Just Eric – Part 4
Once I started working at the head office full time, I was just another rat-race 9-5 jerk-off, getting up early in the morning at my suburban apartment and commuting on the subway for over an hour with all the other miserable ham-and-eggers. We squished into those train cars all weirded out by being so close to each other but acting like we’re alone, then scooting along between transfer points, clanging together in line like empty glass bottles in a soda factory. Making the transformation, in such a short span of time, from a completely self-absorbed drama major to a full-on paper-pushing company man was oddly less depressing than I’d expected considering how fully entitled I felt before as a super human artist. How did I end up in Korea in the first place then? I’m just going to straight up blame that Canadian student loans system. They fed into my nonsense ego at the time by giving me all that disposable income to use for sitting around in coffee shops between improv and Shakespeare classes (that I never studied for or barely participated in anyways), and made me believe that everything was always going to be as simple as that. Only when I graduated and got the note from the bank telling me how much I was going to have to pay every month, and for how long, did I start to freak out. I wasn’t comfortable doing nothing anymore; being broke ruined my mood when I was trying to watch movies at home or listen to music while I walked to the store to play the lottery. How exactly was I supposed to pay someone else money when no one was giving me money anymore to do the things that I loved doing? So my first instinct was to just default on that loan, I didn’t have the cash anyways, so what were they going to do? That made me nervous too though as a guy who’d spent 5 years with absolutely no worries, all of a sudden having one really big worry felt about ten thousand times bigger than it should have. I applied for a few jobs but these were things like working the projector at a movie theatre or writing music reviews for the newspaper, nothing that I was actually qualified to do. Yet at the same time I was not even trying to get into any actual acting, you know, the thing that I was supposed to be brilliant at? My fantasies of someone important discovering me in my mother’s basement and making me miraculously rich and famous were becoming more frighteningly real the longer I was out of work and worrying about paying back that debt.
I was about 6 months out of school when an ad in the back of the newspaper caught my eye while I was painstakingly going through every page of it in a coffee shop one afternoon. There it was, standing out like the bright glowing letters on a massive billboard: “Do you think you are cool?” I was kind of surprised that the idea of teaching Korean kids how to act cool required no experience other than an university degree since most of the cool people I knew never went to university, but I figured if this was for real then it was practically made for me. So I called the number from that ad when I got home and found out that it was very much real, the salary was good, taxes there were low and the “cool school” was going to pay stipends for airfare, utilities and rent. I did a few calculations to try and figure out how much I could save while I was there and it seemed like paying back about half of my student loan in one year was possible, so that was good enough for me and a few weeks later I was on a plane. Less than 7 months after that and already that full debt was gone. And there I was with a regular schedule and a nice bunch of preppy clothes, standing on the subway for 3 hours a day so that I could sit at a desk in an office and type away like a machine. If I was acting then I figured this was my greatest performance of all time. Sadly it was all too real, and paying off that debt suddenly didn’t seem that important. Worst of all, the only really creative thing that I’d done since settling here was improvising my gibberish language classes in the cool school, and I couldn’t even do that anymore after being pushed out of teaching so I could spend all my time in that office. Even though I didn’t need to do any of these jobs anymore really, I felt beholden to the company out of a mix of guilt and loyalty. They’d helped me clear my student loans so quickly by paying me so much for doing so little that I wanted to both support them and give them back their money’s worth.
So I just zoned out on that mind-numbing commute and during those pointless days in the office. I have as much recollection now about what I did from hour-to-hour back then as I would trying to remember how to spell out the gibberish words I’d made up as a teacher. I think it was while floating in this calm grey ocean that I finally noticed that lush island oasis on the horizon: all the truly beautiful women here in Seoul. I was always just so horrible with girls that in university I liked to tell myself I was being celibate to keep my mind clear for all the fresh new creative innovations I was going to be coming up with, but mostly that just as an excuse to avoid the humiliation of trying hard, getting your hopes up and then being rejected. Therefore, even in Korea I was definitely on my way to being one of those creepy lonely adult losers, gross, greasy and fat in sweat pants, stained up and salivating over young girls in porn for the rest of my life. I’d cleaned myself up but I was still shy despite every white guy telling me how easy it would be for me to hook up. Once I started to really look around and see how gorgeous some of these women were, especially on the subway, I started trying to position myself closer to the hottest ones, hoping that something accidental might happen to force us to talk or something. Eventually, when I was pushed up close to this cute girl during the morning commute, our hands brushed up against each other and I swear she started tickling my hand with her thumb. I was kind of stunned and just stood there like a cat being scratched. Then I felt the train stop and the undertow of the crowd pulled me out to the platform while she was still inside. Our eyes locked through the window as the train left the station. I was upset that I didn’t say anything but figured since it was rush hour she’d be on the same train again the next day. However, that was the last time I ever saw her. Every morning I was fixated on our shared moment and trying to find her again, then after a while I just stopped remembering what she looked like and tried to recreate that moment with another cute girl. I’d targeted one that I was seeing everyday get on at the same stop; a tall, thin and super pretty girl on her way to or from tennis practice. I seemed obvious because she carried a tennis racket in a black case slung over her shoulder and wore grubby, low cut tennis shoes with short socks that had little puffballs bouncing on each heel, and flawless long legs that poured out from under a short, white skirt. Those legs looked to have no bumps or hair and not a wrinkle or a bend, like she didn’t even have a knee, and their completely creamy tone was the first thing I could see every morning from my perfect position at the window looking out to the spot where she always stood. Although I could get into the same spot everyday to look out the window it was harder to manage where she was going to end up when she squeezed into the train. Sometimes it was very close other times it was totally on the other side, there was just no way to predict the randomness of it. Finally one day she was right behind me, I could feel her chest against my shoulder, and as the train jostled and jerked, and more people pushed on and off, eventually my palm fell flat against the exposed thigh skin on one of those long smooth legs. The silken sponge of tight, cool flesh hosted the inside of my sweaty hand for the next 20 minutes. Neither of us said anything but I could feel a whole relationship playing out during that time. We talked and laughed, fought and made up, I caressed those legs in the creepiest and most romantic ways, and she would be equally as repulsed and charmed. Then, without even a wink in my direction, she got off the train. I was surprised she didn’t look at me like that other girl had, but was certain that we’d shared a similar moment. I didn’t want to take the chance of not being near her in the train the next day, so instead of waiting for another spontaneous position I got up earlier than ever and went to her specific station about an hour in advance. My plan was to find her at that usual spot where she stood and go right up to her and introduce myself. Anyways, you don’t want to know how that went, let’s just say she’s wasn’t Korean, as in born in Korea, and she had remembered me touching her leg the day before from a completely different perspective.
My co-worker in the head office, Steven, was an average looking guy at best, but he was incredibly popular with all the women who worked there. Although he never gave me any kind of details, he did imply that he’d slept with just about all of them, and by the way they treated him I couldn’t help but believe it. I thought that they would have all hated him and each other if this was true but maybe he was so slick that they each kept it a secret, or maybe they just didn’t care and only wanted to sample this cool white guy once. The more I believed it the more I kind of wanted to expose him as an actual loser. He was the kind of guy that would talk too loud on the phone, hoping people would hear what he was saying, especially around people he knew. Or whenever something was trendy, like say paintball or something like that, he’d all of a sudden be so super into it, but would move onto the next thing once it wasn’t cool but then always reference that time when he was seriously into paintball. These are the kinds of things I watched him display in the office, he’d talk for hours on the hour at his desk overseas to his friends in the States. louder than anyone in the office. And he always claimed to know everything about Seoul, like where all the good restaurants were and cool places to hang out. It was annoying and would turn off any else back home, but the Koreans here at the office here took him very seriously because, well, I guess they only really understood English in the most literal sense. So Steven’s delusional superiority went a long way here, more than somebody with even a shred of self-awareness.
Ken, on the other hand, the guy who worked with me at the cool school and was now living in the same crappy apartment complex as me after breaking up with his girlfriend, seemed like the only sane one left over at my former school. His ex Catherine had taken over the teachers’ office where they still worked together, and he told me that she bragged to everyone, right in front of him, about all the partying she’d been doing since they broke up. The other teachers would cheer and applaud her while he would just sit in the corner shaking his head. If she ever caught him giving her that look she’d stare him down or dog him out in front of the whole crew. He would never engage or argue with her, but whenever we met up after his classes at night he’d vent it all out to me. Since he was obviously single at that point, one of the Korean secretaries asked if he’d like to do any private tutoring for some of her friends. Private cool tutoring was one way a lot of foreigners made extra money on the side and was a pretty easy job since all you’d have to do was meet up with a young person, usually of the opposite sex, and talk to them. These could even be just very basic conversations, there was no actual instruction going on, but it made those Koreans look cool to be out in public with a foreigner. So in fact it was pretty much just like dating (I want to say “without the sex” here but I’m pretty sure most of these tutoring sessions eventually ended in sex) including the one Ken was doing with the gorgeous flight attendant friend of the cool school secretary. I’m not sure if Ken and her had actually started having sex yet, but after a couple of weeks together she asked him if he knew of another cool teacher like him who could meet a friend of hers, not for a cool tutoring but for a blind date.
Blind dates in Korea were popular before the All-English policy but became even more so after the changeover because it was easier to meet up with strangers than it was trying to prolong a relationship with real conversations. There were a number of hot spots in Seoul where on Friday and Saturday young people were scurrying around from person to person trying to figure out who was the blind date they were supposed to meet (however, sometimes they’d just go with the first person they thought was close enough so that they could avoid any more awkward interactions). Stacy spotted me that night really easily since I was the only white guy in the crowd. I remember saying “Oh, how did you know I was me?” and it sounded so dumb that I thought for sure she was going to pretend I was the wrong person and move along. However, as a flight attendant Stacy was extraordinarily patient and slightly more confident with her English than the typical Korea who had only used the language in classes before the changeover. I felt her evaluating everything about my appearance in that first moment while I tried to both impress and confuse her a little by talking very quickly and throwing out all these random jokes. She was giggling politely at my attempts at humor, all lifted right out of the activities in the cool school textbooks for blind dating small talk. I can’t believe I actually had to use those books to try and be cool and surprisingly it was working. I walked her over to an Italian restaurant down the street, as I’d already reserved us a table and everything. We were seated and I ordered the pizza, as instructed by the book a large pepperoni, but then when the server asked what we wanted to drink I said we’d only be needing water. The server nodded and walked away while Stacy gave me a quizzical look and then averted her gaze, just like the book said she would. I asked her what was wrong and she said that it was nothing. Then I said, “oh, it was the drink wasn’t it? We’re supposed to order someone better than water, right? Was that weird?” She looked up with an impressed smile because of my apparent strong intuition, and then nodded laughing. So I called the server back over and ordered us beers, but Stacy was squinting weirdly at me again so I stopped the the server and said, “Please Stacy, tell her what you’d like.” And she said that she just wanted a Coke and then I said I’d have the same. Somehow this worked to break the ice really well and we were completely comfortable criticizing anything awkward that happened throughout the rest of the meal, like spinning the spaghetti without a spoon or eating pickles with the pizza as was oddly common in Korea. This was the first successful date I’d ever been on, all thanks (once again) to the cool schools!