Having reached what is statistically speaking the midpoint of my life, I’ve learned a few things: good shoes are important, Indian food is better than Chinese, going to bed early is a delightful privilege, people notice your clothes, Tuesdays suck, and recently, that I don’t particularly care for public pools. Continue reading
I remember in university, taking a Toni Morrison literature class. My African-American teacher graded my final paper and told me I didn’t understand what the writer was trying to say about identity, helping me realize how it must feel to be black and read William Faulkner. It’s not easy to identify with something outside your identity. Despite that class being my only C of my last two years of school, that teacher did teach me something that stuck with me; the idea of re-memory. That is, remembering a memory. We all tell stories from memory. Homer, the ancient blind storyteller, conveyed great epics orally from memory. But, why do we only remember some things. Why are some memories, some smells, and some moments more memorable than others? Continue reading
The old lady ambles across the street in baggy floral pants, shuffling her tattered sandals along patchwork sidewalks pulling a large, flat wheelbarrow loaded with possibly hundreds of pounds of cardboard. People steer slowly out of her way, barely glancing up from their smartphones. Cars pause before her path; buses wait for her to cross the street, yet she is somehow disregarded as an inconspicuous piece of city life, discreetly moving among the masses.
She is the can rattling along the sewer grate in a breeze. She is the stray cat mewing in a filthy corner. She is the invisible working poverty. I wondered about her. Does she have a family? Are they proud of her for continuing to work at her age or embarrassed of her lowly standing? Does she make good money recycling? Where does she go after work? I tend to think Koreans can ignore her along with the legless beggars of Itaewon and subway stations, but do they see her and feel pride or shame? Is she a part of their former provincial history that hasn’t been eradicated by modernization? Or is she just a helpful part of the trash removal system that rewards salvaging?
All the same, she is one of many familiar faces in my neighborhood. I know the cardboard ladies’ faces, just like the sock sellers, cell phone hawkers and tteokbokki dealers who I pass along the daily travels of my main street. I look at them, but never too long. They have penetrating eyes like black holes of vague awareness. I don’t know if those are the sage eyes of a lifetime of labor or the darting eyes of cardboard pursuit. Their wrinkles tell stories I can’t translate. Their tanned skins tell of extensive work hours my soft moisturized hands can’t possibly understand. Their rotten clothes speak of a humility most educated people wouldn’t recognize.
They serve a purpose; they do their job. How long have they done this job? One lady is so hunched from pulling those massively heavy, overloaded carts that she is literally shaped like a number 7. I see them chatting together at twilight, on quiet, dusty stoops, holding their faces in their hands as they speak, caricatures of themselves, like living black and white photos of a poorer time. What do they talk about? What do people unlike myself talk about? What can permanent disfigurement caused by toil teach a person? I can learn, again, to cease any entitlement to complain and strive to be thankful, positive and respectful.
For years, I’ve always looked younger than my age. I suppose at 12 I may have looked twelve, but after that, I was always mistaken for a younger version of myself. Once, around 27, a local campaigning politician came to the door of my parents’ house and asked for my mother or father. I replied they were out, and she asked me if I was old enough to vote. I stopped getting carded for alcohol around 28, but still get carded at bars. In Italy, at age 26, a nice old lady asked me if I was old enough to drink wine with dinner. Yet, this is a country where pre-teens sip vino with the Sunday meals. Last week during a massage, the masseuse asked if I was 26, because he was “good at guessing ages.” I told him I’m turning 32 this year, and he was surprised.
Through the18-21 ages, it was terrible to be confused with a young age. During the 20’s it was just a funny little thing that my face still appeared babyish. But now that I’m in my 30’s I appreciate it very much that I remain youthful. The question I asked myself today was, will I get upset when someone actually guesses my correct age? Is it possible that I will continue to look 5 years younger at each consecutive age, or at some point will the marathon of life catch up to me with a properly distinguished exterior? Since I’m used to getting the younger guesses, it would certainly hit me harder, but I am preparing for that day, and the terrible things I will say to that unlucky person.
Can the positive thinking exercises and mantras people use to keep a shining interior also be used for the surface? If you’re “only as old as you feel” is it additionally possible you’re only as old as you appear? Did the guys in high school with full beards feel like they were 25 and working at entry-level jobs some days? Did the girls with fully developed bodies at age 14 feel like they were getting better treatment at the office due to their precocious hormones? It’s funny though, in those very young days, I used to wonder when I would grow hair on my body. Now that it’s here, I spend that time shaving it off.