odd jobs

When we immigrated to the U.S., my dad had a lot of trouble lining up work. Back in Korea, he had gone to Kyongi Boys High School and Seoul National University, an Andover and Harvard of Korea, if you will. It was the seventies and there was a recession, so despite having a law degree, my dad, like many immigrants, had to hustle and start from scratch. I had forgotten the series of odd jobs he had gotten connected with through his friends, until this past Valentine’s Day when I joked to Husband that I got him a box of chocolates with an animal on the cover without eyes. The comment made no sense to either of us, but then, something got jarred in my memory and I recalled a large box of stuffed animals in our home in New Jersey with no eyes.

Husband: What do you mean with no eyes?
Me: No eyes, I mean like no eyes were ever sewn on the stuffed animals.
Husband: And you played with them?
Me: Oh sure. It’s not like they once had eyes and they were gouged out. (This reminds me of King Lear — isn’t he blinded in the play?)
Husband: No wonder you’re so weird.
Me: You’re a lucky guy.

I also remember getting a hooded white rabbit waist-length coat when he was briefly in the fur business and Mom had some gray fox fur coat that framed her face and went down to her ankle. She was quite glam then (and still is actually). There was also a time when he sold these awful sad clown paintings and paintings of boats at a dock, like the most soulless, cheesy, dentist office-looking art that was stacked in piles around the house.

Poor Dad. He was always so hungry to work, to prove himself. I often felt like he was a Willy Loman, whose ship had never come in. Maybe that’s not a fair assessment. Before we moved to the U.S., he was based in London while Mom and I were in Seoul. He worked for some shipping conglomerate, a Samsung or something, and traveled all over the world.

In the U.S., the biggest job he managed to get was a freelance gig as a middle-man selling semi-conductors, connecting American, Korean, and French business peeps, using his effervescent charm and goofy jokes (and I’m sure whatever else you’re suppose to use) to close deals. I did not really know and still do not know what a semi-conductor is, but it has to do with computers…I think. He was very well-liked. He did that for four years while I was in college, and through that job, he paid for every penny of my tuition. My parents are so proud of that accomplishment, and I had no appreciation of it at the time. Now I do. People my age are still paying loans, I have three children and I don’t there’s anyway I can pay for even half of their tuition. What good fortune I was born under.

That was his last big job. The computer industry changed, and the semi-conductor wasn’t really necessary. Every time I’d call him to check in, he would say “I’m fine, not doing much, looking for some excitement.”

This was many years ago.

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