29: The Abyss
The health club was in Kawanishi, a strange town whose streets were crisscrossed by ditches that ran blue with dye from acres of drying frames, whereon stretched hundreds of leather hides, like the husks of indigo cows.
The club's cavernous gymnasium rattled with cries and smashing sticks from a hundred housewives playing kendo, drowned out by the PA blaring techno beats and western pop songs, interrupted by Coppertone ads beseeching Japanese women to get a tan, "Like a healthy gaijin," because the Geisha whiteface had become passe.
One song played over and over until it wore through my mind like cheap underpants:
I want to feel your body
Your heart beat next to mine
Fortunately, in the weight room we had a boombox for tapes. But there was only one tape, and it played the same damn song:
Touch me now!
After weeks of torment, I tried to destroy the tape. Turned out the singer was Samantha Fox, Rupert Murdoch's golden girl. She'd gone from Page Three of the Sun to spokeswoman for the Times to international rock star. I had filed her under bimbo, but it looked like she knew something about Schrodinger's Cat.
It seems grotesque today, but in the '80s everybody smoked. Hobos, doctors, housewives, school kids, all enjoying the smooth, rich taste in a way we no longer can. There was a special room in my high school where you could go just to smoke. Try getting that one past the PTA today.
Japan was the worst offender. They made you light up at the border. My brand was Mild Seven (pronounced "miled sebenu"). And mild they were. You could suck harder than Tiger Woods on those things, and get nothing.
Which was fine by me. Sure, I loved the sensation of drawing smoke deeply into the soft pink tissue of my lungs. A million years of hunting and gathering around the campfire will do that to you. But mostly I loved the way cigarettes punctuated the day.
Half a cig waiting for a train became a semi-colon; you could jab one at the turning point in an argument to emphasize what was going to come next, like a colon: or, a succession of thoughtful puffs, strung out like comas, perhaps during a long story at the bar, wending towards the last smoke before bed, in the day's final period.
What was cool then is gross now. Cultures differ from each other, but also from themselves over time. We are all refugees from the past. We arrive each morning in the future, mental baggage on rollers, ill-dressed for the newness.
31: Under The Influence
The homeless epidemic began in the early '80s. There had always been a few hobos and loons, but suddenly it was all the rage.
I passed the guy in Osaka twice a day on the way to and from work. At dawn he would roll up his bed mat, stack his cardboard, sweep his island clean and sit on the kerb all day with a keg of beer from the vending machine. At night he slept on his cardboard like roadkill while commuters streamed through the crosswalk at the end of his bedroom.
He was there for months and months. The cops never moved him along. Someone told me he was Ainu, one of the original inhabitants of Japan, from before the diaspora from Korea and China, but I never found out.
I was surprised that anyone was homeless in Japan, because their economic system only looks like capitalism. In reality it's heavily socialist, and based on the concept of "sharesies." The head of Sony at that time, Akio Morita, made only about ten times what a beginning factory worker made. At the height of leverage madness in 2008 the Suits were making ten thousand times the minimum wage.
Of course, sharing the wealth cuts both ways. One evening a little old cobbler came to our door. She had all her tools in a bundle on her back. She looked like she'd been sleeping rough. We wanted to help.
So Gwen found a pair of shoes that needed new soles. The old woman fixed the shoes perfectly and charged Gwen $75. Both she and Gwen were now well-heeled.
32: Sticking to Your Guns
And that's the story of how I won my war on terror. But I can't show you my Zapruder 9-11 film until I explain how I won the peace, which is a whole other story...
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