Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

(Disclaimer: No scripture was harmed in the process of writing this entry. If you’re expecting scripture, go here)

Every now and then, I will get brought into some inane hypothetical discussion about Jesus of Nazareth, who was begat by Mary, a virgin and so on. These hypothetical discussion are never about whether Jesus was really the son of God or whether he was any good at being a carpenter. These discussion center around Jesus in the present day. What car would he drive? (Prius?) What would be his favorite kind of ethnic food? The question that usually gets me in trouble is “What kind of music do you think Jesus would listen to?” (Short Answer: not Michelle Branch)

It’s a much more complicated question than it sounds. The immediate reaction is: Christian music. I don’t think it’s absolutely wrong to think that, but I think it would be inaccurate to believe that this is what he would listen to all the time. I don’t know about you, but I think it would be kind of weird to listen to songs that are about how awesome you are, all the time. To say Jesus would listen to this kind of music all the time, makes the indirect statement that Jesus is a narcissist, and while he often proclaims himself to be God, I’d like to think of my Lord and Savior to be better than that. I’m sure he’d listen to it on the way to church and when he’s in a reflective mood, but not while he’s blasting down PCH in his car. (Prius?)

He was a simple man who reached out to the poor and those who were being unfairly mistreated (social outcasts, the sick, short tax collectors than nobody liked), so it seems to me that Jesus would listen to music about social injustice opposed to the latest T-Pain album. He’d also probably want something upbeat and rocking to help him get pumped up. I think he’d listen to Fugazi.

Fugazi is a post-punk/hardcore band with a cult fanbase because they’re a band that rose from the DC hardcore scene in the mid-late 80s and is respected for not selling out (won’t sign to a major label, they keep their ticket prices around $10, won’t license their music to corporations). I saw Ian Mackaye (guitarist/singer) from the band do a Q and A session at my alma mater a few weeks ago and I saw that he’s a humble, intelligent, passionate, and down to earth guy. He told stories, explained lyrics and collaborations and made it clear that his work should not be put on a pedestal. To paraphrase him, he basically said “don’t pine for a Minor Threat (his old band) reunion, go out and make a band that blows Minor Threat out of the water.”

I know Fugazi has no religious affiliation, so I’m not trying to say “if you take the lyrics from Suggestion, you can see Ian Mackeye is singing to God”. I’m just saying that Jesus would respect Ian Mackeye’s integrity, DIY ethics, and his socially conscious lyrics.  Mr. Mackeye is doing things for social justice, not allowing himself to get caught up in greed and material things, and trying to keep people from living the status quo.  He cares about the well being of his fans (he breaks up mosh pits) and seems pretty down to earth for a guy who’s been making music for a living for the majority of his adult life.

Fugazi is basically jock jams for people who want to save the world (in a good way) and I could definitely see Jesus walking into an impoverished neighborhood ready to do his work with singing these lyrics to himself:

“the elected are such willing partners
look who’s buying all their tickets to the game
what development wants, development gets, it’s official
development wants this neighborhood gone so the city just wants the same
talking about process and dismissal
forced removal of the people on the corner
shelter and location
everybody wants somewhere” – “Cashout” by Fugazi

And I could also see him driving down the 405 at night rocking out to “Long Distance Runner” after a long day of work or chilling at home listening the Evens (Mackeye’s new project).

(*Side note, I’m not going to make the argument that Jesus is straight edge. He made wine, so I assume he also drank it.)

I know that you can’t really have a best friend when you’re an infant, but just to kind of make things simple, I tell people that I’ve been best friends with Bruce since we were babies, circa 1983. My mom and his mom were (still are) really good friends (if not best friends) and realized that having sons that are roughly the same age meant that they could hang out and have the kids play together. Then in November of 1993, my parents and I left Minnesota for  San Diego, and we stopped by Bruce’s house, that morning, one last time before we headed out.  

So 1993 was the last year I went to one of Bruce’s birthdays. He turned 10 that year.  We went to the Mall of America, went on some roller coasters, hit up the arcade and beat the X-Men Arcade Game from beginning to end. It was just Bruce, his brothers, myself, and our moms. So it probably sounds really weird that I haven’t been to my best friend’s birthday in 15 years, but that’s just how it’s worked out.

So this year, 2008, I headed out to New York to hang out with him on his birthday. I mean, I had other people to visit in New York as well (1 sister in Brooklyn whose birthday is a day before Bruce’s, another in New Jersey), but I was pretty much going to New York to hang out with Bruce. The itinerary for the birthday bash sounded awfully familiar: eat dinner, go to a place called Barcade (booze + arcade games), etc. It seemed like in 15 years, the only thing that had changed was the ability to consume alcohol, and large amounts of it at that. That was a very terrible assumption on my part.

We met up for lunch that day at Grimaldi’s Pizza. It was Bruce, my sister and me. It might seem odd that my sister would join us, but like I said, our families are close. After lunch, my sister ran errands while Bruce and I hit up the Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and then headed to SoHo because I made a joke about how Brooklyn made me want to buy Rock-A-Wear clothing. He totally ran with it and we ended up at Bathing Ape (Bape) and Kid Robot, because you know, that’s what the rappers today wear. I ended up spending a lot more money that I planned and had a designer hoodie. I bring up this fact, not to boast, but because it had a great effect on the rest of the night.

We hit up dinner, Bruce had a steady diet of scotch, I had had a steady diet of Stella, and then we hit Barcade. There was some Rampage, some Contra, some Dig Dug, along side of some IPAs. Bruce wanted to head to this bar down the street that gives you a free personal pizza with the purchase of a pint. This is plastered all over the bar, it’s something they’re famous for, I guess. So we walk in, already pretty out it, get some beer and head to the back room. I immediately see a juke box and started flipping around in it. There were some pretty interesting selections in the jukebox: the new Spoon album, Deltron 3000, and some other indie stuff, enough intriguing picks for me to call Bruce over to the machine. We put in a dollar and put on some Deltron (*which was out of print at the time*, which explains our excitement). This is where the night turned ugly.

I know this is going to sound really dumb, but we didn’t realize that there was a DJ in the back room spinning music at the time. Like I said, there had already been a lot of alcohol consumed at this point, and also more importantly, this DJ wasn’t doing anything to distinguish himself from music you would just hear on a house mix CD. I remember this very clearly. The song he was spinning when we walked into the room was “My Sharona” by the Knack. I’m not a big fan of the song, but as a DJ, I don’t think you’re making much of a name for yourself if you’re spinning that at 1am in a bar as is. If you want to scratch with it, fine, that’s being bold. If you want to mash Lil’ Wayne on top of it, awesome (Greg Gillis, you’re free to take this idea and run with it), but don’t spin the song as is, and expect people to say “man, is there an awesome DJ in here or what?!”

So the DJ takes offense to the fact that we’re dancing to Deltron on the jukebox and not “My Sharona”, and I admit, we’re not looking good here. Of course, the bar could’ve prevented this situation by unplugging the jukebox at the beginning of the night, but they didn’t have the foresight, so here we are with this skinny ass hipster looking DJ screaming at my best friend for disrespecting him.

The first thing I wanted to do was to tap the guy on the shoulder and punch him back into the year where it’s actually cool to spin “My Sharona” but then two thoughts came into my mind: 1) I don’t want to get arrested in New York and 2) I really don’t want to get my hoodie messed up. I felt really terrible that my best friend was getting chewed out by this guy over a simple misunderstanding but this is New York and things escalate quickly. Also we’re all drunk so there’s no way the cops are going to take our side AT ALL.

At one point the DJ asked “how would you like it if I went to your work and messed up your work station?!” after finding out that Bruce is a programmer. Honestly, if Bruce Lee is blasting “My Sharona” at his work station, I give you full permission to take a sledgehammer to it and to throw his keyboard and mouse out the window, but alas we finally left the room in a terrible mood and finally we called it a night.  I hope that this incident didn’t ruin the birthday,but if it did, perhaps in another 15 years, we’ll find a way to redeem this one.

There’s a debate about the Korean American identity. The issue is that there really isn’t one. There’s a Korean identity and there’s an American identity and then there’s a bunch of people who argue about what is the right balance of the two. I’ve consistently been the target of “not being Korean” enough by these people, and that’s a huge part of why I’m a self-deprecating Korean. (Good job guys!) I’m not ashamed of being Korean and I cheer for Korea during the World Cup and the Olympics (we so do not cheat at short track speed skating!). I just don’t really keep up with Korean pop culture and I usually don’t try speaking the language, because honestly I’m really terrible at it (I took it for 2 years in college and am still terrible). My  gift and my curse is that I’m easily identified as being Korean.  I’ve often been told that I’m the poster boy for what Korean boys look like, which I guess in a round about way is a compliment.

During my freshmen year of college, I met Chris Kim (legal name: Christopher) in the dorms and we found out we had a lot in common: a love of Ash, The Get Up Kids, Coen Brothers films, and Clerks. We also had a similar trajectory when it came to growing up. I grew up in Minnesota until I was 11, Chris grew up in a town outside Pittsburgh until he was 10. I moved to San Diego and Chris moved to Fullerton. I don’t know if this is why we’re so similar, but it kind of makes sense to me. We’re both not “very Korean”, but Chris tends to hide it a lot better since he went to Sunny Hills High School, so he can at least claim to have a lot of Korean friends.  I went to a high school with very few Korean kids, and of that very few, a lot of them were adopted.

He’s definitely a fraud though. I’ve heard him have a conversation in Korean over the phone once. It even made me cringe. In his defense, he was talking to “his mommy”. I, on the other hand, like to keep the bar low and it saves me a lot of trouble.  I primarily speak to my parents in English, because it’s easier for the both of us if I speak in English opposed to botching up phrases and saying offensive things unintentionally. There’s the added bonus of course, that every time I call home and try to speak Korean to my Dad, he doesn’t realize that it’s me, which is pretty golden in itself (this was pre-caller ID installation at home.  Dad’s no fun).

Chris claims the whitest thing he’s ever done is getting drunk in a parking lot before going to watch a movie. We were in the South Coast Plaza (on the largest, ritziest malls in the United States) parking lot to be more exact.  Unsurprisingly, this was my idea, and in an ironic twist, we were doing this “white” thing before going to watch Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, starring John Cho, the most famous Korean American actor of our generation (don’t even for a second think it’s Sandra Oh, She’s Korean-Canadian). Besides, we were drinking Fat Tire, not Bud Light, because we’re classy like that.  We’ve done weird cultural hybrid activities before, like eating Korean food in K-town before hitting up the Wiltern (a block away) to see Death Cab for Cutie, but I think this was by far the most obvious hybrid to date, and it was purely unintentional (though I look forward to Mr. Pizza before Grizzly Bear at the Wiltern soon).

I believe drinking before a movie you’re not sure you’ll enjoy is a great idea, regardless of the fact that you might be setting this Korean-American identity debate back ten years. If anything, this event in our lives is a metaphor of the Korean-American identity. Part of us wants to embrace the culture we live in, while paying respect to the culture of our forefathers. Now if only all us Korean-Americans could  get drunk before Harold and Kumar, maybe we’d have this identity crisis figured out.