Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jun in Taipei

It was in Tulsa. You had to be there. It will never happen again. A smallish Korean student named Jun. One of the only Koreans in the whole town. About 1995.

An American guy, white as they get, with a good heart, comes out of a campus building. There's Jun smoking. Smallish.

The American guy, Parrish, says "Hey." Jun says little, tries to say something. Parrish asks many questions. Jun feels nervous. He's just here smoking. Why so many questions?

But it goes on for awhile.

The American guy tells his friends. "I met this Korean guy. Totally hopeless. Kinda funny guy."

Parrish has a good heart. His friends have a good heart. They take him under their wing.

For fun. Because they have a good heart. Because now, Jun is under their wing.

Amazing, they find. Jun is a gambler! What the fuck? He's a gambler and played baccarat. He lost three-thousand fucking dollars last night. What the fuck?

It wasn't a mistake to take this guy under our wing. Three-thousand fucking dollars!

What the fuck?

Jun has a thing for Crown Royal.

"So I came into Louis' one night and hardly anyone was there and there was fucking Jun sleeping flat out on a table. I shook him and said: 'Jun, what the fuck?' All he said was: 'Crown Royal.'"

Jun is a total fuckup. He lost $8,000 dollars last night. He's hungover again. It's 1995. You go to his place and he just sits there with cartons of cigarettes around him and says "Uh . . . Uh . . . So bad." And he says: "Uh . . . I don't know what is worse. My hangover or I lose $8,000."

Jun is becoming a legend.

But this is not the half of it. He has a dog, a pug, he carries everywhere with him. He has named the dog Lancôme. After the cosmetic! He carries the fucking dog everywhere. The stuff of legend.

One day he calls Parrish. "You come over for dinner. I will prepare all food."

What the fuck? Jun never prepares food.

At Jun's place the table is all set Korean style. Everything is cleaned up, the whole place. There's something strange about it. Jun is twenty. What the fuck?

A Korean dinner begins. Lancôme is in Jun's lap. A woman comes out of the kitchen, bringing platters of food. She's Korean, a little older than Jun.

"She's married," Jun says, after she goes back into his small kitchen.

Parrish, who's twenty-one, just starts in on the food. The other white guy starts in on the food too.

Jun takes out a cigarette and puts it to his lips. The woman runs out of the kitchen with a lighter to light it. Goes back into the kitchen.

"She's married," Jun says in explanation, as he takes the first drag of the cigarette. Lancôme is in his lap.

"She's your wife?" Parrish asks.

"No," Jun says, taking another drag. "An American guy. Here in Tulsa."

Legend. The word begins to form in Parrish's mind. Legend. Parrish is only twenty-one, but knows what the word means. "Legend."

That was all twenty years ago in Tulsa. You had to be there and I wasn't. It is now 3:04 a.m. on the last day of February 2014. In Taipei, Taiwan. Parrish is now 40. I am 48 and live in here. Earlier, around 10:00, I caught up with Parrish, a former colleague, in the city on a business trip. We met at a local pub. Oddly, there was a guy flown in from Korea to meet him too. A quiet guy I didn't pay much attention to and had never heard of before. His name was Jun. In a white business shirt. There were a couple others who came out too. Taipei regulars.

We had two or three beers while I talked with Parrish and Rob. Then Jun started pestering me. "Singer," he said. "I need singer."

I understood eventually that Jun meant cigar. I had cigarillos in my bag. I offered him one.

"Singer?" he said, inspecting it skeptically, not used to such small cigars.

"Yes," I said. "Cigar. Mini-cigar."

Jun went outside with the "singer". I spoke French for awhile with a young guy named Laurent. He had been in Taipei fifteen months. I had been in Taipei fifteen years. I met an amazingly charming man from London named Laurence. I am never charmed by men. What the fuck?

Jun came back inside and he was different. Fourth beer. He grabbed Parrish's sleeve and pointed at the wall behind the bar with a light in his eye.

"Crown Royal," Jun said.

"Fuck," Parrish said. "He saw the Crown Royal."

"What?" I asked.

"Jun saw the Crown Royal," Parrish said. "We're fucked."

I talked with Rob and Armando from Spain. I talked with Adam from Yorkshire.

While I tried to avoid a chatty and annoying fat fuck in a Green Bay Packers polo for chrissakes Jun swept his hand across the bar a bit hastily and threw an almost empty beer glass onto the ground, where it smashed.

"Jun!" Parrish said.

'Sorry," Jun said, really apologetically.

"First glass," Parrish said.

The lovely Taipei girl who works at the bar, and who studies classical music, and who performs, and whose performances I haven't yet attended, and whose English name is actually Yeah, didn't come to clean up the broken glass.

"Jun is a legend," Parrish said, and ordered a fifth round of beers.

Then Rich appeared. I saw his head in the doorway. But he never arrived where we were.

"Rich has a thing about crowds," Parrish said.

Later we met Rich at a different and less crowded bar. And we drank several more beers. And Jun broke another beer glass by sweeping it onto the floor, where the glass shards tinkled against my feet and the beer soaked into my right sock.

"Sorry," Jun said, really apologetically.

And a girl, less cute than Yeah, came with a broom and dustpan to clean up the glass. And I talked with Adam about the Ottoman Empire and with Will about about addiction and is it genetic or learned.

And Adam from Yorkshire who has a wife and young child talked about the Venetian Empire and how he dreamed of going to Venice. And I didn't have the heart to tell him Venice was but a hollow husk. And all its wares were made just north of us, in China.

And Will and I talked of the waves of air pollution from China and whether or not Taipei real estate is a bubble. And will the bubble ever burst or will the constant influx of Chinese investment keep it bubbling.

"It will burst eventually," Will said. "We just don't know when."

Will knows a thing or two, being 44. And being in Taipei even longer than I.

"When we were young," Will said, "all we were interested in was pussy. Now we'd mostly like to get a piece of land, a garden."

And then Parrish told the story of Jun, that mild-mannered Korean guy who'd broken two glasses, about whom I knew nothing. Parrish told how he met Jun in Tulsa smoking outside of a campus building when they were both college students, and why Jun is really, no kidding, a legend.

And I laughed so hard it almost hurt. It really almost hurt my throat. The dog named Lancôme almost hurt me. And Jun sitting there straightfaced while I heard about Lancôme. Straightfaced and a little redfaced. And I lay down sideways on the bar booth and laughed like I haven't laughed in many years.

And when I asked him Jun told me he was the manager of a casino near Seoul. And had a wife and two children. And please not to tell his wife about Tulsa. Which I could never do anyway because I would likely never see Jun again.

And I laughed more until it hurt. And Laurence from London was outside smoking with Rich. Perhaps the most charming man I've ever met. Perhaps the only charming man. And it was getting near 3:00 a.m. and we were seven men at a table, not really drunk. But it was near 3:00 a.m. and I'm married too.

Thanks, Parrish, for getting me out.

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