The Peter Principle
Peter M subs for me sometimes at the club. He’s a Philadelphia jazz-funk guitarist in his 40s, but he doesn’t look it, save for a spot where the nap disappears on the back of his head. Peter’s world revolves around jazz chops and pussy. He comes over to my place to cop some of my “sequences” (the background recordings we both use in our gigs) while I try to acquire from him a better understanding of jazz scales. Last night we drove into Roppongi together to do separate gigs. “My guitar’s screwed up,” he complained. “George Benson fucked it up.”
“George is in town. We go way back, in Philly, you know. We was hanging out yesterday. He was playing my guitar and I said I was having trouble with it and George starts messing with the bridge and shit. He totally fucked it up. George should know better than to do that shit.”
“Yeah,” I said.
On any given day, Peter will complain about some mysterious ailment his guitar is suffering. It always disappears after the second set. He uses world-class players on his self-produced jazz CDs, once even the altoist Kenny Garret. And as a black American musician on the streets of Tokyo, he is a pussy magnet. He has to carry this special loosening spray to detach young women when they come skittering across the street and glom onto him. The sound of the suction being broken as the pussy falls away from his leg is remarkable. He gets into so much pussy he goes to a Chinese accupuncturist who attaches electrified clips onto his dick to re-sensitize it. He gets it so often his body makes involuntary thrusting movements when he’s walking down the street.
We came out of Club Fusion last night and immediately this total stranger, a cute, sharp-eyed chick with clever lips and slashy teeth was immersed in conversation with him. She’s speaking perfect English and submitting her resume. She’s a dancer and she’s studying art and jazz and French and who knows what else. They’re entranced with each other. “Hey,” he tells her, “I was hanging with George Benson yesterday – I had an extra ticket, you could’ve come. So look, give me your card.” She plunges into her purse. They exchange numbers while I stand to one side listening to her escort, a pallid guy from Puerto Rico, babbling about how high Tokyo prices are. Peter and Ms. Slashy Teeth are already hugging ecstatically. I want to ask, look, why are you talking to this man? I outdistance him intellectually, I’m funny, my sense of art is so far-ranging. Why are you, with your perfect English, laser-beamed onto this guy. He speaks Japanese – he doesn’t need your English. I need your English. But it’s not about any of that, is it — it’s about sex, right? Well look, I have a dick too. It’s not black, but it’s a perfectly good dick. I could spray-paint it if you want. I could make it any color you like. I could spray-paint it green. Would you be interested in a green dick? It might give you a sense of being connected to nature. It would be like being intimate with some lovely tropical protuberance. Or we could do another color. We could rent “The Color Purple,” and we’d munch grapes, and then after a romantic purple sunset you could explore the wonders of my purple dick. You don’t really want black. Black is so…so Seventies.
But I just walk away.
Driving home, Peter reflected on his ten years in Tokyo. “Man, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had so much pussy here I stopped counting. It’s been like a ten year vacation, just good music and good pussy.” (He’s married to a dutifully submissive Japanese woman, and has a daughter after whom he named his CD.) I held my silence, not having the stomach to grunt lies (“Oh, Kumiko and I are happy enough together.”) Peter’s endless chatter covered my sorrow well enough. An angry side of me wanted to lash out from my grim universe, but I knew that, “No, motherfucker, my wife isn’t into me and I get no pussy at all,” would not be followed by, “Oh wow, dude! You have some difficult sexual issues!” Peter’s world is not one of confession or sharing. His usual repartee involves swapping tales of sexual conquest with other black men. Normal, healthy Afro-American male rivalry, you know, dueling Negroes.
I know, I know…just pretend I’m Howard Stern.
Every night of the year, all across the planet, hundreds of millions of men consummate unions with women. This is not to mention invertebrates and insects in their astronomical numbers. A whole planet, seething with sexuality, throbbing and pulsing. Mosquitos plunging wildly into their kind, bears rolling and pawing, beetles cajoling each other with little antenna strokes, Robert de Niro astride some French tart as he, too, has his way. Why not me? What to do? Ah! A personals ad in the local English rag:
Jazz saxophonist, Jewish, married/scorned, seeks romantic interlude to complete hilarious personal journal. Think Al Pacino meets Woody Allen. Asian woman preferred, but what do I know? Transportation provided. No Kenny G fans please.
Nothing, except from a largish woman in Cameroon.
The 92-Strike Handicap
On garish Roppongi Crossing, amid all the neon and clamor and rushing humanity, there’s a koban with an especially serious group of policemen inside. Wearing frowns and steely gazes, these guys deal daily with drunken salarymen, club-related yakuza battles, and Tokyo’s largest foreigner party zone. This year there was even a World Soccer Cup with throngs of euphoric Brazilians, Turks, Italians and the ever-notorious British. And there’s the sex trade. AIDS, drugs, the declining moral standards of Japanese youth – what’s a cop to do? Not too much, apparently. About thirty feet from the koban, right on the crossing, Chinese hookers stop you, belly-to-belly, to offer massage services. Playing-card-sized stickers are plastered everywhere with color pictures of call-up playbunny prostitutes. Touchy-feely nightclubs abound with “private dance rooms.”
And there walk I. Sexologists have been able to identify a cyclical pattern in sexual desire in males. Most men seem to experience these energy peaks at three to four day intervals. Mine occur every year-and-a-half. Every 18 months an urge rises to get a little love somewhere — even if the battle is all I finally wind up mounting.
“Massage? You want massage?”
They lie in wait just past the police station. They appraise you from a distance, and if they catch a wistful look in your eye or if you slow down a bit, they pounce. Suddenly they’re bump-and-run cornerbacks with sweet smiles as if they really, really like you. You’re thinking Deion Sanders this is not. If it’s a pretty one, I stand there explaining how I’m really busy and getting hard at the same time. There are reasons to keep moving. It’s the very low end of the Tokyo sex-market. By now, I know a lot of people on the street, and I don’t want them to see me, a local star, a saxophone luminary, hooked and reeled in like a tuna. And who’s waiting inside the den of iniquity? Yakuza thugs? Vice cops? Maybe the whole thing is a sting. What do I know?
One hot July night, though, I get corralled by an especially pretty one. She hooks her arm in mine and takes me around the corner and up some stairs. It’s a seedy little apartment. There’s a guy behind a counter who takes my 5,000 yen. This is dirt cheap. An hour of real Tokyo sex is 40,000 yen plus the hotel room. She leads me down a shadowy hall partitioned with curtains. I feel comforted by the dark. At the end there’s a cubicle with an old futon on the floor. She pulls the curtain closed and tells me to take off my shirt. I go with the flow. Then she tells me to take off my pants, sees me hesitate, and queries, “Hand job, right?”
“Yeah,” I shrug. It feels like I’m in some sad-ass clinic. She invites me to lie down on the futon, but there’s no pillow. I’m lying prone staring at a gritty ceiling. Now she squats next to my knees, reaches down, and pulls off my underwear like she’s changing her kid’s diaper. Then she grabs a bottle of oil, slicks up her hands, and grabs me like she’s found a snail in the forest. With a start, the mollusc awakens. She’s quite good, she knows her moves. It feels nice to a point, but it’s not an interaction, it’s a procedure. She’s a nurse come to extract fluid. My job: spasm and release. It’s all very positive, she’s doing her part with a little smile, so I begin to try to achieve the Goal. There’s this vague feeling of loneliness, but I won’t give in to that. Squatted there at my feet, her leg is within reach. If I touch that, it might be more, you know, human. Okay, it’s a nice leg, it’s not a guy’s leg, it’s a woman’s leg. I can squeeze it a little. She doesn’t object. I feel a little closer to her, not much, but also closer to the Goal, and that’s the main point, right? My fingers slip higher up the leg, a centimeter at a time, because I assume there’s a limit to that sort of thing. I’m monitoring my excitement and rationing out to myself each centimeter advance up the leg. I’ve got the knee now, just a little more…here come some soft, conservative moans from me…a little more, yes, it’s no problem, it’s up and over and the deal is done. Kleenex is applied to the snail, there’s some small talk, (“You should come to Shanghai, it’s very nice.”) then a brief hug, and it’s time to leave. She heads back toward the corner calling out, “Ask for Ling next time.”
I saw her out there one more time, maybe six months later, once again at the end of my sexual rope. Foolishly, I went for another 5,000 yen go. Or rather no-go. The same ministrations left me far below orbital velocity. I sat up and embraced her, burbling something about how I needed a “friend.” Poor little white boy. Exiled child of the New Roman Empire. Trying to get a romantic break from a Chinese girl who may well be $30,000 in debt to some yakuza sex-slaver, consigned every day to a rabbit hutch packed with other girls like her during the day. She said nothing. Wasn’t really into dealing with my needs. In a moment or two, the self-controlled Western gentlemen re-possessed his brain, donned his tuxedo again and bid her farewell. Harder but wiser.
Bumping with Rika
I’d come in from the wind-blown staircase just off the dressing room where I’d been warming up my sax. The little room was a flower garden of hostesses. All the girls were hunched over their cellphones calling customers. They get the mens’ business cards and call a few days later. “Where are you now? I miss you. I really enjoyed our conversation…” and so on. It’s part of their job. And the guys fall for it. I spied at my feet a beer glass filled with water and old cigarette butts. This girl was smoking two cigarettes at the same time. For some reason I began trying to explain a clever little book I have of Japanese gadgets, devices designed to be “almost useful.” The one I had in mind was a gauze mask with 14 cigarette-holes for salarymen who need super nicotine hits during their breaks. The book’s name is “Chin-dogu,“ literally, “strange tools.” When I got to that part the girl looked up and shouted, ‘I know English word! Vibrator!’” (Chin-chin is slang for penis, and dogu means tool.) Every girl in the room stopped to look at me. I cleared my throat, said I didn’t mean that and stumbled out. But the little one kept flashing her eyes at me. Baby face. Skin like milk. Trounces Julia Roberts in a lip-off.
As I became a fixture at the club, she began popping out with comments when she saw me. “Yes, I love you!” she exclaimed once in passing, apparently a real-time decision. I figured it was a joke. Soon after that though, upstairs, outside the dressing room, she greeted me, shouting, “I like dick! I like big dick!” What do you say to that? Gee, you’re in luck! I happen to have one on me right now? Right. “You’re cute, Arnie!” she decided, and then began to tell me every night. “Isn’t Arnie cute?” she’d ask the other girls. “I like dick!” she shouted in the kitchen at me as I ate my dinner. The staff looked at her, then looked at me.
“It’s American style!” Rika exclaimed.
“I don’t think so,” I mumbled, picking at my teriaki chicken. I gave nightly reports to my buddy Jack Shipman.
“She’s wants you, Arn. She’s saying: ‘Here I am — take me.’”
“She’s so young, Jack…”
“Young is good. Don’t worry about that. You need to get laid.”
“But she’s twenty! She’s much younger than my daughter. And what if she falls in love with me?”
“She won’t fall in love. You don’t mean shit to her. All these girls think about is themselves. They’ve been catered to since they were five. If you can scratch their itch when they need it, they’ll let you. She says she likes dick? That’s exactly what you are to her, that’s all. So what’s not to like?”
Here I was, graced with a steady gig for the first time since the Seventies. Blowing it was the last thing I wanted to do. This was a twenty year-old Japanese girl who spoke little or no English, shouting at 55 year-old me that she likes “big dick.” Yeah, I look 45 and blow a cool sax, but for me (though possibly not for you) this was over the top. The assistant managers watch hawk-like over the girls, and musician-hostess trysts reportedly got you a one-way trip down the elevator to the street. But one night I was sitting next to my neatly coiffed, impeccably attired manager Kawasaki-san at the pink-marble bar in the VIP room. The gig was over, and I was relaxing with a beer. Rika spotted me and made a bee-line. “Oh, hello!” she bubbled, sitting down between me and Kawasaki in her jeans and little top. Her fascination with me was palpable, her eyes sparkled, and one delightful breast rubbed lightly against my arm. Next thing I knew, we’d exchanged numbers. We agreed to go dancing soon. When she walked away, Kawasaki turned toward the bar and sighed,
“I, too, am butterfly.”
Cool! The night came. I brought the car and waited on a side street for Rika to get off work. Around 2:30 she found me leaning against a building like Bogart and pranced over to me joyously. She’d shed the evening dress and was cunningly cute in jeans and a short top. “Let’s go to the car. . .” I offered.
“Go dancing!” she countered evenly, so I gestured down the stairs to Pickford’s, where all my black buddies were pumping out hotter-than-July hip-hop on a big stage. That night there was no audience except for four hot young Western women and a aging Japanese beatnik. One of them, a blonde, got up and showed us every possible way to shake, at top speed, an absolutely perfect body. After a while, I pulled Rika onto the floor. We drew close to the band, and Rika stood right in front of the lead singer, grinning, entranced at this paragon of black sexuality. The singer, undulating, singing, rapping, had no problem with this. I danced nearby, feeling idiotic, trying to find a nice Hebrew groove. Then we drifted into the group of dancing women and suddenly everyone was dancing with everyone. One of the blondes swept over, slipped her hands under Rika’s breasts, weighed them, and exclaimed, “Oh, ippai, desu-ne!” (How full they are!) Rika was this new ingénue on the scene. She was grinning like it was a new ride at Disneyland. I had my arms around the stunning blonde, people were sweaty, everything was slinky and wet. The scene shifted and now a wizened Japanese uncle who had been jiggling on the periphery drew Rika into his arms. I glanced over worriedly, but a lovely Italian woman in my arms was whispering, “No jealousy! No jealousy!”
Time slipped away. It must have been around 4 AM. We rested, tried to talk, then got up again and fell into a torrid front-to-back bump, my arms around her from behind, my hands grazing the delights I found in front, while Rika did nice things with her derriere. I liked the taste of her ears. Okay, okay, whose book do you think you’re reading here, Bukowski? Larry Flynt? Let’s get grounded, okay? We wound up in my car at 5 AM. I was supposed to sleep at a nearby hotel for an English intensive the next morning. I’m not Bukowski. I spent the Eighties being trained by Berkeley feminists. I figured there would be another time, so I took her home. I was George Bush Sr. not finishing off Sadaam. On the way, I stopped the car on a side-street and did research. “Rika, my wife told me my moustache hurts her when we kiss. Does it?”
“Huh?” I lean in for a couple of soft tastes of her angel lips. “Itai desu-ka?” (Did that hurt?) Rika looked quizzical. “Nai-desu.” I started the motor. Rika now seemed to give off just a little tension. We got to her neighborhood, she jumped out and sprinted down a narrow street toward her hidden apartment. We went out again a few months later. This time she danced like a 15-year-old possessed. I kept right up with her for nearly an hour. I remember her gyrating on her knees atop a bar-stool, her memorable mammaries jouncing inches from my dazzled eyes. It all came to naught. I said something in the car in front of her apartment about needing love. Everyone knows you can’t say things like that. What was I thinking? She nodded understandingly and didn’t answer her phone any more.
On the corner outside my club is a crew of yellow-jacketed flunkies holding out placards showing, from behind, the backs of several lingerie-clad women perched on the laps of anonymous males. The brief period of embrace is called “show-time.” Thirty minutes of conversation, ten minutes of touching and kissing. We’re up to 10,000 yen now. It’s a big operation, with twenty or so young girls at the ready. The street flunkies have a certain area to operate in. If they step past the fourth line in the crosswalk, hawkers for “Seventh Heaven,” another major joint, get out of joint. Fights can start.
I’m not about to wander alone into their darkness. Talk about pathetic. The men seated all in a row look like steers at the trough. The image is innately obscene. But one night, farther up the block, I run into one of our club’s well-heeled customers, a fat-cat banker. I stop to greet him, and right away a little guy with his hair dyed yellow approaches and asks if I want “nice Japanese breast.”
“Left or right,” I inquire.
“Ha-ha – both okay!” the guy chortles. “This is my customer,” he says, gesturing to the fat-cat, who smiles sheepishly.
“O machi-kairi (take-out order) okay?” I inquire.
More chortles. “Oh no, eat here only.”
“But your shop is only for Japanese, I think”
“Oh, foreigner is no problem!”
“But I think your shop is for a rich man, right?”
“No, no, I give you very good price, please you come see my shop!” He pushes his card on into my hand. It percolates in my mind. A couple weeks later I called him after work, and he took me upstairs. Past the cash register, couches were set around a medium-sized room filled with hip-hop music. Couples were scattered here and there. The friendly little hustler led me to an open spot and set me up with whiskey and water. Then he bade me look across the room where seven young girls were slouched together, one couple talking, the rest staring at nothing. A pair of eyes caught mine for an instant, and I figured she was the one – they all knew I was there, after all. The third girl from the left was called over. She was certainly pretty enough. She flopped down next to me with a big smile and began speaking some English. Every now and then she’d lean her head softly on my shoulder. Akami was 21, and she’d be off to Arizona soon for a home-stay.
Her youth took me back to high school and to my first intimacies with my Chinese-American girlfriend. It just crossed my mind like a shadow. Soon enough, the lights grew dim, and as they did, Akami stood up on the couch and drew a gauzy curtain around where we sat. Then she stepped lightly across me and tumbled onto my lap facing me. In an instant, she had changed from a person into a sex object. My hands fell onto the outside of her thighs as she looked down at me, smiling.
I can’t remember when I made the association. In the dim light, she reminded me even more of my high school paramour. But her face was dark now, and her teeth gleamed, and I had a strange, fleeting image of a grinning skull. I shook it away. I lowered my eyes to deal with the primary attraction. Akami’s breasts were now officially available, they were the main course, a limited-time offer. I raised my hands to her now bare waist and mumbled in Japanese, “May I?”
“I’m too small,” she complained.
“No, you’re perfect.” But some disturbing thought was lurking on the edge of my consciousness. After a few moments (only eight minutes to go!) I was swiping softly at her nipples with my tongue. Akami was getting goose bumps up and down her arms. She was running her hands up and down my thighs, inside and out, but it felt like my whole body was enclosed in a condom. I looked up and asked her for a kiss. She tilted her head and favored me with slightly parted lips. There was no electricity, and somehow I was not inclined to create any. Over the years of my life, there have been very few really good kisses. Most of them, understandably, were pre-coital and came from Sarah in the back seat of my ’47 Chevy in the summer after we’d graduated from Oakland High. After college, Sarah spent 30 years working at the woman’s support office of a major California university, dealing with victims of rape and other abuses. Now, as I again nuzzled Akami’s tits, a repressed thought crashed back up into consciousness. I’d just gotten word from my sister that Sarah had been operated on for breast cancer. They’d gotten the affected lymph nodes out and probably, after the radiation, she’d be okay. She was being really upbeat. Her husband and kids were supporting her.
Akami was grinding gently on my lap. I could have touched her down there. She was my alien automaton, my time-sensitive sex baby getting paid to be petted, and she had a pretty cool guy here this time, right? Not a sweaty salary-man. A jazz musician, a polite English teacher. It was like, a party, you know? But for me, a touch of horror had poked its way into the room. Skulls and crosses and pretty maids all in a row, lap dancing in Tokyo. They say Jesus never leaves you alone, but sometimes you wish he would.
The lights were coming up. Mr. Yellow Hair darted over and explained how to give Akami her 6,000 yen and him his 5,000. Everyone was so nice. Now even the fat-cat banker showed up at my table with a knowing smile. The actors in the play coming back on stage for their final bow. I had Akami’s phone number and everything. They saw me to the elevator. “Is your wife wondering why you’re late?” cracked the banker. I grinned stupidly and Yellow Hair escorted me out to the street.
I called her up and we kind of went out. She showed up at Shinjuku Station in full Shibuya Girl regalia, multi-colored and bejeweled and heavily made-up, wearing killer boots big enough to make her taller than me. I took her to this Indian restaurant where Lord Krishna looked disapprovingly down at me from above our table. Conversation was stilted with the girl whose breasts I’d just recently licked. I’m sure she would have fucked me if I’d turned left, then right, then left again. Or is it the other way around?
After the meal I sighed and sent her home.
January 26, 2004
I get dressed and head out to work. In the plush club’s men’s room, I look at myself at 60. During the first set, Masumi is flirting with me again, winking and pouting and making funny faces, a girl so beautiful one glance stops your heart, a girl so perfect, most men can barely imagine actually being physically close to her. Why does she even look at my faded face? I’m singing some romancy pop tune on stage, ignored by the crowd, an ageing Jew in a faraway land, a wraith in a painless purgatory specially wrought by God built for a favorite fool. After my last set, here she comes in her gossamer evening dress, rubbing her perfect little stomach, making faces about how hungry she is. Masumi, with none of the expectations of an American bitch-goddess, has no idea she has issued a command. But she has, and I flee down the elevator to buy her a pita-bread sandwich from the Turks in their big red street stand. When I return, she’s nowhere to be seen.
It’s time to go home.
My driver and I trudge through the cold rain to his car. He’s my favorite driver, his car has deep leather seats, and with a flick of a switch the seat slowly tilts back until I become a business-class executive in a 747 winging across the Pacific. I take a few bites from the pita sandwich but have no appetite. I’m fading off to sleep as we speed across Tokyo when my brand-new cell phone rings in my pocket. It’s my wife. She’s not so frigid at the moment.
“Did you leave the heater on in the shower?
“I don’t remember.”
“You started a fire.”
“What? How bad is it?”
“You set my sweater on fire. You could have burned down the house.”
She hangs up.
Twenty minutes later, we pull in front of our house. I get out and go inside to the bathroom. It smells from burnt plastic. The heater is off, but in the same position I’d left it with two orange heating elements blazing about three inches from the plastic hamper. The side of the hamper is partly melted, part of Kumiko’s sweater is burnt into a crusty mess. If the hamper had gone up in plastic flames, it would have been the towels next, then the wallpaper, the shelves. The bathroom is in the very center of the house; if it goes, the house goes.
She knows I’m home. She makes no sound. I walk into the living room, turn off the lights and lie on the floor in my winter overcoat and velvet maroon suit. I have a roof over my head. It didn’t have to be that way. In another universe, we’re out in the frozen street with the cats, homeless. That’s assuming Kumiko gets out alive.
I drift into unconsciousness, then awake with a start. It must be about 4AM. I go upstairs and lay there looking at the ceiling. Outside the window, I hear raindrops spattering softly on the roof, trickling down onto the veranda. To my ears, it is precisely the sound of grace.