I was not prepared for the level of verve I would have for the girls here in Japan. And, I don’t think any man can really prepare himself for the onslaught of attention Japanese girls eagerly endow foreign men here. If a guy had had the same ratio of beautiful girls coming on to him or finding his charms irresistable back home then maybe he’d have developed the ability to manage his libido…I’m sure celebrities can identify. I certainly couldn’t.
Thus, I was like the proverbial fat rat in the cheese factory those first couple of years.
Joe and Greg witnessed this first hand. The parade of girls I’d march by them into my bedroom, while they sat in the livingroom watching movies or playing guitar. And each girl would give them that same look of utter embarrassment, looking like they wished they could just disappear or die, for she knew, like I knew, like my room mates knew, what was going to be happening in due course on the other side of that thin wall:
As Chic sang, Good times.
I didn’t understand why they weren’t doing the same and eventually chalked it up to they were too busy getting loaded to enjoy the fruits of their notoriety. They were both fairly handsome guys. Joe was even cool, in a bohemian way, young, smart, blond, blue-eyed, a Japanese girl’s wet dream come true. And Greg had this rough outback Malboro-Man thing going, (or maybe that was just my image of him) and he could play the six-string guitar like nobody’s business. I mean, when I say he played the guitar as a complaint, it’s only because he’d do it loud enough to disturb the neighbors and at all hours of the night. My qualms had NOTHING to do with his ability. He was truly gifted and a joy to listen to and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see his CD and photos splashed all over some Tower Records store window display one day.
But, they just were not into the girls like I was. They’d eventually spread the word and I became known as the Machine among the Aussie community in Saitama. They’d come over to our apartment, loaded down with beers and snacks, and toast “to the Machine.”
But, I couldn’t be the source of the noise that was generating ill will among our neighbors. It had to be the foreign sounds, I thought. Hell, everybody has sex, even Japanese (maybe not babies, though). I hear them occasionally, the thin walls do go both ways. But, I rarely hear televisions or radios or loud talking, even on weekends. Not at night, anyway.
And I told my room mates just that.
“Come on, now, Machine,” Joe said with a smirk. “That noise coming out of your room is not usual.”
“Yeah, man, it sounds like you’re slaying them with your big, black pocket monster,” Greg added. “I know all you guys are packing heavy!”
“Whoa!” I snapped. “Ok…”
“What?” Greg snapped back. “You trying to tell me that you’re not as big as a…?”
“I said WHOA motherfucker!” I snapped again. “Whoa means chill the fuck out with that shit!”
“What’s your problem?” he asked genuinely alarmed by my reaction to what he probably thought was a compliment.
“My problem?” I cried looking at Greg then turned to Joe. “My problem?” I repeated.
They both sat there looking at me, stunned into silence at my outburst. I still hadn’t found the words to address this issue, though. I had actually planned to postpone any discussion of it until I had. Going into it half-cocked didn’t seem wise, considering the harmony of our living arrangement hang in the balance. And they were actually really cool guys and I’d heard Nova room-mate horror stories (kleptomania, assaults, property damage, etc…) so I knew I could easily be doing worse…much worse!
But, I felt things had come to a head.
“Listen fellas,” I said. “I don’t know how things are in Australia and New Zealand, or even in Japan for that matter, but I know how…how I’d like things to be in this apartment, in our home.”
They were still watching me, a little on guard. Greg more so than Joe. My outburst had put him on edge, and I could tell he was a fighter. I pictured him, through my Crocodile Dundee-tinted lenses, as one of those guys who punched people in the jaw as a greeting back home, where bar brawls were probably par for the course. While Joe looked serene, sharp but pensive.
“I’m a little sensitive when it comes to racial…um…let’s say racial identification,” I began, and I knew I had stepped on a slippery slope. Especially when their eyes started bulging. “For example, the words Nigger, and Colored, even Negro…they just don’t sit well with me. You follow me?”
“What about black?” Joe asked. “Is black okay?”
Thrilled that I’d reached one of them I said almost excitedly, “Yeah! Black is, how do you say it, Sweet as!”
“Sweet as…” Joe said, smiling. Everything was Sweet as with him. It was his favorite phrase.
“What’s wrong with colored?” Greg asserted. “That’s what we call our color…black guys back home. They don’t seem to mind.”
“What can I tell you, man? I ain’t Australian,” I said as calmly as I could, for I could see Greg was still tense. “I’m from a place where calling a black man Colored, especially if it’s a young white guy like you doing it, is like saying, ‘I need someone to whip my ass. Are you busy?'”
They both fell out laughing. I joined in.
“I got you,” Greg said after a couple of minutes.
“I got a question, though,” Joe said through his laughter. “You know I like Hip Hop, so…”
“So you want to know why do a lot of the Hip Hop artist say Nigga all the time?” I said, anticipating where he was going. “That’s a difficult question. And I’m afraid I can’t even answer it. I mean, maybe they like to embrace the horror. Or maybe they think by overusing it they’re defusing it. Trying to render it harmless. Or maybe they are so young that they have no idea how hurtful the word used to be in their grandparents’ time. Maybe they’re just ignorant. Talented, rich, influential, but ignorant. I really can’t answer that question.”
“Oh…” Joe sighed, looking bummed out. “That’s kind of fucked up.”
“Yeah, we’re gonna sit here feeling sorry for Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Puff Daddy…I think not,” I laughed. “Let’s go get some brews and wake up the neighbors. We can finish this meeting next time…”
“Now you’re talking!” Greg said.
And we lived happily ever after…
PS: Happy Black History Month to you Americans out there!