Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yukon (The Expatriation of Johnny "Buffalo" Flynn)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

That stung.

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

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

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

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

Gold, probably. Hopefully.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Game of Acorns

This is a sad story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about giveth and taketh away, man.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


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

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

It was the shit.

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

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

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

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


At least they pay you for it.

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

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


[Thank you for reading my essay.]

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

Sunday, June 07, 2015

(Sh)It Depends on the Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josie barked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then dark.



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