Stick to the north of the Han River. Fuck Gangnam. It’s overrun with hairless K-pop and K-drama stars. It’s like going to the Vatican if you’re not Catholic. And I didn’t come here to kowtow, I came here to be a god.
11:35 P.M. on Saturday. I slip free from a rooftop birthday in HBC and rendezvous with my associate Paul (not his real name. Or is it?) in Itaewon District. Paul is a large ginger cunt of Irish descent. Probably has a few strands of Viking DNA kicking around too. He’s fifteen years my senior and is one of my alternate futures. His stats include seven years on the peninsula and one divorce.
Itaewon is the foreigner’s mecca of Seoul and a place that makes no sense. An absolute zoning clusterfuck. US Army base at the bottom of the hill and a mosque at the top that looks like Jabba’s Palace. The Grand Hyatt crammed on the same road as Hooker Hill. It’s a futuristic spaceport that just hasn’t become a spaceport yet. Turks Nigerians Mongolians. White homemakers hustle their children through the brown crowds like it’s goddamn sniper alley. For some reason I love it when white people are scared of things. I feel like they deserve to be.
Off-duty American soldiers rumble by and tell me that I’m tall. I act like I don’t who they’re talking about and they laugh. Their base is where my grandfather did a spell in 1973. He’s walked this road before. Forty-two years later I’m on the same sidewalk with an IPA in hand and preening the fuck out of a charcoal suit. My mission in this country is decidedly different and far less virtuous.
Paul has been on the scene for hours putting down sake with his Korean employers, while I’m just a beer deep. Exactly how I like it. The first commandment of casual alcoholism is to always have someone around who drinks more than you. We decide on doing a blitzkrieg of Seoul Pub. Go out exit 4 of Itaewon station and walk straight. Seoul Pub is home of a record-setting number of interracial date rapes. Also more STDs per square foot than Burning Man. We come in here to feel superior to the rabble and we quickly accomplish that mission. Bald white men in various stages of decomposition gurgle and wheeze in the booths. I get a San Miguel and listen to a gay South African tell how he got raped by a woman. He thought it was the funniest shit that had ever happened, like, what woman is this desperate? Paul is slow-spitting game at a girl who is moving to LA soon and has a gym bag with her that she’s trying to sell for 15,000 won. I start mocking her by trying to sell her the pen in my pocket for 75,000 won. Sell five gym bags and then you can come back with enough money to buy this nice pen. She calls me a dick. Now I know the warmup lap is over and I’m ready to go out.
She hands me her phone to take a picture of her with Paul and in the ten seconds I’m holding it two different guys text her. So she’s almost as slutty as I am. I give Paul the no-go look and we eject. I salute the South African and drop 10,000 won on the bar. I love literally dropping money on things. We just got paid. We’re teachers, no, we’re wizards; we stand in a room and perform English incantations and money appears. The working man is immortal for the six hours after the paycheck hits.
And what a fucking feeling that is. July 2009 I was just out of college and so I was no longer being paid to exist. Christian college. I could do some damn fine Biblical exegesis but I couldn’t figure out the credit card machine on gas pumps. Definitely too naïve to get hired somewhere. I sold my iPod Touch for $99 to buy groceries. Then my bike.
Paul and I procure road beers from the CU market. Nice high-calorie IPAs for 8,000 won. Money ain’t a thing. I have to drink so I’ll have an incentive to work out. If I have a nice body I’ll stop. And I have to start drinking tonight or else it won’t be ethical to fornicate with someone later. Second commandment of casual alcoholism. We cab to Hongdae, the student area. Never mind that I’m now old enough to be in my 11th year of college. The driver thinks we’re new in town and gives us the high-fare runaround. A long slide down the river freeway. We call him a cunt and he redirects.
Paul’s got a Filipina who he’ll connect with later if he can stay vertical. He says he banged her seven times on their first night together. I love Paul but I call bullshit because he’s forty-two. Not out loud though. Karma for when I’m forty-two and giving fuzzy stats.
I put out a blast to my backup women and get them stacked up like planes above the runway. It’s 2015 and your phone is just something you use to order sex like Domino’s. Probably Alexander Bell’s endgame.
The French cougar and the Korean girl who used to be Sasha but changed her name to Claire. And there’s Ruth from Texas and Jessica from Chicago and—Christ, OK, it’s not as bad as it sounds. This is all just because I love my future wife so much. A man never listens harder than when his love mentions something from her old pile of dicks. This is so I’ll have a raft of stories to balance her out.
2008. Bible study and then making out on the couch with Lauren for four straight hours afterward. Chaste cuddling with a boner I could have shoved through a brick wall. Night after night after night. I became the best kisser there ever was. I can pick locks with my tongue now. I put in the 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours of sin, 10,000 guilty texts received the morning after. Finessing my responses is how I learned diplomacy. Give a man that and his bed will never go cold. Praise the Lord, I guess.
We touch down in Hongdae. Paul’s got an aristocratic British friend who owns this lit-up basement club that looks like a Tron dungeon. He gives us absinthe with the flames on top like this is Potions class. I knock back the shit and make an insincere offer to pay before Paul always says he’s got it and I skyrocket back up to street level. There are drunk Koreans slumped in front of 7-11 like they got shot execution style. A single shoe shoe sits under a streetlight.
Fourteen months in-country and I’ve got the zone figured. Smart clock management and venue shifts timed down to the second. I hit the park but it’s dead so I hit Thursday Party to press flesh, I hit Zen Bar. Right now the birthday entry cutoff for the clubs is 1985. No one older allowed in. I see Father Time laughing at me in the shadows. I’m slinking around to shake off tackles from old flames so I can stay in pursuit of new ones. It’s like playing tag and even though I’m 27 I enjoy this a lot. Europeans everywhere. An infestation.
I fuck with people and tell them I’m a lawyer for the “the company that owns Pokemon” or that I’m “here to get plastic surgery.” I hit Shamrock & Roll because they have the cleanest bathroom in the district. Then I hit this absolute dive called FFs. The DJ is spinning stuff from 2011 so it makes me feel young again. Nostalgia seeps into my bloodstream in equal measure with the poison. I always have some paper in my jacket pocket and I write some drunk shit down. Words that I think are pretty good. Days later I’ll read them in Hemingway. Fuck that guy; I still deserve credit.
I keep a handle on myself. I’m loose but still collected. Riding a delicately constructed buzz like a motorcycle on a highwire. I’m copying lines from my funny friends without immediately realizing it. They don’t know it but they’re ghostwriting my life. This girl from Newfoundland is in my lap.
I inherited a stammer and couldn’t kick it until I was about twelve. The problem is that children have uncommonly long memories. You step in dog shit in third grade and it’s like 9/11. Never forget, no forgiveness. I was at a dance when I was thirteen and Amanda was complaining that all the guys were taken. I was sitting five feet away.
Why don’t you dance with Fred, someone asked her, and Amanda said God, no. This is all your fault Amanda.
I’m taller than Kobe and when you put me in a suit I have more power than I know what to do with. I’m like a Superman who can fly but can’t land. I just crash and destroy shit.
In the grand scheme we’re only alive for a millisecond. And you only spend a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of your life in a dark room with a song you like playing and someone pretty in front of you. You want to capitalize on those moments. And when you do, you think: 1) I can’t believe that worked and 2) maybe suits should be illegal. Any oaf who can match a pocket square can get it in. That will be the next feminist crusade. Make men wear polos in courtrooms and on dates. I get it. I would also tire of constantly falling for an optical illusion.
This particular Canadian girl won’t fall for the illusion but I have too much pride/insecurity to back off, so we go to karaoke instead. We’re singing “My Love” as the sun comes up and my backups all drop off of text radar and Paul’s updates become so incoherent they might as well be hieroglyphs.
I came here and I became a god. And it’s kind of stupid. Now to master being a normal person. Thank God I haven’t learned all my lessons yet. I can only imagine how riveting my writing will become when I have to quit drinking someday.