I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

August 29, 2010

Look! It's the news, or what passes for it:

(AP) North Korea appears to have added Facebook to the social networking sites it recently joined to ramp up its propaganda war against South Korea and the U.S.

The account opened late Thursday under the Korean username "uriminzokkiri," meaning "on our own as a nation," an official at South Korea's Communications Standards Commission said Friday.

The Facebook account, which describes itself as male, says it is interested in men and is looking for networking. The account had 50 friends as of Friday.

Its profile picture is of the Three Charters for National Reunification Memorial Tower, a 100-foot (30-meter) monument in Pyongyang that "reflects the strong will of the 70 million Korean people to achieve the reunification of the country with their concerted effort," according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

I assume this is the account in question, but it's a fan page, not a profile, suggesting that the poor bastard in charge of North Korea's social media presence wised up and converted the profile into a fan page, possibly in response to his entire family being sent to labor camps. Of course, if you look at the fan page, said poor bastard is probably at a labor camp too, as the wall has been overrun with photos like this.

He was probably pretty happy to get transferred from the Department of Agriculture, which is widely known as the worst job in North Korea because if Kim Jong Il's fatherly love is not fertilizing the crops then it is your fault. But, as it turns out, running social media for the Hermit Kingdom is a mook's game, too.

(Like soccer. Bad scene, everybody's fault.)

September 9, 2008

Now that public reports have surfaced about Kim Jong Il's absence from official state ceremonies in North Korea amid serious health concerns, I am finally at liberty to announce that Kim Jong Il tried to travel the Oregon Trail at the same time as we did, and his current health problems stem from a debilitating case of dysentery, a failure to invest in spare parts for North Korea's wagon, and the unified refusal of Indians to help him find wild fruit. We passed his party of high-level party functionaries on the side of the road and it was a pathetic sight. Kim Jong Il did not make it to the end of the Oregon Trail as we did. They flew home from Boise, Idaho. His operatives are under orders to hack together a cheap Photoshop job with him at the end of the trail where they just put his head on top of K.'s body, but now, dear readers, you know better than to buy that shit.

I intend to write an itinerary so anyone who would like to travel the Oregon Trail can follow our route, but I may not get around to it. Google seekers of the future may feel free to email me if I don't.

Now You Are the Giant

Football season is here, and that is a fine thing. However, while watching the day's games, I saw a series of beer commercials touting "drinkability" as a new word. Our cultural discourse is eternally an optimistic child on the way to school, and "drinkability" is the flash of a pervert's trench coat. I used to believe that we, as Americans, would stand up and reject things like "drinkability", but now I am older, and resigned that frat boys are already using "drinkability" in term papers and preludes to date rape, and it will be in President Palin's 2011 State of the Union address.

I am resigned, but not surrendered, for today I am proud to announce the first official What Jail Is Like Fellowship Program. What Jail Is Like Fellows will defend cultural discourse through the creation and use of compound German words to describe every-day situations. It is a documented fact that Germans communicate with each other exclusively through compound words: weltschmerz, schadenfreude, so on and so forth. These words, absorbed into our cultural discourse as a whole, have proven tremendously useful in the past. However, it has been ages since a new German compound word has crossed over, and situations are still emerging that require their use. I have an opening for two What Jail Is Like Fellows to create and propagate German compound words, and one What Jail Is Like Fellow to slander the first two Fellows and persistently argue that this ought to be done in another language.

Applicants for the first two positions should submit German compound words to encapsulate the following emotions:

1. The sense of hearing a song you like in a commercial, and feeling your emotional attachment to the song calcify.
2. The sense of feeling old because you have heard a song used in a commercial that was popular when you were in high school, and now advertisers are using it to sell products you associate with old people.
3. The sense of being in a store and feeling haunted because you have heard a song from an album you loved some time ago, but the song itself is not one of the album highlights, so you are struggling to place it.
4. The sense of relief upon listening to a very good new EP or single by a band you had once enjoyed, but whose recent work had led you to believe they lacked the inspiration that had made them great, and were therefore lost to you.

Needless to say, the Fellowship Program is unpaid and probably does not qualify for academic credit of any kind, but I will be happy to send emails on behalf of Fellows urging immediate recognition of their work by scholastic or professional organizations.

July 13, 2006

I made it rain in my apartment! This is my greatest achievement yet. As you can imagine, being in Japan and all, I live in fairly small quarters. Last night, I left the air conditioner on at a shamelessly cold temperature. I meant to turn it off, but I didn't remember until I was already in bed, warm in my blanket, and I wasn't about to sell out my sleepy contentment by standing up. I had the fan going all night, too. In the morning, I opened my balcony door to check the conditions outside: hot and humid as fuck, actually. I pondered the outdoors for a few seconds and then closed the door. Then I turned up the a/c, which hangs over the balcony door, with the fan a few feet away, blowing in the direction of both the hot air and the cold air. A few seconds later, a few drops of rain fell on me. Obviously, I have become some kind of weather god. This is a remarkable development. I will accept requests for use of my powers from desert nations of good, upstanding character. My rates are reasonable. All proceeds will be used for research and development, specifically:

And they're all coming to Pyongyang with me. Oh, yes. Increases the number of Canadian passports I need, but every one will be worth it.

So, as I mentioned a few entries ago, the school has been doing a lot of advertising lately. Yesterday, one of the staff asked if I would mind chatting with a student while being photographed. I said fine, because I was in a cooperative mood. She showed me pictures of some of the poses and hand gestures that they would like, and said that I should talk about summer. Out in the area set aside for the photo shoot, there was a pleasant looking Japanese guy I'd never met before. I sat down, introduced myself, and started the conversation about summer. He mentioned swimming, so we talked a little about beaches, and that led to barbecue, so we talked about various foods you can barbecue for a while, and then we went back to beaches until the photographer had everything she needed. They seemed pleased with the results. Later, though, I discovered that a transcript of the conversation was going to be included with the photos, in Japanese and English, and because the person doing the transcription did not speak much English, it went something like this:

MASAHIRO: Often I am my friends swimming! It is Yamaguchi Prefecture. Also we eat the food.
TEACHER: Do you BBQ like it?
MASAHIRO: Yes I am many kinds of meats like.
TEACHER: I like!

So I begged them to let me do a quick touch-up on the transcript. There wasn't much I could do other than a rough fix on the grammar, unfortunately. The structure of the conversation, as understood by the transcriptionist, really turned on my passionate love and praise for hamburgers and giant sausages. They pretty much have me exhorting every man, woman and child in Japan to eat a giant sausage in the summer. (Which, as long-time readers know, is exactly the sort of thing I do. It's my own unique spin on being a vegetarian.) I didn't even get to see the whole transcript. I bet they have me totally renouncing every method of eating corn other than with soy sauce, because that came up, too.

This, by the way, is part of a recent ad:

My very own Mr. Sparkle moment

Why is my disembodied head floating next to a koala?!?! Why are the advertising departments at these schools never, ever on speaking terms with the education departments?

July 11, 2006

The world is tense. North Korea has vowed further missile launches and is waiting for an excuse to go to war. South Korea is terrified. The United States is not even trying to pretend it has a plan. Japan is ready to open up its army for the first time since its constitution was written, and you know Japan is aware of what will happen to the army's value once it's out of the original packaging. Suddenly, everyone is looking to China, the original panda sex fiends, to be the voice of reason. Canadians, I ask you: how do you sleep, knowing that I could take care of this whole thing by myself with just one of your passports? For the infinitesimal price of a single Canadian passport, I could go to Pyongyang and bring the world back from the brink of nuclear annihilation without a singe bullet. For the slightly less infinitesimal price of a second Canadian passport, I could have a friend to talk to on the plane. Canadians, wouldn't you like to look in the mirror each morning and say, "I did my part for world peace, eh." Do you seriously think that, in the event of war, you can just go camp out in the Northern Territories until the fighting is over? Have none of you played Risk? Kim Jong Il knows that you don't get the five bonus armies until you've got the entire continent. Kim also knows that no amount of his verbal bluster can prevent my awesome rhetorical power from reducing him to a pathetic, whimpering mass of wrinkled flesh in mere seconds. Kim, we both know that sooner or later one of these Canadians is going to cave, and then I am going to make you cry.


I'm so tired.
I've been doing it all by myself for so long.
I don't know how much more I can give.
Don't pretend you didn't forget you were cooking something.
Only the sound of that weird cheese sauce splattering on the walls made you remember.

Readers who would like to express a preference as to whether the drinking glass or the toaster oven will go next are welcomed to do so. All of them will have their say, eventually.

(For Syd.)

July 7, 2006

I should cover a couple of things before I move on to the main story. First of all, a quick note about the repair of seemingly defective fourth generation iPods: it may not be so hard as you think. Mine was about ten months old when it began to crap out on me. It wasn't a battery issue; the hard drive seized up every four or five songs and required a manual reboot to work again. The problem grew worse until, finally, it wouldn't boot up at all. It would grind, click, whirr and show a sad iPod icon. I can't remember exactly what the reasoning was behind my decision to throw it against the wall, but that did the trick, temporarily at least. For a few days, it was back to the four-songs-then-crash situation, which was better than no songs at all. I settled into a pleasant routine of throwing the iPod against the wall every once in a while, and things were working out more or less all right, but then Rob passed along a blog post that suggested the problem might be solved once and for all by re-seating the hard drive cable. At that point I was sort of looking for an excuse to buy a new iPod (with a larger hard drive, yum), so I took a screwdriver, cracked open the case and took the iPod apart. Re-seating the cable was actually quite easy - in my case, it was only a matter of massaging the various bits of adhesive and blowing away the dust, NES-style. No high-techery at all. I put the case back on and the iPod has worked perfectly ever since.

Apple's repair charges and the drive towards spiffy new versions of the device have created the impression that one is better off replacing an aged iPod rather than repairing it, but that's not necessarily the case, and I say this not so much to you as I do to frustrated web searchers in the weeks and months to come.

Hey, pop culture, tilt your head back - I'm sending panda sex-bombs with love:

Panda in the romance section

The panda's reading material has been restricted to Harlequin romances. Leave him alone! He'll reproduce when he's ready. I have it on good authority that this panda was having a perfectly nice afternoon among the tech manuals before they dragged him over here. These romance novels are so thin, printed on such cheap, pulp-y stock; hardly a match for a thick, delicious tech manual. Oh! Yum.

And now, on to the news:

(news) North Korea set off an international furor on Wednesday when it tested seven missiles, all of which landed into the Sea of Japan without causing any damage. The blasts apparently included a long-range Taepodong-2 that broke up less than a minute after takeoff and splashed into the sea.

What nobody seems to understand - even though this shit is, frankly, basic - is that those missile launches were not tests. Kim Jong Il is at war with fish. That little bitch sincerely believes that defeating fish will intimidate observers worldwide. There are more fish than people, and purely by numbers alone, he reasons, a victory over fish is impressive, and racks up his win total; also, he accuses fish of collaborating on sushi and sashimi with Japan, which he hates. When it became obvious that the Western media was not going to run casualty numbers for the fish, the desperate little men in the DPRK press office decided to start spinning the attacks as missile tests.

Unfortunately, John Bolton, who has been objectively measured as not knowing shit, is in charge of the diplomatic response from the United States. Bolton has failed both in bringing about an effective, useful consensus from the U.N. Security Council and in showing any awareness that Kim Jong Il's mother vomited the first time she laid eyes on her infant son. Bolton is dangerously incompetent, much to the same extent that Kim Jong Il is desperately incontinent.

Elect this man

I think I'll run that photo every time I really zing someone. That fist pump says it all to me. I should find out if that guy actually got elected. I can't see why he wouldn't.

It's been said that, to be fair, I need to lay out a set of conditions under which I will stop making Kim Jong Il cry. At first, I was reluctant to do this, but then I realized that if I can't set aside my rage, I am no better than he is. Actually, that's not completely true. As long as I am not a freakish half-man who had a puppy and a kitten until they formed a united front against him and committed suicide Romeo and Juliet-style rather than spend another minute in his presence, I am way better than he is, and so is everyone in the world. But rhetorically, I would be no better than he is. Except that even though Kim Jong Il had all of the other contestants put to death and installed his cronies as judges for his school spelling bee, he still came in second to a ham sandwich. So I'm way better than he is rhetorically.

Okay! Peace terms. If Kim Jong Il allows the media into his palace, provides an accurate accounting of how many adult diapers he goes through per day, resigns as dictator, leaves North Korea and gets a job as a school janitor in Nebraska, I will let up on his bitch ass upon confirmation of his first employee of the month award. If the Nebraska school system does not hand out employee of the month awards, then too fucking bad, Kim. Keep scrubbing until they do. Right now, he's getting ready to submit a counter-proposal whereby he resigns, moves to Thailand and gets a job wiping the upholstery in the pleasure booths at the Bangkok chick-boy shows. But I will not accept his counter-proposal, because I know he would be really into that.

Yeah, Kim, you know how this ends. I will always win.

June 23, 2006

Today, I began the delicate process of negotiating with the Canadians to get them to loan me their passports so I can go to North Korea and call Kim Jong Il a little bitch to his face. Although we are from the land of the free, United States citizens are not allowed to travel to North Korea or Cuba. (I'm not sure if we can still go to Iran. I'm not really up for that, anyway.) I am totally aggravated that all of the other foreigners here are allowed to go to North Korea, and I'm not. (My friend Adam, who is an English citizen but has a US green card, can't go either - the terms of his green card prohibit it. I already asked him.)

Initial results were promising:

"Give me your passport," I said to the first Canadian.
"Why do you want my passport?" he asked.
"I need to go to North Korea, and I can't go with mine," I said.
"No," he said.
"Come on," I said. "It's important."
"Why?" he asked.
"I need to call Kim Jong Il a little bitch," I said.
"You just did," he said.
"That didn't count," I said. "It has to be in North Korea."
"I'm not giving you my passport," he said.
"It's for freedom," I said. "Doesn't freedom mean anything to you?"
"No," he said.
"Goddam Canadian," I muttered.

The second Canadian walked into the room, searching for a textbook.

"Give me your passport," I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"He wants to go to North Korea," said the first Canadian.
"Why the hell do you want to go to North Korea?" asked the second Canadian.
"It's an insane, repressive dictatorship," I said.
"Yeah," he said.
"Exactly," I said.
"No," he said.
"This is important," I said.
"No," he said.

So the groundwork was laid. Later, one of the Canadians had the school radio tuned to some 70's and 80's rock hits station, and Rush came on. In a brilliant strategic manuever, I complimented Neil Peart's drumming. I reckon I'm wearing them down. It'll be New Year's in Pyongyang for me! Here's a suggestion about a hundred times better than the Juche idea: wear a bucket around your neck, Kim, you little bitch, because I am going to make you cry.

Elect this man

We got paid today. I managed to spend my entire paycheck last month; I had to pay double rent for the apartment, and the rest went to video games, ice cream, bowling, massages and a new suit. It's a hell of a life I'm leading over here. I'm going to be more responsible this month. (Kim Jong Il is reading this, and he's going, "Typical decadent American capitalist." Yeah, well, I produced like twice as much agriculture as you last month, and that was just from the week I didn't wash the dishes and something funky was going on at the bottom of the sink. Sorry, Kim, you little bitch. I'm always going to win.)

Wait, what the hell was I talking about? The students want to go bowling again this weekend, so that's what we'll be doing on Sunday. The school encourages us to go out with students. I am leery of this practice, because every minute I spend with students outside of work is a minute in which I am not calling Kim Jong Il a little bitch, but it's bowling, right? The first school outing to the bowling alley was about a month ago. At that point, it had been literally two years since last I bowled. I love the fair pastime of bowling, and I don't think I've been obscure about that, but it had been awhile. All I really want out of life is some peace of mind and a bowling team. I used to want more - to be president, to be an astronaut, to be a famous artist - but now I'd be totally content with peace of mind and a bowling team. Well, things weren't going that well for me, and I wasn't bowling. Alternately, I wasn't bowling, and things weren't going that well for me.

Bowling ad

My form was abysmal during the first game. I couldn't place the ball where I wanted it, and even threw a couple of gutterballs. I grew sullen and refused to talk to anyone, bewildering the students; fortunately, the Canadians picked up the slack. I improved slightly for the second game, rolling a 115, but I still got into an argument with an old lady who told it was a good score.

"[[It's not good]]," I told her.
"[[It's good]]," she said.
"[[No]]," I said, sternly. "[[It's bad]]."

For the third game, I dropped a 168 and had bowlers from several lanes over gathered around to watch my last three frames. Shit was working in that third game; I couldn't throw a strike, for some reason, but I was picking up some remarkable spares, earning peals of applause from the crowd. One of the students had brought prizes for the best performances. First place got a nice leather wallet, but I was the real winner, because I was third, and that warranted a huge box of delicious maple cream cookies.

June 22, 2006

Well, I gave it two days, and I haven't heard shit from Lewis Cass. Frankly, at this point, Andrew Jackson's entire cabinet is dead to me.

Obviously, I had to cover this:

(news) SHANGHAI, China - Scientists using DNA samples have doubled their estimates of the wild panda population in a nature sanctuary in China, in a finding they say bodes well for the survival of one of the world's endangered species.

The researchers believe that as few as 66 and as many as 72 pandas may be living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve - more than twice the previous estimate of 32, Wei Fumin, a zoologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a member of the research team, said Wednesday.

It used to be that you had to be good at science in order to be a scientist. Not any more, apparently. How long did it take these guys to realize that, when they yelled "Hey pandas, bring us your poop", more than half of the pandas probably shrugged and decided, look, all things being equal, I'm just going to sit here for a while longer, thanks. The article describes the efforts of one grad student to traverse treacherous mountain terrain in order to seek out panda poop himself, which begs the question: since when do pandas climb mountains? Am I the only man on earth who understands the psychology of the panda? You know how you feel about death? That's how pandas feel about getting up from a comfortable spot. This all seems very obvious to me.

The authors said they don't expect the findings to dampen China's enthusiasm for assisted breeding, which has proven effective in boosting numbers of captive pandas.

No, I don't think anything is going to dampen China's enthusiasm for hounding pandas to fuck.

I realize I'm not running at full speed yet. I'll get my legs back under me. I would like to tackle complex themes of love, betrayal and loss. But I still have a lot to say about pandas first.

(January 9, 2006) Taiwan's prime minister has said the island is unlikely to accept two giant pandas offered by China, because the gift could undermine its sovereignty.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Beijing says the pandas, which were promised to Taiwan following the visit of a prominent Taiwanese opposition politician, are now ready for delivery.

But the island's government sees the offer as something more sinister.

China offered the two giant pandas in May last year. One is a male, who is known as Little Darling, the other a female called Little Girl.

Journalists come in for a lot of criticism, particularly by the political blogs, so I think it's important to give credit when someone tells a story as perfectly and succinctly as Chris Hogg did there. The Chinese government honestly believes that they can bring the world to heel through the judicious application of pandas. If nuclear weapons were cute and wanted to go back to sleep more than anything else in the world, this would basically be the same thing that's going on between the U.S. and North Korea.

U.S. Lemon Lime Soda

USA! USA! DPRK Soda comes straight from Kim Jong Il's crotch. Everyone has to pretend they enjoy it. I know you read this, Kim, you little bitch. Nobody enjoys your crotch-soda.

And, of course, the story has an ending:

(April 1, 2006) Taiwan rejected the offer of two pandas from China. The pandas, first offered last spring, have been widely regarded in Taiwan as Chinese propaganda weapons.

Xinhua News tells it a little differently:

(April 1, 2006) aiwan on Friday declined to accept a goodwill gift of two giant pandas from the mainland, a decision that has met with criticism from across the Taiwan Straits.

One mainland expert on Taiwan described the decision as "an unwise and short-sighted move" that will only increase Taiwan people's dissatisfaction with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The pandas were picked from 11 animals at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Centre in Southwest China's Sichuan Province. They were named Tuantuan and Yuanyuan, from the Chinese word tuanyuan which means "reunion."

Although the mainland gesture was well received by more than 70 per cent of Taiwan people, the "independence"-minded Chen and his DPP administration have repeatedly denounced the offer as a propaganda ploy.

Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Taipei's decision was politically motivated.

"The sole reason is that Chen and his DPP administration fear closer cross-Straits exchanges will foil their secessionist attempts," he told China Daily.

I think everyone can agree that naming two pandas "reunion" and offering to send them to a country which you regard as a secessionist colony is a totally innocent gesture of friendship, whereas turning down those pandas is purely election-year politics. The funniest part, to my mind, is that China had the transfer paperwork all ready to submit to the international association for care of endangered animals, but they chose to fill out the "domestic transfer" form instead of the "international transfer" one. Taiwan accepts the pandas and suddenly it has acknowledged it is part of Chinese territory! Crafty! The Chinese government has a bureau of strategy. (Unlike the Jackson administration. I cannot stress enough how dead every member of that administration is to me.)

Wikipedia has an entire article on panda diplomacy, which is the strongest evidence yet that I am an asshole, because I didn't create it. (That honor goes to Bravo to you, It's all about speaking truth to power. Can I call you .199 for short? We should start a revolution, or a consulting firm.)

This is something I would like to know - I'd have to spend time with the pandas in question to be sure - does the sting of being rejected by an entire nation hurt more than the relief of not having to get up? Or, to use literal weights and measures, would a panda get up from the couch if Kim Jong Il sat down next to it? My guess is that it would, but I'm not going to present this as anything other than guesswork; unlike certain people, I intend to be scientific about my inquiries.

June 2, 2005

The timing of my post about the rhetorical beating our nation is receiving was uncanny. I wrote it yesterday afternoon; last night, the ineffectual, inept administration decided to unleash its most fearsome, snarling beast, Cheney, and send him into attack mode. As political insiders know, Cheney is kept in a cage all day and fed raw steaks with methamphetamines while rude men jab him with poles until he is frothing with rage, except on weekends, when he has to fight wild boars for his dinner. So this is apparently the best guy we have to fire a rhetorical volley at North Korea in retaliation for their brutal use of the word "balderdash". Well, the administration opened the cage, and here's what happened:

"Kim Jong Il is one of the world's more irresponsible leaders..."

"Cheney is hated as the most cruel monster and bloodthirsty beast,
as he has drenched various parts of the world in blood."


They absolutely dismantled the bastard. And then, as poor Japan backed away, North Korea brutalized it with a series of rapid-fire snide expressions, finishing the battle with a devastating "by hook or by crook" manuever.

We're done. I hate to be pessimistic, but our nation simply does not have the capability to fight this rhetorical war, and I have moved on from a "eventually they'll give me a call and I'll single-handedly lead us to rhetorical victory" scenario to "I'll have to lead a ragged band of survivors in a post-self-esteem-apocalyptic world to a series of small-scale guerilla rhetorical victories and we'll go from there", which in some ways may be even more compelling. (From the sound of it - 'balderdash', 'by hook or by crook', etc - Grand Moff Tarkin may be the one who is teaching them English, which would explain a lot, actually.)

I know it's sort of passe to talk about web searches that show up in your server stats, but I have to brag about being the only result for "wookie bamboozlement". That's right up there with my bowling trophies in terms of lifetime achievements.

June 1, 2005

They're almost finished building a new porch outside of my apartment, and although I won't know for sure until I'm out there, it looks like it's going to be more or less identical to the old one. Was I foolish to hope for something new? Triumphal arches, flying buttresses? Give me a fucking gargoyle, at least. I've never been clear on why things are ever built without gargoyles. Pretty much all I have to ward off evil is a plush gorilla on a shelf. It does all right, but still.

(If I was head of the city building commission, I would have a big red stamp that said "Get yourself some gargoyles or go back to your lego set, chump", and many architects would feel its wrath. Everyone says that Frank Lloyd Wright was so great, but how much better would the Prairie-style have been if he'd been forced to come up with gargoyles to fit with it? Far better, actually. I've seen that alternate universe and it rocks the pants off ours.)

(news) An Iraqi soldier died from poisoning and nine others were in critical condition after they ate free watermelon handed out at a checkpoint in northern Iraq, police said Wednesday. "A vendor offered a poisoned watermelon on Monday to Iraqi soldiers manning checkpoints between Shorgat and Kiyara," said police Colonel Fares Mahdi. "One soldier died and nine others who were rushed to the hospital are in critical condition."

I'm not sure I want to live in a world where you can't eat free watermelon given to you by complete strangers. I don't know if I've made my desire to be fired into outer space explicit, so let me go ahead and do that now. Can a weblog serve as a living will? How pissed off do you have to be to poison a watermelon? According to this, Iran sends 70% of its watermelons to Iraq. And that's to say nothing of this guy, the four-time greased watermelon champ of Wisconsin, who was killed in a roadside bombing in February. I keep thinking about the square watermelons in Japan, and I wonder how I'm going to make it through this summer.

But! You know this publication too well to think I would end an entry on a note of despair. Like everyone else, I was surprised when Deep Throat turned out to be some old guy. That really turned my head around about what old people can accomplish, and I'm optimistic that we'll start to see a more "can-do" attitude from our nation's millions of idle oldsters. I mean, look at this guy! He's old as dirt! Have you ever seen anyone that old? It's time for the rest of the elderly to get up and get the remote themselves.

However! I bring news of an alarming nature as well. We hoped this day would never come, that they would never fall into the hands of a rogue nation, but recent reports confirm that North Korea has command of long-range tactical insults, as shown by their explosive use of "balderdash" in an article about something or other. Furthermore, according to the Korean Central News Agency, we are getting absolutely destroyed on the battlefield of rhetoric. Apparently, we haven't managed to put forth a single plan that hasn't been assailed, rebuked, refuted, or come under fire. Worrisome, that. Now this is where I come in. Do you think I could single-handedly win a war of rhetoric with North Korea? Remember, we only won Vietnam when Rambo went in by himself, free of the chain of command and all of that other nonsense. My suggestion is this: hire me at once. Evidently, this is the eternal sun of humankind we're dealing with here. Well, I am a blackbelt in the English language. I will take him apart. The man will barely qualify as a night-light when I'm through with him. Put me in, coach! Just don't make me spend all day in these damn offices any more.

February 25, 2005

Some people have written to ask if I knew the Killer Japanese Seizure Robots. Actually, I did. I cannot pretend that their English showed much improvement while I was there, but I miss them all the same. I go to their webpage rather often and feel nostalgic, and also epileptic.

Last week, in the midst of discussing my own impending birthday, I delivered a powerful oration on the nature of holidays in North Korea, noting that, as far as I could tell, St. Patrick's Day was the only one that had not been revealed by the North Korean media to be Kim Jong Il-related in origin. Following up on that, we have the following from our sideline reporter, Arden:

I really am as shocked as anyone about the failure in coalescence of Kim Jong Il and St. Patrick's Day. One upside of flunking out of U of I was my opportunity to study "The History of China and Japan" at the substantially less politically correct Parkland College, where you learn things like, "Korea is known as the Ireland of the Orient, because they also have a history of alcoholism." With a shared culture like that, how could these countries not be attending each other's parties?

I thought about that, and I suppose one reason might be the hair issue. We know, from science, that all Irish people look like this, while the government of North Korea has set clear guidelines for hair and attire. How, then, might a drunken North Korean socialist fanatic judge the Irish?

1. The hair of the Irish is too long in the back, and it is unruly. Although men aged over 50 are given allowed two extra centimeters of hair to cover balding, that is clearly intended for use toward comb-overs. Irish people allow their excess hair to spill out of their hats, and it provides no aid towards concealing their baldness.

2. The nappy ends of the hair and beards of Irish people tends to suggest that they do not get a trim once every fifteen days, as prescribed. That leaves them with undue amounts of free time in which to be infiltrated by corrupt capitalist ideas.

3. There are, the North Korean media reports, civic advantages to wearing smart shoes. Irish people, however, choose to wear long, yellow shoes that are pointy and bent upward at the end. By no reasonable measure are the shoes of the Irish smart. In fact, as one representative from the goverment argued, "No matter how good the clothes, if one does not wear tidy shoes, one's personality will be downgraded." It is a sensitive issue, even among fellow drunks, when one's personality has been downgraded.

4. If there is a link between a person's clothes and appearance and their ideological and emotional state, one is hardly encouraged by the inability of the Irish to put their hats on straight. Are Irish people perpetually drunkenly challenging the world to fight because they favor pointy clothing over smoother, less angular ensembles, or do they favor pointy clothing because they are drunkenly challenging the world to fight?

The sad fact is that while North Korea and Ireland may be able to overlook those differences before the wine starts flowing, it is inevitable that, by the end of the night, someone will have accused someone else of falling short of ideals in accordance of a socialist lifestyle, and someone else will suggest loudly that certain parties appear more interested in socialism than girls and are, therefore, gay. None of that is likely to be taken well; fisticuffs will probably ensue. So maybe that's why.

The skill with which I settle things has to be admired.

(news) But U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci told reporters Wednesday that he was perplexed over Canada's apparent decision to allow Washington to make decision if a missile was headed toward its territory. "Why would you want to give up sovereignty?" he said. "We don't get it. We think Canada would want to be in the room deciding what to do about an incoming missile that might be heading toward Canada."

Fucking hell! Yes, you might think they would...but they don't. That is the central enigma of the Canadian psyche and I cannot believe we have such a hopeless incompetent as this Paul Cellucci contending with it. The Canadians are going to eat him alive, metaphorically of course, there is no telling what they will actually do, but it is not going to turn out well for any of us. God damn. Get him out of there!

To answer your next question, yes, I am willing to take over as Ambassador to Canada. Holy shit! I will be so good at it.

My life has been quiet for the last week or so. Tonight, I will get my car back. My mother went joy-riding in it a few weeks ago and some guy rammed into the back left corner while it was parked, so his insurance is paying for the entire rear bumper to be re-painted. That's nice, I guess, but there is really no point to having a freshly-painted bumper when you live in the city and park on the street. Like moths to flame, degenerates without any semblance of parallel-parking ability will be hypnotized by its bright, unscarred green, given over to the irrational notion that they have plenty of room to fit their rusted-out Oldsmobile behind my car. I will be lucky if the bumper lasts two days before returning to its previous state, or worse. Really, what's the point? Every time I see one of those stupid gee-whiz-so-fast DSL commercials, I shake my fist. Fuck the internet! Where is my rocket-pack? I was led to believe there would be rocket-packs! I am increasingly irate, and a disturbance even to myself.

There is one more thing that I should mention - you have no idea how thoroughly these entries encapsulate everything that is on my mind at the time they are written, so I can't leave anything out - and that is the death of Hunter S. Thompson, the noted American lion-tamer. It's hard to write anything about Hunter S. Thompson because you must constantly check yourself to be sure you are not trying to write like him; perhaps it's not a problem for the old folks, the hardened professionals, but we young'uns have to watch out for it. You either wind up sounding like a pale, mis-shapen imitation of the man or a colorless version of yourself. (Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Raymond Carver: read them, but not while you are writing anything of your own.)

There have been many tributes, summations, epitaphs and reflections over the last week or so, and nearly all of them have had a palpable self-consciousness about them in some way, shape or form. You can't be unfair about that, though. Nobody was expecting to have to write these things; everyone was caught off guard, and only the worst among us were glad to have the chance. When it comes to memorials for Hunter S. Thompson, all you can really ask is that they leave you with something. Compare, for example, this one, by Alexander Cockburn, to this one, by ESPN writer Eric Neel. One writer is far more skilled than the other, far better-versed in history and politics and literature, and the other is more or less exactly what I wrote about, timidly placing words next to each other until a column has been formed. And the interesting thing is, the first one leaves you with less than cat shit, and the other one leaves you with this:

The only time I ever spent with Hunter Thompson took place on one strange night at his home outside Aspen. I read aloud from his latest book that night -- Hunter liked that kind of thing, liked to hear his words come alive, he said. I held a number of weapons, the names of which I can't even remember, because he would just hand them to you and say, "Here, feel that." (My friend Daniel carried a sword around for more than an hour for fear of offending the good doctor.)

I was taken on a tour of photographs on the walls (not framed, just tacked up there in little collages), some of the young, fit journalist, some of the baggier, more weathered writer, some of the headlong madman, and all with a half-remembered story. I ate some kind of crackers and cheese and nursed a glass of gin, praying he wouldn't peg me for the lightweight I really am. And for a stretch, I sat next to him on a low-slung leather couch watching the Kings and Lakers go head-to-head in the fourth quarter. Hunter had money on the Lakers. They were winning but not covering, so every missed shout was a wincing blue streak and a chance for him to ask me what the hell they were doing and why wouldn't Kobe feed the Big Daddy?!

Everyone hates on Hunter S. Thompson's Page 2 columns, but I liked them. It was fucking cool when he wrote this, about the 2001 Bears:

"I owe the Bears an apology. I called them "phony," but I was wrong. They are a gang of Assassins and I fear them. They will croak St. Louis in the playoffs."

Even after the Bears got killed in the playoffs, we fans still had that, not the Lombardi Trophy but not that bad either. More than anything else, I liked the Page 2 columns because most of them were evidence that someone to whom I felt a deep sense of gratitude was now enjoying himself with friends watching sports. I liked the Eric Neel column because I wanted to watch football in that room, even though there was no way that it was not going to be awkward as hell for a non-drinker (non-smoker, non-drug user, non-meat eater!) like me. Possibly, I would have been shot. Well, Eric Neel told me what it would have been like, a little.

(Does anyone else remember how, in the days after September 11, 2001, every fucking so-called celebrity in the country solemnly pressed Their Take against our chests, hoping that Theirs would be the One that Was Remembered, that History would Say, This One Commemorated It, This One Defined the Moment? Well, unlike basically all of them, Hunter S. Thompson's column doesn't look like shit when you read it today.)

One thing the man had absolutely mastered as a writer - there were many things, of course, but I'm just going to identify one of them, because this is only a weblog, after all, and you people don't even provide me with an expense account - was the full range of synonyms for the verb 'to say'. Read something he wrote with that in mind. I always enjoyed that about his writing. But, again, be careful about doing it while you're writing something, or you'll wind up having to print out a list from some online dictionary to avoid feeling like a brick-layer every time you settle for 'say'. He opened up one of his books with this quotation from Mark Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

Yes. That, exactly.

I keep straying. Here is my entry into the eulogy-stakes:

Hunter S. Thompson could tame lions, fierce motherfuckers with sharp teeth. I saw him do it. He's gone now, but you can bet those lions still see him when they go to sleep, here and forevermore.


February 18, 2005

You can look forward, or you can look to the past; it was Kim Jong Il's birthday on Wednesday, and it is mine tomorrow. Either way, there are going to be a number of wild, unsubstantiated claims about revolutionary feats, glorious historical achievements and the progress of humanity, not to mention the usual manic over-deployment of the word 'powerful'. You would be arriving fairly late to Kim Jong Il's birthday, however. Even the Communist Party of Russia was more on top of the occasion than you were, adopting resolutions of praise for the world's foremost bulwark of socialism that really must have chafed when they sat down and thought about it; the Chinese academics showed up a day late, but they did bring gifts, which you had certainly better do, being even later than they were. (Perhaps you could figure out what the Chinese academics brought, and then buy accessories for it, or batteries.)

Honestly, though, my impression of life in North Korea is that one is more or less expected to celebrate Kim Jong Il at any point in the year, such as lulls in conversation or waiting for the elevator, so in that sense you could probably make up for your absence with a concerted effort to demonstrate links between Kim Jong Il and, say, St. Patrick's Day, which has been largely unsuccessful thus far. Has it been said that my birthday is the greatest auspicious day of the nation and the greatest holiday of the nation and the common holiday of humankind when a triumphant advance of the cause of global independence is promised? No, admittedly, it has not. I am trying not to let it get me down. I have other things to be proud of, and I will concentrate on those.

Interestingly enough, this news release tends to support my theory that while the Bush administration may have viewed shifting from the use of the term 'axis of evil' to 'outpost of tyranny' as an olive branch, it was not, in fact, received that way. Kim Jong Il, you sensitive little bitch. My feelings are far more difficult to injure than yours.

I was writing about the video game Gauntlet last week and one of my friends sent me an email about it, saying that she had just seen the game for the very first time and wanted to know why there was so much ham on the ground. The truth is, I don't know. As someone who doesn't eat meat, I assumed people who do eat meat do things like that, just leaving entire cooked chickens and turkeys and hams on plates around their apartments and eating them whenever they walk by. Apparently, that is not true. As I enter my 27th year, I still have a lot to learn.

February 10, 2005

Let me briefly explain the circumstances that led to my silence. I started a new job, temporary but indefinite, working on a two-man Project. One of the two people was responsible for training me, and the other was intended to take the lead once she was gone. The Project is nebulous, with many regulations and procedures, pockets of arcana in scattered locations. Well, fine, I thought. I am just the sort of man you want to deal with that. But my training was about 30% complete when the first day was over and my predecessor left. Then the second team member called in sick, leaving me alone to attempt to make sense of things. Then he called in sick again. Then they fired him, leaving me alone on the Project. In an attempt to make good, they brought in someone to take his place and asked me to train the new guy, mid-way through my own first week, with none of my own questions answered. The new guy arrived and, upon first glimpse of the Project, more or less shut down. He will only handle simple tasks as I assign them to him. I am alone at the front of the Project. I do not fully understand it, but I must manage it as best I can. I am, at times, overwhelmed. I try to visualize a game of whack-a-mole to give order to what I am doing, but frequently the vision changes to one of a dark chamber, with tentacles emerging from the holes in the box, rising until the box can no longer hold the writhing mass within - the only thing that never changes is that I am still holding the same foam mallet, ill-equipped. That is the nature of what I face. This is the first quiet moment I have had to gather my thoughts about the Project, so it is now that I am writing, after all of that silence.

It pays okay, but I probably gotta get some more money at some point.

North Korea announced that they have nuclear bombs today. The first AP article that I read this morning mentioned that Bush had referred to them as part of the Axis of Evil as part of an attempt to get them to cooperate, but later drafts appear to have clarified that he hasn't called them Evil lately and that was the attempt to get them to cooperate. Which makes a bit more sense, although it is still based on flawed reasoning. Generally, in situations where I have told someone that they are evil, I have not had a good reaction from them, even after initiating another conversation wherein I do not make explicit reference to their evil; moreover, in situations where I have told someone that they are evil and that the guy standing next to them is evil, too, and then I have punched the guy standing next to them in the face, I have received extremely poor reactions. I can assure the Bush administration that my clinical trials on this issue were performed with the greatest attention to scientific integrity. I don't know if they will look upon that as a positive, though.

It makes me feel bad for the Japanese, though. They are very nervous about North Korea. An old English teacher told me once about how students would always say they were afraid of going to the beach because North Korean submarines would get them, and the English teachers would make fun of the students, making all sorts of hilarious riffs in the teachers room. Apparently, everyone felt pretty bad when those fears turned out to be well-grounded. I wasn't there at the time, so I was permitted the righteousness of the recent, which is always nice.

Let me describe a little bit more about what we do at the Project. I gave my co-worker a list of people to contact about some classes they had been taking. He went through the list and complained.

"I don't want to contact her," he said. "She failed this Conflict Resolution class she took."
"The conflict must still be raging," I agreed. "No way to know what you'll be walking into."
"I can't send her an email either," he said. "She also failed Principles of Effective Written Communication."
"She'll probably just hit a lot of random keys and then call you a dick," I said. "Well, do your best."

I moved into my new apartment last week. It is a very nice one bedroom apartment in Chicago, in the neighborhood that they call Ukrainian Village. By the time I left Japan, my spatial schema had been re-adjusted to the point where I found shoeboxes perfectly acceptable and always remembered to keep my head down when going through doorways, so my new apartment has what appear to me as vast, untamed areas of wilderness and ceilings that must scrape the very surface of the stars, even though I can clearly hear some guy walking around on the third floor. (Is he God?) But this is America, and we must have places to put the things we are surely going to buy. I am happy in my new apartment. It is relaxing and peaceful there, and I can afford the rent, at least so far.

My birthday is on a Saturday this year (February 19th), which is really more pressure than I am prepared to handle right now.

Oof! Back to work.

September 17, 2002 (news) In an astonishing concession, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il confirmed Tuesday that Japanese citizens were kidnapped decades ago to teach language and culture to spies. Kim said at least four of the victims were still alive and might be allowed to return home. Ending years of denials, Kim admitted the kidnappings during a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Kim said about a dozen Japanese were kidnapped by North Korean agents, acknowledging the abductions were "regrettable and would never happen again." Kim said those responsible would be punished. "I strongly protested the abductions," Koizumi said in a news conference, adding that Kim apologized. "Kim said it was done by elements in the military, and an investigation was underway." "I thought we had to hold talks to improve relations between Japan and North Korea. But my heart aches when I consider how the families must feel," Koizumi said. "This happened over decades of hostile relations and I want to talk about it frankly," Kim was quoted as telling Koizumi by a Japanese delegation official who briefed reporters afterward. "I want to apologize and it will never be allowed to happen again."

I hate to fall into a familiar refrain, because I know I've been over this before, but I want to know when the American government is going to apologize for kidnapping me decades ago in order to teach martial arts and fighting techniques to spies. North Korea owned up to what it did. What about you, Mr. Bush? I had shit to do, and y'all kidnapped me. Does your heart ache when you consider how my peeps must feel? It should.


Today is a special day. Ever since I began working here last year and learned about what all of the major Jewish holidays mean, I have been waiting for today, the day after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, hoping that people will greet me upon our return to the office after the holiday by asking, "Did you have a good holiday? What did you atone for?', and I'll respond, "Man, I ain't atoned for shit."

Please, then, everyone ask me what I atoned for. I'll even give you my work phone number if you'd prefer to ask by phone. Let's not let this day slip away.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.