Siblings Day & Best Friends Day

It bothers me that more and more people are posting about Siblings and Best Friends Day on social media. Seems like a small thing, but that’s how it starts: a few posts, some messages and one day you’re an asshole because you didn’t send a card and buy a gift.

They’re bogus holidays, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Days to honor your parents…instead of spending money one day a year, why not honor your parents in other ways? Lead a good life. Treat people well. Don’t lock them away when they’re old, take care of them.

Of course, you can’t take care of them if they’re a threat to themselves and others. If Dad’s brandishing the kitchen knife, then you’d better send him to a home.

Unless it’s time to cut the cake.

Never Heard of It

Today is my birthday, and last night my division had a farewell dinner for someone who’s going to Forecaster School. Nobody wants to hang out with their co-workers outside of work. For me it’s right at the bottom alongside Mandatory Fun with things I want to spend my limited free time doing.

And I mean limited free time. One can be forgiven for thinking that shore duty means you have more time to yourself and what you want to do, but our schedule nixes that idea. Right now we work six days in a row, off three days, on three nights, and off three more days before the cycle starts anew. We went from twelve hour days to six, but the trade-off is that we are there more days a month, and if there is something going on that requires all hands (uniform inspection, for instance), then that’s another day you won’t have. Combine that with any collateral duties (extra duties you aren’t compensated for) that take place on your off-days, the extra work and less manpower, and it’s no wonder some people are dropping chits to return to sea duty six months early.

The dinners themselves can be awkward affairs. Sometimes it depends on the choice of venue. In the Navy, we call the dinner a Hail and Farewell: you hail the new people aboard and say farewell to the people who are leaving. The trouble starts when not everyone shows up — the first three I went two, one guy just didn’t come — and it gets no better when you’re sitting around the table, wishing you were elsewhere. Nothing to talk about except work.

I’ve been to four so far in San Diego, and I’m happy to report this is the least awkward division I’ve ever worked with. For instance, we actually talk to each other. Isn’t it great how sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference?

Last night I skipped beer and stuck with water, and I ended up chatting with my co-worker’s son, who is 12.

Co-Worker’s Son: Do you like to play any online games?

Me: Not in a long time. When I was your age, I played this game called Starcraft.

Co-Worker’s Son: Never heard of it.

Oh man. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to ring in my 32nd birthday.

One benefit of joining the Navy: working with kids fresh out of high school means I have to stop bullshitting myself about my youth.

When Using a Squat Toilet Goes Wrong: A Two-Part Confessional

Part 1:

don’t often write about my life— there is a reason — but I feel like getting this off my chest.

I lived in China for two and a half years. In that time I did everything I could to avoid using squat toilets, including running all the way back to my apartment when my stomach had an argument with one of Wuhan’s streetside offerings, and lost. Always thankful for the Western toilet in my apartment, I never went as far as to worship it, but I did kneel before it a few times, the mornings after an unfortunate dance with baijiu. Hard days and blurry nights.

I was taking morning Chinese classes at Wuhan University while teaching English. The university where I worked was on the outskirts of Wuhan and the bus ride to Wu Da took an hour on a good day, the bus lurching from traffic jam to traffic jam. The best you could say about it was that since you were so close to the starting point, you didn’t have to push or shove with a lot of people to get a seat. Just kids, and I had my pick of the best seats each morning.

One of my apartment’s perks was the huge marketplace right down the road. Merchants were up frying food at the crack of dawn. Usually I bought hot dry noodles but one morning I decided to brave some jiaozi.

A woman sold it from a tiny alcove next to the noodle place. I’m not sure if her presence there was even legal. She fried them on a cast-iron pan and as you’d expect, this wasn’t gourmet jiaozi.

This was the greasy, gritty jiaozi you find in “real” China. The kind that doesn’t demand a bowl; she handed all six to me wrapped in plastic with a pair of disposable chopsticks.

I broke the chopsticks apart and grabbed a jiaozi. The grease nearly made it slip off my sticks, and I cranked my iPod to my Chinese podcast playlist. A few stops later I’d wolfed down the whole bag, leaving only a puddle of greenish leftover cooking oil in the bottom of the bag.

My stomach buzzed.

I felt movement. Like the turning of a great gear in my stomach. It started out slow, but as the bus lurched on through Wuhan’s early morning traffic, I hoped I could wait. Preferably all morning and the bus ride back to my apartment.

But the gear had no pity: it turned faster and faster, until it became one throbbing, shaking entity.

The bus was stalled in traffic. I got up and shoved my way through the people and pounded on the doors. They opened and I stumbled onto the sidewalk.

I took off running with little idea where I was going. The gear had ceased moving and I knew it was coming, ready or not.

I spotted the characters for netbar.

I rushed past the girl sitting at the front desk and through the nicotine web of overworked college students and neglectful parents. I pushed through a doorway of plastic flaps into a courtyard, and there it was: a porcelain bowl laid in the ground, a waist-high wall for privacy.

I squatted and did my business. But of course, I’m not used to squatting flat on my feet. When I tried, I nearly fell back. I managed to steady myself with my hands, my palms covered in something wet with an odd smell.

A woman came in, grabbed a mop from the sinkbasin and left.

After finishing and vowing never to eat gritty jiaozi again, I had to perform part 2 of this act. I checked my pockets. I checked my backpack.

I had no tissue. I looked around.

Neither did the restroom.

I could could tell you about how it had no soap either, but why make things worse?

I’m sure you get the unfortunate picture.

Part 2:

This story isn’t complete without the following confession:

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after the jiaozi fiasco. If so, you give me too much credit. While on a nightly walk with my wife, I ended up eating some backstreet offering or another, and the gear began to turn. I ignored it as best I could.

Then it sped up.

Me: We need to find a bathroom.

My wife pointed at a building. All the lights were on and students were shuffling in and out.

Me: I’ll be right back.

I hurried inside, and after a few false turns I finally found the sign for restroom. Salvation, yet again. I tried the door.

It wouldn’t budge.

I tried again, pounding on it as the gear stopping turning and became one great throbbing entity. No time to ask for a key. No time to find another restroom. Like before, it was coming ready or not, so I did what I could. The only thing I could do, really.

I let it out by the sink.

When it was over, I sat there for a few minutes, thinking about what I’d just done. This had never been on my list, but I guess I could still put it on there and cross it out. I thought over my life, what had led me to this moment. Of all the things I could be doing, here I was.

I stood, said a quick prayer for the cleaning lady, and hurried back to my apartment. I never went back to that building.

So yeah, there’s a reason I don’t often write about my life.


If you liked this story, you’ll like Expat Jimmy, a tale of James’s first day in China, and the jaded teacher determined to crush his spirit.

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Good Timing

After working the night shift, in which we had to come in three hours early for a GMT, I opened my email to find this:

exhausted

I would have laughed, but I was too tired.

Caricature

From the intellectual den of Facebook, someone was rather pleased that New York City banned styrofoam cups:

“Wish this law was enacted when I was 15, working at McDonalds, and watching all the goofballs get their 32 ounce iced teas in styrofoam. Admittedly, I tried to take matters into my own hands, and refuse to serve drinks in styrofoam, while educating people in the drive-thru about the harms of styrofoam when they demanded their “cool cup”. I was later told by management to STFU and just give out the styrofoam cups. Now, over a decade later, NEW YORK BANS STYROFOAM!!!! “

Fascinating how some people make caricature pointless.