Monday, June 25, 2012

Failure to Comply with Reality

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.  Orr was crazy and could be grounded.  All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.  Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them.  If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to.  Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."

-Joseph Heller, Catch-22

I spent the summer before college working two markedly different jobs.  In the morning I worked as an secretary at a legal company we'll denote AAQ, determining the financial eligibility of potential clients, and in the evenings I worked as a waiter at a “Chinese-Mongolian” restaurant owned and operated by Koreans (with a Vietnamese chef and Mexican food prep crew thrown in for diversity).
            I don’t want to be too harsh on the people I dealt with at AAQ, as many of those individuals were dealt a rather shitty hand at birth.  Having established that fact, there were a few cases where the incompetence and/or lack of awareness of clients bore repeating.  One fine morning I received a call from a man who, judging by the accent, lived in what we call “Down County.”  He quickly established that his motive for calling was to obtain a divorce from his wife:

“The thing is buddy, I was separated from ‘er fer about four months, but I gon’ an’ slept with her again las’ night.  So, you know, I figure I need to get a divorce”

“Well, AAQ can’t actually help you file for divorce, but I can send you some forms and you can do it yourself.  However, I should note that you are legally required in the State of [ ] to be separated from your spouse for a full year before applying for divorce.”

I stopped short of pointing out the obvious, namely that the state lacks both the resources and will to confirm the particulars of any individual case.

“See, tha’s the thing man.  I know that if I don’t get a divorce, I’m probably gonna’ keep on goin’ to her house and sleepin’ with her.  You know?  I just figure I needa’ get my divorce”

A significant number of callers exhibited some sort of mental disorder, drug-induced or otherwise.  I received a call from one man complaining that he was not being allowed to live where he pleased.  “I tried to live in a convent, you know, but apparently they only let women in there,” he informed me.  I responded that yes, generally Catholic nuns preferred to live in a testosterone-free environment.  “I suppose so,” he replied, somewhat crestfallen.  “I just think it’s a horrible world we live in.”  I hung up, expressing my condolences that he wouldn’t be allowed his reign as chief stud of the nunnery.
The clients at the restaurant were rarely as exciting, but the eighty-five year old owner from Korea’s version of “Down County” was a specimen unique in her own right.  Her English, to my knowledge, consists solely of the vocabulary necessary to pick up the phone long enough to convince the caller that he has dialed the wrong number.
For the uninitiated, at Chinese-Mongolian restaurants the customer fills up several bowls of raw ingredients before handing them off to the chef.  The obvious difficulty this method presents is how to prevent the gluttons it attracts from bleeding us like the stuck pigs we serve them.  One lard-filled semi-sentient being, having abused the buffet, was the unknowing recipient of Grandma’s Korean-language harassment. 이렇게 많이 먹어돼지 같다야! 돼지야! (Hey, how can you eat so much?  You’re like a pig!  You’re a pig!).”  Realizing that her perplexed Caucasian customer was failing to comprehend her Sino-Altaic condemnations, Grandma resorted to her limited English repertoire:  “Piguhhhhhh!  Piguhhhhh!”  Realizing the potential gravity of the situation her grandson grabbed her, assuring the customer that Alzheimer’s was a terrible affliction resulting in all manner of inexplicable behavior.
Grandma also liked to dole out unsolicited advice and food to her employees.  돌쇠야, 계란을 먹을래? (Do you want an egg?)” she would ask, apparently unaware that normal people don’t snack on hard-boiled eggs in between taking orders and clearing tables.  Once she called me into the back room to relay an apparently urgent message:  돌쇠야 교회 다니는 한국인이랑 결혼해라! Make sure you marry a Korean girl who goes to Church! (My maternal grandmother, I should note, has expressed some trepidation about such an arrangement:  “Wouldn’t your children be midgets?”).” 
Done with her rant, and having confirmed that I had heard her properly, she returned to slicing endless slabs of meat in the kitchen.  There, she found a new recipient of ancient Korean wisdom in Carlos, whose European fauxhawk, she says, is “don’t likeuhhhh.”

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