When I Was 13, I Loved A Man Named Kenny

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I’ve never been good when it comes to favorites.  My favorite movie changes every time someone asks me, and my favorite actor or actress is often whoever was in the last movie I saw.  If someone asks me what my favorite color is, I’ll say the first color that pops into my head.  Are there people in this world that truly have a favorite color?  That must make life a lot more exciting.  I can only imagine what goes through their heads:  “Holy shit!  I see purple!  Purple!  Oh my God!  It’s my favorite color!  I’m pumped!”

The idea of having a ‘favorite’ this or that doesn’t make much sense to me.  I don’t have a favorite food – I love anything as long as it isn’t too Korean.  I don’t have a favorite season – they all have aspects I can bitch about.  I’ve never in my life had a favorite teacher – some have been more interesting people than others, but as for being teachers, it wasn’t like I had some crazy learning bonanza in one teacher’s class that blew away all the others.  Similarly, I’ve never called anyone my ‘best friend.’  I feel that if I did, I would then have to also designate someone as my ‘worst friend’ as well.  It would be fun introducing them to people.  “This is Chris.  We go way back.  And this guy…er…I don’t know what the hell this guy’s name is.  I never really talk to him and I blocked him from my newsfeed.  I had him over once and he ate all of my potato chips.  Whatever his name is, he’s a rat bastard.  So now that you’ve met my friends, let’s have a beer!”

There are a few things in life, though, that clearly qualify as my ‘favorite’ this or that.  Otters are clearly my favorite animal.  The Buffalo Bills are, without any shadow of doubt, my favorite football team.  “I Wish” is absolutely my favorite song by Ski-Lo.  And I, at least at one point in time, had a decisive winner in the category of “Favorite Restaurant” – the amazing establishment known as Kenny Rodgers Roasters.

Way back when I was 13, before I’d made love to a woman or even to myself, I found my first love in the neon-red glowing sign of Kenny Rodgers Roasters.  Walking in and seeing the chickens, sweaty with grease, turning slowly on Kenny’s rotisserie made my heart pound.  Looking at all the choices of sides gave me butterflies.  I’d sit at the table oblivious to what my family was talking about, lost in the warmth of the plate in front of me, the lovely ¼ chicken with corn, mac and cheese, and a biscuit.  I dreamt that one day I could take it to the Senior Prom.

You complete me.

But like all first loves, my adoration for Kenny Rodgers Roasters wouldn’t last long.  Only a year or so after he first appeared in a back corner of Henrietta, next to the Swiss Chalet, Kenny went out of business.  My father broke the news to me on a gray Sunday afternoon.  “Sit down son.  We have to talk.  It’s about Kenny and the Roasters.  They’re gone.  It’s not you…they just weren’t maintaining a profit margin enough to sustain a successful business.  No, you couldn’t have done more.  Getting the ½ chicken wouldn’t have changed anything.”  I later tried having rebound dinner with Boston Market.  It left me feeling cold and alone.

Every now and again, things from the past resurface.  The ghosts of old relationships have a way of appearing when we least expect them to.  So it was a real surprise when I arrived at the airport in Manila, of all places, and found my former flame sitting proudly in the center of the food court.  Since KRR (that stands for Kenny Rodgers Roasters, fool!) had gone under in the States, I just assumed it didn’t exist at all anymore.  It was gone, like the Dodo bird or the Arch Deluxe.  How wrong I was!  It turned out that KRR was alive and well in Manila, with restaurants all over the place.  Really, Manila is just like America in the early ‘90s: it’s full of malls, guns, and Kenny Rodgers Roasters.

“Can we have KRR before we leave?” I asked TTD, shaking with excitement.  We wouldn’t be in Manila long before having to fly to Cebu, so the reunification had to wait.  All week I made sure I was good, eating sinigag and bangus and other dishes so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about finishing my Philippines trip with essentially an American fast food restaurant.  When the day came, I was so focused on KRR I couldn’t concentrate on my lunch at JoliBee, where the door guy has a gun and where TTD ordered a burger that used two hash brown patties instead of a bun.  I decided the most embarrassing way to die would be getting hit in the crossfire of a JoliBee shootout, especially if you’d come to order the hash brown burger.

“You’re not a bad person,” God would tell you.  “What can I say?  I needed some amusement.”

At the end of the trip, I did indeed make my triumphant return to Kenny Rodgers Roasters.  Was it great?  Um, no, not really.  But I loved it.  I don’t miss being 13 very much, although I do sometimes miss the standards that I had at the time.  I miss thinking that a place like KRR could be the best restaurant in the world, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Them could be better than Pet Sounds, and any girl that talked to me could instantly become the most gorgeous gal in the world.  As one gets older, the perception of quality changes and things that were once nice suddenly don’t seem good enough anymore.

I don’t think I had many favorite things when I was 13.  If I remember correctly, I didn’t want much more than to drive, to kiss a girl, and to eat my ¼ chicken with the corn and the biscuit while my family rambled on about all that adult nonsense.

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The Topiclessbar Christmas Special

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“You killed his Christmas present!” C-Batz said in a voice loud enough to warrant an exclamation point.  She was holding the plastic container the stag beetle came in.  I’d gotten my beetle for the Orphan Christmas Party about an hour earlier and, not thinking, put it in the shopping bag with the rest of the things I bought.  Now there it was, on its back, looking like the trip back had done it in.  I wondered if I could return it to the store and say I bought it that way.

“Maybe it’s not dead,” I said.  “Open the case up and poke it.”

“I’m not touching it!” she said.  “It’s disgusting.”  C-Batz had bought her orphan a beetle also, but since she couldn’t make the Orphan Christmas Party, I would have to deliver both of the monstrosities.  (For some background on the beetle/orphan situation, click here).

“Fine, give it to me,” I said.  The beetle was big and ugly.  I opened the container and, using the fat of my first finger, flipped it over.  Its antlers poked me, sort of like if Rudolph got really angry and poked Santa’s belly…only Rudolph was a bug instead of a deer.

The beetle was alive.  Christmas was saved.

*

Friday would be the Christmas party at my school.  The school put up a Christmas tree and strung up lights.  It was, in the seven years I’ve spent in education, the first time I’ve ever seen a Christmas tree in a school.  And dang it – not gonna lie – it made me happy.

Do the kids here all celebrate Christmas?  No, not even close.  But one student, Peter, does, and he still believes in Santa Claus.  My boss Leah told me this.

“Peter believes in Santa….it’s so sad!” she said.

“I think it’s cute,” I replied, because Peter is still little enough to think Santa comes down the chimney of his apartment (?) and for that to be acceptable.

“No, he told me very sad story,” Leah said.  “Last year, he said Santa gave June a present but not him.”  June is Peter’s older brother and also attends our academy.  Leah continued, “That means Peter’s parents gave June a present and didn’t give Peter anything.  He said, ‘I wonder why Santa didn’t bring me a present.  I must have been bad and cried too much last year.’”

Leah was right – it was pretty sad.  To summarize, Peter’s parents stiffed him on a Christmas present, and instead of acknowledging that, Peter believes he was naughty and therefore Santa didn’t bring him anything.  What will he think when he gets older?  When will the denial stop?

“The other students said, ‘Peter, Santa is really Mom and Dad,’” Leah said.  “They knew because they found receipt.  Peter told them ‘no!’  He said, ‘I think it is Santa.’”

I saw Peter in the hallway later.  It was before school started and I brought him into the classroom.  I asked him about Christmas.  The story checked out.  Last year, Peter got nada.  June got a robot.

“Will Santa bring you something this year?” I asked the little dude.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I will write him a letter the night before and maybe he will read it and bring me present.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Good luck.  Have some candy.”

At the end of the day I saw June and asked him if Santa would bring him a present for Christmas.

“Yes,” June said.  “I’m gonna get a cap.”

*

The orphanage I went to, in the northern part of Seoul, was big and marvelous, like a dream home if that term can be applied to orphanages.  The man who ran the volunteer program had me stash the two beetles and their cages (which were more expensive than the beetles, leading me to believe that my life, if a monetary value was to be placed on it, is worth less than my rent) in the main office.  He led me and the other volunteers into a big room where about fifty kids sat quietly, waiting politely.  It bore no resemblance to my classroom at all.  No one was screaming, or crying, or running around with a knife.

The Snowman - I remember him well

Two other volunteers and I were given dittos and colored paper, and we took a group of kids into a room to color and make snowflakes.  Since I didn’t know how to make a snowflake (it’s actually quite hard…shut up!), I basically just sat in the back with the bratty kid and let him hit me while the others decorated the place.  I always bond with the bratty kid; this one was funny and cool and when he wasn’t abusing me, we colored snowmen together.

Finally the time came to give out presents.  I gave the two boys their stag beetles.  Thankfully, they were happy and excited, not petrified and repulsed as I would have been.  The boys let me sit with them and go through the contents of the case, like the jelly packets they’ll have to use to feed the beetles.  When I was leaving, I saw one of the boys walking around the playground outside with his beetle.  It was cute.  Like they were new best friends.  I pictured him pushing the beetle on the swing.  Wee!

Sunday will be Christmas, and I’ll likely spend it getting drunk with my ex-pat friends.  On the other side of the world, my little niece will open her presents, and my sister will feel like a mom, and my parents will feel old.  Elsewhere, the two orphan boys will be feeding their beetles jelly and caring for them as anyone would care for any pet, no matter how cute or hideous it may be.  Peter will hopefully wake to find that his letter to Santa worked, while June tries on his new cap.  The Christmas tree will sit in our empty school.  Everywhere, things will be a little more interesting, and life will be a little more wonderful.

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After Getting a New Computer, I Break It and Try to Use that as an Opportunity to Enhance My Love Life

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As I’ve mentioned before, I have a goofy little crush on the computer teacher at my school.  Her name is Jang or something, and she’s really tall and lanky and speaks absolutely no English.  A few months ago her hair was long, but then she decided to cut it short.  Initially, it seemed like a bad call, and my feelings for her sank significantly; in time, though, I was able to adjust and accept her hair for the person it is.  Sometimes she’ll say something to the kids in English, like “Sit down” or “Okay,” filling me with the false hope that she has been keeping her bilingualism hidden all this time.  Then I’ll say, “How are you?” to her, and the blank, slightly frantic look she gives me says she hasn’t been hiding anything at all.

The girls in Korea, on average, seem to have the about the same English language skills as Scooby Doo did.  That is to say, they can listen to and understand the language better than they can speak it, and, also, they talk about food a lot.  Conversations with Korean girls usually start off with great aspirations, only to bog down into this:

Her: Do you like Korean food?

Me: I like Korean food.

Her: Do you like kimbap?

Me: I like kimbap!  He-he-he-he.

Her: Do you like bulgogi?

Me: I like bulgogi!  Scooby-Dooby-Doo!

Or something like that.  Anyways, at least they speak some English, whereas my Korean language skills are the same as…well…as Scooby Doo’s were.  You ever hear Scooby speaking Korean?  No, and you won’t hear me speaking it either.  Although my students have succeeded in teaching me a few odd words, using the supplies in our classroom.  Not that it matters – conversations with Korean girls in bars typically don’t involve a set of flashcards.

On Monday, my school told me to move into a different classroom, for reasons I’m not sure of.  Seeing that the new room is bigger and better equipped, I can only guess that this was a positive thing.  They also purchased a new, large, flat screen monitor for the computer, and told me to incorporate the curriculum CD-Roms into my lessons.  While that was wonderful in theory, it was hell in practice.  I couldn’t get the speakers connected to the computer, I broke a mouse trying to hook it up, and numerous times I did something that caused the CD-Rom to crash.  It was like a Jerry Lewis movie in there, with everything I touched going haywire on me.  The high-water-mark of my computer ineptitude came at the end of the day, when it appeared that I accidently broke the computer itself.  The fancy new monitor showed nothing but blackness.  Surprisingly, my computer expertise – which amounted to turning the computer off and on over and over again – wasn’t fixing it.

“Holy God,” I sighed.  “Am I really this bad with computers?”  At home, the Norton Anti-Virus pop-up keeps telling me my computer is “at risk.”  I always assumed this meant its defenses against a virus were weak, but maybe Norton meant that my computer is at risk simply because I’m around it.

I stood up, not knowing what to do, and then it hit me: What better excuse could I have for going in and talking to the
computer teacher?  I mean, this was, after all, her area of expertise, wasn’t it?  I never really tried to go up to her before; I figured that since we didn’t speak the same language, getting anywhere with her would require me to rely on my looks, and that would be like Paris Hilton trying to get guys based on her smarts.  With the broken computer here to act as my excuse, I felt a sudden boost in confidence.  I wouldn’t be hitting on her.  I’d be asking her for help.

It’s important for me to point out that I did NOT purposely break the computer to have an excuse to talk to her.  That would be unprofessional.  As the poster child for professional workplace behavior, I merely used the accidental breaking of the computer as a means to try to score a date with my coworker.

“Computer, broken,” I said, and I took my hands and made a motion like I was snapping a pencil in two or breaking spaghetti.  She followed me into the classroom and, for the next five minutes, tried to fix it by connecting and disconnecting all the wires from the back.  In silence.  When that didn’t work, she stood up and faced me and I could see that my hopes had been ill-conceived.  She actually looked embarrassed, ashamed that she couldn’t fix it.  Then Jang (or whatever her name is) did something that made my heart sink – she called in backup.

At one point, there were four of us in there jiggling wires and pressing buttons.  Nothing worked.  Later, when everyone had given up and I was alone, I miraculously fixed it by turning the power strip off and on again.  I ran to Jang to tell her the news.  “Fixed!” I shouted enthusiastically, holding my arms up in the air to signify victory.  She kind of laughed a little bit and clapped.

In all seriousness, I’ll never try to make a move on Jang.  It’s just really fun having somebody at work to crush on a little bit.  If she wasn’t there, it would’ve been a putrid day with lots of computer mishaps.  But she was there, and it helped.  Knowing my luck with technology, I’ll probably ask her to fix the computer again.  And, maybe one day, she’ll ask me if I like kimbap.

*

The Ketchup Post

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These last few years, I’ve started worrying about McDonald’s.  Back in the day, they used to let you take all the napkins and ketchup packets you could want, which obviously was a sign that their business was booming.  Their current policy of rationing out two ketchup packets, though, seems to signify something else.  Could it be that times are tough for the golden arches; that the meals are, in fact, not as happy as we’ve been led to believe?

I can see the headline now: “4 Million McDonald’s Restaurants to Close Due to Years of Ketchup Mismanagement.”

Sarcasm aside, I don’t mind being handed a couple crappy ketchup packets, seeing that I don’t really like ketchup much.  However, this condiment packet stinginess has spread to Taco Bell, and if I can’t smother my burrito in mild Taco Bell sauce, I’ll be even more disappointed than I was when they stopped using the hilarious talking dog in the commercials.  I don’t understand why more places don’t follow Wendy’s lead, with their brilliant ketchup-dispenser-and-tiny-paper-cups method.  It seems cost efficient, plus I get an inexplicable satisfaction from filling the little cup up to the rim with ketchup.  It’s almost the same thrill I had as a kid when I’d make food out of Play-Doh.  That was probably the apex of my culinary skills; I can’t do much in the kitchen, but when I was four I made a mean Play-Doh hot dog.

Really, I could see this whole ketchup thing coming years ago.  My grandfather used to stuff his pockets with McDonald’s ketchup packets when I was growing up.  That’s my image of going out to eat with him – me looking down in embarrassment as he stuffed huge handfuls of ketchup packets into his Buffalo Bills parka.  He was ridiculously out of control.  You’d open the guy’s refrigerator and McDonald’s ketchup packets would literally come tumbling out of it.  Thinking back, it seemed like ketchup used to get stuck in the neck of the bottle way more than it does now.  I can picture my grandmother banging on the neck of a ketchup bottle with a knife.  No wonder Grandpa kept stealing ketchup packets – it was for his own safety.

He probably feared one day the ketchup wouldn’t come out she would turn the knife on him out of frustration.

But I remember thinking even back then that McDonald’s was being too nice with the ketchup.  I thought that if I ran a McDonald’s, I would only give packets to the drive thru people.  For the people eating in the restaurant, I would have one bottle of ketchup chained to the wall.  And it would be a really short chain too.  Just turning the bottle upside down to pour the ketchup would stretch the chain to its full length, for the sole reason of telling people, psychologically, that this bottle wasn’t going nowhere.

Either that, I thought, or I would rig the ketchup bottle with one of those exploding blue dye packets.  You know, like what they use for robberies.  If anyone took the ketchup bottle, I’d just laugh and think, “Steal my ketchup?  Okay.  Ink to your face, sucker!”

People would see the person out on the street a week later and be like, “Shit!  What happened?  Did you rob a bank?”

“No, man…I took a bottle of ketchup from fuckin’ McDonald’s…”

Of course I used to picture my grandfather all blue like a smurf.  That thief.  Another thing he would do, he would go to Sears and walk to the section where they sold Buffalo Bills sweaters (because that’s all anybody in my family, including myself, wore from 1970-2000).  Then he would, essentially, steal one.  He would rationalize it, though, in his crazy brain, by leaving one of his old sweaters in its place.  I wish he got caught doing that, because I would’ve loved to hear him explain himself to the police:

“Yes, I took it…but wait!  Wait just a second, Mr. Officer!  If you look on the shelf, you will notice that I left a very fine – slightly used – vintage 1976 Buffalo Bills sweater.  Sears can re-sell it…they only have to wash it first…I had an accident with a ketchup packet last Tuesday…”

Can you imagine trying to do that in any situation and thinking that leaving your old junk behind would be a fair exchange?  I can picture myself getting busted walking out of Best Buy with a Wii:  “Oh, did I pay for the Wii?  Um, no, no I didn’t…but if you go check the shelf, you will notice that I left in its place a Sega Genesis…that’s right…And I even left some games…there’s Sonic the Hedgehog…Altered Beast…Madden ’93…and MK…that would be Mortal Kombat my friend…I can go now, right?”

Ridiculous.  But I digress.  These times they are a changin’, and it saddens me.  What would it feel like to grow up in a world that’s so tightfisted, it only allows two ketchup packets?  Sure, it seems slight, but this new generation might never know the feeling of confidence one has when walking to the table with two crunchy tacos and nine sauce packets to dose them in.  That was a feeling of freedom.  Much like the first time I went to Wendy’s and was told I didn’t have to bring the tray to the garbage myself.  I could just leave it on the table.  Hearing that, it was like anything in the world was possible.

You don’t serve 8 billion people with 16 billion ketchup packets.  So open your heart McDonald’s, and let the kids have lots of ketchup.  After all, it’s the only vegetable they’re eating.

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On Dealing with Korean Pop Culture Shock: An Invaluable Guide for those Who Don’t Understand Value (And an OK Guide for Everyone Else)

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Back in the United States, where, from what I understand, the fork is still a widely used utensil, things are happening that I have no knowledge of.  The more time I spend in Asia, the more I lose track of what goes on back home.  Now, I’m not talking about the search for the next great GOP candidate – that doesn’t interest me so much, although I do find Rick Perry amusing, in a dangerous, if-this-guy-is-president-the-world-is-gonna-end kind of way.  But when Perry’s hilarity doesn’t have me in stitches, I find myself worrying about the important stuff.  Namely, the alarming fact that I don’t know who most of people on the Billboard Hot 100 are.

Drake?  Never heard of him.  Luke Bryan?  No idea.  Cobra Starship?  If it doesn’t have anything to do with GI Joe or Grace Slick, I’m clueless.  Bruno Mars?  I feel like I’m on planet Mars.  Who are these people, and when the hell is Amy Winehouse gonna put out something new?

But then it dawns on me that I haven’t lost touch with reality; I’ve instead gotten in touch with a new reality, one with chopsticks and Kimchi.  In this new world, the things I used to enjoy have disappeared; there is no arthouse cinema, no hard rock music, and no cleavage.  People talk about culture shock, but what they don’t talk about is pop culture shock, the slow realization that you must try to adapt to an entirely new set of leisure time rules.

Seeing that I’ve lived in South Korea for over a year, I consider myself an expert.  An expert on everything, by the way, but right now we’re talking about Korea.  Below are just a few of the things that will happen to you – yes, you – should you come here as well.  I’m hoping that knowing these things ahead of time might help you transform into your Asian self, just as knowing he was part of the Matrix helped Neo learn kung-fu.

You Will Dance…A Lot

Koreans get widely stereotyped for being good at math, but these number crunchers are equally good at learning how to do a choreographed dance!  Dancing is everywhere in Korea.  People dance outside of stores, people are dancing in schools…they even dance at baseball games.  Yes, baseball games.  When I was a kid, my image of “going to the game” involved a lot of older white guys (some with gloves) sitting around in the stands, talking about statistics and hoping one of the players would hit a ball at them.  That image stuck for twenty-some-odd years.  Here it’s a totally different, zany experience.  All the players have theme songs.  While the crowd sings them, cheerleaders dance around on a big stage by the dugout.  And the crowd?  Half of it is little middle school girls…not old guys who will, at the drop of a foul ball, reminisce about how their father took them to see Joe DiMaggio play against the Brooklyn Dodgers at the tail end of the Great Depression.

Why is the crowd made up of young people?  One might say Koreans love baseball, but I choose believe it’s because of all the singing and dancing.

You Will Love 2ne1

Looking at Korean advertising, you might start to believe that a lot of Asian girls look the same.  This is not true; you just haven’t realized yet that it’s the same Asian girl in 60% of the ads.  She would be Sandara Park, member of the insanely popular group 2ne1.  Ms. Park is everywhere; she’s like a living version of the McDonald’s logo.  Similarly, 2ne1’s music is all over the place.  I’ve found that both the music and the girl are impossible to resist.  It’s pointless trying to fight it.  Yeah, when I first got here, I acted like I was too cool for 2ne1, but now, when I hear 2ne1 at a club, I can’t fight the urge to dance around the place like I’m Sally Bowles or something.

If you’ve never heard a 2ne1 song, I’ve embedded a video for your enjoyment.  Enjoy the wild colors, the crazy outfits, and the goofy spaceship finale.  Really, in many ways, this embodies all of the best qualities of South Korea.

You Will Hear English Songs with Offensive Lyrics in Strange Places

Over the weekend, a friend of mine was telling me that he was in the Samsung store recently.  While he and several others – including a few families – looked at electronics, LMFAO’s “Shots” blared out across the store.  Little kids followed their parents, while Lil’ John shouted:

“If you ain’t takin’ shots get THE FUCK OUT THE CLUB!”

And the families went ahead with their business.  The Samsung staff assisted customers, oblivious.  Meanwhile:

“Now say ‘I’m FUCKED UP!’  (I’m fucked up)  ‘I’m TRYIN’ TO FUCK!’”

Luckily, none of the kids said it.  I’ve heard similarly explicit songs in clothes stores and at the gym.  It’s fun to watch everyone carry on like the store is playing Musak.

(One last note on LMFAO: they’re enormous here.  How many times have I heard “Party Rockers”?  A billion.  How many times have I heard the Korean national anthem?  I dunno…is there one?)

If Your Favorite Celeb Commits Suicide, it’s Up to You to Follow Suit

It took moving to Korea for me to learn about “The Werther Effect.”  This is, in a nutshell, when a famous person commits suicide, and then suddenly there’s an explosion of copycat suicides.  In a study titled “Research on the Werther Effect in South Korea,” reporter Yu Cheong-wha found that following the suicide of a famous person, 137 more people committed suicide per month than the normal suicide rate (this average was taken between the years of 1994-2005).  In 2005, a popular actress named Lee Eun-Joo hanged herself; in the next 23 days, 49 people offed themselves as well.  How did the “overwhelming” majority of them choose to end their lives?  You guessed it – hanging.

Another study, done by the Grand National Party in 2009, claimed that an average of 606 people in South Korea commit suicide after the “publicized suicide of a famous person.”  The stories of celebrity suicide and its aftermath are really pretty shocking: After a TV personality named Choi Jin Sil killed herself, two other celebrities committed copycat suicides soon after.  I mean, that’s not even fair.  If one publicized celebrity suicide is like taking an alcoholic to a bar, three is like taking him to freakin’ Mardi Gras.

If Sandara Park ever commits suicide, this country is going to suffer more casualties than it did during the Korean War.

All things considered, South Korea is a whacky and fun place to live.  It’s filled with dancing and suicide.  In other words, it’s a lot like life itself, full of ups and downs, highs and lows.  I think I love it.  Sorry Bruno Mars.

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The Silly Thoughts in my Head from 2:40-2:50 PM Last Thursday

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There are certain periods of time during my day-to-day life when I am not capable of doing anything whatsoever.  For instance, the first half hour after I wake up is a complete black hole of inactivity. So is any time I find myself waiting for someone.  I’ve encountered people in the past who are productive waiters, who read or run errands or do things I can’t begin to fathom on their Ipads.  I, on the other hand, just sit there and stare blankly at the spot where the person is eventually supposed to appear.  And when the person does finally show up, I’ll turn my head so it doesn’t look like I was sitting there waiting like a loser.

“Oh, you’re here.  That’s cool.  I didn’t notice right away ‘cause I was, you know, thinking about stuff.”

I’m also mostly useless during my 50 minute planning/prep time at school.  That’s not to say I don’t plan.  I do.  It’s just that I can’t do it in the designated planning time the school has put into my schedule.  In the past, I would kid myself and try to be productive.  Now I’ve accepted the reality, which is that no work will occur during prep time.  No, I’m going to blow it surfing the Internet instead, although I do at least spread books all over the table to create the illusion that I’m spending my time wisely.  If another teacher walks into the room, I’ll flip through pages with a scowl on my face so it looks like I’m deeply immersed in the curriculum.

Last Thursday, I had ten minutes before the start of my classes and I was dead set on wasting it.  Sometimes when I feel like amusing myself, I’ll go on YouTube and type odd things into the search bar like “monkey attack” or “falling down stairs.”  Usually this yields pure gold, and Thursday was no exception; I was able to find an outstanding clip from The Amazing Race of a woman getting hit in the face with a watermelon.  It really put a smile on my face.  I watched the watermelon-to-the-face clip three times and enjoyed it so much I decided I had to go on Facebook and share it.  I always like to share fun things on Facebook, because it’s important for me to bring joy to the 100 or so people I actually know and the 300 others I vaguely remember from high school or college.

But shortly after I posted it, I saw something that changed my mood entirely.  A few months ago, my non-exclusive-pseudo-relationship-from-hell ended when the girl I was spending time with decided that sleeping with one of my (now former) friends was more important to her than keeping things going with me.  The truth is that I really dug this girl, and although I believe I’ve gotten over her, I don’t know that I’ve gotten over the crappy experienceThe whole thing was a bit embarrassing and sent my confidence packing (and that fucker doesn’t pack lightly – he took my pride, my self-esteem, and apparently my ability to enjoy Facebook with him).  Having a person I cared about choose someone else over me was a tough pill to swallow.  I guess I should simply accept things for what they were.  I was liked but I wasn’t loved; I was tagged but I wasn’t it.

Instead of laughing at the woman getting hit in the face by a watermelon, I suddenly felt her pain.

Anyhow, thanks to Facebook’s newish feature in the upper right hand corner – which I like to lovingly call “the stalker box” – I got the pleasure of reading a conversation between the dude and one of our mutual friends.  They were discussing the connections between Alice in Wonderland and Persephone’s voyage through the underworld.  Really, they were discussing whether or not Persephone was a “sacred pilgrim,” and he said he didn’t think so, but he had to brush up on his Eleusinian myths.  I read it and sighed.  It was like that moment when you take your clothes out of the washer only to realize there were some Kleenex in your jeans pocket and everything is covered in torn bits of white tissue.

I felt defeated.

Of course the girl would want this guy.  Here he was, talking about Eleusinian myths, while I was watching watermelon-to-the-face for the fifth time.  I didn’t have a clue as to who Persephone was…maybe she was a member of En Vogue or something.  Sacred pilgrims?  I kept picturing Jesus on the Mayflower or eating corn with Indians.  How could I compete with this?  The world is full of men who are younger, better looking, smarter, and who don’t spend their time YouTubing clips of people getting fruit projected at their faces.

Right then, as I was thinking this, the PC Room teacher walked in.  I quickly minimized Facebook and turned my eyes towards whatever random page the curriculum was open to.  The PC Room teacher is gorgeous but doesn’t speak any English; we rarely, if ever, interact.  Using her broken English, she told me one of the students would be absent today.  While she talked, she blushed.  She apologized for her bad English and I apologized for not knowing any Korean.  We both kind of giggled and she left.

“What if she and I are completely in tune with each other,” I thought, “and we would get along famously, but we’ll never know that because we can’t speak the same language?”  I found that thought intriguing and stopped to think about it.  Then I decided it was a really rosy view on things; maybe PC Room teacher and I would hate each other if we could communicate.  I liked that she came in and tried to talk to me, though, and hoped more students would be absent in the future.

The bell rang because it was 2:50 and class time.  The kids came pouring in and I felt happy.  Class began, and we followed a lesson plan that I had made at some point in time when I wasn’t supposed to be planning.

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Writing about My Father Makes Me Realize I’m Being a Jackass and I Need to Chill Out

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Part One – The Time Slightly Before Becoming a Jackass

“Do you have an English name,” I asked the new student.  He was a cute little dude, maybe seven years old.  I hoped he already had an English name, because I suck at naming the new kids.  Luckily, he did.

“My name is Cooper,” he said.  He seemed excited to meet me.

“Cooper,” I repeated.  “Excellent.  I like that name a lot.”

Part Two – I, Jackass

Two days later, Cooper came up to me before class.  He was concerned about something I had written on the board.  During out English game in class, I wrote all the students’ names on the board and kept score.  Although he didn’t say anything at the time, Cooper was sad.

“Teacher,” he said, “my name is with K.”

“Huh?”

“You wrote wrong on board.”

“What do you mean?  That’s how you spell it.  C-o-o-p-e-r.  Cooper.”

He said that was wrong.  He took a marker and wrote the correct version on the board.

Kuper.

“Um, no buddy,” I said, firmly.  “I’ve never seen it spelled like that.  I think maybe your teacher made a mistake.  We’re gonna spell it with a C and two O’s from now on.”

“No teacher!” he said, panicked.  “It is with K!  K-u-p-e-r!”

In my head, I wondered who taught him that.  It was likely a Korean English teacher who couldn’t really speak English.  Who else would spell Cooper that way?  Kuper?  Like Super.  For the next week or so, this turned into a major bone of contention.  I wanted him to spell the name properly, and he, with every ounce of his tiny body, was dead set on spelling it his way.

“No!” he’d shout when I wrote Cooper on the board.  “K!  K!  K!”

“Listen,” I said, “that’s a racist organization and you shouldn’t support them.  Now look, this is the right way to spell it, Cooper.  I like your name…I just think you should spell it right.”

He covered his face with his hands, devastated.  It was like his entire world had gone up in smoke.  Like the moment you realize there is no Santa Claus, or that the Tooth Fairy is your father, or that Milli Vanilli lip sank “Blame it on the Rain.”  It was one of those moments.  Disillusionment.

It wasn’t brought on by the new spelling of his name, though, but instead by the realization that this teacher was not, under any circumstances, going to change it back.

Part Three – Jackass Epiphany

The day before Thanksgiving, I wrote a silly blog post about my family.  In it, there was an innocuous line of dialogue where my father calls me “Billy.”  My father always called me Billy.  The strange tension with Cooper made me reflect on that a bit, and I thought back.

When I was a little kid – Cooper’s age – I liked being called Billy.  It was a fun name, I thought.  Then something happened.  Around middle school time, suddenly the kids at school began teasing me over it.  It started with Larry Miller.  My mother didn’t like Larry because she said he had a dirty neck (good reason not to like someone, really).  I thought Larry was a cool person, and I considered him my friend.  That’s why I was surprised when Larry started doing a mean impersonation of me for the class.

“Hi!” he said in kind of a weird, lispy voice.  “I’m Billy Panara!”

I wondered why Larry was making fun of me.  What the hell did I do?  Soon a lot of kids at school were coming up to me and saying “Hi Billy!” and laughing.  The joke became that I was still a little kid; that while they were maturing, I was stuck in a state of arrested development.

“Billy!  Are you gonna play with Mommy and Daddy?  Have you been a good boy, Billy?”

I hated it.  My solution was simple – I’d drop the ‘y.’  That, I figured, would solve the problem entirely.  Want proof that I’m not a kid anymore?  Check out my name!  Bill!  Man, that would say it all.  It was easy to make fun of Billy…but Bill would be a whole different story.  Bill’s a stand up guy, the type of buddy you shoot the shit with.  So that was settled.  Billy was gone, and now I was Bill.

My father, though, was not having it.  I told the old man that I was Bill now, and he just sort of shrugged and said ‘no.’  That wasn’t happening, and for the next twenty years, he would insist on calling me Billy.  At school I’d walk down the hallway, having kids shout out “Billy, did Daddy help you dress today?!” or something like that, and I’d hang my head.  The real hurt came back at home, though, with my father.

“I’m Bill now,” I told him.  “I won’t respond to Billy.”

“Stop it Billy,” he said.  “You’re being ridiculous.”

I would sit in my bedroom and think, “Shit, the kids at school are right.  I AM still a baby.”  Then I would take my mind off things by playing with my Ninja Turtle action figures.

Looking back on it, the whole thing seems silly.  At the time, though, nothing made me feel smaller than when my dad called me Billy.  I hadn’t really thought about it until I wrote that blog post, and then my mind went to Cooper.

Part Four – Post Jackass

“Hey Cooper,” I said, right before I wrote his name on the board for our class game.  “How do you spell your name again?”

The kid stuck to his guns.  “K-u-p-e-r.”

“Yup,” I said.  “That’s right.”  I wrote his name like that on the board, and he was happy.  The battle over the spelling of his name was finished.  He had won.

In the big picture, kids don’t have control over a whole lot.  They’re told what to do, when to go to bed, what they will eat, and what things they can’t break.  Really, their names might be the only thing that is fully theirs; that they have ownership of.  That shouldn’t be taken away.  It’s important.

Now if I could just get the kid to stop writing ‘kat,’ ‘kar,’ and ‘korn on the kob,’ life would be golden.

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