Picture 2

The past bubbled up for a few brief moments last night as I joined my Japanese and Japanese well-wishing colleagues for a “Deisui no Kai” at the best local izakaya (note: izakaya is fast becoming a legitimate loanword, and will soon be assimilated to the point that it will no longer call for italics. But until that day–italics), which is of course Ginji, regardless of your system of beliefs. While there are many ways to translate “Deisui no Kai,” I believe I will venture “a Getting Housed Assembly.”

Twenty of us assembled to get housed and eat small dishes of food, cleverly dubbed “Japanese tapas” here in the Americas. Fried mochi, meat sticks, octo-balls; when all was said and done, it had added up to more than $1200-worth of finger foods. Whatever. If you consider the fact that these occasions rarely come around anymore and factor in all the money I’ve been saving on drugs by not buying any, it’s really not that bad.

What was that bad, if you’ll bear with me, was the hauntingly feeble act put on by Flirtygirls 1, 2, and 2.5 at the second housed-getting venue, aptly named “Attic” because it’s above a thing. For reference, Attic is a place from whose spinning walls I once emerged so staggeringly deisui‘d that I managed a forty-to-fifty-second conversation with police officers before noticing they were police officers, only to then notice that I recognized one of the police officers as a country-singing acquaintance. Want to get a police officer to blanch a little bit? First you gotta get him to show you his studio demo. Then you gotta refer back to it while he’s on duty.

For the record, though, I think he’s a pretty good country singer and cop; two things I wasn’t sure existed before him.

Right, the Flirtygirls. I apologize in advance to my girlfriend, whom the following account may make a bit squeamish.

I should also preface that I wasn’t actually all that housed this time. Only enough, perhaps, to turn tragedy into edgy art. Because you see, they are anagrams. 

One of the many spoils of being, as they say, “spoken for,” is peace of mind, permitted by a relative lack of desire. Relative, I mean, to the natural state of man. Young men and even youngish men and especially young or youngish me, require about as much affection as your average born-in-captivity Fennec fox (which, for the unfamiliar, is approximately this much), and, deprived of this, will in pondering how and when and where they can obtain this and why they have not yet obtained this, exert an amount of energy so great that its heat can produce readings from space after also fueling the craft that got you to space to take the readings.

A man in need will, by necessity, forsake his own superpowers of judgment, reasoning and self-respect in favor of immediate opportunity. Scottish band Frightened Rabbit will repeatedly tell you that “you won’t find love in a hole,” but it’s still better than being, as Scottish band Del Amitri puts it, out in the wind.” Curl up in there with a bottle of whiskey and your favorite CD, and you’ve got yourself a half-decent refuge for the night. It might even make a youngish man feel young.

Just so we’re all on the same page here, I’m talking about sex with strangers. Oh, courting in this modern age of ours.

Let it be said explicitly here that I am not this man. When I threatened to become this man, I hated the notion of it, hated every prospect accompanying it. The problem, I discovered, is that when you waive the above pursuit for the sake of pride, you become an old man. Instances of affection are limited to sympathetic, capitulating encounters with “the leftovers,” by which I mean suicidal or not-actually-suicidal girls, wrist cutters, the severely anxious. Or else blind strokes of dumb luck.

This post is not about how I was eventually struck by that stroke of luck or how indeed most of the important aspects of my life past and present have been born out of extraordinary luck. The post is about Flirtygirls 1, 2, and 2.5.

In Attic, my Japanese colleagues sat around a deisui no kai-sized table with a hammered copper surface like a gong that’d changed occupations. The youngest man there left and returned with ten shot glasses of tequila. “I’ll hand it to ya, guy,” I said, “you’re nothing if not dedicated to a motif. Deisui kai or not, I thought we were winding down.”

“Well, things should be what they are,” he said. “Otherwise they’re not much of anything.”

“Drink to that.” Before taking the drink, though, I stood to get a glass of water. I’d promised myself no more cop run-ins, if only to avoid another awkward reunion with the next Travis Tritt (I do, for the record, wish him well).

The bar had a Friday night crowd so I sidled up to wait my turn. It took an exact twelve seconds for one in a trio of attractive-enough girls seated next to me to attempt engagement. Before you indict me and this post for egotism, note that in approximately twenty-eight-and-a-half years of being alive, not once have I been both single and engaged by a trio of attractive-enough women nor a quintet of homely young men. It’s a plight faced by many–you can not have what you want; you can only have it if you stop wanting it. Now that I’ve stopped trick-or-treating, I have more candy in the house than I know what to do with. As a bonus, that is literally true.

Having already been well-versed in this truth, it was only a delight to see it faithfully realized like a clock chiming on the hour. I should have wagered money on the concept with my philosophical tequila friend.

Less delightful, however, was the engager’s strategy of engagement.

“I want to see what your hair looks like under that hat.”

A single line, though I don’t think you’d call it a pick-up line. To fill you in, I was wearing the following hat.

slouch beanie

Now let’s get one thing straight: I’m comfortable with my hereditary hair loss, which began at age nineteen and more or less (well, decidedly less (lollll)) finished at age twenty-two. I’m comfortable with the idea that some sort of hormonal shift caused most of my most prominent head hairs to precipitate, follicle and all, into a shower drain located in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I’m even fine with people knowing about it. But from an aesthetic standpoint, a bare scalp really only goes with certain outfits. Notably, any time I’m wearing shoes, my silhouette loses any sort of vertical balance, thanks also in part to a substandard-sized head. Jackets, too, often provide too much mid-bulk for not enough top weight. It’s the same reason you’d give a hat to a snowman, even though he’s literally made of cold.

So, being thoroughly comfortable with my place in life, I wasn’t hesitant to admit the truth.

“Not much hair there to see.”

“I want to see it,” she said. Flirtygirl 1 was most certainly the most flirtiest.

I pulled off my hat, revealing everything.

“Oh!”

“See what I mean?”

“Well, that’s okay,” she said. What a relief to know it would be okay. “Bruce Willis is sexy and he’s starting to go bald.”

Whatever we were worried about, Bruce Willis had it under control. After all, if that’s what “starting” to go bald is, then hey I guess I just started too. In fact, if that’s the kind of time table we’re on, I guess that also still makes him an “up and coming” actor and me some sort of embryo.

Even with birth and my entire life still ahead of me, though, a man has to be humble. “Yeah, but he also works out profusely,” I said.

“Well, that’s easily remedied. You just have to pick up heavy things.” It was further relieving to know that my ailment–not lifting as many heavy things as budding actor Bruce Willis–had a simple remedy, and I was grateful for the young lady’s soothing counsel. We’d known each other less than a minute and she was already making strides to change me for the better. I wondered if it was another stroke of dumb luck that I’d gone up for a glass of water then and there, or if she were in a habit of seeking out and offering sage advice to all thirsty men. I wondered what a man who’d actually gone with the intention of interacting with her would’ve been prompted to show and tell.

Or perhaps my mind was in a darker place than even that of the hole-seeker. “Yes,” I said. “Easy and let’s not forget fun.”

Flirtygirl 2 chimed in. “You feel like having a drink?”

“Ohh shee-it, she just offered you a drink, man!” said Flirtygirl 1. I took a look around the bar at all the other little clusters of men and women interacting. How many other people here were just masturbating at one another? More people than there were bibs–I was sure of that. Did other people have the same electromagnetic repulsion to this approach that I did? Grab a disinterested bystander and pretend he’s trying to impress you, then pretend you’re being charitable by granting him an audience?

“Oh, um, no,” Girl 2 said. “I just meant, are you drinking tonight?”

And then being really bad at being charitable??

Maybe these young ladies noticed that I had been accompanied moments before by the entire population of Japan, maybe they didn’t. Whatever the case, they seemed intent on making me the squawking ground for this harpy raid. Was there no solace for the water-drinking man? Was it my own lingering reverse culture shock that made this encounter so perplexing? Why were they so confident in asserting their authority? They didn’t actually have authority. This was a chess game with three players on White and no players on Black. “Your move,” they kept saying to the housecat. Meow.

“I’m actually just up here for a water,” I said. “Party down.”

Flirtygirl 2.5 said nothing audible, and–no criticism or hyperbole intended–was comparable to a parasite.

A distance spread between us until, without pausing or looking up, the bartender sprayed some water into a glass and slid it over to me. I realized that one of the girls had alerted him to my request without making a show of it. Thoughtful. As I started to turn back to my brigade of colleagues, I overheard 2 say to 2.5, “This is your breakup party and you’re not even drinking anything!”

It started to make sense. Having once achieved Relative Lack of Desire, 2.5 now found herself thrust cruelly back into the wind. Her friends, perhaps swallowing their own pride or perhaps flexing it, were shielding her, shielding themselves from the chill as best they could. “Men will work for us. You’ll see.” I could  just as well have been a housecat. My display or feint of interest, my looks, intentions, impressions, and company all were irrelevant. The entire night was a gesture–a shape. There was no heart on the line  here; just a cocktail napkin folded to look like one.

“You ladies have a nice night,” I said and returned to my place.

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