“these other old machines of lightning”, or, “the light we put in the darkness behind our children”
(regarding the events of september the eleventh, 2001 (also, the first nine-eleven joke i ever heard))
by tim rogers
It is the evening of September 11th, 2015. I am sitting in a hotel bed in Busan, Korea. I rode a bus here from Seoul two days ago. The bus ride took five hours. It was a free bus ride. I was with a group of Koreans on an all-expense-paid trip. A guide handed me a hot meal before the bus began to move. I held a hot lunch box, a hot cup of soup, a pair of chopsticks, a spoon, and a bottle of water on my lap atop my backpack in a crowded bus for three hours until the bus made a stop near the dead center of the country of Korea. The bus stopped before an old shopping center. I sat at a picnic table. I ate the rice out of the free lunch box. I threw the rest of the lunch away. My stomach hurt. I went up some stairs into the truck stop convenience store. I bought a Sprite. I stood on the steps outside the truck stop convenience store. I looked down over the truck stop. The sun was bright; the sky was blue; the wind was cool. At the edge of the parking lot, by a line of trees hiding a quiet highway, was a great silent stone tower. I looked at the stone tower. It was a monument toward I do not know what. I beheld its massive silent design and geometry. I looked at the monument and drank my Sprite. I let the silence and the geometry into me. My imagination too was silent. Monuments don’t always require imagination. I remembered everything I often remember in silence.
Fourteen years ago last night, I was sitting in the front seat of a Mitsubishi Galant in the parking lot of the Greyhound Bus station in Indianapolis, Indiana. Eleven fifty-nine ticked over to midnight. September 10th, 2001 had become September 11th, 2001.
“It’s my birthday,” my ex-girlfriend said. “Twenty-one years ago right now I was born in Pusan, Korea.” She called it “Pusan”. She had told me that in Seoul they called it “Busan”.
We were listening to music on the car CD player. It was the Japanese progressive pop band PSY・S. The song was “Asobi ni kite ne” (“Come on over and hang out”). I promise I’m not simply name-dropping this song. This is going to be important information, later, I promise.
We had been staring at the clock. I had a bus ticket. My bus was going to leave at one-oh-six AM.
“I want a birthday present,” my ex-girlfriend said.
“What? Really? I gave you my TV.”
She shook her head.
“You don’t need that television set. You are leaving that television set behind to go to Japan.”
“I could have given it to my brother. I gave it to you as a birthday present.”
“You gave it to me. You did not however specify that it was a birthday present!”
“Yes, I did,” I said.
“When did you specify that your television set which you gave to me was a birthday present?”
“When I said, ‘Hey, happy birthday: you can have my TV.’”
“I don’t remember that. I want another present.”
“What do you want?”
She smiled. Her eyes squinted when she smiled.
“When that pretty girl inside the bus station told you you have ‘nice features’ I decided what my birthday present from you is that I want you to give me!”
“Oh . . . oh?”
“She thought you were a girl! You were very sexy to me when a pretty girl thought you were a girl.”
“So my present! I want . . .”
“What do you want?”
“I want your semen, inside my stomach.”
“Oh, for god’s sake.”
“I want to give your penis the blow job — “
“Hey, come on, really — ”
“Princess Jasmine will never know! You’ll never tell her and I will never tell her! You know I will not talk to her, and you know why, don’t you? You know why: it’s because it’s all because of you.”
She squeezed my cheeks. She turned my skull. She put her eyes on mine.
“It’s. All. Because. Of you.”
She slapped me on the thigh.
“Now let me suck your penis okay?”
I looked left. I looked right. Some people were smoking under orange lights. Some people were sitting on duffel bags in front of the bus station doors. The bus station was all fire-like white light inside.
“Yo, man, come on, I told you what I want.”
“I just — I mean, it’s . . . you mean, here?”
“Yes, man, I mean here. I will do it here.”
“I don’t think we should.”
“Why? Why? You don’t think we should, today you thought we should, in this morning! You let me give you one fuck this morning, did you think we should?”
“I didn’t think we should — “
“Now you don’t think we should and we should! I’m not going to talk to Princess Jasmine, man, I don’t have her on the speed dial! I don’t know her information, you know. She is not my high school sweetheart.”
“Look, I don’t — “
“I gave you one fuck this morning, okay? You remember. Now you meet your Princess Jasmine and you give her one fuck, man, who knows! Then you go to Japan, man, who knows!”
“Please don’t talk about her . . .”
“You want me to please not talk about her, huh? I’m not talking about her. You want me to talk about her so I am talking about her. I’m not talking about her except you want me to talk about her? Please let me stop talking about her, and please let me give you the blow job. You’ve been sweet to me and I love you and you’ve been full of forgiveness toward me and please! It’s All Because of You. Look at me. Let me give you the blow job.”
I undid my belt buckle. I undid my jeans.
She pulled her hair back into a ponytail. The rubber band snapped loud.
“I knew it.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“So fucking hard, man. Look at you.”
She sucked my penis. I watched people outside the bus station. No one looked our way. No one looked me in the eye. No one had eyes. We were alone in our own galaxy.
She looked me in the eye.
“Don’t come out, man.”
“Wh — “
“If you come out in my mouth you will have been cheating on Princess Jasmine three times!”
She continued sucking my penis. Minutes passed. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. I looked at the sides of the heads of future and past bus passengers as they walked into, out of, and around the bus station.
She looked me in the eye again.
“Don’t come out! Don’t do it!”
She put her mouth back completely around my penis. I ejaculated in her mouth. She didn’t say anything. She looked at me. She smiled.
It was twenty-six minutes after twelve AM on September 11th, 2001. Her hands were on the steering wheel. Her hands were at nine-thirty and two-thirty.
We were quiet.
“Are you going to come out inside of Princess Jasmine?”
“I thought you weren’t going to talk about her?”
“What if for her virgin-breaker experience Princess Jasmine becomes pregnant!”
“Okay, look, please stop talking about her.”
“O-ho-ho! O-ho-ho! That is my laughter at the irony.”
“Okay, look, I know you are having a real good time doing this to me — “
“Doing this to you? Doing what to you? Making you feel bad and like a dog shit? It is the breaking twelve-AM news: you are bad and like a dog shit. You give me one fuck, and you say, you didn’t think we should, you say you don’t think we should — “
I squeezed my palm heels into my skull.
“I’m going to have an aneurysm,” I said.
“I have had many aneurysms!” she said. “I have one or three aneurysms each day since your secret appeared to me! You are bad, and you are like a dog shit! You are — no, you are not like a man in a jail, you are like a man . . . no, I don’t know. I don’t know you, man.”
“I told you I’m sorry — “
“And I told you I’m sorry! I apologized, like you apologized! You hurt me, and then you apologized, and then I hurt you, and then I apologized! It’s over! You know it’s over. I’m sorry I am crazy right now; you will tell Princess Jasmine ‘She Was Crazy’, and that is when of all the times you will be not a liar.”
“Hey — “
“Hey, I know! It’s All Because of You.”
“You say please; I say please tell me, It’s All Because of You. Please tell me you know It Is All Because of You.”
“It’s all because of me.”
“Fuck you. No. It’s not all because of you. I don’t believe you believe it. Tell me It’s All Because of You.”
“It’s . . . All Because of Me.”
“That’s right! Fuck you, that’s right! Fuck you, It’s All Because of You.”
“I think that’s my bus.”
“Yes; yes, I know it is your bus. It is twelve-thirty-six AM, and that is thirty minutes from the departure of your bus. All passengers are advised to begin boarding the bus, man!”
I took two CDs from the car. I slipped them into my hoodie pocket. I opened the car door. I put one foot out of the car door. I paused. I pressed the eject button on the car CD player. I ejected the PSY・S CD.
“Hey! I enjoy that CD!”
“I just . . . I want this one.”
I got out. I closed the door.
She rolled down the passenger window.
“You’ll be sorry you took the CD I was enjoying!”
I slipped it into my hoodie pocket.
“There are like eight-nine other CDs in there.”
“You’re right! Here is my CD of music by PSY! Not PSY dot S! The real PSY, from Korea! He is the most beautiful man in the world and someday everyone on the earth will love him!”
“You don’t believe me, man, you never believe me.”
She rolled the window up.
I got on the bus. It was dark in the bus. I had my CD player. My CD player had 45 seconds of skip protection. I listened to the two CDs. They were mixes I’d made. Each disc contained several dark, lush, up-tempo songs the Japanese progressive electronic pop group PSY・S. I listened to that dark happy music at a quiet volume as the bus rumbled in the direction of the rising sun. I listened to the third CD. I listened to the song “Asobi ni kite ne”. When the song was over, I listened to it again. Then I listened to it again. I listened to it forty times in a row.
The bus stopped at a brick-and-glass intersection in a small city downtown in West Virginia right around dawn. I took a leak in the bus station toilet. I put my hands in my jeans pockets. I looked at the sun. My bladder was sore from the bus ride. I took a deep breath. The air tasted good. I got back on the bus. The bus air tasted like a diaper. A baby was crying. I took my glasses off. I put my glasses in their case. I grasped the glasses case with my two hands. I closed my eyes. I fell into a calm black paralysis. The bus rumbled in my silence.
I opened my eyes. The bus had stopped in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was 8:30am on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. I waited in line for the restroom in the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A man was vomiting in a stall. Another man had loud diarrhea in another stall. I waited in the bathroom for several minutes. My bladder ached. It was a dull ache. A stall opened. It smelled like booze and vomit-acid. I wiped the seat with a handful of toilet seat covers. I sat on the seat. I squirmed. I tried to keep my urethra straight. The tip of my penis stung. Some urine dripped out. I gripped my thighs just above my knees. I squeezed. I squirmed. I envisioned to dis-contortion of my urethra. I opened my mouth. I winced; my teeth touched; my teeth separated; my breath shashed through the gaps in my teeth. My urine began to flow. My urine stopped flowing. I pushed my weight into my heels. I stood up a quarter of the way. I felt a hard suction pop upward from the tip of my penis. My bladder ballooned inside my pelvis a moment later. I let out a tiny scream. My urine flowed with great pressure. I felt a fist of air pull itself out the head of my penis. I screamed inward. I sat back down. The flow stopped. Ten minutes later, I had finished urinating. I looked in the toilet. The water was pink, yellow, and red. I left the bathroom. I bought a Sprite at a vending machine. I drank it. I looked at people. I stepped outside.
I could see a river.
I turned my back to the river. I walked a block in the direction away from the river. A walk signal was red. I waited a few moments. A young woman who had been on the bus walked up and stood to my left. She looked left. She looked right. She stepped into the middle of the street. I looked left: I saw no cars. I looked right: I saw no cars. I crossed the street.
I walked another block. The girl who had crossed the street before me was gone. I was alone in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I walked over to a Dunkin Donuts. I grabbed the door handle. I pulled. It didn’t open. I stepped back. I looked at the hours: they opened at six AM and closed at three PM. I stepped back over to the door handle. I pulled on it. It didn’t open. I stepped back. A man was inside. He was either Italian or Turkish. I couldn’t tell through the dark glass. He pointed his index finger to his right. He was gesturing up the road. He windmilled the hand back around. He was pointing up the road. He put his two hands together. He pulled them apart. He gestured toward the glass with ten fingertips. He raced his index finger back in the direction up the road. I shook my head. I walked up the road. I saw a police officer.
“Excuse me — I’m looking for a bus to the airport.”
The police officer looked at me. He had a mustache.
“Uh, well, yeah; there’s a stop up there.”
I walked up a block. I crossed the street to my left. I saw a bus stop shelter. A homeless man was sitting on the bench. He asked me for change. I gave him two quarters. He put the quarters in his pocket. He was quiet. The pavement was orange. The city was cold. It felt like late autumn already. A sign by the bus stop said an airport shuttle stopped there. I waited for six minutes. An airport shuttle stopped. I got on.
“How much?” I asked.
I was fifty cents short.
The driver told me to just get on. I sat in the back of the bus. I was alone on the bus. The bus dipped up and down hills, around bends, and over bridges. The bus left the old city. The bus went over highways. The bus stopped outside the airport. I got out of the bus. The doors closed behind me. The bus slid away. I crossed a street.
I entered the airport. The airport terminal was a high dome. It was full of natural light. They were playing Mozart over the PA system at a loud volume. A woman strode toward the exit with one toddler hugging her upper body and an older toddler gripping her hand. Three security officers were walking shoulder-to-shoulder. I approached a wall of TV screens. I looked over the arrivals display monitors.
The word “canceled” replaced every flight’s arrival time, one by one.
I found another wall of arrivals display monitors. Every flight was “canceled” on those monitors as well. I looked at the departures. They were also all “canceled”.
I approached an information desk.
“Excuse me — excuse me?”
The girl at the desk’s head was down. She had a phone pressed against her hair.
She looked up.
“Yes — “
“It says all the flights are canceled — “
She put the phone on her shoulder.
“We’re asking that everyone leave the airport.”
“Why are the flights canceled?”
“You should leave the airport now, please.”
The three shoulder-to-shoulder security officers were coming around to my position. I approached them.
“I advise you to leave the airport,” one of them said, speaking for the three.
“I’m supposed to meet someone here — “
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“What’s — is something happening?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” another of the officers said.
“Were you traveling out of this airport today?”
“No, I was meeting someone — “
“Do you have a room at a hotel near here?”
“No, I’m just here for today.”
“You should go to a hotel.”
The security officers walked away.
I stood in the middle of the empty airport. Mozart was still playing at a loud volume.
I walked over to a hotel information board. I called the Holiday Inn. They had no vacancies. I called four hotels. I called the Ramada Inn. They had a king-size room. I said I’d take it.
I waited on the curb at the ground transportation area. The hotel shuttle stopped.
“Does this go to the Ramada Inn?”
I went to the back of the shuttle. Two pilots were sitting there. I hadn’t seen them when I’d gotten on the bus. I sat in a side seat. I faced the empty row of seats on the other side of the bus.
The bus pulled away from the stop. The bus stopped again at the next terminal. The bus doors hissed open. No one got on the bus.
The bus pulled away from the second stop. The bus pulled out from under the covering concrete overhang of the airport. The bus was under the sun. The bus stopped at a hotel. No one got off the bus. No one got on the bus. The bus pulled away. The bus sprinted down the airport highway. I put my headphones in my ears. I turned on my CD player. It was PSY・S. The song was “Asobi ni kite ne”. Right as the key changed at the beginning of the last chorus, the batteries died.
The inside of the bus was silent.
Out of the silence, one of the pilots spoke to the other.
This was when I heard the first nine-eleven joke I ever heard.
I didn’t understand the joke.
I’ll tell you the joke later. I’ll tell you the joke precisely when it feels like it’s not important to me anymore forever.
The bus stopped two more times. No one got on or off.
The bus stopped at the Ramada Inn.
The driver called: “Ramada.”
I stood up. I looked at the pilots. They looked at me. One of them narrowed his eyes. I shuddered. I stepped to the front of the bus. I thanked the driver. I entered the hotel. I crossed into the lobby.
Over a hundred people stood in the lobby restaurant. Their backs were turned to me. No one stood at the front desk. Many of the people in the Ramada Inn lobby restaurant were airline employees. Several flight attendants stood in heels with their carry-on roller bags beside them. The roller bags were alone, attended only by a single ginger hand atop each extended handle.
Everyone was silent. I was silent. I took my wallet out of my pocket. I found my credit card and driver’s license. I looked at the surface of the front desk. I looked back up. Everyone’s back was still turned. Everyone was still silent.
For the first time in my life, I rang a hotel front desk bell.
No one in the crowd flinched.
A short man with a beard made his way through the crowd toward me.
I gave him my credit card and driver’s license.
He slid me the key.
“That’s room 120,” he said. “First floor.”
I walked past an elevator, a stairwell, and a pool. I opened the room door. I went inside. I took my CD player out of my hoodie pocket. I put the CD player and my headphones onto the bed. I put my backpack onto the bed. I took my Dell laptop out of the backpack. I put it on the bed. I looked at the edge of the bed. I didn’t sit down. I went into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet. I closed my eyes. I lifted one foot off the floor. I put the foot back down. I lifted the other foot. I pushed. Nothing came out. I stood up. I pulled my pants up.
I walked out of the room. I walked into the hotel lobby restaurant.
A scream erupted from the crowd.
I inserted myself into the crowd. I leaned my gaze toward the television.
Text on the television screen called it Breaking News: A plane had crashed in a field near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Holy shit,” a pilot said.
“Oh my god,” a flight attendant said. “Oh my god,” she said.
A news anchor spoke many words. The television image lingered on the smoke in the field.
The image cut away. The news anchor kept talking.
I saw a plane crash into the World Trade Center in New York City. The plane crashed into it again. The plane crashed into the building again from a different angle. Another plane crashed into the other tower of the World Trade Center. The other plane crashed into the other tower of the World Trade Center from another angle. Again and again the two planes each crashed into different towers from different angles.
I saw a recording of the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing.
The television image lingered on the flaming North Tower and the smoke cloud where the south tower had been. A news anchor spoke many words.
A flight attendant whispered: “It’s like a movie.”
I stood still for many minutes. The crowd was silent. The television showed the Pentagon on fire. The television showed one plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. The television showed another plane hit the other tower of the World Trade Center. The television showed the planes hitting the towers of the World Trade Center from different angles. The television showed the south tower collapsing. The television returned again and again to the image of the north tower in flames. My bladder was hard and hot. My head hurt. A news anchor exclaimed; a cracking gasp shot out of the crowd in the hotel lobby restaurant: the North Tower collapsed.
“What’s happening?” someone asked.
A flight attendant looked at him.
I went back to my room. I sat on the hotel bed. I turned on the television. I watched the news. The news said it was terrorists. The news showed the Pentagon on fire. The news showed the planes crashing into the World Trade Center again and again. The news showed the World Trade Center collapsing again and again. The news showed plane wreckage in a field in Pennsylvania. The news said terrorists from Afghanistan were probably responsible. The news showed the World Trade Center towers collapsing again and again.
I took a shower. I sat on the bed in my underwear. The news was talking about the terrorists. The news was discussing details of the hijackings.
I unplugged the telephone. I plugged my computer into the telephone jack. I dialed into Indiana University’s internet service. I used my old username and password. It didn’t work. I’d been graduated too long. I used my ex-girlfriend’s username and password. It worked. It was a long-distance call to dial in to Indiana University from Pittsburgh. I would need to act fast. I messaged Princess Jasmine’s brother.
“Hey, it’s Tim. Wasn’t your sister flying into the US today? Is she OK?”
He replied to me immediately.
“They made her plane land in Newfoundland.”
“How did you get in touch with her?”
“One of the other passengers is letting her take calls on her phone.”
“Would you be able to give me that number?”
I hesitated. I considered typing, “I just want to talk to her and see if she’s alright.” I didn’t type it. I considered typing, “I’m worried about her; I just want to talk to her.” I didn’t type it.
He gave me the number. I picked up the phone. There was no dial tone. I unplugged the phone line from my computer. I plugged the phone line into the phone. I called the number. It rang a hundred times. I unplugged the phone line from the phone. I plugged the phone line into the computer. I searched “How to call Canada from the US” on Altavista. The top answer told me to dial 1, the three-digit area code, and then the phone number. That’s what I’d been doing.
I checked my email. My ex-girlfriend had sent me an email. She asked me if I was okay. She asked me if I was in a hotel. I replied. I told her the name of my hotel and the room number.
I unplugged the phone line from the computer. I plugged the phone line into the phone. I dialed the number. It rang ten times. Someone picked up.
“Hey, uh, hi, is Rose there?”
“Yes, yes — may I — yes, she’s here.”
“Hey, it’s me.”
“Oh my god; where are you?”
“I’m in Pittsburgh. I’m in the Ramada Inn. Uh — where are you?”
“We’re in Stephenville, Newfoundland.”
“What time is it there?”
“It’s twelve-thirty. We’re a half hour ahead of you.”
“A half hour? That can’t be right.”
“That’s what I said.”
“When — when are they going to fly you here?”
“I don’t know. They won’t let us off the plane.”
“Are they going to let you off the plane? Did they say anything — “
“I don’t know.” She sounded far away.
“I’m going to stay in touch with your brother,” I said. “Anything you want to say to me, you can just say to him. I’m going to check in with him. Tell him to email me updates, okay?”
“Did you tell him — “
“No, I didn’t say anything.”
“You said something.”
“I told him I was concerned about you and I wanted to talk to you. Alright?”
“That’s all I said.”
“I hope that’s all you said.”
“Look, I just told him I’m concerned. We’re friends — you and me are friends, yeah?”
“Yeah. It’s just — he thinks you’re in Japan.”
“He thinks I’m in Japan?”
“I told him you left last week.”
“He was all like, ‘that’s too bad you won’t be able to see him in the States’.”
“Yeah, it’s too bad,” I said.
“What about Japan? How . . . how long are you intending to stay in Pittsburgh?”
“I — I don’t know. At least tonight. If they fly you in tonight — “
“They say we’re just two hours’ flight away.”
“If you fly in tonight — “
“Your flight to Tokyo is on the thirteenth — “
“I don’t think anyone’s flight to anywhere is on the thirteenth — “
“Ah, bloody hell, I have to go. I have to go, okay? I have to go.”
“Alright, I’ll talk to you soon.”
“I’ll call my brother if they tell me anything.”
“Alright — alright.”
She hung up.
I called my parents. I told them I was okay.
“You need to come right back,” my mom said.
“Mom, there aren’t any buses.”
“You can rent a car.”
“Mom, there aren’t any rental cars.”
I was alone in the room. I turned up the television. I watched the news. The news talked all day. I went out to the lobby. I bought a Sprite in a vending machine. I stood in the lobby. I watched people watching the news. I walked back to my room. I drank the Sprite. I watched the news. I finished the Sprite. I went outside. There was an Eat ’n’ Park diner walking distance from the hotel. I went in. I had to wait twenty minutes for a table. I ordered an omelette with potatoes and a glass of orange juice. I ate a slice of apple pie. I talked to the waitress.
“Has it been busy today?”
“I’m never getting on an airplane again if I can help it.”
“Is there a place to buy batteries around here?”
“There’s a gas station across the highway.”
I crossed the highway. A light, cold mist was hanging around. I went into the gas station. I bought a pack of double-A batteries. I walked back to the Ramada.
I went back into my hotel room. I put the batteries into my CD player. I put my CD player back into my bag.
I watched the news. The news anchors introduced a piece of footage a viewer had sent in. They warned that the footage might upset some more sensitive viewers.
The footage was of ground zero in the wake of the towers’ collapse. The air was full of dust. A man with a camera was yelling. He said he was going to go look for survivors. He ran into the ash dust cloud. He stopped behind a piece of debris. A person was lying on the ground. The man screamed. He ran over to another piece of debris. He grabbed a firefighter’s arm. He said, “There’s someone over there.” The firefighter ran off. The man ran over to another firefighter.
“Hey, can I get a puff?”
“Can I get a puff?”
“Hey can I get a puff?”
“Can I . . . get a puff?”
The man reached up and tapped the firefighter’s oxygen tank mouthpiece. The firefighter nodded. He unplugged the mouthpiece. He handed it to the man. The man took a hard suck of air.
He handed the mouthpiece back.
I watched this video once.
The sun was down. It was dark. The lights were off. I was wet from my fourth shower in two days. It was the evening of September 12th, 2001. I was naked. I had a rock-solid erection. I was lying back on my bed with the pillows behind my shoulders. My bladder was hot and hard. Something jagged poked into my flesh and muscles with each heavy heartbeat in my pelvis. My breath was hot and cold. My penis tip jumped with the rhythm.
“Can I have a puff?”
“Can I get a puff?”
My skin was cold and clammy.
I turned the television down. I stared at my penis. I slouched. My penis tip reached the top of the television. I sighed.
The phone rang.
I picked up the phone.
“You’re still there?”
“I’m still here.”
“I was thinking about the people on that plane, man. I saw the video on the TV, man, a man was talking to the 911 and the building fell.”
“Aw, you shouldn’t watch that stuff.”
“You shouldn’t watch that stuff, you mean! I cried so much, man. I was thinking about the people on that plane. Like screaming and screaming and on telephones, calling their boyfriends and husbands and saying goodbye! I cried a lot yesterday; I cried a lot today, man, I cried a lot today. My heart is broken!”
I suffered into the center of myself for a second. I came back out. My soul was cold.
“I — yeah, it’s, it’s so terrible. It’s — “
“Where is Princess Jasmine?”
“She’s still on the plane.”
“Did they tell you about your flight to Tokyo?”
“They said they want to send me on October 11th.”
“I have to confirm it with them.”
“Are you going to confirm it with them?”
“I will probably tell them yes, yes.”
“Because you don’t have to confirm it with them! Like — hey, man, listen to me. Listen to me, okay? You don’t have to confirm with them the date of October Eleventh. This is your chance, man, this is your second chance! You can tell them you want to stay in your country! You can tell them, My Country Needs Me, man, you can tell them that! You can’t see the signs? You gotta stay here, man. Look, hey, listen.”
I was staring at the throbbing head of my penis.
“It’s All Because of You, okay?”
“Knock that off.”
“It’s not — I’m not going to knock this off. It’s All Because of You, okay, and — and you can come back. I’m waiting for you, okay? I’m going to be waiting for you forever, okay? I’m always going to be here for you, okay? I’m waiting for you, and I’m waiting for you right now. You can come back right now. I can come get you, okay? I can come get you. I can drive from Bloomington, Indiana to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I burned a CD of music by PSY! Not PSY dot S from Japan— PSY, from Korea! He is the most beautiful man to ever live on the earth and someday everyone on the earth will love him! I will listen to his music as I drive six hours eastward. I have a Mitsubishi Galant and Yahoo! Maps.”
“Hey — “
“I have a Mitsubishi Galant and Yahoo! Maps.”
“Hey — “
“I have a Mitsubishi Galant and Yahoo! Maps — “
“You need to stop it.”
“I need to stop what?”
“You need to stop this.”
“You need to — I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“You can’t say it? You can’t say ‘it’s over’?”
“You know what I want to say.”
“You know what you want to say. Tell me what you want to say.”
“I need you to leave me alone.”
“You need me to leave you alone?”
“That’s what I just said.”
“I’ll leave you alone.”
“Don’t apologize to me.”
She hung up.
I saw her again on June 6th, 2002. My friend Keith drove me to her house in Bloomington, Indiana. She was sitting on a blanket on the lawn. The man she’d later marry was smoking a cigarette. She stood up. She rushed toward me as I got out of the pickup truck. I didn’t get a good look at the guy. She had her hands on her hips.
“Hey,” I said.
“Stay here,” she said. “Get back in the car.”
“Okay,” I said. “Okay.”
She went inside the house. I sat back in the cracked leather chair. I closed the heavy door. Keith smoked a cigarette. Some country music was playing on the radio. Some clouds rolled over the sun. It was a hot gray day. I was looking at my hands.
“Are you alright, man?” Keith asked me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Dude I can take you to a hospital if you want.”
“I think I’m fine. Just give me a couple minutes.”
On the drive from Terre Haute, my knee had brushed against one of the wires of Keith’s pickup truck’s stereo. It’d shocked me. I threw up a stomach-full of water against the rolled-up passenger-side window. I’d been jittering since then.
She came out of the house with my twenty-five-inch television in her arms. She was bent over halfway backward. I opened the heavy door.
“Stay in the car,” she said. I stayed in the truck. “I can do it!”
She put the TV in the back of the pickup truck.
She appeared at the window.
“Alright, man,” she said. “You got it. I’ll see you someplace, someday!”
“Okay,” I said.
We drove to a gas station. Keith fueled up the truck. I got some paper towels. I wiped the remains of the saliva-vomit off the inside of the passenger-side window. Keith tied the TV down with some ropes. We drove back to Indianapolis, Indiana. I put the TV in my old bedroom. I watched a film. I wrote my friend a letter. I left the country again shortly after that.
I had a job at Sony. I was in Tokyo. I was wearing a suit and a tie. I opened my personal email. I read my emails. An email popped in just then. It was from her. She said she’d read an essay I’d written about her. She said the essay flattered her. It made her cry. She said it was the first time she’d cried in a long time. She thanked me for making her “feel beautiful”.
I replied to her email not one minute after it had arrived.
“Happy birthday,” I said. “I’ll email you later, okay?”
It occurs to me, now, that she had been Googling herself on her birthday.
One of my readers from America was going to take me out to dinner. At this point in history, a non-Japanese passport-holder had a difficult time obtaining a phone in Japan. You couldn’t use your non-Japanese phone on Japanese networks without paying a criminal more money than it might have been worth. You couldn’t obtain a prepaid phone without legal Japanese residence. My reader was an interesting person and a skilled writer. He was a smart guy. We’d arranged to meet at a place at a time: the clock outside Shibuya Station at 1900. I was exiting the oldest Sakuraya electronics store at 1848. I had a crinkly plastic bag in my hand. I had bought a grounding plug. It had cost me 160 yen. I got into the elevator on the sixth floor. The elevator was damp. It smelled like crayons. Five men got on the elevator on the fifth floor. I stood in the center of eight other men. They all wore raincoats. They all held umbrellas. The elevator stopped between the fourth and third floors. The elevator didn’t move for several minutes. No one said a word. We were silent for ten minutes. We were silent for an hour. We could see no light peeking out from behind or beneath the door. The damp, dim box was our entire universe. That box might have been floating in outer space a billion miles away.
A man in a little white helmet pried the doors open. The elevator was stopped perfectly on the third floor. It was a simple matter of the doors being closed.
“We are so very, very sorry to inconvenience you!” the store employee said. He said it again. He said it again. He said it again.
Me and my eight silent umbrella-wielding fellows departed the elevator.
Even today, I wonder what happened with that elevator. Maybe some customers had pressed the button and then tired of waiting. Without speaking a complaint, they took the stairs. None of us in the elevator pressed the emergency button: the elevator didn’t have an emergency button.
I went to the clock at Shibuya Station. I was an hour late. My friend was not there. I waited for a half an hour. I remembered the email I’d received a year ago that day: I’d told her I’d email her later. For the first time in my life, “later” had turned into “one year”.
She emailed me again on September 11th, 2008. I replied within the hour. We became Facebook friends. On September 11th, 2010, she asked me if I could buy her a new computer. She had two children. Her husband had been laid off from his job. I told her I couldn’t afford to buy her a new computer. On September 11th, 2011, she asked me if I could buy her an iPad. I told her I couldn’t afford to buy her an iPad. On September 11th, 2012, she asked me if I could buy her a Kindle Fire tablet. I told her I couldn’t afford anything. On September 11th, 2013, she told me she was never going to talk to me again. She blocked me on Facebook.
On September 11th, 2014, I put an ad on Craigslist. I needed to sell my car to pay my rent. My landlord raises my rent every opportunity she gets. In my Craigslist ad, I said the buyer of the car could keep the CD of 1980s Japanese pop music that I might forget to take out of the CD player. My car was a 2005 Mazda 3 that I’d bought for $5,000 a year earlier. I was selling it for $5,000. I’d bought it from a middle-aged guy with a picture of a machinegun on his T-shirt. The guy insisted on sitting in the backseat while I test-drove the car. A kid came with his dad. They took the car for a drive. They came back. The kid said he would buy it. I gave him the title. He then asked, “So, it’s $5,000, not, uh, you don’t want to, uh, go any lower?” And I said, “Naw, man.” He handed me an envelope full of cash. I counted it. He took the keys. He left. A minute later there was a knock on the door.
“Hey, the ad said something about a CD.”
“Oh,” I said. “I guess I did remember to eject it.” I gave him the CD.
“Thanks,” he said.
A week later, he texted.
“Hey, who is the artist of track six?”
I enjoyed his wording.
“That’s PSY・S. The song is ‘asobi ni kite ne’.”
He never texted again.
Two months later, a friend asked if he could park his car in my lot while he went to Thailand. Three months later, my friend told me he wasn’t coming back from Thailand. The car was mine.
The night deepened. The cold darkened. I took a shower in the dark. I masturbated in the shower. It hurt to ejaculate. I felt an invisible fist reach all the way up my pee-hole and up through my bladder. The invisible fist pulled something ice-cold, rock-hard and jagged down through a tiny tunnel in my meat. It ripped and popped the cold massive crystal out of my pee-hole. I yelped. I flung the semen off my hand under the shower spray. It was red with ribbons of blood. I laid in the hotel bed. My balls hurt. My penis shriveled in fear. The smoke and fire on the television threw a strobe into the cold blue black room. My penis rose. I jerked it again. This time I ejaculated a golf-ball-sized mass of black and red blood. I washed my hands in the bathroom sink. I sat on the toilet. My balls hung heavy. I juiced my bladder. I let some weight off one foot and pushed down on the other. I went onto my tiptoes. I sucked loud hisses of breath through my teeth and I popped heavy jets of breath out of my mouth in time with my juicing efforts. A squirt escaped with a feeling of electricity. My toes spasmed. With a feeling of hard suction, my bladder ballooned. I shifted my weight. A drop tinkled into the pot. I shifted my weight; I stood up a quarter of the way. Drops dripped. A curtain of sweat poured down my forehead and into my eyes. I licked my lips. I breathed in and out my mouth. I sat back down. A twinge of pain electricity pierced my pelvis. A hot jet of blood and water and salt fell sideways out of my penis hole. A vomit-gasp jumped out of my lips. I hurt. I sat and cried on the toilet for an hour. I went to sleep. I woke up in a cold sweat. I sat on the toilet for an hour. I fell asleep on the toilet. I woke up on the toilet. It was yet dark. I passed out on the bed. I woke up. My eyes were hard and dry. I threw up. I opened the curtains. The morning was periwinkle. Trucks’ headlights cast long glimmers on the mist-dark parking-lot pavement. I went to the Eat ’n’ Park. I ordered an omelette and a slice of apple pie. I told the waitress my girlfriend from England was coming.
“You know when those planes are going to be moving again?”
“Maybe today,” I said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
I went to the airport. I spent a full day in the airport. I sat across from a wall of television monitors. All “arrivals” were “canceled”. I watched the monitors for activity. I began to read Haruki Murakami’s novel “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” there downstairs in the most comfortable chairs in Pittsburgh International Airport, near Baggage Claim C, in view of the arrivals display monitors. I spent fourteen hours in that airport with that book. I drank three Sprites. I ate two vending-machine Danishes. I sat on three public toilets for a total of two hours. No planes arrived or departed. I went back to my hotel room. I took a shower. I laid on the bed. I masturbated. I turned on HBO. “Band of Brothers” was on. I fell asleep on top of the sheets. I woke up to urinate blood. I slipped under the covers. The sheets were tucked in. I woke up in the middle of the night. I’d urinated in the bed. I pulled the sheets off. A red irregular circle was expanding in the middle of the white sheet. I pulled the blanket out. I threw the sheet and comforter on the floor. I went out into the lobby. I bought a Sprite from the vending machine. I drank it. I went back to my room. I got my book and my CD player. I left the hotel. I went to the Eat ’n’ Park. I bought a slice of cherry pie. I ate the pie and read the book. I listened to the album “SIG-NAL” by PSY・S. A shadow fell over my table. I looked up. A woman was standing in front of me. She was making a headphones-removing motion with her hands.
I took the headphones out of my ears.
“Yes? Um, hello.”
“Yes, I couldn’t help noticing — I’m sorry if I’m interrupting — I couldn’t help noticing you were reading Murakami and, you see, so was I.”
She held up a book. It was “A Wild Sheep Chase”.
“Oh, hey, cool. I read that recently, myself.”
“A friend of mine — do you mind if I sit?”
“A friend of mine has been trying to get me into his writing and — well, he got Murakami himself to sign it! Look at this here.”
“Gabrielle,” I said.
“That’s me! That’s me. He got this brilliant man to sign my name before I could even know his brilliance.”
It was a British edition of the book.
“Did he get this book for you in England?”
“What? Yes, how did you know?”
“I have this edition of the book,” I said. “I was in London a few months ago.”
“I’ve not been to London yet,” Gabrielle said. “I suppose I’ll go someday.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Montreal,” she said. Just like that, I’d met the first of four Gabrielles from Montreal I’ve met so far in my life. “Yourself?”
“I came here from Indianapolis.”
“Where is that? I am not sure where Indianapolis is.”
“It’s about five hours west of here on a bus.”
“You came by bus? I came by bus.”
“Yeah, I came by bus.”
“And you too are newly experiencing Haruki Murakami’s novels?”
“Well — I’ve read all of them that have been published in English. This is the last one.”
“How did you come across his writing, if I may ask?”
“Well, it’s funny,” I said. “It’s similar to how you did.”
“Your friend attended a book signing in London?”
“No, no. I, uh, met Haruki Murakami, and, uh — “
“You met Haruki Murakami! How is that similar to how I happened upon Haruki Murakami’s writing! I did not meet him at all! I am only one hundred and eleven pages progressed into his novel, and already I am capably envious of you. Please, tell me how you met him.”
She raised her hand. A waitress happened over to our table.
“I would like a cup of coffee,” she said.
“No, I am finished with decaf,” Gabrielle said. “I am finished with decaf for the year of 2001.”
“Um, alright, alright — yes.”
The waitress walked away.
“You were about to tell me how you met Haruki Murakami.”
“Oh, well. I, uh, I wrote some fiction. A lot of it got published in my school’s literary magazine.”
“So you are a student! I am a student!”
“I was a student. I graduated.”
“You were a student.”
“Yeah. I published a couple short stories, and — “
“I’d love more than anything to have read some of your stories. Tell me about them.”
“They were weird little things. Just, dumb little things.”
“You wrote about yourself?”
“Hah, no. I wrote about people who weren’t myself. They were nobodies. I wrote about people who weren’t . . . people. They were containers. I wrote about events. Empty people had empty lives and then . . . and then something impossible happened.”
“I can predict why you met Haruki Murakami.”
“Yes: You met him on accident.”
“Well . . . yeah.”
Her coffee arrived.
“Tell me how you met Haruki Murakami on accident.”
“Well, I was in a class about Japanese 1970s feminist literature.”
“Japanese 1970s feminist literature! I have never considered reading such literature, and now I am interested. You will have to remind me again to ask you for some recommendations.”
“So tell me more about your Japanese 1970s feminist literature class.”
“Oh, we read a lot of stories. And, uh, there was a guy in the class. He was getting his PhD in Japanese literature. He read my stories in a literary journal, and he told me he loved them.”
“And, uh, one day, I was walking down the hall, and this guy was standing there, and he called my name — “
“I did not catch your name, by the by.”
“Oh, my name is Tim.”
“Nice to meet you, Tim. I am Gabrielle.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Of course you do. Please continue.”
“The guy called my name. I said hello to him. He said, ‘Hey, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.’ And there was a Japanese guy standing there. My acquaintance was like, ‘Mister Murakami, this is Tim Rogers. He’s quite a fan of your writing.’ I shook Haruki Murakami’s hand. I said, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ Then I left to get to a lecture.”
“I went to a bookstore the next day and I bought his short story collection ‘The Elephant Vanishes’.”
She finished her coffee.
“That is an amazing story. So you read ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, and you became his fan?”
“Well, something like that.”
“I intend to read ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, myself.”
“I actually brought it with me from Indiana.”
She put her hand on top of my hand.
“This is destiny,” she said. “I want to take this book from you. I want you to give me that book. I — I will pay you for it. I will pay you in cash — .”
“It’s in my hotel room.”
“I want that book,” she said. “I — I want you to give me that book.” She took her hand off of my hand. She pushed her palm-heel into her left eye. She pushed tears out of her face. “I need that book. Please.”
“It’s — it’s in my hotel room.”
She stood up halfway. She sat down.
“Please let’s go there. Okay?”
A tear fell off the right side of my nose. I hiccuped. I sniffed a second tear into my right nostril.
“I — I — we can go there, uh.”
She put her two hands on top of my right hand. I let go of my fork.
“I really want to go there with you. Let’s go and you can show me the book.”
“Alright — I — I want to finish my cherry pie.”
She watched me finish it.
She paid for my cherry pie and her coffee. She told the waitress to keep the change. I left five dollars on the table.
Two women were watching the television in the hotel lobby. The sun wasn’t up. The sky outside the windows was an electric blue-black.
We went to my room. It was dark. The orange lights outside cut through the curtain. The white sheet laid in the middle of the floor. Gabrielle From Montreal #1 of 4 looked at the sheet. She was holding her purse in two hands. She looked at the sheet. I stood next to her. I looked at the sheet.
“Yeah, I, uh.”
“What is that?”
“It’s your blood?”
“I had an operation.”
“You had an operation in your hotel bed?”
“I had an operation a couple months ago.”
“What sort of operation?”
“It still hurts,” I said. I wanted to add, “It’ll hurt forever,” except I didn’t know that yet.
I sat on the edge of the bed. My backpack was on the pillow next to the pillow I’d been using. I took the book out of the backpack.
“Well, here’s the book.”
Gabrielle From Montreal #1 of 4 picked my backpack up. She put it on the floor. She sat on the bed next to me. She slid back. She let her head rest on the pillow.
“I love your voice,” she said.
“Oh — oh, do you?”
“Yes. Can I ask you a tiny favor?”
“Can you read me a story from the book? Just read me your favorite story.”
I read her the story called “Lederhosen”. It’s about a Japanese woman who goes on a trip to Germany. Her husband implores her to buy him some lederhosen. She goes to the most famous lederhosen shop in Germany. The men there refuse to sell her some lederhosen because they insist on precise measurements. She begs them to estimate the measurements. Finally, they agree to let her find someone off the street who matches her husband’s size. She finds a German man and ushers him into the shop. She watches the men measure the man for lederhosen. They are laughing. They are having a good time. They are talking about something she cannot fully understand. They smile and laugh. She decides then and there to divorce her husband. She sends him the lederhosen in the mail.
Gabrielle From Montreal #1 of 4 was asleep on the bed next to me. I scooted so my back was against the headboard. I leaned my head against the wall. I closed my eyes. I had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want to go to the bathroom. I remembered the pain.
A hand landed on my thigh.
“Tim?” she said.
I opened my eyes. I looked at her. She was and she looked like a human person.
“Can I stay here with you tonight?”
“I — where is your room?”
“It’s upstairs — I just . . . I don’t want to be alone? Can I not be alone tonight?”
“You — yeah, you can stay here.”
I leaned my head back. I closed my eyes. She put her head on my thigh.
“Hey,” she said.
I opened my eyes. I looked at her. I looked at her eyes. She was and she looked like a beautiful human person.
Her mouth fell open. I leaned forward. She leaned upward. We kissed. I sat upright. She sat up. She put her arms around me. We kissed some more. She sat on top of me. I pulled my pants down. She pulled her panties off. She slid right onto me. She slammed herself against me a hundred times. I undid her brassiere. She took her shirt off. I rolled her onto her back.
“I like it,” she said. “I love it.”
I didn’t say any words.
“Do you love it?” she asked me. “Tell me you love it.”
I made a sound.
“Tell me what you love doing,” she said. “Tell me what you’re doing.”
“I . . .”
I thrusted her as hard as I could. She screamed.
“I love it,” she said. “I love it so much. Tell me what I love. Tell me what I love!”
“You . . .”
“Tell me — what you are — doing — “
“I’m . . .”
“You’re fucking — “
“You’re fucking my pussy — “
“Tell me about my pussy.”
“Your — “
“Tell me about the pussy you’re fucking — “
“It’s — “
“Tell me about my pussy — “
“ — It’s — “
“What color is my pussy?”
“ — It’s — “
“Tell me what color my pussy is — “
“ — It’s — “
“Tell me — “
“It’s black — “
“Do you like to fuck my black pussy?”
“I — oh god.”
I ejaculated what must have been a lot of blood and semen into Gabrielle From Montreal #1 of 4’s not-white vagina.
She held my hand. We fell asleep. I woke up. She was on top of me.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
I ejaculated inside of her again. She kissed me. She sucked my tongue. I sucked her tongue. She sucked my lips. I sucked her lips. We fell asleep in each other’s sweat.
I woke up. It was dark. I sat up. Something was on my face. I pulled a pair of moist red silk panties off of my wet eyes. I went into the bathroom. I urinated. My urine was clear. It smelled like salt. I went back into the room. I sat on the bed. I was alone. I’ve been alone ever since.
It was the morning of Friday, September 14th, 2001.
I took a shower. I urinated in the shower. My urine was pink. I put on my only pair of underwear. I put on my shirt. I put on my hoodie. I put on my headphones. I put on some deodorant. I went to the lobby. I went outside. A mist of rain was floating. I waited for the airport shuttle.
I arrived at the international terminal of Pittsburgh International Airport. The “arrivals” and “departures” boards said all flights were “canceled”. I sat on a bench by baggage claim C. I watched the monitors. I put on some music. I listened to PSY・S. I read some of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I sat in my own silence for two hours. I looked up. A baggage claim was moving. I looked left. I looked right. I was yet alone. I got up. I used the public bathroom. I went back to my seat. The baggage claim had stopped moving. I looked at the “arrivals” and “departures” monitors. Flights were coming in.
I waited twelve hours. I drank three Sprites. I ate three vending machine danishes. My stomach was a hot pit. My breath was hot and sour. My bike-seat area felt sharp. I shifted my legs many times to restore circulation to the tip of my penis. I threw up once, in a bathroom stall.
Rose’s flight arrived. I stood by the secure exit. I watched passengers arrive one after another. Most of them hugged someone. Many of them wore pristine white sweatshirts. I waited until the last passengers had dispersed. I asked an airport employee if any more passengers from that flight remained. She said she didn’t know. I waited. I stood on the shiny floor and waited alone for many minutes. Passengers from another flight began to exit. I asked a nearby airport employee if there might not have been some mistake.
“Is the person you’re waiting for an American passport holder?”
“No, no, she’s British.”
“She’s a UK citizen, then.”
“She might have gotten held up in immigration.”
“About how long do you think that might take?”
“And there’s no other exit she could be coming out of — “
“Just this one. We’ve closed the other exits, for security.”
“Yes, yes, I just . . . thank you. I’m sorry. Thanks.”
I waited for four hours. I didn’t go to the bathroom. My bladder was hot. The tip of my penis tingled. My throat was cold. My stomach bubbled. I watched the hall. My eyeballs throbbed. My eyelids closed and opened. I took off my glasses. I rubbed my face. I coughed. I put my glasses back on. I looked up. Rose was approaching me.
She was wearing a sweatshirt white as the virgin Mary. She was wearing a pair of baggy Levi’s 501 blue jeans. Her big curly black hair was tied back in a loose ponytail. Her huge black glasses sat on her long tan nose. She carried a big duffel bag over her right shoulder.
She dropped the duffel bag. She folded her hands in front of her body. She stepped into me. I put my arms around her back. I hugged her over her shoulders. She closed her hands behind the bottom of my ribs.
“I thought you were going to Japan.”
“They delayed it until October eleventh. I’m . . . I’m here.”
“I — my brother said. I didn’t expect you to be here.”
“You expected me to leave?”
“I don’t know.”
“What would you have done?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. I’d get a hotel? I’d call my benefactors in the morning. I really should be calling them as soon as possible.”
“I still have the, uh, hotel room near here.”
“Can we go there immediately? I’m wearing hospital knickers.”
“What are hospital knickers?”
“They gave us knickers on the plane. The Salvation Army gave us shirts and pants. I asked for knickers. I changed my knickers in the fucking airplane toilet. They’re serious hospital knickers. They’re made out of a sort of paper.”
I lowered my arms. I stepped back. I looked at her. Her lips were a tight circle. She breathed out of her nose. Her rich eyebrows jumped and then fell. She smiled. Her one big canine looked at me and then was gone.
“I’m so fucking tired; hell.”
“We can go to the hotel.”
We went to the bus boarding area. We waited for the shuttle to the Ramada. We sat in the back of the bus.
“So, hey, was there a hold-up at immigration, or what?”
“When you arrived. The rest of the passengers came out like a couple hours before you.”
“Oh, yeah, that. It was — it was a couple of cunts held me back. Ah, I’m not supposed to use that word here, am I?”
“No, they don’t like it here.”
“Well these twats took me aside and asked me questions.”
“What did they ask you about?”
“Just about my family. They asked about my dad’s family. I suppose they saw my birthplace was ‘Kandahar’.”
“Was it, uh.”
“They weren’t rude. They kept saying they were sorry. They kept making me wait. They kept saying they were sorry for making me wait.”
I put my hand on her hand.
“Can you drive me to Washington, tomorrow?”
“Washington State or Washington DC?”
“That Washington bloke’s got his name on everything, eh? Washington, Pennsylvania. It’s not far from here. Can you hire a car? I’m thinking I just show up and they tell me what to do with myself.”
“I’ll rent a car.”
She put her other hand on top of my hand.
The bus arrived.
The hotel hallway was dark. I put the key in the lock. My lungs were cold. I turned the key. I opened the door. The bedside lamps were on. The white sheet was pale orange under the lamplight. I sat on the edge of the bed.
“I’ll be in the toilet.”
“Take a shower, if you’d like.”
She took her duffel bag into the bathroom.
I held my book with two hands between my knees. I looked at a spot on the carpet. The carpet was deep green with an orange confetti pattern. I trained my eyes on a scrap of confetti.
I opened the book. I was twenty-five pages from the end. I began to read. The shower didn’t start. The toilet didn’t flush. The bathroom door opened and then closed.
I looked up. Rose was standing in front of me. She reached for the lamp. She slid her hand around the lamp.
“How do I turn this off?”
“There’s a little button there.”
She turned the lamp off.
She took the book out of my hands. She closed it. She put the book next to me on the bed. I’m thinking of her perspective now. A light was on in the darkness behind me. I was in a shadow. Her face was in light. The orange light fell on her beautiful smooth skin skin.
She took off my glasses. She put my glasses on the bedside table. She took off her glasses. She put her glasses on the bedside table. She put her hands on my shoulders. In her left hand was a condom with a crinkly plastic wrapper. She pushed her face into mine. Her nose poked directly into the space between my nose and my cheek. It collided with my face-bone. Her lips grabbed mine. She sucked my lips into her mouth. I opened my mouth. Her tongue was short. I tilted my head to the right. She tilted her head the same way. Her nose crunched against my face-bone. She grabbed the bottom of my sweatshirt. She pulled it up. I helped it up. I pulled up her sweatshirt. She was wearing a white cotton brassiere. She undid my fly. I undid her fly. I pulled her jeans down over her hips. She was wearing papery white cotton panties.
“Do you like my hospital knickers?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t say anything for many minutes.
“Do you like my hospital knickers?” became the last words Rose heard before spending her virginity.
I pulled Rose onto the bed. I kissed her. I tilted my head left. She tilted her head the same way. I put my hands on her skull. I squeezed her hair. I tilted her head one way; I tilted my head the other way. I sucked for her short tongue. I let my hands down. I undid her brassiere. I tilted my head one way; she tilted her head the same way.
She put her hands on my waist. She yanked at my jeans. I stood up halfway. I let my pants fall. I sat back down. I pulled her onto her back. I kissed her. She hooked her thumbs under her hospital knickers. She pulled them toward her knees. She arched her back. I pulled her hospital knickers off. I pushed my hands under her knees. I pushed her legs up. I put my face between her legs. She squeezed my head with her hands. The plastic of the condom wrapper crinkled inside my hair. I sucked and licked at her. She wasn’t wet. She pushed my head back. She looked me in the eyes. Her eyes were wide. She extended a hand at me. She offered me the condom. I took it. She sat up halfway. She scooted back. She opened her legs. I took off my underwear. I put on the condom. I pressed the tip into her. She breathed inward through her teeth. It was a great loud hiss. She scooted backward in a sudden motion. The back of her head clacked into the headboard. I put my hands on her hips. I slid the head of my penis into the groove between her legs. Her breasts floated backward. Her nipples were black and hard. Her eyes were open. I could see a whole half of her anatomical eyeballs. Her gaze pierced my skull. Her thin lips were tight. Her thick black eyelashes were poised backward. Her eyebrows were pointed in a menacing attack. She clapped her hands against my buttocks. She pulled me toward her. Her lips parted for an instant. I saw her one big canine. Her lips peeled shut over her teeth. The canine was the last tooth to disappear. Now her lips were longer and thinner than before. A big puff of air jumped out of her nostrils. I thrust toward her; she scooted back with a loud, open-mouthed “Ahh”.
I put my hands behind her back. I pulled her up. I gripped her fingers with mine. I kissed her. Her nose poked into my nose. I tilted my head right; she tilted her head the same way. I laid down on the bed. She straddled me. Her knees were on the mattress. Her breasts fell down. Her nipples were soft and black and widening.
She gripped my penis. She leaned back. She slid my penis backward. She fidgeted. Her mouth fell open. Most of her big curly black hair had escaped her ponytail. Strands were falling on her face. A strand fell into her mouth. Her right knee left the mattress. She pushed herself on my penis. She screamed. Her mouth slammed shut. A loud breath sprayed out of her flaring nostrils. Her cheeks buckled. She winced. I wet sob escaped her lips. She forced the rest of herself onto my penis. She wailed. She exclaimed in pain a second time. Her eyes were shut tight. I looked at her tight-shut eyes. Her hands were gripping mine. It hurt. Her fingers were bruising mine. I tried to let go of her hands. I pushed her hands up. Her elbows were locked. Her arms didn’t bend. Her mouth opened into a big quivering circle. She breathed. Her breath was loud. She stood up partway. She grinded back downward.
“Ah, ah, ah.”
“Are you alright?”
She stood up. She was standing in the middle of the bed. She sat down. She laid on her back. She opened her legs.
“Fuck me. I want you to come.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I want you to come.”
I inserted my penis into her vagina.
“Ow,” she said. “Oh, shit. Ow. Shit.”
“Are you — “
“Fuck me. Just fuck me. Fuck me. Yes, fuck me. Yeah, do it. I want you to come. Just come. I want you to come. I want you to come. I want you to come.”
Her eyes were closed.
She said “I want you to come” twelve times. I remember her rhythm. I want to type them all out here. I would type them all out here if I knew it wouldn’t get me accused of attempting a more poetic style than I deserve.
She wanted me to come; I did what she wanted. I ejaculated. It was an intense pain which electrified my bones and guts. I screamed. I clenched my eyes shut. I screamed out of my teeth. Something animal seized me; just as it had finished, I pulled almost all of the way out, and I slammed my penis into her just once, as hard as I could. She let out a horrible yelp. My brain has recorded the yelp. I was nauseous. The room was spinning. My sweat was cold. The inside of my head was cold. I was shivering. My nausea was bigger than I was. I began picking up pieces of the willpower I’d need to not throw up right there in the bed.
“Fucking hell,” she said. “Ow. Fucking hell. Can you — “
She had her hand on the base of my penis.
“Oh, I’ll — “
I pulled my penis out of her.
She looked at it.
I slipped the condom off. I held it in my hand. She took it. She looked at it. It was full of blood.
“What the hell is this?”
“My operation,” I said.
We were silent. We held hands. Her hand gripped mine with ferocity.
“Did you want to take a shower?”
“Yeah,” she said. She sat up. She was still gripping my hand. “Let’s — let’s take a shower.”
“These bathroom lights are like a hospital.”
“We can turn them off.”
“Now it’s dark.”
“Neither of us can see, anyway.”
“I can see . . . a little bit.”
“We can leave the door open.”
“Hey, that looks great.”
We stood in the shower. We kissed. Water filled her big black curly hair. She pushed parts of it to the top of her head. It sat there in lumps. Smaller lumps fell off the big lumps. Masses of her hair hung about her shoulders; shiny ropes of her hair fell across her back. She hugged her arms over the top of my shoulders. I locked my hands behind the small of her back.
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
We stood in the shower for many dark minutes. She cried. I cried. Her crying escalated. She sobbed. She was shaking.
“I can’t fucking believe I did this.”
“I can’t believe I fucking did this.”
We laid in the bed. We were holding hands. My skin was damp. The bed was cold. I fell into sleep. She squeezed my hand. The sleep deepened. I don’t know how much time passed.
I sat up. It was dark. Highway illumination and moonlight lit her profile and her eyes. She was squeezing my hand. Her eyes were wide. She let go of my hand. She put her hands on her shoulders.
“Hey. Hey. Are you alright?”
“Yeah — yeah, I’m alright. What? What is it?”
“You — your eyes were open. I tried to talk to you. You didn’t — I thought you were dead.”
“Well I’m not dead.”
“Well, I thought you were dead and I just thought, after all this — “
“I’m right here.”
She put her forehead on my shoulder. She cried. I put my hand on her back. She sobbed.
“I didn’t know what to think. Fuck, I don’t know what to think; I don’t know what I’m thinking.”
I took her to Washington, Pennsylvania. I took her to her school. She met her classmates. She met the history department. We had sex in her dorm bed. We walked to a Taco Bell. She had never eaten at Taco Bell. It was raining when we left the Taco Bell. The sky was a dark blue. Truck headlights made orange fog of the cold mist rising from the highway. We were holding hands. A truck’s brakes squealed. Someone in a truck threw something. It hit Rose in the head. It fell on the ground.
“She’s from Pakistan!” someone in the truck yelled. The truck sped off.
We looked at the object. It was a Pepsi can: red, white, and blue.
I got a room at the Motel 6. Rose stayed with me one night. The next day, she told me I had to go. She’d left England at a bad time. Her dad was abusing her mom. Her mom was waiting for her brother to turn eighteen so she could move out. Her dad was an airport shuttle bus driver at London Heathrow.
Rose had too much to think about. I didn’t have enough to think about. She wanted me to leave her alone. I left her alone. I was alone in the rental car. I’ve been alone ever since. I returned the rental car at Pittsburgh International Airport the next morning. I rode a Greyhound Bus back to Indianapolis, Indiana. I packed my things for Japan. I said goodbye to my family. Rose came to visit for one weekend. The next week, on October 13th, 2001, I left for Japan.
I stayed in Japan for ten years.
In October of 2001, I didn’t know I was going to be in Japan for ten years.
I went to Japan because I wanted to see Japanese bands I liked. I had obtained a visa by applying to work at an English conversation school called NOVA. I planned to work for NOVA for one month and then hand in my one-month’s notice. I ended up working there for two months before handing in my notice.
One of NOVA’s core rules was that I not associate with students outside of class. A sixteen-year-old student started associating with me. She followed me to the station from the school on more than one occasion. Her name was not Murasaki; she called herself Murasaki. We became best friends. The English school fired me on my second-to-last day on the job. Murasaki and I continued to be best friends. We were in bands together. I have written many novels because of Murasaki. Some of them are about who she was as a person; many of them are outlandish speculative fiction born of my and her endless conversations. She was a beautiful soul in a tiny, heavy body. Ever since she died, I dream about her once a month. She kills me in my dreams — always with a knife, usually in the back.
I wrote about her and my friendship while it was happening. Her and my inane, endless conversations in restaurants, cafes, and record stores became the source material for my sprawling, rambling blog. We liked much of the same music. We called each other “PANKU” as a greeting, pronouncing it the way Kyoko Koizumi sings “PANKU” in the middle of her song “Watashi no 16-sai”: “My heart is about to PANKU”. (“PANKU” is short for “Puncture”, which is the word used to describe a flat tire. It’s also the word for “Punk”.) Our conversations were loud labyrinths of private jokes. We watched “Boondock Saints” in a public library booth once, criticizing it so loudly the librarian asked us to leave. Murasaki told the librarian to “go swimming in Hell”. We had each read “I, Claudius” more than twice. We team-wrote entire ridiculous novels during hours-long walks alongside the shallow canals of Saitama, away and away from the idea of train stations, her rolling a bike or dribbling a basketball and me with my hands in my pockets. She was half of my brain for a year.
Murasaki was androgynous. She said she was neither a boy nor a girl; Japanese has no third-person pronouns equivalent of “he” or “she” or “they”; when I met Murasaki, she had long hair and was wearing a plaid skirt with long socks and a peacoat over a blazer over a shirt with a little stringy tie. My perfect autobiographical memory is a weird curse: she will always be a “she” to me.
She dropped out of school. She shaved her head. She was tiny. She was bald.
She wore hoodies and jeans and high-tops. Whenever she left her home neighborhood of Fujimino, she brought with her a basketball, which she dribbled even in convenience stores. She told total strangers on more than four occasions that she was going to challenge Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one someday, just so she could jumping-headbutt him in the nuts. She was, of course, Japanese, and she lived in the suburbs of Tokyo, so no one ever doubted her, and all were afraid. I loved her. My love for her was a dark, cold knife. I loved her for what I saw in her that I knew was in myself; I loved her because I could not love myself.
She literally did not believe I was real. This particular complication of her personality only emerged in my own torment years after she stopped being someone anyone could know.
After she quit high school, she was telling me about her guidance counselor.
“She asked me what I wanted to be and I said I wanted to be a rocker.”
“What did she say to that?”
“She said ‘you can’t be a rocker; that’s not something you can just want to be’.”
“What did you say to that?”
“I said, well, then, I’ll be a jungler.”
“What is a jungler?”
“What the fuck do you think a jungler is? It’s a person who makes jungles.”
“I don’t think people make jungles.”
“People are tearing jungles down all the time. Someone has to replace the jungles. I’m talkin about real renegade tree-plantin weirdos!”
“I would think that a jungler is more of a person who explores a jungle. I feel like you’d call a person in a safari vest with a machete a ‘jungler’, if you’re going to call any hypothetical person a ‘jungler’.”
“That’s a jungle explorer, not a jungler.”
“What did the counselor say when you said you wanted to be a jungler?”
“She said, oh, so you want to do something with the environment.”
“So obviously she knew what a jungler was.”
“So you’d, what, plant trees?”
“It doesn’t matter what a jungler is or isn’t,” Murasaki said, “because I don’t actually want to be one.”
“Because you want to be a rocker?”
“Yeah. Like Bruce Springsteen.”
“I didn’t even know you liked Bruce Springsteen.”
“I didn’t say I liked Bruce Springsteen. I said I wanted to be a rocker like him.”
“How much like Bruce Springsteen do you want to be? I mean, if you don’t like him, that is.”
“I want to be exactly like him.”
“Why do you want to be exactly like someone you don’t like?”
Murasaki pursed her lips. She narrowed her eyes. She looked at her shoes. She was balancing her feet on her basketball. She wrapped her arms around her tiny thick body.
“There are three people inside me,” Murasaki said.
“One of them is before I met Sakai-san. Another of them is after Sakai-san told me to stop talking to her.”
We were sitting on a bench in an outlet mall at what might have been the end of the world. It was an ice-bright, lettuce-cool winter afternoon.
“What about the other one?”
“The other one is super-cool. I don’t know how old they are. They’re much older than me. They hate me. They want to throw up every time I look in the mirror. They want to break something every time I say something.”
“So you’re talking about the past, present, and future?”
“Oh, fuck you. It’s not that.”
“Man. Man, yeah.”
“I like this song,” Murasaki said, maybe on a different day, maybe on a different bench. We were listening to a CD together. I had the right earbud in my right ear. She had the left earbud in her left ear. We were sitting side-by-side, my left ear to her right ear. The headphone cable was stretched.
“You know, this is the first PSY・S song I ever heard.”
“The first one I ever heard was ‘Silent Song’.”
“I like that one.”
“This one is, uh, you know, I was listening to this one when I first heard about the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.”
“Yeah. I was listening to it on a bus. The batteries died, and then I heard some pilots on the bus talking about it.”
“Were you in New York?”
“Nah, I was in Pittsburgh.”
“I don’t know where the fuck that is. Is it by New York?”
“It’s sort of close.”
“How many minutes by train?”
“Heck, I don’t know about trains in America. It’s about an hour by plane or eight hours by car, I think.”
“Kind of like Tokyo and Osaka?”
“Well, yeah, sure. I mean, don’t quote me on those figures.”
“Osaka is two hours from Tokyo on the bullet train, I think.”
“You think? You’ve never been there?”
“I don’t know anyone who’s ever been there.”
“Your dad hasn’t been there?” I thought about her dad. According to my Korean ex-girlfriend, who had come to Japan the previous Christmas, Murasaki’s dad looked exactly like the actor Tony Leung.
“What about my dad indicates to you that he’s been to Osaka?”
I thought about Murasaki’s dad’s hair.
“His hair is so dark. It’s like antimatter. His hair looks like it’s as hard as quartz.”
“I’ve never touched my dad’s hair.”
Some time passed. The song ended. Murasaki pressed the back button. The song started again.
“So you were listening to this song on a bus on the day of the terrorist attacks in New York City.”
“And then when?”
“And then the batteries died.”
“You said there were two pilots talking on the bus. Did they say something?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I heard them, uh, I heard them talking about the attack.”
“And that’s how you learned about the attack?”
I didn’t have an immediate answer.
“I think that’s how I learned about the attack.”
“What the fuck do you mean you ‘think’ it’s how you learned about the attack?”
“I don’t know what I mean when I say I think that’s how I learned about the attack.”
“So, what, were you coming back from Japan? Why were you in an airport?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Fuck you; you know why you were in an airport.”
“I mean, yeah, I know I know I was in an airport — I know I know why I was there, I mean, I just felt like saying ‘I don’t know’.”
“It’s fucking annoying when you say ‘I don’t know’ when you really don’t not know,” Murasaki said.
“I was just — I was picking up my friend.”
“You said you were in Pittsburgh. You’re not from Pittsburgh. You’re from Chicago.”
“I’m not from Chicago.”
“Look, I know you’re from somewhere that’s near Chicago, and I know Chicago isn’t as close to New York as you say Pittsburgh is.”
“Okay, yeah, I was in Pittsburgh to see a girl.”
“Not the girl who was here that Christmas?”
“No, not her.”
“Oh. The other one.”
“Yeah — the other one.”
“Had you not ever been to Japan before?”
“I told you, man, I’d never been to Japan until like a week before you met me.”
“How did you know about this band, then?”
“Oh. Uh, I don’t know.”
“You don’t not fucking know, man. Shit.”
“Well, hey, let me think for a second.”
I thought for a second. I squinted. It was cold out there. It was cold and flat. the sun was bright. Walls were aflame with orange sun. My fingertips were cold. Murasaki hugged her tiny body with her tiny arms.
“Sonic the Hedgehog,” I said. “I found out about this band because of Sonic the Hedgehog.”
“What the shit is Sonic the Hedgehog?”
“It’s a video game. The music in the game was by Masato Nakamura. He’s the bassist in Dreams Come True.”
“Ah, yeah, I know them. They kinda suck.”
“Yeah! Yeah, they do kinda suck. I found out about them because of a game for the Sega Saturn called Sonic Jam, which was, like, all of the Sonic the Hedgehog games collected into one game, with, like, a museum in it. You could read stuff about Sonic in there. And they had some stuff about Dreams Come True. And then I met a girl in college who had some of their CDs.”
“Did you have sex with her?”
“Duh. And, uh, I listened to some of their CDs. A year later I was living in a college dorm and everyone was downloading music from the internet. I got on Napster. Do you know Napster?”
“Is that a computer thing?”
“Uh, yeah. It was a program where you could get music directly from other peoples’ music libraries. And you could look at their libraries and find other stuff they liked. So I learned about a lot of Japanese music. I first got on there to download Number Girl, and I remembered Dreams Come True, and I got some of their stuff.”
“And that’s how you found PSY・S?”
“Well. Well — yeah.” I squinted. I looked at my feet. The song ended. I restarted the song. “Well, Dreams Come True had some songs in English, and the English lyrics were really bad. I guess I now realize the lyrics were super-direct translations of the Japanese lyrics. At the time I didn’t know any Japanese — “
“You were listening to Japanese music and you didn’t understand any Japanese?”
“Well, yeah. Don’t you remember what I was like when you first met me?”
“I thought you were just weird [like me].”
“Well, that, too. So I went to Dreams Come True’s website, and I saw there was a bulletin board to write some stuff to the band. I just got on there and I said, hey, I’m a student at Indiana University — “
“Home of the Hoosiers!” Murasaki said.
“Yeah, so I’m a student at Indiana University and I love you guys’ music! So, yeah, hey, hi, I’m a fan in America!”
“Did you tell them their English lyrics sucked?”
“You’re a pansy.”
“Anyway, someone replied to the message in English. It was a girl. She said her name was Miki. She said she was a Japanese exchange student at Indiana University.”
I told Murasaki that Miki had asked for my email address. I gave it to her.
“This is miracle,” Miki said. “I can not believe this miracle,” Miki said. “I live in Eigenmann Dormitory.”
“I live in Forest Dorm,” I said.
“We can meet in Eigenmann today’s four o’clock? I will go to drinking a strawberry milk and waiting for you.”
“OK!” I said.
I went to Eigenmann Dormitory. I bought a Sprite. A chubby, cherubic, button-cute Japanese girl with big braces in a zip-up fleece jacket jumped to her feet. Her hair was in cornrows.
“William!” she yelled. My given name is not kind to a first-year second-language English-speaking Japanese person: “U-ee-ree-ah-mu”. I barely recognized it. My linguistic imagination, as far as Japanese was concerned, was not yet fully developed.
“Hello, I am Miki!”
I sat across from her.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“It is nice to meet you too!”
I looked left. I looked right. I had friends who lived in Eigenmann. I had no idea why I feared that one of them might see me talking to this girl. I had never met someone through the internet before. Well, I had my penpal in England, though we’d never met in person. This was a personal first: I met someone on the internet completely by chance, and there we were, sitting across from one another not two hours later. This was 1999. I’ve not had a through-the-internet meeting of remotely comparable significance since then (certainly not through Tinder).
“It is miracle,” Miki said. “It is real miracle. And wow! Looks so cute! You! You looks cool!”
“Aw, hey, wow, thanks.”
“And you like Dreams Come True! I respect Miwa very much. Miwa Yoshida is role model to me, she is very special person. She is magical person . . . she, no similar person is on the earth. Miwa Yoshida is idol to me. I love her so much. I respect her so much. Tell me why you know Miwa Yoshida, I respect her so much.”
“Well, actually, I knew Masato Nakamura first.”
“Masato Nakamura is amazing. He is talented and he is gentleman. He is so gentleman. I love him so much. He is one of my role model. Please tell me this why you know Masato Nakamura.”
“Well, I played Sonic the Hedgehog, and I loved the music, and I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and I found out he did the music!”
“You like TV game!” She pointed at her nose. “Me! I like TV game!”
Two girls appeared. The stood on either side of Miki. Miki stood up. I remained seated. James Bond films had taught me that when a woman stands a gentleman should stand. Either my reflexes were bad, or the lesson hadn’t taken. I looked up. Her friends were taller than her. One of them wore a sweater; the other wore a coat. I’m looking at them now. The one in the bunchy white sweater has a thick white headband in the center of her head, with baby-hair bangs combed down and curled over a big forehead, bright red lipstick on her small thick mouth, pink nail polish, a box of Mott’s Apple Juice in her two hands, and big round ears. The other girl’s makeup shades her face bronze; her hair is a dyed light brown, and perma-curled. She had baby-blue fingernails and also a box of Mott’s Apple Juice.
“My friends,” Miki said.
The three girls sat. Miki looked at her small hands. The other girls stared at me.
“You like . . . video games,” I said to Miki. “That’s cool. That’s pretty cool. What do you like? I am playing Final Fantasy VIII.”
She touched her palm to her chest.
“I am very cried myself Final Fantasy VIII,” she said. “I love it very much. I love Final Fantasy very much. I love Dragon Quest the most.”
“Oh, hey, I love Dragon Quest, too. Did you know it’s called Dragon Warrior in America?”
“I did not know. You like TV Game, and you like Masato Nakamura — do you know PlayStation game, Parappa Rapper?”
“I know that game, yeah,” I said. “I love that game.”
“I am a chicken from the kitchen,” I said.
“Kick, punch!” she said. “’Do you know why I stopped the car?’”
“You forgot to close the door,” I said.
“Yes!” Miki shouted. “Yes! I forgot to close the door!”
Miki’s mouth was a huge happy circle. Her fingertips quivered against each other in a prayer pose. She was doing little tiny vibrational hand claps.
“Parappa Rapper’s music is by Matsuura Masaya. You know him?”
“I see his name at the beginning of the game.”
“Yes, yes! You know his name. Do you know his band which is called Psychological S?”
“Oh. Uh. No?”
She took a notebook out of her bag. She wrote on a page:
She tore the page off.
“Very recommend,” she said. “You have the Napster?”
“Yeah,” I said.
She gave a little thumbs up. She was smiling so hard her eyes were glued shut.
Her friend with the big ears and baby-hair bangs elbowed her. Her friend with the perm sipped the final loud sip of her Mott’s Apple Juice.
Miki’s eyes opened. Expression fell away from her face. Her palms were flat on the table.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
My answer was immediate.
“What happened?” Murasaki asked.
“I emailed her later. I said we should hang out and listen to music. She didn’t reply.”
“You never ran into her at school?”
“Heck no; it was a big school.”
“So that’s how I learned about PSY・S.”
Later that afternoon, we were alone with a cat in a beautiful wooden condo near Kami-Fukuoka. The comic artist I worked for as an assistant was missing, on a rare errand to the city. I put Dragon Quest VII into the PlayStation. Murasaki was reading Osamu Dazai while sitting on a floor cushion. The sun went down. Mount Fuji’s snowcap glowed like fire.
“What is this game? How can you be playing this every god damn time I come in here?”
“You’re just always staring at numbers,” she said.
“It starts out as a story about The Only Island in the World,” I said. “Try as the people might, they can’t find another island. A man in the castle tells you he found a map in the basement, with more islands on the map. ‘Someone creative must have drawn on this map,’ he said. That little throwaway comment hooked me. The story is about going back into the past and correcting humanity’s mistakes which led to the disappearance of every other island in the world.”
“The Only Island in the World, huh?” Murasaki said. She was quiet until the comic artist returned. I cooked some stir-fried vegetables. Murasaki announced she was going home.
The manga artist I worked for as a personal assistant finished her comic a few months later. She told me she was going to Australia. She told me to leave her house. I had some money saved up. I went back to the US. I corresponded with Murasaki during this time via daily letters. The delay of sending a letter to Japan from the US required us to talk across each other. Eventually, we were talking to ourselves.
Murasaki asked me, in a letter, if I ever wanted to be everyone. I could say she asked it in one of the last letters she ever sent me. The truth is, all of her letters were one of the last letters she’d ever send me. We wrote a lot of letters; each felt as much like almost the last one as the previous one had.
“Do you ever think you want to be everyone?” Murasaki asked. “Sometimes I awaken and I am sick of not being everyone I know. I am filthy and I am disgusting. I am not human unless I am every human. That’s what your story about the girl who respected Miwa Yoshida so much made me feel. I wanted to be her, and I wanted to be who she wanted to be. This is a cycle the beginning of which would have led to me, in an instant, at the speed of light, becoming everyone I have ever known. It’s not enough to be like everyone — I need to literally become them. Sempai, do you ever want to be everyone?”
I went back to Japan. I stayed at a friend’s place near Shinagawa. Every night I looked for jobs. I averaged one interview a week. I put on a suit and went to my interviews. Every afternoon I went to Saitama to meet Murasaki at Café Monster in Fujimino. We drank tea and talked about music. I don’t think the owner liked us. One day, he started playing the Beatles White Album song “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” on loop over and over.
A lot was going on in my life at this time. I could tell you about the scheme Murasaki and I hatched. I’d feel too terrible talking about it in public in too much detail.
I should probably tell you about it.
I was staying with a friend and her husband in Saitama. They’d agreed to let me freeload their living room while I looked for a job. I noticed a lot of free English magazines in the bathroom. Their spines were bent back to the personal ads pages. I ended up reading all of the Men Seeking Women ads in the past six months’ worth of magazines. Murasaki and I had talked about it. What if my friend was cheating on her husband, and she was using the personal ads in this English-language free magazine to find hook-ups? Murasaki and I decided to post a series of fake ads from a half a dozen different Yahoo email addresses. This meant we had to make six fake email addresses.
“Should I get an email address?” Murasaki asked. “I mean, is that ever going to be a thing?”
“It already is a thing, you jerk.”
Murasaki knitted her brow. She made that face that made her look like she was turning into a very old man. I remember that face often.
I made Murasaki an email address. I showed her how to log in to it.
The day Murasaki died, I put on a suit. I got a haircut. I went to a job interview at a law office in Tokyo. It went well. The interviewer called a car to take me back to the train station. I rode the subway to the JR. I rode the JR to Ikebukuro. I took the Tobu-Tojo Line to Fujimino. I arrived at Café Monster. I was five minutes early. Murasaki would be there soon. I took my laptop out. I plugged it in. The owner put on “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” I put my headphones in. I put “Asobi ni kite ne” into my WinAmp. I put it on repeat. I looked at some news websites. I checked on my music downloads. I opened my email. I opened up one of the fake Yahoo email addresses. I had three messages from women in Tokyo. One of them was the woman who was letting me sleep in her and her husbands’ living room. She attached a photo. She was wearing a red dress. She was alone. I opened each of the other email addresses. She had emailed the same picture to all of the addresses. I replied to one of them. I attached a picture of myself and Murasaki outside of a venue where we’d just seen Number Girl play. These days, that photograph exists only in my memory (there it is). I clicked “send”. I drank my tea. The woman replied. She said I would leave her house before her husband got home that day or she would call the police.
I replied: “OK”.
I ate a soft-boiled egg. I had enough money to stay in a hotel for a few weeks. I decided I would get that job. I decided I would work at that law office for six months. I would apply to law schools in the US. I would go back to the US. I would break up with my British girlfriend. I would beg my Korean ex-girlfriend to take me back. I decided I loved her. I had a perfect normal life until I refreshed my email.
It was the only and the last email Murasaki had ever sent me. I’d need a hundred thousand words to explain it to you. I’ll be brief. It was entirely in English. The subject line was “goodbye”. The body text was “see you in hell, faggot.”
“Asobi ni kite ne” played while I stared at that email. I let the song end. I ran out to a payphone. I called Murasaki’s house. I asked if Murasaki was there. Her mom went upstairs. She didn’t come back to the phone before the change in my pocket rang out.
I didn’t eat or sleep for nine days. I threw up acid and water in a train station (Sugamo). A woman saved my life. I didn’t get the job at the law office. I never found a normal life. Later, I’d get a job and then I’d lose it and then I’d be homeless for a year and then I’d get a better job. I remember all of this every time I see the number nine or the number eleven; I think about the people in the plane and in the building and I want to be everyone who has ever lived. This feeling is here, resisting deletion, alongside all else. I don’t know where time goes, and I am asleep, and I’ve taught no one anything, and my life is colder more often than it is not cold, and every light, try as I might, that I put down in the darkness behind my future children falls through the floor of the world and into oblivion.
In July of 2015, for the second time in my life, in the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan, I met another hyperthymestic. She was from Korea. She was tall. She was maybe two inches shorter than me. She had long black hair to her waist. She had big biceps and big thighs. She was beautiful. She, like me, remembers everything she sees, and she, like me, remembers it from her own point of view; like me, her emotions distort what she remembers. We talked about Borges — particularly about the story “Ibn Hakkan Al-Bokhari, Dead In His Labyrinth”, whose footnotes include an entire story of a man who abandons a rival in a desert and calls the desert his “labyrinth”. This girl was Korean; her English was perfect; she had never left Korea, except to go to Japan. I told this girl — we’d met on the street, in the dark, far beyond midnight, each of us tired of everything (she had approached me when I dropped my Sprite bottle, to tell me that I looked like Gary Oldman) — that I loved everyone I ever saw, and she told me she did, too. We spent three days together. We talked for dozens of hours. We did not sleep. We walked. We wandered. We ate; we drank coffee. We ended up in Osaka.
I had business in Tokyo. I bought a bullet train ticket for Tokyo. The summer was hot. She was sad. I was sad. She was sad about her young love and its unfortunate conclusion. I was sad about my young love which is now old, now 394 years of memory density (an estimate) in my past, their emotions still the size of every of my present loves.
I took her to the side of the turnstile. I hugged her. I stepped back. She was holding my hands. Her eyes were drilling into mine.
“It doesn’t go away,” I said. “It’s — you see, it’s — it doesn’t ever go away.”
“I am imagining it doesn’t,” she said.
“You — they’re like books, okay? They’re books, and they’re all the same size, and you close them all, and you put them all on the shelf, and you leave them there, and if you ever want it, you go find it, and you open it up, and you look at it.”
“Don’t cry,” she said. My near-blind lazy right eye was overflowing. She lifted my hand with hers, and with her left thumb she wiped my cheek.
“You don’t have to look at it all the time. Just because it never goes away doesn’t mean you need to be looking at it all the time.”
“Can I tell you again that you remind me of him?”
“You remind me of her.”
“It’s hard. I hate it — I hate myself. I hate everything; everything is ridiculous.”
“Hey,” I said. “Hey. Look at me. I want to tell you something. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone.”
She looked at me. She smiled. She believed me when I said I’d never told anyone. She knew I knew I’d never told anyone.
“I — look. Look. I’m thirty-six years old. I’m twice as old as you. I’ve heard and read a lot of words. I’ve seen sort of a lot and I’ve lived in a lot of cities. I’ve talked to a lot of people. I have some idea of how many people there are in the world, and — and I can’t say I ‘know’ a lot of people. I definitely can’t say I know everyone. I’ve heard some people say you can’t ever know a person; I’ve heard some people say that it grows in you — you don’t know someone for a long time, and then you know them, and you love them, and hey — I’m serious. I’m smart enough to know — well, I don’t know how smart I am, though I know that I ruined my life and that’s okay, because I know some things now I wouldn’t have known then. Okay? I mean, I — “
Her eyes hadn’t left mine. Her lips were parted in a tiny smile. Her top teeth peeked from the bottom of her top lip.
“ — I know you might doubt I can know this or think this, though I’m old enough to know I’m right. I know myself well enough to know that I know you. Before it’s too late, I want to tell you this. I want to tell you what I never tell anyone in time. I never tell anyone this. It’s just — these are words people use a lot, and I didn’t make these words up and I didn’t decide what these words mean to so many people around the world, and I didn’t give these words their power, and maybe I’ve been a cynical jerk about these words, and maybe I’ve doubted these words and disbelieved their power and that is why I have neglected them; maybe I don’t want to admit I believe in anything big or spiritual, and maybe I don’t want to be part of some boring club, though I know these words have power, I mean, oh god, god, they have real power, and — and I want to use them just once, and you make me feel safe, and you make me feel not like a liar or a thief: I love you, okay?”
She was staring at my eyes. She was crying.
I squeezed her hands. She squeezed my hands.
“I just want you to know that. I want to tell you that. I want you to know that whatever happens to you, for the rest of your life, wherever you are, okay, wherever you are, and whatever happens, you can talk to me. Okay? Maybe I won’t reply to you right away. Maybe it’ll take me a day or two, sometimes. Just — I want to be your friend forever, okay? I want to be your friend for the rest of my life. I want to know you for the rest of my life, okay? And I mean it. You trust me when I say I mean it. Don’t you?”
She raised her hand, and my hand with it, to wipe tears off her cheek. She hugged me.
“Anytime,” she said. “Anywhere.”
“You know me,” I said.
“I know you,” she said.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
She looked at her feet. She looked up. She looked at me. She smiled.
“You’re so cool,” I said.
She scoffed. She rolled her eyes.
“You’re like seriously the coolest person I can think of off the top of my head.”
“Oh, shut up.”
She looked me in the eye.
“Thanks. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
I hugged her.
“I’m going to get on my train now.”
She stood outside the turnstile. She watched me as I headed for the escalator.
She raised her hand. I opened my phone. I took a picture of her. I sent her the picture. She sent me a picture of myself.
I saw her in Seoul, Korea, for just an hour, four days ago, on September 7th, 2015. She’d ridden the train two hours from her parents’ house to the center of Seoul, where I was staying. My plane had arrived late. I rushed through the subways of Seoul to make it to my hotel in time to drop off my bags. I was drenched in summer sweat when I saw her. She was holding a frozen coffee-thing. The manager of a nearby cafe had given it to her for free. I asked her why. She didn’t know. We talked like old friends. We discussed films and literature. Eight-thirty PM rolled around.
“I have to go home,” she said.
“Well, there is one way I could stay out later,” she said.
“You buy me a plane ticket to America, and then you marry me, and you show my dad that you have a bank account balance over ten million dollars.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t think I can manage that tonight.”
She went home. I phoned my friend Gord. I knew Gord in another life. I hadn’t seen him in eight years. We did what we’d always done: we sat in a restaurant and talked about technology. I spent two days in the city. I got a good Korean haircut. I woke up on the morning of the 10th. I got on a bus outside my hotel. I was alone in that bus full of Korean-speakers for five hours. The bus reached Busan. It stopped in front of a great big hotel. We got out of the bus. Tour guides yelled at me in Korean. They pointed toward a lobby. We rode an elevator to another lobby. We rode another elevator to yet another lobby. The second elevator was smaller than the first. I was last out of the second elevator. Standing in the second lobby were nine people I knew in my modern professional life. The past fell for the present moment off of me without a sound and into the antimatter of the anti-universe.
That’s the end of my story.
I don’t like that that’s the end of my story. My memory is an impenetrable diamond cube of “That’s The End Of My Story”. Everything is always the end of my story.
I’m going to go to Japan next week. I’ll buy a Nintendo New 3DS and the game Dragon Quest VII. I’m going to attend a concert by Matsuura Masaya, celebrating 30 years of his career as a musician. I’m going to go to the beach in Kamakura with my best friend — she is a painter — and maybe we’ll finally talk about what we never talk about. Then I’ll go to England. I’ll be in London for one day and then Birmingham for a week. I’ll play Dragon Quest VII on the plane to England, and then on the plane back home from England. Then I’ll go home.
I’m very tired; I’m very old. I am older than I am. The desert is my labyrinth tonight. I realize I still haven’t told you what the one pilot on the bus said to the other. The one pilot and the other on 11 September 2001 is there in my memory, next to two more pilots in Minneapolis Airport on 17 December 2013. Those two pilots in 2013 were with two flight attendants. They were talking about turning in early. I perceived that one of the pilots was having an affair with one of the flight attendants. This reminds me of my mother and my father talking about each other during Christmas of 2012: my dad said my mom didn’t go to church anymore because he was always too tired; my mom said my dad was becoming emotional, and that he often cried when talking about his grandchildren. I think, if two people share each other long enough, they become each other, or at least they become what the other sees. Maybe you know this better than I do: aging is the process by which we build jungles of coincidence of our own minds.
This exercise feels useless; I am tired and I can’t sleep. I am not writing to remember: I write to disorganize. I need to keep these books from sticking to one another. I need to keep these books from becoming one another.
I don’t like this piece. It hurts me.
I’ll revisit this piece in two months.
THE ONLY ISLAND IN THE WORLD
I’m writing an expense report for my business trip around the world. I don’t use the phrase “around the world” lightly: I literally circled the entire world during this trip. I started on a train: I left Oakland, headed west for San Francisco. I flew west from San Francisco to Seoul. Two days later, I took a bus south from Seoul to Busan. Four days later, I took a train north from Busan to Seoul. One day later, I took a plane an hour east from Seoul Gimpo to Tokyo Haneda. Nine days later, I took a train east from Tokyo to Narita, and then a plane west from Narita to Copenhagen. Six hours later, I took a plane west from Copenhagen to London Heathrow. Two days later, I took a bus north from London Heathrow to Birmingham International Airport.
Of all places, Birmingham International Airport is where I, finally, got lost.
In my head, right here, is a £19 taxi receipt. It cost me nineteen pounds to travel from Birmingham International Airport to the Holiday Inn located on the grounds of Birmingham International Airport.
I connected to the airport’s wifi and stared at Google Maps. Google Maps said the hotel was only 200 meters from my present location. I memorized the twist of the road. I went outside. It was crisp and sunny. I walked up and down the airport taxi rotary. I walked to the end of a high wall. I was near runways. Planes were making sounds across a low field. I found myself back in the airport an hour later. I went upstairs. It was an empty food court. An old man in a red blazer and an “I Can Help” button approached me. He asked if he could help me. “I’d say you can,” I said. I gestured to his button. He gave me a big hearty English chuckle. He told me the Holiday Inn, while technically on the airport grounds, was not accessible by foot. He told me the building the Holiday Inn currently occupies used to, in fact, be a terminal of Birmingham International Airport. He told me the airport got too big. He told me the best way to get there was a particular bus. Barring that, if I didn’t want to wait fifteen minutes or more for the bus, I could take a taxi.
The bus wouldn’t come. I waited for a half an hour. I decided to take a taxi. The taxi driver was polite. He drove me two laps around the airport and then dropped me off at the Holiday Inn. As I checked in, the concierge asked me if I took the shuttle. I said I hadn’t. She told me that, for my information, there was a shuttle from Birmingham International Airport Station to the Holiday Inn. It came every thirty minutes between nine AM and ten PM. She handed me a little card with the schedule.
I went into my room. It was a suite. I don’t know how or why I deserve a suite. I had a little living room with a sofa in it. The lights were dark and orange. It felt candlelit. I slid open the bedroom door. I threw the smaller of my suitcases onto a stool. I took a shower. I changed my underwear, shirt, and pants. I put some things into a tote bag. I went out into the lobby. I checked the time. The shuttle bus would be coming in ten minutes. A girl maybe ten years younger than me was waiting for the shuttle.
“I like your tote bag,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said. “I got this in Hawaii.”
“I’ve never been to Hawaii. Is it nice there?”
“Is it nicer than here?”
“It’s nicer than a lot of places.”
“What are you here for?”
“I’m here for the game conference.”
“Oh, so you’re going the NEC?”
At this point, I didn’t know what “NEC” stood for.
“Yeah, that’s where I’m going.”
“Oh! Me, too. I’m there for a — well, I’m not part of it. I’m more just there on my job.”
A few silent seconds slid past.
“What’s your job?”
“I work for an art company.”
“An art company — a company that makes art?”
“You got it. We go to events and, um, we draw people and sights, and we put together a sort of, um, illustration portfolio.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“It is, it is, and this conference that’s here now, they’re a lot of brilliant people — they’re an organization that finds jobs for the disadvantaged. Tonight’s their big party — you probably saw them in the lobby. You must have seen a couple of blokes with kilts, yeah? They’re not the ordinary suits and ties — it’s nice. They all have a bit of character, and that makes my job easy.”
“It sounds like your job is fun.”
“Well, my mum would rather I be a teacher, or anything, really. I was studying to be an art teacher.”
The bus had come. The driver was an old man. He told us the rules of the bus. He told us we could take a train into the city of Birmingham from Birmingham International Station. I told him I was going to the NEC. He said I might have quite a walk ahead of me, as the NEC was the biggest convention center of its kind in Europe, and the main business draw to the city of Birmingham.
“So what is it you do?” the girl asked me.
“I make video games,” I said.
“That sounds exciting. That must be a bit of fun, yeah?”
“It’s alright,” I said. “It can be frustrating.”
“Well, you’re making a toy that you presume some people will like, and it’s always a little bit broken, and you spend thousands of hours fixing it, and by the time it’s perfectly fixed in reality the way it is in your head, you’re tired of it, so you give it to everyone else.”
“That sounds a little lonely.”
“And then I have to fly around the world and show it to people, and it’s not done, and I don’t know when it’ll be done, and they ask when it’ll be done, and I say, ‘I don’t know’.”
“I can believe that might be stressful.”
The bus arrived at the station. We got out. We entered the NEC. We walked down a long corridor.
She asked if I’d been to England before.
“I’ve been here a couple of times,” I said.
“How do you like it?”
“I like London,” I said. “I could live in London.”
“Oh, you don’t want to live there! You live in California.”
“California ain’t so great,” I said. “We don’t have the British Museum. We don’t have Full English Breakfast.”
“You like English breakfast?”
“I had one in London yesterday morning. Now that was lonely: I flew all the way around the world to England and I am only going to get to spend six hours in London.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You’ve got to be in Hall 6,” she said. “I’m going this way. You’re just going to keep going that way for oh about fifteen minutes.”
“Well, it was lovely talking to you,” I said.
“I’m in room 327,” she said. “I’m Amanda. If you want to swing up and say hi tonight. I leave tomorrow first thing in the morning so I’ll probably be up.”
“Hey, yeah, maybe I’ll come by and say hi.”
I walked down fifteen minutes’ of empty science-fiction corridors. The place was like an airport thousands of years after the end of the world. It was red, white, black, and cold. I made it to the convention hall. I entered. I found my booth. I immediately saw six people I’d seen in Korea two weeks earlier.
Among the people at the booth was a guy named Ben. He was pretty cool. At one point, he mentioned that he had a car, and that he could take us to get supplies. One of my favorite jokes related to cars — well, aside from sitting down in a person’s car, glancing right at a Toyota, and saying, “Nice car — is this a Honda?” — is to, no matter what someone says, doubt that they have a car. I try to make my doubt plausible. Ben mentioned his car; many minutes later, I asked, in confidence, “Hey, man, did you mean what you said back there? I mean, do you really have a car?”
This joke played far better in England than in the United States. Maybe it’s because England is such a little island.
When midnight rolled around, me and some of the guys from the booth were in the middle of Birmingham, at a Tesco. I bought a two-liter of IRN BRU and a bag of donuts. I bought some cream puffs and a box of biscuits. I bought a two-liter bottle of Tesco diet cola for nineteen pence. It was cheaper than water.
The guys drove me back to my hotel room. I drank a Sprite Zero. I lay down in the bed. I took off my clothes. I got inside the covers. Hours passed. Airplanes were landing and taking off outside. I sat up with a shock. I sat on the toilet. I felt fat for a half an hour. I was in pain. I lifted one foot and then the other. I breathed in and out. I didn’t know what time it was. I thought about Amanda in room 327. Goodbye, Amanda in room 327.
Four days later, I had a decision to make: I could either go back to London on an evening train, hang out with my friends all night, and then carry my heavy bags across the city in the morning, or I could stay in a hotel lobby with some of my acquaintances until three in the morning, when someone could give me a ride to Birmingham International Airport, where I could take a bus directly to Heathrow. That bus would take two hours. I would be perfectly on time for my 8am flight.
Ben agreed to drive me. He was getting tired at one-thirty AM, so he drove me then. I set up camp on a bench inside the airport. I opened up my suitcase. I optimized the position of my items. I connected my phone to a power outlet. I looked on the internet. I checked my bus ticket. I confirmed that I knew exactly where to stand. When three AM rolled around, I rolled my suitcase outside. I stood on the curb. Twelve other hopeful passengers stood under the glass eaves away from the wind.
A bus slid to a stop by the curb. Some of the passengers got on. The driver got out. He made sure luggage was secure in the cargo bay. He stretched his legs. The bus was a bus to Heathrow. I showed the driver my ticket on my phone. He looked it over.
“Yours is the next one,” he said. “The 421.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“When did the 421 leave?” he yelled to the luggage man. “Right behind us, yeah?”
“It was right behind us.”
The driver gave me my phone back.
“Just wait right here. It’ll be by momentarily.”
The bus slid away. I was alone. Some more passengers showed up. Another bus stopped three minutes later. This bus, too, was not the 421. I showed the driver my ticket.
“The 421 might be running a bit late,” he said. “Nothing to worry about, happens all the time.”
“Alright,” I said. “Thanks.”
I was alone on the curb. Some people across the street were smoking cigarettes in front of the airport entrance. It was late and it was cold. A woman smashed her cigarette with her foot. She rolled a suitcase toward me. She stood on the curb. She held her phone up to the sky. Her hands were shaking. It was cold. She was taking a picture of the moon. The moon was blood red. Her photo was blurry. She tried again. She tried again. She tried again. Her photo was blurry. She rolled her suitcase back to join the smoking group.
I stood with my toes on the edge of the curb. I looked up at the moon. I looked down. I saw a bus coming around the bend at the end of my sight. I could not read its number. I rolled my suitcase onto the edge of the curb. The bus drew closer. I could see that it was the number 421. It slowed down. It stopped in front of me. Its windows were black. I could see my reflection. Above my reflection, I could see light on the driver’s face. He looked me in the eye. I looked him in the eye. We looked each other in the eye for ten clicks of a stopwatch. I raised my right hand just as the bus blasted off down the road around the bend and into my brain’s nowhere.
I stepped into the middle of the road just as the bus drifted right and behind an obstruction. It was gone. I stepped back onto the curb. Maybe the bus would come back around.
It didn’t come back around.
Maybe the bus would come back around.
It didn’t come back around.
In front of me was a poster with a phone number for the National Express. I called the number. I gave the operator my ticket number. The operator had a pleasant Irish accent.
“I can confirm that you were reserved for this bus, and I can confirm that the driver was aware that a passenger was waiting for pickup at that stop, now, what I cannot confirm at this moment is why the driver did not stop.”
She offered me a seat on the next coach.
“Now, you want to make sure you’re there on the curb ten minutes before the scheduled arrival of the bus, and you want to make sure you’ve got your ticket number and a photographic ID ready to show the driver — you’re not going to be in the system as a passenger, so I’m going to need to relay this information to him directly.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
“And I want to say — will you be in the United Kingdom much longer?”
“Unfortunately, I’m leaving in the morning.”
“Ah, the morning! Are you leaving early, then?”
“My flight is at eight.”
“Oh my, well, I see you left yourself plenty of time for the unexpected, that’s responsible of you.”
“Well, I’m glad I did so!”
“Again let me apologize. Now, if you’ll be coming back to the United Kingdom anytime in the next year, I’d like to offer you a voucher for a free trip anywhere in the United Kingdom. Might you have a preferred email address?”
A woman rolled a suitcase past me. She had a cigarette clamped in her lips. She aimed her phone at the sky. She took a picture of the red moon. Her picture was blurry. She tried again.
I bought a roll of McVities Digestives and an extra-big Cadbury Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut Bar. I bought a Pepsi Max. I bought a cup of coffee. I put milk in the coffee. I drank the coffee outside. When I was done with the coffee, I crossed the street. An old man was waiting with a printed-out ticket. He had a mustache.
“American?” he asked me, in a Texas accent.
“You bet,” I said.
He didn’t ask me anything else. Three Japanese women crossed the street, stood on the curb, leaned out into the empty road, peered around the bend, looked up, and took pictures of the red moon.
The bus stopped. The driver got out. He was a wrinkly, robust, generous-looking man with curly receding hair and a tiny little gray ponytail.
The man from Texas unfolded his piece of paper. He presented his photo ID. The driver scrutinized them.
The man handed the baggage to the porter.
I opened my mouth.
“I was supposed to get on the 421 — “
“Oh! It’s you!” the man yelled in a jolly voice. He clapped me on the back. “Get on, then! Just load those over there.”
I loaded my suitcases. I got on the bus. I sat in the back. I sat one row in front of the bathroom. I put on my sunglasses. I wanted to stay awake until London. The bus accelerated. I felt the back wheels churning. It felt like the bus was lifting off. I fell back into the seat. The bus rode up and down on waves. I felt alone on an ocean. Sleep kept falling onto me. My eyes rolled shut and then open. My right eye pulsed and felt hard. My right eyelid fluttered. The right side of my face felt hard. Maybe I slept. It was a quiet and soft torture.
I snapped back into reality. The sun was alive. The light was orange. The road was periwinkle. The bus windows were tiny, and then they were bigger. I was awake. I looked right. The bus had stopped in the middle of a highway. Cars were speeding by on either side of the bus at impossible speeds. Each car shook the bus. Car after car heckled the bus into vibration.
I looked down the aisle. The driver was in front of me. He looked down into my eyes.
“Move your foot, lad,” he said, in the softest, most fatherly voice I’d ever heard.
I looked at my foot. My right leg was folded over my left knee. My foot floated over the middle of the aisle.
I moved my foot.
I half-expected the driver to turn around and jog back up to the driver’s seat. Instead, he charged into the bathroom. For five minutes as cars shook the bus, I could hear his upper and lower diarrhea groans and sprays.
When he was done, he stepped out the bathroom. He straightened his pants. He straightened his cap. He waddle-jogged up to the front of the bus. He sat in the driver’s seat.
We were at Heathrow Airport three minutes later.
I got on my plane. The plane flew to Dublin. All passengers flying to San Francisco needed to go through a US Customs and Immigration pre-clearance. A passenger behind me told their spouse, “We can either do this now, or have to do this later.” The passenger in front of me said to their spouse, and then, turning around, addressed the rest of us in the US Passports line: “Does anyone here know what we did to deserve this?”
“Whatever we did,” a middle-aged lady yelled, “I hope we had fun!”
I was so sleepy a decent doctor could have proven I was practically dead. I fell for an hour into a mental place where I could hear or see nothing. I was on my feet in that line for that entire hour.
Once I was through customs, I had thirty minutes before my plane left. The plane was already boarding. I walked right onto the plane and into my seat. My seat was in the middle of a row of five. I used the bathroom before the plane took off. I sat down. I popped two sleeping pills. I put my backpack under the seat in front of me. Two old ladies sat to my left; two old ladies sat to my right. I fell asleep.
Three hours passed. I awoke with a start. My right eye was burning. My bladder was solid like a balloon full of sand. The lady next to me was eating a little cup of fruit with a tiny plastic fork. She had a plastic cup of red wine. The television embedded in the seat in front of her was on. She wasn’t wearing headphones. Her eyes were narrowed at the American comedy in front of her.
“Excuse me, can I — “
The lady made no reaction at all.
“I just need to go to the bathroom — “
The lady did not blink. She stared ahead at the video display.
“I just — “
She didn’t look at me.
The lady to her right was asleep. The lady to my left was asleep. The lady to her left was asleep.
I took my Nintendo 3DS out of my backpack. I played the beginning portion of Dragon Quest VII. My character was a fisherman’s young son. He lived in a fishing village on the southeast corner on The Only Island In The World. His best friend was the king’s son. The castle was on the northwest corner of The Only Island In The World. The boy’s dad went out on a fishing trip. The boy’s best friend believes there is more to the world. He believes something happened. He believes the rest of the world is stuck in time and therefore invisible. He breaks a promise he made to his father, the king, by exploring the ancient ruins in the northeast corner of The Only Island In The World. He believes the secret is in the ancient ruins. He believes somewhere in the ancient ruins is a key that will unlock the rest of the world — by some sequence of written characters or incantations, he can reveal the greater majority of a world.
The prince was grounded in his room. He’d asked me to gather clues. He believed some artifact bearing sun symbology was the key to completing the king statue’s scepter in the ruins. I went to the bar where my dad’s alcoholic uncle hung out and hit on girls. He bragged about a stone he had found. The stone was hot to the touch. He called it the “sun stone”. I went to the castle to talk to the prince. I was free to come and go as I pleased in the castle, being that I was known as the prince’s friend, and the island was The Only Island In The World, meaning the world was very small, consisting of only a fishing village, a castle, and some old ruins of a temple. I talked to an old scholar in the castle basement. He’d found a map.
“Look at this map. This map is very old. Here’s our island. Look at all these other islands! Whoever drew all of these other islands must have had a creative imagination.”
My right eyelid fluttered. A fat marble of tears cracked onto my cheek. I closed the 3DS. I put it in my backpack. I put my elbows on my knees. I put my forehead on my palms.
I sat for three hours. The lady to my right flagged many flight attendants. She drank wine, orange juice, apple juice, and a beer. The lady to her right awoke. She smoothed her hair. She rubbed her neck. She licked her lips. She unbuckled her seatbelt. She stood up. She went to the bathroom.
I sat up. The ladies to my left were both sound asleep.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Excuse me. Um, excuse me.”
The lady did not blink. She held a small plastic cup of red wine in her right hand. She was sitting upright. She was narrowing her eyes at her television.
“I just need to go to the bathroom. Hello?”
She looked me in the eye. Her eyes were wide.
She was Irish: “What?”
“I just need to go to the bathroom.”
“And how long do you suppose you’ll be?”
“Maybe just a minute?”
She took a slow inhale. She closed her eyes. She opened her eyes. She exhaled.
“I’ll stand in the aisle and wait, then,” she said.
I sat on the airplane toilet. I pressed the balls of my feet into the plastic floor. I rose and fell on my tiptoes. I breathed in my teeth with a great high sound. I tensed my left thigh. I could feel a baseball-big wad of hard muscle flicking into shape and life inside the back of the bottom of my thigh. I pushed the heels of my palms into my legs just above the knees. I stood up a quarter of the way. Something popped inside my bladder. My bladder was empty for an instant. Then with a great balloon feeling of suction, it was full again. A ribbon of spray fell out in a spiral. I relaxed my neck. I breathed out. The air did not touch my teeth. I twisted the ball of my right foot against the floor.
Minutes later I was done. The lady was sitting down again.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
The lady in the aisle smiled. She stood up. The next lady stood up halfway. She did not unbuckle her seatbelt. I scooted past her. I sat in my seat. I closed my eyes.
Hours later, I awoke again with a feeling of glass in my pelvis. I looked right. The woman to my right was looking at me. Her lips were wrestling one another.
She looked away.
The plane landed.
I spent twenty minutes in a bathroom at San Francisco International Airport. My baggage was on the carousel when I got out. Passengers were standing inches from the baggage carousel chute as the bags fell down. Passengers had surrounded the baggage carousel with their bodies. Their shoe-toes were an inch each from the conveyor machine. I tapped a man on the shoulder. “Excuse me?” My bag retreated to the right. I tapped another man on the shoulder. “Excuse me?” My bag continued to escape. I tapped a third man on the shoulder. “Excuse me?” My bag escaped again. I tapped an old woman on the shoulder. “Excuse me?” She moved. She looked at me. It was the lady who’d been sitting next to me. Her hand touched her chest. I stepped into her place. I grabbed my big suitcase. Then I grabbed my small one.
“Thanks,” I said to her.
I charged my Clipper card. I boarded the Bay Area Rapid Transit headed through San Francisco and into Oakland. I found a good seat. I was able to hold my two large suitcases in front of me. The sleep on the plane had been less than sleep. The sleep on the plane had been more tiring than being awake. I fell into a state of hypnosis. My suitcases rolled away from me every time the train accelerated. I woke in time to grab their handles and pull them back.
The train sprinted through San Francisco. It was rush hour. The train was full. I had my arms around my suitcases. I was leaning forward. I had a black hole inside my skull. The train was hot and quiet. The train left Montgomery Station. The train stopped at Embarcadero Station. A man sitting across from me was typing on a laptop. The man sitting next to him took the laptop out of his hands. He stood up and stepped toward the door.
The rightful owner of the laptop stood up and latched his hand onto the laptop. The thief then removed a large silver pistol from the inside of his jacket. He swung the gun downward. He hit the victim in the top of the head with the gun. The victim fell onto his face onto the floor. The thief ran out of the train. Every passenger left the train with speed and silence. Passengers had crammed the aisles and were climbing over the seats. I was extending the handles on my suitcases. Someone stepped on the back of my head. My suitcases fell forward. I fell on top of my suitcases. My phone slid out of my pocket. It bounced on the carpet. It bounced out of the train and onto the platform. Someone stepped on my phone. I pushed past my own suitcases. I retrieved my phone from the platform. Someone pushed me down. Someone stepped on my back.
I stood up. All of the passengers were now looking at the train. Police officers were running down the stairs.
“He jumped the turnstile,” a lady said to the police. I doubted that she could have seen that, though clearly she was right.
I got back on the train. Some guy was sitting in my seat. He had a laptop open on his lap. He looked up at me out of the tops of his eyes. He looked back to his laptop screen. He looked up at me again out of the tops of his eyes. His eyes darted back away.
In a few minutes, the train was running again.
I was back at my house in a half an hour. I laid my suitcases on their sides in the middle of my living room floor. I opened them. I surveyed their contents. I wanted to unpack. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet. I stood up halfway. I breathed in and out. I dripped drops. Each drop released an imaginary fist-sized puff of air from my bladder. My body was bleeding an elderly stone.
I went downstairs into the living room. I opened the door. I let the sun and the breeze into my dark gray-floored cubical house. I put my hands on my hips. I surveyed the contents of my suitcase. I’d been abroad for a month. I’d packed a lot. I’d acquired some items. I wanted to unpack with speed. I wanted my electronics on their proper shelves; I wanted the cables and wires bound and stored in the proper bins. I wanted all the dirty clothes in the laundry. I wanted all the toiletries in their right places. I wanted my underwear tumbling in the dryer when I closed my eyes and passed out after the sun was down.
A long shadow fell onto the concrete floor. I looked up. A man was standing in my doorway.
“Oh, hey — hi, hello.”
“Hey, uh, hey, uh, you don’t know me.”
“Oh, well, hi.”
“You know my brother — this is about my brother. You know him. You know my brother — that is a nice TV. How big is that TV? Is that, what, seventy inches?”
“It’s seventy inches, yeah. What’s up?”
“You know my brother, he was out there — you know, out there.”
“Oh, in the Ford?”
His brother was the crack addict who had been living with his crack addict girlfriend in a Ford Taurus across the street for several months. They often had loud arguments. My neighbor often opened his front door to yell at their arguments until their loud arguments turned into louder arguments.
“Well, he was across the street, and now he’s not, because you all put him in jail.”
“Whoa, I didn’t put nobody in jail — “
“It’s alright, it’s cool, I ain’t blaming you, boy, you did what you had to do — you did what you had to do and he’s in jail and now, uh, he’s been there for a minute, and tomorrow he’s going to be getting out of jail, and I just want to tell you, I want to tell you, if he comes back here, if you see him back here at all, he’s gonna be here and he’s gonna be mad, so I want you to call me. Can I give you my number and you can call me?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. I opened my phone contacts list. “What’s your number?”
He recited his number. I had to type each number two or three times. My touch screen was not responding so well.
“That is a nice TV,” he said.
“I love it,” I said. “I’m never getting a smaller TV.”
“Now if my brother shows up, if he’s angry, because he knows it’s you — he knows it was the guy in number two — “
“I’m number three, actually,” I said.
I tapped on the number by my door: 3.
“He knows it was the guy in number two; he knows it was you. If he comes back here and he’s mad — the first thing, when you see him, if you can call me, I’d appreciate that. The last time you all had a fight I was at work and I couldn’t get down here in time. Just please, this time, I’m going to cut out of work, you hear me? Call me as soon as you can. If he looks like he’s going to get mad, or he’s going to get violent, boy, you do what you have to do — you call the police on him, I won’t take it as no disrespect, you’re just doing what you have to do, I can’t blame you for that.”
“Alright, I’ll call you the second I see him. I’m going to try not to call the cops.”
I extended my hand. “My name’s Tim.”
The man wiped his hand on his jeans. He looked at his feet. He looked up. “Huey. How much was that TV? Where did you get that, Costco?”
“I got it like four years ago. It was like two thousand four hundred at Costco, yeah. I think you can get them this big for a thousand now.”
“I’m gonna do that,” he said.
I watched him get in his green SUV. I closed my front door. I locked my front door.
I drank a liter of ice-cold water from my refrigerator. I stood in the dark. I surveyed my suitcases. I sat down on my sofa. I took out my computer.
I had an email from the National Express:
“It is a fundamental requirement of our service that our drivers stop at each and every scheduled stop on their journey. Additionally, drivers must notify our Service Support Centre if any booked passengers are not picked up for any reason. All drivers are very well aware of these requirements.
We have strict internal procedures to ensure that such issues are properly followed up when we let our customers down in this way.
I have already forwarded the details to the manager responsible for this service, who will interview the driver and discuss your complaint in detail. The driver’s previous employment record will be reviewed, along with any other relevant documentation, particularly the coach’s tachograph, which will confirm whether the coach stopped at the scheduled time. The manager will decide what action is appropriate to ensure that there is no repetition.
I will not be able to advise you of the outcome because of the strict confidentiality that has to be maintained on such driver issues. However, the outcome will be recorded on a central database for future reference and discreet checks are often made to ensure that lessons have been learnt.”
The screen blurred before my eyes. I had been awake for too long, in too many places, on too many vehicles, in too many memories remembering each other at the same time. My right eye was twitching. I took my glasses off. I touched my eyebrow. I rubbed my eyebrow. I rubbed my eyelid. I felt my eyeball flutter. I aimed my phone camera at my face. I closed my eyes. I took a picture. I took ten more pictures. I opened my eyes. I looked at the eleven photographs. My right eye was half open and white in all of them.
I’ve tried again a few dozen times since then. It seems that I can’t close my right eye anymore. When I was four years old and I’d just survived a near-fatal car accident, a doctor told me this might happen someday. It turns out today is someday.
I arrived in Tokyo after a sleepless night in Seoul. I’d arrived in Seoul after a long dark glassy train ride from Busan, all the way on the other side of the country. I’d played violent noise music in a basement all night. I drank a “McCol” coffee-cola out of a clean plastic bottle. It tasted like fuel for horror movie monsters. I played a guitar and screamed. I screamed about being “fat on the toilet” for a half an hour. In my song, the reason I was fat on the toilet was that I was eating myself, and I was eating myself because I was not anyone else. The ultimate conclusion was that the narrator of the performance was fat on the toilet because he was fat everywhere else and we are all infinitely fat everywhere relative to oblivion. I screamed so hard I almost threw up the McCol. Being in my stomach might have made the McCol darker. I imagine my stomach would have turned the McCol into a substance the weight and texture of Plexiglas.
I took the first train to Gimpo Airport. I took the Haneda monorail into Tokyo. I took the Yamanote Line to Ueno. My hotel wanted an extra 1,000 yen to let me into my room twenty minutes before the check-in time. I gave them the thousand yen. I asked for a receipt. I told myself I would put that on my expense report, whenever I got around to writing it (two months later). I dropped my luggage in my room. I changed my socks. I put on a pair of shorts. I put on a light French linen shirt over a pink Nike running shirt. I felt comfortable. I went to Shinjuku. I found my best friend. She was waiting for me in a bookstore inside the station.
“Maybe it’s too late in the day to go to Kamakura,” she said. She was right. She was wearing a beautiful ankle-length blue linen dress. She’d tied her naturally curly black hair on top of her head with a blue bandanna she’d bought in Oakland, California two months ago, when I was in Japan and she was in Oakland.
“Where should we go?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“I’ll go anywhere.”
She looked down. She looked forward. She smiled.
“Do you want to go to the aquarium in Shinagawa?”
“Yes,” I said.
“We can see dolphins.”
We got on the Yamanote Line. It was the middle of the afternoon when we arrived at the aquarium. The aquarium was dark. The lobby had a big swinging pirate ship ride. It was idiotic. My friend and I laughed at it. The first floor was all “interactive” exhibits involving iPads and TV screens.
“This kind of sucks,” my friend said.
Deeper in was a room full of vertical tubes of jellyfish. Under all of the vertical jellyfish tanks were colored lights which moved and changed in sequence. I looked at the jellyfish for many minutes. My friend looked at the jellyfish for many minutes. My bones turned cold as I stared at the jellyfish. Down below my eyes, close to my belly button, sticky little human handprints marked the glass. The lights changed; the jellyfish changed color.
I want to talk more about the jellyfish. I feel like I shouldn’t talk more about the jellyfish yet. I could talk for years about the jellyfish.
We went deeper into the aquarium. Suddenly, the aquarium was wonderful. We saw sea lions and seals. We watched dolphins perform to the tune of “My Heart Will Go On”.
“Do you think the dolphins think this show is cheesy? Do you think they think human culture is ridiculous?”
“I think the dolphins don’t even need to think about human culture.”
We saw capybaras. We saw huge sharks. A variety of rays and deep ocean fish swam over our heads through an aquarium shaped like an arch.
My friend was pondering bottom feeders. I was looking at big tired fish with ancient faces and imperceptible motion.
My friend touched my upper arm. Her face’s reflection slid up next to mine.
“What are you looking at?” she asked.
“Monsters,” I said.
She was quiet.
“If they’re monsters, we’re monsters.”
“We’re monsters,” I said.
“I walked right into that one,” she said.
Two hours later, we were in Shinjuku. It was night. It was hot. It was loud. The electric lights were bright. People were drunk and having fun. My best friend and I were walking toward a cafe that sits deep underground, with walls of old brick and booths of red velvet, with a wooden engraving of Beethoven on the wall on the stairs.
My friend and I had coffee. We parted at the station. I went to Ueno. She went to Setagaya.
I had meetings all week. On Saturday, we met in Shinagawa. We saw Masaya Matsuura perform music on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his music debut. The venue was a church. Matsuura explained that he chose Shinagawa because that was where The Black Ships landed on July 8th, 1853, bringing the full shock of Western political influence at last into isolationist Japan with their “Gunboat Diplomacy”. He played many songs. The performance was beautiful. Rather than have an accompanying vocalist, he played alone. He sang his own songs into a custom vocoder. His electronic voice was a high-pitched, auto-tuned ghost of the ancient melodies. He played a few PSY・S songs. He played “WOMAN・S”. His new arrangement changed the song into something old and beautifully sad. A sudden terror found me. It was the worst I have felt in as long as I can remember. I did not want him to play the song I had listened to on those two bad days. I did not want him to bring the darkness in that melody to the front. His anniversary performance was a celebration in name; the dark echoes of the church let the hidden darkness consume his melodies. I had felt that darkness all along. I loved that darkness. I kept that darkness for myself. On this night, he was exposing and featuring the darkness. My heartbeat was violence.
My friend looked at me.
“Are you alright?”
He didn’t play the song.
After the show, we had an opportunity to greet Masaya Matsuura. We passed. I’ve met him dozens of times. I’ve never told him how much I like his music. What am I supposed to say? “One of your songs is inextricably connected to several of my terrible memories”?
On the day I was to leave for Europe, it was a bank holiday in Tokyo. I carried my suitcases into an elevator and down a street and down an escalator and through a series of tunnels. I carried them one at a time up multiple staircases. I got to the Narita Express track at Shinjuku Station. Because it was a holiday, the train wouldn’t start running until ten AM. My flight was at noon; that was no good. I hauled my suitcases to the limousine bus stand. I emerged on the wrong side of the street. I was inside a cage of fences. My shoulders and back were killing me. The sun was hot. My shirt was full of sweat. I carried the suitcases back down into the tunnel. I crossed the street. The buses were all booked before nine-thirty.
“Is there not a faster way to get to the airport?” I asked the ticket-seller.
“There is not,” he said.
“Alright, I’ll take it.”
I got on the bus at nine-thirty. The bus slid into an orange tunnel. The bus pulled out of the tunnel. The bus ascended onto a highway ramp. It stopped behind a thousand other vehicles staring toward the sun.
The bus arrived at the airport at eleven-thirty. I ran to the Japan Airlines ticket counter. Two clerks stood behind the desk. The desk was as high as their shoulders. Both were women. One was visibly older than the other.
“I have to be on the plane to Copenhagen,” I said.
The younger clerk knew my name.
She looked at the older clerk.
“Does this guy have a chance?”
The older clerk said, “Probably not.” She smiled at me. She picked up the phone.
“We have one more,” the older said into the phone. “He’s checking in right now. Yes. Alright.”
The younger clerk was checking in my documents. She took my suitcases.
The older clerk hung up the phone.
“Run,” the older clerk said.
“We must hurry,” the younger clerk said. She took my papers. “I will hold these. Follow me. We will do priority checkin.”
She set off at a full sprint. I dragged my carryon behind me, behind her. Her little heels clacked. Her bristles of perfectly styled hair bounced. Her little bowtie jiggled.
“Why are you late?” she asked.
“The bus — there was traffic! And there was no Narita Express until 10am from Shinjuku.”
“Oh no: Shinjuku!” she said. “Today is bank holiday.”
“Yeah, I know.”
We ran around a corner. We ran into the security checkpoint. We entered the first-class checkin. It was fast.
“Do I need to take my shoes off?”
“We don’t have time to take your shoes off,” she said.
The old Japanese man at the security checkpoint smiled at me. He looked between my face my passport. He closed the passport. He handed it to the girl.
We ran through the terminal.
“This way,” she said.
“Do you have to run a lot?”
“Maybe . . . maybe one time in three days?”
“Maybe you should wear better shoes,” I said, in Japanese. “Maybe running shoes would be better.”
“Your Japanese is pretty good. The shoes are part of the uniform.”
Her hair was bouncing out of control.
“You stand behind a counter, though.”
“Well, they make me taller.”
With a loud clack, one of the heels broke. The flight attendant spilled onto the floor.
“Ah! My shoe!”
She carried her shoes in one hand, and my documents in the other.
“I’m sorry!” I said. “I shouldn’t have said anything about the shoes!”
“It’s okay!” she said. “I’ll buy new shoes on my lunch break. I work in an airport.”
The tiny airline employee, now inches shorter, sprinted twice as quickly in her stocking feet.
We were six gates away when she slipped on her right foot, slid forward while falling backward, and landed on her tailbone.
“Hey, are you alright?”
She got up. She was still holding her shoes and my documents.
“I’m alright. I’m alright. We’re almost there.”
We ran to the gate. She handed the documents to the flight attendant waiting by the jetway.
She immediately stepped aside. She leaned forward. She put her hands on her knees. Her eyes bulged. Her lips curled. She breathed.
“Are you alright?”
“Thank you for flying Japan Airlines,” she said. She didn’t look at me. I got on the plane. I popped four sleeping pills. I don’t remember it taking off, and I barely remember it landing.
“Thank you for flying Japan Airlines.”
I had lived in Japan for ten years, between the ages of 22 and 32. I had flown out of Japan and around the world numerous times on business. Somehow, at age 36, I was flying Japan Airlines for the first time in my life. My memory opened.
(or, The First Nine-Eleven Joke I Ever Heard)
It was 11 September, 2001. It was early in the morning. I was on a shuttle bus between Pittsburgh International Airport and the Ramada Inn. The only other passengers were two pilots. Unbenownst to me, terrorists had crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. My CD player’s batteries died while I was listening to the song “Asobi ni kite ne” by PSY・S. The bus was silent for a moment. The road was bumpy.
The one pilot looked at the other and said, “What airline was it?”
“Was it Japan Airlines?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know. Kamikaze.”
Again the silence consumed them.
That was the first Nine-Eleven Joke I ever heard.
It occurs to me now that the pilots had not seen the video footage on the news yet. All of us entered the hotel. We all stopped in front of the television. No one said anything or made any jokes for a while after that.
It is November of 2015. My friend gave me his car. It’s a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. It has a V8 engine and only around 100,000 miles on it. He bought it for a few thousand dollars. He gave it to me for free. He didn’t want it anymore. He’s leaving Oakland. He’s moving to Portland. Everyone is going to Portland these days. Portland this, Portland that. Portland is a real drawing card. He doesn’t want the car in Portland. He gave it to me. It has a hideous paint job and a pristine interior.
He hadn’t driven it in a year because he didn’t feel like it. Someone stole it the month he had bought it. The cops found it. The thieves had used a punch tool to break the ignition. He paid to fix the ignition. Someone stole the car again. The cops found the car a second time. The second thieves had melted some fuses. The car wouldn’t start. It cost him a lot of money to fix it. The second thieves also painted the roof of the car black. My friend and his cousin had painted the white doors black because the police told them they had to. The paint job overall is disgusting. The car looks fuzzy. I’m afraid if I touch it I’ll stain my hands forever.
On the rear windshield, the car still has the date “11–10–14” written on it in marker. That’s the date the police last found it. It sat outside my friend’s house for a year, undriven, its battery a dead brick.
We wanted to register the car. We needed to smog check it. The smog check center couldn’t smog check the car because the computer didn’t have enough data. He said to drive the car eighty miles. We parked the car at my house. We took all the paperwork inside. We filled it out. My friend left the car at my house. It’s mine now. I looked outside the second morning. The car was gone. Someone stole it. I filed a police report. An officer came to my house. He told me I wasn’t the registered owner. I told him it was a complicated story. I told him my friend, the owner, was in Portland. The officer told me the thieves were probably using the car “for cover”. He said the cops would probably find it within a two-block radius of where it had been stolen. I shook the officer’s hand.
The police found the car on Thanksgiving. They won’t give me the car, because I’m not the registered owner. I have to register the car without the smog check. Then I can get the car from the impound lot. Then I can illegally drive the car eighty miles. Then I can get the car smog-checked. Then I can get stickers for the license plate.
I already have a car. It’s a bad car with a decent engine. I don’t even need a second car.
I wrote my expense report tonight, knowing that a car I don’t need is waiting for me in downtown Oakland, by the police station. It’s sitting on a lot. It has one date a year old written on it in fat white marker, and today, right now, it probably has another date written on it in a white marker of the same fatness.
The night the thief or thieves stole the car, I opened my apartment door and looked outside at the cold dark. My terrible silver car was parked on the curb by my house. The ghastly gloppy-painted shadow-beast of a secret Ford Mustang, with thick spiderwebs caking its blown-out spotlights, with its front grill a shattered tangle — removed by authority-hating vandals — its rims missing, its glass dirty, sat on the other side of the street, facing the other way. The wind was cold. I turned on my phone camera. I pointed the camera. I lined up a picture. I didn’t take the picture. Two men in hooded jackets walked by on the other side of the street. They stopped. They looked at me. I closed the door. I locked the door. I went to sleep.
It’s raining now. I’m thinking about the jellyfish in Shinagawa. I stood with my nose inches from the jellyfish tank. I watched their ghost plastic ripple and flap. I watched the coils of their tentacles kink and straighten. They moved up one puff at a time. They turned. They moved down one puff at a time. I looked directly through this colorless being. I wouldn’t call it an animal. It always moves. Inside its transparent body of nothing are mere splinters of something. It is a machine old lightning built. It is a chain of old chemistry. This old chemistry reacts to older chemistry. Nature gives these molecules geometry. Chemistry gives this geometry motion; physics gives this motion silent (noisy-enough) flutter to communicate “life”. Light reveals this clear bubble of nothing in the ink of void. Years below my eyes are two sticky little handprints on the glass. The light goes out. I and these other machines of old lightning are alone with the only philosophy.
Other loves are farther away; other loves are farther away.
on occasion i awaken:
i am everyone i have ever known
i am everywhere i have ever been
i am every object i have ever owned
i am every sight i have ever seen
i am everywhere i will ever go
i am every sight i will ever see
i am everyone i will ever know
Tonight I opened the door. I looked at my empty street. It was cold and dark outside. A hard rain was falling. A hard wind was blowing. For a moment the wind was louder than the rain.
— tim rogers, oakland, california, 27 november 2015