Backbend Bombshell

By Ed Staskus

Breaking with rigid societal control, secretive totalitarianism, and his own familial tradition, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has proclaimed his nation will cease to be a Stalinist throwback and alternately intends to adopt yoga as its ruling ideology.

“We will no longer be a Cold War relic,” he asserted while making his stunning announcement.

When asked if the unprecedented changeover would be immediate or phased in over time, he proclaimed August 15th, Liberation Day, as the day yoga would officially become the new law of the land.

Liberation Day commemorates the independence of the Korean Peninsula after the defeat of the Japanese by the Allies during World War Two. It is the only official holiday celebrated in both South and North Korea.

Several immediate changes were made public.

“We are dissolving the Worker’s Party of Korea, demobilizing 90% of the Korean People’s Army, and abandoning all atomic bomb and guided missile development,” said Kim Jong-un in his role as Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Under the decades-long Songun – “military first” – policy of the country there are almost 6 million paramilitary personnel on duty, nearly 25% of North Korea’s population. The regimen emphasizes the military over all other aspects of state and society. Decommissioning 90% of the military and reservists will return more than 5 million men and women to civilian life.

Junta power was quickly brought to an end. The arrest and detention of numerous vice-marshals, generals, and flag officers of the ground forces, navy, air force and rocket services was reported concomitant to Kim Jong–un’s statement.

A North Korean spokesman said the Supreme Leader would brook no dissent regarding his revolutionary about-face.

“A revolutionary party is, in its essence, the party of its leader that carries out his ideology and cause, and the main thing in its building is to ensure the unitary character and inheritance of his ideology and leadership,” said Kim Jong-un, asserting his authority.

Radio and television sets, pre-tuned to government stations that until the announcement delivered a steady stream of propaganda, began broadcasting yoga philosophy lectures and youtube videos of the practice.

When asked about his prospects of success in transforming North Korea from an armed military camp to a nationwide yoga studio, Kim Jong-un replied, “It is a proud tradition and fighting trait of out people to rise up like mountains and go through fire and water to unfailingly carry through the party’s orders and instruction.”

Stepping away from the podium, he deftly demonstrated Mountain Pose.

World leaders were flummoxed.

Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who has been quoted as saying North Korea needed to “change paths” and put the interests of its people first, was speechless, deferring comment.

“We will continue to work closely with the international community to ensure that pressure on North Korea continues and sanctions are strictly enforced until Kim Jong-un matches his words with concrete actions,” said an official spokesman for Mrs. May.

“Kim Jong-un is shrewd and mature,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He has stated his strategic task. He has outplayed his rivals. I think he has obviously won this round.”

President Putin recently admitted he admires those who achieve results in yoga. “Even though I prefer to look at yoga from the outside, I very much envy those who achieve some tangible results. This just shows the character of the people who achieve such results in this activity. Sometimes you look and just cannot believe your eyes.”

“Fake news, fake news,” said Donald Trump, who was recently derided as a “mentally deranged dotard” by Kim Jong-un.

John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security advisor, who has described the North Korean state as a “hellish nightmare,” reserved response, saying the matter required further analysis.

“We all agree on one goal, a denuclearized North Korea,” said Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, applauding the implications of the announcement.

The hermit kingdom’s nuclear saber-rattling had been on the rise since its young leader came to power in 2011. During the Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry said, “What Kim-Jong-un has been choosing to do is provocative, it is dangerous, reckless, and the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Since then North Korea has conducted at least three successful nuclear tests and developed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland.

In late 2017 President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it refused to abandon its nuclear ambitions and “totally destroy” it if pushed to the brink.

Kim Jong-un’s unexpected pivot away from launching pad politics and nuclear blackmail has made the extreme scenario of atomic retaliation moot. ”There can be neither today without yesterday nor tomorrow without today,” he said.

“It is our party’s unshakeable stand to prevent a new war from breaking out on the Korean peninsula and accelerate economic construction in a peaceful environment, thus resolving at an early date the problems related with the people’s livelihood.”

“I’ll believe the Little Rocket Man when I see it,” tweeted President Trump.

“The North Korean leader was ‘very aware’ of his image and reacted to comments made about him in a ‘relaxed manner’ by joking about himself from time to time,” according to Reuters, the international news service.

Ironically, as the United States has demanded nuclear disarmament from North Korea, it has overhauled its existing arsenal and spent billions of dollars expanding the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. On the same day the White House announced Donald Trump was on again for the on-again off-again meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, the Pentagon revealed plans to both revitalize America’s weapons and create a next generation of them.

According to a report released In February the Pentagon highlighted North Korea’s “illicitly producing nuclear warheads” as grounds for the advanced undertakings at both Savannah River and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

In “The Yogi and the Commissar” – a collection of essays by Arthur Koestler published the same year that the only atomic bombs ever deployed as weapons of mass destruction were detonated – the commissar is the man who wants to change society by any means necessary, while the yogi is the man who wants to change the individual through an emphasis on yoga.

The 34-year-old Supreme Leader with the Fred Flintstone haircut appears to have shed his commissar cloak and donned basketball shorts and a muscle tee. Dennis Rodman, who has made multiple visits to North Korea, advised the country’s commander-in-chief on proper attire for the yoga mat.

“For some reason, he trusts me,” the former NBA star and flamboyant cross-dresser said, sporting a white PotCoin shirt with images of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the front.

“My job is to be a human being, to try and connect us with him.”

He was unable, however, to explain the elusive leader’s taking up yoga and declaring it the national belief and value. “What makes him tick? He’s always smiling, man, with his people, his sister, his brother. Just like regular people. Maybe that’s it.”

When asked what led to the unexpected change of heart, Kim Jong-un said, ”The year 2016 was a year of revolutionary event, a year of great change, worthy of note in the history of our party and country.”

In the latter half of 2016 the Obama administration sanctioned Kim Jong-un and ten other regime officials for human rights abuses. Before year’s end South Korea announced it had elite troops on standby to assassinate the North Korean despot if the need arose.

It seems unlikely, however, that threats were the impetus for change. “I will surely and definitely tame the Trump with fire,” declared Kim Jong-un after the American election season. Nevertheless, since then he has unexpectedly met with President Xi Jinping of China, who is his closest ally, visited South Korea, the only member of North Korea’s ruling dynasty to do so since the Korean War, and parlayed with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

“Our cause is just, and the might of Korea that is united with truth is infinite,” he said.

A State Department spokesman, requesting anonymity, speculated the North Korean leader had taken up yoga as a solution for his health problems.

Four years ago the North Korean leader disappeared from sight for several months with what was described as “an uncomfortable physical condition.” At various times he has been reported to be suffering from gout, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Last year his weight appeared to balloon to almost 300 pounds. While visiting a cosmetics factory he had to be helped off his feet and onto a folding chair, his face bathed in sweat.

“Kim’s health is something out own intel community is trying to gain every possible insight on,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest.

Regardless, no matter still fluffy and pudgy-cheeked, he has this year, by all accounts, looked slimmer and more active and cheerful.

There are many physical benefits to the practice of yoga, from muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility, to cardiovascular effects, to weight loss. “Researchers have found that people who practice yoga have lower body mass indexes compared to those who do not practice yoga,” according to the Harvard Medical School.

Yoga develops awareness, including mindful eating, which may have helped Kim Jong-un develop a more self-assured relationship with food and eating, according to several experts. However, whether he achieves a svelte yoga body in the next few years is both an open question and beside the point.

Whether or not he moves beyond the mat is what matters.

“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, “said Aadil Palkhivala. “It is about the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed. It is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been. It cares about the person you are becoming.”

Very few, if any, dictators have ever practiced yoga in its long history. The practice is antithetical to tyranny, or buffoonery.

In our own time the glamorous daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator has posted pictures of herself on a yoga mat. A broadcast on Radio Free Europe pointed out her “skimpy workout clothes and the prurient nature of some of the yoga poses overstepped the boundaries of propriety.”

The children of the powerful usually believe they know everything.

Kim Jong-un making the eight limbs of yoga government policy in North Korea is anybody’s guess.  “Suddenly, the whole country is engulfed with happiness and the people endlessly inspired,” the Supreme Leader said. Observers have been hard-pressed to believe the newfound true believer yogi will be able to execute his ambitions, given the unwonted transformation.

“Kim can presume a benevolent dictatorship provided he is the dictator, and he is the ultimate dictator,” said a White House senior advisor. “However, his coterie, his family, the military, and the senior members of the government, all have to benefit, otherwise he risks being overthrown.”

Just slightly more than a year removed from the Oval Office, Barack Obama pointed out the difficulty of making wholesale changes.

“Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now we’re in a very different place than we were,” he said. “Some people may feel like a we need a 50 degree turn. They say, if I turn 50 degrees, the whole ship turns. But, you can’t turn 50 degrees.”

Nevertheless, even though Kim Jong-un has proposed turning his ship of state 180 degrees, there is a chance he can make it happen.

“There is a tremendous sense of optimism by the leadership and by the people I met with and hopes that they will be turning a new chapter in history, a new page,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. He visited North Korea the first week of May. He said he saw “a genuine desire to be more open.”

Former First Lady Michele Obama introduced yoga to the White House. In 2009 it became part of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. The Obama’s were the only presidential couple to have ever practiced yoga.

Kim Jong-un may have laid an egg with his proclamation.

On the other hand, when it comes to yoga, as K. Pattabhi Jois once said when asked what it was all about, “Just do.”

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

All Hands On Deck

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By Ed Staskus

“What were we thinking?” Kate Doucette asked her mother, who was peeling potatoes in the kitchen of their eatery as they geared up for the second week of their new restaurant’s first season the summer before last.

“I know, we need fish-n-chips on the menu,” said Joanne Doucette.

On the Dock is at the far end of Harbourview Drive in North Rustico, around the bend of the harbor up from the lighthouse, catty-corner to Bob’s Deep Sea Fishing, on the north central coast of Prince Edward Island. The dining room is literally on the dock. More than two-thirds of the tables and chairs are outside, spread out over a big deck, on the edge of a square wharf on the ocean.

“I’ll go over to Doiron’s and get some,” said Kate.

She walked down the street and got five pounds of fish.

Doiron Fisheries, a fish market on the Inner Harbour, chock full of shellfish, lobsters, and fresh Atlantic seafood, is about a half-mile away, by way of a boardwalk, at the other end of the street.

“It wasn’t that much,” said Kate. “But mom wondered, what are we going to do with all this fish? Maybe we should freeze some of it, she thought, just to be safe. By the time she put it in the freezer, though, she had to take it out, since we were selling so much of it.”

When they sold out the fish-n-chips, Kate Doucette took another walk back down the street to Doiron’s, this time for more than just five pounds.

“It’s a simple menu, chowder, fish cakes, but it works,” she said. “We had lobster rolls from the beginning, because dad catches all of our lobster. After working here, me and mom go home and shell lobsters a couple of hours every night.”

The fish cakes are chips off the old block from her father’s handcrafted cakes. “On Boxer Day, Christmastime, parties, the whole family would come over for dad’s fish cakes. He served them with homemade mustard pickles.”

Joanne Doucette has made mustard pickles for a long time. “It’s a recipe that’s known around here,” said Kate. Every week is National Pickle Month when it has to be. “We make batches of them for the restaurant.”

“It’s hearty home-style cooking with the freshest seafood,” said Megan Miller, sitting outside in the sun on the seaside, pushing back from her table and empty plate of fish and pickles.

Kate’s father, Robert Doucette, is Bob’s Deep Sea Fishing. He ties his 45-foot fiberglas boat up at the end of the dock outside the restaurant. He harvests lobster in season and takes tourists out to catch cod and mackerel in July and August. His brother Barry and he bait hooks for tuna in September.

“His boat used to be called the ‘Jillian Marie’, who is my older sister,” said Kate. “But, when I got old enough to realize my name wasn’t on the boat, I got a little ticked off. When he got his next boat he called it ‘My Two Girls’.”

Bob Doucette has been working out of the North Rustico harbor for more than 40 years. “He grew up in a little white house right here,” said Kate. “He hasn’t gone far. Their house used to be up Lantern Hill, but it was moved down here, on the back of a big truck.”

Joanne and Bob Doucette met when they were 14-years-old. “They’re both from here, North Rustico, born and raised.”

Kate and her sister grew up in a house in a thicket of trees a mile-or-so up the road, behind her Uncle Ronnie’s Route 6 Fish-n-Chips “We were so lucky to grow up where we were in the woods all the time,” she said.

There’s something about woods that you can’t find in books, at school, or on the infobahn. Moss grass shrubs insects birds trees will teach you what you can never learn from flatscreens. Trees wise you up to being grounded from the trunk down and limber on top from the branches out.

North Rustico is a community of about 600 residents. The bay is sheltered by Robinsons Island and houses a fleet of forty-some lobster boats. Fishing is the town’s main focus, although, since it has direct access to Prince Edward Island National Park, it has long been popular with vacationers.

All summer long kayakers launch their boats from Outside Expeditions at the mouth of the harbor, paddling up and down the north coast. It’s a way to get focused on the wide-open water. When you’re tucked into a kayak and paddling, there’s literally nothing else you can do.

“Dad used to bring me down here when I was a kid,” said Kate. “I was a huge little tomboy. He bought me a kit with a saw and hammer for my seventh birthday. He made me a miniature lobster trap to work on while he was repairing his traps.”

By the late 1990s the wharf was rotting. “Dad still had a slip for his boat, but you could hardly walk anywhere, it was just run down.” The wharf was rebuilt and a new red-roofed building, the front half housing the Fisheries Museum and the back half housing the Skipper’s Café, was built with provincial and town funding, built on the spot where Bob’s Deep Sea Fishing shanty had stood.

“They moved all the shanties to the side when they built this,” said Kate.

“We grew up down on the harbor. My sister Jill and I worked in the canteen from the time I was 12-years-old, in the shanty, where reservations were made. We sold chips and chocolate bars and soda, except Jill and I ate all the chips and chocolate until dad finally ended up only selling ice cream.”

Kate Doucette’s grandmother opened the first restaurant in North Rustico in the 1940s. It was the Cozy Corner, at the convergence of Route 6, Church Hill Road, the gas station, the post office, and the road down the harbor. Her grandparents later opened the Isles, a sizable seafood restaurant, up the road.

“My Uncle Ronnie was a big part of it and mom served there for years. The whole family worked there. They had a bakery in the basement and I’d run over every afternoon and get fresh rolls.”

One day the restaurant burned to the ground.

“It was a pretty big upset,” said Kate. “We were lucky there wasn’t any wind and none of it got into our woods.”

Towards the snowy front end of 2016 Kate Doucette was living in Charlottetown, the capital and largest city on Prince Edward Island, taking business classes part-time at UPEI and working full-time, while her boyfriend Sam roughnecked oil rigs more than three thousand miles away in Grande Prairie, Alberta. One evening her mother paid her a visit. Joanne Doucette had a proposal for her daughter.

Kate was surprised by what her mother stumped for that night.

“I wasn’t thinking of doing a restaurant, for sure,” she said. “I never in my wildest dreams thought that was going to be our conversation.”

The Skipper’s Café on the ocean side of the Fisheries Museum in North Rustico was closing. The Port Authority was leasing out the space. She was being offered first crack at it.

Kate Doucette called her boyfriend in Alberta.

“Go for it,” said Sam MacLeod. “You’ve got to take a risk sometime.” Even though it was going out on a limb, it wasn’t necessarily risky, since most risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.

“It’s in our blood,” said Kate. “I’ve been serving since I was 16-years-old. I’ve had a hell of a lot of other jobs, but I’ve always had a serving position on the side.”

Her family and she began making plans.

“The guy who owned Skipper’s Café, he was closing since he wasn’t feeling wellish,” said Kate. “Then he told us, ‘Oh, I might run it for another year,’ but by the first of May he closed and took absolutely everything out of the place.”

Many of the restaurants on the north shore of Prince Edward Island are seasonal, opening roughly at the first sign of summer and closing more or less at the start of fall. From a business point-of-view, there are two seasons, June July August and winter.

“We started from fresh, but it was a crazy month. We had to get all our licensing, buy all our equipment, and design our menu. Our tables were made by a local carpenter. We rebuilt the kitchen, which is very small, and the first summer we worked with table fryers. It was insane. I don’t know how we did it.“

The difference in fryers is that the oil capacity of tabletop models might be seven or eight pounds. The capacity of commercial deep fryers, which can have two tanks, is often 50 to 85 pounds.

“The first thing we did when we closed in October was get a commercial fryer, a grill, and a seven-foot range hood,” said Kate. “We still peel all of our potatoes with a little hand cutter. There’s a machine that can do it, if we could find the space to put it. Right now, Sam does it. He calls it his corner office.”

The reason Sam MacLeod gives a leg up at the potato peeler back in the corner is that Kate Doucette called him one day in the middle of their second summer, when he was working in Alberta. He is on rigs twenty days in the oil fields northwest of Calgary, and then off ten days, which he often spends having flown back to PEI.

“I was crying,” said Kate. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, either I’m going to kill my mother with all the work she’s doing or I’m going to have to close down.” After working all day, and after closing everything down at night, her mother was spending two more hours peeling potatoes for the next day, every day.

“It was just too much,” said Kate.

“I’m going to take August off and come back and help you guys,” said Sam.

Sam MacLeod and Kate Doucette met in a Subway on the eastern end of the island at the moment Kate knocked over her young niece. She and her sister, Jill, were distributing Bob’s Deep Sea Fishing fliers at tourist cottages. They stopped for lunch. She and Mila, Jill’s daughter, were walking across the dining room to the soda fountain.

“I had my hand on top of her head and I accidentally pushed her over,” explained Kate. “She fell down.”

Sam MacLeod, who had just pulled into the parking lot and walked in the door, stopped where Mila was lying on the floor in front of him.

“Is she all right?” he asked.

“I hadn’t even noticed it happened.” Kate looked down at her niece. “Oh, she’s fine, she just kind of fell over.” Sam gave Mila a helping hand up.

“He’s nice, he’s cute,” said Jill as they watched Sam drive away in his white knight white pick-up truck.

Six months later, on a Friday night, while in a bar and grill in Charlottetown with friends, she recognized a young man wearing a red hat at the bar. She walked up to him

“Do you remember me?” she asked.

“You’re the girl who pushed that kid down on the floor,” he said.

“She survived,” said Kate, grasping at straws.

They exchanged phone numbers. Twenty days later, a few days after Christmas, Kate and Jill were loafing in their apartment in Charlottetown. “Jill and I were going to hang out, have a chill night.” But then, out of the blue, she got a text from Sam.

“Do you want to go out to dinner?”

“I told him to give me a second. He took me to Cuba the next month. We’ve never spent a night apart since then, except when he’s out west.”

The couple built a house in Stratford, outside Charlottetown, but then rented it out on Airbnb. They planned on building something in North Rustico, but in the meantime realized they needed somewhere to live. They considered buying a camper and parking it in her mom and dad’s backyard.

“We found a reasonably-priced one on-line. It wasn’t the nicest, though, kind of shitty, and I was thinking, at the same time, do I want to shower in a camper all summer?”

She showed a picture of the camper to her parents. They took a close look at it, retreating to the other end of the room to compare notes. “I could see them kind of talking. They knew we were trying to save money.”

“Just stay with us,” said her mom. “We’ll fix you up a room. We’ll make it work.”

What she meant was, since they were already all working together, if they were all living together, it would make seeing one another all the time sticky. It might be too close for comfort. That’s why, since God has given us our relatives, many thank God they can pick their friends.

It would take some sufferance, fifty-fifty payoffs. They made it work.

“We’re only there to sleep, anyways,” said Kate. “We don’t cook there, we don’t hang out there, we don’t do anything, really. We’re always working. You give up your whole life half the year when you work at the restaurant.“

On the other hand, if you’re doing what you want need and enjoy doing, you’re never actually  clocking in to the daily grind rat race any day of your life.

“The one place I’d rather be in the world is down at the harbor,” said Kate. “It’s hard, you see everyone working so hard, but to be with the people you love the most, my mom and my dad, my sister, my boyfriend, I can’t think of anywhere’s else I’d want to be.”

Joanne Doucette runs the show in the kitchen. “You’re not going to have anyone in the kitchen who cares more about you than your mom.” Kate is the hostess server business manager, Jill busses serves odd jobs, while Sam and Bob run errands deliver seafood peel potatoes and take out the trash.

Kate’s niece Mila is in training.

One evening at closing time, looking for something to do, her Crocs at the ready, Mila asked if she could clear the outside tables.

“You can take the salt and pepper shakers and candles in, but leave the flowers,” Kate instructed her.

When Mila was done, two men were still at the last occupied table on the far side of the deck, their plates pushed to the side, kicking back at the edge of the ocean. “She went right up and took their empty plates off the table. They ended up giving her five dollars.”

“Kiki, Kiki!” Mila whooped, running up to the front counter, waving her five-dollar bill.

“She calls me Kiki. It just happened. She just one day decided,” said Kate. Since no one is allowed to give themselves a nickname, it might as well be your six-year-old niece. Catching a break, Kiki is better than, say, having to answer to Pickles.

“I don’t work here, but I help out all the time,” said Mila on a warm breezy sparkly afternoon, a broom a head taller than her in her hands, sweeping up around the chairs and under the tables on the deck, in the interval between lunch and dinner.

When you’re helping out it’s all hands on deck.

There’s no keeping Mila down.

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”