Early one morning, Mike Halsey leaves his sleeping girlfriend and his house deep in the woods to go out and buy the morning paper. His favorite deli is closed, so he keeps driving and winds up on an unfamiliar lakeside road. Then it hits him: the old wanderlust. The last time it struck, he ended up on the coast of Finland.
This time, Mike heads east—to Japan. He doesn’t like sushi all that much and has no idea what he’ll do when he arrives. Luckily, he makes a new friend on the plane. Bill Atenabe invites Mike to stay with his family in Tokyo—“We’ve got plenty of room by Japanese standards,” he claims—and the two pals are soon sampling all that makes the Land of the Rising Sun unique, from Peeping Tom tours to department store attendants who dust you off before you step into an elevator to computers with a sense of irony.
Mike quickly discovers, however, that not all is as happy as it seems in the Atenabe household. Bill’s wife is having an affair with a bamboo salesman, his son wants to give up a promising academic career to become a talent scout for a modeling agency, and his war-hero father is being forced into retirement. When Bill contemplates an act of desperation, Mike talks some good old American common sense into his friend and discovers the real reason for his own journey to Japan.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Bruce Jay Friedman including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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By Bruce Jay Friedman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Bruce Jay Friedman
All rights reserved.
Mike Halsey woke up a little earlier than usual, probably in response to the harsh cackle of a nearby possum. It seemed to be exulting in the fact that it was — verifiably — the only such creature in the county. Once he was up, Mike knew he didn't stand much chance of ducking back into a good sleep again. He didn't have that knack. So he slipped quietly out of bed and yanked off his nightgown. He had never imagined he would wind up as a nightgown person, but Pam had given him a red flannel one for his birthday and he now had them in four different colors. Mike felt that a nightgown certainly did give you a free and easy sensation — although he did notice that he would yank his off the minute he got up. He rinsed off his contact lenses and, once again, promised himself to get the kind that stayed in for a full month — so that you could charge out of bed and confront intruders.
With his eyesight all set, he stood back and marveled at Pam. He did this even though her breathing was a little thick and snuffly and she didn't hit her stride in the beauty department until she was a little deeper into the day. After she had poured down a few cups of coffee.
Then you could really see those cheekbones. Pam had put on a little weight, which didn't concern him much since he was confident she would know when to hit the brakes in that department. Hell, look at his own belly. What was it, a washboard? Besides, they lived way out in the country, so what difference did a couple of pounds make. In the city, he might have had a word with her about it. But out in the woods and under the covers, it fell into the category of generalized coziness. And when she nestled that warm tush back up against him, he didn't have a worry in the world. What a wiggler. She'd been wiggling when he met her and as proof of her integrity, she was wiggling five years later.
She had gotten into a second bottle of wine the night before and showed no signs of any imminent activity that could be considered serious. He'd forgotten what it was, but she had found something to celebrate. So he decided to tiptoe out and round up the papers, so that they would be all set for her when she started her day. Pam had majored in international monetary law, but she went crazy over the gossip columns and loved to holler out items to him about the latest activities of people like Barbara de Portago and Chessy Rayner. He would counter with a Cher tidbit. He and Pam were great pals and matched up pretty well in bed. But they often speculated that it was their fierce love of column items that kept them together.
Downstairs, he started up a fire in the wood stove, even though, strictly speaking, it wasn't necessary. He just liked to make wood-stove fires. Now that he had mastered them. And besides, this particular stove had cost a lot of money to install. Whenever Pam asked him why he was making a wood-stove fire he would say: "I just want to dry out the air a little."
He fed Mort some Cycle Three dog food, although, once again, strictly speaking, he should have had him on Four, the final cycle. He certainly was glad they didn't have cycle food for people. That's all he would have needed — a daily reminder of what cycle he was on. He let the big guy out for a quick romp around the grounds and then hopped into his wagon and headed for the Redneck Deli.
At the edge of the driveway, he checked to see if the sign was in place. When they had taken possession of the house, that was the first thing they had gotten, a sign that said: Halsey/Levine. They had then pounded it in — after first flipping to see whose name got on there first. On this particular morning, the sign was exactly where it belonged. An old man who lived nearby had been yanking it out at night. He was under the impression that it belonged to a real estate shark who was out to carve up the area into condominiums. Mike had explained that he and Pam were his neighbors and that the sign was just to indicate that they lived there. But they couldn't get through to the old-timer who kept yanking it out in the dead of night — although not as often. So Mike would just patiently stick it back in. The old man couldn't possibly have that much further to go, although people tended to live forever in that area. Compared to everyone else, he and Pam were pups.
The Redneck, which was run kind of casually, had a sign in the window that said it wouldn't be open until three in the afternoon — since it was Good Friday. Actually, there weren't any rednecks at the deli, but the first time Pam and Mike walked into the store, a free-for-all had broken out between some fellows who claimed they had been charged the previous day for lettuce and tomatoes on their sandwiches and hadn't gotten any — and the owners who said they certainly had. Bodies flying all over the place because of lettuce and tomatoes. So the Redneck seemed like the right name for the place. Actually, it was just a deli frequented by high-paid construction workers who got their breakfast and lunch there. As a fellow who restored houses, Mike knew many of them.
He decided to head for yet another deli some ten minutes away. He had a vague notion it sold newspapers, too. And he knew how much those column items meant to Pam.
Normally, Mike was a fellow who liked to stay close to his beat. Once he bought newspapers in one place, that's where he bought them. He had seen the same dentist since he was a youngster and continued to do so even though Dr. Newman was pushing eighty and had to bring in a special man to give novocaine injections. So he wouldn't drill through somebody's cheek. Mike was a fellow who kept to the center of the road, although he had to admit that every time he swerved off a bit it had worked out nicely. Going after Pam, for example, when she was supposed to be living with an ornithologist. Some instinct told him to jump over a juice bar at a health food store to get at her. And to follow her to Nova Scotia when she was confused and couldn't make up her mind about him and was trying to lose herself in novels about the British gentry. That had certainly worked out. Or how about giving up sixteen years of middle management security and going off to restore houses with a short gay guy named Rick. A fellow he had met in Dr. Newman's office. That was quite a little swerve.
And yet it still seemed adventurous to buy the papers in a new place.
The diner that he remembered only vaguely was all boarded up, so he decided to press on and look for yet another paper store. This was getting out of hand. Not that he had to worry about a wide-awake Pam. She had really gone to town on the wine and if he knew that rascal she was good for a whole morning's worth of z's. Realistically speaking, he was looking at early afternoon. But why disturb old pretty face. Would she wake him up in a similar situation? Forget it.
Going a little further involved taking an unfamiliar lakeside road. A real escalation for Mike. The experience, everyday stuff for most people, got him both shaky and excited at the same time. It was like running around naked. The heavily wooded lakeside road went spiraling off to nowhere and he sensed that he was not going to run into any paper stores along the way. Yet he kept driving. Maybe he was wrong and he would pass some kind of general supply store for trappers. One with sticks of pepperoni in cellophane and a few papers.
A couple of carved signposts indicated the area had once been inhabited by Indians. Some probably lived there still. That in itself interested Mike only slightly, but a grouping of bewitched little cabins, set back in a glade, caught his attention. He wondered who lived in them and what it would be like to buy one suddenly, move into it and not tell anyone, not even Pam. And start living there as a whole new person. The thought got his blood pumping. His heart seemed to move toward his throat and he felt as if his legs had developed springs. Uh oh, he said, here I go again. The wind sweeping off the lake made him feel dizzy and elated. It was all he could do to keep from flying out of his seat. He gripped the wheel so hard he almost broke it, but there was no way to calm himself down. Even pulling over to the side and thinking things over didn't help. The last time he got a similar feeling he wound up on the coast of Finland. He had not been living with Pam then. He had been living with a garment center model. But the experience had taught him always to keep an up-to-date passport in the glove compartment. This time he headed for Japan.
MIKE LETS PAM KNOW WHAT HE'S UP TO
The first thing he did when he arrived at San Francisco Airport was to call Pam.
"Where ya at, babe?" she said, with a yawn. "The Redneck?"
"No, I'm in San Francisco."
"Whatcha doin' there, hon?" He could tell she was rubbing her eyes and looking around for a cigarette.
"I'm on my way to Japan."
"Japan," she said, still a little foggy. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, hon. This feeling came over me suddenly and I thought I better go with it. You know those feelings."
"I sure do, hon," she said. "Do you have clothes and things? Let me get a cigarette."
When she got back on, he told her that all he had with him for the moment were the things he was wearing. But that he would pick up a few items at the airport.
"I thought I'd just play it by ear."
"Why'd you pick Japan, Mike? Wasn't it Prague you were curious about?"
She was probably on her feet now, looking at the bay to see if she could figure out what kind of day it would be. They weren't on the bay, but they were close enough to check the current for any kind of roughness in the weather.
"I wasn't that interested in Prague, Pam. I was for a while, but then it faded out on me. It was always Japan."
"Well, hon," she said with another yawn, a full-out variety this time. "I got to hand it to you. You sure do act on those feelings of yours. Do you have any idea when you'll be back?"
"I don't want to set a tight time schedule, hon. That would spoil the whole thing."
"You're not gonna live there, are you, Mike?"
She said it with a kind of playful panic. He could see her eyes dancing as she acted horrified. What a little performer. He felt like biting her ass.
"Pam," he said, coming in with a dramatic sigh of his own.
"All right," she said, changing direction. "I just wanted to make sure. I do not want to lose my fella. Now promise me one thing. That you'll take very very good care of yourself. Mort and I will be fine. And we love you, you great big goof."
"I love you, too, hon. And for God's sake, don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
"I know, babe. Did you get the papers?"
"Not really," he said, steeling himself. "It was Good Friday."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," she said, as if reeling in disbelief and trying to collect herself. "I just want to make sure I heard you correctly. You didn't get the papers?" She was awake now. Oh boy, was she awake.
"The stores were closed," he said weakly.
"I don't believe this, Mike. How could you do a thing like that. You know how much those papers mean to me."
"Of course I do," he said. "And there's a strong chance you can get them now. Otherwise, I never would have pulled out this way. But don't do this to me, Pam. Don't send me off like this."
"All right, I won't," she said. "Because believe it or not, I really do love you.
"But I just don't see how a person can go to Japan and not get the goddamned papers."
"HI, I'M WILLIAM (CALL ME BILL) ATENABE"
He felt a lot better after he had spoken to Pam. And except for the bumpy part at the end, he felt it had gone quite well. Not that he was surprised. He had picked himself quite a honey. He thought of her trooping downstairs in her nightgown, still rubbing her eyes, and wished he could have been there to come up behind her and slip his hands over those heavy jugs. She'd say Mi-i-i-i-ke and try to slap his hands and wiggle away, which would only get him crazier. Next thing you know they'd be rolling around on the floor without the faintest idea of which one got them started. And they would have this cozy, absolutely secure sex, maybe not wild by other people's standards — there was no need to dress up in squaw costumes — but perfectly satisfactory to him, with Pam digging in her heels and slapping him like he was a horse, and him feeling like king of the world and always sneaking looks at her mischievous face. They were some team. And then they would have a huge breakfast, making vows not to have another one like it for a month. So that they could both get skinny once and for all. Sometimes, they would even discuss the breakfasts during a so- called lull in the proceedings.
He worried about Pam being alone in the woods at night, but if he had mentioned that on the phone, he was sure she would have said: "What's wrong with Mort? Don't I have Mort?" The big guy would react to a leaf falling in the next county, but neither one of them knew for sure how he would respond to real trouble. Mike wasn't ready to bet the family jewels on it, but he had a feeling that the playful F.A.O. Schwartz-style pup would do just fine. He might even tear out a throat for himself.
Mike kept a signed check in his desk drawer to cover all emergencies. She knew where it was and that all she had to do was cart it over to the bank and she would be set for a while. But if he knew his sweet potato, she probably wouldn't even cash it and would work with the money she had picked up doing freelance carpentry. He thought of Pam in a pair of coveralls — that tush — and decided he had better get off the subject fast. Or he might just turn around.
It occurred to Mike that he should probably get in touch with his partner Rick and tell him he was off to Japan, but he decided Pam would be ahead of him on that score. In any case, Rick would probably just shake his head and do his spooky smile. He was one spooky little guy, with a big brush mustache covering his mouth so that you could never quite tell what he was thinking. You had to work with his eyes. But he was a good partner and he had never tried any of that gay stuff on Mike. Only once had he even come close to trying some. He was showing Mike how to strip down a brass lighting fixture and when Mike thanked him, Rick said he could show Mike "lots of things." His eyes were leaping all over the place when he said that, even though he pretended to be fixing his awl. But that was about it. That was the most suggestive he had ever been in their entire work relationship.
As far as Mike could tell, he was all set to go to Japan.
He had never been to the country, of course, and he had no idea of how he would do over there, but he was certainly anxious to give it a try. And he wasn't terribly worried about it, either. Take the language barrier. From what he had heard, they hardly even bothered to speak Japanese over that way. Except on formal occasions. Or if they lived in the backwoods. He heard they spoke a little in country inns.
He didn't know a soul in Japan unless you wanted to count the professor who somehow had gotten the impression that Mike had restored a house for Dizzy Gillespie. They'd exchanged a few letters but the correspondence petered out quickly. Mike had no desire to visit him, although he was sure the fellow would have been happy to show him around. Mike didn't even like sushi that much. He had been to a Kurosawa Festival and stayed for about three-quarters of it. No rap on the great filmmaker, but one offering seemed to blend into the next. Mike saluted Japan's technological mastery, along with everyone else, but none of it meant very much to him unless it translated down to some delicious little gadget he could fool around with. Something you could wear on your wrist that told you the weather.
Yet this is the country he was drawn to.
He was anxious to stay at one of those "mail-slot" hotels where they slip you into a little squared-off compartment for the night and then come get you in the morning. Supposedly, you had all your needs taken care of in there. They furnished you with teeny little bathroom conveniences and tricky little entertainment mechanisms, many of which had yet to make their appearance in the States. And there was a breakfast lounge for fellows who had spent the night in slots, and who had presumably developed a feeling of solidarity. Mike just hoped they had slots that were big enough for him. It was no exaggeration to say that he was a big strapping fellow.
Excerpted from Tokyo Woes by Bruce Jay Friedman. Copyright © 1985 Bruce Jay Friedman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was fun little book. Satire, I guess. It's one of those books that's just so silly you have to suspend disbelief from the very beginning. Also, I'm not sure anyone should believe anything about Japan based solely on this book.