By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"It’s like when you fall in love and people say, ‘How come they spend so much time together?’" Fujino explains as Choi nods.
"There’s a story in Japan that took place when there were still houses of Go," Fujino continues. "The Master was challenged by another house that wanted to take over his job and position. So the Fujiwara government ordered that the two houses play. The Master sent one of his students and ordered him to win. The student did his best, but he lost the game. Two weeks later he died. He played the game with all his life. That’s why in Japan we call Go ‘the bloody game.’"
Blood, fights to the death, even the mathematical pursuit of the perfect game are all elements in the romantic plot line that surrounds Go, and, for that matter, almost any game that requires artistry. But in everyday life, the stories are more mundane, or just plain depressing.
"This place is not good for me . . . In Baduk I got improved, but in life I got fucked up," David tells me as soon as we’re introduced. David is younger than most of the men at the club, and he also takes more time in putting himself together. His hair is stylishly spiky, and his light-brown eyes look almost hazel in the afternoon sun. David has a lot of woes, and with the Wonjang-neem by my side, he spills them like a barfly to a bartender.
"Sometimes I play 48 hours nonstop . . . Somewhat, every game I play is addictive, but this game is one of the most dangerous. It’s the most intelligent, it’s moment-to-moment excitement. If you’re used to getting excitement every moment like in this game, and you don’t get excitement in your life, you get very bored. It’s like gambling, this game." He pauses to stare out the window, something he does quite often.
"I don’t have enough money to retire, but I decided to retire. What the hell? No woman, no money." David is 41 years old and divorced. It doesn’t take long to figure out that at the club, "retire" is a euphemism for quitting or losing one’s job to play Go full time.
"I have children, but . . ." His voice trails off, and again he looks out the window, past the parking lot and over "Dentista" Ana Guevara’s office to where the Wiltern is being engulfed by the shadow of a large, white office building.
"Everybody’s bum. Dying slowly. And betting little money and getting very excited," David comments about two brawling players. "Older than 60, those people, I understand they have time. People like me, 40, 50, they are supposed to be working. It’s 3 o’clock!" he says in mock surprise. Then he stares at the Wonjang-neem.
"I have no responsibility, my kids are grown," the Wonjang-neem says a little defensively. "My wife, she wants me to play."
David gives him a prolonged look of resignation and continues: "Here, you’ll find the bottom standard of life, because they have nothing. Garbage in, garbage out. They’re not working . . . they’re addicted, and right now I’m one of them."
There was a time when David didn’t have the Go monkey on his back. He emigrated to the States 18 years ago, and before "retiring" he was a CPA in Koreatown. He had his own practice and a secretary. In the happier days of his marriage, David only played at the club once a week. When things started to heat up at home, David cooled off at the club.
"Of course, I learned the basic rules of this game when I was young. But I really started playing when I had problems with my wife — my ex-wife. After a little argument or fighting, I would go to a bar and come home late. After the war she asks me, ‘Where did you go that night?’
"If I say, ‘I went to the bar and drank,’ then she gets upset and a new fight starts. As you know, at a lot of Korean bars there are hostesses. I understand that, so I came to this place. She knew there’s no women and no possibility for her to get jealous. It was my territory after the battle," he says, intentionally punny for the Wonjang-neem. They share a laugh.
Despite the fact that he wants to remarry, David’s still single. He freely admits that he needs a woman to "baby sit" him. When he’s with a woman, he says, he’s "reasonably healthy."
"I divorced at the age of 32. I think then that I’m young and attractive enough to marry a young and attractive woman. But eight years have passed and nothing . . . After I divorced, I don’t have anyone to control me, so I play very heavily. Now who’s going to marry me? I play Baduk all the time, and I’m not doing anything for my future."
"He gambles with the ‘spending money’ his children give him," the Wonjang-neem says, pointing to Grandpa Um — a short, almost bald, owlish-looking man. "Sometimes when he runs out of money, he calls his daughter — she lives in a big house nearby — and she’ll bring him more." That Grandpa Um can gamble away his spending money is met with admiration, not disapproval. Only the lucky parents, who have raised successful kids, receive spending money.