Chapter 3 – Seoul Searching
The boarding gate for Asiana Flight 235 from Chicago to Seoul was huge and absolutely jam-packed with people of Eastern descent. Seeing only two other honkies in the place and feeling like the minority for the first time in my life, a strange sense of self-consciousness pervaded. I found an inconspicuous seat in the corner where I put on the iPod, reflected on the events of the day and counted my blessings. I was so fuckin’ tired, I couldn’t wait to sit on the plane and do absolutely nothing for the next fifteen hours.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able get much sleep in transit. Apparently the dickhead behind me couldn’t wait until he got home to practice his taekwondo kicks and proceeded to treat the back of my seat like a punching bag for the duration of the flight. That, however, wasn’t the only disturbance that kept me and everyone else in the vicinity awake. The screams and the shouts of two little wild-ass Asian kids who’d been having an all-out WWF match in the aisle were enough to wake a dead man from his grave. I can’t count how many times my and other passengers’ chairs were used by mini-Hollywood Hulk and mini-Stone Cold as turnbuckles from which vicious flying clotheslines were delivered at an altitude of thirty-five thousand feet. And all the while, their mother sat there ignoring the havoc wreaked by her spawn.
An elderly Filipino woman who’d been sitting to my left disappointedly tisked up a storm as her husband shook his head in disgust at the piss-poor display of negligent child rearing.
“That’s not right,” she said and I agreed. “That mom should do something.”
Borne of our mutual resentment for the unwarranted disturbances, the woman and I shared a brief conversation covering our origins, our destinations and our reasons for travel. Although very nice and friendly, she too turned out to be a bit on the quirky side.
Each seat on the plane came with a cheap-ass, sweat-shop-made, complimentary pair of sandals and, for some reason, this Filipina kept urging me to keep mine. Overly-concerned and very adamant that I take them with me once the plane had landed, she lent helpful reminders every couple hours as if she figured a white boy didn’t have enough ginseng in his system to remember a simple suggestion for the duration of a fifteen-hour flight. Even though I could fathom little use for those miniature polyester pieces of shit beyond rolling them up like the newspaper that the clown from Air Bud would employ to beat the golden retriever, then smacking those little bastard kids upside the head, I smiled and agreed, not wanting to get into it with the sweet old lady. Then, half a day later, as the plane began its descent into the South Korean capital, the woman reminded me once again not to forget the footwear that I’d placed in the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me. I laughed and thanked her for the heads-up.
The peculiarities of the elderly are always enough for a good chuckle but, at the same time, the thought of my parents and even myself becoming old makes me sick to my stomach. Back home, in addition to window-washing and gutter-cleaning with my dad where most of our clientele are over the age of 65 and use outdated phraseology such as “gangbusters” and “the dickens” to describe how hard the rain was pouring off their roof the night before, I work for a catering company called Unforgettable Edibles where I’d recently made a delivery to some senior citizens club at a local Catholic parish. Ironically, the senile old broad directing the gathering handed me a check with payment made to the order of “Forgettable Edibles.” The slip-up brought a smile to my face and I fixed it for her, not wanting to bring any unnecessary attention to her obvious mental decline.
In my book, that stage of old age is perfectly fine. Although a little forgetful, you’re still self-sufficient and hell, if you wanna encourage a stranger to keep some shitty sandals on an airplane – you go for it. It’s the years beyond that that I lose sleep over – the Alzheimer’s, the dementia, the frailty, the incontinence and the nagging internal voice demanding an answer to the “what was the point of this whole experience on earth?” question that already plagues me as I make the slow, painful crawl towards my inevitable demise.
When I was in seventh grade at St. Juliana School, they made us take weekly visits to the nursing home as part of a requirement to partake in the holy sacrament of Confirmation. Talk about hell on earth, I’d never seen so many miserable fucks crammed into one fucking place at one fucking time. I never figured out what the point of us being there was because our wrinkly brethren didn’t particularly enjoy our company and we sure as hell didn’t wanna waste our precious playtime on their creaky old asses either. Some of the residents looked at us in disgust as if we were somehow rubbing our youth in their faces simply by being there while others were so fucked up on drugs or gone from dementia they had no idea who or where they were.
One woman would perpetually be mumbling and bumbling – making noises that sounded like “ba-ba-ba-ba-ti-ti-ti-ti-sweesh-sweesh-sweesh” while drooling and masturbating the guard rail that kept her from rolling off the side of her hospital bed. I’ll also never forget the constant echoing of this mysterious, haunting voice from an unknown source that bounced down the rancid, piss-stinking hallways repeatedly crying, “Get! Me! Out of here!”
One time, I felt so very guilty as if it’d been my fault that these people were old and dying that I actually helped a guy escape. Assuming the boss hadn’t shot him dead at the end of the flick, this old guy was like Cool Hand Luke sixty years on and had been rolling towards a fire exit in his wheelchair when he begged me to open it for him. I always root for the underdog and found it impossible to say “no.” So, I propped the door open and the fire alarm started buzzing as he blasted off like a horse from the starting gates at the Kentucky Derby. For an old guy, he had that fire in him – some real rabbit in his blood. I was pulling for the dude all the way. Unfortunately though, the old vehicle housing his young soul soon ran out of gas down Touhy Avenue and a pair of Filipino nurses caught up to him no more than a block away.
There’s no denying it, nursing home visits were an extremely traumatizing experience. Visiting that place sucked major ass but I use that fucked-up experience to help keep my shit in perspective. It reminds and encourages me to fulfill my dreams sooner rather than later. If I feel like setting aside some time, putting off my student loans and postponing being someone’s pee-on bitch at an office job in order to see the world, I’m gonna do it. Because in my heart of hearts, I know for a fact I don’t ever, ever, ever wanna be the guy wheeling away from a nursing home in pursuit of lost dreams and squandered time because I always I did what I felt I was “supposed” to do.