Scott Alumbaugh

The In Crowd

When I’m in a courtroom for jury duty, I feel comfortable.

Which is strange because when I was practicing law back in the late-80s and 90s, I never felt comfortable. I had all the right credentials – good school, big firm – and I looked the part (white, male, nice suit, short hair). Even so, I was never comfortable appearing or arguing in front of a judge.

But these days, when I go into a courtroom with a group of other potential jurors, I feel as though I belong. I speak the language, I’m fluent in the idioms and understand the customs. I know that as soon as I start answering questions about my education, the attorneys and the judge will recognize me as one of them. It’s like I’m part of the club. The In Crowd.

I have no idea if they feel that way, the attorneys and the judge, the marshall, or the reporter. I project that acceptance onto them. And I am not sure if it’s because I am one of them or for some other reason, but I am never selected for a jury. So I get to enjoy the comfort of belonging without ever having to stay too long. So all in all, it’s kind of a pleasant reminder of  life I could have led, but chose not to follow.


Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in California Incline, 0 comments

I’ve Become One of Those People

My seat at Peets

My seat at Peets

Sadly, I have become one of those people who have to have their seat at the local coffeehouse. It’s embarrassing. Everyone I know in Davis knows they can find me at the local Peets. And if I’m not in my seat – the seat all the way to the left, closest to the bar, at the counter facing the plate glass window with the million dollar view of the parking lot– they ask me what happened. I tell them that the usurper obviously didn’t get the memo. It’s surprising how few people have received that memo.

In fact, the person in my seat probably didn’t get the memo about my parking spot either. It used to be directly across from the windows in one of the two unmarked (but not red-curbed) spots by the mail box. When I first started parking there, no one did. (Maybe they were being polite and leaving the spaces for the people who wanted to use mailboxes?) Once I started, everyone else in Davis must have realized it’s okay because now the spot is never open. My backup parking spot, the one the person who took my seat inside Peets parked in, is the 10-minute (green curb) parking spot on the corner in front of Jamba Juice.

I  come here most weekdays. In between impromptu meetings with bike club members and fellow parents, I actually get a lot done. I like to come to this particular Peets because it’s close (walking and bike riding distance, you know, on fair days) and usually not too crowded. I need to leave the house to write because I cannot write in the house on these dark winter days. And I need to go to Peets because they have a loose-leaf Sencha that gives me a buzz that meshes perfectly with my writing mojo.

Over and above all of that, I need my seat because it is perfect. It gives me just enough elbow room to be able to set everything around me (iPhone, headphones, tea pot, strainer, tea cup). It also allows a physical buffer, giving me the peripheral-vision space I need to avoid feeling like I’m being barraged on both sides.  And it is the only seat at the bar that has access to a power outlet. I don’t necessarily need that. But it allows me to have all the programs I want booted up (Safari, Scrivener, Mail, Messages, iTunes) without compromising the roughly two hours I can manage to sit and write.

There is an alternate seat at the other end of the counter I can make work if I carve out a nice writing nook by swinging the end stool sideways and piling the piles of free weeklies on it. But it’s by the door, and on these cold days, the constant comings and goings of customers creates a steady blast of cold air the chills my hands, which is no fun when typing, let me tell you. In times of desperation, there is also a small table that works; but it’s cramped, and it sits right by the oven at Noah’s, which frequently emits an ear-piercing beep that is painful.

It’s absurd, I know, this fixation I have on making everything just so. Pathetic, really. I realize I am obsessing over these ridiculous details. At the same time, I am totally obsessed by them. And as long as I am able to crank work out at Peets, I’ll probably attribute my success to getting the private space I’ve improbably claimed in the midst of this common public area.

Fortunately, there is no problem most days: I get my seat. I plow through the words, sip my tea, and generally have a great couple of hours being with my characters. So long as I get my spot and assuage my neuroses, we all have a pretty good time.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Novel Writing, 0 comments

A Joyless Existence

Immigrant EntrepreneursLately, I have been reading background material – books, blogs, news articles – on the Korean American experience. I am working on a novel that involves the 1992 Rodney King Riots (sa-i-gu, in Korean: the April 29th Incident) as background, and more specifically, the experience of Korean Americans during and after the Riots. Though I thought I had some understanding, I wanted to fill out my picture. This is especially important for Yong Soo Bok, a character in the novel  who has since become the subject of a short story (tentatively titled, “Fire Illness”).

I have never studied Korean or Korean American culture before. As I learn more, I am somewhat embarrassed by how much I let mainstream media tell me what I should think. Everything I’ve read, especially works published after the Riots, seems aimed to dispel stereotypes and replace them with a fuller picture of Korean Americans as (displaced) individuals.

One of the misconceptions is that Korean Americans are more or less natural entrepreneurs, which is why they’ve thrived as such in America. Nothing seems to be further from the truth. One book in particular put this in perspective for me:  Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Koreans in Los Angeles, 1965-1982 (Light and Bonacich). After a long, exhaustive, largely dry (but engaging) work of research, the book ends with an almost poetic plea for understanding the difficulties endured by Korean immigrants. In many ways, the book is summed up in one sentence:

Being an immigrant entrepreneur is a joyless existence.

Now, my job as a writer is somehow to relate that simple declarative sentence to readers in a way that is accurate (because it’s an important story) and entertaining (so the reader will read to the end), but without being exploitative (seeing as I have no connection to the Korean American experience).

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Korean-American, 9 comments