I love Skype, if only because my brother can still drunk-dial me from the U.S., where it’s apparently nighttime, even it’s 5 a.m. in Japan and I’m fast asleep in my futon.
I answered Skype in the customary fashion.
“Yo, nigga,” I said.
“My nigga!” he said. This is how white people talk when black people aren’t around. “What’s happening?”
“I’m dreaming I’m still asleep is what’s happening,” I said. “I gotta go to some festival with this Japanese chick today.”
“Cool, what’s the festival?”
“Like what do you mean?”
“I mean, like, is it celebrating some event or something?”
“Man, I dunno,” I said. “There’s freaking festivals in Japan all the time. Maybe it’s for summer, or”—and suddenly I remembered how cheap tomatoes have been for some reason. My mind’s strange like that. But four for a dollar? That’s such a deal.—”the tomato harvest or something.”
“Well, have a good time at your tomato festival,” he said. “I’m gonna go drink a beer.”
“Yeah, you do that,” I said.
The Natto Diet
And then I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I got up and ate a pack of natto. I don’t know why more people don’t like natto. I mean, it’s beans. Who doesn’t like beans? Plus it’s cheap as all hell, and you can scarf a whole pack in like ten seconds. That’s time efficiency. Sure, it makes your breath smell like poo and it’s sticky as hell if you get on your face, but just eat carefully. Avoid your face. And brush your teeth for God’s sakes. Anyway, it’s a good breakfast, is what I’m trying to say.
The truth is, I’ve been on a diet lately. I call it the Natto Diet. That’s where you eat a pack of natto for breakfast, and then, well, just try not to eat anything else for as long as you can possibly stand it. It’s not much of a plan, I guess. Anyway, I’m still working out the kinks.
So then about noon, my friend Hina called to tell me we’d have to ride the train way out into country to get to the festival.
“Ken, are you ready?” she asked. “Because we have to ride the train way out into the country.”
“Why?” I asked.
“To get to the festival,” she said.
“I see,” I said. “Give me a couple minutes. I gotta brush my teeth. Meet you at the station.”
Part of working out the kinks of my diet includes running to the station and giving up drinking. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ken Seeroi give up drinking? That’s impossible. Ah, so you’d think—but you don’t know about my amazing willpower. It’s . . . well, amazing. Anyway, I hadn’t had a drink in three days, which I believe is some kind of world record. And running to the station—eh, actually I was just late. But it still counts as exercise.
Hina was dressed in pink platform shoes, tight jeans, and a pink blouse. I think her purse matched her belt too, but maybe I just dreamed that. Anyway, she had long hair and fake eyelashes. That kind of Japanese girl, if that makes any sense. But she doesn’t speak English, so I like her.
“I’m hungry,” she said in pouty Japanese. “Let’s get a rice ball and some snacks for the train.”
“You go ahead,” I said. “I’m on a diet. The Natto Diet.”
“I’ll explain on the way.”
One Delicious Japanese Festival
And so we rode the train and she ate her rice ball and then some of these rice crackery things with peanuts and I sat there and got hungrier and hungrier. It was almost two p.m. But I didn’t give in. That’s the power of the natto diet. It only makes you think you’re going to die.
So we got to the festival and there was music and children laughing and all these Japanese guys carrying around giant wooden shrines and yelling, but all I could think about was food. Food, everywhere I looked there were food stalls. With food. Amazing scents were wafting from every direction. Fried pancakes. Fried noodles. Fried octopus balls. French fries. Okay, so there was a lot of fried stuff. But no tomatoes, strangely. But once Ken Seeroi decides he’s on a diet, he sticks with it.
“Ken!” said Hina. “Look, buttered potatoes!”
I tried not to look. Festival buttered potatoes are to Ken Seeroi what—what’s that stuff that kills Superman? Kryptonite? Yeah, that’s it. Does he like to eat it? No? Well, so much for that analogy. Anyway, I took one glance at the bright sign featuring a huge baked potato covered in corn and completely lost my mind.
I ran right up to the booth, where a giant, buttery man was standing. He looked delicious.
“One please,” I said in Japanese.
He pulled a giant baked potato out of a steaming wooden box and looked at me. Then he looked at Hina like he was trying to solve some sort of equation. “Does he want butter?” he asked her. This happens sometimes, on account of my whiteness.
“Yes he does,” I said.
The potato-man plunged a metal spatula into a plastic tub and what emerged was a scoop of margarine the size of a small child. He looked at Hina again. “Does he want corn?” he asked.
“Yes, he does,” I said again.
At which point he made my potato disappear under an avalanche of corn and margarine. It was magical. Well, I figured, that pretty much guarantees my ass is gonna be the size of a Buick, but I mean, really, what can you say? Ya want butter? Ya got butter. Then we played the game some more. Does he want salt? How about pepper? Cheese powder? You know, if you’ve never really thought about all the stuff you could put on a potato, there’s a surprising lot. At this point, I figured Ah, the hell with it and told him Yes, he wants it all. Everything. What else ya got? Mayonnaise? Bring it. Cayenne pepper? Do that shit. In the end I got the world’s biggest potato floating in a sauce of seasoned butter and niblets with the caloric potential to feed a small village. Gotta say though, man, it tasted pretty fantastic.
Well, so much for that diet, I figured. But at least I hadn’t had any beer, so that was a good thing. I was proud of myself, actually, and my amazing willpower.
“Let’s get a beer,” Hina chirped.
“Okay,” I said. I suddenly realized I was thirsty as hell. Probably shouldn’t have had all that salty stuff, come to think of it.
Every Japanese Girl’s Digital Boyfriend
So we had a couple of tall beers and they were delicious. Then we ran into some of Hina’s friends. They all had long hair, platform shoes, and pink shirts. And fake eyelashes. And they all crowded around me.
“Oooh! Take my picture with Ken!”
“Me too! Oooh, let’s all take a picture with Ken together.”
I was immediately engulfed in Japanese women. Now, I like that, what with the breasts and the high voices and the smelling nice and all, but I used to think they liked me because I was charming and good-looking. Now I know they just crave attention, from anyone. Still, they’re cute in their neediness. Like kittens. Kittens who are freaking attention whores. But still, you gotta appreciate the warm and cuddly factor.
Then someone suggested we get some beer and chocolate-covered bananas, which was the most unlikely winningest combination ever, and made me glad I’d thought of it, then some wine and these pancake things wrapped around chopsticks, then another round of beers, and then somehow we all ended up in this dimly-lit storefront on a couch with two girls’ heads on my lap and I was drinking sake from a plastic cup. Man, you gotta love Japanese festivals. Of course, we couldn’t actually see the festival from where we were sitting, but well, you seen one festival, you . . . eh, they’re pretty much all the same, right? Anyway, we could hear some drumming and chanting and stuff, so that was pretty good.
But then I had to pee. Suddenly I wished I hadn’t had all that beer. Gotta stick to wine. Anyway, I got up and went to find a bathroom or a tree by the river or something and this girl named Ami went with me. We wandered around the town for a bit until we found a hostess club. It was closed, but a bunch of folks were gathered in front, and agreed we could use the bathroom.
On the Sofa of the Hostess Club
A hostess club is one of those places where you pay 40 dollars an hour and a pretty girl with fake eyelashes and long hair sits with you and pours you cheap booze and rests her hand on your thigh. After I used the bathroom, I sat on the sofa and waited for Ami. Even during the day, the place felt salacious, with its black vinyl couches and oblique lighting. Suddenly Ami appeared and sat down next to me.
“Here, let’s look at pictures,” she said, and took a camera from her purse, which I noticed matched her belt. We started looking at pictures. She put her hand on my thigh.
I looked at her. “Your eyes are so blue,” I said.
“Yours are so brown.”
“Color contacts, huh?”
“Your girlfriend would probably be mad if she saw us like this.”
“You know,” I said, “‘girlfriend’ is such a vague term . . . you know . . . sure ‘friend,’ and you know, ‘girl’ of course, but that doesn’t really mean . . .”
And then suddenly one of the guys from the hostess club came in. He looked at me, then at Ami, then back at me. I guess we’d been in there for like ten minutes after all. We stood up, and Ami apologized, and we all looked uncomfortably at each other for a while, and then we left.
We went back to the storefront and Hina handed me a glass of wine. “I was worried about you two,” she said.
“Jeez, we were only gone ten minutes,” I said. “Here, I, uh, bought you an ice cream.”
“It was half an hour.”
“Time flies, you know. Sorry I took a few bites already.”
“Thanks, I love vanilla. You didn’t get one?”
“Mine? Oh, I’m on a diet, remember?”
People Sleeping Everywhere
And then we all sat on the couch and someone brought out a bottle of shochu and ice, and then some oden appeared, with fried tofu and sliced daikon radish and hard-boiled eggs until it got dark and everyone started passing out left and right, on the couch, the folding tables, the steps to the post office. And then Hina and I had to leave, partly because it was late, and partly because I kept passing out everywhere. Then all the girls hugged me again and took more pictures. By the time we got to the station all that remained of the festival was an enormous pile of chopsticks and paper bowls, and two old guys in costumes asleep on the grass.
I lasted about a minute on the train before I crashed out with my face pressed to the window, and slept all the way back into the city. That’s the great thing about traveling with a Japanese girl. They always wake you up when you get to your stop. So helpful, really. Always take one with you, is my advice. But since it was Sunday and there’s no such thing in Japan as calling in sick on Monday, I hugged Hina goodnight and went home, where I pulled out my futon and drunk-Skyped my brother.
“You know it’s five a.m. here, right?” he said.
“That’s okay, I don’t mind. I just called to tell you about my new diet.”
“Is it one of the one’s where you give up drinking?”
“No, this one’s different. It’s called the Festival Diet. Nothing but fried foods and booze.”
“Nigga, you crazy.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of girls with platform shoes and belts that matched their bags, and baked potatoes covered in mountains of corn and rivers of butter. What a country, Japan, really.