone in the crowd, the thronging fans that I create with what I do. They love me. I drink in my room to pass the time and try desperately to sleep.

Pass the time.

I ask if she is in my class and when she says no I offer her a glass of wine if she will light my cigarette. It is the first time I have talked to someone without my mask on. She asks me why I have stayed…my mind swirls, so many faces, beautiful faces, conversations, happiness, sadness, pain, love, loss, fear, desire, loathing, light, my life here passes in front of my eyes. I smile and smoke my cigarette and sip my wine. Then I thank her for the light. My mind races all night.

Mornings have come and gone and here I am, in a café in Seoul on my last morning. Here was my last month in Korea. Here were my last days.

They were the best days.

They were the worst days.

They were the only days.

And then, now, forever, tomorrow. I fly.