At first I shoved the cash in her desk, and tried to push my wife and child right out into the roaring street before it was too late, but of course Chaw-Hyung was far too fast for us, and already stuffing the bills down into my pocket, even as I was bodychecking the small woman I have married and the even smaller baby we have conceived together.
I had to run into her apartment, kick through the two little yapping dogs that waited on the far side of the door, and throw the cash down in her dark bedroom, which does not have a bed; I could not find the lightswitch.
When I returned to her she responded by providing me with a smirk as well as two complimentary tubes of extraordinarily unnecessary but expensive acne cream. I should have upped the ante right there, should have sawed off my arm and torn the limb from my bleeding stump, and offered it to her as a reciprocal gift, and said there, do you see what this has come to? do you see?, but we decided to leave my sister-in-law at that point, as well as this aspect of oriental despotism, which declares that Younger Brothers-In-Law Of Hair Cutters Shall Not Pay For Their Haircuts, and ran into one of the professors from the university out in the dark street. This took me so completely by surprise that I was unable to say anything to her at all.
Actually I am delighted with the company of these foreign professors, as well as their spectacular, un-Korean noses. If you ask Koreans how their weekends were, they will say that they cleaned their apartments or didn’t do anything at all, month after month. But a white person today told me she played frisbee and then got so drunk that she couldn’t move and was hung over for the next two days. Another said, “Not to be gay or anything, but you’ve got a piece of tape stuck to your ass.” Another drops F-bombs like we’re all constantly in the act of charging up Normandy Beach. Still another joked (seriously he was joking) that the girl someone else saw on the back of his motorcycle was one of his students.
I am so in over my head, so terrified of losing something so great as this job, where it is truly impossible to complain about everything, that I play the part of the prim characterless neophyte. I am seriously dizzy, malnourished, tired, and subject to something entirely new in my life—headaches, usually a few hours before I go to bed—because of the pressure I am under, or actually over, as I suspect much of it is being suppressed inside my subconsciousness.
Today I went out on a walk with the boy, alone, for the first time ever, since my other baby was sleeping back home after a rough night on cyworld, the dying Korean equivalent of facebook, and ran into an old halmoni who complained: “Your baby is cold!” But I had a reply ready for her. I had been training for this moment for decades, waiting my whole life for it: “No, the baby is warm,” I said, raising my verbs to the appropriate level of politeness. She replied: “The baby is cold!”, speaking down to me, and I said, “No, the baby is warm, he told me so.” This is an allusion to something far too complex for my meager Korean abilities, which have atrophied over the months in the absence of any time for study (I am working about three or four jobs here, as professor, tutor, writer, and baby-taker-carer-ofer)—I wanted to tell her as well as everyone else who thinks that the baby is cold, that the baby is not cold, because if he were cold, he would scream at the top of his lungs until we made him warm again, because that is exactly what he does whenever he experiences even the slightest discomfort. He is actually screaming right now at my wife because he cannot get comfortable enough to sleep.
The halmoni replied with something I could not understand, and then I walked away from her. My wife has told me on several occasions not to dispute the fact that The Baby Is Cold with our elders—I have wanted to reply by saying “Your heart is cold”, which I am capable of uttering very clearly—since old people are not really used to young people disagreeing with them, especially when it comes to such obvious facts as cold babies, i.e., babies not encased within spacesuits while outside.