Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Layers of BS

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My latest contribution to women's tennis power rankings is online here.


The Foreign Husband's Greatest Hits

There are many types of Korean medicine: Those that involve taking large quantities of pills of questionable efficacy, those that require one to sit still while needles are inserted into their various regions, and others that require nothing more than drinking the most horrendously awful-tasting beverage you could ever imagine.

But, before resorting to these methods, what kinds of home remedies to Koreans like to employ? I’ll never forget being introduced to one of them while I was in church in Seoul one weekend, sitting next to a student of mine. As the effects of the week’s teaching activities began to bear down upon me, my eyelids grew heavy and my posture slumped.

She, however, had a remedial solution available at all times: Making a fist, she drove her knuckles repeatedly into my back, starting in the middle but working her way upward. It did have the desired effect, in that my eyelid weight grew drastically more manageable and my posture began to better resemble a utility pole.

Being 5’2 and weighing no more than 110 pounds, the amount of damage she could do was thankfully limited. Still, it was the first time anyone sought to offer me assistance through punching, at least since public high school.

I know for a fact that there was a cultural difference at play here, but I’m not going to say this more pugilistic-style of medicine is never practiced in America. I only know that I grew up in the American South and was raised by Midwesterners. If I said it’s never done in the entire U.S. of A, a Dear Reader might drop me a line saying, “But they do that all the time in Oregon!”

So let’s just say that it came as a surprise to me. I’m getting more and more used to it, though, particularly now that my Korean wife has reached the third trimester. The next time there’s a move to reclassify the stages of pregnancy, I would suggest calling the first three months the “I’m Tired and My Stomach Hurts!” stage; the next three-month period could be the “I’m Tired and My Back Hurts!” phase, and the final portion would be the “I’m Really Tired and Everything Hurts!” epoch.

My wife’s wedding ring no longer fits well because her hand is swollen. She wakes up multiple times at night because she can’t sleep in a position that doesn’t make her lower back ache. The first thing she says when I wake her in the morning is that she doesn’t want to get up, and the second is usually that her stomach hurts.

The biggest problem area, though, is definitely that located below the knees. This region bears all of her increased weight, and she must use this area to support her throughout the day while she works as a nurse. With areas such as her head, she can often be found striking herself with the palm of her hand, which, paradoxical as it sounds, is intended to improve her condition.

However, her legs are outside of range for her to land any blows that would have any force behind them. In response to her ailments, my giving foot massages as become almost as daily a part of my routine as teeth-brushing and breakfast. That I’m okay with, but sometimes she has less Tennessean forms of treatment in mind.

“Rub my calves,” she’ll say, and I oblige despite knowing what the next phase is. “Now, hit my calves.”

Perhaps it’s the Southern manners or Midwestern values getting in the way, but I’m really not comfortable with hitting any part of my wife. I make a fist nonetheless, and try to give her what she craves. What results would probably be better described as “enthusiastic fist-touching” than “hitting,” however.

“Harder!” she cries, and I know a bit of psychological misdirection is required. Maybe I should pretend these lower extremities aren’t actually attached to someone I know (and who isn’t a foot shorter than me). Maybe I should instead pretend that they belong to someone who owes me money, or perhaps those Americans who don’t read newspapers because the articles are too long.

I know I’ve found just the right amount of force when she says, “Ahhhh.” Soon I can ask, “Can I stop hitting you now?” and she’ll answer in the affirmative. Then she can return to searching for a sleeping position that will allow her 30 minutes of uninterrupted rest.

Perhaps if this more physical style of medicine is brought to America (just not Oregon) it will be revolutionary. Years after leaving the boxing ring, Mike Tyson can start a second career. If his acting career further sours (assuming that’s possible), Russell Crowe can have a backup plan. In states where they are legally allowed, brass knuckles will soon be found beside stethoscopes in doctor’s offices.

Okay, maybe not.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Screening a Baby's Progress

In January, my wife’s doctor told us that we might be able to learn the gender of our baby, depending on what position it lay in.

When told as much, I suppose one has to decide if they really want to know. Some prefer not to see what’s on the computer monitor; they’d rather be surprised on the date of the birth. I don’t share this perspective, but I respect it, even if I think it dates back to a time before modern luxuries like sonograms, 3-D imaging and universal suffrage.

Personally, I couldn’t imagine passing up the chance to find out. It’s not that I had a particular preference, or that I would care any less for the baby either way; I just felt it best that I know in advance whether it would require pinkish clothing to soil up until age 4 or more bluish outfits that it would find creative ways of soiling well into its teens. Then, I could begin planning accordingly.

Sadly, January wasn’t the time for us to learn the truth; the baby didn’t cooperate by lying in a position that would make its truth self-evident. In this way it probably took after its mother’s modest, traditional Korea upbringing; seven months after our wedding she still needs me to wait in another room when she changes her socks.

So, we waited until a later date, when the baby would be bigger and running out of space to conceal itself. In February we looked again. What we saw wasn’t certain enough to prompt us into ordering blue baby clothes, but it did suggest that we had a lot of muddy floors and Playstation games in our future.

In March we returned to the doctor’s office, and this time the truth was undeniable: “It” was now “he” and had a name. Being the only one in our household with experience in bequeathing English names (mostly to Labrador retrievers and other quadrupeds), all authority was invested in me.

I chose “Daniel,” because it’s a Biblical name, because I have friends and an uncle with that name, and because any boy going through life with the name “York” deserves a first name that’s not easy to ridicule.

(Yes, I know “York” is a traditional English name, but this boy will eventually have to go to high school, where the fact that it rhymes with an insult beginning with the letter “D” won’t be lost on his less traditionally minded classmates.)

The act of giving the as-yet-unborn child a name is ripe with significance; it’s not that he suddenly becomes more than an object just because you’re not calling him “it” anymore, but referring to him by a name does lead one to realize all the more clearly that more has chanced that just the wife’s width and her now daily need for foot massages.

This is really a person, you may think, a person who’s going to want money soon.

Just kidding! That wasn’t my first thought. More like my third.

What is left to discover after that? Until the baby actually comes out, begins soiling things and asking for money (I forget which comes first), what more can you discover about him just by looking at a barely lit computer screen?

Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but in April, when my wife of average Korean height was examined, we found that my boy, 29 weeks after conception, had leg length more consistent with a 31-week male Korean fetus, and weight more typical of 30 weeks. Then, after looking at 3-D imaging, the nurse told us that his nose was considerably higher and bigger than that of most babies.

The fact that I’m taller than all Koreas save a few of the country’s most towering professional athletes, plus the number of people here who’ve said to me, “I like your face because nose is very big!” were not lost on me at this moment. This brought a sudden revelation: No matter what else I do with my life, I, with my wife’s help, have accomplished something that will survive after me.

I realized that, like me, my son would probably be able to get through his teens on a diet of sugar, salt and dairy without gaining weight. Thanks to his mother, though, he’ll be different from me in other ways; he’ll probably lack my ability to get sunburned on partly cloudy winter days, for instance.

Knowing that this object growing in your wife’s stomach is not only a person, but a part of you, will change your outlook. It’s something one’s childless friends and coworkers, even those of similar age and gender, won’t be able to understand. Their inability to get excited about a baby’s weight or limb length may be an obstacle toward your ability to relate to one another from then on.

Maybe that’s a reason not to look at the dimly lit computer screen. Not a particularly good one, but it is a reason.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Am I a Terrorist?

Click here to learn the awful truth about me, and maybe yourself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Father-to-Son Advice: Hold Your Mouth Right

Is the man I grew up calling “Dad” really my father? As evidence to the affirmative, one might cite our mutually considerable heights, lean builds and rather meager understandings of the notion of “small talk.”

Look past our similar size, appearance, mannerisms, dispositions and personalities, however, and clear differences emerge. Chief among them would these would be the interests we have taken and the talents we have cultivated.

For years after I learned to drive, I would notice problems in the performance of my vehicle: The air conditioner would release nothing but hot air in the summer, the windshield wipers would make loud noises when used, or turning the steering wheel would acquire such a degree of difficulty as to be considered a form of resistance training.

Within days of acquiring such problems, I would adapt to them by rolling down my windows, turning up my stereo to drown out the wipers, or by stretching properly before attempting to turn the wheel. I assumed that the problems were beyond my ability to solve, and soon came to see such ordeals as the natural costs of automotive transport.

Then, one day the person I call “Dad” would examine my car; he knew me well enough to realize the extent of my maintenance skills, and knew that if he didn’t look it over important parts were likely to start falling off soon.

Not long after that, he would tell me that he had added some variety of fluids to my car and that I would see a difference. Indeed I would, as artificial air would be flowing through my vehicle, the wipers would no longer provide acoustics, and the steering wheel would not provide me with my daily exercise.

Years earlier, the person I call “Dad” had attempted to teach me about the parts of the car and which fluids were the appropriate solution to a particular problem. It didn’t work so well; even when he showed me the right bottle to use, I could never get the cap off. I would strain to open it, I would try pressing down and then turning, or I’d hold it under running water before attempting rotation.

All I’d get for my efforts would be a bright red face and little lines on my hand matching the shape of the cap. Defeated, I’d hand the person I call “Dad” the bottle, telling him it was impossible. He’d look at it for about two seconds, clutch the bottle with his left hand, the cap with his right, make a minimalist gesture with his wrists … and the cap would come off. He’d hand it to me, grinning, and say, “Must not have been holdin’ your mouth right.”

That was all the indication I needed that this person I’d been calling “Dad” all these years had not shared his genetic information related to mechanical skills with me. I went through the motions for a time, trying to take out bolts which seemed welded on (which he could remove easily), draining liquids whose fumes I could sense were destroying my brain cells (which he seemed immune to) and trying to put the bolt back in while wondering why it never went on straight (though it always seemed to when he put it in).

Though this person I call “Dad” had a set of skills that seemed wholly alien to me, there were probably times when he felt the same about mine. For example, whenever there was news about a major political race, I could effectively, and in great deal explain why one candidate’s chances were better than another’s.

“Candidate A has to convince those who voted for him in the primaries that he cares about low taxes, but has to convince moderates that he cares about balancing the budget without cutting the social programs they care about,” I’d explain.

“Meanwhile, Candidate B just has to convince his primary voters that he won’t recklessly invade foreign countries while convincing moderates that he won’t take any guff from the people in those foreign countries. That’s going to be an easier sell in this election.”

The genetic information that helped me reach this information obviously didn’t come from the one I call “Dad.”

“Both of them are no good, and they don’t care about us,” he’d reply. “So it doesn’t matter.”

Granted, our explanations aren’t that different in substance, but don’t word choice, the number of words used and the appearance of engagement count for something?

In a couple of months, my son will be born. Like me and the person I’ve been calling “Dad,” he’ll probably be tall; somewhere between point guard and shooting guard height. Like us, he may prefer reading to speaking, and have a preference for one-word answers when describing his state of affairs.

But will he lean toward the mechanical or the analytical? Or, will he demonstrate a set of skills that leave both of us scratching our elevated heads?

Ideally, he would combine the two into a single, unstoppable combination of traits. Then, he can effectively, and in great detail, explain the proper way to hold one’s mouth when handling power steering fluid.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Book Lists

Here is the second half of the cultural literacy list published at

While we're at it, here's Esquire's 75 books every man should read. I'm going to have more free time soon, so I really should get on it; I've only read about a quarter of these.


Andy Murray Analysis

According to this, I "am a student of tennis to an insane degree," with "a singular ability to tear apart a subject to its minutiae, sorting through the chaff to find the essence of the matter, and drawing clear, simple conclusions that would elude the majority of analysts."

Not my words, folks, and I'm glad that for once they don't have to be.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


An Update

In regard to our problem with the crazy woman, my wife's complaint reached the administrator of her hospital, who yesterday phoned this woman's house for the purpose of reaching her husband and informing him of his wife's activities.

He left a message there, and it was returned by the woman, who said that her husband was away on business, and asked what the concern was. The administrator refused to tell her, and simply informed her that her husband would need to contact him later.

After their conversation, my wife received another text message, this one apologizing for the previous harassment. The woman told Catherine that she had been suffering from some manner of personal problem for the last five months.

Catherine and I are both feeling relieved by this turn of events, though the husband is still going to have to find out, probably next time he comes in for a checkup. She obviously has a problem, and he ought to know about it, assuming he doesn't already.

Many thanks to those of you who left messages of support here and on Facebook. This last week has not been easy at all, but since your prayers began, the turnaround was nearly immediate.

I will always be grateful for that.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Death of an Illusion

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Monday, April 06, 2009


Ron Paul on North Korea



Click here for my article on ATEK, the new union for English teachers in Korea.


The Inner Fitness Manual

As one’s third decade of existence draws to a close, a male’s signs of age get louder and more unpleasant. Sure, they’ve always been there, usually in the form of pleasantries like birthday parties and not-so-pleasantries like selective service registrations. It’s just before the fourth decade, though, that the signs tend to lean more toward the negative.

Triple-digit expenditures like cameras and portable audio devices, once lost or broken, can’t be replaced on a whim; instead, little bits of funds left over from more necessary transactions have to be saved and then spent on such luxuries.

Winter and the germ-related vulnerability it brings can no longer be solved by going home from work a little early and getting more sleep. Instead, it seems to require greater medicinal effort, plus a visit to a guy in a lab coat who recommends that you get more sleep.

And finally, one’s goals for physical fitness have to be significantly pared. Before age 25, nearly any regular form of exercise is not merely done for greater well-being, disease prevention or some manner of cartilage-deficiency; there is an Inner Fitness Manual inside this man which tells him that, done properly, this hobby will be a source of awe for the other males he knows.

Weight training is good for the endurance, bone density and has functional benefits, not to mention lowering the chances of severe back pain later in life.

One may acquire it as a habit simply to avoid being the guy who misses work for a week because he dislocated something while lifting a remote control. Soon, his Inner Fitness Manual will be pushing him to become the guy who can lift more with his rear deltoids than any guy he knows.

Cardiovascular training is also beneficial in that, as its name suggests, it benefits the heart and circulation of blood in general. However, once one’s initial distaste for doing something strenuous for more than 90 seconds passes, one is no longer preoccupied with the idea of preventing heart attacks. Instead, the Inner Fitness manual begins filling his head with dreams of winning the countywide 8.5K charity race.

Taking up a racket sport is good for the whole body, and a fun way to meet people while staying in shape. However, once one gets past the point where most of their exercise comes from chasing the balls they accidentally hit into someone else’s court, the Inner Fitness Manual gives him new goals. It’s fine to be good at a racket sport, but it would be good to be great at it; the Inner Fitness Manual tells him that he can be the guy whose every thunderous swing of the stick makes the other men turn, stare and say, “I’ll bet he’s very virile.”

And so a young man will pour his spare time into these hobbies, turning them from good ideas to preserve health into monumental undertakings symbolic of his manliness. And, up to his late-20s, he may greatly impress the less-dedicated of his peers.

Then, one day, just shy of 30, while pushing up a weight that’s 130 percent heavier than he could lift six months ago (but only 70 percent of what he hopes to lift six months later) a throbbing will begin in his shoulder. Every fitness magazine he’s ever read instructs that he stop immediately, but his inner manual says, “Keep lifting, you can overcome this.”

Only the next day, when it becomes an excruciating ordeal to put on and remove his shirt will he realize that the Inner Fitness Manual was in error. His shoulder pain will, however, present him with the opportunity to double down on cardio training. The next time he’s on the treadmill, he can increase the rate of speed by a half-mile more per hour and try to sustain that pace for an extra two minutes.

Halfway through, when his general knee aches begin, his Inner Fitness Manual will tell him, “Real men don’t give up!” Throughout the day, when he has been made painfully cognizant of how many stairs there are in the world, he may reconsider the merits of being a synthetic man.

When those aches have passed, he may attempt to work his way back into shape through his favorite racket sport. Then, while attempting to hit a ball through an overhead motion at speeds equivalent to a space shuttle launch, he may feel a twinge in his back. “At least finish the match; show some heart!” the Inner Fitness Manual will say.

The next day, when he finds that there’s no position in which he can sit that won’t shoot pain through his back he may realize something: His Inner Fitness Manual is not actually the manifestation of too much testosterone, as widely believed, but his brain, which hates his body for the attention it gets while the brain has to subsist on comic strips and sitcoms as nourishment.

The easy solution to this would be to ignore the Inner Fitness Manual and not overdo it; simply exercise for the purpose of staying healthy and not impressing others. This idea, it turns out, also comes the Inner Fitness Manual, which is attempting to lull the young man into a state of boredom so that he’ll begin overexerting himself again as soon as possible.

And so, the final lesson this young man learns upon entering his fourth decade is this: You can’t win.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

My piece, written here a couple of weeks ago, about Rafael Nadal's chances of winning the complete Grand Slam has made it onto Click here to check it out.

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