In 1997, I lived in a place I called the ghetto. The less-attractive side of the office building was populated by five English teachers. Greg and Bob were both from New Orleans, and we hit it off right away. There was also another unmarried couple named Ross and April who were living in sin unbeknownst to Mr. Song. And then there was crazy John, a giant loner who would often get drunk in his room and walk in his sleep.
One night in late March, I went to a disco with Bob and Greg to drink beer and listen to music. Old Linda tagged along.
Discos in Korea weren’t cheap back in those days. I was forced to order several drinks and a pricy side dish. The waiter returned with six large bottles of beer and a big tray of fruit.
Right away, Greg started giving me problems.
He said, “I didn’t come here to eat overpriced apples, and I ain’t fucking paying for it.”
Greg was tall and balding. He did have some hair on the sides of his head, but the middle of his noggin was nothing more than a strip of pasty flesh.
I said, “Listen, asshole, you’re putting up your cash like the rest of us. You cheap motherfucker.”
“Well, you don’t have to use that kind of language.”
Bob said, “Quit being such a Jew.”
Linda said, “There’s no reason to bring the Jews into this matter.” She turned her attention to Greg. “If you don’t want to pay, then the solution is simple. Go find another table.”
He became defensive. “OK, already. I’ll fucking pay.”
Greg wasn’t a bad guy. In fact, I grew to like him a lot. He was simply a cheap stingy bastard, and every once in a while, I had to lay down the law to avoid getting ripped off.
All the Koreans kept asking Linda to dance. They liked her blonde hair, and they thought she was beautiful. Needless to say, the horny old lady loved the attention. She danced with every man in the joint.
But, as the evening wore on, she became attracted to one guy in particular. He was short and athletic, and wore a black pin-striped suit and a cherry-red necktie. He reminded me of a young Jackie Chan. She brought him to our table.
Linda said, “Let me introduce my new friend. This is Chung.”
He said, “I Chung. I grad to meet you. Welcome to Kolea.”
We all smiled and nodded.
He said, “I vely rich man. I want to buy you dwinkee. You not pay. Chung pay.”
I could tell that Greg was about to have an orgasm. Eating and drinking for free gave him wood. He immediately ordered more beer. But Chung was in the mood to show off for Linda. He shouted some words in Korean, and the waiters brought over an expensive bottle of single-malt Scotch.
I used to be a filthy drunkard in my younger years. I would literally indulge until I passed out. And my favorite drink? Single-malt Scotch.
I started throwing back the whiskey at an alarming rate. Then I stood up in an attempt to say something clever.
I pointed to Chung. He was sitting across from me.
“I’d like to propose a toast to my new best friend. This Korean is a wonderful son of a bitch.”
To my surprise, Chung started weeping, and the tears of grief slid down his cheeks and fell onto the table cloth.
I looked around helplessly. “What the fuck just happened?”
Linda shot me an angry look. “You called him a son of a bitch, you dumb motherfucker.”
“But I call everybody a son of a bitch. It’s a term of affection.”
She said, “Well, this is Korea. You aren’t in Kansas anymore. Why don’t you learn some fucking manners?”
I went home dazed and confused. I felt like a piece of shit.