I started this journal on Large Prime Numbers Dot Com in 2003 — that’s ten years ago. I stopped updating it, for the most part, in 2011.
I deleted every entry just last week, to make room for a new entry, a new layout, and maybe a new style.
Though I stopped updating this website a few years ago, I never stopped writing essays about my life. I simply stopped sharing them.
Here is one that I wrote in January of 2013. I’m sharing it today, because I was just thinking about it.
It is titled “a cartoon androgyne between two fashionable imps”.
“a cartoon androgyne between two fashionable imps”
by tim rogers
16 january 2013
July 2013 will mark three years that I’ve been living in the United States of America.
I was actually born here. I didn’t leave until I was twenty-one. Then I spent ten years abroad, most of them in Japan.
For some reason or another — we can summarize it as “accidentally” — I was thinking about the past. This got me to thinking about the reason I ended up in Japan in the first place.
I’d majored in linguistics in college. I’d studied Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Russian — I’d gone nuts on the brain-stuffing. I told everyone I was going to be in the CIA, and then I tried to be in the CIA — that could have been me as the lady in “Zero Dark Thirty” — and got bored and ended up in Japan.
Maybe that’s not all of it.
What drew me to Japan was the music. Like anyone with a personal computer hooked up to a Local Area Network in a Midwestern college dormitory in 1998, I was in on The Secret: Napster was a thing, and it was with Napster that I realized I was not a great California Condor, I was a mosquito, and the world was a blue whale, not a wooly mammoth. I’d grown up, like any inhabitant of a Diablo Cody screenplay, on a diet of Dinosaur Jr and Pixies and Nirvana and Jesus Lizard and Sonic Youth and Shellac, and I didn’t dislike Nine Inch Nails even a little bit. I found all these bands the old-fashioned way: I went to the public library, where I read interviews with rock stars in music magazines, and then I bothered the guy at the record store. One night at a party in a Japanese kid’s dorm, and I was into Japanese “idols” from the 1970s and 1980s. A couple hours with this guy’s tape collection and I was hip-deep in rabbit hole.
So here’s what all of the Diablo Cody screenplay inhabitants are maybe just six months too old for: I got back to my dorm, I installed the Japanese language pack to Microsoft Global IME, and I typed out “Kyoko Koizumi” phonetically until I recognized the Chinese characters. Now I was browsing the libraries of users who collected Japanese idol pop music. Next I found late-80s and early-90s pop juggernaut Dreams Come True and pop-rock masters The Yellow Monkey (that’s a band that got their name from a racist slur hurled at the lead singer during his first trip to the USA). Music came flying into my tiny hard drive. Within months I was aware of Number Girl, which was an easy band for me to like: they were alternative rock, and they were Japanese. Geography and nationality and linguistics had conceived a miracle baby: alternative rock that sounded entirely like its own thing.
Number Girl, for a few weeks, became my favorite band in the world, and though my affection for them faded systematically between releases, it always came back. Today, if you put a gun to my head, I’d say they are the best rock band to ever exist in the world.
I continued to sift through Uncle Earth’s record collection, finding many bands older than me. I continue to love those bands. A common bond among sharing Japanese music lovers I encountered was a pop band called simply Unicorn. They’d broken up just three years before I discovered them! I took pains to collect their entire discography, and that of popular punk band The Blue Hearts, progressive funk band Jagatara, and pop-masterpiece-factory BOOWY. Then I found RC Succession, and the voice of Kiyoshiro Imawano terrified me with its quirky virtuosity. Then there was Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Akiko Yano singing “Canton Boy” live at the Budokan, right there on a burned CD-R, right there in my headphones. These bands blew my mind so many times that, looking back on it, I really should have invested in a Teflon baseball cap and some duct tape.
I gave Unicorn a lot of plays. I admired the songwriting. When I learned that Unicorn guitarist, lead songwriter, and lead vocalist Tamio Okuda had a side-project pop band called “Puffy”, I got their stuff, too. I later learned that “Puffy” was the product of Okuda wanting an excuse to write music for two girls to sing. He wanted to bring the idol back, in a “different” way. So Puffy’s albums burst with audiophile-worthy 1970s-authentic recordings of minutely written songs packed with labyrinthine vocal and instrumental harmonies. To hear one or two of their songs is an easy, pleasant experience. To think about one of those songs as someone’s job is a blow-dryer for the brain. The craft bulges.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Puffy’s music; they were mainly a gateway to modern idols such as Morning Musume and weirder, independent then-modern lady pop singers such as Makoto Kawamoto; my listening habits slipped back toward Number Girl and similar alternative music, though for a brief couple of weeks I looped Puffy’s songs. It’s only now — today, getting in that backward-looking mood (to borrow a Japanese phrase) that I realize what I appreciated. It was the gravity of realizing that a thing I had never known about (1970s Japanese pop idols) was something that someone just two years earlier had attempted to innovate upon (also without my knowledge).
They’re just the right band for me to be thinking about today, a decade and some odd years removed from the brief time I focused my attention on them.
If I had to stop and wrangle the words together — well, you’d probably laugh at me. Here it goes: each sparkling, new, not-brand-new, totally foreign, totally excellent piece of music the younger me downloaded and played afflicted me with a great sadness the memory of which is still painful today.
So, would-be-CIA-agent me was sitting there, psychologically self-interrogating: how could this happen? How could you not know everything already? How could you not even know of the existence of all of these wonderful things?
I’ve spent all day today and yesterday listening to the pan-flash sounds of my college era. Primarily, I’m listening to Puffy. I’m only listening to their albums from before they made a debut in the United States as Puffy Amiyumi, got a cartoon show, and suffered a volleyball spike of songwriting quality.
It’s odd listening to this music today, when I’m able to fluently understand the lyrics. This song here is about listening to BBC radio in a car, eating crab at the beach, wearing bikinis, and miraculously seeing Harrison Ford, and talking about how weird and great that is to see Harrison Ford at a beach in Japan, of all places.
I’m listening to their music via today’s youth-empowerment engine — the Napster of the now, YouTube. One user has every Puffy song all lined up in album-specific playlists. That’s neat. Another user has put together photo slideshows for her favorite songs. I watched one such slideshow, and an image in the middle of it caught my eye: the two Puffy girls, Ami and Yumi, a little older than when they debuted, cheek-sandwiching a large fuzzy Pikachu, their hair in glorious tattered-raggy perms.
I found this photo on Google Images. I stared at it a bit, and I thought — if I could time-travel back thirteen years, I’d say to myself, “This is you, right here, if you go to Japan. You are that cartoon androgyne between two impish, talented Japanese fashion symbols.”
My last year in college, I wrote a novel. It was a dark, quirky, explosive, weird modern-literary-fiction sort of thing, with a core I’d cobbled together around an investigative journalism project I’d done for my degree — about Middle-Eastern baby-formula smugglers active in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. I showed it to some people who were in a position to do something about publishing it. They made lots of energetic noises at me. I had a series of real conversations with them about it. I got some money. When I graduated from college, I figured I was going to be a writer. I figured I’d take myself up on humankind’s oldest hunch, and see the world. I went to Europe. It was great. I went to Japan. It was great.
I ended up staying in Japan, almost purely by accident. I say “almost” because it wasn’t like I didn’t like it.
I ended up not becoming a writer. My agent told me he wasn’t worried about me at all and that I had “plenty of time”. He recited ages of authors who published their first novels, and I figured he was right. Now I’m thirty-four, and thinking again about writing something.
Let’s not talk about that today.
Money dried up. I lived paycheck to paycheck. I didn’t get regular paychecks. My life force had to learn yoga with a gun to its head. I had what some would summarize as adventures. I slept on sofas and floors in rooms containing more than one acoustic guitar each. Some rare, treatful nights, I slept in a hotel bed, on some generous lady’s money. I floated in and out of bands. I sang in a hardcore band. I went to a lot of shows. I made a lot of friends.
A foreigner or two — always different people — managed to wander into at least every other show I played or went to. The foreigners were always clean-cut men in off-the-rack suits. They liked to bet me that I got laid a lot. Sometimes, for one reason or another, I’d be carrying a Care Bear with me.
“What’s that, bro? You peacocking?”
And I’d say, “Naw; I just like Care Bears.”
“Fist-bump me, bro.”
“Oh. Okay.” I’d fist-bump the guy, because a person who uses the phrase “peacocking” probably has the capacity to murder you for not fist-bumping him.
Here’s a question I answered so many times I could put it on my resume: “Japanese chicks are totally into white guys right?” Always with no comma. Usually with “white guys” instead of “foreign guys” or “foreigners”; many times it was “Americans”. Sometimes it was “girls”; usually it was “chicks”.
The answer was difficult. I want to tell you about that answer. I want to give you a frank summary of the experience of the in-Japan sexual adventures of a politically genderless penis-owning person who was mute between the ages of eleven and seventeen.
I was never a sex object in Japan.
Japan is a racist country. I’m not trying to be mean. I’m not complaining. It’s an observation. Japan is home of a potent racial homogeneity. Racial homogeneity facilitates behavioral homogeneity. If people all look the same, they start to act the same. They have a word, simply “Wa”, to describe the harmonic glue that keeps Japanese society together and sane in a megalopolis as staggering as Tokyo. That’s one two-letter (one letter in Japanese), one-syllable word to describe an ocean-deep concept.
It must be important.
Conventionally attractive Japanese ladies weren’t into guys like me, even when I had short hair, normal glasses, nice clothes, and a real job. The glittery women in clubs and bars full of Styrofoam music and fluorescent whisky drinks wouldn’t look at me for any reason other than to roll their eyes. They wanted a man who subscribed to the daily and foreverly culture bulletins: a Japanese-born son of a retired leisure-golfer, with a canned tan, a smoking hot job and a smoking habit.
An environment of racial, behavioral, and cultural homogeneity means that rebels and weirdos feel alone. They create the most potently interesting art. They create the most potently interesting pornography.
The minor deviants in this environment wallow in timidity and feel the pie chart of their life includes a not-so-hungry Pac-Man labeled “secrets”.
I was an experienced secret boyfriend.
So, are Japanese chicks into white guys? Listen: I’m a white guy, and I had sex in Japan. I had sex in Japan with Japanese girls who had Japanese vaginas.
Race didn’t have much of anything to do with it. In most cultural elections, I vote no confidence. I was mute from the ages of eleven to seventeen. Many times, as a child, I wished I were a girl, only to wish minutes later that I were Arnold Schwarzenegger as he appeared in the film “Conan The Barbarian”. My cultural and sexual identities fish-flopped on wet sand for many years.
For many years, I didn’t wear a suit. I wore a Burberry plaid scarf, pink sweaters, shredded jeans. I told my hairstylist to make me look like a Swedish schoolgirl — bleached blond with Prince Valiant bangs. I got these big glasses — I have a lazy eye, so I need frames that don’t get in my line of sight — and I really owned them. I was no George Clooney.
I wasn’t “white” unless someone looked at me. I wasn’t “American” unless someone cared enough to talk to me. I wasn’t “weird” unless someone cared enough to ask me something deeper than my country of birth.
I wasn’t a “man” until a woman removed my trousers.
That’s a part worth stressing. I never instigated sexual intercouse. When it happened — I swear — it was always a surprise.
I like all people, even the horrible ones, because every one of them has a brain full of stuff. Some of that stuff is stuff I don’t know! And some of that stuff I don’t know is amazing. So I need to talk to the people to get the stuff out, or else they’re never going to tell anyone about it. They’re never going to blog or tweet about it — most fascinating people don’t blog or tweet, and they never will. Trust me.
For a long time, I voted no confidence in either gender. Still, sometimes, things happened, and a lady touched me. The chemicals in my blood are not asexual. Somehow, through my “quirky” appearance, mannerisms, and behavior, the “conventionally attractive”, supermodel-like women had disappeared from my line of sight, and I from theirs. There before me was always some imp with a tomboy haircut, biceps bigger than mine, flat breasts, and handfuls upon handfuls of pubic hair. (I was somehow in the habit of hanging out with girls who looked like Makoto Kawamoto (lots of straight-legged jeans).) Chemicals had spun us around and slammed us together and dropped us in a rowboat and blown us far from shore. I slept on floors and sometimes in beds with women who eventually threw their hormones at me. Many times I saw them crumble. I wanted to stop it. I wanted to help them because, really, I’m not a psycho. I don’t want to not help people. Well; you can’t help everybody. I have a lousy track record for helping anybody.
By some miracle or accident, I dated an actress for a year. She was conventionally beautiful. I was working for Sony at this time, bringing in actual big paychecks every month. I took her to dinner and movies and art galleries and concerts. It fell apart because — so it felt at the time — I was only ever a short-term diversion for her. I was one of the multiple choices for one of her favorite questions: “Why not?” I enjoyed her company deeply. I was able to have sex with her for hours without getting bored. We played fighting games together. We had a real human connection. She left me for a guy who made more money and had a bigger house. I’d been a fashion accessory.
For that year, I had even had a normal haircut. This was before I did the thing with the Swedish schoolgirl haircut. This was between my first four noise bands and my second three.
Gently, I entered a four-year sexless romantic relationship with an impish born-female, terrified-feminine androgyne who said she loved me. I can’t find the science to prove she did. I believed her. I felt like a hero whenever she looked at me. Maybe someone’s looked at you that way before. Until you stop getting that particular daily vitamin, you don’t realize how sad the world is without it. The people in Starbucks don’t look at you the way that person did. If they do, you call the cops.
This bubbly she-imp designed clothes for lady pop musicians. She dressed in pastels and skirts and UGG boots. She owned one of literally every Michael Jackson tour shirt ever printed. We met at weekendly parties and posed for pictures until we were living together. We were in probably every hot underground magazine in Japan. Together she and I and dozens more weirdos gassed up the tank today’s cool kids are still running on.
I can’t say I didn’t love her. I needed her like a favorite T-shirt. I don’t mean that as any kind of slight. The condensation of old memories can make us misty — take today and yesterday’s musical experiment, for instance. One of my favorite pairs of words is “Why not?” I can open my mind enough to love an inanimate object. Her love to me was a tiny crystal in my pocket. We were each other’s most treasured fashion accessory. Simultaneously, it pleased me and insulted me.
This went on for years. I made mistakes you’d need a microscope to see.
I had made similar mistakes in college. I understood love for the first time and gave her up because — again, why not? Life is a centrifuge; if you spin me, testosterone does not float to the top. Maybe nothing does.
So I met this girl, yeah? She was a rock-and-roll she-gremlin of dangerous temperature. She had a tattoo of a butterfly on her right shoulder. She got it on her twentieth birthday — because the girl Shutoku Mukai sings about in Number Girl’s “Tattoo Ari” got a tattoo (of a heart) on her right shoulder on her twentieth birthday, you see — she had veins in her forearms and biceps like mine. She had a ponytail on the side of her head. She wore tank tops. She didn’t wear bras. We became friends. She played bass in several bands. One of them was a Sonic Youth cover band. (By the way — that’s a horrible idea.) Somehow all of her bands broke up. I invited her to join mine. It was a good idea. We got along well. I didn’t want to have sex with her. I had sex with her. She bought a pair of the exact same glasses I have. She started wearing white V-neck T-shirts and shredded jeans. She broke into my house a couple of times. We had a couple of movie moments. She slapped me in the face once and called me a “faggot”, in English. I don’t know where she’d learned that word. “You and me — we’re both faggots. Who cares? I’m a faggot and you’re a faggot and we’re faggots together. We’re meant for each other. I love you.”
I should have asked her to marry me, right there. I mean that.
Well, soon she started doing things where I was going to have to call the cops if she kept doing them. I didn’t call the cops. She started tracking my imp. She made nasty phone calls and left nasty voice mails. She showed up to my imp’s store and bought a full outfit. Eventually she emailed my imp and told her she’d had sex with me. This was the seed of a conversation that morally terrified me: “I have a penis,” I had to explain. “It works when there’s a moist, naked vagina nearby. It . . . it’s like an Apple Computer. It just works. It’s natural. It’s chemical.”
She cried for a long time. It was almost as long as she would cry later, on the day she would not forgive me.
That time, she forgave me.
One of my many failures which you would need a microscope to understand is that I did not full-bodily believe that love can be as quiet as it in fact can be. Again I struggle to find the science to explain myself. Let me exhale and confess that I consider a stillness whenever I juxtapose my memories of her with my understanding that she will never stand in front of me again.
I’m not going to get into all of the details: upon returning to Japan, once, from a trip abroad, despite my paperwork being solid, they didn’t let me back in. They threw me in a room. They made me take off my pants. On the desk in the room was one of those prop computers they have on the desks at Office Depot. A guy yelled at me for thirteen hours, off and on. He slammed the door every time he left. It was the “Weird Cop, Invisible Cop” routine.
Eventually he called my loving imp. He told her that I was never going to marry her, because he could see the hate in my heart. It was painful to tell him about her in the first place — to give him her phone number and tell him to call her. It was insulting to have that balding, skinny, tiny man shrieking the most difficult questions I’d ever had to answer — that I’ll ever have to answer: Did I love her? If so, why? If not, why not?
The next day, United Airlines dumped me in Honolulu. This was July of 2010. A Japanese Ladies PGA Tour golfer chatted me up in the hallway. Right there, I asked her out to dinner, just to see if I could. Two sleepless days later, I met a real woman and we immediately loved each other. It’s only now that I can put that word on what happened to us. At the end of twelve hours, I found myself lying on my back on a perfect beach under perfect stars in perfect quiet with a perfect person, and from nowhere real heterosexual masculinity lightning-struck me for the first time in my life. I was high on the fumes of my own sweaty insomnia. I was deranged. I was on fire with passion for my eaten life.
The imp announced, via email, that she was coming to see me. “I’m bringing papers,” she said. She wanted to marry me. So I had to tell this perfect woman that I had to take a day to put the past away. She asked me if a day was enough — and if a day was too much. She asked if it takes twenty-four hours to tell someone you won’t marry them, and I replied, with my heart, that it did. She told me I didn’t have to go through those motions. She said I could just let it lie. I begged to differ. Again, I can’t find the science to say I was right. It felt right. It was a mistake for two reasons.
It’d be suicide to go into those reasons.
Whether she agrees to it or not, that woman saved my life. Whether she will partake of it or leave it all to me, she is the co-owner of the most beautiful hours to ever transpire during my existence in this universe.
So, for a while, I was alone. I was in the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn’t fall apart. Everything came together just fine. I have a nice apartment in Oakland. I pay the rent. I eat well and exercise. I’m in probably my best physical shape in ten years. I look even better than I did in college. My small company is growing rapidly.
I’ve spent a decade measuring the size and weight of happiness, and while I do not believe I deserve it, I know I want it, and it is with a quiet fatalism that I understand I will soon finally have it. I do not want to have wasted my life; I have wasted my life; every moment of my life is my entire life.
So, in the end, I’m a Diablo Cody screenplay inhabitant without a Diablo Cody screenplay climax. I feel so gross, having to type that. Well: you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
Here is the takeaway: I was a teenager. I was a child. I am a teenager. I am a child. Napster turned the world into a toy box. I plucked it clean. I got drunk on the plucking. I filled up on toys. I treated people like pop songs in foreign languages: bundles of spectacular unique beauty which lie in wait for many years before I find them and put them on repeat for a while before looking for another — maybe weirder, maybe harder, maybe louder, maybe cuter. This is my cyclical modern romance.
I never lost the tendency. I’m not the best person for people.
Here’s my penultimate anecdote: several weeks ago, I went back to Indianapolis, Indiana, land of Chili’s and Applebees and Denny’s and Macaroni Grill and five-star establishments such as Olive Garden. I wore my Burberry scarf and carried my iPhone with a bright red “Zynga” case on it. I had my fancy Japanese microfiber-lined coat and a pink tote bag from a Portuguese donut shop from Honolulu. I had a Harrison Ford haircut and a Macbook Air. A priestly man on the plane with a Marine Corps haircut had asked me how old I was and I asked how old he thought I was and he said I was probably sixteen. I felt proud for a second. Then I started feeling like a creepier person than even him.
My dad drove me down 86th Street toward our house. “You see we got a Taco Bell now?” He had asked me the same thing the year before. “I bet you’d rather eat at Chipotle,” my mom had said, the year before. She had put a disdainful emphasis on the central syllable, the way they do with businesses that aren’t Walmart or Target or Taco Bell. “We ate there once or twice,” my dad said. “We ate there once,” my mom corrected. She looked back at me. “Your father hated it.” My dad stammered a bit, sounding naturally like Jimmy Stewart: “I — I wouldn’t say I hated it.” My mom shot me another backward eye-contact: “He didn’t like it.”
This year, my mom wasn’t in the car. She was at home with a sore knee and my brother’s baby. When I got home she psychically hugged me in the kitchen. “You want some cookies?” She showed me some cookies. I sank my teeth into one, feeling a year of dietary restraint shatter in an instant. It was tasty.
“Did you hear they caught that Elmo?” my mom said. “Yepper, he was a homosexual and a rapist and a pedophile and a drug addict. I knew it! I keep telling myself I got to be careful not to make the Elmo voice in front of the baby. He’s My Little Sweet Boy!” She shouted this last part almost loudly enough to wake him as he napped two rooms away.
At Christmas dinner, my oldest brother was divorced. He hadn’t been the year before. His children — my mother’s “babies”, she calls them — were there, aged ten, seven, and five, picking over pre-shredded turkey. His new girlfriend was awful kind to me; she had a fourteen-year-old daughter of her own, so she talked to me the way I caught her later talking to her daughter.
“I’ve seen your pictures on Facebook,” she said. “I see you’re in a band.”
“What else do you do over there in California,” my older brother asked. “Do you work out?”
I started to say, “Yeah–”
“–Doesn’t look like it!” he interrupted. He laughed. I’m still that mute, obese fifteen-year-old, to him. My little brother laughed.
My little brother is still that obese fifteen-year-old to himself. He has a wife and a seventeen-month-old baby boy named after Captain America and Captain Kirk. I wonder if they’ll call him “Captain” when he gets older. For now, anyway, “Steve” just isn’t a baby’s name.
I’d hire a guy named “Captain”. I’d put him in charge of something.
My little brother started up the weight loss conversation. He mentioned that he’s got to get around to it someday. It’s just — it’s just that he’s so busy.
“It’s tough when you got a kid and a nine-to-five, you know!”
“Oh,” I said, tentatively. This conversation doesn’t go well.
He pulled it along.
“I’ve been eating protein bars every morning on my way to work.”
“How many grams is in there?”
“Fifteen,” my brother said.
“Dude, you weigh, like, three hundred pounds. You’ve got to be getting around 200 grams of protein a day. Cut out the sugar. Cut out the carbs. Eat some vegetables–”
“Actually,” my brother’s wife said, “protein is the last thing the body digests for energy.” She continued proving that she was taking physiology classes at night. As she talked, I thought of eight things to say. All of them were mean.
“Hey,” I said. “I survived on eggs, spinach, and almonds for six months, once,” I said.
“Survived!” she said. “Survived!” She laughed.
My big brother laughed. My little brother laughed. My dad chewed. If you were blind you’d think a dog were in there eating a shoe.
I wanted to say, “Is careening at terminal velocity toward diabetes better than ‘survival’?” It didn’t feel like a strong argument. I felt like a mean jerk. I guess that’s me.
Days later, I was at my friend Doug Jones’ country house on New Year’s Eve. He was out of town with his wife and two daughters. They’d left me the keys to their Toyota Camry. I was going to drive back to Indianapolis and hang out with my parents for a few more hours, because I was suspecting I’d been in Indiana for two weeks and I hadn’t spent enough time listening to them talking about their pain, their injuries, their illnesses, and the pain and illnesses of others (and also who on television is homosexual) — I had gotten so far as the driver’s seat. Then it started to snow, so I slow-boated around Greenfield. I stopped at the Goodwill Store, and found a beautiful sweater that seemed meant for me. I found a cute yellow vintage Care Bear (Funshine Bear). I bought the sweater and the Care Bear, and a couple T-shirts.
“Isn’t that cute,” the old lady at the register said, of the Care Bear. “For your . . .” she was quiet a second. She was judging me — measuring my knowledge of the world, my experience with life, the possibility that I had ever been divorced, whether or not I had fathered any children . . . “Girlfriend, yeah?”
I hadn’t shaved in a couple days. I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans and big warm coat.
“No,” I said.
“It’s for me.”
Outside, the sky was already blue-black. Freezing-rain-drop diamonds studded the Camry’s windshield. I sat in the car. I started the car. I let it warm up a bit. I reached into the backseat. I removed the Care Bear from the bag. I put it in my lap.
“My baby,” I said.
I remembered the tiny crystal I used to carry in my pocket.
Here’s the anecdote which concludes this piece: one day eight years ago to this week, walking toward my home in the red light district of Minami Senju, Tokyo, I saw an old man seated at a bus stop bench. He was covered in blood. “Hey, are you alright?” He didn’t move a twitch. “Hey, old man, are you okay?” His head slumped forward. Maybe six ounces of blood slid out of his mouth-hole and landed between his shoes. A low groan rolled out of him like a storm wind. Then a ribbon-thin maybe-liter of red liquid fell quietly into the puddle. “I’m going to go get the cops,” I said. “Stay right there.”
In Japan, police officers stand in glorified phone booths all around the city. Their typical work day consists of giving lost people directions. “Hey!” I said, dashing up to the nearest police booth. “There’s a guy over on — uh — on the main road–” roads in Tokyo usually don’t have names “–right at the corner, on a bus stop bench half a block south of here. He’s bleeding. He looks hurt really bad!” One of the cops had his hands on top of a walking stick. He blinked at me. The other cop was sitting inside the booth, staring at a map. He was older. He looked up at me. He folded his hands.
The younger cop snorted. He moved some smoker-phlegm around in the back of his throat.
“You mind stepping in here?” the older cop said. The younger cop put his hand on my shoulder.
“You’ve got to help this guy–”
The younger cop squeezed. The older cop got up, and opened a door.
“Please, come inside.”
I stepped through the threshold.
“Do you have a phone?” the old cop asked. I gave him my phone.
“Do you have a wallet on you?” the old cop asked. I gave him my wallet.
“Do you have your passport and other papers on you?” the old cop asked. I gave him my passport and told him the papers were in my wallet.
The room was white-walled and windowless.
“Can you just sit in that chair there — and oh, do you mind taking off that belt?”
I took off my belt and sat down.
“We’ll be right back — and oh, hey, can I ask you to take your shoes off?”
I took my shoes off. The young cop, wearing rubber gloves, put them into a plastic box.
This was the fourth of nine times this happened during my stay in Japan.
Four hours later, I’d peed myself twice. I’d banged on the door and asked them to let me use the bathroom. They’d ignored me. The door opened.
“Come on out here; we’re going to need you to fill out some papers.”
I took my jeans off the clothesline the next morning. They were frigid and rigid. I put them on. The frost inside the cloth burned my leg-skin. I put on my shoes and met the cold air of the morning with earbuds in. I slowed to a halt in front of the bus stop bench on my way to the station, on my way to work. The bloodstain was like a failed paint job. It had run off the sidewalk and into the street. A drain had been waiting to take it to sea.