Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. It’s already upon my American friends in Japan. While I have some regrets (of the life-long variety), I have had a lot to be thankful for in the last 12 months. In particular, I am thankful that I was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter project which enabled me to return to Tokyo in September and October this year to continue my Tokyo Panic Stories work. And while I was in Tokyo, I was able to get together with some guys I already knew, and meet some new fellows with whom I hope to be friends in years to come.
I don’t have a hell of a lot of friends, and I don’t make them easily. This post is my way of thanking these fine gents for their company and warmth. Cheers, boys…
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.
Your camera captured me.
Your eyes see what I really am.
It’s okay, it’s okay.
I’m not a harmful spirit.
Some days I just need the company of humans, like I used to be.
I tire easily of parallel Tokyo, the spirit city for the wide Kantō Plain.
No one ever ages there.
No one ever eats there.
Babies are never born there.
Memory is currency there, and sometimes we collect it.
We pass down into real Tokyo,
where for us every day is Halloween.
We disguise our transparency with the solid illusion of flesh.
We lustfully absorb human energy and life,
the kind you share so freely among yourselves,
and we remember the warm meat lockers we used to be.
We come here for the festive, the happy, the joyous.
Never the sad.
Death is for other angels.
Tokyo is our spirit vacation, where we sleep on futon instead of photons.
The lives you lead save us from the eternity we have earned.
We love you, so we visit you.
So do me favor.
Wait a week to publish your picture.
I’ll be back at my desk in parallel Tokyo by then.
(Picture taken at the base of Tokyo Skytree, Oshiage, Tokyo, on September 19th, 2013)
It’s quiet here
at the galaxy’s core.
I don’t suppose the stars would stop moving
even if we asked them to.
I have considered doing so.
Night after night we bathe in ever-moving light,
some of it from the sun we abandoned
so many birthdays ago
surely it must have extinguished by now.
If you had never been born
I would have found you anyway,
used the machines we have spun
from neutrinos and platinum and DNA
to go back in time and find a way to make you exist.
The centuries, they are mere miles for us,
and the best ones we lived, we lived on Earth.
No, I don’t miss it, I would rather be here with you,
even though it amazes me that we still have to change cat litter.
And other corporeal things, this ring.
I shall always wear it.
Remember when I lost the stone that Christmas in the 21st century?
I’ve beat the hell out of this ring, but I shall always wear it.
The circle of it remains perfect,
the nicks in it are the hieroglyphs of our history.
And on your birthday, like it is today,
I look where the stone was
and remember that the love which first set the stone remains,
after all this time it remains.
And that, as ever,
is always good enough for me.
—Love, Dan, January 9th, 2013
On the whole
I’d rather be in Japan,
but of course that’s always true.
But no matter where you are
in the world tonight,
I will drink a toast to you.
If I had spent New Year’s Eve 2012 in Japan, I would probably have been in Tokyo buying and sharing beers with the displaced and homeless drunks that hang around Shinobazu Pond in Ueno. Or I would have done some volunteer work for Sister Rita Burdzy and the Sanyukai NPO. Perhaps in 2013. You never know. 2012 was a great year for me, creatively probably the best ever. But there were some rough spots, and like most humans I am instinctually eager to push forward through this artificial construct we call time. So goodbye to 2012. I hope I can make 2013 even better. Because it is, after all, entirely up to me. And in the bigger picture, it’s up to us all.
(Picture taken in Yanaka, Tokyo in April, 2012)
There’s a map of everything to everywhere…..
….on my front porch.
There’s nothing deeper here than that
a lesson I may have learned while I was out past my porch running some errands for my in-laws.
needed me to dispose of a stiff, dead opossum she had found in her yard.
needed me to buy him some Duracell 312 hearing aid batteries and three packs of True menthol 100 cigarettes.
So, the opossum ended up in a bag which I tossed into a dumpster behind our local grocery market here in Brisbane,
ended up in a run-down CVS pharmacy just off the El Camino Real in South San Francisco, California.
Cigarettes and hearing aid batteries for the elderly are always in such places. It is the joy of these places.
And they have El Jimador tequila, which I have never tried.
But I have smelled it because of the weaving-drunk man who was behind me, even though I didn’t ask.
We were both in line, and I had
my cigarettes and batteries.
He had his fifth of El Jimador tequila, and a copy of Maxim magazine
(which I found pleasing because it had a picture of a lovely woman with enormous tits on the cover.)
And this guy looked rough, and he was Latino, and that didn’t matter
because he looked my age
and it was Friday night
and the only thing he could weave about to plan and do was to buy El Jimador tequila and Maxim magazine
and go off wherever he had to go in the rain.
My birthday is upon me.
I’ll be 48.
And I don’t pray but I did make a sort of vow to myself that,
for the rest of my life,
I will never be the kind of man who swerves into a run-down CVS pharmacy in South San Francisco, California on a Friday night
a bottle of cheap tequila and a big-titty-girl magazine
and then shuffle off into the rain and the night.
The tombs of the pharaohs aren’t this quiet, even this close to a Mormon temple…..
The street is quiet and it is Christmas Day and for the first time I see in the landscape and the architecture something of the neighborhood in Richardson, Texas where I spent part of my youth.
My niece and her husband live on this street and I have known them for twenty years and they have lived here for at least that long and I have never noticed until today that this place in Hollister, California could be the street upon which my middle-school friends and I played in the wintertime when ice freezes the vibrant heart and most of northeast Texas.
It surprises me the things I see for the first time after so many years of knowing family in this place.
The wintertime in northeast Texas will freeze the skin, but some families celebrate Christmas until it freezes the soul. My family was a bit like that, because when I was growing up there was only me, my sister, my mother and my father. There are greater burdens of love and appreciation placed upon each member of a family at Christmastime, usually in inverse proportion to the number of members in that family.
My father, for example, read large-print storybook copies of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and “Santa Mouse” to my sister and I on Christmas Eve every year up through 1976, when I was twelve and my sister was nine. They got to be a bit much, those books. But my dad had some need from his own childhood to lavish upon my sister and me things he felt he missed or did not receive in suitable abundance from Santa Claus. My mother was raised in the Christian Eastern Orthodox Church, so she indulged my dad but really didn’t give a shit one way or another. I always rather respected that about her.
1976 was an unusually cold, icy year in northeast Texas. It was also the year my sister and I each got our first cassette tape recordings for Christmas presents. I got Wings At The Speed Of Sound and she got Destroyer by Kiss. I don’t know if my parents had foreseen something most parents cannot, but the tone and musical style of the tape my sister and I each received that year were superb indicators of the personality types we grew into as teenagers and adults.
Strange how these things grasp me now as I stand on this quiet street in Hollister, California and wonder at the temporal and physical distance between this day and Christmas Day in northeast Texas in 1976 and it is a surprisingly happy reverie that holds me for the time it takes me to light and smoke two cigarettes down to the fingertips on my right hand.
And then I’m done.
So I just stare down the quiet street one last time and I am very thankful that I cannot see any cars in the nearby Mormon temple parking lot nor hear any Mormons singing.
I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Superbowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured large amounts of tequila and Diet Coke. I don’t remember what teams played that day, but I had the game on my TV with the SAP decoder giving me the American color commentary. So, for hours that morning my little apartment in Yushima was a haven of boozed up football stupidness.
(▲I lived at AD. Homes, #402, 3-28-18 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 113. As of 2008, my old building was still there, right next to Yushima Tenjin. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)
I was an American, damn it, watching an American thing, getting pissed on imported booze and American soda pop. It almost made me homesick. I had one of those TV magnifiers back then. I remember zooming in on the instant replays until the TV screen looked like housefly vision. I must have mixed 2 litres of Diet Coke with almost a whole 750 ml bottle of white tequila that morning. I was a chemical disgrace. When the game was over, I watched a Japanese tape of R.E.M. videos for awhile (I still own the tape). And then the booze was gone, and that’s when I decided to go out. I planned to only go to the beer machines nearby to buy some Asahi.
(▲The TV magnifier was a Fresnel lens. I loved mine, not because it did a great job, but because it reminded me of the computer screens in Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”. And it made “Blade Runner” look very interesting.)
Somehow, though, I ended up in Shinjuku, in a bar near Golden Gai. Or maybe it was in Kabukichō. I think it was a retired salaryman bar, actually. A tout led me there. It might have been a gay bar as well, because all the men in the place were definitely looking me over. I was the only round-eye there. Anyway, after awhile I grew tired of sitting at the table where these old salarymen were buying me beers. They gave me the creeps.
And, of course, I was more pissed off my ass than ever.
So, I politely said thanks and goodbye to these men, and did the next logical thing: I went shopping for a CD player at Marui. I didn’t need a CD player, but I went shopping anyway. By this time it was two in the afternoon.
Thank whatever this was all happening on a Friday. I was so drunk I could never have shown up for work the next day. Anyway, with my drunken, broken Japanese I ended up buying a $600 Nakamichi CD changer from a nice salesgirl. Hope her commission was good. I vaguely recall it was to be delivered from new stock the following Tuesday. I put the CD player on my American credit card.
Somehow, I don’t know how, I ended up back in Yushima by about 5 that evening. I think I made a side trip to Kamiya Bar in Asakusa. I think.
(▲Kamiya Bar in Asakusa in 2008. Outside and inside it looked exactly the same, just barely out of focus, as it did twenty years before.)
I stocked up on cold 2 litre jugs of Asahi and Sapporo from the beer machines near Yushima Station before I finally went home. When I did get home, I had maybe three small glasses of beer before crashing around eight. I didn’t wake up until ten the next morning. Amazingly, I had almost no hangover. I also had no idea who won the Superbowl. But I did have lots of yummy beer and no plans for the day. So, I packed the beer into a cloth bag and wandered over to Ueno Park around lunch time. I had cold beers in the winter sun that afternoon.
I remember loving that Saturday. I was free and a single man and starting the second year of my great Japanese adventure. I was pure joy. The next day, Sunday, I mostly took a break from the beer and walked to Akihabara to poke around. I knew I didn’t need a CD player, though. That night, I had lots of tempura soba, cold beers, and caught “Miami Vice” on TV. Two episodes, I think. That was a nice night.
On Monday at work, of course, I realized what an idiot I had been on Friday with the CD player in Shinjuku. The exchange rate on the purchase with my American credit card would be insane!! So, I asked one of the Japanese secretaries to call Marui and cancel the purchase. She did it, and there was no problem. Yeah, it had been a pretty good weekend. At least from what I remember now.
I still think the bar was for gay salarymen, though.
Quite often the thing you need to do….
….is the last thing you usually consider.
And that is: Always watch out for the toys.