499. That Time I Wrote a Blog

The end of the year approaches. Since my town won’t allow me to practice my cherished New Year’s tradition of building a bonfire in the street, I must settle for reminiscing over memories of days gone by.

Ah, those were good times.

This blog began with a That Time I _____ post, and it seems only fitting to squeeze in one more before the end. A lot has happened since that first post. I want to share today of That Time I Wrote a Blog. It was, admittedly, quite a long time: more than five years, in fact. That time is almost done, and as both the year and the blog come to a close, I want to spend a few moments looking back.

I started Typewriter Monkey Task Force for several reasons. First, I wanted to make a positive impact on someone, somewhere, through my writing. Second, as I was in the early stages of publishing a novel, I wanted to build an audience through a blog. Finally, starting a blog allowed me keep writing, and I have to write. Writing is a compulsion. I can’t help it.

Did TMTF fulfill any of its purposes? As a matter of fact, it did—but not in the ways I expected.

Over the years, TMTF definitely made a positive impact on someone. It made it on me. Writing blog posts was often therapeutic, and even cathartic. It allowed me to clarify my beliefs, articulate my thoughts, and make sense of my experiences. In writing this blog, I reaped all the benefits of keeping a journal or diary. I meant for TMTF to help someone who read it, but the person it helped most was the one who wrote it.

Blogging, like talking to plush toys, is surprisingly therapeutic.

This blog never built the audience I wanted, but allowed me to build something even better: friendships. I met people through TMTF whom I would never have known otherwise. I thanked some of them in my last post.

To be fair, TMTF fulfilled one of its purposes exactly as intended: it allowed me to keep writing. I like to think I’ve grown as a writer and storyteller since starting this blog. At any rate, the countless hours of writing did me no harm.

A lot has happened since I started TMTF all those years ago. Here are some significant events that occurred in my life since I started this blog:

So yeah, this blog’s lifespan covers quite a chunk of mine. It’s a bit surreal to think TMTF is almost done. Come back in a couple of days for the final Geeky Wednesday post, and on Friday for this blog’s EPIC FINALE!

All right, fine, the last post won’t be particularly epic. It will be final, though. I hope to see you there!

487. That Time I Saw a President Kicked Out of Office

Tomorrow is Election Day for the United States of America. The American people will gather to choose their next president. Some of us will worry for The Future of Our Nation. At least one of us will wish Batman were running for president instead of Trump or Clinton.

The presidential election takes me back to Ecuador, a nation of notorious political instability, and That Time I Saw a President Kicked Out of Office.

Lucio Gutiérrez was Ecuador’s president for only a couple of years, but long enough for his name to become a punchline in my family. Gutiérrez put up a lot of billboards during his presidency that read “Lucio Construye,” meaning “Lucio Builds.”

These signs, which often stood near roads under construction, were intended, I presume, to promote some initiative to improve Ecuador’s public infrastructure. What they really signified was unfinished roads and bumpy driving conditions. When my family and I were out driving, a “Lucio Construye” billboard warned us to brace ourselves for jolts. We reached a point at which any bumpy roads provoked me and my brothers to shout “Lucio construye!” from the back seat.

I don’t know who spray painted that question mark, but was a valid question: Lucio construye? Lucio builds? I guess Lucio did build the sign.

Following some political unrest, the Congress of Ecuador voted on April 20, 2005 to remove Gutiérrez from power, and the military publicly withdrew their support for him. Gutiérrez was overthrown by his own government. He fled the Presidential Palace in a helicopter, escaping mobs of protesters.

I heard his helicopter fly overhead. At the time, I was sitting quietly in my World History classroom at school, listening to updates on the political situation. My teacher had abandoned the day’s history lesson—after all, history was being made that day. As Gutiérrez fled, we heard the drone of a helicopter far overhead. “That’s his helicopter!” someone exclaimed, and it may have been. Alternatively, it may well have been a news or military helicopter, but I like to think it was the ex-president on the run.

Some of the protests were pretty rowdy. At one point, I got a face full of tear gas while walking to school. The wind blew the gas from a nearby protest to my school campus. It hit me like a bucket of vinegar, and stung quite a bit. On a scale of one to ten, one being a mild insult and ten being a jellyfish sting, the tear gas was maybe a three.

Since I didn’t actually see Lucio Gutiérrez removed from power, I suppose the title of this post is a bit inaccurate. It should be “That Time I Heard a President Kicked Out of Office” since I heard the helicopter, or even “That Time I Smelled a President Kicked Out of Office” because of the tear gas, but those titles just are just weird.

Alas, poor Lucio, who pretended to build things. We miss you. (We don’t really.)

In the end, the vice president, Alfredo Palacio, assumed the presidency, later to be succeeded by Ecuador’s current prez, Rafael Correa. The political unrest surrounding Gutiérrez subsided, only to be replaced by conflicts surrounding Correa. In fact, when I double-checked my facts for this post, I learned that Correa blamed Gutiérrez for allegedly provoking unrest in an attempt to instigate a coup. Another president, another crisis. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

I love Ecuador, my homeland, mi patria, but its politics aren’t the greatest.

Tomorrow is Election Day for the United States of America. I know a lot of people are worried, but hey—nobody is attempting to overthrow our president at the moment, and there probably won’t be tear gas. It could be worse. The road ahead may be rough, with plenty of bumps and jolts, but we can always shout “Lucio construye!” and keep moving forward.

472. That Time I Got Saved

I’ve written about many of the strange events in my life, from an awkward stage kiss to a severed human arm, but not until now of the day I committed my soul to God. It was… I don’t remember what kind of day it was. It was probably muggy and overcast. I was indoors at the time, standing in line, waiting for a meal that was, in retrospect, soggy and terrible.

I speak of That Time I Got Saved, a tale of grace and burgers.

(For full effect, you must read the title of this story with a Southern Baptist drawl: “That Time Ah Gawt Saaaved.”)

Unlike some of my other That Time I _____ stories, this one isn’t all that exotic or sensational. Heck, it doesn’t even make for a compelling testimony. I got saved while standing in line for a nasty hamburger.

This happened nearly twenty years ago in French Burger, a sketchy fast food joint. For all I know, it’s still open for business. (I really hope it isn’t.) French Burger served beef patties on cheap buns soaked in some kind of milky fluid: probably mayonnaise diluted by the moisture from wet shredded lettuce. These mushy burgers were served in little mustard-colored plastic bags. The burger juice would collect at the bottom of the bag, along with stray wisps of lettuce and shreds of soggy bun. The horror! The horror!

A photo of the food from French Burger would have been too graphic, so I replaced it with a picture of some pretty flowers. I’ve got to keep this blog family-friendly!

French Burger was tucked in a corner of a parking lot in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, a city built to the west of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. My family and I spent about four years there. My memories of Santo Domingo are few and faint, but I recall gloomy impressions of mud, concrete, overcast weather, and weeds.

Understandably, I spent much of that time indoors: watching VHS tapes of old cartoons, building with Legos, playing and replaying games on our Super Nintendo Entertainment System, dodging home school assignments, learning to read—subsequently reading with voracious interest—and trying to write a novel. (Spoilers: I quit after two paragraphs.) It was a formative time. I discovered Nintendo, J.R.R. Tolkien, Star Wars, C.S. Lewis, and coffee.

I did occasionally venture forth into the community: picking up fragments of Spanish, pestering the neighbors, riding my bike, and buying bread from the local shops. My family and I made regular visits to a local river, where I encountered a Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant. We also visited nearby restaurants, such as a French Burger and Kentucky Fried Chicken. (KFC is weirdly popular in Ecuador.)

Oh, Santo Domingo de los Colorados. I… don’t really miss you, actually.

It was during a visit to French Burger that I found myself waiting in line, and committed my soul to God. I could joke that I got saved just in case I died of my lousy hamburger, but at the time, I actually liked those soggy messes. (My tastes have much improved, I hope.) As I waited, I realized that I should probably be saved. I was raised in a Christian home, surrounded by Adventures in Odyssey and Sunday school lessons, with the Gospel of Christ rattling around in my head. It finally occurred to me that I should probably do something about it.

I… didn’t really do anything about it. I prayed a trite sinner’s prayer—which I repeated over the next few weeks just to make sure my salvation stuck—and then continued to live however the heck I wanted. My life continued to be as messy as those burgers.

That day in French Burger didn’t make an immediate impact, but it was a tiny step forward, and God is known to work wonders with little things.

It wasn’t until the start of high school that I became a proper Christian. It wasn’t exactly a decision, but more like a gradual movement toward Christ. I took prayer more seriously, began reading the Bible, and made a sincere effort to be less of a jerk. My faith has wavered over the years, but for better or worse, I’ve kept it.

The salvation of my soul wasn’t an event of dazzling beauty or splendid emotion, but it was a start. After all, redemption has to begin somewhere. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Neither bad burgers nor bad people can preclude the grace of God.

459. That Time I Started a Church Ministry by Accident

Today’s story is a testimony, I suppose, but not mine. It’s the story of a pastor who founded a ministry, and of a congregation that supported it. My part in the story is actually very small. It’s kind of an anti-testimony, really.

Once upon a time, my laziness inspired the creation of a church ministry called Change the World. It gathers donations in the form of spare change and small bills, and then uses this money to support charity projects across the world.

At one point, when I was in college, I acquired about forty-five dollars in loose change. That’s a lot of coins, guys. Seriously, that’s like five flipping pounds of money, stuffed haphazardly into a sagging resealable bag.

Spare change

Spare change is kind of a nuisance, really.

This little fortune was more of a nuisance than a blessing. Where was I going to spend five pounds of change? I couldn’t use it at a store or restaurant—no sane server or salesclerk would accept a bag of coins. I was too lazy to put them in paper wrappers for deposit at the bank. How was I going to get rid of them?

In the end, I sheepishly handed over the bag of change to my pastor. In my defense, I was transparent about my own laziness. Giving the money to my church was the easiest option; I didn’t pretend otherwise.

My pastor—I’ll call him Socrates—accepted the coins, apparently unfazed by my laziness and ineptitude at being a capable adult. Instead, he realized how much spare change people tend to have scattered around, and decided to redeem it for the kingdom of heaven.

Together with the church’s leadership team, Socrates founded Change the World, which redirects donations of loose change toward a new charitable project every month. A number of church members supported the project enthusiastically. It continues to this day.

In college, I served that church in a number of capacities, from mowing its lawn to running its soundboard to whacking bongo drums during its worship services. I find it hilarious that my only enduring impact on that church was not only completely accidental, but openly lazy.

As Linus from the Peanuts comic once put it, “There’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.”

A lesson here somewhere

Peanuts by Charles Schulz.

My accidental involvement in the Change the World project reminds me of a story from the book of Numbers. It’s the tale of the wicked prophet Balaam, who was sharply criticized by a donkey. (It’s a funny story.) That donkey probably wasn’t planning to get involved in the work of God, but then neither was I.

My legacy of laziness endures to this day. I hope it has done the world a little good.

Welp, I’m going to take a nap or something.

That Time I Held a Severed Human Arm

For those of my readers who are squeamish, queasy or any of those other funny adjectives, this may be a good post to skip. You have been warned.

Long, long ago, when I was just a senior in high school, I took AP Biology, a college-level science course. It was fantastic. The other students and I were privileged to visit a cloud forest, travel to the Galápagos Islands, dissect fetal pigs and witness the dismemberment of a deceased human being.

Well, I suppose the removal of a single arm can hardly be called dismemberment, but I digress.

One fair morning I and the other students in AP Biology took a field trip to a local university. We were scheduled to meet a professor who would give us a guided tour of the human body using the university’s resident cadaver as a visual aid. (A cadaver is a corpse used for official purposes, such as police investigation or medical research.) The professor’s lecture would be a vital part of our scientific education, or so we were told by our teacher.

The plan was for us to enjoy Part One of the professor’s lecture in the morning, head back to school for our afternoon classes and return to the university the next day for Part Two.

We arrived at the university and filed into the laboratory to find the professor waiting for us. I don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Dr. Frankenstein. A cadaver was stretched out on a slab. Dr. F’s assistant, whom I’ll call Igor, was bustling around the lab.

Dr. F had an interesting way of lecturing. The cadaver had been emptied of its organs; as in those Mummy movies, the organs were kept in jars. As Dr. F lectured, he took out the organs from their jars and put them back into the cadaver to show us where they belonged.

The lecture ended. Dr. F departed to teach a class, leaving Igor to put away the cadaver. As we watched, Igor removed the various organs from the cadaver and put them back in their jars. Then he detached the cadaver’s arm.

I was, I freely admit, a little shaken by this. Arms are usually attached more permanently. It was unnerving to see a cadaver disarmed—forgive the pun—so casually.

I was one of only two male students in my class. The other male student, whom I’ll call Socrates, was standing beside me when Igor pointed at him and asked, “Would you please help me put away the cadaver?”

Igor and Socrates hoisted the cadaver onto a stretcher, carried it into a back room and lifted it into its niche, leaving me to wipe the anxious perspiration from my brow and contemplate how close I’d come to the awful experience of carrying around a corpse.

The other students and I went back to school with our teacher. Next morning we returned to the university for the second part of the lecture. When we arrived, Dr. F was running late and Igor was still in the process of setting up the cadaver and its organ jars.

“Could you please help me get out the cadaver?” asked Igor, pointing at Socrates. I breathed a sigh of relief, only for Igor to add, “Oh, and could you reach into the niche and get the arm?”

The second request was very clearly directed at me. I had no choice but to reach into the niche (wearing gloves and a lab coat, of course) and retrieve the missing arm.

Alas, there is no photographic evidence of this event. I wish a photo could’ve been taken of me with the arm—one of those “Hey, look at this big fish I caught!” pictures—but the incident went unrecorded.

Dr. F arrived, gave the second part of the lecture and left. So did the other students and I, before Igor could request assistance from any of us.

I have many great memories from that AP Biology class. I’ve already written a post about one. Others I may post someday on this blog: That Time I Met a Wild Penguin and That Time I Saw a Hummingbird Wearing Go-Go Boots, to name but two.

However, of all the memories from AP Biology, That Time I Held a Severed Human Arm is one of my favorites. It’s certainly my favorite story to tell—as my longsuffering friends and relatives can testify.

This post was originally published on February 24, 2012. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

377. That Time I Discovered Coffee

Sixteen years ago, somewhere in the jungles of Ecuador, something happened that changed my life. I was nine years old, bookish, chubby, fond of Star Wars, and—if my memory is correct, which it probably isn’t—recently bespectacled. (I wasn’t born wearing glasses, you know.) The thing that happened on that day shaped my destiny in ways I could not have imagined.

On that day, I tasted coffee for the first time.

In the brightly-colored blur that is the life of Adam Stück, such concrete details as dates are elusive. It’s hard enough for me to trace most memories to a particular year, let alone a specific month. In this case, however, one fact allows me to place the day I discovered coffee in April, May, or June of 1999. My life-changing experience happened around the time Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was in theaters. I am certain of this.

I had just turned nine, and was eager to seem as grown-up as possible. My joy and excitement at receiving eyeglasses was tremendous; wearing glasses seemed like a huge step toward the sophistication of adulthood. (It turned out to be a huge step toward a world that isn’t blurry.) Yes, I wanted to be a grownup, and nothing seemed more grown-up than coffee.

Adam, roughly 1 B.T.C

Adam Stück, roughly 1 year B.T.C. (Before Tasting Coffee)

However, some faint intuition told me coffee wasn’t suitable for children. It was an adult drink, like whiskey or vodka, and therefore beyond my reach. I had only ever seen adults drink coffee. Whenever it was served to adults, kids were offered milk or juice instead. The message was clear: Coffee ain’t for kiddos.

I was mistaken, of course. My parents would surely have let me try it. However, convinced coffee was exclusively a grown-up drink, I was too timid to ask.

The day before that fateful morning, my dad and I (and maybe my younger bro; I don’t remember) piled into our dusty Trooper and drove from our home in Santo Domingo de los Colorados to a place my dad called “Charlie’s camp,” a campground surrounded by jungle. Charlie’s camp surely had a proper name, but I don’t remember ever hearing it; I can only assume a man named Charlie either owned or managed the place.


Our Trooper was a beast with the roaring power of a rhino and all the spacious comfort of a coffin.

My memories of Charlie’s camp are few. There was a river nearby with muddy banks studded with rocks. I recall fences with rusting barbed wire, and remember munching a bag of Star Wars-shaped sweet crackers. My recollections of Charlie’s camp are faint, but one stands out clearly after all these years.

After spending the night, we ate breakfast with the camp crew. It was a campesino (rural) meal of pancitos (bread rolls) and boiled eggs. Black coffee was the only drink available. With nothing else to drink, I realized I might be able to persuade my dad to let me try a cup, even though coffee was clearly and obviously not a drink suitable for minors.

Much to my surprise, my dad raised no objections, and I was finally free to try the stuff that had tantalized me for so long. I filled my cup, lifted it to my lips… and very quickly set it down again.

Coffee was disgusting.

At any rate, that’s what I thought at the time. I was a foolish, ignorant child.

Faced with the prospect of drinking an entire cup of bitter coffee, I did what any sensible child would do—shoveled in plenty of sugar. I took another sip. The taste was much improved, and I felt like a proper grown-up.

The rest is sweet, sweet history. I started drinking coffee regularly in high school, and it gradually replaced tea as my beverage of choice. In college, I began drinking my coffee with milk instead of sugar for health reasons. My daily intake had increased so much that a proportional increase in my sugar intake would probably have caused my heart to explode.


Don’t laugh, guys. It could’ve happened.

That’s the story of how I discovered coffee, and how one day changed my life forever. In the words of that guy from the latest Mad Max movie: Oh, what a day. What a lovely day!

373. That Time I Ran Afoul of Jellyfish

Jellyfish are nasty little gits. Sure, they may look pretty when you see them in aquariums or on television, with their billowing bodies and delicate tentacles, but jellyfish are rotten company when you’re in the water with them.

When I lived in Ecuador, my family and I vacationed at the beach or the jungle. Our favorite beaches lie on a stretch of coast not far from the city of Esmeraldas. (We spent a few years in Esmeraldas in the early nineties; we’ve moved around a lot.) One of the best beaches belongs to a resort called El Acantilado, which is Spanish for The Cliff. As its name suggests, El Acantilado is located on a cliff overlooking the beach.

Acantilado beach

The beach below El Acantilado is lovely in a brownish, grayish sort of way.

My family and I loved El Acantilado, and visited its beach once or twice a year from my childhood to my graduation from high school. Of course, not every visit was perfectly pleasant. It was in the murky, gray-green ocean just off the beach that I had a run-in with jellyfish.

I had forgotten this dreadful encounter until a couple of days ago. As anyone who has known me for more than five minutes can confirm, I have a wretchedly poor memory. Every time I think I’ve finally run out of interesting stories to share on this blog, I recall some new misadventure. This one was brief, but painful.

I don’t recall in what year I ran afoul of jellyfish, but I’m pretty sure it was during my middle school years. My younger bro and I were messing about in the surf when I felt an excruciating pain along one leg. (I don’t remember whether it was the right or left.) “Get out of the water!” I shrieked, stumbling through waist-deep water toward the beach.

I reached the safety of land, collapsed upon dry sand, and inspected my leg. My entire calf had turned red, with pinpricks of crimson, and was beginning to swell. It hurt like the dickens. My parents and younger brother (who had made it safely to the beach) gathered round to examine the sting.

Within ten or fifteen minutes, my calf had swelled and hardened; I remember saying my leg felt like a heavy club. The swelling went down overnight, but it took nearly a week for my calf to heal. My skin burned and stung for days. Needless to say, I didn’t go swimming again for a while.

The ocean beyond El Acantilado is opaque, so I never saw the little blighter that drifted against my leg. For all I know, it may not even have been a jellyfish; I suppose it could have been some other stinging marine creature. Whatever it was, its sting hurt like all heck. Flipping awful little git.

Besides that miserable jellyfish, I haven’t been stung by anything but bees, though I once narrowly escaped a sting from a bullet ant. Good times, good times.

I hope to revisit Ecuador someday, and El Acantilado is near the top of my list of places I want to see again. (Other locations on the list include the Pailón del Diablo waterfall, the Papallacta hot springs, and a tiny bakery called Bom Pan that has the best bread rolls in the universe.) Someday, God willing, I may return to El Acantilado.

Flipping heck, I miss this place.

Flipping heck, I miss this place.

I’ll probably stay out of the water, though.

305. That Time My Vacation Held Me Prisoner

I begin a long vacation tomorrow, and I’m thankful. For weeks, work has been an exhausting, stressful, thankless grind. Dash it all, I am so, so thankful for a long break.

While musing upon vacations I had as a kid in Ecuador, I recently recalled That Time My Vacation Held Me Prisoner: an adventure equally restful and stressful, when my family and I were prevented from going home by barricades of burning tires. Ah, Ecuador, why did I ever leave you?


Ecuador: land of dazzling natural beauty, diverse cultures, superb cuisine… and horrible, horrible cockroaches. I knew I had a reason for leaving.

In the jungles of Ecuador, east of the Andes, there is a little town called Shell Mera. (This tiny settlement made national news in the fifties due to the Auca incident, in which five missionaries were killed.) Near Shell Mera is a camp called Mangayacu. This motley collection of cabins, pastures, and the world’s best swimming pool was one of my family’s favorite vacation spots until we left Ecuador in 2008.

Mangayacu pool

Seriously, this pool is awesome: no chlorine, no life guards, and the exciting possibility of cutting open your feet on sharp rocks!

My family and I were once stranded in Mangayacu. This was a long time ago; I was somewhere between first and fourth grade, which would put this adventure in the late nineties. I’d nearly forgotten it; I’m very gifted at forgetting things.

My parents and brothers and I had finished our visit to Mangayacu and reluctantly packed up our things. After saying goodbye to our cabin, we took off in our dusty car and bumped along dirt roads in the direction of the town of Baños. (Yes, this happens to be Spanish for bathrooms. The word also means baths; the town is named after its hot springs.)

We were stopped by piles of burning tires. It was a paro (workers’ strike) shutting down the road. My dad got out of the car and pleaded our case to the strikers. They didn’t let us pass.

Back we went to the cabin we’d just left, delighted to enjoy a longer vacation, and apprehensive at how our vacation suddenly held us prisoner.

Mangayacu cabin view

I suppose there are worse prisons than the cabins at Mangayacu. At least the view is nice!

I don’t remember how many extra days we stayed at Mangayacu, but it was at least two or three. We scoured one or two tiny local shops for necessities like bread, and had a few meals at a local restaurant. I recall their stock running low because of the paro. As fun as it was at first to be stranded in a cozy jungle cabin, we felt more stressed with each new day. We wanted to go home!

At last, after my brother and I had missed at least a couple of school days, we made it safely back to our home in Santo Domingo de los Colorados. My older brother returned to Quito for school, and I resumed my studies at home.

Later visits to Mangayacu were undisturbed by paros and flaming tires. It was kind of fun to be held prisoner by our vacation, but I’m thankful it never happened again.

Every time I’m afraid I’ve run out of stories for these That Time I _____ posts, a memory of some odd adventure drifts back to me from the brightly-colored blur of the past twenty-something years. It’s surreal, and sweetly nostalgic. It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

Ah, well. It doesn’t matter. My latest vacation begins tomorrow, and I can’t wait. Here’s hoping this one doesn’t take me prisoner!

270. That Time I Fathered a Watermelon

High school was a strange chapter of my life. I moved repeatedly, attended schools on separate continents, became a writer, discovered my love of coffee and broke down on the Ecuadorian coast in the rain at night in an area infested with bandits. Good times, good times.

Some of my best high school memories come from the Alliance Academy International in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The school offered an excellent education, and its faculty consisted largely of lunatics. It was at this school that I became the father of a small, rotund, green-skinned child. His mother and I named him Hakkatan Melchizedek Stück.

Watermelon Child

He had his father’s, um… dish towel.

My egg-shaped offspring was the result of a project in my senior year in which students were put in pairs, given watermelons and required to spend a week nurturing them as loving parents. This was meant to teach us all about parenting. I’m not sure exactly how that was supposed to work, except that babies and watermelons are both kind of heavy and don’t respond well to being dropped.

My wife for the project, whom I’ll call Socrates, wanted to name our child Hakkatan. I wanted to name him Melchizedek. In the end, in the spirit of matrimonial harmony, we compromised and gave him both names. Our classmates gave their children boring names, except for one young gentleman who called his melon Triton Quincy McFarland.

Hakkatan was a quiet, cheerful child. He never cried, always grinned and gave his parents hardly any trouble.

Of course, the same wasn’t true of all my classmates’ kids. At least one watermelon met a grim end when his parents abandoned him in a dorm room for several hours. According to the story I heard, they returned to find half the melon smashed on the floor, the other half stuck full of knives and a note that read NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD ALONE.

Some of my classmates really got into parenting their melons, dressing them up in baby clothes and wheeling them everywhere in strollers. I don’t recall how Socrates and I handled Hakkatan; we may have carried him around in a basket, but I don’t really remember. There is one thing I remember clearly: how Hakkatan met his end.

You see, the parenting project lasted only a week. Hakkatan was my child for seven days. After that, he was merely a watermelon. Some of my classmates celebrated the end of the project by eating their melons. That seemed a bit morbid, so I settled for chopping up Hakkatan with a machete and disposing of his body in a trash bag.

Socrates and I each received a good grade for the project, after which we dissolved our week-long marriage. She and I remained on good terms until our graduation from the Alliance Academy International; I haven’t seen her since. As for Hakkatan, well, his rounded figure and beaming face nearly faded from my memory. It was only as I browsed old photos recently that I stumbled upon the picture above: my child, smiling at me from across the years, neither bitter nor resentful at his violent demise.

Requiescat in pace, my son. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

260. That Time I Was Stranded in South Korea

The summer of 2010 was an interesting one. In the first place, I worked as a blacksmith, a job that required intense physical labor and complicated mathematics: my worst archenemies. I also spent a month in South Korea teaching English and choking down fermented cabbage.

My month in South Korea was awesome. My brother and sister-in-law, who lived in the country at the time, gave me a place to stay and showed me the best of South Korea: the mountains, the beaches, the parks and the city streets.


Korea’s mountains are breathtaking.

Visiting South Korea was an amazing experience, though much more awkward than my sojourns in other countries. I spoke enough Spanish to get around Ecuador and Uruguay. Besides, gringos were a pretty common sight in those countries. South Korea was different. I spoke only a couple of words of Korean, and there were hardly any foreigners. I felt helpless and out of place. Fortunately, I loved Korean food and used chopsticks, which were very small steps toward adapting to Korean society.


I had a hard time fitting in.

As mention my fondness for Korean food, I must point out one outstanding exception. Kimchi is horrible. For those who are wondering, kimchi is possibly the worst invention of humankind, surpassing even nuclear weapons and paranormal romance novels in its sheer awfulness. I once described kimchi as “a pungent dish consisting of cabbage soaked in some strong liquid (I suspected sulfuric acid) and fermented until its alcohol level equaled that of vodka.”

As my time in South Korea drew to an end, my older brother put me and my luggage on a bus bound for an airport—please don’t ask which, because I don’t remember. What I recall is a growing sense of panic as I realized I didn’t know when I was supposed to get off the bus.

Thus, surrounded by signs in Korean and strangers who spoke Korean and not a single word of dear old English, I disembarked from the bus at what I fervently prayed was the right stop. It looked like an airport. I hoped it was. If it wasn’t, I was stranded without money or a phone somewhere in South Korea.

It was the right stop after all, but my troubles had only begun.

The airport was huge. Huge. I’ve seen quite a number of airports in my time, and this was easily the largest. The lobby was a maze of lights and desks and unreadable signs—and people, of course. South Korea is nearly always crowded. By some miracle, I found the right line to the right desk and showed the right papers to the right person. My larger luggage was whisked away. I received my boarding pass and was pointed toward the terminal, from which home was just two flights and a bus ride away.

One man, however, stood between me and the shining Promised Land of the terminal and my return home: an apologetic little gentlemen in his twenties or thirties, who weighed my carry-on and told me it was too heavy. I could not pass.

I was stranded in South Korea.

My first order of business was to lighten my carry-on by throwing away whatever I didn’t need. My socks, ragged and full of holes, were the first things to go.

The gentleman weighed my carry-on again. Still too heavy.

Kneeling awkwardly on the floor and ignoring the puzzled looks of passersby, I inventoried the contents of my carry-on. They were mostly things I considered too precious to risk transporting in my larger luggage. In other words… there was nothing more I could spare.

Unless… I could leave that behind. Disposing of it would be awkward, but doable. I would simply have to be very, very careful about it.

When I was sure no one was looking, I slipped into a bathroom and threw away a two-kilo bag of yierba mate.

Yes, yierba mate looks kind of like marijuana. Yes, I’m surprised I didn’t get caught and questioned and possibly detained for smuggling drugs. Yes, it hurt to throw away an almost-full bag of tea. Believe me, it hurt.

The little gentleman weighed my carry-on for the third time. It was still a few pounds too heavy, but he decided to let me pass. I did, thanking God and trying not to look any more like a drug runner than I could help.

Thus did I leave South Korea, thankful not to have gotten lost, remained stranded or been arrested.

Indeed, the summer of 2010 was an interesting one!