Some Random Thoughts on Dating and Writing

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Back in 1995, when I was at the peak of my failures with the opposite sex, scoring a date was about as easy as getting accepted into college (ie, not easy). Luck had nothing to do with it – it was all about finding someone who was willing to look past your grades and/or pimples and give you a chance. Getting a date, like applying to uni, involved a shitload of hard work. Just meeting the girl in the first place, having the luck or courage to exchange names, was a trial – after that, I would have to create a good impression, get the phone number, successfully call the girl, and then, finally, trick her into agreeing to meet me someplace. Usually a movie, or dinner, or something. And let’s not forget, this was before the days of cellphones and Caller ID, so procuring the phone number was harder, and calling meant you had to figure out the right time to do it, greet the parent, and then actually have a conversation with the person. Talk about stressful – no wonder I settled for the companionship of my pet dog and the sexual fulfillment promised by late night Cinemax.

But then two things came along that totally revolutionized dating – Texting and Starbucks.

Yes, that’s correct: Texting and Starbucks. Suddenly, getting a girl’s phone number became easy. The number exchange involved no commitment; there was no looming conversations, no fathers to get through, and the ability to screen calls allowed girls the freedom to pass out their numbers like they were handing out party invitations. Nearly anyone could get an invite; it didn’t mean a whole lot. The other big dating revolution came in the form of Starbucks. No longer did the male have to arrange such a formal occasion, meeting for a meal or a long movie, something that had an unavoidable date vibe to it. Nope, now the two people could go and hang out, informally, grab a cup of coffee and get to know one another. Making an ulcer-inducing phone call that culminated in a date request faded out, in favor of sending a cute text with the suggestion of getting a cup of coffee sometime. Whenever is good. What you doing Wednesday? It was that simple. People now had the freedom to make commitments without making commitments, and everyone was happier, with the exception of the people that run Cinemax, because their ratings dropped.

Writing, I believe, has followed much the same arc. A mere 20 years ago, I was typing up stories and putting them in big envelopes, mailing them out to magazines via snail mail with a SASE inside. I’d typically send out two or three stories a year, and I always got rejected, which sucked royally since just sending the story out was such a production. The other strange thing was trying to find magazines – I had a big book called “The Writer’s Market” that spoke of literary mags I had never heard of or seen before. Sending out my work was odd because it felt like I was submitting to some phantom venue with an unknown phantom audience of an indefinable number.

But then, just as texting and Starbucks changed dating, two things would come along that changed writing: Blogging and Kindle.

Really, I should say ‘self-publishing’ instead of Kindle – I was trying too hard to stick with the –ing verb/proper noun setup. When I learned that I could start my own blog (and for free too!), suddenly the stress was gone. I didn’t have to worry about mailing something out, getting a rejection letter back in an envelope I paid for. I could write an essay, a story, whatever I wanted, and put it up on the Internet without worrying. It was great! And hot damn! – thanks to places like Kindle and Smashwords, I could even write a whole novel one day and publish it myself. Formality had left the building, the old ways gone, replaced by the writing equivalent of hanging out, having fun, and hooking up.

The reason I’m blabbing on about this is because I’ve been spending tons of time lately writing what will eventually be my first novel. In my life, I have never worked on anything harder than I’ve worked on this, and I’m not even remotely close to finishing. Focusing on the novel has lead to a dramatic fall-off in blogging, a social life that lacks many of the social elements, and a constant sense of guilt anytime I spend a few hours watching TV and not ironing out Chapter 9 for the 127th time.

And yet, as frustrating as writing the novel has been, I kind of love doing it. The sense of ambition and, yes, satisfaction too, is unlike what I experience writing my blog. Don’t get me wrong – over the last two years, I’ve LOVED writing this blog, and have been hella lucky that people have read it. That said, like scoring a coffee date, there’s been the feeling that the blog can’t be the be-all-end-all – that it should be a step, something that leads to something else. Hopefully that’s the novel…although God knows when I’ll finish the thing. I completed the first draft in January (weighing in at a ridiculously bloated 125,000 words) and am currently in the process of basically writing everything all over again. It’s challenging and thrilling and I’m not sure what it will lead to, if anything – a lot like beginning a new relationship with someone.

If there’s any points to be made here, I guess, first of all, I want to thank texting and Starbucks, and blogging and self-publishing, for filling my life with hope and possibility where none existed before. And the second point, I further guess, is that everyone should sit down and push themselves to do something that takes more work than texting and blogging, because even though those things are great, there’s a different level of pleasure that comes with pushing oneself into areas less certain.

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The Strange Spot On This Planet That I Call Home

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Back in November, I interviewed for a job in Beijing, China. Two weeks later, I’d signed a contract. A few months after that, I was on a plane to Beijing Capital International Airport. What greeted me – the place where I found myself – let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected. Yesterday was nice and sunny and so I went for a stroll and took some pictures. And thus I present to you my new home, for better or for worse. Cheers!

This is the outside of the campus where my apartment is. Right off the bat, I want to say that my school is pretty awesome and that I really believe there's some good edumacating going on here. The job is, in all honesty, pretty dope.

This is the outside of the campus where my apartment is. Right off the bat, I want to say that my school is quite awesome and that I really believe there’s some good stuff going on. It’s a school I’m proud to be teaching at. Yes.

In front of the campus is a two lane highway. A public bus comes about one every ten minutes. Apart from the bus and some cars, the area is pretty open and empty.

What follows is my journey any time I wish to go off campus. Out in front of the school is a two lane highway. A public bus comes about once every ten minutes. Apart from the bus and some cars, the area is really empty.

Evidence of emptiness.

Evidence of emptiness.

The bus takes about 15 minutes to get into town and stops running at 7:30 pm. Now, if I don't feel like taking the bus into town, there is a village. It's a short walk. Here are the stairs that mark the starting point.

The bus takes about 15 minutes to get into town (not downtown Beijing, that takes 90 minutes) and stops running at 7:30 pm. Now, if I don’t feel like taking the bus into town, there is a village. It’s a short walk. Here are the stairs that mark the starting point.

Up the stairs, and down the winding path through the trees.

Up the stairs, and down the winding path through the trees.

Four minutes through the trees bring us to an exit. The village is close.

Four minutes through the trees brings us to an exit. The village is close.

Now it's a walk down this stretch of road. Again, this isn't the Beijing I had pictured. But, like anywhere, one gets used to the surroundings. Especially when there's a random head by the side of the road.

Now it’s a walk down this stretch of road. Again, this isn’t the Beijing I had pictured. But, like anywhere, one gets used to the surroundings. Especially when there’s a random head by the side of the road.

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We've finally reached the village. Hurray!

We’ve finally reached the village. Hurray!

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Here is the grocery store. There are always dogs outside...

Here is the grocery store. There are always dogs outside…

...and exciting rides for kids.

…and exciting rides for kids.

In all seriousness, the village is pretty depressing. It's an extremely poor area. Last semester, my school brought in children from the village's elementary school, so that the wealthy kids attending my school could talk to them and learn about their lives. My school planned to involve the kids from the village more this semester, but we were told that the elementary school in the village was shut down. Closed. No one seems to know what the children in the village are currently doing during the day.

In all seriousness, the village is pretty depressing. It’s an extremely poor area. Last semester, my school brought in children from the village’s elementary school, so that the wealthy kids attending my school could talk to the village kids and learn about their lives. My school planned to involve them more this semester, but we were told that the elementary school in the village was shut down. Closed. No one seems to know why, or what the village kids are doing now that they don’t have a school.

Village barber shop. Reminiscent of Super Cuts.

Village barber shop. Reminiscent of Super Cuts.

Probably it's needless to say that I wasn't to pleased to be living here at first. But I'm getting into it. It's okay. Here's Mickey Mouse. At Disney World, they say it's a small world after all. That isn't really true. The world isn't small at all, but when you stay in one certain place long enough, I can see how it feels that way.

Probably it’s needless to say that I wasn’t too pleased to be living here at first. But I’m getting into it. It’s okay, nothing to complain about. Here’s Mickey Mouse. At Disney World, they say it’s a small world after all. That isn’t really true. The world isn’t small at all, but when you stay in one certain place long enough, I can see how it feels that way.

Psychedelic Panic Pizza, Heat 120 Seconds

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blog pizza catSo many unexplainable things happen every year, it was only a matter of time until the fantastic reached me. UFOs in Jerusalem. Spontaneous human combustion on the Seoul subway. The high ratings for Honey Boo Boo. Things like that. And then last week, I had a personal experience that walked the same path, out of our reality and into another one. I probably sound facetious, but that’s just out of habit – after 25 years of being a sarcastic asshole, it’s difficult to sound sincere. As crazy as it sounds, this post is done in true sincerity. It is the story of how I had an intense journey, a trip across the dark side of the mushroom, brought on by a microwavable pizza bought at Walmart.

I’m aware of how crazy it sounds. People don’t have their perception altered by pizza, and the worst thing microwaveable food can do to a person is give them a muffin top. My rational side understands this. But then I think back to what happened, and I shudder.

It all began around 5:00 PM on Wednesday. I needed to pick up a few things, so I took the 21 bus from my school to the Walmart located in Chang Ping. The bus was packed and the ride was hell. I’d been in an edgy mood all day, and the crowded bus/crowded store didn’t help any. I bought some crap, and then wondered what to eat for dinner. I haven’t had pizza in ages, and I came across some microwaveable ones in the frozen food section. Not DiGiorno or Mama Celeste or anything like that. I found a different brand with a promising name – Pizza Delicious.

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Now let’s pause for a moment to analyze the box. First, let’s note the text used to spell the words “Pizza” and “Delicious.” Clearly, this is the same font utilized by The Grateful Dead and other bands of the psychedelic era. The box sort of looks like a poster you’d see hanging in Haight-Ashbury in the late 60s. Secondly, notice the green swoosh above the words. It’s as though they’re telling you this pizza will take you places, another galaxy, the sixth dimension. Hey Mr. Spaceman, won’t you please take me and my Pizza Delicious along, we won’t do anything wrong. Thirdly, note the shape of the pizza. It sort of looks like an LSD microdot with toppings.

Turn on, heat for 120 seconds on high power, drop out.

The pizza pictured on the box is one thing, but the monstrosity inside was a whole different story. Here, below, is what I discovered upon unsealing my Pizza Delicious.

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Yes, I know. It looks like scrambled eggs thrown on top of a dry pita. After microwaving it, the enormous mountain of frozen cheese melted, revealing a hidden assortment of mushrooms, sausage, and corn. No sauce to speak of. Although it still appeared to be made by someone with dementia, I was starving and so I decided to eat the thing. The crust had a nice sweet taste to it. The glob of random items on top had no taste, which might have been for the best.

About twenty minutes after I ate the fucker, strange things began happening. I felt euphoric, lightheaded and blissful. Everything seemed hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing at shit on my Facebook newsfeed. At the time, I thought I was simply in a good mood. In hindsight, the pizza had obviously intoxicated me, making everything appear wonderful. That all changed when I made the poor decision to go to sleep.

I woke up at one o’clock in the morning. My proprioception was gone. I felt as though my body had vanished on me, like I’d been drawn and quartered in the night and all that was left of me was a torso. Where were my arms? I couldn’t feel my legs. I was hysterical. I stood fast, looking down on my body’s completion, a dandelion that hadn’t had its appendages blown off yet. Still, something felt incredibly wrong. I was drowning, sensations sinking into the interior of my head, my brain fluid was a green river carrying away my thoughts. Skin burning, sweat soaking my hair. I had to move, couldn’t stay still or I’d die. I ran out into the living room and turned on all the lights, kicking my legs, hopping up and down. Hands had gone numb, feet were tingling. My blood was out of circulation, red light stopped, my tongue had fur on it. The dryness in my mouth was unbearable, it felt filled with cotton, and I started drinking water but that only made me vomit burp, acid filling my throat as if I had some kind of internal straw running down into my stomach and I was sucking the liquid up through it.

blog pizza deathIn reality, I was having a panic attack. I’ve had them all my life, and they never seem to get any easier. I felt so incredibly helpless. I saw the pizza box in the trash, laughing at me, the bastard had poisoned me and was going to kill me. Why the fuck did I eat it? Obviously the pizza wasn’t right, a death trap, as smart as eating raw beef. Part of my mind was convinced this was the BIG END, that I was going to faint and never wake up. The other part of my mind tried to stay rational. I had to find my neutral space, create an environment that would settle me down. In the meantime, I’d keep running around the living room. Stopping could prove fatal.

It took two hours before I was able to sit still. I had to find the right amount of light (full darkness except the soft glow of my desk lamp). The silence was terrifying, and so I put on Joni Mitchell, turned her voice to the exact volume I needed. I made myself tea. And ultimately I laid in the bed and let the calmness take over. My body started to reappear, gain focus, as if I was looking at myself through a camera and adjusting the lens. Eyes shut, I saw two black birds fly up to the top of my skull, its morning, twirling in circles, intertwining, a braid of dark hair escalating through the sky. A feeling of full relaxation overtook me. Shear delirium, I was split into two, a child and its own care giver. The idea was beautiful. All of this, the entire experience, had a purpose, and I could sense that inside this gentle division.

I was a patient and a nurse, an infant and its father. I could feel my own forehead for fever, kiss my own bruises. Fuck, this is what the Pizza Delicious needed to tell me. That I could take care of myself, not be afraid, that I was my own protection against the world and against death and maybe against myself as well.

In the morning, I felt exhausted. I took a hot shower.

Everything was back to normal, and I wanted to cry.

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I Don’t Want To Shower, I Don’t Want To Blog, And I Don’t Want To Eat Brain

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blog showerI could feel the funk settling in. My floor was littered with unwashed clothes, and I hadn’t showered in two days. That’s the thing about depression – there are generally signs of it everywhere. See, depression doesn’t sneak up on you like Oscar Pistorious’ girlfriend on Valentine’s Day; it slowly makes itself at home. One day you sleep until noon but shrug it off. Then, before you know it, you haven’t shaved in two weeks and you’re suddenly listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell.

Well, at least that’s what happened to me. Relocating to China was beginning to wear me down, bum me out. Moving someplace new, really, is a lot like buying a porn magazine. Sure, the new issue of “Juggs” is thrilling for a day or two, but pretty quickly it gets boring, depressing to own, and you want it to go away. So was the case with China, at least in the early stages. The first few days were fun, but then I didn’t want to see its breasts any more, metaphorically speaking.

“Hey,” I said on the phone, calling one of the school coordinators, “I don’t mean to complain, but I can’t get any hot water in the shower.”

“Oh, you know it gets turned off, right?” she responded.

“No, I had no idea. What time does it get turned off?”

“7:30 AM.”

As soon as the number left her mouth, I knew I would not be showering again. Sure, getting up at that time would be fine when classes began. Until then, while the school was on vacation and I wasted the two weeks away memorizing the lyrics to “Blue” and attempting to feel better about myself by watching “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” there would be no way I’d be able to wake in time for the hot water. No, I would become dirty and disgusting, like a homeless person or someone vacationing with Carnival Cruise Lines. I considered my options – taking a cold shower or investing in a good bottle of cologne and bathing in the style of so many great Italians before me – and decided to just sleep more.

blog firewallWriting this blog also seemed impossible. The Great Firewall of China was proving to be a greater foe than I had anticipated. Without exaggerating, I seriously spent about 10 hours trying to put a stupid Mitch Hedberg picture in my AIDS post, getting kicked offline by the proxy server over and over again. “Son of a bitch!” I shouted. “When I read there were Internet blocks in China, I didn’t expect that to apply to me!”

And then there was food. It took about a week to find a grocery store that stocked it. Finally I did, and I ran back home with delight, having purchased a whole chicken, cooked rotisserie style. I got home and cut it up with kitchen scissors. Starving, I devoured it. At one point, I was trying to gnaw the flesh off some part of the chicken – what appeared to be a wing – and was having trouble. I took the chicken from my lips and looked at it.

“What the hell is this?” I thought. Right after that I rotated it in my fingers, like it was back on the rotisserie, the image turning right side up, and that’s about the time my heart stopped. “Dear God…it’s the head!”

blog chicken headYes, apparently the head of the chicken is not removed in the grocery store, and I had been nibbling on it. It was a horrifying sight to behold. Brown, soft and gelatinous, its empty eye socket stared up at me. “Fuckin’ shit!” I screamed, throwing its face back down onto my plate. It had to go, immediately. I grabbed a fork and thrust it down upon the chicken head, puncturing it through one of its eye sockets. Dinner had turned into a nightmare, and there was a gooey brown head on the end of my fork like a piece of fudge brownie from hell.

Afterwards, the chicken head flushed down the toilet, I sat on the bed and shook. I felt like a murderer. Terrible thoughts ran through my head. I pictured purchasing a bucket of KFC and opening it to find Colonel Sanders’ decapitated head inside.

Thankfully, things started getting better. Just as depression is quite apparent at its onset, it’s easy to tell when it’s left too. Things began to make sense and a new routine started to form. Plus, I got my passport back, which meant a quick trip to Korea to see my wonderful girlfriend, and if anything can get a guy over the self-loathing that comes from having eaten something’s scalp, love can.

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I’ll Take the AIDS Test when I’m Finished Studying!

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blog aids mitchThere’s nothing less fun than having to take an AIDS test. Pregnancy tests aren’t fun either, but if those turn out positive, as a guy, I can take the girl in question on Maury Povich and hope somebody else knocked her up. And if that doesn’t work out, at least I’d get to be on Maury Povich. You’ll never see Maury doing AIDS tests:

“Well, I’m holding the results of the test in my hand,” Maury would say as I sweat bullets up on the stage. “With 99.9% accuracy…you sir…are not the father!”

“What? It was supposed to be an AIDS test.”

“Oh, yeah. About that…you got it.”

It just wouldn’t be good TV. Likewise, a show about my attempts to get a Chinese work visa would make for equally bad television.

“On today’s very special episode,” the voice-over guy would say, “Bill is required to go to a Hong Kong hospital and undergo a full health exam, including an HIV test. Viewer discretion is advised: this episode contains adult themes and isn’t entertaining.”

Really though, the doctors and nurses at the hospital in Hong Kong couldn’t have been nicer. They had me in and out of that place in about an hour, as though they were the Jiffy Lube of health examinations. I was told my results would be back in a week, and I nodded, knowing I’d be spending the next seven days freaking out.

blog aids mosquitoNot that I thought I had HIV. But having the test put the thought in my head. It’s like, you never think about certain things until somebody brings them up. “Don’t you want more in-depth labels on food?” a person might say. “Aren’t you worried about what you’re eating?” Um, why? Should I be worried about what I’m eating? What’s wrong with what I’m eating? Is it going to kill me? Oh my God, it IS going to kill me, isn’t it? I’m such a fool!

So because somebody felt it was necessary that I take an HIV test, all of a sudden I became convinced that I had it. I walked around Hong Kong humming Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” song, imaging myself on the Real World, being harassed by Puck. One night I stood by VictoriaBay and got super dramatic, thinking that when the test came back positive, I would leap into the bay at night and commit suicide. No one would even know why I did it, the test results kept secret thanks to HIPPA laws. Everyone would simply assume it was due to my despair over “Gossip Girl” getting canceled or the Phillies signing of Delmon Young.

My anxiety was at an all-time high when I finally got an email from the hospital, saying I could come pick up my test results. The tone of the email was neutral, which I considered to be a good sign. After arriving, the doctor sat me down in a chair to go over everything.

“We did a blood test,” she said, “and you’re blood type A positive.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Relax,” I told myself. “She said A positive. There was no I or D or S.”

She proceeded to go over the rest of the results. I was HIV negative. I breathed a heavy sigh in relief. Then she told me my lungs had pleural thickening. “It’s not a big deal,” she said, “but it’s something to be aware of.”

“My lungs? Thickening? Is that because I smoke?”

“No,” she said, “pleural thickening is usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Smoking is very bad, though. You need to quit.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Asbestos?”

I was dumbfounded. I thought asbestos poisoning was something that went out after the New Deal. How had this happened? I told myself that if one thing doesn’t kill you, something else surely will.

“Well, thank God you can’t get AIDS from old buildings,” I thought, leaving the hospital with my chest X-ray in hand, so I could show my pleural thickening to all my friends.

“Tune in next week,” my voice over guy said, “for a very special episode, in which the happiness of being HIV negative is somewhat muted by a 30 minute coughing fit.”

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Swedish Thor and the Quest for Water

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thor-cookie-jarSometimes, when traveling, one encounters a person with a name that is impossible to pronounce. In the Philippines, there was a guy from Finland that everyone called “Rusty” because his real name was too challenging; in Paris, there was a Turkish gentleman that we all, quite cleverly, referred to as “Turk.” The same thing happened to me in Hong Kong, where I met a young fellow from Sweden whose name was as hard to say as some Ingmar Bergman films are to make sense of.

“Just call me Thor,” he sighed, mercifully, after I’d butchered his name badly, leaving it disemboweled and beheaded.

“Thor?” I asked, wondering if that was really any better than calling him “Swede.”

“Yes.”

“Okay, Thunder God,” I said. He looked down at the floor, as if by shifting his attention, he could erase the bad joke from ever having happened.

It’s a little known fact that Hong Kong, a small sovereign island off the southern coast of China, is actually the second most expensive place in all of Asia to visit (the first being Japan). The cost of living in Hong Kong, believe it or not, is higher than that of New York City. Thor and I met because we were both staying on the 7th floor of the Chunking Mansions, block D, the cheapest place in all of Hong Kong to stay. At fifteen bucks a night, we’d found ourselves in a room about the size of handicapped bathroom stall, with two bunk beds, one power socket, and two other men who, like us, did not possess enough money to stay anywhere better.

There was little doubt that all of us were broke. Early on, I’d decided that I’d save money by eating only ham and salami sandwiches, storing my modestly priced sandwich meat in the otherwise unused communal refrigerator that sat in the hallway. The others ate cheap curry sold on the first floor of the building. One day, Thor entered the room excited, a bottle of water in his hand.

“Hey guys!” he said. “There’s a water fountain in Kowloon Park. We won’t have to pay for water anymore! We can fill our bottles up for free!”

It was brilliant. I quickly headed over to the park with two empty water bottles of my own. I’d heard the park was lovely, filled with things to see, but I didn’t care. I was there for the free water. I rushed past a group of Chinese people doing Tai Chi, down a walking path lined with statues of famous Anime characters; I blew by a scenic pond populated with tall pink flamingos. None of it caused me to take pause. All I was focused on was the elusive water fountain. I’d been searching for around forty minutes and the only water I’d seen was being slurped up by flamingos. I felt like grabbing someone by the shirt collar and yelling, “I’ve been told of the free water! Where on earth are you hiding it?”

Then quietly adding, “Thor sent me.”

Thankfully, I found it, right outside the restrooms, where I would steal toilet paper to use as tissue. “What’s happening to me?” I thought. It was like I was turning into my depression-era grandfather, who used to steal napkins from McDonalds and magazines from the dentist’s office. Upon returning to my room, I found the rest of the guys lounging around, drinking from their water bottles.

“How was the park?” one of them asked, taking note that I had two water jugs stuffed under my arms. The four of us laughed, as though we’d discovered some magical oasis, Ponce De Leon and the Fountain of Penny Pinching. Once in awhile we’d meet a new person in the hallway and we’d always nudge each other, nodding, telling the person of our secret water supply.

Then one morning I awoke to discover that someone had eaten all of my salami. This was a nightmare come true. The community fridge had been raided. “That motherfucker!” I said out loud to the empty hallway. “What kind of bastard steals a poor man’s salami?” To add insult, the person had left the empty package there, not even having the manners to throw it out. The ham was untouched, which confused me. “Who takes the salami and leaves the ham? I’ll tell you who – a fucking fool who doesn’t know how to make a proper sandwich, that’s who!”

I sat down on the bed in despair. My efforts to get by on as little as possible had been wasted, destroyed by pilfered lunch meat. It seems that for every cheap person in the world, there’s an even cheaper person; for every guy swallowing his pride to take water from the public park, they’re someone shamelessly stealing that person’s salami.

A few hours later, Thor and the others checked out. I looked at the twenty full water bottles we’d accumulated. “I’m not telling anyone about this,” I said to myself. “Those bastards can thirst to death for all I care.”

Or, I suppose, they could pay.

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Did You See the Modern Art, Or Were You Too Busy Having Sex?

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blog artAt some point in my life, I made the decision that I would buy into modern art hook, line, and sinker. It didn’t matter what the genre was – abstract or pop, land art or performance art – it would inevitably knock my socks off and have me screaming “genius!” from the rooftops. Pollock, Breton, Ernst, Man Ray – these men were all masters, even better than those old people from Italy. Later I would discover conceptual art, and it would put my mind in a perpetual state of blown.

This is the story of how I visited the MUseum MOderner Kunst – or MUMOK – in Vienna, Austria, and had a profound experience there. Yes, it centered around horny teenagers, but it was profound nonetheless. Its memory still echoes in my intellect whenever something reminds me of art, like someone says a word that begins with “neo” or “post” for instance.

blog mumokIt only took about two minutes inside the MUMOK for me to be impressed. There was brilliance, brilliance everywhere! One painting hung on the wall at the height of my knee; the description next to it explained that the purpose was to challenge the way people view art, our expectations, the assumption that paintings must always be displayed at eye-level. I nodded, approving. That was excellence, right there, adjacent to my kneecap. Another piece could best be described as a monitor on the wall, a black and white image flickering on it, showing some random items. Again, I turned to the description. This artist was also challenging the way galleries display art. He had gotten permission to bury his artwork under the floor of the museum, and was broadcasting it in via video camera.

“Holy shit!” my internal voice shouted. “That’s ingenious! I’m looking at the art, and at the same time, I’m STANDING ON IT!”

But it was at a different exhibit where the truly profound incident would occur. I found myself standing at the entrance to a pitch black hallway, loud sounds bursting from within.  I was a little bit afraid, scared to enter, as if some artist was waiting in the shadows, ready to leap out and yell “Dada!” But the description of the exhibit sounded interesting, something about projected images together with non-synchronized sounds, and so I walked down the dark hallway, until I reached a small room where a projector cast bright pictures onto the wall opposite.

There was a man standing in the corner of the room, and he caught my attention. He was in his mid-forties, and he looked anxious and uncomfortable. The man glanced at me, then quickly turned his head away. I wondered why he was in the corner, and why he seemed so awkward. I shifted my attention to the front of the room, and that’s when I saw it.

There were two teenagers, probably highschoolers, a boy and a girl, sitting on the bench in the front of the room, making out heavily. They were really going at it, attacking each other’s mouths, their tongues twirling together like colors in a candy cane. I looked back over to the other guy, just in time to see him flee the room. There was no way anyone could assess the art with this going on. They were impossible to ignore. It felt embarrassing to be in there, the two lovebirds were so into each other they were oblivious to any onlookers, and suddenly I felt like a peeping tom. It was as if I was the one behaving inappropriately, a dude in his thirties, standing in the back of a dark room, trying not to stare at two kissing kids and failing.

So I did what my predecessor had done, and I shuffled myself out of the exhibit. It wasn’t until later that the magnitude of it hit me. By coincidence, I had experienced something incredibly singular. Of all the people that would view that exhibit, how many would encounter the same thoughts and emotions that I had? Instead of analyzing something about the congruence between sound and picture, I had undergone a real life experience. So many things went through my head, about age, love, intimacy, innocence, envy, curiosity…those fuckers and their hormones had taken that art piece and shaken it up, flipped it on its head, replaced something cerebral with something purely evocative. They might not have known it, but clearly they were brilliant.

blog light mumokNow my mind was going. Every second, anyone in that gallery had the ability, if they wanted, to alter the reaction to the works on display. What if I stood next to one exhibit all day and just danced, did the electric slide or something? That would change perspective, wouldn’t it? The sensibility of the viewer, break the connection between person and idea. Especially if the artist put me there, if it was the artist’s idea for me to moon walk around their sculpture.

I left the MUMOK convinced that there was great meaning to what had just happened, although I wasn’t sure what. As I walked away, I wondered if the couple was still there in that dark room. I imagined going back, stepping inside, finding them curled up on the floor together, sharing a cigarette and discussing baby names, while random pictures and sounds spread out all around them.

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8 Uncool Things I Won’t Miss About Korea (Cause They F**kin’ Suck!)

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blog drunk koreanKorea really is a great place. That said, all great places have uncool elements. Think about Oz for instance: awesome midgets, very colorful, flying monkeys. Those were all great things, but then there was the wicked witch, and she sucked. In essence, every place on earth has its own wicked witch. Korea is no exception. Here are 8 things from the Land of Milkis and Kimchi that I certainly will not miss:

blog cab driver1. Cab Drivers – Not as if cab drivers in other countries are the bees knees, but I particularly disliked the cabbies in Korea. They’re all old and grumpy, and if you’re with your friend and having a nice pleasant conversation in the backseat, the cabbie will pump the radio up really loud because he doesn’t dig English and is trying to tell you to shut up. Also, cabbies are so nice, they treat foreigners (when they’re desperate enough to stop and pick them up) to the lovely scenic route to whatever the destination is. On the meter, of course. Which makes for more conversation, and hence louder Korean traditional music.

blog cass2. Cass/Hite/Max – Korea has three staple beers, and they all taste like watered down versions of Coors Light. What’s that you say? Coors Light tastes like water to begin with? Exactly. Just imagine drinking Coors Light, urinating it out, then drinking the Coors Light-urine-toilet-water mixture. That is about what Korean beer tastes like. Perhaps that’s a bit of a gross analogy, but if it frightens anyone away from Cass, then it’s okay because it’s served a greater good.

blog breaking news3. Breaking News at Work – In Korea, any information at your job is always breaking news, delivered at the last possible minute. Have an extra class added? They will tell you this two minutes before it begins. When will winter and summer camps be held? Don’t bother asking, nobody knows until the answer is ‘tomorrow.’ Korean schools just really, really love surprises. Especially when they involve you getting extra work.

blog plastic4. Plastic Surgery – Call me old fashioned, but I just can’t get behind plastic surgery. It’s very common in Korea, where advertisements for it are ubiquitous. For every subway car in Seoul, there’s at  least one plastic surgery advert. And forgive me for liking ugly people too much, but I find the idea of plastic surgery icky and depressing. Yes, she looks better in the after picture than the before one. I don’t care. I don’t want to sleep with the post-op transsexual, and I don’t want to kiss any lady who runs the risk of transforming into Korean Joan Rivers.

You don't wanna read! You want rockin' abs!

You don’t wanna read! You want rockin’ abs!

5. Han’s Deli – I could rip on Han’s Deli because the food is inedible and it’s one of the worst restaurant chains in the universe (it makes the 7-11 hot dog kiosk look like fine dining). However, I choose to go a different route. I loathe Han’s Deli simply because it is not a deli, as its name would suggest. They serve spaghetti and pork cutlets. Where are the sandwiches? Where’s the pastrami and the mesquite smoked turkey breast? Nowhere. It would be like if I opened up a store called “Bill’s Book Store,” and I only sold Taebo DVDs. Please, somebody take Han on a trip to New York, so he can learn what a deli is.

The ice toilet is pretty cool though.

The ice toilet is pretty cool though.

6. Ice – Currently, all of Seoul is covered in one thick sheet of ice. Korea seems to have no idea how to handle ice. There’s no salt, sand, or kitty litter being used to combat it’s slippery power. Instead, there are hundreds of girls in high heels falling. And if they aren’t gorgeous, men won’t help them up, but instead will give them a great shove, so they will slide in the direction of the nearest plastic surgery center.

blog bip7. Having an Alias – Yes, names can lead to cultural confusion. When I received my Alien Residence card back from immigration, I was a little concerned that I had been registered as “William Robert.” Robert is my middle name, but, as it would turn out, pretty much all Korean institutions would make the same mistake, believing it was my last name. Bank account – William Robert. At the doctor – I was again the singular Mr. Robert. Not Roberts, with an s, like Julia or Bip. Robert. It wasn’t a big deal; I took it as Korea’s revenge against the western world for thinking they all have ‘Kim’ for a first name.

blog gangnam8. Gangnam Style – I know, I know, it’s inescapable everywhere. Gangnam Style will go down in history as proof that North Korea waited to long to drop its nuke. Sure, it would’ve caused misery and devastation to many…but if it rid the world of that song and that ridiculous horse dance…just press the red button and make sure Psy isn’t in a bomb shelter.

Ah, Korea, I shall always love thee. If I could marry you, the whole country, I would. Without any doubt. I would be proud to have you on my arm, my one and only Kim Robert.

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8 Cool Things I Will Miss About Korea

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korea milkisThis coming Tuesday, I will get on a plane and leave South Korea, where I’ve spent the last 2 1/2 years. All in all, they’ve probably been the most important years of my life, as I’ve grown into a better, stranger person, and I’ve met all kinds of interesting and unique people. Looking back on my time here, I compiled a short list of 8 essential things that I will most certainly miss when I leave the land of Milkis and Kimchi.

korae pomato1. Pomato – Pomato is like a little Korean fast food chain with restaurants all over Seoul. It’s awesome. For four bucks, I can get a wicked bowl of tofu soup. Pork cutlets, kimbap, pig intestines – you name it, Pomato got it. Plus the staff of unfriendly middle aged ladies gives it a good atmosphere.

korea smoking2. Smoking – Despite violent anti-smoking protests like the one pictured to the left, there’s smoking all over the place in Korea. Everybody smokes and cigarettes are super cheap. In December, an anti-smoking ban was passed, outlawing smoking in certain places (like large establishments), but I was out last night, and as I chain smoked in the warmth and comfort of several bars, I saw no difference between now and the way things were pre-smoking ban. That’s good, because it’s really cold and I would not want to go outside and compromise my health.

korea heated toilet3. Heated Toilet Seats – They might have these everywhere, but I never experienced one before moving to Korea. It really is like sitting on a thrown, and the feeling of having your badonkadonk warmed is vastly underrated. I hope everyone one day gets to use a heated toilet seat – as soon as I realized my school had one, I knew exactly what I was doing during break time.

korea dong dong ju4. Dong Dong Ju – This is a Korean liquor that is served in a big cauldron with a scoop.  It’s quite strong and tastes a bit like Milkis (carbonated milk drink). They make it from rice and a white person like me gets to feel hip and cultured drinking it while sitting on the floor in an Asian establishment.

korea animal5. Korean Animal Words – Knowing how to say the names of animals in another language is fun! “Go yang ee” means cat; “Kang a gee” is puppy. “Saja” is lion; “Nakta” means camel. My favorite is “Toki,” which means rabbit. Furthermore, cats go “yowng yowng” instead of meow, and dogs say “mung mung.” On another note, Jesus is not called Jesus, but “Yay Su.” That’s good to know, in case you’d like to use the Lord’s name in vain in multiple languages.

korea black noodle6. Korean Chinese Food – It’s delicious. Absolutely delicious. The typical Chinese dish consists of noodles in a black bean sauce served with sweet and sour pork. Odd sidebar: There’s “Black Day” in Korea, which is like Valentine’s Day for single people, and the tradition is that people eat Chinese black noodles to celebrate how miserable single life is.

korea bunny bow7. Ridiculous Head Ware – Korean girls like to coordinate. Super short skirt? Check. High heels? Check. Bunny ears? Oh yeah. Check mate. Bows, ear hoodies, lamb hoodies – these are the tools Korean girls use to find a man and avoid having to eat the dreaded black noodles.

korea north korea8. North Korea – Just because they’re funny.

That’s today’s list of awesome things that I will miss. Tune in next time, when I will present my grouchy list of things that I will be glad to escape!

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Dig That Spider Coming Out of a Cup! – A WordPress Blog Stat Mystery

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spider oneThere was a time, so many months ago, when I found myself obsessed with my blog stats. I know – it’s a shameful thing to admit. Now, when I say ‘obsessed,’ I really mean it. This was General MacArthur style obsession, Captain Ahab, Napoleon. I was obsessed the way great men become obsessed. The opposite, of course, would be how teenage girls have watered down the meaning of the word. “Oh my God, I used to be, like, totally obsessed with ‘N Sync!” And by that, the girl means she had the No Strings Attached CD and a poster of Lance Bass on the wall, which was taken down before he even came out of the closet.

That’s a different kind of obsession, and mine was worse, although maybe not as troubling. I’d keep my stats page up on the screen at all times, refreshing it every 30-40 seconds. I would also do dippy things in an attempt to detect or change trends, like trying to publish posts at different times of the day to see if the hits would go up (they don’t). In time, I mellowed out. Sure, I’ll check my stats once or twice a day, but it isn’t something I think about a lot. My obsession faded away, and I could once again turn my attention to more important things on the Internet, like Facebook and amateur porn.

spider twoAll that is to set up the odd thing that happened two weeks ago, noon on a Tuesday, when I very nonchalantly pulled up my blog stats. I usually have around the same number every day, and when my hit total came up for that particular day, I jumped back, startled. Okay, I didn’t really jump back, that was exaggeration for effect, but you get the idea. I’m not that easily rattled. I was really surprised, though, to see that my blog had already gotten over 1,400 hits.

“Dang, that’s pretty dope,” I thought. “How’d that happen?”

There had to be an explanation. I mean, let’s face it, my posts aren’t that good. I realized that most of these hits had come from the Google search. In addition, a vast majority of them – 1,251 to be exact – were for one single phrase.

Spider coming out of cup.

“What the hell?” I said to my girlfriend. “Spider coming out of a cup? I never wrote about anything like that! That was never even a tag.” How was it possible? As a rational human being, I knew that 1,251 different people couldn’t have Google searched “spider coming out of cup” and ended up at my blog. I thought about it, and then I realized why my original stat obsession had faded away in the first place.

spider threeI like my stats, and when I have good days, I like to think it’s because I wrote something worthwhile and, thus, I should feel good about myself. But the truth probably has much more to do with chance. How many of those hits are people who actually take the time to read a post? How many are accidental? How many are people who click on a link, stay for a second, and split? To go further, how many of my blog hits are even living human beings?

There was no way one person, or any amount of people, could have been responsible for the ‘spider coming out of cup’ explosion. The only thing that made sense to me was that some type of automated computer program somehow got stuck in a loop, and that’s how it happened. That’s my theory. In my all-time stats, ‘spider coming out of cup’ currently ranks as the 4th highest searched Google term, and the number hasn’t gone up by one single hit since I checked my blog at noon that one day. If you’re curious, here is the whole top five:

1. Sex

2. 90210

3. Gunther Von Hagens

4. Spider coming out of cup

5. Namsan Tower

Shit, how random! What a bizarre group of things, eh? I didn’t even write about number four at all, and apart from a few jokes (see porn gag earlier in post), I haven’t really written about sex, either. How do we, bloggers, really know who is out there and why they’re reading us? The Internet is one big, weird place, isn’t it?

spider fourThen again, I could have it all wrong. Maybe somewhere, sitting in a basement, there’s a guy who has spent the last two years meticulously searching out information regarding spiders coming out of cups. It could be spurred on by some sort of awful childhood trauma. No blog has been left unexplored. From morning until night, he keeps looking. Spiders. Cups. It never ends.

Now that, my friends, is obsession.

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