The Lost Week

I thought there was a rule that people are only allowed to get one disease at a time. Actually I know that’s totally wrong, since multiple relatives of mine have been brought down into the dust by a devil’s decoction of viciously incurable maladies, but at least in my own brief and pleasantly healthful lifetime I have never knowingly contracted more than one disorder at once—until now.

I am the proud owner of a strain of Adenovirus as well as Coxsackievirus—yes, that Coxsackievirus—also known as tonsillitis and hand, foot, and mouth disease, though it may be more properly called hand, foot in mouth disease. It does not, according to popular lore, transform your feet into sheep’s hooves. At the moment it instead means that I have a sore throat and several sharply tingling, itchy red spots on my hands, and that if I interact with any other human beings they will also probably find themselves with similar spots on their hands before long.

I caught the latter disease from my toddler, who has been pottytraining for the last few weeks and therefore leaving triceratops-sized pyramids of dung all over the house in homage to Jurassic Park. He is currently singing to himself in the living room, which means that screaming and crying are sure to follow very shortly, which likewise means that I shall soon be leaving to spend the rest of the day babysitting—when I could be writing spectacular novels!

This was my first week of vacation from work, the first of four, but it was largely spent tending to my younger son, who could not go to daycare lest he spread the dastardly red spots, and tending to myself, as the tonsillitis, on its first day, laid me so low I was barely able to stagger into the hospital—throwing myself onto the couch for the rest of the day and reading hundreds of e-pages of Paul Theroux’s truly wonderful Dark Star Safari, which should be subtitled: Travel Through Africa Without Having To Actually Travel Through Africa.

The week was marked by a different sickness, a sickness of the mind. I actually went and did that one thing which is contemplated sooner or later by every foreign English teacher in South Korea. Lured by the incredible salary, I applied for a teaching job in Saudi Arabia. And, more incredibly, they accepted me, they even interviewed me. I sensed the interview was more to make sure that I was not a complete fuckup, though I suspect you have to be at least partially fucked up to consider working in that place.

The interview was odd. It was to be over skype, and I thought that would mean a video-call, but my interviewer, who was a woman, told me to turn off the camera to help the internet connection, which was indeed spotty. Still, I couldn’t help wondering if it was actually because she wasn’t allowed to show me her face, which I never saw. All I did see was a black screen. Her accent sounded North American, however, and when I asked her about that she answered, pleasantly and politely, that she’d lived in the US for numerous years, but was a Saudi citizen. Was she therefore comfortable living in the Kingdom? She said she could live anywhere. I guess if you can live for long periods of time as a woman in Saudi Arabia, that’s not exactly an exaggeration.

I received a job offer without any mention of a salary, and spent the day reading about the cost of living in what is apparently nicknamed The Magic Kingdom, discovering that to raise two foreign children there would possibly bankrupt me even with the insane salary thrown into the bargain. Coupled with human rights abuses that would have the CIA shaking their collective heads, the lashing and imprisonment of Raif Badawi, the public beheadings, the hatred of Jews and the declaration that atheists are terrorists (do agnostics count as well?), the sadness of actively choosing to live in a place which has enormous portraits of the white-robed sunglassed king hanging everywhere, the obvious involvement in 9/11 and all kinds of other reprehensible crap all over the planet—like America, minus the good stuff—meant that I eventually decided to turn them down.

I wrote an email not so different from that last paragraph, mentioning my Jewish ancestry and my agnosticism—what to do if a student asks me about this?—and they didn’t respond. The university itself was located some distance from its host city, it had only a few small ugly buildings, it was just a year or two old, in every picture I could find of the apparent university president there was not a smile to be seen, and the students I found in a video advertisement appeared to be struggling desperately to keep their eyes open.

The book I’m currently writing has also taken a Saudi turn in the last few months, so I would either have to change the book completely or risk imprisonment in a Saudi jail. No fucking thank you, I’ll take my fifty-plus percent paycut in exchange for being permitted to live in the Land Of Miniskirts, Kimchi, Relative Freedom Of Expression, And Hoof And Mouth any day of the week.