So last night after teaching all day I’m feeling a mite peckish, so I call my wife once I get off the subway to see if she wants to grab a bite to eat. No answer. Fine with me. I’d just as soon eat alone. That way I don’t have to talk to anyone. Since I have to talk for a living, it’s a joy not having to say anything sometimes, or having to listen to someone who can’t stop talking (hello, Jina!), if only for a priceless hour or so.
I sit down at an Italian restaurant that offers reasonably priced risotto and pasta dishes. Since I’m a regular customer, the server lets me sit at a table for four, even though I first go to one for two. Feeling bold, I order a beer. The last time Jina detected beer on my breath, about a month ago, she kicked me out of the apartment for an hour. When I mentioned it to a German friend of mine, he said, “That would at least give you time to have another beer.” Wise man.
Jina calls me back shortly after my tapered tulip of golden elixir arrives. I take the phone outside so she won’t overhear the ambient restaurant sounds, even though it was raining before. Luckily the rain has stopped so I don’t bother with the umbrella. I tell her I’m on my way to the restaurant and ask her if she’d like to join me. Live dangerously. She says she’ll see if she can.
I go back inside and persuade one of the servers to let me settle up for the beer ahead of time, explaining the reason. He and his colleagues appear to understand the situation enough to conspire with me in keeping the beer a secret.
By the way, I forgot to mention before that when I entered the restaurant, I saw three of Jina’s church friends, including a woman with a head shaped like a prehistoric peanut, sitting at a table by the window. For some reason they didn’t greet me and I didn’t greet them. Since I wasn’t in chatting mode anyway and we don’t share a common language, no feelings were hurt, at least not as far as I could tell.
When my risotto with tomato sauce, garlic, and mushrooms arrived, I dispatched it with wolfish relish. The server removed my beer glass for me and the food worked to hide the evidence of any beer scent, much as it tried to re-emerge in the shape of northward-venturing intestinal gas.
Jina finally arrived. She looked deflated that I’d already eaten. I shrugged and told her I’d been too hungry to wait, but asked her to sit down and eat. Since I’m a glutton, having more is always an option.
Her phone rang. She answered it, spoke in Korean for a few minutes, then hung up.
“Did you try to have a beer?” she asked.
At first I thought her sixth sense was kicking in and she was interrogating me as a result.
“Come on. Tell me the truth.”
“Yeah, I had a beer. What’s wrong with that?”
It turns out that the peanut-headed woman I mentioned before had called her to say she’d spotted me ordering a beer in the restaurant. My immediate thought was: That little snitch!
Or a misogynistic word that rhymes with “snitch.”
“She was concerned about you.”
“Since you’re a Christian, you’re not supposed to drink.”
Jesus the Teetotaller. . . who turned water into wine and threw a wild party.
Luckily, the whole thing blew over without incident.
“It must be pretty boring for you not being able to drink beer,” she finally said in a rare moment of empathy.
“Sometimes. I’m satisfied. I only wanted one. I love the taste of beer. It wasn’t my intention to get drunk.”
She ordered a gorgonzola pizza, along with steak and pasta. Everything was exquisite. I even risked dipping the pizza in the little saucer of honey they provided, Lyme disease be damned. (Honey usually triggers the Lyme symptoms.) Although the steak was thin, it was cooked just right, rare enough for the juices to soak into our taste buds.
I know, I shouldn’t be eating steak in the first place; it’s a guilty pleasure. One of these days I’ll tell you how much water is used to raise just one cow (I read about it in a book called Do You Think You’re Clever?).
When Jina went to pay the bill, she studied the receipt, looking for evidence of the beer. She asked the staff about it, but, true to their word, they played dumb. When she got huffy and miffed, I intervened.
“I already paid for it.”
“You’re a bad man.”
I thanked the chef and the servers by saying, “Gratie, arrivaderci!”
We left the restaurant.
Today I have to sing a duet in church with Jina called “This Is My Father’s World.” To make it less painful, I’ll imagine the title is referring to my real father, instead of the made-up one, not that I think he’d be willing to take on such a huge responsibility at this juncture in his life. Let the poor man kick back and relax for a change!
Last Saturday while Jina and I were at a different restaurant having jajangmyun (noodles in black bean sauce, also with beef) I asked, “Why does Korean pop music have to be so bad?”
“That’s your opinion.”
“Yes. That’s my opinion, and it’s correct.”
I also mentioned having seen a heavy-set Korean guy on a motor scooter earlier in the day wearing a tight T-shirt.
“It’s impolite for fat guys to dress like that,” I added.
“He’s a human being,” she said.
“I’m a fat piece of shit myself, but at least I wear baggy shirts.”
“Don’t condemn yourself.”
Last night after our dinner and an interlude at a nearby coffee shop for an Americano for her and a cup of peppermint tea to assuage digestion for me, along with a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream for both of us in order to give us both something challenging to digest, when we got home I sat down at the computer in my boxer shorts, shirtless.
From her vantage point over on the sofa in the next room, near the air conditioner she’d turned on to cut the heat, Jina groaned and said, “You look pregnant!”
She’s got a point. (This morning, I’m proud to say, I gave birth to a beautiful brown, coiled cherub.)
In a few hours I’ve got to sing a song in both Korean and English. I don’t believe in God and feel as if I’m betraying myself. Keeping a straight face promises to be impossible. I’ll try not to puke on myself.
But last weekend Jina made me feel guilty by breaking out the wedding pictures that show her, devastated and crestfallen, abandoned at the altar by you-know-who just over five years ago. I don’t think she meant to; she didn’t sound bitter about it anymore, nightmarish and bleak as the pictures are (it looked more like a funeral than a wedding); she just pointed out how broad her shoulders looked in her wedding dress.
So I figure I owe it to her. And even though I’ll never be so gullible to drink the Kool-Aid myself, I won’t try to take away from her the solace of her belief.
As long as she lets me have a beer once in awhile.
It’s only fair.