I’m not an expert on dreams. I’m not really even that interested in the subject except in a limited way that might help me eventually understand the strange adventures my brain often creates within the confines of my skull. I bet hundreds of years ago, before human beings began to understand dreams are natural and have biological origins, that dreams were interpreted with fear and suspicion, violations of whatever spiritual or religious norms to which a given primitive society adhered. I bet hundreds of years ago a lot of people were shunned, exorcised, or even killed for revealing their dreams and seeking to understand them. I’m glad most human societies have outgrown that now.
I bring this up because I’ve been having the same dream for the past three or four months. It’s more of a nightmare, really, because of the darkness and the beasts it contains. But to be honest, the building and the landscape in my dream have become familiar to me, even though I’m still afraid of the things that repeatedly occur there. The intensity of the darkness and the menace of the beasts don’t vary, but I have become almost adjusted to these. And though it may sound perverse, I sometimes look forward to the horrors of the dream each night. I think it is better to dream of horror and know one is alive.
Here’s how the dream typically plays out…
My eyes open and I am standing on asphalt. I can smell fresh and salty sea air. It takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to nighttime darkness. There is always a full moon off to my right, a full moon in a cloudless sky with fewer stars than there should. The moon and stars reflect off the surprisingly calm waters of a the Pacific Ocean. The asphalt I stand on is a road, which runs along the edge of a seawall, which in turn runs along the edge of the shoreline.
On top of the seawall is a meter-wide sign fixed to two stout and square wooden legs. In the usual mixture of kanji, hiragana and katakana the sign says “DANGER: Strong undertows! Swimming prohibited for persons 13 and under. Swimmers over 13 strongly cautioned.” And this text is signed ‘Minamisōma City Government’. So I’m certain where I am in my dream is that little piece of the Japanese coast where my parents and sisters and I used to spend several weeks in the summer until I was 13. I never got to swim in the ocean I always see in this dream, but my sisters did because they were old enough. In the dream I always, always, think how bitterly I resented that and how much I hated summers in Minamisōma because of it.
Still standing on the asphalt road, I look away from the seawall sign and hard to my left. Here is an empty lot filled with scattered clumps of natural local weeds and long grasses, growing from the soil and in many places up through small piles of rock that look like chunks of granite. The lot is about 25 meters deep, and there is a blood-brownish six-story building on the other side of the lot from the road. In the nighttime of my dream the building looks dark and menacing, even though I can see light from some of its windows and in what looks like a hotel lobby entry on the ground floor.
It is in this vacant lot that I see the first of the beasts. It is the size of an Asian elephant, but is the shape of a dark grey Siamese house cat. On top of the cat-beast’s head is a bright orange reptilian crest that runs down its neck and back and ends just before where the tail protrudes from its backside. The beast also has large wings that resemble those of a bat, but also remind me of the wings on that movie monster Ghidorah, the three-headed thing that used to fight Gojira in those movies I loved when I was a kid. This cat beast also has eyes, many eyes, forty or fifty of them, red-orange lumps distributed symmetrically on its giant cat face the way the eyes appear on the head of a tarantula spider.
This first beast I encounter is always standing still in the middle of the vacant lot on its four feline legs. It growls but never makes a threatening move towards me. This is a constant in my dream. Its numerous spider eyes pulsate a bit with a dull orange glow while looking at me intently, and the beast always opens its mouth wide enough for me to see two rows of ten-centimeter-long fang-teeth protruding from the top and bottom of its large mouth.
By this time I have been in my dark dreamland long enough for the full moon to have shifted in the sky a few degrees and for a faint but rosy pre-dawn glow to have appeared on the horizon over the nearby ocean. This lights the landscape and constructs around me enough so that I can see more clearly; but overall the surrounding vegetation I see in the rest of this dream remain covered with darkness and hidden from a distance in deep shadow.
I am still on the road near the seawall, looking at the cat-beast. Sometimes the beast is alone in the vacant lot, but this time, and I have seen this before, another of the creatures swoops down nearly soundlessly from the moonlit sky and lands about ten meters away from the first beast. The second beast stares at me, then looks to the first beast, and finally fixes its gaze at the six-story building.
I always walk towards the building from the road. Always. There is nowhere else to go. Thick vegetation blocks the seawall road going north and south away from the vacant lot, so the dream never gives me any choice. The distance from the seawall to the building is about 40 meters, not a huge distance but a distance I travel with dread. I can still see lights in the windows, and I cover the distance to the building in less than 30 seconds.
I realize the building is a hotel each time I reach it. The entrance to the place is at street level, with a smoothly-finished segment of concrete connecting the hotel to the asphalt road I traversed to get there. The hotel itself has many small windows, some of them still glowing with light, in a grid pattern along its upper exterior. Each window is about a meter or so square. It reminds me of a business hotel I have used many times over the years in Akasaka in Tokyo. Like that remembered hotel, the doors of this one are beautiful clear glass. But when I approach these doors they don’t automatically slide open the way they should. The dream never lets me actually enter the hotel. I am always stuck outside looking in.
And each time I am there looking in, I see a brightly-lit lobby decorated in a vaguely English Victorian style. It has wood walls of a dark brown, tables with bronze metal legs and white marble tops, burgundy leather wing chairs, Persian-style carpets, and several of those odd curved-back chaise longues upon which Victorian ladies would faint in old black-and-white movies. In the center of the lobby is a large oak table, upon which there are foods of a typical afternoon tea, cucumber sandwiches and the like, and a samovar for beverage service.
On one of the chaise longue, I always see my children. They are dressed in the proper uniforms of the schools they attend where we live in a suburb of Tokyo. They sit quietly reading English lesson books. And their mouths are sewn shut with thick black thread. Almost the very instant I see my children, a boy of 10 and a girl of 13, they look up from their books and stare at me. They are beautiful, except for the constrictions on their mouths. But their mouths are turned upward into strained, contorted smiles while red drops of blood run down their cheeks from the bright eyes I have stared into so many times. It is as if, I always think, they want to show me their love despite the pain. There is always pain, and I look away from them at this point.
It is then that the dream always shows me the long oak and brass-railed bar near where my children sit. My wife is always standing next to it, serving drinks from an expensive bottle of Suntory Hibiki whiskey to four gaikokujin men who wear clothing just like Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone in some old Sherlock Holmes movie. My wife, however, is dressed like a traditional Tokyo geisha, the kind of true courtesan I used to see in Akasaka when I was a young university man.
My wife bows and is perfectly demure as she serves the men their whiskey. The men in turn seem gracious towards my wife, but return to talking amongst themselves after their glasses are full. It is then I always notice that the talking men are bleeding from holes torn in their Norfolk jackets and tweed sport coats. When I look at my wife, who by this time has stopped pouring whiskey and is looking directly at me, I see that the traditional ornaments in her carefully-coiffed geisha hairdo are long, thin knives that appear to be crusted with dried blood. I see further that her mouth was also sewn shut with thick, black thread at some point, but the stiches are now cut and her mouth is drawn into a broad smile which reveals numerous needle-sharp teeth similar to the larger fangs of the cat beasts.
At this point in the dream I always feel a strange mixture of attraction and dread. My wife keeps staring at me, she is more beautiful than I have ever seen her, and her mouth starts to move. She must be speaking to me, but I cannot hear her through the hotel’s immovable glass doors. And her eyes don’t run with blood as my children’s do, but start to glow hot and orange as she continues to look at me. The glow from her eyes becomes so intense that I can see the orange light from them illuminating her entire skull.
She is not smiling now. Her mouth closes. Although she still stares at me, she reaches to her hair and removes the thin knives from it. My wife then turns to the foreign men and starts stabbing them furiously and faster than my eyes can follow. The men express shock and pain, but cannot defend against my wife’s attack. They drop their whiskey glasses and all collapse to the lobby floor, dead upon Persian carpets. Then my wife turns at starts walking towards me, knives in each hand. She isn’t smiling now, and I am truly terrified.
I back away from the glass doors, and as I do I hear growling. I look to my right and see one of the cat beasts staring at me with its fangs exposed and all of its spider eyes glowing the same intense orange as my wife’s. It is always my assumption that the murderous wife creature within the hotel is unable to leave it, and the cat beast manifests itself outside where it can do me the harm my dream wife seems intent upon doing me.
I back away from the hotel and the beast. I turn around, and in the end I am running with the beast now screeching behind me. It never catches me, but in the end I am always running back up the asphalt road towards the seawall. When I reach it, I climb up over it and dive into the waters off Minamisōma.
And that’s always when I awake, jittery and a quite terrified. Fortunately, my real wife is always next to me in bed. All I have to do is look over at her and I know where I am and that she is no monster and that everything will be alright. After the dream, I never disturb her. I let her rest while I get up and go to the kitchen to get coffee and clear my head a bit. When I’m fully awake, I always go back to the bedroom to make sure she is safe where I left her.
She always is, of course, resting as still and beautifully as the first day I placed her on our bed six months ago. She is showing signs of wear, though, and I fear I may not have embalmed her as well and as permanently as I hoped. But it’s okay. If she starts to sag and decompose too much, I can bury her out in the back yard under the plum tree next to the children. And they will all still be near me and we will still be a close and happy family.
In between what he had been doing and what he had planned for the rest of the day, a lone fellow on an empty side street spent some moments of a crowded Asakusa Sunday afternoon chewing roasted corn and sipping canned chūhai. His clothes were neat enough, but his exposed feet were rough and battered and his bulging backpack indicated he had a more of his life within it than the typical snacks and happy snap supplies carried by regular day trippers.
A lone man enjoying a quiet moment, and it looked to me like he had probably well earned it.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
There seem to be a hell of a lot more dogs in Tokyo now than when I lived there in the late ‘80s. A friend of mine explained the recent surge in dog ownership occurred because it was the Year of the Dog in Japan and the rest of east Asia in 2006. This made sense to me, as it was easy to absorb without being intellectually complex. But whatever the reason, it was obvious that these dogs I saw in Asakusa one October Sunday were taking pretty good care of their humans.
A fellow shouting to some nearby friends in front of Kamiya Bar. His dog ignored basically everything.
The lady was having a meal. The man had a cocktail. The dog had pretty obvious desires.
Man and dog at peace. The beer from the empty mug may have helped the man with that some. The dog got treats from the man’s plate.
The same gent and pooch from Kamiya Bar, strolling through Asakusa’s Sunday crowds.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
Kamiya Bar in Asakusa is one of my favorite places in Tokyo, and has been since the late ‘80s. I have written about it and photographed it numerous times in the last five and a half years. During my most recent trip to Tokyo, I was delighted to have a last-minute chance to visit the place one more time to have a quick drink with a friend.
But something had changed.
Oh, the strangers you meet and sit with are still very colorful and very friendly. That has not changed and probably never will.
But the first floor, which is always where I meet people for drinks and snacks, is now partially obstructed by a white-walled structure.
Kamiya Bar management must be remodeling the place. To be honest, I was surprised by the walls right in the middle of the first floor drinking areas.
It was a bit like having a white version of the “2001: A Space Odyssey” monolith in the middle of the room.
But even though the white walls have diminished available space for customer seating, the loud and happy ebb and flow of Kamiya Bar seems the same as ever.
This white tunnel near the front and the lavatories seemed particularly odd. I have no idea when the changes behind these walls will be completed.
Thankfully, Kamiya Bar is still Kamiya Bar, and the connection it provides between me and some of my happiest days in Tokyo is still as strong as ever.
(Pictures taken in Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo on October 6th, 2013)
There was joy in Asakusa today, but someone wasn’t feeling it completely…
(Picture taken Asakusa, Tokyo (near the Sensō-ji) on October 6th, 2013)
It’s a simple thing and a piece of genius, watching people at Kamiya Bar. And I’ve had the most wonderful conversations in English there, with people who only spoke Japanese.
I didn’t speak to these gents, sad to say; I was mostly too busy swimming in a hootenanny nocturne with my American friends. But if these guys were watching me watching them, they didn’t mention it nor act as if they minded.
Kamiya Bar is good like that, as good as the people, who will love you like a lost family member for an hour, and then forget you after one of you leaves. I didn’t know if these men were brothers, or co-workers, or on a first date of some kind. I’ll never know.
But it didn’t matter. The beer was cold and the “denki bran” (electric brandy) was dangerous. Everyone at the table we shared was having a good time, not a hint of regret showing on anyone’s face. Well, maybe a little bit of regret. Denki bran has a bite. Beer helps with that.
The important thing is to enjoy the moment, enjoy the place. And if you’re at Kamiya Bar with professionals, they’ll know how to help you get far enough into the night to hate yourself a little the next morning.
(Pictures taken in Kamiya Bar, Tokyo, on May 3rd, 2012. A good time was had by all.)
There are so many
different planets on Earth.
I’ve seen a few and liked them.
I just read about them in the paper.
Because there is no reason
You can’t get good ramen
on every planet on Earth.
I am looking away from you
and I am looking right at you.
That is the Japanese way.
There is no reason to stare.
I see what you do and are.
You can keep staring at me
My wife will be out shopping
with her friends,
and I may again
be wandering these streets,
like I often do,
dressed as a floating-world geisha.
(Pictures taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
It is a cliché of great truth: In Tokyo, one of the most crowded and kinetically frenzied cities on Earth, it is easy to be alone. I spent a lot of time alone in Tokyo in 2012—in my apartment, in restaurants, and in seedier parts of the city—during the five weeks in April and May when I was there working on a forthcoming book of photographs and prose. Fortunately, on a handful of occasions I accepted invitations to eat and drink with “gaijin”, mostly Americans, who knew me through Twitter and my heavy involvement with the 2011 Quakebook project.
I don’t make friends easily. I never have. I’m a natural, almost pathological, loner. But I was lucky enough to meet the good people in these pictures and click with each of them in some way. And I have stayed in touch with all these folks through social networks since I got back from Tokyo. I hope that continues for a long, long time. And to the people in my pictures I say: Thanks for making my 2012 trip to Tokyo such a splendid thing.
@loveartblues, an elegant guy wisely taking a break from the ocean of beer at Kamiya Bar.
@kuripyon, the smartest punk-rock-and-roll-engineering chick I’ve ever met. Kamiya Bar.
I met five other people in Tokyo, including this dear friend, but didn’t take their individual pictures. I’m sorry for that, and I hope to correct that mistake the next time we meet in Japan.
What the hell, shoes are boring. Looking at shoes is boring. But they can suggest to you who the person wearing them is, or wants to be. And sometimes pictures of shoes make for interesting photographs. Perhaps not great photographs, as my examples below show, but interesting. Because, basically, taking pictures of shoes is boring.
A girl and a guy, who looked to be on a date. It wasn’t going to work out, because I think he was too hip and urban cool for her, who seemed too much the Loli-girl type.
I have written about these golden beauties before. I wish I had a pair. All that’s missing are little wings flaring out from the upper sides of each shoe. A cloud dancer, this guy…
I figure she upon the left could have at least painted her toenails. She upon the right was some goth high school girl. High school or perhaps college…
The shoes and stockings of a very reserved but not entirely wealthy woman….
The owner of this foot was drunk and passed out, so the cockeyed angle of this is rather perfect…
And that’s pretty much the best of Tokyo shoes from my last trip.
(Pictures taken on various days on the Ginza Line and the Tōzai Line in April and May, 2012)
You find me charming?
I am charming.
Since there’s no more money in my pockets
all I have is this smile to share with the world.
I figure there’s no point in fucking around
I may as well make it a good one.
I bet the boats today,
but tomorrow maybe the ponies.
In Japan, race horses can be considered fast food.
Heh, heh, do you get that joke?
Good, good for you.
For a foreigner you’re not as dumb as you look.
I have to go home now, sorry.
I have to go home and tell my wife
that my pension is still safe,
but I need more of her household cash to gamble.
She won’t mind.
It keeps me out of the house.
(Picture taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Tonight I stepped out of the Kamiya Bar
Into rain a thousand feet deep.
The Sumida River was, oddly, a cinder
Dry and glowing like a beacon to our colony on Mars.
I saved a month’s pension to come here,
To drink with normal people,
To love the smell of them hating the smell of me.
It’s the price I pay fishing for loan sharks.
It’s the love I have for my fellow man.
It’s the way, I’m told, of the Western Christ,
Creeping up my spine and telling me life is good.
The grasp of genius ever eludes me;
The depth of hatred always deludes me.
I drank, once more, electric laser-sharp brandy
And thanked the deep rain for at least trying to wash me clean.
It never worked when I was alive.
Maybe it will work when I’m dead.
I’ll let you know.
So, shall we meet here again next month?
(Pictures taken at Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo in May, 2012)
The range of comfort found on the seats of the many subway lines in Tokyo is pretty consistent.
Most people, even if they nod off, prefer to sit upright. However, that doesn’t work for everyone.
In the end, comfort is a matter of what seems to work best. Fortunately, being left alone in Tokyo often works best.
(Pictures taken on the Ginza Line near Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Trying to love you in Tokyo
is like three ladies crossing the street,
or waiting for a cab.
And yet with the timing of the lights and the passing of the cars…
it is still a possibly hazardous adventure.
(Pictures taken across from Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, Tokyo in April, 2012)
Days in Asakusa, Tokyo are marvelousness, the people watching is genius. The surroundings are frequently sensory feasts of color, glory, and majesty. And sometimes the people you watch are the ones watching you (make sure you click on the photo to get a close look).
But that’s okay when you understand the irony sometimes in Japan is it’s the foreigners moving with blurry speed while the Japanese relax waiting on line and looking on. Well, at least I think it’s ironic, considering all the unusable pictures I’ve taken of frenetic, kinetic, fast-moving Tokyo folks during my two trips there in the last four years.
(Picture, featuring @tokyotimes, taken in Asakusa, Tokyo in April 2012)
In Kamiya Bar, things move fast…
And that’s just the way it is.
(Kamiya Bar, Asakusa, Tokyo, May 03 2012. Post updated on March 24, 2013)
In Asakusa two days ago, I just paused long enough to take the picture. The boy behind the plastic filled my head with memories of that horrible TV movie from the ‘70s starring John Travolta. I didn’t realize until I’d seen the image on my computer that the women, like the boy, were watching me too, like I was an odd sight to them.
And I am, of course, totally cool with the idea that they are on the protected inside, looking out at me, the zoo creature.
This superhero is just the four- or five-year-old neighbor boy who likes to play in the street next to our apartment building in the afternoons. I took his picture just a few minutes ago. Since it was raining, he was quieter than usual. I was thankful for that, since I had quite a bit of thinking to do.
Some of the deepest thoughts I have ever had have been in Japan.
One of those thoughts today was that I wished I had a cool Japanese superhero mask instead of plastic Superman when I was five years old. Okay, not a deep thought. But I take what I can get.
At Kamiya Bar you just never know…
…who will share a table with you from one moment to the next.
Author’s Note: This old work of mine has recently been published by Abiko Free Press (AFP) as an Amazon Kindle eBook. If you like the photos and poems you are about to see and read, well now you can own a copy. Just click on the AFP link above to get started. And thanks for supporting my past, present and future work. –Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, May 2012
If I had read the instructions more clearly, these photographs would have gotten me into the photography program at the Yale University School of Art. But, like an idiot, I submitted this portfolio in print form rather than on 35mm slides as was required. Anyway, long story short: I didn’t get into Yale, though I did come close. Damned instructions.
Anyway, what you are about to read and view are poems and photographs I created while living in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. The words were not specifically written for the images, but I paired each piece of text with each photo as a kind of experiment which I thought ended up working. You will note that all the photos are of Japanese drunks and homeless people. I was not on a social crusade, as I might be today. I was merely out to document an aspect of Japanese society which I could not believe existed. And it still exists, as my wife and I discovered during our trip to Tokyo in 2008. There are still tons of dispossessed in Ueno Park, for example.
The words and images are presented pretty much the same as they were 22 years ago. I have formatted the poems to flow more like straight prose, as they seem to read pretty well that way and it saves me some space here on the interwebs. And please keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still quite pleased with some of it), these words were written by a man less than half the age of his current 47 years.
So there it is. Please take your time and enjoy. (And please note that each photo is paired with the text beneath it, and the location and date for each photo is directly beneath the image.)
—Dan Ryan, Brisbane, CA, January, 2011
Bagman-san—Except from a diary….
Last evening, I saw the first “crazy-dude-shouting-at-the–top-of-his-voice-to-no-one” that I’ve seen in Japan. It was while I was walking through Roppongi. I have only been here for a week and some days. If it had been New York, this guy probably would have been my average cabbie. Or a Druze militiaman. The Japanese businessman I was walking near laughed at the guy, who was indeed shouting like Renfield with a razor. I smiled, wishing I new enough Japanese to grin and say “Yeah, we have crazy people in America too.” The moment was funny.
I saw my first Japanese bagman the next day. He had chest-length hair uniformly around his head. I could not see his eyes. He sported a dirty coat and some trendily-labeled shopping bags full of trash, or what I thought was trash. His long, glistening hair was eminently noticeable in the early work-day commuting crowd.
The sight of these two men shattered my view of Japan as the ultimate socially-restrained society, one which keeps all members within prescribed societal behavior parameters. I never thought I’d see a bagperson in, Japan. Even the most finely woven silk has a frayed edge somewhere.
Maybe being a bagman is a form of rebellion. Or an honorable profession.
Humor of the ‘surd
When you stare straight ahead, people love you. They use that stare as a guide rope to the smooth underside of a city. Then they talk to the loops of themselves, whipping about their hair to combine, crashing, at the bus stop.
And they can fill their cold capsules with beer. Large beer capsules, to claim they are no longer the child who loved Star Wars.
People who seem to breathe when they should not. They exhale and breathe more, and soon the mixture is not air. One can see through it, yet it blocks the pores like a bad handshake.
Some say there are valleys because mountains trip and fall. Or, proportionately, there are potholes.
Ueno Station—May, 1988▲
A bruised and side-tracked equinox
My body is hot, though my brain won’t feel it. Hot nerve flashes scale like firemen up my neck gathering to swim where my jellied thoughts collect.
I trip the crust of the curb. A fine Goodyear necklace forms the halo for the ghosts of my hands, I dream. In the way my toes wriggle, there is the hint of the prehensile, of the old way of walking.
I think of all those grimy seasons, the sun singing “I am the Queen of Anonymity” to me. Hard luck pressed to bad. The cowboys are weeping tonight between some snowflakes and the blue Ueno fog.
These manholes are the holes in the lute of Earth. My heat, xenophobes killing xenomorphs. There is a tangible future; I know others will be born.
And for them, heaven should be renamed.
Ueno Station—May, 1988▲
Cool metal. Bent metal aluminum siding. Shiny, warped, and reflecting the street beacon in the shape of a 6. Metal warped with head impressions; perhaps the heads were Cambodian. The Cambodians of Rio, where I have lived for many years. They learned from Pol Pot to take small bites, as people do on T.V.
So come those crushed in my crackers, denting my house, those green in the salad of the Earth. I pray to some monochrome muddy that I do not go to the moon and marry.
Akihabara Station—June, 1988▲
When one feels low, go where the low go
At times, I must lean against the refrigerator and think. That is all, and whether boiling bleach makes chlorine gas, I wonder. I have too many bugs, too much video tape. And a mass in my mean body that takes a protectorate form. For once, this grunt of a wicked rainbow makes you laugh.
What else; the clock and what it represents do not impress me. Just as time is rubber, so are intentions. The way today’s rain falls sounds as if the earth was frying.
And it makes some think the lives we make are fit sculpture for some men’s lavatory. Weeks of wood can not build this, or centuries of fire burn it. So I disagree, but not so hot, or feeble, to faze a sternly casual method. I should leave them, perhaps you, to “When something wants to eat something, What does it do?”
An eye drifting from the TV to the wallpaper told me about this. And more, of your earth-son domus and shamed elastic, and changing the channel with a brick.
Mikimoto Rat (Keiseiueno)—June, 1988▲
You call me dear. Is this because you love me? Or, have I misspelled it? Do you view me just really as meat? A 6-point prize to be hunted?
Shot? Skinned? Bonnet-slung?
Dressed up and….eaten?
Ueno Park—June, 1988▲
“Organic lifelessness refracts light” to an old man coughing lovely luminous vapor trails in the park. He tells this to a pretty woman, who, in the process of describing trousers as “pyants,” does not listen to him.
He coughs up the nervous laugh of the aged, dumps his head upon his duffle and sleeps. Distantly, there ring slide guitar chords made using a finger inserted in a hip-flask bottle.
Ueno Park—August, 1988▲
If there were cocaine in the Bisquick, do you think we’d live better lives? Really? Let us be intelligent about this; let’s pretend we’ve read Newton’s Principia. Sometimes, you, well, maybe not, however, you know, I feel like crying.
I’ll run my fingers through my hair and wish it was yours. Yet you wonder if the sun will be brilliant tonight. You wonder if your gun is loaded. And you wonder if the cat’s water dish is full.
I haven’t read much since college. Yet, I’ve read enough prostitute cards in smog-coffin Tokyo phone booths to know: love’s harbinger, lust, is alive and welcome if you’ve an 80-minute coffee break. But, there are certain things you care nothing about. There are certain things I object to. Why are they the same things?
Tomorrow, if my love hits you between the eyes, don’t say “Love hit me between the eyes.” It’s a terrible cliché.
Quietly sinking with the Japanese sun (written in Kamiya Bar, Asakusa)
Some electrolytic brandy, and the brain’s synapses change and lose voltage, like a battery, sparking of its own chemical volition. We change this way, and we squeak.
Remember, John Wayne proclaimed some liquids unfit for the young. Here, an older crowd; here, a louder loud. Boot tips, and teeth grinding the edge of some brandy glass.
When poured, brandy has its own inertia. This is a fact. This is a physical law. Yet, why need the real be basis for delusions? Or impressions? Like ball-point lines. Or bad polaroids, fading in the street, matching road shade, road texture. Yet, sitting in this pit any room you climb up into seems infinite, no matter its size.
Here, cigarettes burn down, strand by strand, their flames scorching lengths of RNA. I could be other places, to be warm and alone; perhaps the street.
I am cold, reading utopian literature, in a long, cylindrical chamber A cold chamber, heating slowly. I think it is the barrel of a gun. Once more, I sip brandy.
The grade-Z cast of thousands
Pride, diplomacy; they are not wasted in empty wheat fields. Out there. It’s where the bearded winds sing the slalom music, the careening scherzo of life. Upon such music: a spirit.
The Melancholy Marabou Stork. He airlifts sadness so sweet, it leaves sugar burns with the tongue. From the tongue it takes words, leaving them scattered at the toes to dry with other empty wheat husks.
With each monolog a husk pyre forms, until the night. Then, a match applied warms the cool, hard soul ‘til next morning.
On an Alabama road in the dead of 10 a.m.
The sun bakes the wetness in my eyes into a sugary dome that I saw Julia Child put upon a dessert once. It is a natural contact lens I peel off with a paring knife when I am not dodging meteors.
I look at the backs of my hands; they contain charred fleshy nexuses, like I was Christ-vampire-incarnate crucified with spikes of sunlight. At the tip of my tongue, some velcro, which I use to strip the petals from a bluebonnet.
It is the free slope of the morning; the point from which the day’s time curves down Einstein’s extended index. The point from which discreet time quanta will add up to the point of the next morning on a hill several miles from here.
Far. In a county named after a dog, where each blade of grass is registered in the county seat, as the officials have precious little else to do.
Sanya Market—July, 1988▲
The Unpublished Poets of Tokyo
The unpublished poets bend in the breeze; reeds in a pond. Ducks eat them. Bigger things eat the ducks. The poets mildew in the canyons of Tokyo, where crows bleached in soot whitewash dying brambles.
Is brambles the correct word? The unpublished poets take the dictionaries from beneath their oily heads, street pillows, and page … xenophobia, autodidact, ah, here … yes. The poets eat the bones of their procrustean kin.
Others, too, have stopped by. Poets toothpick their pens, flicking bones, and write sloppy words to Japan’s shoeleather orchestra. It is no symphony; it’s a water ballet.
The unpublished poets tread water all day.
Drunk in Sanya—August, 1988▲
Alleys are homes to our greatest unknowns
My flesh is parched and broken from the cigarette I put out in my palm. It was curious to’ve done such a thing, I know; but for agony, alleys are best. To scream in, to sit in, and chew the bubble-gum bits before gangrene sets in.
This, then, is concrete, polished with dust. A banquet of oil and rubber beneath my shoes. Fitting food for my king of the feast, who can afford to die slowly as cancer’s camp ground yet cannot afford an ashtray.
A creamy socket of lymph stares at me like an eyeball in the bishop’s stigmata. Twenty meters from the curb. There, walk-and-pass women walk and pass, themselves nude in the eyes of the men with the rabbit-skull cuff links
There, sun. Rising, spreading Sunday’s hungover glow. From school, I remember the plane preposition test as a jet passes above. flying from that cloud to another. Planes jot the sky’s water vapor island.
Day #8576. Wakeup. I wonder if I can step on every crack when I walk downtown home.
A strange, provocative solution (excerpt from a diary)
If more people lived in the street, there would be fewer street people; because an increased number of persons inhabiting the street would create a climate in which street residence would be more acceptable, by virtue of its prevalence.
Therefore, there would be less of a stigma attached to being a street person. Gradually, it would become acceptable; gradually, there would be fewer ‘street people’ in the negative, social commentary sense because living in the street would be no more objectionable than living in the suburbs.
People will always be a mélange of jerks, geniuses and slick pederasts; but if more of us live in the street, we can, by virtue of making an unacceptable situation acceptable, solve a great social malaise.
Shinjuku Sidewalk—September, 1988▲
The discreet rainbow lady
Teeth, and beige silk, molded into fine oriental dentures. Such things are worn by women who snore. She’s one; my Bencliffia. A saltpeter heiress. Controller, mixer of disconcerted realities, she’ll say “The beginning and end product’re cheap; it’s their transition that’s expensive.”
Silver eyed; onyx irised. She moves the way liquid in a shaking bottle sounds. “They are a noise, they are one life,” She says, as she moves. She says and she moves a lot.
Almost never in unison, though.
Edgar Allen Poe is dead and I don’t have the energy to danse like the bones of Christ along the power lines at dawn. Not like I used to.
No one could plant a bullet, as I have, only to see roots of red attack squirrels as the plant matured. Seems Mars is for rent. I’m going. I’d like a room with a view for once. All that …. red soil.
No need to cover the wounds of the dead. So, there are no cheaper imitations of plastic, are there? Let it speak for itself. I can’t; I have splinters on my tongue from talking to trees too long.
This breeze is good. So good. It penetrates every molecule, for there is no blood to block it.
Ueno Park—October, 1988▲
We can chew on the bread of a Yakuza wife and become parodies of our own physiognomy. Like prisoners at Corsica we may spend our leisure converting rural tools for urban wilderness.
Perhaps you’ve found waters of coveted rivers refreshing. Such liquids make us ill. We prefer whiskey, for a spinal block. We are the phantoms of language who spurn the dance of the affected poseurs in subway clothing ads.
To wit, we are greasy freedom in tune with the beagle years. We spew walrus, and we use you and that makes us feel ok.
Blade Runner Tuesday
The sweet fibers of the beer that ails me. The mask of the face that kills me. At war with god, the tequila oak leaves kiss me. Biting a macaroon, the tight fangs who know I goad next week’s hounds smile in the weeds with the intelligence of those who don’t comprehend stupidity. I grip the hands of the Sanskrit poets who wrote me.
To ask god for greatness is to blame another for failure. The woof of the flame, it taunts me. I smile there, through the library of the dead. Mozart’s skull, I…. a brouhaha and a homily.
The cold cotton pits that jail me. I attend the three-fold mass for the gods of the rainy bus-stop. I wear those cellophane clothes; they never fit me. On these frequent days, I sip bombast cocktails and elude great ideas.
Asakusa (near Kamiya Bar)—September, 1988▲
There is a ring on my hand. It is made of Strontium 90 because I am anti-social.
Most people do not interest me, most contacts do not arouse me. But, for you, the ring is tragic; it dissolves my hands, the ones I once did, and still long to, touch you with.
It is a price, the glow, that is too high for me to stop paying now.
King Subway (Tokyo Station)—October, 1988▲
Walk. Walk amongst the people. Make no sound as you walk.
Walk light, step bright and ghostly kiss the passers-by. Here. Hear the sounds of their step. Pound their hearts with the aura of your love. Watch the waves of ochre sound.
They love you and they need you and they don’t know you exist.
You walk through them. Your blood cells and theirs shake hands. You kiss every forehead. You own ever fiber of their suits and their jewelry. You own every crowd. You are a harvester of chaste souls, of buttery blood vessels.
You are what you need them to think you to be. You are something I see without you seeing me.
Ueno Park Son—October, 1988▲
Rudy went to the gas station
bought three gallons
lit a match
These poems and photographs were originally exhibited at Lehigh University in the Spring of 1989. More recently, the photographs were published in 2008 in issue 57 of Giant Robot magazine.
She loved the things placed about Tokyo, like the figures outside the shops that beckon you almost irresistibly inside, even if the place doesn’t sell anything of particular interest to you. She reveled in the presence of these playful things.
When she stood by these figures, like the Milky girl in Nakano Broadway, they became enveloped in her space. It was like she gave some of her light and energy to these inanimate things when she touched them. It seemed like some part of her wanted the advertising figures to come alive so she could play with them with her little girl’s spirit and sense of wonder.
I tell you, it was the weirdest thing. It really was as if she was trying to bring these things to life. The marshmallow-candy girl in Harajuku actually did move. It might have been the human inside, I’m not sure.
But the best part was that when she looked at me, well, that’s when I came to life.
The old timers had been going there for over one hundred years, and I was finally back after more than twenty.
It was Kamiya Bar, in the Asakusa part of Tokyo, and it was the oldest western-style bar in the city. Western as in high ceilings, with wood-veneer wall panels, chrome light fixtures and those patterned tin ceiling tiles you see in old saloons in Tombstone, Arizona or Virginia City, Nevada.
But I don’t mean it also had brass spittoons and buffalo horns on the walls. Kamiya Bar is western in contrast to the small izakayas and tatami-mat sake parlors scattered all throughout Tokyo. The main drinking room is more like a European beer hall, with elongated tables often shared by strangers. Condiment stations and menu holders are placed on the tables the way they would be in a typical American diner. Everyone wears Western clothing, and foreigners are not only a common sight, the Japanese welcome them quite warmly.
Sometimes in unexpected ways.
I had been dreaming of returning to Tokyo for many years. I was a bachelor here, fresh out of university, working for an American company for two years. During the course of our relationship I had told my wife many stories of the happiness and wonder I had found here. So we had decided, six months before this day, to pool our resources and use her frequent-flier miles to take a grand 11-day trip to Tokyo and my old haunts. Which included, of course, Kamiya Bar.
And, actually, this was our second visit to the place. We had come to Asakusa a few days before to see the temple and do some shopping. My wife was utterly charmed with Asakusa and its more traditional appearance and overall feel. Before leaving Asakusa that day, I wanted to show her Kamiya Bar, where we had many drinks and several plates of excellent fried potatoes. Most of the food in the drinking rooms is western-style. Most of the drinks are large mugs of Asahi Beer and denki bran, a luscious, fragrant brandy made and served exclusively by the bar.
On our first visit, my wife and I had a smaller table to ourselves along the wall of the main drinking room. This visit, I wanted to go to the bar before she was done with her shopping. When I got there, the place was very crowded and I ended up sitting at a table in the smaller front drinking room with an elderly Japanese man. Our table touched another where a middle-aged Japanese couple were seated.
At first I thought all three of them were together, from the way they were talking and being friendly to each other. Empty food plates on the seam between the two tables made it look like these had been shared. Because of my perception, I used my poor Japanese to defer to the elderly man when asking if I could sit at his table with all three people.
It turned out the middle-aged couple spoke some English. So while the old man waved me to a chair without batting an eye, he spoke through the middle-aged lady who told me I was welcome to sit with them. There were many empty beer mugs and denki bran glasses on the tables, and I have often wondered since how much of a factor they played in the wonderful hour which was to come.
When you first enter Kamiya Bar, you have to buy drink tickets at the front counter before taking a seat. In addition to the shopping bags which were now tucked behind my chair, I had tickets for two large beers and two denki brans, which I placed on the table in front of me. That’s how it works: the waitress comes by, takes the tickets you’ve put out, and then comes back with your drinks. For subsequent rounds, you just put your cash yen on the table, and the waitress replaces the drinks you’ve had with fresh ones.
I had just gotten my beer and brandy when the middle-aged couple asked me some of the standard questions. Where was I from? How did I like Japan? I told them that I used to come to Kamiya Bar when I was a young man many years ago, and this made them delightfully surprised. The old man asked the lady what I had said, and when she told him he nodded approvingly at me and raised his glass to the one I had just picked up. When out glasses clinked, we drank and he nodded again. Then he put another bite of fried potato and croquette into his mouth.
For the next few minutes, the middle-aged couple and I talked, with the lady translating for the old man and I when we had questions for each other. Although far better than my Japanese, her English was not that great, but here is what I learned:
The couple were married, but lived separately during most of the month because he had to stay in a company dorm for his job in Tokyo. The lady and their children stayed at the family home far outside the city. The couple and the old man did not know each other, had only met that very afternoon at the tables we now occupied. I had thought the old man was a father or elderly uncle, but the lady said no. And the old man was a veteran of World War II, had served the emperor.
By this time my wife had arrived, and I tucked her packages and shopping bags behind my chair with mine. In busted English and broken Japanese, my wife, the married couple and the old man managed to introduce themselves. The lady and I further summarized for my wife the conversation she had missed before arriving. My wife was very taken by the fact that the old man had served in the war.
She asked the lady what the old man had done in the war, something she and I both wanted to know. The lady asked the old man, but he apparently wanted to dodge the question. I watched him as he spoke, and he didn’t show any shame or embarrassment that I could see. He acted like a man who had happier things on his mind and didn’t want anything but light-hearted talk to carry our little drinking session forward. Through the lady he said, while smiling, that he preferred not to say. That settled it for me.
Then the waitress happened by and the old man ordered another round of beer and brandy for our group. The drinks arrived a minute later, and he pushed his pile of cash yen towards the waitress. I motioned for my cash, to place it with the old man’s, but he gently patted my hand down and away from his money. He was buying, and that settled that for us.
As we reached for our drinks, my wife asked the lady to tell the old man that her father had served in the U.S. Army during the war. It hadn’t occurred to me to mention that, but it did not surprise me that my wife did. After the lady spoke to the old man, he looked at my wife and seemed to beam at her. A very warm look. He then touched glasses with my wife as he had with me earlier, and toasted the rest of the table. He noticed that I was looking at his fried potato and croquette and offered me his plate. I was so full of beer by then I had no room for his kind offer. He smiled at this after the lady passed it on to him.
And as we had asked him, the old man asked my wife what her father had done in the war. Through the lady, my wife said her father had been an airplane mechanic but that he really didn’t like to talk about his role in the war very much either. The old man nodded and smiled at this. And perhaps it was the beer, but I suddenly noticed, except for the almond eyes and the lack of a mustache, my wife and I could have been sitting at this table with her father. Both men were the same age, about the same build, and favored long-sleeved dress shirts with sweater vests. At least that is what our Japanese old man was wearing, along with a grey wool driving cap.
And again maybe it was the beer and brandy but for the rest of our little drinking session I could sense real warmth between my wife and the old man. He bought another round of drinks for the table, and another plate of croquette which I agreed to share with him. He seemed pleased that no one had to suggest I put tonkatsu sauce on my food. Upon noticing, I asked the lady to tell the old man that all properly-trained gaijin know the value of tonkatsu sauce on croquette. The lady, her husband and the old man got a chuckle out of this. It made me happy to make them happy.
By this time about an hour had passed, and the old man announced that he had to go home and get some sleep. He had to spend the day with his grandchildren tomorrow. It was only six in the evening, but he got up and reached for the grey suit coat on the back of his chair. He had one arm into one sleeve, and seemed to be struggling with the rest of the process, when my wife quickly reached up and helped him into the suit coat. When the old man reached for his overcoat, my wife stood and helped him on with that.
For her help, the old man bowed to my wife and reached his hands to shake hers. My wife took the old man’s hands into both of hers and kissed them as the old man bowed a little extra bow to her. The kiss ended quickly, and my wife looked up smiling at the old man. He in turn was smiling at me as we reached out with single hands and shook. He had one of the most confident grips I have ever felt.
The drinking session had ended.
The middle-aged couple said they had to go as well. My wife and I were bone-tired and a bit tipsy. We decided to leave Kamiya Bar and head back to our vacation rental across town in Nakano to regroup before planning the rest of our evening. We ended up staying in, having a snack dinner from the local combini and good beer and sake from a store called Life. We didn’t regret staying in, for we still had a few nights left in Tokyo. And one night out in Tokyo can often be worth two or three in any major western city.
But we didn’t go back to Kamiya Bar, though we talked about it. Even if we had, there probably would have been little chance of seeing the old man or the middle-aged couple again. I did give the couple our address and phone number with instructions to call us and stay with us if they travel to the States. But it has been almost two years now and my wife and I have not heard from them. That’s okay. We are already talking about going back to Tokyo next year, this time with a promise from me that we will make proper plans in advance to take an overnight trip to a ryokan in Kyoto. I intend to make good on that promise.
But I have thought often about the old man since we returned from that trip, and I think of the bond he and my wife seemed instantly to share. I found it beautiful, but still don’t quite understand it. But I have never been a daughter, or the child of a war veteran, so perhaps real comprehension of this will always elude me.
But from my point of view it doesn’t matter, because I know this:
I don’t care what the old man did in the war, if he was a medic, a cook, a commando, or a pilot who strafed Pearl Harbor. For a short time he was our benefactor and our friend. And he was Japanese and we were Americans and it was Kamiya Bar.