from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #24: New Year’s Contribution

with 8 comments

Annie wanted a “quiet New Year’s Eve.” I had no objection. Entering into the mid-thirties (damn, I hate Korean age; plus two with the new year), I’ve aged like kimchi: more sour, more droopy, less resistant to that which tries to consume me. So while a great number of the denizens of this city I call home were out on the town, getting shit-faced and partying into the wee hours of oblivion in this bitterly cold, dark night, warming their cheer with shots of beer, hard alcohol, and often a mixture of the two (somaek or poktan-ju), finding warmth in the embrace of a stranger, for this night free from the complications and regrets of the morning after, bouncing and gyrating in an over-crowded club, a ragged jumble of arms and legs and hips and darkness-blessed faces, searching for that stranger’s warmth, an aged, tame group of companions sat in a tiny and well-lit apartment in Dangsan, drinking Corona and whisky and talking about nothing in particular.

“I got this salsa at E-mart,” shared Hole. “It’s the Jamaican salsa. Better than that picante shit they sell at Costco. There’s a black guy on the label but he doesn’t look Jamaican.”

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen it before.”

“Baby, did you use it all?” Hole’s girl was playing with her toy poodle or whatever breed that typically small, fluffy dog was. I’ve met and talked to her on several occasions but I still don’t remember her name; more a result of age and excessive consumption of alcohol than anything else.

“No, I added a little to what was in the dish and put it back in the fridge.”

This was basically the mood of the conversation that night. When I was in Seattle, helping my mom pack up her life in 90 shipping boxes, I went to Paul’s house for a Christmas party. It wasn’t what I expected. The men were gathered around a table playing some unfamiliar board game (What happened to the good ol’ days of Monopoly and Life?) and the women were sitting around the dinner table, chatting. I commented on how bland married people’s parties were, how it grated on me how everyone was so grown up and tame, and yet two weeks later, I’m back in my element and doing the same shit.

When the clock on Hole’s phone hit midnight, we took shots of whisky (except Maria; having grown up in Mexico, she preferred Jose Cuervo) and in the lull afterward, while letting the warmth of the liquor settle in our bellies, we stared blankly at each other. What now?

“Want to play Scrabble?” Annie offered.

Fuck. We’re old and we’re nerds. Three of us went to the same graduate school, earning degrees not worth the fancy velvet-covered cardboard that holds them, and our non-graduate school friends are of the same caliber.

“How about we play Scrabble Texas Hold ‘Em?” I counter-offered. Yes, I am a nerd and will never deny my nerd nature. I’m too old for denial.

We made the rules as we went along, tweaking the rules here and there. Vetoing. Azure. Silver. Swerving. Zits. Maria slept on the couch and Hole’s girl played with her dog, and four of us sat in a small circle, holding small Travel Scrabble tiles in our hands (our hands in our hands), throwing in plastic poker chips into the pot.

“Shouldn’t we back up our chips with money?”

“I think with this group, reputation is all the motivation we need,” Heezy justified. It was true. I have a feeling that everyone at the table is certain that they are the smartest of the bunch.

“It’s not enough for me.”

“If anyone among us could say that, I think it’d be you.”

While at times I do believe I’m a fucking genius, I know that a lot of the time, I’m a fucking idiot. I know my limitations. I also don’t care much about reputation. Comfort is my aspiration. Becoming a famous author is not my goal. My goal is to make enough money writing so that I can quit my day job, so that I can quit something I don’t particularly like doing to do something I like doing, which is writing.

At around two, we called it a night and parted ways. When I got home, I got on Google and looked up Scrabble Texas Hold ‘Em. Word Ace? Damn it. What’s the point in trying to think up original ideas? There are no original ideas. And it’s for the iPhone?

If there is anything that can be added, it was an idea not of my own but from Hole, a true alcoholic. The winner of each round takes a shot. It levels the playing ground, but also makes for an unending game.

So that’s our contribution to the new year. To all of you who still stick around and occasionally visit this site and to those who stumble on this blog randomly, Happy New Year and good health (strong, hardy livers) and cheer to all.

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8 Responses

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  1. Happy New Year, dude.

    Kevin Kim

    January 2, 2011 at 7:58 am

    • Happy New Year, Kevin.

      Good luck with everything this year. Hope everything’s going well with the job and you’re enjoying your vacation.

      holdenbeck

      January 2, 2011 at 8:24 am

      • Thanks. The job sucks, and I’m looking for other work, but vacation has been fairly restful. I’m hoping that 2011 is the year you catch the big fish– a good agent with an awesome contract for you and your ms. You’ve obviously got the chops; your Random #24 post reminded me that your writing style has the same relaxed, naturalistic flow as Doug Coupland’s in Generation X and Microserfs (if it’s not insulting to be compared to a Canuck– haw haw).

        Rock on.

        Kevin Kim

        January 3, 2011 at 8:23 am

      • Well, I wish you luck in finding other work. I don’t know if that chapter in your life has closed but there’s always Korea.

        And many thanks for the encouragement and well wishes. A comparison to Coupland is more than generous (although I’ll admit I’ve never read him). Makes me want to re-write the ms because it was written two years ago when I was still in the early stages of development and it shows despite the massive overhauls during revision.

        Anyway, here’s to hoping that 2011 is a hospitable year for both of us.

        holdenbeck

        January 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm

  2. Happy New Year. Are you going to come drinking in your neighborhood next Friday?

    January 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

    • Happy New Year. Thanks for holding your “Drinking with friends that coincides with my arrival on earth” event in my area. Very thoughtful. Ha. (So, yeah, I’ll be there.)

      holdenbeck

      January 7, 2011 at 10:36 am

  3. Hi! Happy New Year! You know what’s crazy, we were pretty close to one another during NYE! I was in Vancouver island. Shoulda joined ya in a round of scrabble texas hold em!

    I always enjoy reading your blog. And yes you should know Douglas Coupland is a Canuck genius. Perhaps you should think of pitching it to his agent!

    Julia

    Julia

    January 10, 2011 at 3:51 am

    • Hey, Julia,

      Happy New Year. I should’ve given you a call while I was in Seattle. I was being a bit of a hermit, but I guess that’s nothing new. Actually, I was in Seoul for New Year’s Eve, but I was there for Christmas.

      From what I read on Wikipedia, yes, Coupland is both Canadian and a genius. Go figure. Ha. I know I give you a hard time about being a Canadian but I actually have much love for Northern brethren everywhere. Here’s a little something something for you.

      http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=250

      If I thought I had the chops to pitch to his agent, I’d do it. I think I still have a way to go.

      holdenbeck

      January 10, 2011 at 8:11 pm


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