It’s Sunday June 19, 2011. I’m trying to clear out the mold spores in my apartment by keeping my windows open, and I’m trying to keep the heat out by running the air conditioner. My mucus looks like an African nation’s flag—green and yellow and black, and a streak of red running like a river. I’ve told my Korean go between, Tommy—an ageless, incompetent Korean who scratches his head and quickly forgets all English whenever I have a problem—about the mold, but he didn’t understand.
“I call him, and he comes,” was his reply.
“The man is going to come and fix the mold in my bathroom?” I asked.
Tommy smiled, and patted my arm and said yes. The man is a blanket term used for the Korean that comes to fix things. The first man might not know what to do and is more of a scout than a handy man, but he is often followed by the second man who begins to fix the problem. For instance, when I had a mush sand trap leaking water from my ceiling a man came with a screw driver and a pair of needle nose pliers. Instead of fixing the problem, he ripped off the duct tape and shoved his fist through the mush making a big hole that gushed water like gunshot wound. Three days later another man came, cursed the first man, and sealed the pipe shut. It took them a week to finally close the hole, though.
I’d thought this was because of a miscommunication and asked Tommy again if he understood what I was telling him. Tommy was certain he understood, and assured me someone was coming to fix the mold. The man came the next day at eight o’clock. He bowed, took off his shoes, and resembled the nerd from Sixteen Candles. He had thick glasses and thin eyes and a mushroom of black hair and he wore a bright red windbreaker. He seemed on the ball. I showed him my bathroom, and pointed to the strip of black lining the sink. I said, “Molda,” in the half language Koreans call Konglish. He nodded as if I were showing him a collection of coins, or telling him about my family, needless information he didn’t need to know but found interesting. He looked at the bathroom and took the small tub from under the sink before closing the door. He then ran out to his van and came back with a tarp of wall paper that he laid across my apartment. He measured the wall and I called Tommy.
“Tommy, you said he was going to clean the mold out of my bathroom?” I said as I watched the man balance on a chair with a busted leg.
“Yes…he’ll put up new wallpaper,” Tommy yawned.
I hung up the phone and thought about talking to the man. But, as he whistled and straightened out the bumps in the new wallpaper, I didn’t want to disappoint him.
“Excuse me, yogio,” I said pointing to a worn, tattered spot by my bed.
“Ah,” he smiled and ran over with the strip of wallpaper, glad he could fix the problem.
I then explained to Tommy, again, that the mold, if it is mold, needed to be gutted from the bathroom like cancer in cells. He scratched his head, sucked in his cheeks like a cracked, hissing pipe, and said, “I don’t understand.”
After using a tiled wall at the school and running my finger over the calking and repeating the words black, mold, and toxic over and over Tommy still didn’t understand. He finally gave up and told someone with a higher title than me that I’d have to fix it myself. The three of us talked it over in our bosses’ office, and after hearing the whole story she also shrugged. She translated most of what I said for Tommy, and nodded and agreed when I told her of the health problems black mold poses. They offered to call the man again, but I was worried they’d come to fix the washing machine, which was working wonderfully.
I now shower with a surgical mask on and keep an armory of air fresheners next to the bathroom door. I’m thinking of buying an air purifier, but when I went to the store one clerk showed me a fan and another, shrugging and saying they spoke no English, showed me a dust buster.
Now, as I turn on the air conditioner and listen to the cars whip down the highway like crashing waves I can hear my father cursing from America.
“You’re just pissing money, pissing money,” he’d start and then fall into an enraged string of stutters before shouting God Dammit.
“But it smells,” I’d say. And before he could say anything about me wasting electricity and not shaking down Tommy to fix this, I’d remind him of the point of my story: I told them there was a problem with my bathroom and they sent someone with wallpaper.