Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Everything is Fine Part 3: "This Part of Your Life Intentionally Left Blank"
Lunch time, my favorite part if the day. I lock my workstation and head off to
the break room to eat. No one else is here, so I’ll be eating alone. I like to
be alone. I dig around in the little public refrigerator and take out the things I brought to eat. While everyone else is off to Burger King and Popeyes, or the Bowling Alley snack bar, I bring out my tuna fish sandwich, made by my wife. Along with that some miso soup left over from breakfast and a bowl of big udon noodles. With that, a couple of small sealed bowls of kimchi and another of rice. I love kimchi and rice. I can’t help it. Kimchi is my soul food. Kimchi is how I conjure up the ghosts when I need to commune with them.
I heat up the leftover soup and dump the fat udon noodles in it. I forgot to
pack chopsticks. Shit. This will be hard to eat with a plastic fork. I spear a
couple of loose strands and the wet noodles whip around, slopping miso soup
onto my nice clothes. Someone in a suit comes in to get a cup of fried coffee
from the pot and gives me an odd look. I point at his cup, which reeks of tannic acid and burned java. “Seven-Eleven espresso!”
He laughs and dumps a load of coffeemate in it to kill the awful taste. He gives a puzzled glance at the soup and my wet shirt. Finally he leaves and I’m alone with the ghosts.
Seven Eleven espresso. That toxic blood curdling last inch of coffee that's been slowly frying in the bottom of the pot for an hour. That was what we called it back in the day, traveling on the back roads of Arkansas and Mississippi together late at night. All of us. Back in the day.
I wolf down a mouthful of kimchi and rice and cough. This stuff is gorgeously
The ghosts sit down with me at the table and watch me eat.
I remember Kang Won do.
Traveling with my “brothers” and “sisters”. Rev Moon wanted us to get a taste of the Holy Land, to get to know god's chosen people. We handed out religious materials, learned the language and toured the tiny farm villages everywhere just south of the border of North and South Korea. The little grandmas giving us kimchi and rice for breakfast lunch and dinner. Meat when they could afford it or when we could get it for them. And taking pictures everywhere I went, with my old Nikon F and the black and white TRI X Pan film I hand loaded in cassettes. Later I rolled the shot film on the reels in a little steel developing tank, using my sleeping bag in the middle of the night as a little dark room, carrying the glass bottles of Kodak chemicals in my duffel bag, wrapped in my underwear. When others were sleeping I was up developing the film in the drafty kitchen of whatever little farmhouse we were staying at, hanging the wet strips from the ceiling to dry alongside strings of chilies like strange fruit. I was a busy boy at night, taking a piss in the outhouse we shared with the girls. Or standing behind a barren tree in the snow in the deep, sharp country night, you could look up from your dick and see the great band of the Milky Way overhead so close you felt as though if you reached your arms up into the sky you would fall forever. In my way, I was the happiest guy in the world.
Another techie drifts into the break room and says hi, holding a clay coffee cup that says “You May Observe the Master At Work”. Yeah, it’s a pretty big coffee cup. He sniffs the coffee pot then puts it back in disgust. I feel guilty. Why don’t I make some coffee for these people? Because I want to be alone. I don’t want anyone to talk to me.
Another mouthful of kimchi and rice.
I remember Okimoto-san.
1985. The Saeilo machine shop in Worcester. A cinder block building. No heat. The shop was so cold at night Yamamoto, Sugihara and I drank ramen soup when we had it, and hot water when we didn’t just to keep from freezing as we ran our big engine lathes. That was when I discovered Shakespeare. I was tired of listening to the radio, so I found a way to copy phonograph records from the Worcester Library onto cassettes and listen to them through Walkman headphones. Those old Caedmon records of the Royal Shakespeare Society doing Hamlet, Othello, Coriolanus, they pass the night as I bend over the spindle and the steel chips fly. I listened to them over and over, never getting tired of them.
I remember the accountant we asked to do our book keeping. He came in and asked some questions about how we ran things. He packed up without a word and we never saw him again. The truth was we were starving, the seven Japanese guys and me. Its one thing to wake up and not have anything you enjoy eating. Its another not to have anything at all. And still you have to go to work.
The prayer room with its little altar, gathering together in the evening, all of us after work to read a little from one of Rev Moon’s speeches, which were our scripture and pray. To stop and think about God. To talk. After prayers when the others had left, Okimoto and I discussed the money problem. “Things must become better.” He said in his choppy English. “Its too miserable!” Suddenly I burst out laughing. Okimoto burst out laughing. We laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. We rolled around on the floor with no furniture and no food and no possibility of food, laughing at ourselves like madmen. We laughed till we cried. That was a good time. The very best of times. When you suffer alone, it breaks you down. When you suffer with good companions it can make you happy as you'll ever be.
In 1986 my wife came to join me in Worcester at the machine shop. Things were a little better. I didn't want her to come when we were starving. I didn't want her to see me like that. The Japanese brothers gave us a room to ourselves. By this time we had been married almost six years but we had never slept together. For thirteen years I had shared various rooms in different places with other men and the young women were always together just down the hall. The first morning I woke with a woman beside me I knew my life had changed forever.
In the break room I wrestle with my noodles and soup and finish off the tuna fish. My shirt is a mess. Can’t believe it.. Why didn’t I bring chopsticks?
“The hell is that shit?” says a co worker, leaning in the door. A lot of these guys have spent time in Korea. “It stinks.”
“Kimchi, you want some?”
“Fuck no! Your wife Korean?”
“She’s not Korean?”
“I just like kimchi.”
“Man, you crazy. Don’t breathe on me with that shit.”
I’ve never told these things to anyone. Not even my kid. I don’t know how to come to terms with twenty five whole years of my life.
The first time I saw my wife’s face I thought she was from India. It was in the Grand Ballroom of the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. The Grand Ballroom was filled with about 2000 people or so. These were my people, you must understand that or nothing else makes sense. Other people, outside people, they’d look at us and say things about being “brainwashed”. The magazines called us "zombies". The Hollywood people made cheap scary TV movies about us. Some felt sorry for us. Others abused us. Its not about being brainwashed or any such thing. Its about tribe. Tribe is like family but bigger. Tribe is beautiful when it works. You look around the room, and among the strangers are faces of people you've known and lived with for many years. People you were on the road with. People who shared your dream of being the great visionaries with the spiritual truths that would change the world and bring all of its people into a united family under a parental God. God was so close in those days. We all of us lived with God, ate, slept and woke in the bosom of His presence and love. There was nothing the world could offer that was more pure and more beautiful than what we had. From our vantage we could look out at the people who feared and pitied us, and we felt sorry for them. We wanted to share what we had with them. We had God and Rev Moon and each other and that was enough.
We lived communally, men and women together in the same houses, chastely separated by an understanding that the fall of man was caused by an impure love relationship between man and woman and we had to be better than that. We knew it was our destiny to be husbands and wives, to have children. If we waited our time would come. I was celibate for thirteen years, but unlike monks, I was never out of the company of young women my own age. I was never a man women were attracted to, so being chaste wasn’t a challenge in my case, but on the other hand it was tremendously liberating. These things are never what they appear to someone outside. To live with beautiful, strong, idealistic women from all over the world, to live in the same house with them, with the element of sexual competition removed, means that all these women are your sisters. They are your friends. I had worshiped girls as goddesses all my young life. I had been afraid to speak to them. Now within the womb of my tribe, I had very close, intimate friendships with intelligent, exotic women from Japan, Korea and Europe, women I never would have had the courage to even speak with before. I didn’t need to impress them. Didn’t need to kiss them or worry what they thought of me. Never needed to be jealous of them. We were, within our strict boundaries, set free.
In the Grand Ballroom, Rev Moon would line up the girls, or maybe the boys. Then he would move among the crowd sitting on the floor. Point at someone. Take someone by the sleeve. Say a few words to them, and they would go off to get to know each other. Some were already friends. Most were strangers.
My wife didn’t speak English. Her first words to me were “Hables espanol?” “No,” I said, “I don’t understand.” We sat at the table and just looked at each other for a long time. Years later she told me, that when she first saw my Spanish looking face she was dismayed. She knew Latino men from the past, how unfaithful and selfish they were. The last thing she wanted was to be matched to a Latino man. When she asked if I spoke Spanish and I looked blank and shook my head, she was sold. A gringo. A Minnesota boy. Good enough.
Me, I was desperate to fall in love again, anyway, anyhow, anyone. And this girl – she was beautiful. She didn’t speak English, but we could fix that.
We were married in a civil ceremony in New Orleans. She came to the church center where I was living and stayed for a week, just long enough to make it to City Hall. Her English was getting a little better. After the license was squared away she was back in New York. A year later we were married in Madison Square Garden with 2000 other couples. Four years after that we were allowed to live as husband and wife.
I retired from the Unification Church around 1996, more or less. It was a wrenching time for me. I never left actually. The church left me. There are a lot of things in life like that. Something you join in the beginning changes into something you can’t belong to anymore. Someone you marry changes into someone you hardly know anymore. You try to grow together. Sometimes you can’t.
Whatever we are now, my arranged wife and I, we go on alone. We lost our tribe when it got too weird even for us. We lost the innocence of that insular way of life, so unreal but in its way so embracing. We had to move back into the real world just the way we left it when we were kids, where our loving God does not live and never did. Reality sucks. We lost everything except each other.
So, you may ask, coming from such an intensely chaste and religious background, why write erotic stories instead of say, Sunday School lessons? I don't know. When you leave the garden it affects you. I feel angry at God. More than anything, I feel disappointed with God. He should have watched out for us. The custodians of our faith were unworthy and God should have said something. God was silent. People lose faith in God all the time, and a loving God could fix it all so easily with a kind word. I refuse to worship silence. I suppose erotica is where I go to explore my madness and to kick over the furniture.
So its been twenty four years now. Do we love each other? It’s complicated. We do our best. We support each other. We manage to keep chugging along from day to day such as it is, carrying the promises we made for ourselves when we were young and idealistic and gave a damn.
I don’t know what marriage is about. I think in the end, it almost doesn’t matter how you meet each other, if you date and fall in love, or if you’re brought together as strangers and are obliged to make it work as best you can. In the end the problems and the good are the same for everybody I think. Its not that different. Maybe death will be like that too. Some things are great equalizers.
Marriage is not about romance or passion in my experience. Its probably that way for most people except a lucky few. Those things exist only in my imagination, in whatever place the bones of my old silent, utterly useless God are interred. Its been about friendship under stress, about trying to get along somehow with the same person day after day until one of you is gone. You talk about what’s on the TV. You iron each other’s clothes. Make sure you don’t miss each other's doctor appointments. You look out for each other. Maybe its enough just to get by without any fireworks. In the end, maybe what you want is for that one person, the one who has known you continuously for twenty or thirty years to be there as a witness to your life. Just to tell the rest of the world after you’re gone, that you lived here once.
“What’s wrong with kimchi?” I ask the guy. We’re still busting each others
balls. “That microwave burrito you’re heating up there, you don’t even know what ol’ Taco John puts in that beast. Could be ground up cats and dogs. Maybe a couple of fingers.”
“I know one thing,” he says “It tastes like a fucking burrito. I like burritos.
Burritos are American. What’s that Korean shit taste like? Does it taste like it smells?”
I spear some pickled cabbage on my fork and mix it up with some sticky rice
my wife packed for me. It dribbles off the plastic fork. It would be easier to eat
this with chopsticks too. He watches me eat.
“It tastes like love.” I say to him.