Life and Liquor

What’s Wrong?

I’ve been living in Seoul for two months. As a foreigner, I face a lot of questions, both from my Korean friends and the kids I teach. They ask if I have a girlfriend, they ask if I like Korean music, and one smart-ass third grader asked me if there was a lot of corn in Ohio.

But of all those questions, the simplest question I get is the one that’s the most jarring.

“What’s wrong?”

On my first day in Korea, after a night’s rest at the hotel, two separate strangers stopped me in the street to shake my hand.

The first said, “Hello.”

The second said, “Welcome.”

I spent a day at an amusement park with one of my new Korean friends. We left the park in the evening and had dinner at a Japanese restaurant. He laughed as I struggled to hold the iced noodles with my chopsticks. As the meal came to a close, he paused and tilted his head.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m good.” It had been a fun day. What could be wrong? Had we not just been laughing about noodles?

“Something’s wrong,” he said with a shake of his head.

After dinner, we walked down the street. We passed stumbling drunks. We passed patients from the nearby hospital casually strolling with their IV-stands. We passed enamored couples sporting t-shirts inscribed with broken English.

“Go get some rest,” he said.

I was sitting on a stool near the desk in my friend Phillip’s apartment. Phillip was the English name he used for his job. His apartment was compact and clean and contemporary. He was sitting on the bed. We each had a bottle of cider, a warm-up for the tall beers in the fridge we would drink later.

Glass clinked and he said, “Cheers.”

We passed his iPad back and forth, sharing new songs with each other. It reminded me of doing the same thing with friends from home. It was calming to have a friend to share the same experience while I was on the other side of the globe. Between songs he paused and looked at me.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I had thought that part of me, the part that was invisible to most Americans, the part that didn’t even have a tragic backstory to justify its existence, I had thought it was fading away. Yoga had helped. Coding had helped. Therapy had helped. I was working. I was going out on weekends.

I was fine. I was okay. I was good.

I was always telling the kids at school to use more adjectives, it would have been hypocritical not to use them myself.

I do yoga. I code. I go to therapy.

Maybe someday people won’t ask me what’s wrong.


Life and Liquor

Like That

It’s lunch break. You sit in a conference room with your coworkers. Your boss has an episode of some advertising reality show on the TV. Agencies spend the one-hour time-slot competing in scripted competitions to win lucrative contracts from the show’s sponsors.

Buy Frangelico.

It’s revealed that one of the agency owners, a stern, silver-haired leader, is gay. He has a handsome young boyfriend or partner or husband, you can’t remember, you just know that there’s kind of a sugar-daddy vibe and the pair regularly vacations in Italy.

“The first time I saw this episode I had no idea he was like that,” your boss says.

Your boss has an employee who is like that sitting next to him but he finds himself incapable of saying “gay.”

You’re at a bar with someone you’ve been dating for a few weeks. He’s predictable but attractive, average but normal. At the table next to you a group of men are cackling with delight at a joke. Wrists fly free, laughs echo, hands slap on the table. Their clothing is tight and bright. Nails are carefully manicured. Jewelery clashes like wind-chimes against their ears and necks.

Your date attempts to subtly look at you and them at the same time. He mumbles, “I’m so glad you’re not like that.”

A fog clouds your stomach, but your lack of experience hasn’t equipped you with the words to express what you’re feeling, so you take a drink instead. All you know is that it seems like the people at the table next to yours are having much more fun.

You’re on the phone with a pair of investors. For months they’ve been interested in a project you’ve proposed but they have concerns.

“Did you read the email?” they ask, “It’s all in the email.”

Of course you read the email, you tell them, but they continue speaking as if you hadn’t.

They’re concerned about the colors, the pink and the light blue you’ve incorporated into some of the concept work. They’re concerned about the product attracting undesirable markets. They’re concerned about attracting “tranny hookers.” They’re concerned about attracting “ghetto people.” They’re concerned about attracting “fairies.”

You say, “I’m sorry,” as if you didn’t hear them, even though you heard every word.

“Look, we just don’t want to attract people like that,” they say.

You live in a world full of beautiful, successful people who constantly parrot the message that being gay is okay, that it won’t stop you from pursuing happiness, that it isn’t the hindrance it’s made out to be.

You understand the message. You attempt to agree with it. You try to tell yourself you’ve rarely had serious problems with people mistreating you for being gay.

But you’ll always be dismissed for being like that.