Month: January 2015

An Amari Christmas (or The Pablito Who Stole Christmas)

by Pablo Harris

I.

“Hey T, how’s it going?”

“Hutty! What up man?”

“Oh, just dealing with all this shit that’s about to go down.”

“Yeah, you all right with all this? You ready for it?”

“Yeah, sure, but got a question for you.”

“Shoot.”

“So, what’s up with Pablo? We got this Vegas bachelor party comin’ up and then there’s the big day. You know, my fiance’s getting nervous. She really wants to get a final headcount on this. Last time we talked he was all like ‘yeah, I’ll be there’ but that was two months ago and hasn’t responded since.”

“Yeah? Isn’t he a groomsman?”

“Yeah, s’posed to be. I even convinced Annie to have her friend Lena, Pablo’s favorite UCD Alpha Phi, be his wedding partner.”

“Leee-nnaaa. Shit, that guy owes you.”

“No shit he owes me. He still hasn’t paid me back for a couple of O-Zs of Humboldt’s finest.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, whatever, it’s not about the money. He owes me, owes Annie, owes you for sure, for giving that guy a roof over his head and getting him laid! Last new year’s, remember how he was all moping around because he had to catch his flight back to work in Tibet.”

“Ha! Korea, man.”

“Korea, Tibet, same thing. He was all sad because what, he was leaving that tall, skinny, super-nerdy white girl who spoke Spanish?”

“Yeah, Brooke. But in his defense, she was alright if you’re into that bookworm librarian thing.”

“Yes, we all know he’s got strange taste in strange. I mean, ‘with the first overall pick in the Great Texas Bush League College Porn Draft of 2000, Pablo selects: Women Over 40′. Not even that chicken-licker Elsa was going to touch it with a ten foot dildo. Then traded his second, third, and fourth round picks to move up in the draft to make sure he got Joy of Spexxx?  Who the fuck does that?”

“The worst, real or fantasy, general manager ever.”

“Right. Anyway, you gave him a bottle of Fernet Branca. Annie and I introduced Lena to him. You know the rest.”

“I know, that lucky bastard. And what is it with ‘Frisco, restaurant industry people, and that vile liquor? Fernet to Pablo is like spinach to Popeye. In one shot he went from Dopey the goat to some drunk ass kid on Christmas. Like he just got all the Star Wars cantina scene figures and a Millenium Falcon tambien.”

“So, have you talked to that asshole lately?”

“Yeah, talked with him last weekend but I don’t know what’s up with him. He told me his contract ends at the end of the month but is considering extending his contract there at that, what do you call it, hogwash job he’s got. So, I don’t know, man. He told me some bullshit about how he needs to save some money, wants to move to the Bay but not sure when. So I called him out on this and how his life out there is bullshit and should be back to teaching in Cali. Hell, even his restaurant jobs got to better than what he’s doing now. So, after calling him on that shit he’s shoveling, he admitted: he’s scared of Vegas.”

“What the? Since when?”

“Since the last time he was there for that Christmas. And Heidi.”

*   *   *

December 2009. The last Christmas I spent in the States with my family while I was still bartending in Northern California and about to enroll for my final semester at Cal State. When my maternal grandmother passed before Thanksgiving it was a difficult time for the Herez family.  Especially tough for my mother.

After the plates were cleared, another disappointing trio of Turkey Day NFL games were in the books, and we were approaching the dregs of vintage Graham’s Port, my mom requested the boys turn off the SportsCenter. Even my father and brother were quick to oblige. The TV is never turned off in the Herez house. That’s when I knew what was coming. “Aw shit, here it comes, the intervention, fuck. Now? Not now,” I thought.

She surprised me with an unexpected tack.

“Look, Paul, I know you don’t like Vegas but I don’t want to be here without my mom this year so we’ve decided we’re going to Vegas for Christmas this year. I need the distraction. I don’t want to be here without her.”

“I think this is the worst idea ever.”

“I knew you would say that. But I want this distraction. Your grandmother not being here, I don’t want to be here. And because I know you hate Vegas, I used my Platinum Points to book you a suite at Harrahs. So, if you’ll join us, your room’s already booked. You can take the train down on the 24th to Hanford and Dad and I will pick you up there and you can ride with us.”

“Or I can bring him,” my brother offered. “I’ll pick you up at the Bakersfield Amtrak, bro, and you can catch a ride with me.”

“Does that work for you, mijo,” my mom asked directed at me.

“Not really. I haven’t been home in a while -”

“That’s your own fault,” my brother interrupted.

“Fine. Sure. But I just want to lay on the living room floor next to a Christmas tree, watch some movies, eat some tamales, and be home. And for a family, especially for this family to go to Vegas for Christmas, this is a terrible idea.”

My mom began sobbing so my dad interjected, “Can you just think of someone other than yourself right now.”

Mom continued crying, “ I don’t want to be here at home for Christmas. And now, not only with your grandmother being gone, now one of my boys might not be here to spend Christmas with the family.”

I yielded, “You know, I’m sure it’s not easy letting go of your mother, my grandma, especially at this time of year. But there must be better ways to grieve. But . . . fine. Let me see what flights are available out of Sacto. You’re right. You know I hate this idea, but yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, mijo.”

The afternoon of Christmas Eve at SMF, waiting to board the plane, I read this brief article in an abandoned Time magazine: Best Opening Fiction Lines of All Time. Number one was awarded to Anna Karenina’s first line,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I don’t know anything about happy families but I do believe Tolstoy was onto something. “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Each unhappy  family is unhappy in the grips of its own grief and its vices. For my mom, its Vegas, bingo, and slot machines. For my dad, it’s golf and horse racing. For my brother, its prostitutes. For me, it’s drink.

Three hours later, I touched down at McCarron, grabbed the shuttle to the strip, immediately checked in through the Platinum reception, tossed my backpack and a small duffle of presents on the sofa, and took inventory of the mini fridge and wet bar. Eight dollars for a bottle of Heineken. Twelve dollars for a can of cashews. I’m not a gambler but time to hit the casino.

*  *  *

“What can I get for you?” she asked.

Eyes transfixed by the electronic spinning reels and entranced by the incessant pprrdlulululu-boo, pprrdlulululu-boo and the occasional cha-chinging sound to imitate coins hitting the payout tray, I didn’t even bother to look up to see who‘s taking the order.

Campari soda lime,” I curtly demanded.

“Campari soda lime,” she slowly repeated, logging the order and noting his manner.

While slow playing nickels trying to drink as many as I can with the least damage accrued, she returned a good five minutes later.

“Campari soda lime,” she reiterated while setting a cocktail napkin next to the ashtray and the slot machine.

First I glanced at the just placed high ball glass and followed the trail of a pale dainty retreating hand up a well-toned arm. Over to fleshy mango-shaped breasts stuffing a burgundy spaghetti strapped corset top. Up to sparkling blue eyes that pierced the second-hand smoke framed by curly golden tresses. I was instantly sprung. We locked eyes as she meekly smiled then slightly bobbed her head a few times before averting my gaze as if she just dropped something on the floor.

“Oh, here, this is for you,” putting a fiver on her tray.”                                                                                                                

“Thanks.”

“Thank you.”

Then an audible sigh before she opened with, “So, I got to tell you, my bartender told me ‘look out for that guy’.”

“Look out for that guy? Interesting. Why?”

“He said watch out for that guy because he might be a ‘made man’.”

“Made man, huh?”

“Well, only a ‘made man’ orders a Campari soda lime so you must be in the mafia. Sorry if you’re Italian. Are you Italian?”

“No. Just a fan of the amari, the bitters, and in need of an aperitif.”

“Isn’t Campari a digestif?”

“Actually it’s both. I make my own rules. And if I really was a made man I’d be drinking Averna. Campari’s from Milan, Averna is Sicily.”

“You sound like a made man to me.”

“Would a made man be plugging nickels into a machine at Harrah’s? I mean, if I were ‘made’ I’d be at the high end tables across the strip at Caesar’s, up at The Wynn, or downtown at The Plaza. No offense.”

“None taken. I’d rather be there, too, I guess. But you certainly are bitter.”

“Perhaps.”

“Well then, if you’re not a ‘made man’ then let me guess, you’re in the industry.”

“Yep.”

“So, you a chef, sous, on the line, garde manger?”

“Nah, I’m front-of-the house. I serve, bartend, stuff like that.”

“I see. Cool. Oh, I’m Heidi from San Diego. As you can see,” pointing to the name tag above her perfect left b-cup. “What’s your name? Where you from?”

“I’m Paul. I live, work, go to school in Sacramento.”

“And what brings you here Paul?”

“Well, my family wanted to do something different this year. So here I am, just killing some time before the Christmas Eve family dinner thing in need of a Campari,” before proceeding to drain my glass in three gulps.

“Oh, would you like another?

“Yes please.”

“Alright, I’ll be back.”

This time she promptly returned with a cocktail brandishing a vibrant, deeper hue and continued the inquiry.

“So, where you going for dinner tonight, Paul?”

“Upstairs at The Range.”

“Cool. The Range is really good.”

“Right on. Never been.”

“And Oscar’s working tonight. You should ask for a table in his section. Tell him you’re a friend of Heidi.”

We chatted about California, working in the industry, this and that for a few minutes.

“What’s your plan after dinner?”

“More of the same.”

“Drinking Campari for nickels?”

“Pretty much. I’ll be in need of a digestif.”

“Well, I’ll be around here until one. Come by and say hello when you’re done.”

I slammed another. “Alright then. But hey, Heidi, one for the road.”

“You got it.”

*  *  *

 

I returned around a quarter to one. Waiting for her to return. Preparing for an after dinner nightcap. Heidi sneaked up behind me.

“Any luck tonight?”

“Nuh. Not yet.”

“Well, let me help you change that. My fiance’s bartending at Rio tonight so we’ll meet him around four. So, like I said, I have a fiance but I do have a friend that I think you should meet. My friend Kat just moved here from Hesperia – ”

“You mean Hysteria.”                                                                                                                                                                          

“Oh, you know it then.”

“Yeah, I dated a girl from there once. That place is just a dump in the desert. The locals look like Joshua trees, arms full of spikes.”

Heidi, shaking her head, “Well, yeah, but anyway, you’d like her. She’s cocktailing at Deju Vu but is starting at UNLV this semester in hospitality/restaurant management. She’s at my place now so I can give her a call. And a bunch of us are finishing work here soon. We’re meeting next door for some Christmas cheer at the Imperial Palace then to The Fireside.” She smiled coyly and leaned into my ear teasingly, “And you know, Christmas only happens once a year.” She erected her posture and playfully asked, “So . . . should I call her? Want to come?”

Of course she knew the answer. Of course, I should’ve known better. But after all the preprandial drinks, the Dom, the Rochioli, the Opus, and internally repeating her maxim, all commitments to Christmas Day family obligations were long forgotten.

“Of course,” I answered.

“Great! I’m almost done so let me get you a drink before I clock off and go change real quick. Another Campari, Paul?”

“Nah, J-Dub Black and water, please.”

“Alright then. Now that’s a drink.”

II.

Christmas Day. 2pm. I woke up on the floor of a hotel room that was not mine. Then I saw her sitting there on an angry chair. My mother glaring through moist eyes.

“My God, Paul, I don’t know what to do with you.”

“What do you mean what to do with me? I’m fine.”

“No you’re not! You were supposed to go golfing with your dad and your brother this morning. They couldn’t find you so you’re dad went looking for you. He found you with two, two prostitutes, and a security guard trying to get you in the elevator back to your room. Your dad brought you here. You could barely walk. Your eyes rolling in the back of your head, slurring about Heidi this and Kat that.”

“Prostitutes? No, those are my friends.”

“Those are not your friends. Your friends do not leave you so messed up like this. So you missed golf, we were supposed to have brunch here and open presents and . . . I just don’t know what to do with you. So, you need to sober up and then we’re going to have a talk later. And you need to apologize to your dad when you see him for missing his tee time and for calling him a cock-blocking fag in your drunken stupor.”

“I said that?”

“Uh, yes, and you said worse to me.”

“Really? What did I say?”

“You know, maybe I will remind you sometime but not now. I don’t want to talk to you right now. Why don’t you get up, go back to your room, take a shower, go back to sleep if you need to sleep it off, and maybe we’ll meet up with you later.”

“So where are dad and Vince now?”

“They said they were going to Caesar’s to watch the Lakers game. If you clean yourself up perhaps you can catch them there later.”

“Ok.”

*  *  *

“Hey this is Tim, leave me a message and I’ll call you back.”

BEEP

“Hey, Big T, what up, it’s Paul. I am at the Caesar’s just off the Sportsbook, just pacing around by the elevators, trying to figure out my next move. So . . . maybe you can give me some advice. Answer your phone, damnit! I just need someone to talk to. My parents aren’t talking to me. My brother hates me. So there’s that. Oh yeah, merry Christmas.

Click

With holidaze fading, no family to tend to, I wandered around the Forum and back to the Palace before staggering into Nero’s. I needed a quiet place to just sit and reflect on all that transpired. The lounge was helmed by a friendly, immaculately manicured yet masculine barkeep.

“Hey there, what can I get for you?”

“Hey, I need a glass of white wine, for now. You got a list?”

“Sure. What do you like? Something crisp and lean like a sauvignon blanc or something fuller, richer like a chardonnay? Or perhaps you like something in between like our house white, the Sokol Blosser Evolution from Oregon. It offers a little bit of everything,” slightly lisping but it went undetected since my gay-dar was debilitated from last night’s furious assault to the cranium.

“I see you have Sea Smoke pinot by the glass. Wow, that’s highly allocated and never seen offered by the glass. And for $18 a glass; that’s a deal!”

“Well, I guess you know your stuff then.”                                                                                                                                         

“I love that wine. I say, if California was ever to do what France did and ranked all the towns and vineyards in Burgundy, Sea Smoke vineyard would certainly be a Grand Cru.”

“Oh, for sure. Well would you like a glass of that now?”

“I’ll wait on that. But please, a glass of the house white. I prefer white wine for breakfast. Works better than coffee.”

“Uh, you know it’s almost 5:30pm now.”

“Well, that’s breakfast for me today.”

“Long night, huh?”

“Long night. Long morning.”

“Ooohh, tell me about it.”

I spent the next couple of hours chatting with Gary about the fallout with our nuclear families and our love for our intimate, incestuous work families while I killed a bottle of white before Gary generously poured me a couple of glasses of premium Santa Barbara red, “on me”. Once again, I should’ve known better. Should’ve learned my lesson from the night before. Should’ve known that I was no longer a ‘made man’ to have one’s eye on, to watch out for, but a ‘marked man’, a mark, a target. Like a lost tourist to a pickpocket on Las Ramblas. Like a single straight who had wandered unbeknownst of what happens to a stray at The Asphalt, Flaming Saddles Saloon, or the EndUp: I was the mark.

“Hey Gary, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks for the wine but I should settle up. I got to get to dinner.”

“Alright, here you go.”

On the check was two house whites and one house red. $24. I put $40 in the book and handed it to him.

“Thanks again.”

“Sure. And hey, after dinner, come back for a nightcap. I’ll be here until eleven. Or better yet, meet me hear then and I’ll take you to some bars where only the locals and industry know.”

The service trap was set and felt myself descending into the depths of another bar well.

*  *  *

“So Hutty, sorry to report but I don’t think Pablo’s going to be making this one.”

“Well, fuck him then. Speaking of gay ass Paul, do you think he went out with that guy and did some dirty deeds?”

“I don’t know. And there’s nothing that I can’t get out of him if you give him enough blue agave and smoking greens but he’s been standing pat for years with that fucking cliche; what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Also, he has some gay tendencies like all that Top Chef, art history, wine, Oscar Wilde. And what’s that dirty Spaniard’s name, that director, Pedro Almodovar? Pretty queer. But, you know, I’ve known him since seventh grade. I’ve seen nearly twenty years of his porn collecting habits, there’s some strange shit in there. But it’s all straight. He’s a vagitarian.”

“Ok , but I still wouldn’t put it past him. You know him. You never know what kind of depressing drunken depravity he could get into on a holiday bender.”

“True.”

“Alright, but he’s kind of a faggot for not making it at least to Vegas for the Bachelor Party. And I don’t get he’s still living there with those kimchi-culos. So, what, he’s got a one-way on the yellow bus like all those other losers out there? Is that his thing now?”

“Not that I’m aware of. If he mentions any trim out there its either Kiwis, Canadians, or midwestern girls.”

“Well still, Paul’s cut. I guess you’ll slide into his spot and you just won the bridesmaid sweepstakes.”

“Yeah? Alright then! Thank you, Tibet.”

Advertisements

Nampa, Id

by Eli Toast

I used to pour concrete foundations for homes out in Nampa, Idaho. A one-story culture rising from the agar of I-84; an open-air mega-church with monster trucks and weed-cracked parking lots staffed mostly with overweight freedom lovers swaddled in Looney Toon clothing, pious addicts on foolish errands, and soil working Mexicans. A modest Intermountain Northwest town, leveraged by usurers and strip mall layaways, with broad hissing avenues crusted by pawn shops, car title and payday loan joints, Carpet Barns, and auto parts stores; urban blight decked out in tacky signage. If Nampa were a plate of food it would be an indifferently cooked plate of chicken fried steak and eggs with a cigarette butt smoldering in the eggs.

And on the periphery, on huge plots of rammed and flattened earth, were guys like me who poured concrete foundations for all of the modest, nondescript homes for the not-so-wealthy people who come to live here.

I worked for one of my best friends, Ted, at an outfit called Galactic Concrete Construction. My other boss Mark, was a born again Christian who was forever persecuted by a compelling pornography addiction that ripped him in two. Raised by severe parents who believed in demons from hell and eternal damnation, he was certain porn punched his ticket to an eternity in the lake of fire. He was tangled in an insanely persecutorial double bind that made him weird, intense, and obsessed with saying the word “dildo.”

Then there was John, a general laborer like myself, a half Indian from Yuma who had lost his right index finger to a machine.

I was never any good at the work. On days when I was stoned, hung-over, and suffering from hemorrhoids I was almost worthless. Almost… I could still manage my primary duty of lifting things and moving them to different places. Occasionally, I got to use my hammer and sometimes I would smash my fingers with it. Often in the summer it was 100 degrees by 10:00 a.m., and for an inflamed sphincter that was bad news. At times I could think of nothing more than my swollen, aggravated, bound-tight-as-a-knot-on-a-balloon hemorrhoidal asshole. All of who I was, everything I had ever experienced, and everything I would become… swallowed in that needling singularity of anguish. I would put my head down and plod away in a miserable un-life emerging only for profanity and tobacco.

We all got hemorrhoids from time to time, although John would never admit it. Hemorrhoids in our line of work were about the worst thing a guy could have and still function. They’re not debilitating, but imagine if one morning you woke up and as you were getting ready for work you discovered you had a pulsing, hot sauce soaked cactus growing in your lower rectum. Mark claimed the best thing for hemorrhoids was Ambesol, the toothache medicine, and I believed him, though I’ve yet to try it.

Each day the erratic pop of nail guns being set loose on innocent lumber was constant. In the distance, backhoes and dozers dug holes and moved dirt, roiling thin clouds of khaki dust that loitered around us throughout the day. The sorry fuckers who framed houses were bony, impossibly sunburned men with violent, inky black tattoos, crawling over the skeletons of new homes, forcing lumber into involuntary positions, and full of vile dreams.

Occasionally Ted and I went over to John’s apartment after work to smoke weed and drink a few beers. John’s dim and swampy apartment was a two bedroom affair steeped in soiled clothing and broken toys. The massive television took up half the space in the living room, and, below it, on the floor, were Play Stations, Nintendos, DVD’s, and wires splayed out like the guts of a slashed television belly. The kitchen was a filthy display of fast food litter and dishes smeared with highly processed, low quality sauces. It smelled like cigarette ash, meth, wet skin, brackish carpet, and boldly organic compost.

John never seemed comfortable talking about hemorrhoids, or, masturbation, (both firmly in my wheelhouse) but he always wanted to talk about fucking his wife, whom we all hated. John’s wife Elaine (or whatever) would come around at lunchtime in a chronically fucked-up root beer-colored Ford Econo-Line packed with all six kids. The kids were filthy little buggers, but nothing was inherently wrong with any of them. Nevertheless they were totally doomed; doomed to a life of boring episodes in the Auto Parts stores, unable to find, or, unable to afford exactly what they need. Or worse. At least that’s what we all thought.

“Sometimes I wonder how people keep going like that,” Mark would wonder.

“Dudn’t know any better.”

John and his wife did quite a bit of meth. They weren’t stabbing babies yet, but they were basically always under its sway. These were the days when meth was everywhere, especially in a place like Nampa, Id.

The last time I went home I met John, by chance, at the Cactus Bar in Boise, a bar where I once witnessed a man getting raped in the men’s bathroom. (Seriously depressing story. It was Ted’s birthday and we were getting drunk, on, like, a Wednesday afternoon. I go to the bathroom and intrude on two guys engaged in anal sex. One of the dudes is so drunk he’s barely conscious [obviously he’s the one taking it up his keister]. Afterwards, that guy, the barely conscious one, manages to make his way back to the bar where he passes out and shits his pants. Eventually the police were called to take him away. The other dude sticks around like nothing happened, and at one point even offered to suck my dick. It’s likely he was high on meth as well.)

Anyway, John looked like shit. His teeth had become soap-soft and jagged like tiny black spires eroded by the winds of meth. He explained to me that he was broke and being evicted from the trailer he was living in. Came right out and fessed up to being broke. It takes balls to admit you’ve failed to manage a stable life. It’s like admitting something fundamentally embarrassing, like you can’t read, or tie your own shoes. When it’s confessed with no self-abasing shame, it comes across, at least to me, as kind of endearing. Small town America is famous for this kind of openness.

He had quit the concrete racket and was working as a street hot dog vendor (Gator Dogs) that sold sausages to late night drunks–keeping the coolers stocked, chopping onions, in charge of general tidiness and what not. Probably 45 years old, nice as could be, too. I suppose it’s a gradual wearing down of one’s expectations, a gradual acceptance of one’s lot. Surely there must be some hope involved, a belief that things will get better with time.  But when it comes to meth addiction time isn’t on your side.  If you’re at black tooth stage I’m afraid things are fairly un-do-overable.

I think about them, the meth addicts, the ones destined to be blown away by the shit, the gas huffers and glue sniffers, the Indians you see on COPS caught huffing gold spray paint behind blighted junipers in strip mall parking lots, beneath the stark “this is what you’ve become”  high wattage bleach of sodium bulbs. Those who occupy the lowest rungs of society’s ladder, these are the people whom I look at and ask myself: how do they do it? Carry on, I mean. Don’t they feel as hard? Because if it were me, I’d… I don’t know… I don’t know what I’d do.

All this was in my 20’s. I’m older now and live halfway across the planet and the most difficult part of my job is the stairs. I still see Ted from time to time when I go home. These days Ted is a rancher in central Idaho. Last time I was there we rode horses and four-wheelers through his pastures. Neither of us have any idea what Mark is up to. I have no idea why, but I think he lives in Spokane with a god fearing wife whom he hides from when he can. Maybe he still pours concrete and has a medicine cabinet full of Ambesol. Who knows?

Deez Nuts: On Privilege, Apologies, and Cho Hyun-ah

by Chris Tharp

I have to admit to revelling in the ongoing drama of “Nutgate,” in which then Korean Airlines vice president for cabin service Cho Hyun-ah threw a weapons grade conniption when, on a flight from New York to Seoul, an attendant in first class had the audacity to serve her macadamia nuts in the packet instead of upon a pristine plate. Not content just to dress the offending stewardess down, she unleashed a torrent of abuse upon the whole staff and ordered the taxiing plane back to the gate, where she had the chief purser ejected for dereliction of duty. Almost as puzzling as Ms. Cho’s seemingly cruel and petty outburst is the fact that pilot went along with her demand, breaking aviation safety law in a pathetic attempt to save his own ass. He knew better than to defy HER will. After all, her father, Cho Yang-ho, is the chairman of Hanjin, the conglomerate that owns Korean Airlines. Hyun-ah was  backed up by serious, hard power. If she was so willing to bounce the purser over a nut discrepancy, what fate could await a pilot who disobeyed a direct order from Her Highness? Knowing his place on the strata of Korean social power, the pilot bowed down his head and turned that plane the fuck around.

This story quickly went viral and is still being covered worldwide. Part of it is the absurdity of the narrative: Such a brouhaha over nuts, really? The whole affair seemed so silly and random, but the bullying behavior of the central antagonist colored it with a much darker hue. It shone a light on the seeming untouchability of the 1%, that not only do the uber-rich have all the money, but they consider themselves above the law. This especially tapped into the zeitgeist here in South Korea, where people have been watching the families of the nation’s chaebol (conglomerates) act like modern day aristocrats for decades now. Enough was enough, and it didn’t take long before liberals and conservatives alike were calling for Cho Hyun-ah’s head on a pike.

There is more than just the will to punish bad behavior going on here. We love a good villainess and are very willing to cast Ms. Cho in that role. Throughout my lifetime the media has periodically turned its lens onto those out-of-touch, wealthy women that we love to hate, fire-breathing female figures who live in diamond palaces and run roughshod over the help. Remember Leona Helmsely, aka “The Queen of Mean”? Zsa Zsa Gabor’s infamous slapping of the traffic cop? Or the racist outbursts Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Shott? Cho Hyun-ah is just another notorious woman crowned with the time-honored title of Megabitch. The fact that she’s Asian only ratchets it up to another level. Now she is no longer just a Megabitch, but a full-fledged Dragon Lady. I haven’t seen a real-life Dragon Lady elicit such levels of vitriol since the days of Imelda Marcos. I wonder how many pairs of shoes Cho Hyun-ah owns?

dragonlady

None of this should come as too much of a surprise. After all, Ms. Cho’s English name is ‘Heather.’ Heather Cho. Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s can testify that pretty much any girl name Heather was considered to steeped in venom. This notion was so widespread at the time that they ended up making a hit movie about it. I wonder how Ms. Cho came upon that name. Did she choose it herself? Or, more likely, was it assigned to her by an English teacher who knew what made her tick?

Teacher: So… Hyun-ah. What English name would you like?

Hyun-ah: Hello teacher… I want to be called ‘Sunny.’

Teacher: ‘Sunny?’ Hmmm… let’s see… I don’t know… I see you as more of a ‘Heather,’ m’kay?

One thing I like about Korea is that if you’re a public figure and you really fuck up, you have crawl out in front of the whole nation and perform a giant mea culpa. There is no stonewalling, no subterfuge, no hiding behind layers of lawyers and publicists. You are forced to put one foot in front of the other and hike the walk of shame in front of a battalion of camera-wielding journalists, where, voice a-trembling, you repeatedly whisper ‘I’m sorry’ into a wall of microphones and then bow. I think this ritual of public contrition plays an essential role in a person’s rehabilitation while also serving the public’s need to stick the offending celebrity in the pillory and launch volley after volley of virtual tomatoes. Cho Hyun-ah did this just days after the whole incident went public, and something about it was immensely satisfying. There she was, in her stylish black jacket and grey scarf, strands of loose hair rakishly blowing over her seemingly makeup-free face, while she mumbled her apologies in a barely-audible sigh. The rest of us sat there smugly while she choked down spoonful after spoonful of steaming, fecal-flavored bibimbap for all the world to see. I was absolutely enraptured and never wanted it to end.

bow

What’s even better was that her dad, Cho Yang-ho, apologized too. One of the richest men in the nation hauled himself in front of the cameras and confessed his heartfelt regret that he didn’t do a better job in raising her. I was both impressed and dumbfounded. Here we had a father taking responsibility for the behavior of his grown, 40-year old daughter, basically admitting to the fact that he had overindulged her growing up, recognizing that this may just have some bearing on her actions today.

Can you imagine if this happened back home? If the parents of our most awful citizens came forward and apologized on behalf of their spawn?

“On behalf of our family and the whole nation of Canada, I’d like to offer my most sincere apologies. It’s time I faced the fact that my son Justin is indeed a malignant, no-talent puddle of shit. We are very sorry for encouraging him to go into music, but even sorrier for having him in the first place.”

“We’d like to express regret for buying our daughter Paris a Caribbean island for her 8th birthday. We should have just gone with the pony.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have paved the way for Jr. to go into politics. It wasn’t prudent of me do to so, since it resulted in two illegal wars and a gutted economy for the benefit of his cronies. I’d like to apologize, but… screw it, let’s just keep blaming it all on the negro.”

The whole notion of parents apologizing for their adult kids is very Korean. Most Koreans take this idea of collective responsibility very seriously. North Korea takes it to the extreme, where several generations of one family will be thrown into the gulag over the supposed sins of just one member. But I’ve seen it here in South Korea, first hand. In 2007 a student massacred 32 people in a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech in America. Early reports told us that the shooter was Asian, but for some time his exact ethnicity was unknown. Koreans were tight lipped on the story, presumably praying inside that the murderer was anything but Korean. When it turned out that he was indeed a Korean kid, for days I was subjected to deeply felt apologies from Korean friends, acquaintances, and students, with many of them directly apologizing on behalf of their entire nation.

“I am so sorry he was Korean. We are so ashamed.”

“It’s okay,” I’d say. “You don’t need to apologize. Really.

“But I am sorry.”

“What? Did you send him money to buy bullets?”

vt_killer_nbc

Please Japanese. Please Japanese. Please Japanese.

Cho Hyun-ah was detained on December 30th and is now holed up in a cold, South Korean jail. She has been indicted on five different charges and faces up to 15 years in prison for her nut meltdown. Her father stripped her of all her positions within Hanjin’s companies, and seems very willing to sacrifice her onto the pyre of public outrage. I wonder how long it is before they brand the word BITCH into her back with a hot iron and force her walk to walk naked through the freezing streets of Seoul. She’s getting her commupance and then some, but I have to admit that I actually feel sorry for her. The satisfaction that so many of us get by knowing that she is suffering is not an attractive human emotion. It’s ugly, because at times we’ve all been terrible people. Our willingness to spit in Ms. Cho’s disgraced face runs counter to Christ’s “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone,” which you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize as one of his finest moments. That was also a situation involving a very unpopular woman. Hmmm… I sense a pattern here.

Spurned by the public, fired from her jobs, abandoned by her father, facing hard time… what’s a former heiress to do? Well she’ll have to serve whatever sentence is handed down, but when she comes out, I have a business idea I’d like to pitch her way: I think she should open an S & M dungeon. Just picture it: The whole thing is done up like the first class cabin of a jumbo jet. She is dressed in a skin-tight PVC catsuit, along with an Nazi SS cap and patch over one eye. She sits, legs crossed, in an airline seat and carries a bullwhip. The slave is lead in on a leash. He wears a chief purser’s uniform with the whole of the crotch cut out. A leather gimp mask covers his face. A ball gag occupies the cavity of his mouth. A butt plug in the shape of a miniature Boeing 747 is rammed deep into the recesses of his ass. In his trembling hands is a pack of macadamia nuts. At Madam Cho’s feet is a plate made of the purest white porcelain.

“It puts the nuts on the plate.”

*CRACK*

“It puts the nuts on the plate.”

*CRACK*

“PUT THE NUTS ON THE MOTHERFUCKING PLATE!!!”

This works for me. Maybe it will for her as well. After all, doesn’t everyone deserve a shot at redemption?

The Last Soju Factory

by Fred Colton

Journal Entry: 12/31/2015

What we know now is that Patient Zero likely came from Seoul. Probably a chaebol salaryman, the experts say, who reported to work with a severe flu. Of course he did; Koreans only skip work if they’re dead. And that day that’s exactly what they did. Because on that day, this salaryman took a flight from Incheon to Hong Kong International and coughed in a crowded elevator. Then every person on that elevator boarded a different flight and flew off to different countries.

Fourteen hours later the bodies were piled in the streets.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Just twelve months ago it was the end of 2014, a good year by most measures. I was in the fourth quarter of my rookie year in Korea and had just re-upped my contract for a second round. My friends are I were young kings, getting paid an absurd wage to be white and speak English for four hours a day. Perfect fit for a loser like me. And so it goes in Korea: “just one year” always turns into “just one more year.” In my case, my school, gym, café, restaurant, and corner store were all within a paintball shot of each other on the same road. You could get drunk off soju for less than the cost of a one-way bus pass. Comfort zone—you goddamn bet. Some friends and family said I should leave, but I ignored them. It was either this life or returning to my old job formatting spreadsheets at a mid-level corporation in Anytown USA.

But then it all ended.

I woke up on the first day of the Apocalypse and had just enough time to read the score on my smartphone before the feed cut out. Mankind was on the ropes. They were saying said it was one of these upstart super-viruses NPR was always running stories about. A highly-evolved strain with an incubation period of mere seconds. Drugs couldn’t stop it or even slow it down; it was Kryptonite for the common man. Planes were falling out the sky and entire apartment blocks had been gutted by orange plumes of fire as unattended dinners burned up on stoves.

But there was still more bad news yet. Because while there were bodies piled up from Portland to Patagonia—there were none in Pyongyang.

Today was the day the isolationist North Koreans cashed in their chips. They were the only uninfected nation on the planet. With every soldier on the DMZ dead the border was now as open as a 7-11. Entire battalions of North Korean infantry were just strolling through Panmunjom like it was Costco. I was raised on James Bond and Michael Bay and so my first thought was: guns.

I put on my balaclava in case the virus was airborne and mounted my bike. My destination: the ROK Army installation two kilometers up the road from my villa in northern Incheon. I had to juke the stalled busses and corpses on the way. The bodies had red eyes, like they’d cried themselves to death. I found the compound abandoned and vaulted the rusty fence in the back. I rolled and stood up to find myself staring down the barrel of a K2 assault rifle braced in the hands of a man with a face so weathered it looked like bulletproof dragon hide.

Jackpot, I thought. It was Lee Chang-ho. Of course Lee Chang-ho had survived thus far, he was the toughest nut in the bushel. He’d been part of the Korean contingent that had fought with the US in Vietnam—a war the anti-communist forces had only lost because Lee Chang-ho had been too young to be there for the start of it. Now he was the vice-principal at my middle school, but only because he needed something to do all day besides ride the Seoul metro nonstop, like all the other ajeossis. He was 72 now and the Office of Education had told him he was too old to work; he had told them to go fuck themselves.

Anyway, he’d had the same thought I had: guns.

Lee Chang-ho didn’t shoot me; my eyes weren’t red. He tossed me a surgical mask and motioned for me to follow. He told me to keep quiet, that he would beat me to death with his rifle stock if I made any extraneous noise. I got the feeling that was the only phrase he knew in English. I picked up a K2 of my own and filled a backpack with mags and we low-crawled through the scrub and ended up four klicks west at a Jinro factory in a massive clearing off Yeonhui-dong. Jinro, as in the soju brand.

It was the last day of Chuseok.


A soju factory. A good place to go out, really, if you had to pick one.

“They will come here.” Lee Chang-ho loosened his tie and scanned the trees. “The Northerners. Like us, they love soju. They will come here, and here is where we will kill them all.”

Oh, Christ. He was still fighting the Vietnam War. He was still that seventeen year-old kid crawling through the elephant grass in Khe Sanh with a seven-inch blade between his teeth. He’d brought me here to shoot, not drink. He’d pick a fight with the Korean People’s Army and I was going to get skewered in the crossfire.

But you know, it actually wasn’t so bad. The battles were essentially nonevents; every day or two a North Korean patrol would wander up to the factory gates hoping to scoop up soju for their platoon and Lee Chang-ho and I would cut them down and bury the bodies.

We bonded. Over the weeks we achieved native-level proficiency in each other’s languages and got lit up off the green stuff as we lamented that everyone we’d even known and loved was now rat feast. My shooting—three round bursts to the head—endeared me to him. That’s what a decade of Halo gets you, I guess.

There were some glowing moments of cross-cultural connection and newfound understanding. One day he told me, “You know, I used to hate all you expats. I thought you were like the rest of them, just a talentless schmuck who came to my country because he couldn’t find a decent job in his own. But you’re all right.”

I thought we were needling each other, since he’d said exactly what I was. So I said in return, “And I thought you were just a humorless workaholic by day and an alcoholic by night,” I told him. “But you’re all right, too.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “How was I not all right before?”


It was New Year’s Eve when the North Korean brass finally figured out there were two holdouts in the Incheon Jinro factory. We were down to our last pallet of soju. Lee Chang-ho and I toasted each other, slapped in our last mags of K2 rounds, and got to work.

Artillery blew off the roof and I took a sniper round through the shoulder. This was the end. Lee Chang-ho’s weapon ran dry but he fought on, improvising Molotov cocktails out of soju bottles and strips of his blazer and shot-putting them out at our attackers. As my hands went numb I heard a sound like a buzzsaw coming from the skies. Just as the black faded in I saw a triangular shadow cut across the factory’s courtyard.


Now I’m writing this on a medical ship off the coast of Okinawa.

Lee Chang-ho and I were saved by a rag-tag group of UN commandos who’d gotten their hands on an A-10 Warthog from Osan Air Base. They staged a flyby and used the jet’s autocannon to rip up the surging North Korean offense. So—Happy New Year to us. It’s almost midnight. Hm, crazy what a difference a year makes.

The doctor relayed to me some good news: that my hometown in the American Northeast was one of the many pockets that survived the outbreak unscathed; they’d gotten a solid quarantine in place early. The US, at least, had had a good practice round with the Ebola scare of ’14.

But I can’t go home, because he also had bad news: I’m about to die. Not from my bullet wound, but rather from a severely inflamed liver. I’ll be lucky to see the first dawn of 2016.  He said that, according to the X-rays, my two years of heavy drinking were the culprit. I guess that’s what you get when you move to a land where you can get drunk for less than the price of a one-way bus pass. Well, goddamnit. This is it, I’m paying it now—the price of the good life.

Korea, man. I should have left when I had the chance.