Think of one moment you can call
the happiest moment of your life.
There's also a line from Flaubert's Madame Bovary that goes something like
Never touch your idols, lest some of the gold rub off on your fingers.
The arguments themselves are of course flawed, since you could just as well say that the worst moment you can remember is gone, or that you might be pleasantly surprised by helping a leper. Nevertheless, for a while, I was a sucker for such trivially true pessimistic observations. Maybe I still am, a bit. Anyhow, I thought of them again recently after the long-awaited impossible finally happened.
Most everybody has some special skill, and lots of people have two or three. And nothing makes you (me) feel awesomer than being able to whip out the skill when nobody expects it, particularly if this leads to you saving the day in some fashion. We are all beaten and devalued and made replaceable by an insanely competitive economy (trying to link in my next book review here, Jules Henry's Culture Against Man) and need ways to imagine ourselves as selves, as heroes, as characters of some worth. Thus we hope to wow others, to win their approval and our own existence, by opening beer bottles with our eye sockets, lighting matches on our flies, or solving Rubik's cubes.
Simple situations that can be rescued by the above skills are manifold; but what about situations where two or more are necessary? Sure, it happens from time to time that there are no bottle openers. But it's almost inconceivable that, let's say, you're at a party, and then suddenly there's a time bomb that can only be defused by pouring beer onto a sensor through a solved-Rubik's-cube sieve. Would not any (wo)man who accomplished this task on his/her own become an instant folk hero, object of praise and subject of lore for weeks/generations to come? Who hasn't imagined themselves and their skills at the center of some such crazy fiasco?
Background: On Sunday, I brought my Polish friend Andzrej, whom I met at the Persimmon farm in Miryang (future post), to a meeting of the Daegu Language Exchange to help him find a conversation partner. The DLE meets at different places each time, and this time we met (in the afternoon) in an empty salsa/chacha/whatever kind of dance bar. We did our language exchange thing, chatting for a few hours about this and that, playing some simple language games, and then left for dinner. Out on the street, we met the bar's owner (Korean), who introduced us to two visitors, saying they were the European Salsa champions and were visiting for a few days, giving a class or something. Then he asked, in Korean, hey....does anyone here speak Italian?
Luckily (in this specific case, though probably not in general), it seems that all my skills are concentrated in the language department. Or maybe it's not even fair to consider them different skills; maybe it's just one skill, manifested in a few ways. In any case, having studied Italian from 2002-2006 and Korean from 2006-2010, I always (vaguely) sort of dreamed about or imagined or wondered what would happen if I were finally presented with an opportunity to humbly bust out my insane, if random, interpretation skills.
Well, here's what happened. I listened to the Italians saying that they wanted to find a place in Daegu to buy fake designer bags, explained it to the Koreans, who explained where they were to be found, how to get there, and when, and then relayed that back to the Italians. They thanked me for the help and complimented me on my nigh-proficiency. Sirens went off, the sky started flashing, and prop planes started zooming around spraying my name into the air. A bunch of fireworks exploded, standers-by applauded, Michael Phelps came out and gave me two of his medals, and the Princess Peach came out and gave me a peck on the cheek and I realized I had conquered life.
Or, as it actually happened, most of the people from the language exchange were a few steps away discussing whether to have Mexican or Italian to dinner, completely oblivious to my exploits. The people passing by on the street had no idea how cool I was being at that moment. And the bar owner was mostly happy to have the awkwardness remedied, if just for a bit. Nobody gave a crap and I felt instantly naive for even having less-than-half expected anyone to care. It turns out the world is mostly as portrayed in Okkervil River's "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe."
"No fade in begins on a kid in the big city
no cut to a costly parade that's for him only
no dissolve to a sliver of gray that's his new lady
where she glows just like grain on the flickering pane
of some great movie."
What a harsh world!
*In case anyone is wondering, I experienced a particular and new and physical sensation of confusion somewhere above my left eye while trying to translate! Though the word order of Italian is mostly similar to English (and both are the inverse of Korean), for some reason, I had great difficulty in swapping the subjects and verbs into different positions when I went back and forth between Italian and Korean. It felt like there was a traffic jam. In my eyebrow. Merits further investigation.