That February, the drizzle was persistent, an enveloping, ultrafine mist that wilted everything it touched. My enthusiasm for the various articles I had been sent to complete had also dampened as I found I was unable to regain that old Tokyo magic in this sodden, gray city. The streets that I had remembered as being full of hip movers and shakers were traversed by raincoat-clad, umbrella-wielding salarymen and office ladies. The bustle and energy I had hoped would reinvigorate me were nowhere to be found.
I had been at the Ministry of Finance most of the afternoon. That gray brick, concrete and steel bunker that hunkered on a Toranomon city block in central Tokyo was the grubby nexus of an elaborate and particularly egregious, even by Japanese standards, jusen (savings and loan) scandal that was rocking Japanese securities markets and consumer confidence. The usually smarmy ministry officials who, in prior meetings, had always communicated to me a breezy self-confidence regarding their stewardship of the world's second largest economy now seemed markedly downcast. The dingy corridors -- Japanese ministries are always remarkably grimy -- were crowded with slow-walking, shellshocked bureaucrats who, for perhaps the first time in their lives, had no excuses.
"We simply did not know," one assistant minister said of the ministry's role in exacerbating the scandal by throwing more money at it. "We had hoped things would get better."
The mood at the ministry was like the bridge of the Titanic after striking the iceberg. As I was exiting through the lobby, I saw security officers in white caps and gloves seated before vast control panels with bright red and green blinking lights, staring straight ahead, arms at their sides, doing nothing. The ship, plainly, was sinking. And no one knew what to do.
Bachelor Party was swarming with salarymen. They sat in black upholstered chairs, beneath a ceiling of black velvet with heavenly constellations of gold, five-pointed stars, sipping scotch and waters, smoking Casters and Mild Sevens and staring at Sindii Starr, who was strutting on an elevated stage, clad in black-strapped stilettos and a gold ankle bracelet. She undulated to the front of the stage, blew a kiss to a gent in the back and then bent over backward so that her face was reflected in a mirror behind the stage and her blond-dyed pubic hair was inches from a bespectacled, intoxicated Sanwa executive.
The crowded club smelled of sweat, smoke and scotch. Girls in various states of undress were working every pit and booth in the joint, straddling salarymen, pressing their breasts into flushed, drunken faces, grinding their buttocks into stiffening trousers. Amid all this, liters of tequila and scotch were disappearing down off-work gullets as fast as the bartenders could ring them up. The businessmen were throwing blue and white 1,000-yen notes and brown and yellow 10,000-yen bills at the girls in frenzied efforts to get more of whatever the girls had to offer. Every once in a while a girl would shout and slap at a guy, and then acquiesce to whatever the man had requested when the appropriate bouquet of bank notes had been proffered. The girls drew the line at biting.
The Sindii Starrs, Dawns, Dixies and Renatas were all big tits and shaved genitalia, thorough wax jobs and lacquered makeup. These were professionals, the best the San Fernando Valley had to offer. And they were here, in Tokyo, and they were the only ones who appeared to be cashing in on a downward economic spiral.
The ambience was vastly different from that at a hostess bar. Hostess bars forced men to be patient. There were rules: You were greeted by the Mama-san, you were shown to your table, you paid for the young lady's time, her drinks, maybe a preposterously overpriced snack, and if you were lucky, after a half-dozen visits, you kissed the young lady on the cheek. After three months and tens of thousands of dollars, you maybe got to sleep with the girl.
But here, at this new breed of Tokyo strip club, the only rule seemed to be to take what you could when you could because who knew when the girl would move on to the next booth. The women were little more than human erotomatons to be fondled and probed by the drunken men. That small hostess bar nicety, of meeting and greeting and pretending to be interested in more than sex, had been jettisoned. Here, you were greeted by a tuxedo-clad Nigerian named Mr. Jackson who led you to a booth, took your drink order and asked you to pick out a girl. When she arrived, her top already open to artificially stupendous cleavage and her vibrator visible in a tiny, leather purse, she asked immediately if you would like a friction dance.
"If hostess bars are a commercialization of the courtship ritual," Rie Sekiguchi, hostess turned journalist, commented, "then Tokyo's strip clubs are the instant ramen-ization of that ritual."
Samson led me though the club to a VIP lounge on the second floor where older versions of the salarymen on the first floor sat in more generously padded chairs, attended to by slightly more attractive versions of the girls on the first floor. We were greeted by Mr. Amano, a youngish Japanese man with long, stringy black hair in an unkempt ponytail. He wore a silver-gray suit, white shirt and a diamond stud earring. Instead of a conventional necktie, there was an intricate black knotting of fabric at his collar that resembled crossed shards of lightning. Carrying a leather notebook and two cellular phones, he showed us to a booth in the middle of the room. A gentleman in a get-up like an Old West saloon barkeep's -- apron, tuxedo shirt and bow tie -- brought us iced oolong tea.
Amano's phones rang incessantly. No matter who was calling, his answers consisted entirely of profuse apologies.
Samson removed from the inside jacket pocket of his made-in-Seoul polyester suit the envelope containing the Polaroids he had shown me back at his shop.
Amano took the Polaroids and shuffled through them perfunctorily, wiping his brow with a damp cloth midway through and then setting them down to apologize on the phone to yet another caller. He pushed the power button on a gray plastic phone, telling Samson that these girls were fine.
Then a barrel-chested Nigerian whose muscle mass appeared to be straining against his starched white shirt and black jacket loomed above Amano's right shoulder. Amano, seeming to sense the Nigerian behind him, flipped through the Polaroids again, holding them a foot to his left so they were in the Nigerian's line of sight.
The clubs were owned by Japanese and managed by a combination of Nigerians and Japanese. (The Nigerians had risen to middle management in the Japanese adult entertainment industry because of their surprising aptitude for the Japanese language and, perhaps more important, the fact that many of them were built like linebackers. It was cost-effective to have managers able to serve duty as bouncers if necessary.)
"Fine, fine," the Nigerian said. Then, looking up at Samson, he added, "That is all we ask for: classy ladies."
He shook his head and shrugged as if the shortage of suitable Caucasian strippers in Tokyo was a genuine tragedy on par with corrupt prime ministers or collapsing savings and loans.
Everywhere I went with Samson, the primary topic of conversation was classy ladies, young ladies or attractive ladies. New clubs were opening at the rate of about one a week. There was Dior in Shibuya, there were six Seventh Heavens scattered around Tokyo, there was Body Heat, Contact, Bachelor Party, Stopless, two Maximuses in Yokohama, one J-Foxx and one One Eyed Jacks. Every new club needed classy ladies, young ladies, attractive ladies. The male patrons of RIP were scheming various means of importing more of these needed females. For a few of the patrons, that meant flying in an old girlfriend or former flame. For others, elaborate subterfuge was involved; there were visa regulations to circumvent, taxes to avoid and bargain airfares to track down. Clubs were paying a premium per girl, 50 percent of her first months' earnings to the "agent" who had introduced her. A skillful operator such as Samson stood to make at least $50,000 for the strippers whose images he was carrying around in his jacket pocket.
Predictably, Randall and Haru had come up with the idea of turning RIP into a strip club. Work had commenced on a small, circular stage in the back, next to a DJ booth. Yet even as he jumped aboard this bandwagon, Randall lamented this new direction in Tokyo night life, putting words to my thoughts when he said, "I'm not crazy about this whole gaijin stripper craze. I liked hostesses. You see, a hostess comes to Japan innocent and then has her heart broken. A stripper doesn't have a heart to break."
There were dozens of teased-hair, leather-clad vixens, looking like they were right off the set of a Ratt video, who would drop in to RIP to see Samson, Shore Patrol or any of the other foreign agents who had set them up at their clubs of employment. The girls came looking for a new joint, having heard about a better-paying gig, or they just wanted to talk to another Yank or Aussie or Canuck who would at least pretend to understand what they were going through.
The girls glided in on their strappy stilettos and black-leather bodkins, snapping gum and smelling of hair spray. They would set down their satchels containing G-strings, lubricants, whatever erotic toys or gimmicks they employed in their acts, and then unload to whomever would listen about how Mr. This or That had mistreated them, victimized them or otherwise done them wrong. Inevitably, these malfeasances occurred in the financial realm. Though the girls made the majority of their incomes in tips, their housing and transportation were supposed to be paid by the clubs. Shacked up as they were in tiny, six-tatami-mat, cockroach-infested apartments, many of the girls could not believe that the $700-a-month housing allowances were being legitimately spent.
The male patrons of RIP would gawk at the whining females and shake their heads. We knew they were making tens of thousands of dollars a week. And it was our conclusion they were spoiled rotten by their own good luck. They happened to have landed when Tokyo was uniquely poised to indulge the gluttony of turbocharged foreign strip clubs. Just four years ago this proliferation of topless and bottomless clubs featuring gaijin women was unthinkable. There had always been a few foreigners who worked in the mizu-shobai (water-trade), that catchall term for brothels, massage parlors and strip clubs. But these clubs had been confined to specific areas of the city and were staffed almost entirely by Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos or Thais.
The new generation of strip clubs were in the same sections of town as the foreign hostess bars used to be, often in the very same venues. I was saddened whenever I visited a bar I used to know and found it shuttered or converted to a strip club.
Samson never stopped to wonder at these transformations. He had been in Tokyo for four years. He perceived the atmosphere of anxiety and desperation as one where a foreigner such as himself could prosper. The Japanese were repairing old motorbikes now rather than buying new ones. The Japanese were taking more illegal drugs than ever before. And the Japanese were hungry for a glimpse of foreign pussy. Samson inserted himself into these various markets and was gradually bankrolling a small fortune, more money than he could make back home, wherever that was.
No matter how many girls Samson, Shore Patrol or other "agents" found for the clubs, the clubs always needed more. Samson and Shore Patrol, as they sat at RIP's recently delaminated bar, answering pages and making calls on their mobile phones, had come to resemble the harried businessmen clients of the bars for which they were hiring. Samson and Shore Patrol had taken to renting vans for the evening and shuttling girls from one club to another, alleviating with such stopgap measures the appearance of a shortfall.
But both Samson and Shore Patrol knew there simply weren't enough girls in Tokyo to staff all the clubs that were opening. The foreign stripper population in Tokyo had swelled to approximately 4,000, according to Hideo Yasunobu, a club owner in Shinjuku, "but we could easily employ double that."
The competition among the foreign agents for girls had become so intense that the guys were now poaching girls from one another, employing whatever means were necessary to provide enough girls for their clubs. Occasionally when an attractive girl showed up in RIP, fights would break out between agents over who would represent her and where she should work.
The two leading agents were Samson and Shore Patrol. Neither man succeeded because of natural charisma or charm; there were other men around who had much more of those. They had become the top earning agents because of diligence and hustle. They worked tirelessly, making the rounds of Roppongi nightspots to attempt to shake out one more woman who might be willing to take her clothes off for money. Samson would happily ride his motorcycle up to an Ogikubo gaijin house to check on a rumor of a potential stripper having taken up residence. Shore Patrol sometimes took the train out to Narita airport, waiting in the arrivals lounge to poach newcomer dancers booked into competing clubs.
I tried hard to make myself comfortable in this new Tokyo. I befriended Samson, I dated a foreign stripper, I visited the new nightclubs. But my plan to rediscover my happiness in Tokyo was not working. I was ingesting more pills and powders than I had back in Los Angeles. The depression that had come on in Los Angeles had not dissipated here in Tokyo. Instead, with each rain-splattered day I became more sure that the melancholia was a permanent attribute, some delicate imbalance of neurological chemicals that could only be home-remedied with opiates. Here in Tokyo I should have been able to shake off whatever drabs had enveloped me back in Los Angeles. On the doorstep of Asia, continent where I had enjoyed so much of my 20s, I had imagined I would regain my lost enthusiasm for myself and for what I might become. But I found the opposite, with each night that I sat at the bar of RIP, with each evening that I made the rounds of topless Tokyo venues with Samson, I sank further and further into myself.
We sat around a steel table at Buzz while it cracked dawn outside, witnessing the narcotized dregs of a never-was rave party stumble around on a dance floor of black rubber on which spilled beer had pooled and dried into a sticky goo. Samson had seated himself between two heavy-chested, wavy-haired blonds, each about 5-foot-3. Both were currently dancing at Maniac, a small club on the third floor of a Nogizaka building, across the street from the Department of Defense.
Samson had run into them at 999 and was intent on luring them to work at one of the clubs for which he recruited. An acne-faced Japanese DJ who had been accompanying them was dispatched by Samson to go buy drinks while he laid out the benefits of working at Bachelor Party.
I was seated across from the girls who, bereft of makeup, appeared, beside their preposterously large bosoms, very plain. Next to me was Laney, a New Zealander who bartended some evenings at RIP. Laney was very handsome, with deep blue eyes and high cheekbones. In his shearling jacket he looked like a fighter pilot in a World War II-era cigarette advertisement. But Laney was so reliant on his rugged, charming features, he rarely bothered to think.
During Samson's pitch, the girls kept sneaking looks at Laney. And Laney, as he sat there, tapping his feet against the sticky floor and smoking his Marlboros, was clearly not interested in these two. He had his pick of the sex industry employees who traipsed in and out of RIP; this pair was unexceptional.
Noticing they were taken with Laney, Samson rubbed his chin, leaning over to Laney and asking for help.
"Listen, punk, I'm gonna get rid of this DJ. They're not comfortable talking to me with someone from their club here." Samson told Laney, "You just chat these two up. Tell them what a swell guy I am."
"Why?" Laney asked.
"You're not doing anything." Samson said. "You're just sitting there. Help me out."
Laney shrugged and Samson got up to look for the DJ.
When Laney slid over to chat with the girls, I was envious of the obvious glee he inspired in them. I could not imagine what it would be like to have women react to me as they did to Laney.
"So you're thinking of working for Samson," Laney said in his Kiwi accent.
The girls shrugged. "Do you think it's a good idea?"
"He's a real asshole," Laney said, lighting a cigarette.
The girls giggled. I looked at Laney. He winked.
When Samson came back to the table, Laney got up and left, both girls looking disappointed as he did so.
The rest of the night, Samson kept telling the girls they had to come to Bachelor Party. He guaranteed they would make $1,000 a night. They were making less than half that at Maniac.
Still, the girls resisted. I was amazed as I watched Samson buy them drink after drink, offer them cocaine, reiterate for the 12th time why Bachelor Party was a good idea. Even in my state of opiated exhaustion, I could tell that Samson's war of attrition style of career counseling was not going to work.
When I departed at 6 a.m., Samson was still cajoling.
The next day I found out from Laney that Samson hadn't convinced the girls to switch.
But Shore Patrol had gone by their squalid six-mat apartment with flowers, champagne and a picnic basket. They had agreed with Shore Patrol to go to work at Seventh Heaven.
"Don't mean nothing. I'm still faster than that punk," Samson assured me that night, patting the Polaroids he had taken to carrying around as a sort of good luck talisman. "Air Canada Flight 707. Two dozen very classy ladies."
My own projects weren't faring much better than Samson's. The interviews I had scheduled, at various government ministries, newspapers, politicians' offices and banks were unfolding as a series of lifeless briefings during which the bureaucrat, reporter, politician or banker in question would drone for a while about his innocence regarding the scandal du jour, and I would dutifully scribble notes and attempt to ask coherent questions. In the past, I had been able, somehow, to piece together these briefings and meetings into a coherent story. I would listen to the men in suits until something they said stuck in my mind, some scene they described or meeting they recounted, a moment that crystallized the political or economic climate I was supposed to make sense of. But that ability to organize, arrange and structure data into a story had been lost. I felt constantly preoccupied, as if those gigabytes of brain necessary to do the subconscious work of making an article, of writing, were now unavailable. My mind was busy with drugs.
The days slipped by, a procession of gray, damp afternoons and cold, wet evenings. Automobile headlights were particularly beautiful in the persistent light rain; they appeared as sets of silver moons, levitating through the Minato-ku streets. Even with Samson and the crowd at RIP and my loyal assistant who kept on arranging interviews and meetings though I was proving feckless at conducting them, when I woke up on the tatami-mat floor of my assistant's apartment, the rain pattering against the thin, wire-mesh windows, I had never felt so alone.
This feeling was different from the sadness that had engulfed me in Los Angeles. There, I was used to living in a state of perpetual, narcotized depression; and I was convinced that this was because I was no longer in Tokyo, no longer stomping the familiar ground where I had once achieved heroic stature. Back there, I had thought that if I could only get back here, to Tokyo, I would be OK. But now I only felt alone. The problem, I began to suspect, was not a matter of location. This solipsistic hatred transcended geography. I was here and I was the problem.
Then, one morning, I called my wife in Los Angeles. She did not say very much. She had bought a ticket back to Amsterdam. She was leaving me.
And that was it. As I stumbled up Azabu-Juban Shotengai to RIP, brushing past the early evening swirl, I realized there was nothing more for me here than there had been in Los Angeles.
But I still didn't know what it was I needed to do.
Samson had bivouacked the two dozen Midwestern strippers at a weekly mansion in Gotanda, about five minutes from the train station up a steep, cobblestone road. They appeared a vanquishing army of buxom amazons their first morning in that sleepy suburb of Tokyo as they made their way down in groups of twos and threes to the narrow shopping street that ran from the station. Blonds and brunets, accustomed to travel and shacking up in less than luxurious accommodations, most of the girls had their hair tied back in ponytails and their sleepy, jet-lagged faces unadorned by makeup. Clad in sweatshirts and sweatpants that failed to obscure prominent busts and ample, muscular haunches, they sought coffee, cigarettes, croissants, orange juice, cold cream and tampons. Samson had not counted on their being up this early; he had forgotten how jet lag afflicted the new arrival to the Far East, making it impossible to sleep until first light.
The salarymen, grandmothers and schoolchildren of Gotanda, heading out to the office, fruit stand and school, gawked at these exotic new arrivals who in the morning rain failed to carry umbrellas and seemed to have no idea where they were going. The foreign girls, whose profession was obvious perhaps only to the salarymen scurrying to buy newspapers and train tickets, had been given paltry per diems by Samson upon their arrival last night. Yet even the simplest financial transaction, at the bakery, pharmacy or coffee shop, proved complex and laborious. The girls had not yet figured out Japanese currency, instead holding out palms full of cash and coins and allowing the shopkeepers to choose the appropriate denomination.
It seemed the narrow market street, usually quiet at this hour, was in the throes of a large-mammaried occupation. Because of their trade, the girls were impervious to inquiring or curious eyes; they procured supplies and sipped $5 cups of coffee with sleepy insouciance that some of the locals mistook for arrogance.
If 24 strippers showed up simultaneously in your town or on your block, you would take notice. For the citizens of Gotanda, the sudden manifestation was cause for consternation, resulting in hushed conversations conducted while hanging out laundry and discreet calls to the local koban police box. News travels fast in Tokyo, and the arrival of two dozen women ideally suited to the demands of topless and bottomless dancing did not go unremarked among the salarymen on their way to work that morning. The sudden appearance of this pulchritudinous phalanx became a leading topic of discussion in various offices around Tokyo, and word of this surprising occurrence was passed from ear to ear until a cellular phone in a certain AWOL sailor's shirt pocket jangled with the news that by now had been exaggerated into a torrent of American womanhood washing up on southern Tokyo.
"Dude," a gravelly voiced Laney told Shore Patrol. "Hundreds of prime American babes, out there in the 'burbs.'"
Shore Patrol hailed the first taxi he saw.
By the time Samson showed up at the Lion Mansion to prep and acclimate his quiver of classy ladies, Shore Patrol had come and gone and had planted in the girls' minds the notion that Samson was underpaying them. Shore Patrol had told them that Tokyo clubs were desperate, willing to pay top dollar. Whatever Samson had promised them per night -- 50,000 yen? 100,000 yen? -- he could get them more. The prospect of providing for his clients at Seventh Heaven 24 fresh bodies and faces, none of whom had been seen on Tokyo laps before, was dizzying to Shore Patrol. He made lavish offers, disparaged the accommodation Samson had arranged and assured them the contracts they had signed with Samson were not legally binding.
"From my mouth to your ears," Shore Patrol told them before he left. "Help me help you."
Samson walked into cramped apartments that now housed tense, sleep-deprived women who had suddenly taken up the cry that their needs weren't being met. They had been flown halfway around the world by this bilker and they were not about to let the fleecing continue. As Samson tried to calm them and make sense of this sudden swelling of dissatisfaction, it leaked out that Shore Patrol had inserted himself into the situation, planting the seeds of dissent. Several of the women, already taken with Shore Patrol's Rutger Hauer-like features, so unlike Samson's vaguely rodent-like appearance, claimed that unless Samson met some untenable terms -- shorter working hours, no payout to the club at the end of the night, no groping during lap dances, more spacious accommodation -- then they would refuse to work at Bachelor Party. Despite Samson's protestations that Shore Patrol did not intend to meet any of these obligations, the girls were now perilously close to open rebellion and subsequent termination of any relationship with Samson.
After dispensing wads of currency and assuring the girls that he would search for better housing, Samson ducked into a restroom, snorted a line of heroin and reemerged, having reassured himself that the situation was under control.
He hopped on his Suzuki and fired back up to RIP. It was time to settle things with Shore Patrol.
Shore Patrol was sipping an orange juice and playing cribbage with Laney, who leaned over the bar to peg four holes. Randall and Haru were spray painting different colors onto the wallboard at the back of the bar, testing various color schemes for the strip club they now envisioned. There were about a dozen patrons in the bar, a few reading newspapers, a few sipping drinks or canned coffee. A Japanese kid in a blue vinyl jacket nodded on a stool next to the out-of-service pay phone. A salaryman who had apparently stumbled into the wrong joint hurried to finish the beer he had paid for. Two frizzy-haired blonds in black leather jeans showed up and quickly bolted themselves into the restroom for a few minutes.
The bar smelled like the usual combination of cigarette smoke and bug spray.
"Hey, butt boy," Samson said, striding over to Shore Patrol, who was holding all fives in his hand and was reluctant to set it down.
Shore Patrol turned and nodded.
"Those are my girls, OK punk?" Samson said. "Step off."
Shore Patrol nodded once and winked to Laney, who studied his cards.
"Your girls?" Shore Patrol shook his head. "I didn't see any brands on them."
"Listen, butt boy. You and I both know what's right is right. This is my thing. These aren't some out-of-work hostesses walking around on Roppongi. I brought these girls over. On a plane."
Shore Patrol stood up to face him. "Hey, all I did was go down to see them, tell them what was what. If you're a little slow on the draw, then that's not my fault."
Samson squinted. "Who's slow?"
"You," Shore Patrol said. "You're slow. Maybe it's all that crap you take, the drugs, ruining your body, fucking with your mind. You're slow."
"One thing I'm not is slow," Samson waved an index finger. "I'm fast. Fastest guy in here."
"Bullshit," Laney chimed in. "SP's the fastest guy here."
"You ain't fast," Shore Patrol pointed an index finger at Samson. "You ain't nothing."
Samson, in a rage over Shore Patrol's poaching his girls and boasting of his putative speed, shouted out, "That's it. We race. Once and for all. We race."
"Now?" Shore Patrol asked. "When?"
Samson had already begun taking off his cheap suit jacket. "Now. Right now."
Shore Patrol held up his hands. "I'm in boots."
"So am I."
"It's raining outside," Shore Patrol told him, making no move to take off his leather bomber jacket.
"I'm the fastest guy in here," Samson said. "I'll beat you in shoes, barefoot, sneakers, boots. Rain. Snow. On fucking ice, you punk. I am faster than you."
"Fuck you," Shore Patrol told him, standing to peel off his jacket. "I'll race you for the girls."
By now Randall, Haru and several other regulars had gathered around to listen. Samson, reluctant to show his fear, slowly nodded, as if he was trying to convince himself he really wanted to go along with Shore Patrol's idea. "Then if I win you give me 20 girls. You give me 20 girls to bring to Bachelor Party. My choice."
Shore Patrol shrugged. "Then we race."
It was over before it really began. As both runners crouched in the stark, white light of the Pocari Sweat vending machine, Samson's gray, rayon shirt showing dark spots where he had sweated through the material and Shore Patrol's black, cabled sweater beading with water, the crowd stood at the entrance, cocktails and cans of coffee in their hands, cigarettes sending up narrow ribbons of smoke in the chilly, twilight air. Laney and I stood at the finish line, the front of the coffee vending machine, outside the front door of an old-fashioned, Japanese-style restaurant with a sliding shoji door. The street was slanted slightly downhill, the wet pavement giving way in one spot to a thickly painted white crosswalk and a subsequent meter of white stripes before resuming its slick blackness for the rest of the track. They would run into and out of the cone of one streetlight.
Randall, who held his arm up at his side, gazed, for some reason, at his watch, as if the race were being timed. The winner was first across the line. The winner would get the girls. The winner would make a fortune.
Randall held the runners in their crouch for an awkwardly long time. Several cars were forced to detour around the growing crowd that had now stopped to watch the footrace. A car honked. Someone sneezed.
Samson slipped on the wet pavement. He never caught up.
Bachelor Party, running out of girls, shut its doors three weeks later.
I am lying in a natural hot spring bath, a damp towel splayed over my head, staring up at petals of snow swirling down from a black-gray sky. It is after midnight. My legs are aching. I have taken my last three darvon; tomorrow I will be out of drugs.
The hot water splashes into my ofuro bath through a two-inch-thick bamboo pipe that tilts on a wooden swivel to 45 degrees when water hits its carved, sharpened beak. I am trying to relax in my own personal hot spring, an ovoid stone pool set amid a Kamakura-style rock garden just outside my $1,000-a-night suite at the Goro Kaidan Hotel atop a 5,000-foot mountain in central Japan. The feeling as I gaze down the hillside at the strung lights of a funicular line, the twin headlights of mountain road traffic and the scattered yellow lights of other lodges and hotels, is that from here, it is all downhill.
I will leave Japan tomorrow for a drug treatment center in Newberg, Ore.
I hear that Samson is in Shanghai, where there is a burgeoning market for foreign strippers.