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The White Man and the Pachinko Girl

344

 

 

The White Man

and the

Pachinko Girl

 

by Vann Chow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Vann Chow

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

 

 

“Hell and heaven are the hearts of men.”

 

Japanese proverb.

Prologue

 

“You know what, Sumisu-san, you’re the first Sumisu I’ve ever met.” Mr. Uchida slid his food tray next to Smith’s. “Welcome to our company. Welcome to Japan!” He gave Smith a hearty slap on the back as encouragement.

“Thank you.” Smith replied with a smile. He held up his knife to cut into the Tonkatsu on his plate, but he decided that this was as good an opportunity as any to raise a question that he had in the back of his mind since that morning, the first day of his external business assignment in Japan, so he lowered his knife again. “I can’t help noticing that you’re all calling me Sumisu.” Smith replied. “I’‘m a regular Smith. Sh-mith. It came from the German word, Schmidt, so technically, it would be fine to end it with the ‘t’ sound. But to add a ‘Sue’ to it, is really a misnomer.”

“I know your name. Sumisu is one of the most popular Western names in Japan. If there’s a Gaijin in an movie, or a play, or a dialogue in a language textbooks, he would be a Sumisu. ” Mr. Uchida explained as he sat himself down on the plastic chair. His eyes fixated on the whipped cream on Smith’s apple strudel. “You’re of German descent? Many Japanese are fascinated about German cultures. Your colleagues would be thrilled to know that.” He mused.

“Well, uh, ya. I didn’t know any of that.” Smith contemplated the historical implications of the Japanese admiration for the Germans. He sliced into the Tonkatsu. Steam raised from the deep-fried pork cutlet sliced open in front of him and fogged his glasses. In the time that had elaspsed before his glasses regained its clarity, Smith had decided that the Tonkatsu looked uncannily like a Viennese Schnitzel.

“It might sound a little bit strange, Sumisu-san, but I have to tell you this: meeting a real Sumisu for the first time in my life excites me.” Mr. Uchida had bunched the paper napkin in his hand as he spoke. “It’s almost like meeting your pen pal from childhood for the first time.”

“Really?” Smith squinted his eyes as he listened to his colleague’s unfounded admiration for him. He decided that it was best to focus his mind on the challenging task of leaving as little crumbles on the plate as possible.

“I have always imagine how Sumisu look like. I think most Japanese do, because we hear so much about him, everywhere.” Mr. Uchida explained his overt interest in the simple subject of Smith’s last name. “Sumisu could really be anyone’s imagination. I’m glad mine doesn’t deviate too far from the real thing.” Mr. Uchida said. He had now turned his head towards Smith and was appraising him as if he was a priceless antique.

Albeit his will to fight it, the exchange had made Smith uncomfortable. The fact that Smith was such a commonly known Western last name in Japan that any foreigner was essentially a Smith to them did not seat well with him.

“God, what strange ways you lead us to question our existence.” Smith thought.

 

1.

 

There was no place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo at 10 pm every night like this enormous Pachinko parlor called the “Passage”. Recently renovated, this huge gambling establishment that could easily be mistaken as a ladies’ department store by the unknowing eyes of the foreigners because of its blazingly fluorescent white-light lit entrance way and a grandiose lobby lit by equally intense light bulbs of no less than two, three hundred in quantity, cleverly arranged on the ceiling and behind the translucent floorboards to direct all the stumbling pedestrians from the relative gloominess of the outside world to the top of the staircase where the gambling activities were concentrated, was convulsing with violent laughter and angry cries over a collage of noises coming from the Pachinko slot machines. As if vying for attention, the pre-recorded voices of young females seemingly from the under-clad cartoon characters depicted on the cover of the plastic light boxes of the machine grew ever more high-pitched and pushy when too much time had gone by in idleness after the last customer left, full-handed or empty-handed. With shrewdness of jealous girlfriends in their choices of words to seduce their married lovers into the endless abyss of disloyalty and ensuing unhappy divorces, the internal computer of these Pachinkos would carefully select new sales pitches based on the length of its idle time and the weight of the reservoir where all the pinballs were collected. Eventually, they would be rewarded by the pinball that pushed through the plastic flaps at the inserting slots and be triggered into a frenzy activated mode consisting of even more shrilly sales pitches and blinking tiny light bulbs arranged on the upright panels in a diamond or heart shape. And then they would greet the white-collar man who, typically, either had too much to drink or too heavy a briefcase to carry to continue on his search for the lucky machine of the night, and settled down on the comfort of the worn out leather stool before a particular machine that seemed to forebode a great conclusion to his lonesome, trying day at work, and tried his luck.

Among one of these cheerless men who were only occasionally stirred to irritation by the clanking sound of steel balls pouring out in an enviously large quantity into the winning buckets of their lucky yet despicable neighbors, was a white man in his fifties spotting a wrinkly gray suit called Smith. A bottle of half-empty Lipovitan, a well-known brand of energy drink that was even more well known for its aphrodisiac effects, in his hand, he inserted the 387th ball of the night into the same machine he had been playing for the past hour and a half and habitually murmured under his breathe the part of the Lord’s Prayer that said “Give us today our daily bread” multiple times in quick succession. The pinball dropped through the panel making various jingly noises as it hit the barriers on its way down. Smith dabbed his sweaty forehead nervously with the sleeves of his suit as his eyes glued painstakingly on to the ball as it cascaded downwards under the force of gravity and pure chance. He had a good feeling in his gut. “This is it. This is it.”, he whispered to himself. He followed the fall of the ball so intently that he scooted off his leather stool and anchored both of his arms on the two sides of the screen to support his body weight as he leaned forward in anticipation for the revelation of his fate. His change of posture was so dramatic that the people surrounding him paused their games momentarily to watch him and see how his game would turn out. Even the girl who was serving drinks in the parlor had stopped dead in her tracks as she passed by the end of this row on her way back to the workstation to watch. When the ball slipped through the lowest pair of flippers a collective gasp was to be heard in the vicinity of Smith’s Pachinko machine. However, in a quarter of a second it transformed itself into a collective sigh as the ball fell into the “0” bracket at the bottom making an almost inaudible, ominous ping.

Chikuso!” Smith slapped his sweaty palm on the glass panel in frustration. Then he sighed. As far as he could remember, he had never been lucky anyway. Since there were only about 15 balls left in his coin cup from the four hundred he bought at the beginning of the night, he decided that there was no better time to leave. At least he hadn’t lost everything. “Knowing when is the right time to leave,” he said to himself, “is the true wisdom of life.”

Certainly, one would argue that he should never have gone in the parlor in the first place if he was indeed a wise man and could otherwise avoid wasting 5000 Yen in a matter of hours. But to be honest, he had nothing else better to do on a Friday night like this when life left him on his own accord. It was a rare and peaceful night with no work to catch up, no company activities to attend, no customers to “settai”, or entertain, before the signing of contracts, and no late-night phone calls from the Americans to answer on the Friday before Thanksgiving weekend. He had looked forward to this empty slot in his schedule for about two months now and he was hell bent on making use of this precious personal time to recuperate; perhaps meet a nice Japanese woman and have a whirlwind love affair with her. But now that the weekend had arrived, he realized that he didn’t really have anything particularly enriching or relaxing to fill his schedule with, nor was he shameless enough to risk embarrassing himself in front of the opposite sex, whom he didn’t know where he could meet them to begin with, with his broken Japanese. What could he even say to them? “Konichiwa. Watashi wa Smith desu. Hajimemashite. Ima hima?” Good afternoon. My name is Smith. Very nice to meet you. Are you free now?

The last time he used that phrase was to a thirty something year old Japanese woman reading a Time magazine in a small coffee shop by his office building about a year and a half ago when he was first transferred to Japan. He wasn’t even thinking of hitting on her. It was just one of those moments in a nice day when you want to make small talk with people and it didn’t really matter whom it was with. Noting that she was reading an American news magazine he thought they might be able to perhaps make a simple conversation in English after the initial introduction phase in Japanese. But they didn’t even go beyond that. In reply to his uninvited disruption, she only shot him a look of disgust and continued on reading her magazine as if he was invisible, which made him extremely uncomfortable. After that he was terrified of Japanese women, except his own secretary at work who was always courteous to him even though he suspected that it was only because he was her boss. Japanese women, he thought, turned out to be far more capable of inflicting pain on men due to the sheer improbability that a simple facial gesture they made can mean so much more than the abusive language of women, much better in size, in his home country.

And it wasn’t like he had someone to go home to either. His families, a ex-wife and two already married kids of twenty five and twenty eight, were miles away in Ohio. If he was to go back home today as he secretly yearned, he doubted that anybody would welcome him in the greatly dramatized ceremonious way the “Priceless” Visa commercials used to portray family reunion to be ---- the reunion, in reality, was often much less sympathetic and much more frightening. His wife has filed divorce six months ago while he was in Japan. The possibility of his wife being dissatisfied with him after so many years of peaceful domestic life together was such a distant thought that he reserved the next flight home-ward the same day he received the notice from her lawyer, thinking that it was only a misunderstanding. As it turned out, it wasn’t. He begged and he pleaded. He admitted to everything she accused him of and apologized in the most heart-warming fashion any living man could ever perform. “ But why don’t you let me go?” His wife said, however, “We had stopped loving each other since years ago.” and dispelled any notion that she might even consider withdrawing the case. And the fact that she talked about their extinguished love with such conviction that Smith, usually dexterous in business negotiation, was absolutely dumbfounded. He knew it wouldn’t matter that he proved her wrong by showing how much he still loved her because she had apparently stopped loving him. And he was disinterested to know when exactly that had happened. He had always listened to his wife. He thought he could listen to her one last time. And so quietly, he left the house, suitcases completely untouched in the back of his Volkswagen and drove back to the airport the next morning while his wife was sound asleep in the bedroom, exhausted from the previous night of debate. So here he was, alone in Tokyo, the true City that Never Sleeps, the true City of Light, located on the east side of Honshu Island, drowning in pain among 12 million Japanese people on a Friday night with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

As he had exhausted his wallet after the 387th game and feeling kind of lethargic, he pulled his coin bucket out from the cup holder and dragged himself up to leave. His feet had grown numb from hours of sitting in the office and then the Pachinko parlor making him stagger. As he stood there trying to wait for the sensation of his two legs to come back to him, he glanced around him. The Japanese men that have once curiously turned their heads away from their own games to watch his had resumed theirs’ and became immediately absorbed into their own world that nobody seemed to even have time to give his bad fortune a second thought, let alone a compassionate grunt. Knowing that he wouldn’t get much sympathy out of this crowd, he took a deep breath sucking in the bitter, invisible insults underlying the stolid atmosphere of the parlor, which he then regretted when the thick scent of second-hand cigarette smoke mixed with the sourness of his own sweat hit his senses, and he slowly stumbled towards the staircase, pouring the rest of the steel balls into a losing fellow’s coin cup on his way out.

Only when the sliding glass doors opened did he realized it was a huge mistake not to take more interest in Japanese television. It was pouring outside and he didn’t bring an umbrella with him.

“What a fabulous country!” He threw his hands up in dismay and yelled sarcastically to the salarymen around as they slipped past him to leave. From his sour expression, they didn’t need to know English to understand what he said. The face of self-pity was universally understood.

 

 

2.

The alarm didn’t go off as usual at 6:30am and Smith only realized this when the hour hand stroke seven.

“Ahhh! Saiyaku!” He knocked his disloyal digital alarm clock off the bedside table in a rage. It rolled a couple times on the carpeted floor before coming to a stop under the dressing table. Already late, Smith shot up from the bed trying to get dressed for work as soon as possible but as he did so, an unpleasant wave of woozy, dull pain stroked him down with such force that he fell to his knees. Bracing his aching head with both hands, he noticed the florescent “SAT” on the alarm clock that was lying on the floor through the gap between his two forearms.

U-so! No way!” It was a Saturday. A nervous-rack as he was, naturally he did not choose to believe it so easily. So he pulled apart the curtains of the small bedroom window and peered down at the complex’s parking lot three levels down to look for proof. To his surprise, almost all of the parking spots were still occupied and his colleague’s Nakamura-san’s Honda was still parked in its usual spot A-32. Its wheels aligned perfectly parallel to the white painted lines on the two sides of the parking spot. “U-so!” He said again. How could he forget! It was the weekend. The first weekend he had all to himself for a very long time since he started working there. In his ridiculous looking white-and-gray-striped pajama, he jumped up and down on his mattress like a kid who just heard school was canceled for the day, with the biggest, brightest and happiest smile on his face until the migraine caught him off guard and pulled him down to the ground again as if a huge WWF fighter had crashed down on him from one corner of the fighting ring. As he lay on his bed rolling in pain, he laughed hysterically at his foolishness. It had scared his wits out of him when he thought he had overslept for work. He couldn’t stop laughing still after a minute has gone by --- the aftereffect of a self-induced panic attack.

After the panting had subdued from this early morning shock, clumsily Smith staggered into the narrow kitchen in his shoe box size apartment, provided by his company as a dormitory for single men, and started to rummage through the overhead cabinets for the can of Gyokuro green tea he brought back from his Kyoto business trip couple months back. But as soon as he found the can, the next few steps of this hangover-morning routine were relatively easy. And Smith did it with the efficiency and precision of a machine designed, as if, solely for making tea – he nicked a chuck of green tea the size of a sugar cube from the compressed tea brick inside the can, crushing the tea leaves with technique between his thumb and forefinger as he went and sprinkled them inside the electric kettle with a gentle circular motion, using only his wrist. Deftly he filled the kettle with tap water just below the line etched with the word “2 cups” on its side and turned the power knob to the third position that says “Medium-High”. Even with his eyes closed, for the wave of nauseates had hit him again, he didn’t have to fumble around for the metal lid of the tea can. He had done this so many times in the one and half year in Japan that he knew exactly where the lid would be sitting already. With a quick sleight of hand, the tea can was resealed and skillfully replaced back into its original location on the cabinet where it was always hidden behind the cheaper, non-medicinal green tea he bought from the super-market downstairs for daily drinking and serving guests.

When the tea was done, Smith drank two cups of it in quick succession. By now he was already numb to the poignant fragrance of the tea that he had stopped pausing between gulps to savor it lavishly like he used to. He used to be so careful about not wasting any of the Gyokuro tea, not only because of how expensive it was but also how good it tasted. Between every gulp, he would let it glided on top of his tongue and rolled around his mouth until his taste buds were all fully saturated with the refreshing flavor of it, then slowly he would let the tea trickled down his throat, tickling it with a nice, warm sensation which he liked so much, before swallowing everything. But now, he only saw it as a headache remedy, no more and no less. Almost immediately, his head had stopped throbbing and his vision cleared up. It happened almost instantly. It made him wondered whether the green tea was curing his hangover, or his deprivation of the tea itself. Can one be addicted to tea? The rest of the world certainly was and still is, he thought to himself.

Because he didn’t own a television, Smith’s only way to the outside world, apart from listening to occasional exchange of news inside the company that was in English, which was minimal because of how few other Americans were there and that it was considered impolite to engage in long conversation in a foreign language in the presence of other Japanese colleagues who do not understand ---- was to read the International Herald Tribute, which was the global edition of the New York Times. There happened to be an article on page 7 about the CEO of the American stainless steel supplier and manufacturing company, Wesley and Sons, with whom he was closely involved in business while he was still working in the U.S. Apparently, the CEO, Mr. Gregory H. Wesley had on the day before the Thanksgiving Thursday filed for a legal separation with his wife Marian Wesley after 28 years of marriage. Wesley, at 55 years old, and his wife, 52, who had two grown sons together, both agreed that their marital relationship had become incompatible and they were reported to be living separate and apart for years already. According to the report, Wesley, the fifth generation of the Wesley family, had agreed to evenly split their properties and assets, including shares of Wesley and Sons.

And then on page 21 of the same newspaper in the Discussion section, Smith found another article concerning his divorce, speculating the real reasons behind the split of the Wesleys couple. According to it, there were rumors that Wesley was having an affair with a much younger and more attractive woman thirty years his junior. Many who sighted the couple believed the woman to be an ex-Playboy model who goes by the name of Ashantia whose photograph was also displayed on the paper. Rumors had it that Greg had met her through a friend of a friend who invited him to a huge corporate party staffed with bunny-girls as “facilitators”.

At that point Smith put down the paper down on the table and let out a sigh. He already knew the rest of the story. This kind of things happened all the time in Japan. The only difference between having an affair here and having an affair there was that the American men would always ended up losing half of his estates over a woman he was infatuated just as much as the next tramp who would come his way, while Japanese men would only earn more respect from their subordinates through the possession of much younger women, as a sign of prowess and affluence, while their wives at home, as if there were rule books distributed nationally on the “proper” marriage etiquette for all young Japanese women to read, would turn a blind eye on their disloyalty quietly.

Still, seeing news alike that amazed him, because Greg and him were acquaintance from way back. Greg was such a pitiful wimp when they were still in St. Luke’s together as far as he could recall. And he couldn’t imagine why any one would be attracted to him at all. Everyone at school knew that he was going to be inheriting some kind of family business but judging from the emaciated look on his face and his scrawny body and nobody thought that he would inherit anything more than a puny little corner pharmacy where he could have access to endless supplies of Parker’s Pain Relief Cream, which they deemed he would certainly need from all abuses he took in school. But then after they graduated, Greg went to Yale, and Smith went to Ohio State. Greg moved to New York and took over his dad’s fledgling business, went on to take his master in business administration in North Western after a couple years and turned Wesley and Sons into a multinational company with net sales of 4 billion US dollars, while Smith got kicked out of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team for some dilly-dallying he refused to remember, decided that he probably need a real job from then on when he couldn’t play football anymore, he switched from the Department of Philosophy to Department of Chemistry and became the average salaryman he was today, working for a company that worked with Gregory H. Wesley’s, someone he thought many years ago would be the last person in the whole wide world he would have respect for. Even now when both of them were in the process of divorcing their wives, Greg has to show himself off by flaunting his new found girlfriend in front of the media to make sure that the insulting news would end up on a newspaper that came all the way from New York into his tiny single-man company dormitory in Ikebukuro, Japan for him to see.

Smith sighed again. He felt as if he has heard similar stories before. The wimp at school had grown to become stronger than the bully. And by some devious twist of fate, he would pop back into your life years later and take his revenge in the most unimaginable ways, and make sure that you suffer as much, or more, than he ever did before. “Where did I hear stories like that from?” Smith asked himself. “Was it from my father? Perhaps from grandpa?” He loathed the thought of being born into a family of losers.

 

3.

 

It was 3 pm in the afternoon when the sudden onset of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Minor from his cell phone shook him out of his afternoon stupor. His anxiety level always heighten whenever his cell phone rang outside of the office because he would have to risk making a fool of himself with his limited Japanese when his secretary was not around to help. Luckily, a quick glance at the front display revealed the caller to be Andy Wilkinson, an American colleague sent over from the States on a one-year assignment three years ago and still hadn’t got sent back to the home office yet. The incompetent Human Resource people claimed that they were unable to locate a job opening for Andy back in the home-office at his level because he had since gotten promoted into a project manager during his assignment in Japan. With three years of experience living in Tokyo under his belt, Andy would help Smith get around in Tokyo while Smith would give him general advice in life in return. So Andy, a young man who was stuck in Japan indefinitely, and Smith, who was a novice in this society, had become best buddies since the first day they met at the office despite their glaring twenty years age difference. Besides, both of them were huge Buckeye fans. When Andy was not schmoozing with off-duty bar girls he would call Smith up for some fun pastime activities together.

Seeing the caller was him, Smith flipped his cell phone open and answered cheerfully.

“Hey! How’s it going?” He said.

“…..Tatsukete kudasai. Tatsukete!!” A stranger’s voice had come from the other end of the line. “Tatsukete” was the word for “help” in Japanese. Caught off guard by the plead for help, Smith found himself speechless. The voice had belonged to a girl who sounded no more than twenty years old. He wanted to ask who she was and what happened to her but in a moment of shock he had left all his Japanese outside the door. His mind raced to search for the right phrase in back of the “Living in Japan for Gaijin” book he studied from time to time during the subway ride to work that might come in handy in this kind of situation. Yet his mind drew a total blank and he could remember nothing useful. Before long the girl started to speak again. Her torrents of words were interspersed here and there with two ominous words he recognized ,“Tatsuekete kudasai”, or please help. Her voice was trembling and she sounded frightened.

Ano…Nan ga ata?” He finally thought of a useful phrase and asked her what had happened.

But in response to his query, Smith only heard a series of deep, heavy breathing followed by some rustling noises that said she was making a lot of movements. Then a gasp was heard. The call got cut off at that moment leaving nothing but a dreadful silence. Smith stood frozen on his spot not sure exactly what had happened and how he should proceed. In fact, he wasn’t even sure what happened had actually happened. It’s 3pm of an autumn Saturday afternoon. What kind of atrocities could any woman be facing on a day like that? A day almost worthy of being glorified eternally by the brushstrokes of Monet for those who come after us to admire? By the way, if she’s using Andy’s phone, what had happened to Andy?

Before he had time to think this through, the phone rang again. It was coming from the same number. This time Smith didn’t hesitate to answer the call. He minded himself to focus and make sure he catches any useful information regarding the girl’s identity, her situation and Andy’s.

“Moshi moshi. Smith-desu!” Hello, this is Smith, he said, greeting the caller with Japanese this time.

“Hey!!!” In came Andy’s juvenile’s voice from the other end. The tone of his voice morphed into a sound of pain. “I-tai, i-tai, i-tai….” Smith heard him said. But it didn’t seem to be directed to him.

“Where are you? Are you okay? What’s wrong with you?” Smith asked, concerned.

“What’s wrong with me?! I should ask you what’s wrong.” Andy blared into the phone. “I-tai, i-tai, i-tai….” He said again to the other person Smith couldn’t see.

“What?!”

“What do you mean ‘what’ ?”

“I’m asking you! Are you hurt?!”

“Well, why? My feelings is hurt because you’re not here.”

“Where?”

“Shibuya. The karaoke lounge in Shibuya! Did you forget? ” Andy shouted into the phone over a background of cheesy Japanese pop music. Not hearing any response from Smith’s side, he blared into the phone again, “It’s the third station on the purple line! The PUR-PLE line! Dogenkaza, write it down. ” Then a wave of girlish giggling was heard in the far distance. “I-tai, i-tai, i-tai….baby, stop! Kinchiru! This is forbidden! Do you understand?”

“So you mean you are fine?”

“Why would I be? The girls here are giving me the time of my life. There are eleven of them here! Almost double that time the Korean dude was here. But this Yoshida guy will be here at 6 so you’ve gotta come over here ASAP. We only have the girls till 5:30!” The call ended abruptly as soon as Andy finished his sentence.

“Fuck.” Smith threw his cell phone angrily on his bed. While Andy was having the time of his life singing karaoke with the bar girls, he was worrying himself about some imaginary nonsense.

“I gotta make sure that sucker gets a piece of my mind.” Then he went into the bathroom to change.

 

4.

The club Andy was talking about was located on Dogen-zaka, or Dogen’s Hill, one of the busiest entertainment districts in Tokyo concentrated with night clubs and love hotels. At this hour in the afternoon, Dogen-zaka looked harmless enough. Like most Tokyo streets, its two banks were lined with stores that sell the latest and greatest creations from all around the world whether it was telecommunication devices or women’s accessories, CD records or healthy drinks. If it was not necessary, Smith preferred to avoid walking on streets like that where it was nearly impossible for one to stay focus on his track because every step he took he would open up a new landscape of even more distractions --- apart from the plethora of billboards commercials he felt compelled to read, he would inevitably be tackled by some overtly enthusiastic road-side salesmen trying to talk to him about mobile services or something equivalent to the Japanese Scientology. And since people from all walks of life would pour into Shibuya on the weekend to shop or dine, many companies would seize the opportunity and send their staff out to conduct survey on the streets that would answer some of their research questions like what was the average number of magazine Tokyo households subscribe to, the amount of time a housewife spend on cleaning bathroom, or the percentage of teenagers who uses this type of deodorant versus competitors. Whenever that would happen, the pedestrian ways would be jammed as badly as the traffic.

Given his appearance, Smith suspected that he was targeted less than an average “Tokyian”. But the English level of the Japanese youth was getting better and better and it started to worry him. Not only would he be stopped by salesmen, sometimes he would be stopped on the roads by eager university students who wanted to practice the foreign languages and would not give up any potential opportunity to practice them. Oddly, once he was pulled over in the line to buy coffee by a pair of French literature majors who thought he was French and wanted him to teach them how to order their drinks in French. Another time, he got stopped by a boy on his way to the subway station who asked if he would like to help him with his study in fluent German; at least that’s what it sounded like to him. Smith sometimes wondered if his mid-western accent was really that hard to follow that he was beginning to sound like Europeans. But while he was still in college he had explored both French and German before he decided on Japanese, which he studied for two semesters. Therefore, he was able to politely reply in the language of inquiry, however rusty it may be, that he was actually an American who speaks American English (to deter those students who only wanted to learn British English) and was very sorry (well, not really) that he could not help them.

When he entered the Metropol Lounge on the fifteenth floor of the Metropol Building after successfully avoiding all the obstacles on his way down Dogenkaza Road, he was immediately taken to the biggest lounge in the facility at the back where Andy was. Andy had always hosted his visitors here and had over the years brought in a lot of businesses for them. Almost everyone from the lounge owner to the janitor knew him and would always took good care of any customers who came through his recommendation. He certainly never disclosed that he thought the snacks they provided stunk and their collections of English songs was pitiful, but he had stayed because they let him reserved the lounges by day not by hour, which meant whenever he had a guest to host for business in the same evening he could have the girls come in a couple hours earlier before the actual guest arrived, played a few drinking games and had a couple of good sake while underwriting all the charges to the company account.

Contrary to what Smith expected, he was actually glad to see Andy in his old womanizer self, flirting shamelessly with the bar-girls. As he was shoved into the center of the sofa clumsily between some of the more hospitable girls, he tried to listen intently to the voices of the girls as they introduced themselves and tried to match the voice of the mysterious caller. But none of them sounded like it. Smith was going to confront Andy if he thought making a prank call on him was very funny but before he could say anything, Andy asked,

“You sounded kinda out of it on the phone. Everything’s alright?”

Still considering the possibility that Andy was the mastermind behind the call, Smith said, “Lately I am just getting a lot of weird calls to my cell. I would hear these bone-chilling breathing sounds but nobody would talk. These weird Japanese bastards. I got one again just minutes before you called.”

“Why would someone do that to a man like you? I meant, this kind of harassment calls only happen to attractive women, or men like me.” He sounded like as if he was insulted that he was not targeted.

“Yeah. And I don’t think I know anybody well enough to make them hate me, or be obsessed with me that much. One call came like 4 am at night and I was so ready to break his fucking neck.”

“Jesus. You’ve talked to him?”

“It’s a Her.”

“Tell her to go fuck herself.”

“May be she was at it.” The two men laughed.

“I have some clues about who that could be. I stopped by the police station and reported it just before I came.” At this point, Smith was pretty sure if Andy was the culprit, he would either call Smith out as a liar, since he never made that many phone calls to him, or start panicking for his foolishness and apologize. But he didn’t do either of those. He said calmly that going to the police was the right thing to do and then he held out his cell phone to teach Smith how to block all unknown calls with a certain code.

“That’s all right,” Smith said, “the police will take care of her.” There seemed to be nothing else he could do. Cell phone signals have been quite weak in one corner of his shoebox apartment. The mysterious emergency call could be routed to his number due to some odd signal transfer problems while Andy was trying to call him. Since there was no way to find out whether the caller was in fact Andy’s doing, he put it out of his mind. Warming up after a couple of sake, Smith started telling Andy the news he read today about Greg Wesley’s divorce. Andy decided to prod him on the topic he was afraid to touch himself.

“Have you ever thought about remarrying and settling down here?” Andy interjected as he noticed the sour undertone in Smith’s voice when he spoke of Greg’s newfound romance.

“In Tokyo?” He said. “Do you know how much an apartment unit cost in here? By the time I finished paying for the flat I would be dead.”

“Well, exactly! And you’d want somebody to be by your deathbed crying when you get to that point, right?”

“Ug-hm. I am not exactly proud of the situation at home but I did raise two great kids who’d do that for me, don’t forget.”

“Debra and Ethan are married. I never called my parents and they never called me. Once you go long distance, you voluntarily gave up your right to be a part of family. That’s how it is. It’s all about the few pennies they save by not making unnecessary calls.”

“Don’t be so morbid. I’m pretty sure if I was sent to Europe they would call me to tell me they want to bring their kids to visit every other weekend. Japan is just too far. Too foreign, too intimidating for them.”

“What’s the big deal with Europe? Americans are too close minded. Who needs Neuschwanstein when we have our own castle here in the Tokyo Disney Land? Who needs the Roman Coliseum when we have the Tokyo Keibajo (Tokyo’s Horse Racing Stadium)? I don’t care if they never sent me back to the States. I can stay here all my life. I don’t care about those people who think I am being exiled. Look who’s missing out. They treat me like a prince here. The Tokyo Tower is just as impressive as the Eiffel Tower; Even the women smell better here, which reminds me of the point I was going to make. Here, take it.” Andy dug out a business card from his suit pocket and handed it over to Smith. It was in beige color with scattering pink flower paddles printed on one corner. It read Marionette Newton, Professional Matchmaker. Zwei Inc. “Give her a call.”

Smith grumbled at his suggestion. He didn’t need any matchmaking.

“Just take it.”

“No. It’s a fucking waste of time. ” Smith dumped the card on the coffee table. “Besides, her name sounds fake. Marionette Newton. What kind of name is that? Next thing I know she’s gonna ask me go have tea parties in the backyard with her puppet friends.”

“As long as she speaks English, who cares?”

“Oh, so you’ve tried it?” Smith chuckled. Matchmaking was such an absurd idea he could not imagine Andy would give it a try.

“I was there out of sheer curiosity. She’s good. She hand picked every one in her book. She does background checks on them and interviewed them one by one to make sure they have a good lineage, good education and good manners, you know, the whole package. Most of the women you end up meeting are the best of the best. Either a heiress to some big family business or an executive woman whom no ordinary Japanese man dares to court.”

“Then why aren’t you married? Instead you are fooling around with these disease-infested whores who would suck Miyamoto’s dick for a thousand yen?” Miyamoto was the ugliest man in their office who wore a comb-over. They were pretty sure he collected blow-up sex dolls and bought all sorts of custom-made outfits for them in his free time.

“ ‘Cause I’m not ready.”

“Somehow I’m not surprised to hear that. And how’d you know I’m ready?”

“ ‘Cause… you look like it?”

“I’m fifty-five and I just got a divorce.”

“Exactly.”

A waitress in the club’s signature pink and black uniform walked in gingerly with a couple of drinks while they were speaking. Quietly she placed the drinks on her platter in front of Andy, tugged the platter under her arm and took out her electronic server book.

“Hi sir, my name is Misa Hayami and I will be your server today. Would you like to order some drinks?” And she started to knell down on the floorboard. She’s one of those maid-hostess. How could one be a maid and a hostess at the same time? Normally, Smith would comment on it but his mind was preoccupied by something else.

“Did you call me?” Smith snatched the girl’s wrist. He was ninety percent sure the voice of the girl in the mysterious phone call belonged to her.

At his sudden assault, the frightened girl staggered back and knocked the decoration lamp behind her over. The platter and the order device fell out under her arm and rolled away. Andy was aghast.

“What are you doing?” She shouted while struggling to wriggle her wrist out of his grip.

“Hey! Take it easy, man.” Andy had stood up from his seat too.

“No! This girl. It’s the same voice.” He let go of her wrist as he was trying to explain himself. “I’m not trying to hurt her. Far from it. ” Now he pointed at the girl. “This girl used your cell phone to call me just now. Did you let your cell phone out of your sight?”

“Wait. What?”

“I got a call from some girl, as I told you, just a few minutes before your call. It displayed your numbers, too. And she sounded like she was in some kind of trouble…It was not funny, okay?”

“Oh! Okay, I see what’s happening now. I was showing the girls what a BlackBerry can do. All these online poker stuff. It went around. I don’t care. They are good people here. Typically it’s no big deal you leave your stuff laying around. Baby-chan, did you try to make a call or something?” Andy repeated the question in Japanese.

The girl shook her head slowly in answer to his question. Smith could not help but looked skeptical. Like a frightened animal, she had scooted to the corner of the karaoke box with her back against the wall.

“It’s just an accident probably.” Andy laughed. “Smith, you don’t have to scare her. She’s just a kid.”

“Well, I know.” Smith lowered his head, thinking hard how he should approach the situation. When he lifted up his head again, he asked the girl in a serious voice. “Are you alright? Daijoubu desu ka, Hayami? ” Andy listened to his query with a baffled look. When she didn’t answer, Smith said to Andy, “She gotta be. Here she is, standing right in front of me some 45 minutes later after asking me what I would like to drink. This is just…” Smith paused there and sighed.

Andy turned to the girl. “Misa, you cannot just take people’s cell phone and make prank calls like this. I’m going to have to tell Sawada-san.”

At the sound of her manager’s name, the girl started to sob uncontrollably. One of the hostesses in red dress witnessed all these and went to call for the manager Sawada-san anyway.

“What’s going on?” Sawada –san hurried into their lounge and asked.

“Misa…” The hostess in red said, pointing at Misa who was crying in the corner.

Smith stole a glance at the manager and saw a look of panic on his face. His facial expression changed into a look of admonishment and started to yelled at Misa, “What did you do to our customers? Apologize now.”

More tears rolled down her face at his yelling.

“Get your butt over here, Misa, now! If you don’t want to get fired! ” The manager threatened.

“It’s okay.” Andy stood up from the lounge couch. “Smith, can you just let it go?” Andy asked.

“I…” Before Smith could finish saying that he was not offended just concerned, the girl had grabbed the stems of two of the champagne flutes from the coffee table and hurled them in Smith’s direction. The flutes smashed on the couch in the space right between Smith’s legs, splashing the champagne all over him from his crotches up to his face. Everyone in the room made a collective gasp when the two glasses made a loud clang on the floor and shattered. Crying, Misa sprinted out of the lounge, dodging Sawada-san’s attempt to stop her. For one reason or another, a surge of guilt swelled in Smith’s chest. He bolted from where he was sitting and run after the girl, his face still dripping with liquor.

“Hey!” Smith yelled after her. But the girl didn’t stop and she beat Smith to the entrance. Smith pushed open the closing automatic doors after her and cried her name after her again. But as he said that Misa had already pushed open the fire exit door and ran down the stairs in a fury. When Smith got there, he paused and peered down the stairwell. He could see Misa’s pink uniform flashing in and out of his view as she jogged down the staircase below, leaving nothing but the sound of her sad wails in her trail. Smith went back out the stairwell and pushed the button for an elevator. They were on the fifteenth floor. Smith couldn’t run down fifteen floors without killing his knees. So he waited impatiently for the elevator and scooted in as soon as it arrived, closing the doors on Sawada-san who had also came out to look for Misa.

“THIS WILL BE F-A-S-T-E-R!” Smith mouthed the word to Sawada-san who looked helplessly at him through the gap of the elevator’ doors as they closed.

 

5.

 

Dogen-kaza Road was still as busy as earlier in the afternoon when Smith’s first went into the Metropol Lounge. Smith swept his head nervously left and right trying to locate Misa but to no avail. All of a sudden, he caught a glimpse of the pink and black uniform in the reflection on the glass exterior of a road-side café across the street. It’s her, Smith thought to himself and he hurried across the streets to catch up, completely disregarding the traffic on the three-way intersection. Luckily the traffic was so congested that the cars were hardly moving so most drivers were kind enough to slow down for him. Many had actually stopped and cranked their necks outside of their rolled-down windows to watch who this blundering white man in business suit was chasing after, wondering if they had accidentally ran into the sets of a Hollywood action movie in shooting. But Smith was oblivious to his surroundings. He only thought of Misa and carefully he weaved through the stopped cars across the streets. However, he lost sight of Misa again when he got to the opposite side. He followed his gut feeling and turned left down the streets but Misa was no where to be seen. Eventually, Smith’s ran out of breath and his body started to complaint so he gave up his mission. He sat on a fire hydrant on the side of the road to rest until his panting stopped.

“What’s the point of running after her anyway? I don’t know her. Why should I give a damn about what happened to her?”

At that moment his phone rang. It was Andy.

“Hey, so, here’s the story: Sawada just explained to me. He was being a little bit too friendly with the girl a little bit over an hour ago. But he assured me nothing of the sort you’d need to call the authority here for that you might be thinking has happened. At least that’s what he said.”

Smith was speechless hearing what Andy just said.

“And you trust that slanty-eyed freak?”

“This is just how it is here. You see a woman you like, you just go for it.”

“Fuck the Japs!” Smith yelled over the phone.

“For fuck’s sake, she might even like it like that. Sawada said he saw her on films. Professional adult films if you know what I mean… Get over it. Sawada said nothing happened.”

Smith spent the rest of the Saturday wandering about in Shibuya. He didn’t want to stay when Andy was hosting Yoshida-san, the Shitencho, or the Local Brand Manager of an Osaka company he was negotiating the purchase of their entire rolling mill equipment from two of their disused factories, especially not in this state. They should respect the meaning of “weekends”, these Japs, he thought to himself. He looked down at his own clothes. The champagne that had soaked his clothes had dried out when he ran around the streets. But the stains were visible on his white shirt and he probably smelt like a gutter from all the sweating he did from running around. And so he decided to go into some place with good air-conditioning.

Eventually he settled for electronic stores and tried to educate himself on the latest technology while he was there taking advantage of their cooling. He got really interested in a new Sony netbook model when one of the salesmen was demonstrating the computer to a group of students how to use the build-in webcam to do online chat. The salesman noticed him standing at the back and beckoned him to come forward and give the product a try. Hesitantly he pulled the earpiece and the microphone around his head. He moved around trying to position himself in front of the camera but he still couldn’t get all of his face in the screen. The salesman started to signal animatedly that it was because he was too tall, being over six feet, and that he needed to squat down a little bit in order for him to see himself. As he was doing so, the group of students giggling behind him and he felt slightly embarrassed at his clumsiness. The salesman who was wired to another microphone connected to another computer running the same video-conferencing software started to talk to him. As usual, he couldn’t catch up with the guy’s Japanese so he mumbled some gibberish Japanese phrases over the microphone. But as soon as he did that the group of students started to laugh. Some were actually clapping, applauding his heroic attempt to speak their language. Impressed, the salesman started to speak back to him in English asking him how was the weather in California, obviously a sentence he memorized word for word from some English learning software. Smith replied back in Japanese that Shibuya had a much better weather than California. (That was if he had placed California and Shibuya in the correct order around the two conjunctions “no ho” and “yo ri”). The salesman asked him again how long he would stay in Japan and he replied that he loved Japan and he wanted to live here (although it was an overstatement). As they ping-ponged back and forth between Japanese and English, a huge crowd had gathered around them as if some kind of improv performance was staging. They laughed at almost everything Smith was saying to the salesman and cheered whenever he successfully completed a sentence. A few of the teenagers had taken their cell phone out and started to take pictures of them. The throng was giving the two accidental comedians so much credit that Smith found himself perspiring uncontrollably under the spell of renewed passion for dramatics. He had never been received in a more heartwarming and welcoming way as a foreigner in Japan in the past than he was now. It might be the first time since a while ago that he had truly felt any confidence in himself. In fact he was having so much fun that when the salesman asked him if he liked the computer he answered light-headedly without thinking “Kai tai. Todemo kai tai.” which meant I wanted to buy it, I really want to buy it. In all the glory of a well-received actor, he held up his Citibank credit card in front of the cashier for everybody to see as proudly as an Olympic champion would hold up his gold medal and the crowd gave him a big hand of applause. Shyly he bowed his head couple times to his audience behind him gratefully. As the crowd started to thin out, he shook the hands of the salesman , noting his name on the name tag on his shirt, before sambaing away with his brand new computer back home.

After showering, Smith pulled out his new toy from its casing and started to play with it. He had computer at work too and he was proficient in using Microsoft Office Suite. He knew how to play video and music with Real Media Player and knew how to go online to browse websites but that’s about all the experience he had with computer. Since the user manual came was bi-lingual, he spent the last couple hours of the night before his bedtime perusing the book from front to cover with the diligence of a standardize test taker. He learnt about firewall and spyware alerts, the rewritable DVD disk, the graphics card and the proper use of USB devices. But none of them was immediately applicable to him. Just then, a speech bubble had appeared on the right bottom corner of the screen letting him know that he was connected to a wireless network. The Internet Explorer popped up on the screen greeting him with the latest news on Yahoo! Japan. Delighted at the free internet access from the generous neighbor who didn’t set an access password, he started to roam aimlessly but satisfyingly online.

Then Smith remembered the business card Andy gave him. He remembered seeing a website address on the bottom of the card and it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. After he had retrieved the card he started to type in the address. As soon as he hit entered, a 3” by 4” photograph of a couple smiling happily at each other in a wedding popped up on the screen. The head of the webpage said, “Zwei Matchmaking Counseling Services. Voted best in the industry by readers of AneCam magazine.” After spending the next hour devouring success stories on its webpage, Smith had become convinced of the agency’s credibility and good practice. At the same time, something in those beautiful love stories listed in the site touched him and reminded him of the wonderful feeling of being in love with someone. His yearning for a life partner had grown full-fledge by the end of the hour he was drunk with illusions of love like a teenager. He kept tossing and turned that night and couldn’t go to sleep. In half-consciousness, he saw Gregory Wesley and his new wife, back against him, appeared in front of his eyes. They were laughing happily about something in a busy restaurant and the woman raised her wine glass to make a toast. Her voice was so familiar. Smith struggled in his position to see her face but couldn’t. She muttered something to Greg again and then she turned. Her face had belonged to Debbie, his ex-wife! She gave Smith a cold smile that chilled him to the bones and turned back around to Greg who said “Cheers!”. Their glasses banged loudly together in such forces that they smashed into pieces like how they were today in the karaoke box. The sharp clank woke Smith who had broken into sweats in his not-so-pleasant dream.

“Fuck it. I’ll give her a call now.” Smith bolted up from his bed and dialed his home phone number in Rosehill, Cincinnati. It took a while to connect but eventually it started to ring. And it rang on.

“Urgh!” And down he swung the phone out of his hand in frustration. It bounced off the apartment door and made too loud a bang for 2 am. Smith ran his palm forcefully down his face, wiping off the drips of perspiration from his forehead. He mouth agape and trickles of drool slipping out of the corner of his mouth. And there he sat, no longer moving, for a good twenty minutes, before the attack of anguish finally subsided.

He crawled his way to the phone, cradling it in his arms as he turned around to sit with his back against the door of the apartment. Then he started to enter the number of the match-making service on the business card on the dial pad. At two twenty in the morning, he left a message on their answering machine asking to schedule a consultation with Marionette Newton.

No more than thirty seconds after he hung up, he started to regret having made the phone call. He thought about calling again to leave a message, saying that he had just realized that he would be out of the country in the next couple of weeks and that they could ignore his previous phone call. But that would just make him looked like a man in denial and denial itself, without the need for pychologist’s opinion, was always the best proof. Didn’t want to appear even more desperate than he already was, he gave up on the idea of making a fool of himself by calling a second time and went out to get some late night snacks.

 

6.

 

The next day, Smith received a phone call from Zwei Matchingmaking Service. They asked whether he could come for an interview this afternoon, which he duly obliged, not wanting to be the “man in denial”. In the afternoon, Smith wore a fresh new set of clothes and went to see what matchmaking was like for the first time.

“Big tits or small tits?” That was the first thing Smith got asked sitting inside the office of Marionette Newton. The lady who asked him was a blonde in her thirties with a thick British accent. At first he thought it was a joke and waited for her to budge, but she didn’t.

“I’m asking you, big tits or small tits?” The lady asked again imposingly, throwing a worn-out porno magazine on the desk space in front of him. It made a loud terrifying bang when it landed. Shocked by the unexpected interrogation he was unable to react.

“Mr. Smith.” The lady stood up from her chair and walked over to his side. She sat on the edge of the table and crossed her arm and her legs seductively. The woman was wearing a tight-fitted black sleeveless dress with a thin leather belt around her waistline and a pair of black fishnet stockings. The whole visage was so overwhelming that Smith didn’t know how to respond. “Let me ask you one last time. Big tits or small tits?” The woman pressed.

“You want me to stick it in you, or something?” Smith finally said, fuming. “I am looking for a lady, not a lady of the night. I am afraid I have looked in the wrong place.” And he started to gather his belongings to leave. He realized that he was less ready than he thought he was for Japanese style matchmaking.

“Sit back down, Carson Smith Junior.” She halted Smith from getting up with the porno magazine she had rolled up tightly in her palm in the way a traffic police did with his baton. Smith squinted his eyes skeptically, but docilely complied. The woman leaned once again on the desk behind her, scooted up and crossed her legs dramatically. Then she decided that it was not what she wanted to do, so she stood up again and waltzed over to the right hand side of the room that was lined with rows of filing cabinet in beige. She bent down to reach for one of the drawers that was labeled “miscellaneous” and slid her magazine back into its place between two other issues of the same men’s magazine collected in there. Smith couldn’t help staring at her long lean legs in black fish-net stockings as she was bending over.

Miss Newton could not seriously be applying herself for him, could she?

“You’ve passed the test.” She said, which snapped Smith out of his trance.

“A test.” Smith repeated. And then with a flood of understanding. “Miss Newton.” He expressed his relief by repeating her name in honorific, who only gave him a cold stare in return. Then she laid her business card on the desk before him.

“My name is Marie Newton. I am Marionette Newton’s daughter and her best assistant.” Marie walked over and leaned on the same side of the table again, knocking the name on her business card lying on the table twice with the tip of her forefinger. “I have heard about you from Andy. From what he said, I wasn’t expecting any other answer from you to my racy questions anyway.”

Queasy with the closeness between the woman and him, Smith pulled his chair backwards at an angle and asked, “Is the whole sex vixen thing,” he wriggled his forefinger in the air and asked. “supposed to be a test, too?” His question surprised her. She squirmed uneasily for a second and tugged the hem of her dress down.

“So,” Smith said, “The two of you are dating? You and Andy.” He didn’t need to hear the answer to know. That was the only way why a testosterone man like Andy would want to be associated with a matchmaking agency.

“He found us online and made an interview with us, as you may have guessed failed the test miserably.”

“Somehow I’m not surprised by that.” Smith said. “Tell me what he said.”

Marie blushed at the question and didn’t answer. But almost immediately her old business-only side reemerged and she said to Smith in a professional tone of voice, “You are qualified to be our candidate. From now on we, me and my mother, Marionette Newton, will represent you on Omiai. Our success rate is very high and most of our past clients were able to meet their future husband or wife within a year. We do not charge monthly fee or annual fee but individual consultation, any calls we made to you and your prospective wife and family will be charged an hourly rate. For dates arrangement, there are different levels of fixed charge depending on the type of hotels or restaurants you choose to use at the time. You can stop using our dating consultation service any time you want but you need to submit a formal written notification 3 months in advance. During this period, you are not allowed to use any other dating consultation services or online dating consultant. If you successfully find a bride through us your service would, naturally, be automatically stopped with a final commission charge. The fee will not be weaved if the wedding falls through. Now do you have any question? If not, put your name here and your signature down here. ”

Smith looked at the contract placed in front of him for a quick second and thought to himself, “Fuck you, Gregory Wesley.” And he signed doggedly.

 

7.

 

Smith noticed her voice again, sweet like the sound of the Pied Piper. It was that hypnotic. He had wondered about the possibility of mixing up some other teenage girls’ voices with hers but the voice was impossible to forget. At the moment, the voice was conversing with another girl. Laughters boomed, punctuating soft, feminine chatters of young innocent girls. What were they talking about, Smith wondered.

“Eh, Oyaji!” A boy in bleached blonde hair, atypical dark skin and light blue Hawaiian shirt nudged him forcefully with his ice cold, sweating beer bottle. The beer itself sloshed precariously up the neck of the tinted bottle. He felt the perspiration on the bottle soaked into the fabric of his jacket.

“Sorry, what is the matter?” Smith eyed the apish looking boy looking for trouble and asked.

“Can’t you speak Japanese, you turd?” He said, or so Smith guessed from his gibberish.

“Hottoite kure.” Smith mumbled the phrase Andy taught him when he first arrived in Tokyo, meaning, “Leave me alone, please.” and tried to sidestep the boy. He had often wondered how the Japanese could managed to squeeze the ‘please’ in such a short expression but anyway, the boy seemed to understand that he meant business.

“Ne, nani o miteiru?!” The boy said. The expression on his face was one of offended. Smith was looking at Misa, his girlfriend, he claimed, a bit too closely. The menacing young boy took a swig from his bottle.

“Service.” Smith lied. “I need ser-vi-su.” He was used to using the tourist card. “No trouble. Onegaisumasu. Please.” He gestured back at a Pachinko hastily, to indicate that he did not have enough trays.

“Ser-vi-su?” The boy repeated it skeptically and swayed, almost sloshed beer, presumably by mistake, at his face.

At the moment, Misa lifted her gaze from the girl she was talking to and saw the little drama about to unfold in her working area. She caught the eyes of Smith. The second of hesitation betrayed her. Her mouth quivered, as she begun to recognize who he was.

“Ano…” Smith immediately said to her direction. “Torei. Torei o…motte… dekimasu ka? More trays. I want more trays.” Jabbing his hands in the air in an attempt to show his desperation for more metal trays to hold his invisible winnings. The boy’s body relaxed when he saw Smith’s expression, one of a baffled old foreign man, which had no doubt make the boy think he was a Baka, or a retard. Being regarded as an unimportant fool was at least more assuring than if he were to be mistaken, or perhaps more accurately speaking, caught red-handed, for ogling the boy’s girlfriend.

“Ahhh. So…so…so…” The girl scrambled to pick up a few trays from behind the counter. And her boyfriend strolled away, mumbling harsh words, no doubt, at God. When she looked up, Smith and her eyes met again. They were the same big set of black water eyes that gazed up at him in distress the other day. And this time, her attractive white neck and the beginning of her breasts peered through the opening of her white over-shirt, like two little halves of peeled green apples. The little package scuttled to his side with trays in her hand.

“Can we…” Smith wanted to ask if she would like to have a chat, but he couldn’t do it in Japanese. “English? A-e-go, Daijoubu desu ka? Is it okay?” Ignoring the perhaps fuming young man claiming to be Misa’s jealous boyfriend at the back of the store.

Misa dropped the trays at his feet in front of the Pachiko machine and stacked them nicely around him. Her big eyes staring at him in a emotionless expression all the way. Then she straightened herself up again, showing off her body and her delicate sensuality unknown to her to Smith.

“Cho to. I come. I come later. ” For the next fifty minutes, nothing of the sort happened. But Smith heard Misa spoke in quick succession of reprimands to the boy whom she called, as far as Smith can catch, Tatsu. Whatever her point was, her seemed to have reasoned it into the boy, for the boy nodded regretfully and answered something back as if being punished by his mother.

Smith decided to return to his seat at the Pachinko machine number 458, the one he randomly picked as his, with the ripped red leather seat. He noticed that Misa had gone over apologetically to a senior looking staff at the parlor after quickly stroking the ruffles of her light pink uniform and readjusting her name tag.

So she was working here now instead. He seemed to have made her looked bad in front of her colleagues by asking directly for service, instead of waiting for her to come over like how it was dictated in the good old book of etiquette for customers in Japanese establishments that he failed to attain a copy of, and all the worse by almost provoking a scene with her little boyfriend. One couldn’t pull down his own pants to piss, so to speak, even at the urinal in Japan, he thought with distaste. Cultural blunder aside, for a second time in a row, Smith realized that he had inadvertently messed with the girl’s livelihood with his curiosity.

What’s the matter with me? He asked himself.

Another thought crossed his mind --- While Misa was protected by her devotee , easily goaded Tatsu, this was no decent place to work for a girl such as she. This “Thunderbird”, a recently opened Pachinko parlor next to “Passage” which he typically frequent, set apart only by the entrance to the upstairs comic bookstores on the third and fourth floor of the same commercial building about half the size of its neighboring competition, will soon be filled with the same chain-smoking gang members that passes the days here until the next deal, unemployed idiots who wanted to try their luck on Pachinko, or drunk salarymen with a penchant for molesting any female person or object that come their way like all the other Pachinko parlors in Japan. He would not let anyone he knew work there. And certainly not a girl that reminded him of his daughter. The sight of this young, awkward Japanese girl working in a place like this upset him.

The gambling business in Japan, however, employed over 300,000 citizens a year around the country. Alone in Ikebukuro, there were at least half a dozen of them along the 1st street, where the biggest shopping and entertainment district was practically built around. One seldom witnessed any exciting police-rascal dramas as portrayed in Japanese soap operas, movies and video games. Yet Smith has a fishy feeling about the whole gambling business. There were rumors of the Yakuza controlling all the parlors in the areas, as money laundering hubs, and occasionally, things must get out of hand here and there. Though the news never report them, and as a perpetual tourist troubles rarely come your way unless one commits serious social faux pas, the myriads of violence in the media must get their inspiration somewhere. While minding your own business had been his motto living in a strange foreign country with a world- recognized social issue of failing moral, he could not subdue the urge to poke his head into this messy business about Misa. What kind of place breeds what kind of personality and lifestyle, and he believed that to the bones, notwithstanding his own phantom presence from one parlor to the next, that by letting Misa to work in the “Thunderbird” was close to hand-delivering her back to the dirty palms of men like Sawada, and this was absolutely against his English gallantry, conveniently in his blood in dire moments and good old American values. And this boyfriend of hers --- one word with him revealed his dubious origin. The lack of manner, the overbearing gestures and flouncy outfit, he seemed to come straight out of the GTO animation that was playing on television.

In the background, the chirping and the jingling and the clinking of metal balls hitting the internal gates and barriers within the active Pachinko machine around Smith continued to buzz. Distracted as he had his eye pinned on to Misa who shifted around at the back of the store for already what seemed to him a good hour without coming to him, he slid his second last thousand yen bill into the machine in front of him for 250 new metal balls, while keeping an eye for the boyfriend of hers. Pachinko had helped him to pass the time when he was alone, with guarantee of breaking even at certain point if one sat long enough at any given machine, and the potential of winning more. Though he knew better than this. Still he considered that the best investment of his free time, soaking in the local stench and bad breathe of other lonely Japanese people as an alternative way of blending into the colorful local scenes which he yearned to be a part of and with that excuse, he was not ashamed to just be the fly on the wall observing with pleasure the daily lives of ordinary folks played out around him. He was used to the routine of pulling the lever every few seconds without winning, only to be occasionally interrupted by the change of tunes when the balls fell in to the center gate which activated the digital reels on the screen above. They then spun autonomously without his control, an option he typically picked after he grew out of the initial excitement of actually doing something that would cause something else to happen, as the myth-busters from a Japanese TV show had revealed that winning or losing was already determined the moment the ball entered the monetary fighting rink, and waited for a few seconds for most typically Nothing , or small marginal wins, then repeated the same process again. Ruminating a George B. Bernard quote on game theory --- “ In terms of the game theory, we might say the universe is so constituted as to maximize play. The best games are not those in which all goes smoothly and steadily toward a certain conclusion, but those in which the outcome is always in doubt. Similarly, the geometry of life is designed to keep us at the point of maximum tension between certainty and uncertainty, order and chaos.”, he concluded that conventional wisdom nor scientific, mathematical prove of randomness in life could do nothing to deter human’s curiosity for the unknown, however small the chance of a positive outcome maybe, and that George B. Bernard was most definitely right, because at the moment he was at a total loss, staring at the slot machine pelting one after another metal balls into the bottom tray in exhilaration, not knowing what to do when he managed to finally win the second biggest Jackpot of the house, a good 1.4 million Yen.

Yes, he had won something.

In a split second , all the philosophies was emptied out of his brain. There was only one emotion left in his rattling skull, which was busy resonating to the sound of the heavy falling balls, not of joy, but of complete embarrassment. Why don’t they start printing payouts like in Las Vegas? 1.4 million Yen, and how many clanks of balls hitting on metal trays and decibels would that mean? He felt guilty breaking the harmony, well, the relative harmony of flashing video screens of high pitch digitalized salesladies of the sullen Pachinko parlor by tearing it with his unusual achievement. Statistically, the odds were against him being at least one to one hundred thousand. But a piece of paper would not justify the glory of the moment. As the sweat on his forehead dripped through his bushy brows into his eyes clouding his sight, he could make out the face of Misa and her long white limbs extending across his lap to reach for the almost over-flowing tray and handing it over to her male colleagues who stood behind Smith, and swiftly reaching over his slumped shoulders again to replace the original tray. She gave him a reassuring smile in between. He tried to smile back but she was already beckoning Tatsu over. The smile on his face deteriorated into nothingness.

“Thump!” The last of the trays hit the counter’s surface. The metal balls filled up a total of 15 twelve by twenty pink plastic trays. That’s how much 1.4 million Yen, or approximately fifteen thousand US dollars, weighted. It took the boy Tatsu, who proved himself to be more than a good-for-nothing by helping Misa carry his winnings over, fifteen rounds to transfer them to the back of the store. They were laid out on the award redemption center and at the moment the manager, a skinny, shrewd looking man in black rimmed glass and black suit, was nervously scoping spoonful after spoonful into the counting machine. It was getting a bit ridiculous. The whole extended ceremony of accounting and rewarding. Smith wondered if they had ever had such a big payout since their opening, in what appeared to be just last spring, according to the posters and brochures Smith were given plenty of time to read during the counting ceremony.

A lady in similar uniform was making calls with her back turned away from him. She murmured into the speaker of the beige color telephone mounted on the wall. Who was she talking to? And what was she talking about? Was it about me? Were the Yakuza coming to get him now? For looting their establishment out of sheer luck? A gambling parlor should be prepared to lose at anytime if it was so readily winning from its patrons, though the current scene seemed to indicate to him a lack of plan B. He walked over to the manager looking man and asked.

“Am I going to get a cheque?” He said. “A cheque.” He pulled out a check book as an example from the left side of his suit jacket’s pocket. “Cheque is better. Do you get it? I don’t want fifteen fucking trays of balls, or toys…no toys. Nor balls.” He pointed at the gifts locked safely in the the glass display cases behind him. “Kore wa, shiranai. None of these!”

Ie. Ie. No, no, no.” The manager waved him off. He looked pitifully for help in English at the rest of his staff now crowding at the front of the redemption counter who cringed one by one at the virtual death rays that seemed to shoot out of his imploring eyes. The responsibility finally fell on to Misa, who was on duty in the area Smith was sitting.

“Write …your name here. And here…your…” Misa took the manager’s instruction and started to translate. Her English was not bad, or perhaps it was an illustion Smith created in his head because he particularly had patience for this little girl right here.

“Phone number and address.” Smith finished her sentence as he saw her struggling with her words.

Hai, hai…” She smiled. He smiled back. “We…will call tsu.” She continued. “when oka-ne…oka-ne…okay.” She made the gesture of okay with her fingers, like the gesture for number three.

“The money is okay. Wakari mashida.” He said in reply to encouraged her. “But where do I get it?” He asked.

“Here.” She turned around to ask her manager the same question in Japanese. “One moment. One moment.”

And the lady who was suspiciously talking on the phone a moment ago came forward to him. He realized for the first time that she was almost at equal height with her. Her chiseled face and protruding cheek bones, exposed uncovered as she had her hair pulled back in a tight bun behind her, gave her an aurora of someone in powerful rank. The conspicuously long, up-curling eyelashes batted at him challengingly, as she drew up so close to him, he could almost felt the air breathed out from her small, straight pointy nose. He could now see her name, etched clearly, on the golden rectangular plate pinned to her her lapel. A Miss Katsumi Saitou. Below her name “NABUO Group” was written in smaller characters. She produced an envelope in her hand silently, and after showing the front side of it to him for a few seconds, she torn the plastic tap that was sealing the envelop open, and begun to present the content to him. The others at the parlor ,including the staffs, were as curious as he was about what it could be he could almost hear them draw a collective breath. Inside the envelop, there were three plastic cards that looked much like visa cards each inserted into the three flaps of package. She then proceeded to explain in Japanese to Smith, and Misa stepped forward fortunately in time to translate because otherwise Smith would have gone home completely confused about the uses of them, their quite impressive names and respective usages. --- The black one, is a VIP card to this parlor and its sister Pachinko parlors in other parts of Tokyo. It seemed to include free drinks, free snacks and internet at the VIP lounge, given one shall be present in the parlor he visits, for the rest of his life. Though Smith had no idea whether it was still an excellent marketing idea at his age to get a reward that only works till the end of his life time. He was reminded not to forget signing the card. The second card she introduced, was the white color card. That one was obvious, for as soon as she pointed to that card, the patch of gold that signified the computer chip within a typical visa card caught and reflected the light from the ceiling quartz lamp, making him blind for a second. That must be where the 1.4 million Yen was stored, he thought. He recognized the seal of Mizuho Bank on the bottom of the card, and decided that he would go visit his personal banker the next morning to get clear on any rules and tax laws he may be subjected to given his new “source of income”. The last card, which was grey, Misa translated, was an insurance card. An insurance card? What kind of insurance? Smith asked her. She had a hard time explaining. On it there was again the name NABUO Group. NABUO Group appeared to own also an insurance business then. Misa stuttered a great deal in her translation while Miss Katsumi was on a rant. Like heavy rain, she pelted on Misa what appeared to be technical terms related to his insurance policy that Misa was translating with visibly less confidence. Young people rarely had a clue about insurance. Their youth and imprudence were their best insurance, unlike an old fart like me who could break my hip any moment now, he thought. He decided to obtain the details from the ultimate provider, instead of squeezing second-hand information from Misa, at a later time point by asking his secretary who spoke fluent Japanese and English to call the service number at the back of the card. Whatever kind of insurance this was, it could only be a good complimentary to what he had. He smiled internally for the thoughtfulness of the Japanese.

Then the whole staff congratulated him heart-warmingly once more in unison with a long Japanese phrase, as a gesture of sending him out in good spirit. Knobs on the Pachinko machine stop spinning for once, and patrons of the parlor clapped when Smith walked out of the door with his digitalized winnings safe and sound in his pocket. He tapped it twice and nodded to the people watching him cheerfully as he went, thanking them for the good spirit. At the threshold, he turned and bowed, something that he rarely did, but felt compelled by a force to do so, to the good nature Japanese people who lost so much of their money here, culminating to his ultimate win. He stole another glance at Misa, she smiled weakly at him. Behind her, the boy Tatsu was mumbling some crude gibberish.

 

8.

 

It was less dramatic than he thought, the blind date that Marie Newton had set up for him. According to her sophisticated personality evaluation and matchmaking models advertised on the agency's website, he was 89% matching with an Australian woman called “Aileen”. He liked Aileen's profile – born and educated in Sydney University, was a professional, although the profile didn't say what kind, five feet seven 'with nice figure' according to the profile, and she was only 36 years old. More than a decade his junior.

“It had gotta beat Wesley.” He thought he himself. Of course, a second later he was also seized by the intimidating thoughts that he has to court a woman so much younger than him. What the hell was he going to say to her? Hope she’s interested in international affairs, he thought sarcastically.

Sunday came around like greased lightning. He put on the same suit --- a charcoal designer suit from Napolitalian made of Merino wool --- and matching pants he was supposed to wear this coming Monday, an act that shifted his weekly schedule for his work outfit between Monday to Friday forward by one day, a system he developed since he arrived in Japan to eliminate time and effort wasted every morning to decide on an outfit ever since his wife was no longer there to piece item by item a matching workwear for him as she used to do every time after things came back from the dry cleaner in Cincinnati on their nicely sanded Mahogany birch wood cloth hangers at home, inside the imitation green and gray marble closet by the King size bed in their house's master bedroom. He dipped his hand into the softness of his silk ties, a messy collections of around fifteen ties he owned, heaped haplessly , crisscrossing each other in one of the drawer of the white shelf, and felt at once the feeling of being at home. It had its relieving effects, the sensation of incredibly smooth silky fabric slipping over his the back of his hand, and through the insides of his fingers. When he pressed the tips of his fingers together, he felt the vigor, the energy of the fabrics and weaving patterns, and by their subtle dissimilarities, he picked a tie that best fit his mood of the day without seeing the actual tie. By this method he avoided dwelling too long on them, yet when he looped today's lucky winner, a satin tie in chocolate brown silk with peach and brown petals with a hint of rust around his neck he experienced a mixed feeling of rage and self-pity. Debbie bought it for his 50 th birthday, he loved it and wore it only on important occasions like no other tie he owned. Having a date with someone other than your ex-wife after being a married man for more than twenty five years was an important occasion alright, but wearing a tie with such strong emotional value attached to it was a form of cowardice, a subconscious reluctance to let go. Forcefully, he pulled the tie off his neck and stuff it, then again, with considerable care, back into the bottom of the drawer and grabbed the first thing he found fumbling through the pile. A light blue bow tie.

 

“No way!” Aileen Martin tossed her head back and laughed. “You’re not buying me flowers, are you?” Aileen hid her face with her hands, which was all red all of a sudden. “Oh my God.” Smith had called the waiter selling roses in the restaurant over, “Do you know how cliché this is?” Aileen said, and continued to laugh, rather nervously. She lifted her wine glass for another sip of red wine.

“Somehow I sensed that the beautiful lady would appreciate the gesture.” Smith was talking nonsense like a well-oiled machine. He hadn’t done it since he was twenty.

“You’re one incredible man. I have never received roses on first date, let alone,” Aileen held up the rickety looking, dried up roses that Smith just bought from the waiter, “roses bought from a… ”

Smith was stuffing his wallet back into his pant’s pocket and could not help but chuckled at the poor state of his gift for the lady. He finished her sentence. “From a second rate Italian restaurant where you can’t order food in Italian. But one thing they did right, it’s to preserve the tradition of having flower hawker. They never fail to show up, in any Italian restaurant around the world, Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, you see them everywhere.” And he said in a hush, “And they are always such tackily dressed balding Italian man, with an aspiration to be an actor.”

Aileen laughed. “You say such racy thing! It’s mean!”

“Ask the Italians what they think about the Americans, or the New Zealanders. I guarantee you it would be the most racist thing you’ve ever heard.”

She pressed her hand against her stomach. It was starting to hurt from laughing. Smith was imitating the waiter’s dramatic pitch at the moment. “He genuinely acted like a silent movie actor. He was all theatrics with his expression and rigid movements. It’s a waste for him to be selling flowers in a restaurant, don’t’ you think?” Aileen turned to see if the man was still around.

“Okay, okay, let’s not continue to ridicule a good man for just doing his job.”

“Sure.” He said. “So you’ve said you worked for the…?”

“The International Human Rights Lawyers Association. The InterHRLA based in Tokyo.”

“Pardon my poor memory. Acronyms are my nemesis. I did not have the talent for information retention and age, I must say, had robbed me the little of what’s left.” That made Aileen laughed again.

“Don’t be so harsh on yourself. I have always found myself in situations where I’d wish I could forget things.” She said, “Working for a non-profit organization is not the most interesting thing in the world, I know, for those of you who works in the financial sector. The problem with being a professional like us, in the three golden fields of Finance, Legal and Medicine, is that our knowledge and experienced are so highly specialized that they are not applicable to the other, and thereafter difficult to elicit genuine interests from one another, because humans are hunters, we are programmed to absorb and retain information that are most valuable to promotion of our survival, and in the modern world, that would be our professional careers. But when you are working against a powerful and justified cause, everyone understands you, not through the means of how you achieve something but by identifying to the importance of your cause.”

“Mind if I ask, why don’t you go, I don’t know, to Algeria, Bangadesh, Bangalore, Christ! To one of those Arabic countries where polygamy was still practiced and young women were exchanged for cows, or to Hondorus where child labor is the sole reason for their GDP growth but come to Japan instead? If I look around here, no, I am not being disrespectful. Please don’t be offended. But honestly, working on human rights in Japan, in Tokyo, what sort of impact do you expect to make? What sort of unsatisfactory excuse is that for a working-vacation?”

“You made me laughed all night, but nothing you said had been nearly as farcical as what you just said. Working on Human Rights issues in Japan is not as simple as it seems. Many issues are not easy to see. No one, for example, is being killed or banned flagrantly from being who they are by laws. And that's how the Japanese government has been getting away with so much in the international arena. Japan was rarely listed in Human Rights Watch Journal in the past 10 years. Yet its status was not optimal. An example would be the homogeneity of the population. Less than 1.6% Japanese residence are foreign nationals, and locally born groups with non-Japanese origin are not allow to have Japanese citizenship nor are they allowed to vote, and enjoy social benefits like the rest of them. Despite a British-like constitution drafted by the staff of American Army, underwriting human rights and in particular called for unprecedented equality between people of different age, heritage, gender etc. in postwar Japan, one knows a lot of work needs to be done on promoting these ideas into the minds of Japanese people when one just go take a stroll in the streets. One thing is the Japanese society is used to the way how things are, and they see no need for change. The other thing is the social protocol of not speaking about such evils openly. But the more you dig, the more you found out and the more you realized that Japan is significantly lagging in Women's Rights, for example. And that's what I am here for. I am proud of what I do and this country needs people like me, but also more local women to speak up, to bring on the momentum.”

“Okay. There is a disproportionate amount of men versus women in any management around the world, and it is not innate to Asian society. How do you proposed to fix this? The French’s center right party has put forward legislation that would see to it that women make up half the figures in France’s leading boardrooms in the next 5 years, but guess what happened? The men simply recommended prominent mogul’s wives to sit in the board. They have no experience and essentially you have two persons sitting in the board representing, most of the time, the same opinion. This is not an equal distribution of power. They are simply putting up a show. And in the end, these females became the model examples of why women are, pardon my language, less capable compared to their male counterparts, because they have gotten all the wrong people to stand at the forefront, handpicked, strategically, by a group of males who wanted to hold on to their power.”

“We are entirely of the same opinion, Smith. The key to any legislation is to refine it over time with experience, and slowly eliminate gray areas where companies can play around with their personnels to pull up the figures. That’s the situation over there in Europe. In Japan, we have gotten the Peace Constitution that clearly spells out Women’s Right. Its clauses are far more advanced and holistic than that portion of the Constitution of the United States, in a way. But get this, more than 50 years passed, there was not once the Constitution was amended. Lives goes on in a parallel universe, and people accepted that things stayed the same way as it were as if the constitution was never written. That’s why we need an organization that is not attached to any political party. We work in more subtle ways, by provoking a lot of discussion in the society, appealing to the senses of the common people whose lives are restrained by the invisible chain of biased social norm. Women’s Rights covered a great deal of things. It covers, Suffrage, the right to vote, right to education, equal access to information, equal access to employment opportunity, reproduction rights, abortion rights, elimination of sexual violence and enslavement against women and many many more fronts, and it is very likely that we could only generate small, incremental change in one small part of the above areas. But the way we work is that we tried to improve the lives of women, one case at a time, one life at a time, and make sure each time we generate a lot of media coverage, not only in Japan but in Asia in general, to create pressure both in and outside of Japan. This is proven to be more effective than other more radical means. That’s why I am here. They need lawyers to represent underprivileged clients, and under-informed legal advisers locally in Japan.”

“You have some guts. How long ago did you move to Tokyo? And why Human Rights?”

“That was about 13 years ago. I have always had passion for Human Rights laws. I did two internships during my studies at Amnesty International in Japan. There were just two women in a team of nine. Very naturally I looked into cases related to Women’s Rights. But the turning point was when I went to Taiwan for my third internships with Amnesty. I started learning Chinese and reading up on Taiwanese Asian news related to Japanese human rights. There were lots and lots of reports, from Taiwan, from Hong Kong and other Chinese media reports and academic researches describing the dire situation of Women’s Rights in Japan. It’s the local that was covering up their dirty businesses it seems. When I graduated, I joined IHRA Japan without thinking twice.”

“This is mind blowing. You can read Japanese and Chinese? I could barely remember how to spell in English. You made me wonder what I have been doing all these years.”

“What have you been doing?” Aileen smiled.

“Well, it’s not nearly as exciting as I thought it was before I met you. I am a Program Director of New Businesses for a Japanese Raw Material Trading company, DaiKe. You must have heard of it.”

“Yes. I think about two weeks ago... I think your company's Director had committed to improve females in upper management by 25% by 2013 in its annual shareholders meeting. That's an aggressive thing to say.”

“I am ashamed to say that I have no knowledge of that. It seems like a good cause.”

“Yes it is. That’s very good to have a big corporation committing to it.”

Aileen Martin, this 36 year old, energetic, convinced, intellectually sexy woman with a good sense of humor from Australia, was surely a great catch.

Her strong feministic ideas, however, made her quite sensitive to misinterpretation of his gentlemanliness. They debated for a good five minutes before Aileen convinced him that there was no need for him to invite her for dinner, nor did she accept his offer to call her a taxi to take her home. She drove, he found out later. How much does a Human Right Lawyer earn in Japan, he thought to himself. Is something amiss? He could not for the love of God afford paying for parking all around Tokyo city every day.

With regard to winning the jackpot, he didn't tell anyone apart from his personal banker. He withheld the news from his secretary whom he originally wanted to enlist in order to get more information on his insurance policy. Who knew what kind of rumors they were capable of spreading, these secretaries who have full access to every detail of their managers' professional lives, and day by day encroaching their personal lives through their growing reliance on them. If they were to know of his frequent late night visits to the Pachinko parlors... he could not bear the thought of it. Though he had heard a lot of interesting stories from them through Andy, who was the twenty-something, good-looking fellow from America. He's the secretaries' favorite pet, and they told him every nasty bit of gossips they knew.--- Andy had managed quite well, only his 3 rd year here, to infiltrate himself into up from the tight-knitted Japanese management circle, down to that of the window-cleaning crew coming every late Friday afternoon. His quick wit and proficient in Japanese and Japanese culture got him the visibility in the giant organization he craved for. Sloppiness may mark his face and he was, Smith was sure, disabled-at-birth from taking a firm stand on any matter, including the choice of a mistress, he navigated through dangerous waters on many tough situations quite well, keeping himself, while merit-free, blame-free throughout the years. He was the guy you go looking for connections, the obnoxious yet indispensable middle guy, the eunuch, whose power of introduction, association, promotion or opposition, could make or break your career if you let him. And Andy must not know about his winnings either, Smith determined. Playing with Pachinko was not gambling, and even if it was winning a huge sum of money majestically at Pachinko should all the more justify its harmless nature, but there was no need to give the guy cards against you. Based on history, Christians were the worst kind of prosecutors.

Neither did he told Andy about Aileen, thought it was entirely his making that he met such an amazing young woman. Without surprise, Andy somehow managed to hear about it, and teased him one day at lunch while they were eating at the company’s canteen.

“You should give her a call back.”

“Who?”

“The Legally Brunette.”

Getting his meaning, Smith said, “Her name is Aileen. Marie Newton told you?”

“No, the last time I saw her she had her mouth stuffed with a ball gag. She couldn’t speak. ”

“I am eating, Andy!” He stabbed his fork in his pasta and got up, fighting shudders from the mental picture of the S&M activity that Andy painted for him. “Coffee?”

“Gladly.”

 

9.

 

The clock in the Design and Advertising Department on the 2nd floor stroke 10AM. The tingling sensation on the back of Ryuuji Tanaka’s hand grew into a full twitch. In the distance a cell phone sang its ringtone. Furious, the young assistant of Tanaka, Keigo Arai answered the call.

“Where the hell are you?! The team is waiting for you. The van was standing outside for almost an hour. Do you know how much…No, don’t switch to your agent! I’m talking to you.”

Tanaka’s ear twitched as it strained to listen to the answer from the other side of the telephone.

“What do you mean he can’t do it alone? We reserved your actor 2 months ago and let you know today’s schedule in advance. There was never any question raised. Do you have any idea how much work was involved coordinating a day like this? ” He said. “….you have to honor the contract!” The other end’s reply was demonstrated by the expression on Arai’s face to be dissatisfying. “No, we don’t…let me ask my supervisor. One second. Okay? Don’t hang up on me!”

“What is it?” Tanaka stood up from the leather couch. Towering above his assistant, he exerted an unintended effect on him. Keigo Arai started to stutter. The warm fumes from his flaring nostril clouded the glasses.

“They…y…want us to pay for…two… two. The British guy needs an extra translator.”

“A hundred and twenty thousand yen later, they are asking us to pay more?” Tanaka slammed his palm on his desk. “Tell them we don’t need them anymore. And we are going to report them to the Consumer Protection Agency.”

“But we need someone…” Arai spoke meekly.

“I said No!” Coffee mugs and notebooks jumped as Tanaka slammed his fist on the table for a second time. “Just hang up on them!” He said. And with his trembling hand, Arai pressed the red button to end the call with a loud beeping tone. His posture was one of great disappointment.

“What are we going to do now?” Arai asked.

“Use your brain.” Tanaka said. And swiftly he buttoned his suit jacket up. “There are so many foreigners in this company. Why can’t we find someone internally? Arai, take the schedule, we are going up!”

“Which floor?” Arai followed Tanaka hastily into the elevator.

“I don’t know.” Tanaka stood there without speaking for a second. “Let’s try forty seven.”

“47th floor please.” Arai said to the young elevator conductor dressed in pink uniform.

No sooner than Arai's hand stopped trembling, he felt nauseated. --- It must be a joke, he thought to himself. He was feeling seasick in an elevator, albeit one that was boosted to be one of the highest speed elevators in all of Tokyo's commercial buildings. To be fair, he had always taken the stairs from the lobby to his design studio on the second floor, the low-levelers both in its literal, physical sense, and in the hierarchy of the company. DaiKe had 2,500 employees in Tokyo and over 13,000 employees worldwide from top management talents to operators working at the furnace. It's a massive organization in Keigo Arai's point of view. Alone in this building of 48 floors, it housed more than 2000 employees from 23 different operation units. Tanaka, his manager, and him, together with their team of bored, unambitious, middle-aged colleagues who one might mistook as patients waiting for their turns in the emergency room of a public hospital for the minor aliments they could not afford to properly care for, worked, all but on the lowest floor of the DaiKe's building located in the center of Tokyo. He should have known better when he was recruited into the company --- attracted, almost blindly, into his current position by the, one could say now after the fact, blind passion and misplaced leadership of Ryuuji Tanaka and the name of DaiKe, that there would be nothing to advertise in a raw material trading company that traded metals and plastics scraps with recycling and waste management companies on essentially, rubbish . It had been a long time since he had designed anything other than internal company communications and someone's ten-minute powerpoint presentations. This was his chance : to shoot a three-minute television commercial that would be aired on national television during night time, the so-called “Golden Period”. And on top of that, photos from the shoot would be turned into advertising materials for industry magazines, ads in light boxes at the bus stations, painted on the bodies of taxis and buses, big banners to be strung across the outside of buildings all over the country and beyond. The whole world would finally have the chance to see his masterpiece. This was how you make an impact in the world, to hold fast to one's assigned position in the big machine, regardless of how small, how mundane it appeared at first glance, and by hard work and unimpeded optimism he would achieve greatness in life --- a romantic notion Arai was a firm believer of ever since he knew of the company's new sustainability project until today's morning. Today's morning, for once his cat did not jump on top of him as it used to do every day. It was a sure sign of something bad about to happen. The cat felt the change of luck from his body and adjusted its behaviors accordingly --- something that he chose to ignore in the morning. The Japanese were fervent observers of animals' behaviors for a reason. They were a lot more sensitive than humans in detecting bad karma. What was happening to him now was a classic dream-come-true-turned-tragedy. Arai's shoulders slumped even lower at the thought of ruining the biggest opportunity of his life by listening to Tanaka-san's instruction, to hung up on the acting agency. He should have at least debated the pros and cons of accepting the acting agency's request to get a translator for the British actor they had identified for the commercial. The company was vested with money, it could pay for an extra translator or two, or fifteen. Yet that's the temper of Ryuuji Tanaka. He did not speak much, but when he did, he speak of old traditional values, like honors, honesty, consistency as if he was stuck in the Seven Samurai's age, and he behest doing business with anyone who did not honor these secret codes. Arai stole a glance at Tanaka-san's face from his reflection on the mirror. It showed no hint of the same nauseating effect he was experiencing. However, Tanaka-san's stern countenance had a calming effect on him. He swallowed and prayed hard for the Gods' blessing.

***

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The White Man and the Pachinko Girl

An American business man who lingered in Pachinko parlors every night in his lonely life as a foreigner in the city of Tokyo met Misa, a young Japanese hostess that worked at a Pachinko parlor by chance. Knowing her personal woes, he gave her his winning as an exchange for Japanese lessons. That large sum of money incriminated them to false accuse of sex trade. Meanwhile, an ex-adult film producer Tanaka investigated the death of a certain foreign producer who happened to have filmed Misa in his legendary work, in which she was seemingly strangled to death. Who was this girl that lived among them?

  • ISBN: 9781310163500
  • Author: Vann Chow
  • Published: 2016-01-20 10:25:08
  • Words: 78177
The White Man and the Pachinko Girl The White Man and the Pachinko Girl