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.
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.”
“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 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.”
“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 . . .”
“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.”