Friday, April 25, 2014


explicit content, be advised.

Tokyo, 2006
originally published in Quarter After Eight



Anyone else have trouble with plastic bags?

The slippery sheer 45 liter bags, the kind you have to open by pulling apart their sides.  I can’t open them.  Of course I’ve always got the wrong end—it’s something inherent in my personality.  Even once I’ve got the right end I can’t do it.  Not sober at 8 o’clock in the morning.  Certainly not past midnight on a Friday night when I’m about to puke--thus the dire necessity of the bag, which I claw at as I lie sprawled across the bedroom floor.


The only other time I got sick from drinking I was 14, playing Quarters, drinking beer and Kailua with Eddie Zanni and his big sister Coreen.  All her friends were over to play with her new fluffy white kitten named Coke.  I puked in a green bathtub.  (It was Eddie’s house; he had dibs on the toilet.)  I passed out, woke up  to hear Eddie telling me about his sister’s friend, Stacey of the Tits.  He’d felt her up while she was out cold.  “You missed out, man!” he said.  Sure I had—but I just wanted to feel up Eddie.


At 14, my life was a desert expanse between games of ‘Truth or Dare’.  Already, when I imagined the world outside New Hampshire, it was a fantastic, legendary place: a place people had sex.


That Friday night my good husband and I had been in Ni-chome, which, if you’ve never been to Tokyo, is the place gay boys go after dark.  Do you ever think of Tokyo?  You ought to keep it in mind.  When your life is not going well, Tokyo is an option.  Especially if you graduated college and have no criminal record, if you have a toothpaste smile and no obvious tattoos -- Tokyo is here for you.  Of course it’s not as lucrative as it once was.  Still, you can be comfortable here, so comfortable that many people stay a long time, until they begin to sprout delicate ferns and doze in a Rip Van Winkle, free of questions in a heap of luxury goods.


To me, Tokyo seems cramped, but my husband swears that life everywhere is cramped and I ought to get used to it and not act tortured.  Shinjuku, in particular, is every day more compressed.  The ceilings get lower, the halls narrower; there are fourteen floors now where there were only seven before.  Ventilation shafts re-open as Italian bistros with outrageously expensive coffee.  The men with white gloves push us onto the trains.  Lately it seems to me they’re pushing harder.


Meat on sticks was what we wanted.  Our usual yakitori joint was full, but we found another that had suddenly appeared and we hopped in quickly before it had time to fill up or vanish.  Restaurants don’t last long in Tokyo--sometimes only minutes.


We drank beer with our yakitori, which is a common strategy to not feel so confined.  Even after one beer you don’t mind sitting in a room so small you can barely shrug your shoulders, never mind stretch your legs.  After more beers even time seems to open, hollow out, so that you’re no longer trapped in a schedule that’s totally fixed between here and Golden Week.


I wish I could give some eloquent reason for coming to Japan.  The truth is I was just in Chicago staring down the columns of the Classifieds: temp, temp, temp, Tokyo.


I’m going to stay sitting up, thank you.  I suspect I will die if I lay down.  I still can’t get the bag open, can’t pull the edges apart.  My good husband opens these bags effortlessly.  Licks his fingers first, swears he’s never had a problem.  He licks his fingers when he reads the newspaper too.  Gross.


Where is my good husband?  Shouldn’t he be concerned?  Then again, back-patting is for children.  Vomiting is definitely a solitary activity.


Never mind opening the plastic bag, I rationalize.  Consider it a plastic sheet--puke on it.  I crane my head over the plastic.  Wait.  Jam a finger in my throat.  Nothing happens.

Whatever it is that needs to come out, isn’t coming.


My husband is a good man, even a capital-G Good man, as in I ought to be capital-G Grateful and sometimes I am.  He came to Tokyo during the Bubble, when even being a kindergarten teacher was a lucrative career.  Of course work gets a little dull sometimes, he says, but that is why we have hobbies.  My husband’s not opposed to hobbies.  He’s not such a passionate man.


My good husband, no surprise, lives in a world that is good.  I accuse him of being a cabbage.  He says I don’t understand.  It’s true.  I don’t understand how the world can be good and that is likely because I am not good, not even with a little g.  I’ve never had the knack for it.


I’m married to this man.  Remember gay marriage?  We were pioneers, i.e. we have no actual rights, we just invited everyone to consider us married and judge us accordingly.  I’m not exactly sure how this happened.  It was an accident, which is not to say it’s bad.  Like any accident, the details of the actual event are hazy.


Now that I am married, it is extremely interesting to me, how two people can live together and at the same time live on two separate planets.  My husband finds the world quite satisfactory.  His Tokyo isn’t narrow or cramped.  His Tokyo isn’t even poised on opposing tectonic plates.  His Tokyo is stable.  And flat.


After yakitori, we went to the bar on the corner for the thousand-yen all-you-can-drink special.  Barry was there.  I was nervous when I saw him, with his double-wide shoulders and stubble.  Barry and my husband shared a hug and a kiss.  I didn’t hug Barry.  I shook Barry’s hand.  I was good.


The name Barry is misleading.  Most Barrys are unpleasant--even the jovial Barrys aren’t anyone you’d want to go to bed with.  This, however, was one hot Barry.  We’d met him at a party the week before.  He was short and muscled and exceedingly broad.  I am known for liking tall and lean men like my husband, but stocky is also good.  I particularly like stocky.  The same way I particularly like Scotsmen, Tibetans, Arabs, Mexicans, Japanese, South Indians, Icelanders—the list goes on.


For years I never went to parties or bars.  I went to the baths.  Wasn’t sex what everyone wanted?  Why not start there?  I never understood flirting that lasted longer than, say, a minute and a half.  You want him, he wants you—goodbye, pants!


Parties are always a puzzle to me and sometimes downright bewildering.  Especially now that I have a husband and everyone has ideas about what a husband is and one is expected to act as if those ideas matter, whatever they are.  One of the principal ideas is that the penis is a very special ceremonial instrument, like the sword the Queen uses to knight people: you should only take it out on special occasions for a select individual.  Superstitions like this matter terribly to people.  It’s all very confusing.


Despite these beliefs, people at parties act like they’re going to fuck any minute.  But if you do anything, if you make too much progress in that direction, you’re a no-good slut.  Especially if people thought you were a slut to begin with.  I resolved to be careful and pretended I was only interested in the hors d'oeuvres.  People touched me but I didn’t touch anyone.  I am not handsome, but there’s something good about everyone, right, and what’s good about me is my arms.  People touched my arms but my arms didn’t touch anyone.  This was my approximation of good.


Apparently it was insufficiently convincing.


Barry sat next to me on the couch.  He’s a very solid man, Barry, and it was a very cheap couch.  I sat there pressed against Barry’s muscular thigh, which warmed my whole body, tip to toe, like a Yule log.  I debated whether I ought to move away.  What was the rule in this situation?


We were at the ‘body part’ segment of the party.  This is a common element of most parties, where the particular loveliness of each person is commented upon.  One person had beautiful eyes and another had luminous skin.  I had my big arms.  My husband had his phenomenally  large penis, which was all the more desirable for not being directly shown.  (This is not the main reason I married him; it is a secondary supporting reason.)


Barry stood up.  What Barry had was an ass.  It seemed to me he had a lot of things but his official attribute was his ass, which appeared to be perfectly full, round and carved out of stone.  My good husband did not hesitate, but immediately palmed the superlative ass when it was proffered him in tight Italian slacks.  His admiration was unstinting.  Then, it was my turn.


And I was confused.  Because sometimes it’s wrong to even look at someone—and other times it’s acceptable to feel their ass.  I am supposed to somehow know these rules.  All good people do.  I didn’t have a clue.  I thought I’d play it safe.

“I can admire it from here,” I said and clutched my drink.


I was in trouble the minute we left the party.  Cuddled up all night with Barry on the couch.  I’d practically been all over him.

“It was just that kind of couch,” I said in defense.


The real problem, apparently, was my eyes.  All my life I’ve been in trouble for my eyes.  Apparently I’d beamed at Barry all night long.  It was obvious to everyone I just wanted to get into his pants; I want to get into everyone’s pants.


It’s not true I want to get into everyone’s pants.  What I really want to do is make out with everyone.  Which doesn’t win me any points either.


“You felt his ass,” I said to my good husband.

My husband explained to me that it was perfectly acceptable for him to feel Barry’s ass because it was just a joke, he was just having fun—whereas it is obvious to everyone that I am a sex maniac.  I do not doubt this is true.


I got very drunk at the bar, I admit.  I didn’t use to be like this.  I drank when I was 14 and then I hardly ever drank again.  Until I was over 30.  Now I was discovering it again.  I ought to be more careful.  It is so nice to have some space.  Even if it’s not really there, my god, it’s good to feel it.


In Tokyo almost every bar is inside, sunk in a basement or perched high in a skyscraper.  Gay bars are particularly buried and usually only big enough for a dozen people.  I’m not clear on the point of such establishments.  I mean, you could sleep with everyone in one night, staff included, and then where would you go for a beer?


Tokyo is very comfortable but very tight—though many people find it just right—a deluxe dark velvet upholstered brand-name ring box, the kind that closes with a firm and satisfying snap.

That night however, we went to the only gay bar in Tokyo that is actually outside.  It’s out on a street corner in Shinjuku, a corner so small it might disappear at high tide.  On Friday nights the foreigners, misfits and outcasts stand on each other’s feet and drink cheap beer.  It is not permitted to stand in the street and even your elbows must be inside the red cones.  If you stand on the curb and lean way back you can even see—between the lighted signs and the offices on the seventeenth floor--the slim sky.


I drank enough I could fly right up there.  Then I drank so much I was dizzy anywhere I looked.  Stupid, I know.  I get to feeling so terribly cramped.  All I want is a little space and I’ll do anything to get it.


When my husband steered me into the taxi, I noticed Barry was with us.  He’d have to run to make the last train, my husband said.  He can sleep on a futon in the living room.  Fine with me.  The taxi was swerving through Shinjuku and I was entirely focused on trying not to vomit on anyone.


I remember the nights of ‘Truth or Dare’ in New Hampshire.  Me and Eddie fumbling with each other in the dark after his parents went to bed.  The smell of burning hair from the beauty salon his mother ran in the basement.  We hated New Hampshire and we hated school.  We hated not getting what we wanted.  How incredible to discover that we had this escape, an escape built right into our bodies.


The sides of the bag adhered to my sweaty hands and when I opened them the bag opened too and when it was open I let go. I have no idea how long I vomited for.  I vomited up drinks and dinner, what must have been lunch and breakfast, and kept on vomiting.  The sheer bag expanded, filled with warm vomit until it was like a mushy diaper.  


Sometime later, I found myself on the floor clutching a bag of puke.  I wasn’t sick anymore.


There are few desires as compelling, I think, as wanting to brush your teeth after puking.  I could have gone on brushing my teeth all night.  I was feeling much better, thank you, better than I’d felt in weeks.  A very hopeful kind of empty.  Like maybe I could just start again and this time pause, at least for a little while, before cramming in the poisons.


After brushing my teeth I stumbled into the kitchen for water and glanced into the living room, where my husband sat with his head tilted back and a beatific look on his face as Barry crouched before him with my good husband’s enormous cock in his mouth.  They hadn’t heard me and didn’t see me yet.


I stood silent at the edge of the room and watched them lap at each other in animal happiness.  What a relief it was: I wasn’t the only one hungry.  I could take the whole night off from being the Bad One.

I didn’t move.  I didn’t want to interrupt, to usher in a flood of apologies or explanations.  I didn’t need them.  Everything was fine as it was, and all I wanted was to stand there until morning, and go right on being surprised.

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