Monday, December 26, 2011

Back in the USA

I'm here. For. Two. Months. yay me!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Understanding G*d



In the 12 steps, we say that we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity which leads us to the third step in which we make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of G*d as we understand G*d. Forever this has been a problem for me. I've struggled with this very basic concept - and how many years have I been following 12 step philosophy? About 20 now. In the last few months it has been on my mind yet again. Swirling through the spiral and back to steps one, two, and three.

There is a poem? prayer? saying? from Wicca that has always been my understanding of G*d:

The Charge of the G*ddess:

I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters,
I call upon you soul to arise and come unto me.
For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe.
From me all things proceed and unto me they must return.
Let my worship be in the heart that rejoices,
for behold - all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.
Let there be beauty and strength,
power and compassion,
honor and humility,
mirth and reverence within you.
And you who seek to know me,
know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not unless you know the mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself,
you will never find it without.
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning.
I am that which is attained at the end of desire.


And so today, in my meditation, I realized I have not allowed myself to embrace my own belief. I have been afraid.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
~Marianne Williamson


All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.

I believe that pleasure heals.
I believe that love heals.
I believe that fear is the opposite of love.
I believe that I shine.
Somewhere in the deepest part of me that I do not allow myself to look at, I shine.

I believe it is time to embrace my beliefs
and to love
and to please myself
and to shine.

It is time. It is time. At last, it is time.

Blessed be.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dancing Soul Dancing in Seoul

It’s 2 in the morning, and I’m covered in sweat. I just peeled off my outer shirt and hung it up to dry. My inner shirt is next although it is one of those wicking thingies, so it’s mostly dry already. I’ve spent an hour dancing. In a club. Like nobody was watching.

I seriously needed to get my mojo back. I felt like a husk of a woman, so I decided I must dance. It is my ultimate mojo maker. When I dance, I am the most beautiful woman in the world. Hands down. In Korea, I’m pretty much not even recognized as a woman. Every Western man already has a gal or has yellow fever – they are out. Korean men don’t even realize I’m a woman – they are out. Women? Well, that ship has pretty much sailed. So here I am all 40 some years of sensuality and passion, and nowhere to put it. Something inside of me is withering away to have no sex, no kissing, no hugging, and damn near no flirting. It’s like my best friend is being ignored. That sucks rocks. As in it's creating actual depression in me. I need lust. But lust is not to be found here in this place. I refuse to go looking for it in a bottle of tequila and a wedge of lime. So I dance. I dance to be a woman. I dance to love myself. I dance to remember. It's almost as good as decent sex. Almost. Ah well.

****************

It’s a trendy club in Seoul, costing more money to get in than it cost me to buy the beautiful new sweater hanging in my closet. Men in suits with earpieces are at every doorway separating the haves from the have-nots (Yes, I’m a have-not), the bar staff are all young and beautiful and interesting. They too are have-nots. The light show is full of geometric designs – all in blue, and the music reverberates through my whole body.

Irina, my close friend, says, “Let’s dance in the middle.” Her Russian accent turns her “middle” into “meedle,” and I can’t help but smile. I follow her – she’s usually the brave one. Her command of the Korean language helps, but it’s more than that. I’m shy in new situations. I think no one really wants to meet me / talk to me / be close. Old voices die hard in the noodle. I follow her to the dance floor, expecting to skirt around the edges, but she goes right into the middle, right in the limelight, right in the empty space where everyone can see us – including the people looking down from the balcony. Panic comes knocking on my door. What the hell am I doing here? But I asked her to go dancing. I can’t back out now. So there we are, circles of light flashing all around us, the DJ doing his DJ thang, and she starts moving. I swear that girl’s hips are like a roller coaster. They swing out farther and faster than anything I’ve seen. I can do this.

Closing my eyes, I am back in So. America. Peru, actually. My friend Carolina is urging me onto the bar with her. Yep, that’s the correct preposition – ONTO the bar. Now in Seoul, I remember that time, and all the people who encouraged me then. The cheers, the smiles, the pictures, the love. Not far behind appear the men who wanted me, appreciated me, couldn’t get enough of me. They flash through my mind, and I start to feel my Womanness flowing again. I wonder if it’s a problem that I’m on one continent wishing I were on another. But I digress. It’s not the time to think of that. I just keep my eyes closed, and I dance.

Throughout the night I morph into different people, memories, stories. I become that fat old and white gal who sure danced a mean disco. I become the woman in the blue dress dancing alone at Oprah’s flash mob with the Black Eyed Peas. I’m a dark goddess saying a prayer that only my body can speak. I’m the Designated Ugly Fat Friend in a moment of weakness. And then I’m an athlete with taped feet, a member of Group Motion with its Pamila-shaped space that is always waiting for me, I’m a woman who spends four days moving to the rhythm of drums for 8 hours a day in the mountains of New York. I’m one of the women that people speak of when they say “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” I am more than myself in this dance. I am all that is good, bad, ugly, and beautiful in Woman.

At some time in the evening it becomes a point of pride that I keep dancing while my (younger) friend stops, takes two breaks. I continue. The 20-something beautiful Korean women, with their lace and high heels, who bob and sway to the music can’t hold a candle to me. I spin and twirl and move from ghetto girl to Bollywood chorus to disco queen as they stand back, not really doing anything but watching me and my friend. Occasionally I hear “wow” from them and wonder if it’s about me. It doesn’t seem malicious; it seems to coincide with some Martha Graham negative space passionate movement that rushes out of me, though. Yes, they are watching. I almost wonder what they are thinking when they see me, but then the DJ – some beautiful, talented man – puts on another song - this time with soul brass and an underbeat full of salsa rhythm banged out of a djembe. I'm too busy moving to care what they think of me. And right then I become yet again a reincarnation. This time I become Pamila Jo.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Spa Day

Surgery has made it so that I can not visit the spa for at least a month. Here is a piece I wrote four years ago about my first experience of the public - yet segregated - bath houses in Korea. Enjoy!

**********************

People often comment on my shower. LIke many people, I have bottles of body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and oils in my shower. Hanging from hooks are scrubbies, back brush, pumice stones, exfoliation towels. What may be different is the amount of skin care products that line the shelves - white musk, peppermint, lilac, lemon, grapefruit, pine, ylang ylang, olive, every scent that is lives in the creams and soaps and unguents and perfumes and lotions that take up residence in my shower. Everywhere I turn there is a scent and a softness that lures me in. It's a sorcerer's workshop in there. Plants and stones bring an outdoor, rainforest feel. The sound of nature piped in from speakers adds to the exotic, sensual, perhaps even erotic feel. One small candle glows in front of a mirror, its reflection doubling the small flicker of light. My own personal spa.

******************
Here in Korea, there are spas everywhere. For between $3 and 10 you can get in for a full day of liquid decadence, based in practicality. There are extras as well - massage, facial, exfoliation... My friend Liliana is visiting me, and we follow the rules of a tiny little adjumma yelling at us to remove our make up before we slip into a warm tub, dozens of women lounging about, a modern-day seraglio.

The whirlpool loosens the muscles which have tightened in response to the harsh winter winds, and in turn we try one of the kitchen-sounding baths - blueberry, apple, and grape. There is a waterfall that drops nearly scalding water on your back or shoulders, a liquid massage courtesy of gravity.

The opposing feel of hot water bath in the outdoor pool mingles our breath with the steam that rises, and I can't help but wonder what it would be like to lie there with the stars high above, the chill in the air, and heat all around.

We each choose from the menu of extra services - I opt for exfoliation while she goes for a massage, and we slide into clothes to explore the co-ed areas while we await our appointments. The hot infrared room has mats with people sleeping - Liliana joins them - and my muscles now loose and flowing, I practice yoga. There are restaurants and snack bars, and families are enjoying their time together. We explore the saunas - these are co-ed, and the young lovers jump apart as we enter the mild room. Romantics at heart we step out and go to the igloo. It seems warmer than it is, but it is a calming change.

It is time at last for her massage and my exfoliation - side by side. An older woman, her face shiny with sweat and steam tells me to climb on the bed with a flick of her wrist and a nod of her short curly capped head. She is completely naked. She speaks in Korean and deferentially as I wiggle my body up the table I tell her I don't speak Korean, and I apologize in the most respectful form I know. She just smiles and goes to work. A good sport, she taps my ankle or moves my arm as she pleases for the next hour. I look over and Liliana, her black as night hair, piled in big waves upon her head, has green goo on her face and the (naked) masseuse is walking on her back, balancing with the help of a metal bar that runs, along the ceiling, the length of the table.

Before I have time to think of a clever comment to hold upon my tongue, the intimate scrubbing begins! My curly haired adjumma with her smiling eyes scrubbed me in places I did not know I had skin. The initial shock tensed my body, and then somehow it became thrilling and pleasant - I felt truly like I was having a You-aren't-in-Kansas-anymore moment. The tactile experience was just this side of pain. There was an absolute realization of my body completely devoid of any sexuality.

Every now and then the women working there (all naked) would say something to one another and look at me, and we'd all smile. I had no idea what they were saying - ignorance is bliss as it turns out - but there was always something friendly in their voice, in their movements, in their eyes. I reflected on how the joy of not knowing the language lets me be more pure, more in the essence of who I am with them. I didn't get lost in words - I just experienced communication. At one point something bubbled over in me, and I started and then couldn't stop laughing. It was contagious, and soon we were all laughing together, Lillian's grin, in her freshly cleansed face, joins us as well.

Too quickly, the scrubbing ended, and I glanced down, spying the aftermath of all those oils and unguents and exfoliated skin beading into little pebbles, gathered in the various valleys of my body. Just as the realization registered of what they were, I was doused with warm water that washed those same beads away.

My skin sang in its pink shine. The silk of my unmentionables were silkier than ever before as they slid across my body. Wrapping my woolen scarf around my neck, the scratch was louder, the leather of my boots touched my sensitive ankles, and the wind, streaking across my cheeks as we stepped outside, was cooler. The world seemed more alive than ever before! I could swear I could hear the tingle in my fingertips.

**********

And now back in my apartment, I smile as I read and update this piece, remembering. And I'm grateful for the surgery that allows me to see and to inadvertently appreciate my spa experiences. And with that I step into my own personal spa, allowing the steam to fill the room, feed the plants, create rivulets of water down the stones. I pick up an exfoliating towel, squirt a tiny bit of dewberry scented soap upon it and begin to laugh. It bubbles up and through me for no reason at all.

Here's a website... http://www.hotelnongshim.com/eng/hurshimchung/hur_bath.asp

Sunday, June 19, 2011

... same same but different ...

So often, I hear that my life is exciting, exotic, fascinating, and I counter with "no really. I go to the grocery store, I work out, I catch the bus. My life is no different than yours." Today, I had an exciting, exotic, fascinating life. Michael, this is for you.

I sleep in and when I at last wake up, I look out my window and see the river beckoning. It has both a bike path (two way) and a walking path - made of some sort of soft stuff to make walking better on your joints. The day is beautiful, and I must go for a ride. There is simply no other choice! Taking the elevator down down down from the 18th floor, I didn't bring my key. The door has a keycode to get in. My bicycle, a simple little Wizard of Oz type bike, complete with basket in the front, takes me through the park where I see the ajessis and ajummas (older folks) exercising on the outdoor exercise equipment that peppers all the parks in Korea. Every few kilometers you can find one of these spaces with a dozen machines and various other equipment to keep yourself in shape. Even the tops of mountains have exercise equipment, but I digress. I fly down to the bike path on my lil green sailing machine and pass the first of several reflexology areas as the path winds along the local river. Yes, there they are. More ajessis and ajummas walking across the stones, some of them jumping up and down to give their feet little massages and activate whatever the pressure points of feet activate.

The path snakes along, passing basketball courts, river dikes, overhead bridges, an occasional Buddhist type gazebo, and at last I'm... well ... where am I? I'd been riding for nearly an hour and had gone further in this direction than I ever had before - no idea where I was... but it was pretty. There were huge stones leading across the river. No need for a bridge, just dance across the rocks! No, I didn't, not with my bike. Eventually there was a crossover bridge, and I pass the fathers teaching their children to ride, the mothers with their baby carriages, the teens with ipods, and the serious bicyclists - all in a row, leaning forward, their aerodynamic helmets the only thing that differentiates them from one another. And then there was the old man who often sees me. I think he's deaf because he says hello in that kind of garbled way that the dear often speak. I regularly see him on my rides, and he never fails to wave and say hello to me. It makes me feel special. I always bow my head (as much as one can and safely steer a bicycle), and wave and say An yang ha say oh! to him in return. We may not know each other's language but we can smile and greet each other.

I return home and, hot and sweaty, but feeling like I rule the world, I swing by the grocery store. It's in my building for goodness' sake! I pick up quail eggs in a pack. I look around at the other food - dried squid, dried tiny shrimp (complete with heads and eyes), ground something or other leaf, octopus tentacles, five bazillion ways to make rice, and decide to pick up a couple of the packs of seaweed (salted with olive oil). It's yummy with eggs - yes I picked up some familiar foods too - apples, bananas, almonds, cherry tomatoes, and a treat - a diet coke for my first day of classes tomorrow!

I come home still sweaty and decided that the creak creak of my knees warrants a visit to the jim jil bbang, a Korean bath house. There the women scrub each others' backs, wash every square inch of their bodies, and soak in hot water then cold water then tea water then mud then rinse off then soak then shower then sit in the steam room (rubbing salt upon their bodies) and then shower and then get beaten up by the ladies who massage you then .... well you get the picture. It's an event. I'm told the men are just as helpful with each other with no question of homosexuality. They honor the sauna for what it is.

I hop on my bicycle to return home, shiny and shaven, the blaringly bright neon lights screaming in my face. The moon is still right above me although I can't see the stars because of all the visual noise that is common to Asia. I get in the elevator and ride up to the 18th floor with a man who holds a tiny dog under his arm. I ask tentatively if I can pet his dog, and he says yes, but she is a little "hard" right now. Whatever that means... When I put my hand out to her, she growls, and I gently pull my hand back. I like that she's clear about what she does and doesn't want. I tell him so, and he tells me that she has cancer and doesn't feel good. Ah, I wish her well. And then I think of Michael and his dear lady and their own sweet dog with cancer. And then I think, yes, my life is different and maybe I don't know what the food is, and maybe the sky is a little different here, and maybe they take baths communally here. But one thing is the same. Love and loss are the same whether you are in Korea or Canada, Tokyo or Tallahassee. We have many things that separate us, but some things are the same everywhere.

Blessings to all who have love in their lives - with two leggeds or four leggeds.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's not my place...

I have a student who has been driving me a little crazy. She doesn't listen to my answers, she doesn't do the speaking exercises, and she has no social graces.

I realized that because of the language barrier, I couldn't see what is actually obvious. She has Asperger's. The funny thing is, I adore people with Asperger's. How did I not see this?

I will admit that I was soooooo frustrated with her! And now I understand why people get frustrated with people who are on the Autism spectrum. Without context, it is really difficult.

It feels kind of bad to be realizing 4 months later ... *duh* Ah well, I wouldn't have diagnosed her as a teacher to native speakers either. It just makes everything fall into place.

I'm torn about asking her - I think in Korea people don't talk about these things, but it would make her life so much easier, I think, if she knew there were people like her and if she could find those people.

But it's not my place.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Non-Mother's Day Poem


It rolls around, a pebble in my shoe.
That tiny small ache that reminds me of you.

Ah sweet scent, the smell of your perfume
I have bought some to wear in my hair.
I hear the song that caused you to dance
Vibrations of movement traipse through the floor

Ice cubes tinkle in your glass,
accentuating the rhythm of the twang and hwa of a slide guitar.

The air carries warmth, sun-dappled flowers and dirt,
green and trees, life and worms and love and sweat.

And again, this year, you are not here
New life, old life, new world just bursting forth.

Oh mother, dear mother, oh mother o’ mine.
Say a prayer for all of us, the ones you left behind.




*Yes, that is a picture of my mother who died many years ago.
I think I look a bit like her. Do you agree?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Life in Ten Dishes...


My life in ten dishes – I may have had some difficulty with sticking with 10.

I love to net surf and found this idea on this website:
http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/blogs/table-talk/write-your-own-food-biography-my-life-in-10-dishes-20100729-10xrd.html

1. A glass of water – I know it seems silly, but it was when I realized my mother was blind. She couldn’t see the glass, and I had to tell her where to put her hand so she could get it. It was to the left. Now this may not be a big deal to you all, but my mother died about 3 weeks after I turned 4 years old. It is really the only visual memory I have of her alive. I remember the sound of ice cubes in her glass of tea.

2. Cheese sandwich – I lived in a home where I was always afraid. I used to sneak chease sandwiches up to my bedroom.

3. Sausage, biscuits, and gravy – yes it is to one dish! My grandfather used to make these for me. I’d get up and the smell was all through the house! I loved it. It was my favorite food.

4. Salad with peanut butter dressing – I don’t know how she did it, but my grandma got me to eat salad by making some weird peanut butter dressing on it. The lettuce was wilted – like when you put something hot on lettuce, not because it was old. She was a pretty clever lady!

5. Donato’s pizza – wheat crust with broccoli and mushrooms. University. I was discovering myself… and what wasn’t really good on pizza.

6. Cheese plate with apples – on my own. I started to go out to restaurants. I discovered REAL cheese! Brie melted or made like a pie over apples, hard parmesan. This was when I learned the joys of olive oil, freshly ground pepper, crusty bread that is soft and warm in the middle, and ghee.

7. Take out Chinese food – this always seemed the epitome of “urban”… those little white boxes, eating with chopsticks, drinking tea. It very well could be that Chinatown, Philadelphia may have been the impetus for my beginning to travel.

8. Espresso, yogurt, fruit for breakfast. I went to Paris. Enough said.

9. Waffles – When I bought my house, I began to have fairly regular brunches. My waffles were always a big hit. The secret? Let the batter set overnight so that it can rise.

10. I don’t remember the meal, but I remember the wine. My Michael and I and a number of his gay man friends went to a BYOB in Pittsburgh. He invited the chef to join us for a glass of wine which she did. She gave us a passionate rendition of a bawdy Irish song to thank us for the wine. What an amazing night!

11. Ceviche – In Peru, I went to a restaurant and ordered this spicy raw fish dish that is “cooked” in lime juice. My goodness it is amazing! At the restaurant, I walked past the kitchen on my way to the bathroom. I couldn’t speak a lick of Spanish, but after washing my hands, I knocked on the door and motioned to the chef… I asked him if he would teach me to make it. He graciously did. I bought him a glass of wine, and I ate this wonderful dish al fresco in a plaza in Lima, Peru.

12. Turkey Reuben – Aunt Ceil and I always go out to one particular restaurant, and I always get this. It is like a girls’ day out. I find those days with Aunt Ceil a treasure.

13. Gimbop – Korean sushi. It’s cheap, yummy, pretty healthy if you get it at the right place. I go to a place that has fresh veggies and they put almost no rice in it. I love the salt of the nori and the crunch of the veggies with a bit of tuna for protein. It’s a “fast food” but it’s great! Downside – I have had food poisoning from it. I couldn’t eat it for a LONG time. Now? All better!



*foto - Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA, USA (Yes, I took that pic)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Be Water...

For better or worse, I'm making a home in Korea. I've a new apartment that I will move into in a short two weeks. It is a commitment. I signed a contract. Somehow it feels different than signing the work contract. It is a home. I'm not just swinging by for a year. No, I'm staying... for now. The list in my head begins - furniture, curtains, cutlery, rug, stereo speakers, cat, tapestries, colors, textures, shapes. Turning a bright white apartment into a den of calm for me to exhale in, a place to write my words and stories, a place to build friendships, and dare I hope - love? It is a place to lay down my fears and pick up my comforts. An oasis in a land that often irritates and offends me. I smile and think of how I often irritate and offend. I try to be like water and just flow, but I am more like the waves that crash, banging into others wherever I go. Ah well. Be water... whatever water you are.

It was the closets that convinced me. Three large, meter wide closets in an apartment built with none. The owner had added. A nook, a suggestion of a seperation in the wide open space created comfort to me. I always liked nooks. They seem like little cubby holes to hide velvet covered secrets in. They smell of vanilla and chai and fresh cut grass and peace. No bed for me, just a fold up couch, an overstuffed chair, a table for a desk. I want, oh how I want to just create a space that reflects me. And that is it.

Am I odd to love sleeping on couches? Does it matter? The grey, scratchy one in my grandparents' home was my napping spot. I awakened one day, my hair plastered to my head, drunk on possibility when I heard my grandmother say, "Don't wake that child. She needs to sleep." And my grandfather's response, "I'm going fishing. She likes going fishing." And I did. I loved fishing with him. A quiet man of few words, my grandfather believed in me with all his heart. He was a complicated man but a good one. We went fishing and just sat together. There weren't words, and then (and now) the ability to fish alluded / alludes me. I haven't the first clue how to fish. I think he just wanted to be with me... quietly. It was probably the only time I was quiet when... no, I was a quiet child. I have made up for it over time. Now you just can't shut me up. But I digress.

In all the times we went fishing, I caught one fish. By chance. There was no bait on the hook, it just happened to catch on a fish. A bass, one pound. I picked it up, and it slipped through my fingers. Back to the water and its life it swam.

Perhaps I am like that fish and the little apartment on the 18th floor of a tall tall building just outside Seoul Korea is my own little pond. Maybe I'm a wave crashing about with this little hidden underwater cave. Does it matter?

Creating my own waterfall...
Be water...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Computerization... Danger, Will Robinson!


$3 videos... then $1 videos... going out of business....

Block Buster has gone bust.

I know it was reported in the news some time ago, but it was very real to me when I went home and wanted to see a particular movie which is several years old and had planned on renting. My family doesn't have netflix (and I can't get the movie overseas on line - at least I haven't found a way YET), and when we went to rent it... the local mom and pop video store was closed, the two blockbusters in our area was closed.

It made me think of all those times I would go to the store and hang out in the foreign section. That was where I would chat people up and how I got recommendations for some great movies. I'd never before been exposed to that sort of "foreign stuff". I remember a gal recommending Like Water for Chocolate, and then after seeing it, I was recommending it. What else? Mon Homme, Before Night Falls, The Dancer Upstairs, Belle de Jour. I discovered French Latino actors (Vincent Perez and Olivier Martinez) and Javier Bardem BEFORE. Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith (and not as the Hogwarts teacher). What a great place to meet people and try something completely new and (sometimes) wonderful. An instant conversation starter!

I couldn't make this post without mentioning my Grandfather. Blockbusters - and other stores like it - was also where I found a bunch of old westerns that I ended up buying for my grandfather. He loved them, and I liked seeing him happy. We would watch them and laugh together. How quickly technology changes!

So many things have become computerized / technologized that we miss out on human interaction. You know what I mean... those little day to day things - chatting with the teller at the bank. Anybody have real conversations with an ATM? Check in at the airport: swipe your card, answer a few questions on the touch screen, and voila no fuss no muss! Even doctor's offices have electronic sign up / test results / appointment makers.

Oh, I'm not saying these are bad things. I'm perhaps just feeling a bit nostalgic for those short little conversations. Perhaps I'm realizing how much I took them for granted and need to make sure to have them nowadays. I think I'll go to a sit-down restaurant and chat up the waitress a bit. And then I'll go to the movies - and NOT order the tickets on line. And maybe I'll take a walk and listen for the sound of footsteps of those around me. If they aren't listening to their iPods, I just might even say hello.

The pic is a shameless borrowing from the internet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Worst Valentine’s Day (Becoming Positive): Honorable Mention UNEXPECTED GOLDEN VALENTINE’S DAY

Pamila Jo Florea

“Where is your family? You never talk about them,” Michael asks as we share a bottle of wine. A gay man with family problems of his own, he is in the closet, and I’m his plus one. Ten years we’ve been friends, and I’ve never mentioned my family. “Do you even have one?”

Well, yeah, sort of. The red wine spills on my shirt, and we are thus distracted with cleaning the spot before it sets.
.

***

End of school, 1974. Maybe it was the beginning of the school year, or the middle. Maybe it wasn’t 1974. Does the exact time matter, really? Hot, sweaty from playing, trying to understand death – yet again. Mom. Grandma. The sounds pulls me to the room I share with my sister. Rip. Her posters are pulled down from the wall. The hand pulling down a singing star, left to right, the arc across his face so only one eye looks at me like a ghoulish wink. The watch face stares at me in slow motion. I turn away so my tears of rage don’t show. Sticky circles of tape that she’d painstakingly twirled together pull paint from the walls.

Garbage bags. Clothes, toys, shoes, books. Picking up one, the man swings the bag into the trunk of the car. Something breaks, and we find glass and metal shards in our shirts for days after arriving at. Where do we go? Yet. Another. House. This one… strangers. Sometimes I know the people, usually not. Sometimes a few hours, a few days, sometimes even a year. Point A. Point B. Point whatever. Are these things true? My mind tells me so, but memory is a tricky thing.

Waking up to life, my anger leads me in helping children in Foster Care. I fight for them. Anger is a good emotion when you are a social worker. Anger, tempered with logic and diplomacy.

***

1990-something, Halloween
Hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Try to forget loneliness in a bottle of mulled wine.

***

Thanksgiving
Turkey with internationals and divorced friends. Fall asleep alone. Thank you, triptophan.

***

Christmas
Rent movies, buy Chinese food. Consider converting to Judaism.

***

New Years
Gay bar with Michael. Lovely men passionately kissing each other. Raw cheeks from all the beards kissing me. Baby, it’s cold outside.

***

February 13
Again? Seriously? Another holiday?

Red hearts, purple hearts, pink hearts. Where are all the broken hearts? Roses, candies, stuffed animals. Drug store, my eye. Can I find a drug for this? Yes, little girl, you too can have the stupor of forgetfulness. A gallon of ice cream will relieve you of all your woes. Just down the street there’s a nice man selling cocaine for a few dollars and an indecent proposal. Or how about this lovely bottle of gin? We have it all here at Drug Stories R Us.

A little package, wrapped in cellophane catches my eye. Unobtrusive. It sits crooked on the shelf. Three or four more packages. All those little cards, 2 inches by 4, that come flooding back from memory. “Won’t you bee my friend” to a gal I was too shy to approach. “Puppy love just for you” for a boy who had been kind to me. “No horsing around, be my Valentine” and such for the generic other students in class. Thirty-ish cards every year, plus one for the teacher – “You get an A+ in my book!” Ah, the struggle to say just the right thing back then. How does an 8 year old know what’s what? Did the other kids just sign them and write names on them? These cards were for me what I imagined my sister’s posters were for her. I could be wrong.

And here they are again. Those cards in a little box with a 50% off sign.

I pick up the boxes one by one, there are only three or four of them. They are leftovers, the uncool cards. No Disney, no current Saturday morning cartoon, no Hollywood movie cards. Those have been snapped up, and it’s 10 p.m. the day before Valentine’s. A few misfits left over – simply “Be my Valentine” cards.

Somehow they ended up in my bag. Did I decide to buy them? All the boxes? Well, they are 50% off. What’s half of a dollar in the scheme of things?

A cup of tea, a black ink pen, and the work phone list. Some 90-odd names. Quick math. Enough, with some left over. I write my name on the back of each one of them – ducks, tulips, automobiles – who knows what all. And then, like so many years ago, I look back and forth between the list and the cards. Oh she likes riding a bicycle, yeah that one is for her. And he’s a gardener – he gets the one with roses…. and so it goes through several cups of tea until the clock strikes 2 (or maybe 3), and the cards are popped into my briefcase.

Early subway train to the office, dropping little envelopes on each desk. Off to get breakfast – a cup of coffee, and a bagel with shmear. When I return, people are gathered in clusters. What’s all this? Laughter, smiles, hugs. What’s happened? And then I hear my name. Jeri Curl slaps me on the back and thank-you-girl’s me for the happy memories. Tommy Tone Deaf whispers Happy Valentines Day in my ear as he walks by, his custom made suit shimmering under the lights. Cindy Secretary waves to me and hands me a little box of chocolate kisses. Big Boss Man calls me into his office and thanks me for bringing up morale in the office. “Valentine’s Day can be hard on people, and you just made them all happy.”

I did? Yes, I did. One dollar to make people happy. Who knew?

I can afford to spend a dollar and a half an hour to make 30 people smile.

The better question is this – can’t we all?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Minsoo, Camp Husband Extraordinaire


We were working in a children’s camp. English camps are all the rage during class breaks. A couple of weeks, immersion English…. Every teacher had a teaching assistant. They attempted to set it up so all the women teachers had men TAs while the men teachers had lady TAs. We had one “gay” couple in the batch. Excellent percentages.

“I have to take care of Minsoo,” I tell the folks in charge as I give my TA a cup of tea – oo jah cha tea in case you are wondering. He loves this tea. I make him one in the morning because – well… I need to take care of him so he can take care of me. If he stopped taking care of me, well, that would be a tragedy. He’s hands down the best man to work with me. I’m the teacher, I make the decisions which appeals to my control self, but he has absolute veto power which appeals to my insecurities. If he thinks it’s a bad idea, it doesn’t happen. Why? Because I trust him.

A little girl was crying one day in class, the end of camp. Minsoo took her out of the classroom and asked her what was happening. She thought Miss Pamila wouldn’t like her because she (the girl) didn’t understand everything in the class. She wanted Miss Pamila to like her. The fears in her head were making her sad (awwwwwwww)…

The award ceremonies were the next day, and who would win was a closely guarded secret. Minsoo and I had chosen this little girl to be the top winner in our class. She was not the best at English, but she was darned good. She was not the most expressive, but she could answer questions well. What made her win the award? She was the leader of the class. She made sure that each student had a turn to throw the ball during dodgeball. She made sure all the other children had a Frisbee and a partner before she got her own. She helped the other children when they didn’t understand what was going on in class. In a word, she was benevolent.

“Miss Pamila thinks you are the best in the class. She likes you a lot,” Minsoo told the girl. She didn’t believe him and continued to cry. There was no manipulation. She was sad. She was beating herself up something awful. He then proceeded to take control of the situation. He told this little girl, Sally, that she had won the top award. It was proof that Miss Pamila thought well of her, that Miss Pamila liked her. Sally’s response was “chincha?” – the Korean word for “really?” Minsoo nodded his head, and smiled at her, helped her dry her tears, and escorted her back into the classroom.

Some people would be angry at Minsoo for disclosing that information. Some people would say he should have kept the secret a secret. Children need to learn to deal with their emotions. They do need to learn that, it’s true. But you know what? We have a culture clash that happens between foreigners and native people, and sometimes people don’t understand the signals we give off. For me, whatever Minsoo thought was best in the situation was the thing that was to be done. He saved Little Sally some heartache, and he helped her understand that foreigners (that’d be me) sometimes think in a different way than they do.

At the end of the day, though, there is only one thing that is important. Minsoo decided this was the best course of action. Because I trust his judgment 100%, I will tell you this – it was the best course of action.