For a second, I wasn’t present. I used to admire pictures of Gwangan when I was applying for EPIK. The illuminated bridge was not just the background of my laptop but a metaphor. Bridging my life to something more interesting, adventurous. Now I was there, chainsmoking, trying to forget the set I just bombed. I let the sea kiss my toes and take me to California. No matter where I am I’m dreaming of another place.
I saw him sit down during the tail end of the show. Was he bored by my hosting? I did my best. He didn’t think I was funny? I liked his cartilage piercing. Maybe he’s woke. His shirt had a lot of holes in it. It looked like an old towel my dad would use to protect an instruction manual from the seventies, but I knew its fashion.
“Should I stay here or should I go?”
A white guy started yodeling The Strokes but I didn’t care. Everything faded into the background. I focused with laser precision on the man with the holey shirt. Should I stay or should I go? He was asking me. He balled up his destiny and put it in my hand like an unwanted receipt. It made me feel beautiful.
I gave him my phone with a magic 8 ball loaded. He spoke to it with the same urgency as if he was asking Siri how to operate and AED.
‘Reply hazy, try again later.’
I reloaded the page. “Han bon doe.” It didn’t even phase him that I said ‘one more time’ in Korean.
“OH YEAH BABY! I like the sound of that V8!!” He wasn’t talking about vegetable juice. He was moaning at the sound of foreign cars.
I should have known from the way his nipple peaked out of his shirt — this boy was ready to reveal things. He was the ripe age of 21 and the black sheep of his family. He lived in Busan but swore his life would be better abroad. We pinky promised to dance together.
“I am a unique Korean.” He was vivacious enough and didn’t need to put it into words. He told the taxi driver where to go. It was my first time hearing him speak in his mother tongue. The tone of his voice was much quieter and deeper. I could feel that he was a different person. His Korean was intuitive but is his English let him be whoever he wanted. I was jealous. I wanted to feel like a different person too.
“I’m unique too.” I tried to convey some sort of conviction.
“Well, I wear a shark tooth necklace.” If nonconformity was a race, a shark tooth necklace would be the finish line. He ran his thumb around the serrations to test its legitimacy.
“Alright, that is pretty cool.”
“If a shark were a car, what kind of car would it be?”
“Hmm… well, a whale would definitely, definitely be a muscle car because of the size.” I kind of liked that he changed the question. “But I’m not sure about a shark.” I paid for the cab.
He went behind the bar to change the music. I felt like I was in that scene from Goodfellas when the protagonist takes his unknowing wife on a date. They skip the line and go through the kitchen of the restaurant. A not so subtle privilege. He pays off the staff as they welcome him with smiles. Similarly, everyone knew Mr. Holey Shirt. But his mobsters were drunk expats in heels. I made the conscious decision not to be insecure.
“What do you want?” He gave me his card to buy drinks while he made his rounds.
“A coke.” Was he in recovery too? Nah, alcoholics order club soda with lime.
We danced. I sipped my Seagrams. I waited around for a good time as if it was just around the corner. It never came. A black hole germinated in my stomach. I wanted to scratch to get out of my own skin.
I stepped outside to smoke. Smoking is the saving grace of my sobriety. I have an unhealthy relationship with them, beyond the fact that they are poison. Awkward silence? Cigarette. Punched in the face by a vagina during jiujitsu? Cigarette. Trading discomfort for dependency and sitting back to watch it happen. Part of me doesn’t care. I was handed a bucket of emotions around day 20. Now I’m desperate to dump it out before it overflows. Cigarettes are the easiest and most opportune way. But my favorite is on stage. Performing is a release on its own. But adrenaline and nicotine make one handsome couple. After doing a set, I feel fucking cool power walking through a crowd with a cigarette dangling out of my mouth — no matter how good, bad, or ok it just went. But really, cigarettes gives me something to do at a bar that I shouldn’t be in.
What am I doing here?
I couldn’t answer. So, I left.
96 days sober today.