80. Why the long face?

Sunday morning, July 9th

 

After tossing and turning all night, I get up and take a long shower, letting the cool water run over my numb body.

 

I met Yūri and two other friends, Nobu and Mika, at Small Spaceslast night after trying unsuccessfully to contact my cousin God knows how many times. It goes without saying that I wasn’t in much of a partying mood, but did try all the same to give my friend a proper seeing off.

Saddling up to the counter, I ordered a shotgun for the four of us. The bartender, nodded and went about throwing the drink together—dropping hand-crushed ice into a crystal tub, then adding a few shots of a 192-proof vodka from Poland called Spirytus RektyfikowanySpecht Pampelmusegrapefruit liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon and grapefruit juices, and soda water. After giving the concoction a good stir, he placed the tub and four shot glasses before us. I poured Yūri, Nobu, Mika and then myself a shot.

“Yūri,” I said, raising my shot glass, “when you get to Tōkyō, don’t forget us country bumpkins stuck here in Fukuoka.Kampai!”

Kampai!”

I had known Yūri—and Nobu, too, come to think of it—a good five or six years. Long enough for the two of them to have become unwitting bystanders of the collapse of my marriage, my descent into drug use and subsequent recovery, the separation and divorce from Yūko, the financial straits that had followed, the rebound, and so much more. They had been with me through all of it, and yet they didn’t know diddlysquat about what I had endured. Talk about poker faces!

“Why the long face,” Mika asked as she poured me another shot.

“He lost his phone,” Yūri answered for me.

“Yeah, it’s my phone. Good grief, what a hassle,” I said, knocking back the shot. “Speaking of ‘long faces’, Mika, you’ve reminded me of an old joke. It doesn’t translate well, so I’ll tell it to you in English: A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?’”

Crickets.

There was plenty to be depressed about, the possibility of going to jail and jokes falling flat, notwithstanding. So many people I counted among my friends were moving away. My ex-wife had remarried and was now in Tōkyō. After being together for more than ten years, her absence was like the sooty shadow on the wall after a painting that had fallen off. Dé Dale, who had been in my life for nearly as long, was leaving Japan in a matter of months for destinations unknown. And now, Yūri was being transferred to Tōkyō. Nobu, too, would be moving to Nagoya next spring, leaving only Mika. The youngest among us, Mika would, by and by, get knocked up by her boyfriend and fade away as young mothers in Japan often do, too busy raising her child to socialize with friends. I might have sought recourse in that old gang of expats I had once hung out with before dé Dale if attrition, marriage and kids hadn’t thinned them out, as well. My circle of friends and acquaintances was shrinking faster than a drop of water on a hot skillet.

 

When I emerge from the shower, I find Azami, who slept over again, grinding her teeth all night, in the kitchen preparing a breakfast of rice balls with pickled plums, misosoup, tamagomaki, slices of smoked ham and a green salad. It looks and tastes lovely, but with my stomach so full of butterflies, I have little appetite. Azami insists that I eat. Twelve years my junior, a full generation of the Chinese calendar, the girl still manages to act like my mother.

What in the world does this girl see in me, I wonder as I nibble on a rice ball.There’s got to be better men out there. Men who are more handsome, more reliable, more loving, more faithful . . .

 

Told by Ozawa to be at his office in Hakata at nine-thirty, I leave at a quarter past eight to give myself plenty of time.

Azami kisses me good-bye at the door and wishes me luck. With a heavy sigh, I head for Akasaka station.

Were it a weekday the train would be packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, with bleary-eyed salarymen, reeking of cigarettes and last night’s beer and shōchū. There would be office ladies preening themselves, and school girls in their pressed sailor uniforms thumbing out messages on cell phones, oblivious to the men craning their necks to get a better gander up their skirts. Today being Sunday, the train is mostly empty, each car carrying a few lifeless passengers, like half-deflated “Dutch wives”.[1]

Down the entire length of the railcar hanging from clips in the ceiling like laundry drying in the sun areposters, known as tsuri-kōkoku(吊り広告), advertising the new Shinkansenline that connects the city of Kagoshima in the south of Kyūshū with Hakata. Each poster shows a famous spot in Kagoshima Prefecture: the sand spas of Ibusuki with the dormant volcano Mt. Kaimon rising like a mossy conein the distance, the ornate Kirishima Jingū shrine surrounded by autumn hews of maples, and Mount Sakurajima across Kinkō Bay, burping a plume of smoke from its caldera. Each poster features a sleek white bullet train racing across the bottom and the alluring actress Hitomi Kuroki, dressed in an elegant kimono making bedroom eyes.

“Next stop Nakasu Kawabata. Nakasu Kawabata,” a sugary female voice announces.

The urge to flee from this country seizes me.

I have the cash, not a lot, but enough. I could take the Shinkansenall the way to Kagoshima, where I could catch a ferry to Amami Ōshima, then another ferry to Okinawa. From there, I could sail on to the southern-most island of Yonaguni. It would take two days, possibly more to get that far, a long time considering it was only two and a half hours’ flight away. But there would be no records, no ID checks if I went by ship. I could vanish.

My friend on Yonaguni could put me up for a few nights. Two or three days would give me more than enough time to think. Then, if I did decide to leave Japan, well, I supposed a fishing boat could take me on to Taiwan. It’s only a hundred kilometers away. I could use my Lebanese passport to enter the country and fly out of Taipei, making my way to Lebanon. I could deal with the cops from there. I am still a free man; after all, they haven’t arrested me . . . yet.

The screws may be tightening, but I can still wiggle. If the cops really had anything on me, they would have carted me away with my computers and urine sample on Thursday morning.

“Next stop Gion. Gion,” the woman’s voice reminds the passengers.

Only one more stop. . .

My heartbeat quickens. 

I still have time to turn around and head back to my apartment where I could call Ozawa and make up some excuse or another, tell him I overslept and would be there by ten-thirty. Better yet, I could tell him that I was talking to my lawyer and that I’d be there at noon. And before Ozawa knows what has happened, I’d be on the Shinkansento Kagoshima bulleting my way through the mountains of Kyūshū at 300 km/h.

But what would happen if I did manage to escape? Would I be able to return to Japan? Would I have to give up everything I have suffered so long to achieve: my home, my permanent residence status, my career—if you could call it one—the few friends I still have and, most importantly, my ex-wife’s family? Despite the divorce, they have stayed by my side, generosity I did not deserve. Would I ever be able to see them again? What about my rabbit, Pyon? Who’d care for him? And Azami? I know she’d be better off without a loser like me in her life, but am I? Would I be better off without her?

“Next stop, Hakata. All passengers transferring to the JR Kagoshima main line . . .”

The train stops, bells chime, and the doors hiss open. 

It is five past eight-thirty in the morning. I have a little under an hour to kill, fifty-five minutes to fill my head with silly ideas about lamming it.

I still have time to call Ozawa, tell him I am feeling ill, but would be there at eleven. No, tell him I’ll be there at noon. That would give me over three hours. Enough time to pack my bags and empty my bank accounts and . . . I could take a taxi back to the station, catch the first Shinkansen to Kagoshima . . . ride it all the way to Kagoshima . . . just me, and Hitomi Kuroki in her kimono, and freedom. All I have to do walk to the other side of the platform and board the train going the other way. All I have to do is take the train back to Akasaka. Back to Akasaka . . .



[1] A “Dutch wife” (ダッチワイフ) is what the Japanese call a sex doll. Why Dutch? Why, indeed. The original meaning of a Dutch wife was the “bamboo wife”, a kind of hallow bamboo bolster pillow. Dutch wife did not take on the connotation of a sex doll in Japan until the late 1950s. 


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here. This is the last installment of Too Close to the Sun. To continue reading this, please visit Amazon. Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

Thank you for reading.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

79. The Itch

Saturday evening, July 8th

 

I take the cell phone from Azami. “Moshi-moshi.”

“This is Yūri,” says the voice on the other end. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”

“I’m so sorry, Yūri. I lost my phone the other day and I . . .”

I’m getting tired of having to lie to everyone. If I had my druthers, I would be up front with my friend and tell her the truth that in less than twelve hours I will have to go in for questioning. I would also tell her what I fear most: that the cops might arrest me the moment I set foot in their office. But this is Japan. You don’t wear your heart on your sleeve here; you put it in a lacquered box, wrap it up in a furoshiki, and shove it into a dark corner of your closet out of sight with the rest of your troubles.

We agree to meet at Small Spaces in an hour. In the meantime, Yūri will contact the others and tell them where to go, and I will hurry back to my apartment and try to call Naila again.

It should be around seven-thirty in the morning in D.C. If I don’t get through now, there won’t be another chance until Sunday morning. And that is cutting it far too close comfort.

I dial my cousin’s number. The phone starts to ring. Fourteen rings later, there’s still no answer.

“Goddammit!” I shout into the receiver. Trying the number again, I get nothing. 

“She’s not home?” Azami asks.

“I don’t know. I don’t know whether she’s out or whether she’s just not answering her phone. What I do know is that I’m going to be up shit creek if I don’t get in touch with her before tomorrow morning.”

 

Smoking yabatill the wee hours of the night with dé Dale and Nori on Ko Samui would have made a fitting epilogue for my experience with stimulant drugs, one that had until then been rather positive in many respects. Regrettably, it would prove to have only been The Prologue.

Not long after returning to Fukuoka, dé Dale was made an offer the businessman in him couldn’t easily refuse: several hundred grams of crystal meth at a price that tickled his animal spirits. As soon as the deal had gone through, dé Dale parceled the speed out to anyone he could contact, unloading as much of the drug as possible, save a hefty personal stash for himself and his girlfriend Nori, who was now smoking like a champion.

I, too, was persuaded into buying a large portion of it.

“Shinji will be in town,” dé Dale murmured cryptically over the phone. “If you want to meet up, it’ll have to be at ‘twenty o’clock’.”

Twenty g’s! Good God!

Twenty grams was more than enough to keep me twisted around Shinji’s little finger for the remaining seven months of 2001. I didn’t know if I could trust myself around that much speed.

“Twenty? I’m kind of busy. Can’t we meet earlier? At, say, five?” I offered. Five grams would have been more manageable.

“No. It’s twenty or never. And so you know, our friend won’t be as generous with his time next time.”

“Twenty, huh?”

If only I had said “No thanks” to dé Dale, the next few years might have turned out differently. I probably wouldn’t be facing jail time today. But, I couldn’t. Something within me just wasn’t capable of saying “No” to dé Dale.

“Deal me in.”

 

 I managed at first to keep the habit at a minimum, smoking only on weekends, but it didn’t take long for those weekends to start including Thursday nights and then Wednesday nights, and the occasional Tuesday night, as well. By the time Sunday night would zip around my body would be screaming for sleep. Four or five days speeding, with the pedal to the metal, and only occasional catnaps on my sofa, would finally catch up with me and utter exhaustion would drag my listless body into a groggy tomb.

By Monday morning, I would be feeling much better than I had the right to be. My appetite would have returned, too, so I would make a breakfast of misosoup, asazuképickles and rice. I’d drink several glasses of vegetable juice for the health in it.

“Today I’m gonna eat healthy,” I’d declare, “and rejuvenate. Yes, rejuvenate! Lots of fruits and vegetables for Rémy’s poor body. And vitamins, yes, vitamins! Ha-ha!”

I would put the lighter and rolled up 1000-yennote away in my sock drawer and tell myself I wouldn’t be needing the paraphernalia today, that I’d be able to get through the day just fine without it, thank you very much.

My confidence would be unshakable: I would get through the day without lighting up, end of story.

The itch, after all, is gone, I’d tell myself. I’m rested and the furthest thing from my mind is smoking.

I would have to remind myself, of course, that this was the case, that I was okay, that I was above it, that smoking even a little . . . Nah, I didn’t need it. I just didn’t need it . . . Besides, there were so many other things to fill my mind: my dissertation, the errands I had to run, the calls I had to make, the dinner I wanted to prepare, and the date I wanted to arrange.

But, Shinji would be back in no time pestering me, peeking over my shoulder to see what I was up to.

I’d tell him to shoo.

I would busy myself, instead, with work and even make some progress on my dissertation. I would have a nice lunch, more vegetables, and be feeling pretty damn good considering all the abuse I had put my body through recently. And yet, I wouldn’t be able to shake the feeling that wherever I went, whatever I did, Shinji was shadowing me. 

“Just go a-way, will ya!”

As the day progressed, my thoughts would turn increasingly to Shinji, and I would have to convince myself that I neither needed, nor wanted, to smoke.

“Why, I could smoke whenever I wanted to,” I’d say to myself, “especially when you consider how much meth I have tucked away in the old sock drawer. There’s no reason to smoke up on today of all days, when the weekend, well not quite the weekend, but Thursday night was only three short days away, and I’d be able to smoke myself silly then. Just think how goodit will feel to smoke again after having not smoked for a few days.”

This argument would gain traction, convincing my head of the benefits of waiting. My body, though, was never fully convinced. So, I would go out to run errands, if only to put some physical distance between the drug and myself, and that would do the trick for the next few hours.

By the time I would come home, though, there would be an itch I would give my eyeteeth to scratch. And so, straight to the sock drawer I would go and remove the rolled up 1000-yen note, sticky with white soot, and one of the many small Ziploc bags of meth stashed there. I would sprinkle the crystalline shards onto a fresh sheet of foil, light up and inhale deeply.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

78. Soaring

At the culture center, I am given a stark reminder of the danger that lies ahead: less than a hundred yards away and in clear view from the windows of the fifth floor classroom is the Fukuoka Kōchisho (拘置所), the very jail I hope to avoid getting thrown into.

The Kōchishois enclosed in an old concrete wall, some forty or fifty feet high, with a bramble of razor wire at the top. Just beyond the wall, the top floor of the cell blocks is visible. In all the years I have taught at the culture center and looked out at the Kōchisho, I have never once detected a hint of life beyond the bleak enclosure.

What I do know about the jail is that prisoners are sometimes hanged there, the executions made public only after they have been conducted. There are no countdowns, no protests, no candlelight vigils, no dramatic eleventh hour stays of execution. This isn’t Hollywood, after all. It is Japan, where humorless bureaucrats oil the machinery of justice and the extinguishing of human life is as fittingly impersonal as a tick in a ledger in some governmental office.

And I’ll become a tick in a ledger myself if I fuck up tomorrow morning.

“You have nothing to worry about,” Adachi told me. 

Big of the man to say so! The lawyer isn’t the one who is going to get the third degree, or have his head slammed up against the wall, or receive an education in the subtleties of a nightstick. Whatever happens on Sunday, I’m sure I’ll be seeing stars by the end of the day if blow it.

I have gotto get in touch with Naila, again! 

I tried to contact my cousin twice before I left for the culture center this morning, but no luck. I still don’t know what I am going to tell the cops when I go in for questioning.

If only I could talk with Naila, and get her to corroborate . . .

Swallowing hard, I turn away from the window and sit down on the corner of my desk and wait for the students to arrive.

At a quarter to ten, students begin trickling in, filling the classroom with their sunny chatter. The pensioners don’t seem to have a care in the world, aside from bum knees, cataracts, and memory loss. Some of them, the older ones in particular who are in their eighties and still going strong, lived through the horrors of the war—one even experienced the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, another had been training to become a kamikazepilot as the war was coming to an end—but you’d never know it from the way they smile as they enter the classroom.

Dé Dale once commented that he didn’t know how I could bear to spend so much time every week with so many “losers”. I suppose if I also operated under the same opinion that my students were losers, I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as I had in the profession. At the risk of my friend’s derision, I must confess that I actually like the vast majority of my students, and, for the most part, enjoy the time we spend together each week. Would I rather be doing something different? You bet! But for all intents and purposes, the job suits my lifestyle and places few demands on me other than I show up, do my thing, and collect my pay.

Now that the Kōchishois looming in the offing and I risk losing everything, this teaching gig included, there isn’t anywhere I would rather be than in this classroom chatting it up with pensioners about their enviably ordinary and peaceful lives.

I ask a diminutive woman by the name of Hideko (lit., child of the rising sun) if she did anything special this week. At the age of sixty-three, she is a spring chicken compared to the rest.

“Last week, I went toshopping,” Hideko begins.

Wentshopping,” I correct.

“Yes, yes. I went to shopping and . . .”

“No, Hideko, it’s not ‘wenttoshopping’, it’s ‘wentshopping’.” I say. God only knows how many times I have corrected the group on this very point.

“Huh?”

“I went shopping.”

“You, too, Sensei?”

Oh, good grief. No, no, no. Not meYou!”

“Yes, that’s what I said,” she counters with a smug smile.

“Never mind. Please continue.”

“Last week, I went to shopping and . . .”

When she is finished with her story, I write “go to ~ ing” on the whiteboard with the “to” crossed out in red. Below it, I add several examples: “go hiking”, “go swimming”, “go fishing”, and finally “go shopping”.

After doing a quick run-through of the grammar, Hideko finally figures out what I have been trying to tell her. What’s more, it dawns on her that she made the very same mistake only a week ago. 

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“It’s quite all right,” I assure the woman. “There’s no need to apologize. This ismy job, after all. Like a gardener pulling weeds.”

Oh, thank you. Thank you. You’re too kind.”

“Besides there are no stupid mistakes . . .”

“Oh?”

“No, there aren’t any stupid mistakes, but there sure are a lot of stupid students!”

Sensei!”

 

 Back at my apartment, I try to place another call to my cousin. It is getting late on Naila’s side of the planet. If I don’t get through to her soon, the next window won’t be until the evening, my time. Trouble is I promised a friend I would throw her a small going away party.

I dial my cousin’s number and let it ring and ring and ring.

Yal’la, Naila, answer the goddamn phone!” After ten rings, I slam the receiver down. “Fuck me!”

It is tempting to give my mother a call to see if she might be able to contact her sister, my aunt Michelin, and tell Naila to call me. The poor woman, though, already has enough on her plate caring for my father. My old man is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and the last thing Mama needs is one more thing to upset her. No, I’ll have to try again in the evening.

 

 

After lounging about the swimming pool all morning, dé Dale and I got itchy feet and decided to go out and explore Bangkok until it was time to leave for the airport. 

A few blocks from our hotel was a canal, one of the many noisome tributaries that flow through the city carrying human waste and pestilence and God only knows what else. Every now and then boats roaring in either direction and churning up the muddy waters pull up to jerry-built piers, unload their shaken and rattled passengers, and speed off again.

Well, I’ll tell you, the boats are probably deathtraps, but to the two of us they looked like a hell of a lot of fun. The gods may struggle in vain against boredom, but there is no shortage of things that will amuse two lads hopped up on drugs.

We boarded an inbound boat, sitting at the very front of the boat, near the pilot, with the delight of two boys climbing into the first car of a roller coaster. 

The pilot floored the engine and the boat hurtled forward at breakneck speed, down the canal under a canopy of trees. The boat banked sharply at the Ban Bat temple and continued thundering ahead, passing under a low-lying bridge and just barely averting a collision with an approaching boat. Several minutes later, when we arrived at a pier along the great Chao Phraya, the River of Kings, the two of us hobbled off, shaken and rattled ourselves.

We spent an hour wandering around Khet Dusit, where the royal palace and parliament are located, then jumped onto the backs of motorcycle taxis that zipped us back to Siam, weaving wildly through the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The rest of the afternoon was idled away at Gaysorn Plaza and Siam Center, where you would have thought that Christmas and Chanukah had come eight months early the way we shopped, picking up souvenirs and presents like there was no tomorrow.

In the evening, we rendezvoused at the airport with Nori, dé Dale’s leggy Amazon, who had just flown in from Japan. The three of us then caught a connecting flight to Ko Samui, an island off the southeastern coast where we planned to stay for a few days before moving on to the neighboring island of Ko Pha Ngan in time for the full moon party.

Perhaps it was the altitude or the deafening drone of the twin propellers that triggered it, but midflight I began to peak again. Leaning across the narrow aisle, I asked my friend how he was feeling. More than twenty hours had passed since we had taken yabaand I was still soaring. He looked back at me and grinned like the Cheshire cat.

 

 

When my workday has finally come to an end, I consider trying to give my cousin another call, but it is still early in the morning for her. 

Better to try again in an hour. 

In the meantime, Azami and I go out for a quick bite, dropping in at Gyoshu Danshiro Shoten, an Okinawan pub just down the street from my apartment.

Without looking at the menu, I rattle off the order as soon as the waiter comes to our table: “Tofuyogoya chambururafuté, Okinawan soba, grilled Ishigaki beef, and Orionbeer.”

Okinawa. Now there is a place I would not mind being, and to hell with what dé Dale thinks of the place. 

For years, I’ve been operating sullenly on the soppy emotion “anywhere, but here”, but my melancholy longing for greener pastures does have a destination—several, in fact—and Okinawa is near the top of that list.

A friend of mine checked out of life’s fast lane and moved to the southernmost island of Yonaguni where she is now spending her days hanging out at the beach, and lolling about on the engawadeck of her home, plucking a kind of banjo called the Ryūkyū sanshinand drinking the local fire water, awamori.

Although I may not be ready to live the life of a cloistered monk just yet, Ishigaki, the largest, most populous island in the Yaeyama archipelago located halfway between Okinawa and my friend’s new home of Yonaguni, would suit me just fine. The pace of life is slower there—perfect when you have nowhere in particular to go and nothing special to do. When you are rushing from one commitment to another like I usually am, just doing nothing, absolutely nothing, as dé Dale often reminded me, is a luxury.

A dip in the turquoise sea, snorkeling among coral reefs and tropical fish, a bottle of Donan120-proof awamoriand a bucket of ice to ease you into the evening, and an old man strumming away on the sanshin, singing in the Okinawan dialect, “Nankuru nai sah” (Everything’s gonna be all right) sounds like heaven to me right now.

The waiter brings a chilled mug of Oriondraught for me, uchin cha[1]for Azami, and a small plate of tōfuyo.

Even in a land like Japan where delicacies abound, tōfuyostill manages to stand out.Made with the Okinawan variety of tōfu,it is first packed in salt to remove the excess water, and then fermented a second time in awamori, rice malt and red yeast until it takes on a rose-colored cheese-like consistency.

I shave off a bit of the tōfuyowith a toothpick and pop it into my mouth.Just then, Azami’s cell phone rings. 

Moshi-moshi,” she says. “Yes, he’s here with me. Hold on a moment, I’ll give him the phone . . .”

 

 

The airplane touched down on the tarmac of Ko Samui’s small airport by and by.

Dé Dale, Nori, and I shambled off the plane, ears ringing, and made our way to an improvised baggage claim area where we huddled with the other woozy passengers. Once we had our bags, we hailed a taxi that took us to the other side of the island where a pair of bungalows was waiting for of us.

By this point, dé Dale and I had been awake for over forty hours, and still “high like the kite” for most of that time. Only now were the effects of the yabafinally subsiding; the rope we had been dangling from all night and all day finally slackened enough to let our feet touch the ground.

After a trip as long as that, you might think I would have been ready to hit sack, but no, I was still having too much fun—strange fruit, indeed—and didn’t want the party to end.

Dé Dale and Nori, however, had the good sense to call it a night. With a toodle-oo, the two retired to their bungalow. The door to their bungalow shut and the curtains drawn, for the next two hours the quiet of the evening was broken every now and then with giggles and moans, and the thud of a headboard banging against the wall, steady as a metronome.

Left alone to my own self-destructive devices, I took the roll of yaba out of my pocket. There were still five more of those crazy pink pills left. Splitting one in two, I popped half into my mouth. 

Good God, what was I thinking?

The following morning, dé Dale said he wanted to get in touch with nature while on the island, so the three of us went on a quest for magic mushrooms.

I was still hopped-up on yababy then, having spent half of the night wandering around the dimly lit, sparsely populated village in a fruitless search for a party or a go-go bar or a show featuring genital acrobatics—anything that might fight back, if only temporary, an imaginary army of ants that was crawling all over me. 

Unfortunately, little was open, nothing but a dismal little cyber café with two lousy computers and dial-up Internet. A hippy with blond dreadlocks dressed in what looked like pajamas sat before one of the computers. He hunted and pecked at the keyboard, clicking the mouse with the frenzied urgency of a day trader. Watching him reminded me of something dé Dale had once said: Most hippies today are phonies.

Returning to the bungalow, I plopped down on the bed and turned on the boob tube. A Thai soap opera was on. It featured beautiful people with gleaming white teeth and alabaster complexions living lives of such material abundance it made me wonder what the people in the shantytowns along the train tracks and stinking rivers of Bangkok must have made of it all. Flipping the channel, I caught CNN just as it was breaking for a commercial. Imagine that. Changing the channel, MTV was showing Crazy Town’s “Butterfly—shugah baby—again. On another channel, NHK Worldwas stultifying viewers with its bone-dry reportage of the news . . .

“Ah, fuck it,” I said, and, turning the TV off, headed out to the beach where I waited for the sun to rise.

Later that morning, when dé Dale, Nori, and I were walking along the beach, we happened upon a beach bar, the walls of which were painted in a wildly psychedelic motif, like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

“Bingo,” dé Dale said, snapping his fingers.

He sauntered up to counter and asked the bartender, a scrawny Thai man of about thirty, and the only person in the joint, if he knew where we might be able to score some shrooms.

The bartender laughed and in impeccable English told us that five years ago magic mushrooms would have been easy to get hold of, but now? “Sorry, but you’re fresh out of luck, mate.”

Dé Dale sat down at the counter and ordered a round of Singhas. 

When the bartender brought the beers over, he whispered something to the effect that if it was partying we were after, he might be able to arrange for something.

Dé Dale was game and gave him a nod, warning, “Better not disappoint us!”

“You won’t be,” the bartender replied and took off down the beach, giving us the run of the bar. When he returned half an hour later, he produced a small case of pink pills with WY imprinted on them.

Dé Dale and I looked at each other and started laughing.


[1]Okinawan jasmine tea


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

77. Yaba Daba Doo!

Saturday morning, July 8th

 

I wake up early with Azami at my side, sound asleep but grinding her teeth so fiercely I worry she might crack a tooth. With a gentle nudge, she rolls over onto her side, the gnashing stops.

I go to the kitchen to make myself a café au lait. As the milk is being heated in a saucepan, the kettle comes to a boil. I place three scoops of coffee grounds into the filter, and once the milk is warm enough add two lumps of La Perruchesugar to the milk, then slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, pour water over the coffee grounds and let it drip, drip, drip into the milk.

Bowl of café au laitin hand, I go and sit outside on the balcony. My rabbit rubs up against my ankle.

“Morning, Pyon,” I say and scratch him where he likes it, on the top of his head right between the ears. “You got any regrets, Pyon?”

The rabbit stands on his hind legs and gives me a noncommittal look.

“No? Not even one? Well, I’ve got plenty for both of us.”

 

 After locking and chaining the door and shutting the curtains in the hotel room, I cut open the hard plastic containing the pink pills, and let them spill out onto the glass coffee table. Examining one, I found “WY” imprinted on one side of each tablet.

The latest edition of The Economist featured a short article about recent seizures of methamphetamines in Thailand. According to the article, anti-drug operations had netted some six million pills that very week; another seven million pills had been nabbed the week before.

“I guess this is why the shit was so hard to find,” I said, tossing dé Dale the magazine. A good month for the narcs, perhaps, but it was evidence, too, of the booming trade in methamphetamines in Southeast Asia. The article also stated that the pills, imprinted with a “WY” logo, were mainly produced by the United Wa State Army, the largest drug trafficking organization in Myanmar. Thailand was the primary market for yaba.

“Check this out,” I said to dé Dale, holding one of the pills up. “WY. Wonder what that means. Wa’s Yaba?”

Dé Dale replied with a grunt. He couldn’t be bothered to look up, focused as he was on separating the paper lining from the foil of the Nestlé Crunchwrapper. Never underestimate the resourcefulness of a junkie, I always say. Brushing the flame of his lighter quickly under the wrapper, dé Dale picked at the paper with some tweezers and pulled it neatly away.

“Ha hah!” he said proudly and handed me the foil.

Borrowing dé Dale’s Swiss Army pocketknife—the guy was never without it—I cut the foil in half, and, crushing one of the pills up, placed an amount of the pink powder onto one of the tin squares. With a straw clenched between my teeth, I flicked the lighter and, passing a weak flame below the foil, waited for the smoke to rise.

Nothing

I tried again and waited, but the shit would not burn. Instead of giving off smoke, the pink powder melted and formed a dirty liquid.

“What the hell is this?” I said, putting the foil down on the coffee table.

Dé Dale grumbled that I wasn’t doing it right and gave it a shot himself. But, still no luck.

“Maybe the bastard sold us X,” he said.

I popped half a pill into my mouth, chewed on it a bit, and then washed it down with gin. Dé Dale did the same, and returned to the task of trying to make the pink powder to burn.

“It’s awfully sweet for ecstasy. Almost chocolaty,” I said, chewing on another half.

“It’s probably been cut with something,” dé Dale replied, the irritation in his voice rising.

Dé Dale had been simmering since we left Khaosan when our first attempts to score yabahad been frustrated. And now that we had got it only to be disappointed, dé Dale was ready to boil over. After several tries, we gave up trying to coax a plume of smoke from the pink powder, and popped one more pill each.

Slouching back into my chair, I turned on the TV. MTV was playing the same irritating video by a band I’d never heard of before called Crazy Town. Since arriving in Bangkok, I had seen it more than a dozen times. The song was also being blasted from speakers at street side vendors all over town.

Come muh lady . . . Come, come muh lady . . . you’re my butterfly, Sugar baby . . .

“Ugh. At least the chick in the video’s hot,” I said, pressing the “mute” button. 

When another thirty minutes had ticked by, and still nothing, dé Dale banged his fist on the table and jumped to his feet. “Fucking bastard sold us children’s aspirin!”

He paced the room like a caged tiger, fuming. I might have been able to comprehend my friend’s anger if it had been histhree thousand baht that had been flushed down the toilet. I was more philosophical about it: there were worse ways to learn a lesson, I thought, than being made a fool of by a drug dealer in Patpong. At least it was only three thousand baht. Could have been worse.

Just as I was about to concede to dé Dale that we had been duped, though, I began to feel a mellow, yet distinct, tingling throughout my body.

Dé Dale admitted he was starting to feel it, as well.

“I don’t know what this is,” I said, “but I’m starting to feel pretty damn good.” 

“Me, too,” dé Dale said, brightening. A smile spread across his face, the furrow in his brow softened.

Half an hour later, dé Dale declared that he was “high like the kite”, so we left the suite and hit the clubs.

 

Saturdays are another full day for me. I have two lessons in the morning at a “culture center” across town, teaching the unteachable: pensioners. At noon, I have to hurry back home where I have three more group lessons, back to back.

After teaching all week and having the same dull conversations over and over again, I am usually beat by the time Saturday mornings roll around. If I’ve also squeezed translation and freelance jobs in between the lessons—and more often than not I do—then I am a zombie by the end of the week, on the fast track for karōshi, or death from overwork.

The odd thing, though, is I don’t feel the slightest bit tired this morning. I should be an emotional and physical basket case considering what is going on, but I’m not. Just like yesterday, I was full of energy when I woke, my mind racing a mile a minute, high on the adrenaline coursing through my arteries.

 

Floating on my back in the Baiyoke’s 20th floor swimming pool, I started peaking again. Every time felt like the first, an orgasm rippling through my virgin flesh. I closed my eyes and let my body sink to the bottom of the pool. 

“I could stay here all day,” I said to myself, air gurgling out of my mouth and bubbles drifting like lazy dirigibles to the surface.

If only I’d had a long hallow reed to suck air through, bliss would have been mine. I would have become a merry little sea cucumber, not a worry in the deep blue sea.

It must have been around midnight when dé Dale and I had left our suite at the Baiyoke. We wandered around Pratunam for a while where I cashed a traveler’s cheque and, now flush with cash and goodwill, splurged on a Planet of the Apes gorilla mask for my friend.

Let me tell you, a kid never got so much pleasure out of a toy as dé Dale got out of that mask. Dé Dale donned the mask and started hamming it up, climbing on to dumpsters, spinning around telephone poles. Later as we were barreling through the streets of Bangkok on a tuk-tukheading back to Patpong, dé Dale leaned all the way out, howling and beating his chest. 

After clubhopping most of the night we ended up at a hole in the wall where the Mama of the bar challenged my friend to a game of The Captain’s Mistress. “You win, you drink for free,” Mama said.

It sounded like a fair bet to my friend. What was a game of glorified tick-tac-toe, after all, to a Frenchman who was often bemoaning the dearth of suitable chess opponents back in Fukuoka? He took up the gauntlet with the blind alacrity of a bull copulating in a queue at the slaughterhouse.

“Dé Dale, I wouldn’t put that piece there if I were you? She’s going to . . .”

“Rémy, tais-toi!”

Dé Dale blamed the first loss on my interruption.

“Shall we make the game more interesting?” dé Dale suggested, anteing up the gorilla mask.

“Hey! I paid good money for that!” I protested.

“Trust me,” dé Dale said. “I now understand how the bitch’s mind works.”

It was a rout: dé Dale did not manage to win a single game. Instead of drinking for free, we ended up having to pay double, the mask sacrificed on the altar of dé Dale’s pride.

After settling the bill, dé Dale told Mama that he wanted three whores to take back with us.

Three! Boys be ambitious, indeed.

As I was wondering how dé Dale intended to divvy up the poontang—two for him, one for me; two for me, one for him; one and a half for each of us; three for him, none for me—the saddest looking specimens of womanhood you could imagine started slinking in. It was as if we had arrived late at a farmers’ market and all that was left were greasy black bananas and stinky durians.

“You gotta be kidding,” dé Dale said. “Never mind.”

Passing on the orgy, we hailed a taxi and headed back to the hotel, where to our surprise the pool was still open.

“I was almost about to dive in after you,” dé Dale told me when I finally surfaced, gasping for air. “You know how long you were down there?”

“Sea cucumbers can’t be bothered with things as bourgeois as time.”

“What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I said, jerking my head to knock the water out of my ears.

“You were down there for almost two minutes.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed, impressed not so much by my pneumatic capacity as I was with the morning sky. It was lit up like Christmas, the sun rising above the city like a golden ornament against a crimson curtain. “Did you get a load of the sky?”

“Yeah, I’ve been staring it all this time.”

“What time is it?” I said.

“Eight.”

“Eight! Let me tell you, if this is children’s aspirin, I’m buying stock in Bayer!”

Getting up from his chaise lounge, dé Dale yelled, “Yaba-daba-doo!” at the top of his lungs and did a canon ball into the pool.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

76. Let's Make a Deal

Dé Dale and I were brought to a dive far off the main strip. It was chockablock with young prostitutes sitting in booths, singing along with a karaokemachine. Aside from the bartender and a doorman, there were no men in the place, not a single customer.

My first thought was that we had been tricked into coming to a hostess bar where we would be forced to buy the girls drinks. Dé Dale was ready to bail right then and there, but the dealer persuaded us to wait until he came back.

“Fifteen, maybe twen’y minute,” he said, leaving us in the care of the bartender.

We sat down at an empty booth in the back that faced the entrance, and ordered gin and tonics. 

Before long, some of the bar girls started slinking over like cats about to pounce on mice and asked where we were from.

Dé Dale replied that we were from Luxembourg.

More questions followed: How long have you been here? What are you doing in Thailand? And so on.

Dé Dale fed them a load of baloney about being orchid buyers for a flower-importing consortium. Why bother with the truth?

When one of the girls tried her best to curry favor with dé Dale, I told her: “You’re very charming, but, I’m afraid it won’t work. My friend here likes men. Little men. Hairy little men.”

Without missing a beat, the girls turned their attention to me. One of them sat down right next to me and grabbed my wimpy bicep.

“You very tall. Me like,” she said. “Do you have girlfriend?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I have four.”

“Butterfly boy!!!” They cackled with laughter. 

The girl put her arms around my neck and begged for me to let her be my fifth girlfriend. 

“I’ll think about it.”

“You don’ like me?”

“Oh, I likeyou all right.”

Not that she wasn’t pretty, she was, captivatingly so with her friendly eyes and natural, unaffected smile, but the thought of spending the next six months worrying that I might have contracted HIV or some other nasty STD was enough to make the water in me run cold.

Ten minutes came and went and dé Dale started tapping his lighter against the tabletop. “If the guy doesn’t show up in another 10 minutes,” dé Dale said, “We’re outta here.”

I had to agree with my friend. The longer we were forced to wait the more I worried we were becoming sitting ducks.

The bartender, noticing that the two of us were getting restless, came by and assured us the guy would probably be back in another ten minutes.

Dé Dale was ready to bolt. The Frenchman had the patience of a firecracker. When I suggested he have one more cigarette before leaving, he lit up and sat back in the settee, arms crossed, glaring in the direction of the entrance.

Before dé Dale could finish his cigarette, the dealer returned, short of breath. It had been nearly forty minutes.

So much for yaba being readily available.

As dé Dale was settling the bar tab, I followed the dealer to the restrooms in the back of the bar where, locking the door behind us, he pulled out a roll of ten pink pills, tightly wrapped in clear plastic. 

“I only wanted a few,” I protested. “This is way, way, waytoo much for the two of us.”

“But I bought these for you,” he said. “Ten for five thousand. ($110)”

“Five thousand?” I was taken aback. 

So much for the drug being cheap! Christ!

“I haven’t got that much on me.” I didn’t actually know how much cash I had on me and I wasn’t about to start counting the contents of my wallet before him. “I’ll take five for two thousand. It’s all I can afford.”

The dealer told me that was out of the question. He wanted to unload the whole lot as quickly as possible. It was far too risky for him to carry it around.

“Look, I only wanted five at the most and I’ve only got twenty-five hundred baht.”

“All for three thousand ($66),” he said finally.

“Deal!”

I passed a wad of bills to him, took the roll of pills from his hands, and left the restroom. 

Dé Dale was all ready to go, and, without so much as an adieubade to the girls, we beat-feet out of the bar. Once outside, we hopped into the fourth taxi we found and drove off to the Pratunam area where the Baiyoke Sky Hotelwas located. 

Getting out of the taxi a good ten-minutes’ walk from our hotel, we dropped in at a convenience store to pick up some tin foil. Not finding any, we bought a chocolate bar, chewing gum, cigarettes—anything we could find that came wrapped in foil. We also picked up a fresh lighter, some tonic water, and, once fully accoutered, made our way back to our hotel, snickering like kids leaving a candy store.

75. The Pied Piper of Patpong

As soon as dé Dale and I arrived in Patpong, we made a beeline for the Japanese street, a lane with bar upon bar catering to the “special needs” of Japanese businessmen. There was no comparable street exclusively for Germans or Aussies or Frenchmen, as far as I knew, but the Japanese managed to have a street all for themselves, employing some of the best-looking girls you’d hope to find in the trade. And what made these girls all the more attractive was that they were dressed in evening gowns rather than the raunchy outfits of the go-go girls that left little to the imagination.

They called out to the salarymenin simple Japanese, “Hey uncle, you’re welcome here!”

Dé Dale said it would be fun to pop into one of the clubs and freak everyone out by speaking Japanese, but before we could, my friend got distracted by a cigarette vendor.

“Got any Gauloises bleues?” he asked.

“No, sir. Sorry.”

“Just give me a pack of Marlboros, then.”

The vendor handed dé Dale the pack and said, “One hundred baht.”

“One hundred baht! ($2.20) Are you out of your mind? Forget it!”

“Okay, okay. Eighty baht ($1.77). Special price for you, sir.”

“Special price for you maybe,” dé Dale grumbled as he removed some bills from his wallet. “Rémy, remind me to get some cash tomorrow.”

“Dé Dale, get some cash tomorrow.”

“Would you like me to punch you now, or later when we get back to the hotel?”

I laughed, but took a step back just to be on the safe side.

As the vendor was giving dé Dale his change, something clicked in my friend’s mind: “Um, perhaps you can help us . . .”

“Yes, sir?”

“We’re looking for something a little, shall we say, stronger than tobacco to smoke.”

A small, dim light flickered on inside the vendor’s head. He smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Oh, okay . . . Kapoh . . . Okay. I got it.” Then, motioning for us to stay put, he added, “Let me get friend.”

Before long “the friend” showed up, a guy roughly our age in faded jeans and a tatty, blue polo shirt.

“You want grass,” he asked right off the bat.

“No,” dé Dale said. “We want yaba.”

“W-w-what?” The guy said, stepping back, eyes bulging. “It’s n-n-not easy t-to get.”

“Tell us about it,” dé Dale replied flatly.

“How about some grass? Real good quality.”

“No.”

“Hashish?”

Dé Dale gave the man an emphatic No. “We want yabaYaba or nothing.” He made like he was about to start walking away.

“Okay, okay. Wait. Wait.”

The guy’s eyes darted about, taking a survey of the people in the area. He gave us a good looking over, too. And, why shouldn’t he? For all he knew, the two of us, as odd a couple as Laurel and Hardy, might have been out to cheat or, worse, entrap him. 

Taking a few steps away from us, he made a call on his cell phone. 

“Okay,” he said to us after hanging up. “It take time. Twen’y minute, maybe thir’y. Not easy. Very, very hard to get now.”

Dé Dale’s eyes met mine as if to ask: you okay with this?

What are bridges for, if not for crossing

I nodded to the dealer. “Let’s do it!”

“Okay, follow me.”

We were led away from the Japanese street to a wide thoroughfare lined with noisy beer gardens and overrun with sloppy drunks.

“Wait here. I come right back. Five minute.”

As we waited, dé Dale whispered to me in French, “Any sign of the cops, I want you to hightail it to that street with all the shops there. Go all the way through until you get to the main street on the other side. Tu le comprends, ça?”

Oui.”

“Get a taxi, but do not, and, man, I shouldn’t have to tell you this is, Rémy, do not go straight back to the hotel. You do not want to lead the cops right back to where we are staying.”

D’accord.”

“Take two taxis if possible, or better yet, a tuk-tuk. They’re faster. Walk the last kilo.”

A few minutes later, the guy in the faded blue polo shirt came back and said he could get the yaba, but once again emphasized that it would take time.

Yaba is heavy shit,” he said as he led us away. 

Where did this guy learn his English?

“The police are . . . Police are . . .”

“Clamping down?” I suggested.

That seemed to be the word he was searching for. He nodded.

“Yeah, the police are clamping down. Heavy shit. Heavy, heavy shit. When you get it, hide it there,” he said pointing to his sock.

It didn’t sound like the shrewdest piece of advice to me. Were I a cop, that’s one of the first places I would look. No, it’s better to keep it tucked in you hand so you can toss it into a river, or down a drainpipe, or into a garbage bin the first sign of trouble, and run for your life into the nearest, most crowded place you can find.

“I understand,” I said.

“Ten year,” the guy said over and over. “Pot, hash, no problem, but yaba? Ten year.”

He made a gesture with his hands to show us the handcuffs that would surely be slapped on us if we were caught. 

It started to occur to me that this yabamight not be worth all the hassle and risks. Ten years in a Thai jail was no day at the beach. Just the same, I followed behind the guy like a child on the heels of the Pied Piper.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

74. Ping Pong Pussy

My friend was not one to get easily discouraged. Once frustrated, he grew more aggressive and determined, accosting tourists on the main strip and asking where he might be able to find “something”. A hippy pointed in the direction of a rundown guesthouse at the end of the block. We entered, hiked up a dilapidated set of stairs, took a seat in a seedy lobby where we ordered two beers, and waited for any signs of action.

You could have found more excitement on Bingo night at an old folks’ home than in that miserable guesthouse. After half an hour, dé Dale banged his beer down on the low table and got up.

“C’mon, man, this is a waste of time!”

Back out on the street, we hailed a taxi.

“Patpong,” dé Dale told the driver.

“Kapoh.”

 

Neither of us was very excited about going to Patpong; the district and its sisters, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza, reputedly the world’s largest red-light quarter, made Sodom and Gomorrah seem as wholesome as Disneyworld. It was, in a sense, a theme park: a Fantasyland for sex fiends of every stripe: sex-starved Germans—sweaty lust smeared over their faces like butter; scummy down-and-outers from Europe; your garden-variety British pedophiles; and kamikazegearheads like my friend and yours truly. The raw vice that had once made Patpong an amusing novelty, though, had in recent years been watered down and was now crowded with slack-jawed tourists, intrepid bargain hunters, and even parents pushing children in buggies.

The first time I visited the area back in the early nineties, both sides of the street were packed with go-go bars, girls in the skimpiest of string bikinis dancing on bar counters, shaking their little fannies to Eurobeat tunes.

If one of the girls gave you a personal hard on, you could “order” her, like a numbered dish on a menu, and take her back to your place for an hour or two or all night depending on how long you could go before your testicles, shriveled up into little raisins, cried, “No mas!”

As you passed, panderers and pimps would call after you in a dozen languages, watching your eyes for a glint of recognition.

Guten Abend, Mein Herr . . . Konbanwa . . . Bonsoir, Monsieur. Buona sera, señor. Good evening, sir.”

A familiar greeting in your mother tongue can be surprisingly seductive: your eyes turn naturally towards voice and now the pimp has you in his crosshairs. “Good evening, sir,” he says again, reeling you in. Holding out a tattered gray card and he starts rattling off the smorgasbord of vaginal acrobatics and other “exotic” performances waiting for you:

“Ping pong pussy, sir . . . Pussy blow the horn, pussy smoke the cigarette . . . Pussy shoot banana . . . Pussy cut banana . . . Girl and girl . . . Girl and girl and banana . . . Man and girl . . .”

And so on. 

I went to one of these shows way back when I was just a kid really. I had only been in Bangkok for three days but had been hounded the entire time by taxi drivers, tuk-tukjockeys, hotel bellboys, and common street pimps, all asking me the same question: “Sir, you need a girl?”

“No thanks.”

“You want nice Thai massage, maybe a little more, help you sleep better?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“How about a good-looking Thai boy?”

Good grief.

After three days of this constant peck-peck-pecking, my defenses were thoroughly compromised, so when a barker called out “Ping pong pussy!” I couldn’t resist. I had to find out what it was all about.

I stepped inside, took a seat near the stage, and ordered an overpriced cocktail. A Thai woman, rather long in the tooth, came out onto the stage, undressed and, lying on her back, proceeded to shoot ping pong balls out of her vagina into a martini glass several feet away.

Was I impressed? Somewhat. It was certainly more than I could do with my own genitalia. Was I turned on—and I do believe that was the point of the show, to get me so lathered up with sexual desire that I would take the prostitute beside me who was massaging my back to my hotel room—was I burning with lust watching the show?

No.

To be honest, I found the whole thing rather depressing.

“You want to take me home?” the prostitute asked. 

A ping-pong ball hit the rim of the martini glass and flew into the audience where a middle-aged Kraut caught it.

“Not really,” I replied.

The prostitute immediately stopped kneading my shoulder and started working on another man’s neck.

Easy come, easy go.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

73. Yaba

Friday evening, July 7th

 

As soon as I’m finished with work, I go to a Balinese restaurant in Imaizumi and wait for Azami. More shots of Ron Zacapa Centenarioand a pint of beer. Despite all I have consumed since the afternoon, circumstances are keeping me as sober as a judge.

Azami arrives an hour later with a hastily scribbled message from dé Dale: “Warrant?”

“Of course, they had a warrant,” I say. “A warrant to search my apartment, another one to search my body, and, one to make me piss into a cup. Warrants are the least of my worries. What about dé Dale? Is he okay?”

Azami says that he is. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened since dé Dale and I last met on Sunday. 

It is a huge relief, but it makes me shudder to imagine what might have happened to dé Dale and me if the cops had raided my place, then. The thought of it sends a fresh chill up my spine.

Azami asks me if I am okay.

“Yeah, I’m fantastic. Having the time of my life,” I say, downing the last of my Zacapa. “C’mon, let’s go get something to eat.”

We leave the Balinese restaurant and walk to a Thai restaurant called Gamlangdi, where a Thai man and his wife, both bubblier than cheap spumante, run the kitchen. Whenever Azami and I are feeling low or are quarrelling, all we need to do is pop into the restaurant, sit down at the counter, and chat with Mr. Chang. Listening to him talk in his animated mix of broken Japanese, pidgin English, and Thai, it’s never long before we forget what we have been upset about. We always leave Gamlangdiwith our bellies full, our hearts warmed.

Sawadi kah,” Mr. Chang beams as we descend the steps into the restaurant. “Long time, no see! O-hisashi buri!”

We take our customary place in the middle of the counter, before Mr. Chang’s work area.

Mo kekkon shita?” he asks Azami.

My girlfriend shakes her head. No, we haven’t gotten married yet. She looks towards me and rolls her eyes.

“Sir, why you wait?” Mr. Chang says to me.

I shrug.

“You should hurry up marry, have chil’ren. C’mon! C’mon! No spring chicken! Ha-ha!”

“I know. I know,” I say, pretending to wipe sweat from my brow with an o-shiborihand towel.

“Ha-ha-ha. Sir, you want Singha?”

“Yes, please.”

His plump wife, Yoopping, waddles over to a beer cooler and brings me an ice-cold Singhabeer. Mr. Chang serves Azami a pot of hot jasmine tea. We then proceed to order. “Pork satay, baikapao. . .”

Baikapaois a fiery hot dish made with stir-fried ground chicken and chopped vegetables, flavored with chili and basil and served on a bed of jasmine rice. It’s out of this world and it just so happens to be what I ate on my first night in Bangkok back in the spring of 2001. I was dining at a street stall—admittedly, not the most halalof places to eat, but damn good, nonetheless.

 

With dé Dale still in China on business, I went to Thailand two days earlier than him and checked into a suite at the Baiyoke Sky Tower.

A few months before our trip, Timemagazine happened to do an exposé on amphetamine abuse in Asia. Authorities in Thailand, in particular, were having a devil of a time trying to eradicate a potent form of speed, known locally asyaba, or “mad medicine”. 

The article, which was written by author Karl Greenfeld,[1]depicted the local drug in the most unflattering terms. As a former abuser himself, Greenfeld knew what he was writing about. But, rather than persuade me of the dangers of yaba, the article had the perverse effect of wetting my appetite for this new, exotic high. And so, while I might have written “sightseeing” on the Immigration card, the true purpose of my visit was to dig my teeth into the meat of another forbidden fruit.

After dinner, I took out the treasure map dé Dale had e-mailed me from Guangdong and hailed a tuk-tuk.

Sawadi krap,” the jockey said.

“I want to go to . . .” I checked dé Dale’s map. “Khaosan Road. Take me to Khaosan Road, please.”

“Khaosan, ka poh,” the jockey replied. “Okay, okay.”

As soon as I hopped on the three-wheeled taxi, the driver revved the small engine, kicking up a black cloud of exhaust, and took me on a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through town.

Khaosan was a broad street, about a block long, lined with restaurants that teamed with drunk Brits and Krauts, dirt-cheap guesthouses, dubious bars, and street vendors selling the same kind of overpriced crap that could be found anywhere tourists congregated. The street was crawling with Europeans—hippies wigged out on who-knows-what, boisterous students, and the occasional disoriented family.

Map in hand, I managed to find the dark alley that dé Dale had described, and walking down it, located the run-down guesthouse where “X” marked the spot. Sitting down tentatively at a table, I ordered a Singha.

An elderly Thai couple lounged behind a makeshift front desk, and, in an open-air lobby of sorts with several cheap plastic tables, sat three tough-looking Thai women.

As I sipped my beer, one of the women called me over and asked what I wanted. 

I answered her question with a question: “What do you have?” 

“What you want here,” she repeated testily. 

It was a reasonable question to ask considering I was the only foreigner around.

“I’m looking for yaba.”

“Why you know here?”

“A friend . . .”

“We don’t have anything today,” she said. “Come back tomorrow at five.”

I paid for my Singhaand returned to the Baiyoke.

On my second day in Bangkok, I went around the city pricing furniture, antiques, and other Asian knickknacks; the kinds of things I had been decorating my apartment with over the years. Running all over town all day in the sweltering Thai heat, by the time evening rolled around I no longer had the energy to make the trip back to Khaosan Road to try to score some yaba. Besides, I doubted the battleax at the guesthouse would actually come up with the goods. 

And so, when dé Dale arrived at the Baiyokethe following day, he found me empty-handed.

“What?” He was exasperated. “I was hoping you’d have the stuff already. Man, what kind of friend are you anyway?”

Soon enough, he would learn for himself how difficult it was to score yaba, despite reports to the contrary. But that’s the media for you. Timemagazine had reported that the drug could be found on just about any corner and sold for only a few bucks a hit. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Dé Dale and I hopped into a taxi and returned to Khaosan. 

When dé Dale had sent me the “treasure map”, he instructed me to “act cool and observe what the others there were doing.” It was for that very reason that I had sat down and ordered a Singhawhen I went to the guesthouse two nights earlier. 

But what does dé Dale go and do when we arrive? Mr. “Iam the Party” walks straight up to that shabby front desk of the guesthouse and, with a nod and a wink to the old man slouched in a worn Lazyboy, says, “I’m . . . looking for . . . something.”

I couldn’t help but smile. So, is this how it’s done, Master?

The old man didn’t budge, didn’t blink, didn’t raise a pinky.

“I’m looking for . . . something,” dé Dale said again, raising an eyebrow.

My stomach started convulsing. I had to cover my mouth with my hand and bite down on my tongue to keep from cracking up.

Dé Dale repeated the same pregnant question one more time to which the old man motioned lazily towards a woman in her late thirties. She hadn’t been there the night before.

With ever more purposefulness in his voice, dé Dale said, “I want. . . what you have.” 

It was all I could do to not burst out laughing. 

The woman answered with a definitive shake of her head, at which dé Dale finally gave up and started for the alley.

“Fuck!”




[1]Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of the highly recommended Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan’s Next Generation, Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

72. Lightning Strikes Twice

True to his word, dé Dale did indeed take the Amazon home with him the night of the salsa event. I don’t know how the little bastard broke the ice—I had been in a toilet stall topping off when he made his move. By the time I returned to the hall, the two of them were standing close to each other, enganged in an animated repartee. Dé Dale said something that made the tall, gorgeous woman laugh—a laugh that always reminded me of shattering glass. She gave her long, straight hair a playful flick, touched his meaty shoulder.

And there you have it, boys: make a girl laugh and in no time you’ll be halfway up her leg.

When the event was coming to an end, dé Dale invited Nori, that was the Amazon’s name, and the nag she had ridden in on to join us for drinks later. With a wink and a nod, a battlefield commission was handed down to me: wingman. My mission: keep “Rocinante”[1] happily engaged for the rest of the evening as my friend made his move. It was a thankless task but I performed above and beyond the call to duty. That’s what friends are for, right? By and by, dé Dale would cajole Nori back to his place where they would go at it all night long like a bulldog giving an Afghan hound the bone.

 

Around the same time that dé Dale had met Nori, I too was struck by a lightning bolt.

Things had been going pretty damn well at the time. Business in particular was booming no thanks to that buffoon Mori who was bumblind along as Prime Minister in those days. Because I advertised regularly, it was not uncommon for prospective students to call me to arrange a time to observe a lesson. It was, however, unusual to get three inquiries in one day like I did the day Azami called.

And yet her call stood out. Where most people who called left me with the impression that they didn’t have the slightest clue of why they were calling, her voice was clear and businesslike. Instead of hemming and hawing over the phone, this Azami was eager to come by and start up—today.

I told her I appreciated her enthusiasm, but suggested she observe a lesson first and decide later. Shortly before the six-thirty lesson was about to start, she arrived.

Azami was fairly tall, not model tall like dé Dale’s Nori, but taller than average. She also had shoulder-length black hair. Blackhair. Of the fifty or sixty young women visiting me each week for lessons, only one other had black hair: a real beauty by the name of Eiko. The remainder in some crazy attempt to project their individual personalities all had their hair colored brown or dark blond. It was enough to make the Eikos and Azamis of Japan seem exotic.

And, boy, was this Azami ever exotic! With her large brown eyes, strong masculine features, and a complexion that was naturally darker than most women’s, what the Japanese call jiguro, it was as if the girl had just stepped right out of a Gauguin canvas. And so, when Azami told me that she wanted to have private lessons, I was only happy to oblige the beauty, twelve years my junior.

Private lessons to English teachers can sometimes be what lap dances are to strippers and so it was with Azami and me from the get-go. A typical conversation went something like this:

“Men don’t find me attractive,” Azami said.

“What would you make you think a thing like that?”

“I’ve never met a chikan,” she answered.

By chikan, of course, she meant that uniquely Japanese variety of pervert who got his rocks off by groping women on crowded trains.

“You’ve never been molested?” I asked.

“No, never.”

“And you’d like to be molested?”

“Yes! I want to be molested,” she cried out. “I want to be molested. I want to be molested. I want to be molested!”

“Perhaps I can arrange something for you.”

It wasn’t long after that that we became lovers.




[1]Rocinante was the name of Don Quixote’s horse.

The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

71. Contacting De Dale

As soon as the two Customs officials leave, I hurry out the door myself, taking the fire escape, a rusting spiral of steel that creaks and moans with each step. Through a dark passage overcrowded with discarded bicycles, I come out on to the main street. With a quick glance left and right, I step out onto the street and make my way towards a 7-11 a few blocks away where I call Azami from a public phone.

When she answers, I apologize for having lost my temper earlier and ask her to meet me at a caféhalf a block away from my apartment. 

Hanging up the phone, I then take a roundabout route to get to the café, which I am relieved to discover is empty except for two young women having coffee and cake.

I take a seat in the back that is partially hidden behind a pillar but from which I can see the entrance. After a few minutes, a waitress comes to my table to take my order: a shot of Zacapa and a beer chaser. It is only five in the afternoon, but I need to calm my nerves and go over the things I need my girlfriend to do. 

After all I’ve put the poor girl through, I wonder if she’ll be up for it.

About half an hour later, Azami arrives. She lays into me as soon as she sits down, “What the hell’s going on?”

“Um . . . You remember that package Naila was sending me?”

“Y-yes?”

“Well, apparently, her medicine was it.”

“What medicine?”

“Adderall.”

“Addo . . .?”

“Adderall. She was taking it for her attention deficit disorder. It’s a kind of ampheta . . .” 

“Why did you . . .?”

“Hold on, Azami! Ididn’t know she was sending me a package until she e-mailed me. Even then, I didn’t know what was in it . . .”

“But you said . . .”

“Never mind what I said. The fact of the matter is I didn’t ask her to send anythingto me.”

“Oh, Rémy, I just knew something like this would eventually happen.”

“Look, we can have that conversation later,” I say, taking my girlfriend’s hands. “Right now, I need you to do something for me.”

She recoils, yanking her hands away from mine. “W-w-what?”

“I need you to contact dé Dale.”

Why?”

The two of them would never be confused for kindred spirits.

“One, I need to know the extent of the investigation. And, two, if the shoe were on the other foot—and it was dé Dale, rather than me, who was being investigated—I would want to know. He needs to be very careful. Just do this one favor for me, and then you can do whatever you like. Okay?”

I wouldn’t blame Azami if she were to tell me “Sayōnara”, but she gives a slow, hesitant nod. I know what she must be thinking, though: Rémy’s chickens have come home to roost.

“Call dé Dale from a public phone. You have his number, right?”

She nods again.

“And it’s probably not a good idea to go directly to his place. The cops might be keeping their eyes on him.” I look around the café. A couple in their early thirties, who came in after Azami, is studying the menu. “They could still be watching me right now. If possible, try to meet dé Dale at, say, a café in his neighborhood. Café Tecois just around the corner from his place. It should still be open. Tell him what I’ve told you. Tell him, that I’m going in for questioning on Sunday. I have no idea what the police know or how long they’ve been watching me. Ask him if he’s noticed anything odd going on around him. Got that? And, again, tell him he’s got to be careful. He’ll understand. Okay?”

Azami exhales through her nose and nods a third time. What little color there was in her face is now gone. Standing up and straightening her dress, she leaves without another word.

After finishing my beer, I pay the bill and head back home for the final lesson of the day.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

70. Wafer Thin

Dé Dale called to say he was heading out the door “right now”. The salsa event, according to the flier he had given me a week earlier, was supposed to start at eight, and at nine-thirty, my friend could no longer be considered fashionablylate.

“No problem,” I said. 

“I’ll call when I’m in your neighborhood.”

“Gotcha.” 

Hanging up the phone, I settled back down at the dining room table where I prepared a fresh foil, sprinkled some crystals on it, and lit up. Odds were my friend was, like me, still in his apartment, “topping off”, if you will. 

Getting high on meth is never as hard as stayinghigh: it’s like trying to stay afloat on a leaky inner tube that needs a puff of air here, a puff of air there.

“Good thing the wife’s out with friends,” I said to myself after blowing a thick cloud of white smoke out the window. I would have been sitting on the toilet or a step in the stairwell, otherwise, sneaking one more hit in before I left, just one more for the road, one more the bump in the road, just one more for . . .

Before long my cell phone was ringing again. Dé Dale was now a block away from my place.

So, he really was heading out the door.

I took one final hit, a gluttonously long one, and held it, held it, held it until my lungs felt as if they were going burst, then exhaled out the window. 

Folding the foil up nice and neat, I slipped it, and two others just in case, into a simple black wallet between an assortment of business cards and “point cards”, none of which could be tied to me. This was yet another precaution dé Dale had once chastised me into taking:

“Man, what are you thinking?” he had said at the time. “One of the first places the cops look is in your wallet.” Tossing me a cheap wallet, he said: “Here, use this one for your gear. If a cop ever questions you, asks to see your ID, you’ll be able to take your own wallet out and not have anything to worry about. This is disposable, as well. Cops on your tail? Then toss this in a river.”

I returned the bag of meth with the rest of my stash, balled up in a pair of socks in my sock drawer, and then, went back to the dining room and double checked that I hadn’t left any clues to my illicit habit for my wife to pick up on. Yūko and I had enough troubles as is. No need letting her in on my nascent drug addiction, too. 

“How are you doing?” dé Dale asked when I hopped into his car.

“Not bad. Not bad at all.”

Not bad indeed! If I had topped off again, that inner tube I was now soaring on might have very well popped.

Dé Dale handed me a small vial of honey oil, explaining that he had a shipment of bongs coming in from Amsterdam and didn’t want to leave anything in his apartment in case the cops decided to snoop around.

“Why thank you, kind sir.”

Honey oil is nature’s answer to Valium: the perfect thing to ease you to bed after you’ve been awake for several days. Dip a needle into the oil and add a little dollop of it on the side of a cigarette then smoke it like you would your Marlboros. Only with honey oil, Marlboro Country comes to you.

“Let’s hope you can repay the kindness,” dé Dale said. “You carrying?”

“I am, indeed.”

Yosh!” Dé Dale was in a good mood now. “I’m already out, if you can believe it. That Chinese bitch can’t get enough of the shit. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were still at my place smoking tinfoil.”

It was “the Chinese bitch” who had introduced dé Dale to shabu, who had taught him how to smoke it, and who was now supplying his and indirectly my own habit in a kind of perverse trickle-down effect.

“You left her there?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure. If I don’t find anything to fuck at the party, I can always screw her again.”

“R-i-g-h-t.”

Only in the World According to Gabriel dé Dale could something like that be pulled off. In my own world, if you ran after two hares, as the saying goes, you caught neither.

“So, you doing anything for Golden Week?” dé Dale asked, as we were approaching the Dome. The party was being held at a “live house” just next to it.

“No.”

Golden Week,a weeklong string of holidays, began on the 29thof April. What with final exams bearing down on me, I hadn’t given it much thought.

“Let’s go somewhere!”

“Like Okinawa or something?”

“Okinawa? No, I can’t stand that miserable place! I mean a proper trip . . . somewhere abroad. There are some great parties on Cyprus. Or we can go to Goa.”

I rather liked Okinawa, the laid-back mood of the island, the music, the coral beaches, even the local cuisine. It wasn’t miserable at all, far from it. Still, I could understand dé Dale’s desire to get away.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I haven’t made my schedule yet, but I’m sure I can take off about two weeks around then. I’ll need a vacation after the exams and all.”

The best part of all was that my wife, due to leave for Canada in early April, would be out of the country by then. I would be free to go wherever I liked, whenever and with whomever. I was practically a single man again.

“Well, let’s not just talk about it,” dé Dale said, thumping the steering wheel. “Let’s do it!”

“All right, then!”

I was certain it was the speed talking: when you’re high you are inundated with “great” ideas. What’s more, you have the conviction, the perseverance, and the boundless energy to carry them out, allof them, and not just someday, but today! Right now! Let’s do it!

Every time I smoked, I could barely keep up as I filled page after page with story ideas, witty dialogues, and so on. I made lists of projects I just had do straightaway, and found new ways to tweak my business to squeeze out a few more drops of blood from the turnip.

Every time I got high on meth, it was as if I were lowering a bucket into a wellspring of creative genius. That was the attraction of the drug, and looking back it’s easy to understand why I developed such a powerful taste for it.

Meth-inspired babble or not, it still came as a surprise that dé Dale would suggest our taking a vacation together. The man seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in finding fault in me. You name it: the way I sentimentalized about the romances in my life, the stupid futility of my marriage, even the clothes I wore—he was in one of his two-thousand-dollar, custom-made Skinnleather pants, his “pussy-magnets” as he called them; I was in something with a considerably smaller price tag—he would find something snide to say. Be that is it may, no one, save my wife, was spending as much time in my company than dé Dale was. And as the year passed we would spend even more time together.

I still can’t get my head around that today.

Did it mean that, in spite of all his playful vitriol, dé Dale sensed substance in my wafer-thin existence, or did he merely need someone to get high with? Like that aversion I once had to drinking alone. After four years of conjugal acrimony, I had developed a rather thick skin. My pride wasn’t so easily bruised that I cared; nor did I want to devote much time brooding over the riddle of dé Dale and my friendship. It was just one more pedestrian curiosity as I walked through life.

At the salsa event, we clawed our way through the crowd to get to the bar where crap drinks were being sold for outrageous prices. It was then that a woman caught dé Dale’s eye. 

“Did you see that?” he asked. “She looked right at me and smiled.”

“Who did?”

“The tall one.”

“Long brown hair over there,” I said pointing to a tall, slender woman in black leather pants.

“You and your goddamn finger! You’ve always got to point!”

I pointed again, only more deliberately.

“Ugh! You are so uncool, man,” dé Dale blustered. “Do that one more time, and you walkhome.”

The woman was gorgeous, an Amazon, easily a hundred and seventy-five centimeters tall. With the stiletto heels she was wearing, she towered above all the other women in the room, and a good many of the men. 

And boy was she ever flirtatious! Every now and again, she’d turn around, give dé Dale the eye, and then laugh playfully.

“I’m going to take her home tonight,” dé Dale said with such confidence that I assumed they had already met. I asked him if they had.

“Nah, first time to see her,” he said, staring directly at her and smiling in that devilish way of his.

Dé Dale is one of those unique characters you run across in life who seem to get exactly what they want. Compromise just doesn’t figure. He used to say it was because he didn’t give up, that he was disciplined, that he acted on his ideas.

“Anyone can have dreams, Rémy,” he once told me. “Anyone can tell you that they want to do this or that, but only a few people will actually do it.”

I had dreams; had always had them, but the overwhelming force of the current rushing against me was keeping me downstream, by no means defeated, yet struggling desperately. At thirty-five, however, I was beginning to fear that I would be washed away forever by that current, washed away and forgotten. And it was this fear of never coming to anything, of failing, that I no longer even bothered to tell others what it was that I wanted to do with my life, not my friends in Japan, not even my wife Yūko. Only my girlfriend, Azami, knew.

With bottles of mineral water in our hands, the two of us entered the main hall into which the object of dé Dale’s desire had disappeared. The darkened hall was even more crowded than the reception area. On stage a band was playing some Latin tune. The music did little for me, but all the women gyrating their hips to the beat was enough to make me pretend I was a fan.

“And you didn’t want to come,” said dé Dale. “Think about all the pussy you would have been missing!”

He was right. He was always right. And I was finding it easier and easier to just go with the flow, to follow the master’s lead out of the labrynith than try to search blindly for the exit myself.

69. Doisho

“Sure, no problem,” I tell the Customs agents and excuse myself to fetch the adaptor from my bedroom.

When I hand them the adaptor, I am told I must fill out a dōisho.

Dōisho?” Looking the word up in my electronic dictionary, I learn that a dōisho(同意書) is a letter of consent. 

Nakata draws up a sample dōishoand instructs me to copy it verbatim. 

As I am writing down the sentences, I hear the front door creak open. 

“If you don’t mind,” I say to the two agents, and rise to my feet. 

“Not at all,” Nakata replies.

Walking over to the entry, I find Azami standing at the door, dressed in a flowing purple summer dress and frozen like a doe in headlights. I could strangle the woman. 

Tell her not to call and what does she do? She rings me up every ten fucking minutes. Tell her to stay away from my place, so, naturally, she comes by.

“Ah, hello, long time no see,” I say cordially as I nudge her outside. “I’m afraid I have company at the moment.”

Closing the door behind me, I glare at my girlfriend. “Goddammit, Azami! When I tell you to do something, for fuck’s sake do it!”

“I’m s-s-sorry,” she says, taking a step away from me. True to the flower she is named after, she is as pretty as a thistle and just as prickly.

“Ah, Christ, I’m sorry, Azami. The one who should be apologizing is me.” I feel like a real arse. No, I aman arse. “Listen. Just make yourself scarce for the next thirty minutes or so, will ya? I’ll call you the moment I’m finished here and explain everything.”

Nodding, she does a sullen about-face and walks down the hallway towards the elevator.

What a jerk I am. Keep going Azamiand never come back.You deserve better than an arse like me.

“Thank you,” I say to the empty corridor, opening the door and stepping back into my apartment. “Please, do come again. Bye-bye now!”

Returning to the dining room table, I finish writing up the dōisho, affixing my official seal to the document where the Customs agent indicated.

“One other thing,” Nakata say. 

I almost groan. The Japanese have an annoying habit of going through an exhaustive list by saying “one more thing” before each item. I figure it will be more of the same here. To my surprise, however, there really is only one more thing: the password to my email.

Nakata shows me the piece of paper on which I wrote the password yesterday morning when my place was raided.

“We tried this, but it didn’t work.”

“Let me take a look at it,” I put on my best-puzzled face. “This is an underscore here, not a hyphen.”

“Yes,” says Windbreaker, “we tried it both ways.”

“Huh. It looks right to me,” I say, scratching my head. “But you know, I can’t remember the last time I actually typed the password. Oh, how silly of me. See this, what looks like a ‘b’ here? This is actually a ‘six’.”

“That’s a ‘six’?”

“Looks like a ‘four’,” Windbreaker laughs.

“No, that’s a ‘six’.” 

“Could you rewrite the password for us then,” Nakata asks.

When all the documents are signed and stamped, the two agents pack up and head for the door.

“Now, don’t forget about tomorrow,” Nakata reminds me, stepping into his sneakers and tapping the toes against the ground. “We need you there at nine o’clock sharp.”

“Nine o’clock? But, I thought Ozawa-sansaid nine-thirty.”    

“Oh, that’s right.” Nakata scratches his salt-and-pepper hair. “I mean nine-thirty.”

“I can be there nine,” I offer. 

“No, no. Nine-thirty’s fine.”

“Okay, I’ll be there at nine-thirty, then.”

“And don’t be late.”

What-the fuck-ever.

And with that the two of them are gone.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

68. Paranoia

Friday afternoon, July 7th

 

Later when I’ve gotten back from Kokura, two officials from the Customs Office—Nakata, the pudgy one with the wimpy little mustache and Windbreaker—pay me a visit. Nakata told me yesterday that my cell phone would be returned today, but thanks to Azami’s incessant calling, the battery died before the data could be transferred. And now the two of them are entreating me, practically cap in hand, for the adaptor. They don’t have the authority to confiscate it out right, Nakata explaines with a tinge of embarrassment; my permission is required.

Were there anything remotely incriminating on my cell phone, I might not be so cooperative. Fortunately, I have for many years been in the habit of erasing all out-going texts, and keeping the in-box tidy, purposely free of anything that could implicate me, or my friends, in any crime or “extracurricular” love activity. I have dé Dale to thank for that.

 

Those first two grams of crystal meth didn’t last nearly as long as I had hoped. Imagine that! Before I knew it, I was buying a gram here, another there, but always for some express reason or another, of course. If it weren’t finals I had to cram for, then it was Giles Peterson DJ-ing at O/Dor a date with a hot nurse that required me to be sharperthan usual. Within six months of that first enlightening hit, I was buying five-gram bags of the drug for the bargain-basement price of seven thousand yen ($67) a gram.

Dé Dale meanwhile was buying the shit in bulk–twenty, thirty grams at a time–and, as a precaution, keeping most of his stash in a safe place an hour’s drive outside the city. Whenever he couldn’t be bothered, or was just too damn “baked” to make the trip, he would ring me up from a pay phone and ask to “borrow” a gram of “Shinji”, no different from, say, a neighbor knocking on your door to borrow a cup of sugar.

I’ll never forget that first neighborly visit.

Dé Dale wasted little time getting down to business. The Frenchman could be as methodical as a surgeon. After, giving the coffee table in my living room a good wipe down with tissue, he took the small packet of crystal meth I had given him and snipped a corner off with his Swiss Army knife. Placing the bit of plastic that he had just cut off in the center of the tissue, he twisted the tissue up.

Next, dé Dale set about preparing the foil. I handed him a strip, which he folded in half to form a perfect square. With another narrow fold along the open end he created a cuff sealing the foil. He then wiped the foil down with a fresh piece of tissue making it nice and flat, free of any wrinkles or creases where the meth might catch and burn. Finally, he manipulated the foil with his fingertips to form a shallow trough into which he then sprinkled some of the crystals.

Before lighting up, dé Dale dug a small, but powerful penlight out of his pocket and, illuminating the surface of the table, scoured every inch of the table and the surrounding floor.

“Aha,” dé Dale said, pointing to a speck on the table. “You see that?”

He dabbed at a splinter with the tip of his index finger and added it to the rest of the crystal on the foil. After placing the first tissue into the second and twisting the two of them up, he gestured for me to follow him to the toilet. There, he set the tissue alight, allowing it burn slowly and thoroughly.

“You may think I’m being paranoid,” dé Dale said, “but, my friend, paranoia has nothing to do with it. I’m merely being careful. And, I want you to be very careful, too. You have to realize what the risks are. Do you want to go to jail?”

“Of course not,” I said. “You think I’m stupid?”

“Well then, if you are so smart, I need not tell you that little piece of plastic in there could get you arrested. It’s not much, but it’s enough for the cops to take your freedom away, to put you behind bars until you talk, and believe me, you willtalk. If talking gets you out and back to your life, you will sing like le canari, just as everyone does.”

Dé Dale turned the tissue to keep the flame alive, and once satisfied he had destroyed any evidence, dumped it into the toilet and flushed it.

Mon ami, ici, ce n’est pas l’Amerique. La France non plus,” he said. This is not America, my friend. It’s not France, either. “The police won’t break down your door here. They’re much more subtle. The first thing they do is go through your garbage when you’re not around, then they go in and check all the surfaces in your apartment, wipe them all down, vacuum the floors. Then, they take it all to their labs to be tested. And if they find traces of our friend “Shinji”here, how are you gonna explain how he got here? A little bird flew it in?”

Dé Dale stared intently at me, looking past my eyes into that thick head of mine to listen to the thoughts.

“No, my friend, you will not say anything,” dé Dale continued. “Why? Because they won’t find anything here that incriminates you. And you know why? I will tell you why. Because, so long as you want to meet Shinji, you will be as careful as I am. You understand?”

I nodded.

Tres bien.”

We returned to the coffee table and lit up.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

67. Exceeding the Speed Limit

Shortly after hanging up the phone with Azami, the sleek white bullet train pulls into the station and unloads its cargo of “salarymen” and “office ladies”, schoolgirls and boys. I get on board, and settle into a window seat. The train departs and in no time is rocketing through the city along elevated tracks at a speed exceeding one hundred fifty miles per hour. The forty-plus mile trip to Kokura will take about fifteen minutes.

“That’s some speed,” I murmur to myself, the city becoming a gray blur outside the window.

 

Having partied with dé Dale for nearly a year, I was used to my friend digging his hands into his pockets and producing Ziploc bags of coke, vials of honey oil, lumps of hashish, or the occasional tin of ecstasy pills. “Felix and his Magic Bag of Tricks” I got to calling him. So, I didn’t have to think twice before following him out onto the darkened stairwell of a building where he would offer me my first hit of “shabu”.

It had been a damn good twelve months. Despite being in one altered state or another, I managed to accomplish quite a lot. I finished most of the course work for my Masters degree, and even managed to pass the highest level of the Japanese Proficiency Test without breaking a sweat. Business was booming, too.

And if that weren’t enough to have me floating on cloud nine, I pulled off a major coup d’état persuading my wife to study abroad for a year. If she wouldn’t agree to a divorce, the next best thing I could hope for was a long vacation from the marriage.

On the stairwell, dé Dale pulled a pen out of his pocket, unscrewed the tip and removed the ink.

“Hold this,” he said, handing me the shell of the pen.

From his wallet, dé Dale removed a square piece of tinfoil, folded neatly in half. Carefully opening the foil, he showed me the contents, what looked like shards of clear glass.

Crystal meth!

“Put the pen in your mouth and wait for my signal,” dé Dale instructed.

I put one end of the hollow pen in my mouth, and hunched over such that the other end was poised above the foil.

With a lighter, dé Dale heated the foil. The shards melted instantly, forming a clear liquid, and a moment later a milky white vapor rose from the foil. When he nodded, I inhaled deeply. It was flavorless, odorless, but upon exhaling a long stream of white smoke billowed out of my mouth.

 

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened . . . Genesis, 3:5-7

 

Dé Dale took a small packet out of his pocket and asked if I wanted it.

Did I want it? After only a single hit I felt as if the curtains had been drawn and the windows flung open. Everything was so goddamn clear to me now. Yes, I did want it.

I handed my friend thirty thousand yen ($285) for two one-gram packs.

“That’s some powerful speed you’ve got there,” dé Dale warned. “Go easy on it.”


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

66. Calling Azami

After taking a shower and getting dressed, I notice that the message light on the phone is flashing. I press the play button.

Beep. “Rémy? Are you okay? I miss you . . .”

Beep. “Answer the phone, Rémy. I want to hear your voice.”

Beep. “Are you with another woman again?”

Beep. “Pick up the fucking phone now or it’s over between the two of us!”

Beep. “Why don’t you answer the phone? I’m going crazy worrying about you.”

I know I have to fill Azami in on what is happening before she has a complete meltdown, but I can’t risk doing so from home. I don’t know, for one, if anyone is listening.

I leave home earlier than usual, elaborately rigging the apartment with markers: business cards in the door jams, cellophane tape at the base of the fusuma sliding doors. If the cops were to snoop around my apartment while I am away, I will know.

At the train station, I ring Azami up.

“Where are you?” she demands right away.

“I’m at Hakata sta . . .”

“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

“I couldn’t . . .”

“Where were you?”

“At home.”

“Why didn’t you pick up then? You were with someone, weren’t you?”

“No!”

“Then, why didn’t you?”

“Azami, shut up for once and listen!” I sigh heavily and continue. “My apartment was raided by the police yesterday.”

“Oh Rémy, I knew something like this would eventually happen,” she groans. “I knew the police would eventually catch up with you and dé Dale.”

And she wonders why I didn’t pick up the phone.

“We can talk about that later, but first I need you to do one thing for me this afternoon.”

What?”

“Meet me at Small at seven-thirty.” 

Small Spaces is one of my regular haunts.

“Why can’t I meet you at your apartment?”

“For the love of God, Azami!” I yell into the receiver. “Just be at Small at seven-thirty!”

“Okay,” she says reluctantly.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

65. Defibrillated

Listen: for the past few years I’ve been going through the motions of my daily life like a wind-up doll. In the morning after six or seven hours’ sleep, I leave for the colleges where I do a half-arsed, but somewhat entertaining, job teaching. I return home in the afternoon where I teach a few more lukewarm lessons or dabble half-heartedly in the occasional translation job or some freelance writing. In the evening, I open a bottle of rum or shōchūand drink myself numb and let the coil inside me relax.

I have become so passive, practically inert. There has been an ineffable banality to everything I’ve been doing: my writing has become uninspired; the subjects of my photography are hackneyed; even my Japanese, which I worked so hard on mastering, is showing tinges of rust. I am using it, and, yet, still losing it all the same.

But this Friday morning as I sit on my balcony I feel oddly alive, like my old self again, as if I have been defibrillated out of a coma.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

64. Pulling Up Stakes

For better or worse, dé Dale and my lives have become as intertwined as a ball of string over the years. Pull on what looks like a loose thread you only end up tightening the knot binding us together.

As I nursed my third double margarita, I entertained thoughts of leaving Japan myself.

I’d have to wait until the investigation is over, of course. And, Lord knows how long that will take. A day or two, I guess, if all goes well . . . It’d be nice to save a bit more money, but, hell, once you head down that road, there’s no end. You never can save enough . . . No, I’ve got enough, enough to make a fresh start somewhere completely different. Brazil. Yeah, Brazil. Carnaval, Bossa Nova, mulattoes in skimpy bikinis with their tan bulbous fannies bouncing as they stroll down the beach . . . Or perhaps the Canaries, like dé Dale has talked about so often.

Hell, I could even pretend to be serious for once in my life, return to the States and attend graduate school, get my PhD . . . 

Or, I could move to Beirut and settle down once and for all. How many times have I thought about doing precisely that? I wouldn’t need much money . . . 

I’d have to finish up the current year at the universities, I suppose, out of consideration for the kids in my classes. The people I work with are goddamn bores, but the kids . . . the kids are all right. I owe it to them to finish up the school year.

And then, I’ll be free. Another six months and I’ll be free to do whatever I like.

By the time I had finished that third double margarita it no longer made sense for me to hang on any longer than I really needed to. Dé Dale’s suggestion in May that I join him had the effect of loosening stakes that had once been driven deep into the soil of Japan. The police raiding my apartment, however, dislodged them. Now all I had to do was pull up the remaining stakes and move on.

I paid the bill and headed back to my apartment.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

63. I'm gonna leave Japan

Friday morning. July 7th

I’m up at five, an hour earlier than usual, so I can take care of some things before I have to leave for work. Considering how much I drank last night—three double margaritas straight up at the aptly named Mexican restaurant, El Borracho (The Drunk)—I am feeling pretty good.

“Maybe I’m still drunk,” I say, sitting up in my futon.

It probably wasn’t the wisest thing to go drinking the very night my home was raided by a small army Narcotics and Customs agents, but those three margaritas were the shortest distance separating me from restless anxiety and being curled up in the arms of Morpheus.

Out of habit, I walk over to where my Mac ought to be.

“Oh, yeah,” I say, remembering that the computer has been confiscated.

I make an about-face and go to living room where a stereo component system has been gathering dust, pop in a random CD, push play, and Mr. Hermano’s “Free as the Morning Sun” brings the long unused speakers dancing back to life.

“To hell with the neighbors,” I say, turning the volume up and filling my apartment with the song’s uplifting melody.

In the kitchen I make myself a bowl of café au lait, and carry it out to the balcony where I sit in a lounge chair and savor it. 

The sun, rising in the southeast, reflects off the windows of the hotel across the street, bathing my balcony in faint yellow light. Sparrows chirp at the feeder and my rabbit Pyon-kichi scratches at my foot, trying to get in a little humpy-humpy. It is, all things considered, a perfect morning.

Last night at the Mexican restaurant, after knocking back my second double margarita, I reflected upon a conversation dé Dale and I had in May.

We were at a reggae party on Noko Island, the first of a string of music events and parties held on the island and elsewhere in town during the summer. Dé Dale said he didn’t want to miss a single one of them this year.

Sitting on the beach away from the crowds, we passed a flask of Ron Zacapa Centenario back and forth.

“I’m gonna do it,” dé Dale said. “I’m gonna leave Japan.”

“When?”

“By December.” 

It was something he had been ruminating over for the past year. Now, his mind was made up. There’d be no going back.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“That’s the beauty of it,” he replied, taking the flask of rum from me. “I haven’t got a clue.”

Dé Dale stood up and invited me to follow him down the beach.

“I’ve been so dumb,” he said as we made our way over some large boulders. “I should have done this yearsago rather than suffer the way I have.”

“If I stay in Japan,” he continued, “I’ll only be repeating things I’ve already done. Where’s the fun in that?”

With a mischievous smile, he added, “Rémy, you’re not to tell anyone about this. No one. Not even that stupid girlfriend of yours . . . I’m going to be bad. Very, very bad.”

Dé Dale wouldn’t go into details, saying: “The less you know, the better.” 

One thing was clear, though: he was going to burn his bridges behind him as he left. And, once gone, he wouldn’t be returning. Not for several years, if ever at all.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

62. Don't waste your time with anything else

Dé Dale sent me a message shortly after he had returned from the trade show in Tōkyō:

“Santa made a list, checked it twice, and I am happy to inform you, my friend, that you have been a very, very good boy . . . Expect a nice rock for your stocking, and it won’t be coal! Busy?”

I was, but I could make the time. I always could for dé Dale.

How many times had a fellow gaijin come to me and bragged that he had scored some “killer bud”? More times than I could remember, and I had never once been impressed. They thought of themselves as players, but compared to dé Dale, they were hopeless dilettantes. Weed was more common than perverts on commuter trains, but cocaine? Now that was a different story.

“I don’t know if I should even give this to you,” dé Dale said when I hopped into his car a few hours later. “It’s too damn good.” 

He pulled two plastic Ziploc bags out of the thigh pocket of his cargo pants and handed me one.

He wasn’t kidding: it contained a rock, tightly compressed and pearly white. My mouth watered, my heart sprinted out of the blocks.

The two of us looked at each other, grinned broadly, and broke out in maniacal laughter.

“Let’s head back to my place,” dé Dale said, hanging a right at the traffic light. “You have time?”

“For this? I can make the time.”

Turning up the car stereo, dé Dale asked if I’d heard of U.F.O.

“Unidentified Flying Objects?”

“No, man! The DJs. United Future Organization.”

“Ah, right. Yeah, I have heard of them, but never heard them.”

“Well you have now,” he said, extending an open palm towards the stereo.

Dé Dale in his untiring capacity as mentor and teacher would explain that U.F.O. was a trio of DJs, two Japanese and one Frenchman, originally based in Fukuoka that was on the forefront of the acid jazz/nu-jazz movement ripping through the hippest clubs in Japan.

U.F.O.’s in town playing at O/D tonight.”

O/D?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of O/D!” he said, banging his hand against the steering wheel. “Man, I shudder to imagine what kind of life were you living before you met me.”

I confessed it hadn’t been one to brag about.

Dé Dale pulls his car up to an über-modern apartment building, exposed concrete with odd flourishes of steel painted in primary colors on the outside. Bauhaus founder Gropius meets Le Corbusier at a cocktail party and bumps into Terence Conran who sells him a garden shovel for two hundred bucks. To be honest, it was a little over the top for my taste, but impressive all the same.

“If the car hasn’t got their pussies wet,” dé Dale said, turning the motor off, “by the time they’re in my apartment, they’re tearing their panties off.”

“I bet.”

Once in the apartment—I kept my boxers on, hiked up to my nipples like a pensioner, thank you—dé Dale locked and chained the door, then showed me to his dining room. Not the largest dining room, but what it lacked in spaciousness, it more than compensated with good sense. In the center was a vintage white Arne Jacobsen table, surrounded by six Eames shell chairs, originals from the 70s, covered in lemon yellow vinyl leather. 

“And I thought I had a nice place,” I said, sincerely impressed.

“You like?”

“And how! Need a roommate?”

Dé Dale laughed. “C’mon, take a load off.”

I sat down, the shell chair fitting the contours of my body perfectly.

“Now thisis a chair,” I said. “Where did you find it?”

“A friend of mine owns an antique furniture shop,” he replied, closing the window blinds. “I’ll introduce you to him, if you like.”

“I would. Thanks.”

When the blinds were closed, I took the Ziploc bag out of my pocket, opened it, and dabbed my finger into the powdery bit. Tasting it, my whole mouth became instantly numb. 

How long had it been since I’d had good blow? How long since I’d had blow period? Too, too long.

“C’mon, you gonna be cheap or you gonna make some lines for me, too?”

Without answering my friend, I sprinkled some of the cocaine onto his dining room table. Then, I dug into my back pocket for my wallet and fished out a one-thousand-yen note and a credit card. Chopping up a small lump of the coke, I divided the powder into separate piles, splitting one up into four generous lines, each an inch long. 

“What the hell are you doing?” dé Dale protested. “You’re just asking for it.”

He took the credit card from me, cut the lines up into thirds then, with his own ten-thousand yen note rolled tightly, meticulously, almost beautifully, inhaled the first of his smaller lines, then a second, before moving out of the way. 

“You’d better enjoy this, my friend, because we won’t be getting anything like this for a long, long time.”

Bending over the table, and placing my best nostril forward, I took in the whole of my line. 

“You’re a junky, man!” 

I smiled back at my friend before going after the second line. And then it hit me. “Wow.”

“My Colombian friends told me it was from their own stash. They don’t waste their time with anything else.”


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.

61. Fine and Dandy

Adachi hands back the police documents to me, warning that, no matter how interested he may be in the case, he is swamped at the moment. “I’m going to argue a case before the High Court in Tōkyō.”

“The High Court?”

Maybe this Adachi isn’t a buffoon after all.

“Yes, they’ve finally agreed to review an appeal I lodged years ago.”

 

I’m feeling somewhat better when I leave Adachi’s law office. The anvil is still creaking above my head, but at least now there is someone who might push me out of the way before it all comes crashing down.

The next order of business is to call my girlfriend Azami and arrange a time and place to meet.

I ride the rest of the way into town and park the bicycle at an underground parking garage below the Iwataya Department Store. From there, I make my way through a passage to Mitsukoshi, another department store. I take an elevator to the fifth floor where a little used overhead passage connects Mitsukoshi with an adjacent office building. It is there that I find a bank of green pay phones.

Azami picks up on the fifth ring.

Moshi, moshi.”

Hearing her voice, I nearly break down and cry.

“Azami . . .” I say, my voice wavering. “Where are you now?”

“I’m at my grandfather’s.”

“Huh?”

“I’m in Kagoshima.” 

“Dammit . . .” She is literally on the other side of the island of Kyūshū, a four-hours’ drive away. She might as well as be on the dark side of the moon for what I need her to do.

“When are you coming back?”

“Tomorrow. In the afternoon, I think. Why?”

“I need to talk to you about something.”

“What is it?”

Paranoia has taken a firm grip on me ever since this morning’s raid. While discretion has never been my strong point, I now err on the side of caution: I don’t want to tell my girlfriend what has happened over the phone in the off chance that the police happen to be listening in. Who knows what they are capable of? They have my cell phones and can see the history of incoming and outgoing calls. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce which numbers belong to the people closest to me. It’s elementary: Azami will be identified as a person of interest, and her calls monitored accordingly. At least that’s what I would do if I were a cop.

“I can’t tell you,” I reply, then curse myself for not having better tact. 

“Why not?”

“I just can’t. Not now. Not over the phone.” I’m starting to lose it.

Tell me,” she demands, her voice moving up a register.

Goddamn it, Azami! If I say I can’t tell you, then I can’t tell you.”

There, now I’ve done it. I have just succeeded in doing precisely what I hoped to avoid. “Sorry, Azami. I didn’t mean to snap.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, yes. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” Fine and fucking dandy. “Listen, I’ll explain everything tomorrow evening.”

“I’ll call you tonight.”

“No, no, no! Don’t call me tonight.”

“Why not?” There is no stopping the meltdown now. “Are you having an affair?”

“Good God, Azami! No, I am not having an affair.” Oh, if only that were the problem! “Azami, I don’t have my cell phone on me.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve lost it.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know! If I knew it wouldn’t be lost.”

“I’ll call your cell phone.”

“Don’t call my cell phone!” I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and count to ten. “Azami, I’ll explain everything tomorrow. Just don’t call my cell phone, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I mean it. Do not call my cell phone.”

I hoped that talking to my girlfriend would ground me; that the sound of her voice would reassure me that everything was going to be all right. Calling her has only made things worse.


The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.

Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.