Published: November 13th 2009July 31st 2009
I was standing in Yokohama Station, waiting. Waiting, holding my breath.
She looked at me, not understanding. Her mind finally caught up with ears and her eyes flew wide open.
She had not been expecting it.
She leaned forward.
She opened her mouth to respond…
It was August 7, 2009. I had roughly a week and a half left in Japan. It was a Friday.
I smiled uneasily as I left work, my oblivious co-workers expecting another MVP performance during the weekend. I had told them about my 3 day weekend in unadulterated bro-terms (“I got shitfaced and fingerbanged a bitch on Friday, I got shitfaced and doubled in a hotel room on Saturday with a smoking Korean, then blacked out on Sunday and found myself with a ridiculously hot girl in a bathroom!” “High five, bro!”), feeling at ease in my lifelong routine of winning over (male) audiences with my exploits.
And as I left work, I stuck to my usual routine, slapping palms with my coworkers in IT (“Peace, Greg.” “See you Tony!”), shooting my chin out at the traders I had befriended and waving goodbye to the one other
Symbolic of the Japanese, even the food looks like a frowning face.
intern on my floor.
To everyone in the world, I was the big douchebag from New York City, looking to tear apart another weekend in Tokyo with bitches and beer.
But today was different; the voicemails I had in my phone would be left unanswered. Friends, asking me to stop by bars, or clubs, or parties, or simply asking which bar, or club, or party I was going to; all unanswered.
Today was different; when my boss offered to take me out in nearby Roppongi, I didn’t jump on the opportunity for free booze. “Sorry, I would love to, but I have a prior engagement I can’t miss.” First time I had lied to him.
Today was different; the cute receptionist, who ate up all my wild stories, who was only two years older than I, who loved my New York accent, who had given me her phone number 5 minutes after introductions, who always puffed her chest out when I talked with her…all she got was a two finger wave as I briskly walked by. No flirting.
I walked straight to the train station, not dallying outside the ramen shop to contemplate a snack,
Asahi, my old nemesis. Along with driving tests.
or walking into the convenience store to see if Tigers-Giants tickets were finally on sale. I walked straight into the train station, smartly sidestepped some attractive British tourists looking around for English help, slipped in my ticket and walked through the gate.
My grandmother wasn’t expecting me this early. Fridays I come back last train stumbling drunk to pass out on my bed, or not at all, coming back first train the next morning at the break of dawn, painfully hungover…to pass out on my bed. She was surprised. And happy.
She fussed over me. But in a simple, Japanese way. “Take a bath. That way I can wash your clothes with this load. Go on, into the bath.”
I took a bath, changed into pjs and my grandmother called me over from the living/dining meal.
A simple meal. White rice on the left. Miso soup on the right. Baked fish center.
She bowed her head, I quickly mimicked and we started eating.
It tasted exactly Japanese. When my mother wasn’t throwing together authentic Italian meals she learned from her godmother (long story), or experimenting with shit she saw on the Food Network, she made the same meal. The same exact meal. The exact same proportion of miso in the soup so it remains startlingly refreshing yet doesn’t lack flavor. The exact same time the fish was left in the broiler so it’s charred just enough to give it a crisp, yet not enough to completely burn. Exact same rice to water ratio to get rice that can be separated into individual grains, but remain stuck together between chopsticks. It was all exactly the same, a taste from my childhood that can’t be mimicked.
This woman in front of me taught my mother all of this, after all. Back before my mother rebelled and flew off to America on a schoolgirl whim and lived with some Italians in Boston’s North End and then met my father and never returned.
I sighed and finished it. “Thanks.”
I hugged my grandmother but she quickly pushed me away. Showing emotions is not Japanese.
I brushed my teeth, went to my bed and lay down. My stomach growled. I should go to the ramen stand two blocks away and get their evening special (1 jockey of beer + 1 ramen bowl + 1 gyoza plate for 1200 yen). But not tonight I guess.
I lay in my bed, hands underneath my head, replaying the 30-second telephone call. “Hello?”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“So Chiaki, I was thinking…for meeting up…um…”
“No, don’t worry Gen! I got it figured out! Can you be at Shinjuku station on Saturday…say…ten am?”
“Um…yea…um…that sounds ok…”
“Great! I gotta run off now, but see you Saturday! Bye!”
There was nothing to really make out about it. Just be at Shinjuku station at ten am. Not even a platform number, or some exact location, just be at enormous Shinjuku Station at ten am. I was supposed to pick her out of a crowd of millions who looked exactly like her, in the busiest train station in the world (“Latika, I’ll be there at the Mumbai train station, 5pm”).
I sighed. It was 8pm. I wasn’t tired but I should go to sleep.
I closed my eyes. The apartment was right next to the train station and I could hear the muted cries of drunken revelers: university students seizing their youth with beers and salarymen deluding themselves with inebriation. I sighed and rolled over. My stomach growled again. My body, honed to reach its peak in the hours from 8pm-2am, was getting antsy. My eyes flew open and I swung my legs off the bed. I had to get up.
I padded softly to the kitchen and cracked open the fridge. Vegetables, packets of fish, cuts of meat and exotic Japanese ingredients I couldn’t discern. No candy, no tv dinners I could zap, no chunky soup I could just toss in a pot, no mac and cheese I could toss together, no ham and bread, no peanut butter and jelly. I walked over to the rice cooker, empty. I opened the oven, nothing. I opened the fridge again, and rooted in the back.
Wait. My hand hit something metallic. I peered in. A 6 pack of Asahi.
I stared at it for a while. I then reached in and snapped one off, letting the fridge door shut.
One beer couldn’t hurt, right?
I smirked and started opening. Think about what you could lose.
I frowned and stared at the can. Think about what you could lose.
I sighed, wrenched open the fridge, looked at the can in my hand, exhaled and put it back in. I pushed the door closed, pushing with my entire weight longer than necessary to make sure it sealed.
I slowly walked back to my room and laid down again, hands underneath my head.
I rolled over.
It was August 7, 2009. I had roughly a week and a half left in Japan. It was a Friday. Tomorrow I had a date with Chiaki.