Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Friends (page 1 of 4)

Hot off the Presses!

Bureau 39 First BatchThe first batch of Bureau 39 arrived in Daejeon today, and in the immortal words of Ed Grimley (Martin Short) what a thrill it was to open the box to see all these copies, if I must say. This is one book that readers are going to love holding in their hands. As much as eBooks have given me the chance to read more books, there’s no better thrill a new book gives you when you hold it in your hands and begin to read it. And not just a new book.

I remember it was the summer of 1975 and I was hanging out with my friend David Walther. After he had broken both of his wrists, thanks to a movie I wanted to do (in the movie he had to jump from a train trestle–a story for another time) there wasn’t a lot we could do. Both of us expressed an interest in joining the Air Force after graduation from La-Salle-Peru Township High School the following year. One hot summer day, we walked to the Air Force Recruiting Station on Fourth Street in Peru, Illinois to get some information about the Air Force with David’s father who had served in the Air Force in the 1940s.

On the way back to David’s house, we walked down Fourth Street and stopped at a used book store in the old Turnhall Building. Although very hot, the inside was cool; the smell of all those old books was sweet and musky, like some exotic perfume. We all bought a couple books, and if my memory serves me correctly, I bought a collection of Rod Serling stories. But it was the first time I understood the thrill of holding a book in my hands and thinking not only about the people who might have read it before me, but the author’s life–the sweat and toil that went into its creation. It was that physical connection to other readers and the author which made me realize then, as it does now, the value of the written word and something that all of us writers strive for when we sit down and write.

I loved that feeling. I want to feel it more.

Picture of the day: Yikes! Who’s the nerd standing next to the guy with the broken wrists?

One of my best friends from high school David Walther sent this 1975 photo to me which reminded me of how much a nerd I was back in high school. What the hell was up with that Australian bush hat?

What’s with David’s broken wrists? Read here to find out.

Going Long published in joyful!

My flash fiction piece, “Going Long” was selected as Editor’s Choice of the month in joyful!

When I was eight years old, I lost one of my childhood friends to Leukemia. I had moved from Cherry, Illinois to another town. Oglesby, Illinois halfway through second grade and it was after that when I found out that my friend had passed away.

What I remembered most about him was that in the first grade we hung out every day before school and during recess. Also, we were two of four students (maybe more) who were not Catholic and were asked to step outside while the other students, who were Catholic studied Catechism. That’s probably why we got so close.

That was the genesis for this story that takes place in Oglesby, Illinois where I lived from 1966-1976. The names of the places are actual places.

I wanted to write a story about a boy who really wasn’t that good in sports but had a friend who excelled in most sports and always looked out for his friend.

I am sure we have all had a friend like Larry in our lives who looked out for us.

Picture of the Day: Friday’s Saloon, 1998

It doesn’t look like it did in its heyday, but for this to work you have to close your eyes and think back to 1980. Close your eyes and think of some song from 30 years ago, maybe it’s “Life Begins at the Hop,” “My Little Red Book” “Turning Japanese,” “Message in a Bottle” “Bionic Man” — can you see it now, can you feel the excitement. Do you have your two bucks out to give to Big Al standing inside the door? Move through the crowd, the electric night loud all around. Still can’t picture it? Close your eyes harder, and concentrate. Can you see Bob Noxious on stage singing “Gloria?” Not even Jim Morrison or Sid Vicious could have belted out the song the way he did. Look, there’s Chris V. Corky, Dave S. Tommy V. and Buzzy, Beth and Bruce, Mary Jo, Sue D. the two Becky’s. Goose is in the back chatting up Mike L. Can you see it yet? There’s Kelly N. Lisa S. and Debbie C. Jeff B.’s behind the bar and some of Big Al’s friends. Some of the boys from Longshot, playing down the street have stopped in. Wait for it. Yeah, that’s “Telstar.”

Break out the Tele or the 12-string Rickenbacher Al. Dick keep that steady back beat and tell the ladies to work off those lasagna legs. Sometimes when Al was changing guitars you and Al Schupp and Bodine would play a little jazz, “and now some jazz from Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66”– and then you guys would break into “Starry Eyes.”

It’s the best I could do.

(and if I omitted any names, I am sorry.)

Blog Review: Sexton Chronicles — “Everything you wanted to know about Sexton, but were afraid to ask”

There are a lot of neat things about David Steele’s blog Sexton Chronicles but what I like most about this blog, are Dave’s posts about the writing life. I like how he shares some of his insights into writing as well as the anecdotes he shares with readers like the Moby Dick” exercise or Clive Cussler offering advice on how to write.

Although the blog was intended to promote his series of books, Sexton Chronicles, the blog has become much more in its scope and breadth.

It is definitely one blog worth following.

Panama Daze

Here’s a real photographic blast from the past for you!

Bud Tristano, this guy I was stationed with at Howard Air Force Base back in 1978 sent this photo to me the other day of us standing next to Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side of the canal.

Thanks for the photo Bud!

The song remains the same but not the memories

The other night, a song reminded me of a girl from a long, long time ago.

It is funny how the mind works and what you might remember at any given moment; or what memories might be triggered by something you smell, hear, taste, or see.

The other night, I was listening to this song “Hospitality on Parade” (1975) by the group Sparks and it reminded me of eating Christmas cookies my grandmother baked and Pat Hardy, this girl I sort of had a crush on back in high school. I had bought the band’s 8-Track Indiscreet and was listening to it a lot back in 1975 around the holidays and when I was hanging out with Pat and some of her friends on the east side of LaSalle, going to lunch with her and friends to McDonald’s, or stopping to visit her at work at Bergner’s before I went to work across the street at K-Mart.

One memory begets another memory.

I was walking down the street, coming home from a long day at the language institute the other night, with this song on my iPod when I happened to look up at the second floor of this beauty shop across the street and noticed a light on in the window. The building looks more western in design than most of the homes and buildings on this street—western in that it didn’t have a blue or red tile roof.

For a split second, when I saw that light on in the window, with the drapes drawn, that song by Sparks playing, the cold, foggy night, thinking of Christmas, I was instantly teleported back in my mind to December 1975. It reminded me of Pat’s house and the times we hung out with each other.

Those days and nights back in 1975 were a fleeting moment of innocence that would be gone forever. Six months later, I was in the Air Force and although Pat and I exchanged many letters the first couple of months I was in the military, I would only see her four times in the next thirty-three years.

The other night though, for as long as it took for those memory tumblers to click into place, I got to see an old friend in my memories as I walked home.

How did you end up in Korea? Part 1: Lost Luggage, Digestive Crackers, and David Letterman

“I turned left at Japan.”

When you decide to leave your country and travel halfway around the world to live and work-in my case to teach English in Korea-there are some things that you are never going to forget about your experience abroad and your life as an expat.

It goes without saying that for every foreigner who has set foot in Korea to live and work a universal chord is struck by what we all have in common. Whether it was getting accustomed to a new culture (with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies), attempting to speak the language, as well as making new friendships and enjoying a lifestyle commensurate with our professional and personal pursuits, much of what we might remember fondly is of this shared experience.

On the other hand, for better or worse, there are other things of a more personal nature, which will always remind us of the time, we spent in Korea. For me-after living and working in Korea for 19 years (and still counting)-one thing that will forever stand out most was my first week here and how I ended up in Korea in the first place.

“How did you end up in Korea?” asked an acquaintance who I had not seen since 1984 and who I had recently reconnected with on Facebook.

“I turned left at Japan,” I replied, tweaking a famous line from The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

(In the movie, John Lennon was asked, “How did you find America?” upon which he replied, “We turned left at Greenland.”)

One thing is for certain, I didn’t end up in Korea based on what I knew or didn’t know about the country. To be sure, if you were to have asked me prior to 1988, which Korea was the Communist one, who Kim Il-sung was, or where Korea was located specifically in Northeast Asia, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get all three right.

I had heard of Korea though. Two of my uncles had fought in the Korean War, my high school friend “LJ” had learned Taekwondo in the 70’s, and I had (until he decided to return home) a Korean roommate when I was at college. I knew a few Koreans in some of my classes, but we never talked much about Korea. Sadly, for most people our knowledge of Korea was limited to what we could glean from the popular TV show M*A*S*H.

On the other hand, the few times that we did hear anything about Korea was when there was some disaster or tragedy like the USS Pueblo seizure in 1968, the Panmunjom Axe Murder Incident in 1976, Koreagate, the downing of KAL Flight 007 in 1983, and student demonstrations in the 80’s.

Despite these international events our knowledge about Korea was limited. Even the Korean War, which was for all semantic purposes a substitute for World War III, had sadly been called “the forgotten war.” Even my two uncles who had fought in it never talked about it.

Of course, the world would learn much about South Korea in 1988 with the Seoul Olympics that could be best described as one massive “coming out party” for the nation and its people.

Korea was not some place that you just heard about one day and decided that is where you wanted to go. No, Korea was a place that you had to have heard about somewhere from someone who had either been there or knew someone that had. People just didn’t end up here by accident. Fate maybe, but not by chance.

Two years after the Seoul Olympics, I found myself in Korea to teach English. I had not intended to teach in Korea when I graduated from graduate school in 1989. After a year in Japan and a semester teaching ESL at a community college in my hometown, all I could think about was getting back to Asia. Call it the lure of the Orient or something that I had to get out of my system before I could get on with my life, I applied for teaching positions at various schools in Asia.

One day, out of the blue I get a call from a language school recruiter in Culver City, California asking me if I wanted to teach in Korea.

“There’s a position opening up at a school in Seoul in December right before Christmas,” she said. “Are you interested?”

Before she had a chance to finish, I had already made up my mind.

I was going to Korea.

Yeah, I guess it was fate after all.

I arrived in Seoul on a cool, clammy Friday night in December 1990 just two weeks before Christmas. For some, traveling to another country around the holidays to begin work might be a little depressing, but I was too pumped up to feel depressed. The recruiter, who had phoned me back in October and offered me the job, told me that I would be too excited to feel depressed. She was right.

Then again, I had spent the previous Christmas in Japan and there were the two Christmases I had spent in Panama back in 1976 and 1977, so the holidays were not much of a problem.

The only problem, at least after I had arrived in Korea was going to be a change of underwear. I’ll get back to this later.

I had left Chicago the day before at 7:00 in the morning on my way to Seattle and then on to Seoul. The day before I left was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I had lunch with Dick Verucchi at the House of Hunan in Peru, bumped into Steve Stout there, went to Vallero’s Bakery in Dalzell (“you know, they eat dog in Korea, don’t you?” Dick said) on a bread run for Verucchi’s Ristorante and later that day, hung out with LJ who quizzed me on the Korean flag.

I had to get up to O’Hare early in the morning and my friend Mary Sue Hurley drove me up. It’s sad and ironic when you look back and realize that on what would end up being one of the major turning points of your life, would also be the last time you would see some very special people in your life.

If you had traveled to Korea prior to March 2001 when the new Incheon Airport opened, then you had to go through Seoul’s Kimpo Airport.

What I remember most about Kimpo that night, and all the other times I flew in and out of there, was how dreary and archaic it was. There’s no question that Kimpo was an obvious testament to Korea’s rapid economic development in the 70’s, but still had this sort of “developing nation” feel to it. Even though Korea had hosted the Olympics just two years earlier, one really felt as though they had stepped back into time-back to the 70s-when you had to go through Kimpo.

I have flown in and out of Korea countless times over the years, and usually when you go through immigration formalities, the immigration officials hardly utter more than a sentence or two, if that. However, on that night the immigration official asked me for a stick of gum. Well, it was more like “give me a stick of gum,” but have to give the guy credit for trying out his language skills.

“Mmm… Juicy Fruit,” he said.

If my first night in Korea was going to be a memorable one, it was not going to get off to a good start when I soon discovered that my luggage had been lost.

Great, I thought. I start work on Monday and I don’t have any clean clothes to wear.

After waiting until the last bags from my flight had been unloaded and filling out some forms, one of the ground staff assured me that my luggage would arrive in a day or two. It didn’t.

I wasn’t alone. A few other passengers, who had flown out of Chicago with me on Northwest, were also missing their luggage. I should have known there was going to be a problem when I checked in and noticed that the luggage conveyor belt was broken and the luggage had to be carried downstairs by the Northwest staff. Well, that sort of thing is just begging for a problem to happen.

I was not the only teacher arriving that night. There were three other teachers who would be joining the ELS Kangnam (a district in Seoul, referred to as a Gu in Korean, south of the Han River) school staff (one more was due in from Thailand a few days later). After we had met, we got in a van and headed to Chamsil (located very close to Olympic Park), which would be my home for the next two years.

Say what you will about the pitfalls of the hogwon (institute) system in Korea, (there have been countless horror stories of teachers coming to Korea and after being met at the airport being handed a book and told that their students were waiting for them in some crowded classroom) but ELS, at least back then took very good care of its teachers and made it very comfortable for a person to come to Korea to teach, especially when it came to your accommodations.

(ELS, which was based out of California had schools and franchises around the world. The three ELS schools in South Korea in 1990 were owned by Sisa-Yong-o-sa, at the time, Korea’s largest English book publisher; now it is called YBM Sisa.)

The school put us up in these rather spacious apartments in Chamsil not far from Olympic Sports Complex and only meters away from the sprawling Lotte World shopping and entertainment complex.

Back in 1990, Lotte World was one of Seoul’s major attractions that had everything from a classy hotel, department store, and indoor swimming pool to Lotte Adventure, an obvious Disneyland rip-off. The owner of this entertainment Mecca had supposedly gotten his start by making chewing gum in Japan that was another blatant rip-off, in this case of Wrigley’s gum calling his knock-off version of Wrigley’s “Juicy Fruit” – “Juicy and Fresh.”

As for Lotte’s theme park, instead of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, Lotte had characters patterned after raccoons-Lotty Raccoon and Lorrie Raccoon; problem was there are no raccoons in Korea, at least I have never seen one, not unless of course you count those two lovable raccoons prancing around at Lotte World.

The apartments were starting to look a little rundown back then (the housing complex was leveled a few years ago and new apartment buildings have already gone up), but if you didn’t mind the rats scurrying above in the crawl space and the black soot from people still burning yontan (cylinder-shaped, coal-like briquettes used for heating) which darkened the walls, it wasn’t too bad of a place to call home, especially when you didn’t have to pay any rent.

That night, I was the last person to be taken to an apartment. I remember standing outside and having a smoke and listening to the steady drone of traffic speeding along Olympic Expressway. The housing complex had this “gulag” feel to it, row after row of apartment buildings all looking the same with a central heating plant located in the center.

I might have been in Asia, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

Unlike the other teachers who arrived that night, I did not have a roommate waiting for me when I was taken to my apartment. He was supposed to arrive from Thailand a few days later (which turned out to be a week later). I got a quick tour of the apartment and was told that in the morning another ELS teacher would show me around town and how to get to the institute (just a ten-minute subway ride away). So, at least for this night, my first night in Korea I was on my own.

The apartment came furnished and even included a telephone and a TV. The refrigerator was stocked with a few items to satisfy any hunger pangs that I might have until I could get to the store. I didn’t find the package of “Digestive Crackers” too appealing (gee, I hope I could digest them), but a few hours later and feeling a little hungry, they hit the spot. They were similar to graham crackers and I had no trouble digesting them.

I turned on the TV and the David Letterman Show was on-courtesy of AFRTS, the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service or as it was more appropriately called in Korea, AFKN (Armed Forces Korean Network). Weird. I might have traveled halfway around the world and ready to experience another culture, but there was David Letterman beaming into my apartment. And if I might also add, just in time for his Top Ten List.

I walked out on the balcony to have a smoke. On the sidewalk below I could hear people walking home from work and the bars. It had gotten foggier and cooler. A thousand points of light in the towering housing gulags across the street that dwarfed the smaller housing complex I lived in.

I listened to the night. I listened to this strange, new language drifting up, wondering how long it would be before I would be able to understand it.

And I wondered if I was going to like it here.

Facebook Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

Facebook has quickly become one of the more popular social networking sites on the Internet. It has become a place for friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to connect as well as re-connect. Likewise, in this age of Twitter and “tweeting” people can stay in touch more and inform friends of their “status.”

However, when it comes to one’s socializing on Facebook and other social networking sites, whether it’s posting comments or responding to them, thanking someone, sharing information, or informing friends of one’s status, what is posted in the acme of good taste and decorum often ebbs and flows. To be sure, “cyber etiquette” hasn’t evolved as quickly as the technology that has brought us these wonderful sites, their cool applications and ways for us to stay connected. As such, there are some “do’s and don’ts” that one should consider when socializing and staying connected on these sites.

The real question of etiquette in terms of what is proper and what might be perceived as improper or worse, a cyber faux pas comes down to the differences between how we socialize every day and how we socialize on these social networking sites. For example, in the “real world” when you wish someone a Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary the person you are extending these wishes to will automatically thank you for remembering or thinking about them.

The same should be true on Facebook. If someone has taken the time out to write you a birthday message or other congratulatory message, it is only fitting that you respond to that person to acknowledge their kindness. People might find it quite impersonal, and maybe even a cyber snub when they wish someone a Happy Birthday and that person does not respond or even acknowledge.

Even worse is when you have wished someone a happy this or a happy that and they have not only failed to thank you for remembering them, but when it comes time for your birthday or other good news they forget you.

Now, should one respond to every comment that is made by one’s friends? For example, if you write about your status on how you’ve had a good workout at the gym and one of your friends comments, “way to go” do you have to respond? Most people probably don’t have enough time to respond to every comment, if there is more than one, so it’s probably not a bad idea to at least acknowledge all the comments with a blanket or generic response. If not, hopefully you will be able to catch that person the next time around when leaving a comment.

Of course, your real world relationship with that person might also affect how much you write, or determine the kind of response you give. Generally, if you know the person very well it is sort of expected that you will write more. Likewise, it’s probably not necessary to “thank someone” because they “like” one of your posts or photo uploads. Again, depending on how well you know the person might determine whether or not you thank them.

Some people do take it to extremes by getting a little testy—and letting you know about it—if you have cyber snubbed them by not responding to a message or some comments that might have been left. Obviously some people take cyber slighting quite personally.

And speaking of something personal, as Shakespeare wrote, “Discretion is the better part of valor’’—so be careful with some of the personal comments you do leave on someone’s profile. It’s probably not in the acme of good taste to talk about the time you and your friend dropped acid when you were in college or how hammered you got last weekend. These days with more and more employers checking up on potential candidates by reading blogs and Facebook pages, these kinds of comments might not be good idea—and could get you in trouble.

Not long ago in Korea there was a Korean man who blogged about how he enjoyed smoking marijuana at some coffee shop in Amsterdam. Some in Korea got wind (pun intended) of his Amsterdam good time when they read his blog and reported him to the police. The blogger got busted for smoking marijuana—even though he was in Amsterdam.

Likewise, it’s probably not a good idea to air one’s dirty laundry on these sites or reveal just how many skeletons you do have in your closet. Other than the people you really do know well, do you want to share this kind of information with complete strangers that you only know because they sent you a friend request?

To be sure, the anonymous underpinnings of these sites in that one might not know some of one’s “cyber friends” too well can often cause some misunderstandings in what one expects or doesn’t expect when commenting or responding to comments—or even posting something of a personal “for your eyes only” nature.

As for those who like to update their status every hour on the hour (thanks to Twitter and “tweeting”) is it really necessary to tell the world or at least your friends your every move? Sure, I am all for keeping your friends and the people you know in the loop with status updates, but it’s probably a little over the top to provide everyone with a play-by-play account of one’s day. It’s okay to tell us what you cooked for dinner, but not a good idea to tell us you’re suffering from diarrhea from what you ate.

Finally, it’s no surprise why sites like Facebook have become as popular as they have; people want to stay in touch and to stay connected as well as meet new people. Therefore, it’s important to foster good etiquette whenever possible on these sites and “to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Breaking up is not hard to do on Facebook

Imagine this scene: two acquaintances have gotten together in a café, coffeehouse or similar establishment. They are both sullen and have not said much since arriving. Then one acquaintance turns to the other and says, “I’m sorry, we just cannot be friends anymore.

“What do you mean, we cannot be friends anymore?” the second acquaintance asks. “Is it something I said or did?”

“No, it’s not that. I just don’t want to be your friend anymore. We don’t have much in common and we hardly stay in touch,” the first acquaintance says. “I would rather spend my time with people who, you know stay in touch with me more and have more in common with me. I hope you’ll understand.”

The second acquaintance looks down at the table. “So, this is how it ends, right? We just stop being friends?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“But I like you.”

“I know. You’ll get over it, though. Believe me, this is for the best.”

Of course, in real life we never really “break” up with a friend. We might stop hanging out or getting together and then after awhile, it might even seem like we were never friends at all. We might meet someone new or hang with a new crowd. All the world’s a stage and people are entering and exiting our stages all the time.

Although we don’t break up with our friends in the real world, in cyber world, particularly social networking sites like Facebook and My Space we can. All one has to do is click a button or check a box and click delete and voila! That friend is no longer there. Deleted. Gone.

Now as easy as that may sound, it’s not that easy getting rid of someone you don’t want to be friends with. After all, no one wants to be cruel to be kind, but sometimes you can’t help it. Sometimes, for whatever reason you have to cut some people loose—perhaps to make room for more friends who share more of the same interests that you do or someone who simply annoys you by constantly updating their status to tell you everything about their day.

Regardless of the reason, there should be some guidelines and etiquette to make the decision to say sayonara easier.

A Kinder, Gentler Goodbye

For those with a warm heart and a conscience—and someone who wants to avoid getting on anyone’s shit list in cyber space—the preferable way of removing someone from your friend list would be to give that person a heads up. You know, explain why you are removing the person and please don’t stalk me or spread vicious rumors about me. If you want to lie through your teeth to save face, no one has to be the wiser.

Stay in Touch, or Else

This approach is good if you want the other person to make the first move, or in this case, by not making the first move, thereby freeing you from the responsibility of explaining why you removed them. “Hey, I asked you to stay in touch or I would remove you from my friend’s list. I guess you forgot to read that message.” You don’t really want to remove this friend, but you might feel a little slighted why this friend always finds time to comment on other people’s posts, but never your own. Was it something I said? You could try this approach first and if it doesn’t work, come back at them with the slam dunk—in this case, The Great Purge. See below.


Sometimes there might be someone on our friend’s list who we forgot why we added them in the first place and instead of coming right out and asking, “Where do I know you from?” we might drop subtle hints from time to time to inquire about our so-called friendship. It might also get the other person thinking about why they are friends with you and they might beat you to the delete and delete you first. Nonetheless, this is a slow way of saying goodbye and requires more effort with the inquiry. You have to stay on top of this; otherwise you may never know why you are friends with Billy Joe Bigót.

Ignorance is Bliss

For those who have a heart but are a little shy, this approach is simple. Just ignore the person. Hopefully they will get the hint and cut you loose.

Out of site (pun intended), Out of Mind

Similar to Ignorance is Bliss, this approach requires nothing on your part. When you do get around to deleting the friend they have probably already forgotten about you and won’t even know you are gone.

The Great Purge

You could take a page and a nasty one at that, from Uncle Joe Stalin’s play book and just start purging all your “friends” who have not kept up their end of the bargain to be your friend or ones who have started to annoy you with their posts and comments. The more the merrier.

While any one of these would work, there is always the chance that someone who you might have cut loose will send a message to you asking you why. A little etiquette goes a long way and even if you have to tell a white lie, it’s probably the best, not to mention the honorable thing to do. After all, there’s nothing worse in than having an ex-friend talking to one of your friends behind your back, or in this case, when you are off-line because you deleted them without telling them why.

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