Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sorry, Dave Eggers

Finally picked up a copy of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius--his 1999 novel that the New York Times said announced the "debut of a talented--yes, staggeringly talented new writer" and that has praised everywhere and anywhere--and I set to reading the Preface, which begins: "There is no overwhelming need to read the preface. Really. It exists mostly for the author, and those who, after finishing the rest of the book, have for some reason found themselves stuck with nothing else to read." I scanned a bit further over the many pages of the preface, then came to the lengthy Acknowledgements, which I saw included a picture of a stapler, then I went to the novel's first page, which I didn't even finish before I put the book down. Through no fault really of that first page.

I just can't do it any more. I just can't. All these pirouettes, words upon self-deprecating spiraling strands of words. Yes, one critic wrote that Eggers' novel was "finally a finite book of jest, which is why it succeeds so brilliantly"--and maybe it is, and maybe it does; but not for me. For me all this is hardly finite enough.

It's somehow gotten that I rarely trust anything over twenty pages.

Perhaps I'll pick up Heartbreaking again some time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You are what you eat

"Teacher, teacher!" Luke says as I enter the classroom. "A man in your state ate many cockroaches and died. It's really disgusting!"     
     "What do you mean?"     
     "It was in Florida. He ate many cockroaches. They were having a 比賽."     
     "Contest," I say. "They were having a contest."     
     "Contest. It was an eat cockroach contest, and he ate too many and died."     
     "It was in Florida?"     
     "Yes, I saw in the newspaper."     
     "That's disgusting!" Cindy says. "Florida people are disgusting."     
     "It was in your state," Luke continues, delighted. "Florida people eat cockroaches! Did you eat a lot of cockroaches too?"     
     "Well, I'm not from Florida," I say. "I already told you guys. I'm from Wisconsin, in the north. My parents moved to Florida."     
     "Because they have more cockroaches there," Hank says. "Your dad wanted to eat them."     
     "No. I only go to Florida to visit," I say, but then wonder: "Luke, why did someone die from eating cockroaches? Why did he die?"     
     "I don't know. It just said he died."     
     "Are you sure it's a true story?"     
     "Yes! It's true!" he yells. "It's from FLORIDA!"     
     "Why are Florida people so crazy?" Joseph asks. "Like the man who ate people's faces."     
     "It was only one face," Mary points out. "He ate a man's face."     
     "Well..." I begin.     
     "And you," Luke interrupts. "You are also crazy. Soon the police in Taiwan will catch you."     
     "I don't think so," I say. "I'm pretty smart."     
     "No! You are stupid!" a few kids yell. "They will catch you!"     
     "Well, why do you think they'll catch me? I've been here since 1996, I've already eaten three faces, and they haven't caught me yet."     
     "Ewww!" Cindy snaps. "Disgusting!"     
     "Maybe they don't want to catch him," Hank says. "He keeps the night market clean because he eats all the cockroaches."
     "Do you help the government clean the night markets?" Luke asks.
     "Actually cockroaches aren't bad," I say. "But they have to be be fresh. They're kind of 脆脆." And I mime eating and chewing cockroaches.     
     "You are DISGUSTING!" Cindy snaps. "You go back to Florida NOW!"     
     "I like Taiwan," I say.
     "Why do you like here?" Joseph asks.
     "Well. . . . The faces here are more delicious," I say, reaching toward Cindy as if to touch her face.     
     "EWWWW!" they all scream and start pounding their desks.     
     This theme of "Crazy Florida" theme is well established in at least three of my classes. Another class started on it with the news of the Florida pastor who was planning to burn Korans. And there was another previous story about something from Florida, I can't remember what, that they'd heard from the news. So they started getting on me. And I can't really blame them, since I've noticed it too. Florida makes it into the news here all the time. But it's always insanity and mayhem.
     Back when Florida messed up the 2000 presidential election, I got grief for that too. But the kids I teach now don't know about that, as most of them were babies then.     
     After getting home I did a search on the cockroach story. Not in the least surprised to find it true:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yes, I can be fair too

At the second presidential debate of 2012

People sometimes accuse me of being virulently biased against the Republican Party, which I don't think is fair. I judge candidates on their policies, not on which party they represent. And so I watched last night's debate without the kind of venomous "Go team!" attitude many Americans bring to these contests. It's clear that this time Obama delivered the goods, winning through sheer strength of argument. But I must admit I was also impressed by Governor Romney's performance. For a lying flip-flopping chunk of animated vomit whose only goal is to game the system for the top 3 percent, Romney does manage to create a pretty good illusion of reasoned debate. Just saying.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Election

It's never been like this. My mind keeps dwelling on next month's election; I feel I'm possibly more nervous about tomorrow's debate than Obama is. Which is strange. For weeks I've felt prodded by an anxiety that doesn't make sense to me--as if there were something different this time, something enough to provoke a kind of foreboding. Whether they win the presidency or not, I think the coming four years will be the Republicans' last stand. If they lose this election, they are finished. If they win, they get four years in the White House, and probably two in the Congress--after which . . . they are finished. This is evident in the demographics. So the long future of the Republicans--at least in terms of their current ideological configuration--looks dismal. But regardless of this, there's something in this coming election, in the current arrangement of forces, that makes me uneasy. Perhaps it is just a matter of floating anxiety, and my being battered by a virus.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sorry. It's my stomach . . .

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I won't be watching the vice-presidential debate. Or rather I'm ashamed to admit the reason. It's because I have such revulsion for Paul Ryan that I could not stand listening to him for as long as he will have to talk to finish a debate. The idea of an Ayn Rand devotee being so close to holding the second highest office in my country's government makes me sick. And he himself: his vaguely weird Clark Kent Twerp Version kind of handsomeness combined with his Wisconsin twang: these added to his eager-beaver willingness to lie repeatedly--I can't watch the man without a mixture of queasiness and violence rising in my gut. Which isn't right. I should be able to listen to a debate after all. But this is just how it is. So best of luck, Joe. We're behind you all the way. Put that smiley lying little fuck in his place. May we never have to listen to him again after November.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Minor Maladies

To turn middle-aged is to be forced to learn (and to learn the hard way) the real physical meaning of a whole slew of medical terms one had previously ignored as "other people's problems": terms such as bursitis, shingles, prostatitis, acid reflux, etc., etc. Turning forty, one begins to suffer from a new health issue every year or two, and with each of them there is the experience of something like, "Oh, so that's what bursitis feels like." Along with this comes the fact one must suddenly stop doing something one likes. Or doing less of it.

My favorite of these minor maladies in terms of sheer annoyance value is acid reflux. I'd always thought it was just an issue of overeating. But no. When the problem started harassing me last year, making me wish I could somehow tilt my bed up, I went and investigated online as to causes. It turned out acid reflux wasn't really so much overeating, but rather a matter of a valve at the top of the stomach that didn't stay closed when it should. The acid came up from the stomach because the cap on the stomach was loose. Here, I learned online, were the key things that could loosen it:





So if I wanted to stop the acid reflux, I just needed to stop using these four things. Pretty nasty, no? I mean, how sadistic can you get? This is a near exhaustive list of the still legal substances that make life worth living. I will experiment with bed tilting, thank you.

The most recent middle-age malady I've acquired is called shingles. Though I'd heard of shingles over the years, I never really knew what it was. If only I could have maintained that ignorance. Shingles is actually a belated attack from the virus that causes chickenpox. In fact it's like a Stage 2 attack of the same original infection.

I got chickenpox when I was nine, and I assumed that I'd thoroughly defeated it. No such luck. Rather, the virus that caused my chickenpox, varicella zoster, went into dormancy in my nerve cells, and now, 37 years later, has made up its mind to launch a second attack. It is doing this after almost four decades of idleness. Pretty impressive. But if it wanted to impress me, I wish it would just bring me the pox back, which I remember as itchy and mildly fever-inducing. Instead, it seems viruses develop a kind of attitude problem when forced into dormancy so long. Shingles, which has been plaguing me three weeks, is not itchy in the least: it is a vicious biting bitch of a scourge--tenacious and painful as hell. And I'm not doing well against it, though I continue to follow doctor's orders and am taking a regular hefty dosage of an antiviral drug which causes--another cheery medical term--tinnitus. Tinnitus is basically ringing in the ears. Which means that these weeks with the shingles I regularly hear mosquitoes buzzing round my head when there are none. Which is giving the real mosquitoes an unfair advantage. (No, I'm not joking. The ringing I hear is identical to the sound of mosquito wings. Almost uncanny. When it first started I actually believed there was a mosquito near me in the living room. It was only hours later, when I lay down to sleep, and heard the mosquito flying inside my pillow, that I realized it was an hallucination.)

But seriously: I know I've no right to complain about all this. These are only minor health issues, and I'm grateful for the decent health I've always had, as I'm lucky to have Taiwan's health care system taking care of me. Living as we do, amid such racket and pollution, we urban people certainly don't deserve good health. Though sometimes in pain, heartburned, tossing and turning, we are still right to be grateful if we've made it to middle age without any of the major maladies.