Saturday, March 15, 2008

Play Buffet Monologue

To say life never turns out like you planned is so cliché, but damn, life really doesn’t turn out like you planned. It’s a weird journey full of strange and funny detours – especially for an American who got tired of America.

I was never on the fast track to be the New York Yankees shortstop or a GQ cover model or anything, since apparently those bastards are allowed to discriminate against us short stocky, bald men who can’t hit a curve ball or say no to pizza... but how did I end up on this tiny rock in the middle of the ocean. I’m from New Jersey damn it and now I live in Saipan -- a place I never even knew existed until a few years ago – the America No One knows about except for a few scuba divers, war buffs and Ms. Magazine.

When did I know I needed a change and didn’t quite fit in back home? Well there was that Fall day six years ago, the day that changed everything for me – the day that changed the world, really. Everyone still remembers it, we all still talk about it – it was kind of like a movie where everything is all weird and nothing makes sense. Yeah, September 12, 2001, the day ninety percent of America thought George W. Bush was a good idea. That did it for me.

Back before that I was working in New York City trading stock options on two of the largest companies in the world. I was on the floor of the American Stock Exchange. It wasn’t exactly a dignified environment or anything. It was a bunch of testosterone fueled animals with all the decorum and humanity of Caesar’s legions plundering a vanquished enemy.

But the stock market was going up everyday, and I was hoping to get rich like everyone else. It didn't work out exactly like that for me. I had to take stock of my life and decided to follow another idea I'd long had to head overseas and become a teacher. Now I spend my days doing things like making sure teenagers get their subjects and verbs to agree. That’s quite an atmospheric change and it makes it sound like my life has fallen apart, but somehow it has been a good thing.

These days I never land in a cardiologist’s office with a resting heart rate of 140. Lau Lau Bay is in my backyard and it’s a lot prettier than the Hudson River. They even have fish in Lau Lau Bay. I scuba dive there, I’ve never seen one Mafia turncoat submerged wearing cement shoes. Al Qaeda never once tried to blow up my route to Saipan Southern High School, but they got my old station stop in New York City.

This route to island calm wasn’t direct. I had a two year stopover in Seoul, Korea, and what a bizarre place that was for my first overseas experience. I felt like I landed on Mars that first night, all dizzy and confused, and I hadn’t even tried Soju yet. There was this smell in the air like an electrical fire. The pollution was extreme, and the place was damn crowded. Movies would be sold out at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. At 4 am throngs of people would still be out on the streets. If it rained, I'd have to carry two umbrellas, one to keep the rain off me, the other to parry away like Zorro the oblivious masses eager to poke my eyes out with their umbrellas. I learned to adapt though. To get on the subway I’d lower the shoulder and burst through the pile like Emmitt Smith on 4th and goal from the 2. Seoul had other unique traits, like all the goofy white guys with incredibly hot Korean girlfriends -- I hadn't seen anything that perplexing since Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett. And the bars didn’t close until the last guy threw up, so you’d see businessmen lying drunk on the street in pools of their own vomit, which was socially acceptable.

It kind of reminded me of college in that it looked like a frat boy’s dream. I think I knew in college I would never be that conventional. I couldn’t be one of those people who never think about serious things and if they do, have all those middle of the road opinions that allow you to fit in easily, not offend anyone and score the hottest girls by virtue of how likely you are to get a high paying corporate job and golf a lot.

It hasn’t all been convenient or easy though, leaving America, but it has often been funny and it has always been weird. I took a trip to Japan back in the early days and just roamed the streets of Osaka. I was amazed and astonished that I was so very far, so suddenly, from home. I couldn't stop laughing for about 15 minutes. I don't mean a chuckle, either. I laughed with the gut busting delight of a five year old who hears a noisy fart in an adjacent room. It just felt strange to be there I guess. It took me about two hours to find my hotel coming back from roaming around town. There I was so near, yet so directionally confused in the neon horizon of Japanese letters I couldn’t understand. I broke down and prepared to pay the astronomical fee for a short taxi ride, but the driver wouldn't take me because he felt uncomfortable with a "foreigner." All I was doing was pointing to an address on the hotel card. We both dug in. I didn't want to leave that taxi, we stared at each other a few seconds, exasperated by this Mexican standoff in Osaka and feeling zany, I just completely non-sequitered and starting naming every Japanese baseball player in the Major Leagues I could think of and added Sadarahu Oh, the long retired Japanese Babe Ruth. He laughed and then took me. I learned a couple of things that day: Improvisation is an overseas survival skill, following sports isn’t always the absurd waste of time I sometimes was told it is – dad, and, in Japan, the mere name of Yankee left fielder Hideki Matsui can open more doors than all the key wielding custodians in Tokyo.

Yes, I went from the most competitive, lucrative, stressful job in a city that never sleeps to that stopover in strangeville to where I am now: the least competitive, least stressful, most economically and generally sleepy place on Earth AND somehow ... I'm happier now. Things change, like John Lennon sang, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...


saipanboonieman said...

enjoy your life dude! i just hope that this doesnt mean youre leaving anytime soon..... everyone waxes poetic when they get the itchin to leave.

i have to try that hedeki matsui thing next time i stop off in tokyo!

the p.i.c. said...

We'll miss you, Jeff.

Especially Oreo.

Melissa said...

Jeff, thanks for such a GREAT performance Friday. I really enjoyed myself, and it was nice to have a little "culture" around here. You, and everyone else, did a truly superb job... and I agree, it was the best 5 bucks I've ever spent.

Marianas Eye said...

Great job. I enjoyed your story, and your stage presence. Well done.

Anonymous said...

"it was nice to have a little "culture" around here"? on the face of it, that is a fairly insulting statement, considering the very many rich cultures we are exposed to daily here. whether this be through food, dance, lifestyle, religion or music.

perhaps what you mean is a little more traditional "european-american culture".

this may be true. you may need a little more of that "culture" here. to suggest there is any lack of "culture" here, is dismissive of all but that of select areas of the u.s. mainland.

Beverly Mae said...

Thanks for sharing your life story with us. I really enjoyed your play=) I especially loved your solo part!=)

the un cheesy Bree said...

sorry i missed it.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Jeff and to the rest of the cast of "Play Buffet." Great performance! Next time guys, why don't you try a bigger venue that is free to the public so more people will get to appreciate the play.

Kudos to Barbara Sher too for putting it all together.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Zaldy was right, you weren't were being Jeff, in a rehearsed sort of way.

I liked your part in the play, Jeff and I liked the whole idea of a buffet that you can belly up to and take what you like, digest and enjoy.

I had no idea you could sing. Probably came from those long hours at church up in the choir pews. HEHEHH

Everyone I have talked to said they got more than their money's worth, so Barbara, if you are listening...charge more next year. (:-))

Jimbo said...


Very sorry I missed the show, but the written monologue piece is absolutely beautiful...

Look forward to more...Jimbo