The Stories

Dispatches from the Wasteland: Living in a Powder Keg and Giving Off Sparks

Click here to read this story from the beginning…

 

At the end of the last episode, Mrs. Kim may or may not have just invited me to slip out of the Cool Breeze Shack O’ Suds and possibly engage in a rousing round of slap and tickle…

Smudge just continued to stand there at the check-out counter, smiling cryptically and waiting for me to make a move. “Don’t you need to go outside?”

Of course I needed to go. My car is out there. And I don’t live here. “Is she serious with this? Mrs. Kim?” Or is this one of those things that only exists in my head?

Smudge kept grinning. “Oh, it’s real alright. Now get out there and do what you need to do. I’m bored, and I can see everything from this window right here. Go!”

Hated her a little bit. Then I sighed. This was ridiculous that I was just standing here, not wanting to leave a decrepit little beer shack because there was an apparently horny woman waiting out yonder to proffer herself wantonly. Seriously, nothing was going to happen other than a second or two of awkwardness, and me and Awkward go way back. I can handle it.

I marched toward the front doors, still clutching the 12-pack, the evil object of desire that had gotten me into this mess in the first place. As I clattered through the little foyer, I heard Smudge mutter, from her place at the window, “Wish I could smoke in here.” She was enjoying this far too much. Hated her a little bit more.

I cautiously pushed one of the front doors open, and furtively glanced about. By some odd alignment of the stars, there were no cars in the small parking lot that fronted the building. There’s always at least two or three hoopties, belching smoke while one or more of the many occupants is inside the store, foraging for cheap wine and corny dogs. My car was hiding around the corner, in the little strip of parking slots that provide the best chance of not becoming road kill around this dangerous place.

Twilight was deepening, but the heat of the afternoon was still lingering, creating that humid transitional mix of fading vision and budding passions as the innocence of the day yields to the sultry temptations of the night. I half expected a young Elizabeth Taylor to come waltzing up, wearing a stunning, low-cut dress and handing me a mint julep dripping with heat sweat.

I turned to my left and there she was. Not Elizabeth. Mrs. Kim, standing in the middle of the wooden porch/walkway thing that led to that side of the property. She had her arms wrapped around the bag of ice, which was roughly half her size, so I could only see arms, legs, and a tiny head sticking out from the four sides of the moist and shimmering plastic.

She strained to shift the bag to one side, then reached up to rub one wet hand on her cheek. Ah yes, the international symbol for “you have a smooth face and I want you immeasurably”. Why was she so invested in this clean-shaven thing? Mr. Kim was smooth as well. In fact, from what I could tell, he never even had to shave, so she already had a hairless lover to frolic with as she pleased. Especially when you threw in that “already married to him” business.

Was it the fact that I was only temporarily clean-shaven? I have a heavy beard. I get five o’clock shadow at 10am. Maybe that was the appeal, the delicious possibility that at any given second, stubble could appear and slightly roughen our forbidden romance in a way that Mr. Kim could never-

Okay, hold up. Why am I standing here thinking about this, filling my mind with the possible motivations behind the lascivious needs of the heated wife of the proprietor of an alcoholic venue where you get free ice with a 12-pack? Why do I think so much? Why can’t I just grunt and crawl through life like most people? It’s madness. Dude, just go to your car and get out of here.

I took a step forward.

She strains under the weight of the ice so that she can also take a step forward.

At this rate we are going to be here until next Thursday.

I start to head to my right, with the intention of just leaving the walkway and going around her through the parking lot. She suddenly shifts into Plan B, heaving the bag of ice up against the front of the store with a crunchy splat, and racing to cut me off. She’s now right in front of me, gazing up at me with the fading daylight making little glints in her dark eyes. Considering her height, there must be considerable neck strain, her chin thrust into the air as she tries to maintain her balance.

Suddenly, a string of Korean words shatters the humid silence of the night, and a man steps around the corner of the building and onto the walkway. There’s a dim glow in one of his hands, and a wispy cloud of something evaporating above his head. He was apparently in the side lot taking a quick smoke.

It’s Mr. Kim.

Mrs. Kim lets out a startled squawk and leaps backwards an amazing three feet or so. It’s such an astonishing and agile move that if this had been the Olympics, judges would now be on their feet, waving placards sporting double-digit scores while tears stream down their faces in rapture.

Mrs. Kim quickly finds her voice. “Ice to the car!” Like this will fully and completely explain everything.

Mr. Kim studies her for a second, studies me for a second, then spends decades studying the half-melted bag of ice now collapsed against the wood siding, with a growing river of wetness gushing forth and spilling across the wooden planks. He takes another drag of his cigarette, then looks back at Mrs. Kim. This time his expression changes to one that clearly asks “then why is the ice over here, and you were, before the astonishing Olga Korbut move, way over there, lustily gazing at the white man like he was a pogo stick”?

And then all hell breaks lose. Both of them both launch into surprisingly loud streams of Korean, accessorized by waving hands and flashing teeth. This goes on for a bit. Then there’s a brief pause where they mentally regroup for round two, during which Mr. Kim flicks the remaining stub of his cigarette toward the ice bag, without even looking, and the butt lands expertly in the pool of water surrounding the base of the bag, sizzling to death immediately. (Wow, these two have incredible athletic skills, not to mention an admirable respect for fire safety.) Then they both launch again, even louder.

A slight bit of movement on the left catches my eye, and I can see Smudge in the window, her face practically mashed against the glass while she drinks this all in. She sees me looking, gives me a thumbs up (“This is SO fun!”) and then completely loses interest in me as she turns back to the Kims. They are standing toe-to-toe, letting out what must be years of frustration and bitterness. Suddenly, another voice rings out. This one in English.

“But I’m GAY!”

The duo stops yelling and turns toward me. Smudge, face still mashed in excitement, flicks her eyes toward me, her mouth in a perfect “O” of realization. (“So that’s not his brother that comes in here with him sometimes.”) Out on the road, one car slams on their brakes and someone in another car honks their horn, which instantly plays a brief medley of Judy Garland hits.

Oh wow. I guess that voice was mine. In all the excitement and frenzy, I apparently felt the need to out myself here at the Cool Breeze United Nations.

The Kims stand there silently for a bit. I think I see Mrs. Kim’s face fall slightly, but I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell. It’s most likely that she had been in the midst of formulating another vicious vindictive to hurl at her husband, and my intervention had not been necessarily desired, even if my smoothness was. Then Mr. Kim takes a step backwards while still staring at me.

Okay, wait, what does that mean? Is he concerned that HE is now the object of my unbridled lust for members of his family? Come on. What is wrong with these people that they think I want anything carnal to do with anybody in this building? I just want beer.

Then Mr. Kim reaches over to a pack sitting on one of the window sills. He was only going for another cigarette, which he quickly lights before turning back to his wife. For some reason, he starts off in English before quickly changing over to Korean. But I catch enough to realize he’s mad that she was carrying the ice. Something about her back.

Oh my GOD I’m an idiot. This isn’t “The Long, Hot Summer” after all. It’s a bad episode of “The Love Boat” where Gopher gets confused. This is what happens when you think too much. And this is why I need to get out of here right now.

I glance at Smudge, who mouths “they didn’t understand you”, and then waves me to my car, my clueless work here is done. Ever polite, even when embarrassed or misinterpreting a situation, I wish the Kims a good night as I slip past them and run to my car. I don’t think they even noticed me leave.

It takes me a few days before I go back to Cool Breeze, but eventually I do. The lure is always there, with it being the closest beer store, handy in a pinch. So, I suck it up, get over my shame, and pull into the parking lot. As I approach the door, I once again berate myself for letting my imagination run wild, then grab the wooden handle.

Smudge is inside at the counter.

She motions me over immediately. “You are not going to believe this.”

Really? “Spill.”

Smudge: “Mrs Kim’s mother is here. And they’ve been talking about you since you pulled in.”

What? I glance over at the Kim corner, and there they both stand, Mrs. Kim and a more seasoned version of the same face. Both of them are the same height, both are watching me look at them, and both raise a hand in a professionally-synchronized manner and proceed to rub their smooth cheeks. Then they burst into giggles.

I look back at Smudge, confused. I don’t get this. What is going on? Wait. Are YOU behind this? Did you… are they… but…

Smudge just smiles. Again.

 

The wretched end.

Cheers.

 

Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 04/11/10. Minimalist changes made, as sometimes it’s best to just let things be. And I eventually did with the Cool Breeze Den of Iniquity on West Red Bird Lane, where the beer is cheap, the lust even cheaper, and imagination can’t hold a candle to reality…

Turn around, bright eyes…

 

18 replies »

  1. Noir indeed, smouldering cigarettes, an ice chest, Korean miss-understandings, a kind of Korean French farce… Oh, the humanity.Was our scribe singing ‘ every now and then I get a little terrified When I see that look in Kims eyes?’ Another weird wordy and worthy post..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, thank you for the noir reference. I tried to work in a bit of that, but one never knows what translates. Our scribe was singing a lot of things, expletive-filled ditties as he ran for the hinterlands…

      Like

  2. Dude. I was going to write “Stop drinking”, but that sounded too judgmental. Also “Stop smoking” but again, judgmental. Maybe I should say “Stop watching Elizabeth Taylor, in movies when she was young and supple and FIT in the low cut dress without the aid of industrial strength undergarments that were made with tensile steel wire and held her rather generous (that’s being kind, the woman was FAT) proportions IN”. No. Those ALL sound judgmental. I’ll merely say that, like Mrs. Kim, I’ve been under mistakes regarding a fellow’s orientation. Much to their chagrin and my undying embarrassment, once I grasp the obvious. In the day you had to bash me over the head for me to ‘get it’. My gay-dar is permanently damaged apparently. In my defense, I’m irresistible to lesbians and orientation confused, finding their way young college girls. I’m bi, but it doesn’t make unwanted advances any the less horrifying does it?

    I’d have changed beer marts though. Just sayin’. Driving two hours out of your way in search of that overly sour, foamy beverage would be worth it to ME, to avoid having some woman with a cheek fetish (bada BING) casting lusty glances at my sides…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, don’t worry about the judgment, I would never be bothered by such from you. I do drink a little more than I should, although nothing compared to my Inglorious Days, and I still smoke, but more on a “social” level rather than the career it used to be. As for Elizabeth, well, she was a bit trussed at times, but in the late 50s she was on fire, both with her acting (something like 5 Academy Award nominations in 6 years) and her style. Just check out her white dress in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, which was the basis for my reference in the above.

      Despite my sometimes repulsion with the goings-on at Cool Breeze back in the day, I actually miss going there. It was real life, okay low-life, unfiltered, and I do have a respect for that, even if the Kims made me squirm at times.

      And yes, I fully grasped what you did there with the end of the first paragraph. You go, girl. 😉

      Like

    • I can’t remember if I mentioned this in the footnotes at some point (I could easily check, but since I’ve retired I’ve stopped doing anything that I don’t absolutely have to do), but this was the first “serialized” story I did as a blogger. As such, nobody really read it, and it languished in the archives for a decade. I hesitated at bringing it back out, with part of me wanting to leave it as a touchstone, just for me. But I started piddling and tinkering and, well, here we have it…

      Smudge is/was a hoot. She clearly had a rough life, but she was fascinating and smart as a whip, proving the adage about books and covers…

      Liked by 2 people

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