Earnie

For the rap version of this story, click here.

1

She's here, she's here. Here at the office to see us. The Big Dog, her manager, comes, too. Comes in a bomb-ass Chrysler, his lackeys tag along. She's here, back at our PR club. Back after six months to erase herself. The new girls are all excited, 'cause this singer shows up. All crazy with excitement. They shout. Get all worked up. But she doesn't budge. She sits stiff behind the tinted glass inside the fuckin' black Chrysler. Only her manager and his crew come into the office. The manager, he speaks to me, he jabbers, hollers, bullies.

"Hey, you know what happens if you move your muzzles any way you want. Earnie never worked here, got it? You don't know Earnie. Start talking shit and see what happens."

We never said a word about Earnie. The manager kicks the desk. He kicks the couch. He kicks the girls. His crew kicks them, kicks the girls. The girls roll like soccer balls. The girls ball up and roll from corner to corner. The girls shout, cry out, all shaky 'n' shit.

I stand still. Can't hide 'cause that'd be uncool. Can't shake and shiver like the girls. But I'm scared. I'm scared of the Big Dog. Scared of his crew. I'm scared of her. Scared, but I don't show I'm scared. I'm gonna stand like this, like this. I think. I tell myself I don't know Earnie. I don't know this rapper named Earnie. Don't know Earnie's real name is Sun-hui. Don't know Sun-hui worked for me. Don't know Sun-hui went out to work at inns, at inns, every night. Don't know, don't know. Don't know nothing. Lalalalalalalal lalalalala

They call me Basket, made of light bamboo Put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through. My brain so light, my nickname's Basket. So light at birth, I looked like I'd die, They call me Bamboo Basket, Don't know nothing. Don't know Papa, don't know Mama Don't know how to live, don't know the world No one taught me how to speak But this I say: I'm light, you're light My words so light, your words so light I'm Basket, you are baskets, put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through The whole world's a basket.

2

I'm nineteen. Old enough to know the world's fucked up. How people die, how smart guys live, what they do to dumb asses. Old enough to know it. Why money's good, why people like punching others, why it's good to travel in a pack, why you get scared if you're on your own. Old enough to know it all.

I'm a high school dropout. I've done my best. No regrets. All my friends are middle school dropouts. Done my best. This Korean history teacher kicked me out, I remember that asshole. I remember he turned me into a basket case. I remember the jerks who laughed when that asshole clowned me. Remember the guys in my class. And I remember this question in my Korean history mid-terms.

"Fill in the blank with the name of the sword that King Geungocho of Baekje Kingdom bestowed on the Japanese king."

Who knows shit like that? What's Baekje, who is King Geungocho. I don't know nothing. But I know a sword is a knife. I know Japan, too. I know how to break dance. I know everything about breakin. What a back donkey kick is. What a baby swipe is. What a one hand donkey is. I know them all. Fuckin' Korean history teacher didn't know that shit. So why'd he trip, why'd he laugh at me? I've got nothing to do with King Geungocho. My last name isn't Geun. So he isn't my granddaddy. No need to know shit like that. Exam over, grading all done, a week went by and the Korean history class came around. That motherfucker, half laughing, half sighing, said to the kids.

"How many times did I tell you about the Seven-blade Sword? Until I was blue in the face. But what do you remember? Just a knife?"

The kids laugh. The history teacher, he laughs, too. But I don't laugh. Nothing's funny. I don't know what he's talking about.

"Look at this one! A kitchen knife? And this guy, King Dangun's sword? Who wrote that one?"

The sound of kids laughing. The Korean history teacher laughing along. I don't laugh. The classroom's in a good mood. Nothing to do with me. A happy classroom. The Korean history teacher keeps laughing. Then his face changes. His face twists. With an answer sheet in his hand, he glares at me. He calls me up to the lectern. The kids aren't laughing now.

"Are you playing with me?"

I don't say anything. I got no desire to play with him.

"What's this supposed to mean? Sashimi?"

That's right. I wrote sashimi. Name of a knife I do know, the knife for Japanese raw fish, the knife of Japanese gangsters. The question said Japan. So that's the answer I wrote, doing my best. The kids bust up laughing. The Korean history teacher, he doesn't laugh. I don't laugh. Then this asshole slaps me on the cheek. It doesn't hurt too much. But this bastard, this fuckin' teacher slaps me in the face, again and again.

"All you do is go around beating up kids, no wonder this is all you got to say! Your head's an empty basket."

The kids giggle. Basket, basket. This jerk's head is an empty, empty bamboo basket. The kids whisper. Basket, basket, this bamboo basket's got nothing inside. I try to tough it out. Tough it out while he slaps me, tough it out while he swears. But I can't hold it any more, so I shout.

"You son of a bitch. What about you? What you got? What amazin' shit you got in your shithead?"

I push his ass down on the podium. I want to crack his head, shit-for-brains. The kids rush out, the teacher in the next classroom races over, my body floats in the air. They lift me up like a basket. I shout. I punch the air. I brandish my fists and cuss like crazy. Yeah, I'm Basket, you fuckin' sons-of-bitches!

That's how I quit school. King Dangun's sword or just a plain old sword? A kitchen knife or sashimi? Dude laughs when you say kitchen knife, but gets mad when you say sashimi. What the fuck? Am I really a Basket? I don't have the answer. Sure, I think it's kinda unfair. Fucked up, really. But I've got no regrets. That's not where I belong anyway. I know that. No matter how hard I train for the fuckin' hundred-meter dash, I can't break the ten-second barrier. Even if I run all night, if I run a hundred years, if I wear flashy sprinting spikes, if I die and come back to life, and die and come back to life again, I'll never run as fast as Carl Lewis. Same with school. I know that. I never planned on sticking around anyway.

I open a PR club. My older friends give me money behind the scenes. My silent partners. They can't go public 'cause it'd look uncool. A teen should run a PR club. Things work out perfect this way. I find myself a shabby storage room, get a desk, set up a phone, haul in a couch, buy a 1989 Bongo minivan, print up some business cards. Bam! I'm the director, hot shit director of a PR club. I'll be making much bank, tons of money, no one will call me Basket. Gonna fill my empty basket with bucks, big bills baby. The PR club is gonna fill my basket with money, chock-full o' bucks.

The name PR club is a joke. This is what you'll hear on TV: Juvenile delinquents open up PR clubs and do the young chick trade. Newspapers say PR, broadcasters say PR, on TV, on radio, what a joke. Makes me laugh so hard, drives me crazy. Do they even know what PR club stands for? You think it's PR as in public relations? Read my lips. PR stands for Pussy Retail. We made it up and spread it around. Bet you didn't know that. Repeat after me. Pussy Retail. PR for short. You think it's a big deal if you use dirty words in the media. The newspapers won't spell out dirty words. But initials are fine, it seems. This asshole reporter, I bet he was a fuckin' dork back at school, says PR. This anchorwoman, she thinks she's fuckin' pretty, she says PR. Initials are OK. OK to say it, but not OK to spell it out. All those broke-ass shitheads badmouth us but then copy us. They fuckin' think they're so cool, but you're cool, I'm cool, throw it this way or that way, it's the same, a bisket or basket, a tisket for a tasket.

I work fuckin' hard. Got no driver's license but I take the chicks everywhere in my Bongo. We circle all around Seoul, go to cheap inns. Bongcheon-dong, all right, north of the river, all right, right here in my Bongo, OK. We rush on over whenever we're called. We are pussy retail, cheaper than red light districts, cheaper than sex clubs. We're an affordable service, day laborers call us, soldiers call us. We don't ask for tips. Good for them uncles 'cause we're cheap, good for us at the PR club 'cause we make money. Don't you criticize us. Think about it. Don't criticize us 'cause our prices are low. Don't criticize us 'cause our girls are so young. You're the ones asking for young chicks. We've got plenty of girls. Money-hungry girls. The sad cases. We don't know where our lives got fucked up. Don't know why it turned out like this. Can't regret. Can't remember. All we know, all you know, is that it can't get any better. We know that. All too well. Though we're young, we know. We know, though we never learned much. Life's gonna end up like that. I know so. Lalalalalalalal lalalalala.

They call me Basket, made of light bamboo Put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through. My brain so light, my nickname's Basket. So light at birth, I looked like I'd die, They call me Bamboo Basket, Don't know nothing. Don't know Papa, don't know Mama Don't know how to live, don't know the world No one taught me how to speak But this I say: I'm light, you're light My words so light, your words so light I'm Basket, you are baskets, put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through The whole world's a basket.

3

It was last winter when Sun-hui first arrived. A friend of mine brings her in, no, drags her in. I know at a glance, he's brought his own sister. He doesn't say so, but I know right away. Like a fool, puffy and grumpy, he's brought Sun-hui, no, dragged her in. I look her up and down and know right away. She's not right. Medium height, medium weight, she has two eyes and two feet all right, but something's not quite right. The whites of her eyes are bluish. Her irises twitch. She looks nervous. I know it. The guy spills it.

"Shit, something's not right with this bitch . . ."

He's chewing on a cigarette filter and playing with his feet for no reason. I'm a businessman. Even if the guy's my friend, even if a friend asks me, even if you're dead meat without brothers on this turf, business is business.

"Can't use her if she's not right."

"Shit, the rest of her's fine."

"Man, I'm running a service business. You got to be more normal than everybody else to do the job."

"Shit, her body works fine. That's what matters, right?"

"So what's wrong with her?"

"Shit, she just has problems with words sometimes, that's all."

That's no good, no good. The customers don't like it. The inns are gonna cut us off. I need brash bitches, them chicks who talk back when uncles swear, speak mean even when uncles are gentle. Uncles prefer them bitches, sassy bitches. Like them 'cause they're young. Like them because they're like children. No good, no good, even if she's a friend's sister, even if she's my own sister.

Then Sun-hui speaks. She shouts, pulling up her top.

"I got big boobs!"

Sun-hui blinks her big eyes, staring at the wall. A frightened face. Her white flesh revealed, her tits swing, her nipples hard, dark and blue, her bra stained with a rusty streak. Her teeth clenched, her hands grip the rolled-up top. Now the girls they're putting on their eyelashes, lounging on the couch, they all look at Sun-hui, their mouths wide open. Sun-hui doesn't look at anyone. She fuckin' stares at the wall. Her jaw trembles. I look at the guy. His head hanging, just stands there smoking. It's obvious. He made her do it. I'm angry. I wanna beat him up. I wanna kill him. I can see him training his sister with threats. I'm sorry for the guy. I don't know. I don't know nothing. I feel fuckin' bad. I give him 100,000 won. He goes up to Sun-hui. Sun-hui still looks at the wall. Her two hands shake, still gripping her top.

"It's over, Dumbo."

He pulls down Sun-hui's arms. He spits on the floor on his way out. He leaves with his head hanging low.

"That bitch likes singing. . . . This bitch-ass choir leader, he turned her into a real retard. . . . She doesn't understand much, but you can get through to her if you sing. . . . Her name's Sun-hui," he says.

Once he's gone, the girls giggle. The guy says you've got to sing, she talks when you sing. Titter, titter. She's not right in the head. Sun-hui crouches down, and draws a picture on the floor. She draws some shit with her finger, erasing the dust. She's at it so hard. For an hour, fuckin' two, Sun-hui's gonna stay like that, she's not gonna move, her back round like a basket. I rack my brain. What am I gonna do with her? What am I gonna do with this fool? New chicks at the PR club are the director's fodder. Fuck them once, then put them to work. But not with Sun-hui. Can't do her. Too embarrassing. It'd make me look uncool. Before, I never screwed just any girl. But now I do anyone for business. But money or no money, not Sun-hui. I got friends who would be down to fuck anyone. I can give her to them. Then what? Can Sun-hui make money? Can Sun-hui give good service? Can she even understand what people say?

One of the bitches shakes it over to Sun-hui, who's still hard at her drawing. "Hey, you fuckin' bitch. How many times you done it?"

Sun-hui doesn't answer. Doesn't look up. The bitch taps Sun-hui on the side with the tip of her shoe. "You fuckin' bitch, someone's asking you a question."

Sun-hui doesn't budge. She doesn't budge no matter how hard the bitch tries. I got a headache. What am I gonna do with her? What am I gonna do with her? What, what?

"He said you got to sing," another girl says, painting her lips.

"Sing?"

"That dude said so."

"You buy that?"

"She doesn't talk, you know."

"How can you talk in a song?"

"How about rap?"

"Rap?"

We all like hip-hop. Bitches and guys. Me and my friends. We like rap. We like to flow. We like freestyle. We drop lyrics and forget about ourselves. Smart or dumb, talk is the same. Talk is talk. Talk is talk, I say. We're lightweight, but we talk the same. We wanna talk, just like anyone else. We like hip hop. We like it 'cause it's talk, all this talk. When we rap, we're all stars. We're gangsters. We're artists. We're rich. That's why we rhyme.

"Should I?"

"Go on. Add some beatbox."

The girl stands in front of Sun-hui, stoops and holds her arms out like a DJ, and starts to rap. Mixing in the beatbox.

"Umpa, umpa, yo bitch, how many times you done it?"

The guy's right. Sun-hui lifts her head and watches the girl. Slowly she stands up. She stands before the girl. Sun-hui smiles a little. All the girls in the office look at Sun-hui. Look at her amazed. Then, they burst out laughing. Double up laughing.

"I like singing!"

Sun-hui's voice is so loud it echoes in the office. Foolish Sun-hui, smiling Sun-hui.

"I like singers! I want to be a singer!"

The girl keeps on rapping, getting into the groove. Waving her two hands, she said, "Umpa, umpa, you bitch. If you wanna be a singer, bumchk, chkchck, yo bitch, first, you got to do it. Bumchk, chk, you got to do it and make money first."

"Sun-hui will do it! She'll become a singer!"

"Bumbumpapa bumbumpa, no, no. If you wanna be a singer, first change the way you talk. Bumbumpa. You got to do like I do. Follow me. One, two, three, four. I give it to you good. I like uncles. I do it good. Don't ask for tips. Fuckin' great service. Call me when you feel like it. Always fresh, Young Chick PR Club."

Sun-hui opens her mouth to copy the girl. Opens her mouth, moves her shoulders up and down. Umpa umpa. Trying out the beatbox. She smiles. She's in the groove. The girls smile, too. The rap coach girl smiles. The office is noisy. When one girl raps, Sun-hui follows, and when another takes a turn, Sun-hui follows her, too. Then another mixes in the beatbox. They laugh, rap, do the beatbox, and move their shoulders up and down.

I don't laugh. I look at Sun-hui. I keep seeing her flesh. I remember the dumb bitch's nipples. Mounds of boobs, different from other bitches'. White, so white, like nobody's ever touched them. I won't do Sun-hui. I can't. No, I won't. No, I can't. I'm dirty. No, it's embarrassing. No, dirty. No, embarrassing. You're all dirty, too. I don't know, I don't know. I don't know nothing. Sun-hui don't know, I don't know, you don't know. No one knows. No one knows. Lalalalalalalal lalalalalalala

They call me Basket, made of light bamboo Put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through. My brain so light, my nickname's Basket. So light at birth, I looked like I'd die, They call me Bamboo Basket, Don't know nothing. Don't know Papa, don't know Mama Don't know how to live, don't know the world No one taught me how to speak But this I say: I'm light, you're light My words so light, your words so light I'm Basket, you are baskets, put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through The whole world's a basket.

4

Little by little Sun-hui learns to talk. Learns to rap. We rap to her and she raps back.

"Bumpabumpa, Sun-hui. Yo bitch. Go buy a pack of smokes."

"Bumchk chk, what kind? What kinda smokes? Sun-hui's good at errands."

Sun-hui's now fluent in rap. Mixing in the beatbox. Shrugging her shoulders up and down. She raps, gets into the groove.

In the meantime, Sun-hui got done. Three of my buddies did Sun-hui. I didn't do it, didn't wanna do it. No, I can't do it. Just feel fuckin' bad. Why do I feel fuckin' bad? What's that retard to me anyway? I don't know. I do business. No good if I think too much. I feel fuckin' bad, but I shouldn't show it. Can't show it.

After she got done, Sun-hui rapped,

"Um. . .pa . . .um . . . pa . . . Sun-hui gonna be a singer . . . um . . . pa . . . um . . . pa . . . make money and become a singer . . . um. . . pa . . . um . . . pa . . . "

Sun-hui struggled with the beatbox. It sounded like a moan. She was moanin', yo. I feel fuckin' bad. But I'm a businessman. Can't show my feelings. Can't act as I feel. Sun-hui's no different from other bitches anyway. The same lightweight bitch. Nothing so different. Nothing so different. Still, it's fuckin' bad. It's fuckin' bad over and over. The only expression I know. Fuckin', fuckin', fuckin' bad.

After she got done, Sun-hui changed. Can see her change. Getting done by three guys in a row, learning how to rap, how to talk the talk, and she keeps on changing. She demands money for her errands. She checks herself in the mirror any time, anywhere. She learns how to put on make-up. She borrows pantyhose from the girls. She even steals the other chicks' stilettos. She learns how to spit game, bit by bit, practicing how to deal bit by bit, Sun-hui gets ambitious. She wanna learn a lot. She wanna do a lot. She's down for whatever.

Finally, Sun-hui's ready for work. It's a fuckin' busy day. The uncles call all at once. The Bongo runs from one inn to the next. The girls keep taking the condoms, the cell phone keeps ringing. Is the world gonna end tomorrow? Is this going to be their last fuck? Are they gonna die if they don't? That's how busy we were.

When we reach this inn in Sillim-dong, one of our regular joints, an uncle, big as a gorilla, points to Sun-hui in the passenger seat.

"Um, this bitch is no good. Tastes no good, no fun. We got plenty other girls . . . ."

I don't know why I said that. Why I lied like that. But the gorilla's persistent. He grabs her by the hand and takes her to the inn. Sun-hui, such a fool. Grinning, she walks into the inn. She smiles at me and enters the inn. I'm a businessman. I'm gonna make enough dough to fill my empty basket. I'm a businessman. Sun-hui is a chick. Nothing to feel bad about. Nothing to feel bad about. But I feel fuckin' bad. I'm worried she's gonna make a mistake, that's all. What if the gorilla gets mad and wants his money back? I'm just worried about that. Just that. Just that.

A little later, the bellboy taps on the Bongo window.

"Hey, dude. Come check this out."

I know right away. Sun-hui made trouble. Can't be settled with a refund. We always get paid through the bellboys, send refunds through them. But the guy says nothing and takes me up to the second floor. I'm worried. No, it's better this way. Don't know why, but I'm feeling a bit better. Don't know why, but I feel good.

The girls stand scowling in the hallway. They stand there like they can't believe their eyes. Some uncles stand around, too. All stand around gawking. Only then I see what's going on. It was Sun-hui's voice, that booming voice, filling the hallway. Sun-hui's rapping, Sun-hui's moan-like beatbox.

"Ha-ah, ha-ah . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . I'm . . . ha-ah, ha-ah, good at it . . . I like Uncle. . . ha, I do it good . . . no tips necessary . . . got great service . . . if you wanna . . . ha-ah ha-ah. . . to . . . call me . . . Make everyday . . . ha . . . new. . . at . . . Young Chick PR Club. . . ha-ah . . . bum . . . pa . . . bum . . . pa . . . ha-ah, ha-ah . . . bumpa . . . bumpapa . . . ha-ah ha-ah . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . ."

I glare at the door. Silent. I don't know how I feel. Just fuckin' stupid, standing there. Inside my brain turns white. White as Sun-hui's boobs. White like that. I don't know nothing, nothing.

"God, she's killin' me."

"Such powerful voice!"

"What's her name?"

The uncles are spilling out into the hallway, smacking their lips and pressing their ears to the door. They come to me and ask about Sun-hui. The girls frown for no reason. They look jealous, lost, hungry. The bellboy grabs me, looking all serious.

"Dude. There was a big commotion, people calling from other rooms and all. You know we're outta business if someone calls the police, right? But who is she? She new? What's her name?"

Without a word, I take the girls out to the Bongo. We smoke and wait for Sun-hui, wait fuckin' forever. The girls grumble, waiting for Sun-hui. Finally, Sun-hui gets out. She's got 10,000-won bills stuffed in her boobs and smiles like a fool. She gets in the passenger seat and smiles at me. She raps as she smiles, all excited.

"Umpa! Umpa! Sun-hui makes money! Umpapa umpa! Got great service! I'm gonna be a singer! Umpa! Umpa! Umpapapa!"

The girls don't say nothing, all flabbergasted. I don't feel nothing, nothing different. Sun-hui's just one of the girls. From the 40,000 won Sun-hui made, I take 25,000 and give her 15,000 won. The same fee as other girls. Sun-hui glares at the 25,000 won in my hand. She glares at it for some time. With a smile, she snatches a 5,000-won bill from my hand. She takes it in a flash. The 5,000-won bill in hand, she grins like a fool. And I don't know why I do what I do, don't know what I feel, just angry, fuckin' furious. I smack Sun-hui's cheek. I slap her. Once, twice. I beat her like mad. Three, four. Fuckin' furious. No time to think. Beat her up like that.

"You fuckin' slut! Take it! You take it all!"

Throwing the 10,000-won bills at her, I yell. Shielding her face with her hands, Sun-hui crouches. The bitches in the backseat, they grab my hands and block Sun-hui. Sun-hui's face swells up and she whimpers. She starts rapping, all dazed. She raps loud. She raps with her eyes wide open. Her face in shock.

"Um! Pa! Um! Pa! Sun-hui makes money! Umpapa! Umpa! Sun-hui makes money! Gonna be a singer! Gonna be a singer! Um! Pa! Um! Pa! Um! Pa! Pa! Pa!"

That's how Sun-hui's debut went. From that day on, uncles all ask for Sun-hui. Here, there, they all ask for Sun-hui. And every time, she raps in her booming voice. She raps for the uncles. Other bitches don't make money. Sun-hui is now the star performer of our PR club. Three times a day, OK. Four times a day, OK. Sun-hui works with a smile. She raps, always excited. I feel nothing. I'm not angry. Feeling nothing, I drive Sun-hui everywhere, Bongcheon-dong, OK, north of the river, OK. I'm a businessman. I have no feelings. Sun-hui and me, putting dough in the basket, putting dough in the empty basket, we try to live like that. No feelings. Like that, like that, like that, like that. Lalalalalalalal lalalalalalala

They call me Basket, made of light bamboo Put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through. My brain so light, my nickname's Basket. So light at birth, I looked like I'd die, They call me Bamboo Basket, Don't know nothing. Don't know Papa, don't know Mama Don't know how to live, don't know the world No one taught me how to speak But this I say: I'm light, you're light My words so light, your words so light I'm Basket, you are baskets, put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through The whole world's a basket.

5

I don't remember how Sun-hui and I ended up all alone. Don't remember shit like that. Anyway, that afternoon, it was only Sun-hui and me, just the two of us left in the office. It was the first and the last time we were alone together. Sun-hui was washing her laundry at the tap, hanging low in a corner. Squatting on the floor, she was washing something. She was at it as if her life depended on it. Sun-hui had nowhere to go. She slept in the side room of the office, on the old couch. She ate there and changed clothes there.

I steal a sidelong glance at Sun-hui as I turn the pages of my tabloid. I keep throwing glances at Sun-hui. No one's in the office. No one comes in. Only the sound of water, so refreshing, fills the office. Sun-hui's bottom moves up and down. I just look at her peach-shaped bottom.

Sun-hui doesn't sing, she doesn't hum, she keeps washing. Like she's been doing nothing but washing clothes all her life. Like some middle-aged woman who's washed clothes all her life. She doesn't look around. She doesn't lift her head. She just moves her bottom up and down. Only the tap water falls. Down and down, nothing in the way.

Without a sound I approach Sun-hui. Maybe, maybe, I wanna hear Sun-hui's words. Sun-hui's murmuring. Sun-hui's rap, Sun-hui's moan-like beatbox. Maybe I wanna hear that. That's right. Even if I'm fuckin' uncool, fuckin' embarrassing, I wanna hear it. I wanna hear it. I go over to listen to Sun-hui. That's why I approach her.

A long time, I look at Sun-hui from the side. Sun-hui doesn't know I'm there. She washes clothes like she's gonna wash on and on until she dies. I look at Sun-hui. Wordless Sun-hui. Silent Sun-hui. Sun-hui's hands in the water. Her hands turning red in the icy cold water. Seems like I've seen Sun-hui's hands, Sun-hui's silent face somewhere. Fuckin' strange 'cause suddenly my heart aches. I don't know what to do, what to say, I just look at Sun-hui. I look at her hands.

That's when Sun-hui throws me a glance. Her face blank. The bluish whites of her eyes. Her hair spilling over her face. Don't know why, but she doesn't look like Sun-hui. An older Sun-hui, no, a younger Sun-hui, no, no, I don't know how old she is. She's looking at me, sitting quietly. I don't know how old this Sun-hui is. I can't look at her. I spit on the floor and look away. I keep spitting, looking away.

Then, Sun-hui's wet hands, Sun-hui's icy cold hands, reach for my waist. Still sitting, she stretches out her hands and unbuckles my belt. With frightening speed, she loosens my belt. I'm shocked. Fuckin' shocked. I gasp and twist my upper body, but Sun-hui's fuckin' persistent. Fuckin' strong. She pushes my hands away from the belt. No, no, no. I don't wanna do it with you. Fuckin' embarrassing. Make me look fuckin' uncool. No, no, no. I don't wanna do it. I changed my mind. You bitch, you retard. You fool. You fuckin' slut. Is that all you think about? I don't like you. I don't like your rapping, your moaning beatbox, you bitch. I don't wanna hear no more. I don't wanna hear it no more. No more, no more, no more. But I stand there helpless, until Sun-hui pulls off my pants. Helpless. I ask myself. What do you want? What do you really want? What? I don't know, don't know, don't know nothing. Fuckin' don't know nothing.

So Sun-hui pulls my pants off, she removes my belt, removes my wallet, removes my loose change, searches here and there with care. What she does next is plunge those pants into the water. Like she's afraid someone's gonna take them away, like someone's gonna steal them, like she's snatched dough from my hand. She takes out her laundry from the basket then puts my pants in the basket. She turns on the tap, pours detergent and washes my pants, with all her might. Her rolled-up sleeves keep crawling down and she pushes them back with her forehead, and keeps washing. The basket is soon filled with black water, dirty water. The water gets darker and more grime keeps coming out and Sun-hui rubs the pants, harder and harder, a faint smile on her face. I look at Sun-hui. I'm standing there in my underwear, and I look at Sun-hui. Look at the basket. Were my pants really that dirty? I look at the dirty water filling up in the basket. I look at the dirty water for a long time. I look at Sun-hui's strong forearms.

Sun-hui rinses the pants, and clean water fills the basket, and I peel off my socks and put them in. Sun-hui looks at me. That blank face. A familiar face. I look at the socks floating in the basket. I don't know why I feel like this. I wanna see more dirty water. Fuckin' filthy water. I wana watch Sun-hui's forearms. That's what I want, what I want. Sun-hui washes the socks. The basket fills up with dirty water again. I crouch next to Sun-hui, all quiet, me in my underwear. I fuckin' don't look cool, but I'm not embarrassed, I look at the basket, look at the dirty water, look at Sun-hui, and sit there like that.

6

Sometimes these guys come along, guys looking for something new, guys looking for shit that don't suit them. Guys who want to prove something, to prove they're rich. The girls don't wanna do it with these types. What these guys do is ask question after question, on and on. How old are you? Why do you do this shit? How much do you make? Did someone sell you? Do you do it because you like it? Do you have orgasms? Do you get pregnant? What about this? What about that? It's not just the rich guys who act like that. The educated assholes, smart assholes, journalist assholes, writer assholes, assholes in the movie business, assholes in music. Why are they so curious? And after all these questions it's not like they don't do it. Day laborers do their thing without all this chitchat, and turn their backs, none of this talking shit. They get on top, pushing and panting, and go away silently. But not these assholes. Sit on top of me. Let me do it doggy-style. Let's do it standing up. Suck me, lick me, like this, like that, they do it with words. They demand it with words. Perverts. These perverts need words to get off, countless words, these perverts.

This manager's one of them. When he calls from a hotel south of the river, when I park the Bongo in the hotel parking lot, the girls don't want to go in. Big Dog is a notorious pervert. We dealt with him several times already. But he's an important customer to me. A customer I can't lose 'cause he pays double.

Sun-hui volunteered. The star performer of Young Chicks PR Club, she came forward, her face flustered and excited as usual, and started to sing.

"Umpa umpa, Sun-hui makes money. Umpapa umpa. I give good service. Gonna be a singer. Gonna be a singer. Umpaumpa umpapapa."

The girls don't smile. No one answers her. Only Sun-hui goes up the dark stairway, all excited. We silently watch her back. We watch her as she goes up and up all the way to the ground level. We wait in the 1989 Bongo. Prisoners in the old Bongo, we watch Sun-hui go. We hate hotels. No, we're scared of them. The clean lobbies, shiny elevators, the people inside, we hate them, we're frightened, we're scared.

The girls said.

"Is that bitch gonna be okay?"

"Uncles like her . . ."

"He's not like other uncles."

" . . . at least she's gonna get a fat tip. . . . she's crazy about money, right?"

" . . . it's gonna hurt . . ."

" . . . sure, it's gonna hurt. . . "

I fuckin' do nothing but smoke. One smoke, two smokes. Sun-hui's gonna be back in a little while. Holding two 100,000-won bills. And a thick wad of tip. She's gonna be back, all smiles. So it's all good. It's all good. I'm a businessman. Sun-hui the star performer of the Young Chicks PR Club. So it's all good, all good. This is how I live, like this, like this, it's all good, then, all good.

We wait for Sun-hui. An hour passes, two hours pass, and we're still waitin'. Fuckin' smoking, without speaking, we wait for Sun-hui. We can't go up to the hotel. Can't go around the rooms looking for her. Got no guts for that. Can't go to the front desk and ask for Sun-hui. Can't do that. All we can do is stay put here in the underground parking lot. And wait for Sun-hui. Fuckin' smoking. Without saying nothing, we wait for Sun-hui. Wait for Sun-hui.

And that was that. Sun-hui didn't come back, didn't come back. And we left the parking lot at dawn. I raced down the dark street, fuckin' fast, raced down the street and went back to the office. I walked in the empty office all alone. The basket was sitting under the tap like a good little girl and I kicked it. The empty basket, so light, I kicked it as hard as I could. The basket spun in the middle of the floor without a sound, rolled and rolled, and flipped over, without resistance. Under my feet, it lay down, helpless, so helpless.

It was six months later when we saw Sun-hui again. She was on TV. At first I didn't realize it was her. She'd changed. Changed like crazy. Fuckin' changed for real. She shaved her head, not a single fluffy hair remaining, like a monk, wearing fuckin' heavy earrings, gotten herself pierced, wearin' fuckin' dark eyeliner, a super tight shirt 'n' shit. She dances and sings, back-up dancers all around her. She's no longer Sun-hui. Her name is Earnie. A female rapper for the new generation. Her name is Earnie. Her face fills the entire screen. She raps and raps non-stop. Her song is "Earnie" as well.

"Umpa umpa, are ya earnin', whatcha earnin', earnie, earnie, you earnin' good money? Are you earnin' any dough, earnie, earnie, earnie, how much you earnin', whatcha earnin', earnie, earnie, earnie. Earnie like earnin' money. Earnie like earnin' money, earnie, earnie, earnie. Umpa umpa, umpapapa . . ."

What hasn't changed, the only thing that hasn't changed, is that moan-like beatbox, her moaning beatbox. That's how I recognized her. Not her face, not her rap, not the lyrics. I heard her moaning beatbox. That's all of her. What I remember of her. All of her.

The day after she was on TV, Big Dog comes. Comes to the office. His crew comes too. To play soccer in my office. That's how it happened. Lalalalalalalal lalalalalalala

They call me Basket, made of light bamboo Put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through My brain so light, my nickname's Basket. So light at birth, I looked like I'd die, They call me Bamboo Basket, Don't know nothing. Don't know Papa, don't know Mama Don't know how to live, don't know the world No one taught me how to speak But this I say: I'm light, you're light My words so light, your words so light I'm Basket, you are baskets, put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through The whole world's a basket.

7

Nothing's changed. I still drive the '89 Bongo, Bongcheon-dong OK, north of the river, OK. I rush everywhere. I load the new chicks like packages and visit the uncles. Look us up when you're short on money. Bargains here at Young Chicks PR Club. Earning's the same. Saving's the same, more or less. Spending's the same, more or less. I know. It's not easy to just call it quits. My life's not gonna change overnight. The same for my girls, the girls I swear at and drag around. These bitches know it, too. Except one bitch, except one bitch, she was the only one who didn't know it.

Ah, I almost forgot, there are two more things. One, I stopped swearing. Well, I cuss, but don't use the same kind of swear words. I don't say son-of-a-bitch, fuckin' son-of-a-bitch. Instead I say, sonovabische, fushin' sonovabische. Learned from older friends. Much more sophisticated. So now I swear only gently, very gently. But whether you use a kickass swear word or a mild swear word, talk is talk. Talk is like fuck. I can talk fuckin' cool or I can talk fuckin' dumb, they all get what I wanna say, what I said.

One more thing. Sun-hui—no, Earnie—called once. She called me at the office. For a while I heard nothing on the line. One thing I learned in this business is that you gotta figure things out quickly. I knew it was Sun-hui calling. Knew right away. Didn't say nothing. I stayed like that, not saying anything, just like that. Then Sun-hui spoke in her loud voice. Her voice echoing inside the receiver.

"I earn money. I keep earnin' money. That's how I live!"

Just then the line got cut off.

I think about Sun-hui sometimes, not often. I picture her learning to talk, rapping with all her might. But that's all. Nothing more, nothing more to do, but think about Sun-hui, only sometimes, think about her washing her clothes. And I glance at the basket here in my office, covered with white soap stains, just look at it, at this round, round basket. This is how I live. Light, so light, a hundred times lighter than ever before. Lalalalalalalal, lalalalalalala

They call me Basket, made of light bamboo Put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through My brain so light, my nickname's Basket. So light at birth, I looked like I'd die, They call me Bamboo Basket, Don't know nothing. Don't know Papa, don't know Mama Don't know how to live, don't know the world No one taught me how to speak But this I say: I'm light, you're light My words so light, your words so light I'm Basket, you are baskets, put the water in and the water runs through Put the rice in and the rice runs through The whole world's a basket.