International Marriage Series # 2
Ah, soo -- the new merrennium. Where were you when the clock struck twelve? If you're a gaijin, perhaps you returned to the old country, or partied all night at Frontier, Gold Rush or Hot Stuff in Tsukuba. If you're Japanese, no doubt you returned to your hometown and watched the countdown on TV, unless you were unfortunate enough to draw Y2K emergency computer watch at your office.
As for me - decisions, decisions. Still being the worse half of a newly-wed international couple, I felt somewhat obligated to spend this special eve with the spouse. However, she had made tentative plans to visit a hot-spring resort with her friends. Do you like onsens? I'm aware it's all the rage here, but I'm just not into it. Then the plans were amended to take in a Japanese rock concert. I still couldn't get excited about it. I wanted more. I wanted an unforgettable night.
A friend of mine, let's call him Mark Kiwi, had an idea. For this once-in-a-thousand-year event, we should go where the action is: arguably the largest and most expensive city in the world -Tokyo!!! Yeah. That sounded like a plan.
So, more than a month in advance I began to savor with anticipation the night that was to be. Another good buddy, let's call him Ringo White, had opted to join us. Meanwhile, my lovely, though obstinate, wife had bowed out of the concert outing, deciding to spend the evening with me after all. Too late!!!
I can be obstinate too and my plans were fixed. She was welcome to join us, I offered with a minimum of sincerity. Her angle was, a sojourn to the big city was OK with her, but not together with my friends. She wanted to be alone with me. ALONE??? Get real -there's no way we're going to be alone among 12 million plus people. This caused a fair bit of marital friction for several weeks until she decided to stay home and watch the countdown on TV with her buddies, and cook my favorite meal in my absence, just to make me rue my decision. That's the way she is. Well, I figured a thick Kobe steak smothered in garlic and pepper sauce I can have anytime. That's called "denial" or "sour grapes" or something.
December 31st, 1999 had arrived. In the A.M., I got a call from Mark Kiwi, whose brainstorm it had all been, excusing himself with claims of illness. Geeesh! No further comment about that. The show must go on! So, Ringo White and I made our way to Tsuchiura Station down soapland street, where I was greeted with "Long time, no see!" by one of the pimps (only because I used to walk that street often to the site of my former employment -really).
At the station, we bought tickets for Ueno for about 1000 yen. Good timing -a sleek, modern, bullet-like train pulled up, and we got on, settling into plush seats in a surprisingly empty car. The train pulled out and we were congratulating ourselves on our good fortune, when the conductor approached, asking to see our tickets. It turned out that this was a special, first-class express train and we were sitting in the reserved seat section. We were told of two choices: we could stay there and pay an extra 2000 yen, or move to a general seating car for an extra 1000 yen. When we inquired about a third choice -just getting off at the next station -we were informed that that was not an option! So we moved and ended up paying double the expected fare. On the other hand, the train arrived at Ueno in half the usual time. What the heck -time is money.
Our first move was to find the Tokyo Hash House Harriers' party and jogging event, which we had been invited to. Making our way through the city, we arrived at a private house where beer aplenty awaited. An international gathering of that infamous jogging/drinking club welcomed us with open bottles. Unfortunately, they then decided to go running. As Ringo and I were wearing or best big-night-in-the-big-city fashions, we declined.
Arriving in Roppongi at about 11:00 PM, the energy exuded all about us was almost overwhelming. We're not in Ibaraki anymore, Toto. Bright lights, fist fights, tall heights, homeless plights, bragging rights, awesome sights -it was all there!!! Time to find a place to make our midnight stand.
We entered a club call Motown. Was it hopping? Does the Pope...? Wall to wall people, thumping R & B, frantic bartenders, gropable waitresses and revellers from all corners of the earth. I managed to anchor an elbow on the edge of the bar and proceeded to protect my turf -a prime spot to order drinks and observe the scene. A first for me -free cigarettes for the taking on the bar! One advantage of this human mass pressed shoulder to shoulder -no way could you fall down drunk!
The bar staff filling countless plastic champagne glasses was the clue that the fateful hour was approaching. With the sound system blasting that song
"The Final Countdown" (who does that song?) the vibrations peaked to the point of cosmic unconsciousness. Ten, nine, eight,.....Happy New Year!!! The place exploded. Hugs, kisses, toasts -everyone was best friends, if not intimate lovers, for about ten minutes. This was what we had come for, and it's what we got. Joyful satisfaction - feeling to be a part of all those positive characteristics people of all nations hold in common. A revelation of hope we wish would last throughout the year, but never does. Yet, for that short span of time, the world was one in peace, harmony, and happiness!!!
So, back to reality. Although all Tokyo train and subway systems were operating all night, our very own Joban Line had declined to offer this convenient option. Next train back home? About 5am. We proceeded to bar hop and partake of the seething street action (cheap thrills). At one point, while seated curbside by the entrance of yet another gaijin watering hole, we witnessed a stocky Japanese bouncer carry out on his back a guy twice his size with the physique of a sumo wrestler. Plopping him down on the sidewalk, the bouncer observed briefly his comatose condition, shrugged his shoulders, and returned to resume his duties. Suddenly, the whale spewed buckets -not a pretty sight (sorry).
As that entertainment wound down, we were on the move again. Hooked up with some American GI's for a stint in an Irish pub. Then it was off on a quest for an Aussie pub. Car crashes, vampire ladies, wailing sirens, further pugilism, staggering zombies, etc. It was getting ugly out there. While staggering a bit ourselves on the way to the next whiskey bar, I heard someone calling out my name. Of course, there are a lot of "Joes" in this world, yet I was in fact the intended.
Rushing up to me at 3:30 came a beautiful, native girl and threw her arms around me. "Long time, no see. Do you remember me?" Dammit, I didn't. Turns out she was a student of mine many years past in Hawaii!!! Abandoning our soldier entourage, we opted for the potentially more lucrative offer and joined her at the outdoor pizza place where she was seated with another foxy former student of mine (whom I did remember). Wow!!! Well, now we had dates, after a fashion. Since we were starving by then, it was pasta time. By the time it actually arrived at the table an hour later, I was ready to eat the tablecloth.
"Well, let's hit one more place before dawn", I suggested. This final disco, let's call it "Gas Attack", was a mistake. First, there was the 2000 yen entrance fee. The clientele seemed the worst collection of obnoxious people we had encountered all night. Then there were the rules. Big signs on the wall insisted "No Dancing", which apparently didn't apply to the girls dancing right on the bar, and "You Must Be Drinking Or Get Out". This last was strictly enforced, with guys pushing their way through the crowd with flashlights to check if you still had something left in your bottle or glass.
As I am wont to do, I anchored the same elbow on the bar and ordered a beer, resting the bottle on the bar behind me between sips. As turned to grab my drink, it had disappeared with a fourth of the beer still left inside. The bartender had tossed it. Avoiding my eyes until I ordered another, he did the same thing with my second one. Hey, I was playing by the rules and ordering drinks, but they were being snatched well before empty -no fair! I demanded to speak to the manager -he said that was him. I'd had enough of that place!
What a rip-off!
So we decided to call it a night, bid adieu to our fine ladies and made our way to Ueno. It was light by now. Managed to find the right train and fought to keep awake so as not to miss Tsuchiura Station. All went well until we reached Toride, where the train made a prolonged stop. It appeared that Ringo and I were the only ones left in our car. Finally the train began to move again -back in the direction of Tokyo!!! Opps!!! After straightening out that blooper, we at last arrived in Tsuchiura. As Ringo waited for the bus to
Tsukuba (over an hour) I trudged home exhausted, drunk, and happy, looking forward to a good eight hours of sleep. Wrong!!!
It was 9:00 AM on New Year's Day when she spoke. Did I remember my promise to do the traditional visit-the-family thing on that special day? No. Would I be ready to go at 11:00? No. Pulling the pillow over my head, I faded in seconds. Next thing I know, it's 11:00 and I'm being dragged from my warm, soft refuge and being pushed into the shower greeted by the usual trickle of not-too-warm water. Oh, my aching head!
We arrived at the in-laws' place where was gathered the entire extended family. Why did they all look so bright-tailed and bushy-eyed? Doing my best to be sociable, I took my place at the table. My father-in-law, who had grown somewhat fond of me by now, due perhaps to our sharing multiple bad habits, immediately asked, "What would you like to drink? Beer? Whiskey?" Those who know me might scoff at the thought of my passing up a free drink, but I had well exceeded my limit the night before, and most of it was still with me.
"How about some tea?", I meekly enquired.
"Ha, ha!!! What a kidder", was the general reaction. "So, seriously, Kirin,
Asahi or Suntory?" I didn't want to offend and it occurred to me that a little hair of the dog might just make my head stop spinning. After all, it was a special occasion and they had been waiting for our arrival. And, in fact, after a few hours of social drinking and a belly full of sukiyaki, I began to feel better, though my head was still throbbing. Yet, having only had two hours of troubled sleep following that rambunctious night on the town, I began looking for the opportunity to bolt.
Suddenly, otosan stood up and announced, "I'm going to the pachinko parlor with Joe!" I tried to plead lack of sleep, lack of funds, lack of knowledge
-all to no avail. He and I were soon entering the last place I could imagine wanting to be in my condition. Glaring, blinking lights and that particular cacophony of bells, chimes, whistles and bouncing steel balls struck my fragile system with the force of a Jesse Ventura body slam. Pop popped for the little cards you stick into the slot to get your mass of little heavy orbs. So, having balls, I began to play.
Pop peered over once and, with a grunt of disgust, adjusted my technique by jamming a matchbook cover under my control lever and telling me to just sit and watch. An hour passed. Pop was up and down; I just went steadily down.
However, I was starting to understand the concept. Just then, my wife arrived with her mom and they started playing too. Rika, though obstinate, might yet prove to be my lucky charm in life. Soon after her arrival, I starting winning, and winning and winning!!! I had been 20,000 yen of Pop's money down and felt very bad about it. I finished 5,000 yen up, which I gave him as we walked to the car.
In conclusion, I survived Pachinko Pop and Millennium Dawn, barely. These were 24 hours of priceless life experience. The Roppongi girls have kept in touch and will visit here soon. My father-in-law likes me more than ever (perhaps the time is ripe to ask for a loan so I can open the German-style pub I dream about). My wife hasn't mentioned divorce for over three weeks. I got a new job as part-time bartender in addition to the usual blasse English teaching gigs. My band, "Bulls eye", is sounding better all the time. I'm happy, healthy and horny. All in all, my new millennium is off to a great start. I hope yours is too!!!
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