Monday, November 3, 2008

National Novel Writing Month Chapter 1: Grasshopper

Chapter 1: Grasshopper

When I see a grasshopper, I just want to set it on fire.

When i was 4 years old, I ran around the sandy lots of Daegu, South Korea in a pair of rubber shoes that were too small. I like many other younger kids envied the older boys because they controled the lots through intimidation and wile. They were fathers and brothers that I lacked in my life and I followed them like a rabbit feigning for some clover.

It must have been July for they ran in T-shirts soiled from the yellow sand. Some had shoes and some without. There were about 4 or 5 of them. I never could get close enough to find out their names. When I followed, I had to be careful. If I drew their attention, a flurry of kicks and pushes would come my way. They tolerated me at times when I got the ball that would occasionally be kicked too far or if I happened to have money. But overall, I was invisible. I would chase them in my canoe shaped rubber shoes.

Today, the boys were on the prow for grasshoppers. They romped through the overgrown lot. They were yipping like hyenas as they tore at the brown grass as the scorching sun glared down.

I was on the outskirts of the grassy lots-their calls and bravado had laid their claim- and I crouched down my knees swaying back and forth like a satellite dish. There were a couple of other kids around me-they were hoping the same thing as me, for the approval of the older boys. A couple of them I tried to scare off with pseudo- taekwondo kicks and threats, but they weren't intimidated. We all knew that membership would be granted to the kid that found a big, crunchy grasshopper. We all peered at the glades of grass. We prodded with sticks, kicks, stomps, and calls. We were all degenerate gamblers-risking it all on a blind hand.Our dusty hands were poised to grab.

Catching a grasshopper takes precision. Too hard a squeeze and you have a mess, too light and the grasshopper fights with a myriad of kicks and wings. A grab needs to be conclusive-fate must be sealed; you want to the grasshopper to accept its end (it makes for a tastier treat.)

The boys plan was to catch a grasshopper, make a fire, and then eat this crunchy treat. Catching and eating the grasshopper was more for sport then anything else. It was a way to spend an afternoon. The taste was more texture than flavor. The legs were prized most of all for they had the most satisfying crunch. The head was next-the eyes would crackle and pop like fine caviar. Finally, there would be the body. If cooked right, it was the most delicious, but cooking it would often char fingertips before the desired crisp would be achieved.

Awww, yes. Maeduggi. That's the Korean word for grasshopper and I remember chanting it over and over to myself in silent prayer as the older boys screamed and yelled at each other as mutiny set in.

"I told you there were none here, stupid! said the tallest dusty boy.

"Yeah,Stupid!;"echoed the other boys in a chorus of overt annoyance.

"Stupid" did not accept their mocking well and answered them with an array of kicks, stares, and slaps.

"It's not like you chose a better spot, Retard," he retorted. "Retard, like, have you ever found a grasshopper? No. I don't think so."

Retard was not as tall as Stupid, but he was much broader. It was quite obvious that Retard and Stupid were the brains of this operation and there was a bit of a power struggle between the two. Stupid stepped right up to Retard and then looked down with a sneer. Retard responded with a kick to the shin-which Stupid scooted back from and countered with a head push. Retard ducks down, gets into a Taekwondo stance, and punches Retard in his stomach.

The boy with the red blotch on the side of his face yells, "FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!" His compatriot just looks on- silent.

Throughout the yard all the other kids here the battle cry and they rush over to the grassy lot.

Stupid sends out a long kick that catches Retard in the right ear. Retard responds by charging at Stupid, grabbing his torso, and wrestling him to the ground.

The crowd whoops at this. The Red Blotch and Shy Boy push the circle back by stretching their arms out.

"Beat him up!"
"Kick him!"
"Kill him"
"Win, win!"

Stupid and Retard are sweating as they halfheartly attack each other. Little pebbles imbed themselves into their palms and legs.
I am still in my spot: focused; when I see it.

I whisper, “Maeduggi.” I get closer, not wanting to scare it off.

It’s coming towards me. I can barely believe it, but it is coming towards me. I pigeon toe closer as the maeduggi scuttles closer.

My hands are in reach.
I gingerly reach out to catch it.

“MAEDUGGI!” screams a member of the crowd.

I swallow the brown and green grasshopper into the palm of my hands as the dusty crowd looks over at me. I turn to run as I can hear the whooping cry of the crowd behind me.

I run as fast as my matchstick legs will take me. I can feel the heat of the crowd behind me as the air ripples with raw electricity.

“Catch him!”
“Stop or you’re dead!”
“Get him!”

The grasshopper scuttles around in my palm. Wings flying, feet kicking, antennae flickering back and forth as they try to assess its situation and fate. It knows that something is coming.

My little feet are trying to out race my mind. My baby toes are folded under the other toes in the cramped canoe-like shoe and they feel like they are going to rupture.

Step after step, the hoard approach. I feel fingertips on my neck. In fear, I lift my knees higher and take my stride a little further. Then I feel a rough push from two hands. I tumble to the ground as my knees split like a kiss. My hands still cocoon my treasure, that is until my elbows slam against the ground.

“There it goes,” yells Red Blotch. Retard eyes it and then leaps over the smaller kids and grabs the grasshopper by its back leg. I can hear the crunch of the shell.

A cheer rises up from the crowd, “Yay!”
“He got it!”
“Wow! It’s big”
“I wanna bite!”

Retard looks over at Stupid.

“You got the matches,” he says stonily.

Stupid has a smirk on his face as he snarls, “Yeah.”

Shy Boy looks around and gets some newspaper and so does Red Blotch.

“Let’s Go!” says Retard.

Retard, Stupid, Red Blotch, and Shy Boy start off at full speed. The others know that they are not welcome. Some start looking at the ground, while others start to push and play around. I watch the four boys run off with my maeduggi and my blood burns. Maybe, I should have stayed with the others. Instead, I set off after my catch.

The older boys are on top of a large sand hill that is next to a construction site. I am about ten feet away and they do not notice me at all. They are too engrossed in their own world. Retard holds the grasshopper while Stupid and the others crouch around a pile of paper, grass, and other bits of trash. Stupid pulls out 1 matchstick from the box and lights it. He moves it too quickly towards the pile of makeshift kindling and it blows out in a ribbon of smoke. He takes another match and tries to light it, but he strikes it too hard against the strike box. The sulfur tip crumbles and there is a disappointing hiss.

“Stupid, what’s taking so long,” screams Retard.
“It’s too windy,” says Stupid.
The Red Blotch looks at Stupid as if he can’t believe what he just said. “Man, it’s not windy at all, you just don’t know what you are doing. Give it here,” he says.
Stupid is clearly insulted. “Get your own matches! Like you know what you’re doing. Hey why don’t we just cook the grasshopper with the matches!”
“Stupid, what are you talking about! Then the grasshopper is going to taste weird. You really are stupid.”

Stupid throws down the matches and charges at Retard. Retard holds up the grasshopper. “Hey man, stop.”

“Then stop calling me stupid, Retard;” he says threateningly.

Retard smirks and says, “Why don’t I just give you the other leg.”

Stupid says,”OK” to this as the Red Blotch yells out, “Shyboy got the fire going! Hurry!”

Retard and Stupid run up the sand hill. I follow behind and then stop at the bottom of the hill. I can see the black smoke rise up and the boys yelling at each other.

“Don’t cook it now, the smoke is too black!”
“It’s too hot!”
“Let me do it!”

I can hear the crackle of the grasshopper shell and a high-pitched crackle and hiss. I could sense, yet not hear a high pitch siren. I run up the hill and see the boys squatting around the grasshopper. The green maeduggi is now charred black.

“I get a leg,” says Retard; “I caught it.”

I want to scream out when I hear this.

“You promised the other one,” says Stupid.

“Why you,” says the Red Blotch; “You didn’t even do anything. Shyboy got the fire started. He should get it.”

“Shut your ugly face,” screams Stupid. He pushes the Red Blotch down and he falls into me. Stupid looks at me. “What do you want, puppy shit?”

Four pairs of eyes look at me and I feel smaller than I already am. I want to scream, I want my grasshopper. I want to scream for justice, but I know that there will be no justice here. I mumble, no barely mouth.


Retard stares at me for a second and then starts to laugh. The other boys join in. “You want the Maeduggi, little boy! You want it! Here!” Retard rips off one of the antennae and gives it to me. “Now go away or else.”

I gently clutch the antennae in my hand and run down the hill. About a hundred feet away, I open my palm to see that it has broken into several pieces. It tastes like smoke and dust.