Taking One For The Home Team

So, I was at the bar on Friday night. This is a sentence that, in my dotage, is far less likely to pass my lips and fingertips than it once was, back when I was positively dripping with vim and vigour and fluids of a more bachelorly nature. But nonetheless, there I was, gazing somewhat blearily at myself in the mirror through the bottles, propping up the fake-mahogany with my buddy J. There was an impressively long line of empty bottles neatly lined up in front of us. I think the Korean guys like the empties left in front of them as a display of their alco-power, but that conspicuous consumption display tends to backfire when me and my equally thirsty drinking buddy, the livers who walk like men, come onto the scene. Shrug.
The gaggle of young women behind the bar are paid as much to be decorative as to actually sling piss, and station themselves right in front of you, whether you want them there or not. Orders. I tend to ignore them, after an initial smile to show I’m not entirely ogrish. It’s pretty clear, at least when it comes to old bastards like us, that getting pole position in front of the foreigners is pulling the short straw. The ladies do tend to make a valiant attempt to be hostessy with their few phrases of English, but the time is long, long past when I much enjoyed talking pidgin with bargirls, no matter how attractive they might be. Not to say that I wasn’t young and foolish, once. Thousands of young men around the world would be pouring over my seminal textbook, ‘Bargirl Bricolage and Soju Semiotics: The Ineluctable Modality of The Boozehound’ if I’d ever written the damn thing.
So we were tanking up, smoking, talking sh-t, enjoying the once-a-month concession to our younger selves our wives allow us. At the outer edge of my OB Lager-induced tunnelvision, I noticed a group of 4 guys sit down beside us at the bar, but J and I were deep in discussion about how cool it would be to be first on the ground when the Kimchi Wall comes down, as writers or otherwise, and I didn’t notice much other than that the guy beside me was Korean. He didn’t say anything to me, so I assumed, as one does, that he didn’t speak English, and ignored him after giving a terse nod.
Not long after, though, J announced that it was time to break the seal — I, as usual, had been peeing like a racehorse since the first friendly whissht! of escaping beer vapour — and wandered off to the toilets. Turning to me, the Korean guy said ‘How’s it goin’?’
In those few syllables, I knew not only that he spoke English, but that he fluent, and that he’d lived overseas for a time, or was maybe even a returnee. My English Radar is strong. Well, that and the fact that the three other guys sitting with him were all foreigners, and pretty clearly not the English teacher type.
So we started in to talking — and having a conversation in idiomatic, natural English with someone new is such a rarity for me that I was almost giddy with the strangeness of it (nutty expat syndrome ahoy!) — and I learned that he was the language liaison for the other three, who were Americans, a couple of soldiers and a contractor, and here at the deep water port in Sunshine City to expedite the transhipment of tons of US military equipment from Korea to Kuwait.
That may have been classified information, but we were all pretty drunk.
I was right, both about his English and his history. He’d lived in America and gone to both high school and university there. I asked him how he’d liked it, and he told me this : he went to high school in Illinois, university in Los Angeles, and he hated America. Those were the words he used. I suspect saying so wouldn’t have gone over too well with the guys he was with, but they were busy clumsily and loudly hitting on the waitresses, who, in the Way of The Korean Bargirl, tittered fetchingly while failing to hide the look of abject panic in their eyes.
I asked him why he would say such a thing, and he told me that while he was going to university, he worked to make extra money, in a relative’s liquor store. And that he’d been shot during the regular hold-ups. Twice.
This boggled my mind.
When he was in hospital, he said, he’d decided that he was leaving America as soon as he finished school, and not coming back. Not surprisingly. Now, I’ve been around the world a few times in the last 15 years. Been in war zones, been in all the worst places in dangerous cities all over the map. Even LA, one mad weekend on my way down to Mexico, when I heard gun shots in my friends’ Hollywood neighbourhood as we stumbled around, indestructible Canuck style, at 4 am. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone before who’s been shot. And this guy, this mild-mannered Korean whose parents sent him over to America to get out of having to do his military service, he’d taken a couple of bullets for the home team.
And now he was back home, getting paid to translate the crude pickup lines of his military colleagues to the girls behind the bar.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, a twisty-cruel just-so story, I imagine. I leave it to you to tease it out, if you’re so inclined.

Comedy Gold

Man, I love them Americans. They feel so strongly about entertaining the rest of us with their comedic stylings, and we are all in their debt for keeping us laughing. The chutzpah, the testicular fortitude that they collectively show, out there on the world stage, walking the tightrope between hilarious self-parody and a collapse into a light-gobbling singularity whose gravitational gradient is so steep that even irony cannot escape. Bravo, I say!
The tension they so skillfully build in all the rest of us who hang on every faux-drunken swerve and stumble of their political machine is breathtaking. Those rapscallions. Teetering up there on the democracy highwire, introducing ramshackle, insecure electronic voting systems built on Microsoft™ Access© while they so nobly and selflessly impose American freedom and democracy on the Afghanis and Iraqis? Oh, eek, I can’t watch! Putting their dear leader up there on stage to praise the 10 million voters registered in Afghanistan, when only 9 million are eligible? The showmanship is breathtaking, and The Funny is debilitating.
Trotting out a frothing villain like Zell Miller to inflame the stupid, while retaining the option of distancing yourself (‘He’s not a Republican!’) should the spin from the assembled stenographers of the press turn ugly? Pure comedy gold! Did you see the look on that old bastard’s face when he felt the carpet being pulled out from under him? Classic, backslappin’ American pie hijinks!
Oh, you wacky yank bastards, how I love that you’d totter so close to the abyss to entertain us all. I wake up each morning frothing in my urgency to fire up my old PC and find out what new japery you might have unleashed.
The subtleties of the ways your leaders use words, my friends, while merely appearing to wield them like a simpleton’s club, claiming that they ‘don’t do nuance‘… simply magnificent. The way that you can collectively turn on an ironic dime, and allow a man whose family connections excused him from serving his country to shine the character assassination jocularity spotlight on a man who actually did. And the way that that fellow and his supporters let their foes just do it. Oh, it’s belly-laughin’ time, right there!
You Americans kill me. No really, you do. Not as dead as the 10,000 (30,000?) Iraqis, or the 3000 Afghanis, or the 1000 Americans, or the 100 ‘coalition of the willing’ (oh, dear, that’s a nugget of comedy pyrite there, too) members. (And never mind those 50,000 Komedy Korpses in the Darfur. They’re not dead from the hilarity apoplexy!)
A pretend cowboy President whose horses are rented? A constitutional amendment to protect the sanctity of marriage in a nation where half of all marriages end in divorce? An inner powerbroker circle of oil company gassholes and oil prices at all-time highs? A leader who claims to receive instructions from his god (or from ‘beyond the stars’, whatever that means), making offhand remarks about crusades? Invading a country that posed no threat, while the Norks built more nukes and threaten to turn Seoul into a lake of fire? Talking about corporate responsibility and pumping a few billion into your vice-president’s old company? Contracting out your warfare needs to the lowest (or best-connected) bidder? Running a gulag in Cuba, of all places? Torturing children in Iraq while proudly (if spuriously) proclaiming ‘no child left behind’ back home? Reducing the taxes of the richest, then making populist proclamations like ‘there’s no point taxing the rich because they just dodge their tax bill anyway‘? Osama bin who?
Your A-material kills, my friends. You rock.
You gotta take your show on the road.