Thursday, May 30, 2013

Citibank Steals - My First Online Petition

Hi Blog Readers:

I promise to not do this often.  But this time, I really believed in this cause.  Citibank steals.  I was so disgusted by what they were doing to others, I volunteered to write a petition.  Surprisingly, from the boonies, many people came and supported my efforts by revising, editing, and advising.

Please take the time to read my petition.  If it moves you, please sign and send it along.

Thank you,

Paul Cook

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Must Be Good To Be You

Yesterday, when I called home, my mother asked what I was doing in Mexico.

I told her, "Eating oysters and shrimp and fish ceviche.  I went diving with the seals.  I've been reading a lot too."

She said in Korean, "Must be good to be you."

I said in my last post, I feel like I'm in the middle of a good and blue and happy dream.  I find it ironic, however, that I had to leave home just to find time to read.  And even here, I have my distractions of the internet.  I had to take an hour bus ride to the beach to get reading done.  And today, I read a difficult piece, but it was also the most cited law review article of history.

I never imagined living a dream would mean that I had the time to do reading I enjoyed and reading I didn't necessarily "enjoy" but had to do.  It's nice.

Right now, I'm in deep thought.  I emailed a friend some of my thoughts for him to think about.

1.  What future do you want?

It's something seriously to think about.

My dad said he's going to get me a watch for passing the bar.  Furthermore, my birthday is arriving next month.  It's kind of one of those gifts for two occasions.

But finding that watch launched me into a discovery.  Maybe a discovery we should all undergo. 

As Jean Valjean asked, "Who am I?"

Yeah, really.  Who am I?

What do I want my watch to say about me?  I'm having a monogram designed for my business card.  What do I want that to say about me?  They have to be in alignment.  I was even thinking of writing everything in my own new font.  Am I crazy?  What should my font say about me?

I don't think I'm being narcissistic.  We're all different and unique.  Nobody in the world has or will have your signature or your fingerprint.  Why shouldn't we be more intentional about telling the world - I know who I am.  Or at least, telling the world, at this point in time, this is what I believe I am.

And deep down at that question - Who am I? begs a more important question.

What values should I be remembered for?

What type of life should I live?

Anyways - these are the type of questions constantly on my mind during holidays.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Living a Summer Dream

I've been in La Paz now for four days.  Apparently, John Steinbeck passed through here on his trip to discover himself.  La Paz used to be the site for pearl divers.  Then the Spaniards found out and extincted the pearl beds.  So, when Steinbeck came to La Paz, no pearl divers existed.  Nonetheless, I'm fairly certain (though I have to look this up) that he wrote The Pearl by being inspired by La Paz.  The great irony is that I read The Pearl in my Russia trip and not this one.

Since, I've been in La Paz, I've done two things: boxing and scuba diving.  You couldn't get two more distinct sports.  The prior is hard, arduous, for the poor, and mainly done by Mexicans, at least here.  The latter is easy, leisurely (for the most part), for the rich, and mainly done by white foreigners. 

The Ceviche Man took me to boxing.  I bought Ceviche, which is raw fish cooked in lime juice, from him, and we started talking.  And I told him the Mexicans taught me to box in Los Angeles.  He said he boxed for recreation too, and that he would take me if I'd meet him the day after at 5:30pm.  True to both our promises, I went to the La Paz boxing gym with the Ceviche Man and his son.  His son's so cute at the age of six, and he took a real liking to me.  The kid and me really connected after boxing, as the three of us ate shaved ice with mango syrup and sweet milk after.

The gym was run by a black Cuban.  I have to admit their gym is a better facility than mine at home.  It also has more boxers.  It's larger, with six black punching bags that run through the middle.  They even have two rings in there!  Of course, the weight room is hence much smaller. 

They noticed quite quickly I was a left handed boxer.  Southpaw in Spanish, I found out is "del sur."  From the South.  Pretty cool translation.  Although the coaches mainly focused on what they needed to do, one coach took to me right away and trained me to block better.  That was nice.  =)  They all seem to notice, with the exception of the pro boxers there that my technique and punches have been well drilled, better than their beginners.  I can owe that to my boxing club at home.  In general, the street people actually do call me Pacquiao.  I suppose this is better than what I used to be called when traveling: Jackie Chan.

Today, I took a rather pricey scuba diving boat far into the blue Sea of Cortez.  To me, the sea looked like a liquid sapphire, and was as calm as a mother's peace and as a still as a frozen sheet of blue ice.  What took me by surprise, however, is the chilling water.  I thought the water would be warmer in Mexico, but even with a 7mm wetsuit, I started shivering in my scuba dives.  I can't get the photos out of my underwater camera, but I took pictures of multicolored Moray Eels and my favorite: water dogs - sea lions. 

Oh, they were so cool.  They really are like puppies of the ocean.  They came and rubbed up against my hands while I was submerged in water.  They even squealed, and I could feel their hard whiskers against my bare hands.  I petted them over and over again, as they rolled and twirled near me.  They were like the acrobats of the ocean, who were playing with their new human friend.  What dexterity and agility they had!  Dancing and swirling in the water, like it was some kind of playground for them.

Another plus of the trip was I met a Flemish-Spaniard.  (Flemish is another way of saying people from Belgium.)  He used to be the ex-vice president of Toshiba Europe.  We chit chatted about my future, and I have to say he gave me awesome advice and his email address.  We definitely clicked, as he could sense I had another life - one from his world - before I entered my present reality.

On the boat ride back, we ate sandwiches on a white beach.  I would've liked a beer or a mechilada.  But, a sweet pepsi would do. 

When we jetted back, on the sapphire sea, I saw the reddish purple desert mountains meet the blue sea and the blue and white open and infinite sky.  I felt like I was flying on the bluest, summer dream.  And I was sure of it, when I saw baby sting rays jump and fly out of the water and back into it.  At some point, we came across a pod of dolphins that were shooting in and out of the water like torpedoes.  I sat on the sunniest part of the boat, without a shirt and basked in the sun and watched all that was happening around me.  I mean, imagine jetting on the Sea of Cortez, having just finished playing with sea lions, being advised by an ex-president of a great company, passing the bar, and having no worries at the moment in the world.  I don't believe I ever felt freer in life.

I called Mom today.  She asked what I was doing in Mexico.  I told her everything I was doing.  And she said, "You know I'm at work right now.  I just have to say, your life sounds like a dream.  Have fun."

I called my father.  He said, "What are you doing there?  Come back already.  I want to see you."  And I thought, Oh, no.  I'm not coming back now.  You can see me anytime when I'm back.  And by the way, you never even made an effort to see me when I was back in the States.  So, I want you to remember, take advantage of the present when I do come back

But of course I deflected his request more diplomatically.  "Well Father, I am writing.  I'm revising a law review article.  It's quite difficult for me to write, when I'm so distracted by you and others in Los Angeles."

He said, "Well, that sounds good - I guess.  Would you like to go to Korea to see my mother before she passes away?  You'll be a lawyer now, and you should see her as such."

I don't really like Grandma because I don't have a relationship with her.  I've seen her four times in my life, and each time, not for very long.  She's too old archaic in her ways for me.  She's trapped in some way of life that dates to Shamanism and farming in my opinion.  The gap is so wide for the two of us.  I guess the request used to irritate me because I always thought Father should see his own mother, not send me as his delegate.  After all, I did tell him once: she's your mother; not mine!

But I calculated it all, and thought, hmm, I have enough miles to get from Korea to Cambodia.  And I've always wanted to see Cambodia.  "Well, Father," I said, "I think I would like to go to Korea soon."

"That's good."  He said.  "We'll get you a nice suit.  A Korean one."

"No," I said.  "It needs to be Italian or German.'

"What's a matter with you?"

"Hey - do you want me to wear a suit you buy or do you want to buy a suit I never wear?"

"Fine.  Get your Italian suit."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hitchiking Up Mexico

I'm writing this from La Paz, Mexico, up the Baja Coast in a hotel that was formerly a Spanish Catholic convent.  I had my first siesta today from 2pm to 4pm because of the scorching heat.  I'm about 3 hours North of Cabo San Lucas.  I got here by hitchhiking up Mexico.  Let's not let Mom and Dad know.

On a lonely desert highway, the city bus dropped me off.  For five minutes, I stuck my thumb out at the road. Some Mexicans, who were just watching, smiled when I got a ride.  It was an uncle name Enrique and his two nephews.  They made me sit in the cab of their truck, while the hot sun beat down on me.  It was a nice way, from the open flatbed, to see the Mexican dessert.  It reminded me a bit of the Russian birches I saw in Siberia, but I realized, you are in a very different ecosystem.  For miles, there was just brush of spiky plants, cacti and dessert.  And then there was me, the little china man sitting in the back of the truck.

I thanked Enrique, and he dropped me off again in the middle of nowhere.  Across the street was a pit stop, in which I went and gave the guy five pesos for a chilling and refreshing glass of coke.  I downed it because I saw a prospective ride.  I couldn't have been at the pit stop for more than five minutes.

I ran across the street and hitchhiked.  The guy had a a white roadster - two seater, and boy did it make a lot of noise.  I was thinking, Oh, I hope you pick me up.  He pulled over.  We started speaking Spanish, but I realized quickly he was an American.  I said, "You speak English, right?"

He said, "I sure do.  Hop in."

I dropped my luggage in his small trunk, and we rode throughout Highway 1, crossing through the desert and all.  In about 30 minutes, I found out quite a bit about this guy.  He was starting to do a sustainability project.  We had one friend in common - believe it or not.  He was into sustainable cement.  He graduated from Stanford as an engineer and told me that our cement is bad for the environment, absorbs oxygen, and is expensive.  I told him I just passed the bar, and he said it was fantastic. 

He said that he had a Korean attorney who worked for him as well and that he liked how rigid and disciplined Koreans were.  I found that funny.  It reminded me of my boxing club and how I took form and technique a lot more seriously than the Mexicans, who believed in starting with conditioning and brawling.  He dropped me at the top of the hill with two other hitch hikers.

In 10 minutes, a van that was gutted out for construction work picked us up.  There were three of them.  The main driver's name was Teresa.  The passenger was Jose and another one was Edwardo.  Edwardo looked a bit crazy but he was friendly too.  Who knew if they were going to rip out one of my kidneys?  One hitchhiker was an Italian guy who was bringing his Chicata lover with him.  They shared some food with me; I thought it was the ribcage of dried fish.  But after I ate it, I noticed the strong taste of something I never tasted before.  I can't explain it.  They told me it was rattlesnake.  I thought - so that's how rattlesnake jerky tastes.  It was so hot for the hour and half remaining that I fell asleep in the van. 

When I awoke, I was in La Paz.  They were kind and dropped me off near a taco stand.  There, I ordered raw clams and hibiscus flower juice, called jamiaca.  It was refreshing for the hot ride, but I knew I'd be hungry again.

I made it.  I had a crazy thought.  I should hitchhike all the way back to Los Angeles.  But when someone told me it's 20 hours to Tijuana from La Paz, I passed on the idea.  I'd need another week in Mexico.  I suppose I can stay here another week.  But would it really be worth hitchhiking all the back to Los Angeles?  I'm sure I could do it, as it seems like people pick me up rather quickly.  And I'm not all that scared.  I just wonder if it'd be a good use of my time.

Ok - remember our agreement.  I'll tell Mom and Dad later.  When I get home - that is.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Passing the Bar: My ticket out of purgatory

This entry marks the end of this phase of my intervivo purgatory.  Spiritually, mentally, and physically I've received my ticket out of purgatory.  Physically, I have been allowed to leave my hometown and have arrived in a mini-paradise.  Though to be honest, there have been better ocean side places I've liked better than Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

The start of my purgatory diaries carried it with a dark and more hopeless tone.  But as happens with seasons, which Californians will all too often forget, things must die in order for the next generation to live.  Death brings life.  Perhaps, that is why the Scriptures say that whoever holds onto his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.

When I took the bar in the summer, I was going through a crises, which was all triggered by my kitty's worsening cancer.  When the winter rolled in, I got the news I failed.  At the same time, I moved back to the place I swore I would never come back to: Baldwin Park.  I felt like some force had hurled me out of grace and slammed me into the abyss, where I would be forgotten and lost, forever.

My parents knew I was not all right.  I gained ten pounds, mainly from drinking too much whiskey.  But there did come a point, most likely during the winter equinox - when my part of the world received the least amount of light  and the most amount of darkness - I made a life changing decision.  Yes, I was knocked down, but I remember intentionally and consciously deciding: I will not stay down.  I will get back up.

And that's where the boxing kicked in.  While I was retraining my muscle memory to follow a regimented pattern to maximize the shattering force of a punch, I was also retooling my brain to become a test taking machine.  And so the regimented training of my external fighting and my internal fighting began.

It took days, hours, weeks, and months.  And it was not any fun - none of it.  Like a general planning out a war, I sat down and devised a strategy that identified everything that went wrong last time and drafted adjustments to each of those failures.  All in all - there was only one goal in mind: Ace the bar.  It wasn't pass the bar any longer; it was too dominate it.  And I really was like a general because I took my bar studying into my own hands and stopped following the prescription of my bar prep program.  The cookie-cutter bar preparatory program sometimes worked for me, but really, I was a unique case.  Nonetheless, I'll never forget the last three weeks of my self-imposed torture program.  I studied 12-16 hours everyday.  It sucked.

I did feel like a warrior in battle - I have to admit.  My bar testing location was in the West side of Los Angeles - a significant way from home.  I remember that my boxing coach and my kid came the night before I was to sit the bar.  We drove out to the West side together, and ate pizza at 800 degrees.  We split an Italian beer, and the coach wished me luck.  I felt like a member of the tribe being isolated in the wilderness to go out for my hunt.

I had to bring the tribe my trophy, my prize, to show that I became a man.  They wished me well, but really - I was alone, had to be alone, and had to achieve this alone.  I would be alone for three days straight.  Only California makes it three days - all other states have it for two days.

But the peculiar thing is every evening, when I finished sitting that bar, I just hoped everyone in my boxing club was doing well.  Coincidentally, even after a hard day of taking the bar, I'd hit the gym in the hotel basement.  There - there was pictures and autographed boxing gloves of Muhammad Ali.  After each day though, I forgot about my past performance (because I could not change it).  Instead, I thought about my loved ones and planned for the next day.

I remember what it felt like driving back home after the last day of the bar.  I was so exhausted and fatigued I almost got into a car accident.  When I came home, my boxing coach and kid picked me up.  I came back to the tribe.  We ate out together because I returned to them.  At that point in time, we could only wonder if I successfully accomplished my mission.

In the interval of taking the bar and receiving the results, I really just focused on boxing.  The bar was out of sight and hence, out of mind.  This was good.  I really didn't worry about it because what good could that do in one's life?  Perhaps, that is why the Scriptures ask us how does worrying even add an hour to your life?  Of course, it doesn't.

Now: fast forward into the month of May.  If you read my post on impossible things before breakfast, I planned to leave the country before the results came out.  I had no idea if I passed or failed.  I told myself if I failed again, then I'd rest in misery in Mexico, so I could get back up and take it again.  If I passed, then I would be relieved and enjoy my vacation.

To wind even more pressure in me than was already there, my father called me that week just to let me know: "Paul, because of you, I couldn't sleep.  You better have passed."  I was thinking - Thanks Dad.  Why don't you go read Fathering 101?  Maybe you should try to take the preparatory test to go to law school, go to a three year law school, suffer at the hands of a bitter professor (which I never blogged about), and then take the bar and fail and on top of that lose one of your best friends in your life (my cat Luke).

But I said none of this.  I really did wish he'd get his own life and focus more on making profits at his business.  Yet, I know old dogs can't learn new tricks.  So, like a typical Korean son, I just said, "Ok," like I heard the order and obeyed.

My father's own suffering, however, came to light at some point during a dinner.  He told me it bothered him so much I failed because his two younger brothers constantly reminded him what a useless son I was for failing the bar.  Now, if you find this affronting: don't.  Family politics is rather complex, and my father probably instigated the jeer at some earlier point in their relationship.  I only told him to blow off my uncle's knee caps by reminding him what a loser of a father my uncle was and is.  My dad wouldn't do this.  I'm glad he didn't because it's not very sound advice.  I told him to not let his brother's taunts get to him, but that too is easier said than done.

Back to the story.  The tension of waiting to receive important news is incredibly stressful.  I remember watching Lincoln.  In it, President Lincoln would hold his officer's hand while reading the telegrams that announced victory or defeat for his campaigned battles.  Now I know this: nothing can prepare you for learning that you failed.  I tried to think of every tactic and every mental trick I could to relieve this anxiety.  Nothing really worked, except some meditation and prayer reminded me this would not be the end of the world - just another 6 months of waiting again.  I confess, that thought alone - would also make my soul spiral into despair.  I did not want to go through this hell ever again of waiting, anxiety, and machine like training.  I just told myself, if I had to, I would though.

I think it was a good omen that the Wednesday of the Friday's bar results, my first spar went well.  It showed that I had mastered the basic disciplines of boxing.  Did I do it for the bar?

I promised myself that I wouldn't look at the bar results until I was already in Mexico.  I broke that vow the same day I made it: Friday, a good Friday, really.  I did the bar search with my test number and my applicant number.  The few seconds, perhaps it was just one second, it took for the next page to load really felt like an eternity.  I braced myself for the worst, the message that the applicant number is not on the list.  But when I looked - it said my name was on the pass list.

I felt so relieved!  A massive weight with the gravity of a black hole, felt like it lifted from my chest.  In truth, I wasn't that happy; I was just relieved.  Finally - my life could go on.  But then the saddest thought came to my mind, I wish I could tell my cat Luke I passed. 

Before he passed, to the other side, I would often hold him and pray to God, "Thank you God for my cat, Luke.  Thank you he's still alive.  Please help him keep fighting his cancer."  He would then purr.  Yes, I'm a weird guy.  I would talk to my cat.  But I did this, because I always believed he understood.

Earlier that day, my mom told me, "Luke came to me."  I looked in her eyes and believed her.  I thought she saw his ghosts - even though as a Christian I'm not supposed to believe in ghosts.  But I believed her.  She said, "I had a dream, I was watering our garden.  And he was right there, rolling, rolling on the grass, waiting for me to finish and then feed him."  I smiled.  Luke did come to her.

She, then, interpreted the dream, "Paul, I think it's for you.  It means he's going to bless you with lots of luck."  I smiled again, and I didn't tell her my thoughts.  I interpreted the dream the same, before she told me her view of it.  Therefore, I actually believed her.

I went down the list of people to tell the news to.  I started with Dad.  I then called Mom and she said, "See, I told you.  Luke brought you luck."  I said, "Yeah, I know he did."  I called and called to let people know.  People were so excited, but I told them I couldn't talk, I had to make my way down the list.

My dad was over the moon.  Of course, he would be.  I was happy for him, but I still wished he could learn to find peace and happiness apart from external and contrived validations.

Finally, I'd be out of purgatory.  Because I failed the bar the first time, I had to cancel my winter trip to Germany.  But now, I would be in Mexico tomorrow - a free person. 

Anyways, I was the only person on the list from Baldwin Park, my urban city.  I hope I set the example of perseverance and determination for my boxing club.  It's hard to get back up, retrain, and fight back when you get knocked out.  The knock outs always happen.  The comeback often doesn't.

So - all in all - my strategy worked.  I checked my multiple choice score.  The National Committee of Bar Examiners have told me that my score is good enough to admit me into the practice of law in Minnesota and Washington DC.  I think it's about the 80th percentile that checks in.  I could have scored higher, but they don't tell you.  They just tell you - you qualify.  And I do.  So, I didn't just pass.  I know I did really well this time around; therefore, I hit the target.  Bulls eye.  Not just pass the bar, ace it.

My cat fought to the bitter end that cancer.  My vet said he never seen a cat live as long as mine did with it.  I'd like to believe he was my muse and inspiration for life.  I'm sure better fighters exist, but in my life, I never witnessed such a creature fighting so valiantly without ever uttering a complaint.

My father grew up on a farm, and in Korea, farm animals like cats are dirty.  So, he didn't take much of a liking to Luke.  But even he had to admit, he was one brave and courageous kitty.  He knew he was my familiar to see me through this chapter of my life.  But now he's gone, and I've lost my animal companion.  Thus, my dad, realizing all of this too, felt bad for me when he died because of the impact it had on me.

Well, he's in a better place now, beyond the threshold of the material world.  I hope you see that your master followed your example and fought bravely too.  For you.  For the family.  For me.  For all of us.  Because, that is what we know.  That is who we are.

In loving memory of Luke . . .  Keep waiting for us.  Your family will be there with you soon.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Open Letter to Michael Jeffries, Abercrombie CEO

I had to write a letter to Michael Jeffries, who basically said that he won't make clothes for fat girls because they're uncool.  A&F doesn't want uncool people to represent.  He apologized, but it was so half-hearted, I wrote him an open letter.

Furthermore, on this blog, you get to see a preview of our boxing photoshoot that's going to go into our summer advertisement campaign.

Paul Cook
[Personal Information]

CEO Mike Jeffries
Delivered to: by electronic mail


Open Letter: Thoughts On Your Apology

Dear Mr. Jeffries:
I am writing to address my slight disappointment in your apology.  First, I’d like to introduce myself.  My name is Paul Cook; I am perhaps everything you define as a “cool” kid.  I have a dual degree in arts and science, an international Masters in strategy, and law degree from a prestigious law school.  As a hobby, I travel the world, and my passions lie in social justice and activism.  In addition, I am also an amateur boxer, and logically, the training to be one, conditions my physique so that your clothes are a good fit for me.  By me wearing them, as your marketing strategy predicted, more of my friends have and want to purchase your brand.  The only problem though is that I may not be so “cool” by your definition because I am not white; I am Asian, Korean-American to be specific.

Though I have ignored and dismissed the rumors and allegations of A&F’s discriminatory hiring practices and personnel issues, even against Asians, I found it difficult to intentionally ignore the recent media storm fueled by your 2006 remarks.  

How your remarks came to my attention is apt to share.  A friend, a pregnant Taiwanese woman who has in recent years struggled with her weight, said, “Paul, you need to see what the CEO of A&F said.”  My head boxing coach, of Latin descent, also flagged the controversy for me.  When I read the open letters addressed to you in the Huffington Post and other newspapers, I felt a deep sense of guilt, shame, and embarrassment.  This is because I realized that I sponsored a disturbing message both directly and indirectly - directly with my monies and indirectly by billboarding your image on my body.  The message is this: Uncool people unwanted.

Think about such a message.  When I was a junior higher, and my parents were going through an awful divorce, I was an uncool kid.  I felt and was at times blamed for their failure of their marriage and the atomization of our family.  As a teenager, I could hardly bear such projected and unmerited blame, but nonetheless, the weight of it all shattered my self-image.  So much so, I was bullied, isolated, and made to feel one of the most awful feelings no human being should ever be subjected to: No one wants me.   Sadly, the message from your heart and spirit, articulated in your interview, sanctions and legitimizes and perpetuates such a message.

Although those times have passed, I find it heavy on my soul that I may have promoted or am promoting the inculcation of such an evil.  If you, in your personal life, have been wounded by such rejection, cruelty, and the insecurity of others, then I ask, you carefully consider how your “strategy” slowly acclimatizes a society into accepting the bullying, mistreatment, and alienation of the weak, marginalized, and poor.

I think an apology is a start.  But I ask that you carefully consider your own character and the legacy you wish to leave for your company and for your brand.  I ask that you change, as we all should.  I ask that you reflect on who you wish to become in the golden years of your life.

To show how much I formerly loved your brand, I have attached some pictures, in which I wear an A&F shirt for our non-profit amateur boxing promotional.  I would like to speak to your public relations spokesperson on how to now best deal with the matter now.

I thank you for your time.

Paul Cook
Paul Cook

Sunday, May 19, 2013

From Mexico - Cabo San Lucas

I've safely entered into San Jose Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  I've noticed even Spanish city names are extraordinarily long.

I checked in online, and Julian, the head boxing coach, took me to the airport.  The junior boxing coach drove by and shook my hand to say goodbye.  My mother gave me a hug.

Since, I only had a carry on, I didn't need to go to the airport early.  My wait time, after passing through the TSA line, was only about 15 minutes.  That was good.

My flight was pretty empty.  Everybody that came was old people.  Like real old  and rich geriatrics (and I don't mean to age discriminate but they were a cranky group) that needed assistance.  I slept on the airplane ride, and I had a nightmare.  Reality jolted me awake from it.  I woke up in a fright, and I realized it was just a nightmare.

When I landed in Cabo, I didn't even know how to get to the hotel.  And since I'm here for three weeks, I wasn't going to pay for an expensive shuttle or car.  I walked to the open bar at the airport and asked the Mexican server boy for instructions.

"How do I hitchhike to the convention center?"

"Take a bus.  Get off at the Mega.  Then you can hitchhike."

"Ok.  Thanks."

"Hey you got some big balls."

I shrugged and said, "I've traveled."

I sat on a rock near some large cactus, just waiting for a bus with the other Mexican workers.  The sunset had lit the sky a pink and purple with its dying light.  The mountains reminded me of the desert mountains of Arizona - full of coyote and Indian magic.

The bus came, and I got on.  I was the only foreigner.  All the white rich people get a taxi or rent a car.  It was a slow bus.  And it was a slow ride.

Everyone pretended to not notice the only Chinito on the bus.  But everyone knew I was on the bus.  I've been taught to not press attention to yourself while traveling.  That seems not to happen to me.

When it dropped me off in front of the Mega, a superstore like Walmart, I walked to the side of the street and hitchhiked.  A taxi eventually got me, and we negotiated a fee of $4 USD to get me to my hostel.  We spoke some Spanish.  He asked my name and I said, "Paul."  He said his name was "Angel."

I dropped my bag off in the hostel.  I ate near a local restaurant, which had the best Mexican tacos I had in my life.  It was called the "Hangman."  I had Cantonese tacos, pibil pork tacos, and artichoke quesadillas.  The tostadas were to die for.  They were hardened in a charcoal oven and not deep fried in corn oil, like back in Los Angeles.  I loved dumping guacamole on the tostadas and mixing it with fiery hot sauce.

Later at night, I met one of the guests at the hostel named Rachel.  She was a mulatto, which means she was half white and black.  Her father was from the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and her mother was Jamaican.  She chatted about her life and why she was in Cabo, and I listened because I know one secret in life: all women like to be listened to.  I listened to her all night.  Momma taught me that.

Rachel invited me to meet her friends tomorrow.  They're planting an organic farm nearby.  I agreed.  What else am I going to do in the middle of nowhere, in a place where the desert meets the ocean and sky?

In any event, I knocked out at 11:30 pm.  I was tired and exhausted from the travel and having little sleep.  But in the middle of the night, a force jolted me at around 4am. 

I looked at the walls, and there were shadows that looked like human shadows.  At first, it looked like there was one guy and three girls, and they were all having some kind of orgy.  At first, I thought it was my imagination, but I quickly thought to myself: Why does this stuff always happen to me?  At first my interests were piqued like that of a boy coming across his first naughty magazine. 

But then I realized, suddenly, - they were just that - spirits and shadows without a human shell.  They're forms moved around the walls.  They giggled and laughed and then left my room.

I went back to sleep.  In the morning, I was definitely well rested.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My First Spar

I was feeling so down.  I felt people's eyes glance over me as the tears were dribbling down my face and reddening my eyes.  Although I felt some shame at the glances, I could also care less.  They were customers at Trader Joes, and nobody knew me here.  I just received the news a close friend died, and I went to the free sample coffee of Trader Joes to make myself feel better.  It did help.

I had a meeting that day with a director of some organization.  And before that meeting, I was grieving and the water works started up again.  I took in a deep breath and told myself, You gotta stop yourself.  Dry your eyes.  You need to be professional.  I grabbed the bottom of my shirt and wiped my tears from my cheeks.  I took another deep breath.  I rubbed my eyes a little and looked in the rear view mirror to see I looked fine now.  Good.

I had my meeting and discussed only business.  I flashed my classy smile now and then and told the director that I would be going to Cabo soon.  "Fantastic," he said.

I then went to my boxing gym.  I did not want to box.  As a matter of fact, I didn't really want to do anything except lay in bed and grieve some more.  But I thought to myself, I know this is what my friend would have wanted - for me to be strong and to continue on.  And so continue on, I did.  Six rounds of shadow boxing, four rounds of jump roping, and six rounds of punching the bag.  At the end of it all, I was supposed to hit the pads with my coach Luis. 

I sat on the edge of the ring with my gloves on and a group of ex-professional boxers said, "Get in the ring.  It's time for you to spar."

"With who?"

"With him."  It was the tall, white guy, Gordon.  The only one at the gym.  He's been at it for years.

"He'll work with you."  One of the ex-pro boxers said.

I looked at my head coach and said, "I don't know if I'm ready.  I'm scared."

I know, it wasn't the most manly thing to say.  But I said it.  And even though the Mexican kids never say it, I see it in their eyes that they're afraid too to get inside.

"Just go," my head coach said. 

"You sure?"

"If you want to go - go."

Then the ex-pro boxers said, "Just go."

My head coach strapped my head gear on me.  I placed my gloves on.  I walked between the boxing ring ropes and was in the ring.  The bell went off.

Gordon followed after me.  I ducked and weaved.  I jabbed and jabbed.  Some of them landed clean.  Some of his knocked my head back.  Julian, the head coach was watching intently.  Luis, my coach, stopped what he was doing and started shouting commands.  "Paul, duck.  Body blows.  Get him with the upper cut."

I tap danced throughout that ring doing my best to dodge the punches coming at me.  Sometimes, I blocked them.  And once in awhile, bam!  My left hand flicked that back handed punch that hit a blow.  I converted to a Southpaw stance a month ago.  It was better for me.

Then I noticed, everyone in the gym stopped their training and was watching me.  I was like what is going on?  And then I heard people shouting from every corner what to do.  The ex-pro boxers said to keep punching.  Luis kept telling me to upper cut.  Julian was saying to weave more.  And that's when I realized, even though I hardly talk to that many people in that gym, everyone was rooting for me.

For some reason, that three minute round was the longest three minutes of my life.  Luis tried to give me water, but the water bottle had ran out so he sprayed the water against my head instead.  The 30 second break was short, and it was time for round two.

I can't brag too much about round two.  I didn't do as well as in round one because I was getting tired.  I just started flying around the ring more to avoid the blows and to give my opponent a run for his money.

I was so relieved when the bell rang. 

Luis came up to me first and said, "You did good.  But we gotta work on that jab of yours.  Not enough flick."

Julian said, "Good.  You did good."

I smiled and said, "I think I did better than I thought I would do."

I walked up to Gordon and thanked him.  He said, "Not a problem."

Everyone told me good job.  It was decent.  I need better conditioning.  My spirits were high though that I was liked.

I hope from Heaven my friend saw how I sparred.  Wish he could've seen it all.  Maybe, he did.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Imagining An Impossible Thing Before Breakfast

Ms. Alice, in Alice In Wonderland, said she thinks of seven impossible things before breakfast.  When I first read that, I felt a warmness in my heart.  Finally - someone that understands me.

I woke up this morning, and I thought, I gotta get out of my dumpy town.  It's been a long, long time since I've scrammed this place.  The last time I was on some Russian adventure, in which I was placed under house arrest and going on treasure hunts and albeit I found no tangible treasures, I brought back some real gems: my stories.

For breakfast, my mother cooked up some bacon, smoked in hickory wood earlier.  I told her no more meat, but the smell of the bacon truly made me submit to the temptations.  As a joke, I've always said that the best remedy to temptation is submission.  Just a joke though.  I don't recommend actually following that line of thought.

I felt guilty I ate meat.  So, I made a shake today, with fresh strawberries, half a banana, dried dates, a quarter lemon from my mother's yard, and raw Mexican honey.  It tasted like heaven.  The only thing missing was my green tea made with lemon and honey.  So, I had my impossible thought.  I had my breakfast.  Now, it was time to turn my thought into reality.

After breakfast, I called British Airways.  I have miles with them.  I asked my agent Calvin, "When's the nearest return ticket available on my points for Bangkok"

He said, "Sorry - sir, you don't have enough points."

"Well, where do I have enough points to go to?"

"Let's check Buenos Aires, Argentina."

"Nope.  Sorry, there's no availability and you don't have enough points."

"Well - let me be straight up with, Calvin."  I knew he was going to think I was weird.  "I need to get out of LA.  I've been here long enough.  Where can I go 'A'-'Sap?  Anywhere is ok!"  I'm sure he thought I was crazy, and if he thought so, he was right.

"How about the Carribean?"

"Sure.  Let's check Jamaica."

He put me on a hold for awhile.

"Mr. Cook, there's nothing in Jamaica."

"Well, what about Cancun then?"

"I already checked for you."  Damn, he's good I thought.  "But I have an idea for you."

"Alright, shoot, Calvin."

"Hey, it looks like Cabo San Lucas is open."

"That's in Mexico, right?"

"Sure is."

"I'll take it.  Get me on the flight."

He did.  I picked his brain about the BA booking system and how he knew that Cabo would work.  He told me his secrets.  I was happy.

I asked to be transferred to his supervisor.  Over the years, I've burned a number of incompetent or lazy workers.  Though the older I get, the more I realize that people can be incompetent.  They usually don't mean to.  And I really don't know that many people who are lazy.  They're usually angry or depressed people who think that not working is some kind of form of revenge.  Anyways, I needed to atone for my previous sins.

The supervisor picked up.  I said, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know that your agent Calvin did a fantastic job.  He was very delightful, helpful, and efficient."

The supervisor thanked me.

I hung up, feeling smug.  I thought of an impossible thing this morning.  That was busting out of this joint.  30 minutes later, I made that happen.

I called my mom and said, "I booked my ticket to Mexico."

"Ok.  We'll talk about it when I get home."

"It's for this Saturday."

"Ok.  When I get home, ok?"

One of my other favorite scenes in Alice In Wonderland is when she asks the Cheshire cat for directions.  He asks her where she wants to go.  Alice replies, "I don't know."  That is when the Cheshire cat responds with one of the best lines in the book: “Well,” replied the cat, “if you don't know where you are going, it really doesn't matter which road you take.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Losing One

He said, "Fuck you" to me.  My initial reaction was one of defensiveness and a healthy view of my own ego.

I replied, "You will not say that to me again, or this relationship is over."

He stated back, "What the fuck?!  Goodbye."

I didn't say anything back.  I just walked away.  My kid had the nerve to tell me those foul words, and I knew it might come one day.  I knew because he said he used to be bad and tell his parents off.  Furthermore, his parents told me the same.  So, I figured it would come, but I didn't think it would come like this.

The day before he was acting strange.  I gave him a bag of small hot, flaming cheetos.  Trash food.  He opened it up and scarfed it like a seagull does at the beach when it steals a bag of potato chips.  Odd, I thought.  I asked him where he wanted to go.  He said nowhere.  I drove him around town, but he didn't want to do anything or say anything.  So, I dropped him back home.  I had a lot to do if he was going to be having one of his moods.

The coach at the gym said I should make up.  I didn't know what to do, but all the signs looked like reconciliation wasn't going to happen unless I made the first move.  I called and talked to my trusted group of friends, generally on an individual level.  Each gave me different advice that ranged from making things right with him to kicking him to the curb.

I remember my head going through a schism of warring opinions and voices, arguing on what to do.  I didn't know.  Why did decision making have to be so hard?  Why did weighing up the advantages and consequences for him and me have to riddle my mind?  At the end, I took a Hegelian approach.  Hegel advocated that two opposing views or theories could be harmonized into one with thought and work.  That's what I did.  I harmonized the theories.  I might give him another chance on the condition though he come back first and apologize.  But I was not going to control the situation.

The coach was wrong.  I was right.  Over the coming days, he acted more and more like a little ape.  He disrespected the head coach as well by telling all his friends how bad my coach was.  He began burning all his bridges, and then the truth came out.  The junior coach had seen the cops pick him up for drug use.

My heart broke, and it all made sense.  His arrest happened the day before he came into my car.  This explained the erratic behavior. 

But all the more - the words - fuck you made more sense to me.  When he made the choice to start again, that was already the message to me. His words just materialized what was already in his heart and mind.

And then we saw him starting to come to the gym, high.  Sometimes on coke.  Sometimes on weed.  Either way, he couldn't box anymore if his life depended on it to save him.  His nine months of training wasted away to nothing in days.  What took months to acquire took only a few days to be destroyed. 

I looked at the head coach and said, "That's it.  He's done."

"Probably, huh?  He'll either end up dead or in jail.  I mean, we can accept him if he really changes and apologizes."

"And you see that his life is moving in that direction?"


"I heard once, that pigs go feral in one generation.  Know what feral is?"


"You know, man has taken a lot of effort to domesticate pigs, cats, and dogs.  Like hundreds of years.  Feral is when the animal returns back to it's natural, wild state.  Pigs apparently go feral the fastest.  Then cats take two generations.  And dogs take three."

"Yeah, so?"

"I think I found an animal that goes feral faster.  The kid."

"Yeah, huh?"

"Just took a few weeks."

We were both angry and frustrated.  The head coach and his other coach asked themselves why they invested so much into someone so useless.

I asked myself two questions: how come I didn't see the warning signs?  And, what in the hell actually caused him to make the decision to start up again?

I don't really know the answer to either of these questions.

I overheard the kid on a phone conversation, in which he said he was suspended.  We have one eighteen-year-old who already has a felon for having sex with a minor.  We caught him trying again.  And in my own state of brokenness, I, recently, told myself the worst thing I could think of.  "It's impossible for these people to change."  Sadly, I haven't changed my opinion on this new thought.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A New Quest

I inhaled.  The end of the cigarette turned cherry red, and I exhaled bluish grey plumes of rings of smoke.  It's not usual for me to smoke, but in this case, I thought it necessary.  I was sitting down in a front yard, which had junk scattered everywhere.  There was super market carts and at least six or seven cats licking themselves.  I was sitting down with a hoarder. 

He looked worn and old and dingy.  He was fat and greasy and wearing a wife beater.  He drew out a fag and smoked it too.

"I need help," I said.

"Sure you do."  He said.

I realized that I was getting advice from a washed up guy, who nobody thought was worth talking to anymore.

"The politicians of this town won't listen to me.  They're all corrupt."

"Of course they are." 

"I can't even get a meeting.  I'm in a democratic system.  And these crackerjacks won't give me a meeting.  I'm a constituent."

"Of course they won't.  Then you'll keep pointing out their problems."

I took in another plume of smoke and exhaled it.  Marlboro Red.  I could taste it.

"The mayor here's been indicted once.  Took some scandalous trip to Shanghai."  I said.

"Oh, he's done more than that."  He proceeded to tell me about it.

I nodded. 

"I see," I said.  I continued, "But, I need a meeting.  I need things done.  What do I do?"

"I'll tell you what to do."  He proceeded to tell me.

I said, "That makes sense."  I thought about it.  That makes a lot of sense.  I was about done with my cigarette.

I continued.  "I need some dirt on one of them."

"I'll tell you how to get that.  Here's what you do."  That makes sense too.

My cigarette was out.  "Alright.  Thanks."  I shook his hand.  "I'll let you know what happens."

"Ok.  I look forward to it."