Mr. Hampa

Editor’s Note: This isn’t Mr. Hampa (but it sure looks like him)

As a student studying English, the one question that everyone tends to ask is: what are you going to do with it? Who are you going to be? It’s definitely something to think about, a loaded question really. Maybe a writer, maybe a student of life. All year I’ve contemplated this question as I took survey courses on the exposition of literary work spanning from the 14th to 20th century.

To be frank, I was even wondering what the relevance of literature or writing are in a postmodern world. How could the words of a literary canon that consists of mostly white men and women prepare for a world that emphasizes productivity in numbers.

Taking influence by other blogs and words that others have written – some that denounce the possibility of happiness as a writer, some that praise the attempt to humanize oneself – I choose neither to explain why I chose this route.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.31.10 PMTo be quite honest, it was all an accident.

More specifically, it makes me think of a time in middle school when I was sitting in English class, snoozing away Mr. Hampa’s lesson on grammar and syntax. To be fair, the man was in his 60s and probably felt just as bored as I was. I looked over at my classmate next to me. She had a copy of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was the same book that had been occupying her desk for the last two quarters (we were in our third).

“Still?” I pointed at her book.

“Yeah, I just can’t seem to get through it” she replied.

Nowadays, in this social media age that qualifies curiosity on the level of stalking, I noticed pictures of her life in college: mostly hanging with her girls and enjoying the scene. It makes me wonder: did she ever finish that book?

Anyway, back to the topic, I was in class twirling my pencil and talking to my classmate. From what I remember, Mr. Hampa asked why we were having a tough time paying attention. He seemed to agree with this because he then switched to a different topic. He shuffled his papers at his desk that sat in the center at the front, right in front of the whiteboard.

“These are your stories that I asked you to write a few weeks ago.”

Everyone suddenly sunk into their seats.

“Yes, some of you need some work,” he said. “Trevor himself came to me last week so you should follow his lead.”

Trevor with his wire framed glasses and middle-parted hair left his mouth open revealing a pair of bucked tooth teeth.

Mr. Hampa continued on with the topic of Trevor, bookending his embarrassment by saying “Yes, Trevor wrote a wonderful piece on his experiences as a ballet dancer.

A few snickers scattered in the room. By the looks of his face, it didn’t phase Trevor. He held his frame in a straightened position as if he was on the stage ready to twist and twirl.

“And since you all are bored of the lesson right now, I’m gonna go ahead and read some of your work.”

Neil

Considering that Mr. Hampa’s lessons were usually dry, it was unusual that he would do this. But to be fair, he did try to do fun things – like that time he showed us “Dead Poet’s Society.” That movie left a bad taste in some our mouths, because Neil, one of the characters, killed himself near the end all because his father didn’t let him pursue acting as a career. His dad was Red from That 70s Show, so it wasn’t a surprise to me.

Mr. Hampa shuffled the papers around again and pulled one of the stapled papers from the pile like a magician in the street. He must’ve dabbled with card tricks back in his day. He cleared his throat and held silent finger up to his mouth.

“I remember when I walked her home . . .”

Oh no.

“It was after the middle school dance.”

No. No. No.

“I arrived at the school dance with my boys. There was Donnie, Marc . . .”

I stopped twirling my pencil. I put my head down for the remainder of the story. Whether it was a true story or not, I did not want anyone to hear it.

“When ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ started playing, I asked her for a dance.”

Hearing that made me want to curse my ears for even thinking it was a good song in the first place. After all she was the one who liked that song, so, technically, I liked it by association.

“When the night ended, she asked me to walk her home. I let my friends know that I was walking ______ home.”

That wasn’t entirely true. After the dance she went home with her friends to do who knows what. I went home and watched Attack of the Show and ate chips in my boxers.

“Before she closed the door to go back inside, she turned around . . .”

It started feeling hot in the room. I turned my eyes to the AC unit in the corner, but in the process, I noticed that everyone in class were sitting up straight. Instead of sinking in their chairs, they leaned forward to get another bit of what was to happen next. This was strange to me, because most of it was fictionalized.

Mr. Hampa continued reading the story.

“And she said,” he said with a pause. “I’ll see you later.’”

Mr. Hampa put down the paper and looked up. Then one of my classmates, not the one sitting next to me, blurted out:

“WHAAAAAAAT”

Another joined in.

“WHAT HAPPENED!?!? THAT WAS IT!?

“I’m afraid so,” Mr. Hampa replied.

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I scratched my head and looked at classmate next to me. She stared straight, not noticing that I was looking at her. It seemed that every one else in class was just as invested as her, even Trevor still in his swan-like posture.

“Who wrote it?” she asked.

“Somebody in class . . .”

“AHHHHHHH” everyone said collectively.

“Okay! Let’s go back to crunching grammar!” he said.

Before standing up to write on the whiteboard, Mr. Hampa turned his eyes towards me. He winked, stood up, and continued with his lesson until the end of class.

Maybe that’s what I want to do with my English Major one day.

Be Mr. Hampa.

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The Sweet Spot

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I like going to the driving range because I like hitting the life out of tiny golf balls. They’re meaningless pieces of matter, yet serve a purpose. Plain and simple. There is nothing more philosophical to it other than the fact that perhaps Bill Murray does it – and Murray is the Buddha reincarnated (or at least that’s the way I’ve seen him since the Groundhog days).

Sure, golf gets a bad rep. It’s a rich and elitist activity; courses are just a big piece of land that caters to the exclusive bunch able to afford to play 18 holes. It’s boring.

But over here, it costs about 5 bucks for 60 balls. That’s a good thing because I would hate to pay for my own. Could you imagine trying to pick up all the balls you’ve bought after whacking the crap out of them? That’d be like trying to fish for all the pennies that you tossed into a water fountain.

It also feels good. The way that I hold the iron wedge before I hit it. I feel like a man in control. And then, I wind back, keeping my left arm as straight as possible, holding the club near twisted body. Then a swing . . . and a miss! Let me do that over again.

I play it off as a practice swing. I start to practice my swing two or three more times as a way to recuperate for my hitting of a phantom. The air is such a touchy thing to swing at, because you never know if it’s going this way or that way.

Okay, I usually think to myself. Pretend your Tiger Woods trying to get a hole in one . . . or fifty for that matter. Just take a deep breath and think about all the shit you’ve been through. Take a swing out of life.

It’s almost as if it’s a practice of improvisation, the way that Coltrane say repeat “A Love Supreme” until the fade out of the song. I bop my head and mouth the words before I swing. I think about what frustrates me the most and start to channel that energy into the club like a piano player hitting major and minor chords on the green of his mind.

WHACK!

There it goes. The wind carries it to the east. I pretend that that hole is over there and that is where I meant to aim the whole time. This is easy, I think. The next 59 balls will go just like that.

WHACK!

But in reality, what is there to do when the frustration of feeling like a zero creeps up on you in your most vulnerable moments. One moment you’re on the toilet thinking in the morning, thinking about what the day is ahead. The next, the toilet doesn’t flush. Frustration comes in all different shapes and sizes.

WHACK!

The reason that I’ve been so frustrated stems from the utter fact that I am experiencing what my girlfriend has called “having a normal summer as a college student.” After all, for the past two semesters I’ve read nearly over twenty books and written over hundreds of thousands of words just to get a mark on it. The last thing I want to do is read. Yet I have to

WHACK!

The measuring stick for my self worth has vanished in the midst of joblessness and boredom. It’s been replaced by social media lurking and seeing almost everyone comparing their dick size by the amount of success they’ve been given.

WHACK!

I’ve gotten rejected by a bunch of employers! I’ve gained ten pounds! I lost a hundred dollars today! But really, why would failure matter anyways? It’s only success that people want to show.

WHACK!

It helps that I volunteer though. When arriving back home, I volunteered at the old library that I used to. I spent a good week there, going through inventory for three hours at a time. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. As you already know, it was the greatest week of my life – committing myself to a job that wasn’t really mine in the first place.

WHACK!

Then there’s the beauty of hanging out. I can count the minutes it would take to walk down to my friend’s place in the past. Nowadays, it’s more about counting the minutes I’ve wasted trying to find anyone to hang with. But it’s cool that I’ve found a family friend that I’ve hung with a couple of times. A brother from another mother if you will.

WHACK!

Yep, summer as a student is probably the worst existential crisis to encounter. After going to two different schools in the past, this third one is okay, but it’s administration system is a nightmare to deal with.

WHACK!

Didn’t I say I was going to do this? Now I’m not doing this.

WHACK!

My only friend sometimes seems to be a piece of wood that I ride down the streets. I’m terrible at doing tricks and the old grandmas stare at me with their piercing judgments. They think I’m going to steal their grandchildren, whisk them away into the sunset.

WHACK!

That was a good one. I switch clubs, and readjust the way it feels in my hands. If I use the nine iron, maybe I could get a little more aim at the target 300 feet away.  This club is a little heavier, but its size allows me to cut the ball a little more. It functions like a special tool in the kitchen, the kind of tool that will help get the job done. I place the ball on the tee.

THUMP!

There goes another one. It makes a different sort of shot. The drive looks more like a flyball than a homerun. But that’s the goal for me. I just want to hit a certain part of the field.

THUMP!

Murakami did, so can I. All he did was sit a baseball game. Once the hitter hit the sweet spot, he knew he could write a –

THUMP!

Damn it, that was close! I follow through and hold the position of the club over my back. Close but no cigar. All sizzle no steak. Where there is smoke, there is a fire. Stop if you’ve heard this one before.

THUMP!

THUMP!

THUMP!

I take a break. I look at the remaining golf balls that I have. There’s still a hell of a lot them in the bucket. For five bucks. It doesn’t get any better than this. I’m a bit tired. I should’ve stretched my arms before that first swing. I’m going to pay for that later.

I sit on the resting bench behind me. I watch the other people at the range continue to swing. I think about how my more swings I’ll be able to take.

One Fine Day

Writing Challenge: Left Overs

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I had a conversation with my sister today about the memories that she had when looking through yearbook photos. The leftover pieces that she remembered from her days as a senior. It compelled me to revisit the photograph album that I had always been so afraid of.

I first opened up this photograph album was when I was just a seven year old in Hawaii. Knowing that I was just a baby in those pictures, it shook me to know that I didn’t remember any of the photos that were taken. It confused me that I was left out of a certain narrative and it was up to me to interpret and put together the pieces of the past.

Not even when I rediscovered it last summer did I want to open it up. I had remembered what happened the first time I did.

I decided to venture into my sister’s room in search of gold – which was candy back in those days.

I checked where I would have hid my own stash.

Behind the cassette stereo: no luck.

Under the bed: not even a pinch.

Almost thirty minutes had gone by. If “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was playing in the background, Charlie would have already had at least two chocolate bars in the runtime. That’s two more than me.

After I had dug through the sea of stuffed animals on the dresser, I took a break. I went to the table where her white, 5 inch Panasonic television sat. I reached for the remote but noticed that it sat on top of a lime green book next to the TV.

I liked reading so I picked it up, thinking it was book. I held it closer to my weight as much as a bowl of jawbreakers, but looked more like a binder filled with notes.

On the cover were the words ONE FINE DAY. Right underneath the bold letters read:

Never forget your gentle sentiments and your warm smile. We are pleased to welcome you on your visit to the country of memories.

The cover art was a group of animals such as a giraffe, bear, and rabbits, dance around in a circle in the forest. Maybe it’s a cartoon book I thought.

I slouched into the table chair with the album in my lap. I opened it up but not without breathing in a little dust.

COUGH! COUGH! COUGH! My lungs had become a chimney.

The pages were aged to a brownish hue. They creaked like a door being opened. I put my fingers and knew that the pages were too thick to be just a regular book. It was in fact a photograph album. The plastic covering inside produced the sound of a candy wrapper. I opened up the so-called treat.

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The first thing I noticed was a photo of a man and woman. The man wore a grey Baracuta Jacket like the one James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The woman wore a chunky knit Cardigan that looked like a mixture of heather gray and white yarn. They held hands.

20140708_214858A few pages here and there, I saw the same man in a white suit. He’s a military man. He carries a guitar on stage. He’s was a folk singer. He wraps his arms around the woman and the children. He’s a provider.

The woman sits at a table with plates surrounding her. She’s enjoys food. She looks into the camera with the same set of eyes that she had since she was a teenager. She’s a woman. She pushes a carriage with the baby inside. The girl and boy surround her, each with cotton candy in their hands. She’s a giver.

20140708_214825The girl sits is dressed up in a green construction paper hat and yellow suit. She’s a dancer, a singer, and entertainer. She sits in between the baby and the boy. She’s a leader.

The boy leans her head on the girl. Its too heavy to carry. He’s a thinker. He toys around with a steering wheel. He’s an engineer. He doesn’t look into the camera and strays away sometimes. He’s a thinker, a wanderer.

Rushing through the pages, it was apparent that there was a baby was in most of the pictures. I didn’t know who it was nor had any clue why it kept chewing on its toes. It was a fat baby that was able to wear a denim jacket before it was cool. Who was this baby?

It sat around. It was carried. It was fed. It was carried by other people. It was just a baby.

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As I flipped further through the pages, the man and the woman began to look older. They didn’t hold hands like on the first page. They held the boy, the girl, and the baby.

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It was as if each and every photo connected the family, but disconnected their own individual stories. As for the baby, its story stayed the same. It cried, smiled, and cried some more.

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I skipped to the last page to see the end. There was no sign of the family except for the man. The woman’s face was not to be seen. The boy and the girl faces were blurred. The baby was no longer in the pictures.

When I closed the book, there was no noise. Not even a crinkle. Just the squeaking of the chair as I slouched down into a ball.

My head felt like a pretzel breaking. And I let out a weep. My cravings for sweets went away.

It wasn’t only until this summer that I decided to revisit it with adult eyes. And through it, the reason why I had left it alone all of these years still puzzles me. Sometimes I long for the days where it was simple. Other times I am glad to let the leftover pieces float around and be at my reach whenever I am ready to piece something together.

But I always feel anxious to open this particular photo album. I look around to find pictures that I have no recollection of. It’s almost like being an amnesiac. The scary feeling to know that at one point I was just a tiny little being, and now, I am a functional and flawed individual. The weird void that I did not get to experience or remember what may or may have been the some of the sweetest moments in my life. 

 

 

A Tragicomedy in Three Sections

Prompt: A Tragicomedy in Three Sections

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When I got caught being drunk I was lying down on my bed in my boxers with a pair of headphones blasting over my ears playing Radiohead. Rest assured, I was an insecure teenager trying to escape the feeling of living in a boring town. I was tired of hearing the ocean waves, the rustling trees, and the yapping gossip. Nature could go screw itself.

I mouthed the lyrics, thinking that my room was an island that no man could set foot on. As Thom Yorke crooned like a baby being yanked from its crib, I opened my eyes and saw that my mom was standing over me. She took one look at me and shook her head. She walked out.

The next morning, I stumbled into the hallway and I saw my dad. He shook his head and laughed. It had been one of those nights.

In fact, the reason that I started to embrace the “when in Rome” attitude to partaking in drink and illicit substance was the utter isolation that I faced by my peers. “Every one is doing it, Kris” my conscience would tell me. But the collective conscience ruled over the anomic of naturally going against the grain. What is cool and normal in a small town was bound to win. I had to go against my beliefs, and thus what my parents raised me up to be.

In retrospect, it was the isolation I felt from my parents. They saw that I was going astray by doing unspeakable things. I traded in studying for my SATs for a chance to chase astral projections that were terrifying, alluring, and disconnecting. It even got to the point where I was the one being chased.

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I don’t know if it was being a rebel, not having a brother or sister around, or the fact that church was becoming the same thing every Sunday. Any concerned parent would just see it as a “cry for attention.”

So what is a cry for attention? In the contemporary context, it’s posting a status on FaceBook lamenting how your day is a steaming pile of dump. It’s tweeting about how you met some famous celebrity and how he or she told you how good you look. It’s Instagramming a photo of peas, potatoes, beef, and cheese before it becomes a Sherpherd’s pie.

In the past, my cry for attention was drinking until I reached a point of clarity where I could feel like all the ideas I had were limitless. It was chiefing with my homies out in the carpark. It was trying to win the attention of any girl by writing and writing and writing until she would ignore me.

Now that I am older, it’s a lot more complicated. I have to keep an image. I have to be careful about doing something that could jeopardize my own reputation or that of my parents.

I’m also a lot more conscious of keeping my body a temple. I wake up in the morning and do stretches. I jog. I go skate. I drink less (maybe a beer to settle the aching pains). I’m not a teenager anymore.

But even I know that although the options are endless, there is always a breaking point to the banal routine of smiling and waving at the camera. Hell, I don’t even have a camera.

While I spend my summers cooped up in the high rise overlooking Ichon station (where the hell is that?), I wonder how I could arrive at a platform as boring as right now. It’s almost as if I am back in my room in Alaska, lying down, listening to Thom Yorke practically cry about something that I can’t understand. It’s called inflection Thom.

 

Day 52 - Paris - Musee de l'Opera 106And now comes the fun part, where I let my mind run loose. Where I take all that energy of sustaining the image of the model minority and turn it into a minefield of loose ends. “But that breaks all blog rules and thematic consistency!” you might say. Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do now? Isn’t the cry for attention supposed to be something akin to the mind of a crazy person? At least I’m not releasing a diss song or a sex tape. Now that, that would be crazy.

The patch-up solution cannot prevent the “crack-up” (or whatever Fitzgerald talked about). Sometimes people just crack up because there’s a piece of them that they keep to their selves and another that goes towards something else. And when that other piece that they sacrifice for the vocation, reciprocity, or reception is ignored, then they have cracked up – or something like that. Fitzgerald’s own recognition of his failure is a reminder that you could either accept that you’re done, or accept that you’re done and not go down without a fight.

If there is a list of things that I’d want to understand, it goes as followed:

– Why do the people you try to gain approval from focus their energy and pride towards a more practical and stable individual?

– Why is approval even necessary?

– Is this even starting to make sense?

– Lists are a terrible way to frame the mind

The remedy doesn’t lie in action: the verb. It’s the act of acting and going at it each and everyday. Take for instance a magnificent artist like Michaelangelo. You think that guy ever lied on his back and stared at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and asked “When will my father ever see that this is a magnificent piece of work?”

Somewhere out there in this electronic mundo, there’s an artist chipping away at photoshop to make sure his masterpiece is pixelated and colorized to his wanting. His father or mother is in the other room yelling at him for being a lazy brat that does nothing but jerk around all day.

Anyway, what does this even mean all mean? I’m starting to sound like Thom Yorke.

 

P.S. God Bless America