BY MIKE DAMASCUS
A sushi chef in Shinjuku stabbed me in the throat with a sashimi knife. Just like in the movies the blood pulsed from my neck with each squeeze of my heart. I lost consciousness with the hopeful notion that he only cut off my ear. Using a band of seaweed he tied the ear to a pad of rice. On the chalkboard behind him he wrote, “Mimi Nigiri.” He wrote in hiragana, but I could read it. He wanted ten thousand yen. A fifty something yakuza type with mutton chop sideburns bought it for his teenage girlfriend. He had the Elvis pompadour and the aviator shades. She blushed and giggled, but ultimately spit it out, complaining that it was chewier than the octopus.
I got the idea off a golden salamander with a black racing stripe. He was the only one polite enough to return my greetings in the park. He sat on a rock in the sun. When I offered my feeble, “Konnichiwa,” he replied with a slow, “Osssssssu.” We hit it off immediately. He told me my problem was not with my nowhere job, my nagging girlfriend, or even with the bill collector who calls my cell every Saturday morning, but with low self-esteem. He directed me to a Shinto temple on the other side of the train station. If my prayers were pure and my offering sufficient, the void might open up and bestow a blessing. I was thanking him when this crow swooped between us and snapped him up in his beak.
To get to the temple you walk through the red torii gate. To get to the temple you walk through a graveyard. The ginko trees are taller than back home and the cicadas start up with a piercing drone that reminds you why you never got into techno. Mount the stairs. Place your palms together in salutation. Bow. Bow again. The zigzag white curtains are supposed to be lightning bolts. When the monk appears tell him your troubles. He’ll respond with something pithy like, “The pacific is not an insurmountable obstacle, but it’s bigger than your sister’s fat ass.” Pull out all the yen in your pocket and toss it in the cylinder. Clap your hands together twice. Go down the stairs and don’t look back. If you do you might see the monk fishing out your offering and running up the alleyway to score opium.
As I walk back out the torii gate the street becomes a great gash through town. It opens up like the void. It opens up like my girlfriend the night she drank too many Jack-n-Cokes. The stench of sex steams from the pavement. The humidity no longer something to gripe about but part of the larger vaginal fantasy that naturally flows from the newly minted satori. The pedestrians, even the few b-boys, naturally give a wide berth. My appetites grow then come to a point. The tittie bar a place for losers and so I hit the sushi bar. I shout greeting at the door and take a seat. The head chef works in the middle. His movements are quick and concise. He tosses out a menu wholly in kanji and speaks in rapid-fire bursts that no native could grasp. Sweat beads on his forehead and the one eyed look with which he fixes upon me indicates an utter and complete disregard for any transformation, spiritual or otherwise, my life might have just taken.
Nonplussed I order. Futomaki is for posers so I order a sophisticated arrangement of sashimi and nigiri sushi. I order the most expensive cold sake. The teenage girlfriend of a fifty something yakuza type stares me down. Her eye makeup is aqua blue and I imagine going down on her paipan for dessert. The waitress pours the sake. She smiles in a way that indicates secret knowledge that her kemeko is indeed tastier than the yakuza type’s teenage girlfriend’s paipan. When the sushi chef places my order in front of me it is immaculate. The cuts are thick. The wasabi and ginger slices are lumped generously at the corner. Not one sesame seed has fallen from the unagi. The only problem is that instead of hamachi, he’s given me the nastiest translucent red snapper I’ve ever seen.
Kobayashi Issa, Japan’s famous haiku poet, never insulted a sushi chef with a sharp knife and one too many sakes under his belt. Neither did the golden salamander with the black racing stripe. Both were surprised and disappointed that I had joined them so quickly in the underworld. “Did you not hear my words,” asked the salamander. “Did you not receive at the temple,” asked Kobayashi. I heard them both because I still had two ears. This was a small comfort. “I was trying to assert my newfound self-esteem,” I explained. “Self-esteem isn’t the same thing as being an asshole,” explained the salamander. Kobayashi Issa then composed a haiku in my honor. In it he referred to me as an asshole. That line would actually best be translated as “superb asshole,” but despite his flowery language he didn’t mean it in a sexual way.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/futomaki.html]
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