Poaching Eggs and Knowing It All

I made poached eggs two weeks ago. They were good, so I tried again today. That previous culinary achievement led me to think of myself as an expert, but most egg-poaching experts know that fresh eggs are the key for success. These particular eggs were now four days away from expiration and therefore far from rancid yet also far from fresh. I went through six eggs before giving up and eating my cold sausages and lonely bread in a frustrated huff. The point is that thinking you know how to do something doesn’t make you an expert. It’s a flaw of my personality of which I’m often reminded.

I like to talk about politics and discuss the never-ending problems. I like to look at people’s hands and pretend to understand how the lines in their palms can determine their fate. I like to analyze dreams and imagine how the subconscious is interacting with our personal lives. I like to chat about movies and music and the symbolism and hidden meanings within them. BUT, simply because I like to do that, it doesn’t make me an expert.

“Often wrong, and never in doubt,” is how my ex-girlfriend’s mother used to describe me. I’ve understood it as part of my personality now. To me it means, “I think I’m an expert on everything.” Sometimes, when dealing with people who know less about a given topic than I do, it’s possible to demonstrate expertise. Yet, when I find myself speaking to an actual authority on a subject, I’m left snorkeling with a straw.

Just because I’ve traveled doesn’t mean I understand an entire country. Just because I’ve been in relationships doesn’t mean I understand yours. Just because I’ve had relatives who’ve died doesn’t mean I understand your sorrow. Just because I’ve done something doesn’t mean I know how it should be done.

These are hard lessons to learn for someone who likes to know it all. I want to know it all. I watch informational videos and documentaries. I read biographies and history books. There is simply too much to learn. A focus is necessary to know it all. But since I’m interested in so many things, I must work hard to avoid being the colloquial “jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.”

neweggs

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Hunting, Hemingway and Eating Meat

The Internet helps us keep up with trending topics such as Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s amazingly embarrassing but slightly humanizing descent into crack-smoking, drunken hilarity, awesome viral videos like JCVD doing badass splits on the side mirrors of two massive big rigs, and moral outrage through informative posts about gay bashing, dolphin killing or suffering in general. Sometimes there is a post that comes through the newsfeed on Facebook that touches me, or hurts me, or makes me LOL (:>) Sometimes it’s a dog and bird playing nicely together. Sometimes it’s a baby dancing. And sometimes it’s some random chick with a rifle posing with a majestic lion that she had recently killed for fun.

How is hunting fun? I’ve never understood it. I still say Ernest Hemingway is a sadistic twat for bragging about killing all those animals on safaris because it’s such a manly pursuit. I’ll bet he wore ivory cufflinks and ate black bear gall bladder to get a hard-on. I’ll bet he made his lovers lay on his tiger skin rugs and growl during coitus. I’ll bet he thought shark fin soup was delicious. He also loved the remarkably cold, callous art of bullfighting and often indulged in the adolescent adoration of binge drinking. He was a great writer with a laconic style of delivery and wrote candidly about his brutal experiences in life; but unfortunately, his honesty doesn’t save him from being full of bullshit machismo. Yes, he was in a terribly ugly war, and saw countless acts of courage, cruelty and brutality, but shouldn’t that make him want to avoid that type of behavior in the future? (And, to be fair, he owned some animals, famously, his promiscuous six-toed cat. And anyone who owns cats can’t be all bad.) Obviously, I’m speaking out of my arse right now, seeing as how I’ve never been in war, but I have killed things. I was a teenage boy once.

Before we get to me, let’s stay with Hemingway, the most famous hunter I know. So, he was a great killer of large animals. Do men destroy what we love, or do we love what we fear—and then shoot it with a gun? Either way, he hunted and fished for sport. His talent was prodigious. He caught a record 1200lb marlin. He killed lions and elephants and rhinos. He had four wives he allegedly abused, a transsexual son and fought Germans in both World Wars. He had quite a life and was the original “Most Interesting Man in the World.” There are endless, amazing stories about him. But, despite all the thrills, chills and delights in his life. Despite his celebrity and his passion to survive through war, disease and plane crashes, he finally ended his life by hunting himself…with a rifle barrel in his mouth. It was a suitable, yet depressing end to a celebrated life.

I remember hunting in my backyard with my Red Ryder BB gun when I was but a wee lad and eyeing up a squirrel on a branch. I looked through the sights, adjusted for wind and fired. The squirrel fell out of the branch. His legs were flailing as he dropped. I went to check on him but he was gone. I imagine my air-powered fun-gun wasn’t enough to kill that ever so hardy species of brown tree squirrel, or so I hope. But, my overall feeling was one of guilt and displeasure. I wasn’t proud of my aim; I was disappointed in my desire. Why had I wanted to kill that little creature? What was the benefit to me or to the world? Was I aiming to kill out of instinct, out of masculine murderous lust, or because that’s what you do with a gun? I burned ants with a magnifying glass. I poked dead birds with sticks. I tortured bugs and spiders by pulling off legs and wings. So, it wasn’t just a gun that made me aggressive and violent. Perhaps it is the testosterone inside me, forming the impetus that made me want to smash people’s faces into the ground when I played organized sports. Perhaps it was proving myself as stronger and larger than my tiny, prepubescent frame displayed me to be. Perhaps it was youthful energy without a sufficient or appropriate outlet. Perhaps it is just my composition. But, luckily, all my Martian ying was complemented by the Venutian yin. I outgrew those vibrations and found my Libra balance much later in life. That balance could also be called hypocrisy. For, I hate violence toward all animals and people; however, I eat factory-farmed meat. I am well aware of the toll on the workers’ minds who are employed at these 21st century Matrix style consumptive plantations. I am well aware of the disgusting methods of storage and awful devices of death therein. So, why do I continue my carnivore ways? Because I want to eat meat. I want that taste, I crave it. I’m not ready to give up my selfish hypocrisy of decrying hunters for shooting animals for fun and implicitly accepting the suffering of other animals for my dietary benefit. I can be honest with myself by saying that if I had to chop off the head of a clucking hen, pluck it, disembowel it, separate the tasty parts and then cook it in oil, it’s safe to say I might never eat another buffalo wing. Since I am removed from the suffering, since I am far from the production line, I don’t see my food with a face. I see sustenance, vitamins and protein.

Maybe hunters, with a sufficient amount of determination and mercilessness, can look beyond the dark black eyes of those wild beasts, and beyond their own personal demons that led them to joy killing. Maybe they see trophies where conservationists see living beings in nature. Maybe since we are not the only carnivores on this Earth, and predators have the same right to eat as their prey, it is the natural way of things to kill. Maybe it is my own sentimental anthropomorphism that feels too much for each pointless slaying of a big, beautiful cat or a gentle elephant. It seems that eating an animal at least satisfies a need, while hunting an animal satisfies a want. That crazy-eyed woman who posed with the dead lion has a website where she is posed with a slain crocodile, boar, zebra, bear and antelope among others. I couldn’t imagine why killing those animals is more exhilarating than watching it live, but she might have an answer for us. I think the euphoric, stoked faces of humans posing with their lifeless prizes or the smug pride felt when wearing a fur jacket, or the superiority we get from daily meat consumption is desensitizing us to the pain of our animal companions. Or maybe, the truth lies in the opening quote of the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by the aphoristic Dr. Johnson, which says: “He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

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First World Problems

            There are first world (annoying, bothersome, petty, but usually solvable) problems and then there are third world (really difficult, hard to handle, life shattering, and systemic) problems. For an example, I will be using U.S.A. as the first world and let’s say Rwanda or Afghanistan as the third world. For your imagination’s sake, picture a pretty blonde girl from Colorado in yoga pants and a Starbucks speaking as a first world representative, and a sun-hardened, war-battered peasant akin to the Afghani girl from the 1980’s National Geographic cover holding an empty clay pitcher representing the third world.

A FW problem is: “My hot water didn’t work yesterday. I had to take a cold shower after Pilates.”

TW problem is: “The pot I use to boil water to clean before eating was stolen by roving bandits.”

FW problem is: “The free, unpolluted water from my kitchen sink doesn’t taste like clear glacial H2O and leaves a funny aftertaste.”

TW problem is: “The communal well has gone dry and the nearest one is 30 miles away.” OR “The communal well is full of cholera ridden, filthy water and my newborn is dehydrated.”

FW problem is: “Gasoline is so expensive. I had to spend 60$ to fill it up just so I could drive on paved roads to my air-conditioned office with cushy chairs.”

TW problem is: “The water buffalo I depend on to plow my fields so that I can sell my soybeans for 10 cents a pound broke its leg walking in sodden mud flats due to heavy rains that also destroyed this year’s crop.”

FW problem is: “This fruit has a spot on it!”

TW problem is: “Bugs have eaten their way into all the fruit on my trees due to the lack of sustainable pesticides.”

FW problem is: “The government wants me to register my gun to prove I’m not an unstable lunatic with previous history of violence.”

TW problem is: “The government is sanctioning the machete hacking deaths of all people born of a different tribe, evinced by their thin noses or taller stature.”

            The point is, the problems we see around us are problems because of what’s around us. We wouldn’t complain about a bruised peach if we were starving. We wouldn’t complain about paying for gasoline if we never had had a car or a job to sustain us. We complain about the things that seem like a disturbance due to our surroundings. In a richer, more prosperous country like U.S.A., annoyances are seen as problems. In war-stricken, desiccated countries like Afghanistan or Rwanda, life can be problematic itself, I imagine. I have no idea really, I’m assuming central air cooled/heated housing, running water, plumbing, la-z-boys, fresh fruit, and iPods aren’t common features among citizens of Kandahar or Kigali. I might be wrong, but I think my perception of what is considered a problem to them and residents of Kansas City might be rather different.

            Yesterday, I was making my midnight snack of apples and peanut butter. I have one of those apple coring/slicing contraptions. I was pushing it down, and it was very hard to push through this time. It just wasn’t gliding smoothly. I pushed really hard and the middle started to sink in around the slices. I gave one last hard push and the apple opened up to reveal a terrible sight. The inside of the apple was moldy and horrible. The inside! How the hell did that happen? How did the inside get stale and fusty leaving the skin looking perfect? I didn’t inspect it too much. But it greatly affected me. I don’t know why. I’ve seen worse things. Anyone familiar with my blog knows the time I poured out some cereal into my bowl and a dusty cockroach fell out with the bran and raisins. I once pulled a comically long, dark, strange hair out of my mouth after my first bite of soup. Gross things are gross, but this really hurt my brain. I literally get chills every time my mind sweeps across that image. I quickly picked another apple from the bunch and cut a little slice off of it to assure myself apples were still delicious. But, I’m scared I won’t get over this. I know it’s a first world problem, but damned if it doesn’t make me sick a little to think of that busted up, furry, brown and withered apple core. I now have a new, unwanted, unsolicited memory of the old maxim “rotten to the core.”

NYC Pizza Tour

            Bread has been cooked in many ways, in many places and with many flavors. Pizza is essentially bread with toppings. As with most food, Americans received pizza from immigrants, Italian immigrants specifically. However, Italians owe their modern pizza to the New World. Tomatoes were shipped home with (the aptly named) Francisco Pizarro, that famous conquistador of the Incan Empire. Europeans first thought those tomatoes were poisonous, but soon, that was debunked, and the pomodoro became popular throughout Europe and especially Italy. Then, in 1889, when the King and Queen of Italy were touring Naples, they wanted to try the local specialty. Raffaele Esposito, a master pizzaoli, made the royal family 3 pizzas: bianca, marinara con acciughe (anchovy), and the as of yet unnamed, red, white and green (for the Italian flag). As to be expected, the queen loved the latter pie; therefore, it was named after her: Margherita. Over a century later, those three toppings (mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil) remain the quintessential pizza.

            I am not a pizza connoisseur; I am knowledgeable in pizza. I am not picky, but I am assured in my pizza palate. Korean “pizza” is known as “jeon=.” It’s basically a flour and egg pancake with any variety of meat, vegetable or seafood inside it and fried. I think green onion, kimchi and squid are the most popular. But there is also traditional pizza here in Korea also. Seoul has all the major outlets such as Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and some strange ones also like Pizza Maru, Pizza Etang and Mr. Pizza. Corn is ubiquitous. They love the sweet potato filled crust. And many will have a drizzle of BBQ sauce, mayo or a mysterious cheese sauce on top. It’s not bad pizza, just usually way overdone with a predictably meek flavor. As with everything in Seoul, pizza is changing rapidly. Foreigners are bringing an international flair to all things gastronomical, pizza included. Now, I can find some very good pizza to satisfy my cravings.

            Although pizza is becoming more than just tolerable and almost delicious here in Korea, back in U.S.A. pizza is a way of life. Slices are offered at walk up windows in any big city in America. Pies are visible at any backyard party, child’s birthday, graduation, Sunday football game, Friday poker night, or lonely, rainy Saturday with nothing to do. My family used to order a pizza or two every Sunday night, and it was a great night. When I visited Naples almost 7 years ago, I ate slices for all three meals and never at the same place twice.

            This past winter, during my month break from Korea, I returned to America with a vision. It was a vision that many have seen before me, but few have the money, time, energy or intestinal fortitude to try. I wanted to get a pizza pie from all of the five boroughs of New York City. One of my best good friends, Michael, and a beautiful Korean expat, Emily, embarked upon our mission at 11pm on the Saturday after the terrible shootings at Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut. Although we, with the rest of America were grieving, life went on. First stop was Staten Island. We had two rules—no quitting until we got to all five boroughs and order one cheese pizza but add nothing to it. We arrived before our first restaurant opened, so we killed time and I ate my first ever—56-cent White Castle cheeseburger—for an appetizer.

            Nunzio’s [2155 Hylan Blvd.] in Staten Island is a calm, family style eatery with lots of tables and a big, brash picture of a portly gentleman rolling dough hanging above the fireplace. Michael’s friend, a nice girl from the Island who brought her son, accompanied us. Having their authentic accents made a nice accouterment to the pizza. Its chunky, sweet sauce saturated the pizzas thicker than thin dough. There were some bubbles on the crust, and lots of black corn meal dust on the bottom. The crust was uneven in its density, but overall satisfying. 3.5 out of 5 stars***/

            Next was Spumoni [2725 86th St] in Brooklyn. They had a large outdoor area and hot cramped interior. We ordered one slice of square Sicilian and ate outside. It had garlic-dusted crust, a warm, thin sauce and big bites of fresh Bufala mozzarella among the scattered Parmesan sprinkles. Every bite is soft until the bottom crunches away in a full, pleasing taste. I noticed that waiters AND customers were cocky here. They were both surprised to see anyone that was new. I did see some classic Brooklynites here, track suited Italians and hipsters clad in skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses dining together, both judging each other as the poseur. 4 out of 5****

            We stayed in Brooklyn and traveled to a famous place that even had youtube videos of its owners. DiFara’s [1424 Ave. J] is a well-known establishment. It’s just a little brick building with a hand painted sign. Inside is four tables, a middle aged woman taking orders, a body crunching amount of hungry patrons, an old oven and an even older man dressed in baggy pants and plaid shirt meticulously hand painting pizzas with blocks of fresh grated Parmesan, fresh picked basil and an aromatic sauce. Our order came with an hour wait, so we drove to a nearby pizzeria to eat a slice and kill time. Antonio’s [318 Flatbush Ave.] had a typically perfect N.Y. slice. We ordered one of each of their cheese slices: Ricotta, Sicilian, Margherita and the normal. Each one was very nice and satisfying. But, opening the DiFara’s box on a quiet Brooklyn dead end street it was apparent that this was no normal pizza. Basil and olive oil scents quickly permeated my Honda. In a word—amazing! The basil smacks you with each bite. The oil somehow congealed into the cheese, which means nothing drips out the back of the blackened crust. It was an easily folded slice that doesn’t break. There was a slight aftertaste of a burnt crust, but it wasn’t distracting. It was everything I imagined a unique, perfected recipe could be. It was 28$, but I loved every expensive bite. 5 out of 5*****

            Queens was our next stop. We went to Rizzo’s [30-13 Steinway St.]. It was a dumpy brick building on a shady side street. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving the car, so we just ordered a takeout, a Sicilian square. It was much thinner than Spumoni’s. There were islands of cheese melted into a thin hard crust. It had a zingy sauce with a peppery finish. I thought it was a wonderful combination allowing all flavors equal inspiration. This was a very good anytime, any occasion, sure to please pizza. 4.5 out of 5****/

            Driving north across the water, we found the one-storied houses of the immigrant heavy Bronx. We went to Louie and Ernie’s [1300 Crosby Ave]. It felt like a New Jersey beach town pizzeria. The apartment above the basement pizza shop, young couples eating dinner together, walking Italian stereotypes talking about nothing important but using lots of accented words and classic Sopranos hand gestures with the employees. Since it was a quiet little neighborhood, and we were getting pretty stuffed, we sat and talked with the boss. He had huge hands and a heavy N.Y. accent. He told us people are always coming in and explaining to him that they are doing the pizza crawl around the five boroughs. He pointed us to the wall, where an assortment of famous newspapers had voted his eatery among the top five of the city’s pizzerias. After eating, I knew why. It was perfect comfort pizza. It was crunchy and had great cheese. It was completely symmetrical and perfectly cooked. Every bite was the same. I ordered a pepperoni slice to go and he just put the pepperoni on top of a cheese slice and heated it up. Everybody knows that’s like putting a sandwich in the microwave, it’s not going to work. So, that was disappointing. But this place wins lots of point for authenticity. I was glad to see the guido’s in their natural habitat. The man ordering at the counter wore an Armani dress shirt with three buttons unbuttoned at the top exposing chest hair and a thin gold chain matched with sweatpants and sneakers. 4 out of 5****

            Night had fallen, finding streets was getting harder, traffic was getting heavier, and the New York evening was upon us. We knew getting to the Village was not going to happen, so we went to Patsy’s near Harlem [2287 1st Ave.]. This place had a black décor with neon lights. There were no chairs and a walk up ordering wall that was up to my neck. The short Mexican man behind the wall barely spoke English, but knew the pizza words very well. We broke a rule and added some fresh basil here, but it felt right. The pizza slice was less than 2$. It had a soft, possibly undercooked bottom, but burnt crust. It had a tasty, subtle cheese flavor. It got better as I ate more. We took a few cheap slices to go. 3.5 out of 5***/

            It’s hard to know exactly how many pieces we ate that day. We all ate the equivalent of a whole pizza for sure and possibly more in the space of 7 hours. We said our goodbyes to Emily and dropped her off north of Central Park. Michael and I made the lazy, cheese-gorged drive home among the magical lights of Manhattan, under the Hudson River in the Lincoln Tunnel, past the Gotham Cityscape of North Jersey, ignoring the dreadful nothingness of the N.J. Turnpike until we arrived in the familiar confines of Philadelphia. We split up the pizzas according to our favorites and I made the easy drive home to Phoenixville. I shared some of the pizza with my parents and family, but I breakfasted and lunched on those slices for the next gloriously cheesy week.

America and Food

Of all the culinary concoctions and gustatory delights conceived and created in America, we have few originals—Twinkies, cheesesteaks, Buffalo wings and maybe sweet potato pie, but that could be a derivation of an American Indian tradition. Most American foods, as American people, are a consequence of the extreme influx of 18th-20th century immigration. Germans brought hot dogs and hamburgers; Italians brought pizza and pasta; English brought fish and chips; Polish brought water ice, but it melted on the way over and they forgot the recipe—it took years of dedicated trial and error before they figured it out again. 😉

America has delicacies throughout her large landscape. The chowders and lobsters of New England, the great Italian hoagies of the Northeast, the soul food of the south, the cheesy meat and potatoes of the Midwest, the Tex-Mex of Texas, the haute hippie cuisine of California are all gems of American traditions, borrowing largely from our collective past. We are all proud of our families and where we came from long ago. Soon, we must allow our mutt genes to seep into our consciousness and become merely Americans instead of hyphenations. We owe it to ourselves to realize we are much more American than we are European, Asian or African.

We are, and continue to be, a diverse country of differing tastes, beliefs, and backgrounds. We are also (possibly due to the permanence and conspicuousness of fried/salty/sugary foods) many different shapes, with a slight majority in the comfortably plump variety. Americans are viewed by most of the world as that perfect stereotype of loud and fat, but usually pleasant. We are like jolly bags of tourist money. We visit Paris and comment on how small the “Mona Lisa” is; we visit Berlin and ask why there are bullet holes in all the buildings; we visit Rome and complain about portion size or the abbandanza of walking there is on this “walking tour.” Of course, we are not all ignorant bags of discretionary income ready to boost foreign economies. There are many polite, articulate, well-informed and well-traveled Americans, but they are not always the ones who stick out in crowds wearing pornographic t-shirts in the Vatican or ordering water at increasing volume in English in Spain. The crude and rude of a species get remembered. All Parisians are not inhospitable, but the ones who are become the goats of stories told back in the American heartland over Coors Light’s, ribs and potato salad.

But, once an American travels abroad and learns how other parts of the world eat, I believe he or she can have two reactions: confusion or cravings. I have had both now. I am confused as to the amount of rice I didn’t eat while in America, and confused as to the amount of bread I did eat. I crave certain things, things that are easily found here in Korea, but with a slight twinge of mediocrity and clumsiness. They make cheesesteaks, but the bread is stale. They make deli sandwiches, but use plastic wrapped slices of cheese. They make pizza, but it has corn on it. It is all there for you in a muddled form, but never really satisfies you the way it used to stateside. Korean food is delicious and healthy; and Seoul has every type of restaurant a city of 10 million inhabitants should have, but they don’t do a perfect burrito or a perfect turkey club yet. (That I have found, it’s a big city!)

However, luckily, I have found a place of perfection for the most American of American pleasures—cheeseburgers. I found this place in my first month in Korea, and not a week has gone by when I haven’t frequented the establishment. No, it’s not a McD’s or BK, it’s called BurgerHolic, and I would do free advertisements for them, if only they’d ask. (Please ask me!) It is a four-top seating area hole-in-the wall with fresh cut fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers and burgers. They are excellent and completely comparable to any In-n-Out, P. Terry’s or Five Guys type chains. For 8$ I get a large double cheese, bacon burger, fries and drink. Every Monday, more regular than a Metamucil swilling grandpa, I am there. They know me, they know my order and they are consistent with quality.

When I told my students about my weekly habit, they were silent in bewilderment for a few seconds at how anyone could do such things to their body and then commented, “But, teacher [faces contorted and puzzled] not fat?” Koreans are wary of American food, and seem to indulge sparingly, for they have seen the ravages our diets have inflicted on some of our expats. These young, brainy kids couldn’t understand how I could eat a burger a week and not become morbidly obese the way their parents probably tell them they would. I didn’t have the heart to tell them how many hamburgers I consumed while substitute teaching in Austin, when Wendy’s was a two minute drive away and my budget for lunch was in the 4$ range. (Coincidentally, my total cholesterol level during those years was also a worrying 237.) I have a strong metabolism, but as my family will attest, after four months of convivial alcohol consumption backpacking Europe, eating baguette and croissant breakfasts, pizza lunches, huge dinners followed by midnight kebabs and crepes, I had quite a belly when I arrived back home. I’m not immune to weight gain in the midsection. I also work out hard to maintain core strength; therefore, I treat myself in the food department.

I do know what they are talking about in their fear of fast food. American obesity is a huge strain on our already feeble preventative health care culture. We treat the cancer, not the cause. Anyone who has seen the greasy, giant burgers unwrapped and leered at in a rather gluttonous and disconcertingly seductive way by the corpulent chap falling out of his booth at Arby’s or Carl Jr.’s knows how appetite suppressing that can be. Nobody will wonder how he got that far, it’s written in the grease stains on his napkin and highlighted by his blubbery bottom.

It has been said that fat is the “last acceptable prejudice.” I know there are people born with glandular problems. I know there are people who were raised in a house of loose dietary restrictions. I know there are people who have a disease whose main symptom is the inability to get full. I tried to make it a point in my life to only insult people’s choices, i.e. their clothes, hairstyle or words, things they choose. It’s not okay to make fun of birthmarks, family problems or big noses. Those things can’t be helped and were not choices. Is chunkiness a choice or a form of birthmark? Whatever it is, they have a decision to make every day of their life, as Tracy Chapman said, “Leave tonight or live and die this way.”

To: Ice Cube: RE: “Today was not such a good day.”

“In my younger and more vulnerable years” my mother used to read me a book called: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Paraphrasing, it was about some punk kid who was having trouble tying his shoes, stepped in some poo, got yelled at by the teacher, his sister took his favorite lunchbox to school and perhaps some other little kid problems. At the end, I think he got a hug from his mom, and everything was better because tomorrow is another day. I used to like the story because kids seem so able to shake off bad days, which somehow, they actually have. They don’t have distressing worries like bills, bosses, or how to cook dinner with the 3$ in your pocket, unless they do, which I know some did from my days of SPED in Austin. Those kids didn’t have anyone at home most nights, and certainly no food in the cabinets and rarely clean clothes; they were forced into self-reliance. A bad day for them was a really awful day. But otherwise, kids with responsible parents should not be having bad days. It seems like childhood should be a long skip through the fragrant, blossoming forest of youth. But we all know that forest seems never-ending, and completely claustrophobic when you are stuck in it and have no idea of the pastures, meadows, beaches and sparkling sunsets through the other side. Is it possible a bad day is capable of striking even the most confident, capable and cheerful people? Will a bad day sucker punch even those annoying souls who respond to your, “How are you today,” with the irrepressibly exasperating “Never had a bad day in my life” routine?

If you listened to pop, rap or R & B radio in the 90’s, you are familiar with a song by Monica entitled, “Just One of Them Days.” She was having one of those days where she just wanted to be all alone, and don’t take it personal, it’s just a bad day, so steer clear. There are countless other songs about bad days. It’s an interesting phenomenon, the idea “when it rains, it pours.” Why, sometimes, do the fates spit on you? Why, sometimes, does life’s curveball curve right into your groin?

I’ve known a few people in my life who maintain their smile through all kinds of weather, injustices, irritations and tragedies. They all tell me they “don’t have time for negative thoughts, people or moments.” Can you really control the world that way? Are you merely controlling your own world, and the way you view it? Are you being so rude to the malicious gods of the world as to never allow the emotions of life to drive you to cursing that 80 year old who cut you off, or to hating on that goofy looking guy with the hot wife by rejecting your true feelings? Is it possible that other people are not like me and sincerely have 365 good days a year, every year? Is it possible that all those “think positive” mantras can affect a global contrivance of goodwill, all toward you, just because you wake up every morning, stretch and breath in the air of bliss because you call it such?

I’ve been being more positive lately, I’ve tried to cancel those bad thoughts before they form, but it’s hard. I think of Pat Croce and his motto of, “I feel great.” I think of how lucky I am, how blessed I am, and I’m immediately filled with the gratefulness present in those exhortations.

Today, I woke up, brushed my teeth, grabbed my milk from the fridge, pulled out my favorite cereal, began pouring it into my clean bowl, and a thumb size cockroach fell out of the cereal bag into the bowl. (This is a cereal with raisins in it, so at first, in my morning daze, I remarked to myself how lucky I was to have gotten such a big raisin in my cereal.) Of course, I shrieked, “What the f#$%! Are you kidding me?” He struggled in my cylindrical bowl, dusty with oats and bran trying to escape before I finally grabbed a tissue and ended his days. The problem was, I had eaten this exact box of cereal the day before and no cockroach, so I was left with the problem of: did he crawl in last night and sit on top, or had he been living in there for an extended amount of time? I lean toward the latter based upon his lean, wiry look, as though he had spent a fair bit of time eating only lean bran protein for many days. Appetite surprisingly undisturbed, I just picked up my other cereal, inspected it and poured it into my yogurt for a new, cleaner breakfast. Verily, you cannot expect to handle kindergarten on an empty stomach. Twenty minutes later, I was telling the story to my Korean and American co-teachers, grossing them out as much as possible (with fabricated details) describing the raisin wrapped around his antennae or the eight skinny legs pushing around the tiny oats, and one of them mentioned that you could have eaten cockroach eggs and they can live in your stomach. I had recently watched the original M.I.B. with the bug who takes over Vincent D’Onofrio’s body and concurrently, roaches are always falling out of his sleeves and jacket pockets, and I didn’t want that to be me. So, I went to the local pharmacy and bought the Korean pill that they take every year to kill any and all bugs in their stomach linings. I had also just watched the original Alien to prepare myself for Prometheus, so it was an easy jump for me to see something disgusting gestating in my bowels. They say cockroaches can live through the nuclear apocalypse. But, who would want to be a roach just to make it into the terribly depressing (and I imagine food-free) post-nuclear bleakness that would be the world? It’s like the non red-meat eaters who mention that they have an average life span of 5-10 years longer than most carnivores. I stand by my trite response of who needs 5-10 more years of salad? I enjoy salad too, usually a nice Caesar before a steak or served as a bed for a big, tasty fish.

I made it through the day, it being Friday before a stressful Saturday of teaching the children a class in front of all their parents, something we have been preparing endlessly for the last month, a structure called: Open Class. I mentioned to my friend that I just needed a dinner that I know and love and can still appreciate despite the morning debacle. We went to my “Korean Mom’s” place, which is merely a hole in the wall with good food. On my penultimate bite of my dongas (fried pork chop covered in a sweet brown sauce) I crunched into something and squealed quite audibly. It was not the juice filled mess that a roach must be like (they were sold in stalls in Thailand and some were palm sized.) This was a ruthlessly hard substance that grated and scratched through my jaw, teeth and into my brain. I removed and dug through my bite and found a piece of glass the size of a baby tooth. My teeth, I believe, are intact, my soul and disposition are understandably shaken. We went to the batting cages and hit balls to end the day on a positive note. I got a few dingers in there and felt better.

Small Pleasures

Hungry after a long day at the hagwon with a slight headache breathing through my temples, I wandered into a local eatery. There were no less than 7 policemen in their full blue and gray gear, loudly, violently and quickly consuming a crowd of plates. They ate with typical Korean gusto, so it was not surprising. However, one always feels good eating where the local cops eat. I ordered my mandu-gu soup and sat back. There were no empty seats left now that I had sat down to share a table with three young dudes. One table of men kept gaining occupants and simultaneously gaining volume. My soup arrived along with my tablemates. We had all ordered the same thing, which made me smile. It was soft dumpling soup, with a splash of seaweed and egg in peppery chicken broth. It was delicious. I ate slowly and appreciated each bit, sampling my side dishes of soy marinated potatoes, spinach in spicy sauce, fried egg, kimchi and marinated seaweed. The policemen finished and left, but the tables never emptied, as soon as one-person left, another arrived. This was definitely the place to eat, I felt embarrassed I hadn’t eaten here more than twice. Then, one of the guys at the loud, ever-expanding table inexplicably brought me a bottle of water and a glass. I was thirsty but it was too busy to reach the self-serve water area. I finished every plate including my ‘bap’—aka rice. It was one of those great dinners where you feel a part of your city.

I asked for two things in Korean, got what I ordered, paid exact change after being told how much it cost in Korean and left saying goodbye in Korean. It was a success. I could write about almost every meal I’ve eaten in this country. The delightful successes, the frustrating failures, the good, the bad, the very ugly and smelly have all been on my plate. This one just felt normal and completely at ease. Walking the two blocks home, I saw one of the resident stray cats munching through a trash bag. He is strong and healthy looking with the unstable eyes of a street urchin, which lets me know he is eating well and knows his business. I was thankful to be able to have eaten off a plate in a warm, cozy corner of a popular diner. It’s important to be aware of our good things, no matter how small.