I've been having a recurring dream in which the Big One has happened. North Korea has gotten its Bad News Bears weaponized missile to fly across the ocean and hit Los Angeles. In this dream, I'm dressed in a cozier version of something Mad Max's Furiosa might wear to daringly rescue enslaved concubines. Rather than surveying a desiccated landscape, though, I'm holed up with my family in a bombed-out Starbucks. We're all surprisingly unconcerned about being aboveground, a bit c'est la vie that whatever fallout occurred outside this coffee shop has already done its worst.
The dream probably has taken root because I spend an inordinate amount of time before bed scouring the news and analyses about what might happen in the strange game of chicken between Rocket Man and the Dotard. I wonder about that, too, "the Dotard." I wonder what translator or Babel app came up with that particular word — I try to think of what actual Korean word Kim Jong Un must have sputtered to end up at "dotard."
I marvel at the Twitter tit-for-tat that two nominal world leaders engage in. Even stabs at the roughest sort of negotiation by his own appointed secretary of State are undermined by the Tweeter-in-Chief, as Trump tells Rex Tillerson "not to bother" with diplomacy. So where does that leave us? I find myself asking: Where is Guam exactly? Is LA the closest major city to Pyongyang in the continental United States? But it seems really far still, right? Right?
I'm a Korean-American Los Angeleno by way of Queens and Long Island, and I've had a lifetime of North Korea being the ultimate bogeyman. When I was growing up, people would ask if I was from North or South Korea, and I'd look at them as if they'd asked if I lived underwater or on land. Ummmm, I'd think, if I were North Korean, I wouldn't be here at this bat mitzvah. But I'd just mutter, "South Korea … I was born here, but my parents are from South Korea."
I was told apocryphal stories of the uncle who'd been stuck in the North but escaped in the nick of time across the border by running across a river. When I'd travel abroad, my mother would warn me not to speak Korean too loudly in crowds, or to let myself be kidnapped by North Korean agents, who apparently were posted in European cities to surveil suburban teen tours. But then when I did visit the demilitarized zone on a family trip to Korea a few years ago, led by an understandably firm and skittish tour guide ("No, sir, you cannot take a picture with one foot on each side"), I got chills as I saw up close the dynamited holes and small burrowed tunnels through which the North Koreans had tried to infiltrate the South during the war.
As an adult, I can't deny the not-so-crazy rumors of Kim Jong Un's crazy MO — he had his uncle executed by putting him in a cage with feral dogs (very Game of Thrones); he sent back a brain-dead American prisoner whose only alleged offense was to take down a poster to bring home as proof he'd been to the "hermit kingdom"; he kidnapped American journalists like Laura Ling, forcing an exasperated Bill Clinton to go and negotiate their safe passage home. And he even put a brazen public hit on his own half-brother — using a rare chemical nerve agent delivered by two young Asian girls-for-hire. You truly couldn't make this stuff up, and that last one resulted in the biggest "I told you so" glare from my mother since teen-tour days.