SOME ADVICE TO MYSELF, FOR USE WHEN ENTIRELY DESPERATE
Thinking is not your friend.
As complete abstinence from thought is not possible, keep discursiveness to a minimum.
Above all, avoid “figuring out”.
I thoroughly approve of the magazine rack I see here before me, with titles like: VIRGIN HARLEY, GARAGE LIFE, ON THE BOARD, PERFECT BOAT, BIKER-MON, and THRASHER. On the cover of nearly all these titles, a person appears ecstatic, suspended in mid-air.
Ideally the world would be saved very quietly, so that all the foolishness could just go on.
3. tulip tree
Instead of thinking – observe.
Despite its bad reputation, there’s a lot to be said for the external world. In fact, it may be attempting to rescue you.
This tulip tree here on the corner, which just three days ago appeared a virgin at the altar, and is now that same bride in the same dress after a 72 hour orgy. The tulip tree is waving to you in her spoiled tatters, reminding you that, contrary to what monotheists claim, virginity keeps coming around.
Five days of responsible pragmatism, compassionate engagement, budgeting, et cetera. Followed by two days of batshit crazy.
Still, he feels some security in knowing he has a schedule.
Something essential about Tokyo, it seems to me, is expressed in corridors like this one. Here at Motomachi-Chukagai station, between the ticket gates and exits 1 and 2. A hall short enough to walk and too long to imagine, with white tiles and a low ceiling, so long and featureless you assume at first it has to be a trick with mirrors.
Some people, as soon as you hear them say, “I made it through” – you know they didn’t.
Expat children beside the magazine rack, with Japanese faces and American voices.
“At the hotel I gave them my card, right, so I could drink as much as I want. Turned out I drank san ju man en, three hundred thousand!
It’s not even a disaster. In the next breath he talks about his girlfriend, where they’re going next.
These two cardboard figures, for example, here in the lobby of the Tip X gym in Shibuya. They appear to be wearing scuba masks. What’s the message supposed to be?
Consider the enormous delicacy of Tokyo, the unparalleled discretion and tact, the fact that I have managed to live here for nearly a decade, without ever knowing what the hell is going on.
Buddhist wisdom is very helpful. However, if you do not have the time or inclination, or if you always meant to learn but never got around to it -- aerobic exercise works as well or better.
Thirty seven minutes after midnight on the Namboku Line and everyone (everyone) in this train car is drunk. Drunk passed out with their mouths open. Drunk peering into their phones as if into a bottomless well.
Drunkenly looking around, he wonders, “Is it so terrible just to be here?”
With some people it’s very tricky. Because it’s not like you can actually see the hook in their lip or their flank. The rusty bit of iron that run clear through their throat. The slave irons, the wire that binds their feet.
And yet the hook is there somewhere, almost always.
Here in the lobby of the luxury gym, beside the newspapers and the stacks of manga, are full-scale replicas of
a) a head of cauliflower
b) a bunch of white asparagus
Perhaps these clues have been placed here to remind us of the dreamlike quality of the world. Unfortunately it is not possible to look back now and pinpoint – was the world real at some point?
A large sign at Shibuya station reads FIGHT JAPAN!
I know what they mean, but I also think it is increasingly possible that they also mean it the way I mean it too.
I struggle to explain, when people ask, “Is it difficult to be a foreigner in Japan?”
Yes, it is difficult. But it is nowhere near as difficult as it is to be Japanese in Japan.
It is commonly assumed that foreigners stay in Tokyo for the money. In fact this is rarely the case.
Overwhelmingly, foreigners stay in Tokyo because they get away with things here that they could not possibly get away with anywhere else.
I should say “we”.
May I concoct within myself that hook-dissolving elixir. The antidote for poison, wire, glass, nail, bomb. That which aches, burns, bites. That which is irretrievable. That which is beyond repair.
May it melt. May it melt. May it melt.
16. my Tokyo
It can also be a tremendous comfort – the gray anonymity, the hygiene and privacy of it. Like the small room in the hospital where they bring you to tell you that your sweetheart is gone.
It is possible, even then, to feel grateful for that airless and colorless room. For the simple gray emptiness of it, for the fact it does not attempt to console. For the comfort and security of knowing you could bleed to death and not stain anything.
Perhaps you are waiting for someone?
Now that we’ve begun – maybe it makes sense for someone else to arrive?
But in Tokyo it takes a long time for people to come along. Sometimes a very long time.
18. identifying marks
Shinjuku around 8 in the morning:
A high school boy’s uniform, still in the style of war. From his backpack, a bushy animal tail bounces as he walks.
The sweet-faced octogenarian has a marijuana leaf embroidered on his baseball cap.
A white bus with tinted windows and the slogan PREMIUM DREAM.
Are you remembering to not figure anything out?
Do not attempt to figure anything out.
A kind of instruction manual. For when you cannot go on.
The sort of friend who just gets in her car and comes over.
Always the same:
The people who most need help – do not attend. The disaster is already underway. The nightmare’s in full-swing. Also: rent’s due, phone’s ringing, something’s burning, what’s that kid bawling over now?
How to help and how to get help through?
I cannot even figure out a way to get a message to myself, that nearby person. Often underfoot, often exceedingly faraway.
He has a theory he ought to behave as if he were about to be rescued. As if it has all been arranged: a helicopter, an exorcist, an artist’s grant. Now all he needs do is compose himself and act calm, as though he’d been calm all along, confident he is about to be rescued, certain he deserves to be saved.
He knows there’s nothing to this. It buys him time.
Once a week he disappears in Tokyo. Wide-awake at 5am, everything he needs springs into his bag. Bounding down the stairs, he jaunts to the station, buys a hot can of espresso from the vending machine.
The train is still peaceful at that early hour, though even then there is no place to sit. Props himself in the corner, and reads John Ashbery, as the Circle Line goes round. Happiness is coming, he thinks. When in fact the very best moment is already underway.
My mind has only these tiny baby hands. Almost transparent. Holding on as hard as they can.
Breakfast he eats at the counter in a cheap place near Shinjuku South Exit. A double portion of minced raw tuna and a raw egg, which he unofficially believes makes him just slightly bionic.
If I believed in prayers of petition, I would say to the mystery, Give me some small task I can actually do or allow me to die.
Dearest mystery. I trust that you will not mind if I live as though you had said, Take notes.
He’s never heard anyone mention it, but it is for him the great pleasure of Tokyo. The essential pleasure.
After transferring twice or perhaps three times, he exits the station, turns off the main street, turns left twice, then right again, and finds himself in front of a coffee shop. It is the faultlessly bland branch of a ubiquitous chain. Entering, he orders a coffee, carries it up three flights of stairs, and looks for a seat in the corner.
There, he organizes his thoughts and sips the tasteless coffee with real pleasure, certain that he will not be found.