Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Life (page 1 of 3)

When Timothy Leary played Peoria (well, not exactly Peoria but a town just across the Illinois River)

This past week, Albert Hofmann the Swiss scientist who discovered LSD in 1938 while researching the medical uses of crop fungus, died at the age of 102. Although I knew a little about what he had done—as far as discovering LSD—I didn’t know anything more about the research and experiments he had conducted with this hallucinogenic drug.

 

However, what I did know about the research—at least indirectly—was that I did meet one of his more outspoken advocates of the recreational use of LSD, Timothy Leary back in 1986. Leary who had popularized the drug in the 1960’s with his suggestion to “turn on, tune in, drop out” was in America’s Heartland to give a talk at—if you can believe this—a small college outside of Washington, Illinois (near Pekin, Illinois and just across the Illinois River from Peoria).

 

He was supposed to talk about interactive computer software, but the audience had another topic in mind. No sooner had he delivered his opening remarks, someone in the audience asked him what he thought about mandatory urine testing for drug detection and that was all he needed to lash out at the government and talk about the 60’s.

 

So much for his talk on interactive computer software and I am not even sure if that is what he was going to talk about in the first place.

 

The audience ate it all up. That’s what they really wanted to hear him talk about—drugs, rock and roll and the 60’s.

 

After he had spoken and went backstage he sort of held court for a dozen or so audience members and a few members of the press who wanted to hear him talk more about the 60’s. I also went backstage and when he saw me he looked up from where he was sitting and said, “Hi.”

 

Timothy Leary played Peoria and I got to say “Hi” to him.

It all started with Archie Comics

scrapbook001When people ask me how I became interested in writing or what was my first publishing credit, I tell them Archie Comics.

That’s right, it was Archie Comics and an Archie Fan Club letter that got me started down the literary path.


It probably wasn’t how I first became interested in writing because I had already been writing little stories about one thing or another (it just sounds cool—or in the vernacular of the time, groovy—to say that it was a comic book that got me started) but it definitely was my first publishing credit and a paid one at that.


I hadn’t thought about that fan club letter I had written back in 1969 for many years until 1998 when I had gone back home to visit my Mom who had moved back to Illinois from Texas the previous year. One day she asked me to go through some of my personal mementos of mine like photos, postcards, letters and other stuff that she had been holding onto for me in a small trunk ever since we lived in Oglesby, Illinois back in the 60’s and 70’s.


That day one of the things I came across was this letter from Archie Comics, dated August 19, 1969 and informing me that I had won first prize in their fan club contest. I thought that was pretty cool of Mom to hold onto that letter for all those years and I decided to take it with me back to Korea.


I had just started to use the Internet back then and one day, a few months after I had returned to Korea, I thought about that letter again and wondered if I would ever be able to find a copy of that issue of Archie Comics with my letter. I searched the Internet for Archie Comics, got the publisher’s email address and sent them an email.


Shortly thereafter I got a reply back from one of the editors thanking me for writing the email and my interest in finding a back copy. However, he informed me that he wouldn’t be able to help me and then went onto say that Archie Comics has gotten many similar requests from people just like me over the years who also had letters published and wanted those issues. He wished me luck in one day finding that particular issue.


I never thought about it again even when I did—a few years later—find some back issues of National Lampoon and Trouser Press through used booksellers on Amazon. I suppose if I really wanted to I could Archie_Comics_Fronthave found a copy—on eBay or some other site—but I forgot all about it.


It was only when I scanned a copy of that letter and posted it on my blog not long ago—musing about writing career—when I thought about it again and wrote how it would be cool if I could get my hands on a copy of that issue.


And that’s exactly what one of my best friends from back home Bob Patelli did when he read that blog posting.


Right around Christmas last year I got this Bubble Mailer from Bob with—you guessed it—a copy of that Archie Comics issue inside. I couldn’t believe. As soon as I saw the cover, my hands started shaking as I turned to the fan club pages inside and saw that letter I had written over 38 years ago.


That was one of the best Christmas presents I had ever received and it couldn’t have come at a better time because last Christmas I was feeling really down and homesick that I couldn’t be home with my family and friends.


At the same time, what made it just a little more special was that Bob and I had been out of touch for a few years and had just started exchanging emails again. And then, out of the blue, he surprises me with this wonderful gift. Thanks a lot Bob.

 Archie_Comics_Inside


 


Is that a burger I smell cooking?

Not long ago, I was walking back to my room after class one day when I pass this Korean restaurant specializing in Bulgogi and Kalbi—two popular Korean meat dishes—and when I catch a whiff of the meat cooking inside (it’s the kind of restaurant where customers grill the meat at their tables) I swear it smells like a burger frying on a grill.

My mouth begins to water. My gut begins to churn.

And just like that, my mind is transported back in time and space and I could be walking somewhere back home and having a similar olfactory experience if I happened to catch a whiff of some burgers sizzling on a grill at an outdoor barbecue or picnic.

It’s funny how the sense of smell can trigger something in your life and make you feel a little nostalgic when you are halfway around the world and years away from everything now tucked away in your memory bank.

Sure, I can have my burgers here, but for that second or two when I smelled that meat grilling, it wasn’t that I was craving a burger; maybe it was something much more.

Another time I was walking down the street with a colleague when I suddenly stopped in my tracks and turned to my colleague, “ Do you smell that?”

“What?”

“It smells like someone just cut the grass.”

Sure enough, someone had mowed some patch of grass somewhere and on that warm, spring night I could have been walking back home in La Salle or having just finished cutting my grandparent’s lawn and ready to quench my thirst with a tall glass of iced tea.

Just a whiff of the sweet, fresh smell of cut grass (thank God I don’t have allergies!) was enough to open up that memory bank and for a split-second—for as long as it took for that smell to register—to feel a little nostalgic.

As much as I love being overseas and traveling on the path I have been on for as long as I have, there are times when feeling a little nostalgic (and not homesick) is a good thing. It’s a bit of reality check I guess. When we need to open up that memory bank from time to time.

The people who define me — One of my best friends & baseball, football, and political cohorts, Luke McQuade

Yeah Luke, this blog’s for you.


(And I swear you look like Alec Baldwin in this photo of you and your daughter!)


I have been blessed with a lot—especially the people I have met on this amazing, and sometimes strange journey through life—and although I don’t always get around to saying it, (and personally those people who have made a difference in my life) I couldn’t have made it this far without them, like my friend Luke McQuade.


Luke’s become a regular visitor to this blog and leaving some very thoughtful and insightful comments about some of my posts. I would expect nothing less from someone like Luke whose friendship is very dear to me.


I first met Luke back in 1985 when we were both starting Eureka College—Luke as a freshman and myself, a transfer student. We both lived in Gunzenhauser Hall, one of the oldest student dormitories on campus and would soon become roommates for one year.


What I remember most about that autumn at Eureka was Luke and I going over to his brother Kevin’s house every Sunday for dinner and Da Bears. Those were some special times watching the Bears during that championship season. Later, it would be the watching the Cubs as well as attending some Peoria Chiefs’ games.


That was really cool how I got to become very good friends with Luke as well as his brother Kevin when I was going to Eureka.


I have always respected and admired Luke for taking a stance and articulating what he believed in whether it was political or philosophical. Nowhere was this better illustrated than the time Luke hung a banner (actually a sheet) with “U.S. out of Nicaragua” from his dorm window. (Luke had gone to Nicaragua and done some volunteer work with the church group Witness for Peace.)


Hanging that banner outside his dorm window was a ballsy move on his part, especially given the fact that Eureka College was Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and Reagan just so happened to be President at the time and this whole Iran-Contra/Oliver North fiasco was going on.


That first year at Eureka, Luke and I were pretty tight as friends. In addition to being roommates we also worked in the Commons (the school cafeteria) and also were involved in theatre (more so our second year when That Scottish Tragedy was put on by the EC Theatre Department—definitely one of the highlights of my two years at Eureka). We hung out a lot during the summer between my first and second year at Eureka and the summer after I graduated I stayed around for most of it working in the cafeteria again and also helping Luke on the paint crew.


Luke got me that job and what I remember most about it was us working at night because it was so hot during the day. We had to prepare the rooms that were going to be painted by spackling any nail holes as well as covering up the moldings and the windows. We had a lot of time to talk and think about the future and everything that we wanted to do.


At times I think Luke thought of me as another older brother.


We went to Peoria Chief’s games, saw Galileo at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, went to a Cubs’ game (a field trip for the Class of 1987) and listened to a lot of rock and roll.


After I graduated from Eureka Luke and I stayed in touch, but we only got to see each other two times. I came back to Eureka only twice—once for Homecoming weekend in 1987 and in 1989 when Luke graduated (Kevin and I had gone to O’Hare to pick Luke up when he came back from England where he had studied for a year). And then I was off to Japan a few weeks later.


The last time I saw Luke was in the summer of 1990. He came down to the Illinois Valley for a few days. I showed him around the LaSalle-Peru-Oglesby area, took him to the Igloo for a “pork with the works” and finally we ended up going to the Oglesby Celebration Days where we saw Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits fame) in concert.


We’ve kept in touch on and off over the years—more off than on—and now, I feel that our friendship has come full circle. I know that as I rapidly approach 50 in one more month I am doing more to re-connect with people I haven’t stayed in touch with as much as I should have all these years. I am happy Luke and I are staying in touch more.

It’s not what you think

First of all, let me make it clear that I am not feeling sorry for myself today.

 

It’s just that there are certain days when you think about who you are, where you are at now and the things you’ve done—and things just don’t add up the way they probably should have if you had just done things differently.

 

Well, maybe to some people that might seem like the cosmic tumblers are beginning to click for “I’m feeling sorry for myself” spell. However, there are days—and you probably know the ones I am talking about—when your mind starts wandering and you start wondering about what the heck is happening in your life, especially if you have been having some down time or going through some sort of crisis.

 

That’s kind of how I felt this morning when I was trudging up a hill—weighed down with my backpack filled with books, a CD player and umbrella—on my way to my morning class of non-communicative and comatose-teetering freshmen architecture students. The hill is a steep climb and about halfway up I hear a car speeding up the hill and quickly move to the side to avoid being hit (it makes no difference to drivers that there is a steady stream of students up and down the hill).

 

As always, I am very careful when walking anywhere in this country—you really do have to walk defensively.

 

And that’s when I stop and think, “What the hell am I doing here? What the hell am I doing walking up a hill on my way to a class of students who could care less about speaking English and getting paid a fraction of what I used to get paid with much less vacation time?

 

I was once in the U.S. Air Force and responsible for making sure multi-million dollar jets could meet mission sorties. I once got carte blanche treatment writing for a newspaper here and interviewed diplomats, veterans, politicians, and celebrities.

 

I could have been a contender.

 

Wait a minute; I thought I said I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself?

 

Okay, let me put it a different way. What the hell am I doing here pushing myself up this hill like that fellow in the Myth of Sisyphus? Hmm…that sounds much better and the kind of philosophical underpinning I wanted.

 

It is getting harder and harder to get up this hill every day.

 

It’s getting harder and harder every day to come up with a handful of reasons—other than the obvious one, a steady paycheck, albeit a small one—to stay here. There is nothing keeping me in Korea other than that steady paycheck and being close—flying distance close—to On in Laos.

 

I have no reason to feel sorry for myself anyway—especially with my Mom battling cancer. When I think about what she’s going through, being back home all alone and having to have chemotherapy and radiation treatments, it would be so selfish of me to even remotely feel sorry for myself here in Korea.

 

If anything I am feeling selfish for all those years that I had my fun running around Asia and convincing myself that I wasn’t doing anything wrong as long as I sent some money home every month.

 

Now, all those years are catching up with me and I am feeling guilty and disappointed with myself for not doing the things that I should have done when I had the chance. Yeah, that’s what it is. I am not feeling sorry for myself. I am feeling disappointed.

 

Turning 50 in a month-and-a-half doesn’t help much either.

 

And it gets harder and harder to get up that hill.

On my iPod today — “Watching the Wheels”

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I’m o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball.

There are just some songs which will always be bittersweet like John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” The song, which was the third and final single released from 1980’s Double Fantasy album concerns Lennon’s dismissal of those who were confounded by his “househusband” years, 1975-1980.

I have to admit that I wasn’t much of a Lennon fan after The Beatles broke up-I mean, I never bought any of his solo works-but when I heard that he was coming out with a new album in 1980, myself like most Beatles’ and Lennon fans were ecstatic. At the same time I has just started attending SIU and I was really getting into the music scene there listening to and buying a lot of albums.

And then everything changed on December 8, 1980.

When I hear this song now, I think about attending SIU and hanging out with my best friend Paul Collin. At the same time, I sometimes think that I have also been “watching the wheels go round and round” the past year or two of my life.

It’s a good song and one that’s been getting a lot of playing time on my iPod.

It is another song for My Life’s Soundtrack.

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

Ah, people asking questions lost in confusion
Well I tell them theres no problem, only solutions
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind
I tell them there’s no hurry
I’m just sitting here doing time

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go.

 

iPod, therefore I am

If there were one thing that I could not live without, it would have to be my iPod Nano. Now on my third iPod (my first iPod Shuffle that I bought back in 2004 finally conked out not long ago), this trusty Mp3 player has given me much musical pleasure and serves as my daily, mobile soundtrack for my life.

 

Back in the summer of 2006 while vacationing in Bangkok, I stopped in this bookstore on Sukhumvit Road and came across this book, iPod, Therefore I am. Written by Dylan Jones, this semi-autobiographical and cultural tome explored how the iPod has revolutionized the way that we listen to music.

 

Although I never got around to reading the book (a few months later I was packing up everything as I prepared to leave Korea and the book got lost) I totally agreed with the author’s premise that the iPod has dramatically changed the way we listen to music. Never before could we have so much of our music literally at our fingertips to listen to whenever we wanted.

 

Unlike the clunky, bulky Walkman’s we might have used for our mobile soundtracks in the past, the iPod made it possible to have more choices when it came to our listening pleasures which ultimately, as Jones wrote about, revolutionized the way we choose, catalogue and listen to our music.

 

Inasmuch as the iPod has definitely made choosing and listening to our music easier, it has also changed the way he share and turn our friends onto the music we like the most. With the advent of Mp3 players and file sharing and downloading pretty much signaled the end of making tapes for our friends. Gone are the days of spending hours rummaging through our record or CD collections and recording compilation tapes for our friends. Even though you only had 90 minutes for a compilation tape (sure, there were 120-minute tapes available, but I was always under the impression—and maybe this was some cassette tape urban legend—that the sound quality was not as good) you put a lot of care and attention into choosing songs for whatever mood you wanted to create for the recipient of the tape.

 

To be sure, there was an art to making the perfect compilation tape as John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity so eloquently articulated:

 

A good compilation tape, like breaking up is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to hold the attention. Then you have to take it up a notch, but not blow your wad, so maybe cool it off a notch, and you can’t put the same artist on the tape, except if some subtle point or lesson or theme involved, and even then not the two of them in a row…

 I used to love making compilation tapes for my friends as well as making killer “break tapes” for The Libido Boys when I was running sound for the band from 1981-1982. It was so much fun turning your friends onto some new bands and music when you put together a tape for them or played one you had made.

 

Of course we can “burn” CDs for our friends, but it’s not the same. It might be easier and quicker but it has lost the “human” touch and that little extra care and attention that went into making a good compilation tape.

 

Although I might be waxing nostalgic for the days of the compilation tapes, there is no way that I could get through these days without my iPod. I suppose if I wanted to I could make a compilation playlist or two, but when it comes to my musical selections on my iPod I prefer being surprised and have the tracks shuffled. To be sure, it’s cool when you hear a song that you haven’t heard for some time even though you know that it is there.

 

One thing is for certain, the iPod has filled more of my days with music—and whether I am waxing nostalgic more or enjoying my favorite music more often—it is the medium for my life’s soundtrack.

Running around Daejeon to get a tetanus shot

I’m cleaning the drain in the bathroom yesterday and when I go to remove the drain cover, it doesn’t budge at first. I try again and too hard this time because I end up cutting myself on one of my fingers.

At first it didn’t look too bad and a Band-Aid was all the cut really needed. However, it had been over 10 years—in fact, 17 years—since my last tetanus shot, so to play it safe I decided that today I would get one.

How hard can it be to get a tetanus shot in Korea, right?

Wait a minute. This is Daejeon and even though I have been here for a year, I still don’t my way around the city too well.

Where the heck am I going to get a tetanus shot?

I’ve only been to the doctor one time here in Daejeon and that was last year when I had come down with a nasty cold. So, I decided to pay him a visit.

Now, the nice thing about having to see a doctor or dentist in Korea—at least in Daejeon or back when I was living in Yonhui-dong in western Seoul—is that you don’t really need an appointment. You just walk in and wait your turn. Sometimes you don’t have to wait long at all.

And then there’s the cost. Not much at all. It’s no wonder that when Koreans get sick they immediately go to a doctor or hospital no matter what ails them. After all, with national health insurance, it only costs a few thousand Won to see a doctor, and in some cases, maybe nothing. That’s what it cost me to see the doctor today.

However, the doctor who runs this internal medicine clinic across the street from Woosong Language Institute was not the doctor I needed to see. I stopped in after my 9:00-10:30 class to see if I could get a tetanus shot. After waiting about 30 minutes to see him, he told me that I would have to go another clinic.

Great. It wasn’t going to be that easy after all to get a tetanus shot.

No problem. The clinic that I had to go to—an orthopedic clinic—was just down the street, about a fifteen-minute walk.

Strange, I could only get a tetanus shot at an orthopedic clinic (or a hospital had I elected to go that route).

So, it was off to this other clinic where I ended up having to wait almost 45 minutes before I finally got my tetanus shot. Fortunately some of the staff spoke a little English and the doctor spoke pretty good English, so I was in good hands when it came to explaining what I needed.

The doctor told me that I could expect some side effects like sweating, soreness in my arm, and a fever. He also advised me not to take a shower until tomorrow. What’s that? I can’t take a shower until tomorrow? Hmm… I have never heard of that before. Any doctors out there want to respond to this kind of injection after care?

And, as it turned out (because this was an orthopedic hospital) the doctor I talked to can also help me with my carpal tunnel syndrome. Cool. Now I don’t have to worry about trying to locate a doctor.

Although I didn’t have to pay anything for consulting with the doctors, I did have to pay for the tetanus shot—25,000 Won, about $25.00.

Well, in the end it wasn’t that much running around after all. I got my shot and was back home around noon to rest up an hour before teaching again in the afternoon.

“As long as I have my Cokes and smokes….”

This is what this woman said to me on the Number Nine bus in Hamamatsu, Japan back in the fall of 1989.

 

I was on my way downtown when she got on the bus and sat down next to me.

 

She had only been in Japan for a few weeks and obviously—from the reference to Coca Cola and her favorite brand of cigarettes—she was settling in okay.

 

As long as I have my Cokes and smokes.

 

What she said that cold, gray autumn day nearly twenty years ago has stayed with me as a reminder of what it is really like about being an expat and some of the sacrifices we might have to make. I suppose that is true about anything we might miss about back home and how we can manage our lives and a decent quality of life while we are living and working overseas.

 

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. Stuff we might have even taken for granted at one time or another or things that we would just miss once we were overseas or that might cost more.

 

I remember before I went to Japan in 1989, my very good friend Kevin McQuade told me to bring a couple of jars of instant coffee with me because coffee was so expensive there. Before coming to Korea, I was told to make sure to bring stuff like underarm deodorant because it would be hard to find once I got here.

 

Life was definitely tougher here in 1990. Of course there was always the Black Market you could depend on when you missed some of those comforts from home.

 

We all need a little something to make living overseas easier. I think today expats in Korea, Japan, and Thailand have it a lot easier than we did say 10 or 15 years ago.

 

Perhaps now, some people might say as long as I have my Krispy Kreme and Café Latte from Starbucks I will be okay.

“November Rain” in April

This might not be what you expected (though it was raining here the other day) but there is a Guns N’ Roses connection. Trust me.

Yesterday in one of my classes I was teaching the reduction of “and” in expressions like “cream and sugar”—“cream ‘n’ sugar” and “bread and butter” – “bread ‘n’ butter” from the textbook and thought I would come up with a few of my own: “rock ‘n’ roll” and “Guns N’ Roses.”

The activity, at least the way I was setting it up before the students had to do some choral repetition was going quite well until….

“Teacher, what is a Guns ‘n’ Roses?”

For now I would let the wrong question word and obvious subject/verb agreement errors slide. What I wasn’t going to let slide and what surprised me most was that in a class of 27 students, no one had ever heard of Guns N’ Roses.

Well, it’s been nearly fifteen years since the band was together. Back in the early 90s Guns N’ Roses ruled in Korea as far as a heavy metal/rock and roll favorite among university students—especially when Use Your Illusion I and II were released here. I can remember going to the Block Hof, this video bar in Shinch’on (near Yonsei University) and watching one Guns N’ Roses video after another back in 1993.

Now, it seemed that the band, at least for these students at Woosong, had been all but forgotten.

Hoping to jog their memories I mentioned a few songs like “November Rain” (that song still rocks as does the video!) but the students shook their heads. Now far from being a big fan of the band itself, I do like this song a lot and was surprised that no one had ever heard of this song.

“Sing us the song!”

Yeah, right.

One student thought that song was by The Beatles.

Like I said, I wasn’t going to let this—not ever hearing of the band—slide. I joked with the students and told them that their homework for next week is to listen to the song or watch the video. I’ll be curious to see, come next Tuesday in class, to see how many students will actually take me up on this.

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