4.1 Spring 2022

May 27, Work mom

Figuring it was Friday and I would simply shower at the gym, I rolled into school with a barely dressed up shirt and unwashed hair.

But the universe is a trickster.

“Are you free tonight? I can take you to pick up your dry cleaning and tailoring and then we can eat dinner with my son.” MJ proposed at 8:30AM.

You know I’m never one to turn down a meal, though I had strong second thoughts when I felt my greasy roots.

Guess I’ll just slather myself in hand lotion and hope the smell of Korean spices will hide the rest!

She and I made it through the day and I hopped in her car, now familiar after she’s helped me so many times, and headed to the tailor shop in the underground parking garage.

The ladies recognized me from the week prior, mostly because it’s uncommon for a foriegn woman and older Korean lady come in together.

The dry cleaning half of the shop worker passed over my shoes and my long white padded jacket.

“We really cleaned it a lot but it’s still dirty.”

“I wore it well,” I told her.

“We can clean it again on the house.”

Woo hoo! Bargain! I knew this would be my reality when I bought a fashionable white jacket and I accept the consequences.

“We know it’s tough to come from overseas so we’ll clean it again free of charge.”

How nice! MJ insisted it was because I was pretty while I insisted it was because I talked to them in Korean the first time around and was with a Korean mom. I really don’t think I’d have gotten it for free if I went by myself, stuttering through an interaction and getting on everyone’s nerves.

The woman working the tailoring half of the shop produced my pants. On one of my many trips to Goodwill, I found a pair of high-waisted bolero pants. The waistline had no zipper and was just stretchy enough to get over my hips in the morning. But I had found recently that wasn’t true later in the day when we’re all a little more puffy– I decided to get a zipper installed no matter what the cost after I spent nearly ten minutes in a public restroom trying to wrestle the pants back on and wondering if I would seriously have to leave Lotte Mart in my underwear.

The zipper she put in looked like it had been manufactured there originally. It came to about twelve dollars, which MJ said was a little pricey.

I laughed anyway, telling MJ and the tailor that the tailoring cost more than the pants themselves. That was also true of my prom dress– I found it at the local, now sadly defunct, thrift store in my hometown for twelve dollars but had to pay twenty-five for dry cleaning.

Our work was done, though, so MJ took me to the other side of town where we picked up her son who, given MJ’s petite stature, surprised me with his height. She and I kept chatting in Korean while he sat quietly in the back. MJ scolded him for being too skinny.

“You need to put on muscle before you start your military enlistment.” Men in Korea must complete compulsory military service between the age of 20 and 35; there is big contention now to whether BTS, given their unbelievable stardom, should get a special pass.

He sighed from the backseat. Poor guy had been rejected from two of his desired military placements and was waiting on response from the third.

While at first I figured he might have been shy or uncomfortable, I came to realize he was in fact just a calm and serious guy. I talked to him in English and MJ in Korean. His English pronunciation was excellent though MJ would later tell me he felt inadequate in his speaking ability.

Her son was the calmest college kid I’ve ever met. MJ said he was eager to join us for dinner but I wasn’t so sure.

Is it because I’m old now?

“What do you like least about Korea?” He said over the steaming pot of broth at the shabu shabu restaurant.

MJ laughed at my side. “She might just say all is good.”

I paused for a long moment and put down my chopsticks.

“Probably the leniency towards sex crimes.” I concluded. Miss Congeniality’s incongruously sharp “harsher punishment for parole violators” quote came to mind.

He nodded sagely while MJ bugged him for an explanation. He asked a few more sporadic but surprisingly pointed questions throughout the evening, though MJ and I led most of the conversation.

We talked about his plans to study in the US and his concerns about safety as an Asian man. He seems like a very well-educated and thoughtful boy, though our senses of humor were not in alignment.

Neverthelesss, I pulled out my old corporate trick: smile and laugh for the both of us. I told myself it was okay if he didn’t like me. Not everyone does, or will. But I will be charming till the end, dammit!

Though he looked ready to go home and play with his cat, I offered to treat everyone to coffee since MJ had bought dinner. It’s much for common to buy the next course than split the bill in Korea and I’m doing my best to follow Korean etiquette.

I looked at the cheesecake in the display with excitement and turned to my tall companion with his impossibly young and freckled face.

“Do you want to split it with me?”

“Oh, I’m okay. I’m full.” He said, and for once I believed that this was the truth and not a polite excuse.

I’ve never met a twenty-one-year-old boy who says no to more food but there’s a first time for everything. Growing up with three brothers, my youth was full of boys parading through the house in various stages of food decimation and machismo theater to impress any girls in the house. But not MJ’s son. He was as cool as a cucumber meeting a foreigner, with a small appetite to boot.

MJ later updated me about his perspective.

“He said he had a good time,” she said, though I wasn’t sure I believed that, “but thinks he really has a long way to go in speaking.”

I told MJ he speaks really well, and was also the chillest 21-year-old I’ve ever met.

“You should meet my other son then. Total opposites. My older son is a homebody and a little introverted. Not my younger son. He’s always out and about.”

She pulled up a kakao profile picture of a gym selfie. This guy was twice as wide as his older brother if his multiple flex pics were anything to go by.

“Let’s go to dinner with your younger son next time, and then your husband. That way I can meet the whole family!” I proposed to her metered agreement. And in this case, I know it will eventually come to pass. Once again worming my way into other people’s families, yeah!

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