October 2001Still everyone has a craving now and then, and any thorough study of modern Tokyo would be remiss to miss this exchange and interplay between cultures in one of the world's teeming international sites. My first full night in Roppongi was in the company of a relative expert, an Anglo-American who had spent some prior time prowling in Tokyo.
We started off at a bar charmingly named "911." We were in the company of a black man from the states, who knew quite a few of the other black folks in the area, so he was our front. Immediately we were escorted by a Nigerian into the VIP room, which offered free popcorn and padded seats under purple and blue lights. Unfortunately, while this club had no cover charge, it also had no ladies, except a deeply embittered American woman dressed up as Lara Croft.
A few of us lamented the gender ratio. Our guide friend provided a useful interpretation. Think of starting off at a crappy bar as foreplay. You don't move into the orgasm first, you build up to the good stuff. Fortunately, soon afterwards we moved along into what must have logically been the grabbing for the crotch part of the evening: Gas Panic I somehow avoided ordering the mandatory drink during our first run through the club. It was my second bar to avoid buying anything; I was too cheap and I was feeling not yet a part of the events. But I made a show of waiting to buy a drink, leaning up against the most sedate upstairs bar, and somehow struck up conversation with a girl. My friend had seen her earlier, wearing a thin pink halter top and ratty jeans. He asked, I wonder if she's Japanese aspiring to be white trash, or if she's Japanese trash? Whatever she was, she should see Mississippi. She turned out to be witty and somewhat bilingual and flirtatious and very high energy. Roppongi began to work its wicked magic on me as low-grade alcohol-free confidence endorphins climbed my spinal chord and I began to believe that I had mojo working. Just as I was feeling something akin to connection, this girl grew tired of my conversational eccentricity and announced her departure for the rump-shaking sweat flying booty jammin' dancing downstairs. My friends and I arrived downstairs shortly after her, and I climbed up on top of the bar to wiggle around a bit to show everyone assembled that I could participate transparently with the best of them (in a suit and tie still, overloaded with a Kanji dictionary, an electric dictionary, my school notebook and a camera).
I was waxing and milking, but the jig was up; an aggressive young drink cop discovered my alcohol free hands and I decided to leave. My friends were ready, there had been talk of a second stop, but instead we ended up on the ground floor of Gas Panic, where they serve asphalt pizza and testicle-dogs with cheese. There were two attractive women in the place, young thin Asian beauties I didn't pay much attention to. My friends immediately joined the other two or three foreign guys competing for their attention. I was riveted by the "Ultimate Fighting Championship" video playing on six screens.
I had never seen Ultimate Fighting Championship before; it's seems to be like wrestling but without the sequined spectacle, elaborate moves, rules. Thick men climb into a caged ring and beat the crap out of each other, by whatever means necessary. They spend the first two minutes doing exciting violence and end up too tired to fight except to lay on top of each other, a ten-minute mass of heaving sweaty fat. So I'm standing in this meat market bar, an attractive young waitress from India pushing shitty food at me, I'm watching a girthsome man bleeding from his back grunting and thrusting against a smaller man beneath him, who is bleeding from his shoulder, and has wrapped his legs around the midsection of the man on top. Each of them is very clearly exhausted, and lacks the energy to do anything decisive besides lay there and occasionally squirm slightly. It's a slow-motion stomach-twisting ballet of brute impotent homosexuality.
Finally, somehow my friends had won as the primary suitors of these young ladies, and had even convinced them to leave for far more interesting surroundings. I didn't pay anything much mind, I was still recovering from the TV. I had taken a moment to converse at great length with a cute Japanese girl nearly entirely covered in acne about something I do not at this time recall.
In the cab I turned my head for a first look at these ladies and caught one's eye. She had dark hair and some dark eyeshadow and my immediate eye contact said, oh boy! You could fall into this girl. But she was someone else's date at that time, so I turned back around and avoided looking at anyone again. My friends complained loudly in English about the taxi driver as he took an extra long route to a very nearby location.
We ended up at the most mature establishment of the evening, Muse (used to be BCBG?). Sophisticated, well decorated, with an older crowd less intent on doing da butt. Large, underground, with small alcove rooms with couches, and a dance floor in the back, separated by a tunnel rimmed with chunks of tumbled pale blue glass. My friends immediately disappeared, or I didn't follow them; somehow I ended up in an argument with a handsome slightly prematurely-gray man who listened to me inquire loosely about religion in Japan before he announced that he had been a monk. He took umbrage when I cited an Ikkyu poem about the vagina being "the birthplace of the ten thousand Buddhas." Our discussion really launched into high gear here, losing coherence but gaining in exciting sporting antagonism. He was upset that I was quoting this master in translation, and I didn't see how he could argue with Ikkyu's central themes of commonality and passion in his sex haiku. He finally excused himself to pay attention to his real friends, and I retreated to the rear dance chamber.
Later, I returned outside to see the former-monk holding a comatose-level drunk diminutive female friend. I brought them a glass of water. I sat down alone near the entrance of the bar. I was falling asleep. It was 3am, and the subways wouldn't start back up for another two hours. I hadn't seem my friends in some time. There were other people who were unabashedly head-in-arms passed out asleep in various corners of this place. As I was nodding just a bit, the two ladies I now recognized slightly were on their way out of the bar, without the men I knew with them. Somehow these two ladies from the Ultimate Fighting Championship communicated that they were leaving, and I could come. So I went with them. Once we were on the sidewalk I discovered that they were headed back to Roppongi, to Gas Panic.
once more into the breach
I talked with one of the girls, with longer hair, a taller thinner build, a and very elaborate belt. She was 19 as it turned out, which dropped my jaw for a few blocks, and she was in beauty school. She loved to party, to dance, to stay up late, to hang out with foreign guys.
Tupac Shakur's Changes song has grown to be one of my favourite popular rap tracks of the time before the great drawn-out war of my generation. It was just after the disco-remix of this adaptation of a Bruce Hornsby song that our male cohort from earlier in the evening arrived to find me with my hands raised above my head, steadily grinding away with one of the women they had brought into our social circle. Here I was, a non-contributing member of the booty-hunters, taking one of the prizes when their backs were turned. Some of this may have passed in surprised eye contact, most was left adrift as they assembled around us. She kept her butt even more firmly attached to mine as each of them worked to make a sandwich with us. They drifted away, close by, but lady and I were on our own again. I was still wearing a jacket, button down shirt, tie, and carrying a bag with a dictionary, a notebook, and a camera. So when she waved her hand in the traditional gesture for "I'm hot, let's get out of here" I willingly followed her up and out onto the street. Somewhere in my mind I realized that I was ditching my friends for a resounding second time. Bros before hos? Not when I'm lonely and being responded to! I would encourage the same behaviour from similar sorts of friends I think.
We walked to her car, and drove to sit outside of a Roppongi convenience store with the engine idling, sipping portable beverages and beginning a very slow and broken communication in Japanese. We were both eager to engage some fairly advanced topics - previous relationships, family history, work interests, but we didn't share the enough language. As exciting as my electronic dictionary is, it's a slow process to search for every other word. I was never disheartened, in part because every time I looked in her eyes there was something that just invited me to go swimming. And I couldn't see any reason not to.