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.

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 Orion beer.”

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 melancholic 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 engawa deck of her home, plucking a kind of banjo called the Ryūkyū sanshin and 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 Donan 120-proof awamori and 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 Orion draught for me, utchin cha [1] for Azami, and a small plate of tōfuyo.

Even in a land like Japan where delicacies abound, tōfuyo still 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] Utchin cha (うっちん茶) is jasmine tea from Okinawa.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

60. Buddies

As a stranger in a land as strange as Japan where enduring and satisfying human relationships can sometimes be difficult to come by, necessity often forces you into tenuous friendships with people you might not associate with otherwise. More often than not, the only thing bringing a group of gaijin together is the aversion to drinking alone.

It was no different with me. 

I had an odd collection of drinking buddies, like a drawer full of mismatched socks, I had picked up over the years. We would meet, get shit-faced on cheap beers at gaijin watering holes or, better yet, pig out at inexpensive izakaya with all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink deals, and score the occasional skank.

I have to admit it had been fun in a sophomoric sort of way for a while, but it could never be a fraction as fulfilling as the time I was now spending with dé Dale, drinking Zacapa and meeting, beautiful women, yes, but also getting to know men who were going places and doing things with their talents and connections. Shōhei and his partner, for instance, would open an upscale restaurant in a years’ time that would be the launching pad for a chain of fine dining establishments located throughout the Kantō and Kansai region,[1] making the two of them millionaires many times over and celebrities in their own right before their mid thirties.

And talking about bending reality, in those first few months alone since dé Dale and I had become friends, my mind had already been twisted into a pretzel. No one had, or ever would, come nearly as close to influencing how I lived or thought as the Frenchman did over the next several years. He would lead me out of the labyrinth of frustration my life had become.

“By the way, I have to go to Tōkyō next week for a show,” dé Dale said, leaning in close, his voice becoming a whisper. “I’m going to be meeting some mates from Colombia.”

“Colombia?”

“If you’ve been a good boy, Santa may pay you an early visit this year.”

If my face had been lit up like a pachinko machine before with that first sip of Zacapa, I wonder what it must have looked like when I learned that it was going to snow this spring: Jackpot!

“Won’t be cheap,” dé Dale said, taking a sip of his rum, “but I assure you it will be well worth it. Interested?”

Interested? Like a kid eager for Christmas morning, I was. I nodded my head, yes.


[1]The Kantō region includes the Tōkyō metropolis and six neighboring prefectures—Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa. The Kansai region lies in the southern-central part of Japan’s main island Honshū and includes the prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyōto, Ōsaka, Hyōgo, and Shiga.

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.

59. Zacapa

Having finished off the last bubble of the Moët & Chandon, dé Dale ordered a glass of rum and invited me to try it.

I declined, saying, “I’ve never been a big rum drinker.”

“This is no ordinary rum, my friend,” dé Dale said. “This is Ron Zacapa Centenario. From Guatemala.”

“Guatemala? Huh.”

I had never heard of Zacapa, nor had I known that rum was produced in that small Central American country. I was willing to trust dé Dale’s judgment all the same; he hadn’t been wrong about much yet.

The liquor was much darker than other rums, and had a surprisingly pleasant nose. Giving the rum a tentative sip, I was overwhelmed by its rich, full-bodied flavor as the liquor washed over my tongue. 

My eyes must have lit up like a pachinkomachine because dé Dale turned to Shōhei and said, “Now that my friend here has slobbered all over my glass, how about a fresh one for myself.”

Shōhei laughed and took another glass off of the glass shelf. Placing a tumbler of stylishly etched crystal on the counter, he switched on a light that illuminated the glass from underneath.

Bacarat,” dé Dale informed. “They know how to do things right here.”

Shōhei then pulled out a block of ice from behind the counter and started chipping away at it with an ice pick. He rotated the ice in his left hand, chipped at the rough edges, flipped it around and gave it a few dexterous jabs with the pick, until it was a perfect sphere of ice, which he set into the tumbler.

Shōhei then took the bottle of Zacapa Centenario which was covered in petate, a hand-woven mat made from palm leaves, uncorked the bottle and poured a generous amount into the glass. With a flourish, he gave the ice a spin and slid the drink over to dé Dale.

Dé Dale and I clinked our glasses and savored the moment.

“Are you a rum drinker now?” dé Dale asked after a while.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to drink anything else,” I replied. “The scales have fallen from my eyes.”

“Better late than never.”


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.

58. Bending Reality

Dé Dale took me to an shamelessly hip bar in Imaizumi where everyone seemed to know him. The moment he walked in the door, arms were thrown wide open, customers and bartenders alike calling out his name: “Dé Dale! Where have you been hiding yourself?”

“In Nepal, buying hemp,” he shouted back, and pointing towards one of the bartenders who had the tan and long hair of a surfer, added, “Sorry, Shōhei, none for you.” The whole bar erupted in laughter.

We mounted barstools, minimalist things I had seen recently in the Conran Shop. Dé Dale introduced me to the bartenders, who pulled out their meishi(business cards) from a pocket in their crisp black aprons, and did a smart job introducing themselves to me.

I took the business cards and placed them before me on the steel counter top.

“Aren’t you going to . . . Oh, Rémy, don’t tell me you haven’t got your meishi,” dé Dale said, shooting me a look that made me shrink.

“No, not on me. I-I didn’t expect to be meeting . . .”

“Rémy, when you’re with me, you should assume it.”

“Trust me, I’ll have them on me next time,” I replied, embarrassed.

Dé Dale ordered a bottle of champagne straight off, and, as Shōhei was fetching it, told me that the two bartenders were worth getting to know.

“They’re well connected in the city, and this Shōhei, why, I’ve seen him fill a ballroom at the Solaria Hotel with five hundred women, all immaculately dressed.”

Shōhei placed champagne glasses and a bucket of ice before us and proceeded to ceremoniously uncork the bottle.

Dé Dale poured four glasses of champagne, two for the bartenders and two for us.

“It’s been a very good month,” he said, raising his glass. “Thanks to trippers like you.”

The others in the bar raised their own glasses, and, when dé Dale said, “Kampai!” they all clinked their glasses together.[1]

It was fascinating to watch the Frenchman interact with the others. Dé Dale’s Japanese was far from perfect, a fact he freely admitted. He couldn’t read or write a proper sentence if his life depended upon it, and yet it didn’t stop him from conducting business, signing contracts, taking out loans, and so on.

“People who moan about language preventing them from doing business,” he would say, “are lazy. The only reason those losers are aliveis because the sun shines and the air is free.”

As bad as he claimed his Japanese was dé Dale was able to make the most of what he knew to become a far more engaging and entertaining conversationalist than I could ever hope to be after all my years trying to master the language. 

It was no different with his English. Yes, it could have done with some fine-tuning, but it was still far more intelligent, nuanced, and substantive than the facile blather of your average American.

Three glasses of champagne later I admitted to dé Dale that it hadn’t been a bad month for me, either.

“My friend, I don’t mean any disrespect, but I doubt in your best month you earn nowhere near what The Zoo alone pulled in this month.”

“True, but I haven’t got all the overhead and hassles that I’m sure you have. And, everything I earn is tax free.”

“Well, my friend, if you want to live like a Bohemian, then I suggest you move to Bohemia,” dé Dale replied with a sardonic smile. “Paying taxes is a very small price to pay.”

“For what?”

“By paying taxes, you establish an income, a record of achievement that you can then use to get loans . . .”

“Loans? Who wants loans?” Now it was my turn to be skeptical. I was perfectly happy operating on a cash basis, knowing exactly how much money I had, never having to worry about bourgeois nonsense such as mortgages.

“Permit me to enlighten you, Rémy. Loans are the fuel for growth. Your business cannot grow without them.”

“Why would I want to get any bigger than I am? Okay, a little bigger would be nice, but I’m already making two to three times what any of my friends are making at the moment, maybe not you, but much better than average. I’m not rich, but I am comfortable.”

“It’s the purpose of any business to grow. It is their raisons d’être. Businesses either grow, or they die.”

“Well, this isn’t really what I want to be doing. I mean it’s just something that pays the bills and . . .”

“What is it then you’re wanting to do?”

“Write, travel, take photos . . .”

“You write? I did not know this,” he said, taking a sip of his champagne. “Why do you write?”

“Why?”

Why didI write? Most people seemed to want a tidy answer, something you could put in the center of a truffle and pop into their mouths. My reasons, however, were as cluttered and confused as that table in Adachi’s law office. The desire to write, I had long felt, was an affliction, an obsessive-compulsive drive to arrange letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, to cover a perfectly good sheet of clean white paper with black ink.

“You know why?” dé Dale said. “Ego.”

“Ego?”

“Yes, ego.”

“I’d like to think it’s more than that.”

“What is it then?” 

I rambled on about romantic ideas I had about living the life of a writer.

“Rémy, Rémy. If I wanted to punch you here,” he said, patting me in the soft part between my left breast and shoulder. “I don’t aim for there, I aim for here.” He put his fist a good foot behind my shoulder.

I had the feeling that I’d heard this witticism before, too, perhaps in the movie, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Not that I was going to tell my friend that.

“I consider myself lucky if I’m able to accomplish halfof my goals,” dé Dale continued. “You know why I run the business I do?”

“To get laid?” I offered, half-jokingly.

“Well, yes, there is that. Chicks are definitely attracted to guys with cool jobs, but that’s but an infinitesimal part of what I’m trying to achieve. More important than all the pussy and money you can throw my way, I want to bendreality. Some kid comes into my shop and buys . . .”

“Shrooms?”

“No, it doesn’t even have to be shrooms. It could be those ugly canvas shoes I sold fifteen thousand pair of, or the hemp bags I was just in Nepal ordering. I designed them, had them made, imported them, and now some kid is slinging it over his shoulder and putting his wallet and things in it. I’ve changed his daily life. I’ve bent his reality.”


[1] Kampai (乾杯, lit. “dry cup”) is the Japanese equivalent of “Cheers!” Meaning to drink up all the saké in one’s cup, it can be more accurately translated as “Bottoms up!” It can also mean to “propose a toast”, as in “Kare-no kenkō-o iwaishite kampai-shiyō!” (彼の健康を祝して乾杯しよう, Lit. “Let’s toast his health!”)


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.

 

55. Not bad

“Mark my word,” dé Dale assured me, as he was getting out of his car. “Imaizumi is the next Daimyō.”

Everything—the coolest bars, trendiest restaurants, the most fashionable boutiques—was moving south to the neighborhood which was at the time still an unfrequented corner of the city with narrow, convoluted roads, a collection of seedy love hotels, and shabby apartment buildings.

“I watch these things very carefully,” dé Dale told me as he pressed the lock button on the car key. The Mercedes chirped.

“Tell me, how much are you paying for parking alone every month?”

“Rémy, I never ask how much something costs. I ask myself, how can I affordit.”

That witty little remark sounded awfully familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

“So, when are you going to open up a boutique in Imaizumi, yourself?” I asked.

“I’m going one better,” he answered proudly. “I’m going to move my head office to Yakuin once I find a property I like.”

Yakuin was further south still, and one train station away from Tenjin, the commercial heart of the city.

“Why Yakuin?”

“The new subway line.”

It was under construction at the time, due to be completed in about five years’ time. 

“Besides,” he said, “I’ve already got a shop in the ZEEX building over there.”

“You do?” The man amazed me. “How many places you got now?”

“Ten.”

“Ten!”

“Not bad for a Jew who started out selling trinkets from a box on the street, is it?”

53. Brighter

Dé Dale and I became fast friends in the months following that first spliff at Bayside Place.

What the man ever saw in me I can’t really say. 

I was an unremarkable person in so many ways. I ran a small, but moderately profitable operation out my apartment, teaching English and occasionally French, writing, and translating. Business was, as they say in French, comme ci, comme ça—that is, neither very good, nor very bad. It defied growth the way a young boy resisted maturity. My love life, if you could call it one, was little better: I was four years into an unhappy marriage that I felt locked into and wanted out; and had an unhappy lover, I was locked out of, but wanted in. At thirty-four years of age, I had painted myself into a corner.

However little I could have possibly offered dé Dale, he still found it worth his while to phone me up now and then and ask if I was doing anything.

“At the moment, not much,” I replied. The sad truth was I hadn’t been doing much of anything for ten years.

And so, we would meet, and every time I would be exposed to things and introduced to people and places that would have taken me years of bumbling around on my own to discover.

Take music. Until dé Dale and I had become friends, I was convinced that I had been listening to a wide and eclectic selection of musical styles. It was, I would quickly learn, woefully narrow. At the time, I had been listening to minimalistic composers, such as Harold Budd in whose music I could zone out, let my mind go blank. Dé Dale would pull up in his Mercedes with music like I’d never quite heard before coming out the speaker, an orgy of sound.

“What is this?”

“Acid jazz, man. . . Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of acid jazz?” dé Dale said, shooting me a look of disgust.

I mumbled something about coming across the term in NME[1]and offered apologetically that it wasn’t bad.

“‘Not bad,’ he says! I ought a make you walk!” Taking a CD out of the glovebox and popping it into the tray, he said, “Listen to this.”

“Ronnie Jordan,” I read. “Brighter Day.”

The first warm notes of the double bass expanded in the confined space of dé Dale’s car. The percussions kicked in, cymbals, brushes scraping against a snare drum, rim shots. A bell tolled, like a distant church bell striking seven in a foggy English hamlet. And through the drizzle of the hi-hat a bluesy rift on Jordan’s Gibson rose up through the percussions like the sun breaking through the clouds.

“Wow.” I sat back and let the music wash over me. 

Dé Dale stepped on the gas and we cruised down the narrow road, a cocoon of cool sounds, neon lights and red lanterns blurring outside the windows. 

Dé Dale said I could borrow the CD if I liked.

“Really?”

“Of course.”

“Just be sure to give it back, okay?”

“Tell you what: I’m going to buy the CD myself,” I said, making a note.

 


[1] NME, or New Musical Express, is a weekly pop and rock music publication that has been published in the UK since 1952.

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.

52. The Consulate

Thursday afternoon, July 6th

 

Next order of business: the U.S. Consulate.

I hop back on the bike and pedal over to the Consulate. Located a short ride away, and just outside of the park, the Consulate was built on what must be some of the most expensive residential real estate in the city today. As they say, to the victor belongs the spoils.

When I start to park my bicycle near the front gates of the Consulate, a police officer rushes towards me with a long nightstick, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin.

In broken English, I’m shooed away: “No park bicycle here!”

Halfway down the block another police office waves to me.

I push the bike towards the second officer and am directed to a visitor’s parking area around the corner. Once the bike is parked, I walk back to the entrance where an old guard is encased in a bulletproof glass box. He reminds me of the boy in the bubble.

I try to open the door, but it’s locked. The old guard points to the door and mouths something.

“What?”

He makes a poking gesture with his finger. It’s then that I notice the intercom. Pressing the button, I ask the guard in Japanese if he’d let me in to talk with one of the officials.

“Who do you want to talk to?”

“Anyone!”

The door buzzes, and I reach for the handle to open it. It is like trying to roll a boulder away from the entrance of a tomb.

In the five or so years since I last visited the Consulate, security has been beefed up. Where there were only one or two officers dressed like ordinary beat cops milling about the entrance before, there are now half a dozen cops in riot gear, standing sentry around the premises. In the past, you could pop right in whenever you felt like it and shoot the crap with the consular staff. Since 9-11, however, the State Department has turned this low priority target into Fort Knox.

Once inside the bulletproof box, I tell the guard that I need to discuss a legal matter with the consular staff.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No.”

The old man sucks air through his teeth and says it might be difficult.

“I assure you this isan emergency.”

The guard makes a call, relaying what I have told him to someone inside. Hanging up, he instructs me to put my bag and other items on a tray. These are passed through an x-ray machine. I’m then told to walk through a metal detector.

Having leapt through the flaming loops of American vigilance, I am now allowed to pass through a second armored door and onto the grounds.

The consular building itself is set back off the road beyond a well-manicured Japanese garden with a rivulet of water flowing through it. There is yet one more set of bombproof doors to get buzzed through before I am able to speak to a frail Japanese spinster quailing behind another wall of bulletproof glass.

Christ, these people are prepared for Armageddon.

The woman asks me to take a seat, which I do, sitting across from a pair of large photographs of two of the most dangerous people in the world: President George W. Bush and his toady, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

Two more years. Two more years.

After staring at the shit-eating grins of “W” and Condi for half an hour, I am finally greeted by a barrel-shaped, middle-aged Japanese woman. She introduces herself as Ms. Satō.

I relay my story in brief and beseech the woman for the Consulate’s help. Ms. Satō takes some notes as I speak, and, when I’m finished, says that my timing couldn’t be worse: most of the consular staff are away from the office, busy packing up their things. Transfers are conducted in July and the new appointees won’t be arriving for several days.

After telling me to wait a little longer, Ms. Satō goes back through a door, made I suspect of kryptonite, where I can see her talking to a tall, balding man in a pink polo shirt. The man glances briefly my way and shakes his head. Gesturing to his watch, he dismisses himself. A moment later, Ms. Satō emerges from the Holy of Holies.

“You are American, aren’t you?” she asks.

“Would I be here if I weren’t?”

“Ah, yes, I don’t suppose you would. It’s just that Mr. Barker, the consul-general, told me to check. Do you have some ID, your passport, for example, with you?”

“No,” I say. “The police confiscated everything.”

She then explains that there isn’t anything they can do for me now. As a consolation of sorts, though, she hands me a thin printout published by the State Department: Guidelines for Americans Arrested in Japan.

God bless, the U.S of A!


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.

51. Bayside Toke

A few days after the opening of The Zoo, dé Dale rang me up.

“Hey, man, want to party?”

It was well past eleven and I was already half a bottle of wine away from hitting the sack.

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll come by your place and pick you up, then.”

“Pick me up?”

There weren’t many gaijinin town who had their own cars. The few who did usually drove rusting jalopies that had been fobbed off by friends who didn’t want to shell out several thousand dollars for the shaken (車検). [1] It came as quite a surprise to me then when dé Dale pulled up in front of my building in a brand-new Mercedes wagon.

“Hop in,” he said. I did and off we went, aggressively powering down narrow streets like a bat out of Hell.

“Where’s the party,” I asked.

Iam the party,” dé Dale replied. “But, first, I have to stop in at my warehouse. If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

Dé Dale’s warehouse was located in industrial area of the city, only a few blocks from where the old Customs House and Immigration used to be. Inside, narrow corridors separated rows and rows of metal shelves stuffed floor to ceiling with the same merchandise I had seen at The Zoo. Two tattooed and pierced employees busied themselves under the sickly glow of fluorescent lights unloading boxes that had just come in from Holland and Thailand. Dozens of plastic bongs, silver accessories packed in bubble wrap, knit caps, shoulder bags made from hemp, canvas shoes, wool scarves, skeleton figures, and pillow-case sized bags filled with dried psilocybin mushrooms. I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

“Give me a sec, will you?”

“Sure, take your time.”

Dé Dale sat down at a desk and placed a call to Switzerland. The guy was amazing. One moment he was ordering his staff around in Japanese, the next he was on the phone speaking German having funds moved from his Swiss bank account to one of his suppliers in Thailand. I had a couple of years of university German under my belt—enough to order bierand würstat a kneipein Heidelburg—but this dé Dale, he blew just me away.

When dé Dale was finished with his call, I asked him if it were smart to be doing what he did so close to Customs.

“Oh, the cops are watching me, everystep of the way,” he said. “Make no mistake about it.”

As soon as his work was done, we took off for Bayside Place, a woebegone shopping mall the city had built ten years earlier at the port from which hydrofoils and ferries departed for islands in the Genkai Sea and beyond to South Korea. Dé Dale had a small boutique in the mall, as well, one of several he operated all over the northern part of Kyūshū island. He told me he needed to check up on something at the shop, so I tagged along. 

The boutique was much smaller than The Zoo and lacked its subversive edge. It was also dead quiet like most of the shops in the mall.

“There’s no future in retail,” dé Dale told me as we entered the shop. “From now on I’m going to focus more on wholesale.”

I picked up a pair of cheap canvas slip-ons selling for 3,900 yen ($37) and made a face.

“Those canvas shoes you were just snickering over . . .”

“Snicker? Me?”

“I saw you. They’re as ugly as shoes get, yes, but I sold over fifteen thousand pairs of those canvas shoes last year. Imagine that: fifteen thousand Japanese kids wearing myshoes. All I need is three or four hit items a year like those ugly shoes and . . .”

15,000 times 3,900 yen . . . Christ, that almost 60 million yen ($560,000).

It was a staggering amount of money for someone who was busting his balls ten hours a day and making less than a fifth of what dé Dale earned with those ugly shoes. I had long suspected that I was in the wrong business; now, I was certain of it. 

“And, how much do you buy them for?” I asked.

“It’s not as simple as that,” he replied. “C’mon, this place is depressing me.”

We left Bayside Placeand walked to the end of the deserted pier where, I suppose, lovers were meant to gaze upon the romantic skyline of the city before heading off to one of the nearby “love hotels” to screw each other’s brains out. Only, there wasn’t much of a view to speak of. Across the harbor were general cargo sheds, silos, and a tugboat. Beyond that was the stadium for the boat races and further still was the city’s elevated expressway. An uninspiring skyline of fifteen-storey high buildings and neon billboards could just barely be seen in the distance.

Dé Dale asked me if I smoked.

I pulled a pack of Gauloisesout of my jacket breast pocket.

“Ooh, les Gauloises bleues. I haven’t had one of these in years.”

He took a cigarette from the box and put it between his lips. Digging into the hip pocket of his cargo pants for what I thought was going to be a lighter, he took out a small Ziploc bag with a black ball of clay in it. 

“Smell this,” he said. 

I did. It was hashish.

“I hope you appreciate this. It’s from your Beqaa Valley.”

He passed the hashish over a flame to soften it, then tore off a small amount and returned the rest to the Ziploc bag.

“Consider it a gift,” he said, handing me the bag. 

“Thanks!”

“Hold this a sec,” he said, giving me the small lump he’d torn off. 

He then pulled the filter off the cigarette, tossed it into the water, and started to remove the tobacco. Gesturing for the hashish, I placed it in his palm and he started to rub his hands together in a circular motion, blending the tobacco with hashish. From another pocket, he took out some Zigzag papers and rolled up a spliff. It had taken him less than a minute.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had smoked. Lighting up and taking that first toke, I let out an embarrassing rail of coughs.

Man, you want to cops to find us,” dé Dale said, looking around nervously.

“No—cough, cough, cough—it’s just that—cough, cough—it’s been—cough, cough, cough—it’s been fucking ages—cough.”

I passed the spliff back to dé Dale and then the rush hit me.

“Woa!” I had to lean against the concrete breakwater to keep from swooning.

With the spliff held between his index and ring fingers, dé Dale took a long hit from his cupped hand, then, without exhaling, made the following observation: “An Arab and a Jew sharing a spliff. Imagine that!”

“You shouldn’t call someone from Lebanon an Arab,” I said taking the spliff back. “They may consider it dis—cough, cough, cough—disparaging. I understand what you’re getting at, though. What the world needs is more pot, and fewer bombs—cough, cough.


[1] Shaken (車検), a contraction of Jidōsha Kensa Tōrokuseido (自動車検査登録制度) is Japan’s vehicle inspection system which can cost up to ¥200,000, plus the cost of repairs and parts if necessary. It is one reason why you seldom see older cars on Japanese roads.

 

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.

35. Rabbits and Tanabata Wishes

“There’s a rabbit, too!” another cop hollers from the balcony. Dressed in jeans and a blue windbreaker, he seems to be enjoying the raid far too much.

“Is it yours?” he asks coming back into the room.

“The rabbit? Actually, he belonged to my next-door neighbor, but I, um, ‘adopted’ him when they moved away.”

“What’s the rabbit’s name?”

“Pyon-kichi,” I answer.

Everyone laughs.

The black rabbit hops into the room and, pausing at my feet, glances up at me with his dark eyes as if to say, “Dude, what’s with all the pigs?” Then, dropping a few balls of poop, hops off towards the dining room where another old cop is rummaging through my cupboards.

Atta boy, Pyon! Sic ‘em!

“Pyon-kichi? Who gave him a name like that?” the cop in the windbreaker asks.

“My wife did,” I say, reaching down to pick up Pyon’s droppings with a tissue.

“Well, that makes sense,” he says with a chuckle. “Pyon-kichi isn’t the kind of name I imagine a gaijin would give a rabbit. What about the bamboo in the other room?”

In the main room of my apartment, a large open space comprising the living and dining rooms which I sometimes use for the English lessons I have at home, is a bamboo branch about two and a half yards long that arches out from one corner of the room. A few days ago, my girlfriend Azami and I spent the evening decorating it with colorful origami for the Tanabata Star Festival that falls on the seventh of July.[1]

As she often does, my girlfriend impressed me with not only her retention of, but also her ability to still apply all the creative and artsy-craftsy skills she picked up ages ago in elementary school. Where the typical Japanese might be able to fold a square piece of paper into an origami crane, Azami can take the same piece of paper and make four connected cranes out of it as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. Most of my students were thrilled when they saw the bamboo, and, filled with nostalgia, gladly wrote down their Tanabata wishes on paper, which they then attached to the bamboo branch.

“My students and I made it,” I tell the cops. “There may be some extra tanzaku paper left. Feel free to write your wishes down, too.”

None of them take me up on the offer.


[1] Tanabata (七夕, literally, “evening of the seventh”) is a Japanese star festival, celebrating the rendezvous of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair), who are separated by the Amanogawa (Milky Way). The lovers are allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, according to the old lunisolar calendar.


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.

31. Knock, Knock

But then comes that knock at the door that will change everything.

I look to the clock on the wall. “Eight-o-two? Who on earth could be coming by at this hour? Must be dé Dale.”

Ever since the Frenchman confided in me that he was going to leave Japan, never to return—NEVER!—we have been spending a lot of time together—for better, for worse.

More knocking.

Then again, maybe it’s FedEx with the package . . . but at eight in the morning?

The knocking grows louder.

Jesus, I’m coming already!”

I peer through the peephole, but can’t see anything. Someone or something on the other side of the door is covering it.

Gotta be dé Dale.

Oh, if only it were.


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.