Escape from Tokyo: Series One
Under no circumstances should a can of milk coffee be called Boss Silky Drip. Then again, I still remember the cans of Wild Drip. Antibiotic resistant, presumably. And let us not forget Double Shot 69.
Japanese can coffees are like the boyfriends of your unlucky friend: despite the names and the packaging, they are all the same, and not much good can be said of any of them. They are what you resort to out of dire necessity, or, more likely, thoughtless habit.
There was once one with cinnamon that was really quite tasty, but, like most of everything I ever managed to enjoy in Tokyo, it has since been discontinued.
Akagi Shrine, Tsukiji Market, Kabuki-za, Mister Donut Senzoku, Sesame Chicken Chips, Alcoholic Ginger Ale: I mourn your passing.
2. we’re all in this together
For the record, I would like to make clear that only in Tokyo do I lock myself in public toilets to drink liquor. This is something special. In other countries I think, “Oh, perhaps a beer with dinner would be nice.” Only in Tokyo do I find myself desperate to take the edge off before the next time I get crammed onto the train. Of course I don’t need to lock myself in. It’s legal to drink anywhere. But sometimes I need, you understand, just a little time-out.
And evidently I am not the only person who feels this way because, look, here are two tall cans of Asahi, a Kirin, and a glass sake jar, lined up neatly beside the garbage bin.
The following is a spell which will render you twenty seven percent more sexually attractive than you are now. For some of us, that’ll be a really big deal. For others, not so much. Still, you have to work with whatever it is you’ve got.
4. married life
Identify and circle the errors in the following conversation.
He was making individual pizzas. He had lit too many candles. We were both sitting down.
I said, “Oh, I think the pizzas are burning!”
He said, “I don’t smell anything.”
“But I do!” I said.
“But I doooooo,” he mimicked me.
“I can’t pretend that nothing is burning just because you don’t smell it!!!”
5. Tokyo monsters
If you do not know Japan, you might imagine that foreigners stay here for the money. But the time for easy money passed decades ago. You might imagine that foreign men stay here for sex, for a vastly more beautiful girlfriend, or younger boyfriend, than they’d qualify for anywhere else. There’s truth in that surely, but it’s still only part of the story.
So why do foreigners stay here, year after year, turning into ever-stranger hothouse shapes, into Tokyo monsters?
Simple. Foreigners stay in Japan because they get away with things here that they absolutely would not get away with anywhere else.
Excuse me. I ought to say, “we”.
6. back straight, people
As any Zen master can tell you, what swirls through your head during these proceedings is not so important, but the correct posture is vital.
As if suspended from the top of one’s head by a string. A very ordinary bit of greenish twine, that’s what I’m seeing. But if you’d rather have a streak of red ribbon, please, go right ahead.
7. I’m only going to say this once
Takashi here has the penis I’d like to present every time some moron makes a snide remark about the magnitude of Japanese tackle. Almost every gay bar I visit in Europe or the States, soon as I say I live in Japan, I hear the same crap. Pisses me off. But if Takashi were with me, I wouldn’t have to be angry.
“Yeah? Is that what you think? Show the man, Takashi. See that? You feel dumb now, don’t you? Feel kinda undersized yerself. Inadequate. Shortchanged. You’d like to be friends with Takashi now, wouldn’t you. Everyone wants to be friends with Takashi. But you can’t be friends with Takashi if you say stupid racist shit, can you? OK, Takashi’s going to put his heritage back down alongside his leg now. No, you do not get to feel how heavy it is. Not with that kind of attitude. I think you’d better say you’re sorry now. How about you start by buying Takashi a beer?”
8. writing in the gap
Like all writers of ambition, I aim at posterity. At generations to come. At eternity. Which in this case is, what, maybe fifteen years? Forever gets shorter all the time, though it’s ugly to complain, since forever lasted only seven years, on average, back when the Sioux were signing treaties.
The survivors will not be much interested in stories. Not long ones, any way. They will learn, at last, to make do with much less. They’ll be interested in -- what? Desalination, maybe. Decontamination. Edible Plants.
I hope you will excuse me if I sometimes seem uncertain. I am filling in the gap between literature and emergency manuals.
9. welcome to japan (please follow the rules)
Italian looked reasonable, from the outside. In Japan it is always done perfectly right. But inside the server explains to us that only one person may order the dinner special. Others must order from the regular menu.
Dwight asks, “So, can we both have the dinner special if we sit at separate tables and pretend we don’t know each other?”
The chef boss just stands there, looking terribly embarrassed in his chef hat, because that’s just not a question a Japanese would ever ask.
10. let’s pull a hawthorne
How about I make like Nathaniel Hawthorne? Isn’t it time to pull a Hawthorne now?
How long did he stay home, in seclusion, teaching himself to think -- about twelve years, wasn’t it? Of course he had help. He had support, though I’m certain they often got tired of him. By most reports he was kind of a twit. Seriously, would it be so bad if made like Hawthorne? If I sank out of sight? I am cheaper than most people’s dogs. If not quite so well-behaved.
Then again, Hawthorne obviously had the knack some people have, for convincing people they matter. Whereas I have always been a peripheral person, somewhere between invisible and suspicious. I was the youngest son of the Pumpkin King. Then, because it was abruptly possible, I had to go and get married. And I married The Nicest Guy in the World.
11. high technology
In this city, which is rumored to be the most technologically advanced in the world, rooms are heated by means of enormous hair dryers, which are hung way up on the walls. Up there it is warm, surely. What a pity we all sleep on the floor.
On the plus side, the room is so dry that, if you wait five minutes to eat the second half of your cheese sandwich, you will find the bread is more or less toasted.
You might as well do what is right. If only because what you want is so fucking unreliable.
When the space beneath the sink is full I pull out all the milk cartons, cut them uniformly and bundle them, just as all Japanese housewives know to do. A few I forgot to rinse and so they are moldy. Those I scrub clean. Don’t say I haven’t adjusted to living here. I even wash the trash.
In other ways I was well-suited to Tokyo even before I arrived. Ever since I was child I have not stopped apologizing. I cannot apologize enough. It may be that if you say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry enough times you end up in Tokyo, the same way that old women who pray a million rosaries are at once teleported to Lourdes.
14. a few horrors we’re allowed to skip
Now and then history spares us something. Seems to me it doesn’t happen nearly enough, but of course there’s no real way of knowing.
There are days when I can almost cry when I remember that, despite everything, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas did not die in a concentration camp.
Life is worthless. As is well known. But it is only worthless overall. The details are lovely. The details are worthwhile.
For example, this woman here at the cafe, who thanks me as I leave and smiles while drying a tray. That’s worth showing up for. This old tree, too, here bedside the subway entrance, was clearly intending to die, but then Spring came along and it just couldn’t help itself, it burst out green. The details in this world are really first-rate. What a shame that I so seldom notice them. I am too busy thinking of life overall, and of how it is going for me.
16. to the gods,
Please enter into this, the thin soup of my enduring failure. Much too much salt. In this soup in which it is too late.
Dear gods. Now that it is too late, arrive.
In time, if not in time.
17. karaoke in the afternoon
Kiyoko explains that karaoke boxes have multiple functions. They’re not just for drunk kids on weekends, or lovers, or even for singers. On weekday afternoons middle-aged ladies use them to scream. You couldn’t possibly scream at home. Nothing is insulated. The neighbors are too near. The police arrive in minutes. But you can lock yourself into a karaoke box and scream all you want.
But isn’t karaoke expensive? I ask. I imagine Japanese housewives mindfully budgeting ‘screaming money’.
Not weekday afternoons, Kiyoko explains. Weekdays you can get an hour for maybe 500 yen. Afternoons no one is there. No one except middle-aged Japanese ladies, screaming at the top of their lungs.