It’s 2 p.m. at Bricks Coffee in Seomyeon, Busan. I have a “Dutch Americano,” which was just dutch-styled coffee extract alongside a mug of hot water. So, coffee. It’s pretty good. Clouds have come in and it looks like rain outside the window of this second floor but no one is carrying an umbrella, not even one “just in case” paranoid person. I think my bicycle is safe.
I’m diving into my “private stash” of writings from my first, second and the time leading into my third time in South Korea. It’s called the Korea Chronicles and its access is not locked so, if you care, if you find it, by all means enjoy. I won’t be offended.
Some of the posts are definitely an acquired taste, a taste which I might have lost a while ago. Reading them is like watching yourself psyche yourself up to ask out the pretty girl in homeroom from the future, knowing that she’s going to laugh in your face. They’re awkward. Well, for me. To you, they might just read like someone who is young, a bit raw, a bit self-serving but hopefully at least a bit entertaining.
Here we go:
(Dec. 22, 2005)
Her hair went one way, her body another
I watched the pool of sweat in the small of her back
continue to grow from the exertion
of a long journey.
My tender ankle kept slowing her down
holding her confident steps over rocks and brambles and dirt
endless fields of ferns, wild blueberries.
“Do you want to go back,” she asked several times,
worry lines in her face for the sweat to run through.
No, I can go on, don’t worry about me.
But, do you want to stop a moment and have a few more berries?
My ankle throbbed. Who would think
2.2 miles could feel as long as this?
Upon the rocks, thousands of feet above everyone,
our own little new world, discovery.
Mountain, sky, cars small enough to wonder if they’re moving or standing still
along the highway
that separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey.
She sat upon the rocks, bit into a peach, staring out.
I took a photo to remember the moment.
It’s all perfect.
But all I could really think about at the time was how the hell
I was going to get back down with an ankle like this?
Looking back at nearly-12-year-old writings makes me understand whenever I hear some performer who claims to never, ever look back at their work. They’re too critical of themselves, they hate how they look, or sound, or they just feel uncomfortable. I get it and I think some of that feeling comes from having a connection not just to what’s on screen, or on stage, or on paper, or on record. It’s also remembering how you felt, or what you were thinking, or something like that. It’s the added layers of emotion that goes with “just the facts.” The emotion is that I was writing a poem about a girl I left in New Jersey so I could go to Korea, a country I was four days away from leaving after just over a month. I racked up about $300 of toll phone calls to call her in the middle of the night, a person who had moved on from me. To be honest, I was using the idea of her to convince me that I had made the wrong decision about coming to Jinju, South Korea and that what I needed to do was get back to New Jersey. So, yeah, I get why some performers say they never look at their old work.
But, it’s also good catharsis. It’s also a good opportunity to tighten up some flab on what is ultimately a halfway decent skeleton, such as what I did to the poem above. Feel free to tell me otherwise if the mood moves you.
(May 16, 2006)
Five months later, HIM’s “Killing Loneliness” still has power over me, taking me straight back to Korea.
In 2001, I went with other members of the Brookdale Community College forensics (speech and debate, not dead bodies) team to Prague for the 11th annual International Forensics Association tournament. In memory, it was an amazing time and holds many, dare I say for lack of a better word, magical moments in my mind.
I forgot my CDs. Seven days in Prague and no CDs. But, I’d somehow remembered my CD player. Brilliant. Kate Jones and another member of the team gave me free run of the CDs they’d brought. Still being considerably more of a music snob five years ago, I turned my nose up at most of it. But, I was desperate. I liked Bon Jovi (yes, I know, what kind of a musical snob openly expresses interest in Bon Jovi? But, there it is) and I’d taken a shine to a song by Matchbox 20, I can’t remember which. Plus, Orgy was the closest thing available that was remotely metal. They would be “the three.”
The three were played constantly for the next several days, serving as the backdrop soundtrack to my first international journey. Specifically, track five and “Mystery Train,” off Bon Jovi’s Crush album; track two, “Stiches,” I think, and track 10, off Orgy’s Candyass; and track two and several other tracks that have faded from current memory from Matchbox 20’s Yourself or Someone Like You, these were the soundtrack to my Czech Republic excursion, and they still, to this day, reward me with fond, fuzzy, nostalgia-tinged memories of that trip.
(Some of these still do today, 16 years later, FYI. -ed., 2017)
I vividly remember sitting in the hallway of the fifth floor of the Hilton Prague, 5am, crying my heavily intoxicated self sober over the assistant coach of the Suffolk Community College team. Or was it Suffolk University? Anyway, I’d taken a liking to her. She seemed fun. Still being a virgin at the time, with very little by way of “experience,” I can’t imagine how green I must have seemed to her and how, things I thought worked, must have been terribly awkward.
I was a pushy person. Still am when it comes to some things. That night, the aforementioned “crying night,” I’d gone out for drinks with her, Jodi was her name, and several of her team members. We were all drunk before we left the hotel, everyone on most of the 12-15 schools there for the tournament practically were, it seemed. Booze was very cheap, even in the hotel. So, we left, trolled through cobblestone streets, past other merrymakers looking for a good time, and off the beaten path to some pizza place, still open at 2am.
I couldn’t read Czech, so I just pointed to the first item on the menu, figuring it must be some kind of basic pizza. It was basic alright. No sauce. Or was sauce, but, no cheese? During this fine meal, while Jodi was in the bathroom, one of her team members started implying that she had a boyfriend back home, someone she was practically engaged to, and to, well, give it a rest.
Being, by this point, six to eight sheets to the wind, I didn’t take it well. I stamped and stomped, a moody little jerk, about 10 paces behind the rest as we made our way back to the hotel. They said goodnight, I said the same. Or, mumbled it is more like it. I made my way upstairs to my room. And only made it as far as that couch.
Later on, once I’d finally got to my room, I found out the others, who’d gone off to a nightclub were still awake, tending to one of the team members who’d been slipped a date rape drug and was presently bawling on the bed. At this point, still drunk, I proceeded into the now world famous (at least, in the Brookdale Community College forensics circle) dictation of my evening with Jodi and her team.
Yes, that was his name. Last I heard, they did get married and she’s had a child. Good for them.
I smile as I think back to this somewhat absurd and slightly sad tale. I was a wreck that night. The next day, when we all went on our day trip to Austria and ended up stuck in the country because one of our team members didn’t have a return visa back to the CR, I was also a wreck. Tired beyond measure, freaking the hell out because we were out of the Brookdale Bubble of security and on our own in a foreign country.
Afterward, I’d curse myself for not enjoying it as much as I should. But, now, all I have in terms of memories are fond ones. Even for the freak outs. Five years will do that.
Five months will, too. HIM’s “Killing Loneliness” still holds a power over me, taking me straight back to Korea. And, not the Korea where I was smoking two packs of Dunhill’s and Esse’s a day, or pining over a girl who’d moved on, or felt like the strangest stranger in the strangest land. It takes me back to standing outside of Oh Sung Sik English Club, looking over at the high school, setting up a concert for their students. It takes me back to running down the stairs of the school, listening to the school pound K-Pop and thinking, man, they sound like they’re having a great time and vicariously, having a good time myself in the process. It takes me back to singing at the Noraebang with Emily, my director, of going with her and her brother to their parents tombs in Gojae-do, her hometown. It takes me back to my last night, up all night, hanging out with Jason and Madeleine, drinking soju, eating cheap sushi and talking about what’s next. It takes me back to the last, great long walk with Estevez, up and down Hadaedong’s city blocks, talking about also what’s next?
What was next was, within a week of each other, both of us would be bound for other parts of the world. And during that time, my heart pounded double time, my hands always reached for cigarettes, my thoughts always found their way back to Raha, and questions as to whether or not I really did the right thing.
Five months later, HIM’s “Killing Loneliness” still holds power over me, taking me straight back to Korea. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.