Alcoholism: it’s not just a disease, it’s an adventure. As with so many other things in my life, I’ve got a love-hate relationship with drinking. It’s a stupid hobby at best, especially when you’ve already been doing it for decades, so that there are no surprises in store for you, and the hangovers can only get worse, especially when you’re dumb enough to mix different varieties of poison.
But my friend Ryan had returned from his trip to Cambodia, and he’s getting ready to go back to his home country of New Zealand, and since I might never see him again, I knew it was essential to assemble near the subway entrance in nearby Itaewon, where another friend, Kevin from Canada, also joined us. We went to a place they’d been to before for sam gyap sal, a delicious barbecued Korean pork dish in which you snip the pork with scissors, dip it in a little bowl of sesame oil and salt (just in case you’re concerned your blood pressure isn’t high enough already), wrap it in a leaf with some gocheujang (sp?), a bright red pasty sauce or saucy paste made with red hot chili peppers and sugar, add some bean sprouts and kimchi, and pop it in your mouth.
Don’t forget to chew twenty times! It helps it go down if you take a swig of beer or a shot of soju, Korean vodka with the difference being that it’s only 40 proof and you can buy it in a twelve-ounce bottle for about a buck in any convenience store or supermarket (cigarettes sold separately).
We talked about politics, comedy, and books, as well as work, since we all used to teach at the same place. Kevin said he had a great time in Indonesia when he went there a few months ago, and that a workaholic friend of ours is planning to go to Thailand, which is big news as the guy’s lived in Korea for about ten years and has yet to reward himself with a trip. My wife can’t abide travel as it costs too much, even though she’s willing to give ten percent of my income to the church so missionaries can go spread the gospel and rake in the dough for the Lord.
Ryan, Kevin, and I went to a bar after we finished eating so they could watch a soccer match (I’m not a huge fan of watching the game, as I find it moves too slowly; of course, as an American I also can’t understand what all the hoopla’s about; then again, life is short and watching sports in general is a complete waste of time as far as I’m concerned, but then again again, so is watching movies, listening to music, watching TV–in fact, living itself. Okay, I know I’m being silly. Forgive me for being a schmuck.)
I’d been bragging about how Steve, another friend of hours, had said I’d been able to hold my liquor remarkably well, a comment that jinxed my ability to do so for the rest of the night. Once we had a round of whiskeys, all bets were off. The beer kept flowing and I kept having to go use the toilet. Walking, a skill I mastered in my first year or so of life, became a formidable challenge.
The night became blurry as Ryan and I shared a cab to the foot of the street where he lives, and I somehow made it back home. I can’t remember whether I walked or took the taxi the rest of the way. At least I wasn’t drunk enough to give the driver my wallet. When I opened the door to my apartment, my wife Jina was standing next to the vacuum cleaner, the apartment spic and span.
“You’re drunk!” she said, a keen-eyed observer of the obvious. We ended up having a nasty argument, and she had me write down a promise that I wouldn’t drink anymore, which I modified by writing, “I will try to drink less than usual.” Amazing will power! When I tried to write in cursive, it came out as one long illegible squiggly line of ink.
I later read what Jina wrote:
“When you are drunk: 1) It smells terrible and your behavior is like 2) homeless person with no brain 3) you look no soul 4) I don’t want you to roll over in the street.”
I’m not sure about the last part, and I apologize to any homeless readers for the callousness of number 2; regarding the rolling over part, I did have a few bruises on my arms and legs, along with an abrasion on my knee, but that might have been from the wrestling match Jina and I had in bed in which we both ended up rolling on the floor.
I said, “You’re like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong all rolled into one.”
She turned on a tape recorder built into her cell phone and asked me to say it again so she’d have something to use against me if it came down to that. I said I wasn’t going to repeat it (even though I have in a different form), and she said, “There, that’s good enough.”
She kicked me out of bed (more officially) and I went to sleep on the living room sofa. To her credit, at least she came in and turned on the thermostat for me so I wouldn’t freeze to death. (She had martyred herself by sleeping on the sofa a few nights ago herself during a different fight, then was all pouty in the morning, I think because I didn’t bother to ask her to come back to bed, even though it was colder without her warm body next to mine.)
My pounding head wouldn’t let me sleep anyway, so I got dressed and went for a walk. I’d heard that greasy, toxic, mass-produced food is a good hangover remedy, so I went to a famous American restaurant with an Irish name even though it was put on the map by a guy whose name is a homonym of “crock,” appropriately enough. Since my Korean is crap, the clerk gave me far more “food” than I thought I’d ordered, and I ended up giving half of it away to a young woman who had to disconnect her head from her earbuds in order to hear my offer. She thanked me, even though considering the Korean female obsession with thinness, she probably cursed me to herself afterwards.
I felt sorry for the clerk, a seemingly thoughtful woman who couldn’t have been much younger than I am, as she mopped the main floor area. Working at McDonald’s? Christ, that’s even worse than eating there.
The naproxen pill I took seemed to having no effect on the depth charges going off in my head, so I took the desperate measure of buying a beer at a convenience store, even though it was only about ten o’clock in the morning. The hair of the dog that bit me did nothing to assuage the pain, then I remembered the bottle of makgeolli, Korean rice wine, another dirt-cheap elixir of the gods, I had in my backpack and took a few swigs off of that.
Now I was finally ready for church, which I’ll write about more briefly in the next post.
Suffice it to say that I still have a headache today–two mornings later–and my stomach isn’t feeling so hot either, maybe because I had a Philly cheese steak sub last night to revisit the putative greasy-food remedy, along with a few beers with some other foreign guys at my favorite sandwich shop, middle-aged mugs like me, one of whom was a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, though his buddy seemed a lot more rational, and uttered the wonderful understatement of “I almost believe in God.” What a great line. I’ll have to remember to use that one myself some day.
His friend, the Newt/Rush/anti-Planned Parenthood/pro-Fox news guy, said, predictably, that trying to convert other people to Christianity is a noble enterprise, but I was polite and amused enough not to argue with him. It’s fun to hear other people’s points of view, even when you think they’re full of shit; he clearly thought I was too, especially when I said that from everything I’ve read and heard on the subject, gay people are born that way and that I couldn’t care less what anyone does in the privacy of his or her own home, as long as they’re not hurting anybody. He also claimed that one of the lesbians sitting at the next table told him to F- off, but I didn’t catch the request.
Besides, as Shakespeare pointed out, rabid homophobia says a lot more about the person who subscribes to it than it does about gays. I’m from the Rodney King school of tolerance: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Of course, that might just be because I don’t want to get the shit beaten out of me by a bunch of rednecks with Tasers, clubs and guns. Suicide by cop, my ass.
By the way, who won the Super Bowl?