mandag, september 18, 2006

Strangers in Shibuya

So I went running on Saturday morning at 5:30 because I was still having trouble sleeping. This was in Tokyo's Shibuya neighborhood, or district, or ward. Call it what you will.

Back in Saint Paul, I run the hill roads daily. It keeps my attention more than flat courses. In Shibuya there were many roads winding up Love Hotel Hill, at the base of which I stayed (and will return following this week in Yokohama).

As it turned out, the clubs spilled their contents onto the streets between 5 and 5:30: all the kids, drunk and disoriented, emerge with the dawn while the business garbage bags placed along the curbs during the night are collected by the morning crews.

Many of these clubs were woven into the hill. As I turned out of the hotel and took my first steps, it became apparent that the run would have its difficulty. I had to dodge waves of very drunk youngins who were making their way toward Shibuya Station to buy yogurt and Red Bull and gelatin and such at the convenience stores and hop trains home. Many of them just found a place in public to sit and sober up or nap.

One girl hobbled down the hill in wooden sandals, her short steps clop-clop-cloping while she held what seemed to be her preferred hangover hand on her forehead. She wore a beige bathrobe, open, with nothing beneath.

I saw her the next morning outside my hotel as I returned with a grape gelatin cup loaded with tiny pieces of fruit I ate with a tiny spoon. She was clothed this time. She was drunk, yes, but hadn't been shuttled to the pain stage. Not yet at least. She said to me, "Why you no run today?" before her buzz swept her sideways as if an invisible off-stage hook had taken hold of her and given a good tug. She staggered off looking through the side of her own head for guidance, all the while laughing.

Everyone was laughing. Everything was laughable.

Sunset happens here earlier than I expect. Sunrise happens well too soon.

On a street fifteen minutes later, lathered up from my run, I wound up in a slow-moving, downhill crowd that stank strongly of beer. We were walking, sort of, and watching police order young men to take off their shirts as they exited a club. The young men were compliant with the stripping, but then started screaming what I think were obscenities. The police calmly went about their business, one shirtless man after another, gently moving each one aside with a baton and dismissing them. There didn't seem to be a reason to it all. Maybe it was candid camera.

We all found it amusing.

In this mob I passed a hooker who'd been working the narrow street next to my hotel the previous night. She'd solicited me that evening (to no success, hey). She'd tried in Japanese but I'd said one of the only Japanese phrases I feel confident about: "Sorry. I don't speak Japanese." I said something like that.

So in this slow-moving crowd she spots me and takes up alongside. We're just having a stroll, chatting, watching these cats strip for the police. She says, "Now I try English. You come for Japanese massage and shower." (Was this a crack about my sweating?) "We have apartment very near," she says. "It's very nice."

I thanked her but passed. There was an energy in her eyes though. Or maybe some drug. Whatever it was, it was comfortable. I got the impression that in the world outside her work, if she was every really free of it, she was probably quite a funny person. And funny people are so often secretly, or sometimes we wish more secretly, sad.

It's the sort of thing you can't think on too long or it'll take you in.

We walked a few more steps, trading some impish glances. The air was awful, all diesel, yeast and urine; and plenty of refuse had yet to be collected. But there was a breeze sweeping up the hill from the direction of the station. I said, "It's a nice morning, isn't it."

"Yeah!" she said, cheerfully, and punched my arm. We were pals, man.

She added, "So you come now. After massage, I give you free blow job!"

This reminds me: In Copenhagen earlier this month, while walking the edge of Nyhavn towards the bridge to Christianshavn, I passed a Thai massage parlor with a stark red sign on the white door: NO SEX.

I'd intended to walk up the same road that night to see if she'd have anything new to say. I'd become fond of her. She was part of my Tokyo, which having come into the world less than 48 hours before was as narrow and noisy as the few sidestreets I shared with the real Tokyo.

But in the rush of light and sound, I went another way, sat with my notebook in the din of another joint, and wrote a bit about her.
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