Sunday, March 28, 2010

After Cowboy Chicken Came To Town

After reading the title of this story, I was expecting some really strange fictional story. I envisioned a fully functioning chicken coup out west, complete with problems with gangs and crime. Until one day a mysterious stranger, cowboy chicken, arrived to clean up the coup. Silly and corny, I know. But instead I got an entertaining story that turned into a brutal lessen about capitalist America for a few Chinese workers.

The story follows the narrator, Hongwen, along his path of enlightenment within a brand new fast food restaurant called Cowboy Chicken in a Chinese city. The story describes the grand opening of the fast food restaurant and the hustlings and bustlings of a booming business until it all starts to go sour for the employees. They tried an all you can eat buffet, but apparently Chinese locals aren't accustomed to this practice because Cowboy Chicken's profits were soon eaten away, literally. I thought it was funny that these Chinese people didn't know what a buffet was, considering that around here most of the restaurants owned and operated by Chinese people are, in fact, all you can eat Chinese food buffets. Cowboy Chicken soon becomes the talk of the town, and local businesses begin to have business lunches there. Pretty soon, wedding parties are organized within Cowboy Chicken because of it's "exotic" food. I laughed at the thought of someone wanting their wedding party to be catered by a fast food restaurant. Anyway, some guy shows up talking about how he is going to sue the company because he found a fly in his food. He is sent away, and then Hongwen and Jinglin made sure he wouldn't come back by taking him down an alley and threatening him with a pocketknife. Everything is going fine until the full-time employees decide to pay their manager, Peter, a visit at his new home that is still being built off in the surrounding countryside. They are astounded and disheartened by the amount of money that he makes. Of course, this makes them suspicious of him and so they start to follow his every move to see what other perks his job gets him. They follow him one night after work to see what he does with all the food that he takes home and discover that he burns it (and pees on it apparently). Of course they are furious because they live in socialist China and many people they know are starving, and here is Peter wasting all this meat. After threatening to go public with the information leads them nowhere, the workers decide to try to get Peter fired by the owner Mr. Shapiro. That does not work, so they inform their boss that they are going on strike from the restaurant. Due to some incorrect wording because none of them speak good English, they end up threatening to strike at Cowboy Chicken rather than go on strike. So Mr. Shapiro calls in the cops for security. When the workers return from their half a day strike, they are promptly told that they are completely replaceable and "Terminated!" all at the same time. Hence the brutal lesson on capitalist America.

For the most part I thought this story was pretty entertaining and I laughed out loud at several spots. I'm not sure a lot of parts were even meant to be funny, but the honesty of some parts made it funny to me. For instance, when they were discussing how they all got diarrhea from the wedding party, I thought that was hilarious. The one worker said he thought he would crap his guts out. An old woman unfolded a common paper napkin with a flower pattern on it while eating at Cowboy Chicken, and apparently deemed it too beautiful to wipe her hands with. Most of the Chinese people could not manage to eat with a fork, so they all ate their cheesecake with chopsticks as if that would be easier to do. Stuff like that was all amusing to me. Most of it was just simple truth, but none of it would ever happen in this country. There were a few other parts that amused me for different reasons. On page 190, Hongwen describes Mr. Shapiro as hardly ever coming out of his office because he was too busy reading newspapers and dicking around in there to put in any real work. Shapiro also tried to date his female employees. This reminded me of some of the bosses I have worked for over the years.

Some of the other things that came to mind while reading this were cultural differences. I guess they don't put bathrooms in restaurants in China (page 189). And I thought it was interesting to see the other side of things having to do with our food. Also, Americans complain about our jobs being sent oversees more and more because of cheap labor and things like that. On page 187, the Chinese people complained that the American company was moving in on them, using their labor, and then shipping all the profits back to the U.S. I guess nobody wins in that situation. It's pretty crazy that a lot of the Chinese companies simply can't pay their employees the the wages that were promised to them because the money just isn't there. Hongwen made half again as much money in his first month working for Cowboy Chicken as his father did from the military after almost forty years. That's just sad. Their socialist government doesn't provide enough food or wages so they are hungry all the time, and yet they curse capitalism for having leftovers. They see the problems with their government but choose to focus their ill will on capitalism instead. On page 200, when they saw the woman with tons of rings and diamonds and gold on her fingers, they thought it was a bad thing. They said she was probably lazy because she undoubtedly did no housework with jewelry like that. Our society would think something far different about those rings.

One random thing I noticed was that there was yet another reference to the University of Iowa towards the beginning of the story. It seems like everything we read lately has something to do with that school. Lastly, I thought I would look up the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan, just to get an idea of the amounts they were talking about throughout the entire story. One U.S. dollar is worth about 6.83 yuan right now. This means the all you can eat buffet was less than three dollars, and Peter's giant 3 story victorian house complete with garage and sitting on 2 acres of land only cost around $40,000. Obviously that is extremely cheap, and still none of them could believe how wealthy Peter was. I could get used to stuff like that. Its not only a good exchange rate, but everything is cheaper there anyway. I need to make a trip to China. Anyway, this story lived up to it's name. It's a good read.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Orbiting by Bharati Mukherjee

This short story was strange to me simply because it wasn't really about much anything in particular. It was sort of like a description of a day in the narrator's life, and all the little tangents and added trains of thought that come along with different circumstances. Its about a rather awkward Thanksgiving Day and dinner with the narrator's family, and her Afghanistani boyfriend named Ro. Everything that happens makes her go off on a tangent where she reveals some sort of background information about her Italian heritage, or her relationship with an ex-boyfriend, or experiences with her family growing up, or Ro's past. The story had a lot of dialogue in it and a nice amount of humor, as well as some deeper parts, particularly in the last few pages. Some of the most interesting parts to me were when the narrator mentioned things that had not happened yet when the story was written. Comparing those things to what I know has already happened was fun and ironic in some cases. Bharati Mukherjee seems to be a bit of a profit in her own right with all the things she writes about before they come true, starting with the Twin Towers quote from the other story.

Ro is very proper, and seems to be very intelligent. He reminded me of a foreign friend of mine who grew up overseas and moved here a few years ago. My friend is fluent in English, but he says things in a very proper way sometimes just as Ro did in the story. It's pretty funny to hear someone talk like that in everyday conversation. The best example of this dialogue that I saw was at the bottom of page 71 when they are talking about basketball, and Ro says, "You are undoubtedly correct Brent. I am deferring to your judgement because currently I have not familiarized myself with these practices." Who talks like that? It catches you off guard to hear it in normal conversation.

Anyway, she talks a lot about her ex-boyfriend Vic. She doesn't really seem to want him back, and even acknowledges some of his shortcomings, but she still seems to miss him. So she doesn't seem to want him back, or think it would work between them, but she thinks about him all the time. She mentions that she would marry Ro a few times too, which makes me think she has passed up on Vic forever. I thought it was funny that there were a ton of references to places in Afghanistan and the country itself, but nobody ever knew what they were. This was ironic to me because I recognized most or all of them immediately because of the whole war on terrorism. That's a bit of the profit in Mukherjee coming out, as I was referring to earlier. I also thought the part about Abdul was funny because the narrator was thinking the same thing I was when I read it. I had a picture in my head of Karim Abdul Jabhar in his goggles playing basketball. The references to Patrick Ewing, Larry Byrd, and Bill Russell (I assume) were entertaining too, since all those player's legendary careers in the NBA have come and gone.

On a more serious note, its funny how we assume that because we have never experienced foreign things, or because it is not the same type of experience, the foreigner is never immediately accepted. It's like we don't give those experiences much thought or credit when it's convenient for us, and yet they are some of the biggest reasons the foreigners remain foreign to us. I am referring to the top of page 72 here. The narrator too is guilty of similar stereotypes, albeit they are reversed in the middle of page 74 and page 75. She says Ro has real scars in his life, and acts as if we Americans don't have real scars. We only like to think they are real because we haven't experienced any real hardship in our lives like someone like Ro has. While this could very well be true, like most stereotypes I don't believe they apply to much of the population they are aimed at. These assumptions lead her to say Ro is the only man in the room because of his experiences. He had some bad experiences, no doubt, that left him physically scarred. But there are worse things.

Anyway, this was an interesting and somewhat entertaining story, but I didn't like it because nothing really happened. The story was long and there was a lot to it, but the only thing that really happened was the Thanksgiving dinner, and a little bit of the day leading up to it. The rest was just background and somewhat random interjections. I thought a little about the title of the story, but I couldn't quite figure out what she was going for there. It obviously has deeper meaning because it normally wouldn't have much of anything to do with this story. I remember reading the word somewhere in the middle of the story, but I could not find it when I went looking for it. I did, however, like Mukherjee's writing style for this story. She made everything seem so real. The dialogue was just right. It was somewhat abundant as I was saying before, but it was simple enough and very believable. The random interjections of thought were well placed, and reminded me of exactly the types of things your brain would stray to given the situations. The believable perception of reality made the story flow really well. It was like I was reading a documentary on Mukherjee's Thanksgiving day from Mukherjee's point of view, although the story was not about her at all, and seemed to be fiction. Overall not too bad.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American Dreamer and A Wife's Story

American Dreamer is about a woman named Bharati Mukherjee who moved from India to Iowa City to study writing for 2 years. She was supposed to return home to an arranged marriage, but she chose instead to marry a guy from her classes in a lawyer's office above a coffee shop during a lunch break. She talks briefly about her home life growing up and her social status in India, which is defined mostly by the family name, heritage, and geographical area, rather than being defined by the individual. As I go on reading this, I can't help but feel like I may be missing her point. She compares and contrasts the three countries she has lived in: India, Canada and the U.S. She is basically declaring her reasons for choosing to become a U.S. citizen. She describes India as being too reliant on the past and basically says developing yourself as an individual is tough. That reminds me of an Indian grad student I used to talk to here at Clemson. He said Clemson was way tougher than anything he did in India. I asked him why and he said you actually had to do your work here. Everyone in India just copied off each other and their professors, and other sources. None of his work was his own, and nobody ever cared. Anyway, she says Canada resists cultural fusion, and her years spent there were particularly harsh. She goes on to say that she has grown to love the idea of "America", and takes her citizenship very seriously, but admits that a lot of times living in the U.S. falls short of the perception that is "America". In the end, she begins to question all Americans, both immigrants and natural born citizens, and challenges everyone to show that they can change America just as America has changed them.

Its an interesting perspective on things, one that I can easily see her side of. I agree with a lot she had to say, although some of it I have yet to experience and therefore have a hard time knowing exactly what she means.

In A Wife's Story, it is more of the same. American stereotypes towards foreigners. It starts off in a theater. They are watching a play, Glengarry Glen Ross, I think. It's during the scene where they are talking about the Patels and it is offending the author. Afterwards she walks through the streets with her friend Imre. She gets home and has to talk to her roommate about her trouble with her husband. Then, the author's husband from India calls. He misses her and wants to come to visit her in America for a sort of honeymoon. They hang out, shop, and then they go on a guided tour of New York City. She mentions that they have more privacy than they ever did in India. She talks about how she doesn't really love her husband because it was an arranged marriage, she just learned to do what he likes. On page 39, her husband says, "Quick, take a picture of me! Before the Twin Towers disappear." I thought that was pretty strange, particularly if this was written before 2001. She mentions wanting to see some white muslims before she dies on page 39, and that made me want to see some too. I never really thought about it like that. It didn't really occur to me that any of those even existed in the world until I read it in this story. Anyway, his last day there the husband asks the author to come back to India with him because he misses her and can't live without her, and he is worried about how she gets hit on so much in America. She refuses to come back, talking about how she still has time left on her degree.

Going into these stories I assumed that these were real experiences of the author, Bharati Mukherjee, but there were some inconsistencies between the stories. In American Dreamer, she was studying writing for two years in Iowa City. In A Wife's Story, she was getting her doctorate in Special Ed. in New York City. In American Dreamer, she married a Canadian and remained married for several years, but in A Wife's Story she went through with the arranged Indian marriage. If I had to guess, I would say that American Dreamer was the true story, and A Wife's Story was more fiction. Possibly how she thinks things might have gone if she were to stay with the arranged marriage. It just kind of messed with my head because I was automatically assuming that both of the stories were true stories about the author. This reading had a lot of references to other stories that we have already read.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stone Reader Movie (Day 2)

In this installment of the movie, Moskowitz isn't much closer to finding Mossman than he was until the very end of Part 2. Moskowitz talks to a guy who had something to do with the University of Iowa's writing program the same time Mossman was there. I didn't catch whether he was a classmate of Mossman, or whether he was a professor or something at the time Mossman was there. This person said he didn't remember Mossman. After talking to this guy for a while, he came up pretty empty in his search. That seemed to be the trend. So he then went and had a meeting with the original book jacket designer, and that guy didn't even remember doing it, or the book itself at all. He said it seemed familiar to him, but he didn't remember anything about it. So once again he was back to square one. He returned home empty handed. He resorted to searching the internet again. One day he had a breakthrough. He found two copies of 'The Stones of Summer' but decided he didn't want to buy them because he had already bought most of them already. A few days later he changed his mind and went to buy them, but discovered that two different publishers had already bought them up. He was excited that something happened, but I don't really think anything came from this bit of information. He eventually talked to one of the publishers who bought a copy. The publisher explained that he loved it when he read it at the age of 17, but realized there wasn't as much to it as he used to think, and so he dropped it after 100 pages. Moskowitz began to fear that he was the only one to like the book, which was funny to me because thats what I was talking about in my last blog.

Anyway, naturally he decides to head for the source. So he takes a trip to Iowa to visit the University of Iowa's writing department. He finds tons of manuscripts written by Mossman, and even his master's thesis there. Moskowitz and his friend keep searching for a while and end up finding an old picture of one of Dow's teachers. He asks about the man in the photo and is told that he lives nearby. Its the person Mossman dedicated 'The Stones of Summer' to. So he goes and talks to the guy and finds out the guy knows exactly what happened to Mossman. He thinks he pushed Mossman so hard while he was writing his book that he pushed him straight to the insane asylum, but only for a few months. He says Mossman put too much of himself into 'The Stones of Summer'. He said after he finished writing it, he had nothing left to himself. That's why he was institutionalized, and thats probably why he never wrote again. He tells Moskowitz that Mossman now lives in Cedar Rapids, only a short drive away. Moskowitz leaves and talks to the guy who took the book jacket photo. Moskowitz is getting really close to finding Mossman now. The book jacket photographer talks about when he knew Mossman, said that Mossman supported him for a while when he was struggling to make ends meet. Moskowitz shows the photographer the original book review written by Seelye, and the guy reads it aloud. It really was a great review. He reads a part at the end that compares Mossman to a river of thought and emotion or something like that, and says that such a source is unlikely to go dry soon. Thats ironic, considering that Mossman stopped writing altogether after that.

Towards the end he finally gets a couple of phone numbers that he could use to reach Mossman. He calls his mom to let her know that he finally found him, but then he asked her to make the phone call for him. After all that work and all that time he finally found Mossman, and he was too scared to even talk to him. But I guess he worked up the courage and made the call. Mossman actually seemed pretty normal when he talked to Moskowitz on the phone. After all this build up, and hearing about the guy, and all that everyone was saying about how wonderful his book was and how great of a writer he was, I kind of expected something different on the phone. I'm not really sure what i expected, but it wasn't what ended up happening. Mossman just kept mentioning how he had become introverted. After a little conversation, they set up a meeting for the next morning. Moskowitz had finally found Mossman. Now I guess he gets to go make all his dreams come true by talking to him. But that is for the next blog.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stone Reader Movie (Day 1)

Well, the first thing I have discovered is that blogging on movies you have never seen before is more difficult than blogging on a story or book because there isn't anything for you to refer back to. I did take notes in class, but those can only get me so far because I was still paying attention to the movie when I wrote them and most are pretty vague. But here it goes.

The narrator, Mark Moskowitz, is making a film about the search for the author of a book called 'The Stones of Summer' that he read when he was younger. The author's name is Dow Mossman. Apparently Mossman wrote the book, then pretty much disappeared off of the face of the earth. He stopped writing altogether, and nobody knows what happened to him.

Moskowitz himself reads all the time. His mother said he was never very sociable. She said some people talked, Moskowitz just read. At one point she is describing him as a teenager and said he would never wear jackets, only the jacket linings. I thought that was kind of strange. Anyway, Moskowitz is looking for this author, Mossman, with the ultimate goal of meeting him. He keeps reaching out to all these people that might give him leads: old friends, book reviewers, the publishing company, Mossman's old agent, people online, anyone who might give him something that will eventually help him find Mossman. Meanwhile he is convincing his friends to read the novel in an attempt to revamp interest in it. He eventually arranges a meeting in Maine with a man named John Seelye (I looked him up, which is why I knew how to spell his name), who is the writer of the original and only book review for 'The Stones of Summer' for the New York Times years ago. Seelye thought the book was great and gave it a great review, but apparently it didn't peak much interest in it. Moskowitz stays in Maine with Seelye for a while just to talk about Mossman and some of his other favorite books. He says he felt like he had a connection with Seelye through the books, and he felt like he had known him for his whole life. However, when it came to Mossman, Moskowitz concluded that Seelye didn't know any more about the subject than he did. So it was a pleasurable meeting, but unfortunately yielded another dead end.

During the visit Seelye is talking about how he did his dissertation on Moby Dick, but never once read it straight through. He said, "Because it's a great book, doesn't mean you have to like it." I liked this quote, because I think it describes my attitude towards pretty much all required reading for my English classes through the years. I can understand the appeal of a lot of the books. And indeed most seem to be full of deeper, more subtle meanings and may be regarded as literary masterpieces, but I don't usually like them. I've probably only liked about 20% of the books I have been required to read over the years. And most of those I would not want to read again. I suppose the inverse is also true though. Just because you like something, doesn't make it great. Maybe that's why 'The Stones of Summer' hasn't received much attention through the years. I have nothing against the book. I have never even heard of it. But perhaps Moskowitz and Seelye are two peas in a pod like Moskowitz suggested; two kin spirits who love the book maybe because they can relate to it somehow or because it has meaning for them. But maybe its not that great. Maybe that's why nobody knew about the book. Maybe thats why Mossman stopped writing...because it was bad. I don't know, I guess we'll find out.

Anyway, along the way Moskowitz finds out that one book writers are actually very common in the literary world, and Mossman didn't invent the trend or anything. Thats probably another reason why nobody really noticed Mossman's disappearance. It is a fairly common thing, no big deal when a writer disappears. Towards the end of the part we watched, Moskowitz talks to the publisher of (I think) newer printings of the book. I don't think it was the original publisher. Unfortunately, again, that doesn't provide any real breakthroughs. So he did what he always seemed to do with lack of information: he talked to that person about other books that he liked. Moskowitz apparently really liked 'Catch 22' when he was younger, and cared as much about the author's voice as the story itself. It's funny, I had never heard that saying before (Catch 22) until about 2 months ago and now I have heard it about 10 times since then. Maybe I was just never paying attention to it before.

So basically, his search for the missing Mossman has come up relatively empty so far. I doubt it will stay that way though, or else this movie probably wouldn't have come full circle. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Same River Twice (153-188)

I was a little confused when I started reading this, because I realized that you started talking about parts of this section of reading in class on Friday. I was under the impression that we were a day behind with this book. I certainly hope this blog still counts, because it would suck to spend all that time on reading like I did and get nothing for it, but here goes.

In this installment of the story, Chris has made his way to Florida, the last region in the country that he hasn't yet explored. As he finds himself stranded on the side of I-95, he realizes that he feels too old to be a drifter for the first time in his life. After backtracking to Georgia, he finds a ride with a couple of college students down to Miami, and from there he makes his way to his job as a naturalist that is waiting for him in the Everglades. When he arrives, he describes Flamingo as basically Hell on Earth. It's hot, humid, and bugs are everywhere. Everyone literally had to run from building to building to avoid getting eaten up by bugs. He didn't spend long here, I guess because it was such a horrible place to stay. I used to want to visit the Everglades until I read this part. Now I think I would rather not be eaten alive by insects. His coworkers were as colorful a bunch of people as he usually hung out with. His first day there, he dropped the motor from the tour boat into the water. The only thing of consequence that happened while he was there was when he dove into the swamp to save the French boy. The French boy didn't appreciate it though, and kicked him in the face as he was hauled out of the water. Chris was later told by Captain Jack that he dove into shark infested water. Shortly before he decided to leave, a hurricane hits. All the workers in Flamingo waited too long to get out, so they all got trapped there because the roads got flooded. I think they all thought they were going to die. They all got drunk and naked and acted like a bunch of fools. Chris was perhaps the worst one, although he didn't handle it like that. Instead, he went up to the highest part of Flamingo and dared the hurricane to show him what it had in a lackluster suicide attempt. He describes the hurricane as just what I always pictured it to be: beautiful and powerful. Hurricane Jacob moved through the area relatively without incident. It tore everything up and cleaned everything out. Chris didn't want to be a part of the clean-up effort, so he quits and leaves after collecting his six days worth of pay. He takes the bus back up to Boston, avoiding even looking at a drifter as they passed him on the side of the road. I think he really was ready to put his drifting days behind him.

Finally, the two stories started connecting when he describes meeting Rita. He marries her and moves around a little bit while they look for work. They are unsuccessful so he starts looking to apply to a grad school, when he is told to apply to the University of Iowa, which accepts him. They move to Iowa to the house by the river where the other story about him starts out. On page 177 he says "I had my goddess. I had my temple. The prairie spread in every direction." He was saying that he was finally at peace, finally home, and everything lay in front of him. I was happy to see that he made it.

The next chapter is a creative way of describing his wait. The baby is 2 weeks overdue and the doctors will induce labor the next day if Rita does not go into labor. I would never think to describe things the way he does. He is very observant of nature, and describes it well. The last chapter is devoted to a vivid and unsettling description of his son's birth, from the wait in the hospital to the birth itself, including all it's not so appealing details. The epilogue is a brief glimpse into life after birth, a preview of the life that is to come. He takes his son into the woods for the first time while Rita rests at home. He sits in the middle of the woods with his son and is content.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Class Writing Exercise

I know you said we could reproduce this in a blog if we wanted to, so here it goes, if for nothing else but to prove that I was participating in class. This may not be as personal or juicy as you were looking for, but it was what happened to be on my mind before class, so its what I wrote about.

I went to the Clemson basketball game last night against Georgia Tech. It was a real stress reliever to be doing something different and enjoyable that is still related to school besides homework and studying. The last three weeks have been rough with all the tests and projects and homework I've had to turn in, so to get away from it all was nice.

The game was the final home game of the year, and I'm ashamed to admit that it was my first this season. Normally I go to several, but this year has been different for some reason. It was senior night, and so we bid farewell to the beast that is Trevor Booker and his sidekick David Potter, the winningest duo/senior class in Clemson University history. OP has done a great job rebuilding our program, but I am ready for us to hit that next level. That level would be to win some NCAA tournament games, maybe challenge for an ACC championship. Regular season crowns are tough, and it'll probably be a few years before we get there, but we have to been to the ACC championship game before. I think we could do it again. As far as the NCAA tournament goes, I don't think an opening round victory is too much to ask for. All it would mean is that we did what we were supposed to do. We've had that opportunity the past two years but we've been upset both times. We'll get that opportunity again in a few weeks. I hope we get it right this time...

It doesn't seem like much once it has all been typed out, but I was writing pretty much nonstop. If you can't tell from this, I'm a big time Clemson sports fan and I think about it a lot.

The Same River Twice (54-109)

In this part of the story involving the grown up version of the author, he and Rita are afraid that their child might have some sort of birth defect, so they go to the doctor to get some amniotic fluid drawn so they can get it tested. The tests show the baby to be perfectly healthy. He also describes a bad experience with a lamaze class that they enrolled in and his experience with a one year old that they babysat as a test run for their own child. Lastly he talks about a hollow maple tree in the woods that he uses as a place to get away and write. The grown up version of the author is always so reflective and peaceful in a way. Its like he has kinda figured it all out. In the story with the young version of the author, you learn a little bit about his past and his father, and the night he decided he was going to save up his money and get out of Kentucky. He describes making his way south for the winter, like a migrating bird. He ends up in west Texas working for a Vietnam veteran name Bill, painting houses. He describes Texan's large feather hats and how much they hated when someone bumped into their feather. He starts becoming friends with Bill, and they even go skydiving together. But eventually Bill kills himself in a pretty gruesome way, in which he drinks a bunch of kerosene and lights his mouth on fire. So the author having nothing left in Texas heads up to Nebraska, and then to Colorado. He never stayed long in either place because he got a few odd jobs, one at a slaughterhouse and the other chipping mortar from bricks, but he didn't like them so he left. He moved south to the grand canyon, where he got a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He really enjoyed this job until a guy named Jackie Jr. took over and treated him badly. He left one night after spraying soapy water all over his boss and walking out on his job. He decides then that he would like to settle in the west one day, but he wasn't ready to give up his life as a drifter yet.

He tries to make his way through the desert, but he is having a hard time. Its a demanding environment and his canteen he bought was too small. He eventually gets picked up by a religious man named Al, and then later a big, strange guy he called Winner who talked about commies and mutants and beat him on the chest a lot. He eventually gets to California, where he spends his time laying around on the beach and watching women. He lives with the rest of the bums near Los Angeles. He undergoes a change when a stranger finds one of his sketches and tells him to stop leaving his trash lying around. He decides to give up on his dream of becoming an artist. He decides he wants to be a playwrite. He gets on a bus then, and leaves California behind. The story doesn't pick up again until one summer sometime later in Alabama. He joins a traveling circus and has some interesting experiences through a series of odd jobs he holds with the circus. He seems to become a little obsessed with a woman called the parrot lady. She is called this because she has parrots and tattooed all over her body, and her circus act is to strip in a room full of people and show off her tattoos. He talks about a group of men in the circus who always argue about the gorilla's balls. Yet again, another group of guys are obsessed with some form of male genitalia. Thats just strange to me. Anyway, the gorilla gets mad at them because his handler shows everyone the gorilla's balls and they all have to spend time making up with the gorilla. Later, the author gets a job in one of the circus acts where he has to dress up in a walrus costume and pretend to be a real, intelligent walrus in front of crowds. But he ruins that when he gets drunk one day off of martinis with the Parrot Lady, and ends up ripping off the walrus suit's head in the middle of the act and puking everywhere. This part was hilarious to me. He fled the circus after that and headed north. And thats where this part of the story ended.

This part of the story had several occurrences in it that surprised me, and I just kind of said "really?" when I read them. Like the foreign tourists who didn't know what a skunk was in the grand canyon, so they chased them and always came back sprayed. That's pretty funny, but I wasn't aware that there were no skunks in other parts of the world. I guess I never thought about it. I also couldn't believe that someone committed suicide by jumping into the grand canyon once a month. Both of these events are talked about on page 69. The other thing I couldn't believe was on page 62 when the mother was talking about shoving half a Tylenol up her baby's butt to keep it from crying so much. That just seems wrong to me. I thought it was funny that the author had a greater fear of being "cornholed on the road" than he did of being murdered on the road. Maybe the "cornholing" happens a lot more often, which is pretty gross. His skydiving experience was much different than my own. He only had a 4 second freefall from 3000 feet. I had a 45 second freefall from 12000. His first time going, he went alone. That could never happen these days. I'm pretty sure you have to jump tandem until you get certified. And when I went, if you boarded the plane, that was it. You had to jump. It was in a contract that you couldn't back out once you got in the plane. His restaurant experience in the grand canyon on page 68 was much like my own experience working in a restaurant. Everything he described was very close to how everyone acted at my workplace, with maybe a few minor differences. It reminds me of the movie Waiting with Ryan Reynolds. It just reaffirms my thoughts on the subject that I've had for years: once you've worked in one restaurant, you've worked in them all. Anyway, the story was pretty enjoyable just like the first part we read, and I am looking forward to finishing it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Same River Twice (9-53)

This story so far is pretty entertaining. It has a lot of serious parts, some disturbing parts, but its also got some comedy mixed in. The prologue just seems to be some descriptive imagery, or maybe just some of the author's thoughts and outlook on life. I'm not too sure about what it has to do with the story, but maybe it will become clearer later on. The first and third chapters are about a man living in Iowa who is trying to marry a woman named Rita. He eventually "tricks" her into marrying him as he calls it, asking her at a moment when she is weak. She agrees and they get married and life goes on. Eventually she wants to start having children, but he is scared for some reason. He doesn't want to have them yet and denies her for a while. Later he finally sees that if he is not willing to have children with her, he will have to let her go. Apparently he doesn't want to do that so he agrees to start trying to have a kid with her. Then he describes several ways he tried to become familiar with conception, and I thought it was pretty funny that a grown man could be so clueless to how it all worked. I guess he didn't have sex ed in school. Eventually Rita does get pregnant, and so the story skips ahead to a few months into the pregnancy. The part that we read ends with him struggling with this enormous fear of fatherhood, and fighting the urge to run from it all.

The second story is the more entertaining of the two, in my opinion. It is about a teenager who grew up in a tiny town in the mountains of Kentucky. He drops out of high school, I think, and tries to join the army. But the army rejects him because he has too much albumin in his urine. I wasn't sure what albumin was so I looked it up. Albumin is a type of water soluble protein. When they test for albumin levels, they are testing for liver disease among other things, but albumin in his urine meant he had a kidney disease because his kidneys could not stop the albumin from leaking into his urine from his blood. So he couldn't get into any branch of the military and he was later rejected from the peace corps, the park rangers, and he couldn't be a fireman or a policeman. So his last resort was college. I thought this was funny because it is the exact opposite of what would happen today. Most of the people I know that went into the military were using it as a last resort after they had already failed at college. I would think college would be the first choice these days, and the rest of the stuff he tried would come after. He couldn't stomach college either though, and quit after 2 years. So he decided to run off to New York to become an actor, where long story short, he struggled to adapt and fit in until he met this girl named Jahi from Brooklyn who was basically crazy and did pretty much whatever she wanted. They had some adventures together, both sexual and not, and through her he realized that he wanted more to be a writer or a painter instead of an actor. Then there was this incident when they went horseback riding. He was so happy that he was finally doing something he was used to that he coerced his horse into a full run. Apparently a kid tried to do the same thing, or maybe the kid's horse got spooked and the kid ended up falling off and smacking his head against a streetlight. It didn't say whether or not he died, but I get the feeling he did. Apparently the guy couldn't handle that so he left Jahi and never saw her again. He left New York shortly after because he broke his leg playing football with some random guys, and just like that the New York adventure was over as quickly as it began.

He went back home and as soon as his leg healed he was off again, moving from place to place until he eventually settled for a while in Minneapolis. He lived with a chippewa named Marduk and two twin brothers from Ecuador named Luis and Javier. With the twins, he became involved in a life of organized crime, though it was mostly small time stuff. He lives this life out for a while until Javier and Luis try to get him to marry their cousin. So naturally he fixes the two twins up with some hookers, fixes Marduk up with the twin's aunt who was an Ecuadorian hooker, goes and has sex with the cousin and then leaves town forever. And that's where the story ends.

The guy from Kentucky seems to have a thing for Daniel Boone. He constantly compares himself to him throughout the Minneapolis part of his story. My thoughts about this story were pretty simple really. The life of a nomad would suck. And I would never want it like the guy from Kentucky had it. There were several parts that I found slightly disturbing, yet awkwardly funny from this story, such as the seductive transvestite on page 26 and his first night with Jahi on pages 28 and 29. The funniest part was all the guy's obsessions with Marduk's "lingam" as they called it from page 46 to 48. That's pretty sad that the only woman he could get with was a old Ecuadorian hooker because she was the only woman who wasn't scared of the thing. That's a curse more than it is a gift I think. I am a little confused because I know this book is supposed to be a memoir, so I figured it would all be one continuous story. Instead there are two different stories going on about two seemingly different people. I suppose they could be the same person in the end, but it doesn't really seem like they are. But the guy from the first story doesn't talk about his past too much, so maybe they are the same guy. I'm looking forward to finding out. This seems like a decent read.