Author Archives: pk

Gum Wrapper

Mike remembers a story about a Korean artist that his mother once told him. This was back when Mike was young and fancied himself an artist, sketching everything and filling up stacks of drawing pads. The artist — the name escapes him now — was someone very poor, barely able to feed himself. Always sick and feeble, this artist would still look for ways to draw things. Lacking money, the artist used cheap charcoal pencils, and for his paper, he often used gum wrappers that he found in garbage cans. Mike’s mother mentioned how the artist obsessed over apples, drawing them over and over again, sometimes smudging away the previous one and redrawing right over the smudge. The artist never made much money and died young and obscure. But after the Japanese occupation, his work became better known and widely praised.

The story had inspired Mike as a little kid. The young Mike admired the resourcefulness and persistence of the poor artist. And he loved the part about the gum wrapper, an object so easily overlooked and thrown away. Mike amazed at the transformation of the gum wrapper into a blank canvas, full of possibilities well after its intended use.

Staring at his laptop, Mike realizes that the story no longer resonates the way it used to. The gum wrapper is no longer as important. He wants to know what went on in the mind of the artist. How did he fight the hunger? How did he not obsess about food or money? Why was drawing so important when his basic needs weren’t being met? And how could he keep on creating art when nobody would notice? Did he ever think of giving up?


Mike checks the calendar. It’s almost May. The weather’s been nice the past couple of weeks. The other day, he helped Robert pull weeds from the garden in his backyard. In just a few months, there will be tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. After working the garden, Robert made tuna sandwich for lunch to go along with a cold wheat beer. They talked small talk.

“Still writing your story?” Robert asked.

“Yep,” Mike replied. The tuna sandwich was tasty. The beer, cold and tart, paired well.

“How’s the money situation?” Robert asked.

“I think I can pay a couple more months of rent, but I probably should look for some kind of work soon,” Mike said.

“Doing what?”

“Don’t know. Definitely not design stuff,” Mike said.

Robert suggested tutoring or working at some store, but Mike knew he’d feel miserable doing such work. The truth was that he barely had enough to last through the end of the month. Rent money would have to come from selling all of his stock holdings, a small amount that he hadn’t touched in years. He knew that as a worst case scenario, he could temporarily move in with Robert. Robert lived in a spacious 4-bedroom house by himself and could use extra help in keeping the place tidy. But Mike doesn’t want it to come to this.

Mike feels the urgent need to make money. He can’t focus on his writing. It was this sort of stress, the constant obsessing and desire to make money, that made him leave his business. He thought that by moving out here, where the cost of living would be lower, money would be less of an issue. The freedom he sought was only temporary. The savings, nothing much to begin with, had quickly vanished.

He doesn’t need much. Rent is only $550 a month. He spends less than $150 on food each month. Bills and his lingering student loans total up to $300. A thousand dollars would be enough. Not a penny more.

His monthly income stands at zero. It’s been six months since he last collected a check, the check he wrote himself after liquidating all the assets – the office furniture, the extra computers, the supplies in the closet, the artwork on the walls. His business partner Julia had quickly found employment elsewhere, perhaps more lucrative and secure. He was glad for her, but a bit sad that she had found it so easy to move on. They had made a good team, but they always struggled to make big money, the kind of money that others seemed to make with ease.

He paces around his apartment. Dozens of ideas zip through his mind. He is tempted to call up a couple of old clients and offer freelance work. But he resists. That road will only take him back to his old ways. He thinks about a guy from college he talked to every once in a while. A chubby Chinese guy named Greg. Outgoing and always optimistic, Greg had started a company that sold pet supplies online. The twist was that all pet supplies – the bowls, leashes, bags, collars, etc. – were environmentally friendly. Either organic, all-natural, and/or biodegradable. Mike was skeptical about the business since there were scores of online vendors selling all kinds of things. But Greg persevered and grew the business to a fairly large size. Just a few months ago, he had sold it to a big corporate vendor for millions of dollars. Such great fortune, such business acumen. Mike felt worlds apart from such tales of success.

Finally. An idea strikes him. He’s not sure it’s any good, but thinks it’s worth a try. He calls Robert.

“Hey, can I come over? Need to look up a few things online,” he says.

“Sure,” Robert replies.

He packs his laptop, hops on his bike, and rides quickly.


It’s times like tonight that torment him. Almost 4AM and he is far from sleep. The routine he has set up for himself will be shot the next day. He will wake up later than usual, and he won’t get to writing until at least noon. He blames himself for the lack of discipline. For failing to move on with things.

On this particular night, he thinks about how much he misses what he has lost. The nights he came home late from work, he would quickly brush his teeth, wash his face, change his clothes, and jump into bed next to Olivia, already sound alseep under the comforter. It was even better in cold weather, the bed pre-warmed and Olivia’s soft, warm skin radiating additional warmth. He would lean over to her side and give her a light kiss on the cheek. Most of the time, this would be enough to stir her momentarily. She would roll over towards him and tuck her head right between his arm and chest, squeezing herself tightly against his body. This would take no more than thirty seconds and she would quickly roll back to her side and doze off right away. He would soon follow her, reassured and all warmed up.

He drinks a glass of water and sits at his kitchen table, numb and unfocused. There are ways to fall asleep. A pour of bourbon, masturbation, reading a novel – the last two things being possible in bed. But he doesn’t find the motivation and lets the time pass.

He remembers the nights when his feet were especially cold – the result of his habit of never wearing socks in the house. In bed, she would let him wedge them behind her knees, in between her calves and the back side of her thighs, as she faced the other way and continued to sleep. His feet got warmer in minutes, and he would thank her by squeezing her hand.

He reconsiders and takes out the bourbon. It’ll warm him up and send him to sleep.