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THE PORTSIDER

The Asian Arsenal
By Staff Writer

He was in line at the Sedalia, Missouri, post office. Black hair lacquered back like an obsidian mirror. Squat little man. He held a parcel with both hands. You can always spot a pitcher. Even ass side up. Bow-armed, left hand splayed back from too many forkballs. Knees crackled as he rocked back and forth. Back as stiff as Rafael Palmiero on Viagra. He clutched that parcel like he'd just grabbed the foul ball that ended the World Series.

It was 1956, and I knew I finally had my man. I'd been looking for Myeung Kim since 1942. He hadn't changed much. Stocky. His left cheek pockmarked. That would be his left buttock cheek, pockmarked with small arms fire, but I was sure if I de-pantsed him, those craters would be there.

"Myeung. Hand over the ball."

He froze. I could see his dorsal muscles stiffen, his arms grow taut. I braced myself. He was a third-degree ochre belt in the little-known Korean martial art of Kung Pao Mock Duck. The Chinese imported it when they ran herd over Korea. Most Koreans hated the Chinese and wanted no part of their carpet-bagging culture. The few devotees of KPMD went deep underground and practiced their obscure craft underwater. In the middle part of the last century, you could gaze over the pellucid waters of a Korean lake and see a lone head poking out. Get closer and you'd see through the clear water to where his arms and legs were executing the excruciatingly slow rotations that make KPMD the world's most boring martial art. It's like watching T'ai Chi in slow motion.

It's boring, but effective. No one quite knows how it works, but you attack a Mock Ducker and they start this glacial dance and the next thing you know, you're on your back and they're mocking you. "Nyah, nyah, nyah!" With the thumbs in the ears. And the fingers wiggling.

What was I talking about? Oh, yes. My fear. My nuts went icy cold as Myeung Kim slowly rotated in that post office line.

"You can hand it over right now, Myeung. I've got the full force of the Sedalia police department behind me." I was bluffing. The full force of Sedalia's police department was playing Ping-Pong in the station garage. I knew because I was taking on the winner as soon as I bought a roll of stamps. I was mailing out letters, looking for that next job. I had ended up in Sedalia because the Missouri State Fair was the last stop on a barnstorming tour of the Oklahoma Oracles, Psychic Baseball Wonders. Apparently they couldn't foresee that they'd run out of money. I was stranded in Sedalia and somehow Myeung was, too. The last time I'd seen him was in another small town, but under very different circumstances.

It had been in the fall of 1942. I was managing another barnstorming team, the Yellow Peril. I know, I know—I can hear the keyboards warming up now—racist, grotesque, demeaning. Hell, yes—this is America, what do you expect? Cultural understanding? In 1942? We were at war with Japan, and it boosted everyone's spirits to get out and boo some Asians. Not that we really were Japanese. Or even Asian. Most of those were locked up in camps. We were good old American boys pretending to be Asians for the most part. I was the Warner Toland of our team. I did the squinty eye makeup and grew a Fu Manchu moustache and never spoke to any reporter, but just nodded and let our translator express his gratitude that in the great United States there was the freedom for people of any nationality to travel freely and play the All-American pastime.

Myeung, on the other hand, was the real thing. Not that he was Japanese. He was Korean. But he was Asian. Yellow enough for our purposes. I know this because I met Myeung on the 1936 Balls around the World barnstorming tour, a kind of second-rate minor league baseball romp. We played in Korea and Myeung pitched the most beautiful game against us I'd seen since we'd left stateside. I convinced him to sign up with our team, and off he went. He spent the years between '36 and '42 hopscotching around the minors. He should have gotten at least a cup of coffee, but, hey, that was before people realized there's not a baseball gene that exists only in America.

But Myeung loved the game and loved America and studied for American citizenship. He was working through the process when Pearl Harbor came. After that, the authorities assumed he was a Japanese spy. I mean, why not? He came from the area, more or less, he spoke a language that wasn't English, and he claimed to hate the Japanese. It made perfect sense. Let's ship him off to an internment camp so we won't have to think too deeply about this.

I got a panicked call from Myeung and decided to try and pull some strings. Well, precisely, one string. I've known some people in my time, some people in the lower levels of the State Department who got caught with transvestite hookers in Paris during that 1936 tour. I told Myeung, "Don't worry. I'll make this call to my buddy at State with the esoteric tastes and just tell him the truth. He'll listen to me. I'm an American." Myeung convinced me that wasn't going to work. Korean, Japanese—to them, it was all the same. The Yellow Peril. That's when it hit me. I'd sell my State Department buddy (the one wearing the rhumba panties under his suit) on launching a USO baseball tour. We'd take a Japanese team around to Army bases and play against a team of soldiers. They'd kick our asses and everyone would go home happy. He was willing to go along with it. There was one catch: The team of Japanese players couldn't actually be Japanese. Too big a security risk. Find some Americans and dress them up. Then everyone would be happy. So I did that. And as part of that package, Myeung became Milt. Milt Garfield. The rest of the team had to put on makeup when we played. Myeung had to take his off. Because he lived in white-face during the day. By night, he'd wipe it off and pretend to be an American masquerading as Japanese.

Fine. We were playing baseball. We were getting our asses kicked by these Army base guys and no one cared.

No one except Myeung. We were American minstrels, painted up and offering a show. Myeung was a ballplayer. It killed him to lose. It was so painful, I stopped pitching him. Because the damn guy insisted on getting batters out. I kept having to pull him in the late innings and put in Antony Warziesku—whose makeup was running by that time and looked about as Asian as any Ukranian American did—and let Antony throw some meatballs until we lost.

Then, one day, I was sick. Really sick. Let's call it Hirohito's Revenge. You see, before the game, to sell us as Japanese, we'd eat sushi. During BP, we'd stand around eating little sushi pellets (that's how Rusty Jones, aka Hichori Suziki, always referred to them); we'd snack on these things with chopsticks. It'd promote a concession stand staple—the Chopstick Bat, complete with Japanese script for Louisville Slugger. Now, in places like Casper, Wyoming, or Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, sushi was hard to come by. We'd usually fake it with some ground-up chicken. But on this particular occasion, at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, they had some crawdads that they said were fresh from the Lake of the Ozarks. I was stupid enough to believe them. Twenty minutes later, I was roiling on the dugout floor. I didn't see a thing the entire game. I alternated between clutching my gut in a fetal position and spasming like a beached walleye.

You may ask, "Staff, shouldn't you have seen a doctor?" To which I reply, "The first thing a physician would have noticed was that I am no more Japanese than FDR and our cover would be blown." So, in the depths of my digestive distress, I decided to tough it out. I missed a hell of a ball game. Because with me down for the count, there was no one to tell Myeung to ease up. There was no one to pull him in the eighth when he was on the verge of pitching a perfect game. There was no one to tell him as he carried that perfect game into the ninth that he would be facing their three toughest hitters, batters who had indeed had cups of coffee in the major leagues.

And I was dry heaving into the ball bucket as he proceeded to strike out the first two batters in the ninth, and then the Army's last hope, a thick-muscled Irishman, drilled a line drive right back at Myeung and instead of dropping it, he snagged it for the final out and raised his arms into the sky, crying, "Boy, oh boy!" Now, this was a perfectly American expression, but because of the circumstance, the Yellow Peril jersey and all, the GIs in the stands heard it as "Banzai!" And they started out onto the field. Not to congratulate. But to beat the shit out of.

I had my own GI problems to deal with, and my gastrointestinal situation was dire. So once again, I missed seeing Myeung assess his situation and, clutching his precious game-winning ball, slowly drop into the Flatulent Crow position, the most deadly asana in the KPMD arsenal. Moments later, fifteen soldiers were unconscious. Those who witnessed the act still didn't know how he did it. They dropped like flies, flies who had run into a field of DDT. It was as though Myeung set up a force field. He slowly lifted his left leg, a concerned expression passed over his face, and somehow everyone within ten yards fell gasping to the ground.

This didn't stop Sgt. Rocky Shoals. He was a tough SOB. He wasn't about to let any Mysteries of the Orient deter him from killing this guy. He pulled out his sidearm. He always carried his sidearm. He leveled it at Myeung's backside. And fired. Ouch. That had to hurt, but you'd never know it. Myeung simply pivoted—glacially, as though a snow pack was altering course. Shoals charged. From the third base line. And now, for his coup d'Čtat (to switch up cultures on us), Myeung grabbed the ball, his precious perfect game ball, and hurled it full force onto the chest of Sgt. Rocky Shoals. Sgt. Shoals took the impact, was hurled back five feet, landed on his back, and lay motionless. There was a stunned silence. Except for the sound of me barfing. Myeung picked up his ball and slowly backed off the field, keeping the defensive posture known as Taunting Lemur. "Nyah, nyah, nyah!" With the fingers in the ears.

Then he was gone. Medics rushed Sgt. Shoals to the infirmary. I wished they had rushed me there. Shoals was already dead. I wasn't so lucky. I was still writhing on the floor of the dugout. My team quickly gathered our equipment. They strapped me on the catcher's gear and carried me to the bus, like a Viking being carried off the field of battle on his shield.

But the U.S. Army wasn't through. They wanted Myeung arrested. Murder. Assault with a deadly weapon. Inciting a riot. Taunting the American military. Our bus got flagged down and searched. They looked under every seat, ripped open every foot locker, every duffel bag. He wasn't there. It was just a bunch of nervous white guys, hoping no one would ask why we weren't Japanese.

And where did Myeung go? I wanted to find out. Frankly, I never thought I'd see him again. World War II came and went. The interned Japanese returned to their homes. I wandered the country, playing for teams from Davenport to Yakima. The Korean War came. And then went. And now here he was. Standing in a post office line. With a little parcel. Why was I sure that little parcel contained the ball, the potentially murderous ball? Call it intuition. I thought I knew what that ball meant to him. And that it was a murder weapon. Or a weapon of self-defense. It all depended on how you looked at it.

"Myeung. That ball has haunted you for over a decade. Isn't it time to find justice? Give me the ball. You can go to trial and plead your case. It was self-defense, right?"

He rotated, slower and slower, gradually revealing his shoulder, his forearm, his thigh, and then—his face. I gasped. He looked like—well, he looked as white as Michael Jackson. I'm not sure how white that is. Is it whiter than white or just weird? Anyway, something had happened to him.

"You called me Myeung?"

"Uh . . . yeah. I think. Jesus, Myeung . . ."

"You must be mistaken. My name is Milt. Milt Garfield."

"Milt Garfield? But . . . what happened?"

"Nothing happened. I am a happy American."

I started to falter. Maybe this was all a mistake.

"It's just . . . I knew someone . . . during the war. From behind . . ."

"You are familiar with other men's behinds?"

Now the postal clerk glared at me.

"Look. I thought . . ."

"Next, please."

Myeung—or Milt—or whatever he was, some Frankenstein's monster of surgical experimentation, stepped up to the counter. I heard him say, "I'm mailing this to Seoul."

American soldiers brought home Japanese swords and Korean knives from their battles. Now that the war in Korea was over, Myeung was mailing home his own war trophy. Why should I stop him? Hadn't I created this monster myself? The clerk took his package and Myeung turned and walked toward the door. Just before he left, he looked back at me and said, "While you're in Missouri, don't eat the sushi."

And he was gone. But ere I bought my stamps, I heard a faint sound from the parking lot: "Nyah. Nyah. Nyah . . ."

—EFQ

 

Unlike Bud Selig, STAFF WRITER has never been full of gas. No matter how old he gets, he always fills a room with energy. Bud fills it with something else.

© 2005 Elysian Fields Quarterly

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