Posts Tagged ‘Memoirs’

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

One of the benefits of teaching English in Korea was the opportunity to travel. From Korea it was easy to reach other destinations in Asia. During the winter and summer months I would have a short holiday, during which I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the eastern hemisphere. During my years in Korea, I got to travel to Australia, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, I never imagined I would get to see places like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Uluru in Australia’s outback. As great as these places were, these sites were, they didn’t compare to the coolest thing I got to experience.

I flew to Tokyo in August of 2007 without much of a plan. I stayed in a neighborhood called Shinjuku where they had what are called capsule hotels, cheap places where you sleep in a small coffin-like chamber. Outside the sleeping area are saunas and showers and places to get a haircut. Japan is also home of the high-tech toilet, with a heated seat for the winter, various buttons that play music and other unknown features.

That first night I settled in at a decent hour and took a walk around the neighborhood. There were a bunch of arcades, including these games where you would buy trading cards and scan the cards into the arcade, and whatever was on the card was in the game. Those seemed pretty cool as I watched people play them. They had games of this kind for baseball, football, and other genres like fantasy and mech combat.

While walking around I noticed many kids dressed like punks, lots of outfits of leather and spikes. I wondered if there was a punk club in the neighborhood. Eventually I saw a bunch of punks gathered around this one particular spot, including a girl who spoke some English named Ryoko. She told me there was a club right there that was having a show in a few hours, and her band, Last Target, was playing. Later that night I went back to this place which was called ACB Hall. A few different bands played. They were all decent, but finally Ryoko’s band got up. The instant they took the stage this incredible rush of energy burst from both them and the audience as the sounds of their guitars and drums pierced the air. This band was fantastic, and Ryoko has to be the greatest front person I’ve ever seen. She’s like a pinball onstage, flying all over the place, and the crowd was just so into them. 

After the show we all hung out, and the band told the audience that two nights later at this same club they were recording their next album. They needed backup vocalists, and we were all invited to come back and sing in their chorus. So, I had another night to hang with them as they recorded. They had us all together to sing lyrics a few times over, some lines were in Japanese, others in English. They also separated us into a men’s and women’s chorus to do the same. 

The rest of the trip wasn’t nearly as cool. I tried to see Mount Fuji but got bad directions on what bus I was supposed to take and only saw it from a distance. I saw a Meiji-Era garden, and Japanese art that resembled comic book art, which inspired people like Frank Miller in the 1980’s comic book scene. The Bandai Museum was a bit out of the way but once I got there I saw exhibits about anime and manga and old video games, like the Famicom, what the Nintendo Entertainment System was called in Japan.

Ryoko and I kept in touch, and the next summer, when I had vacation again, they were playing three nights in a row in three different cities. Almost exactly a year after we met, I went off to Japan again. This time I took the Beetle, the ferry from Busan South Korea to Fukuoka Japan, which only takes about two and a half hours. From there I took the speed train to Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in World War II. They had a museum about that, as well as a memorial to Koreans who died in the blast that day. Hiroshima also has a Manga library; it was fun to see a whole library of comic books. Most of them were Japanese of course, but they did have an English section. 

After spending a night in Hiroshima, I got on the train again and spent a few hours in Nagasaki, where I saw the peace statue and their own museum about the atomic bomb. At this particular museum they had videos about nuclear testing in the United States, including how it affected Native Americans who lived in the Southwest. 

I also got to check out some arcades, including a Golgo 13 sniper game. Golgo 13 is like a Japanese James Bond who was featured in two Nintendo games when I was a kid. Both titles blew the minds of 80’s children as it’s implied you have sex during them. Gamers may not believe this, but I also saw an arcade game for Half Life. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m sure there had to have been some way for you to save your game. 

From Nagasaki I went south to a town called Oita Ken, where Last Target was playing at a place called Tops. I got to the venue early and saw the band as they were setting up. They were all happy to see me again, and this time their new album, Tokyo Shakedown, was newly released. Even cooler, inside the album booklet were pictures from that night we recorded the chorus in ACB Hall. Our names were listed as well. After the show we all went out to eat and had time to catch up. The drummer’s father lived in Oita Ken; he joined us and even bought me dinner. 

The next day I traveled to Okayama and met them at a club called Crazy Mama. This was a small venue, but at some point in the past legendary rock band KISS played there. In the club they had pictures of KISS on their stage and had KISS merchandise on display, in the men’s bathroom of all places. Of course, I don’t know if it was in the female bathroom as well. Someone should check for me. 

The final night of this mini tour was in Osaka. The band knew I was coming to see them in Oita Ken, but I think they didn’t understand that I intended to see all three of their shows. When they realized I was also going to Osaka, they agreed to pick me up in their van the next morning and I got to spend that last day with them. We stopped in some other city on the way because Ryoko wanted to go to an art museum. After checking out some paintings we arrived in Osaka. It was early yet, so I got myself a room and checked out the neighborhood while the band prepped. I killed time in this huge store filled with models of Godzilla and other movie/comic characters, along with video games, expensive original still in the box Transformers, comic books, and costumes for cosplay. It was a four-story department store for nerds. 

King Cobra was the venue on this last night of Japanese punk. After the show we hung out a bit, but they couldn’t stay long. As best as I remember, the guys in the band had regular jobs to get back to, so after not too long they hopped in their van and headed back to Tokyo. I wasn’t sure if I’d see them again.

The next day I took a long train ride back to Fukuoka, where the following morning I would take the Beetle back to Busan, South Korea. For my last evening in Japan, I decided to see a baseball game at the Yahoo Dome. At first, I was really excited, as it brought me back to this brief time in my childhood. I was around nine or ten, and I was almost a normal kid. Back then I read comic books but wasn’t a total nerd about it. I spent summers climbing the hill down the street from my house, went camping, ate smores, and was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. Their star player, Mike Schmidt, perhaps the best third basemen to ever play the game, was the only sports hero of my childhood. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what happened, but one day I forgot all about him. Now, for the first time, I was attending a professional baseball game, and it was in another country. These romantic reminiscences ended once the game began and I remembered why I stopped watching this sport 20 years ago. It was a bad game, with the home team losing by a lot, and me leaving before the ninth inning.

Another time with Last Target came sooner than I thought. That October they came to Korea for a weekend, having gigs on a Saturday and Sunday in Hongdae, a big party place and University area in Seoul. After the show Sunday we all gathered in the park in Hongdae where people often socialize and play music. Sitting around the park, we enjoyed the still warm October air while a few band members jammed on their guitars. Eventually they went back to their room to sleep, and I headed back to my home of Suwon via subway early that morning to go to work.

This was the last time I ever saw them. Korea, October 2008

I’d never see them again. Six months later I went back to the club they played that last night in Hongdae. The bartender noticed I was wearing one of my Last Target shirts and started chatting with me. He tried to book them to come back, but apparently, they’d broken up. Royko is still doing music. She will probably do music until the day she dies; she just loves it that much. Last I heard she had her own band, simply called Ryoko. 

Looking back on it, every time I saw them in Japan there were opening bands preceding them. Those other bands were decent, but I don’t remember them now. I got really lucky, I think I really did see one of the best acts that’s ever been as far as Japanese punk goes. It would be great to see Ryoko perform again someday, but if I don’t, I’ll always have these memories. Getting to see them and being lucky enough to be part of their story with their album Tokyo Shakedown, this was absolutely the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. 

Thanks for reading. Hope you have enjoyed all these stories. Hopefully I can get them published in  a book someday. Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it!

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

By some miracle I was still living in Harbin China in January of 2020. At my job, the winter holiday was coming up, but by this point in my life I’d traveled so much that I didn’t really want to go many places anymore. I considered going somewhere perhaps for just a week (Here our seasonal breaks were a whole month, which was one thing China had over working in Korea), but the day my break began a wrestling show in Bangkok Thailand was scheduled and some of MKW would be there. I got invited to go and do interviews, including one with Ho Ho Lun, who was on WWE NXT and whom I’d previously met in China. 

After bouncing around South East Asia a bit I returned to Korea again where I did interviews with Pro Wrestling Society. Naturally, I was happy to help out at a show in Korea. There I interviewed then champion Jo Kyung Ho, who does Korean commentary for special events on the WWE Network. I also interviewed future champion Bryan Leo, and Duncan Solaire, who later became Korea’s first African American and likely first LGBT champion in Korea when winning the tag team belts. 

While all this was fun, lurking in the background was the news of this new virus going around. As it got to the point where it was looking serious, I talked to my boss and to my family, and in late February I came home to the United States.

While what was happening with the virus was awful, I was grateful to have some extra time at home with my friends and family. In Pennsylvania things got shut down for a while, but I kept myself busy as I was still teaching my Chinese students online.

That summer I got word that a wrestling event was going to be held at the Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, PA, about an hour from my hometown. I’d emailed them explaining I did interviews for MKW in China, and sent them a YouTube clip of my work. At the last minute they asked if I could do ring announcing, as that spot just opened up. At the two day event, the Reel Rumble, I made my American debut as a professional wrestling announcer.  Reel Rumble had many big names from the indy-wrestling scene that were on All Elite Wrestling on TNT and TBS like Veda Scott, Willow Nightingale, Puff, and referee Bryce Remsburg even made an appearance. Competitive eater and pro-wrestler MegaByte Ronnie was also there. We did an angle where I acknowledged him sitting in the audience and asked him to come in the ring for an interview (He’d just competed in Nathan’s hot dog eating contest in NYC) which led to an “impromptu” match.  

The wrestling ring was set up in front of the massive drive-in screen. On both nights, after the card was over, two wrestling related films were shown. One of them was Suburban Commando, starring Hulk Hogan and Christopher Lloyd, which meant I got to stand in a wrestling ring as an announcer and say the name Hulk Hogan. It was a great show, and almost had to have been one of the first big wrestling events with an audience after the pandemic hit.

October of 2020, I managed to get back to Harbin. That Christmas I got promoted to bellman at MKW’s War on Christmas event. We had a few more events the following spring, including a tag team tournament to crown China’s first Tag Team Champions, Buffa and DC Chen, the team of C2NY. Due to a lot of factors, at the moment wrestling in China seems to be on hold. I don’t know when or if I’ll be involved with it again. Even if I would not work another show, it will always be fun to look back on this experience I had in the crazy world of professional wrestling.

Bellman for MKW’s War on Christmas
MKW Tag Team Titles

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

My first year living in China I met Middle Kingdom Wrestling founder Adrian Gomez. After attending a few of his shows, I bugged him about letting me be a ring announcer. Before going back to America for summer break, Adrian told me he’d scheduled a wrestling event for Halloween season. For many reasons I was thinking about staying in America and not coming back to China, but Adrian informed me that if I were still around, I could announce the Halloween show.

Halloween Frenzy in October of 2018, is where I made my debut as a professional wrestling announcer. “Welcome to Middle Kingdom Wrestling!” I finally go to say in the ring. We had a fun Halloween themed show which included a costume contest. One amusing bit was the Halloween Frenzy Match, between Mexican Wrestler Jalapeno Lopez, English wrestler Voodoo, and the American heel Cam Ferguson. Cam disparaged Halloween, coming to the ring throwing empty wrappers of candy into the audience, disappointing any kids hoping to score some sweets. The Halloween Frenzy Match was mostly no holds barred, the stipulation being that any Halloween object could be used. This led to a humorous spot as Jalapeno Lopez attempted to hit one of the wrestlers with a Pinata, but the referee wouldn’t allow it. Confused as to why he was being admonished by the referee in a no holds barred match, it was explained that the Pinata is not a Halloween object!

Once the show was over, I thanked Adrian for the opportunity. While it was fun, in the moment, I perceived it as a one off. While I may have come back to China, I still wasn’t thrilled with it. I was still thinking about leaving for good after the holidays and thought someday I would look back and think “Remember being a wrestling announcer, that was fun.” Fortunately, when the school year started, I got put with the 8th grade class. I was still teaching English instead of History, which is my background, but now I was working with a group who were probably the best kids in the school. They were fun to teach and a lot of them spoke English well. By this point I also made more friends, including a group who held weekly trivia at Sky Bar, one of the main gathering spots for Harbin foreigners. Here I met people from Canada, Latin America, Kosovo, Africa, Australia, and Russia. One of my new friends was Ken, a fellow writer from Las Vegas Nevada who helped me edit this book. As I started feeling better about the overall situation, I decided to stick around.

Wrestling announcing was fun, but Adrian was focused on building the Chinese audience, and really needed a Chinese announcer. He eventually found one named Jianing who does a great job at the shows. Fortunately for me, Adrian kept me around as an interviewer, where I mainly worked with the foreign wrestlers. The champion at the time was Big Sam, a British fellow, and there were a handful of Americans and people of other nationalities that participated in the shows. I was happy to help out in other ways too like setting up the ring and later being the bellman. Interviewing was cool, and of course the heels (bad guys) would insult me, and I even took a few bumps as wrestlers like Big Sam would push me down on the mat. It was all in good kayfabe fun. 

Years prior, the WWE Network broadcast a cruiser-weight tournament featuring wrestlers from all over the world. They did short features on many of them, including Ho Ho Lun, who founded the wrestling scene in Hong Kong. In the spring of 2019 Ho Ho wrestled at an MKW event. I remembered watching him on the Network thinking it would be cool to meet him, but I never thought I actually would. 

One of the more unusual stories in Chinese Wrestling happened not in Harbin, but in the southern city of Jiangmen, in Guangdong province. There, Xiao Xin, owner of a local seafood restaurant, was a fan of a promotion called King of Pro Wrestling.  After attending several of their shows he had the idea of hosting his own wrestling event, but with a twist.

Xiao announced to his friends the wonderful news that he would be getting married to a Russian woman. The thing was everyone knew he already had a Chinese wife. Nevertheless, a crowd of people came to a special hall in Xiao’s restaurant, all dressed formally for the special occasion. Wedding photos were already taken, an MC was present, PPT’s were shown, everything appeared as if a wedding was about to commence. At one of the back tables sat Big Sam, Greg and some other foreign wrestlers who weren’t dressed formally and were presumed to be with the bridal party. Undoubtedly, the guests must have wondered why a fighting ring was set up in the middle of the room below the chandeliers. They would find out soon enough.

Xiao and his bride exchanged their “wedding vows.” inside the wrestling ring, and as Xiao spoke a certain cue, a stable of foreign wrestler’s stormed the ring. Big Sam took the mic and cut a promo in both English and Chinese as the crowd booed. “This wedding isn’t happening, not on my watch!” the foreigner taunted as Xiao was held captive in the corner while Greg planted his lips on the helpless “bride.” Fortunately, a group of Chinese wrestlers came to the rescue, and a professional wrestling show commenced.

After four preliminary matches Xiao himself teamed with tag duo the Lion Dance brothers to defend his “bride’s” honor against the three dastardly foreign wrestlers who disrupted his wedding, Greg, Big Sam, and Uncle Money. Xiao came to the ring to a Chinese song that sounded straight out of Karaoke as the crowd cheered on. Naturally Xiao, who had five minutes of wrestling training that day and never wrestled in his life, scored a pin fall victory over Greg to end one of the most unique wrestling bouts on record. 

Below is an interview with The Stable of MKW and the Japanese Illuminati.

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

PyeongChang South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics in 2018, and was something I’d considered trying to see in the years prior. Summer of 2017 I’d left my teaching job on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and attempted to find work in Korea again. Nothing turned up for me there, so I accepted a position in Harbin, a city in northern China. Winter of 2018 I had winter holiday which allowed me to see the games. After the Olympics in late February of 2018 I was in the airport about to fly back to China, and I thought about how I had accomplished a lot of things I’d wanted to do in my life. I’d been teaching for around 15 years, did a road trip across the United States, self- published a few comic books and other literature, and had just seen the Olympics. Now that I’d done all of these things I wondered what to do with my life next; little did I know Professional Wrestling would be my next adventure.

I’m an 80’s child, and naturally was a fan of pro wrestling during the Hulkamania era. In high school I’d stopped watching it, and during the “Attitude” era of the late 90’s I confess to being a closet wrestling fan for a brief moment before becoming a full fledged fan again. Since then I’ve watched it off and on, but even during times of not watching it I appreciate it for what it is.

Tito Santana was one of my favorite wrestlers as a kid. When I first started watching wrestling, he was a tag team champion with Ric Martel in a team called Strike Force. Demolition, a heel or villainous tag team, won the belts off them. During a rematch they did an angle where Ric Martel got hit in the head with a chair, resulting in Demolition retaining the titles. Martel was then off TV for a whole year, and the wrestling announcers informed us fans that Ric had a concussion. As a young kid wrestling seemed like serious business, here was this guy fighting for his title, and he got a legitimate injury! Of course, my mom hated wrestling, “Why are you watching that crap?” she’d complain. “It’s so phony,” and so forth.

“No,” I argued back, “if wrestling wasn’t real then Ric Martel wouldn’t have a concussion and he would be on TV.” Martel’s “injury” was the silver bullet in my theory that the superstars of the WWF were in fact engaging in actual combat.

In the summer of 2017, before I went off to China in my quest to see the Olympics, I had a chance to meet Tito Santana. Reading Pennsylvania has a minor league baseball team called the Reading Fighting Phils who once a season host wrestling night. On this evening a professional wrestler appears at the game and signs autographs. My friend Ralph, who is a huge wrestling fan, told me that Tito would be at wrestling night that summer. We went to the game to meet him, and I got his autograph and my picture with him. Meeting Tito in person, I told him my childhood tale and asked if he could give me the scoop. The real truth was Ric’s wife had fallen ill and he took time off to be with her. Age old mystery solved.

A few months after this I moved to Harbin, and found out by chance that there was a independent professional wrestling promotion in China. Adrian Gomez, and American from Arizona, started Middle Kingdom Wrestling, which in fact based out of Harbin.

Spring of 2018 MKW ran a few shows in Harbin where I got to meet the wrestlers as well as Adrian. Mr. Gomez was the MC of the first show I went to. As he politely told the crowd, “Thank you for coming to the show everybody.” I reflected on how years ago when I lived in Korea people told me I had a good radio voice. Now I got the idea in my head that Adrian needed me in the ring to exuberantly proclaim “Welcome to Middle Kingdom Wrestling!” and announce his matches. As he held two more shows that spring, I kept bugging Adrian about letting me be a ring announcer. I was a stranger to him, with no experience in the professional wrestling business, hence I didn’t blame him for being skeptical.

In the meantime, my initial experience in Harbin wasn’t very positive, for reasons I won’t get into here (but will in my book). My initial contract was two years, which included a summer holiday in which I could go home. As the end of the spring semester approached, I seriously considered going home and not coming back. Thinking this, I took the time to see the sights of Harbin, such as their indoor ski resort, Siberian Tiger Park, and the Unit 731 museum about the horrific Japanese biological experiments conducted on local residents (Covered in more detail in my book). While potentially wrapping up my time in China, I told Adrian that I may not be coming back that fall. He asked me to let him know what I decided and informed me that he’d scheduled a wrestling event for Halloween season. Adrian told me that if I did come back, I could be the ring announcer for that show. That was almost the only reason I had to come back.

It wasn’t really the only reason, but it was definitely a factor. I had learned in my life that once you shut a door, it’s really hard to re-open it. Thinking my options over, I decided I would come back. That summer I went home and had a nice vacation with my family and friends. After which I flew back to Harbin, where in just a few short months I would become a professional wrestling announcer!

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

Leaving the rez again, I went back to Sioux Falls to re-visit my friend and Native American Rap artist Gabriel Night Shield. We went out for pizza and talked about my visit to the Rosebud Reservation, where I used to work years ago. I mentioned how the reservation, or rez as they say, looked a little better these days.

Then we reminisced about the time someone made a whole website dedicated to hating on Gabe. Night Shield, as I said, is his last name. One day, years ago when I lived on the rez, Gabe was surfing the web and found someone made a website called Bight Shield. At the time we both thought it was hilarious. Whoever made this basically copied the website Gabe made on Angelfire and wrote a bunch of stuff on it to mock him. There were pictures of Gabe with dicks drawn around him and fake interviews where he talked about how much he sucks. Gabe must have been doing something right for someone to go this far out of their way to make fun of him, and this was before he even released any albums; before he even did anything. Over pizza I asked if he ever discovered the identity of the mysterious Bight Shield. 

“Yeah, I did his girl!” We both cracked up and high fived each other as he told me how one time he nailed some random chic, and afterwards she revealed that her ex-man was this Bight Shield clown. Revenge fucking at its finest.

That evening Gabe had a get together with some people he worked with. There I met John, a fellow comic book fan and YouTuber via his show called A Comic Book Look. Naturally we hit it off, and months later he interviewed me on his show about my books. 

On my last night in Sioux Falls, Gabe opened for Cappadonna of the Wu Tang Clan. It was awesome for him to meet and perform in the same show as someone he looked up to as a kid, before he even thought about being a rapper. That was a good time and a nice last night in Sioux Falls.

From there I headed back to my home state of Pennsylvania. Before going home, I stopped to see friends in Penn State, Bloomsburg, and the Lehigh Valley where I briefly lived after teaching on the rez. Before actually heading home I wanted to go to the New Jersey beach. On this trip I had seen the Pacific Ocean in California and wanted to see the Pacific and Atlantic in the same trip. I decided to go to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, the first place I ever saw the ocean. Once I got there, I was thinking about all the places I’d been since that first summer I walked those sands as a teenager. I thought about how I went to college and made lots of friends and had a nice girlfriend, and how I went to teach in South Dakota and then lived in Bethlehem. Then I remembered going to Korea, Japan, Australia, India, China, and all these other places, and how I’d finally done this road trip that I wanted to do years ago. I recalled that day in Venice when I looked out over the Pacific, on the other side of Korea, and now I was looking at the Atlantic. I finally got back to South Dakota, partied with Gabe, read poems in Rapid City and finally saw the West Coast.

The Atlantic Ocean,
so I saw both oceans
on my trip.

It’s interesting how in the midst of accomplishing your goals you can still be afraid. When starting this trip, I almost didn’t go all the way across the country. There’s always that fear in the back of our minds that tries to stop us from doing stuff. Sometimes the things we are afraid of are the things we must do.

In conclusion, the road trip was a success, and was one of the best things I ever did in my life. While most of it was fun, being around South Dakota was a lot for me to take in. In a way I was seeking some kind of forgiveness and redemption, and really didn’t find it at all. Months later, I was in my bedroom looking through a bunch of old letters and pictures of old friends. It was then I realized that we must forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know. For what will we know tomorrow? If there’s any lesson to be taken from this trip, maybe that’s it.

Props to my car for making the whole trip.

To purchase my full account of this trip, click here.

Epilogue:

Just over a year later, I did in fact go back to the rez. In the summer of 2013, I got my old job back at Saint Francis Indian School. Once I got back, I was like a machine, I completely threw myself into my job. I was on the path to redemption. To read this story, you’ll have to buy my book when it comes out haha. Peace out.

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). This specific piece is part two about aa cross country road trip I did in 2012. On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

After a few days I’d done everything I’d wanted to do in Rapid City, and was about to head back east. Mike and I had a mutual friend who moved to Billings Montana. She was pretty busy, having had a few kids since I’d seen her last, and wasn’t sure if she could have me for a visit or not. My last night in Rapid she got a hold of me and said come on out, so I headed west the next day. That was the furthest west I’d ever driven. I spent the next few days with my friend and her family, and once I was that far I thought I might as well go all the way to the west coast. My friend Alex, who I knew from Korea, lived in Long Beach California, and we arranged a visit.

After a few days in Montana, I made the long haul to Las Vegas, mostly because I’d never been. Vegas was actually kind of boring because I didn’t know anyone there. I did see a few shows, such as Absinthe, which they say, and I can believe, is the best show on the strip. I rode the roller coaster at the New York Casino, saw the Hoover Dam and the Atomic Bomb Museum. Still, I had more fun hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen in over ten years than I had most of the time in Vegas. 

Long Beach was fun. One day I made the short trip to Venice beach and saw the Pacific Ocean. Alex took me into Los Angeles where we saw the Sunset Strip, including the Rainbow Club where they filmed a few Guns N Roses videos. We also saw Mann’s Chinese Theater, and the Walk of Fame where I made a point to find the stars for Ozzy Osbourne and Sylvester Stallone. What was really surreal was driving through Korea town. We didn’t stop anywhere but just rode around. It’s this huge neighborhood with signs in Korean. They even had a CGV, which is a chain of Korean movie theaters. That was really trippy to me. I joked, what if I fell asleep in Alex’s car then woke up in Korea town and started freaking out, like we drove to Korea.

            One night we went to a place in Long Beach conveniently called Alex’s Bar, which occasionally appears on the HBO series True Blood. That night they had heavy metal karaoke, during which a live band plays on stage and anyone who signs up can belt out a metal song. It had been about a year since my friend Adam passed, and while watching the band play Metallica and AC/DC, I remembered all the shows he and I went to and knew he would have loved a place like this.

I decided to get up and do a song myself. While the band was tuning up, I talked to the crowd a bit and mentioned Adam, how he would have loved this place and that I wanted to do this song for him. While explaining this the crowd responded and cheered really loud. I really appreciated that, especially since they didn’t even know Adam and I was a stranger to them. Soon the bar rocked to Breaking the Law by Judas Priest, and I knew Adam would have approved.

Heavy Metal Karaoke Breaking the Law by Judas Priest at Alex’s Bar

Once I was done in Long Beach it was time to head back east. I was happy to leave California and its $4 gas. My next stop was the Grand Canyon. I made it to Grand Canyon Village in the early afternoon. I could have seen it from Vegas but it would have been a little more out of the way, and where I was at now apparently was the spot really worth seeing. I was at the south Rim of Arizona Highway 64. Right on the edge of the Grand Canyon Park was an area with hotels, restaurants and stores. I got a map at the information center and saw a busload of Koreans. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually see the canyon that day, but I had time and got a two day pass. 

Sometimes going to so many places can be jading, but the Grand Canyon is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I remember parking my car and walking up to it for the first time. When your eyes first see it you’re instantly taken back by the enormity of the sight. Photographs can’t possibly do justice for how massive it is. I’d just missed a snowstorm the night before, and now the Canyon and its trees were blanketed in white snow, making a scene I’d never envisioned. I was oblivious to the cold biting at my hands and face because the sight before me was mesmerizing.

The next morning I walked around some more of the canyon, making small talk with Japanese and Korean tourists. After lunch I took 64 out of the park. The thing is once you leave the official park area there are still a few spots you can park and get a view of the canyon, so I ended up stopping a few more times to have another look. 

It hadn’t occurred to me to see the four corners spot, where Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico meet. I saw a sign for it and while stopping for gas I looked at my map and considered it. My plan was to take 64 to 160 to 191 North to Utah where I’d get on I-70 East.  However, 191 would take me right through the spot. I was still unsure, but one of the turns I had to make came up real quick and I missed it, and off to four points I was.

Or so I thought. I got to some little town then there was a turn to the left for four corners. Another left off the road was the spot, but the gate in front of it was shut. The four corners spot was closed. It was 5:15-5:20 when I got there, and they closed at 5. How does a spot close? 

Over the next few days I continued east and made my way back to Saint Francis South Dakota, where my teaching career began. I briefly stopped here on my way out west but didn’t get a chance to see my old school. This time I did. My old classroom was now an elementary room, as a whole new middle and high school had been built since I was away. In the new building the same secretary from when I worked here worked the front desk. When she looked at me she asked if I was from Office Products. I was confused until I realized she thought I was a delivery guy. We had a good laugh as she remembered who I was. Then I got to check out the new building, which was pretty nice.

A handful of teachers I’d worked with were still there. They were surprised but happy to see me, and we reminisced about the crazy old days. They told me things were a lot better than they used to be. I briefly saw a few students who seemed nice enough. While I deeply regretted leaving this school when I did, I wasn’t 100% sure about actually coming back. My former co-workers did mention what teachers they would need that next school year. Social studies was not one of them, which in my mind took that option off the table. 

That night I got a hotel and went down to the Derby bar in Valentine, Nebraska. By random chance my old coworker Nick sat next to me. Nick used to be a counselor at Saint Francis, and now works at Todd County. Once again, I had someone to catch up with about the old days and he asked me about living in Asia and such.

A few Natives also sat at the bar, one of whom told Nick he knew me. I felt bad because I didn’t remember him, but it was another one of my old students. As we had a beer together, he looked me right in the eye and said, “We told you not to leave and you fucking did anyway!” Oh man, I didn’t remember that at all. I asked if he said that to me himself, and he said “We all did!” 

There was a woman my old student was with; we didn’t know each other, but her brother had been a student of mine from my second year of teaching. I remembered that he really liked me and called me Mur-dog. On his first day in my class he said out loud in front of everyone that he heard good things about me. His sister told me he was in jail up by Rapid City, and I said to give him my best. Before leaving that night, I told my old student that I was sorry, and I told him that he was right, I should have stayed, and I paid a price for leaving. While Nick I had a good time that night, I also came face to face with what I did wrong.

To purchase my full account of this trip, click here.

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

I don’t know when I’d first thought of the idea of doing a cross country road trip. I do recall, as a substitute teacher in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, looking at classroom maps of the United States and daydreaming about driving around. It never occurred to me that I could have done this trip over one of the summers I had off when I was teaching in South Dakota on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Of course, it also never occurred to me that I shouldn’t have been subbing in the first place and should have kept my full-time position teaching at Saint Francis Indian School, but that’s a whole other story (and mainly what my book is about).

Regardless, years later I was teaching in South Korea, and, having saved a lot of money, decided when went back home I would do a big road trip. Other short-term plans included self-publishing some books and comics and sell them at comic book conventions. October of 2011, I came back to the United States, and my original plan was to do my road trip in the spring of 2012, the tail end of which would involve hitting a few comic-cons (I would do these shows after my trip, which you can read about here). However, in late February I was talking to some people about different plans, and things weren’t lining up well for a later trip. It was looking like an earlier trip might be in order. Among other things, my friend Night Shield was hosting a birthday bash in Sioux Falls South Dakota in just a few days, so I decided fairly spur of the moment to leave soon. Since I’d been home I hadn’t bought a cell phone yet. At the local Wal-Mart, I got a trac phone, emailed a few other people to try to make an itinerary, and off I went. At first, I wasn’t sure if I really would go coast to coast as originally planned. Perhaps I would just do South Dakota and then head back east for my shows, but either way I was at least going back to where my teaching career started.

 After this trip my friend Tom asked if I’d kept a diary, which I hadn’t. He was really interested in hearing about my travels, so I decided to write a quick outline while I could still remember everything I did. Later, I wrote it out in more detail and emailed it to him. I didn’t know how interesting this would be to other people, but as I was emailing Tom a piece at a time he was really enthusiastic about it and encouraged me to continue. Thanks to him I have a pretty good record of my trip. I won’t bore you with every detail about it, but here are the highlights. 

Night Shield had a lot of success since I’d last seen him eleven years prior, becoming a successful independent rap artist who’s made a name for himself in his area and in the Native rap scene. VIBE Magazine listed him as one of the top 50 unsigned artists in the nation, and he’s won Native American Music Awards. What I’m most jealous of is that he appeared in a DC Comic. Scalped, is a series about Native Americans. In one issue, Gabe’s CDs are on someone’s car seat, and some of the characters are dressed in Rez’d Out & Famous gear, which was a clothing label Gabe briefly had. I could still remember that conversation all those years ago where he said he was thinking about starting a record label, now here he was putting the Midwest on the map.

Bumping his music, I pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex as he stood outside waiting for me. I couldn’t believe it; we’d met up at last. Inside we caught up and he asked me all about Korea. After a quick trip to Little Caesar’s, Gabe’s rap partner in crime, Maniac the Sioux-pernatural, came over and we rode off to Gabe’s birthday party. There I was with the two hardest rappers in South Dakota, and on the radio was an easy listening station playing the Delilah show. As people called into the station to tell their personal stories accompanied with sappy love songs we had a laugh about the irony. Gabe simply liked this station and always had it on. 

At the bar hosting Gabe’s party, I finally got to see him perform, and also got to meet some of his friends in hip hop. Afterwards, Gabe and I had our first beer together, as I had been straight edge for years. When the show was over we made a booze run which ended up being a bit of culture shock to me. Korean bars stay open all night. Forgetting where I was, I heard people saying, “Yeah we have to buy a case before 2am,” and I was like “Why?” Next was the after party at Gabe’s. All kinds of people showed up and it was pretty crazy. I learned what motorboating was that night. His apartment was packed with people drinking and jamming to music and we stayed up till the break of dawn.  

Me with the King of the 605, Gabe Night Shield, having our first beer together.

The next day we walked down to TommyJacks, his local pub. Some of Gabe’s friends came later and we played darts and listened to music. There was this older, half-drunk native guy that started talking with us. Gabe told me he’d seen him before. He came off as a little strange but had some funny jokes. One I remember is about a snapping turtle.

A Tribal Chief wanted to show how strong he was; so he stood before his people and revealed that he had a snapping turtle biting the end of his pecker. “See how strong I am!” he said. Then he poked the turtle in the eyes and it fell to the ground. “See.” he said. “Do any of you think you can be as strong as me?”

One man raised his hand. “You think you can be as strong as me?” the Chief asked.

He answered, “Yeah, I can do that just don’t poke me in the eyes.”

We hit a few other places that day, but eventually went back to Tommyjacks. Later that night Gabe and I were laughing about how we were at Tommyjacks for just about the whole day.

Then, after all those years, I finally made my way back to the Rosebud Reservation, or rez as they say. Driving into Saint Francis, I pulled up to the post office and got a drink at the convenience store next door. Last time I was in Saint Francis there were three convenience stores, now there were only two. By the time I got to my old school it was after hours and the doors were locked. Right after I left in 2001, they got funding to make a new middle school/high school building. I got to see this now completed building from the outside. I took some time to drive around the rez and nearby Valentine Nebraska. A few times I randomly stopped in a store to get gas or a snack, wondering if anyone would recognize me. No one did. I was like a ghost, floating around this place I used to live, remembering and reliving an old life from long ago, but no one noticed. 

Saint Francis Indian School, where I began my teaching career.

From the rez I planned to return to Rapid City. The night before going to Rapid I went to the Rosebud Casino. Still not seeing anyone I knew I sat down and played some slots. After some time, a man walked up to me and asked. “Are you James Murray?” I didn’t recognize him, but it was Buzz, one of my better students from way back. He was there with his girlfriend, and I bought them a beer (at the Casino you can only buy a beer every thirty minutes) and they asked me about my traveling. After telling them all about Korea and other places I’d been, we had that conversation of which old students of mine were doing well and who was in jail and all that fun stuff. One student who back in the day was mad that I was leaving ended up in jail for murder. Another student became an EMT, which was a little more encouraging to hear. 

The next day I headed to Rapid City where I’d be staying with Mike Reardon, one of my artsy musician friends. He was now hosting an open mic downtown at Dakota Soda, a 50’s style burger/malt place. When I first got back to Rapid I stopped at Books a Million, which used to be the Borders where our old open mic was. Walking inside, I saw a brown chair in the corner of the coffee shop area where people used to play music and read poems. I sat in that chair for a moment and reminisced about all the performances, including some of my own, that took place right at this very spot. 

Former spot of the Borders open mic.

Then I went downtown. Despite the cold I was really excited to be walking the streets of Rapid again. Downtown was built up a little more; with a small public skating rink and a few upscale shops around it. Next to the rink was Dakota Soda, and I have to say their burgers were terrific. Soon my friend arrived. We greeted each other and the open mic began. A few musicians played and I read some poems while people ate their burgers and fries. For years I envisioned this triumphant return doing a big reading with everybody, but some of our old crew were now scattered into the wind, and there I was reading poetry in a malt shop. 

A few months before this trip, I visited my college town of Bloomsburg. It was such an incredibly strange feeling going back, half of downtown looked exactly the same, while the other half was completely different. One of the strangest things was going to the Bloomsburg diner. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was there. Sitting down with a coffee, I suddenly had a flashback of being there with my college girlfriend. She hadn’t crossed my mind in years, but I swear it was as though I could see her sitting across from me, I could practically feel her hand in mine. It was like in the film Rocky Balboa when Rocky walks by his old apartment and sees a ghostly image of Adrian in front of him. A piece of music called “Mickey” from Rocky III played during that scene in Rocky Balboa, and that’s what it was like for me. That piece played in my head as I walked around these old spots.

Over the next few days in Rapid City, it was a similar sensation. I went around my old Rapid haunts and got to visit with a few friends that were still around. Among the heavier things for me was visiting one of the public parks. Years ago, when I had a girlfriend in Rapid, I took her and her daughter to this particular park which had two slabs of the Berlin Wall on display. Being here now was like that moment in the Bloomsburg diner. I could almost see the two of them standing in front of the concrete slabs, looking toward me from a time so long ago. Sitting in that park, a lot of other things hit me. All those kids on the rez, some of them weren’t doing so well. That community desperately needed me to stay back then, and I didn’t listen. Back in my hometown and around Pennsylvania I was really proud of myself for having gone to Australia and China and India and all these other places I’d been the previous five years, but here in South Dakota I felt guilty. I was so sorry and was really aching for forgiveness, but how would I ever find it?

Two slabs of the Berlin Wall at a public park in Rapid City South Dakota.

When I first got to Mike’s house he gave me a CD of his music. One of his songs was about how he’d lost a brother. As an only child, I obviously couldn’t relate to what the song is directly about, but the refrain was really powerful to me just for the general theme of memories. Driving around Rapid, it was so haunting playing this song. I asked his permission to include the chorus, which he granted, and I would like to share here.

“I can only see you from this distant point in time.

When I hear your voice,

it echoes through the years,

saying

don’t give up, no don’t back down, no don’t you shed a tear.

Don’t give up, no don’t back down, no don’t you shed a tear.”

To purchase my full account of this trip, click here.

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

Saint Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota was where my teaching career began. After graduating from college in my home state of Pennsylvania, I made the long drive to the rural community of Rosebud. Here, driving 30 minutes to the grocery store or the bank is perfectly normal. Needless to say, there’s not much to do outside of a few local taverns, but at that age I was a strict nondrinker due to alcoholism in my family. Between the remoteness of the area and the fact that I didn’t go to bars, social life was going to be a challenge. Fortunately, I was lucky to meet Gabriel Night Shield, who went on to become my best friend in South Dakota and a pioneer in Native Hip Hop.  

Gabe graduated from Saint Francis a few years prior. His mother used to be the Elementary Principal at Saint Francis and was still living in teacher housing; a series of homes/trailers right by the school. Gabe came back to the rez after college to help her out as she was having some health issues. 

I also lived in teacher housing, and Gabe and his mom lived right down the street. We met up and got talking and started hanging out. One weekend we took a ride to Rapid City, which was about three hours away in Western South Dakota. Gabe was a fellow comic book nerd and die-hard Spiderman fan, so we became fast friends. Arriving in Rapid City, he showed me Storytellers, the local comic book store where we picked up a few issues. We also hit the Rushmore Mall, made a few other stops, and then made the long drive back home.

For this journey Gabe brought along some Nirvana and other rock CDs to play in his car. Gabe brought these as a courtesy to me. While he liked these albums, it wasn’t what he normally listened to. He grew up listening to rap, a contrast to my metal-headed youth. Hip Hop had just gone through its East Coast/West Coast rivalry, and while riding through the rolling prairies of South Dakota, Gabe explained to me how he saw the plain states as open territory. Gabe graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle with a degree in Audio Production, and his dream was to start his own record label and put the Midwest on the map.

As we became friends, we’d make the 30 plus mile drive to Valentine Nebraska to catch a movie. Other Saturdays we’d drive an hour to Winner SD to eat at Pizza Hut, then go bowling, followed by the hour drive back. Other times we’d watch X-Files together, and just hang out and shoot the breeze. More importantly, Gabe was a guy my age that I could hang with, which helped me cope with the isolation of that part of the country.

My second year in South Dakota, Gabe moved to Sioux Falls, which was about four hours away in eastern part of the state. So, occasionally when I needed to get out of town, I would visit him there. When I decided to leave Saint Francis after that second year, I spent my last weekend in South Dakota with Gabe, who by then just had his first album pressed. ‘The Nation’ was a compilation of various Native American rappers and other rappers he knew, including a few tracks where he rapped himself. It was so cool to see him finally accomplish his goal and I was real proud of him. With that first CD he started something special, and since then has had a lot of success in the world of Native Hip Hop. I always remembered that first conversation with him telling me how he was thinking about starting a record label and how the Midwest was open territory. He set his mind to it, and he did it.  

Soon that weekend was over. Before driving away, presumably never to come back, I thanked him for being my friend and helping me get through that whole experience. Then I got in my car and rode off.

Years later, when I realized I shouldn’t have left South Dakota, and then actually managed to get my old job back at Saint Francis (which is pretty much the main topic of my book), Night Shield was still in Sioux Falls. By now he was an established artist. At the time of this writing, Night Shield Entertainment released twenty-four albums, including eight solo albums of Gabe’s. VIBE Magazine listed him as one of the top fifty unsigned artists in the nation. His albums ‘Total Package’ and “The Addiction’ won Best Hip Hop Album at the Native American Music Awards, where he also won Best Single for ‘Broken Dreams.’ DC Comics referenced him in their series ‘Scalped’, a crime drama about Native Americans. In one issue, Gabe’s CDs are on someone’s car seat, and some of the characters are dressed in Rez’d Out & Famous gear, which was a clothing label Gabe briefly had.

Coming back for a second round, it was always a good time watching Gabe perform at shows, and I even got to appear as an extra in two of his music videos. Whenever I’d visit, we’d hit the local comic book store, Rainbow Comics, where I once did a signing for Free Comic Book Day selling some books I wrote. At one point we planned a book about Gabe’s life. We held a few sessions where I interviewed him and recorded it and I completed a first draft. At the time of this writing, we decided to put that project on hold.

When I was back east, in between my two stints in South Dakota, I’d talk about Gabe and people were surprised to hear that a Native American would be a rapper. Some would even laugh; “I didn’t think Indians could be rappers.” Admittedly, I myself had an overly academic curiosity about why Native Americans listened to rap. To be so overly analytical about it is to forget that they’re people just like anyone else, never mind the fact that anyone just a few years younger than me was raised on hip hop. It’s huge on the reservation, among many reasons because they relate to it. When rappers talk about the hood, Native kids relate to those same issues they see on the reservation. “From the rez to the ghetto.” as Night Shield’s lyrics go. Gabe told me it was a really big deal on the rez when Tupac Shakur died back in 96. My first time at Saint Francis, many of my students never read books, but would have photo books about Tupac. If I were smarter back then, I would have found a way to incorporate that into class, for example have the students make a map about East Coast and West Coast Rap.

It was amusing how people thought Gabe should rap a certain way because he’s Native. Gabe was a young guy rapping about partying and girls, but some people thought because of his skin color that he should be rapping about spirituality and politics. Like maybe the Lakota people would get the Black Hills back if Gabe Night Shield made a song about it.

One of my favorite stories was when he spoke at a school, and afterwards hit the local bar. Some parents of the kids he saw that day were there in the bar boozing with him and were all like “Gee, you’re supposed to be a role model for our kids. What are you doing here drinking?” 

He answered back, “Well they’re your kids, what are you doing here?”

In time, I felt I did what I needed to with my job at Saint Francis, more so than I did that first time around. There was one more last weekend in Sioux Falls, where I got to be a guest on Gabe’s podcast Urban Indians. Once again, we wished each other well as I again drove away. I don’t know when I’ll ever get back to the South Dak, but as soon as I do, I’ll be sure to be chillin with the illest Native spittin.

Night Shield’s new album Winyans and Mazaska is available on all streaming services.

Stay tuned for more Night Shield shenanigans in an upcoming post regarding a cross country road trip I did just before returning to work at Saint Francis.

Below are the two videos I appeared in.

This is my favorite Night Shield track.

Maniac the Sioux-pernatural is another Night Shield Entertainment artist.