RE: Assignment Details
What you have to understand is, I didn't ask for him to be there. I didn't ask for him to come. I know that being editor-in-chief of a massive, international media conglomerate like Psychedelic Kimchi isn't an easy charge, and I know that all of us, all of us, have domestic interests on the side as well. Nonetheless, there he sat, at the Starbucks in the middle of SeaTac airport, sipping what looked to be a double espresso from a small cup and saucer.
I was surprised, sure, but I guess the tone of my last missive had really spooked the powers-that-be at the ol' home office. I had requested a meeting with my handler, carefully encrypting it so that prying eyes could cipher neither the substance nor the recipient of the correspondence. But, at the bottom, in big, block, handwritten letters, I had included the following postscript, without encryption, without subtlety:
I WANT OUT. I'M DONE. BRING ME IN. I'M COMING HOME.
I didn't feel good about writing it. I didn't feel good about throwing a hissy fit. I knew I had been chosen for the assignment of PK's American Heartland correspondent because I was viewed as having a certain steely resolve. But of late, that resolve had cracked, and I wanted to make that clear. I was asking to be rotated out, exactly one year after assignment. I felt I'd lived up to my obligation, and it was someone else's turn.
"Where's Francois," I inquired.
"Francois' cover and life were both endangered by your little tantrum on your most-recent correspondence."
"Oh, c'mon," I groaned, lowering myself into the seat opposite him. "No one is on to us. No one is monitoring us. Pressure has lifted significantly since my arrival here."
"Still," he said, pausing to sip, "it was... Indiscreet."
"Okay, look, I'm sorry. Okay? And I know I agreed to this assignment. But I'm cracking up over here. You have to get me out. Like, now. There ain't nothing wrong with me that a night in Itaewon, followed by breakfast at Nashville's, followed by approximately 26 hours of sleep at the Hamilton wouldn't fix. I need to take that freedom bird back to the world and rotate home, man!"
He sipped again, seeming to comtemplate it. "That is, as you well know, an impossibility."
"Impossibility my ass! I'm cracking up! I thought I was some hotshot, Ernest-Hemingway foreign correspondent but I'm not! These people are insane! They regularly and religiously vote against their own economic interest and the physical well being of their young adults! I tell you I can't take it!"
"Let's not get into Hemingway again," he smirked.
"Oh indeed, let us not."
"We have other American correspondents who don't seem to share your concern for their own safety and sanity. Why, IJ sits in New York even as we speak."
I became enraged. "This is what I'm talking about! You people have no idea what I'm going through out here. You really want to compare me to Jetsam? He's in New York! On a college campus! You think that's America? You think that's suffering? Do you know where I was last month?"
"I know where you..."
"Wisconsin, motherfucker! I was in Wisconsin! They prayed before every meal, served me egregious amounts of dairy products and faced hardships with good nature and faith in a higher purpose. Do you realize what that's like for me?"
"Lower your voice, people are..."
"Let 'em look! And you know what else? Sopranos has three seasons of age-centered material followed by a blackout for a series finale. Every big budget action movie that has come out since I got here has sucked. They canceled Deadwood and Rome. The 'Hawks are on their way down. The Mariners are only building hope in me so we can do our annual soul-crushing in July. The new Modest Mouse record, even with Johnny Marr on it, had only one good song (there, I said it). And here are the names of the authors of four of the current top-five selling fiction books as published by the New York Times today: Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz, Mitch Albom and James Patterson. Meanwhile, none of you fuckers can write a post that doesn't have the punchlines as footnotes, so twice every paragraph I have to count the number of asterisks, scroll down to the bottom, count up the corresponding number of asterisks, and then laugh. Do you realize how time consuming that is? And don't get me started..."
"Please don't get started..."
"The one refuge for my sanity was that every couple months I got a new PRIDE FC. And then Dana White, prince of all darkness, goes, buys it, and turns it into UFC AAA. I have been forced to endure trials here beyond what can rationally be expected of a man. I want to go home."
He pushed slightly away from the table and lit a cigarette, oblivious to or unconcerned with the law prohibiting smoking indoors in Washington State. He exhaled a plume of smoke.
"Do you know why we chose you to come here and tell the story of these people?"
"Sure, my analytical eye, my literary wellspring of talent, my personal hygiene, my breathtaking penmanship."
"Listen, dipshit," he said. "Where were you born?"
"And what's your drink?"
"That's the kind that's even cheaper than Wild Turkey, right?"
I saw where he was headed and tried to divert him. "I'm just saying it's not fair. Denz is in Australia. You're in Seoul. Kmart is god knows where. I'm the one that has to tolerate all this..."
"Earnestness. I have problems, man. You wouldn't understand."
He stubbed out his cigarette, exhaled smoke, and raised an eyebrow. I was immediately regretful.
"I mean, they're small in the overall scheme of things, but still... All the more reason just to do the easy fix and bring me home."
He stood up and adjusted his coat before checking his watch, a none-too-subtle sign that his flight back to Seoul and reality was soon departing. He had never left the airport in his brief sojourn and, contemplating what I would be going back to face after I left the somewhat-international confines of the building, I couldn't say I blamed him. But as he stood there I noticed a new resolve about him, a new purpose. The change was not so much physical, although to be certain he was carrying more musculature than when I had seen him last, but more in the vain of attitude as conveyed by his posture and the obvious focus in his eyes. He was not a man who would be dissuaded from his purpose, no matter what the adversity, and I had been a fool to think I could deter him from his stated course of intent.
"Did you hear what I said you marvelous bastard," I begged him. "I want to go home!"
"I heard. But even in stories as hackneyed and cliched as yours, I'm not delivering that corny closing line you so hope for. I, you see, am not a Hemingway fan." He checked his watch again. "As you're aware, I have more pressing matters in Seoul." He touched my shoulder and leaned closer as he walked past. "Don't pull this kind of shit again."
I sat for a moment as the smell of his smoke dissipated. I thought about what he'd said. I thought about running after him and pleading with him to take me on that plane. Then I stood up, grabbed my camera, recorder, and rucksack, and walked through security, out to the parking area.
Sanjeev, my translator/stringer/confidante was outside with the Land Rover.
"Good trip, boss?"
"Not over yet, old friend," I said, stepping up into the cab and contemplating the 120 miles of road, the mountains, the weather, and the bandits we would have to pass on our way back to base.
"No, I 'spose not. Anything else you need in the city? Or you just want to go to the 'Burg?"
"No, I think I'm set," I said through the large wad of chewing tobacco I was cramming into my face. "Let's go home."
Because I, after all, am a Hemingway fan.
Thursday, June 14, 2007