“The (Un)enviable Plight of Danny Kwak” by Gary Anderson

Categories: ISSUE 01: Babe

The (Un)enviable Plight of Danny Kwak

He was doomed from the very beginning. Danny Kwak—half Irish, half Korean. His Irish cousins thought he looked like his Korean father. His Korean cousins thought he looked like his Irish mother. He knew from an early age it was going to be hard fitting in.

*

He crept through school like a shaved cat. Always looking. Waiting and watching for ripples on the calm. For fists tight in the air, dive-bombing his “chink ass.” Somehow they always surprised him. No matter how hard he watched, they came out of nowhere. He thought it must be fucking magic or something.

*

“Why you not protect yourself?” his father asked. “Why you not Taekwondo fat American boys?”
“They’ll kill me, appa.”
“No, they humiliate you. Worse than killing.”

*

He had one friend in high school. Akeem Schwartz—half Arab, half Jewish.

*

In college, he majored in nanoelectronics engineering with a minor in quantum mechanics. Classes were not a problem. They never had been. And like heavy fog the bullies from his younger years had all disappeared. Now they gathered in tiled coffee shops and bus stations. They worked in tire shops and lumber camps. But things looked bright for Danny Kwak. The only problem he had in college was getting laid.

*

“Why you not have girlfriend?” asked his father. “You become gay now?”
“No, appa, I’m not gay”
“I find you nice Korean girl. She make you kimchi chiggae.”
“No, appa, no.”
“Fine. You become gay then.”

*

Girls didn’t like to talk to him. Few of them knew what a transistor was, and none of them knew the first thing about nanotechnology. When he mentioned quantum mechanics, they thought he was talking about a chain of garages that did twenty-minute oil changes.

*

He got a job with Apple designing cell phones for $85K a year. Then he got a nice apartment in Millwoods. He tried to make friends at work but everyone was too busy for friends. For a while, he ate his lunch with Ricki Dickson, who was bi-gender—half man, half woman. But Ricki quit after six months to become a semi-professional crossword puzzler.

*

“You oma and me no humpa-humpa,” said his father one day. “I go home Korea now.”
“Appa, no.”
“Too late for change. I go tomorrow.”

*

He got the call from his mother while riding the subway to work. She told him she was getting married. Again. He sighed into the cell phone he had designed. He didn’t know what to say to her. His thoughts like a slab of butter sliding around in a pan. He said something about his father. And she laughed. “You oma and me no humpa-humpa,” she said in a pitch-perfect mock. Danny told her to stop. Then he noticed everyone looking at him. Listening to his private conversation with his mother. Listening intently.

*

The woman sitting in front of him on the subway was stunning. Wearing a dress suit with a skirt. Black hair pulled tight behind her head. Pearl earrings. Pale lips. Clearly, someone important. She had no time for him. Her eyes locked onto her newspaper. He felt unimportant in his khaki Dockers and blue Alligator shirt. But then Danny had an idea. A strange idea but an idea nonetheless. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. He knew it was off. It was always off. He didn’t want a call from his mother on her honeymoon, or his mother in her new townhouse with her new husband. He held the cell phone to his ear and started talking to no one about trading Apple stocks. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. The woman tipped her head up from her paper and smiled neatly.

*

Her name was Rachel—Rachel something-or-other, and she stayed all night in his apartment. Danny was satisfied with his sexual performance, being a late bloomer and all. She seemed happy enough, too. But when morning came he had the sudden urge to throw her out.

*

He did the same thing again three days later. Except this time it was a hippy chick. She wore overalls and a tube top underneath. Her hair in dirty brown dreadlocks. Tufts of it tickling her armpits, too. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. He said something about Grateful Dead concert tickets. She uncrossed her legs and sat forward in her seat. Then her hash smeared lips spoke to him. And he thought that phone was fucking magic or something.

*

This went on for several months. He slept with fifteen different women in that time. Not that he was counting. But he was. He soon decided to take a well-deserved hiatus from his cell phone ploy. Slow things down a bit. One-night-stands were supposed to be easy. The truth was they were exhausting. At least they were for Danny Kwak.

*

He saw her on his way home from a grueling day on the job. It wasn’t what she was wearing or the color of her hair (brown). It wasn’t her lips (chalky pink). It was her eyes (brown)—eyelids to be precise. Dropping like silk shades over her pupils, there was a hint of Asian about them. But she wasn’t Asian—at least, not full Asian. Danny felt certain she was half Asian—Korean to be precise. Like him. An ethnic highball. He hesitated, but not long. Then he took out his cell phone, dialed a number, and began to speak Korean.

*

Her name was Esther Kim, and she stayed all night at his apartment like all the rest. But in the morning, things were different. He didn’t want her to go. He wanted to languish there in the sheets together. Like fluffy white peonies in the midday heat. He wanted to make her breakfast. Read her the paper. Anything but watch her go. But she did go. She dressed and gathered her things while he punched his number into her cell phone. Then she kissed him on the cheek and walked out the door.

*

He kept his cell phone turned on after that. In case she decided to call. Or message. In case she wanted to come again and change everything. And that would be all right with Danny. Changing everything.

*

But she didn’t call. Not that day. Not the next. Never. And after a while he started making fake phone calls on the subway again. Occasionally at first. But soon he was up to four or five times a week. And it worked every time—just like before. Better than before. Four or five different women a week. Danny became masterful at it. Whatever it was—deceit, seduction, manipulation. He didn’t know. And the truth was he didn’t care. Because now he was convinced it was fucking magic or something.

Story by Gary Anderson

Background & foreground photo by Jayme Joyce