Fiction

Two Korean Men, Made in America, Standing on Asphalt

Photo Credit: pchurch92.Licensed CC-BY.
Photo Credit: pchurch92.
Licensed CC-BY.

Two Korean American guys from Great Neck, New York meet up in a Korean deli called Smiler. Bob has a couple of Dutch Boy cookies while KJ has a couple of gingerbread cookies.  Both are having cranberry juice. After catching up with each other and exchanging pleasantries, they leave the seating area of the deli. They are out on the street on asphalt floor which appears to be chipped away and fallen apart at one corner near pedestrian walk.

“How come Vivian is always hanging out with black guys? I mean they are black as soot. She’s from Taegu. She’s as fair as Yi dynasty pale white porcelain pottery. I’m from Ulsan so I know about Taegu girls.”

“Vivian is a baby. A big, big baby–and a real doll, I might add. Unfortunately, her femme fatale act has gotten her into a tangled web of mess. She’s the Korean Hester Prynne.”

“No, Kyung Jun, I disagree. She does not confess her sin loudly like in the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel days. The chick can’t help herself. She is in it for more. Actually, I believe she was harassed at some point. Those married old fuddy-duddies and wonks seduced her and trashed her. Do you feel like doing anything? Are you having any thoughts? Maybe those KKK’s and the like are yearning for fire, to call for Aryan pagans to teach her modesty and to teach her the boundary of her turf, to let her know her place and of course to teach us the value of GIGO diet.”

“Why don’t you get rid of her, so you won’t have to occupy your time needlessly thinking and worrying about her, then? Viv is a troublesome bitch. She needs a bib, not bling blings hanging on her neck. Or is it you have some hots for her? Maybe a warm feeling, developing into Jung?”

“Vivian looks more alluring hanging out with those black homeboys. She looks good in whatever she wears. She could be a target for more unwanted advances, romances and you know…sex. Dirty sex. I’m kind of worried about her. What’s happening with her parents?”

“I heard they went back to Korea after selling their store and home in the suburb nearby some shopping mall, I think Annandale.”

“You mean in Virginia?”

“Yeah. The home of Virginian gentlemen and tour destination for that catchy plug, ‘Virginia is for lovers.’ In terms of milieu and ethos, those wannabe lawyers had to appear in suit and tie to sit for the bar, I heard.”

“When they drafted the code like that, those pimps were thinking of women’s honor. So while their proper wife screams for sex because they are starved for love, these guys boink girls like Viv. By the way, when I said earlier about women’s honor, unfortunately as a practical matter they mean Mayflower boat girls.”

“I’m not sure if Mayflower girls are that holy or work to death and for that matter live a life of nunnery. They should have fun. Well, don’t be cynical. But the reality of the matter is all the wannabe WASPs are jumping into this tugboat, demanding to look out for their honor too and be put on pedestal, crying about patriotism.”

“Do you get this concept about equality, romance and virtuous woman being put on pedestal to revere Christ’s home where God dwells like in church vis-a-vis Koreans in the whole scheme of things?”

“Well, you are not Babo after all! That’s true. I was flogged at work because some white girl was so overcome by my plight, and my white peers’ hostility and this bimbo wanted to convey a nuanced feeling of equality and romance and sex appeal and the upshot was the whole thing back fired and white guys were all over me near the toilet in men’s room.”

“Did you spit on the floor? Now that you’re initiated into Greek manhood, like a nice Jewish boy quietly living on left over refrigerator goods?”

“Fuck you. I’m not into white good tourism.”

“Hey, I was genuinely concerned about your well-being. Do you mind if I smoke?”

Bob lights a cigarette and starts puffing.

“I’m not a faggot, I’m straight. I don’t sit around and do nothing like those German guys waiting for their German girls to marry outgroup good old boys. I did something. I can’t go back there. Now that I think about the whole action scene where I played the leading role I guess I can’t go back there.”

“I don’t understand why those white boss would take such extreme measure of cruel and unusual punishment for your having a chit chat with some bleached blond hair white girl that you don’t even know. But you can smell those bimbos are desperate for tennis dates. And then this sudden 180-degree change in posture by management, of sweeping the whole thing under the rug when you rolled up your sleeve and did Tae Kwon Do on them.”

“Well, the good news is it didn’t flood there. Not even drizzle. But I guess it’s not a good idea to appear again and go back there and build a log cabin or something like that–not that I totally axed a tall cherry tree.”

“Where was this?”

“I’m only telling you this in confidence so you know before you go. It was Syracuse.”

“What’s it like there?”

“I was young then and driven with ambition. I was so angry the whole time for being in red with all these trespassers all the time who stepped all over me who acted like they owned America that I ended up listening to a lot of music and went to a lot of concerts.”

“Syracuse is the place for rock concerts. I’m sure those trespassers have your money too.”

“Music was good. Yeah, it’s always packed. Whether it’s weekdays or weekends. Rock concerts. I couldn’t get through each month without one. It was a monthly regimen.”

“Seriously, when you have that much music inside your head, can you hear anything?”

“You are right. Sometimes I heard music and melodies running in my head streaming right and left, up and down in my mind.”

“Seriously, you weren’t happy. I mean I can’t get inside your head but isn’t that what Shakespeare said, ‘How can you be happy when you hear music?'”

“I think the more appropriate Shakespeare’s quote here is ‘What mind?'”

“Seriously, I was hoping for a meeting of minds, not reading of minds.”

“Ok.”

“Let’s hit K-Town and have some bul-goki and tuna sushi.”

“I still have 2 hours to kill. Ok.”

Bob and KJ are standing in front of the Stephen Schwarzman renovated library building waiting for a bus on 5th Avenue to get to the Penn Station, next to Madison Square Garden. They decide they will stop by K-Mart, Borders and Old Navy to get a couple of necessities and head over to Wonjo, a Korean restaurant on 32nd Street, off Fifth Avenue. Bob purchases a bundle of kitchen towels at K-Mart while KJ looks around first and second floor of Old Navy and gets some boxer shorts and drawstring work out pants.

After that they go to Borders. Then they sit in those plush black-brown leather arm chairs and flip through a magazine. Each takes a cup of coffee. After sipping a few gulps of black coffee, they leave the store. They pass by Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Dunkin Donuts before they finally find themselves in the heart of Koreatown in Midtown, just a few blocks away from Lord & Taylor and Macy’s. On their way there they notice Puerto Rican girls going to Daffy’s and wonder briefly whether Korean girls shop there, too.

Bob and KJ enter Wonjo. The hostess bows and greets them with a charming, serpentine smile. “Sushi Bar, grill or karaoke?” she asks.

Bob signals and says, “This is OK.”

They both sit down and read the menu. Bob is looking at the walls blankly while KJ rubs his chin, trying to decide whether he needs to shave more closely.

“What’s with that hostess? We’re supposed to feel welcome here. We are the customers who are putting food on their table and letting them carry shingle here.”

“I guess they are busy. Too many customers.”

“I have a change of heart. I feel like Hey-jang gook with coagulated cow blood and long bean sprouts.”

“You said firework tuna sushi roll or something like that, didn’t you? I mean, you said jumbo fried shrimp food is the way.”

“Thinking about fried shrimps makes me want to have a cake.”

“Later.”

“Where?”

“I think there may be Koryo-Dang or Paris Baguette and another one maybe next to Stanford Hotel.”

“What’s Paris what’s-cha-ma-call-it?”

“It sounds stylish and fancy, but I think the philosophy behind that is to avoid unseemly scenes like one eating a stolen loaf of bread standing over a toilet seat behind closed doors. No relation to Bagel.”

“Yeah, whatever. Who would stay in K-Town hotel?”

“It’s all about location and convenience and anonymity and privacy. Think. Penn Station and Port Authority. Also Grand Central.”

“Gotcha.”

Bob and KJ end up having BBQ kalbi grilled on their table and they wolf it down with small fistfuls of raw chopped scallions and garlic. They put so much food in their mouths that each looks like his mouth has an entire snowball cupcake inside. They chew like the US army guys in the combat zone swish their mouths with big gulps of Listerine. After diligent chewing they finally swallow their food. They both take a quick break from eating and look at all the side dishes and rice bowls on the table.

They play around with chopsticks, scanning the room quickly with their eyes and noses, following the familiar aroma of kimchi. Both take a bite of kimchi from in front of them. As they sigh breaths of relief, they look around the room and try to determine whether other customers are Koreans.

“This is life,” both of them think.

Every customer sits at a separate table getting different things from menu, some inhaling food before they hurry back to their shop or office, while others float in a Korean Da-Bang state of mind, starting their meals with soju and chapchae and dumpling appetizers. The ceiling vent is on and the room reverberates with every noise but nothing discernable or audible makes any real sense.

Bob and KJ forget about Vivian during the meal and concentrate on their food. They talk over their next itinerary now that they are “here.” KJ dutifully pays the check and they walk out with toothpicks planted between their teeth to get rid of any stuck food particles.

They think about stopping by a bakery or frozen yogurt shop named Red Mango, but instead they walk down the block, passing a couple of banks, each with Korean Hangul signs hanging in their windows. Then they take an elevator to go to the internet café above the plaza.

As Bob and KJ enter the internet café the sales clerk is busily pressing buttons, cleaning and organizing this and that, casting her head downward. They notice this vendor doesn’t put on that idiotic, serpentine smile to greet them. Instead she has posted fee schedules and membership signs conspicuously, so that she does not have to bother answering the same questions in a robotic manner each and every time.

“Oh Shit! What was that?”

“Where?”

“On the panel behind the clerk. The clerk can’t see. She has to mind the store.”

“Ask her.”

“Excuse me. What are you featuring on the panel? Is this a movie or TV sitcom?”

The sales clerk answers promptly and succinctly and gestures to avoid any protracted dialogue. “It’s only a game. We have many varieties. Global. International. Not only American video games.”

“Ok. Sure.”

“You pay this time.”

Bob pays for both himself and KJ. Each sits next to the other in front of two computer terminals. Bob is still so shocked by what he saw on the screen for a fleeting second of two he gestures KJ to correspond by e-mail.

“Shit happened. Did you see?”

“I’m not sure. I thought it was a scene from Top Gun or Airplane with Robert Hayes or something. It was quick. I’m only human.”

“No. There was an electric chain saw.”

“You’re a psycho. What else?”

“Then some big T-square ruler flying into space leaving earth and soaring into Sun.”

“The clerk said it’s a video game. Relax!”

“Don’t tell me this is an Arab game.”

“Chill out! ISP big brothers are watching us.”

“I don’t have anything to worry like Stephen Warshak.”

“Wise up. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. He’s not the only plaintiff.”

“Shit. Holy cannoli.”

“Are you OK?”

“Maybe it was Vivian.”

“Vivian is an axe murderer?”

“No. I mean–never mind. Sorry for bad thoughts. Some people deserve to be closer to Jesus.”

“You’ve been listening to that high school Korean girl bullshit pop hymn, ‘I Want to be a Sacrifice’ too many times.”

“I can’t do this. Let’s split.”

“Do you need some Greek lemon chicken soup?”

“No, I think. I think. Never mind.”

“Let’s get the fuck out of here. I don’t want to think about that bimbo in Meng-kkong land clerk talking about videos she never sees.”

“Will do.”

Bob and KJ log off from their computers, walk out of the internet café and exit Koreatown.They are back on asphalt-covered streets. This time they notice a pot hole in the bus lane.

“I just remembered some joke that I heard when my grandfather who was in Haeju in Hwanghae province decades ago. I was vacationing in Korea a couple of summers ago when I was in between jobs and didn’t want to go to yet another school, and my old neighbor told me about feeling nostalgic about his kohyang.”

“How come you still remember trivial stuff like that? Life is a dream. Everything that happens is a joke. You have to prioritize your life and be blind to unnecessary things. How can you live?”

“Seriously, I think it was about a choice between coffee and tea.”

“You’re being silly.”

“Really! The guy who sat in the train next to me told me on my way to Inchon.”

Bob sighs deeply as if annoyed but gestures to go ahead and pretends a sympathetic ear.

“This travelling salesman said, ‘Do you want to hear a joke while we’re moving?’ He means while we are in transit. Then he said, ‘Hipster Stewardess on the airplane politely inquired, “Coffee or tea?” So the passenger said, “I’m actually thirsty. Water, please.” Then Stewardess said shaking her head, “Coffee or tea?” Then the passenger said, “Juice, then. You seem like a nice lady.” The stewardess passed by him, ignoring his request, oblivious to his thirsty and said to the passenger down the aisle, “Coffee or Tea?” Do you get the joke?'”

“Is that like a Women’s Lib joke? You know, like an attractive stewardess serving you while running the show and running the whole place?”

“Forget it.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Hey, I have to go home.”

“Anyone waiting for you when you come home?”

“No. Just the doorman. Actually he mistook me for a Chinese delivery boy once.”

“No GIGO diet for you, then.”

“Too much hype about Chinese food. It’s for toddlers.”

“I can relate. You grew up eating jja-jang myun too.”

“Something like that. Why don’t you call Vivian?”

“I don’t want to lecture her on what’s right when things happen like that because she’s pretty. You know it’s like looking foolish, like standing on her head doing ballet steps, to instill in her patriarchy society value. I’m not stupid.”

“You’re right. People these days slap and spit at traffic violation patrol officers.”

“I thought girls liked uniformed men.”

“Fuck them and forget them. Girls today have all these tools from too much education.”

“So long.”

“Bye, hyung.”