Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cold Closet



An Open Letter to My Refrigerator:

Dear Refrigerator,

I think you're pretty cool.

You keep my beer cold and my lettuce crisp. I know that I don't always express how thankful I am for having you in my life, that I usually ignore how important you are until you break down and then I freak out about the mayonnaise turning green or the cottage cheese becoming sentient.

I realize that I need to respect you more, Refrigerator. I'm not good at expressing my feelings, but I just wanted to let you know how we stand, from my perspective (you, of course, stand in the same place you've always been, right next to the bread cupboard; you can criticize me for cancelling my gym membership after only 2 months, but you haven't moved in SEVEN YEARS!)

I'm not upset. You are the benumber of my victuals, the gelid provider of my libations. Whenever I look at another refrigerator, I think, 'Not as cool as Claudia 7608.'

But there's one thing I have to address. It's been on my mind since 35 seconds ago, and I need to say something before my memory expires, like that wedge of roqforte I mistakenly left behind the bottle of French dressing (don't pretend you don't remember) and which, when I rediscovered it, I ate.

You need to stop beeping like R2D2 having a seizure if I leave your door open too long. Look, I have to take out some stuff from you, and then I have to put said stuff down in different places. I know that I'm wasting energy. I know that. I don't need you to keep beeping at me, Refrigerator. I already know, okay?

Do you get scared when your door is open too long? Do you get frightened that it will never close?

I promise, Claudia, I will always be there to open and close you.

At least until your 10-year warranty expires and I can afford an upgrade.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yukon (The Expatriation of Johnny "Buffalo" Flynn)



I remember the exact moment when I decided to drop out of college. It was during a creative writing lecture on pathetic fallacy. Our professor, the intimidating Dr. Henry Strong, began the lecture by writing the following on the chalkboard:

THE CLOUDS WERE ANGRY, SPITTING FAT GLOBS OF PRECIPITATION UPON THE EARLY-MORNING COMMUTERS

That example, taken from a text that probably existed only in Prof. Strong's head, was Exhibit A of "bad writing" as it related to pathetic fallacy.

I liked it, though. Actually, I loved it. Not only was it euphonic when read aloud, it was also imaginative. I didn't care that the clouds were personified to be mentally angry and physically expectorating. If that wasn't creative writing, what was?

I was young then, and hesitant to challenge those who were deemed and documented to be my intellectual superiors, but I felt that I had to represent a dissenting voice. So I spoke up. And I became cheekier the more I spoke. The asshole part of my brain picks up locomotion the more my jaws move up and down.

"Doctor, while I agree with the crux of your argument, I think that it's against the very nature -- pun acknowledged -- of literature to discourage pathetic fallacy. I'm not saying that tree branches playing billiards or a river smoking a cigarette are fine, but your example is imaginative and expressive. It conveys the literary environment, doesn't it?"

Doctor Strong looked at me with blue eyes masking crimson hatred behind their irises.

"Mister Flynn," he said, "if you are so passionately married to embracing the pathetic fallacy, nothing I can say during this semester will change your mind. Perhaps 'pathetic' will also be an apt description of your higher education."

That stung.

"So go ahead and personify raindrops and train stops," he continued. "Write that the sun is hugging the fucking earth with its warmth. The grass on my front lawn was jubilant this morning. But trust me, that sort of literary shorthand doesn't go far. It's mimicry from a dummy's mouth."

Only he pronounced "mimicry" mee-mee-cry.

And that was the exact moment when I decided to drop out of college. Throughout my formative years, I sporadically suspected that I was smarter than my educators, and that was cumulative proof .

So I withdrew from the program, taking my fortune elsewhere, looking for I don't know what.

Gold, probably. Hopefully.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Game of Acorns






This is a sad story.

One early evening in the fall of 2010, I was walking to the apartment of two former students, siblings, a brother and a sister, that I used to tutor. I could have taken a bus, but I discovered that a 20-minute uphill walk would get me there faster, and the walk was pleasant: a straight line with little human or vehicular traffic, save for the occasional food delivery guys on their motorbikes zipping up and down the sidewalk's bicycle lane. The air was cool as the sun was going down, and the sidewalk abutted Jungang Park (it probably still does). It being fall, the foliage was invigorating, yet, only with the advantage of hindsight, foreboding.

It is a very rare thing to see a squirrel in Korea. I think I've seen approximately four during my fifteen years here. Even rarer is spotting a chipmunk. Wikipedia informs me that all species of chipmunk, with the exception of the Siberian chipmunk, exist in North America. But I know what I saw.

Running in pace with my stride along the shoulder-high stone ledge that borders the park's south-east side was a goddamn chipmunk.

How happy that made me! When I arrived at my students' home, I couldn't contain my jubilation, and, before the lesson, I tried to explain to them how wonderful it was to see a chipmunk in Korea. The Korean word for chipmunk, however, is the same as squirrel, because both are from the family Sciuridae. Thankfully, with my then-new iPhone 3GS, I was able to search Google for chipmunk images to show my pupils. They weren't exactly awed, but they were attentive, which I think succinctly sums up my on-and-off-again career as an English teacher.

The class ended, as everything must, and I made my way back home. The air was cool, the downhill walk easier and more relaxing knowing that the day was near its finish line.

When I was about halfway home, I saw a tiny little rodent body strewn on the bicycle path. Blood and viscera. Unmistakably, it was my chipmunk friend, who had undoubtedly been run over by a motorbike.

Talk about giveth and taketh away, man.








Sunday, June 14, 2015

Respite

It's been a pretty good weekend. In my advanced age, I tend to stay home on weekends and do old man stuff (crossword puzzles, scrapbooking), but this weekend I actually did things, all within the scope of the law, I think. For once.

I had dinner and drinks -- or, perhaps more accurately, drinks and dinner -- with the illustrious and praiseworthy Luke Roberts (who hooked a brother up!) in Gangnam after work on Friday. Samgyeopsal, IPAs, and good conversation, 10-20% of which was about bowel movements.

It was the shit.

Yesterday, Leon's father and his girlfriend visited for dinner at our new apartment. Leon cooked samgyeopsal*, and Leon's dad's girlfriend, a superlative cook, provided the meal's accoutrements. I was worried about Flashy being overly annoying during the meal (playing Nintendogs and smoking clove cigarettes), but he acquitted himself well. As a reward, Leon's father shared a chocolate-free frozen dessert cone with him. I disapprove of giving dogs human food, but I was like, "Okay, fine, we're taking the kids to Disney World."

After Leon's dad and his girlfriend left, Leon and I ate copious amounts of Play-Doh**. LOL, jk. No, what we did was walk two minutes from our apartment to a nifty music bar that has a great sound system, a ton of vinyl records, and an awesome interior. Requests were encouraged (although Leon's request of Michael Bolton's "Michael Bolton Song That I don't Know the Name Of" was quite gauche. No one's prefect).

Today, after watching the latest episode of Hannibal, I'm sitting at my computer with a Dachshund on my lap and a fortified beverage close at hand. As god intended.

Tomorrow: back to an unimaginative person's version of Hell, where nothing really sinister happens but neither does anything pleasureful occur.

Work.

At least they pay you for it.

All things considered, it has been a pretty good weekend.

(Except for the Children of the Corn adolescents who live next door, kick the recycling helter skelter, and comically try to intimidate me with their bicycles. They're going places. Juvenile hall, probably.)

Respite.

[Thank you for reading my essay.]

* If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it's a folk song.
** Just checking if you're still with me.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

(Sh)It Depends on the Weather



James Baxter was sweating. Profusely. It was an inordinately hot afternoon for late April, and the air conditioning on the metro was feeble, if it was even running, but those weren't the main reasons for James's dripping brow and soaked Perry Ellis shirt.

All day he had had to take a monstrous dump. But he had held it in. At around 10:30, he was about to make for the 2nd floor bathroom -- he worked on the 17th floor, but the office men's bathroom was situated next to the kitchen and coffee maker, which didn't encourage a comfortable mail delivery system -- when Kyle Bynes, his manager and Rhonda Byrne acolyte, had called an impromptu meeting. Just after one o'clock, the gophers again started grumbling in their tunnels, but a twenty-page letter to a law office in Taiwan needed to be sent ASAP, and James had to give it a thorough read over. Then, at ten minutes before six, James's usual punch out time, his gut shook like a rack being broken by a cue ball.

Just hold it in until you get home, Son of Stupid, he told himself. Then you have home court from which to drop Fat Man and Little Boy.

If wishes were fishes. James's metro commute home wasn't a long one, only thirty or so minutes, but during the six-kilometer jaunt from Chesham to Chalfont & Latimer Station -- the longest distance between all London Underground stations -- a pluperfect protest of penetralian proportion reached a boiling point in his gut.

Jesus, he thought, I'm going to crap myself on the bloody metro.

There was no question that the prison riot in his bowels would lead to a mass escape; what was of chief concern was whether the prison guards could hold the rebels back long enough so that James could exit the underground with his dignity intact.

I can't shit myself on the train. I can't! I'd rather die.

He clenched. Hard. The hand strap and his sphincter. If he were in a car, he could have pulled to the side of the road and done his business; if he were on an aeroplane, he could use the lavatory; but there are no restrooms on the metro. You just have to deal with it.

Miraculously, the train finally arrived at Chalfont & Latimer Station. James exited the platform and walked like a penguin for five minutes until he reached his second-floor apartment. He unlocked the door and took off his shoes. His Pekingese dog, Josie, was sniffing at his feet and wanting to be fed.

"Soon, girl," he said. "I have to do something first."

James went into the bedroom and stripped himself of his shirt and trousers. Then he opened the closet and fished out a crumpled pack of Dunhills and a Bic lighter, both of which had been in an old jacket pocket since time immemorial. He pulled out a coffin nail that was probably produced when Tony Blair was still prime minister.

Josie barked.

"Give me fifteen minutes," he told Josie. "If I'm not out by then, call the cops."

James sat on the toilet, lit his cigarette, and pondered.

All life exists because of volcanic eruptions. Continents, islands, archipelagos. From this we have grown. Wallpaper over wallpaper. Paint over paint. Don't strip off the old coat, just put another one over it. Again and again.

The doorbell rang, interrupting James from his bathroom reverie. He hastily wiped his ass, threw on a towel stolen from a hotel in 2008, and went to open the door.

The solicitor was gone. Left behind on the floor outside of the apartment was the May issue of Watchtower, which announced that Jesus Christ was coming back for a third time, so people get ready. Any time now.

James fed Josie, read two chapters of Stephen King's latest novel, sent a happy-birthday email to his uncle, and turned off the lights and hoped for sleep.

As he drifted toward Nod, a cacophonous maxim echoed in his brain: 

Stay alive. Wait until it gets better. Don't give up. 

Then dark.

Sleep...

---

John Jackson was out of breath. His lungs were screaming. Twenty-six miles will do that to anyone, but they're especially harsh to a forty-one-year-old grade school teacher with a penchant for Quarter Pounders and Dairy Queen Blizzards.

Boston.




Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nine Plus One (Rathbone)





On May 28th, Psychedelic Kimchi, this hallowed elephants' graveyard of swear words and insight from the East, turned 10.

A lot has changed since its inception. I can only speak for myself, and not for the oft-infrequent-yet-illustrious contributors of Psychedelic Kit-Kat, but I believe a lot has changed for them, too. Ten years will do that.

I got 10 years older, obviously, if not wiser (although I like to think I have). I got divorced and remarried. I've lived in seven different apartments (eight this coming Thursday), had nine different cell phones, worked at six different companies, and have helped raise two adorable dogs.

First and foremost during that period, however, is the 18th Letter, who has been living in Canada with my parents since the summer of 2007. My ex-wife was granted custody of our daughter in our divorce, but at the 11th hour she decided to relinquish custody, because, in her words, "She looks too much like you." She does. And she's better looking, kinder, and smarter than I'll ever be. No one can really tell when it comes to children and genes and environments and so on. Sometimes you get lucky, and with the 18th Letter I hit the jackpot. Corn Flakes and strawberry milk with a slice of processed cheese: breakfast of champions. My beautiful Rahnebow.

Blogs are a dying breed, and have been for some time. Personal writing is now reserved to Facebook or Twitter, and brief. Kmork, my brother from another dimension, sent me a link last year in which someone, a professor, I think, argued that social media is inherently narcissistic. I disagree. Social media can be narcissistic in the same way a knife can be a murder weapon. It's not harmful to write about oneself; in fact, it can lead to self discovery.

I think that I have, at least partially, discovered who I am during the past 10 years. I've also written some absolute garbage on this blog, but that's what learning is, right? Trial and error.

There aren't many things I've done for 10 years. The list: being alive, being a father, and Psychedelic Kimchi.

It's been real. Thank you to everyone who has ever spent time reading the ramblings of a werewolf.

I'll be around.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Falling on Your Head Like a Tragedy



[7:40 AM] Wake up. Check the Yahoo! Weather app. Look out window. Gloomy, fog hugging everything like lonely specters, but apparently there's a 0% chance of rain* predicted all day. Odd.

[8:10 AM] Leave for work. "Aren't you going to take an umbrella?" asks wife. "No reason to," I say. "Forecast says there's a 0% chance of rain." I did my due diligence!

[Some indeterminate time in the afternoon] Raining.

[6:05 PM] Punch out**. Still raining. Walk to subway station. Get wet. Get smug looks from people who have umbrellas and know better than to trust meteorological guesswork.

Now...I don't expect the forecast to be accurate all of the time, or even most of the time, but to me 0% -- at least by my weird understanding of math -- means "impossible," or "The Day the Clown Cried is getting released in theaters before this happens," or "I'm trusting this lying app again."

There's rarely a sure thing. Especially when the weather is involved. That's why they call it weather***.

It could be a lot worse. Instead of raindrops falling on my head, it could have been coconuts. Or durians. Or bombs.

Drop bears.

Space debris.

Pigeon shit.




* my favorite homophone!

** Word to King Hippo and idioms that will confuse some people under 25.

*** Word to David Mamet.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Macau



"Do you have the hiccups?"

"No. I think I might throw up."

We were on the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau. The sea was calm, but my wife's stomach wasn't, and we hadn't even departed. The catamaran was bobbing up and down with the tide. The sky was overcast. I looked around the seats for barf bags and saw that there weren't any. And the lines to the lavatories were long.

"I didn't know you get seasick," I said and held Patricia's hand. We had been married three years, and I was continually learning new and interesting -- if perhaps insignificant -- facts about her. I still am, twenty-three years later.

"Didn't you say you've taken this boat before?" I asked.

"I did, about ten years ago."

"And were you sick then?"

"I don't remember."

A young man was walking down the aisle with a tray of assorted snacks and beverages. I considered buying a beer and a bag of potato chips but thought better of it. My stomach wasn't feeling in top shape itself.

"Sorry, Patty, but that seems like something you'd remember," I said. "I mean, it's not every day that you ride a boat, especially one in a foreign country. I can't recall what I ate for breakfast two days ago, but I'm pretty sure I'd remember if I vomited on a boat."

"Shut the fuck up, Jonathan. You're making it worse."

I shut the fuck up.

---

Macau was nice enough. Patty's nausea ebbed and flowed during the hour-long ride, but she was able to contain the contents of her stomach. We walked through the cobblestone streets and saw a facsimile of Macau's past. Colonial mansions and McDonald's.

We don't gamble, but during our tour we found ourselves at a large casino, the name of which escapes me. We agreed to go in and have a drink.

Cigarette smoke hovered like a cloud in that monstrous gaming room, where middle-aged men and a peppering of middle-aged women sat at tables covered in green felt. I would be lying if I didn't say that it was a pathetic, depressing tableau.

We took two seats at the bar, which was about as massive as the whale that swallowed Jonah. I ordered a beer. Patty ordered a beer. The bartender, a pretty woman with pink mascara, gave us each a bowl of salted peanuts. We talked.

My drink was almost done, and our ferry back to Hong Kong was set to leave in forty minutes. "Ready to go?" I asked Patty.

"I guess so," she said.

Immediately upon exiting the casino, we witnessed the aftermath of a traffic accident. A bus had run over a man on a scooter. People were yelling. People were screaming. There was blood. There was a lot of blood.

I wanted to stick around and gawk, but we had a boat to catch.

---

"Jesus, I'm going to be sick."

"You'll be fine. Patty, look out the window. See how the boat is going up and down? Bob your head up and down with the movement of the water."

"That actually works! I look like a crazy person, but it works! I feel so much better when I do that! How did you know that?"

"Kids get carsick, but the driver never does. If you have a point to focus on, everything else disappears."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Condemned



  "I was fishing in this guy's truck. I didn't even have to jimmy the lock or anything because the idiot left the passenger-side door open. I thought I might catch a few bucks to score. All there was in the glove compartment was a silver dollar and a birthday card, which I didn't read. I started checking under the seats and found an open toolbox, and that's when the dude grabbed my leg.

  I hit him in the head with a steel wrench. He staggered back a few steps then fell down like a stubborn bowling pin. And he died. And here I am."

---

  "God, I remember everything so vividly and I replay it in my nightmares. We were playing street hockey. It was November 2nd, my grandmother's birthday. We were supposed to go in for a big dinner, but the score was tied. To us kids, this game, Overton Ave. vs. Regent Crescent, was as intense as the Stanley Cup Finals. It was 3-3, and we decided that the next goal would win. I had a chance, the shot looked good, but Jodie Kearns elbowed me in the ribs, and I fell down. Next thing I know, he's back the other way and he scores to win the game.

  'Now you can run home, pussy,' he said. 'I bet that birthday cake will taste like losing.'

  I picked up my stick and swung it at his head from behind. It caught him in the right eye. Forty minutes later, I was in a police station, Jodie Kearns was dead, and I don't know what happened to my grandmother's birthday cake."

---

  "A guy raped my little sister. I went over to the house he was staying at, and I beat him to death with my fists. I'm not sorry. I think I did the right thing, and I'm not sorry at all."

---

  "Magnets aren't like people. Magnets don't get scared. Magnets are attracted by nature, and they connect. It's the simplest explanation, yet I'm the one who's confused? This is a bitter farce. A jaguar eats a deer, and that's acceptable. I eat a human being, and I'm a monster. I am not! I am everything you weaklings will never become. Your blood will run down from the jowls of us beasts. We will eat you."

---

  "Ah...I had a good walk around the yard today. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky. Do you realize how rare that is? It was beautiful. Like looking into infinity. I could die on a day like today and be happy."

  How do you feel about dying? Your appeal has been overturned.

  "It's all the same. You come out one door, and you exit another. There's nothing poetic I can say except that we're all going along on a tightrope, trying not to fall off, and desperately reaching for that rope when we do.

There was a milkman in my neighborhood. He smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. One day, he came up to my house for his delivery, but he was tired and sat down on the steps...He started crying, holding his head in his hands sobbing like a dummy.

  I don't know where I'm going with this. Hell, maybe. Anyway, nice to talk to you."

  I'd like to hear more about the milkman and what he meant to you.

"I'd like to hear more about everything. But I don't have enough time. Nice talking to you."

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Long Time Ago



Nostalgia is a narcotic. In small doses, it can enhance an experience. When I was eighteen years old, my best friend, my brother, and I took a trip to Ottawa one Saturday night on a whim, and on the way there, on another whim, we drove to the house I grew up in in Nepean until we moved when I was six. That was pretty cool. I get the same nostalgic feeling whenever I return to my hometown and drive around, passing my high school, or when I stay with my parents and sleep in the house in which I lived from six to twenty-two, the age I was when I moved to Korea.

I don't want to live my life again, however. I like to see photographs of the past and recall fond memories (and even the bad ones have a better coat of paint on them with the passing of years), but I don't want to experience everything over again in the same way that I didn't want to break into my childhood home and sleep in my old bedroom, or walk through the halls of my high school with gray hair. It's fine to look back, but not at the expense of looking forward.

For decades, Hollywood has been the hoary old coal miner of properties people my age grew up with, trying to find a gold vein but usually mining shit. While trying to appeal to the worst aspect of nostalgia -- remember when you liked this as a dumb kid? We're going to try to make you like it as a stupid adult -- movie producers also have continually thought that making children's properties into darker versions of their source materials will work.

The thing is, it does for some people. Earlier this year, director Joseph Kahn released a satirically gritty short film based on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It was meant as a fuck-you to the manchildren who actually want that kind of shit. Ironically, a vocal portion of the Internet took it seriously and ardently pleaded that a feature film be made.

I'm not entirely innocent when it comes to revisiting the nostalgic idiocy of 80s kids. I saw the first Transformers movie and liked it well enough (the sequels are for brain donors); I saw G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra twice in a movie theater*; I have a bunch of T-shirts with comic book and video game characters on them, which, as a soon-to-be thirty-seven-year-old man, I have no business wearing**.

My ability to discern between right and wrong, just and unjust, is pretty strong, I think. When it comes to entertainment, art, I'm better than I once was, but my subjective integrity can sometimes be compromised by what I think I've seen over what I saw (I gave Terminator: Salvation a 4/4 review on this very blog almost six years ago).

Case in point: In 1999, I saw The Phantom Menace on my birthday. That movie is absolutely awful, but because it was the first Star Wars movie released in sixteen years, and because I grew up with Star Wars***, I talked myself into thinking it was good. Adulthood doesn't erase idiocy, nor the indelible impressions of childhood.

 Today, I have a new hope. The second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. Really good. I've been a Star Wars apostate for longer than I was a true believer as a kid. My faith has been restored. For now.

Nostalgia is a drug.


* In that film's defense, it's just as stupidly silly and enjoyable as the original cartoon.

** In my own defense, I bought them while on vacation in Canada because I can't buy T-shirts here that would fit even an anorexic teenager.

*** I don't have a photographic memory, but I can recall almost every film I've ever seen inside a theater, who I was with, and where I sat. It's my mutant power. My mother took me to a double feature of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. I was sitting to her left. Yoda scared the shit out of me. (This was perhaps 1981, during a second theatrical run. I have a good memory, but at two in 1980? I'd have to check with the matron.)