Through the latter 90s, I lived on a rough street with a much rougher convenience store. The local baseheads, tweakers, scofflaws, gangbangers, their girlfriends, mistresses and their maybe-someday-to-be wives, and even the children of these citizens would address the charming convenience store proprietor as Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee was cordial, spoke predictably spotty English, a few words of Spanish, and he ate the most disgustingly pungent foods. I remember steaming tentacle poking out of a bowl full of rice on more than one occasion as I purchased a flagon or two of malt liquor. And lo those delicious plastic zipper bags full of hot, sweaty fish, waiting to course down his eager gullet, that crazy Mr. Lee. For a while I’d subscribed to the belief that his name was actually Mr. Lee, until I’d gotten the hint after years of viewing reports from local Los Angeles news stations on the deaths of Korean liquor store clerks who were very nice to the neighborhood, worked long hours, who “gave credit to families who couldn’t pay,” that the victim was inevitably called Mr Lee. Now, while it is true that there are a few very common Korean names (Park, Kim, Lee, Kwak, Cho and their derivatives) I subsequently concluded from my personal, anecdotal research that any time you’re Asian in a rough neighborhood, regardless of whether, in actuality, your name is Kim, Pak, Lee, Wong, Miyagi, Hopscotch or Buttermilk, your name will always be Mr. Lee.
So here’s a toast to all the Mr. Lees of America: Bless you for eternity for selling alcohol to anybody with $3.
[c] 2009 Russ of America