gambling

One Shining Moment: March Madness, Epilogue

 

By Pablo Harris

3am was the loneliest time for Paul on the deserted streets amidst the hundreds of high-rise condos in Myeongji New Town. But it was there, in those late nights/early mornings, that he always felt a contented kind of loneliness. So he walked down to the Family Mart, dropped W12,000 on a calling card that would give him 47 minutes to call the West Coast and cracked a tall boy of Cass. He walked down to the water and sat on a concrete wall along the estuary of the Nakdong and began to dial.  

A growly voice answered with a simple, “Hell-low?”  

“Hey, Big T, it’s Pablo. What up, man?”  

“Ehrmm, yeah, what’s up man?”  

“Not up to much, just checking on you, man. It’s been a while.”  

“Yeah, it’s been a while. But, yeah, I’m good.”  

“Cool. You know, just checking, wondering; how’d the rest of Hutty’s bachelor party, Vegas weekend go?”  

“Ah shit, man. Yeah, I told you that Raj ordered up a couple of kind Vagitarian Delight pies to Hutty’s suite, yeah?”  

“Yes you did.”

“Ah, Ginger, yeah, we would’ve had to restrain you from her.” 

“Yeah you told me that, too.”

“Shit, I know I called you from the Caesar’s sportsbook but I don’t know what we talked about. I just know sittin’ there all day, bettin’, drinkin’, and watching all those games, hoping to hit a parlay.  And with all the pony madness going on. It’s a fucking beautiful strange magic. Wish you were there, brotha.”  

“I can imagine the magic, the nervous energy which turns to excitement in direct proportion with how many bloodies and Heinekens are drunk, then the bitterness after buying a few Jame-os because a piddly exacta finally came in and the parlay hasn’t been totally blown yet and you think your luck has changed. And here comes the heat streak but no dice Chino, ‘colder than a well-diggers ass’. Yeah, March Madness and ponies, I’m sure that’s pretty cool and if I was there with all you guys, all that action, all those titty balls, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. But, actually, I did a little gambling of my own that weekend.”

“Oh yeah. Tell me about it.”

* * *

The road out of Tongyeong was at a standstill. Paul and Ellie both felt chills from the palpably frozen silence. After what seemed like hours, Ellie finally broke the ice.

“It’s going to take over three hours to get home. And I just want to go home.”

“Well, yeah, but we’re stuck here. Maybe then… Maybe we should talk about what happened at lunch?”

“I don’t know. Why? Why did you snap at me like that? You were really mean and I’m so foolish for thinking that you really cared.”

“Look, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I snapped. At first, I was excited to hear my boy call me but then it sent me on a weird one. Big T was giving me shit for not being at this bachelor party and not being in this wedding coming up. And then, well, I feel remorse for not being there last month when his father died. And where was I last year when my Aunt Cecelia, my favorite aunt, passed away? Sometimes, I can’t be there for my family and my best friend when they need me and it eats me up. I don’t know how to deal with it. I either deal with grief and regret by drinking on the quiet or lashing out at someone and I’m sorry for that. And maybe I freaked out because I’m scared of falling for you and don’t know when I’m going home again because I’m stoked here. With you. In Busan. In Korea. And my life here. I don’t know how to deal with these conflicts and, even worse, don’t know how to deal with happiness.”

Ellie unclasped the belt and leaned over, placed her hand on his knee, and kissed his neck three times. She smiled and comfortably retreated to her seat.

“Yeah, sweetheart, let’s get home, make out, and make up.”

“Yeah, but this Sunday traffic is the worst. I told you It’s going to take over 3 hours to get home.”

“Nah, this will break soon, it’s gotta break soon, right?”

“I think it’s going to take a few hours to get home.”

“Nah, relax, it’ll break.”

“Do you wanna bet on it?”

“Yeah, Ellie, didn’t know that you were a gambler but, sure. Let’s bet.”

“Ok, how should we do it?”

“Well, maybe an ‘over-under’ bet?”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you pick a time, like say, 2 hours in traffic, and then I bet whether we’ll be in traffic for over 2 hours or under 2 hours, if I’m right, I win. If I choose wrong, you win.”

“Ok, but how about you pick the time and I pick over or under?”

“Ok, I say we are going to be stuck in this jam for one hour.”

“We are definitely going to be in traffic for over an hour, you are going to lose my friend, I pick ‘over’.”

“Ok, bet’s on.”

“How do we know when traffic’s break and someone has won and lost?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll just know.”

About 15 minutes went by, they’d moved maybe 3 miles or so, Paul asked: “You know, we never said what we’re playing for, like what do I get if I win?”

“Well, whatever you want.”

“Let me be clear,  ‘whatever I want’?”

“Yeah, and I get whatever I want when I win.”

“Wow, you are a gambler, Babe.”

“Maybe. I am Korean, you know.”

“Great. Now move out of the way you mother fuckers!”

“Paul, jeez.”

“Sorry, uh, I don’t like to lose.”

“Either do I but you don’t have to yell at these people. Anyway, they’re not going anywhere and we’re not going anywhere for a long time.”

“Son of  whores,” Paul swore dejectedly under his breath.

“I heard that. Anyway, what do you want if you win?”

“Do you really have to ask?”

“Really? Guys are so simple, come on.”

Paul just shrugged and nodded.

“Well, what do you want if you win?”

“I don’t know, but it’s going to be nasty.”

“Hell yeah!”

“No, not like that. I can’t pick anything sexual because you’ll just like it. It’s going to be nasty as in really mean, nasty.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“I don’t know yet, I got to think about it. How about at 4:30 we’ll say what will be our prizes.”

“Good idea, I suppose I should try thinking a bit instead of just going with the usual go-to.”

“What’s your usual go-to?”

“Tell you at 4:30.”

Another fifteen minutes go by, another 3-5 miles, then Ellie inquired about the prize: “So what is it you want if you win?”

“Well, I decided I can’t just go with my go-to blowjob with -”

She interrupted, a bit perturbed, “Come on! I just gave you a blow job yesterday, I give you blowjobs all the time!”

He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Ok, maybe not all the time but I’m not shy about it either.”

“Fair enough. You are right and that’s why I decided I can’t just choose a blowjob for this victory but you didn’t let me finish what I was going to say: a blowjob with your glasses on.”

What he really wanted to request as his reward was a facial on her glasses a la jizzonmyglasses.com but figured it’s too early in whatever you call this relationship to go for that.

“Jeez, do glasses really matter that much to you?”

“We’ll discuss that later. Back to the issue at hand. So, like I was saying, I couldn’t go with the usual because you did such a good job of taking care of me yesterday and I thought about making you dress up and do something special for my birthday -”

“Dress up how?”

“Haven’t figured it out yet. But then I thought it’s my birthday, I shouldn’t have to use my capital from winning a bet on my birthday.”

“True, it’s your birthday, it’s your day and it only happens once a year.”

“Then I thought about making you spend the night with me tonight because you’ve never slept with me on a school night and last night was great and I just ate a ton of raw fish and oysters this weekend, you know what that does to me -”

“All right, tell me already, come on!”

“Do you know ‘Spanish-style’?

After about 45 white-knuckle, sweaty-palm nervous minutes, Paul saw the freeway split: one way going up through the middle of the country through Daejeon to Seoul, the other, a veer to the right onto the Namhae Highway to Jinhae, Masan, Busan, up the coast to the DMZ. As he hit the on-ramp he got over 40km for the first time in three-quarters of an hour. 46 minutes after the clock had started, he was doing 120km.

She conceded. Paul raised one finger in the air and triumphantly proclaimed, “Winner, Winner, baby-oiled breasts for dinner!”

“So, Spanish-style, uh, does that mean, like, titty fuck?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t like my breasts. My mom says they’re too big because she says I’m fat.”

“Ridiculous. Just because a tall, curvy girl in all the right places gets judged for somehow being overweight? Bullshit.”

“And, really, that’s what you want for your birthday?”

“Indeed!”

“Such a boob guy! But I’m glad you are.”

* * *

Big T sarcastically replied to Paul, “That’s great, Pablo. And I thought I was a big winner because I left Vegas only down a couple hundy.”

“Ha!”

“And now you’re going to do some perverted shit to this poor girl. I know you, you sick fuck. I fucking hate you now more than ever.”

“Yep. I understand.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

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March Madness

by Pablo Harris

010 or 051. All calls he ever received here always began with these prefixes. So when 006-180-9951-0299 flashed on the vibrating LG in his palm, he didn’t quite know what to think. 006 followed by eleven other digits he didn’t recognize? It  must be from abroad. Thinking the worst, he was expecting to hear some tragic news from back home. Why else would anyone call direct from the US to the ROK?

“Excuse me, I got to take this, Babe,” pardoning himself before stepping through the heady smoke of grilled flesh and cigarettes and the maze of low-lying tables to the door.

*  *  *

“Hello?”

Odelay, Pablocito! Pinche cabron! You should be here. Fuck.”

“Big T, no way! What the, I mean, of course there’s the emails and the Skypes but no one has ever called me from the States. I didn’t think, other than Moms, didn’t think that anyone had my number.”

“You can run but you can’t hide, cabron. You may have dodged a bullet here or there, ran from Bad Michelle, evaded the IRS, but not from us vato.”

“Alright, ha, shit, man. Well, how you doin’? What’s happening?”

“I’m fuckin’ good, brotha. Well, other than some serious fuzz and shampoo effect going on after last night, having fun, man. I got so buzzed out last night couldn’t even count to 21 anymore, would just stare at the shoe waiting for it to shuffle again and make that kind sound. You know that fffllit-ffflliit-ffflliit-ffflliit-ffflliit-flit.Vegas1.jpg

“Oh, yeah, you must be in Vegas for Hutty’s bachelor party, huh?”

“Hell yeah, man. And you should fucking be here, too!”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, son a bitch man, pit boss came over and asked me to leave. Sucked because we had the whole wedding party on this table. Byrdie, Worm, Chunk, Lung-er, Raj, having a good time, man. Raj is all suited up, clawing at anything that passed by, bringing bitches over to party with us, pretending he’s all Vince Vaughn Swingers and shit. You know how that guy is. He’s a jackass but he knows how to do it up and damnit if he doesn’t smoke some righteous weed. And he paid for last night’s entertainment.”

“True. Wait, what was last night’s entertainment? Where’d you go; Déjà Vu, Olympic Gardens, or my favorite, Spearmint Rhino?”

“Nah, man, in house! We got the Vagitarian Delight delivered up to Hutty’s suite, two of ‘em.”

“There were two of them? Damnit! I thought Hutty insisted on no strippers at the bachelor party?”

“Come on, man, you think Raj is going to let that fly. No dice, Chino. And, shit man, you would have loved one of them. Red hair, kind of petite, natural, came in wearing glasses-”

“You’re making this up.”

“Nah, man, truth. I’ll send you a picture. You can find her ad online. Her name is Ginger, of course.”

“What about the other one?”

“Uh, she was ahh-ight. Good, good enough. You wouldn’t have liked her, though. Blonde, tanned, nice body, big fake tits, a little butterfly tramp stamp, of course. Your average SoCal/Vegas slut. I forget what her name was, something like Jasmine or Devin. But, what the fuck man, where the fuck are you?”

“Um, uh, just finishing up lunch, in this town called Geoje, driving back home. Where you at exactly?”

cp-21.jpg

“Where am I? Come on, man, it’s Saturday night in March. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten? Where your shit began, where you should be now, where you taught us all how to gamble, how to drink, cocktail waitresses, hooker shoes, all the important shit in life, man.  Caesar’s sportsbook, Bitch!”

“Uh, nice.”25madn600.1.jpg

“Chuck you, Farley, you don’t even know. Nice? Damn, what’s happened to you? It’s Saturday, Caesar’s man, sportsbook! It’s March Madness here, man. There’s games ‘til like midnight, mad action, and they’re running late at Hollywood Park tambien. I know you like them ponies. On one side of the ‘book 30 screens. We got UNC, UCLA, Duke, ‘Zags, ‘Zona, and everybody is going crazy for every Butler basket, looking for another Cinderella. On the other side is that ding-a-ding-ding, ‘And they’re off!, ‘And down the stretch they come!’ Your peoples, all hunched over little desks drinking scotch and bloodies, crunching numbers. Old men jumping around with rolled up newspapers in their hands, shaking their fists; it’s magic I tell you. We’re all looking to cash that ticket, man. Your peoples looking for the Daily Deuce.”

“That would be the Daily Double.”

“Right. What did I say?

“Daily Deuce.”

“Right. Shit. Like my parlay this afternoon. But that’s ok, we still got a dozen games to go. I’m going to cash out a parlay today, hit the tables, then, fuck. Raj is pushing for us to go to one of them gay ass clubs, but whatever, he’s getting the cover. Anyway, what are you doing? Where are you?”

“Geoje.”

“What’s a Geoje?”

“It’s this little island in the south. Ellie and I came down here for the weekend, get out of our claustrophobic little town for a while.”

“Ellie’s that girl you mentioned before, right? That China girl you work with?”

“Yes, my Korean teaching assistant.”

“Teaching assistant? Your teaching assistant butters your corn? That’s some Mad Men shit, yo. That doesn’t sound so bad, I guess. But still, you should be here. Oh Shit! I didn’t tell you the best part about last night, the kind deal, the 1-3-5.”

r19.jpg

“What’s the 1-3-5?”

“After the double-dong show, you know, a la Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream, these girls offer to go back to our rooms if anyone is interested in a ‘1-3-5’: one hundred for a hand job, three for a blow, five for a bang.”

“What did you opt for?”

“The do-it-yourself with help from the spank bank.”

“What? What are you doing in Vegas then, man? You should go to Yellowstone if all you want is Old Faithful. Terrible.”

“Ha-Ha-Ha, Pablo, but I’ll tell you what’s terrible; you should be here. You should’ve been at this bachelor party last night and you should be standing next to your boy in this wedding coming up, man. You know it’s true. Fuck, now I’m getting pissed.”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t. If you know, then why the fuck are you over there?”

“Look, can we talk about this later? I got to go, we got to get back on the road, get home.”

“This is your home, Bitch!”

“Hey, have fun out there, bro, but take it easy. I don’t want to hear that you ended up in the drunk tank out by McCarron like the last time.”

“Take it easy? Are you kidding me? You, of all people, are telling me to take it easy? For nearly 20 years I’ve had to fireman carry your drunk ass out of parties, out of bars. Or keep frat boys from pounding your face because you’re playing grab-ass with their ladies. Or had to put up with your moping ass on my couch for months every time you left your old lady and – “

“Yeah, well, maybe that’s why I left.”

“Or maybe you left because you are too much of a pussy to get a real job and tough it out like the rest of us. You want to teach some Chinaman’s kids instead of your Godson. Or your friends’ kids back home, whatever, man. I got your back whatever you want to do, do what you got to do, but don’t forget where your home is, who you’re talking to, and tell me to take it easy.”

“You’re right. I apologize. Have fun. I should’ve left it at that.”

“Damn right, I’m right.”

“Look, I got to go. Thanks for calling. It’s good to hear you all are together, having a good time. Say what up to the guys for me, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, halftime’s over anyway. I guess I’ll talk to you later, Paul.”

*  *  *

He lit a cigarette, took a few long, deep drags, before chucking it down onto the pavement in frustration. No one ever called him by his Christian name. Walking back inside the galbi joint, he feigned a smile to the supple young woman sitting cross-legged on a straw mat, beaming up at him.

“Who was that?”

“My buddy Big T.”

“Cool! Is he coming to visit?”

“Um, uh, I don’t know.”

“I hope so. I hope your best friend comes to visit and I get to meet him. You talk about him so much I feel like I already know him. How is he?”

“Fine.”

“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure? You .  .  .”

“I said I’m fine.”

“Well, I hope you said hi for me?”

“Why would I do that? You’ve never met him, he’s never met you. What’s the point? Why would I say ‘hi’ for you?”

“I just thought that . . . after this weekend . . . I just thought that . . .”

“Thought what?”

“I thought that we were . . . After this weekend . . . We spent the weekend in Geoje together . . . The two of us . . . I guess I thought . . .”294787_120103112430128_STD.jpg

She slunk her head in her lap for a few seconds before springing up and rushing out the door. He threw back his glass of Hite, grabbed the check and paid the ajumma. He met Ellie at the rented sedan and they drove off. Silently they crossed the bridge to the mainland, her virtue left behind on the island, sunk in a seaside love motel. And his confidence, the certainty which he once had when he made the decision to pass on a sure thing, when he decided to fold a winning hand and throw in all the cards in for another draw, abruptly jolted and rattled. The gilding of an inchoate engagement which should have held its luster at least through the spring was now irreparably chipped and tarnished. Silently, they headed for home.