Sunday, September 11, 2005

Ten Days That Jostled My World

One day, about dusk, I returned from one of my excursions, an ambling would be more like it. John was out of town, away for a few days in Tokyo. I had been existing. In limbo. Not much more than that – eating, sleeping, following the news from the states on the Internet. The loneliness had grown comfortable, bearable. My isolation complete, I walked the streets unnoticed as if invisible. People in John’s apartment building even ignored me, one resident on John’s own floor even went so far as to push the elevator button signifying our floor after I had just done so.
That day, as I turned John’s spare key in the lock, I was like a sleepwalker merely stumbling along the same path, returning now to my roost, my cell. In this zombie-like state, my surprise was even greater. Stunned wouldn’t fully describe me as I stood, paralyzed facing a large man sitting in the center of John’s small apartment. He had pulled a chair so it sat facing the door. The keychain still suspended in my hand, midway, at my belt, as if I was going to unlock another imaginary door, my heart skipped a beat as the actual door clicked shut behind me.
“What the…” I managed to mumble. I wondered if I was in the right apartment.
“Don’t worry,” said the man rising to walk in my direction.
I was worried. He struck an imposing figure.
“I’m Jake.”
With those words, my mind started to shift back into gear. So, finally, Jake. But wait, I thought and voiced my concern. “How do I know you’re really Jake?”
He smiled, or rather his fleshy lips opened to reveal teeth. It was like his face broke, and what a monstrous face it was. As he approached, limping visibly, I saw clearly the scars on his face, and his eyes set closely submerged deep under a protruding forehead, stubbly hair partially covered a scarred scalp. His chin somehow met his chest. He had no neck, or rather he had a massive neck that bulged under his tight-fitting shirt and angled down to meet his shoulders.
“Good,” he said. “Very good. You’re Billy. You’re from Washington, but you haven’t been there in awhile. You have a son named Nate and a wife named Soo.”
“The feds would know that, too. You could be anyone.”
“’Thinking we’re great and working for good, carries more weight than it probably should.’” He repeated that simple rhyme of mine.
“Max knew that,” I said, “and we all know what a good friend he turned out to be.”
Jake’s face darkened. “Right. You got your papers from Murray in San Francisco. He’s fine, by the way, sends his regards, says you owe him $200(?check). You like music, listening to the radio, randomness, you’re a fan of the outdoors, particularly the desert of Utah and the wooded hill country of Idaho. You’re a traveler, you like to be free and you’re willing to make dangerous, unorthodox sacrifices to protect your family. You love your country but feel it’s gone astray. Most of all, though, you’re tired, a little lost, and you want to go home – and I’m here to make sure you get there.”
“Yes, seriously.”
“I’m not going to be arrested, sent to Cairo in a non-existent CIA plane and tortured until I admit to treason?”
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“Very reassuring. You really know how to make a guy feel safe.”
“We aren’t exactly living in the safest of times.”
“No, I suppose not,” I looked at him again. There was nothing subtle about him, he must have seemed like an alien to the poor people of Seoul. He was a head taller than me, built like a tank, and certainly conjured up such military images.
“So, you’re Jake,” I stuck out my hand. “I am glad to meet you at last. I strained to keep my fingers from crumbling in his meaty paw.
The formalities were quickly over.
“Let’s sit down and talk this through. We have a few things to wrap up here before you can go home.”
That wasn’t encouraging. It turned out to be an understatement, of course. There were many dramatic events, some in Seoul, under our control, to a degree, and others, elsewhere, that were either the results of, the rippling effect from, our actions, or were splashes in the pond in their own right. It was hard to tell at this point. Like I’d said, things were moving pretty fast and it was hard to say what or who was causing what, but clearly a dam had burst, or, to return to an earlier metaphor, the wrench had been removed from the works, and now cogs and flywheels were spinning with unforseeable consequences. The motor was running. We couldn’t say how much gas was in the tank or where the machine would take us, but it was running. There was no roadmap, though, for where we were going to go.
For my part, I felt I was just along for the ride at this point, waiting for my chance to get out and head home. I introduced Jake to Kim, who introduced Jake and me to the leader we’d met in the shabby office. We had a similar sitdown in a similar shabby office with some other men, some the same, some different from the last time. Lots of talking, translating, nodding, and ultimately, smiling, bowing and shaking of hands.
After that, I considered my work done, except Jake wanted me, ordered me would be more like it, to stay for a few more days, which stretched to a week and change.
John returned. We had to explain to him that we’d commandeered his apartment to serve as the nerve center for the planning of the new American revolution, and this was no Chevy ad. He was surprisingly amenable. His words, and, to be fair, these were slurred words, spoken after much soju, yet despite this or perhaps because of it, they were spoken from the heart, albeit melodramatically; his words were, “I regret that I have but one apartment to give for my country. I am ready to assume my place in history, glad to play some small part in these momentous events. Give me liberty or give me death…or more soju, whichever comes first…” Or some such, it’s hard for me to recall exactly as I’d had my fair share to drink, too. Under the air of revelry and lightheartedness there ran a grave current, which had Jake as its source.
Like I’ve said, things moved quickly, pieces fell into place almost like convenient plotlines in some mediocre novel.
Representative Kim made an impassioned speech on the floor of the South Korean Assembly calling for an end to the American military presence on the Korean peninsula. Throwing practicality aside, Kim went for the moral high ground. “Armies beget armies, fear begets fear. To find peace one first must find peace in oneself.”
There was little mincing about the threat North Korea posed, “Yes, it is closed to us, the heart of Kim Jung Il is hard to fathom, but let’s not forget,” and he changed tack, “his is a Korean heart. We may be divided now by an unnatural wall, this demilitarized zone, which is not demilitarized at all; yet we all know in OUR hearts that we will be united again. Why not start that unification now? I call upon this assembly and Koreans everywhere to recognize this fact. Why have strangers standing between us? If a husband hits his wife and the spouses fight, it sometimes make sense for a neighbor to intervene. However, that neighbor must eventually leave. The married couple must solve their problems together, just the two of them.”

This plea, this dramatic speech and its replaying, retelling and copious analysis triggered a similar outburst in the Japanese Diet from the representative of Okinawa. The repercussions were felt dramatically back in the Western States. The earthquake of Representative Kim’s speech, triggered a tsunami that went from Japan to the shores of California. Many Americans had had enough of this permanent pervasive military creep, like a leech attaching itself to a lifeform and engorging, Eisenhower’s portended military industrial complex was sucking the soul out of the country. Something had to be done, and the time for doing it had come.

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