After my wife Jina and I finished teaching our weekly kindergarten class and ventured out into Seoul’s snowy winter wonderland, she stopped to help one of the pastors from her church shovel snow.
When he saw me, he said to me in English: “What a terrible day!”
I didn’t understand what he was so upset about. There were only a few inches of snow on the ground. Maybe it was the first day he’d done an honest day’s work in his life and he was pooped, or else he resented the injustice of having to exert himself, perplexed by this glitch in an otherwise intelligent design.
Another, younger, guy aspiring to be one of God’s interpreters was also there sweeping snow off the street with a plastic broom. He’s the same clown we’d had to endure last Sunday during the afternoon (dis)service, a man who apparently thinks the best way to get people to believe in God is by yelling at them, unless that was just to overcompensate for his having a baby face and looking less like a man of the fabric than a convenience store clerk (no offense intended to real-life convenience store clerks out there; I’ll probably be one too some day).
As he started to walk away (the pastor, too, had mysteriously disappeared), I said to Jina, “What’s up with that guy? He didn’t even say goodbye. And a thank you would have been nice.” Call it my Larry David moment. I wanted to get out of there so we could buy a hotteok, a Korean buckwheat pancake filled with a sweet dark brown syrup, mainly so I could take a naproxen. The reason I needed to pop a painkiller was I’d gone along with Jina’s suggestion and worn not one but two pairs of long underwear, strangling one of my balls in the process. This had put me in a testy mood, as you’ll soon see.
Jina said the man was coming back in a moment; maybe he had to consult a Bible passage to find the best way to shovel snow.
She wanted to go and say goodbye to the pastor, and I groaned inwardly for planting the idea in her head, but luckily it didn’t take too long. We even got to see our other, regular minister, whose haircut made him look even more like Hitler, even though the glasses also give him a Heinrich Himmler feel (don’t worry; I don’t mean that literally).
He said, “The snow is beautiful, isn’t it?” and I agreed. He lived in my home city in America for awhile, so he’d seen serious snowstorms before, and he knew that this one was child’s play by comparison. I actually don’t mind the guy that much, but I like to make fun of him considering he makes it his life’s work to focus on antiquated phantasms and turgid passages of Scripture; of course, the gig pays well and Korean Christians have to pay a tithe–ten percent of their income. No wonder he’s praying for me to find a job; he must need to buy a new set of golf clubs (I almost wrote “to beat his kids with,” but changed my mind).
Jina and I went to buy the hotteok; the lady at the booth that sells them wore protective sleeves over her arms emblazoned with cartoon kitten faces. She also commented on the beautiful view afforded by the snow. This reminded me to mock the first pastor (Mr. “What A Terrible Day!”) to Jina after we’d paid the woman and trotted off. Jina assured me the pastor had only been joking and trying out his minimal English to be friendly.
This made me feel like a yutz for judging him so harshly. I did penance by genuflecting three times and bowing down on the street the way Jina had on the bed that morning (not while I was in it).
“You should tell him that I know even less Korean than he does English,” I said.
I realize that I have knee-jerk disdain for organized religion. I prefer the disorganized kind, when the minister shows up drunk with lipstick on his face and starts cracking bawdy jokes he can’t remember the punch-lines to. When no one in the congregation laughs, he tries to break the ice by making armpit-farts and performing Randy Newman’s “God’s Song” on the pipe organ:
“You all must be crazy to put your faith in me./That’s why I love mankind./You really need me.”
(It’s a good thing I first heard that song during my formative years; otherwise I might never have grown up to be an atheist. My wife thinks since I was baptized I’ll be okay eventually, as long as she grovels vehemently enough for the salvation of my wretched soul. Baptism just seems like a waste of water to me.)
The bright green bus came and pulled out ahead of us.
“Hey!” I shouted, but Jina reprimanded me because there was a group of people standing several yards ahead of us, where I guess the official bus stop is supposed to be, even though it’s vaguely marked since it’s in the middle of a wide street.
Since the bus was crowded, she suggested we wait for the next one. I wanted to walk to the next bus stop, suddenly realizing my feet had frozen in my old brown shoes as we’d been standing around outside in the cold for about half an hour, and God was either punishing me or sleeping on the job. She fiddled with a protective cover stashed in a hidden compartment in my backpack, even though I muttered that I didn’t need it, since the snow wasn’t going to soak the contents the way heavy rain would have. But it would have been bootless to protest, so I let her go ahead and do it before trudging away towards the next bus stop.
When we got on the bus that appeared ten minutes later, Jina cajoled me into shoving past the other passengers, even though I felt like an asshole for doing so as the bus was crowded and I didn’t feel like having to deal with her bullshit. The pain in my ball was throbbing, echoing; I felt as if I’d been kicked in the groin by a militant feminist (or a born-again Christian–take your pick). It’s funny how annoying and irritating acute physical pain can be. Hard to ignore sometimes, especially in what would be a stressful situation regardless.
At the next bus stop, I had the nauseating sensation of a Korean guy’s front brushing against my backside. Jina gestured for me to sit down next to her; I did so without removing the backpack, as we weren’t going to be on the contraption much longer. Meanwhile, she took the opportunity to fuss with the scarf (or muffler, if you prefer) around my neck, until I told her bluntly to f**k off. Then she got huffy.
“Listen, just stop messing with me, okay? It’s hot enough on this bus without having to wear this goddamned scarf.” She made me feel like a goddamned Pekingese or a little kid.
When we got off the vehicle a minute or so later, she stood stock-still in the street in front of the bakery. I apologized for being a dick and urged her to accompany me home. She refused, saying the reason she didn’t like getting angry was she didn’t want to go to hell. (She’s on the right track, but according to Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, anger is hell. He’s right about that.) Then she stormed off going the other way; I elected not to follow her. I just wanted to get home, take a pain pill, and unwind.
I called her out of damage control after shedding my wet shoes and crumpling old newspapers to help the toes dry out (a trick Jina taught me). She didn’t answer her cell phone, which was just as well, as she showed up seconds later, her glasses as fogged as mine had been.
A few minutes later everything was hunky-dory. She cooked us some yummy salmon and made a salad with soy sauce and vinegar dressing, which she called “sauce.” During our interlude between shoveling God’s driveway and getting on the bus, she’d slipped into a shop to buy some side dishes, so we also had some spicy oysters with carrots, chestnuts, and also water chestnuts, I believe. I normally don’t like oysters because they’re so slimy and testicle-textured, but these ones were good, balanced by their crunchy embellishments. Besides, Jina says they’re good for your complexion, not that there’s hope anymore for my cadaverous integument.
The pain killer worked and my ball appears to have survived the blow, at least for the time being. The moral of the story is, for those males who are reading this and the women who care about them, always give your balls room to breathe. Whether you’re planning to reproduce or not, freedom means as much to a gonad as it does to a nomad.