Water Businessby Peter Gannon Crumlish
It was a busy night at the bar with the English ordering each other about a hundred rounds of beer and the Japanese ordering Bar-bin-wari, which is their fucked up way of saying bourbon and water. I was behind the bar making cocktails for the ladies, a Salty Dog as a matter of fact. Thatís a pretty easy one, just grapefruit juice and vodka but itís got salt all around the rim, which is how come itís called a Salty Dog. So anyway you got to rub a lime on the glass first and then roll the rim in a plate of salt and then pour the shaker into the glass with a flourish. Which Iím pretty good at. The Japanese are really into ceremony and style, which Iím sure I donít have to tell you. Itís practically a cliché to say that, but you know there are some things about people that everyone knows and they say it all the time in conversations to sound important, like, Australians suffer from "Tall Poppy Syndrome" which means that their culture doesnít allow or encourage anyone to stand above anyone else so theyíre always like tearing each other down, which accounts for why theyíre so fucked up. But you can say that at a party or in a bar and everyone will nod wisely and say, yes, so true, but unless youíve been to Australia and seen people tearing each other down for trying to be better than the next guy youíll never really know what that means. And then when you do go, if you do at all, youíll see, and that little cliché about "Tall Poppy Syndrome" will come back to you and all of a sudden youíll go, Oh! now I know what that means.
So people are always saying things about Japan as if they understand why the Japanese are the way they are, but unless youíve been there you donít really know what it means. But Iíve been there so you can believe me that the Japanese are really into ceremony and flourishes. Which is why I was such a fucking good bartender. Old Hiro-san, he was the Mas-ta, which is just the Japanese way of saying master, which he didnít like us to use maybe cause he knew Americans had a pretty shitty reputation when it came to slaves and masters and stuff. Anyway, Old Hiro-san (and he wasnít old, I just say that out of habit) seemed to like me the best. In fact, it made me a little uncomfortable. Not around him, cause he was a terrific guy, really good and always helping me out like I was his son or something, but around the other gaijin. I think they were jealous. Like this Australian chick, Robin. Once she said, "Hiro-san thinks the sun shines out your fucking arse." I swear to god she said that. "Arse." I couldnít tell if it was a simple statement or some kind of put down or, like, a compliment. I think she said it kind of bitter. Which pissed me off a little, as if I was to blame cause my boss likes me. But what I think it is, is she's a girl, and the Japanese have this attitude toward women. And I think Hiro-san acts pretty differently around her than he does to me. Itís hard to say but I think so. Cause I like the guy a lot. Like I said, heís practically like my father, but sheís always complaining about the things he does and says to her, and I think, Hiro said that? And then I have to decide who I believe: Robin, this chick I really like, or Hiro-san whoís been really good to me and treats me like Iím this really honorable good guy who went to college and all, which is kind of true but not at all the way he thinks it is.
And I act modest as hell, but Iím not about to make him think Iím a moron or anything or a thief or something. I mean in this country youíre gonna be treated like a piece of shit most of the time anyway, just cause youíre a fucking gaijin and smell like a barbarian and have no sense of decency and courtesy, and even the Japanese spend half their life or more being treated like a piece of shit themselves, and the other half treating someone else like a piece of shit, so if youíve been through that youíre not so quick to blow someoneís good image of you while itís happening. They donít know what youíre really like anyway and in Japan they donít care. They donít want to know. Thatís youíre own fucking business. Itís private, you understand.
So I was pouring the Salty Dog into the glass and smiled to the customer, acting charming as hell, when I look over and see this chick I know, Akiko, sitting at the bar and staring at me. Sheís gotta be about twenty one, but she looks like sheís about seven, with this really flat chest and big eyes and huge glasses. Her English is really good which tells me sheís got to be pretty sharp, but she acts like sheís a goddamn waif and talks in this high voice thatís supposed to be all cute and vulnerable. I guess she thinks that makes her more desirable.
So anyway I smile at her since Iím a goddamn bartender and all and she practically lights up. I ask her if she wants a drink, in Japanese, which is, Nani wa nomimasu ka? Which I throw in here just so you believe that I really know what the fuck Iím talking about. And she says in English that she doesnít want anything. Which is something that really pisses most gaijin off. They go to all this effort to learn the language and fit in and earn respect and when they speak to some Japanese guy heíll always answer back in English, even if his English is terrible and much worse than your Japanese. And the gaijin is all insulted by that. But the truth is that the Japanese feel that itís their duty to try to speak your language if they can, so they think itís a sign of courtesy. But also itís because they canít even comprehend a foreigner speaking their language so itís like they donít even hear it as Japanese. They see the foreignerís face and they just assume without thinking that heís speaking English. They donít even hear it. So when a foreigner goes up to a Japanese and in a good accent starts talking to him in his own language, which only he and other Japanese people use, itís gonna be hard for him to digest it. And thatís why the foreigner gets mad, because he thinks the guy is putting him down. But the real problem is that the gaijin thinks that he can learn to be Japanese. That if he learns all those fucking kanji and how to bow and scrape and and hold a tea cup and not show any facial expression and agree with anyone whoís at your level or higher, that heíll finally be accepted. But heís never gonna be accepted, period. So heís just playing with himself. And if he werenít so caught up in the fantasy of it heíd be able to see it for himself.
But actually, Iím always kind of relieved when a Japanese person starts to speak English to me. My Japanese is lousy and Iím really too lazy to work on it so itís just easier when we can speak my language. Thatís why after two years I can hardly speak a word. I mean, I can order food in a restaurant and buy a drink and tell someone to get the fuck out of my way on the subway, but thatís about it. I can start a conversation in Japanese, but after about two minutes Iíve used up all my knowledge and have to smirk pathetically and say, Gomen nasai. Eigo wa ii desu ka? And then they come to my rescue switching to English. When I first got to Japan Iíd always try to throw a little Japanese into my conversations. Like if someone called me Iíd answer in Japanese trying to make them think I really was Japanese, but of course theyíd always know I was a foreigner.
One time I really got in trouble. I called this chick Iíd met whoíd given me her number, but it didnít occur to me that she lived at home. So I called her up kind of late and in my lame accent asked if she was home. And what was worse was, since I was kind of nervous, I forgot to say "san" after her name, which is an easy enough mistake to make, but is insulting as hell to a Japanese. I got this old lady who must have been her grandmother, since they all live together in these little houses the size of a matchbox, and she got all quiet and then I hear someone else get on the phone and I think itís the girl but itís her father or something and he starts really bawling me out in Japanese. You donít know what thatís like. I didnít even know what the fuck he was saying but I was practically touching my head to the tatami and Gomen nasaiing and Sumimasening like a madman and to tell you the truth I was just about in tears when I got off the phone. So personally Iím quite happy to let them talk my language. Of course itís exactly that attitude that explains why I got practically nothing out of my education. Iím a lazy bastard.
So this girlís staring at me and not drinking and as I move up and down the bar her eyes are following me like one of those paintings where the eyes are looking at you wherever you are in the room. Iím not saying it made me nervous that she was watching me. Itís never unpleasant to have a girl fascinated by you even if you donít really care about her. It just feels nice. So periodically I go over and talk to her since thatís my job and thatís probably why sheís sitting there drinking water anyway, just waiting for me to talk to her. A lot of Japanese people come to the bar to practice their English, which is fine with me and fine with old Hiro-san, but they always drink. But this chickís English is too good for her to need to practice it so I was kind of suspecting that there was more than that on her mind. I know that sounds pretty conceited but just wait and see what happens and then decide.
Well, Hiro-san didnít seem that happy that she wasnít drinking and I could tell that it wasnít the money. It wasnít like he minded his space being taken up by a non-paying customer or anything. What bothered him was that he thought she was there just to pick up someone. And he didnít like that. He didnít want his place to be a goddamn pick-up joint. Which in truth it was. So I asked her if sheíd like a coke. I figured it was just the alcohol that she minded, not the money. She said O.K. and I poured it for her and thought that should settle old Hiro.
I got kind of busy again and didnít notice her anymore until my roommate walks in. Actually heís my flat mate, if you want to be precise. Weíve each got our own rooms, him, me and this real idiot from Australia. Heís not a bad guy, the kid from Australia, heís just young as hell, and stupid the way a nineteen year old can be. Of course he might end up that way for the rest of his life in which case he really will be stupid. So my roommate walks in, with his kind of swagger. Heís a little older than me, about twenty five, and was in the army and all and he thinks heís a real suave guy, a gentleman and everything. Heís fat as hell so donít think heís this macho military man. Heís not. Maybe he was once, but now heís got this big ass and gut. Of course heís still stronger than me, I mean he could probably pick me up and snap me in two if he wanted to. He dresses in a flashy way like a used-car salesman. I know that sounds snobby as hell, but itís true. He always wears this really strong cologne. It reeks in the morning so you always know when heís just left for work. I donít wear any cologne, myself. I donít know, maybe itís just upbringing so it really is snobby of me. Anyway, Iím sure heís got all kinds of ideas about me so I donít really care.
"Mr. McCauley," he says in this annoying sing-songy way. You know what I mean. He startís it off high and then drops low for the end, "Mr. McCauley." Heís the kind of guy who adds "meister" to the end of everything when heís fooling around. "The Ben-meister, etc.
I act all friendly to him which is really phony, but itís all part of the job. Iím smiling and ask him how heís doing.
"Not bad. Not bad," he says and sits at the bar. I put a coaster down and ask him what heíll have. He orders a Bass and looks around the bar while I pop open the bottle and place it before him. I stand there waiting for the money, politely you know. Hiro-san runs the place as what he calls an American style bar, which means, among other things, you have to pay for each drink before you drink it. Itís not usually done this way in Japan. Usually you run a tab and pay at the end. So it always throws people off. Especially the Japanese. Iím polite as hell about it, waiting patiently and repeating the amount. Finally it dawns on them and theyíll say, Shi o di ka? which is the Japanese way of saying C.O.D, as in cash-on-demand. But Randy acts like heís surprised. He does it every time, so itís pretty annoying. I think he hopes Iíll serve him for free once and a while. Which Iíd never do. I canít really. I mean I could give him one out of my own pocket, which doesnít mean Iíd have to pay for it. I mean I could give him one free and the next time Hiro-san offers me one I could pass it up cause I gave it away already. But Iím not about to do that for him. Weíre not exactly best buddies, you know. He kind of thinks we are, cause I tolerate him. But itís just habit. I spent so many years away at school living with people most of which your bound not to like, but you have to put up with them just the same. Itís a kind of boarding school code that you treat the people youíre stuck with kind of coolly but decently as if theyíre your friends kind of, when of course theyíre not. You know, like someone can borrow your lacrosse stick or a belt or something, even your shampoo for chrissake, but it doesnít necessarily mean you like him any.
Finally he acts like he just remembered that youíve got to pay up front at this place and starts fishing for his wallet.
"Benny, boy," he says. Yes, sir, I say, all bartenderly. "Ben-ny, Ben-ny, Ben-ny," he says still fishing. Heís got this big old sloppy double breasted suit that hangs off him like a lab coat and the pockets inside must hang down to his knees. Itís the ugliest fucking suit youíve ever seen, kind of like sharkís skin and itís always flapping around him. Itís not his fault really. He bought it over here and they just donít make suits for a guy his size, heís gotta be six-four for godssake. So he had to go to one of those tall and large stores that must cater to sumo tori only. And to make it worse heís got this gaudy fucking red handkerchief drooping from his pocket so that he looks like some retired mafioso. Of course itís there cause it matches this red stripe tie that looks suspiciously like my school tie. Itís no surprise, heís always borrowing my ties without asking and then returning them much later with these goddamn creases where he pulls the knot tight like his life depends on it. Sometimes, if heís really attached to the goddamn thing, heíll just keep it around long enough that it begins to officially change ownership. I canít even remember any more if somethingís mine or not. Except this is obvious. Itís my fucking school tie for chrissake.
Nice tie, I say unable to resist. He doesnít look the slightest bit guilty like heís been caught and instead starts to wise off.
"You like it? Pretty fancy, huh? This is whatís known as class, see Benny-boy?" He holds it between his fingers and looks down at it."Actually, I was gonna meet this babe for dinner and I thought Iíd try to look like a rich kid, you know, impress her. And I thought, Benny-boyís a rich kid, heís gotta have some preppy ties around, even if he never wears them."
Fuck you, I said.
"Hey, Benny-boy, donít get angry. I took real good care of it. Youída been proud of me. I tucked it inside my shirt when I ate lunch." He smiled at me but I couldnít bring myself to smile back. I donít know why I was making such a big deal out of it. Itís not the first time someoneís borrowed something from me. I just didnít feel like letting him off.
"Hey look, man, if itís such a big deal you can have it back." He starts to pull it off while looking at me. I could see he was kind of hurt. Like I said he kind of thinks of us as buddies, though I do my best to discourage it. So all a sudden I feel like the bad guy, like Iím making this big fucking deal out of nothing. As if thereís nothing wrong with him walking into my room and rifling through my closet and selecting my ties. I guess there isnít, really. It just seems like, well, I donít want to be all that intimate with him, you know? I donít want him looking back on those days in Tokyo and remembering his flat mate whose goddamn ties he was always borrowing. Frankly if he forgot about me altogether Iíd be happier. Really.
He was making it out like he was gonna pull it off, but when I didnít say anything he stopped mid-way, waiting to see what Iíd do. I made some noise like Ďpffffí and turned around to ring up the sale on the register. When I turn around again I see the tieís hanging like a noose, half undone. Randyís sipping from the bottle and looking at me with these brown, dog-eyes, waiting for me to say something like itís O.K. But for some reason Iím real pissed and I just canít bring myself to say anything. Randy looks away and sees the chick sitting next to him. Sheís still staring at me and watching every move I make and Iím sure she heard everything we just said. But she doesnít say anything, just stares at me.
Randy looks at her and his face goes through this transformation. I can see it. One second heís got his normal dopey look, like heís taking in everything he sees but not processing much of it, and the next second heís got this predatory leer. I see his eyes look her up and down and I can imagine his mind whirring, choosing a line from his collection. Finally he opens his mouth and starts to speak to her, in Japanese, it sounds like. Itís hard to tell with him because he speaks Japanese in exactly the same accent as he does English, real flat and bored-sounding.
I donít feel like watching him making the moves so I slide down the bar to take an order. Itís not like Iím jealous or anything. Like I told you I wasnít interested in this chick at all. Especially her little girl act. If youíve never been to Japan, you probably wonít know what I mean, but thereís this obsession with cuteness thatís sickening. It confuses most Americans cause they still think of Japanese as savages who torture Chinese peasants and disembowel themselves on command. But if you can imagine the most saccharine disgusting greeting card with vomity cute kittens on it and some inane fucking rhyme about friendship or something, thatís what Iím talking about. Cute-to-the-death. Thereís a word for it in German. I forget what it is, but it means like a cupcake or something thatís so sugary and creamy and richly disgusting that it makes you puke. Thatís what this chick was like. Or acted. Thatís what I couldnít figure out. Somehow I knew she was smart, real smart, but still this act...I donít know. Anyway, I didnít want any part of it.
But no matter how fucked up she might be she really didnít deserve Randy and I was kind of sorry for her. You see I know things about Randy. Things he told me, things Iíve seen him do. He thinks heís this stud that women all fall for and heís totally indiscriminate. Which in a way you could admire him for. It makes it a lot more of an obvious drive like an instinct or obsession. He brings home married women and students and office workers. It doesnít matter what they look like or how intelligent. That doesnít matter to him. And actually most of them are pretty nice ladies, some are pretty sharp. Sometimes I talk to them the next morning when I get up, just to be nice. Itís real awkward for them cause this is just not at all a Japanese situation. They come out from his room in the morning, wearing the same thing as last night, but still trying to look really clean and spruced, and itís obvious they spent the night and Iím like coming out of my room in a bathrobe and making coffee and offering them some and talking. Itís pretty weird for me too but at least I know how to be polite. Maybe itís my upbringing but Iím pretty used to acting polite and acting like nothing at all is happening. That kind of falseness comes easy for me. Maybe thatís why Iíve gottten along in Japan for so long.
One chick talked to me one morning. I kind of knew her cause she stayed over a bunch of times already and she says,
"Why not Randy-san love me? I cook for him, and clean his clozes, and make nice things. I do everything to make him love me but he not love me!"
What could I say? Randy? Him love you? Youíre asking too much. But also Iím kind of thinking, make him love you? Isnít that a mistake? I mean it doesnít really work that way, does it? Maybe in Japan.
But there are other things too. Stories he told me about hookers in the Philippines and stuff like that. Iím not exactly a prude, I donít think, or maybe I am but some of these stories made me sick. Like this one Japanese girl he told me about who had never given a blowjob before. He was trying to coax her and all and he tells me he comes in her mouth and she grimaces and struggles and then swallows and looks up at him with this pathetic smile, like, there I did it. But even as he told me and my face must have looked disgusted, I could see this slight fear in his eyes that I wouldnít approve, but maybe a little defiant like if I donít laugh thereís something wrong with me. And there probably is. I mean blowjobs are great and there shouldnít be anything wrong with being at peace with your fucking sexual desires and all but Iíve never been comfortable with making a girl go down on me. If she wants to thatís great but I feel like thatís asking a hell of a lot and Iím not sure Iíd want to do it myself if I were her, which is why I canít say Iíve had a whole hell of a lot of blowjobs in my day.
After a while I slide back down to them and see how theyíre doing and if they need another drink. Sheís looking kind of bored with him and lights up when I approach. Randy sees this and looking at me tells her, "Benny-boy and I live together."
She says, "Really? Where do you live?" Asking me.
Over by the river, I tell her.
"Ah, so," she nods her head.
"Yep, Benny and meís like that," Randy jumps in, holding two fingers together. She nods.
I get called over to the other end and the next time I look up the two of them are gone. Part of me was relieved they were gone because I was getting tired of having her staring at me and watching me move up and down the bar, but part of me was a bit alarmed at the thought of her going home with Randy. Randy. Jesus Christ.
Just then Hiro-san calls me over. "Heís here," he tells me. I look over and sure enough the guyís shown up. The son of a bitch had the gall to show his face in here again. He was an Englishman, about my age, named Steve. Iíd been waiting to see if heíd ever come back so I could get the money he owed Hiro-san.
One day on my day off Iíd stopped by the bar. Iíd gotten stoned earlier in the day, which is a rare thing in Japan. It just doesnít exist. But some guy I knew, an American, got some off his brother who lives in Shikoku and grew it in his backyard. The Japanese are so strict about banning marijuana that nobody would know what it looked like growing if they ever saw it. So we had gotten stoned and later I went to the bar. Iíd never been around Hiro-san stoned before and all of a sudden I get all paranoid like heís gonna know and be angry or something.
Iíd sat down and said hi all friendly, but Hiro-san grumbles something and moves off. I was thinking, Jesus, can he tell? Maybe because I was stoned his face looked weird, like a mask, like one of those yukio-e drawings of the angry warrior. But Hiro-san comes around the bar and sits next to me and tells me heís real angry.
Whatís wrong? I ask.
"I donít know if I should call the police or not."
What is it, I ask again.
"Somebody made a telephone call and talked for long time."
Uh-huh. Hiro-san has this fancy phone, like an office phone, that he letís the customers use. They just have to put the ten yen in a can to pay for the call. The can is this silly red tin made to look like a miniature London phone-box. Really Japanese. Itís an honor system, see, where he just assumes no one will abuse it. Iíd never said anything, maybe hoping that Japan really was different and you could trust your customers here. But I knew our customers. The Japanese were O.K. Theyíd never even dream of doing something like take advantage of the masta of the bar, but the gaijin, the English, man, and the Australians and the fucking New ZealandersóIíll tell you about this New Zealand guy, itís so typical. You canít trust them as far as you can throw them, really.
So I knew exactly what he was talking about when he tells me about someone calling for a long time on his phone. It happened on my day off. Do you know who did it? I ask him.
"Yes. It was Stebe-san."
Steve? I was surprised. He seemed like a nice guy, charming. Iíd talked to him a few times and thought that here was a pretty intelligent guy for a change, someone I could really talk to. But it just goes to show. So what happened, I ask.
"He said to me he make local call," Hiro-san tells me. "He went outside on the balcony and talked for long time. I watch him. After he get off the phone I check number."
"I press the button and it tells me last number called. I write down number." He shows me a scrap of paper with a long number on it.
How do you know?
"I found out today. This is the exchange for England."
I could tell he was really angry. I donít think Iíd ever seen him so angry before. He looks so sweet and kind, always smiling, it was strange to see his face so livid and bottled up. I think he was hurt, is what it is.
"Do you think I should call the police?" he turned to me.
I made a typical Japanese reaction, screwing up my face and shaking my head noncommittally. You never give a direct answer to a question, itís not expected. Itís kind of like his question was rhetorical and Iím supposed to say, hmmm, most difficult, very difficult situation, tsk, tsk, most unfortunate.
After that I tell him, no. I donít think you should call the police.
"But this is not good. I feel like I should call the police."
I sip from my beer and tell him, no, itís not a good idea to call the police. Itís better to handle it here yourself.
He nods like Iíve got the answers now.
You know definitely that it was Steve who made the call?
He nods once, profoundly, very Japanese.
And you have the number, so you know he did it. So what youíve got to do is give him a chance to save a little face and give you an excuse, but make it clear he needs to pay you.
Hiro-san is nodding like Iím teaching him profound wisdom.
You donít want to go to the police and make it all messy. Hiro-san nods vigorously. But you canít let him get away with it, so youíve got to confront him and say, I know you made the call, and it cost x amount, so you must pay me now.
Hiro-san is nodding at this, hai, hai.
See, I go on, if you accuse him, heíll deny it cause it would be a disgrace, and youíll never get the money, or if you do, you might lose the English crowd (which would be no great loss, as far as Iím concerned, but I didnít tell old Hiro-san that). But since you know he did it and you have the number and the amount you just go up to him and present it like itís a done deal, finished, hereís the bill for your phone call and you canít do that again.
Hiro-san looks satisfied with this plan and even seems happier. "Good," he says. "So you will do this?"
Thatís what you get for giving advice, I suppose. But I didnít mind cause I knew it was the best way to do it and I could do it better than him. And thatís what our relationship was all about. It was very Japanese. He was my o-yagi, my boss. I was his ko-gai, his, well, vassal. My job was to serve him loyally, protect his interests, etc., and he in exchange would take care of me. Which he did.
Between Hiro-san and me it was perfect. We respected each other and the whole thing worked out well. To tell the truth, I didnít mind going out of my way for him. I was always filling in for other bartenders who announced days-off unexpectedly, which I didnít mind since I got paid and each time Hiro-san was so much more grateful and impressed, and, well, in debt to me. The only time I fucked up and acted like a foreigner I caused Hiro-san a lot of trouble and Iíve never done it again.
It was right when I first started working for him. There was no one in the bar except this fat ugly New Zealander who sold used Japanese cars back to New Zealand. He was a nobody but he acted like he was a fucking tycoon. I was replacing his beer with a fresh one when he asks me if we have Mild Seven, Japanese cigarettes. I tell him hang on and check behind the bar. All out, I tell him, sorry.
"Here, run around the corner and fetch me a pack," he tells me, pulling money from his pocket. There was something so insulting about his tone, like I was one of his lads or something and him this ignorant fat load sucking down beers acting like heís the biggest car mogul this side of the Pacific.
Fetch it yourself, I say, smiling and keep working.
He sputters and starts to curse me out. "Fuckiní what did you say? You fuckiní wanker talk to me like that fucking you work here donít you, get me my fuckiní fags before I kick your fuckin..."
So I come over smiling dangerously. Iím basically a coward but there was something so snotty and abusive in his manner that drove me insane. Maybe itís the American in me or I donít know what. I shouldnít have but I start returning insult for insult, refusing to go on his fucking errand and wanting him to know it, until Hiro-san comes over all alarmed and quiets me. The New Zealander goes off on him for a while and Hiro-san is bowing and apologizing, apologizing for Chrissake, and the other guy knows heís got a captive audience so heís going on and on. At this point Iím practically straining at the leash until Hiro-san sends me away to take care of it himself. So now I see Hiro-san making a speech apologizing for his worker and that of course if there is anything he wants he may have it.
And the New Zealander is lapping it up and starts puffing up like a king and saying, "Youíre right. I am the customer. It is your fault." Practically kicking Hiro-san while heís down.
I canít take this anymore. I start into the slob for a while, cursing him out knowing what Hiro-san doesnít, that heíd never get away with this if this werenít Japan and someone would beat the shit out of him for acting this way. But I only made it worse. Poor Hiro-san was just trying to calm the guy down and make the situation pass, and I just made it worse by trying to stick up for him. So he looks at me sternly and sends me away and I go, instantly.
I walk behind the bar and listen to Hiro-san stroke the guy and buy him a new beer and still the guyís going on and on, but the tone is less urgent and begins to sound just like a lot of wind, which is usually what you hear from him. Hiro-san comes over to me out of sight from the customer and I immediately apologize to him. Iím sorry. I only made it worse. I just couldnít let him treat you like that.
And Hiro, man, he goes, "No. I must apologize to you. I did not tell you what to do. This is my bar and I must take care everything."
So we get into one of those really Japanese situations where weíre both apologizing, but itís real, because we both feel it and I admit to him it was just my pride. I couldnít take him ordering me around like I work for him. I work for you, I say. If you told me, Ben-san, go get cigarettes, Iíd run. But not if he told me.
"He is the customer and he can have anything he want. It was my mistake. I should have told you. If you ever have question you come to me and I tell you what to do." Then he pats my shoulder and says, "In Japan we say a bar is water business. We donít sell customer anything but illusion. Nothing here is real. It is just like water. But why does customer come here to buy nothing? Because we sell illusion of what they want. So if customer want to think he is daimyo, then we say, Ďhai, daimyo-sama!í"
Well the way that whole thing worked out we were much closer after that. There was a real sense of respect for each other and we didnít mind taking care of each other. I tell you he was the best boss I ever had.
Anyway, so when I told him the plan about this guy Steve who called England from the bar for like forty minutes, and he just nodded and said, "You can do it?" I didnít really mind.
I was a little surprised that the guy actually showed up again, arrogant son of a bitch. I smile as he comes in and heads right over to one of the English herds standing around with all their beers on the table before them. Every time they order, they order a whole round so that youíll keep getting a beer ordered for you even if you havenít finished the one youíre on yet and then eventually youíll have your turn and will have to buy everyone else in the herd a drink. Which is a pain in the ass for me when Iím trying to close up and they stand around drinking their surplus for another hour after closing.
Anyway I go over to get his order. He smiles all friendly but nervous as if wondering if I know. I drew a beer and brought it to him and told him the beer was •550 and the phone call to England was •14,580, holding the scrap of paper with the number and the amount so he can see it. He turns red and starts to stammer an apology, but it just doesnít quite come out and Iím being pretty impassive but courteous and insistent.
Finally he comes up with, "Well, I fucked up. I donít know what to say. I just fucked up." I could tell he wanted me to let him off the hook, to say itís O.K., it was no big deal, and say it was all forgotten. But the thing was it was a big deal.
"So, fourteen thousand what?"
•14,580, I tell him again. Heís handing me that and I say, and •550 for the beer.
"Oh," he laughs, embarrassed and gives me the •550. I walked back behind the bar and gave Hiro-san the money for the phone call. He put it in his pocket and didnít sat anything.
We closed up for the night, swept under the tables and made sure there was nothing burning anywhere. As he locks the door, Hiro-san bows to the bar and says, otsu kare sama deshita, thanking the bar for its generosity to us. He asks me if I want to go have some sushi and a couple of beers. We do that just about every night after work. We talk about the bar and the other bartenders and the customers who gave us trouble, things like that. Usually we get kind of philosophical by the end. Hiro-san will go off on some explanation of the Japanese way. I usually then have to explain something about Western culture.
I didnít feel like going tonight. I was just plain beat. And also I think I had enough of being a bartender tonight. I didnít want to answer any questions or be polite or keep a conversation going even with someone I like like Hiro-san. Actually I just wanted to go to bed.
Hiro-san said O.K. I knew heíd go off to some really Japanese place where heíd never take a gaijin. Or heíd go to one of those hostess bars where Phillipino girls pour you drinks and sit in you lap. I unlocked my bike and rode toward my house.
I remembered Hiro-san asked me one night over sushi what part of a woman I found the most attractive. That was a tough one. I find like every part of a woman attractive. But I didnít know what heíd want me to say. If I said something crude like, her pussy, he might frown and Iíd feel stupid. And to say her tits was pretty unimaginative. So I remembered in all the old Japanese tales where women wore kimono theyíre always praising the back of a womanís neck, where the collar comes away and shows skin as like the most sexy part of a lady. So I go, the nape, back here, and show him. He nods thinking about that and then says, "I like a womanís breasts."
I walked upstairs to my apartment and as I go inside and take off my shoes I can hear voices. Great, Iím thinking. I really didnít feel like talking to anyone. I just wanted to go to bed, really.
I walk into the tiny livingroom and thereís Randy sitting with Akiko in his lap. I can tell Randy is drunk as hell and pawing the girl. She looks up at me as soon as I come in. Her face lights up and she tries to get up but Randy grabs and pulls her back and says, "where you think youíre going."
Heís groping her pretty bad and sheís clearly not liking it and keeps looking pleadingly at me to do something. Itís just such an ugly scene, the whole thing, Iím just fed up with it all and turn my back on them and go to my room. The curtain is open and thereís a beautiful moon over the river and the view from my window looks like an ink drawing. I roll out my futon, get undressed and go to sleep.
Just as Iím pretty much asleep thereís a knock on my door. I roll over and try to ignore it. The knock comes again real quiet but urgent. So I get up and slide open my door. Akiko is standing there and rushes into the room as though sheís being chased. She pushes herself into my arms and I slide the door shut. Sheís shaking. I ask her whatís wrong and I can hear sheís crying. Softly, hoo, hoo, hoo, like that. I know this sounds bad but Iím not sure if theyíre real tears or not. You never know with the Japanese. There just too good at making it look right you never know if itís real. So we sit down on the futon and I rock her a little and ask her whatís wrong.
"Randy-san. He scares me. He try to make love to me. Heís very drunk. He wouldnít stop. I had to fight him. I went to the bathroom and I stay there for long time. I think he wants me to sleep with him. He is waiting for me. Iím very afraid, Ben-san."
I rock her and shush her which sounds stupid but youíd be surprised what clichés come naturally in situations like this. Do you want me to take you home, I ask her. But immediately Iím thinking, please god, say no. It would be hours before I get some sleep.
She says, "But the last train is finished. There is no way to go home until tomorrow."
I could walk you, I say.
She looks at me like Iím an idiot. "I live in Hiro-o. It would take us hours." I shrugged. She looked away and then asked, "Canít I sleep here?"
We lie down and I pull the covers over us. Sheís still wearing her suit jacket. I put my arm around her and hold her. She like nessles against me. I lean down and kiss her forehead. She moves her face up and I kiss her on the lips. Then I start to run my hands up her body. She suddenly pushes herself away.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
I look at her. I can see her face in the moonlight. Do you want me to take you home? I ask.
She looks at me puzzled.
You donít have to sleep with me, I tell her. I could walk you home. Or you can stay here. I can see her shoulders slump a little and she looks at the door of the room.
"I want to stay, please," she says.
We lie down again, but sheís got her back to me. Iím looking at her back so close I can feel her body heat. Sheís still wearing her jacket. I realize Iím tired and even though itís exciting to have someone in my bed I feel myself drifting off to sleep. She presses up against me like itís an accident and that wakes me up again. Sheís real close. I drape an arm over her waist casually. She rolls onto her back so now my handís on her stomach. I start to run it up her body. I slip my hand under her bra and touch her nipple. She jumps and sits up again.
Now Iím thinking this is some kind of game and Iím not enjoying it. I can walk you home, I say again, but it comes out sounding like a threat. She turns and looks out the window at the moon. Sheís kneeling on the tatami with her hands folded tensely in her lap and sheís got this strained expression on her face as she stares at the moon thinking what to do. At last she seems to make up her mind and sighs. Then she turns to me and takes off her jacket.