An Excerpt

Ideally one would begin with the invasion. Aerial bombing, artillery fire, mobilization of an infantry supported by armored vehicles, tanks, and helicopters. There’s a scramble to punch through the demilitarized zone before the US Seventh Fleet could bring its air power to bear. A minefield running the length of the 34th parallel and well-trained S. Korean soldiers armed with mortars and rocket propelled grenades stand in the way. Can you say Operation Janus? As tanks lay down suppressing fire, a fleet of helicopters convey a company of soldiers behind enemy lines, resulting in a mini two front war, and we know how that usually goes. But the enemy, especially a well prepared one, is full of surprises. High casualties is a given. Do we have any volunteers? It’s a rhetorical question because there’s only one man for the job: Captain Go of the grim visage and lean, sinewy build. “What’re we waiting for, sir?” asks Go, and the game is afoot. Meanwhile, 39 miles away, in an apartment with a chandelier, Mrs. Park waters her Japanese Peace Lily, wondering when that damn air siren for civil defense drills is going to shut off. Are they waiting for her to get to the basement of the building? She thinks about doing her civic duty when the phone rings. It’s her husband who tells her to pick Seung-hui up and head south. He tells her the North Koreans have invaded, but that the family would be safe in Daegu with his mother. He tells Teresa to ditch the car and walk the rest of the way if necessary. He would meet her there come hell or high water. And that’s the last she ever hears from her husband. Meanwhile, at Yongsan garrison, Private Kyle Burnham returns fire from a foxhole only to abandon his post when an enemy tank-led charge makes making a run for it a no brainer. Burnham, who joined the army lest a tobacco chewing grease monkey would be all that he would amount to, considers the 12 ft. high chain linked fence beyond which lies freedom. The top of the fence is concertinaed with barbed razor wire. So what if I get a little cut up? he psyches himself up. What’s the alternative? I put myself at the mercy of cult worshipping fanatics any one whom can go off the rail, at any time, and use me as a human pinata. Busan, here I come.

Curtis thus concocted the general outline of the story while he waited for Ae-ri who was late. He waited in a gazebo before which there was a rudimentary oval for track and field. The oval serviced the residents of two overlooking apartment buildings. A chill in the air that penetrated through his hoodie, persuaded Curtis to go for a jog. Alas, he didn’t take ten strides when a pounding in his head forced him to stop. He was still hung-over from last night. He decided to do a lap at a walk and was about halfway through when he saw Ae-ri at the Gazebo. Curtis cut across the grassy infield. As he neared, he saw her ashen hue, her chapped lips, and her lifeless eyes. She had on a wool lined jacket.

“My God….What happened?”

“You should sit,” Ae-ri said and took a seat herself.

When Curtis remained standing, Ae-ri gingerly crossed her left leg over her right, pulled out a cigarette, and tried to light it but for her shaking hands. Curtis immediately came to her aid, denied her refusal to be helped, and demanded to know what was going on. Why did she look as if she had spent the last week in a cave without food and barely enough water?

“You’re not going to sit?” she finally said in the wake of exhaling her second puff of smoke. “Fine, suit yourself. You’ll be happy to know, it’s all been taken care of. You have nothing to worry about. Bu—”

“So you had it aborted. Did Ju-yeon help you? How much did the procedure cost? Because I intend to reimburse the full amount? But….You said but….I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt…”

“My parents found out.”

Belatedly, Curtis took a seat. Clammy hands and a dry mouth made a triple whammy of the sinking feeling in his stomach which had been hitherto a standalone symptom when dread came knocking. He wondered who was going to lower the boom. And the fallout….What would that look like? Was he going to be in Ms. Shin’s database of sex offenders under the sub-heading Deviant Young Males? Curtis shivered and thought, Mr. and Mrs. Kim may wish upon me a fate worse than death by crucifixion, but the law is on my side. Ae-ri is on my side.

Ahn dwae!” Ae-ri yelped.

“What? what’s the—”

What happened next had a precursor; to wit, Curtis thought about quitting varsity football 10 years ago. The benefits were manifold: no more M & M candy sale drives, no more feeling so sore and bruised the day after a game that it even hurt to get up from a seated position, and no more school days that begin and end an hour earlier and two hours later than everyone else’s. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of quitting earlier when Gary provoked him with, “You gonna let him get away with that? I know what happened. You made a move on Phoebe, and instead of settling accounts then and there, Vince drags the issue onto the football field where he conspires with his cousin to put you flat on your back, gasping for air, with an intentionally poorly thrown ball.” Subsequently, on what was supposed to be his last game, Curtis did the unthinkable. On a third and long, he made as if to block, lunging at the blitzing safety who must’ve thought, ‘What lame ass shit was that, 38?’ as he easily swerved past Curtis before homing in on Vince like a cruise missile armed with a nuclear warhead. The sack, a clean hit from the blindside that had Vince seeing stars, made Curtis repeal his decision to quit if only to be a thorn by Vince’s side.  And now, Curtis wondered if Logan would play the role Gary had ten years ago. He was going to have to as there was no one else to confide in. “What the hell happened?“ Logan would ask, and Curtis would tell him how he and Ae-ri were just sitting there in the gazebo, on a bench, when Ae-ri suddenly yelped and got up. Curtis turned only to be met by a slap on his left temple and ear, a slap that would’ve otherwise caught the back of his head.  Curtis got up and faced Mrs. Kim with a slightly bowed head. Unlike Ae-ri, Mrs. Kim had almond eyes, high cheekbones, and rosebud lips. A clavicle-length hair with end curls framed an elliptic face. She had on jeans and a black angora sweater. Peering at Curtis with an intensity equal to a pair of magnifying glasses harnessing the sun’s rays, Mrs. Kim began to lay down the law. Curtis was prohibited from seeing Ae-ri again. Curtis was to give notice at work and leave S. Korea within the month. Curtis was never to speak of this incident as it never happened. The third demand was absurd, but Curtis didn’t doubt that Mrs. Kim could and would make the first and second demands stick and compel complaisance. “Am I understood?” Mrs. Kim asked. Curtis said he did understand, but that he couldn’t give an answer just yet. He needed time to think: two days after which he would get in touch, or if she preferred, he’d await her phone call as Ae-ri has his number. There was no response, just her almond eyes burning with homicidal rage, and Curtis thought, ‘Thank God, Ae-ri takes after her father!’

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Time in a Bottle

Prior to befriending Sung-ho, soccer topped Woo-bum’s list of fun-things-to-do.

Typically, after a thrilling match on TV, Woo-bum would take a pair of socks, roll it up into a ball, and simulate play: He would dribble the ball of socks and pass it to an imaginary teammate who would shoot it at the imaginary goalmouth where the imaginary goaltender would lunge in vain as the ball of socks would triumphantly hit the imaginary back of the net—all within the cozy confines of his house. A few years later, Woo-bum would play the game for real, or as real as it possibly could be when played in the corridor-like streets where caroms off the walls were in play and where forty yards were marked off with a pair of rocks at both ends, for goal posts. Though play would often regress into a scrum, there were moments when Seung-hyun, the slit-eyed curly haired elder, would break away with a deft, angled dribble off a wall and outrun his hapless pursuers before making a fool of the opposing goaltender. This was the invariable and inevitable pattern of play until one, fine day, when swallows darted overhead, signaling spring’s arrival, Woo-bum volunteered to play goaltender.

“Suit yourself,” the team captain said, smiling in astonished disbelief.

Woo-bum assumed his place at goal. Forty yards down, at the other end, his counterpart Um-suk, a slue-footed freak, threatened to boycott today’s match. Um-suk contended that he was always relegated goaltender, that he was sick and tired of it, and that he would no longer stand being taken for a patsy. He demanded to be reassigned as forward or midfielder.

“Don’t be such a cry baby,” his team captain said. “Just play goaltender, for now, and you’ll get your chance to be Pele.”

Laughter echoed up and down the street; Um-suk repeated his threat to boycott the match.

“Suit yourself; see if anyone cares.”

Um-suk boycotted; no one cared.

Play began. As usual, the ball got bogged down in a scrum. As usual, accusations of foul play mingled with shouts of encouragement when the ball squiggled out for the taking.  Incredibly, despite his team being down a man, Seung-hyun corralled the ball, skillfully weaved past two defenders, and bore down on Woo-bum for a shot on goal at pointblank range. It was then the unthinkable happened: Rather than hold his position or creep backwards, Woo-bum sprang forward and coerced Seung-hyun to take his shot before he would’ve liked. The result was a hurried shot that Woo-bum snagged out of the air with authority. For a moment, teammates, both for and against, regarded Woo-bum with eyes agog and mouths agape. For a moment. “Great save,” someone said only to be corrected by someone else who downgraded it to a “good save.” It was only be a matter of time before it would be downgraded to “an instance of luck which we all have now and then.”

Play resumed. By dint of superb scrum play, not unlike ice hockey’s ‘dump the puck in and fore-check’ ploy, Woo-bum’s team achieved a goal that deserved neither comment nor elaboration. A second even uglier goal was scored, and it seemed interest had waned and Woo-bum’s team had secured a 2-0 victory when Seung-hyun chipped an exquisitely lobbed pass to a teammate who had foiled the offside trap with a perfectly timed run. A burst of acceleration insured him the breakaway. Teammates both for and against watched with bated breath. At the threshold, he paused, calibrated his angle of attack, and carved a low skidding shot past Woo-bum’s outstretched limbs. Or so it was universally anticipated.

Woo-bum had made the save, of course, the upshot of which was that people actually lobbied to play goaltender the next time sides were chosen.

Absterge The Podex

What a strange mind Samuel Beckett’s is. But then strange can be the stuff of genius. I just finished my second reading of Molloy, and again, as on my first reading, I have more questions then answers. Is Gaber or Youdi the one to whom Molloy is forced to write while bed ridden? Molloy never meets up with his mother, right? What would compel Lousse to take a derelict like Molloy home to be her companion? Loneliness?! Who is this granny with whom Molloy claims to have lost his virginity with? (Ewwww!) And Jacques Moran…Is he an allegory for the fate of fathers everywhere?

Regardless, as on my first reading, the mellifluous prose kept me going, and for doing so I was rewarded with moments of poetry such as “…in this slow and massive world where all things move with the ponderous sullenness of oxen…” and “…when a fly, flying low above my ash-tray, raised a little ash, with the breath of its wings.” Then there’s Beckett’s amazing vocabulary which he is very generous with and some of which include iodex, thermogene, and anchylosis. My favorites, however, are appended to the title of this post: Absterge the prodex. Look them up, you’ll get a good laugh. I promise you.

Love…the bane of many a good fellow

Charles Swann compares Odette de Crecy to Zipporah, Jethro’s daughter, (depicted above by Boticelli), just prior to realizing that he–Swann who is on good terms with the Prince of Wales and who can have any woman he desires–is actually in love with the low-bred, desultorily educated courtesan, in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Love…what a *(&^  of &*^(#@%$. Still, it makes for a good story, maybe the best stories.