Sunday, January 22, 2012

Haakenson Sighting: Check

About 5 p.m. the drizzle coming down and I'm standing under an awning in front of a Taipei supermarket. Across the pavement loping toward me is a slim funny-looking Western guy with his Asian wife. He's wearing a black leather cowboy hat which doesn't really match his red windbreaker. The two are carrying big bags of groceries--snacks it looks like, probably bought to celebrate the Chinese New Year--and I watch them approach as I puff from my one small cigar for the day.

The guy comes closer and I notice he's also sporting white-rimmed glasses under the cowboy hat.

Then the guy comes closer again and I realize it's a high school classmate of mine from my home town, Harland, Wisconsin. It's Paul Haakenson, who I run into once every ten years.

Paul is now teaching Chinese to expat kids in Asia. His work has taken him from Taipei to Jakarta to Hong Kong, and soon, he tells me, he'll be moving again, to Singapore. He's back in Taipei to visit his in-laws for the Lunar New Year.

I last ran into Paul about ten years ago on the north side of Taipei. Starbucks had come to Taiwan and I was sitting in one of their shops when I saw a guy at the register with a teeshirt with the name Haakenson on it--a name familiar from my high school days. I got closer and recognized him. Paul explained that he was living and teaching in Taipei. I hadn't even realized it. I'd also been teaching in Taipei for a handful of years.

I ran into Paul about ten years before that (which would be about 1992) on the outskirts of a Grateful Dead concert in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. I was taking my Taiwanese wife to see the Dead as part of her American enculturation, and Paul showed up near our car. I think it was then that I learned he'd been studying Chinese in university. Was he married yet then?

But still my clearest memory of Paul comes from around ten year before that (1982 or so) in the basement of Scotty Berendt's house back in Hartland. It was a high school party, and Scotty had been impressing the hell out of us on his drums. Paul was promoting a cassette he'd brought of a band I'd heard of but had never listened to: the B-52s. The song playing--which is forever linked in my mind to the image of Paul Haakenson in a yuppy plaid shirt grooving in a Wisconsin basement--was "Quiche Lorraine." I hated yuppies in those days and hated everything that smelled of the country club (still do: see here), but Paul redeemed both himself and his shirt by being a weird fringe kind of yuppy. And I soon came to love the B-52s, which I continued to listen to up through their Cosmic Thing album. Only a few months ago I called up their brilliant "Private Idaho" on YouTube after hearing the song at a pub.

I've no idea of Paul's impressions of or memories of me. Did he notice that I've finally aged, as I noticed he has? We are both in our mid-40s, and wrinkles are making their tentative early maps round our eyes. He mentioned he'd read some of my online posts (I occasionally email links out to my whole address book, and his email's in there too) but I'm not at all sure these emails aren't just an annoyance to him. His politics or his social or religious ideas--I've no idea of these things. All I know is I'll run into him ten years from now and there will still be that white-bread midwest impression the name Haakenson can't help but bring with it, combined with the odd fringe element Paul always seems to sport: the faint weirdness intended, perhaps, to laugh at the white-bread in himself: the B-52s mystique, the Chinese, the black cowboy hat--and what will it be in 2022?

See you then, old classmate.

Buy Paul's CD here:

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