Monday, June 7, 2010
Several years ago, I was traumatized to discover that my grandmother was keeping her late husband’s remains in the closet next to her handbags. My much younger self had been under the impression that my grandpa’s ashes had been thrown into the ocean like most people; instead, he was gathering extra dust, waiting for the day my grandmother passed on so the two of them could have their ashes mingled together.
Well, he waited a very long time, because my grandmother passed away only just this year, several months shy of her 100th birthday. Oh, and how poetic it would be – I mistakenly thought – when we finally took grandpa out of the closet and laid them both to rest.
Unfortunately, my grandfather’s wishes were that he and my grandmother should be spread over the horse corral where he once kept his horses. This seemed like a nice idea until yesterday, when my family actually met up to do the deed.
You guys, now I know, there is a reason why people choose to throw ashes into the ocean.
That wasn’t even on my To Do List to begin with!
You see, you can’t exactly just go throw your family members’ burned bodies all over public property. But my family has very little regard for the law, and we showed up after hours at the local horse corral like a bunch of bandits armed with urns.
When we had all gathered – Cancer Dad, Wife Number Four (or Five), my uncle, aunt, brother, two cousins, and a random girlfriend of a cousin – I asked loudly with my typical lack of tack, “So, what’s the plan? Are we dumping the ash and running for it?”
Cancer Dad gave me a quizzical look, to which I replied, “Um, Dad, you know this is illegal, right?”
You’d think after 66 years or so of life, Cancer Dad would have this kind of basic knowledge. However, he looks at me and says, rather condescendingly I might add, “No it’s not!” At which point Wife Number Four (or Five), in a rare moment of clarity, yells, “Of course it’s illegal! Why do you think we’re all here after hours WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS AROUND?!”
Now that it has been firmly established that we are all possibly going to be thrown in jail for unlawful disposal of not one, but two dead bodies, we begin the rather difficult task of finding an appropriate place in which to empty out the urns.
In hindsight, what we really should have done was tied the bags of ash to some horses, poked holes in said bags, and let the horses run for it. Because what really happened is not in the least bit poetic.
First of all, do you know how much ash one human body can produce when you burn it?
LIKE, A SANDBAG FULL.
WE HAD TWO SANDBAGS FULL OF CREMATED PEOPLE.
And while ash is soluble in, say, ocean water, IT IS NOT SOLUBLE IN DIRT.
This is more basic stuff my family should know, really.
Anyway, we all start marching towards the horse corrals, hoping that someone – anyone, really – will find a decent spot in which to perform our little ceremony before we run out of space.
Cancer Dad decides the best course of action is to dump his parents behind their old house, which backs up to the horse corral.
Okay, seriously, with all the picturesque cliffs, vast beaches, beautiful hills, and open land in my hometown, someone please explain to me why we are dumping my grandparents’ remains BEHIND SOME POOR UNSUSPECTING PERSON’S HOUSE?!
OH DEAR GOD PLEASE LET THEM NOT BE HOME.
Cancer Dad picks a sad looking tree and then we all look at each other expectantly.
There is no way in hell I am doing this. Right now, it is still possible for me to run in the opposite direction if the police show up. If I pick up an urn, I’m totally going to jail.
Finally, my aunt settles it. She instructs Cancer Dad to pick up one urn, and my uncle to pick up the other.
I smile as the universe proves, once again, that some things transcend life and death – Cancer Dad, with all his crippling mommy issues, picks up his father’s urn. His brother – the one with daddy issues – picks up his mother’s urn. My brother, Topher, turns to me and snickers, “I didn’t see that one coming!”
And this is where it gets funny.
I am expecting a cinematic experience here, people. The sun is supposed to start setting. The sad music should swell; our eyes should be filling with tears. The wind should carry the tiny particles of ash away, and my grandparents should disappear into nothingness.
This is clearly not what occurs.
No – when you dump a sandbag-sized container of ash onto the ground, it stays there.
Like, really, really stays there.
My grandmother’s remains hit the ground first, as they are much fresher. Sadly, my poor grandfather has spent over a decade in a damp closet, and he’s a little – errr – chunkier?
Cancer Dad shakes the urn in frustration.
“Hit the urn! Hit the urn!” cheers my aunt.
I have now basically doubled over and am frantically trying to smother my laughter with my hand. Topher shoots me a death glare.
My aunt continues cheering my father on.
Someone suggests that we remove the bag of ash from the urn to speed up the process. My cousin says he believes the bag is stuck in the urn. Cancer Dad whacks the urn harder.
Finally, grandpa is on the ground too. Ash is slowly billowing upwards and coating Cancer Dad’s and my uncle's jeans. My aunt instructs my uncle to stamp his feet to get rid of some of the ash. Great, my family is covered in, well, my other – dead – family.
We are now standing around what is most definitely, without a doubt, a massive sand dune of human remains.
Under a tree.
In the dirt.
Behind some poor person’s house.
“Umm, Amen?” says someone.
I can’t say it. I’m laughing too hard because we’ve TOTALLY JUST DESECRATED MY GRANDPARENTS IN THE LAMEST AND MOST ILLEGAL ASH SPREADING CEREMONY THAT HAS EVER BEEN CONDUCTED.
And then we all stand there.
I know I’ve got to say what everyone is thinking.
“We can’t just leave it like that!”
I’m starting to fear that Cancer Dad’s space plague cancer has killed off some of his common sense or something, because he promptly states, “Yes we can.”
I turn to Topher. “But what if a child falls in it?! Or a puppy?!”
Everyone murmurs, and then comes to the conclusion that no, we can’t just leave a giant pile of dead people behind a house and somewhat on a horse trail. It would be wrong.
So, my uncle goes to get the rake he uses to clean up his horse stable.
WE ARE ABOUT TO FUCKING ZEN GARDEN MY GRANDPARENTS WITH A HORSE RAKE. OH. MY. GOD.
Luckily, my brother and cousin get to it first – they both grab branches of the sickly-looking tree we’ve just deposed of my grandparents under, and begin spreading the ash around on the ground.
And then they try covering it with dirt and leaves.
By the time they’re done, they’ve basically stirred my grandparents into a soup of dead foliage, horse poop, and other organic matter.
Great. My grandparents are fertilizer.
My cousin – who, oddly enough, had his first wedding – which was pimp and ho themed, mind you - in this very horse corral, turns to his girlfriend (who, for some reason, decided to attend this catastrophe) and says, “Hey! We can get married while we’re at it!”
Cancer Dad chimes in, “Yeah! You can stand on top of your dead grandparents and say your vows!”
So now, a brief letter, from me to my dead and decimated grandfather.
Friday, June 4, 2010
[Here I am at the DMZ on the clearest day in Korea in 13 years, during the worst relations between the two nations in 20 years. I am standing within sniper range. You think this is dangerous? Don't worry - you're about to find out that I am much more dangerous than any North Korean sniper. Guaranteed.]
The is the epic tale of how The Boyfriend and I managed to get back to the United States despite his best efforts to miss our plane over a pair of shoes. Upon hearing this story earlier today, one of my coworkers asked in confusion, “Wait, who is this about again?!” “My boyfriend,” I replied. “Are you quite certain he isn’t gay?” my concerned coworker prodded.
Well, yes, I am very, very certain The Boyfriend isn’t gay. However, he is very, very odd.
So now begins our story.
Once upon a week or so ago, The Boyfriend and I were happily vacationing in South Korea – much to my surprise, since The Boyfriend never wants to go anywhere. We had ventured to a popular outdoor market in Seoul called Namdaemun, and were happily admiring booths of live octopus, decorative socks, and faux Louis Vuitton paraphernalia with my good friend Kirin. All was pleasant until The Boyfriend happened upon a stall filled with shoes.
[Why buy shoes when you can buy fun things like $900 bottles of ginseng, live octopi, or gutted fish?!]
The Boyfriend is very peculiar when it comes to wardrobe. He wants what he wants, but he always asks my opinion a thousand times – or at least until my opinion becomes what he wants it to be. This happens often because there are only so many times I can hear “Are you suuuure?” before I give up and yell, “Nevermind, that’s totally fabulous! I agree! You should buy it!” (In fact, I have decided to give up entirely, because on the day I insulted his outfit – he was wearing plaid shorts, knee-high socks, an orange dress tie, a burgundy short sleeve dress shirt, and loafers – he was spotted by some Korean fashion bloggers and photographed for a post. So I give up. I obviously don’t understand fashion.)
The Boyfriend fell in love with a pair of ridiculous faux Gucci loafers. And, as fate would have it, these loafers belonged to the only Korean salesman in the whole market who would not negotiate price; even better, his prices were double everyone else’s.
Both Kirin and I protested, because this was obviously highway robbery. With so many shoes to choose from, why pay double for this pair? I reasoned. The Boyfriend sighed in defeat. He knew our logic was infallible. He left the shoes on the shelf.
As it turned out, my obsession with logic would prove to be my downfall. I should know by now that the only way to be happy with The Boyfriend is to let him do whatever he pleases and feign tremendous excitement over him doing it.
The day before we had to leave, The Boyfriend starts muttering about the shoes he failed to acquire.
For our last full day in Korea, we have purchased tickets to the show Nanta – an extremely popular stage comedy that fuses cooking and traditional Korean drumming. I am excited to go – but I agree that we can venture to Sinchon in the hours before the performance. The Boyfriend discovers another outdoor market in the side streets of Sinchon, and frantically shops for shoes.
I glance at the time.
I tell him we have 20 minutes.
And then 15.
He argues with my timetable, while sprinting from stall to stall, trying on everything he can find.
We are in negative time now. I’m becoming more and more aggravated. It is all I can do not to grab him by the ear and drag him to a taxicab. I begin seething. He finally gives in and helps me hail a cab. By this time, the traffic in Seoul is at a standstill and I note with a sinking feeling that we are definitely going to be late.
Now, The Boyfriend may lack time management skills, but he still doesn’t like to see me upset. He makes pathetic noises from the back seat of the cab and attempts to give me a back-rub. I threaten him with violence, as is my way. He whines some more. I’ve almost forgiven him when he decides that the REAL reason we’re going to be late isn’t his obsessive shopping, but my inability to direct our non-English speaking cab driver directly to the theater. He whips out a map of the Myeong-dong shopping area and begins wildly stabbing at the theater (which is on a walking street, inaccessible to motor vehicles). Our driver looks confused and starts babbling in Korean and pointing in the direction of our original drop off location. I panic. I tell him to stop it. I let the cab driver drop us off at the subway station walking distance from the theater, and we sprint all the way there.
We don’t make it, as predicted. The Boyfriend starts bemoaning my lack of skills in directing our driver again, and I lose it.
BOY, I wail, I DON’T SPEAK KOREAN, GODFUCKINGDAMMIT! ALL I CAN SAY IS HELLO, THANK YOU, BEER, AND FUCK. NONE OF THOSE ARE HELPFUL IN THIS SITUATION!
We are finally admitted to the theater by the usher at a convenient point in the show.
I try to remain infuriated, but really, we’ve only missed the first seven minutes and Nanta is so hilarious I can’t be angry. Especially when I get dragged up on stage to pull a trash can off an actor’s ass.
[Koreans really, really like to pull foreigners up on stage during live comedy shows. And believe me, there is nothing quite like being laughed at by hundreds of Koreans in an auditorium and knowing it's partially because you are trying to pull a trash can off some guy's butt and failing, and partially because you are an American trying to pull a trash can off some guy's butt and failing.]
I mean, really, how can you be mad after that?!
We meet up with The Korean Boyfriend and Kirin afterwards for dinner. The Boyfriend suggests we follow up dinner with a trip to Namdaemun so he can buy the now infamous loafers.
We are all quick to point out that it is now the middle of the night and there is no possible way the outdoor market is still open. But we can check! exclaims The Boyfriend. But it’s shut down for the night! I argue. But The Boyfriend wins, because he declares that he will just go tomorrow (yes, the day we are supposed to leave) if we do not go now.
My dear friends, it is my last night in Korea and I am spending it in a pitch dark, abandoned market.
I kid you not.
The Korean Boyfriend, Kirin, and I break down into some kind of group hysteria as we watch The Boyfriend literally sprint around the abandoned marketplace as if he can start spinning the globe in the opposite direction by running fast enough, thereby turning back time and opening the market back up for business.
A delirious photo shoot ensues.
[The Korean Boyfriend saves Kirin from a runaway mini van. Kirin is overtaken by emotion in response to his heroic deeds.]
[This market is obviously claiming to be multicultural.]
The Boyfriend returns, defeated – something which we could have already alerted him to, as we have been standing in front of the very stall his shoes are at, and it is clearly locked up for the night.
[Alas, The Boyfriend cannot turn back time. The market remains closed.]
He mutters under his breath about coming back in the morning. I shoot him a warning glance, and then we drag him to a bar where I thoroughly humiliate him by winning a drinking game and forcing him to make out with a poster in the middle of the bar.
Believe me when I say I do these things out of love.
I am awakened by the dull thumping of The Boyfriend walking around Kirin’s apartment. I groan, turn over, and mutter, “What time is it?”
“Errr, six in the morning,” he says.
“WHAT?! WHY?” I nearly sob from beneath the covers.
His next statement makes my blood run cold. “I’m going to get my shoes,” he says.
For the first few seconds, I am in shock. I think that he must be joking. Our plane back to the United States leaves today; we need to be on a bus by 1 PM. We have yet to begin packing. The market is an hour and a half subway ride, and he has not taken the subway by himself nor paid the slightest bit of attention to the stations when we have taken it together. He is notoriously late to everything. He thinks the best way to communicate with people who only speak Korean is to yell very loudly in English.
Oh my god, he is going to get lost in Seoul and never return. I will have to explain to his father that I lost him in a foreign country; that I have no hope of finding him again because he doesn’t have a Korean cell phone.
It becomes my life mission to prevent this travesty.
I am simultaneously furious and terrified. I transform into a raging gargoyle.
The Boyfriend is clearly shocked when I launch out of bed and begin beating him senseless with a pillow. I yell incoherent woman phrases like, “WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!” and “WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?!” and not so woman-like phrases such as, “THEY ARE JUST FUCKING SHOES, YOU FUCKER!” I am totally more threatening to the safety of South Korea than North Korea is at this point.
But it obvious that my antics are just making him more determined.
There is only one thing to do; I must go with him.
He resists at first, because without a doubt I have morphed into a homicidal banshee who will probably stab him before he gets to the subway. But he waits while I wash my face and throw on acceptable outdoor-wear.
I basically growl at him for both the bus and subway rides, despite his ridiculous semi-marriage proposal/hint which went something like, “Babe, I’m not going to marry you if you make scary faces like you did this morning!” To which I replied in some horribly unromantic fashion, like, “YOU AREN’T GOING TO MARRY ME ANYWAY. BESIDES, I CAN’T MARRY YOU, YOU ARE FUCKING CRAZY!”
[Obviously sane, right?]
We reach Namdaemun, and I am forced to laugh. It is so early, the shops have not yet opened. The Boyfriend has failed yet again.
He drags me to a Dunkin’ Donuts (inexplicably popular in South Korea) to shut me up with food, and we discover that it is so fucking early that they haven’t even begun to make bagels yet.
I start to cheer up, because his obvious lack of success is making me feel much better.
We sit in the Dunkin’ Donuts until they make the bagels; I order a cheese bagel (which I have to wait longer for) and he orders a raisin bagel because he can get it sooner. It becomes obvious that I have the vastly superior bagel, and I get great pleasure out of denying him bites of it while he whines like a puppy dog. My mood improves so much, I write him this lovely letter to forgive him for his shoe-buying antics and present it to him while I chew the remainder of my delicious bagel:
[This note fell out of my bag when I got home, prompting my mother to ask, "Umm, so, did everything go okay?"]
We return to the market, and I expect him to go directly to the stall and purchase the almighty pair of loafers.
He goes there, but does not purchase them.
I am baffled.
Instead, he takes approximately 30 laps around the market and tries on every pair of shoes in sight. The time is rapidly wasting away; I start getting concerned. I ask if he intends to get his shoes. He says he is still looking.
I’m starting to get peeved again. We came all the way back here to buy THE shoes, not ANY shoes. Why is he doing this?!!
We have 15 minutes before my ultimate deadline. I point this out. He goes back to the stall containing THE shoes and tries them on again. And again he tries to negotiate with the stubborn Korean salesman. The man refuses. Literally, Korean men are walking out of the stall and shaking their heads at me to indicate the outrageousness of this man’s prices. I turn to the boyfriend and state the obvious. He will either have to pay full price, or give up on these shoes.
Instead, The Boyfriend selects TWO pairs of outrageously priced shoes and tries to work a deal with the salesman again. The salesman refuses, and demands 130,000 won. The Boyfriend opens his wallet, counts his cash, and confesses to the man that he only has 111,000 won.
The most ridiculous event ensues. This terribly greedy bastard literally goes through The Boyfriend’s wallet to verify that he has no more cash. Then he turns to me and points.
OH NO YOU DIDN’T, FUCKER.
LET ME TELL YOU HOW WILLING I AM TO PAY FOR THE SHOES THAT HAVE COST ME MY SANITY, SLEEP, AND POSSIBLY MY PLANE FLIGHT BACK TO THE USA.
I’M. NOT. FUCKING. WILLING. AT. ALL.
[This dude probably tries to sell dead goldfish to tourists as a delicacy. I'm serious.]
We are victorious; the bastard accepts the 111,000 won for the shoes. And we are only 30 minutes behind schedule! YAY!
I practically drag The Boyfriend to the subway. Then we run to the bus stop. Then we run back to Kirin’s apartment. I tell The Boyfriend to hop in the shower while I pack; then we reverse and I get in the shower.
But, while I’m shampooing, I hear something. Something that sounds nothing like packing.
I yell out, “What are you doing?”
He yells back, “I’m packing!”
I finish my shower, throw on a towel, and walk in on him skyping Turco, no suitcase in sight.
We are definitely supposed to be on a bus at this point.
I’m completely convinced that we are staying in Korea forever now, which I wouldn’t particularly mind, but lord knows he would mind in a few days. And then he would want to buy another airline ticket. And that would be expensive.
I start aggressively imploring him to pack.
Kirin stops by to wish us farewell; it has become obvious that we will not be ready in time for her to walk us to the bus stop, which is like, three fucking miles away.
We finally pack.
And jesus, we have way more shit than I thought.
Carrying all our luggage to the far away bus stop in time seems impossible. We decide to take a cab, which we can catch outside the apartment.
The Boyfriend has spent ALL his Korean cash on those damn shoes.
And I don’t have enough to get us to the airport, which is an hour away.
I leave him with the luggage and sprint five blocks to the nearest ATM, which, as it turns out, DOESN’T WORK.
I am dying inside.
I come back to find that The Boyfriend has already put all our belongings in the trunk of a cab, and the driver speaks zero English. I try to indicate to him that I want to use a credit card. He starts chattering incomprehensibly and yelling about the “dole” which I absolutely do not understand.
Twenty minutes later, at which point I am on the verge of screaming because we are obviously never going to home due to The Boyfriend’s fucking shoes, the cabbie calls an interpreter.
The interpreter tells us we can pay with a card.
Apparently the cabbie was trying to tell us there was a “toll” – but really, that doesn’t matter at all, because he just adds that to our fare which we can PAY WITH A CARD.
OH MY GOD, WHAT THE FUCK KOREAN CAB DRIVER. YOU JUST HAD TO NOD YOUR STUPID FAT HEAD AND ALL OF THIS WOULD HAVE WORKED OUT.
So, yes, that’s right dear readers; we got to the airport.
And that concludes the story of how I almost didn’t get back to the United States because of a pair of shoes.