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.

*  *  *


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!”


“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?”


“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?”


“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.”


“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?”


“Is everything alright?”


“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.

Ulysses S. Granted

by Pablo Harris

First weekend after starting a new teaching job, just getting settled in Busan, I went out with a colleague, Bass: an east coaster, a veteran of a few tours here who had recently got promoted to his F2 status. He invited me out to the PuDae neighborhood. PuDae, as my Lonely Planet guide describes it, is the place that used to be “the place” to go. Every first of the month at a little basement bar they have an open-mic stand-up comedy night. Fell for a lithe, pasty, dark-haired Scottish girl who kept talking about her pussy going “flap, flap, flap.” Bass says, “I need a shot before I go on, you like Jack Daniels?” Internally, I’m shouting, “Not as much as I like Jameson, look at the Jameson!” But to paraphrase the tune of the English football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone, “And you’ll never shoot alone, you will never shoot alone (clap clap clap).”

After the show, it’s around 1 a.m. Bass tries to convince me to go to the casino, to which I decline. Got enough vices, not trying to add any more, so he leaves me smoking alone out on the street. I end up meeting a drunken local, however, who does persuade me to follow him to this really great bar he knows. We proceed to circumambulate the site, like pilgrims in a procession around the Kaaba, before walking back downstairs to the exact bar we were just at. His English is terrible, my Korean is worse, but we both speak drink. So, 1 a.m. turns into 6 a.m. Last thing I remember, he asks where I live. “Suyeong jihachil, ship chil beon,” I slur. He hails a cab, shakes my hand, shoves me into the back seat, and yells something at the driver.

Next thing I know, the sun is up. I look around and I see I am outside a police station flanked by four men. I casually, vato style, look to my left. Lips pursed a bit, shake my head. There’s one cop and the cabbie. Look to my right, two cops. No words are spoken. I stick out my lips like I’m Mick fucking Jagger, more head shakin’. I know the score. I spent all my indigenous currency at the bar, there’s no Won in my wallet, and I passed out in the taxi on top of that. Then the cab driver, from the few words that I gather and his gesticulations, begins to plead to the cops that I am another deadbeat wayguk and that I should be arrested for my transgression. The cops are conferring with cryptic glances, I am still vato stoic. So, knowing the score and without saying a word, I fumble through the contents of my wallet; I find, invaginated behind the expired IDs and tapped debit cards, there is one note there, fifty U.S. dollars. I extract the bill from the leather bi-fold, slap it into the hand of the cop on my left and walk home. Without a word.

*   *   *

Later that afternoon, beat down and hung over, when given a respite from the internal replays of the night, I recall my first “date” with Jenn Zeek. I was bartending at an urbane, farm-to-fork bistro downtown and dating Mama Steph back then–a petite, olive skinned, tattooed, smokin’ younger lady with two kids and glasses I met in a contemporary philosophy class. Jenn was living with her boyfriend in Davis while she was studying viticulture and enology and had been working with us, hostessing, for about six weeks. Though she was way overqualified to be a greeter and a seater, she was biding her time waiting for an opening on the floor, and socially, wasn’t in yet. She had the restaurant version of Vietnam Syndrome working against her: got to be in country six months before we give a shit about you (like salty profs contempt for newbies). However, from the intelligence gleaned over small talk while folding napkins and buffing flatware, her boyfriend wasn’t into too much other than progressing in an online poker tournament. She was looking for some other action.

So, Friday night, we are sitting out on the patio in our penguin suits enjoying our after work beers and spliffs with a handful of freaks of the industry, discussing plans to go spend the weekend out on the Sonoma Coast–Steph and I included. It turns out on the eve of the trip, Steph breaks up with me via text message. She didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t into her kids. Fair enough, miss you Sweetheart, but you’re right. Jenn catches wind of our plans and the fallout with my girl, so she pulls me aside and explains,

“You know, I am supposed to go to Napa tomorrow but I would rather go with you all to Sonoma. I love pinot noir and the Russian River and I think you need a date, though you know I have a boyfriend. But I promise I’ll be fun. Maybe I can go with you guys?”

We end up on a Monday night in the tony hamlet of Healdsburg at the L & M motel: a faded, old-school u-shaped place anchored by a parking lot. An expensive dive just south of the railroad tracks and the town square. Two couples, Jenn, and I checked out of the beach house and decided to milk one more night of this trip. We’d just completed day three of wine tasting, beer drinking, and barbecuing. Jenn discovers a pool room at the motel. She wants to swim. I’m not much of a swimmer but I do like girls that like to swim. So we change into our bathing suits and head over to the pool house. It’s five past 11. We open the door and walk into the room. There’s a sizable, six-foot deep pool and a small, hot, bubbly spa and a man who works for the L & M standing next to the jacuzzi.

“Sorry, closing up,” he announces.

I glance at Jenn, who is standing by the door clearly eager for a dip, and walk over to him. I approach him with, “Look man, I got a girl here who wants to swim, and, I like this girl, how ‘bout lettin’ us swim?”

He bargains: “$40 and you got an hour.”

I reach into the left pocket of my trunks, there are three things: a pack of Marlboros, a lighter, and a fifty-dollar bill. Why I would feel compelled to grab the last bit of cash I have until Thursday to walk 20 feet to the pool room? I don’t know. And how often do you really have a Grant when Lincolns, Jacksons, and Franklins are so much more common? I cusp the paper note in my left hand, surreptitiously move it to my right, extend my hand to the maintenance man, grab his palm and pull him close so Jenn couldn’t hear, and offer, “Here’s a fifty and we stay as long as we want.”

A few weeks later, Jenn and I begin the Sunday Funday drinking bloodies, reading The Times. We recall the L & M. She said she didn’t know the details but she saw me shake hands and the man walked off. She didn’t know exactly what transpired but she knew it was life imitating art in front of her eyes and knew I was the one.

It was the story she loved to repeat to her friends and some days we would reminisce, usually over brunch and a newspaper. It was the story that would certainly be recited by her maid of honor at our wedding. It was the story we would . . .

It was, if not for: Busan Calling.

* * *

Now I’m convinced that after I die I’ll start out in purgatory. It’s exactly where I belong. I know the score. I have not been virtuous enough for Heaven but I also have and will not be nefarious enough for Hell. I’ll be in purgatory and one day the Lord’s Director of Highland Security will come down from his Pearly Gates to assess the situation. I imagine that at least once a year there is a day when the Great Gatekeeper condescends to the middlings, evaluates everyone there, and offers a bit of grace to a couple of lucky souls. He calls them up to the show, like a supplemental draft or making the Hall of Fame on your last ballot. Again, I won’t be chosen.                                                                                    

But, this time, I’ll be in rare form. Having casually maneuvered my way through the field of contestants to the front of the line, as Tom Waits croons a ballad from his pickled piano over the PA, while all the other purgators walk off dejectedly–on this day–I’ll be incredibly, exceptionally smooth. I’ll tap him on the forearm with the knuckles on the back of my left hand, draw his attention with a head nod and whisper to St. Pete.

“Hey, come on man, I think you got room for one more.”

And I’ll fish out of my pocket my last possession, cup it in my hand, and clandestinely pass it to Peter when we skin it. St. Peter will slip the Grant into the front pocket of his robe, shake his head from side to side with an exasperated sigh, before finally divining, “Fine, Pablo, come on up to the house.”