Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Life (page 1 of 21)

Regrets? I’ve had a few

Today, without fanfare or celebration, I will mark sixty trips around the sun.

In Asia, one’s sixtieth birthday is an auspicious occasion because there was a time when most folks didn’t live past sixty. These days, sixty is the new forty (though my body sure doesn’t feel like it).

What a strange and amazing trip it has been. I guess it’s natural when one gets older they stop and look back on their life more and try to make sense out of everything. You know, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts…that sort of thing. I think the verdict is still out on this one.

A little bit o’ Seoul

Daejeon Station

Daejeon Station

It’s a snowy morning in Daejeon and I am on the 8:29 KTX (Korea’s high-speed express train) to Seoul for a couple of hours.

 

 

Actually, I am on “official business” – I am going to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Seoul to pick up my new passport. I guess it’s okay to call it “official business” – after all, the passport really does belong, technically speaking, to the State Department. It was due to expire in March, but with me going to Laos in 17 days, you need at least six months left on your passport to travel to most countries and that was something I was not about to chance with the three months I would have had left on my passport had I not renewed it.

 

When I got up this morning at 6:00 it was not snowing; by the time I left for Daejeon Station—about a ten-minute taxi ride away from where I live—it was coming down pretty hard.

 

Called On right before I left. She was still sleeping. Jeremy Aaron had gotten up a few times during the night. He’s feeling much better now. After he had a vaccination two days ago he was running a fever.

 

I’ll call On again after I finish at the embassy. I am hoping my passport is ready. They told me two weeks ago when I went to Seoul to drop off the paperwork and pay the 75.00 for a new passport. However, there was Thanksgiving last week and this time of the year it gets a little busy with people traveling.

 

From Daejeon to Seoul, it’s only about an hour on the KTX. There are two stops: one at Cheonan-Asan about 30 minutes north of Daejeon and one at Gwangmyeong which is near Suwon. It’s a sweet ride and not too expensive—only 17,000 Won, around $12.00 for a one-way ticket. I’ve spent that kind of money traveling from one part of Seoul to another in a taxi during rush hour and taking just as long.

 

As the landscape rushes by I am thinking about this year and everything that has happened from the birth of Jeremy Aaron to the passing of my mother. The cycle if life and death, just like the seasons that have marked my time in Korea; that have marked my time on Earth. I’ve watched the countryside turn from winter to spring to summer and fall and soon winter again.

 

In the distance, some mountains remind me of the opening scenes of M*A*S*H. I can hear Johnny Mandel’s theme music playing in my mind.

 

The KTX arrives in Seoul a little after 9:30 and from Seoul Station I have to take a subway one stop to City Hall and from there, I walk to the embassy. Fortunately, I have just missed the morning rush hour so I don’t have to worry about being packed in one of the subway cars by subway push men.

 

It might have been snowing in Daejeon, but in Seoul it is bitterly cold. Raw, biting cold with a wind whipping down from the north that makes Seoul feel more like “the windy city” than Chicago. The temperature has to be at least in the teens but with that strong wind, the wind chill factor has got to be minus-something. It’s a good thing I don’t have to walk too far.

 

The last time I was at the embassy to drop off my paperwork there was only one other person. Today it’s a little more crowded but I am in and out of there in less than 30 minutes. I have my brand new electronic passport and I am good to go for another 10 years.

 

Call On to let her know that I’ve gotten my passport.

 

Not too far from the U.S. Embassy is the Kyobo Book Center—the oldest bookstore in Seoul. It gets me waxing a little nostalgic because in two days it will be the anniversary of when I first came to Korea 18 years ago and that first weekend in Korea one of the places I visited was Kyobo. Can you believe that—18 years ago I first came to Korea? I’ll save the waxing nostalgic for later.

 

My return ticket to Daejeon on the KTX is for 3:00 so I have enough time to head over to the USO and their canteen for a chili dog and fries. Most people think that the USO in Seoul is only for US service members, but actually anyone can use it to have some authentic home style cooking or use its travel agency. I’ve been coming here for years and whenever I am in Seoul now, I stop here for something to eat as well as chat with the canteen manager Mike Maddox who has been in Korea since the 80s.

 

It’s now a little after 12:00 and time to head back to Seoul Station, which is one subway stop from Namyeong Station that is located near the USO. When the subway pulls into the station, its destination is Uijongbu. It’s hard not to feel a part of history—Korean War history—when you hear that name or see it printed on a sign. Head north to Uijongbu and you are close to where some of the fighting took place during the Korean War. I’ve been to Uijongbu a number of times when I was writing for the Korea Times a couple of years ago.

 

I am able to change my ticket when I finally arrive at Seoul Station about fifteen minutes later and at 1:15 I am heading south to Daejeon. I’ve already called On to let her know I am heading back.

 

Another hour on the KTX and by 2:45 I am back in my room.

 

It was a little bit of Seoul and some soul searching on a very cold and snowy day in Korea.

Sticky Fingers

My short-lived life of crime can be traced back to Ben Franklin. No, I am not referring to that Ben Franklin, inventor, statesman, printer, and author of Poor Richard’s Almanac witticisms or aphorisms like—“A stitch in time or crime saves nine or doing time or something like that.”

 

What I am referring to though is the Ben Franklin Dime Store in Oglesby, Illinois where as a young, rambunctious lad of nine, I got my first taste of what could have been a life of crime had I not been caught red-handed—literally, because what I was trying to steal from Ben Franklin were some penny candies known as “red-hot dollars.”

 

What is it that possesses a young boy or girl to be tempted by that age-old iniquitous enterprise of shoplifting? Is it the thrill of just getting away with something, in this case stealing something from someone right out from under his or her noses—even if what he or she steals is of no importance, like some candy or a pen? Or perhaps it’s testing the waters to see if one can actually steal something without getting caught before moving on to big-ticket items? Then again, maybe it comes right down to outright stealing with no moral dilemma because one wants or desires something that one cannot afford.

 

Then there’s the dare. Yes, the dare—when someone you know dares you to steal. It could be for any number of reasons, but usually it was the result of peer pressure and gaining acceptance with the circle of friends you ran with. I know, some circle of friends if you have to prove yourself by shoplifting.

 

As for me, it was a combination of the first one and perhaps a little bit of a dare (some kids at school had already gotten away shoplifting and had quickly elevated their popularity). I just wanted to see if I could get away with it and perhaps later, boast and brag with my friends that I had indeed stuck it to the man, in this case sticking it to old Ben Franklin by pilfering what every nine-year-old boy or girl cannot live without: candy.

 

When I walked into, no scratch that when I swaggered in the Ben Franklin store one day after school, the die had already been cast for my date with shoplifting destiny. The plan was simple: I would—as I usually did on my way home from school—stop off at Ben Franklin and buy a dime or quarter’s worth of candy. Back in 1967 a dime or quarter was worth much more than it is today and a dime could get you a candy bar or a small bag of penny candy, which was usually two or three for a penny. What I intended to do, as not to draw suspicion to the crime I was going to commit was that while I was filling a small paper bag with the penny candy—Red Hot Dollars, Smarties, Jolly Rancher Watermelon Candy, Red Hot Tamales, and Root Beer Barrels—I would also be surreptitiously slipping equal amounts of candy into my pants pockets.

 

It would be the perfect crime. I would be literally stealing candy right out from under their noses—as easy as stealing candy from a baby. There was no way I would or could get caught. Of course, timing was everything and I had to make sure that when I did enter the store it was not crowded and that the two or three clerks who normally staffed the store during the day were busy with a customer or in the back where they could not see me (the candy section was located at the front of the store).

 

After having cased the store plenty of times with all those after school candy runs, and a few model-airplane runs, I knew that my window of opportunity was a narrow one considering the after-school traffic from two grade schools—one public and one Catholic. My best chance was to hightail it to the store when school let out, quickly commit my crime before it was overrun with kids. Of course, having a few kids in the store at the same time was another distraction that could work in my favor—so I didn’t want to hightail it too fast.

 

Now if you are wondering if anyone in my family sat me down and instructed me in the ways of the world—in particular “Thou Shalt Not Steal”— I have to feign ignorance. I’m sure they did and I’m sure I listened and nodded and got scared when I was told that if I did and did not repent that I could end up in “H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.” Maybe I had heard about it in Sunday School or perhaps it was brought up in an episode of Davy and Goliath or maybe Captain Kangaroo, Bazooka Joe, Gumby talked about it, but on that day whatever moral fiber I was supposed to have had or should have had was not going to stand in my way of achieving my objective.

 

Sure enough, when I got to Ben Franklin that store was practically empty. The clerks were not in the front and there were a few customers in the back, including a few kids from school who were in the toy section. I quickly, but silently grabbed a small paper bag—didn’t want to make any noise to call attention to my presence at the front of the store—and began to fill it up with some penny candy. Then, I looked around to make sure no one was watching and began to slip some candy into my pockets, first my back pocket and then my front.

 

I noticed I had goose bumps and with each piece of candy I slipped into my pockets, my heart pumped faster and faster. Even though I might have been full of bravado, I was still a little nervous about getting caught and quickly looked around again to make sure I was still alone.

 

Had I looked up at one of two large round mirrors in the corners, I would have noticed that I was indeed, being watched by the head clerk. Later, I would find out that she had been watching me as soon as I had started to fill up that paper sack with candy.

 

When I had twenty-cent’s worth of candy and just as much in my pockets I went to the check out and waited for one of the clerks. My heart was still beating fast but as far as I knew, the dangerous part was over. I had not been caught. I was going to pay for my candy (I would leave this small detail out when I told friends later) and be on my way.

 

I poured out the contents of the bag on the counter and the clerk, the same one who had been watching me, counted the pieces of candy. There were 40 pieces, 20 cents. She put them back in the paper bag but did not ring up the sale on the very old cash register.

 

“How about the candy in your pockets?” she asked looking down at me.

 

“Ex..ex…excuse me,” I stammered. “Ca…ca…candy?”

 

“In your pockets,” she said calmly. “The candy you put in your pockets.”

 

“Oh…oh…ooooh, that candy,” I said sheepishly and thinking as fast as my nine-year-old mind would allow me. “I forgot about that candy. I didn’t have enough room in the bag and I….”

 

Now at this point I knew I was in big trouble. I mean, I was caught red-handed with the goods in my pockets. There was one of two things she could have done: called my mom or called the police. I hadn’t planned on a third.

 

“Just put them on the counter and we’ll see how much you have,” she said. “I know those bags are a little small. Next time you should take a larger one.”

 

I took out all the candy I had slipped into my pockets. It came to another 20 cents and she rang up the sale.

 

“I am sorry,” I said still thinking that I was going to either get one heck of a spanking from my mom or hauled off by the police to the hoosegow.

 

“Do you have the twenty more cents?” she asked.

 

I nodded and nervously took out two dimes from my pocket, my hands shaking as I handed them to her. She took the dimes, put them in the drawer and then put the additional candy into the bag.

 

“Thank you,” she said as she handed me the bag. “Now, don’t eat all the candy at once or you will get a belly ache.”

 

“I won’t,” I said and hurried out the store before she changed her mind.

 

Well, she never changed her mind and when I went back to the store again she was just as nice to me as ever—as if the little shoplifting incident had never even happened and I was most grateful for that.

 

Sadly, I wish I could say that incident cured me of shoplifting, but it didn’t. A few years later, when I was in the seventh grade I was at it again, this time as the result of a dare.

 

Catty corner from Washington Grade School was Balconie’s Tavern but it was also a hangout for kids with a small candy counter, a freezer filled with ice cream, comic books and assorted school supplies—all of which were in the front away from the bar in the back. It was quite popular with kids given its location near the grade school as well as being across the street from Oglesby’s public library.

 

I was still trying to impress my classmates and gain acceptance, which by the seventh grade had become more important than it had been for me a few years before. Obviously the 1967 candy caper was not enough (after all, no one had been to observe my five-finger discount) and my classmates were looking to raise the ante by daring me to shoplift again.

 

This time they would be watching me.

 

Fortunately, I had come up with the idea for this latest shoplifting caper. There was a magazine rack in Balconie’s (near another rack of comic books and a book rack) that sold these soft porn magazines—not Playboy, but some biker magazines with a few photos of bare-chested buxom blondes on the back of motorcycles. I figured my classmates would love to have a couple of those magazines and I knew exactly how to “steal” them.

 

Once a week I would bring my gym clothes home from school rolled up in a towel. My plan was, when the owner of Balconie’s was not looking I would unroll the towel and slide in a magazine or two and then roll up the towel again. There was no way anyone would know. My classmates thought it was a brilliant plan. Glenn Brown wished he had come up with it. Bradley Davis said it was a real winner.

 

I would need a distraction and that’s when my classmates came in. While they were buying some candy or something I would slip behind another glass counter that contained school supplies and pretend to be looking at some books and magazines, and then at the right precise time—when the owner turned to put the money in the register—I would quickly unroll the towel, slip in a magazine or two, roll it back up and walk back out. As cover and not to draw any suspicion, I would buy a comic book.

 

“You sure you know what to do,” I explained to my classmates outside Balconies, “You buy something while I slip behind the counter and then I will steal the magazines.”

 

“Don’t worry,” said Glenn. “We know what to do.”

 

I went in first, went behind the counter and pretended to look at some comic books when Glenn and Bradley came in. They went to the candy counter as planned and bought some candy. However, at the last minute I got cold feet. I hadn’t thought my plan through carefully enough because the magazine rack was near a large plate glass window and anyone walking by outside who happened to look in could see me “stealing” the magazines. I couldn’t go through with it.

 

I slowly walked back out from behind the counter wondering how I was going to tell Glenn and Bradley that I had chickened out when the owner stopped me.

 

“What have you got inside the towel?” he asked.

 

“Nothing,” I said thankful that I hadn’t gone through with the shoplifting after all, but still feeling a little nervous just the same.

 

“Let me see,” he demanded. “Unroll it.”

 

I did.

 

“Humph,” he muttered, surprised that the only thing inside were my stinky gym clothes, socks and jockstrap. “Do you want anything?”

 

I shook my head, rolled the towel back up and left.

 

When I walked back outside, Glenn and Bradley were nowhere to be found. Maybe they had seen the owner making me unroll the towel and ran away or maybe they had even ratted me out and were now laughing their heads off somewhere (they did see me unrolling the towel and got out of there as fast they could). It wouldn’t have made any difference either way. I almost got caught again. That’s what finally cured me of shoplifting.

Sticky Fingers

My short-lived life of crime can be traced back to Ben Franklin. No, I am not referring to that Ben Franklin, inventor, statesman, printer, and author of Poor Richard’s Almanac witticisms or aphorisms like—“A stitch in time or crime saves nine or doing time or something like that.”

What I am referring to though is the Ben Franklin Dime Store in Oglesby, Illinois where as a young, rambunctious lad of nine, I got my first taste of what could have been a life of crime had I not been caught red-handed—literally, because what I was trying to steal from Ben Franklin were some penny candies known as “red-hot dollars.”

What is it that possesses a young boy or girl to be tempted by that age-old iniquitous enterprise of shoplifting? Is it the thrill of just getting away with something, in this case stealing something from someone right out from under his or her noses—even if what he or she steals is of no importance, like some candy or a pen? Or perhaps it’s testing the waters to see if one can actually steal something without getting caught before moving on to big-ticket items? Then again, maybe it comes right down to outright stealing with no moral dilemma because one wants or desires something that one cannot afford.

Then there’s the dare. Yes, the dare—when someone you know dares you to steal. It could be for any number of reasons, but usually it was the result of peer pressure and gaining acceptance with the circle of friends you ran with. I know, some circle of friends if you have to prove yourself by shoplifting.

As for me, it was a combination of the first one and perhaps a little bit of a dare (some kids at school had already gotten away shoplifting and had quickly elevated their popularity). I just wanted to see if I could get away with it and perhaps later, boast and brag with my friends that I had indeed stuck it to the man, in this case sticking it to old Ben Franklin by pilfering what every nine-year-old boy or girl cannot live without: candy.

When I walked into, no scratch that when I swaggered in the Ben Franklin store one day after school, the die had already been cast for my date with shoplifting destiny. The plan was simple: I would—as I usually did on my way home from school—stop off at Ben Franklin and buy a dime or quarter’s worth of candy. Back in 1967 a dime or quarter was worth much more than it is today and a dime could get you a candy bar or a small bag of penny candy, which was usually two or three for a penny. What I intended to do, as not to draw suspicion to the crime I was going to commit was that while I was filling a small paper bag with the penny candy—Red Hot Dollars, Smarties, Jolly Rancher Watermelon Candy, Red Hot Tamales, and Root Beer Barrels—I would also be surreptitiously slipping equal amounts of candy into my pants pockets.

It would be the perfect crime. I would be literally stealing candy right out from under their noses—as easy as stealing candy from a baby. There was no way I would or could get caught. Of course, timing was everything and I had to make sure that when I did enter the store it was not crowded and that the two or three clerks who normally staffed the store during the day were busy with a customer or in the back where they could not see me (the candy section was located at the front of the store).

After having cased the store plenty of times with all those after school candy runs, and a few model-airplane runs, I knew that my window of opportunity was a narrow one considering the after-school traffic from two grade schools—one public and one Catholic. My best chance was to hightail it to the store when school let out, quickly commit my crime before it was overrun with kids. Of course, having a few kids in the store at the same time was another distraction that could work in my favor—so I didn’t want to hightail it too fast.

Now if you are wondering if anyone in my family sat me down and instructed me in the ways of the world—in particular “Thou Shalt Not Steal”— I have to feign ignorance. I’m sure they did and I’m sure I listened and nodded and got scared when I was told that if I did and did not repent that I could end up in “H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.” Maybe I had heard about it in Sunday School or perhaps it was brought up in an episode of Davy and Goliath or maybe Captain Kangaroo, Bazooka Joe, Gumby talked about it, but on that day whatever moral fiber I was supposed to have had or should have had was not going to stand in my way of achieving my objective.

Sure enough, when I got to Ben Franklin that store was practically empty. The clerks were not in the front and there were a few customers in the back, including a few kids from school who were in the toy section. I quickly, but silently grabbed a small paper bag—didn’t want to make any noise to call attention to my presence at the front of the store—and began to fill it up with some penny candy. Then, I looked around to make sure no one was watching and began to slip some candy into my pockets, first my back pocket and then my front.

I noticed I had goose bumps and with each piece of candy I slipped into my pockets, my heart pumped faster and faster. Even though I might have been full of bravado, I was still a little nervous about getting caught and quickly looked around again to make sure I was still alone.

Had I looked up at one of two large round mirrors in the corners, I would have noticed that I was indeed, being watched by the head clerk. Later, I would find out that she had been watching me as soon as I had started to fill up that paper sack with candy.

When I had twenty-cent’s worth of candy and just as much in my pockets I went to the check out and waited for one of the clerks. My heart was still beating fast but as far as I knew, the dangerous part was over. I had not been caught. I was going to pay for my candy (I would leave this small detail out when I told friends later) and be on my way.

I poured out the contents of the bag on the counter and the clerk, the same one who had been watching me, counted the pieces of candy. There were 40 pieces, 20 cents. She put them back in the paper bag but did not ring up the sale on the very old cash register.

“How about the candy in your pockets?” she asked looking down at me.

“Ex..ex…excuse me,” I stammered. “Ca…ca…candy?”

“In your pockets,” she said calmly. “The candy you put in your pockets.”

“Oh…oh…ooooh, that candy,” I said sheepishly and thinking as fast as my nine-year-old mind would allow me. “I forgot about that candy. I didn’t have enough room in the bag and I….”

Now at this point I knew I was in big trouble. I mean, I was caught red-handed with the goods in my pockets. There was one of two things she could have done: called my mom or called the police. I hadn’t planned on a third.

“Just put them on the counter and we’ll see how much you have,” she said. “I know those bags are a little small. Next time you should take a larger one.”

I took out all the candy I had slipped into my pockets. It came to another 20 cents and she rang up the sale.

“I am sorry,” I said still thinking that I was going to either get one heck of a spanking from my mom or hauled off by the police to the hoosegow.

“Do you have the twenty more cents?” she asked.

I nodded and nervously took out two dimes from my pocket, my hands shaking as I handed them to her. She took the dimes, put them in the drawer and then put the additional candy into the bag.

“Thank you,” she said as she handed me the bag. “Now, don’t eat all the candy at once or you will get a belly ache.”

“I won’t,” I said and hurried out the store before she changed her mind.

Well, she never changed her mind and when I went back to the store again she was just as nice to me as ever—as if the little shoplifting incident had never even happened and I was most grateful for that.

Sadly, I wish I could say that incident cured me of shoplifting, but it didn’t. A few years later, when I was in the seventh grade I was at it again, this time as the result of a dare.

Catty corner from Washington Grade School was Balconie’s Tavern but it was also a hangout for kids with a small candy counter, a freezer filled with ice cream, comic books and assorted school supplies—all of which were in the front away from the bar in the back. It was quite popular with kids given its location near the grade school as well as being across the street from Oglesby’s public library.

I was still trying to impress my classmates and gain acceptance, which by the seventh grade had become more important than it had been for me a few years before. Obviously the 1967 candy caper was not enough (after all, no one had been to observe my five-finger discount) and my classmates were looking to raise the ante by daring me to shoplift again.

This time they would be watching me.

Fortunately, I had come up with the idea for this latest shoplifting caper. There was a magazine rack in Balconie’s (near another rack of comic books and a book rack) that sold these soft porn magazines—not Playboy, but some biker magazines with a few photos of bare-chested buxom blondes on the back of motorcycles. I figured my classmates would love to have a couple of those magazines and I knew exactly how to “steal” them.

Once a week I would bring my gym clothes home from school rolled up in a towel. My plan was, when the owner of Balconie’s was not looking I would unroll the towel and slide in a magazine or two and then roll up the towel again. There was no way anyone would know. My classmates thought it was a brilliant plan. Glenn Brown wished he had come up with it. Bradley Davis said it was a real winner.

I would need a distraction and that’s when my classmates came in. While they were buying some candy or something I would slip behind another glass counter that contained school supplies and pretend to be looking at some books and magazines, and then at the right precise time—when the owner turned to put the money in the register—I would quickly unroll the towel, slip in a magazine or two, roll it back up and walk back out. As cover and not to draw any suspicion, I would buy a comic book.

“You sure you know what to do,” I explained to my classmates outside Balconies, “You buy something while I slip behind the counter and then I will steal the magazines.”

“Don’t worry,” said Glenn. “We know what to do.”

I went in first, went behind the counter and pretended to look at some comic books when Glenn and Bradley came in. They went to the candy counter as planned and bought some candy. However, at the last minute I got cold feet. I hadn’t thought my plan through carefully enough because the magazine rack was near a large plate glass window and anyone walking by outside who happened to look in could see me “stealing” the magazines. I couldn’t go through with it.

I slowly walked back out from behind the counter wondering how I was going to tell Glenn and Bradley that I had chickened out when the owner stopped me.

“What have you got inside the towel?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said thankful that I hadn’t gone through with the shoplifting after all, but still feeling a little nervous just the same.

“Let me see,” he demanded. “Unroll it.”

I did.

“Humph,” he muttered, surprised that the only thing inside were my stinky gym clothes, socks and jockstrap. “Do you want anything?”

I shook my head, rolled the towel back up and left.

When I walked back outside, Glenn and Bradley were nowhere to be found. Maybe they had seen the owner making me unroll the towel and ran away or maybe they had even ratted me out and were now laughing their heads off somewhere (they did see me unrolling the towel and got out of there as fast they could). It wouldn’t have made any difference either way. I almost got caught again. That’s what finally cured me of shoplifting.

A long day’s journey into night and the next day — Part 2

9:00pm Friday, September 26, 2008 – 3:00pm Saturday September 27, 2008

 

It’s only a one-hour flight from Bangkok to Vientiane. No sooner has the half-filled Thai Airways Boeing 737 taken off from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and a quick snacked served by the flight crew than the captain comes over the intercom and announces that we’ll be landing at Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport shortly.

 

Without a doubt Wattay International Airport is one of the easier airports to get in and out of as far as immigration formalities (you can get a visa on arrival—for Americans it’s only 35.00) and baggage claim go. It takes me no more than 30 minutes to apply for my visa (I had already filled out the form on the plane), breeze through immigration and collect my baggage.

 

After exchanging some dollars for some Laotian Kip, I have to find a phone to call On. There’s a pay phone near one of the exits, but it only takes credit cards. I ask this man at a snack bar if I could borrow his mobile phone to make a local call and he says yes. This sort of thing must happen a lot because he understood exactly what I needed to do and only charged me 10,000 Kip for the call. On’s very excited that I’ve arrived in Vientiane. With every phone call we are getting closer and closer to being together.

 

Now the real adventure begins.

 

It’s about a 20-minute taxi ride to the Southern Bus Terminal where I will catch the bus to Paksong. The streets are relatively quiet for this time of the evening—around 10:30. You wouldn’t think that you were in the capital city of Laos. Unlike other bustling, noisy, dynamic capital cities in Southeast Asia, Vientiane is quiet and peaceful. There are some people out on scooters and a few open-air cafés but that’s about it. In Vientiane, most of the nightlife is in the old part of the city, near the Mekong River, but even there most places close by midnight.

 

Although the bus station is closed there are a couple of people hanging out in the waiting area watching TV. Either they are waiting for someone or have no place to go at this hour. There’ll be buses arriving throughout the night but none departing. Nothing is opened.

 

I’m hoping that there will be a room available in the guesthouse adjacent to the bus station; otherwise I am going to be spending the next six hours sitting outside in the waiting area. (When On and I came back to Vientiane from Paksong in February we tried to get a room here before we caught a bus to Luang Prabang, but we had gotten in too late, around 2:00 in the morning, and there were no rooms available.) Tonight there is. A room costs only 40,000 Kip – around $6.00. It is just a room and bathroom. The owner is kind enough to let me borrow his phone to call On so I can let her know that I’ve gotten to the bus station and that I’ve gotten a room for a few hours. He doesn’t even charge me for using the phone.

 

With my sleeping arrangements taken care of (and after being up since yesterday morning I am looking forward to at least two-three hours of sleep) the only thing left is to make sure I get on the first bus to Pakxe in the morning. On has already told me that there’s a bus at 5:00. That’s the one I am going to take. I set the alarm clock I brought along for 4:00 (which ended up being 3:00 because I mistakenly got the present time mixed up) and then, if you can excuse the cliché, I was out like a light.

 

At 4:00 when the alarm beep beep beeps, I bolt up and jump out of bed. No time to shower or even drag a comb across my head. I’ve got a bus to catch. I splash some water on my face—just enough to feel about refreshed as I can for this hour of the morning (remember it’s 3:00 and not 4:00) and gather my belongings. I’ll have to wake up the manager of the guesthouse to drop off my key; no problem, someone else had already woken him up to drop off a key.

 

The bus station is slightly abuzz with activity as two buses arrive and other passengers arrive in tuk-tuks to catch a bus later. As soon as I walk into the station a man comes up to me and asks me where I am headed. Paksong, I tell him.

 

Paksong? He takes my suitcase and leads me to a bus at the far end of the terminal and stows the suitcase and the baby stroller for me. Turns out the first bus to Paksong leaves at 4:45. I do not have to buy a ticket—I couldn’t anyway because the ticket office hasn’t even opened yet. I will be able to buy a ticket once I am on the bus.

 

And yes, I will be on a Korean bus again. Not just a bus that had been manufactured in Korea, but a used Korean bus that had been sold to Laos. I’ve heard that Japan also sells used buses to the Philippines. What’s weird is that a lot of the Korean lettering has not been removed (maybe it can’t be removed) like the lettering on the door chun-dong-mun (main entrance). The bus is leaning to one side; shocks must be shot on that side. You never know what bus you’re going to get. It’s definitely a crapshoot. This is one is okay. At least the seats are comfortable and I can slide open the window.

 

The bus station continues to come alive as another bus arrives and a few passengers board the bus I am on. There’s a woman selling the tickets and I pay the 120,000 Kip, around 600 Baht or $18.00. She seems friendly enough and even speaks a little English to me. Good. That’s all I needed to know to ask her if I could borrow her phone to call On one more time to let her know I am on the bus and on my way.

 

“See you soon, Darling,” I tell her.

 

“See you soon, Darling,” she replies.

 

And at 4:45 I am on the road again and getting closer and closer to being with my family.

 

Traveling on a bus in Southeast Asia is not for the weary and the weak at heart. It’s definitely an adventure from daredevil drivers pushing the pedal to metal, long stretches without any rest stops to the constant blaring of the horn to move cattle and other livestock off the road and stopping to pick up and let off passengers everywhere along the way.

 

And sometimes it can be dangerous with drivers driving too fast or falling asleep. Once back in 1995 when I was on a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai the bus driver fell asleep, the bus went off the road and hit a tree. Fortunately no one was hurt but we had to wait two hours for another bus to come and pick us up before we continued on our way.

 

No sooner had we let the bus station than the bus stops to pick up some passengers as well as allow some vendors to come on selling everything from French Baguettes and deep fried bread to soft drinks, eggs, and strips of barbecued pork. I buy a Pepsi and some deep fried bread—which is actually quite sweet and tastes like doughnuts. There will be a few more stops like this along the way to pick up and discharge passengers as well as let some vendors on (they ride the bus a few kilometers before getting off).

 

Besides the bus driver and the woman selling tickets there are three guys riding in the front of the bus who help load and unload baggage and other cargo that people want to have transported—like a motor scooter. Two guys on a motor scooter stop the bus and ask if another motor scooter can be transported to some other town. Yes, it can and the three guys at the front of the bus get off and proceed to load the motor scooter on the top of the bus. One of the guys on the scooter writes down the bus number and license plate number—just in case the scooter on top of the bus does not get to where it is supposed to—and we are on our way again.

 

The bus stops once for a pee break: those who want to go run into the bushes along the side of the road to relieve themselves. The only real rest stop along the way is at Tha Khaek—about five hours south of Vientiane—the halfway point for my journey to Paksong. It’s a fifteen-minute break and a much deserved one. More passengers board including two foreigners who pay no attention to me as well as a woman carrying a basket with a couple cackling chickens. The chickens ride in front.

 

The next major stop is in Savannakhet two hours away. It’s a major crossroads in Laos for people traveling to the country from Thailand or Vietnam as well as traveling in country to Vientiane in the north and Pakxe in the south.

 

The bus stops at a small bus station where we end up sitting for almost an hour. I have no idea what is going on but some people are requested to get off the bus and transfer to another bus. This happened before when On and I went to Paksong. We had to get off one bus and get on another. Don’t know what’s going on this time. The woman selling tickets tells me that I don’t have to get off. I buy another Pepsi. We end up waiting there for another bus to arrive and for the passengers from that bus to get on our bus.

 

On told me not to fall asleep once I got to Savannakhet—to stay awake and make sure I knew when we were getting close to Paksong. No problem there. Even though I’ve only slept a few hours since Thursday I am wide-awake and very, very excited.

 

Can’t this bus go any faster?

 

I am looking outside the window. The landscape looks familiar. I know where I am.

 

Everything is so green and tranquil. Thick white clouds move across the azure sky.

 

My heart is beating faster.

 

The bus nears Paksong and one of the guys in the front motions for me to move to the front to let them know where to stop. By the time I do move, we are in Paksong and I tell them where to stop.

 

Yoot tee nee!” I tell them. Please stop here.

 

One of the guys follows me off the bus and helps me unload my suitcase and the baby stroller.

 

Kop jai.”

 

Thank you in Laos.

 

Kop jai.”

 

I wave goodbye and they wave goodbye back.

 

Okay, now I have to walk about a half mile to On’s home.

 

I am floating on air about right now. I’ve got an adrenaline rush going and my heart is beating faster.

 

Some people recognize me along the way. They smile. They know where I am going.

 

Closer.

 

I pass the coffee shop where On often goes for coffee with Bia.

 

Closer.

 

I can see her house now.

 

Home.

 

Inside there’s a lot of people gathered—it’s customary in Laos that when a child is born for friends to visit and spend time eating and talking.

 

When I walk inside, the room gets quiet. Everyone stops talking and eating and looks at me. Someone helps me with my bags.

 

“Jeffrey!”

 

“On!”

 

 

“Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis all….”

One of the things that I have always been proud about my past were the two years that I attended Eureka College, a small, Christian (Disciples of Christ) Liberal Arts College located in Eureka, Illinois (about an hour west of Peoria, Illinois) from 1985-1987.


There is a lot to be said about attending a small college versus a much larger school. I am happy that I had the chance to experience both—the three semesters I attended Southern Illinois University (as well as two years of graduate school at Western Illinois University) and the two years I spent at Eureka. Inasmuch as there are numerous advantages of attending a larger school—from academics to career opportunities—the same advantages exist at a smaller school, but the difference, at least what I found out when I attended Eureka is that at a smaller college the education is more personal and intimate. Likewise, this intimacy also presents plenty of opportunities to get involve in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, and theatre that might not be available to most students at a larger school.


Such was the case when I got involved in a number of theatrical productions when I was at Eureka including the Bard’s most famous tragedy, “That Scottish Tragedy” (oh yes, I still believe in the superstitions surrounding this play even—mentioning its name here).


I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in theatre had it not been for my very good friend and teacher Kevin McQuade. It was Kevin, who upon seeing me—decked out in a leather jacket, faded jeans, Black Converse High Tops and looking too much like the “ Fifth Ramone”—one brisk autumn day standing outside Burgess Hall, later told some of his students (including a girl a sort of dated) that he wanted to get me involved in theatre. Eureka was quite conservative and I was everything but conservative back then (and still today, but a little more rounded on that liberal edge I have carried through life). I might not be your “rebel without a cause” but I was definitely known for my rebellious, “freewheelin’ Sparks” attitude.


Kevin’s brother Luke was also attending Eureka at the same time and as fate would have it, ended up as my roommate. And come every Sunday, Kevin and his wife Linda invited Luke and I over for Sunday dinner not to mention watch those Monsters of the Midway, Da Bears. 1985, remember?


I have always been very close to Kevin and Luke. As for Kevin we both have shared our joy and dismay with the Cubs and the Bears over the years as well as our tastes in music, literature, movies, and whiskey (Jamesons, please). And it was Kevin who inspired me to write more as well as get involved in theatre the two years that I was there. I owe a lot to Kevin for helping me to develop my artistic sensitivity and opening my eyes to the world around me. I would not be the person I am today had it not been for Kevin and other teachers and friends I got to know at Eureka.


Putting on “That Scottish Tragedy” was a lot of fun and it taught me, not only a lot about theatre and being a part of a theatrical tradition, but it also made me more sensitive and aware of the arts—both performing and visual arts as well as literature. Kevin, who had taken part in a modern adaptation production of Hamlet at the Wisdom Street Bridge in Chicago (a production that incidentally featured a rising new star—Aidan Quinn) wanted to do the same thing with Eureka’s production of “That Scottish Tragedy.”


Eureka’s Theatre Department production of that play turned out to be an exciting post apocalyptic punk rock interpretation that featured among other things Macbeth (brilliantly played by Dave Steele) and Banquo as members of a street gang and the three witches as bag ladies. And when the Banquo’s ghost appeared later in the play to haunt Macbeth, the ghost appeared on video monitors, part of a close circuit television network that Macbeth had installed in his fortress to appease his paranoia after the deaths of Duncan and Banquo.


There’s no question that it was an ambitious project and nothing like it had been staged at Eureka before. The show opened on October 6, 1986 and ran for six nights including a Wednesday afternoon matinee. The success of the play had a lot had to do with Kevin’s vision and passion as well as the support and guidance of the head of the Theatre Department, Bill Davis.

I always have believed that everything we are today, everything that has touched and shaped our lives is part of this collective, cosmic critical mass consciousness that exists through academia and the arts and that has been passed along to us. It is up to us to make the most of this knowledge, artistic sensitivity and awareness that has been passed along to us and to share it. You know, to make this world a better place and when we finally to leave it one day, to leave it better than it was when we entered it.


I might not have thought about this when I took part in “That Scottish Tragedy” back in October 1986, but since then I can see how important being in that play was—especially as a writer. It was all about developing this artistic sensitivity that becomes more and more important to me as I write more these days, making up for a lot of lost time.


I am proud that I went to Eureka College. It just took me awhile to truly appreciate just how important it was for me to attend a small liberal arts college and to take advantage of the opportunities that I did—like playing Banquo in “That Scottish Tragedy” and getting to know some very special people like Kevin, Luke, Dave, Bill Davis and others.

On the road with The Jerks, Part 1

Meet The Jerks

 

After my first road trip with The Jerks to Peoria there was another one-night gig at a youth center in Dixon, Illinois. There would another date at the Second Chance as well as a few nights at T.J. McFly’s in Carbondale (that was a lot of fun heading back to SIU and seeing some of my old friends like Paul Collin).

 

The youth center gig in Dixon was one of those “favor” gigs—in other words, either Alan or Dick knew the owner of a bar or club from their Buckacre days (or vice versa) and the band or the owner were just cashing in that favor. With that Dixon gig, Alan and Dick were helping out a friend who had at one time helped them out. Their friend, the owner of that youth center was trying to get more business and hoped that The Jerks would bring in a good crowd.

 

It didn’t. Only a handful of kids showed up that night and I know it was an embarrassment and disappointment for their friend who expected a much larger turnout and an embarrassment for the band to have to accept money from their friend.

 

When it came to playing out—whether on the road or in one of the bars in La Salle-Peru—the band had a lot of equipment, which required a truck to get to wherever they were playing. The truck used to belong to The Outlaws, a group that Buckacre had opened for in the late 70s. It was just another one of those rock and roll connections and links (not to mention relics) that the band had with the past.


A lot of the equipment was from their Buckacre days including this very sweet, and very large 24-channel Yamaha mixing board. That was a real bear to unload and load into the truck. Usually took three of us to roll it off the truck or to roll it back in. It was even more of a bear to move when we had to haul it up a flight of stairs at some of the clubs we played at like that youth center in Dixon and Mabel’s in Champaign. Then it would take four of us to carry it up (after we had taken it out of the equally bulky and heavy road case).


One hot, summer afternoon we were unloading equipment at Friday’s when we noticed the Julia Belle Swain, this authentic riverboat slowly paddling up the Illinois River on its way from Peoria to Starved Rock State Park. That summer the owners of the Julia Belle Swain were offering these weekly riverboat excursions up and down the Illinois River and had even brought in famed bluegrass artist John Hartford (who was a licensed riverboat pilot) to pilot the ship on its journey from Peoria to Starved Rock.


Now all of us knew that John Hartford was piloting the Julia Belle Swain, so when it passed Friday’s on the river, we yelled his name. Sure enough, he was in the pilothouse and could hear us yelling and see us waving. He answered with a few short bursts of the steam whistle.


(Years later, when I was listening to the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack there was this one track that I really liked a lot. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a John Hartford. Just hearing that track and putting one and one together got me thinking about the summer of 1981 and waxing nostalgic. I quickly ordered a couple of his CDs and have been a big fan of his music ever since. Sadly, John Hartford passed away in 2001.)

 

The highlight of the summer of that rock and roll summer was a two-week road trip. We started off in Peoria at the Second Chance and from there we went to Carbondale and then on to Atlanta. For Al and Dick it was the first time that he put together this kind of tour/road trip since the days of Buckacre. The weeklong gig in Atlanta was a sweet deal arranged by some guy that had once managed Buckacre when they were playing the Georgia-Florida circuit in the 70s.


I think in many ways it was a bit of a vacation for the band, but also I think it was the thrill of being on the road again. I am sure Dick and Al missed being on the road and playing to different crowds. They really enjoyed playing music so much. It was their life ever since they performed together in their first band Rain.


After we finished playing at the Second Chance, we drove straight down to Carbondale. It was right before school started at SIU, so the whole town was buzzing with activity as thousands of students came back which meant the bar scene was going to be quite wild. Like the first time we played in Carbondale, we were back again at T.J. McFly’s, which was located on the main strip, just north of the train and bus station. Rumor had it that Jim Belushi was once the manager of the bar.


It was the largest bar in Carbondale with two rooms for bands to play in as well as a “beer garden” outside. When we played there for the first time earlier that summer, we were in the larger of the two rooms. At the same time we were there, Gary Clemons and Colors, a band out of Peoria was playing in the smaller room. How The Jerks managed to play the larger venue—when Clemons’ tour that summer was sponsored by Warner Brothers’ Records—was one of those rock and roll idiosyncrasies I guess. Maybe there was still some of that old Buckacre magic left.


T.J. McFly’s had arranged hotel accommodations for us, but when we got down there to Carbondale, we had to wait for another band to check out. Obviously they had been up all night partying so they were a bit slow in checking out that morning. So, there we were in the parking lot, waiting for our rooms. When those guys finally got out of their rooms and started loading up their gear in a van, the two bands in the parking lot were like two ships passing in the night.


Dick and Tom knew some of the guys (Tom it seemed always knew somebody that we met on the road; he had also been a drummer with the band Ken Carlyle and the Cadillac Cowboys and had played in bars and clubs throughout Illinois), and was the case when bands ran into each other, some road stories and other pleasantries were exchanged.


“Where are you guys headed?”


“Where going to Mabel’s and then back to Peoria to play the weekend at the Second Chance.”


“We just came from the Second Chance. And Mabel’s is a sweet gig. We played there before. Good crowds, but it’s a bitch getting set up inside.”


“Yeah, a real pain in the ass. What happened to so-and-so?”


“He’s with another band now.”


“You guys ever get back to the studio?”


“Maybe later this year.”


“How long you guys on the road for?”


“Just a few weeks, then just play around town.”


“Good turnout here?”


“Not bad. Guess you guys are getting here just in time. School starts in a few days. Should be pretty wild, huh?”


And then they were back on the road and we checked into our rooms; there were three of us to a room, Dave, Al, and Tom shared one room and I got to share a room with Alan and Dick.


”Man, can you believe so-and-so is still in the band?” Dick asked.

 

“He was old back in 1970,” laughed Alan. “He’s got to be ridiculous still jumping around on stage like he did back then.”

 

“Remember that time we opened for them in 1977?”

 

“And we blew them off the stage?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“They’re still probably pissed about it.”

 

When we were in Carbondale earlier that summer, it had been pretty quiet, but with school starting in a few days, the nights the band played at the bar were really wild. For students coming back to school, it probably doesn’t make any difference who’s playing, just as long as the drink specials keep on coming.


Of course, The Jerks were a good bar band. They were as probably good if not better than most bands playing the same bars and clubs they did in 1980-1982. As musicians they were tight—really tight. One wonders if they had been a few years younger, they could have gotten out of the bar/college circuit and landed bigger gigs.

 

A few months later, Dick and I were listening to a song by this new band, “The Blasters” in his van outside Murphy’s in Peru, Illinois before we went inside to set up.


“This could have been us Sparks,” Dick said. “This is the kind of music that we could have been playing after Buckacre broke up.”


Having attended classes at SIU the previous year, it was nice to be back in Carbondale again. Actually, I had thought about returning to school that year, but I was having so much fun “finding myself” as it were, I was in no hurry to get back to school. I was getting a different kind of education and one that I would constantly draw upon in the years to follow.


One night after we played, some of the bartenders in the bar invited us to some parties in this part of town called Lewis Park. That was pretty wild. One thing about college towns like Carbondale was you could just walk up to any house or apartment where there was a party going on and walk in. Alan, who was really into The Beatles, heard one of their songs being played in someone’s apartment and just walked right in and helped himself to whatever alcohol was available.


The band played three nights in Carbondale—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—and then it was on the road again to Atlanta.

 

Oh, Atlanta.

Super Cooties

One of the more bizarre memories I have of elementary school back in the 1960s were the times when entire classes were marched en masse to the nurse’s office where we would be examined for head lice.

 

It was cool to get out of class for 30 minutes or so, even if it meant for our school nurse to hunt for lice on our scalps.

 

And that’s what she would do in a dark room of her office with a handheld Wood’s Lamp/Light—an ultraviolet or black light—to check for head lice.

 

It was the weirdest thing, sitting there in that dark room, as our portly school nurse in her heavily starched nurse’s uniform (that always seemed to crackle when she moved) took that handheld ultraviolet light and scanned our heads for lice. Before each one of us had to enter that room, there was usually a fair amount of jostling and joking among us waiting in line, about who was going to literally be caught with “cooties.”

 

(As far as I can recall, none of kids in my class ever had lice or “cooties” even though some kids were suspected of being potential cootie carriers.)

 

Head lice are still a problem, except now there is a new bug in town.

 

“As school begins, health officials and parents across the country are bracing for this year’s bout of what some call ‘super lice,’ drug-resistant critters that fend off nearly all pesticides, even as experts say better treatments for the ancient, annoying condition may be waiting in the wings. 

 

Researchers have been warning for years that head lice in the U.S. and around the world are developing immunity to the strong insecticides used in over-the-counter and prescription shampoos. It takes just three to five years for the bugs to adapt to a new product, despite claims to the contrary by the manufacturers, noted Shirley C. Gordon, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University who studies persistent head lice.”

 

Yup, sounds like a big cootie problem.

 

And just in case you are interested (I know I was) the term “cooties” –as far as its English usage—can be traced from the American occupation of the Philippines, in 1898-1945, and before that to British soldiers’ presence in Malaysia.

 

“In most Austronesian languages (e.g. Malaysian and many Philippine languages such as Tagalog) the term for head lice, lice or fleas of any kind, is kuto. Foreign troops had ample opportunity to become familiar with the term and made a slang pluralized form (“cooties”) of kuto.”

 

How the term subsequently entered the vocabulary of grade school children is unknown; perhaps it could have been spoken by a service member home on leave and the name just caught on. From its original meaning of head or body lice, the term evolved into a purely imaginary stand-in for anything repulsive.

 

Cooties were so popular (in a different way, mind you) there was even a game that was sort of like a Mr. Potato Head where you assembled plastic legs, torsos, and antennae into cooties.

 

Ah, life was so much simpler when I was a child—one day our school nurse scanned a blacklight over our heads looking for head lice and the next day we played with our plastic cooties.

The Shock and Tragedy Felt Halfway Around the World

I didn’t know about it until early in the morning on the 12th.

 

And when I saw those images of the towers, the smoke, the fire and the second plane being played over and over again I could not believe what I was seeing. I refused to believe what I was seeing.

 

No, this cannot be happening!

 

It had happened and halfway around the world I broke down and cried.

 

It was the night of the 11th in Korea and there had been a graduation ceremony at the language institute I taught at that had ended a little after 8:00. Afterwards, I came back to my apartment in the teacher’s dormitory. I had to work the next day—interviewing new students for our language program as well as fly from Seoul to Kunsan Air Base in the evening to interview three female F-16 pilots (the following day) for a newspaper a feature story I was going to write.

 

Being it was a Tuesday night in Korea, Monday Night Football would be on at 7:30. (The game was recorded live from a satellite feed in the morning from the West Coast and then later played that night in Korea.) If it was a game I really wanted to see I would record the game and watch it later that evening around 10:30-11:00. Of course, this meant that I could not watch any other TV program until the game was over or even surf the Internet because of accidentally finding out the score. At the same time, I could not turn on the TV too soon—fearing that the game would be still on.

 

On the night of the 11th I waited until 10:30 and watched the game.

 

Having recorded the game I had the luxury of fast-forwarding through commercials and time outs and I finished watching the game around 12:30.

 

11:30am Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 in New York.

 

After I had finished watching the game I turned off the TV and turned on my computer to check my email. That was when I first had learned about what had happened. I immediately turned the TV back on to AFN (Armed Forces Network) and that was when the shock and horror of this tragedy finally caught up with me halfway around the world in Korea.

 

I just sat there in shock as I stared at the images of the towers, the smoke, the fire and the second plane being played over and over again.

 

This was not happening. This could not be happening.

 

Along with the shock I was feeling, I was also feeling so alone being so far away from home and not having anyone to talk to. I suppose I should have picked up the phone and called home, but I just was in so much shock glued to the front of the TV and seeing all those painful images that I could not. And that’s what I did I just kept on watching and watching.

 

When you are overseas and you hear about some natural disaster striking like a tornado or hurricane back home you feel bad and a sad but it would be the same feelings if I had had heard about a hurricane hitting say Texas or Louisiana and I was back home. You do feel something. You feel sad. You feel sorry for the people who lost loved ones or their homes.

 

What happened on 9-11 was something that I just could not comprehend being halfway around the world. It was just something I was watching on TV and not having anyone to talk to about or share in the grief.

 

How could this have happened?

 

Years before, in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh blew up in the federal building in Oklahoma City, I remember how shocked I was when I saw those images on TV and how I tried to comprehend the sheer tragedy of this event and the human loss.

 

This just does not happen in America.

 

I stayed up as late as I could—I know I couldn’t have slept if I wanted to—and watched the latest reports coming out of New York. The next day I had to go into work and interview new students for the coming semester. If I felt strange having to interview new students to evaluate their language skills—especially after what I had been watching on TV—and still in shock, the students I interviewed also felt the same way.

 

Almost all the students I talked to expressed their shock and sorrow. However, not everyone felt the same way. One of my colleagues told me that one of the students she interviewed told her that America had it coming. If that had been me, I know I would have walked right out of that interview.

 

That night I flew down to Kunsan Air Base (about one hour south of Seoul) as planned. All the US military bases in Korea were on alert and locked down—meaning no civilian employees other than DOD (Department of Defense) employees and their families were allowed on base. After all, no one at this time, at least here in Korea knew if America was under a large-scale attack and that bases and embassies around the world were also being targeted.

 

On September 13, 2001 I was probably the only civilian allowed on a US military base in Korea (approval had to go all the way up to the Commander for U.S. Forces Korea) for me to conduct my interview with three female F-16 fighter pilots as well as another story on how some Korean ancestral graves/burial mounds on the base had been preserved. It was only then, that I could finally be around some fellow Americans and share in the grief I had been feeling for the past two days. That’s what I really needed more than anything else then—to just tell someone how bad I felt about what had happened. And it helped.

 

We were all devastatingly affected by 9-11 no matter where we were at on that tragic day in September. We will always remember where we were and what we did on that morning and how life would never be the same again after that first plane hit the tower.

Hey There Yogi Berra! — “I never said most of the things I said”

I was reading an article today about some interesting quotes made by Australian Rules Football Players which made me think about some of the interesting and wacky quotes made by New York Yankee Great Yogi Berra.

Born Lawrence Peter Berra on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, Berra is a former Major League Baseball player and manager who played almost his entire career for the New York Yankees. Elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Berra is without question one of the most beloved baseball players to play the game since Babe Ruth.

Berra, who stopped going to school in the eighth grade, was famous for his malapropisms and fracturing the English language in highly provocative and interesting ways. Here’s just a sample of some of his more famous sayings:

It’s like deja vu, all over again.

You can observe a lot by just watching.

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

Even Napoleon had his Watergate.

He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.

You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

The future ain’t what it used to be.

If you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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