Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Captin, My Captin

Have you ever lived a life time in a nights slumber? Have you ever felt like a refugee when waking, like a displaced citizen of a kingdom that only exists in dreams? Have you ever mourned a lover who never was? Have you ever teared up while watching Star Trek?

The Claw

After work we get some people together and head out to find something to eat. We end up eating at our favorite chicken joint where they cook a stew in a pot on our table. The beer and the Soju flow like milk and honey.

We're cheerful after dinner, after the drinks. Phil tells me that there is a lot of money to be had here if we don't waste it on frivolous stuff like beer and women. I would never buy a woman. I'll leave a wealthy man.

After dinner we head out onto the street. We're Foreigners in ties, blond haired giants. A man passes us carrying a passed out hooker on his back, maybe to a subterranean neon lit cave. We start the walk home, our shiny shoes clicking on pavement, splashing in the puddles. On every corner there are claw machines. I've seen them back home at bowling alleys and carnivals, places where people in greasy amusement craved frenzies hang out. My neighborhood, the red light district, Janghanpyeung, is like the inside of a bowling alley. A very gigantic, sprawling bowling alley.

We see a machine and head there for entertainment. We put in our spare change in turns. Ion wins a lighter. How exciting. We head to the corner liquor store to exchange our bills for coins. We feed the claws on every corner. Each machine holds a prize that will improve our life: a pistol shaped lighter, a golden mermaid with butane filled breasts. I fantasize about lighting cigarettes for hookers out doors in beer gardens. The waitress would bring us squid and kimchi.

More coins. Bigger bills. A few cheap trinkets keep us hooked. Soon we've created a game. Competition. A hunt. Who will bring home the most prizes? And our journey begins through alley ways behind brothels, past chicken restaurants, the hof that serves pork spin soup. Our wallets get a bit lighter after each intersection. I've turned my pockets inside out leaving trails of lint like Hansel and Gretel. I'm on a pathway away from rationality.

Phil remembers, he'd seen some men stocking a claw machine a few blocks away just this evening. There was a Nintendo DS in that machine, designer watches, pots of gold, the fountain of youth. We're buzzed now. It's agreed we've got to make it to the fabled claw. Past trolls, witches, and prostitutes we'll travel. We're crossing an intersection our stroll has turned to a brisk power walk. I've lost my umbrella maybe at one of the countless claws machines somewhere behind us in the night.

"Phil remember what we were talking about at dinner. Remember what you told me. He smiles. "Yeah, don't spend money on stupid shit. Here we are doing stupid shit."

We make it to THE machine. Sure enough there is the Nintendo DS. Underneath is a torch lighter. A violin lighter. A pair of work out gloves. A friggin power drill! We each have a go. Three bucks down. Another round. I finally win. It is a drink coaster with a disco light that twirls inside. A martini would become a beacon of cool atop that coaster and already I'm imagining having a party. I'll need olives.
Maybe decorations--possibly party hats. A punch bowl for sure.

Phil goes next. He wins the work out gloves. He has no need for them. Never dreamed of needing such a thing but he swears he's going to take up boxing, no, taekwando.

Ion's excited. This legendary machine pays out but he is out of money. He needs to break a ten. Lynn gives him the look. She reminds him of his promise that he had made to her, his wife, when we weren't listening, that his next turn was it. He says, you only live once. This is Korea. She's pissed. I can tell.

He wanders off to the dark bar next door.

I want to win that violin lighter. I used to play the violin. I need that violin lighter. But all I have is a ten. 60 turns for 10 bucks. It is tempting. Lynn says I'm crazy. Gives me a look. I admit I feel shame. "Phil I'm putting in 10. Pay me back 5 tomorrow. 30 turns each, Okay?"


The claw carries the violin to the lip of the tray, to the edge of our happiness. Each time it falls short. Each time we try again. The turn counter is counting down from 60 to 45 to 30. The sense of urgency is higher each time. The chemicals flooding our system are more dangerous than any bottle of soju or whore. Phil's turns count from 30 to 12, from 9 to 4, 3, 2, 1. Oh! Oh! Yes, Yes, YES...aww. We let out sighs--our anticipation replaced by guilt. The shame. I can feel Lynn's look.

Where's Ion?

Moments later here comes Ion with two plastic sacks. "Hope you guys are hungry," he says. "What's in the bag Ion?" from Lynn. She's had enough of all this. Ion has a sheepish grin on his face. Embarrassed but sober. We look in the bags. Two huge bags of soup. Soup!

He had gone inside the bar to get change for a ten. Without Korean he had resorted to making clawing gestures with his hand to communicate his need for change for the machine. The woman had motioned for him to wait and given him some free coffee to wait as she went in the back to fetch what he assumed would be a bag of coins. She came back with two bags of soup.

What a wholesome turn of events.

Claw Machines, hookers--the hunt...maybe it's frivolous. Maybe not. They make for good stories on winter days in kitchens, with friends sitting around bowls of hot steamy soup.