Monday, April 30, 2012

Dispatch from a Soldier in Seoul

Who knew that a letter in the mail written carefully and stylishly by hand from a young soldier stationed in Korea is such an event?  Reflexively we handle the envelope delicately and examined it thoroughly. In the pile of bills and slick color paper ads, it rises to the top like a magic trick for the rarity it is: A hand written letter. A thoroughly tactile dispatch from across the earth. We all sniff it to see if it had an exotic scent. After all, it had come so far. And the letter itself, written in black ink on thick white note paper bearing the watermark of a map of the world, is a treasure packed with detail.

It is science fiction the way we communicate now via the internet where instantaneous utterances and images fly at the speed of fiber optic light. Type, click, enter and it is gone. Forgotten is the close, word by word, reading of someone’s personal script transmitted by ink to paper and I’ve missed it. 
Dearly it seems.

With his permission, here is Tim’s letter exactly as he wrote it

Goodmorning, Linda,

How is everything in Florida? How are you? Also how is Sean, Tori and David? I do hope all is well.

Let me start by saying I Love Korea and Korean culture. Its very respectful, and very calm. Almost to the point of being shy. Age is very important here. The older you are the more respect people give you. Sweet 16 parties are unheard of here, because everybody turns 16. No when you turn 70, that’s when your family really celebrates here. They feel like that was lifes true challenge to live that long. If a buss is full people will stand or leave to make room for a older person. I think its very cool.

Another note, Koreans can’t drive and traffic laws are not enforced. Driving off post is a thrill ride of its own as everyone speeds, and does whatever they please. Like driving on the sidewalk for example. Its crazy but I have yet to be in an accident so heres hoping I never am.

The Korean war is still fresh in the minds of many people here. They live as is it happened yesterday, and it will be happening again tomorrow. Most bridges are set to blow to slow the norths invasion. Battle positions all face north, true and ready.

Because of the Korean War most people actually like Americans. They remember the USA coming to save them and helping them to the point they are today. So everyone is friendly and are always willing to talk and have dinner and drink with you.

Yes they eat dog here. Its very expensive and kinda hard to get, but it taste good and is an experience I recommend. They own pet dogs, and are 2 very different types between the one that cuddles your lap and the one that cuddles your rice. Not for the weak of heart.

Every Korean loves soccer, and dancing. Internet here is 4 times faster then in the states. Wifi is free, and everywhere. Never tip your waitress , it’s an insult to her. Theres no such thing as“separate” bills. One person will get the check. Never point at someone with one finger, it means you want to fight. People here dress in suits…everyday. That’s just a few. I will send you more later. Take care.

Timothy Everett

Tim is in the Army Military Police and was deployed to Afghanistan prior to Korea. He is a pal of my son's, an Eagle Scout, and I wrote about him in '09 here entitled They're All Tim to Me.
It is rough, lonely and isolating for a 20-something American guy in a foreign country. Writing is a way out, even if for just a brief moment, and I push him like a Tiger Mother to pick up a pen and just go stream his thoughts.  Now that I have wiped my eyes and smiled, I am awash in the gravity of what a hand written letter can do. After I get over the dog thing (!), he’ll be receiving something hand written and home made soon.

Salute, Timothy!

Riding patrol in Seoul

With the big gun in Afghanistan

If you would like to send Tim letters or care packages he can share with his unit and Korean friends, here is his address:

Timothy Everett
142nd MPCO
Unit 15254, Box 69
APO AP 96205-5254

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Winn-Dixie Bodhi

          They studied me as I flipped a family-sized jug of ketchup and a jar of pickled banana peppers into my buggy. Usually at the market, I am immersed in my grocery list, coupons and my mission to make every penny count, but something made me look. Caught in the act of staring at me, they twitched a little, furtively averted their eyes and began an animated conversation about salad dressing. My one fast glance their way yielded detail.

         The tall one had long brown hair and wore a tight fitting floral blouse with acid washed jeans and flip-flops. Her face was shiny, not made up, and her eyes, sparkly and dark, were recessed under a set of savagely plucked eyebrows.  The short one had short bleached permed hair that stuck out at right angles from her head and wore what once were probably beige shorts and a faded t-shirt, barefoot. Her face was shiny too and mottled with scabs.  She held her head cocked back so that she stared out of lidded inflamed half-closed eyes. I got the “what are you looking at?” stink eye from that one so I quickly kept my eyes to myself. These ladies were not Thelma and Louise. They were more like Squeaky and Aileen
          Grocery shopping not my favorite activity.  I literally bribe myself out the door, clutching my enviro-friendly grocery bags and my club discount card, making promises to reward myself with ice cream or wine (or both) if I complete this onerous task.  I opt to shop at odd hours of the day or night. That way, not only do I avoid the rush hour crowds, as a person with Parkinson’s, I can take my time. No one is running up on me in the produce department impatiently clipping my Achilles tendon ram speed with their cart. I don’t have to navigate around huge expanded families including day-old screeching infants and audibly flatulent grandpas wielding mean walkers arguing about whether Cap’n Crunch is better with crunch berries. Or not.
          And, even better, I reduce the incidence of having to explain to little Johnny or Janie why I shake while their helicopter parent unabashedly stares at my active limbs and walks away murmuring “There but for the grace…”.
        Off hours make shopping do-able for me especially when you can fire a cannon down any aisle and hit no one. But that day, it was different.  I shared the store with two women who, and this is without being intentionally mean or judgmental, creeped me out. It was a vibe I couldn’t shake. And as a woman who thinks I can do anything if I just devise a work around, I try to deny any reminders of my inconvenient vulnerability.
         They seemed to materialize down every aisle I chose.  I was forced to squeeze by them a couple of times as they held their positions not moving or yielding me the right of way. Eventually I just didn’t go down an aisle where they were.  Their cart was filled to overflowing with food.  So was mine.
         It was a relief to roll my buggy into the cashier chute which was one of three chutes completely available. The lights were on. I was halfway through unloading my order to be checked out when they rolled in behind me. My cashier paused briefly to let them know there were other cashiers open, but they ignored her and moved further in behind me.  Ever feel someone enter your personal space with purpose? 
         I had a huge cartful and the only bagger in sight, a vapid aimless Tweedle-Dee, was walking away tenaciously avoiding eye contact with either me or the now panicked cashier. I hoped those women would focus on the magazines on the racks right there because this was going to take time.
         Then, the short one, waving her tatted sleeve arms brandishing an unlit cigarette, called out a long indecipherable sentence ending with “…too fuckin’ slow.”  
         And she shoved her cart into mine with a loud clang.  “Someone’s in a little hurry” said the pale cashier.
         I am a babbler. And a flapper. When this kind of stress rears up, I go kinetic and flood the immediate area with jabbering and flapping and this was no different. “Sometimes it’s hard to be patient. Patience is difficult when you can see something is going too slow. I just try to take deep breaths and stay calm…I like to listen to what the Dalai Lama says on these things…” and on and on as I worked as fast as I could to get this task done and me out of there.
        “Young lady, may I have the distinct pleasure of escorting you and your groceries to your car on this lovely day?”
         I hadn’t seen him coming. A tall elderly Morgan Freeman of a man in a white apron and a black Winn Dixie cap materialized, bagged my stuff with flare and speed picking up where I left off talking soothingly of patience and calm and service to others.
        Clapping his hands together and laughing, he allowed that he is a fan of the Dalai Lama too. And a Baptist. And couldn’t see a conflict between the two.  I looked back at the two women, who could plainly hear the entire conversation, and they had turned their backs on us conferring with each other in whispers. A manager dropped by and sent my poor frightened cashier to her break taking on the next check out himself.
        And Lucius and I strolled out into the beautiful day.
        He says that even at his age, he is considering a tattoo on his chest. Peace on one side and Amazing Grace on the other.