I don’t know why really, but in my boredom this morning I am recalling a short story by Ernest Hemingway which not so coincidentally has the same title as this post. I was a much younger man when I had to write a paper on the story for a college course in American literature. I found it haunting then, but from the perspective of my advanced years I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for what Hemingway was saying. Of course, the paper I wrote is either long gone or in a box in the garage back home (I do tend to be something of a pack rat), but you can read a take on the story by Elizabeth Wall I generally concur with here. A teaser:
The main focus of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is on the pain of old age suffered by a man that we meet in a cafe late one night. Hemingway contrasts light and dark to show the difference between this man and the young people around him, and uses his deafness as an image of his separation from the rest of the world. Near the end of the story, the author shows us the desperate emptiness of a life near finished without the fruit of its labor, and the aggravation of the old man’s restless mind that cannot find peace. Throughout this story stark images of desperation show the old man’s life at a point when he has realized the futility of life and finds himself the lonely object of scorn.
Anyway, here in the real world I continue to plod (or maybe slog) along. Work was a little stressful this week. My boss was on leave the past couple of days so I had the pleasure of attending several meetings in her stead. Actually some interesting stuff going on but it’s classified so I’m not at liberty to talk about it here. I did have the experience of being grilled by a 3-star on a topic I was not as prepared for as I should have been. Not real pleasant to be sure.
After work yesterday we all went to the boss’ house for her annual Christmas gathering with the staff. She’s an excellent hostess and cook and it is always nice for everyone to get together outside of the working environment. I’ll post a couple of pictures of our group next week.
I got back home around 8:00 and it being Friday night and all I headed out to Dolce Vita. Duke and Lonnie had already left for Hongdae to play soft tip darts. Jim was there though and we killed a couple of hours at the dart board. Later June (I wrote about her once in a post called “Sodomy”) came in half lit and wanted to throw darts with us. Lonnie’s girlfriend Cindy was there as well and she was feeling like a darts widow (my words, not hers) so we invited her to join in for a doubles match. Jim and June prevailed in a hard fought match despite Cindy throwing an unlikely ton-17 (two double bulls!) in the ’01 leg.
I was ready for a change of scenery and Cindy asked if she could tag along. Cindy is a sweet Korean gal who has not had much exposure to Americans prior to hooking up with Lonnie (although I understand she did live in Canada briefly). I asked her if she had ever been to a country bar and she said no so it was off to Grand Ol’ Opry. Turns out she had never been up “the hill” either and she was quite taken aback by the prostitutes sitting in the doorways of the hooker bars as we made our way to the Opry. Somewhat surprisingly, the place wasn’t too crowded and we were able to get a table near the dance floor. She was quite impressed as she watched some pretty good country dancers. I introduced her to the Texas two-step and she did pretty good for her first time (especially since I’m a generally crappy dancer). At midnight, as is the Grand Ol’ Opry tradition, we all stood and sang “God Bless the USA” followed by “The Star Spangled Banner”. Not sure what Cindy thought of that, but I love the hell out of it. We watched a couple of line dances (which I DO NOT ever attempt) and having finished our beers departed.
On the way back down the hill we stopped in to see my friends at Debut. I’ve written about it before, just a small place filled with good people (at least most of the time), good music and friendly staff. It’s like an oasis in a desert of depravity and I will stop in once a week or so for a night cap as I make my way home. It’s definitely an after hours kinda place, doesn’t open till 9:00 and doesn’t get busy until 2 or 3 a.m. Anyway, Cindy caught the good vibes there right away and seemed to enjoy the cozy atmosphere. She was trying desperately to reach Lonnie on her cell phone without success, but I reassured her that he was busy with darts and likely couldn’t hear his phone.
Being the gentlemen that I am, I escorted her back to Dolce Vita so she could rendevous with Lonnie when he finished darts. It was almost 1:00 and all the soldiers were rushing out to beat curfew. Jim and YJ were there along with the bar staff, and Jim bought us a round of drinks. Lonnie and Duke arrived around 1:30 and I told Lonnie he owed me 20 bucks for babysitting his girlfriend all night. Of course, I actually enjoyed showing her a good time and since I never have an escort when I make my bar circuit it probably helped my image to be seen around town with an attractive Korean woman.
June came in around 2:00 about as drunk as you can be and still be standing. Actually, she was not standing long because next thing we heard was a big crash and we turned around to find her sprawled on the floor. Duke helped her up and into a chair where she sat for a few minutes before heading out. June is a really cool woman and it makes me sad to see her drink to excess. Duke says her problem is that she makes bad choices with men, gets her heart broken, and then drinks to get them off her mind. Well, there are lots of sad stories in Itaewon, that’s for sure.
The McDonald’s in Itaewon is now open 24 hours. It had been awhile since I had anything to eat and I got to craving some trans fats from Mickey D. Only the second time that’s happened since I’ve been in Korea. Duke agreed to join me, so we said our goodbyes to the Dolce crew and headed out. There was a light rain falling and out in the middle of Itaewon Blvd we observed June staggering about apparently trying to hail a taxi. Seeing as how it was just as likely that she would get run over as catch a cab, Duke pulled her out of the street and I took on the chore of finding a cab. Which proved to be unusually difficult. I guess because of the rain and late hour, everyone in Seoul had filled what is normally an endless supply of taxis. Meanwhile June was resisting our efforts to get her home safely and Duke had to physically restrain her, taking a couple of blows to the face in the process. As I looked down the street I could see several people also waiting for an empty cab. Realizing it may take an hour of standing in the rain before an empty cab got to us, I suggested crossing the street where at least we would be at the head of the queue. June was not happy about that insisting she wanted to go in the other direction. Well, there’s no reasoning with a drunk person so we manhandled her across the street.
About this time SongHee, one of the Dolce bartenders, got off work and she assisted Duke with controlling June while I continued my attempts to get a taxi to stop. Finally one did. We wrestled a reluctant June into the cab who was protesting that she didn’t want to go in that direction. She couldn’t grasp the concept of a U-turn apparently. So she’s in the cab but the driver refuses to take her anywhere in her inebriated condition. Out she comes, and we are back to square one. I’m a little pissed at this point and I tell her in my “big voice” that she is going to get in the next fuckin’ cab and go home. She nodded sheepishly and five minutes later we had her in a taxi and on her way. Hopefully she made it home without incident, but there is only so much you can do.
SongHee needed a cab too, but we invited her to join us at McDonalds. She thought that was a great idea and off we went to dine on burgers, fries, and sundaes at 3 in the morning. After our meal Duke headed home on foot and I managed to snag a cab for SongHee which I shared as far as the Cheil building near my villa.
Yep, it’s a wonderful life. Tonight I am playing in a soft tips tournament in Nowan (I have got to get out of Itaewon before I lose what is left of my mind). Tomorrow is another darts tourney at Dolce. Yes siree.
After re-reading the sad commentary above, I guess I understand why I’m in a Hemingway state of mind:
It was all nothing, and a man was nothing, too…Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee…
I’m just too old for this shit.