You come down the hillside towards the bonfire. Tonight’s unique talk is highly anticipated. It’s the first midnight performance. No chat over coffee, no after dinner story time. Not a Tokyo intermezzo, nor a mix of Spanish vignettes. The directions were simple, and arriving took no fuss. You’ve met Huck for fireside talks and AJ for morning coffee catch ups. It’s been three, maybe four, years since it all began. It was all perfectly self indulgent. Tonight is the last.
You see the bonfire cooling unattended, as if spurred on only by the heat of the distant constellations above. Not much sound but for the wind tracing the contour of your ears, as well as the fire keeping busy to ward off this August night’s chill. There’s not much about the fire but a few lanterns, a few blankets, and two lawn chairs for the old folks. There’s also Huckleberry, curled up in a blanket next to the fire. He’s asleep, though the peculiar posture he’s attained doesn’t seem like it could lend sleep to anyone in need. For a pillow, he seems to have chosen a few journals and loose sheets of paper.
Everything…the fire, the blankets, the lantern, the chairs, even the clear night sky has been well arranged and planned out. Everything is in order except for Huckleberry who seems to almost have been plucked from afar and dropped like unshaped pastry dough upon the ground. Everything about him seems totally accidental at the moment. And it takes just as long to observe Huck’s suspicious landing as it takes to realize that AJ, the constant narrator, isn’t near the fire. Then, it only takes another moment to realize that you must be the first one to arrive, the first guest for The First Midnight. If Huck isn’t conscious and AJ apart from the firelight then someone will have to greet the guests when they arrive. That somebody, will have to be you, you decide. Decide, or accept, one of the two.
Best to start tidying up just a bit.
But, perhaps it isn’t. After all, what humorous pleasure you’d be stealing from the guests should you disturb Huck out of his goofy slumber. That would simply cheat them out of a good laugh. So instead of tidying up the papers laid out around Huckleberry, you first take a look at the area. You can’t see it in the darkness, but you can smell that water isn’t too far off. Bristly silhouettes guard that horizon, which gives you pause. You wonder if maybe that’s not where AJ headed off to; through those trees and towards the water. Not that it really matters though. AJ comes back when AJ comes back, no need to press on that one.
So you turn back to Huckleberry. The notes and scratchy ink marks sure are of curious form. You know it’s not polite to peak into people’s personal property, but you also really don’t care enough to stop yourself.
You crouch, pick up a lantern, and swing around towards Huckleberry still laid out like a happily exhausted and profoundly asleep doll. You swing around and pick up some of the papers.
We sat down and received our oshibori. Oshibori will be missed, like umbrella condoms and umbrella bins, or like knowledge that twenty bucks on a train will take you just about anywhere within the great Kanto plain. What we ate: aji, broiled fatty tuna (twice, once for free), engawa, chuutoro, anago, and uni among other things. What we drank: Tengumai nihonshu.
They didn’t read like a presentation, or a talk, and they certainly didn’t seem like material for an August midnight fireside gathering. Some of the notes were honest man-isms, thoughts as transparent as they were shallow.
Sometimes you get on the train and sit down only for the most beautiful woman to ever walk into your life to sit down next to you. The way they smell, the way they move, the way they put themselves together, the artsy photos they swipe through on their phone…and then they get off at Shinjuku and they’re gone forever.
Random, odd items, all of them.
I’ve made a confession to someone lately: that I write all the time. I write good things, bad things, things that are a pleasure to read and things that are pleasurable only to me as frenetic scratches and scrapes on notebook pages.
Well, he was certainly right about one of those things. You read on, you simply can’t help yourself.
My boss did the gudetama dance for me as the elevator doors punctuated my past with that clumsy gachunk that Ginza’s elevators always do.
Whatever that means, you’ll never know. Some things are worth leaving unknown and others not worth knowing. There were a few longer passages, as well.
…another first, and another last for me that day: Japanese summer fireworks. The walk from Fuda station towards the Chofu fireworks went along a narrow yet major vein of the neighborhood. Everywhere yukatas and sleeveless shirts, soft serve ice cream and yakitori on a stick, couples and families. We caught a corner that had room for three and an excellent view of the colorful fire show. Just to our immediate left – on our side of the street railing – a couple cuddled cozy with occasional pecks and kisses. On the sidewalk, on the other side of the rail from the couple-cuddle was another group made quite comfy by the boozy powers. While the young couple tried to enjoy a romantic viewing of the Chofu fireworks from afar on a quiet neighborhood corner, somebody’s aunt and her crew were talking smack about everyone in the village. Who inherited who’s looks, who’s got a good face, who’s hanging over his balcony to watch the fire show, who’s kid they found playing with a soccer ball up the street and how did they know it was her’s, so forth and so forth. It was quite charming as a colorful backdrop every time there was a pause in the fireworks. I drank my mugi-cha and enjoyed what may be my last onigiri dinner.
You look back to Huckleberry. He’s moved, slightly. Now, stomach against the earth and limbs stretched as if climbing a long ladder laid out across the astroplane. His face not entirely smushed against the grassy earth. Here is when you spy the journal released by his repositioning. It’s one of those cheap journals you can pick up at convenience stores, book stores, gas stations, bathrooms, vending machines or pretty much anywhere else in Japan. You wonder if the contents of his writing are as cheap, if not cheaper, than the journal itself. It takes a tug, and a gentle pull, but it comes loose from Huckleberry’s arm.
For a little surprise in an already extravagant last week in Japan, the beautiful and talented Saori brought me to a night aquarium exhibit. For the second time in a week I was posited in a black wall, black floor room but here the main light sources were the artfully and sensitively crafted fish tanks. The tanks themselves were all layered, unique in shape and involved lens glass that made the fish appear larger to the naked eye. It’s funny, for an organ so eroticized and romanticized at length; people have little to no qualms about the naked eye. The naked ass, the nude crotch, sure they get a bad reputation but this organ described by many as, “the window to the soul,” is largely left out of drama and unrestricted. Of course, herein lays the allure of sunglasses. The only thing as sexy as nudity is concealing it beautifully. Much like honesty and truth which ultimately feel more gratifying to grasp if there are a few layers, if only of time, to disrobe.
And then there were those diary entries that no one cares to hear, much less read. Entries dealing with all manner of exciting things like focus, discipline, and the restless pursuit of personal objectives.
I was always restless, and that restlessness has always led to injury. Hurting my eyes while playing trumpet, hurting my knees from ice hockey training, hurting my wrists’ nerves and tendons, hurting my potential for beautiful relationships by my achievement focused lifestyle in Japan. Time and time again, an almost singular focus and discipline has backfired by turning into seemingly irreparable injury.
His journal writings meandered here and there like a drunk or a dreamer from topic to topic. All the entries were undated, and unorganized. You began to get the impression that he wrote from the right cover to the left, upside down and frontwards. His grammar was thoughtly and thoughtish throughout.
I needed a walk at night. Like every sane soul I’ve ever souled during summer, my summer souls need late night walks. The cool summer air. The Peace of night. The thrilling tension between the star struck clouds of grey and violet and the harmony of hues which the creatures belt forth from the trees. So I took the train to Kichijoji, to walk around the pond and the little forest adjacent. I arrived to Kichijoji and walked down the central shopping street which leads to the park. It was the same as usual: couples out on date speed strolls, families zig-zagging store to store here and there across the street, high pacers speeding through. And then I came upon something entirely unusual. There at the entrance to the park where the central bridge reaches over the shallow pond, were countless zombies. This was my first time coming across true zombies. They looked like humans, but they were nearly inanimate, unresponsive, each of them hunched over like a piano player so perplexed by a score that all posture awareness goes out the tiny practice room window. Little blue lights seemed to hold their attention. And this is when it occurred to me that when the zombie apocalypse comes, it’s not humans who should be afraid. Zombies have no interest in humans. It’s the promethean light of technology zombies are after. Still, it was an eerie walk through the park, and I was reminded of walking through the pack of deer during that marvelous night in Nara. In Nara the deer stared at me with divine neutrality but here zombies barely noticed my existence. Just to be sure, however, I made sure not to take out my phone for fear that they would trample me in their obsession…
… a spoiled child’s dream, an infinite volume of beady candy hailing down from the heavens comes to mind if you close your eyes in the midst of a typhoon in Tokyo. Rain rattles sweetly in small but ambitious pellets against the hollow metallic family-cases…
… Proof that Japan is an alternate reality: fax machines, not one bank having a coin counting machine, cell phones that cannot be unlocked…
… Questions I’m asked: Who are you most excited to see when you get back to Madison? Two people have asked me this question, but only two. It’s not a normal question. Typically, people ask about foods you want to eat, what you want to do, what you’ll miss, what you’re excited about back home. But normally people don’t ask such a direct question of, “Who are you most excited to see?” “Everyone,” is the best answer I can come up with. It may seem like a cop-out, but it’s true…
There’s nothing too juicy in there, so you put the papers down. You were kind of hoping for more. You tuck the papers back beneath the corner of Huckleberry’s head if only to keep them from blowing in the wind or getting caught in the bonfire. The cheap journal full of cheap thoughts, you tuck back beneath his arm. But you keep the lantern on and, taking a last glance at the fire, walk off towards those guardians of the horizon. Somewhere beyond them you’ll find water, and perhaps there you’ll find AJ. You wonder what you’ll have to say to each other, if anything at all.
As you lead your way by lantern in the clutch of your left hand, you find a pleasing rhythm by which you navigate the trees. The left foot avoids unnecessary steps, and the right seeks out only the water. It can be heard now, between the weaving phases of insect calls and rattling leaves. Patches of stars open through evergreen crests.
It’s strange. After reading all the volumes of Huckleberry’s adventures in Spain, and gathering with AJ or Huck to hear about Japan, tonight was a total anomaly. This wasn’t anything like them. It was hard to read and not a bit talkative. Not that you’d expect anything of the two at this point, but it almost feels like you’ve missed the ending. Like the climax had come and gone without record. It’s not entirely cold, not like a true fall night. But the moisture this chilly August midnight fills up your lungs in a way that sends a mild rush through your body. It’s been some time since you’ve felt goose bumps run along your arms. You feel the earth rise, step by step, and you zigzag to reach the top comfortably. A break in the trees can be seen above and all the sensorial hints of water finally coalesce before you.
It’s a ridge, above the water. Trees come right up to the edge, and there’s no path to be seen. Is this private property? A park? It’s the type of scenic spot, high above the water, which the young seek out for necking only to happen upon an elderly couple who grabbed the spot earlier, to admire the night together in only the way the old can. But right now, there’s no one. It’s just that sort of spot, you feel.
Hanging low across the water is the giant orange luminescence of this season’s waxing moon. Its clarity and color is totally unreal. If any other thing should emit such a deep orange glow it would be toxic and unnatural. But here it is, one of the most natural elements of them all casting its radiance like a road across the undulating darkness straight across the water to you, high on the ridge. If one were mad, or perhaps sufficiently inebriated, they would be tempted to step out onto that path cut by moonlight across the choppy waves.
You step back, and turn around. Another lantern moves slowly between the trees further up the ridge. You consider following them. Judging by the silhouette, they aren’t AJ and Huckleberry certainly couldn’t have woken from such a needed rest. Should you call out to them? No. It looks like they’re searching, too.
It takes you a moment to build the courage, but you’re too excited to hold yourself back. You simply can’t help yourself. In the same spirit as before, at the bonfire, you turn off your lantern and follow them. They didn’t seem to notice you. In fact as you approach you realize why they didn’t notice you. Or maybe they did, but right now there’s something more intriguing holding their attention.
This is perhaps the first time you’ve watched someone else’s face react to the beauty of the brilliant moon looming largely over the horizon. Without a doubt, it is the first time you’ve watched such a spectacle from secrecy. When people venture out alone, and think that no one else is around, there’s not a thought – not even an instinctual reaction – of pretense. You see them when they’ve no self to see, when they haven’t the need to be anyone for anyone. They’re so pure.
To watch such a pure being overcome with awe while watching the moon call out to them with practically the sun’s own light laid out across the water, would in most contexts be unbelievable. But there they were, one of the most natural and real elements of our universe. Conscious of no one, not even themselves. There’s a haiku poem – by Buson, or Issa, or maybe Basho – you can’t recall who, but -you remember it describing the feeling that overcomes one when they observe that, moon watching, all are beautiful.
They step back, and turn around. They almost start off in a hurry but stop with a jolt of recalculation. Slowly they lower their lantern. It goes out. Their silhouette can still be seen, between the moonlight and your adjusted eyes. You could follow but you know now what you’d find. It’s time for you to head back. This lantern must be returned for another, and you want to check on the fire to make sure it continues on even after you’re asleep at home, tonight.