Monthly Archives: October 2006

Balcony Blues (6 of 10)

Note: the blues riff on
Previous Blues: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Today, after my weekly session with Gerard, I was pleasantly surprised to find the latest issue of Sprout in my mailbox. Sprout, as you may recall, is the literary magazine run by my friend Ashley. My short story, “Sacred Temptations,” was the feature fiction piece in this issue, meaning it was longer than all the other short stories and the only one with a two-page title spread. Sexier than a Penthouse centerfold, indeed!

I took the magazine and read it at least three times while lying on my couch. Re-reading the sentences brought back memories of the agonizing hours I spent writing up this 10,000-word story. I’m not sure if it’s any good. Ashley seemed to like it a lot since she really poured it on with the compliments the other week. But that may have been during the moments in between the three bottles of wine we finished together, before the hard-to-recall events that followed in her bedroom and me waking up naked and very sore. But she sounded pretty coherent when she said that the piece was “fast-paced and heartrending.” You know, she might’ve been my first redhead.

Anyway, the story goes something like this: Joseph is an ambitious Ivy League graduate who does extremely well in his two years as an investment banker. He’s been accepted to Harvard Business School and enjoying the life of a successful young professional. Then tragedy strikes – his younger sister dies in a boating accident and his mother is suffering from stomach cancer. His girlfriend cheats on him and leaves him for one of his closer friends. Sounds Job-ish, doesn’t it? He then meets another Korean-American banker, Michael, who is a devout Christian – the classic Korean Presbyterian. Together, they attend Sunday services, go to Bible studies, and engage in prayer. Joseph, who was originally indifferent to religion, finds solace and comfort in his new faith and becomes ever more zealous. The death of his ill mother convinces him that God wants him to give up everything to become a true servant. He enters seminary and begins his quest as an evganelist. I don’t want to give away the whole story, but Joseph encounters a number of temptations such as the nubile teenage girls in his youth group, the reverend’s young wife, nostalgia for material luxuries, and doubts about his ability to keep up the intensity of his faith. Now, a story like this can go wrong in many ways, and it’s so easy to fall into a cliche trap. I think I did a fairly good job of avoiding such pitfalls and actually chose to go with an open-ended finish, which does give me the option to pursue a book-length story. Ashley did mention something about that after the second bottle, right as her hand fell on my thigh. I might as well go for it. What’s weird is that some people, on hearing the premises of the story, think that it’s some sort of salvation story (my parents, sigh). But maybe that’s what makes it an interesting read.

One of the things Joseph gives up when he decides to become a full-time evangelist is his habit of smoking and drinking on the balcony of his luxury high-rise apartment building. And one of the things that continues to tempt him is his longing for the feeling of clarity and concentration that the smoking-drinking-balcony combination induced in him. For Joseph, it was more effective than prayer. Haha, I give this habit of mine way too much credit. But seriously, what beats the feeling of an ice-cold Stella punctuated by puffs on a smooth Dunhill stoge? I’d say amen to that.

Remember Her?

note: another 30-min story exercise

A wave of loneliness washed over me this morning. It made me think about Paige Kim. I wonder what Paige is up to these days, I thought. The last time I had seen her was more than ten years ago, when we were high school freshmen. We didn’t go to the same school, but I saw her every weekend at church.

Paige was very pretty. I can still remember how she put all other girls to shame by being so pretty. She had big eyes, pale skin, and an incredibly feminine aura that made every guy want to be her sole protector. She wore a thin silver necklace with a tiny cross that rested right between her clavicle. Her voice was soft and soothing and she carried herself like she was forty, not fourteen.

I asked her out once. She said no, but in a polite way that didn’t make me feel embarassed or disappointed. It actually made me think – of course, such a wonderful and beautiful girl deserves more than a plain guy like me. And I’m sure many guys who met the same response thought just like me.

I tried to look her up on Facebook. She was nowhere to be found. I even tried to Google her name, hoping it would turn out a lead, a glimpse at what she might have been up to since high school. But no such luck.

What if she wasn’t so pretty anymore? What if she had gained weight? What if she didn’t do well academically? What if something had happened and she wasn’t well, or even worse, dead?

I quit church when my freshman year ended and never kept in touch with the friends I had made in youth group. I was afraid they would judge me or annoy me with pleas to come back. But I missed Paige – she was probably the only reason I even stuck around as long as I did. Where are you now, Paige?

I wondered if she had a boyfriend. She must have one – girls like that are too precious to stay alone. Have enough suitors and eventually a girl has to settle on one. Or does she? I thought how I might have fared as her boyfriend. I would have bought her humble gifts with sentimental value – like a book or a used vase – because classy girls like her are beyond expensive things. Expensive things only offend them. How would we have been in bed? Would she have a wild side to her or would she be chaste and have me play the role of violator? Would we laugh and tease each other? Would my coarse jokes be tolerated? What if I did her from behind and called myself an excellent novelist, a “Paige-turner?” Would she be amused or would she roll her eyes?

I thought of these things and found myself smiling. The wave of loneliness passed, and I thought of Paige again, in her long flower-print skirt and white blouse, wearing her necklace and clutching to her leatherbound Bible. Please have stayed pretty.


note: photos from the trip are available here

So I went up to Vermont with Andy and Melanie this weekend. It was the second time Andy and I had been up to Vermont, the same Shelburne/Burlington area on the eastern coast of Lake Champlain. Things were familiar and it was almost as if a homecoming of sorts was taking place.

We did a bunch of touristy things such as the walk through sprawling Shelburne Farms, a visit to the Magic Hat Factory, and pitstops here and there to buy cheeses and wine. Lake Champlain was a beauty, especially at sunset, where the big lake retains a cozy feel as you realize that on the horizon, there are mountains that enclose this body of water – that its reach is finite. What colored the weekend in Vermont, without a doubt, was the foliage. In full swing, the fiery reds, saturated oranges, and bright yellows had us gasping from time to time at the sheer prettiness of nature. Looking at the leaves, I was reminded of that adolescent feeling of finding myself constantly staring at a very delicate and pretty girl for the first time, unable to pull my eyes away and trying all I can to remember her features, knowing that soon enough, she would hardly notice me and move on with her own life, much like the leaves that make breathtaking impressions only to fall away and disappear for another year.

Driving around Lake Champlain and eventually stopping by to take pictures near the water, the three of us silently took in the clarity of the skies and the intensity of all the colors under the noon sun. I joked (not without some seriousness) that perhaps when our fortunes materialized in the future, we should invest in a nice lakeside home in Burlington, complete with a docking pier for the boat and a spacious yard for barbeques and outdoor dinners. Most of all, for the sight we were currently witnessing. We would live the delicious bourgeois fantasy of the lakeside vacation home — invite and entertain friends, make weekend “getaways” from the rigors of our careers, and be able to say, Oh, we’ve got a place up there – you’re more than welcome to use it. Yes, such dreams will always come attached with pretensions and status markers, and of such concerns I am hardly exempt. But this past weekend, there definitely were moments when we did indeed experience dreams of unadulterated and innocent wishes – the kind where property values and renovated interiors are nonexistent and all you see are clear blue skies, a serene yet lively lake, and leaves with burning colors that kindle the nostalgia of your childhood moments spent with nature.