Monday, January 21, 2008

Same problem with formatting... Just can't get the indents to transfer into the final version. I edit, they show up in the preview, but not in the final blog entry. If anyone has any clue how to get my quoted speech and paragraph switches indented, I'd be forever grateful. Critiques, advice, ideas... post them here for any of these stories.

We Already Know Act II

Hindsight is 20/20. That’s what keeps going through my head each time I allow myself to go over the events that led up to my present state of single, unemployed and thousands of miles away from home. Hindsight. Not a hell of lot of good it does me, but it’s the going over of the events, detail by detail, that gives me comfort. Not in a masochistic way, though. I don’t analyze each mistake and beat myself up over my incredible lack of common sense. What I do, in the long hours of the seemingly endless days that I sit in my eight by ten meter Tokyo apartment is change the events.
As I replay the past four years of my life, memory by memory, I hit pause whenever I witness yet another of my knee-jerk reactions or lousy choice of words. When I hit pause, I listen more, speak less. In this dual reality that I am creating with my well-timed pauses and re-sets, maybe I can somehow salvage a bit of what I lost, or at the very least, learn from my mistakes. I know it isn’t real, this re-created world, but what the hell, it helps pass the time.
What is it that brought me here, to four walls, a futon, a hot-plate and a public toilet shared by the five other tenants on my floor? Do I blame Miho? Or maybe my former boss Miyata-san? Or could it be my handful of friends who were full of advice but couldn’t, when the real crunch came, find some floor space for me to rest my head? I want to blame Kellie. I really do, and for a long time I did. But recently, I guess these past three months or so, I’ve started taking the mature route for once, and I’m blaming myself. Or, perhaps I can make my own conscience a little less culpable by blaming my present sorry state on the fact that I’m a man. Common sense got momentarily blinded by my goddamned ego. Well, that, and my penis. The two seem to be inextricably entwined. I know I’m not unique in this matter. I just thought I was a little bit smarter than the rest.
So, to re-create and, subsequently change those memories that brought me here I always have to begin at that same time and place. I can actually pinpoint the exact moment that my downfall began. I call it Act 1, Scene 1 for referencing purposes in my muddled mind. I can lay back on this flimsy futon in my Shinjuku rabbit hutch and access that imaginary rewind button to the moment that led me to where I lay right now. The memory is clear, vivid. When I’ve played the scene through, then I can start reconstructing it. If I can rearrange it in just the right way, maybe, just maybe, when I open my eyes I’ll be in that imagined place and not in this Tokyo limbo.
It was winter, Vancouver, West end, Jervis Street, red brick, three-storey walk-up. Four years ago, almost to the day. I was stretched out on the sofa, Mortal Kombat on pause on the TV screen, a can of Kokanee beer beaded with condensation on the coffee table beside me. Perfection. It was only ten a.m. and I still had a full day of rest and relaxation ahead. It was my day off from HMV, and I had started it with a vengeance. Beer for breakfast and a Mortal Kombat marathon planned to last until dinnertime when Kellie would be home with take-out chop suey and egg rolls from the Chinese down the street. I’d get in a bit of laundry, but that could wait until after lunch. It couldn’t get much better. I was reaching for the remote control, about to resume the battle where I had left off when I heard the key in the lock of the front door. Besides Kellie and me, the landlady Sandra was the only one who had a key.
“Shit!” The sound of my own voice caught me somewhat off guard in the silent apartment. If Kellie’s working the early shift, she let’s me sleep in, tiptoeing through the apartment, bypassing piles of music magazines and LP’s with the stealth and silence of a Ninja. She doesn’t know I’ve watched her in action some mornings as she goes through her coffee, toast and makeup routine. No matter how hard I try, I can’t match her morning grace, and usually manage to knock some knickknack off of some counter on those mornings when I have to do the early shift.
In any case, the sound of the key and my own voice spurred me into action. I didn’t think the landlady would be much impressed by my Spiderman boxers this early in the day. I jumped off the sofa and over to the other side of the room where the overflowing laundry basket had tipped over on its side. I grabbed the first pair of jeans I could find off the top of the heap and had one leg partially on when Kellie walked in, clutching a large cardboard box in both arms. The box was big enough to obstruct her view and she nearly tripped over the stack of LPs on the floor in front of her.
“John, help me with this, I’m going to drop it!” She had the box at a lopsided angle, on the verge of losing her balance and dropping whatever it was she was carrying. With the Levis firmly tangled around my lower legs, I managed to hop over to her and grab one end of the box. We heaved it onto the coffee table together, almost knocking over the can of Kokanee. She finally had a chance to look at me. I guess the sight of Spiderman and the jeans caught around my ankles was a bit much. She started to laugh, shaking her head and about to put her hand on my chest.
It’s at about this point in Act 1 Scene 1 that I hit pause. Kellie’s laughing, her hand is reaching towards me, her eyes sparkling, shining, green. “Of course they’re green,” she used to say when I’d comment on them, “Kelly green, don’t you know?” At this exact moment her hair is pulled back into a ponytail, a few stray dark brown strands touching her cheek. If I could reach out right now from where I’m sitting in this Tokyo one-room, I’d brush the bits of hair away from her cheek and I’d kiss her. But, I can only hit pause for only so long. The show must go on. Play.
My only thought now that she’s standing in the living room at ten in the morning is that my Kokanee/Mortal Kombat marathon is shot, and that I’m going to have to get going on the damned laundry. Why was she home from work? Those, in fact, were my very next words.
“Why are you home from work?” She wasn’t letting my lack of enthusiasm for her early arrival faze her.
“Put your jeans on and come sit over here.” She was now sitting on the sofa, patting the area beside her where I had been stretched out just moments ago. She leaned over and took the Kokanee off the table, wiping the small puddle of condensation from the tabletop with cuff of her sweater and taking a small sip before putting the can on the floor beside her. She pulled the heavy cardboard box to the middle of the table, and began pulling various items from it. There were maps, paperback books, a dictionary, and a stack of cd’s, and they all had one thing in common; the word “Japan” printed on them. From the bottom of the box she pulled out The Vancouver Sun classifieds. A large red circle in the lower corner of the paper was jumping out to be read. She handed me the paper and I sat down beside her. She tapped on the red circle.
“Check it out. What do you think?”
I read the item out loud;
Large English conversation school based in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka seeks instructors to teach conversational English to all ages. No previous experience necessary. A four-year BA in any discipline is mandatory, as is a positive attitude and a teamwork spirit. Housing/health insurance provided. Couples housing available. Group interviews to be held January 7th, 10:00 am @ The Hotel Vancouver, Sterling Room, 1st floor. Resume and references a must.
I finished reading and looked up at Kellie. When she got excited or winded, her cheeks would become two perfect circles of red, making the rest of her freckled skin look even paler than it was. Her Scottish genes couldn’t be suppressed if she had any strong emotion brewing. Now was no exception. She looked like she was about to explode.
“Well?”
Her need for a response was too much. Where the hell did this come from? I leaned over to her side of the sofa and grabbed for the can of beer on the floor beside her. The TV screen had the frozen image of my Mortal Kombat character, Jade, caught mid-flight as she was about to pounce on her opponent. If Kellie had just come a couple of minutes later I could have finished it off. She caught me eyeing the remote control and snatched it. She hit re-set and the main menu came up on the screen. Then she turned the TV off and looked at me again. The redness in her cheeks had faded somewhat.
“Come on John. I’m serious about this. What do you think?”
What did I think? I was still mourning Jade’s loss. It was too early and too unexpected to discuss what Kellie had just thrust in front of me. So I diverted the focus back on her. I was good at misdirection.
“Why aren’t you at work? You have a full shift today.”
She pulled at one of the maps on the table and began to unfold it.
“I called in sick. It’s Monday morning in a cd shop. They’re not going to miss me. And, as you can see, I’m thinking of… leaving. With you.”
We both worked for HMV. She was right about the Monday morning bit. It was dead in there until after lunch. But still, it really was unlike her to miss a day. I reached out for one of the language books and looked at her.
“I thought we were going to open a vinyl shop? It’s what we’ve been talking about for three years. We can’t just pick up and leave. Besides, there’s been talk of making me night manager in the next couple of months at HMV.”
I threw the book back on the table and took a swig of the beer. Warm. I set it less than gently back on the table. Pause.
See that reaction there? The passive-aggressive can on the table bit? I’d change that. I’d sit back calmly and listen to what she had to say. Live and learn.
Play.
She picked the book up and smoothed the cover with her shirtsleeve, looking at me. I knew she was weighing how to deal with me; soft touch or hard sell. I could read Kellie better than I could read myself. At least I could back then.
She reached over for my hand and held it, looking not right at me, but at some spot over my left shoulder. She was going over what she’d probably rehearsed on the walk over here.
“Look. We’ve talked for three years. And that’s it. Talked. Between us we own over 5000 pieces of vinyl. The two of us are walking encyclopaedia of music. Through the Internet we’ve got close to 10 000 hits on our Rarewaxx website. It’s time to do something.”
She let out a puff of air and her shoulders relaxed considerably. Those must have been the lines she memorized. And what she was saying was true. But what did Japan have to do with any of this? Those were my next words.
“What’s this got to do with Japan?” I stood up and walked towards the kitchen. Well, it was a kitchen of sorts. It was more of a small alcove that was separated from the living room by a wood and tile island. The island was supposed to serve as some kind of eating surface, but was now covered by at least 200 LPs, stacked in 6 different piles, alphabetically and according to genre. What we lacked in housekeeping skills, Kellie and I more than made up with in our meticulous packaging and order of our vinyl. To some, the various piles and crates scattered throughout the apartment must have looked like a complete mess. Not for us though. Say you wanted the 1966 first edition Buffalo Springfield in Stereo? Kellie would know to go to our bedroom, my side of the bed, 7th pile, close to the bottom. But, say you changed your mind and decided you actually wanted the 1967 re-release of the same (but subtly different) album? Well, I’d know to go to the closet in the side room, pulling the red (not blue) crate from the second shelf, left side. To put it mildly, we knew our stuff, and we knew how to find it.
She still hadn’t replied to my question and was rifling through the box in front of her. I continued into the kitchen area, opened the fridge and grabbed a Kokanee. I called out to where she was sitting.
“Beer for breakfast?” She looked up and smiled.
“I’ll take part in your unorthodox breakfast if you’ll just sit down here beside me and listen to what I’ve got to say.” Two cans in hand, I went back to the living room, sat beside Kellie, and listened to her. I wasn’t a pushover. I liked the pattern we had settled into. I liked the thought of being an assistant manager with weekends off. Those weekends represented more vinyl. Drives down to Seattle, even Portland to scour hole-in-the-wall record shops, impressing even Kellie with what I’d dig up.
But, the more she talked, the clearer her vision became to me. And it made sense. We would teach in Japan, save shitloads of money and return to Vancouver in two years. With our savings, we would put a down payment on one of the vacant storefronts on Hastings Street, filling it not only with some of the vinyl we’d accumulated, but adding the many rare finds we’d have picked up in Japan. “JK Rarewaxx” would be up and running within three years, one year before each of us hit our thirtieth birthday. And that final bit, the part about turning thirty? That’s what really did it. I didn’t want to manage an HMV at thirty. I wanted my own store, and Kellie’s enthusiasm and research were helping to make that distant image a little clearer, a little closer.
The only time Japan had ever registered on my radar was when I was spending far too much money on some import I had to have. It was a place, far away, that sucked money from my bank account, and in return offered pristine 12 inch slabs of vinyl. I had a love/hate relationship with the place, and now, it seemed, it would soon be my home. Kellie’s excitement had infected me, and in my mind, we were already in the Hastings Street shop, buying, selling and talking vinyl, and making money at the same time. Japan was merely a bridge to that final destination. Pause.
Bridge. Yeah, right. Would’ve helped to have had the foresight that it wasn’t just any old bridge. It was one of those fucking drawbridges. The kind that seem quaint and fascinating at first, holding your attention as the road in front of you lifts and tilts in front of your face. The novelty of a road cut in two slowly wears off as you look at your watch and realize it takes a hell of a long time for the two sides to become one again. And by the time they do, things have changed. The bridge looks the same, but the sights on the other side have shifted somewhat. There’s that hindsight popping in again.
I’m not ready to hit Play quite yet. Act I is over, the scene is complete and it has tired me out. If I keep hitting pause, the drawbridge will stay put. No more memories will pass through, forcing it to slowly come apart, to separate. I want to keep the other side in view, Act I with all its promise. It’s the best part of the whole drama. Once that drawbridge comes up, I lose sight of what brought me here.
This futon is actually feeling a little cozy right now. I’ve got the mini gas heater pointed at my feet, and a small heating pad tucked into my pillow. I don’t have much in the way of furniture, and really, where would I put it? My futon takes up three quarters of my living space. What I do have is my turntable, state-of-the-art, with Coltrane just itching to belt out a tune. I’ve got two speakers in each corner of the room and I’ve had them cranked loud enough to garner a few dirty looks from the neighbours when I throw out my trash. I really don’t care. I’ll remain the ignorant foreigner. It’s easier that way.
I’ll get to Act II. Just not right now. I’m quite content to remain on pause for the time being. There’s the needle going down, the vinyl spinning and, yes, there it is, that slight, almost imperceptible crackle that tells me I’m about to be blown away. It’s got to be one of my favourite things. Act II can wait. It’s not going anywhere.

3 comments:

Deborah said...

Hi Sarah,

I read your latest after seeing your posting on the japanwriters mailing list. I really like it. At first I didn't think you'd be able to get the man's role down, but you nailed it. The way he's so focused on having fun with the game and the remote control, and then his significant comes home early and turns it off. The pause and the rewind--that device is clever, and it works. Also the satisfaction with the HMV job and lack of focus on the future.
I married into a (small) family of record collectors, so the obsession with that is familiar. My b-i-l currently lives in Shibuya, jobless, and with an apartment full of records in stacks. And we've got who-knows-how-many here, too.
So, is there a next chapter?? As far as I know, b-i-l never had a girlfriend. What's in store for this John????

Deborah Iwabuchi

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Fantastic piece! So well paced, it really sucked me in. Deborah is right, you really nailed the man's voice.

I'm not in Nagoya, but rather just outside it. Would love to hear from you. I couldn't get an email address to reply to you, but mine is on my contacts page.

Do you belong to a writer's group here?

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey Sarah!

Sorry I haven't written in ages. I'm still interested in going to Misfits one day, just been sick for a while so haven't been able to pursue it.

Are you still in Japan? You still writing?