A NOVA day had the potential to be tortuous. Between teachers avoiding me, or interacting with me ultra-gingerly, because they’d come to realize (with a heap of help from me) that they had no idea how to speak to me without saying racially off-color and often offensive shit, and the Japanese students who had no idea how to speak to anybody but other Japanese, and had an irritating tendency not to ask questions to learn about you, but rather to have the ignorant notions and stereotypes floating around in their heads confirmed, it could get pretty rough sometimes. But, for a steady paycheck I had to kneel and suck on it more often than anyone should ever have to kneel and suck on such a thing.
So, yeah, I was beat. I turned on my computer and was planning to do some writing about the daily grind to purge it from my system, when I heard Joe call me from the living room.
"Yeah?" I replied. "We're meeting tonight, right?"
"Oh shit! I forgot all about it!"
I came back into the living room and the two of them were watching me. Joe looked high or drunk, but he often did. Greg looked dark.
"You wanna go first?" Greg offered but with a tone that suggested he had something burning to get off his chest and if he didn't get it off right that second he would spontaneously burst into flames and take half of the apartment complex with him.
"Nah, you can go first." I said. "But, let me just say something before you do. I want to thank both of you for taking the time to meet this evening and I apologize for forgetting about the meeting, even though it was my idea. Lucky thing I came straight home, eh?"
They both nodded, Greg's eyes glared impatiently. He was not amused.
"OK, well, I don't think we need to make any rules for this meeting,” I added quickly. “We're all, well, I believe we all have respect for one another and won't get too carried away. But I should tell you, I come from a place where people in general are pretty direct. And I intend to be direct. I invite you both to do the same."
"OK," Joe said. "You stink!"
"Yeah," Greg added, "Do all colored guys smell like shit, or is it just you?"
"YOU STINK!" Greg reiterated loudly, like I was hard of hearing. "Every time you open your room door you stink up the whole house!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Not to mention how I was hearing it. I mean, men stink. Hell, people stink, in general. That's why man made deodorant and cologne and douche and perfumes and incense and what not, People produce some god-awful funk, and as evolution went on I guess we just got used to human stench, as long as it wasn't extraordinarily reeking. And I didn't reek!
I showered daily, sometimes twice. I wore Speed Stick deodorant and Polo cologne. My foot odor might have been an issue, but since we'd moved in my shoes had been in the entrance area and I monitored the smell carefully, marking the improvement my shoe-removing life in Japan had garnered. I was pretty sure my hygiene was not the issue here, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was.
"I don't know what you guys are talking about," I cried. "I don't stink, and neither does my room!" "You can't smell that shit, mate?" Joe asked incredulously. "Smells like you have an animal in there." "Yeah, a dead animal!" Greg added with disgust. "You're not doing some dodgy religious shit in there, are you?"
"Try saying you're gonna stop doing whatever the hell it is you're doing in your room that has the house smelling like a zoo," Greg said.
"Listen, there must be some mistake!"
Joe, the more reasonable of the two, asked what it could be. I told him I didn't know. He shook his head.
Joe and I had actually arrived at our new apartment on the same day, having ridden on the same train from the Tokyo headquarters of NOVA. I saw him that morning, at the other end of the car, struggling with his duffel bags and guitar. I had only one suitcase. My other stuff was to be delivered by the airport the following day. In my free hand I had a map and a layout of the apartment and my roommate's names. I'd noticed on the train that he did too, which is how I figured he was either Joe or Greg and we were headed for the same address. That, and there were no other foreigners on the train. But, I'd be damned if I was going to help him. Usually I would have, but that day we were racing, or at least I was. He hadn't cared I would later learn. The three-bedroom apartment we would eventually occupy was empty. There was a five-and a-half tatami mat room (a tatami mat is made of a type of straw and measures about three feet by six feet), a six tatami mat room and an eight tatami mat room — the master bedroom I presumed. This master bedroom was next to the living room and also had a door that led out to the backyard, according to the layout.
I wanted that room! I tried to reserve the room with the company, but I was told the rooms were on a first come/first serve basis! "You guys can move in as of the first of April."
The first of April found both Joe and I on the Saikyo line headed out to Saitama. April Fool's day found me running through Musashi Urawa station with my suitcase in one hand a map in the other and looking like the poster boy for the holiday. Joe was not far behind, looking like Kurt Cobain, naturally grunge. He had long unkempt hair and clothes that looked like he'd actually survived a few years of a heroin binge in them.
I couldn't figure out the Japanese on the map I had so I asked the staff to point me towards the taxi stand. I hailed the first taxi I saw and pulled on the back door. It wouldn't open. Once I'd let it go, though, it suddenly sprang open like that car in the Harry Potter movies, or like someone with an attitude was going to jump out the back seat. I almost tripped over my suitcase getting out the way. No one got out.
I could picture Joe just strolling along casually. I hopped in.
"Take me here!" I said to the driver, jabbing my finger at the map. "Please! Here! You know here? We go here! Koko! Koko!” (Here, Here) I knew very little Japanese that first day. So I used a lot of hand signals and English from cheesy westerns. He glanced at me and then at my hands and then at the map then back at me and nodded, "Hai, hai, shitteiru, shitteiru."
I turned and reached to pull the door closed and it lurched at me.
"Fuck!" I turned to the driver and he had a little smirk on his face as he pulled off. I was most definitely the April fool. The apartment was about two minutes by cab from the station, I would later discover. I'm pretty sure that driver took about 15 minutes, though. I kept asking him if he was sure where he was going. "Hai hai hai hai," he replied. Finally he pulled up in front of an apartment complex and the door opened on my side. I realized then that it was automatic.
"How cool is that!" I said. I paid him and got out, practically on the run. The complex was on a long road but I could not see Joe anywhere. Fuck, did he beat me? The apartment was on the first floor. I lumbered down the long hallway and finally I reached it. The door was still closed and locked. I whipped out the key they'd given me at the office and opened it slowly, listening for life within. Nothing, no sounds. YES! I’d studied the floor plan so well I knew it by heart. The two smaller rooms were on either side of the hallway leading from the front door. I peaked in both as I proceeded towards the master bedroom.
No Greg. No Joe.
The rooms were smaller than I thought they would be. The company had provided us with a futon to get started, and both rooms had them, rolled up in the center of the waxed and glowing hardwood floors. A little further down the hallway there was a toilet room on one side of the hall and a shower room on the other. I found that interesting. I'd never seen a bathroom where the toilet had a room to itself. A little further along was the rather spacious eat-in kitchen, with a couple of appliances provided by the company. I'd have to go through the checklist to make sure all the items were there. The living room was next to the kitchen and a faux-leather couch was there as well as a TV, TV stand, and a large sliding glass window/patio door that looked out at a backyard full of grass and weeds. To the right of the dining room was a wooden sliding door. The other two bedrooms had regular doors. I smiled. Mine was the most "Japanese."
I slid it open and a smell wafted up into my nose like a goddamn…
My first days in Japan with my roomies, the coolest cats in the world!For more, peep the book...