I sat in a Sasazuka coffee shop listening to Helmet’s signature song “Unsung” pipe through the Marshall speaker sitting on a nearby wooden bench. I finally felt at home in Tokyo, and now it was time to leave.
My adult life has felt like I’ve been bobbing on an iceberg that’s floating on top of a giant whale turd. New friends light in to check out the smell, but don’t stay long. And I just keep moseying about the ocean with my mama polar bear and two cubs along for the ride.
The most recent migration was from Tokyo to Singapore.
I was rocking out in that Sasazuka coffee shop one last time two days before our flight out of Tokyo. The recently opened coffee shop had been recommended by an Irish neighbor. That foamy latte tasted bittersweet because I knew ol’ Sheamus was but another albatross catching a whiff of whale shit.
Coffee shops are emotional catalysts for brooding and my mind wandered back to the other cities I’ve absconded from like a thief in the night – Storm Lake, San Diego, Marengo, Philly… and of course Boston.
Boston is where my lust for jumping into the deep end of the ocean was ignited. After high school graduation my buddy Mike and I loaded his Chevy Cavalier with our most precious belongings, said goodbye to Cedar Falls and drove straight through the night until we reached Beantown.
That was Groundhog Day, 1998. By the time Halloween rolled along we had experienced a lifetime of wacky adventures and grew a few more fuzzies on our sweaty squirrel pillows.
We paid rent (most of the time) by working at Craig’s Café in Quincy. Every morning I boarded the Green Line by 6:15, buying a copy of the Boston Herald for the 45-minute journey. One time I met a girl named Jamie wearing purple pants and reading Bukowski. One time a deaf guy stuck his finger in my mouth. You never knew what would happen.
Mike also worked at Craig’s. We owe Craig a world of gratitude. He took us scared pups in. Forced us to cook whatever we wanted to eat for breakfast and lunch. Sent home cartons of homemade mac n cheese for dinner. Ran to the store after closing hours to buy us a 6-pack of Rolling Rock.
Every night after work we would hang around a wooden table in the back kitchen. Craig would drink “pops” and prepare his orders for the next day. Mike and I would bullshit with whatever character stopped by to say “hi” to Craig.
There was Larry, the old coot who did odd jobs around the neighborhood who claimed he was an early recruit of the OSS. There was Drew, the health inspector who handed Craig a blank evaluation to fill out himself.
There was the co-worker whose name I forget. I’ll call him Curly Joe. He was so big and cumbersome, that when he bullied down the line behind the deli counter, customers compared him to a bowling ball and Mike and I to the bowling pins.
He was from a family of cops yet he was out on parole. Rumor was that when the police showed up at his house, he tried to throw a pile of cocaine out the window but it blew back in all over his face.
Craig allowed Curly Joe to take food home as well. I remember Curly sitting in that back room calling his daughter to see what food she wanted, and all I could hear was this teenage girl screeching through the speaker, “I hate you! I fucking hate you!”
Curly Joe just chuckled.
Mostly I’ll remember Skippy and Ralphie. What I don’t remember, are their real names. Skippy was the son of Craig’s best friend. After being Craig’s right hand man for years, Skippy got a tits job reading water meters. He was a good guy who couldn’t get out of his own way. Who knows how many times he had been to jail for stupid misdemeanors. His young wife drank mouthwash for the alcohol.
Ralphie was the ultimate hanger-on. Everyone called him Ralphie because he looked just like the blonde kid with the coke-bottle glasses from A Christmas Story. After we left Boston, Ralphie joined the fire department. They wouldn’t let him fight actual fires so his main job was attending funerals for fire fighters and cops lost in the line of duty.
While brooding in that Sasazuka coffee shop, my mind wandered to one particular night during our last week in Boston. We had polished off all the beer at Craig’s and Skippy drove Ralphie, Mike and I back to the city for a little after hours at our apartment.
Outside our apartment we noticed two girls playing whiffle ball under the streetlights. Skippy shouted, “I’ll play outfield,” and he and a giggling Ralphie took their positions. Mike went inside to roll a joint.
I stood on the sidewalk, keys in hand, watching the action. Then there was a commotion further down the street. Two other girls came running at me. Their shirts were pulled up to their chins. Their tits were flapping in the wind.
“We’ll do anything for ecstasy,” they shouted.
“We have weed,” I mumbled.
Skippy and Ralphie quickly noticed the two more exciting, more jiggly girls that had arrived. Our party of five stumbled up to our apartment to startle Mike, who nearly licked his J in half as two half-naked girls pounced on his lap.
Their names were Star and Poka (not sure if that’s spelled right). They were whoring their way from Florida to New York City. The party soured quicker than a dollop of yogurt on a Singapore sidewalk.
I remember Skippy of all people telling them, “You know what you are doing is dangerous. You don’t know us. We could be anyone.”
Star and Poka made a phone call, and with their shirts on, left our apartment.
Skippy and Ralphie left shortly thereafter.
One thing I always forget about this story, is that one of our neighbors accompanied Star and Poka to our apartment. He lived a few buildings down. Earlier that night he had gotten into a cab and these two girls jumped in with him, making the same promises to him that they had made to us. Doing anything for ecstasy and whatnot.
When they got out of the cab at his apartment building, Star and Poka saw us, and perhaps we appeared to be more ecstatic.
This dude joined us in our apartment and stayed after everyone else had left. He was a decent guy. He was from Barbados or something like that. He was studying music at the Berklee School of Music, which was just down the street.
We sat in our apartment smoking joints and for hours laughing at the events that had unfolded. As he departed late in the night, he was like, “let’s hang out again.”
And we were like, “We’re moving out next week.”
C’est la vie.
We had lived in Boston for nearly a year and we had finally found somebody to hang with.
Flash forward 23 years to approximately the same date, that’s what it felt like leaving Tokyo last month. Instead of 10 months, I had lived there for 10 years.
Yet it was finally feeling like home. We had finally had neighbors we could hang with. A slew of hip coffee shops had just opened up on our street. My kids were growing fuzzies of their own. And now it was time to leave.
Like an iceberg on a whale turd.
4 responses to “Saying Goodbye to Tokyo”
Well I just learned some new things about you Nick! Sitting here with a big grin.
I somehow got away from my original point – that it’s only when it’s time to leave a place that we start finding reasons to stay.
Nick, your Mom read this
This is why I think I can never leave.