Month: June 2015

Capture

The Flipside

by Fred Colton

They were supposed to practice writing Mandarin characters but Luke always just sat there and drew dicks. 4,000 hanzi to learn and not a single one Luke couldn’t turn into a thin veiny phallus. He incorporated scrotums as needed to help with the curves and slants. Slid the drawings to the other students and everyone chewed off their bottom lips off to stifle the laughter. Hanzi made of cocks. Just twisting and snaking around each other.

Mandarin, mandatory since kindergarten. Mandatory in over one hundred countries. Kids, Mandarin is your passport to the world. Learn it and you can trade stocks in Paris or be a professor in Capetown.

“Or I could just stay here and keep winning races,” Luke told his parents, and his brother Bob, and the bowtie in the guidance office.

“You need to learn it,” his parents said. “You’re doing great everywhere else but Mandarin drags your GPA down below 3.0.”

And the bowtie in guidance said, “If you’re amenable with taking a goose egg then just do your time in Mandarin quietly. The teacher gets upset when you disrupt his class.”

Luke played with the snaps on his track pants. “You should put the word teacher in quotes. Because they can study Viking Anthropology or some other irrelevant shit at a Tianjin community college and still somehow get a teaching job overseas.”

“They’re not all like that.”

“Well, this one is.”

And so here in Massachusetts was Yang Jinhai. 23, from Shanghai. He was a carelessly constructed human being. A bowl cut, distractingly white overbite, and flappy Gumby limbs. No beer belly when he got here but he had one now. No English vocabulary when he got here, either, and that sure as shit hadn’t changed. So when Luke called him Mr. Wang instead of Mr. Yang and made the class bust up, Jinhai didn’t know why.

*

They were at Good Karma Cafe. Luke and his friend Jeff. The menu was in Mandarin and English. Every menu on the continent was in Mandarin and English. Two off-duty PLA soldiers were out on the curb with a miniature forest of Bud Lite bottles between them.

Jeff handed Luke his phone. “Look who’s living the high life.”

Jinhai operated under a secret identity on Facebook but Jeff had stumbled upon the teacher’s profile. So here was a photo roll. Jinhai blitzed at an EDM boat party on the Charles River. Jinhai slack-jawed on a ski trip with his hand down the back of a white girl’s yoga pants. Jinhai in a tan suit at Crossroads and also at the Mission. Doing flaming shots and motorboating some different white girls. Despite inhabiting the visage of bucktoothed troll Jinhai seemed to never go longer than ten minutes with a dry dick.

“The high life,” said Luke. “Life as a bachelor party. What do you think he’s got, some family money?”

“Mandarin teachers make a killing,” Jeff said. “They don’t pay rent.”

“Get the fuck out of here.” Luke scrolled through a few more photos. “I should re-sketch some of these but replace Mr. Wang Jinhai with a giant penis instead. Wearing a suit and going skiing.”

*

On Saturday Luke broke his own 800m record with a 1:52.38. But that was only good enough for silver because a rival from Port Grand broke it harder. Guy clocked a 1:52.01.

But that was OK. Because Luke got faster every week. He dropped on the infield and saw himself on the twenty-foot screen under the scoreboard. It was OK because there were three thousand people at this meet and Stephanie was one of them. It was OK because she was a fox and just catching her eye for a second was enough to wipe his memory. And it was OK because that night she came over and it happened.

First time but it wasn’t awkward. It was done and Luke shuddered and curled up. A warm magic fizz worked through him. When they started talking again he said, “Scouts were there today. I could run go run for—”

Stephanie said, “I might be in Beijing.”

“Shit.”

“I know. I know.”

“But you were talking about Ohio.”

“I could get a better scholarship to Beida and my parents said—”

“Shit.”

She covered up. “Just an idea. I might stay here.”

*

“She won’t stay here,” Bob said.

He was down in the den with the lights off. Doing business on a six-pack of Sam Adams while he leveled up on GTA. A takeout carton next to him held rice and fried eggplant.

“She’ll go to another school and fuck five guys by Thanksgiving,” he told Luke. “Even if she goes to your school, you can’t guard her at every kegger and she’ll still fuck five guys by Thanksgiving. It’s a law of nature, young sir.”

Bob installed hardwood floors for ten hours a day. His shoulders resembled watermelons. Still in the nest at 25 because there wasn’t a 25 year-old in the hemisphere who could afford their own place. He had an aging F-150 and as a birthday present to himself had just upgraded the stereo in it.

“Beijing,” Luke said, for no other reason than to state his problem, to lament the existence of it.

“The center of the universe,” Bob said.

“I could go there, too.”

“Or you could just stay here and ‘keep winning races.’” Bob laughed through his nose.

“Ha.”

“Brother, you’re sixteen; your head is fucked. When you’re sixteen you have the logic of a drunk man.”

“I’ve got everything else. I just need Mandarin. I can learn it and go.”

“No. Here’s what you do: you cut it with this little chick. You work on your gift, protect it. Unless you wanna end up on this couch next to me.”

*

San shi wu…OK that’s $35 an hour,” said Jeff.

“Motherfucker,” Luke whispered.

Monday. They were in the Mandarin office at Jinhai’s desk.

The teacher chewed on the tip of his tongue while he texted someone. Jeff was there to translate, something he was capable of since he didn’t spend the entirety of Mandarin class drawing dicks.

“That’s a deal,” he told Luke. “$45 is standard. And academies cost even more.”

OK, Luke thought. But $35 is still a goddamn king’s ransom.

He could pull down $6.75 an hour washing dishes at the cafe. Before taxes. So: eight hours on the clock could buy him one with Jinhai. That was a horrifying exchange rate.

But, after enough hours with Jinhai he could get to Beijing.

“Tell him I can do it,” Luke said.

“The test is in five months. And you gotta be damn near fluent by then.”

“I can do it. When is he good?”

Jeff and Jinhai had a quick exchange and then Jeff said, “Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.”

Luke fixed Jinhai with a quiet stare. The guy had a gold mine in his head. Just say words, get money for them. What a life. What an incredible, incredible life.

“Tell him I’ll pay him on Friday,” Luke said. “For ten lessons.”

*

The call came at 10 P.M. Bob was driving home.

“Someone broke the window. Stole my radio.”

“Shit. Bob, that’s terrible,” said Luke. “Where?”

“The job site.”

“Any cameras around?”

“No.” Bob cleared his throat hard. “It was up in the hills. Only had that fucking thing for a few weeks.”

“That’s fucked up. I’m sorry Bob. I’m so sorry.”

*

Luke handed Jinhai $350 in an envelope on Friday. A wordless transaction that nonetheless concluded with smiles from both parties.

Now Luke had a five week head start on getting another ten lessons’ worth of currency together. He practiced hanzi at lunch. Getting the stroke order down. The characters looked weird when they weren’t rendered as dicks.

He could do this. Five months was no problem. Fast was the only way he could do things anyway.

After school he went to Stephanie’s. Shuddered, curled, tingled again and said, “You’re going to Beijing, aren’t you.”

“Well,” she said. “It makes sense.”

He could tell that was her plan because she never talked about it. And he knew she hadn’t talked about it because once she flew over there, there wouldn’t be a Luke in the equation. Girls were very mature and practical. Did this irritating thing where they looked eighteen months into the future and tried to figure out what would happen.

“Well,” Luke told her, “pretty soon I’m going to have some good news for you.”

*

On Monday Jinhai was gone. Taken his bowl cut and overbite back to Shanghai.

“He got arrested at Foxwoods Friday night,” someone said. “On the casino floor.”

Luke blinked and put down his pen. Didn’t move.

Jeff said, “What happened?”

And some kid said, “He and a few PLA soldiers mixed it up with some BU students. There was talk of an assault charge so he posted bail and caught a plane.”

Luke sat still. Said nothing for the rest of the day.

*

At practice. Out running intervals in the city under the train tracks. Asian actors were on a billboard with a fireball behind them. One of them was in an armored combat suit that let him fly. The red-and-yellow Chinese flag was on the side of that building over there. Hanzi everywhere and it was all a taunt.

But it didn’t have to be. Luke finished and texted Stephanie and said they were done. Someday they’d both see that as the good news he promised.

Then he went home and told Bob the whole deal. He woke up on the floor with a front tooth loose.

Bob said, “Here’s how you pay me back. You work on the crew this summer for two weeks. For no pay.”

“I will,” said Luke.

“And win your next race.”

“I will.”

And he did. The guy from Port Grand didn’t even made the podium. The other two guys on the podium were Chinese kids from the international school.

“Foreigners think they can tell you what’s important because they have the Almighty RMB,” Bob said later. “But they can’t. You should know better anyway.”

“I do know better,” Luke said. “But sometimes I forget.”

“You’ll be good. I know you will be. You’ve got something.”

Back to Mandarin class. They had a new teacher, the teacher was a she, and she was so hot that Luke stared and began learning a few words by accident.

*

And Yang Jinhai was home, back in the capital of the universe. Back in with the parents, because you had to pay for rent in Shanghai. The dollars from that American kid were almost gone. He couldn’t get laid here. He was on Baidu looking for work. America was out.

But there were so many other options.

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South Korea’s CARS Epidemic Enters Fourth Decade

A Yangpa News Special Report

SEOUL – The OECD has announced that 5,869 South Koreans died of CARS in 2014, which marks the 30th consecutive year that the number of fatalities from the epidemic has topped the 5,000 mark.

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One of Seoul’s many high-risk areas

CARS, or Catastrophic Automobile Ramming Syndrome, is believed to affect nearly a quarter million people a year in South Korea. In a country of 50 million, this means that nearly everyone can name a close friend or family member who has been stricken by CARS.

Delivery driver Kim Yeseok has had several bouts with CARS and survived, but some of his friends were not so lucky. “Last year I lost two colleagues to CARS,” said Kim, “A Sonata and a Bongo, to be precise.”

While most victims of CARS survive, many suffer a range of severe symptoms, including massive trauma, internal bleeding, paralysis, compound fractures, third-degree burns, lacerations, coma, profuse bleeding, and death.

The World Health Organization has traced the beginning of the CARS epidemic in part to the rise in private automobile ownership in South Korea. “Since 1985, when the number of privately owned automobiles exceeded one million for the first IMG_8976time, South Korean CARS-related deaths have consistently been among the highest of all OECD nations,” said Doctor Park Jin-hyuk.

While there are a variety of treatments for CARS-related symptoms, experts say that prevention is the best medicine, and that people can greatly reduce the risk of CARS by following a few simple precautions. “Slowing down and wearing a ‘safety belt’ are effective,” says Doctor Park, “but the best thing may be merely paying attention to the warning signs. You can usually see CARS coming and take effective countermeasures.”

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Despite the epidemic south of the border, North Korea remains largely free of CARS

Despite the perennially high death toll, the South Korean public maintains a relatively calm attitude about the threat of CARS. “Actually, I am very worried about MERS,” said Seoul pedestrian Lee Soon-ja, voicing a popular concern about a disease which at press time had killed a total of 16 people – roughly the same number who are killed by CARS in a typical day in Korea. “I was just now reading about it on my smart phone as I was crossing the street. It’s utterly terrifying.”

How I Accidentally Killed Benny’s Hedgehog

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by O. Langer

In a recent study by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, one hundred ten-year-old boys and a hundred ten-year-old girls were sat at tables with a pencil and sheet of paper and asked draw a mouse.

The results confirmed the scientists’ suspicions. Of the 200 children, 180 had drawn not the rodent but a computer mouse. These were millennials. They may not have had pets but they’d always had a PC in the house.

*

I used to play video games on sunny days. I’d draw the curtains to keep out the sun’s glare. It seems so wasteful now. I should have been outside.

One summer my brother and I got guinea pigs. Sisters. An exotic-sounding breed, they were Abyssinian. Abbys are the loyal opposition to the typical show pony strain in that their coat is rough and tufty with cowlicks. One was cappuccino brown, the other granite grey. We spent the weekend handling and stroking them and overseeing as they explored.

They were a weekend wonder – we didn’t play with them again. I reverted to spending all my time in my bedroom alone playing on my Sega Megadrive (Genesis in North America). Dad built a large pen where they lived freely day and night each summer. In winter they slept in the garage. I used to see him from my window cleaning out their hutch or with one in his hands.

We had a dog too – a German shepherd who’d failed as a police dog. We got her when she was two. The police couldn’t train her to bark or bite, so were giving her away. We paid £10 – for the leash. Her name was Sadie.

Before Sadie we’d had Merlin, a border collie my parents had gotten as a puppy, before they’d had kids and bought their first house. I’ve never seen my dad cry, but the first time I knew he’d shed tears was the Sunday morning Merlin died upstairs in my parents’ bedroom as my brother, sister and I were downstairs, watching cartoons. Mum came down first to tell us what had happened and not to go up there. When eventually Dad came down he was puffy-eyed. His best friend was gone.

Sadie was a different story. He hated how she’d loyally follow him around the house. Merlin hadn’t done that.

My grandparents had suggested Sadie to us. Dad’s heart hadn’t been in it this time. One summer’s evening, I paused playing Megadrive to go downstairs for something. Passing my brother’s room, I saw Mum sat alone at the end of on his bed, looking forlornly out the window at the street out front.

I stopped, surprised, and asked her what was wrong. She asked me: “Do you want us to give Sadie back?”

Having Sadie wasn’t like raising a puppy. Sadie didn’t play. But I liked having a dog around. Besides, you didn’t give dogs back.

“But you don’t walk her.”

Just then Sadie walked in and up to Mum, who stroked her apologetically. I escaped back to my room. My world. An uncomplicated world. I had entered my teens and cherished solitude. Mum didn’t broach the subject with me again and we kept Sadie.

*

Every summer Sadie was tormented by the guinea pigs in their pen. She would run to wherever they ran and just fixate on them grazing. They were oblivious to her. The larger, brown sister even gnawed the wires persistently, irritated by its confines. Occasionally it made a hole, which Dad would patch up before it could be nibbled big enough to escape through.

One afternoon my parents were out and my brother and I were downstairs, him watching TV and me at the PC. Then, a sound I hadn’t heard before, from the back yard: a siren, rising sharply then held. I went to look and saw Sadie with the brown guinea pig in her mouth. The bolder sister had finally broken free. But its freedom had only lasted a few seconds.

I screamed “No!” and she put it down. The useless police dog could have shaken it to death but hadn’t wanted to.

It was uninjured, but splayed flat on its front, too shocked and shaking to stand. My brother held and stroked her, but she kept shaking. We took both guinea pigs inside and made them a cozy temporary home in a shoe box upstairs. When the shaking stopped she was tense to touch. Normally she purred when stroked, but not now. Waking early the next morning I checked in on her. She’d died in the night.

Her sister died within a year, from loneliness. I remember not being surprised. And relieved. She needed company. But I wanted to play at the PC over playing with her.

*

Video games rendered me a poorer academic. They’re chiefly why I’m absent-minded and impractical, lousy at sports, utterly unable to multi-task or make quick decisions and awkward socially – too inside my own head. Then I went and killed my friend’s hedgehog.

It was my first year in Korea. My school had two foreign teachers: me, and Benny, from America. Not long after arriving in Korea, Benny got a hedgehog from a department store, which he named Ine. Soon after that he got a puppy. He left the puppy alone too long too often, but he never bored of playing with her and trained her well.

One Wednesday, Benny fell deeply ill. A doctor told him told he’d been drinking too much soda (!) and advised a two-night hospital stay. He complied, arranging for his closest friend Amy to take in the puppy and go by his apartment after work both nights to feed Ine.

Come Friday Benny’s condition was just the same and he was counselled to remain for the weekend – to which he said “ok”. But that weekend Amy had Christian camp to attend which put her in a dilemma: should she stay or should she go? In the end her calling to please Jesus was so great that she opted to go rather than stay and help the sick, and lo and behold, the puppy came to stay with me.

It was also up to me to look in on the hedgehog. Ine spent most of his time in his house, in his tray-box quarters. When he ventured out it was to eat, drink or play with the cardboard tube from a tissue roll by sticking his snout deep inside it then parading around with it in the air. He’d then discover it was stuck and appreciated if you pulled it off for him. It went “pop” when you did. I don’t know how he ever got it off with no-one around to help him.

I poured Ine his food for the day and filled his water bottle, which had a spout with a ball that emitted water when licked. Bottle in stand, I put it back beside his tray.

But it wasn’t his water bottle. It was the puppy’s, and once in the stand, it stopped just above the critter’s head.

A hedgehog can’t crank its neck to reach its mouth up. It isn’t able. Hedgehogs can barely look up at all. Pet hedgehogs either drink from a dish or a bottle hung much lower.

On the Sunday as I entered Benny’s apartment Ine came running out of his house. That was odd. Then I noticed the bottle was still full. He’d barely touched his food either. But I figured he didn’t eat and drink every day. I could leave. I had a puppy to tend to. As I left he was shuffling about his tray frantically.

When Benny came home the next morning, pale and thin, he opened the door to find Ine curled up in a ball at the front door. It was winter and he wondered if Ine hadn’t gone into hibernation. No, Ine had gone on a critical search for water. Who knows how much of the apartment he’d scoured, but at the front door he’d admitted defeat, curled up and died.

Benny chose not to disturb Ine at the door that night, hopeful a warm floor might rouse him from his dormancy. Meanwhile, I was praying. All praying is is pleading: “Please don’t let two and two equal four!” You don’t have to be religious to pray.

The next morning Benny posted on Facebook that he’d just buried his hedgehog. As I walked into the office we shared with Amy he looked up from his desk and said: “So Ine died.”

“Yeah, I saw…”

“Died when I was in the hospital.”

He knew I was sorry and never brought it up again, even the time he ran into his apartment to get something and my girlfriend, noticing no tray in the kitchen, called to him in the bedroom:

“Hey, where’s your hedgehog?”

“Died.”

*

I’m trying to be a better employee and friend; to pay attention, earn trust and anticipate my next big mistake. I don’t want to think like those kids, the guinea pigs in the experiment at UC Berkeley. I don’t want to always be staring at screens (he says, typing). Like an Abyssinian gnawing at wire, I want to break out and go explore. Like Benny’s hedgehog too, I’m meant to forage. Isn’t that an expat, after all? A forager?

Tomorrow we’re getting a puppy – my first pet since I had a Tamagotchi that’ll rely on me. It was my idea. Give me something real.

I’m ready.

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beef-n-cheddar

Beef and Cheddar, Utah

by Eli Toast

Last summer I drove to Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah to visit an old friend of mine. It was a long drive and on the way back home I stopped for gas at a Texaco in Snowville, Utah, halfway between Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho. I was hungry as a wolf-bitch so I decided to eat at the Arby’s that was conveniently attached. Coupling restaurants to gasoline stations is a relatively new trend that was just beginning as I was exiting America some 10 years back. Used to be a guy could go into a Stinker, Texaco, Chevron etc… and walk out with a station-sourced plate of nachos, couple corn dogs, some kind of burrito, a few hot dogs, a pickled egg, a Hot Mama sausage, some jo-jo’s, maybe a burger, half dozen pieces of fried chicken, and 20 or 30 packets of mustard and taco sauce. Heat lamp food and hot dog rolling machines (equipped with an expertly located bun drawer just beneath the rollers that stayed nice and steamy for optimal bun moistness) were normal. I miss those halcyon days of tasty, American, lamp-irradiated food that gave you heartburn and made your body leak.

In-store heated food merchandisers are a relic of the past; you almost never find them in gas stations anymore. Hot-dog rolling machines, however, have managed to stubbornly remain (God bless). Nowadays, seems everything comes equipped with a fast food restaurant. I’d honestly rather eat heat lamp food than Arby’s so I was a bit bummed-out as I filled-up and listened to the wind whistle through the gas pumps there in Box Elder County, Utah, United States, population 167. Blue sky bigger than anything you ever saw and sagebrush for miles around.

Inside, the place was heroically Republican. Freedom was everywhere, loaded with all manner of camouflage Don’t-Fuck-With-My-Guns-Wolf-Eagle-Barbecue propaganda. A galvanizing mixture of liberty porn and brave sloganeering steeped in the tears of 9/11 firefighters.

I paid for my fuel then drifted over to the counter at Arby’s to place an order for a Beef and Cheddar combo meal. The girl who served me was the quintessential poster child for the harmful side effects of Utah. Sporting a meaningless blade inspired tribal tat; small enough to hide from her family, too small to be daring, but just big enough to be indiscreet: right in the lame sweet spot. Straight up home-cookin, nose-pierced Mountain-Dew addled teenager, with a boyfriend who doesn’t brush his teeth enough, smokes synthetic marijuana, and owns a stolen switchblade.

She was incredibly friendly. The whole outfit was lousy with friendliness. If you spend enough time away from America when you come back you think people are joking. It’s approaches parody. Like, is this some kind of joke? You don’t know me. What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment?

Anyway, I received my Beef and Cheddar combo meal with curly fries and then loaded up at Arby’s free sauce bar. I like to dip my curly fries in plain mustard, like the guy from Slingblade.

There was another couple there. Octogenarians was my guess. Good, salt of the earth folks. Planned on stopping at Arby’s over last night’s steak dinner. The old man needed a new tow-ball installed on his rig so the timing was right. They loped out as I sat down in the empty and bright dining room, the mid-day sun baking the hell out of everything.

I unwrapped my sandwich and beheld it as if it were a glistening ambassador of life sent to me straight from the top of Barbecue Mountain.

As I’m eating the manager busied himself by washing the dust off the fake plants that separated the tables. Mid thirties, dishwater blonde guy with a mustache. Into dirt bikes and Satanism. Tells everyone he loves elk hunting, but he really doesn’t, he just says so to fulfill a vague sense of obligation to what he perceives as his personality. He doesn’t dislike hunting because of the killing, that’s his favorite part: he dislikes it because he finds walking around in woods totally boring.

He turned to me, and asked with real enthusiasm: “How’s your sandwich today?”

And for a second I really wanted to say something snide and nasty. Not to be a dick, but to liberate these modest sandwich peddlers from the unctuous snare of corporate smarm that shackled them so. Then again they’d probably been calling me a lib-tard faggot since the moment they saw me step out of my parents’ Toyota.

I answered his question politely, “It was great, really good actually. I love that Arby’s Sauce. What is it? Horseradish? Mayo? And what else?”

“Definitely horseradish…” he said. “And mayo. The other ingredients are actually a secret proprietary blend… But between you and me.. It’s white vinegar, a little granulated sugar, pinch of salt, and Xanthan gum.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“Nice, thanks, maybe I’ll whip some up someday,” I said as I stood to leave.

“You, have a good day, sir.”

“You too.”

I figured I ought to buy a soda pop for the road so I grabbed a Fresca on my way out. The older, ostensibly down-and-out cashier (with darker, edgier tattoos: the portrait of a dead child lost in a car accident, the name of an asshole ex-husband who’s out on parole now, whom she still spends weekends with getting drunk together down at the reservoir, barbecuing, and having swampy hog-fart-sex that would give a grown man nightmares) wanted to share her Fresca memories with me.

“Fresca, interesting, not many people drinking Fresca these days… Me and my cousin used to drink Fresca all the time. We loved it.”

I couldn’t give a meaningful reply, and she knew that, so whatever I said was fine with her.

“Nice,” I said. “It’s crisp.”

“He lived in Wendell. Drove truck for Jacklin Seed. But whenever he came by we made sure to have a Fresca together… But… He’s dead now, sooooooo.”

“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be,” she said, pursing her lips, “ because I ain’t.”

And with that refreshing bit of candor I turned my back on Snowville and set out for the oblivion of the open road. I Made one more stop along the way outside Mountain Home. Filled up my tank, went inside, grabbed a bag of salt and vinegar chips and a roll of extra-strength Tums because I had terrible heartburn.

“Someone got heartburn?” Asked the guy at the cash register (overweight, beard, lapsed bass fisherman with a rusty boat disintegrating in his driveway.)

“Too much Arby’s in Snowville.” I said.

“Mmm… Love that sauce they do.”

“Well, I can tell you how it’s made.”

“Shit, that’s the last thing I need,” he said.

Fair enough.

Suppose that’s the last thing any of us need.

Picture us, driving down highways knowing how all the secret sauces are made, all the wonder of life sucked out because one loosed-lipped poindexter thought he had things figured out.