Death is the mother of beauty

“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.” – Erich Segal, Love Story.

Have you ever loved someone for just one night? I kinda did, twice, long ago, and in a (sur)real castle in a foreign land, far, far away, with a genuine Princess of sorts. The story’s short and sweet, but doesn’t end happily ever after this time.

I was living in Azabu Ju-ban in Tokyo in an apartment that was probably even smaller than I remember it. My buddy Mary called me up one day and said she was doing a performance art piece with a friend of hers named Diane, and did I want to come. I’ve already written a little bit about that in the blog titled Being Illiterate Sucks if you can recall that gem. No? Doesn’t matter.

So I meet them and a bunch of other people at a bar I think in Harajuku, or maybe Roppongi, and Diane tells us what the thing was all about. I can’t remember, really, but we all got painted different colors and then lied down on our backs holding the feet of the person ahead of us in a human chain across some crammed pedestrian street. The Japanese had no idea what was going on, and the police showed up and arrested all of us.

When we finally got released, we all went to one of Diane’s Japanese friend’s house in a suburb outside of Tokyo and had an arty party. There were half kegs of Kirin beer, and I remember the spout had a bird on it that when you poured chirped chirped chirped. I got talking to this one woman, an American, who got more literate as I got more obliterate. Seriously, she was a JAP like Sookie Sapperstein (see quote below) – she even went to SUNY Binghampton, and got her cliché BA in English. We went right at it, hooking and jabbing through all the usual and obvious sophomoric college lit suspects and our favorite erudite writers and heroes, from Moby Dick to Virginia Wolfe to Sylvia Plath and James Dickey. It felt great to dive in headlong and toss language and bright ideas around like seals on a sunny beach, especially after the yawing cultural maws and mental aybsses I had been experiencing and enduring with my baffled Japanese adversaries ever since I got here. I meant like seals on a sunny beach tossing a colorful beach ball. Sorry.

We finished at least the one keg, and were The Bell Jar-deep into the second when it was time to catch the last train back to Tokyo. We all piled in one of the immaculate efficient commuter rail cars, and I think I remember calling out loudly that I loved her. She stepped out with me at my stop in Tokyo, without a word, and slipped her hand into mine. We ended up at the Lexington Queen, one of the most popular bars in town at the time, and the place where all the visiting celebrities hung out. My buddy Arjay was the bouncer, and he let us right in. Arjay was from Indiana or someplace like that, and was about five foot four – all the tough guys would always challenge him to a boxing match, since he’d tell everyone he used to be a Golden Gloves boxer. They’d laugh and when he got them in the ring he’d absolutely destroy them. Size doesn’t matter. Accuracy beats speed, precision beats power, and timing beats… I forget what.

Never mind. The place is almost empty and we order whiskey. Some Eagles classic comes on and she gets up. To see Dylana dancing alone, eyes closed, a heavenly velvet volcano, flowing, a kingdom unto herself, with only Don Henley’s genius to accompany her, was to watch Marxism die.

Have you ever been to a “Love Hotel?” Do you even know what they are? Most Japanese young adults live with their parents until they get married, and that’s sometimes into their late 20s or early 30s, so they go to one of the many Love Hotels in town if they need some privacy. There’s an area in Tokyo that’s almost exclusively full of them, and it’s what Saturday night in Las Vegas would look like if the Japanese had won the war. I’m not kidding – it’s a trite-piled-on-trite fetishistic Disney fantasy in wonder and lust: Cinderella’s Castle; Shangri La; Hotel Bamboo; etc. So we wander the streets looking for one that might have a tiny bit of irony about it, and I can still smell the soy sauce-soaked yakitori being grilled on the street carts we passed all these years later.

We go to a mini Neuschwanstein, and all I can think of is “Vulgaria” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We ask the receptionist for a room, which is usually paid for by the hour. He tells us since it’s after 4 am we can have the room for the night, but we have to be out by 8. There is no key – he just gives us two towels and a condom, if I remember correctly. We get to the room and there’s not only no key, there isn’t even a doorknob. And then with a sudden but subtle electronic click the door pops open. We go inside and close it. I ask her when she fell in love with me. She said somewhere between Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer.

All I’ll say is that to see her ludic loveliness, undressed, laying down next to me in the neon Tokyo night was even more beautiful than the second movement of Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto, if you know what I mean.

“You know what I think about when I’m this close to another body? I think, one day, at one moment, this body that I’m holding in my arms will stop breathing. Stop living. Just. Stop. One day you’ll happen upon my name in the obits and you’ll remember this moment when we were so close.” – Sookie Sapperstein, Igby Goes Down

I just found out recently by chance that this once upon a time lover of mine died a few years ago, of some rare and aggressive cancer – diagnosed and dead in three months. Just like that – gone. Reading her obituary from a local paper was numbing in its banality: she had become an expert in Chinese medicine and was practicing somewhere in upstate New York, near where she was originally from. She had been married once to an Italian man long before I met her. She didn’t have any children. She was very much loved.

The only other information I could find out about her was from an August 6, 1996  New York Times article, that mentioned her only casually in passing: “Two gunmen staged a robbery at a popular TriBeCa restaurant early yesterday, shooting a waitress, a sushi chef and a dishwasher before fleeing. The three employees of the restaurant, Nobu, were not seriously injured, and the robbers took an undisclosed amount of money. The sushi chef and the dishwasher were each shot once in the leg. The waitress was shot once in the foot and once in the buttocks. All three were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital, where they were listed in stable condition, the police said. Their names were not released because they were witnesses to the crime.”

There’s a scene in the movie Hope and Glory, where the soused grandfather gets up in the middle of the Christmas party to put his punctuation mark on the festivities. He starts: “Time, time for my annual toast. Charge your glasses.” His four daughters and his wife tell him no, no, sit down. Not again. Please, Dad. He ignores them, a cherubic smile on his face, and a glint in his eye: “To Mary McDonald. Thelma Richardson.” His wife stands up, and abruptly leaves the room. “Bobo Hines. Elissa Sands. There was spirit! Marjorie Anderson. And Henry Chapman’s girl, was it Thelma? No, but I can see her cornflower eyes.” He starts crying. “I’ve lost your name my sweet. Betty Browning. Betty. Let me tell you something. I’m 73 years old and I’ve seen half the wonders of the world. And I’ve never laid eyes on a finer sight than the curve of Betty Browning’s breasts. My girls, dead you may be, or old and withered, but while I live I’ll do you honor to the last. Bless all of you. Bless all of you.”
January 01, 2020 — Johnny Mustard