You Are Interested, Aren’t You?
Chairman Selden of the Juche Society-USA was sitting in his office chair, wearing a burgundy turtleneck and a white sports coat. He reached into his desk drawer, pulling out the three-part article from The Age.
“Just look at that, ‘The Way of Kim Is Self-Reliance,’” he said, smacking the sheets with the back of his hand. “Our Australian section sent it by courier last week, straight off the press, and we’ve been making copies for the past few days now. Some of the dudes we recruited at the trade school round the block got access to a Ditto machine, so it helps save costs. I mean, just look at what it says:
“‘The DPRK has free education, free medicine, housing either free or at minimal cost, free grain rations, no inflation and a decreasing cost of living. … The Juche idea, the invention of the Respected and Beloved Leader … finds room for such embellishments as refrigerators, washing machines and TV sets. … The Juche idea is the spiritual fuel on which North Korea runs today.’
“It’s fantastic, and what a great photo of President Kim, too! We intend to distribute it as widely as possible as part of our ideological education work. Besides, who won’t want to read it? After all, we’ve got a revolutionary situation on our hands now. Nixon is out—good riddance—but Battisti let those fucking guardsmen in Ohio off the noose! Can you believe it?! On top of that, there’s all this strike smashing and—”
“Have you really been there, Chairman Selden?” the young man asked.
“Been there? Been there? What, you think I’m one of those reactionary chumps who’s all talk and no action? Of course, I’ve been there. See those Polaroids?” He pointed to the guided-tour photos on the wall behind his questioner. “Yes, I’ve been there, and I can tell you alright that what this bourgeois paper says is genuine, the real deal, an authentic people’s socialist revolution in the DPRK. Never mind what those rootless cosmopolitans and Trotskyists we keep running into at the rallies say! It’s socialism, I tell you, and why can’t we have Juche socialism in our country, too, based on the Juche idea and the spirit of self-reliance!” The chairman was breathing heavily and sweating.
“Anyway … look …,” he collected himself and wiped his forehead with a dappled handkerchief, “the reason I called you here is because the Juche Society-USA is starting an educational exchange program next summer, a one-year-long program just outside Pyongyang. Since you’re a member in good standing and your parents are a worker and a teacher, that’s good credentials. We’ll help with the visa arrangements and the plane ticket … of course, if you are interested. You are interested, aren’t you?”
What’s in It for Yuh?
The young man was looking at the trains on the overpass, graffiti trains with muddy garish colors and pastel hues and bold words, worlds of ugly, beautiful, colorful, ruinous words that seemed to smell like bruises and injuries.
“It’s street gangs,” Bevan said to him, “duh most dangerous gangs in duh city. Right-wing thugs, reactionaries, duh whole lot of ‘em. Standin’ round every damn street corner in duh neighborhood. This city’s a war zone. Yuh ain’t gonna see nothin’ like it when we send yuh to duh DPRK. It’s a real people’s paradise they’re makin’ up there. Wouldn’ve believed it myself if I hadn’t hooked up with duh Juche Society-USA. So, what’s in it for yuh?”
“Sorry, I don’t catch what you mean.”
“Why’d yuh agree to do it? Stan’ard questions.”
“Well, my mother’s a sign language teacher, and my father’s a contract homebuilder, so I feel connected to education and workers, to helping people.”
“An’ duh pahl’tics?”
“Duh pahl’tics. Why’d yuh decide to be a revolutionary?”
“My dad talks about Korea and Vietnam a lot, and I was part of an anti-Nixon demonstration on my campus three years ago. It was pretty bad what the police did.”
“Gotta watch out for duh pigs. Yuh folks radicals?”
“No, they’re Republicans.”
“They know yuh in our group?”
“I haven’t told them. I said I joined the Peace Corps, that we’re doing a training session, and—”
“Alright, that’s enough. … So, Chairman Selden give yuh duh bundle?”
“Yes, I’ve got the constitution, the pedagogy pamphlet, and the two Juche volumes.”
“How much of ‘em yuh read?”
“Everything. I read everything.”
“Can yuh dig it?”
“I understand it, yeah. It’s simply written. I agree with it.”
“Alright, yuh sound decent. We’ll complete duh documents for yuh, an’ no need to worry about duh State Department. We’ll get yuh visa through in duh next few. Got yuh passport?”
“It’s right here.”
“Secretary Bevan, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, lay it on me.”
“Is it safe there? I mean, with the encirclement and—”
“Of course, it’s safe. So, maybe Washington’s got forty-thousand troops an’ nuclear weapons in duh South. But it ain’t gonna drop no bombs no matter what Prez Ford says, ‘specially not after duh losses an’ pullout in Vietnam. You gotta un’erstand in’ernational pahl’tics. Any tricks now, an’ they’ll get, what, an anti-American united front throughout all of Asia. They can’t afford it. US imperialism’s rotten to duh core, just like this stinkin’ city. It’s on its last legs, an’ our group—we’re gonna clean it up with our national Juche socialist revolution. So, no worries, okay? By duh way, this is somethin’ for yuh to read on duh flight.”
The young man held the small book and said, “North Korean Journey,” while looking at the cover.
“It just came outta In’ernational Publishers a few months back. Duh dude on the back who wrote it’s a history prof, not a member, but he was in duh DPRK last year. It’ll give yuh some good current information.”
He put the book in his jacket pocket.
“Smoke?” Bevan offered.
“I’m okay, thanks.”
The national secretary struck a match, and the fire-spark danced as he brought it to the tip of his cigarette, took a drag, and threw the match onto the sidewalk.
The Helmet’s Head
“Hey, son. You gotta hear this. Three nuts at the penitentiary tried to make a break for it with a thirty-five-foot ladder. Guards cut one of ‘em down to pieces with a machine gun. Dumb losers. Armed robbers an’ cop killers. What’re they thinkin’, an’ where the hell’d they get that ladder from? Anyway, look, that presidential primary’s comin’ up in four months. Can’t miss that. What’re your thoughts on Nixon an’ Muskie anyway, son? … Son, you hear me?”
“Yeah, Dad. I’m listening.”
“So what d’you think? Sounds to me like Nixon could get the economy together again.”
“I don’t know, Dad. I’m not really following it.”
“Well, you’d better. Mom an’ me, we’re gonna vote for him again. Don’t really like his Viet policy. But Muskie’s way too soft on abortion, an’ you know how Mom an’ me feel about that.”
“Isn’t he in China now or something?”
“Nixon? Not yet. Next month. Goin’ there with Pat. Good for him to have his wife with him. Guess we’ve come a long way since we fought ‘em in Korea. Not sure how the Russians are gonna take it, but it’ll help to have more allies on our side, even if their color’s red. … You listenin’, son?”
“I’m listening, Dad.”
“What’s all that you’re rumagin’ through anyway?”
“Some school stuff … for the registrar.”
“I see. Well, keep at it, an’ I’ll leave you be. Mom an’ me sure are proud you got in.”
* * *
He was on his way to the university campus when he heard the demonstrators shouting:
“One, two, three, four. We don’t want your racist war! One, two, three, four. We don’t want your racist war!”
They were blocking traffic, and the police were yelling orders on their loudspeakers. Yet the crowd, some three-hundred-and-fifty strong, persisted, seething through the street, pushing away the tired wreckage of placards supporting Nixon’s war policy to mine North Vietnamese harbors.
Suddenly, almost as if from nowhere, there was an eruption and a clash, and the police were firing gunshots into the crowd—smoke, people running frantically, screaming and fighting wildly, throwing rocks and potatoes, amid the agonizing hail of hard wooden pellets that wouldn’t stop.
He saw a disabled legless veteran, who looked like Jim Morrison, fall from a wheelchair, his gaunt face slashed and covered in blood. There was a strange, momentary lull between the human cyclones around the fallen man.
He was taken by an irrepressible, overwhelming urge to help, and he dashed in, carried the man, put him back into his wheelchair, and began pushing him toward the brick wall of a bookstore, away from the street battle.
“Jesus fuck, kid!” the veteran screamed, flailing his arms in an insane frenzy. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! What the hell do you think you’re doing?! We got a war in this country! We got a people’s revolution! We gotta fight! We gotta fight! We gotta fight!”
Unable to hold the madly struggling man, he fled, turned around, and saw the veteran obsessively and defenselessly wheel himself back into the tempestuous crowd, where the policemen descended upon him with a wave of crashing batons.
* * *
Three semesters later, he noticed a pamphlet in the university library—Today Vietnam, Tomorrow Korea? He pulled it from the stacks, and an address card slipped out, inviting the interested reader to write to the Juche Society-USA.
Alzo David-West writes literary fiction about North Korea (past and present). His short stories have appeared in Cha #15; Eastlit #4.27; Offcourse #55, #56, #58 and #60; and Transnational Literature #5.1 and #6.1. Email: email@example.com