Plans? We Don’t Need No Stinking Plans! (Or How I Ended up Sleeping on a Filipino Painter’s Floor)

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During Lunar New Year, Alona Beach, a smallish haven for divers on the end of Panglao Island, gets as bloated and swollen as a pimple on the tip of a person’s nose.  Tourists come rushing in like imperial forces, overtaking the beach and claiming it for Lonely Planet readers everywhere.  Hotel rooms fill up faster than seats for a Duran Duran concert in 1983; women working at beachside massage parlors touch nearly as many vacationers as the security guy doing pat downs at the airport.  The sales of beer and sunscreen go through the roof, and prostitutes do so much overtime even they feel slutty.

TTD and I were warned.  Going down to Alona Beach at night during Lunar New Year with no room booked was not a good idea.  It would be like buying a pizza with your fattest friend and expecting to get the last slice.  But, as is the case with most warnings, we paid it little mind.  When our friend told us that we wouldn’t be able to find a place to stay, we chalked it up to silly paranoia.  Besides, aren’t most warnings based on overblown negative thinking, like when your parents tell you not to take candy from strangers or the surgeon general says smoking is bad?

By the way, if the surgeon general has kids, their lives must be a nightmare.  Warnings everywhere.  Don’t smoke, don’t take candy from strangers, don’t take candy cigarettes from strangers, don’t take real cigarettes from strangers, don’t give cigarettes to strangers without warning them that it could cause emphysema first, etc, etc.  Those poor children.

I digress.  On our second night in the Philippines, TTD and I decided to throw caution to the wind and head down to Alona Beach without a place to stay.  We took a cab from Tagbileran and, our backs saddled with all the clothes and toiletries we could shove inside our backpacks, set out to prove the naysayers wrong.  We’re not really the type to make arrangements in advance; my idea of planning for the future is putting a condom in my wallet before going out to a bar.  We wandered down the beach, bouncing from place to place, hearing the same thing over and over again:

“No rooms.  Fully booked.”

The first half hour or so of being rejected by every hostel or hotel we stepped foot in wasn’t so bad.  However, it gets distressing after awhile.  It’s sort of like that first week on OkCupid, when nobody has responded to those winks you sent out.  It’s fine, nothing to panic about.  But after you’ve winked every girl within 100 miles and your inbox is still as empty as an Ethiopian refrigerator, you start to worry a bit.  The sun had long gone down on the beach and our remaining options…well…there were no remaining options.  I stood there with my backpack on, wondering why my clothes suddenly felt so dang heavy.

“What are we gonna do?” TTD asked.  “Everything’s booked.”

We decided to ask the tricycle drivers if they knew any places.  They didn’t.  “Shit,” I said, defeated.  “I guess we’re going to have to tricycle back to Tagbileran.  This could take ages.”

With all hope seemingly lost, a motorcycle pulled up next to us out of nowhere.  A Filipino man drove it with an older German woman on the back.  “Do you need a room?” she shouted over the sound of the engine.  “I have a room.”

TTD and I exchanged a look to make sure we were on the same page.  “We’ll take it,” she said.

A few minutes later, we were in a large house located well off the beaten path.  This wasn’t a hostel, but the place where these two lived.  The German woman had to go someplace, so the man showed us around.  His name was Kiko and he was an artist, a painter.  “We bought the house to make art,” he said.  “Then…we have no money.  We rent out our rooms so we can stay.”

There were a bunch of people living in Kiko’s house.  Alex and Ninette were from Denmark and had come to Panglao to dive.  They had a room there.  Nelson was from Manila, but had come to the island to work in a tattoo shop.  He also lived there.  In addition, there was a Canadian who would start shooting a feature length film there the next day.  All of them, except for the Canadian, were sitting out on the porch drinking Red Horse and passing around a joint.  They invited us to join them, and we did.

Nelson poured us beer and nobody seemed to mind when we passed on the joint.  “Do you know the Thresher Shark?” Alex asked.

“Thresher Shark?” I asked cluelessly, clearly indicating I didn’t.

“It is very rare,” he said, and then explained how he and Ninette had come to the Philippines with vague hopes to see one.  The Thresher Shark can only be spotted in a few places around the world, one being Malapascua.  They had gone there, hopeful, but weren’t surprised or disappointed when they didn’t see one.  “They swim so deep in the ocean,” he said.  “You have to hope one comes up.  We will go back to Malapascua soon…maybe we will see one.  Maybe not.”

Kiko bought another case of beer and the drinks started going down quickly.  We all smoked cigarettes and talked.  We talked about Koreans being afraid of the sun, and how the Americans and the Japanese destroyed Manila in WWII; Alex talked more about diving and his Thresher Shark and Kiko talked about the subtle differences in how Filipinos from different areas speak Tagalog.  Nelson was cool.  He sat there quietly with tattoos covering his brown skin.

“What’s the craziest tattoo you ever gave somebody?” I asked him.

“It was on a very crazy man,” he said.  “His brother brought him to me.  This man…he was a soldier and he was hit in the head.  He couldn’t remember things and he would get very drunk and lose his way.  I tattooed him right here.”  Nelson held out his forearm, palm up, running his finger across the area between his wrist and his elbow joint.  “I tattooed on him his name, his address, and his telephone number.  His brother said to him, ‘Be good and I’ll take you out for food.  What do you like better?  McDonald’s or Jollibee?’ and the man said he wanted McDonald’s.  When I finished, the brother told him to thank me but the man said no, and he put his finger in my face and said, ‘You hurt me.’”

Nelson shrugged.  “I didn’t get mad.”

Eventually I would drink until I couldn’t keep my head up, and then I would pass out on Kiko’s floor.  Later, in the morning, TTD and I would pay them for the room and the German woman would give us necklaces that she had made.  We would walk down to the main road and get a taxi back to the city.

It was a strange and wonderful night, the type of thing that doesn’t happen to people who get their names and addresses tattooed on them.  Nor for people who are good at making plans, or who figure that the chances of seeing a Thresher Shark are so low, there’s no point in trying.

What would Alex do if he actually did end up seeing a Thresher Shark, I wonder?  It would have to come up from the deep at the perfect time, in lovely synchronicity with his dive, like they had both arranged to meet but didn’t know it.

*

Something Stinks in My Bag

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Hello!  I’m currently waiting for a boat to take me back to Cebu, which gives me the opportunity to do a quick pop in.  It also gave me the opportunity to address the foul odor coming from my bag.  Ever since my first day here, I noticed that my bag smelled bad.  At first I thought that maybe I had packed some vomit before I left, but after further inspection this proved to be untrue.  Shirts.  Shorts.  Socks.  Check.  No bag of vomit.  I had packed properly.  Still, any time I unzipped the bag, it smelled like I had just opened Jeff Dahmer’s pantry.  I had no choice but to duck into the bathroom and start throwing things away.  I tossed whatever boxer shorts I’ve worn since being here, a pair of sweat pants, and the socks that I’ve worn.  It had to have been one of those things, right?  I’m hopeful that the bag will go back to smelling normal, and, consequently, there is now one horribly stank bathroom in the Philippines.

Ok, that is all.  Peace!!!

Don’t Pee on the Laptop (An Important Life Lesson)

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There are things that happen in this city that you’re not supposed to see.  Things that are ugly, that don’t make much sense.  Some of these things happen in dark places.  Some of them involve the people you care about, but most involve people you’ve never met before.  And a lot of them happen in bars, sometime between six and seven in the morning.

Ok, that previous paragraph was me trying to sound as though I was writing the opening to a crime show.  Really, I’m not sure what the hell I was talking about.  There was a purpose, though, and that was to set the tone.  That’s right.  I was setting the mood, like how restaurants dim the lights or Zalman King movies utilize the saxophone.  Yes, I just made a Zalman King reference and I’m not ashamed of it.  How many times have I seen Gone with the Wind?  Once.  Two Moon Junction?  At least 30.

Sherilyn Fenn: A dominant figure in my adolescent life.

Or parts of it, anyways.

Let’s focus.  I was attempting to set the tone because I did indeed witness a crime the other night, in a bar at about 6:30 in the morning.  Since I’m not sure what to make of the events that transpired, let me cut straight to the facts and tell you what happened.

At the time of the crime, there were exactly eight people in the bar.  No – check that – seven.  The drunk Irish guy had gone.  I was relieved.  That left me, TTD, Kent, the three bar staff, and the perpetrator.  Earlier in the night, we’d been drinking and having a blast.  Kent and I talked baseball (it’s amazing how time flies when you’re debating Elvis Andrus versus Yunel Escobar), and TTD was having fun flirting with the drunk Irish guy.  At one point, the drunk Irish guy tried to talk to me and Kent.

“What’re you talking about?”

“Baseball.”

“Aye, baseball,” he said, and pretended to have fallen asleep.  Then he snapped back to attention.  “Hurling.  Now that’s a real man’s game.  You know hurling is the fastest sport in the world?”

“Faster than hockey?” Kent said.  “How many countries play hurling?”

“One,” the drunk Irish guy said, holding up a single finger.

I exited that conversation as quickly as I could.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  After the drunk Irish guy went back to hitting on TTD, I sat down with Kent.

“Isn’t hurling when they sweep the ice so that thing slowly rolls along?  That can’t be the fastest sport.”

“You’re thinking of curling,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.  “What the fuck is hurling then?”

“It’s on a field, with a ball and a stick…” he paused.  “I don’t know.  Nobody plays it.”

Just then the guy who would eventually perpetrate the crime came staggering in.  He was older, maybe in his late thirties, and he was completely bombed.  The guy could barely walk.  He stumbled over to a couch and collapsed on it.

“Shit man!” I said, alarmed.  “That drunk fucker just sat on my coat.”

“Go get it.  I’ll get the next round.”

I went over to the drunk guy and yanked my coat out from under him.  Right next to him, there was a laptop for people to type in songs they wanted to hear – kind of like a jukebox.  The music wasn’t keeping this dude awake, and as soon as I’d gotten my coat from beneath his rear end, he fell soundly asleep.

Hours passed.  We paid the guy no mind.  TTD sat next to me in a booth, with the drunk Irish guy and Kent on the other side.  Suddenly, the drunk Irish guy got angry and glared at me.  I gulped.  He looked like he was about to rip my head off.

“You,” he said, pointing at me.  “Tell me one good thing about my country.”

I panicked and said the first thing that came into my head.  “Um…hurling is really fast!”

Kent and TTD shifted around uncomfortably.  Later they would tell me that I sounded like a sarcastic asshole.  I didn’t mean to – I thought he’d like that.  He didn’t, though, and so Kent started trying to talk him out of killing me.

As he did, the bartended came over to us.  “Do you know him?” he asked us, pointing to the older dude sleeping on the couch.

“Nope.”

The bar owner shook his head.  “He is so drunk he pissed all over himself.  The couch is soaked.”

“I’m leaving,” the drunk Irish guy said, shoving a full beer bottle into his pocket.  He gave us all a dirty look and wobbled away.

The bar staff was trying to wake up the dude who peed on the couch, and I turned to TTD.  “You know,” I said, “that guy probably wasn’t angry with me about the hurling thing.  He’s probably pissed off cause you flirted with him all night and then came and sat with me.”

“I know.”

“Well, you could’ve gone home with him if you wanted to.  No judgments.”

No!” she said, appalled.  “I wouldn’t go home with that guy!  I have no interest in him.”

“But you flirted with him for hours.”

She shrugged.  “Yeah, well…I’m not interested.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “women are really nice.”

We were about to leave, but the urinator was now awake and attempting to run out of the bar.  The bar staff chased him down the stairs and onto the street.

“We’re the only ones in this place,” Kent said.  “Let’s raid the bar.”

That was a good idea, but we didn’t have enough time.  The bar staff was back, with the guy in tow.  They had his shirt pulled up over his head and they threw him down into a chair.  The bar owner held the music laptop.

“You pissed on the laptop!” one of the workers said.  “It’s fucking fried, man!”

“I will call the police!” another worker said, opening his cell phone.

The perpetrator of the crime – the crime being property damage via public urination – started begging them.  “Please!  Please don’t call the police!  I’m sorry!  I told you I’m sorry!”

“You fried his fucking laptop man!  You peed all over his couch!”

“Don’t call the police man!  I don’t want to go to Korean jail!  I can’t go!  I can’t go to Korean jail!”

“Well then pay us some fucking money!  Pay us or we call the police!”

“I don’t have any money.  I’m sorry!  Please let me go!”

“We’re not fucking letting you go!  You pissed on his laptop man!  You gotta pay for that!”

It was a wretched scene.  Humanity at its lowest.  We decided we had to get the hell out of there.  Not so much because of the bad scene…we wanted McDonald’s breakfast very badly.

“Help me!” the perpetrator called to us.  “I don’t want to go to Korean jail!”

As we stood there, not knowing what to say, one thought kept going through my head over and over again: Thank freaking God I got my coat out from under that guy.

*

Separate But Fishing: Xenophobia at the Trout Festival

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There were Americans in the back of the bus, and they were loud.

“I’m gonna jump in the water and feel my dick get small!” one particular jack-ass told his female friend.  She laughed because, let’s face it, why wouldn’t she?  With witty banter like that, how can one be expected to refrain from melting in hysterics?  We were all headed to the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival – me, TTD, the man who wanted his penis to shrink, and a bunch of others.  While I found the guy to be crude, it was refreshing to stumble upon someone who was proud of shrinkage.  That’s rare these days.  Perhaps one day in the future, he’ll lead an anti-Viagra, pro-impotence campaign.

America had been on my mind a lot since the afternoon I spent with K-Swizzle.  She had flown into Korea from California to visit C-Batz (yes, I give most of my friends stupid nicknames like this…it’s a curse).  She was a really beautiful girl – part Filipina and part Mexican.  On our trip to the museum, she told me about how her parents first met in a dance club.  Her father spoke no English and her mother spoke no Spanish.  Still, in spite of that, they fell in love.  It was a wonderful idea – two strangers who couldn’t even speak the same language meeting and falling for each other.  Stories like that help me believe in ideas such as romance and notions such as love.  And they also help me believe in America.  Where else could two people like that meet and start a new life together?  Okay, maybe a lot of places, but California seemed like the best one.

Let’s go back to the bus, for a moment, before we continue talking about K-Swizzle and before we get to the racist Trout Festival.  The people in the back filled the bus with laughter and quotes from Anchorman.  One girl pointed at the shrinkage guy and said, “Can you believe he sent me a picture of his shit this morning?”  Everyone wanted more information, so the guy said, “Yeah, I took a killer shit this morning.  I had to take a picture of it and send it to her.”  The girl started laughing, looking at him with love in her eyes.

“Man,” I thought, “all these years I’ve had flirting all wrong.  I should go on OK Cupid ASAP and change my profile pic to a photo of a bowel movement.”

These were exactly the kind of people I left America to get away from.  For a moment, I thought I wouldn’t mind it if the bus crashed.  And it was a shame, really, because, after my day with K-Swizzle, I’d been thinking of coming back the States without feeling a sense of dread.

I liked talking to K-Swizzle.  It wasn’t like talking to the ex-pats here.  She had a job and a home and a reality to her life.  There was no vagueness to her.  The future was a picture she’d already developed.  Most of the people here in Korea have little concept of what they’ll be doing in a year.  They want to travel, and it’s fun talking about different countries.  But talking with K-Swizzle was like talking to an actual person.  It made me think that when I go back to the States, things won’t be all that bad.  There are benefits to settling down somewhere and being around people who are stable.  For example, I could stop feeling guilty that I still can’t read Korean.

It took three hours to get to the Trout Festival.  Once we got there, we were led by two Korean girls through the snow and into the festival itself.  People flew down an enormous slide in inner-tubes and drove ATV’s around on the ice.  There were snow carvings of a dragon and of Pororo.  Everything looked awesome.  We were with a group of about 40 others and we were brought to big tent located at the foot of a large, empty area where the river had frozen over.  To the left and to the right, the ice was packed with Korean people fishing for trout.

Our tour leader motioned to the patch of ice where nobody was.  “They’ve set this area up for foreigners,” she said.  “You guys can fish here.”

And we did.  TTD and I wandered out onto the ice and cast our lines down into the holes the festival folks had made.  The other foreigners did as well.  Some of the festival people walked around with video cameras, capturing the excitement of white people fishing.  The other ice fishing areas were jammed with folks, families and couples out fishing together.  By comparison, our foreign area looked pretty vacant.

“When you catch your fish,” we were told, “you can take it over to the tent and they’ll cook it.  Go to that tent, though, because that is the cooking area for foreigners.”

The whole thing sort of reminded me of that scene from The Help where the woman has to go pee in a separate bathroom, and then the white lady says, “Isn’t it nice to have a bathroom of your own?”  That seemed to be the Korean stance on things.  “Isn’t it nice we set up an area for you to fish and have your meal cooked?  An area all to yourselves?”

TTD and I eventually drifted away from the pack.  We saw a large crowd gathered around a big pool and we went over to check it out.

“It’s bare-handed fishing,” someone said.  “You can pay ten bucks and they give you a t-shirt and shorts, and then you can jump in the pool and catch a fish with your hands.”

Perhaps I’m not that adventurous.  When it comes to seafood, the craziest I get is ordering the 3 piece meal at Captain D’s.  We decided to wait and see what the big deal was.  Rows of Koreans stood around the lip of the pool.  We could see the group of bare-handed-fishers ready to come out.  A Korean man shouted into a microphone and out they came in their t-shirts and shorts, running barefoot through the snow.  And that’s when I noticed something.

They were all foreign.  Every single one.  It was like the “watch the foreigners do something stupid” show.  Sure enough, down into the water they went, painful expressions on their faces, grabbing fishes and sticking them down their shirts.  The audience seemed mildly amused.

Looking all around me, I reflected on things.  I felt the Koreans were looking down on us, and yet that’s exactly how I’d looked at the people in the back of the bus.  What did that mean, then?  It meant that either I had to stop being a snob, or I had to stop feeling offended by the Koreans’ snobbery.

I looked out at the people in the fish pool, shaking and shivering.

“Babo Waygookins,” I thought, with a hint of pride.

*

Samantha F. Works in Laundry and Wants to be My Wife! (I Think)

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Although I don’t know all of my Facebook ‘friends,’ at least I’m aware of how I’m supposed to know them.  I’ll look at someone and think, “Who the hell is that?”  And then I’ll check and see we went to high school together.  Once the link is established, I’ll try my best to remember the person.  Usually I can’t, but after two years of reading Facebook updates, suddenly I’ll feel like we go way back.

“I’m so happy Laura is doing well!” I’ll say to myself, blocking out the fact that I don’t know who on earth Laura is and, for all I know, she could be the post-sex-change reincarnation of one some boy that kicked my ass in 9th grade.

Samantha F. doesn’t fall into this category of people.  I had no idea who she was when she sent me a Facebook friend request, and I still don’t really know for certain that she’s a real person.  She could be some psychopathic male posing as an attractive Filipina to try to lure and kill Americans or, even more horrifyingly, she could be one of my friends playing a practical joke.  When Samantha F. sent me the Facebook request, I accepted it, figuring we must have some common friends.  Nope.  She’s as random as they come.  A week or so after we became pals, she caught me on the Facebook chat.  Our first conversation went exactly like this:

Her: Hey.

Me: Hi.

Her: How old are you?

Me: 33.

Her: Are you married?

Me: No.

Her: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

(pause)

Her: You’re looking good!

It sounds like an exaggeration, but that really is how it went.  I’d heard about women in places like Thailand and the Philippines who search out Westerners, either to milk them for money or to marry them to improve their lives.  Over the next few months, Samantha F. and I would chat from time to time.  I learned a bit about her.  She lives in Manila and works at a laundry mat that her sister runs.  She has a dog named Mickey.  Most of her family lives in Mindoro.  She likes to sing and can apparently cook up a mean sinigang, which she promises to make me.

The whole thing was weird, having this woman appear out of nowhere and start chatting to me, and I found myself having great fun with it.  For instance, I read on the brilliant Renxkyoko blog that it’s a tradition in the Philippines for a man to come serenade the woman he desires.  The man will pick whatever night he feels is right, and he’ll sing a love song outside of the woman’s window.  If she loves him back, she’ll open the window and listen to him sing.  On the other hand, if he’s not the one, the window will remain closed.

“I’ll come to your window,” I said once to Samantha F., “and I will serenade you with Open Arms by Journey.  Will you open your window for me?”

“I will wide open window,” she said.

I thought that was neat.  Not every girl would wide open window for me.  And even if they did, no girls would phrase it in that particular way.  It’s not like I talked to Samantha F. a whole lot…just from time to time, and it would always be goofy and sort of flirtatious.  Good harmless fun, I would call it.  Things took a little turn, though.  TTD and I decided to book a trip to the Philippines to visit a mutual friend.  In a flash, Samantha F. was no longer some abstract person a million miles away.  I could conceivably meet her.  I immediately realized that I had to practice my singing and brush up on the Open Arms lyrics.

“You will be in Philippines?” she wrote me on Facebook after I informed everyone of my vacation plans via status update.  This was not good.  I mean, having playful banter with her was pathetic enough; meeting up with her would really make me a loser.  Especially since I was only targeted in the first place because of my American passport.  Is that really what this girl wanted, I asked myself.  To live in America?

In all honesty, there’s a part of me that wanted to meet up with her.  Not so much because I thought we’d ‘fall in love’ or something (and not because of horniness, get that out of your dirty mind), but because I thought it would just make a really whacky story.  You know, because I spend a significant portion of my life trying to do things to blog about.

“Hey,” I said to TTD, “would you be upset if some random Filipina laundry girl met up with us at the airport?”

She just looked at me with that I-will-stab-you look of hers.

So that was settled.  Next week, when I fly to the Philippines, I shall not go anywhere near Samantha F. or her wide open window.  It’s too weird and sleazy.  I talked to her last night, about nothing in particular.  She had spent her holidays in Mindoro and was telling me about it.  The pictures looked breathtaking, the island beach and the spectacular sunset.

“Oh I’m drunk,” she said about her time there.  “Happy happy together with friend.  I sing to Mindoro.”

She meant that she got drunk on the beach with her friend and sang to the island.  I pictured that and wondered how anyone could think that wasn’t paradise.  To drink on a warm island at sunset and sing to the land and the water.

“I sang Filipino song,” she continued.  “It was beautiful ‘cause I was drunk and sing the wrong lyrics.”

It made me quickly think back to the house I owned in Charlotte and the small square of land that came with it, how I’d sometimes sit outside and drink a beer and look at it.  ‘Underwhelming’ would describe it suitably.  I wonder what Samantha F. would think of that little, fenced in-piece of land.  She would probably dream of being on a beach in Mindoro, singing the wrong lyrics to an old Filipino song.

*

Martin Luther King was Awesome and Possibly Frugal

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Every year, on the third Monday of January, there are a bunch of important people who have their birthdays overlooked.  It must suck to be born on Martin Luther King Day.  No matter what you’ve accomplished, it must feel like small potatoes in comparison to what Mr. King was able to do.  It’s sort of like getting nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award on the same day your brother wins the Nobel Peace Prize.  While everyone pats him on the back, there you are, pointing to your computer and shouting, “Hey!  I’m a winner too!”

So, very quickly, I would like to recognize five achievers whose birthdays have been overshadowed this MLK Day, January 16, 2012:

Sade – Singer.  Her songs have enhanced people’s sex lives for nearly thirty years now.

John Carpenter – Director.  When I was a kid, his movie “Big Trouble in Little China” seemed very good.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger – Radio Host.  An inspiration to crazy people everywhere.

Ethel Merman – Singer.  She was able to be a famous singer despite her grating voice.

David Chokachi – Baywatch Actor.  On the show, he saved many lives.

To everyone born on MLK Day, we salute your accomplishments.  Now let’s talk about Martin Luther King, because, really, there’s a reason we don’t have David Chokachi Day.

*

Five or six years ago, I went through a short phase where I seriously wanted to write a screenplay about Dr. Martin Luther King.  It struck me that there’s no movie about MLK.  I wondered why this is.  Malcolm X got a movie.  Gandhi got a movie.  Even Jesus got a movie.  Why was there no love for MLK?  I talked about my idea over dinner with my ex-wife, Betty.

“I have an idea for the MLK movie,” I said.  “It will be a biopic that focuses only on his boring, day-to-day life.  We won’t show the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech or the bus boycott or the protest in Alabama.  The whole movie will just be Martin Luther King doing normal things.  Eating breakfast.  Cleaning his house.  Shopping for groceries.  Stuff like that.”

“Why would anyone want to watch that?” Betty asked.

“I think it would be interesting to watch Martin Luther King shop for groceries.”

“Is the point supposed to be that he was really a regular guy, just like us?”

“No,” I said.  “I think we have a tendency to call a person great based on the person’s accomplishments.  Really, what makes a person great is that person’s spirit.  Who they are.  I want to show that Martin Luther King was an awesome person, which is why he was able to do all the stuff he did.”

“How will we tell that from watching him buy groceries?”

“Not sure.  Maybe he’ll be nice to the check-out lady.”

“How do you know Martin Luther King was nice to check-out ladies?”

“I would bet money that he was nice to check-out ladies.”

“He was probably frugal.  Don’t you think?  With the church and the SCLC.  They must’ve kept a tight budget.  I bet he kept receipts.”

“Great.  That could be in the movie.  Martin Luther King keeping his receipts and doing his budget.  He could talk to his kids about money.  That would be a good scene.”

“Don’t you think it should be accurate?  How do you know he did that?  Is this movie going to be a bunch of things you make up about Martin Luther King?”

“Well, theoretically, I would be able to interview people and use that.”

“Like who?”

“I don’t know.  Mrs. Luther King?”

“You mean Mrs. King?” she said.  “The Luther is his middle name.”

“What?” I asked, taken aback.  “She doesn’t get the Luther?  If I were her, I would want the Luther.  Mrs. King?  That could be Larry’s wife!  Mrs. Luther King…that makes things a lot more clear.”

Betty sighed.  “Her name is actually Coretta Scott King, and you should know that.  I think your movie misses the point.  He was a great man who did overwhelmingly amazing things.  The point should be that he wasn’t like us.  I can be nice to the check-out lady.  I can’t lead a Civil Rights Movement.”

She was right.  We all eat breakfast.  We don’t all change the world.

*

One of the most devastating and inspiring places I’ve been was the  Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.  The museum is inside the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I went to Memphis from Rochester specifically so I could look out from the balcony like MLK did.  In all seriousness, Martin Luther King has been a vastly important figure to me, a hero, for as far back as I can remember.  Reading biographies on him, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer amount of violence and hate that he faced.  He was better than it, stronger than it.  He walked through hell and hell changed, not him.  He is an extraordinary figure in history and today it’s great to know his country thanks him.

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

*

Flat Stanley, Love Locks, and the City at Night

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Flat Stanley was wedged in a book.  I’d never heard of Flat Stanley until somebody mailed him to TTD a few weeks ago.  “You take him places,” she said, “and you gotta take a picture of him.  Then you mail Flat Stanley to someone else, so he goes around the world.”  It’s a cute idea, sort of like the garden gnome in the movie Amelie.  If you’ve never seen Flat Stanley, he is a white man in a dress shirt and tie.  He is called “flat” because he’s a paper cut-out.  Maybe when I have some free time I’ll invent “3 Dimensional Sven,” an origami Norwegian boy in clogs.  That sounds like a reasonable alternative to Stanley.  To me, at least.  Although he wouldn’t fit in a book.

“You know what might be fun?” I told TTD.  “If we go to some touristy place and pretend we’re tourists.  We can say we’re only here for a week.  Who knows?  We might meet some interesting people.”

TTD thought that idea sucked, but she did have to take a picture of Flat Stanley, and so on Saturday we went to Korea’s most popular tourist destination, Namsan Tower.  We’ve been in Korea well over a year but, for unclear reasons (i.e. hangovers), we’d never made our way to the Tower.  Flat Stanley was a good excuse.

Sis had been to the Tower before.  In fact, she has a lock there.  So it was TTD, Sis and I, headed up a mountain in a cable car, at 5 in the evening, with three goals: take a picture of Flat Stanley, find Sis’ lock, and see the city all lit up at night.

“Wow!” I said loudly so others could hear.  “This is an amazing vacation.  I’m so happy we’ll be in Korea all week.  It’s really fun to be a tourist here!”

To my disappointment, nobody paid me any mind.  I guess the only people who come off as being tourists are actual tourists.  Shucks.

Namsan Tower is well-known for its locks, just as Korea is known for being a ‘couples society.’  Most places here are designed for couples (for instance, 90% of restaurants don’t even have single servings, they price and serve dishes for two people) and there are about thirty holidays for couples (Pepero Day, for example, where couples give each other cheap chocolate sticks).  There are messages about love written all over the walls of coffee shops and PC cafes.  It’s really disgusting and makes being single even more depressing.  Not only am I lonely, I can’t order food.

The locks at Namsan Tower tie into this entire love/couple mentality.  When two are in love (cue Prince song), they buy a lock, write their names on it, and put it on the deck at Namsan Tower, where it will stay forever, symbolizing their eternal ardor.  Or, more likely, symbolizing nothing but getting the guy some booty that night.  Anyways, Sis and her boyfriend have a lock up there, somewhere among literally thousands of locks.  Some of the locks are brand new  (yay! young people in love!) while others are old and rusted and look like they’ve been there for centuries  (yay! old people in love!) (eww).  I looked out at the vast array of locks and felt a little jealous.

“I’ll get a lock and put one up here in anticipation,” I told Sis.  “I can get a good spot now.  My future girlfriend and I can come write our names and draw a heart later.”

“That might be creepy, bro,” Sis said.  “Especially if the lock is old and rusted by the time you find somebody.”

Sis looked around but couldn’t find her lock.  I’d heard before that many couples lose track of their locks.  “Are you sad because you can’t find it?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.  “I don’t care.”

This is probably why I’m single.  My neurotic ass would want to go see the lock every other day.  I’d be calling up my girlfriend, “Hey, how about this weekend, we do dinner and the lock.”  Then in the upcoming weeks: “Hey, how about a movie and the lock.”  “Say, I could go for coffee and the lock, you?”  “This weekend I want to do something special…I’m gonna take you on a beautiful, romantic getaway…after we see the lock.”

TTD didn’t help our four-minute search for the lock because she was too busy taking pictures of Flat Stanley.  An hour or so had passed since we took the cable car up, and the sun had gone down.  I went out on the (free) observation deck (as opposed to the one up the Tower, which costs money and was subsequently ignored) and looked out at Seoul.

It was maybe the most breathtaking thing I’d ever seen.  Nature is okay, but to me nothing compares to a great city at night.  And it’s even better when you’re looking out at a city you live in.  I’ve seen Niagara Falls in Canada, the Christ statue in Brazil, Halong Bay in Vietnam, and the Lindsay Lohan Playboy spread.  Nothing came close to making me feel like my beautiful city did.

Seoul.  The place where I live.  I felt alive and wonderful.  Really and truly happy.

Flat Stanley is a lucky guy.  He gets to come to Seoul and then head off on another adventure.  I feel fortunate too.  I’ve come a long way to get to here, and I can stay a bit.  Flat Stanley is a tourist, and, lucky me, I’m just pretending.

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