Monthly Archives: May 2006

Balcony Blues (1 of 10)

note: new serial fiction from yours truly

On a moderate night like this, I like to walk out onto my balcony to enjoy a cold beer and a cigarette. It’s actually not much of a balcony as it is a slab of concrete slapped onto the side of this aging gray-colored apartment complex. I pay $2300 a month for my studio, which these days, isn’t so bad for New York, especially when you have a subway stop only half a block away. I like to call myself a writer since I spend more than half of my time in front of my typewriter, which I bought at an antique shop for $400 a couple of years ago. Supposedly some famous journalist had used it while reporting for the Sunday Evening Post. I’ve actually had a couple of articles published in my neighborhood paper – the free ones that often compete with Gay City and Village Voice for attention on street corners. One article was about commemorating the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and what living in New York has been like since that day. I received a few letters from kind readers thanking me for the piece. Another article was a restaurant review of a newly opened Thai joint a few blocks from my apartment. The shrimp pad thai was delicious and the staff was very friendly. I gave it two out of three stars.

When I’m not writing, or trying to write, I’m usually stopping by at the two bookstores that I own in the city. Yep, I’m a small business owner, and a successful one at that. My bookstores, you see, aren’t your average book-off-the-shelves kind of store. I’ve turned my store into a sort of reading salon, where seating and lighting are plentiful and you can pay $3 for strong coffee that we make from organic Colombian coffee beans. Book sales are average, but we make a very nice margin on the pastries and beverages. Then again, we’re not much different from your local bookstore – we invite authors to come and sign books and answer questions, we give tote bags to customers who spend over $50 on books, and we offer gift cards that come in five different designs. Of course, I do have a few restrictions – no children’s books, no books by authors that have been on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than five weeks, and no self-help books. But okay, enough about my stores – they’re hip and cool and a haven for both seasoned and budding intellectuals.

Anyway, before I finish smoking this cigarette, one thought I wanted to share that came across my mind today was about this one girl I used to date in high school. Her name was Yuri and she was a cute Japanese girl with these distinct bangs that covered her forehead. One thing she always did was to plan out every single hour of her day the previous night and the amazing thing was that she actually executed her plans more often than not. Of course, with my teenage horniness at its peak, I did my best to derail her efforts, but eventually she would even find a way to schedule in our intimate moments as if it was just one more thing on the checklist. Spontaneity was not her thing. I never thought much of it then – just an annoying habit which was quickly forgotten when she removed her clothes, but today, as I was walking through Washington Square, I suddenly thought of her and wondered if it was because she was a child of divorce. Perhaps the instability of her childhood and adolesence, at least from a family perspective, made her want to create for herself an environment that was well under control and very predictable. And thinking about it today, I sort of felt bad for her, seeing that I was from a stable family background and spoiled to the bone by my mother and grandma, who fed and cleaned up after me until the day I left for college. But I’m sure she’s out there somewhere now, perhaps together with a lover who’ll give her the opportunity to provide a stable and happy family for her kids. Gosh, which does remind me of the time we had to go to the clinic, but that’s another story for another time.

I’m gonna go back inside and watch CNN now.

A Simple Race

I’ve been to the horse racetrack once in my life – with Graceface at Monmouth Park, NJ about two years ago on a very hot summer day – and I remember it being a fun time as we picked out names at random and wagered a few dollars here and there. I won a few bucks back but also lost some, so I walked away pretty even although the overpriced concession stands did their damage to the wallet. A horse racetrack, at least the one in Monmouth, is not the high-class romantic scene that you may have seen in various Hollywood movies or read about in prewar novels. The crowd was more bowling alley and Atlantic City casino than the whiteshoe, mint julep sipping WASPs of a Fitzgerald story. But nonetheless, it was interesting to be in a place where connoisseurs of thoroughbreds gathered for entertainment and moneymaking.

This past weekend was the Kentucky Derby. Although I’ve never really learned much about horse racing, I’ve always been excited by the couple of minutes that the Triple Crown races bring. I’ve usually caught one of the three races each year for the past five years, and I’ve found the sport very fan-friendly in that you can easily attach yourself to a horse and cheer it on even if you’ve only heard about it a few hours earlier. Such was the case for this year’s Kentucky Derby, the 132nd. I happened to be at home with my family in New Jersey on a lazy Saturday afternoon, so I convinced my mom and grandma to watch the race with me.

“Mom, when the names come up, just pick a horse’s name that you like and remember it’s number,” I said.

My mom seemed uninterested at first but she decided to go along with it and chose Jazil, at 22-1 odds, who was assigned to the first post. I decided to go with Sinister Minister, at 8-1 odds, since I like names that rhyme and, more so, names that have a bit of irony. After an hour’s worth of backstories about the jockeys and the trainers, during which I sat in the living room and ate kimchi jigae and sam gyup ssal with my grandma, the horses finally lined up at their posts and the race was ready to begin.

My mom and I found ourselves standing up and only a few feet away from the television, trying to spot our respective horses. Jazil was lost in the thick pack early on but Sinister Minister, known for his lightening fast starts, was out in second. I knew, from the prediction of announcers, that my horse would most likely fade out in the backstretch, but it was exciting to cheer on for the first minute of the two-minute race. I was happy to see my mom getting into the race as she quickly forgot about Jazil and cheered on Sinister Minister with me. As the horses rounded into the backstretch, my mom and I watched with fascination as Barbaro, the 6-1 favorite, pulled away from the pack to finish with a resounding victory. Not the photo-finish of a thrilling race, but an impressive and enjoyable race nonetheless.

There’s something very pure about the racing form of sport. Sure there are unique rules that come with any sort of race, but once the gun sounds off, anyone can pretty much follow who is winning and losing. And because the Kentucky Derby – at a little over a mile long – is such a short race, you don’t need any patience to enjoy it. For all the sophistication and complexities of professional sports these days, it’s nice to be a spectator to something that can excite without having to think too hard.

Must… Love… Dogs

I’m not a big animal lover. I can’t even really take care of plants, and I’ve pretty much failed with goldfish, so a mammal – at least at this point in my life – would probably suffer some degree of neglect if forced under my care.

But out of the blue, I found myself trying to convince Melanie why a Jindo dog, the proud breed from Korea, would be the best pet ever. I dug hard on Google for Jindo puppy pics to bolster my argument. To my pleasant surprise, someone went through all the trouble to put together a site on Jindo dogs that outlined why they are so great.

I’ve known since childhood that a Jindo dog has two very strong characteristics: loyalty and intelligence. My mom read me a story when I was a little kid about a Jindo dog that dragged its injured owner for a great long distance, eventually dying of exhaustion but not before saving the owner. I knew it was a special kind of dog because my parents said it wasn’t the kind that Koreans ate. Oh, and as a little side, I know some people get really offended about the idea of Koreans eating dogs, but I read somewhere that Koreans prefer a specific type of dog for meat and won’t readily eat just any dog. Okay, that probably doesn’t make it sound any better, but com’on, we’ve all read Charlotte’s Web and still love to eat pork!

My one distinct experience with a Jindo dog was about seven years ago when I went to Florida with my family. We visited a nice Korean family and they happened to have a Jindo dog in their backyard. I was intrigued by the Jindo dog’s appearance. It looked somewhat like a fox but more compact in build and undeniably athletic. The dog had a handsome golden coat and its facial expression was friendly and alert. Two little girls, both under ten years old, excitedly told me and my sister about how the Jindo dog ate up all the lizards and snakes in the backyard. For some reason, I found it sort of funny that the Jindo dog, so good to humans, was such a ferocious animal to other animals. I had heard stories about Jindo dogs tearing up racoons, and one friend, although I question the integrity of his story, said that his Jindo dog killed (and maybe even ate) his cat. What a crazy dog!

Another characteristic I admire about the Jindo dog is its supposed alpha personality. A Jindo dog, I read, will seek to dominate all the dogs it comes across. While I probably wouldn’t want a dog that attacked other dogs, I think it’d be cool to have one that asserted its authority wherever it went. And while I know dog fighting is illegal in the United States (and just unethical in general according), the thought of a battle between a Jindo dog and a German Shepherd crossed my mind. Who would win? I’d put my money on the Jindo dog.

I probably will never own a dog, or if I do, it’d probably be because I have kids who desperately want one. But it’s nice sometimes to think about what pet ownership might signify. Owning a Jindo dog might say a lot about my ethnic pride, the way I see myself, and the things that I think are important virtues. Mmm, or then again, just thinking and writing about the possibility of owning one pretty much says the same things without the need to collect poop and put out food every morning.