Is this Ed Park?
It was close to eleven on a Wednesday evening last fall when my life changed—for better or worse, I’m not sure. But definitely for the weirder. I was nursing a glass of tap water and watching a poorly dubbed martial arts movie that my intern, Rocko, had hunted down for me on the Bowery. Snake Gang Vs. Shaolin Idiot was a confusing jumble of constant combat, with little of interest save that it was the debut screen appearance of an actress I was preparing to interview the following week.
I fast-forwarded to the point at which Vicky Ha—then a six-year-old billed as Fung Wazhou—entered the narrative, walking on her hands across a tightrope. Then the phone rang. I thought it might be my wife, who was supervising the late shift at the printing press.
So I answered the way I sometimes do: “Yellow?”
There was a pause and a soft click, as when telemarketers call.
"Is this Ed Park?"
"This is Ed Park."
"I can’t believe it."
"Well, you had better. Who is this?"
"I’m so sorry. How rude of me. This is Lex from Caliber magazine. We met at the party for Wright Puddleton a couple years ago. You were friends with my wife in grad school." This was a surplus of information, yet still not enough. Neither Lex nor Caliber nor Wright Puddleton rang a bell, and I had never been to graduate school.
"I think you must have the wrong number," I said, preparing to sign off. The freelancer’s instinct, however, made me linger. I could always use another gig, and if Caliber paid well, I could be convinced to take a shot. I was just hoping it wasn’t a porn magazine.
"Ed Park the film reviewer!"
"Yes, that’s me! But I don’t know any Wright Puddleton, I’m afraid."
"But you must remember."
I didn’t. How to say this gently? "If I’d met you, I’m sure I would remember. Tell me again where you think you met me."
"Ed, listen. My name is Lex—we only met briefly, at the thing for Wright. I was the guy with the glasses and the dark hair. I wasn’t with Cathy, but she’d told me about you, in fact talks about you rather a lot—she jokes that she’s obsessed with you—and so when we were introduced . . . you mean you really don’t remember any of this?"
"Nothing’s ringing any bells." I was always on the lookout for people who were obsessed with me. It was sometimes nice to think that my presence was actually noted by another human being. However, actual obsession might not be entirely a good thing. It could take a dangerous form, such as people making voodoo dolls of you and sticking pins in the sensitive bits. Or calling late on weeknights, for that matter. "When was this party?"
"I was away that summer,” I said. It was true. I had snagged a three-month fellowship to a writers’ colony in Guadalajara, where I tried to write a screenplay about a film reviewer who sees his life as a series of movies starring himself. Not surprisingly, it was a failure. It had been too long since I’d tried my hand at any sort of creative venture. I winced thinking about the thirty-odd pages I still had stashed in my desk and got a sudden urge to burn each sheet in the sink.
"And anyway," I said, “I’d certainly remember a name like Wright Puddleton. Who is Wright Puddleton, anyway?"
"Lex did you say your name was? Lex, I’m afraid something got mixed up, you misheard someone, a small practical joke might have been played. But it wasn’t me you met. I can assure you."
He didn’t speak for a while, so I said, "I guess I’ll sign off now."
"Wait. You did go to graduate school, yes?"
"Is this Edward K. Park?"
"No, this is Edward J. Park,” I lied.
He took a deep breath. "My wife went to grad school, Rue University, with an Edward K. Park, better known as Ed. He was in the film society and all that, wrote reviews and things for the student paper. Totally handsome, really popular. So we assumed he was you, the Ed Park, whose writing we’ve both enjoyed for the past however many years. We sometimes cut your pieces out and save them in a notebook. That thing you wrote about the new Korean cinema was frickin’ fantastic."
"Thank you—I think." I wondered which thing about the new Korean cinema he meant. I had written at least a half dozen such pieces, each one more strident than the last. They had headlines like "Seoul Men" and "Korea Opportunities." But maybe this other Ed Park had written such pieces, too?
"Do you think you could put us in touch with some other Ed Parks who might be film critics?"
It was a strange request. "I don’t know of other Ed Parks. Rather, I know there are others, but I don’t know that any of them work in my field, such as it is. I’ve heard of an Ed Perk and an Ed Parr, both journalists, but I don’t think they’re film reviewers. Perhaps your wife is thinking of one of them?"
"No, no," Lex said. "Terribly sorry. But here’s the thing. Are you now or were you ever Edward Parks?"
"Parks with an -s?"
"Of course not. How could I be?" I was studying the box that my Chinese video had come in. The title was misspelled as SHAKE GANG VS SHALIN EDIOT. That was three quarters of the words misspelled, not counting VS, which should have had a period.
"Terribly sorry again,” Lex laughed. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Edward Parks was someone I went to high school with. This was back in Shrewsbury, Mass. Ever been there?"
"How old are you?"
"I’m not sure that’s any of your business." It was at this point that I concluded that some elaborate hoax was underway, or at the very least a prank phone call that had lost track of the gag and instead found itself verging on mysterious cruelty. But just as this thought occurred to me, and I sluggishly realized I could simply clap the phone back on the hook and end this nonsense, my interlocutor said, "Hold on—let me put my wife on the line. Honey?"
After a prolonged interlude of tectonic-grade rustling, a woman said, "Is this Ed?"
"The film critic."
"Yes. But see here—"
"This is Cathy! You don’t remember me. I know you don’t remember me—why would you? My dissertation was a mess. I didn’t even know what I was writing about. Cattle prices? Trade routes? I know you finished up and now you’re all over the place, it’s great. I pick up a magazine, there you are. Loved that thing on the new Korean cinema—hot stuff. So yeah: I can understand why you’d want to forget about good old Rue University. It was a small pond and you were a big fish. But you should pay a visit sometime, remember the little people. They’ve got some really good programs now, study abroad and that sort of thing. There’s a Barbados study-abroad that I’m involved with. One class, you just go on a cruise and screen movies for old alums. The endowment is good but could be stronger."
I had never heard of Rue University in my life. "Is this a fundraising call?” I asked.
She laughed. "Sorry! I just thought you might want to hear about Barbados. This is not a fundraising call. I have nothing to do with that. I just thought it might be fun to be back in touch. We love your reviews. Anyway, Lex was saying how he met you at the party for Ringling Boa over the summer, and I asked him if he got your number, and of course he didn’t, so I made him call information."
Last week? Ringling Boa? "I wasn’t at any party for any Ringling Boa, nor for anyone named Wright Puddleton, not last summer, not two years ago. Lex never met me. He might have met someone else whom he thought was me.”
"Ringling Boa," she said. "Think harder. You were there. We have pictures."
"I was away."
"Lots of places. Film festivals, a vacation."
"I’ve always thought film festivals were vacations."
"Not when they’re in Bosnia they’re not."
"You were in Bosnia?"
"I only stayed for two days,” I admitted. "The projectors were in poor shape. Mostly we watched unsubtitled videos in someone’s basement, with an old ex-diplomat or possibly chauffeur giving an approximate narration. Lots of scenes with the wind blowing briskly through fields. I’m just saying. These film festivals aren’t all fun and games."
"I see." She sounded skeptical.
"No, really. It’s pretty intense. You go to four, sometimes five movies a day."
"That sounds like hard work! Seeing movies!"
"Admittedly there’s some drinking at night…"
"You were with your wife?"
"She was here. In New York. At work."
"She’s not a film critic, then."
"No. She runs a printing press in Yonkers. Look. I’ve already been on the phone too long. I need to get back to my movie."
"Yes. I’m watching a movie. I need to watch it to prepare for this interview I’m doing."
"You haven’t heard of it, I’m sure."
"Good night, Cathy."
"Oh come on!"
"Snake Gang Vs. Shaolin Idiot."
"Oh sure!” She laughed. "’Shake’ Gang."
"Wait, how do you know about ‘Shake’ Gang?"
"How do I know about it? I’m in it!"
For a second I thought she was Vicky Ha, my interview subject. But that hardly made sense. "What do you mean you’re in it?"
"Did you watch the fight in the temple?"
"Yes—wait, which fight?" I could have also said, "Which temple?”
"The third one. With the razor blades coming out of the books."
"Yes." She really had seen the movie.
"Remember there’s a small girl screaming at the beginning, the little urchin girl from town who the Snake Gang is using as a spy?"
"Is that what she was? It’s hard to tell on my copy."
"Yes! My father directed it."
"Ed?" It was Lex again.
“Do you remember now?”
I didn’t say anything for a while. I could hear Lex breathe on the other end of the line. In the background I could hear Cathy say, “I was talking to him!”
“Why don’t you tell me what this is really about?” I said at last. But the line had gone dead. I sensed that things were about to change for me. Actually they’d already changed, and I just didn’t know it yet.