(01-02) Korean Barbecue and Beer

“My family has a hereditary condition.” Lou realizes that he’s talking with food in his mouth and stops. He picks up his bottle of OB lager and slowly straightens his spine, stretching upward. He takes a drink of beer, then touches his napkin to his mouth. “We have to remember to behave like civilized men,” he says. "I come from a good family, but as I said, there’s a deficiency in growth hormone in the pituitary gland. Some midgets suffer sexual underdevelopment, but Lou Short isn't."

Lou looks at A-Bomb for a few moments. "Lou Short isn't short," he repeats. There is no glimmer of amusement in the Indian. He hunches over his plate and forks barbecue into his mouth, then chews with narcotic gratification.

"I guess you can eat, can't you? For the price you can't beat Korean barbecue."

A-Bomb chews the food well, the way Lou showed him, before he swallows; then he touches the napkin to his lips. "Like this?"

"Yep. Just like that. You wipe your mouth like you're cleaning a windshield, people mark you as trash."

They are at the window table, looking out at Columbus Avenue. A-Bomb is puzzling, which is a new experience for him. Since he’s gotten a name, he’s beginning to remember things more, and now he’s experiencing something peculiar: conflicting lines of logic. “Can I ask you a question?

“Ask me anything. Pretend I'm your shrink."

“If you have a smarter brother why are you the boss of the family?”

“Smarter brother? Oh, when I told the Korean I don't drink; it's my smarter brother? It was a joke, chief. When you drink you think you're smarter. You get what I'm saying?"

“Am I a chief?”

“Of course you’re a chief. Who am I?”

“Cowboy … Lou Short.”

“It’s okay because these are Korean people and I’m safe with them. There’s some places where you can call me Jesus …”

“Cowboy Jesus.”

“Yea, Cowboy Jesus. If nobody’s around except oriental people it’s okay, because they don’t care. They worship their ancestors, which is kind of like a personal Jesus if you think about it. They don’t even notice people like us. When we came through Chinatown, was there anybody you’d recognize if you saw them again?”

“Just the sweet potato woman.”

“The sweet potato woman? That wasn't Grant Street. That was back in the Mission, before you ever saw me.”

“She was Korean, but I don’t know how I know that.”

“Maybe she spoke Korean.” Louis extends his spine again before he finishes off the beer. “But what I'm saying is, if I decide you're a chief, then you are a chief, because I can make it happen. Right?"

“You’ve been there with me since I can remember, so sure I do.” He looks at Lou, and the picture in his memory of the kid with the pistols and hat, staring obediently at the box camera, combines with the image on his retina to make a third thing. The picture morphs into a picture of Lou in a cowboy hat, with a pearl handled pistol in a hip holster. "Why aren't you wearing your cowboy outfit?"

"Because I just got out of San Quentin, and this is how they dress you when they send you back out on the street."

Music is playing from hidden speakers. There are notes from a xylophone, struck at seemingly casual intervals. Behind them a bamboo flute explores the empty spaces between the notes. A-Bomb is dreaming of two snakes dancing. His eyes are open, but he has lost interest in the scene through the window, the Asian street, punctuated with whites, the Korean cook, just outside the door, smoking, his wife sitting alone at the counter, waiting to be paid.

“Do you have any cash on you?”

“I don’t think so.” A-Bomb reaches into the right front pocket of his Levis and pulls out a roll of dollar bills. “Maybe I do.”

Lou reaches over and takes the roll, touches his thumb to his tongue and quickly counts the bills. “Sixteen dollars?” He gives the money back. “You can’t get far on sixteen dollars. Luckily, I’ve got a source for money. Money’s easy.” Lou tips up his bottle of beer and finishes it. “You remember how you got here yet?”

“I used to remember,” he says, “but there was a sadness to it, so I quit. After that I never knew anybody else but me, to speak of.”

“I never knew anybody else but me to speak of,” Lou repeated. “Are you dead certain you’re not Irish? Let me think; does Ireland have the atomic bomb? I wouldn’t say a thing like that because it sounds wrong. I’ve spent my time trying to know myself, but it’s always a red herring."

A-Bomb is puzzled and his face broadcasts it. “A red herring?”

“A diversion. We are going to need some money, A-Bomb. You know that, right?”

“If you say so ... Lou. You do the thinking.”

“Yea. Cowboy Jesus is the angel on your shoulder, chief. And the next time a Korean tells you that you don’t need to eat, tell her you’ll eat her liver if she don’t share her sweet potato. That was wrong of her to mess with you like that when you were so hungry. Koreans are tricky that way. Like this one standing outside the door, smoking. You know why he’s out there? Making sure we don’t run out on the check. Don’t try to cheat Koreans. If you’re gonna run out on a check, go to an Indonesian place.” He snaps his fingers and a twenty appears out of thin air. The Korean waitress at the counter catches the trick and starts laughing.

“You make money,” she says. “Don’t stop. You make more money.”

“See there? She was watching us like a hawk. Leave two dollars for the tip, A-Bomb,." He preens as he goes out the door onto the sidewalk, with A-Bomb right behind him, he stops and points at the cigarette in the Korean cook’s hand. “Those are coffin nails you crazy bastard. What's wrong with you?”

“What's wrong with you?” The Korean repeats it and both of them begin to laugh. Lou holds up an index finger and lays it against the side of his nose. He’s decided on this as the signal that he wants to be lifted onto A-Bomb's shoulders. “Like in the Night Before Christmas,” he had explained. A-Bomb hadn't comprehended the reference, but now he reads the signal, and he scoops up the midget and sets him on his shoulders.

The Korean stands watching the Irish midget ride off down Columbus on the big Indian; his mouth is slightly open and he doesn’t blink for a long time. After awhile, he holds up the cigarette and it’s gone out. He doesn’t relight it. “What's wrong with you?” he whispers. He throws it into the gutter with a look of distaste. He will never smoke another cigarette.

A-Bomb is beginning to remember the recent past. He especially remembers what Cowboy Jesus said about how quickly something shows up when he asks for it.

“What are you thinking about?” Lou can feel the shifting energy in A-Bomb and it makes him wary. He doesn’t want the Indian to start thinking too much, or he’ll start wondering why Jesus was in the penitentiary for assault.

“I was thinking about that sweet potato,” A-Bomb says.

“You’re still worried about that old woman saying you’re a ghost?”

“Maybe that’s why I don’t remember myself.”

“Yea, or maybe she put some kind of Korean spell on you. That seems to be the last thing you remember, is her telling you you’re a ghost, and don’t need to eat. I’m telling you, it was just to keep you out of her food. She wanted to eat the whole thing herself. That’s all there is to it, and if you were a ghost and couldn’t eat food, how’d you eat all that barbecue? Don’t be stupid.”

A-Bomb doesn’t answer him because he doesn’t hear anything Lou really wants him to answer. He is noticing the walk and don't walk signs, now, and he waits to cross Stockton with the light.

“You know, until today I never knew how many bald guys are on the street.. You see that tailor’s shop? That’s where we’re going."

A-Bomb is looking at the closed sign in the window, which advertises “Small Wonders.”

"It's closed."

"Yea, but not for us." Lou whips out a cell phone and searches contacts. “If you want to succeed, you've got to dress the part," he says. "You don't plan the crime of the century in a cheap suit."

Posted: Tue - January 29, 2008 at 08:13 PM