YEAR OF THE CAT By Antonio G. Pereira
Antonio G. Pereira © 1998, 2007 Antonio G. Pereira
It was the late 1970’s, and everything was not exactly as it seemed.
The older man reflects back on the exploits of the younger man, and understands how he got to be an older man.
It is better to be humble and rich
than loud and poor.
Q. – Is that a monetary situation, or a state of consciousness?
A. – Possibly….
A group of Japanese high school students were walking up the street, passing Scholar’s International Institution of Learning’s, Japan Center. One of them was carrying a big radio, and Chuck Berry’s song, ‘School Days’, was blaring out of it. The Director of the College’s Japan Center, Bob Woverback, was sitting in the front office, feeling very paranoid, and had all the makings of a nervous breakdown.
“That creep!”, he screamed at the top of his lungs.
Bob was almost in tears. He was getting ready to have a ‘commeeting’ (which was an ingenious concoction of his putting together the two words, community and meeting) with the student community. Greta, an overweight female student, tried to console him with soothing words: “Bob, for God sakes, please control yourself. You’re supposed to be the Director of this center. Don’t let Richard get to you.” Bob began to wonder to himself, “How did I get in this mess?” Along with the occasional sharp pains in his stomach that told him he had the makings of an ulcer, mixed with his current feelings of heartbreak; came recollections of things he had dismissed for too long. His mind began an instant replay for him, of his academic history.
Bob Woverback came from a working class family in New Jersey. Being a particularly lazy individual who didn’t like to work too hard, but who exerted a lot of effort in studying people’s weaknesses; most of his time in school was spent shooting the breeze, with friends like himself. And he consequently barely squeezed through in earning a high school diploma; already having a degree in being a con artist. He seemed headed for the same dead-end existence as everyone else in his family, when through sheer luck; he was able to obtain an athletic scholarship to go to college. He vaguely remembered what the old man who was then the Gym Class Instructor told him the day he got the scholarship.
“Bobby, it’s what you ‘do’ with the chances you ‘get’, in life; that build your character and your future.”
He had looked at the old man contemptuously and laughed, as he patted him on the back and nodded his head in agreement. Bob had a deep, inbred, class induced, inferiority complex. He resented anybody who was smarter, had more money, or could do better than he did. The college he enrolled in, had an Exchange Student Program; and he was able to take advantage of it, and travel to a few foreign countries in Europe and Latin America. Being a lot like other members of his family, it didn’t take long before he began having problems with other students, because he didn’t like the way they looked or thought, or didn’t like the religion they practiced. He did not stay long in any one country, as the school staff there, inevitably began to see that he was using the college wherever he went, to freeload off the natives. But he always left the particular country he was in, just in time to escape being called on the carpet for his actions. He ended up in Japan, where he was able to pick up a little Japanese language, and still using the fact that he was a student; made a meager living teaching English to Japanese people. Bob was able to do reasonably well in Japan, as this particular society, made room for foreign misfits and incompetents; as long as they made no trouble and had something to offer, or were clever enough to make it ‘appear’ as if they had something to offer. Being that the Japanese were more concerned with appearances rather than substance, where foreigners were concerned (which made it easier to study them), he fit in very well. Unfortunately, Bob didn’t finish college; and was forced to drop out in his Junior year. Bob’s reputation from his previous two years in college as a Freshman and Sophomore, resulting with him becoming known to be a slumming American bum, constantly on the move when questions were raised about his educational activities in the school; had finally caught up with him. His college told him to get out. As the school was no longer responsible for him, and he did not want to go back to America, by any means, he had to find a way to stay in Japan without being a student. He pulled this off, in desperation, initially, by conning his way into a job as an ‘Independent Journalist’ for an American Military newspaper, and part time employment as a ‘Social Councilor’; while continuing to earn a small amount of money by teaching English. However, he was mostly living off of the income from the Japanese woman he was living with. He had encountered her by chance one day, during the pivotal point when his college had dropped him.
She worked as a temporary secretary, and asked few questions. He knew automatically that this was the type of woman for him. After getting her pregnant, he also began writing articles about American-Japanese relations in Japan. Not earning much money doing this, but associating himself with the American Military as a civilian employee; he told his employers that he planned to finish college eventually. As they never followed up on checking his past credentials, he was able to breathe a sigh of relief; and added ‘Psychologist’ to his resume.
Bob had laughed to himself for a long time, thinking about how he had put one over on the American and Japanese governments simultaneously. What the American and Japanese governments did not know at that time was that he had recently involved himself in subversive, anti-governmental activity in Japan. Bob realized that there was a part of him that was ‘Japanese’, and that it had always been there. He needed to remain in Japan. He also realized through his involvement with the subversive anti-governmental group he was associated with, that he had a latent bisexuality; which he began to explore. Sometimes he felt a deep affinity with Hugo Slocum, the character he had seen actor Vic Morrow portray in the television movie version of Truman Capote’s short story about life inside the penal system, ‘The Glass House.’
When Bob Woverback had to go to South Korea every year to extend his visa in Japan, he always claimed that he was a ‘Social Psychologist’, working for the American Military; so he could get his visa extension. (This was not unusual, as foreigners invented ‘professions’ for themselves in Japan all the time; ‘Hostess’ being another popular one.) And of course he had two Japanese dependents he could claim now. And he did speak enough basic Japanese to make it seem as if he was fluent in the language. Plus he made no trouble with the Japanese he came into contact with when he spoke it. In other words, he made sure he didn’t come off as a threat to anyone. Underneath all of that good-natured ness that he projected on the outside however, was a deep resentment. From time to time he would hear from back home, and from the letters he knew that his relatives were doomed to live out their lives, with limited opportunities, and scant chances to access anything better. He knew he had to do everything in his power to see to it that he didn’t end up like them.
Through sheer luck again (although ‘now’ he wondered if it was the fickle finger of fate) he heard about an opening for a job as Director of the Japan Center, based in Kyoto, of Scholar’s International Institution of Learning. An International College in Japan. Not expecting to get the job, as he really wasn’t qualified for it, and was not the only applicant; he applied anyway. The people who headed the center at the time, named Elizabeth and David Fellers, were leaving; and he indirectly knew of them, as they were also part of the subversive network he was involved in. He came to the center to meet the students, and immediately didn’t like what he saw. Here were students, just a few years younger than him, who were mostly privileged, and came from well-to-do families. He could just barely contain himself, and his deep-seated inferiority complex and resentment; began to surface from time to time. But the job itself looked like a good one, and if he could pull this off, he’d have it made; or so he thought. There was one student, named Richard, who he knew he was going to have problems with. Richard apparently, saw him for what he was. An opportunist. And let him know it.
As it turned out, there was just one other applicant for the job, other than himself, named Ron Moss. Ron Moss was a Ph.D. and Bob met him face to face. Bob immediately didn’t like him. Ron Moss was too intelligent, and more than qualified for the job of Director of the Japan Center. But as it turned out, Ron Moss decided to go study Philosophy and Art History in China instead. As Bob was the only other applicant, he got the job as Director, and took over from David Fellers as Richard’s advisor; after going back to get the Japanese woman (he wasn’t married to) and their child.
Before leaving, he had a private meeting with Elizabeth and David Fellers, who were CO-directors of Scholar’s Japan Center, and were going back to America when he took over; to fill two job openings at World Headquarters of the college. This, as it turned out, was a very opportune time for Bob Woverback to have joined the college; as there had recently been much reshuffling with staff turnover at all of the centers, worldwide. Scholar’s apparently, was no longer the institutional giant it once had been, and was in decline. As Elizabeth and David Fellers filled him in, Bob learned that Ike Lowery, the Treasurer for the college, whose main interest was ‘the bottom line’ (meaning as long as the tuition was paid, and the college was kept afloat, along with those governmental grants) may have had an idea of what was going on, but did not care; as he was a hopeless alcoholic. Marlin Butterworth, the Senior Director at World Headquarters in America, was a pompous old man, who cared even less; just so long as his name and accomplishments were in print, along with his picture. Elizabeth and David gave Bob some instructions to pass on to some people they knew in the subversive network in Japan. Bob was surprised to learn that Liz and Dave Fellers had already recruited most of the students into the network, from the year before. There were a couple of ‘long term students’ (whose families contributed ‘big money’ to the college) who should have graduated long ago; but were having an ‘indefinite extended stay’ in Japan. However, they had not been able to involve Richard in their Humanitarian, educational fronted, subversive network. In a further private discussion concerning Richard, Elizabeth Fellers told Bob Woverback that it would be better for everybody, if Richard did not remain in Japan. Bob knew then and there that he had to do something about Richard. He left with that thought in mind. And the more he thought about it, the angrier he got. Richard was going to ruin it for everybody.
Bob quietly exited, passed on the instructions to Liz’ and Dave’s contacts in the network, and returned within a few days; bringing his Japanese woman and their child. She had just enough money left over from her previous temporary secretarial job, to rent a small room for them to live in; while he began learning his job. Just as he had learned his job as ‘Social Psychologist’, while working for the American Military; he knew his new job as Director of the Japan Center, was a step up. Bob began to feel good, and smiled at Liz and Dave. Liz smiled back and Dave grinned. Before he had first come to the Japan Center to check out the job opening there, Bob had never met David and Elizabeth Fellers. He had heard about them when he was in South Korea though, and he knew that they were ‘just like him.’ Bob felt his hustling days were over. He had hit Pay Dirt this time. It was all going to pay off now. He had a nice set up. And since he knew that most of the students were involved in the network, he wouldn’t have to work too hard. He would operate right out of the center. Using the school as a front, just like Liz and Dave had done. Currently, there was a new airport under construction in Japan, and the network was going to see that it never got built; using some uneducated farmers as a front, while they planned to prevent it’s completion. Bob felt very comfortable with Liz and Dave Fellers. Though they were both college graduates (unlike him), their involvement in subversive activity went back to their days as Theology Students in America. Now, under the guise of Educational Directors of an International College Center and Missionaries (which was how they had originally gotten to Japan in the first place); they were operating with a subversive organization in Japan. In fine, Bob was in his element. He had been attracted to political subversion because (1) It was an escape from having to go back to America and the responsibilities it would entail (he wasn’t living such a bad life in Japan, and his woman was making a reasonable income that basically supported them). In the United States, his opportunities were limited (in reality, he had no qualifications to do very much of anything, aside from repossessing unpaid for merchandise – a line of work he had briefly done, until he had gotten beaten up one day – or maybe digging ditches; anything else was out of the question, as he had wasted most of his time during his school days) and (2) The fact that he had hustled so cleverly and so long (including his charade as a Councilor and Social Psychologist to barely literate servicemen in the military, which he still laughed about) made him feel like a big shot. He had always had a deep contempt for authority. In particular; ‘Political Authority’ as dictated by ‘Government’. Now he had it made. It had not all been for nothing. Maybe his periodic depression would go away now, for good.
Bob Woverback’s mind was instantly jarred into the present, as the Japanese office secretary for the Japan Center, Keiko Ramura, informed him that he had a phone call. The phone call was from Jack Riley and Fred Napley. Jack, a faculty advisor, and Fred, a student, were living together and had a very ‘unconventional’ relationship going. They were the next two ‘key people’ at Scholar’s Japan Center, after Liz and Dave, in the subversive network. Jack had called up to say that he was coming into school, but that Fred was terrified and was not. Bob understood why Fred was frightened. After what had happened, it was possible that everyone would be affected to the extent of deportation by the Japanese government, straight into the beckoning hands of the American governmental authorities; depending on what Richard had done. The fact that Richard had gotten to the center before him and was sitting in the college library (where the ‘commeeting’ was to take place) reading the morning newspaper, just made Bob shake with rage and fear. He told Jack Riley to hurry and get to the center. Jack said he would, as soon as he calmed Fred down.
Fred Napley, who was wearing the dog collar that Jack had bought him during their recent ‘educational trip’ to Thailand (financed by the college), was very upset. As Jack pulled Fred towards him by the ring in the dog collar he wore around the house, Fred cried in his arms. Jack Riley was not an American, like almost everyone else at the center. He was a European, who had been involved in political subversion in Southeast Asia for quite a number of years. He had also visited North Korea on one occasion. He had joined Scholar’s Japan Center, as a faculty advisor, at the invitation of Elizabeth and David Fellers. Liz and Dave had met him through the network. Bob had known about him indirectly too; and was very impressed that Jack Riley had been to North Korea. As was the case with many of the men and women in their particular circle, Bob had an unconventional relationship going with Jack Riley and Fred Napley. This began the first time that Jack Riley allowed him to ball Fred Napley at a party. The fishnet stockings, bondage panties, blue eye shadow and red lipstick, that Fred wore that evening, just drove Bob wild. Jack, Bob and Noshi Kazu (a Japanese former-student and graduate of Scholar’s college, who had been trained as an Engineer, but was unable to find a job, and was now on the faculty and also a member of the subversive network) all shared Fred with each other; when he wasn’t getting his kicks selling himself in the park that was used by male and female prostitutes, near the center, (and where he was known as “the foreigner with the pock marked face” – which had resulted from a bad case of acne) on occasional evenings. Noshi Kazu also lived with Jack Riley and Fred Napley, in a big house, that was used alternately as a meeting place for planning of subversive activity, and for unconventional sex parties; where D’absinthe and Heroin were consumed in large quantities on weekends.
Noshi, who had just come into the front office, told Bob that he would at least have to go look in the library; or Richard would get the idea that he was afraid. Bob knew that Noshi was right, but he ‘was’ afraid; and decided not to go to the library, until he had met with Jack to discuss what to do about Richard.
Richard Kermode sat in the library, quietly reading the English version of the morning Japanese (Mainichi) newspaper. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Arthur Singleman, peek at him through a crack of the slightly opened library door. Richard smiled. He knew why Arthur Singleman would be concerned about the outcome of today’s ‘commeeting’. Arthur was the so-called ‘Artist in Residence’, who lived with his Japanese wife on the second floor, of the two story Scholar’s Japan Center. Richard knew that Arthur was freeloading off of the school, and that the reason Arthur was not in the United States, was because the police were looking for him; in connection with a crime he had been involved in. (Arthur had drunkenly related that story to a mutual acquaintance of his and Richard’s, in the school one evening; without realizing that Richard had heard him.) There was a slight possibility that Arthur Singleman was also involved, to a lesser degree, with the network that was operating out of the center. As Arthur quickly disappeared, Richard shook his head. Scholar’s Japan Center had a can of worms so full, that if it was ever opened, Scholar’s International Institution of Learning would probably be closed down by the United States Government; just based on what was going on at it’s Japan Center. But all Richard wanted was his college degree, which he had earned; and he intended to get it. “The people at World Headquarters for the school in America, would find out what was going on sooner or later”, he thought. “Still”, he wondered, “How big and how deep is this thing?” And why were they all attracted to this particular college, at this particular center, at this particular time?
He knew there was more to this than met the eye, and that what he knew at this time, was only the tip of the iceberg.
Richard Kermode came from a strong upper middle class family. He was born and raised in New York City. Richard had attended just about every type of school imaginable. Public School, Catholic, (back to Public), Private, and his final year of high school was spent in an alternative school named, ‘The Violet Society’. Richard Kermode was a free spirit in a constant state of flux. Being that he had always been interested in Ancient History and Art, the alternative school atmosphere suited him perfectly in his final year; already having gotten a strong, varied and solid educational foundation in the previous schools he had been. His family, of course, understanding that their child thrived in an artistic atmosphere of change. He enjoyed the class trips to the Cloisters and all the many museums in and around the city. During this time, he took classes in Photography and the, then new, Videotape camera technique. On top of all this, he loved music; and spent occasional evenings and weekends, down in Greenwich Village, in coffeehouses like the Café Wha?, and Folk City. Whether it was listening to artists like Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens (solo or guesting with Fresh Flavor), Janis Ian, Phil Ochs lamenting on his friend Victor Jara, Melanie Safka, Minnie Ripperton (post Rotary Connection), Melvin Van Peebles, Roger Mcguinn, Laura Nyro, or just going to Hootenanny night; the music was alive and pulsating, and of course, the waitresses were nice. That particular period of his life was very meaningful and special for him. Partly because of the friends he had made that final year in high school, who had always remained friends and kept in touch years after; and because the air of expectancy at that time, the feeling that ‘anything was possible if you just tried’, rubbed off on him and never left.
Richard loved people. He was attracted to Scholar’s International Institution of Learning, because from what he had read about it and what he had seen of it (a friend of his family, who had been associated with the college in an advisory capacity when it first started, but had since retired; suggested that he visit the campus and spend a day to see if he liked it) reminded him of his twelfth grade school ‘The Violet Society’. He did very well during his Freshman year in the college, doing projects on Television Film Production and Script writing and Art History Anthropological studies. Richard went abroad for the first time in his Sophomore year, and did a lengthy Art History study project in Europe. The European Centre of Scholar’s International Institution of Learning, was run very smoothly, by a very knowledgeable and surprisingly, a very artistic faculty. And after Orientation, a very eager group of students; went off to do their various projects.
In Europe, Richard fell in love with the museums and Art Galleries. He believed in and followed the motto of the college, which was to ‘leave a place and the people there, better off than you found them, by you’re having been there’. Richard Kermode, was no 'fluent language expert' (with none of the baggage he observed that came with certain types of indviduals who calculatingly used a foreign language to subtly focus on using the natives and spreading misinformation), and dealt with people on a one to one basic human level. His personality, along with the simple basic ordinary words and phrases he learned (and sign language), caused him to make friends automatically. And the Art field, was full of creative people who were particularly drawn to him. Even his day to day dealings with people (such as learning where to shop, mail letters, go to the bank) were adventures. And just like in America, you had a sprinkling of occasional ignoramouses, who you limited your conversation with, as much as possible. He noticed that the 'fluent language experts' types, who were using the language to manipulate the natives, inevitably attracted the ignoramouses. And if they weren't careful, ended up in deep trouble; being that liars always had to have good memories. The American students who Richard spent his time with, while in Italy, were delighted to be there, very open (some very fluent in the language), and with no secret agenda. The Italian people they drew to them, were very warm, open and friendly. He cherished his experiences in Italy. Milan's La Brea museum was his favorite, and he visited 'the Brea' every chance he got; usually with some of his classmates and Italian students who they had made friends with. When he had completed his Art study project, he felt a longing that he didn't want to leave, but it was time to move on. The friends he had made, threw a going away party for him, and he knew he would visit there again one day. Before going back to America, he briefly visited Berlin, where there was a small but burgeoning avant garde Art scene. Bizarre but highly intellectual, it was quite a contrast to the traditional Art in Italy. Berlin (with wall intact), left a deep impression on Richard. The East German troops, armed and guarding their side, and the U.S. troops doing the same on the West side of the wall. And it occured to him, (with an Artist's perception), that Borders could not only be physical, but ideological and cultural as well.
After completing his semester in Europe and returning to the United States, he continued Art study with emphasis on its sociological influence on modern society. Glad to be home, but still with a longing and lingering memories of Europe, he immersed himself in his current project. Richard's family eased him back into home again, and noticed the change in him.
By the time he came to Japan, during his Junior year, he was well seasoned in the do’s and don’ts of living abroad and dealing with people of different cultures, other than American. Richard knew that when you were a foreigner, living in someone else’s country, you lived by ‘their rules’ and not yours. So he became very careful, when after having been in the Japan Center for a short time, he noticed that Liz and Dave Fellers were in a subtle way, trying to involve him in some activity that they were saying was one thing; but that obviously at second glance, was another. When Richard went to Seoul in South Korea via the port town of Pusan, with another student, to get his student visa (he had come to Japan during the second half of his Junior year, on a tourist visa), he very diplomatically avoided involving himself in the passing of secret dispatches to people in South Korea, he did not know. The other student, named William Randolph, who Richard thought a little odd, left Richard in the University they were staying in, in Seoul, one afternoon; and passed the material on to the mysterious contacts himself. Richard did not realize, at the time, what the deep repercussions of his not being involved in this activity, would eventually lead to. Nor did he know the effect it would have on the faculty and students in the long run. (Richard had also taken note of the difference between the Koreans in Seoul, which was a University town, full of highly educated people, and the Koreans in Pusan, which was a port town, full of uneducated brutish people, and violence.)
So his orientation at the Japan Center became more than just an academic one. And he sensed that something was wrong with the Japan Center. Luckily, when Orientation was over, David Fellers, who became Richard’s advisor (and as Richard gradually noticed, was just doing the minimum of what was required of him), was able to provide a Japanese family for Richard to live with; so he did not have to live at the Japan Center. Richard enjoyed his stay with the Japanese family (which was until he got a room in a student house), as he slowly began to learn some of their customs. He and his awkward but endearing qualities, which included hilarious attempts at speaking Japanese; sometimes with a nervous stutter and ending with his universal sign language, in turn, fascinated them. They also helped him to open an account, in the same bank where they had their own account; and from there ventured out on his own, to find the places of practical usage, such as the Grocery Store, Post Office, etc…
But Richard became increasingly uncomfortable about the type of people Liz and Dave Fellers were associated with. There was something sinister in some of their acquaintances. Particularly in a Japanese man who they were trying to involve him with, who they said could help advise him with his thesis on Art History. The man’s credentials were questionable, and there was something fanatical about his views on Japanese Nationalism that bordered on political subversion. Richard told Liz and Dave that he wasn’t interested in associating with anyone on that plane of thought; and he began to have problems with them. Particularly with Elizabeth Fellers; who speculated that maybe Japan was not the right place for him, to do his thesis. However, the following week, Richard unexpectedly ran into another Japanese gentleman during a visit to a temple he liked. From their discussion, which began with their talking about the structure of a gigantic temple built on water, Richard learned that the man was a retired Art History Professor; and he spoke English. Richard was invited to his home that evening, and after a long conversation concerning Art History, Richard not only had someone to advise him on Japanese Art, but also someone who could be his External Examiner when he was finished. After Richard related back to Liz and Dave Fellers that he had found his own Field Advisor and External Examiner, they both became very uneasy. Especially after meeting the man. His credentials were impeccable. (Elizabeth Fellers in particular, who had already decided without even having met the man yet, that the whole idea would not work out, and that Richard’s plans would be best served at another center, was now incensed.) So, not wanting to look like fools, they reluctantly gave Richard the O.K.; and he began to work on his thesis. Not long after, David Fellers grudgingly found Richard an opening in a student house; just before Elizabeth Fellers went on a mysterious solo trip to South Korea. There was another aquaintance of David Fellers. A 'friend' who occasionally visited the school. He was an American expatriate named Warren Polack. Warren was a very outgoing extrovert. But there was something about him that left you feeling uneasy. Underneath all of that friendliness, you ended up feeling that there was something shady about Warren Polack.
The day before Richard moved into the room in the student house, the Japanese family he had stayed with, threw a small party for him; and wished him good luck. His transition into the student house was very easy, and his Landlady not only took a liking to him, but became a little protective of him too; as he was very kind to her, caused her no problems, and always paid his rent on time.
During this juncture, Richard became involved with two Japanese women. The first was a waitress in one of the coffeehouses he liked to hang out in (they had plenty of them in Japan too) and the second was a Classical guitarist and flutist he met during a visit to a Japanese temple, more than a month later. Both of these women remained very important in his life.
The waitress was named Aiko Reynolds, and she was much older than Richard. He was not aware when he first met her, that she had a drug problem. Her husband, (who was a European musician and also a drug addict) had seemingly abandoned her; and she was very troubled, confused and angry. She would occasionally show remnants of acts of real kindness towards Richard, mixed with the deep hurt, loneliness and love he could see in her sometimes. Like the night she took him out to dinner at a Japanese diner near her home, in the wee hours of the morning, because she knew he had not eaten anything; and was feeling homesick. They shared a Japanese meal; eating from the same plate of food, with chopsticks. She told him to ignore a couple of ignorant, uneducated Japanese customers, who were making loud, rude and filthy comments about them. On the way back to her home, he thanked her with deep gratitude for taking him out; while she smiled and laughed softly. He never forgot how the full moon shined down on them that night. Richard made an all out effort to be the Good Samaritan, after having gotten involved with her; pleading with Aiko to stop smoking Hashish and sniffing Heroin. But aside from indulging her desperate, intense lovemaking (which she did not hesitate to refer to as “fucking”) when she took him home with her, he slowly began to realize he was wasting his time. She spent most of her time locked away in her room using drugs, and sadly, Aiko had ‘given up’ a long time before she met Richard. She drifted in the twilight world of dimly lit coffeehouses, from musician to musician. And her response to his pleadings against her drug use and ruination of her mind and health was, at the start of their relationship, contemptuous laughter. Later on, as her Heroin use increased, after she realized how innocently naïve and deep his love for her was, the laughter turned into vicious verbal attacks, which got increasingly ugly, (while her lovemaking turned from a comforting tenderness to erratically abusive), and finally; subtly trying to persuade Richard to take drugs with her. It was then he realized it was hopeless, and that his relationship with Aiko wasn’t based in reality.
It was Sumiko who balanced everything out. Sumiko Akira was a Classical music student who lived on campus at Kyoto University, that he met one sunny day during one of his many treks to the temples of Kyoto. Sumiko was a very skilled flutist and guitarist. She and Richard met near a fishpond and began talking to each other about how cute and friendly the fish were. As the conversation progressed between them, they found that along with their ages, they also had a love of Art and Music in common too. Sumiko was not beautiful in the witty, sexy, physical, ethereal way Aiko had been, she was beautiful in a very plain, earthly, warm, intelligent, friendly way. She restored his faith in humankind. Whereas Aiko had captured his heart (he would never forget her), Sumiko captured his mind and intellect, in a very wonderful, free, new way. They would spend occasional evenings together discussing Art and Music in a place they discovered called ‘Art Gallery Kimiko’, that was an interesting combination Art Gallery and Espresso Bar. The patrons were other students like themselves and a few Pop Art Culture types. Richard loved the atmosphere. Sumiko took him to his first Noh Theatre experience, and explained to him what was going on during the performance, and he was enchanted with it and her. Richard began to realize that the possibilities in their friendship were infinite. Sumiko left it wide open for him to see that and express himself to her. He made her laugh. And once, in an attempt to be funny, he ended up crying, because he remembered that that was what he used to do with Aiko, when he had tried to bring her some comfort and relief from all the bitterness that was consuming her. Sumiko held him warmly and didn’t let go until he stopped crying. Not long after that, they attempted to make love in Sumiko’s dormitory room. But a strange thing happened when they had taken their clothes off and looked at each other. Richard and Sumiko actually felt embarrassed and foolish. They knew and understood each other as friends, good friends; whose common interest was Music and Art. What were they doing sitting on this Futon, naked? This was ridiculous! They embarrassingly came to the same realization at the same time, shook hands, and put their clothes back on. Sumiko instead put on an album from her record collection, which was Elton John’s soundtrack to the film, ‘Friends’; and they held hands and listened to it together in a warm glow. ‘Friends’, were what they stayed and remained, until Sumiko went to finish up her school studies at a University in Europe. Richard went with her to the train station in downtown Kyoto that day, where she was to catch the Shinkansen to Tokyo; and was sorry to see her go. He wished her well, as they hugged and kissed good-bye. Ever since he had been in college, this was the most difficult thing. Saying good-bye to people. Sometimes people who you would probably never see again. This made Richard wonder sometimes if having an International education was a curse in some respects. The experience with Sumiko however, had rejuvenated him where women were concerned. He realized that the world did not end with Aiko. There were other women and other experiences, waiting to happen. Now he felt strong, in a strange quiet sort of way. “I will always be thankful to Sumiko”, he thought to himself, as the train pulled out of the station.
Like most things in Japan’s rapidly changing culture, ‘Art Gallery Kimiko’ didn’t last long. Soon after Sumiko left, the Art Gallery/Espresso Bar, became a semi-seedy ‘Pachinko Gambling Parlour’; and attracted just that type of clientele. Richard never went back.
Even though Richard Kermode was not fluent in Japanese language (Aiko and Sumiko were exceptions, as they both spoke fairly good English), he was able to relate very easily to the Japanese, most of the time. He learned rather quickly what ‘not to do’ if you were a foreigner in Japan; by observance of what happened to a Hawaiian student who was also part Japanese, who had visited Scholar’s Japan Center one afternoon during Orientation.
Brad was a half-white Japanese student from Honolulu, who was spending a few days in Kyoto before returning to Hawaii. He spent most of his afternoon visit, in the school library, blusteringly voicing his personal theory (to a few students from the center, among them Richard, and to a few visiting Japanese students who sat quietly listening) that “blacks were causing all the trouble in Hawaii, since they were all criminally inclined anyway”; meanwhile ingratiating himself in particular to the Japanese that were present, and talking about his deep love for Country Music and mom and apple pie all American values.
Richard observed Brad the following day, during an afternoon walk in downtown Kyoto. Having been ejected from the seedy hotel he had been staying in, Brad was involved in a heated argument with the Japanese proprietor, for overcharging him. The proprietor reminding him that he was ‘not’ Japanese, just before phoning the Police. As the Hawaiian was forcibly hauled away in handcuffs, kicking and screaming, the proprietor of the hotel continued to remind him that he was in Japan, and nothing but another ‘foreigner’. The crowd of Japanese people, who had collected nearby to watch, began laughing amongst themselves.
What Brad did not understand, was that the Japanese, in their society, and in their country, ‘categorized’ everybody who was not Japanese. So any foreigner who thought that they were ‘Honorary Japanese’, were sadly mistaken; for they would inevitably find themselves categorized ‘racially’ in Japan.
So Richard maintained a balance in his relations with the Japanese, by that instructive lesson. He appealed to their sense of intelligence, compassion, humor and occasionally, of the absurd. Furthermore, surprisingly, he found that many Japanese wanted to communicate with him in the little English that they understood; when he tried communicating with them in Japanese. He found, that where he was concerned, if he made an effort to understand the ‘basic mentality’ of the people of a different culture, without trying to be ‘one of them’, he got along with them very well. Including the occasional idiots who would pop up from time to time. And it had nothing to do with having a brilliant mind (although some people wouldn’t look at it that way). It had to do with an explanatory quote that Statesman Adlai Stevenson had made once, a long time ago, of what the word ‘experience’ meant to him; that Richard loved and lived by. “EXPERIENCE: A knowledge not gained by words, but by touch, sight, sound, victories, failures, sleeplessness, devotion, love – the human experiences and emotions of this earth and of oneself and other people; and perhaps too, a little faith, and a little reverence for things you cannot see.” Those words, had come to mean so much to Richard, as time passed on.
He had become somewhat of a celebrity, when he made a deal with a Japanese man, who owned a fruit stand in the downtown Kyoto market district; during a point when he was low on money. Richard persuaded the man (who he regularly bought fruit from) to try out an idea he had. So every day, for one week’s time, in exchange for free fruit, Richard stood outside, in front of the small grocery; shaking Maracas and yelling “Irashi” (Welcome)! The grocer sold more fruit in that one week than he sold in a month; and his competitors tried to hire Richard too, after they noticed that they were losing customers to the little fruit stand down the street. By then, Richard had received some money, cabled from home, to his account in his bank. So he left a very happy small fruit stand owner, with a new idea, and some nervous competitors.
Richard Kermode laughed about the memory of his weeklong job as a Fruit Stand Advertising Executive, as he sat in the school library, reading the newspaper. He had long since finished his thesis on Art History. And his External Examiner had submitted his External Examination paper, and left for vacation. The only thing that had been holding everything up was Bob Woverback.
Bob Woverback had made no effort to meet with Richard Kermode’s External Examiner after becoming Director of the Japan Center and Richard’s advisor; even though Richard was rewriting the final draft of his thesis by then. Bob was trying to prevent Richard from getting his degree. Some of it had to do with jealousy on his part. Bob knew that he was inadequate for his job from the start. And his becoming Richard’s advisor after David Feller’s departure, had only confirmed this. What became immediately apparent, was that he and Richard did not speak the same language. Richard was quite literate and very observant. Bob was barely adequate, and functioned in life by outwitting people; usually, in an underhanded way. From the very beginning, when he had visited the school as an applicant for the job as Director, Richard had told Bob to his face, that he thought he was an opportunist. Bob deeply resented that fact that Richard saw right through him. And Richard had nothing to gain by ‘playing ball’ with him; other than fulfilling his requirements for graduation, which he had already done. In essence, he owed Bob nothing. In his bad judgment, Bob (with some procured help from members of the school network) had forced Richard’s hand.
Richard Kermode had gone up to the American Consulate in Kobe, to complain about the fact that his Japanese Landlady, mysteriously wanted him to move out of the student house he lived in. This was mysterious, because from the day he had first moved into his room, Richard had always been on very good terms with his Landlady. Now, all of a sudden, at the same time that his Senior requirements for graduation were being tampered with, his Landlady wanted him to move out; the reason being, bizarrely, that he had stopped going to school. It all smacked of very subtle sabotage. The problem Bob Woverback had, was that when a Japanese Official from the American Consulate in Kobe, called down to the school in Kyoto, on the office telephone, to find out what was going on with Richard’s Landlady; (the Official told Keiko the secretary, that a gentleman named Richard Kermode was sitting in his office) Bob didn’t know ‘what else’ had been discussed, up at the consulate.
Richard sat and smiled as the other students began to come into the school library for the ‘commeeting’. Lori Barkley, a female student who was a part of the school network, came in with her Japanese boyfriend, Tushiro Nakana. Tushiro was not a student, but another freeloader; who rode in one day on his motorcycle and never left. He slept at the school, slept with Lori, at another student house across town, or slept at the house that Jack Riley shared with Fred Napley and Noshi Kazu. Tushiro had been heavily involved in violent subversive activity with the lunatic fringe of the Red Army in Japan, for many years. He was still heavily involved in it; and had a loud braggadocio about himself, particularly when he got drunk, which was quite often. Richard wondered what Lori’s parents would think, if they knew what she was doing. (He had actually met them once, briefly, when they had visited the school for an afternoon, while touring Japan; back during Orientation, when Liz and Dave Fellers were CO-directors. And her mother and father were very warm and cordial.) Richard put down his newspaper and looked over at them. Lori glared at him with a scowl on her face, and Tushiro began to crack his knuckles. Richard smiled at them both and winked at Tushiro. Tushiro pulled his hands apart, and nervously put his arm around Lori’s shoulders. They lowered their heads and went over to a corner of the library and sat down. Next, a student named William Randolph came in the room. He was the main courier for the school network; and had been, since Elizabeth Fellers had left. He had gone to South Korea with Richard, when Richard had to get his student visa, and passed on some communiqués for Elizabeth Fellers; when Richard refused to do it for her. William Randolph, who was highly intelligent, came from a very well to do family; and his parents had been Missionaries in Japan. William spoke Japanese fairly well, but was developing a clearly visible mental problem. His parents had gone back to America around the time he had joined the college (in Japan); and then his father had started his own business. William’s father had been trying to get him to come work for his business in Portland, Oregon. He was not aware of the fact that William hated him for all the years he spent in Japan doing Missionary work, while William had longed for a life outside of that; and felt himself vegetating from his highly strict religious upbringing. Nor was his father aware of the subversive activity he had become involved in with Elizabeth and David Fellers. Thinking William would come around to his point of view eventually, his father continued paying tuition and also contributing money to the college. After all, his son was in a reputable International school. And Ike Lowery, the Treasurer for the college, assured him that with the big contributions he made to the school; William could stay, indefinitely. And there was the added assurance of a wonderful formal letter from Marlin Butterworth, the Senior Director at World Headquarters and ‘Grand Old Man’ of Scholar’s International Institution of Learning; where he ceremoniously expressed his thanks to William’s father for his contributions. And let him know, that if he ever visited World Headquarters, the ‘Grand Old Man’ would be available for them to be photographed together.
Liz and Dave Fellers were now working as CO-directors of the American Center at World Headquarters in America, and Bob Woverback was Director of the Japan Center. William Randolph had had a long meeting with Bob Woverback, Jack Riley and Fred Napley, about what to do concerning Richard, weeks ago. They did not realize that by trying to sabotage Richard’s graduation, after his External Examiner had submitted his examination paper and gone on vacation; that they were in essence, slitting their own throats. Now William understood, in his ongoing slow madness, that Richard was not going to let them walk all over him.
William stood at the library door with a sickening look on his face; staring at Richard. William had been spitting up on himself. As spit ran down the side of his mouth into his overgrown beard, a look of madness gleaned through his eyes.
Richard shook his head as he looked at him. (He felt sorry for William, even though he knew William was the one who started the trouble with his Landlady, on Bob Woverback’s orders.) William stomped back out of the library and out of the back door of the center, into the back yard; where he began swearing to himself and throwing a soccer ball against the side wall of the Japan Center. While William was doing this, another student named Spencer Johnson walked past him, shaking his head; and came into the center through the back door. Spencer Johnson was carrying a tennis racket and wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a pair of tennis shorts, sneakers and sunglasses. He had come by the center to put in an appearance, before going to the tennis court he regularly played in. Spencer was in the college to have a good time. He had come over fairly recently, from the European Centre, two months before; and he harbored a strange contempt for the school. He stuck his head into the library door to see who was present, unaware of what was about to take place that day; and said a loud “hello” to everybody. Tushiro answered him, but everybody else ignored him, as they knew he thrived on attention. He stared at everyone for a moment, then rolled his eyes and left; continuing down the hallway to the front office, saying ‘hello’ to everybody he came into contact with. Richard kept a distance from Spencer Johnson, as he knew that Spencer had done no schoolwork since he had been in the college, and owed schoolwork to the American and European centers; all of which was common knowledge due to Spencer’s boasting. But most important of all, was that Spencer was on the verge of being inducted into the school network, without even knowing it. He had already started doing ‘favors’ for Bob (or ‘Uncle Bob’ as Spencer laughingly referred to him) Woverback and Jack Riley. After thirty seconds, during which everybody in the library could hear him saying hello to Bob Woverback, Noshi Kazu and Keiko Ramura in the front office, Spencer Johnson left the center; jogging out of the front courtyard.
A few minutes later, Jack Riley rode into the school front courtyard on his bicycle. He looked over at Richard in disgust, parked his bicycle, and went into the front office where Bob Woverback was. He remained there with Bob for nearly two hours.
During that time, Greta Bumbry, another student, came into the library; along with some of the students from the new class, who had recently come over from America for the next semester. (Richard wondered if any of these new students, or their parents for that matter, knew what they were getting into.) Greta was another student who was working in the network. She, like William Randolph and Fred Napley, came from a rich family. But unlike them, she neither had a mental or a drug problem. Greta was in full control of her faculties and knew exactly what she was doing. She therefore, had to be watched very carefully. And Richard watched her with careful scrutiny. Greta, who had a very pleasant sounding, sugarcoated southern accent, exuded a very phony, friendly type of humanitarianism, that smacked of the deep contempt that was beneath it; and the belief that ‘certain groups of people should stay in their traditional place’, so she could maintain her comfort level. She was capable of anything. He had observed, as she and Tushiro, became very close and very fast friends; from the day he rode in on his motorcycle. And she was not only present, but eager to join a Business Administration student from a Midwestern University, who had come by the school one evening; saying that he was going to South Korea to sabotage American Corporations there. Richard (who was also present that night, and by that time, aware of what Elizabeth and David Fellers were involved in) noticed the same look of slow madness on that student’s face that was now on William Randolph’s face. Richard stared at Greta, but she wouldn’t look directly at him; and pretended to be detached, as she sat down in the library, and began talking to some of the new students. One of the new students in that class, named Jenny, who was from Chicago, was mildly ignorant. There were indications that she was aware, in a peripheral way, of what was going on at the center; but she didn’t want anyone to upset anything. Like all of the new students, Jenny was a transfer student, who had just joined the college since transferring from her old one. Ever since the early morning when Richard had come to the center, she had been indirectly saying to anyone who would listen, that someone had gone up to the American Consulate the day before and was making trouble. Jenny was from the poor train of thought that was based on: “As long as it’s not affecting me, it’s alright. So leave it the way it is.” Richard totally dismissed her as if she wasn’t even there. He knew that today he had to make his move. It was now or never. So he sat and waited.
After approximately two hours, first Jack Riley (with the still obvious look of disgust on his face) then Noshi Kazu (who was silent and stoic), and finally Bob Woverback, came into the library. Bob knelt down in front of Richard, who was still sitting in his chair. Bob had a look of someone who was struck dumb, but with a streak of real, deep-seated fear on his face.
“After the commeeting we’ll finish up your Senior Evaluation, O.K.?”, he said. Richard smiled and nodded O.K.
During the commeeting, Jack Riley kept looking over at Richard with the same look of total disgust on his face. The meeting was pretty routine (mostly concerning the upkeep of the Japan Center and carefully avoiding anything to do with Richard) except for one tense moment when Tushiro purposely motioned aggressively at Richard, as he walked past him toward Jack Riley. As Jack Riley lost control for a few seconds and attempted to encourage Tushiro’s behavior, Richard stayed cool, calm and collected; while staring intently at them both.
At the end of the ‘commeeting’, Greta said, “Do we have anything else to discuss?”
Everyone who knew what was going on looked over at Richard. There was one minute of silence, during which Richard smiled broadly; showing his teeth (much to the total displeasure of all concerned) and the ‘commeeting’ ended.
Some of the students were confused. (The new ones who had just arrived for the new semester.) The network members quickly began to leave, one by one. Jack Riley left with the same look of disgust on his face. Strangely, Richard wondered if any of the parents of the students who were network members, like Fred Napley, really cared about what happened to their children. Or for that matter, aside from cabling them money, were even interested in their welfare. It made him sad to think about it (and grateful that he came from a strong, loving and caring family), but he didn’t dwell on it. He waited in the small tatami room, for Bob Woverback; with the door slid open.
It was getting dark outside, as the meeting had taken up all of the afternoon. The front door to the Japan Center, was across the hall from the small room Richard was sitting in; with the front office to the immediate right. Keiko Ramura, the office secretary, stopped in the room to say goodnight to Richard. She smiled at him.
Keiko had taken the call from the American Consulate, as Bob Woverback had been sitting across from her in the office. She knew what was going on at the center, but was not involved. The faculty did not know it yet, but she was planning her departure from the school. Keiko had also become aware from her conversation with the Japanese Official, whose office Richard had been sitting in up at the Consulate, that the Japan Center of Scholar’s International Institution of Learning, had been under constant surveillance; ever since Elizabeth and David Fellers had become CO-directors of the center. She had been advised to get another secretarial job, someplace else. The conversation had been conducted in double advanced form Japanese, so that neither Richard Kermode or Bob Woverback could understand what was being said. As soon as the conversation was finished, Bob had wanted to know immediately, what she and the official had talked about. Keiko kept it simple, and said that Richard had gone up to the Consulate to complain about some mysterious trouble with his Landlady; and that she told the official at the Consulate, that she would look into it. (Keiko had mentioned to Richard when he had come to school that morning, before the ‘commeeting’, that she would speak to his Landlady.) Bob still had pressed for more of an answer, as he knew the minute she had stopped using the simple basic Japanese that he understood, and started using the double advanced form, that some very important information was being discussed. But she had just given him the same exact answer again.
Richard smiled back warmly and said goodnight in basic Japanese. Keiko smiled at him sadly, in admiration of what he had done; wishing she could say more, and left the school, walking slowly out into the night.
Richard’s sadness deepened. He thought about Aiko for a minute, and how her husband had seemingly abandoned her like trash.
“That bastard”, he said to himself in a flash of anger. Then Sumiko crossed his mind, and he thought about what a beautiful friend she had been. The sadness began to go away, but the anger did not.
After five minutes, Bob Woverback and Greta Bumbry came out of the front office. Bob was begging and pleading for Greta to stay, but she looked over at Richard and said she was in a hurry. Richard noticed on her face for the first time, a look of real fear. Greta, (who was also responsible for editing the ‘News From The Japan Center’, that was fed into Scholar’s International Institution of Learning’s ‘Quarterly Newsletter’, since Elizabeth Fellers had recruited her for the job) exited out of the front door as fast as she could.
Greta had been very good at stirring up trouble, behind the scenes, while maintaining a very pleasant demeanor; and at using the newsletter to take pot shots at people she didn’t like (without using names of course) and Richard had been a prime target, since he wasn’t a network member.
That left Bob Woverback alone in the Japan Center with Richard Kermode. Richard turned around, facing the table in front of him in the tatami room; not looking at Bob Woverback. Bob understood. It was time. Richard was waiting for him to come into the room, close the door, and sit down at the table; facing him. Now it was time to swallow hard and get down to business. He knew that if he wasn’t careful with this student, there was a strong possibility that unfolding events would lead to him being questioned by the Japanese Government about his background. (For example: “How did he become the Director of an International College Center with no College Degree in Education?” and “Under what circumstances was he able to acquire a job as a ‘Social Psychologist’ and ‘Councilor’ in the American Military?”) And Bob knew where ‘that’ would lead. He felt a sharp pain in his gut.
Bob stood in the doorway of the tatami room, and told Richard he would be in, after he locked up the front office. Richard did not answer or move, and Bob hurried into the office. While Bob stood in the office shaking uncontrollably, Richard thought about what had taken place the day before:
On the previous day, Richard had gone to the ‘American Center’ in Kyoto, which was like an informational library; with books and videotapes about the United States. Japanese operated the American Center, and Richard had used it before; when he was researching material for his thesis. He went there that day to ask for directions to the American Consulate in Kobe. The two Japanese librarians were very helpful in directing him there. Plus they also wrote the directions for him in Japanese; telling him that if he got lost on his way there, to just show them to any Japanese person, and they would direct him. He thanked the librarians and went on his way. It took quite some time, following a train ride to Kobe, but after asking directions and showing the note to six people, who patiently directed him; he finally found the American Consulate. After going inside, he was sent to a Japanese Official’s office, as the American Official who was usually there, was not available. The Japanese Official’s name was Mr. Takami. Richard greeted him by bowing first and then shaking hands, which was customary. After Mr. Takami closed the door, they sat down at his desk. He asked Richard what school he was from, and Richard told him; “Scholar’s International Institution of Learning”. This was when Mr. Takami asked Richard if Scholar’s Japan Center was originally based in southwestern Japan, and then asked him if he smoked; offering him a cigarette from a pack. Richard immediately became aware that the American Consulate was very informed about Scholar’s Japan Center. He had found out from Steven Dobbs (a fellow student who had been in his Freshman class and was currently in Japan) that the Scholar’s Japan Center originally had been in southwestern Japan. Then too, headed by Missionaries just turned CO-directors, Elizabeth and David Fellers. The center had been evicted by the Landlord, for allowing school property to be used for raising marijuana. Richard (who did not smoke) declined the offer of a cigarette, and showed Mr. Takami his passport; so that he knew by looking at his arrival date in Japan, that Richard had not been in the country at that time. Mr. Takami nodded his head and asked what the problem was. Richard then proceeded to tell his story, with such heartfelt raw emotion, that it should have gotten him an Oscar. He tearfully related to Mr. Takami (between sobs) how he mysteriously was having trouble with his Landlady, and he didn’t understand why. About how nice the people of Japan had treated him (which was mostly true) and how he just wanted to stay until his final visa extension ran out (which would be in a few months time, but he was planning to leave as soon as he had his graduation on the American campus confirmed; which was his ‘real reason’ for being there in the first place). Mr. Takami said he understood Richard’s problem, and gently told him to calm himself. He asked how he could help, and Richard asked if he would speak to the Director of Scholar’s Japan Center, and ask him if he could alleviate the problem. This indirect approach was a very formal Japanese way of doing things, and Mr. Takami asked for the phone number of the center; which Richard gave him. As Richard sat and listened with his head bowed, wiping tears away with his hand, and with his handkerchief blowing his nose, Mr. Takami dialed the phone number. At the phone connection, Richard put away his handkerchief and wiped his face with his fingers. His head was lowered, but his ears were wide open.
“Hello, is this Scholar’s International Institution of Learning? Yes, thank you. I am calling from my office here at the American Consulate, and I have a gentleman sitting here named Richard Kermode.”
From that point on, the conversation was conducted in basic Japanese; some of which Richard was able to understand. He picked up that Keiko had answered the phone, and that Bob Woverback was in the office, but was busy, and couldn’t come to the phone. Then his complaint was discussed. From that point on, the conversation was carried on in a very advanced form of Japanese that Richard had never heard before. At its end, Mr. Takami politely thanked Keiko and hung up. He then told Richard that Keiko Ramura would look into the problem. Richard thanked Mr. Takami and asked him, ‘if there were any more problems, could he contact him again’. Mr. Takami said, “Surely”, and asked Richard to also give him the address of the student house he was living in. Richard wrote it down with his name, on a sheet of Mr. Takami’s office stationary, and gave it to him. The Official gave Richard back his passport and a sheet of paper with his name and office phone number written on it. Richard got up and thanked him, bowed his head deeply, and shook hands. He noticed a very sly smile on Mr. Takami’s face, and was a little puzzled. As he left his office, Richard waved good-bye and the Official nodded his head.
Richard shook his head back into the present. He smiled in a halfhearted way. Everything was set now. He had come so far and so long, after so many years. This was the end of his Senior year of college. He wondered what the future would hold for him and for people like Bob Woverback, Elizabeth and David Fellers, and the students they had recruited into the subversive network. How could these people think for a moment, that they were putting something over on somebody; when they all stuck out like a sore thumb. This wasn’t a place like Europe, where they could possibly blend in without being noticed. “Were these people all political fanatics or just incredibly stupid?”
In five minutes, Bob Woverback came into the room, closed the door, and sat down at the table; facing Richard. He nervously took out Richard’s Senior Evaluation, which he had previously written. His first attempts at stalling for a few weeks, and waiting for Richard’s next to last visa extension to run out, and expecting him to leave Japan, did not work; as Richard told him that he was using his last visa extension, which gave him an extra six months stay in Japan. This meant that Bob Woverback’s plan, to have Richard leave Japan without his requirements for graduation having been completed (namely Bob mailing in his ‘required’ student evaluation of Richard, along with the vacationing External Examiner’s evaluation, which had already been submitted, to America) and isolating him into ‘negotiating’ his graduation from America, while Bob advised World Headquarters ‘against’ Richard’s graduation, would not work. The next tactic Bob had tried, after a few more weeks of stalling, was (with network help) writing up a distorted and dishonest student evaluation of Richard; (a copy of which, was now lying on the table in front of him) and leaving it in the school mailbox for him. With this, Bob hoped to provoke a negative reaction. What Richard’s response had been, was to write a detailed evaluation of his student evaluation; showing how incompetent it was, and letting Bob know what an ignorant move he had made. This was when Bob Woverback figured he had Richard where he wanted him. He immediately had a meeting with Jack Riley and Fred Napley (who had helped him fabricate some of the information in Richard’s student evaluation) and William Randolph. They decided to lead Richard’s Landlady into believing that he was not coming to or doing anything at school. This would lead to her telling him to move out. As Richard would need the endorsement and help of the school to acquire other lodgings, he would be ‘forced’ to go back to America. What they had ‘not’ bargained for, was Richard going up to the American Consulate.
Now a very nervous Bob Woverback looked across the table at Richard Kermode: “Do…do you know what you did…you went up to the American Consulate”, Bob said shaking with fright.
Richard looked at him like he was a bothersome insect he was about to step on.
Bob continued, “Listen…your evaluation that I’ve written, it…it can be changed.”
Richard said slowly, “Where did you get this information about my, in your words, ‘extremely negative’ relationships with that Japanese family I lived with, when I first came to Japan? My living with that family took place before you even came here to apply for the job you now hold. Did you speak to them personally?”
Bob Woverback’s face filled with fear, as he swallowed so hard he almost choked. He knew that he had been trying to fabricate a pattern in Richard’s student evaluation, that made it appear as if he wasn’t getting along with anyone, and hadn’t learned anything; so therefore didn’t deserve to graduate. Bob had expected that his fabricated student evaluation, coupled with Richard’s Landlady forcing him to move out of the student house for not going to school, would have concluded with Richard in essence, being chased out of the country. As a follow up, Greta Bumbry had planned to ‘reveal’ to World Headquarters, that the ‘unnamed student’, whose presence at the Japan Center she continually questioned, in her newsletter editorial comments, was Richard Kermode. But no one thought in a million years, that Richard would have gone up to the American Consulate in Kobe to make his complaint!
Now Bob shook with uncontrollable terror, as he also remembered that shortly before Richard’s External Examiner had submitted his examination paper and gone on vacation, Richard had happened into the school library one Saturday, to bring back a book he had been reading named, ‘The Japanese and The Jews’ by Isaiah Ben-Dasan. This was while Bob had been having a meeting with Jack Riley, Fred Napley, William Randolph, Greta Bumbry, Lori Barkley, Tushiro Nakana and Noshi Kazu. Bob had been showing them some black and white photographic prints of a confrontation that he and Noshi Kazu had been involved in (on a previous supposed ‘educational trip’, financed by the college) with the Japanese authorities; out at a new airport that was under construction in Japan. Richard had glanced at the large photographic prints of Bob and Noshi wearing helmets and sunglasses, with their faces covered by scarves; and holding shields and clubs. Bob felt his mind begin to go blank.
“Well!!!”, Richard barked.
Bob Woverback, in a very frightened agreeable voice said, “What do you want me to write, why don’t you do a draft for me?”
That was when Richard knew. Bob Woverback, Jack Riley, Noshi Kazu, Fred Napley, William Randolph and the rest, were all deeper into this subversive network than he had first suspected.
“I’m not doing your job for you. I’m giving you three days, to have everything ready to be sent to America for my graduation.” , Richard said as he got up to leave.
“Wait, wait…!”, Bob Woverback pleaded loudly.
Richard turned around, one more time; looked at Bob Woverback, and said, “You’ve got three days.”, and left.
He went straight back to his student house and went to sleep. Richard had noticed the Thursday evening when he returned from the American Consulate, that there was a deep silence in the student house. After his meeting with Bob Woverback that Friday evening, he noticed an immediate change in his relationship with his Landlady, starting the next day; on Saturday morning. It was back to where it once had been. There was no more talk of him moving out, and no more talk of him not having gone to school, and not having done his work, at school. Bob, using William Randolph, had been playing on Richard’s Landlady not being informed about the center.
When he went back to the Japan Center on Monday, there was a silence you could cut with a knife. Bob had the evaluation ready. He had made a lot of effort to make his personal opinions as negative as possible, while still verifying the External Examiner’s glowingly positive evaluation. The negativism in Bob’s evaluation, made him look inept. Not only in comparison to what the External Examiner had to say, but because of the bumbling undereducated manner in which it was presented. A lot of Bob’s spelling was incorrect, and he had typed it up very sloppily. However, he had removed all of the fabrications he had created with Jack Riley and Fred Napley’s assistance. And this was eating him up, because without those fabrications, Richard was going to graduate. Bob tried to bait Richard into writing a rebuttal to his evaluation, still hoping he could have an outlet to prevent Richard’s graduation. But Richard said nothing, as he saw Bob Woverback’s face turn red; seething with anger. Richard’s completed requirements for graduation were mailed out to World Headquarters, that evening.
Earlier in the day, Richard saw the aftermath from making his move, of going up to the American Consulate. Jack Riley had mysteriously left town for a couple of days, but Fred Napley had come to school. Fred had a terror-stricken look on his face; coupled with a very nervous laugh. And he wouldn’t look directly at Richard, when Richard stared at him. Tushiro was hanging around the center, but he kept a distance from Richard. Noshi Kazu was also mysteriously absent. Richard remained as friendly as was possible to the new students, but he noticed a distinct confusion among some of them; while a slight smugness began generating from a few others. He hoped that none of them would be stupid enough to allow Bob Woverback or Jack Riley (whenever he showed up) to recruit them. Greta Bumbry came by the center that day also, and Richard noticed that she was even more frightened than she had been the previous Friday evening; when she had run and left Bob Woverback alone with him in the center. Lori Barkley came to the school in the early afternoon. She, unlike Fred and Greta, would look directly at Richard; maintaining the same scowl on her face, that she had the previous Friday, during the commeeting. She spent most of the afternoon with Tushiro, in a back room in the center (where he usually slept), drinking. In the late afternoon, they both got on Tushiro’s motorcycle, half drunk, and drove off. Richard shook his head. Scholar’s Japan Center was a complete embarrassment. No wonder the relations between the college and the surrounding Japanese community had been so poor. Richard figured it wouldn’t be long before the Japanese Government began to question whether there was any educational program taking place at the college at all; and he wanted to make sure that he had gone back to America and graduated by then. Because surely the end result would either be the center having to move again (as they had been forced to from southwestern Japan, previously) or the college losing the Japan Center altogether.
When evening came, and Richard had finished taking care of his business at the school (as Bob Woverback had come to work late), he got ready to leave. As he was leaving, William Randolph (who had been coming in and out of the school by the back door, all day long) went into the library with a gallon of wine. Apparently, he was going to sit up and drink all night, in the school library; and casually invited some of the new students to join him.
Richard left the school, and went to have dinner in the fast food establishment he usually ate in when he ‘dined’ out. He liked eating in this particular place because the food was very good (and cheap), and he always joked with the people who worked there. Even though he only understood a little basic Japanese and they only understood a little basic English, they always had a good time together. Most of the time, they ended up talking about Baseball, which the guys in this particular place, were crazy about. Richard knew he was going to miss this place when he left. After eating his ‘Mushiro’ and ‘Gyoza’ (Eggs and Meat filled Dumplings) and paying his bill, he bade everyone goodnight with a batter’s home base batting stance; and jogged out of the door, grinning, like he was running for home base, to the chuckles and loud applause of the guys who worked there. He waved good-bye to them and went home.
When he got back to the student house, he ran into his Landlady. She had made him a bowl of hot soup; and even though he wasn’t hungry anymore, he thanked her and ate it anyway. She had always been nice to him, and they were back on good terms. After finishing his bowl of ‘Sake Kasu Soup’ (Soup with Sake Rice Wine, which was great to have during cold weather), he washed out the bowl and spoon, knocked on his Landlady’s door, gave them back, and thanked her. They smiled warmly at each other, and said, “Kon Ban Wa” (Goodnight).
As Richard went back to his room, he felt a tinge of sadness. He had told Mr. Takami, up at the American Consulate, the truth. The people in this country had been very nice to him. Richard turned on the electric heater he had bought at the beginning of the Winter. It was early Spring now, but it was still very cold at night. It would take a while for the heater to warm the entire room, so he went downstairs to the sink to wash his face and brush his teeth. As he felt exhausted, he decided to go to the Ofeuro (Public Bath), the next day. (There was no shower or bath in the student house, only a large communal sink for washing dishes etc…) When he went back to his room, it was warm; and he decided to do some reading before going to sleep. He had recently bought a book about the Beatles early days in Hamburg, Germany, as a singing group, from the Kinokuniya Book shop in downtown Kyoto; and he read it until he became drowsy. Then he shut off the electric heater and got ready for bed.
Just before he dozed off, he thought, “Now all there is to do is wait…”
It was Wednesday, and Richard got up early. He had spent Tuesday, mostly reading in his room in the morning, and in the afternoon, going to visit ‘Tomoyuki’s Record Shop’.
Occasionally Richard would stop in there. Tomoyuki spoke a little English, and knew just about every record ever made; since the invention of the Gramophone. (One day, a few weeks earlier, having watched Richard’s curiosity about written Japanese characters, while looking at a Miles Davis record, Tomoyuki had written out the entire Japanese Alphabet for him; on two sheets of paper. And using Richard’s name, showed him how to figure out someone’s name phonetically, and write it in Japanese. Richard had taken the Alphabet home with him, and practiced. Then, to Tomoyuki’s amusement and pleasure, he had come back with a formal note of thanks, written in Japanese, and headed with Tomoyuki’s phonetically written name; in Japanese Kanji characters. He was getting pretty good at it.) Richard would converse with him in his broken basic Japanese, and they would spend an hour or so talking about music; stopping from time to time, so Tomoyuki could wait on a customer.
Richard continued to read his book about the Beatles for most of the morning; finished it, and started reading another book he had bought, about Sammy Davis Jr., called, ‘Yes I Can’. After reading the first few chapters, he went out to the Ofeuro (Public Bath).
When he returned, after having been back for five minutes, there was a loud banging on his door. Richard picked up a long wooden Bamboo stick that had been propped up in his room when he first moved into it, and threw the door open. It was Steven Dobbs, and Steven backed away, startled. Steven Dobbs was a fellow classmate of Richard Kermode’s. They had both joined Scholar’s International Institution of Learning at the same time, four years previously; in the same Freshman class. Out of all the students at the Japan Center at this time, they were the only two, who were not transfer students. It was Steven, who when Richard had first arrived in Japan, had dropped the little bug in his ear, about the center having been originally in southwestern Japan.
Steven was from California. A big Beach Boys fan. ‘Pet Sounds’, being his favorite album. He and Richard were pretty good friends, although Steven had a bad habit of trying to manipulate people. During their Freshman year, Steven had acted as go-between for the hallucinogenic drug users on campus. For a fee, he would put away people’s Blue Micro dot LSD for safekeeping. Steven gave off a very friendly enthusiastic California good-time airiness, but Richard knew enough not to allow him to get too close; because Steven was an expert at using people, and manipulating them, without their being aware of it. (When they were in their Sophomore year of college, Richard had gone to Europe and Steven had come to Japan.)
Richard had expected Steven to show up sooner or later. Two months previously, not long after Liz and Dave Fellers had moved back to America, Richard and Steven had been sitting in a Chinese fast food joint in downtown Kyoto, that was one of Steven’s favorite’s. They had been having a meal and drinking beer, and Steven had gotten drunk. He told Richard that he had been getting the feeling that Bob Woverback was trying to prevent him from graduating, because he was jealous of Steven being rich and privileged. (Also, as far as Richard knew, Steven was not involved in the network.) Steven said that if this persisted, he would go up to the American Consulate in Kobe, and tell them what Bob Woverback and the subversive network operating out of Scholar’s Japan Center, dating back to Liz and Dave Fellers’ CO-directorship, were ‘really’ doing; during their so-called ‘educational trips’ to South Korea and occasionally, to Thailand. (Richard had suspected as much, but he wasn’t entirely sure until he had heard Steven’s drunken remark. He also remembered that Steven, during one of his rare visits to the Japan Center (made even rarer when Steven also became a favorite target of Chief Editor Bumbry’s barbs in the newsletter) had been drinking with Arthur Singleman, the night Richard overheard Arthur Singleman telling Steven about the crime he had been involved in, in the United States; that resulted in his new profession as ‘Artist In Residence’, at Scholar’s Japan Center).
The weekend following Steven’s remark in the fast food diner, Richard, on his way out of the center after returning a book, had glanced at the enlarged photographic prints of Bob Woverback and Noshi Kazu, at the confrontation, out at the new airport being built; (A story which had been reported on, in the news recently) without fully realizing ‘the weight’ of what he had just seen. The next week, Richard’s External Examiner had submitted his examination paper for Richard’s thesis; and left for vacation. The trouble with Bob Woverback started soon after that, with Bob’s realization that there was only so much he or ‘anyone else’ could overtly do; without throwing a spotlight of suspicion on themselves. Now covertly, as in screwing up someone’s graduation, was an entirely different matter. But the subsequent phone call from the Japanese Official at the American Consulate, was a totally unexpected development.
Now Steven was at Richard’s door, angry because he knew what Richard knew. If the Japanese Government, ever got an inkling of what was going on at the center, they would close it down.
As a frightened Bob Woverback had said to Richard that night in the small tatami room at the center, “Do…do you know what you did…you went up to the American Consulate.”
Richard told Steven to relax, as he put down the Bamboo stick. They went into his room and closed the door. Steven was visibly outraged by what Richard had done, and Richard asked him why; as he knew Steven had since made a ‘deal’ with Bob Woverback, and was already set to graduate. Steven never gave him a straight answer as to how he subsequently ended up receiving such a glowingly wonderful student evaluation from Bob Woverback. (Richard figured Steven would make a great politician one day, with maybe extortion as a sideline) Instead, Steven began to fake some California good-time cheerfulness; but stopped, after realizing that Richard knew him too well for that to work. A blatant outrage, was bubbling just under the surface of Steven’s phony cheerfulness; as Richard put his arm condescendingly around his shoulder (which was Steven’s favorite tactic), and told him not to worry about anything. He gave Steven a novel he had previously finished reading, called ‘The Users’, by Hollywood insider Joyce Haber; and told him, “Don’t say I never gave you anything.” Then he returned to Steven, a book he had borrowed from him. ‘Blind Ambition’, by Nixon Watergate crony and conspirator John Dean.
This was when Steven dropped some very interesting information on Richard. Steven Dobbs told him that after listening to Bob Woverback swearing about Richard all morning in the front office of the Japan Center, and interestingly, Bob also swearing about Greta Bumbry having called him an “ignorant incompetent ass” earlier in the day, (Richard and Steven laughed at that one, in spite of themselves) Steven had left the school. But he realized after having walked halfway up the street from the center, that he had dropped his pen. So Steven had gone back to the center, and found it on the floor, outside of the front office door; which was closed. As he bent down to pick up his pen, he heard Bob Woverback talking to Jack Riley on the office phone. Bob was discussing a letter he had just received from the American campus, from Liz and Dave Fellers. They had told him that Ike Lowery, the Treasurer for the college, was becoming a hazard, due to his chronic alcoholism, and that their jobs may not be as secure as they had originally thought; as the Foundation for the college at World Headquarters was ‘tenuous’.
Steven said that he was shocked at what he had heard, but left quickly. Richard said nothing, but filed what he had just been told, in the back of his mind, for future reference. Steven waited for a response from Richard for a few seconds, and after getting none, said he had to go. Just before he left, Steven said to Richard, with a hint of exasperation, “One day I’m going to write a book, and there’ll be a whole chapter on you.”
Steven, who since back when Liz and Dave Fellers were CO-directors, was living so far away from the center that he could only be contacted by phone, was moving to Tokyo at the end of the week; where he had leased a house, and where he was going to go to Graduate School. Richard knew Steven would be all right, as he had learned to speak basic Japanese well, and had continued with his keen interest in the field of Computer Technology; since their Freshman year. After Steven left, Richard laughed to himself in a gentle, quiet way. Steven was an interesting fellow.
By now it was approaching evening. Richard had bought some bread and sandwich spread a few days before. So he made a sandwich and got some cold milk out of the communal refrigerator in the kitchen, to make some hot tea. After dinner, and for the remainder of the evening, he went to a Jazz coffee house he knew; and listened to some music. (For the price of a cup of tea or a drink you could request a record be played on the sound system.) On this particular night, he requested Central Park West by The John Coltrane Quartet, as it made him think of home. He became a little misty eyed as he listened to that wonderfully magical sound that Coltrane had created so long ago that still tugged at your heart. Some of the Japanese patrons looked in his direction, smiled and nodded their heads. He was going to have to kill time until he heard from World Headquarters at the American campus, that they had received his graduation requirements in the mail; which had been posted of course by a reluctant and deeply resentful Bob Woverback.
The next day was uneventful, with Richard spending most of it reading in his room. In the afternoon, a few Japanese and Okinawan students who he taught English to from time to time, came by to converse with him; and brought some sandwiches and tea. They spent the afternoon together speaking English. All of the students knew each other, and they enjoyed his lessons very much, because every one of them got individual attention and encouragement. Richard learned himself, as they went along, being that he had never taught before; and his methods were very unorthodox. Unlike the Japanese methodology of teaching English, which stressed a cookie cutter one size fits all type of thinking, that discouraged individuality, Richard, in his radical western way, was intentionally doing just the opposite. That coupled with the fact that he charged no fee, other than asking his students to bring along a snack for the teacher; made him a popular eccentric foreigner. As school exams were coming up, this would probably be the last lesson he gave them. He hid the fact that he was hurting inside when they left in the early evening; and told them in broken basic Japanese mixed with English, to take care and get home safely.
When the students were gone, Richard got the feeling that he shouldn’t stay in his room, and should instead go by the center to see if he had any mail. He went to the school, and was glad he did. Richard had a couple of letters, that were from his family, from some school chums of his ‘Violet Society’ high school days, and from Sumiko; who was still at school in Europe. He stood, very happily looking at his mail. Strangely, there was no one in the center that evening (aside from Arthur Singleman, who was upstairs) which he thought a little odd; as there were usually drinking parties going on at this time of night, in the school library. Richard began to get an eerie feeling, and left. He went home and read his mail that night; then went to sleep. It was now Thursday evening, and approaching the end of the week.
Tushiro Nakana lay in a hospital bed that night, with a cut to the side of his head. He had been driving his motorcycle, with Lori Barkley on the back; and they were both drunk. The motorcycle had slipped on its side, when he tried to show off for Lori, by doing a ‘wheelie’. Lori had not been hurt, but he had gotten a slight cut to the side of his head. As she drunkenly wept and held onto him, he looked at her with deep contempt. Tushiro, who loathed authority of any kind (which was why he was linked up with the subversive network), wanted to get out of the hospital room as fast as possible; even though they had only kept him for observation. He knew that if any Policeman came in to ask questions about the accident, that would lead to inquiries about his background. And he definitely didn’t want ‘that’ to occur. Besides, he had his eyes on using this dumb American girl, who thought he loved her. And like Bob Woverback, Fred Napley and especially William Randolph, she had been sucked into the realm of mind control training technique; without being aware of it. That was, wanting to become Japanese in thought and identity. Two types of profiles usually fell into this trap. Foreigners who had very low self-esteem, and were running away from something back home, usually themselves. The second type, were the foreigners with a ‘John Wayne Complex’ who figured that they were psychologically equipped to do mental battle with the Japanese, on their turf, indefinitely.
Tushiro knew that Lori Barkley was naïve, but she came from a very wealthy family; and she would do anything for him. He was a smooth operator. He also knew that Greta Bumbry, unlike Lori, was far from being naïve. She was well known by the Japanese men who frequented the park near the school, where Japanese prostitutes plied their trade at night. Nearly all of these men drove very expensive cars. And Greta, knowing that a foreign woman was a special desire for these type of Japanese men, was aware that she could make a small fortune; which she was making, much to the displeasure of the Japanese female and transvestite prostitutes in the park. But this was not the point. Aside from her choosing very carefully, only the wealthiest men to have sex with (after all, she was from a wealthy family herself), she found that the fact that she was hefty was an added bonus for them; and anyway, this was how she got her kicks. Fred Napley, on the other hand, had freakish behavior. And Tushiro knew that Jack Riley was very angry with Fred sleeping around too often; which was one of the reasons Jack was slowly encouraging Fred’s accelerating intake of drugs. Besides, Fred had access to unlimited funds from his family in the United States, just like Lori. And Fred would keep receiving the money, as long as he stayed away from his family. Everything was coming along slowly, but nicely. And Bob Woverback would do ‘anything’, to remain in Japan. Liz and Dave Fellers had already started making arrangements for Tushiro to come to America. And Lori’s family’s money, was a big help to him. Tushiro would need the money, for his ‘indefinite extended stay’ in America. And after all, he would be just another Japanese student, among many, studying abroad.
Noshi Kazu would remain in Japan however. Tushiro knew how strongly Noshi felt about identifying himself as an ‘Asian’, rather than ‘Japanese’. He understood the anger that Noshi felt about Japan having been used as a rear base by the American Military, during the Vietnam War. The American Military, that had killed countless Asians in Vietnam, and was still occupying Japan; albeit only on a few strictly isolated bases, scattered over the island. And then there was the fact that there were Japanese Companies that had ‘profited’, from all that misery; as well as the other ‘any profit is good profit’ Corporations based in South Korea. These were some of the reasons that he himself had joined the network.
As Lori pushed up next to him on the hospital bed and hugged him, weeping drunkenly, while he rubbed her thighs, Tushiro thought to himself, “When you’ve got a desperate American, you’ve got the perfect fool.”
When Richard got up in the morning, he went out and bought some areogrammes; and spent the morning and most of the afternoon, answering his mail. His family was fine, his high school friends were all finishing up at college themselves, and Sumiko was hard at work with her studies in Europe. She had moved into a small apartment off campus in Bern (having written her new address in Switzerland, in her letter to him), and said she was currently decorating it, and doing some flower arranging in the living room; having added a special flower that she said represented Richard. He smiled and was deeply moved by her thoughtfulness.
Just then, Aiko crossed his mind again. Her sexy laugh, her gentle smile, and her sad expressive eyes. He wrote out a note to her on a sheet of paper, and struggled within himself as to whether he should give it to her, as he had not seen her for many months. When he had decided, Richard left for the Post Office, to mail his letters. The lady in the Post Office who he usually went to was not there, so he went to the next window, where a pleasant old lady took his areogrammes.
Just after he left the Post Office, as he was passing by a small residence, Richard heard some gorgeous music. He momentarily peeked in the window of the home, to see a Japanese family quietly listening to a record of one of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, performed with a full choir. The song they were listening to was ‘Come Sunday’; in all of it’s heavenly majestic beauty. And their stereo system made it sound as if The Duke, orchestra and choir, were right there in their home. As Richard watched what must have been the father, a slight mixed gray haired man wearing thick glasses, gently motion to his wife and small children to listen closely to the music, Richard bowed his head and tried to close his eyes, but couldn’t; because the tears fell. He stood and listened to the music for quite a long time, then quietly left when it was finished.
By now, it was purple twilight outside, and he went to a fast food eatery he knew, near the coffee house where Aiko Reynolds worked. Richard had a light dinner, and then went to the coffee house. Aiko Reynolds was there. She was sitting at a table, waiting for the evening crowd, some of who were already there. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she looked pitifully wasted, which was in stark contrast to the ethereal beauty she had held only months before. He knew that any more involvement with Aiko was very foolish, as he gingerly sat down next to her. Richard blindly looked at Aiko with deep love, concern and empathy, and the memory of her the way she had been those many months before; as he gave her the sheet of paper on which he’d written: “I love you Aiko Reynolds, please write to me", with his address in America. At first she wouldn’t take it, but he told her he loved her, with his voice breaking with emotion. He wanted to give her a strong firm hug very badly. Aiko hesitantly took his note and read it. Then all of a sudden, after first getting up and walking away from him (in essence, embarrassing Richard), she walked back as if exerting some sort of power, and began belittling him viciously; and in her drugged, irrational state, saying things that were regretful.
Meanwhile, in the background, stood Teriyuki, a waiter in the coffee house and a small time musician in the house band every Tuesday. He was laughing at Richard and Aiko. Teriyuki had visited the United States on one occasion and spent what he said was a period of time as “the first Japanese Country and Western musician in Texas.” According to him he was well known in Texas and very popular there, but could never explain why he had never been invited back; and resented it if anyone raised that question. (At one time, after his arrival in Japan and meeting Aiko, Richard had tried being friendly towards Teriyuki, until he realized that the waiter, aside from holding a deep contempt for foreigners (and ironically at the same time, being very good friends with David Feller's shady expatriate friend, Warren Polack), was also a heavy drug user. ( This all came together when a startled Warren Polack discovered Richard with Aiko one morning at her home, eating a breakfast together of ham and eggs on her small porch, that Richard had bought and prepared for her after a night of lovemaking, as Warren Polack uneasily passed the drugs to an embarrassed Aiko under Richard’s unbelieving glance). Teriyuki, the waiter, was very jealous of anyone who was able to travel, as he was going nowhere.
Richard lowered his head, and in tears, slowly got up and left. As he blindly walked past the laughing waiter and embarrassed Japanese patrons, and out the door of the coffee house, two Japanese girls who were regular customers at the coffee house and were friendly towards him, were just coming inside, and said hello. But Richard did not hear them. He fell past them and did not answer, as he began to run, as fast as he could. The memory of Aiko stayed with him, deep into the night, as he ran faster and faster, until he could run no more; exhausted and frightened. What would happen to Aiko? Who would help her? Who cared? There was nothing he could do. He cursed her husband, whose picture she kept tucked inside the mirror by her small stove and kitchen sink, and wished that wherever he was, he suffered a miserable meaningless life, and died an excruciatingly painful death. Which in essence, was what Aiko was doing to herself. When Richard was almost back to the student house, he went to a liquor store, and bought a gallon of cold Japanese beer. He drank himself to sleep in his room that night.
Richard Kermode got up very late in the afternoon, with a bad hangover; and it lasted for most of the afternoon and early evening. His Landlady had softly knocked on his door earlier, checking to see how he was, but his head was throbbing so incessantly, that if he moved, it hurt. So, not getting an answer, she had gone out. After awhile, he slowly got up out of his Futon, and after dumping the rest of the beer down the drain in the student house communal sink, and disposing of the gallon bottle, he went out to get something to eat.
He slowly ate a full meal in the regular fast food diner he usually ate in. Even though he tried to talk Baseball as he usually did, with the guys who worked there, they noticed that there was something wrong. His usual challenging-cheerfulness was not there. They handled him with kid gloves that evening, and he appreciated that. Some of the cooks and waiters even went so far as to put on a mock Baseball game for him, as the evening crowd had not come in yet. Richard tried to laugh, but his face was deeply saddened. After finishing his meal and paying his bill, he waved goodnight to everyone, and they told him in broken English mixed with Japanese, to take care of himself and come back again. When Richard got outside, and out of view of the guys in the diner, he started crying. It took him a few minutes (during which two of the cooks and one of the waiters, stuck their heads outside of the door to the diner, and waved to him to see if he was alright; as he waved back in affirmation), but he pulled himself together and went home. That night, he cried himself to sleep, thinking about Aiko (even though he tried thinking about Sumiko, which didn’t work).
During a quiet solitary walk early the following morning, Richard was crossing the street in downtown Kyoto, when he spotted someone he recognized. Richard had always admired this multi-talented man, who had started and waged a worldwide peace campaign with his wife many years before, which captured the imaginations of many people. Richard had seen him walking down the street in New York, five or six years ago, post-peace campaign, and at that time, wearing a green Army Jacket, and with an intense look on his face. But now he was happily married and at peace with himself, as evidenced by the tranquil look on his face, as his eyes momentarily met Richard’s; while he gracefully ran across the street before the streetlight changed, wearing a well tailored Overcoat and slimly tapered brown Bellbottoms. Richard smiled at him in admiration, as he crossed the street to the opposite side; remembering with deep gratitude, how much the man’s music, writings, films and artistry had meant to him, all these years.
The next five days went slowly, and a slight melancholy crept in. Richard Kermode never went back to the coffee house where Aiko Reynolds worked. He spent his mornings either reading in his room, or going to a temple to look at architecture and say a prayer for Aiko, or going to the movies. These days he mostly walked to downtown Kyoto, as over the Summer and early Fall, the city government had decided to discontinue and disassemble the streetcar service that he had loved riding on so much. Now there were just buses to ride, and they were not as enjoyable as the streetcars had been. But this was Progress, and Kyoto was changing rapidly, before his eyes. There was a lot of new construction, and many old buildings (some irreplaceable) were being torn down; as the once peaceful protests by Conservationists began to turn angry and vengeful. Something precious was being lost in this rush of modernization. How could a culture survive without its soul? By coming over when he did, Richard had just caught the tail end of an era of indescribable delicate beauty in Kyoto. He was thankful that he had seen it before it was lost to the ghosts of history, forever. The late afternoons and early evenings were spent either going to a Jazz coffee house to listen to music, or going home, reading and then going to bed.
The following Friday morning, he went by the center, and there was an Express Letter marked ‘Urgent’, for him, from World Headquarters at the American campus, in the school mailbox. Strangely, Bob Woverback had not shown up for work that day, and neither had Jack Riley or Noshi Kazu. One of the new students, who was hanging around the library and looking rather lost, said hello in a very offhandish way; not expecting a response, it seemed. Very puzzled, Richard noticed at the same moment, that something was brewing, as he saw a frightened Fred Napley across the hallway, through the open library door, in the center’s kitchen, with Tushiro. Fred apparently had made Tushiro very angry about something, and was afraid Tushiro was going to beat him up. There was an unpleasant raw odor in the kitchen, which suggested some sexual activity had just taken place. Richard shook his head and walked to the front office. Keiko Ramura, the office secretary, was there that day, but had gone out on an errand, and left her sweater neatly folded over the back of her chair at her desk. As Richard Kermode sat in Bob Woverback’s chair, at his desk in the front office, he started to open his letter from the American campus. Just then, the office phone rang, and Arthur Singleman, the ‘Artist In Residence’, bolted into the office and answered the phone at Keiko Ramura’s desk. As Richard leaned back in Bob Woverback’s chair, resting his elbow on the armrest, with his bottom lip on top of his forefinger, observing the entire scene, Arthur Singleman spoke English first, and then started speaking the broken basic Japanese he always spoke, and which Richard could clearly understand. Arthur Singleman was speaking to Bob Woverback. Bob apparently, was not coming in that day, because he was afraid. Even though Arthur Singleman (with his habit of unavoidably substituting English words for some Japanese words) tried to camouflage the conversation, ‘that’ was what it boiled down to. When the conversation was over, Arthur Singleman, the ‘Artist In Residence’, gave Richard Kermode a dirty look, and scurried out of the front office.
Richard opened the letter and read: “All Requirements Officially Fulfilled.” He was set to graduate in June. The melancholy that had crept in earlier in the week quickly disappeared. A big smile broke out on Richard’s face, as he began to laugh loudly and cuss like a sailor. He cooled down after a few minutes, and left, going back to his room at the student house. There, he made plans to leave for America. Luckily, the bank where he had an account was open on Saturday; so he could close his account the next day. That afternoon, he booked a flight from Tokyo to New York, that would leave a week from the following Monday. This gave him approximately ten days, to get everything in order for his departure. He would tell no one, he was leaving.
Richard stopped by the center in the late afternoon, and Keiko, the secretary, had returned. She was alone, as there was no one else in the center. He thought it rather odd, but she appeared to him, as if she was getting her desk in order for the last time. She was friendly towards him, as she had always been, but there was secretiveness about what Keiko was doing at her desk in the office that afternoon. Richard thought to ask her if she was leaving, but caught himself, and decided not to. They spent about thirty minutes casually talking from time to time, about Greek Art History and Japanese Sumie Painting; while Keiko very efficiently cleared things off her desk, and either filed them or put them away. By then, it was early evening, and Richard got ready to leave. He and Keiko said goodnight to each other in Japanese, and Richard had a sad feeling it was goodbye. Keiko seemed very distant and wistful this evening, and Richard had never seen her that way before. As they shook hands, he noticed a misty look in her eyes. He left, half perplexed and half knowing, but not believing.
Later on that evening, he went to the Chinese diner that he and Steven Dobbs had eaten in, and had dinner. The Chinese gentleman and his wife, who owned the diner, had always been very warm and friendly to Steven Dobbs, and to Richard, when Steven brought him there. Richard knew he was going to miss their wonderful cuisine, and especially them. Afterward, he went to a Jazz coffee house and listened to some music. While there, he met some of the students he had taught English to. They were in the midst of exams, and highly nervous. Richard understood that they all wanted to get into a good school, as this would determine their whole future. He had read in the English version of the Japanese newspaper (The Mainichi News), that the Yen had recently overtaken the Dollar, on the World Currency Market, and broken the ‘psychological barrier’. He knew things would never be the same again after this. The pressure on the young Japanese people to excel, would go up enormously now.
Two of the students, who Richard did not know, got very drunk and verbally abusive, as they began to harangue the United States. After drinking some more, they came very close to passing out. The students Richard did know, apologized; as they helped support the other two, and left. Richard told them goodnight and to take care of themselves. He stayed a while longer, listening to music, and thinking about how cruel the educational system in Japan was. He was glad to be an American. Soon after, he left and went home. When he got back to his room that Friday night, he was dead tired; and went straight to bed.
Saturday morning was strange. When he woke up, Richard felt a peaceful calm come over him. He got up and went into the communal kitchen to wet his washcloth so he could bathe himself. After having a breakfast of tea and crackers, he went to his bank and closed his account. Following a brief return to the student house, to go over his finances (he had already paid up his rent and electricity, straight through till the end of the month, and very carefully budgeted himself), he went by the school to see if there was any more mail for him.
Keiko (who was occasionally there on Saturdays) was nowhere to be seen. Although some of the new students, who were either living in the center now (which was why Tushiro was no longer living there) or with some of the other students, for the time being, were. As there were no openings in the student house where Richard lived, his only contact with them was at the center. He talked politely with the students, but noticed a careful guardedness among them now, the smugness having completely disappeared. And Jenny, the transfer student from Chicago, came out of the kitchen and looked at him with disgust, but said nothing. Richard reasoned that they now knew that something was wrong with the center. A few of them, he knew automatically, would not be there long; as he noticed that paranoia had set in. Asking where Keiko was, he found out that she had left to work someplace else. Stunned, he began to feel the paranoia himself. On top of the school mailbox, Richard saw a copy of the most recent Scholar’s Quarterly Newsletter. And after briefly skimming through Greta Bumbry’s ‘News From The Japan Center’, all in which she spoke of how “perfect” things were, and of the “wonderful heightened expectancy of welcoming a new group of ‘Scholar’s this coming semester”, he read that the entire faculty at the European Centre had quit; due to a conflict with the Treasurer at World Headquarters, Ike Lowery. There was absolute chaos at the European Centre. Richard thought about what Steven Dobbs had told him the week before, and then he remembered what a wonderful experience he had had at the European Centre during his Sophomore year. He shook his head sadly, as he put down the newsletter. There was much confusion around the Japan Center that day, as Richard left. Bob Woverback, had not shown up that day, and no one knew where Jack Riley was either. Noshi Kazu was there in the office however, sitting at Keiko’s desk; staring at Richard silently, as he left. As Richard passed by the library, on his way out, he saw Fred Napley and William Randolph, sitting in the library, drinking D’absinthe. Fred Napley (who was laughing at a joke William was telling him) had on dark, almost pitch black sunglasses, and was a deathly pale white color. William Randolph was telling him a sick Vincent Van Gogh ear joke, while explaining why the two of them were more ‘Japanese’ than everyone else at the center.
Richard went to the Post Office immediately, and made a transpacific phone call home to his family, to let them know he was coming back and set to graduate in June. They were overjoyed, and also verified having heard it from World Headquarters; and let him know that they had not mailed him anymore letters. With that, he sighed in relief. He did not have to go by the center to check his mail again. (When he answered his last batch of mail, he had told all of his high school chums and Sumiko, to contact him in the USA from then on.) Before ending their conversation, his family mentioned the recent Scholar’s Quarterly Newsletter, which they had received a copy of in the mail. After discussing the distressing news from the European Centre, they also mentioned the news from the other centers in the newsletter, which he had not read. The South American Center was in deep financial trouble, and the African Government had recently detained two students from the African Center, for reasons that were not yet clear. And the African Center did not have enough money to bail them out of jail. Finally, the Indian Government was closing down the center in India. Richard swallowed hard, as his family spoke of the relief they felt, that the Japan Center seemed to be the only one being run efficiently; and that he was graduating and finishing up his studies, there. Richard answered that ‘yes, he felt very lucky’, but said to himself, “They don’t know the half of it.” After saying good bye to his family on the phone, and thanking the lady in the Post Office whom he knew, for placing the call, Richard went straight back to the student house. That phone call had verified everything. It was obvious that Scholar’s days as an International Institutional giant, were finished. And he was leaving just in time.
It was now late afternoon. He was a little annoyed that he had run out of food, so there was nothing to eat, which meant he had to go shopping that day; and Saturday was the worst day to go shopping. The stores would be packed. He decided to go shopping on Monday, and instead, went to see a British/Japanese film, in a small revival movie house downtown. During his walk to downtown Kyoto, he had the funny feeling that someone was following him, and had been since he had left the student house. But when he turned around, he saw nothing suspicious. Still, it made him a little uneasy. The movie he went to see was ‘Paper Tiger’, starring David Niven and Toshiro Mifune. That movie, a story of foreign intrigue, was very timely, and left a deep impression on him; especially a song from the movie named, ‘Who Knows The Answers?’ which he could not stop humming to himself. When Richard came out of the movie house, it was late evening, and he went to go eat in the regular fast food diner he usually went to. As Richard made his way there, he noticed that someone was following him. As opposed to earlier, this time he could actually see that he was being followed. To be sure that this was not his imagination, coupled with the fact that he had just seen the movie, he took a long complicated walk across the street, into the next shopping complex. Someone was following him and he couldn’t make out who it was, although their clothing, which was very unusual and almost military in appearance, was immediately recognizable in a crowd. He racked his brain trying to remember if he had seen anyone dressed like that before, and vaguely remembered a similar person in one of the photographic prints he had seen, standing in the background behind Bob Woverback and Noshi Kazu; out at that new airport. Now he was beginning to feel paranoid. He lost the person, after an elaborate scheme of turning up and down side streets, beyond the shopping complex, in the now practically deserted market district. Then he doubled back, out onto the large avenue next to the market district which was named Sanjo Avenue, walked quickly back uptown towards where he lived, and went to have dinner in the fast food diner.
A little shaken, but back in good humor, he talked Baseball with the cooks and waiters for most of the evening. And as usually happened, they, along with some of the evening’s customers, through the medium (and the miracle) of Modern Baseball, began teaching each other more words in Japanese and English. When one of the cooks had to go across the street to get some supplies, Richard (who had finished eating and paying his bill), left with him. That was when Richard saw Jack Riley standing on the corner, talking to the person who had been following him. Richard shuddered. The clothing, which he recognized immediately, was a dead giveaway; and that was definitely Jack Riley. Luckily, they did not see him. Richard stuttered “Kon Ban Wa” (Goodnight) to the Japanese cook (who looked at him shaking nervously, and was puzzled) and quickly walked home. He was getting very uneasy now. “This last week will go slowly”, he thought.
Richard Kermode woke up feeling very anxious on Sunday. He had had a restless night and had not gotten too much sleep. He looked at his watch and it was late morning. After he got up, he went to the kitchen for some water, and washed. There was no food because he had not shopped for any. He felt exhausted, as he made himself a cup of tea and went back to his room. Spending most of the morning reading, he found it difficult to concentrate. Whoever had been following him the night before, and seeing that person talking to Jack Riley afterwards, had really upset him. And the streetlight had caught a glint of something shiny in the person’s possession, twice. Once, from a distance in the shopping complex, and then a second time, with more clarity, while the person was talking to Jack Riley, showing him something. What was it? A knife? A gun? His imagination?
Just then, a knock came on the door. He went for his Bamboo stick and asked who it was. His Landlady answered. Richard breathed a sigh of relief, and put the Bamboo stick down. He opened the door to his Landlady, smiling and holding a bowl of hot soup and crackers on a small tray. He smiled back and thanked her gracefully in Japanese, with a deep bow, as she giggled. He took the small tray with the soup and crackers into his room, and ate every bit. Next, he took out the Japanese Alphabet that Tomoyuki had written out for him in the Record Shop, and figured out his Landlady’s name, and wrote it down, with a smiley face and a note in simple basic Japanese; thanking her for the food. Then he washed the bowl, tray and spoon out in the sink, knocked on her door, gave them back with the note, and thanked her. She was delighted. He went back to his room and tried to read again, but could not. This time, there was something weighing heavily on his heart that was unresolved.
That afternoon, Richard Kermode walked down to a river that was near Aiko Reynolds home. The river was one that they had walked by together many times in the past, after he had first met her. He remembered how she would brush her hips up closely against his as they walked together. He sat by the side of the river for what seemed like hours, watching some Japanese fishermen catch fish. At one point also remembering an evening when he and Aiko had walked by this same river, and how she had captured his imagination that night, by describing a giant passing cloud, very accurately, as having the face of a dragon. And all the while, as he sat there, on the side of the river, he had an odd feeling. A lightheadedness that he had never felt before. Like he was inside of a soft pillowy cloud…
Towards dusk, when he looked across the river to the opposite bank, he saw what he thought was Aiko Reynolds and a foreign man, walking unsteadily side by side. Richard got up and crossed over the bridge to the other side of the river, and began following them halfheartedly, from a distance. After about five minutes, something made him turn around to look behind him in almost exact synchronization with a woman’s voice, calling his name. The woman’s voice was breaking with emotion. Richard knew the voice. It was Aiko. She was riding in his direction on a bicycle and she was crying. Wearing almost pitch black sunglasses and with desperation in her voice, it was obvious she was stoned as she constantly called out his name. Softly, he waved goodbye to her, and said sadly, “Sayonara Darling” in the childlike almost lullaby voice with which he would speak to her before they would go to sleep together, long ago, when they had newly discovered each other. Then, almost reflexively, he turned back around, and kept walking. She rode her bicycle past him, as if following the same man and woman he had been following, whimpering as she stopped calling out Richard’s name, and began losing control of her bicycle. She parked it beside the river up ahead, after almost falling off of it, and squatted down on the side of the riverbank; with her back to him as he eventually walked by. Leaning over with the side of her face covered by her hand, she was sobbing. Her husband had done this before, and it became a ritual that fed on itself over and over again. He playing the Pirana, and she the Preying Mantis. Deep hatred and contempt was the common bond between them. Whoever they were using at the time, to make each other bleed was incidental. Their drug use just made it easier to carry out their sham of a marriage. What she had forgotten, was where she was and what was expected of her. She had already been spoken to about her behavior, and the messy situation where she worked. And that had caused an enforced moment of lucidity in her thinking. (She remembered, early in their relationship, lying to Richard about her occasional 'teaching job' in Osaka; when she had come to pick him up one evening at his Student House, to take him home with her. In reality, she was working in one of the 'Love Hotels' run by the Yakuza Pimps in Osaka. Being an efficiently run Crime Organization (and as Japanese Law Enforcement noted, quite brutal in their retribution; rivaling the Italian Mafia/Cosa Nostra, Pre-Castro Cuban, French Marseilles, and South American Crime Organizations), they had their women routinely checked by physicians on call, for any communicable diseases; to assure satisfaction from their paying Japanese customers. The area hotels (as well as Night Clubs and Cabarets), where Aiko worked, included many where Eurasian half-white, half Japanese women worked. She (like many of the other Pure-Bred Japanese women who worked the Love Hotels) deeply resented these women, because of the stiff competition they offered with Japanese patrons.) Through her convulsive sobbing, she was trying desperately (in a not calculating way), to figure a way out. Her ignorant (as well as arrogant) thinking, had cost her the affection of someone who loved her very deeply and wanted to have a child with her. It all came back to her now. Rapidly remembering the night at the coffee house, saying those ugly words, and after a distraught Richard left, in her heavily drugged condition (and with a gloating Teriyuki’s urging) in front of all those customers, taking the paper he had given her with his address on it, and tearing it to pieces, throwing the pieces in the trash. Her behavior, along with Teriyuki’s, had brought embarrassment and shame to the coffee house where they worked; and for that, in this culture of maintaining appearances irregardless of intent, she and Teriyuki would pay dearly for their transgressions.
Richard began to stagger, feeling very drained, as he walked past her; and still following what he did not realize was Aiko's drug addicted husband and partner. There was nothing he could do about this situation. When he got to the next bridge crossing, (the husband and girlfriend continuing their unsteady walking straight ahead), Richard turned to his left and walked to the middle of the bridge, and looking back in the direction he had just come from, lowered his head, and said a prayer for Aiko to become well. When he was done, he slowly looked up and directly faced the mountains in the far off distance. As his eyes became misty with tears, a deep sadness and grief at not being able to do anything to help Aiko, gripped Richard Kermode, as he turned, and walked away.
When Richard got back to the student house, he felt numb. He decided to go to the Public Bath. While there, he bathed himself very delicately, as he remembered an instance many months before, when he and Aiko playfully bathed together; and he smiled sadly at the memory. After he finished bathing, was dressed, and prepared to leave the Ofeuro, the woman who took the entrance fees at the bath house, looked at him with a worried _expression on her face, and asked if he was alright. Richard answered, “Hai” (Yes), very weakly, and left. He slowly made his way back to the student house. And when he returned, went to bed immediately, exhausted.
The final week began to go by quicker than he thought it would, with Richard packing his belongings, mailing boxes of books he had bought in Japan, home, and planning how he was going to leave. He also paid a visit to the Japanese family he had stayed with, when he first came to Kyoto; and they were overjoyed to see him again. He thanked them for having helped him to open his bank account, and for teaching him some of their customs. His last glimpse of them was as they smiled and waved good-bye at the front door of their home. Afterward, he stopped by Tomoyuki’s Record Shop, but regretfully he saw that it was closed, because Tomoyuki had gone on vacation for two weeks. Richard quietly gave some belongings that he did not need, away to people he had become friendly with (mostly that Monday, to the Japanese and Okinawan students who he had taught English to for sandwiches and tea occasionally, and on Tuesday, to the guys in the fast food diner where he had eaten regularly).
That Tuesday afternoon, he had a strange, by chance encounter, with Bob Woverback, in the park near the student house. Richard was walking back to the student house, when Bob came riding up on his bicycle, and almost fell off of it before he stopped. Bob was obviously barely concealing a seething anger. He wanted to know if Richard was ‘having any problems at his student house’; and that ‘if he was’, maybe some ‘Japanese friends’ of his, could ‘help him out’. (Richard took note of Bob’s almost crazed threatening manner, and that Bob was looking more disheveled than he usually did; like a bum off the Bowery). He politely and calmly told Bob that he did not need any help from him, and everything was fine. Bob Woverback, not being able to think of anything else to say, got on his bicycle, almost fell off of it again, and rode off.
“Just a few more days to go”, Richard said to himself.
Early Wednesday morning, while listening to some Japanese high school students sing along to Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ (which was playing out of the big radio one of them was carrying, as they passed by the student house), Richard was visited by one of his former English students, who he had given a shirt to, two days before. He was shocked to learn that one of the two students who had gotten drunk and verbally abusive in the Jazz coffee house, that previous Friday night, had committed suicide. The pressure had been too much for him. Richard was sickened as the student told him how the one who had committed suicide had gutted himself. With his stoicism now giving way to a nervous confused daze over the death of his good friend, coupled with uncertainty for his own future, the student left. Richard vomited in the student house communal sink, a few minutes later. The Landlady had gone out for the day, so no one saw him; and he quickly cleaned up after himself. That night, he bought a few cans of cold Japanese beer, out of one of the scores of vending machines that lined the streets near the student house, and slowly, drank himself to sleep.
On Thursday, he reconfirmed his flight out of Tokyo International Airport. The employees in the Japan Airlines Office, wanted to know if he had enjoyed his stay in Kyoto, and Richard answered yes, adding wistfully, how much he missed the streetcars; to which they smiled and agreed with him.
He felt a weariness come over him now, that stemmed from his understanding that he had done everything he could do. It was time for him to leave, and he had come to terms with this in his heart, and more importantly now, in his head.
Friday and Saturday breezed by without incident, as he did nothing out of the ordinary, taking long walks downtown and venturing out to eat in the Chinese diner he had eaten in with Steven Dobbs, that Friday, and on Saturday, in his favorite diner with his fellow Baseball enthusiasts; who let him know they enjoyed every moment he spent with them. As he looked at their faces and smiled, he realized he had left an impression of good will that would last a lifetime. His smile was just able to cover the flood of tears that he was holding back. (He made it a point to let them know in his basic Japanese, how much he had enjoyed their company, during his final visit to the diner on Sunday afternoon.) Interestingly, he realized that he had not seen anyone from the Japan Center, since his strange encounter with Bob Woverback on Tuesday. He also realized that no one was following him anymore. He began to wonder if something was going on that was beyond his scope of understanding.
On Sunday night, he went to the Public Bath for the last time, and took a long, steaming, relaxed bath. After bathing and having shaved, he saw some of the new group of transfer students from Scholar’s Japan Center, coming over to the wardrobe lockers; subsequent to paying the entrance fee to the bath house, where upon entrance the men bathed on one side and the women on the other. (Traditionally, at home, men and women bathed together; as Richard had done with Aiko.) The students, a few of whom had exhibited a certain smugness in the beginning anyway, wouldn’t speak to him when he said hello. He noticed that since the last time he had seen them at the center, when the smugness had disappeared to the appearance of guardedness, now they were highly paranoid and uncomfortable. Spencer Johnson, the tennis player, entered the wardrobe locker area soon after, and displayed the same paranoia as the other transfer students. But Spencer wanted to ‘talk’ to Richard. It was then that Richard overheard one of the transfer students muttering something to another one about, “that idiot Bob Woverback starting to have a problem with the Landlord, from whom the school leased the building that housed the Japan Center.” Richard was dressing to leave, and they were just arriving, so he just shook his head and left, saying good-bye to an increasingly talkative and paranoid Spencer Johnson, and wishing him well. They would have to find out the truth for themselves. On his way out, he said goodnight to the woman who took the fees at the entrance, and she smiled, said he looked well, and bade him goodnight.
When Richard got back to the student house, his Landlady met him as if she had been waiting for him. She gave Richard some photographs (including the negatives) that she had taken of him near the student house, months ago, keeping one photograph for herself. (He understood why she kept the one she did. It was beautifully composed and exquisitely touching.) It was strange, but she knew that he was leaving. He didn’t understand how she could know, but she knew he would be gone the next day. He thanked her, startled and numbed. Then they both said good-bye. His Landlady’s voice was breaking, and she was on the verge of tears. She left for her room and Richard left for his. As he had planned to do all week, he was leaving her his electric heater and the electric fan he used in the summertime, and the warranties that went with them. He wrote her name in large Japanese Kanji characters, on top of the box that he had put them in, and closed it up. Richard Kermode stopped himself from crying, and thought about all of the good people he had met in Japan. His Landlady, Mr. Takami, the Japanese family he had stayed with, his External Examiner, Aiko, Sumiko, the guys in the diner, the lady in the Post Office, a woman who had crossed the street one day, taken him by the arm and explained to him that the streetcar had not come to the stop where he had been waiting for the last ten minutes because it was a Japanese holiday, Tomoyuki…. There were easily so many. He began to hum the song from the last movie he had seen, in the revival movie house downtown, ‘Paper Tiger’. The song, ‘Who Knows The Answers?’ For some reason, he felt mystical as he hummed that song; while rechecking that everything was packed. In the morning, his Landlady would find the box with her name on it, containing the heater and fan.
He went to bed at 8:00 p.m. Sunday night and woke up at 2:45 a.m. Monday morning. As he had slept in his clothes, he didn’t have to change. Putting on his coat and picking up his bags, he closed the door to his room in the student house for the last time, attached a sheet of paper to the door handle securely, on which he’d written his Landlady’s name again, in Kanji characters; and walked out into a beautiful star filled night.
It took awhile, but a cab finally appeared out of nowhere. He flagged it down, and rode to the station. (He remembered it as the same train station where he and Sumiko had said their good byes many months before.) Thanking the cab driver as he paid his fare and tipped him, Richard told him, “I love Japan.” The cab driver smiled, winked at him, and told him in perfect English to, “have a safe trip home.” Richard was startled again, but he smiled back and waved good-bye, after he closed the door of the cab. The cab driver waved back, released the brakes in his cab, and drove off. Richard (gushed with feelings now) looked up at the now deep blue colored early morning sky, with misty eyes, tucked in the scarf around his neck, picked up his bags, and walked into the train station. After purchasing his train ticket at the ticket window, he went up the stairs to wait on the platform for the Shinkansen to Tokyo. It came in as the sun came up, and as he loosened his scarf, exactly one hour and forty-five minutes later. As the Shinkansen pulled out of the station, Richard took one last glance at Kyoto, as he was flushed with emotions and memories. During the trainride to Tokyo, he picked up a fresh copy of that morning's Mainichi News Daily, that a commuter had left on a seat next to his. One of the headlines was about a big drug bust in Kyoto, where several people had been arrested. Among them, a few as yet 'unnamed foriegners'. Richard put the paper down and wondered. He turned his face to the window as the early morning scenery went by at lightning speed, and silently began to weep; hoping Aiko was not one of those arrested. But life, he realized, would go on regardless; as he finally leaned back in his seat, and rested his weary eyes.
When he got to Tokyo, he caught the local train that went to Tokyo International Airport. For some reason, when he got there, he ended up at the exit end of the train terminal shuttle to the airport. But the amused and tickled ticket taker let him in anyway. Richard thanked him, picked up his bags, and went to the shuttle.
Arriving at the airport, he found the ticket counter for Japan Air Lines, checked in and sent his bags through, and went straight to the lounge, after going through the electronic surveillance system.
While sitting nervously in the lounge, he was suddenly flooded with thoughts about the photographic prints he had seen of Bob Woverback and Noshi Kazu, out at the new airport that was still under construction. What was going on at the Japan Center? And the person who had been following him that night. The one from the photographic prints, wearing the clothes that had an almost military appearance, standing in the background behind Bob and Noshi. The one he saw again afterwards, talking to Jack Riley. And the glint in the streetlight? What was it? Who were these ‘Japanese friends’ that Bob Woverback was referring to in such a crazed threatening manner? What had they involved themselves in?
Then Aiko crossed his mind, and he felt a deep sadness within him. He was leaving part of himself with her, hoping she would write to him, and foolishly thinking he could marry someone who was already married. Deep down inside of him though, he knew that one night long ago, after he had gotten involved with her, she had spoken the truth about her logic and herself; when she held his face in her hands, after he had been crying and pleading with her to stop smoking Hashish and beginning to sniff Heroin and destroying herself. She had wiped the tears away from his face with her fingers and told him, “A lot of things don’t make sense.” As much as the deep, passionate, unconditional love he felt for her still consumed him, that bleak, desolate place she was heading to, he could not accompany her there, for surely he would perish along with her. He could never live that way.
His attention was taken away from those thoughts, when he noticed a crowd of Japanese girls behind a glass partition, and a Rock group sitting in the lounge. Every time a member of the group got up and walked by the glass partition, the girls would scream and bang on the glass. Richard started chuckling to himself. The flight that the Rock group was taking came first. So they, and one quarter of the people in the lounge, got up and boarded their plane. After one hour, during which time Richard became highly nervous and fidgety, it was boarding time for the flight from Tokyo to New York; and he and the rest of the people in the lounge, walked toward the boarding pass way. The flight was non-stop, and Richard was glad for that. He found himself saying good-bye; sadly, in Japanese; to the personnel at the boarding pass way. They politely wished everyone a safe trip in English and Japanese.
As soon as the plane was in the air above Tokyo, Richard fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, there were still eight hours to go before reaching New York. He got into an interesting conversation about Art History, with a woman who was older than he, sitting in the seat next to his. She was a Japanese woman, who was a teacher in New Jersey. She was very nice to him, seeing that he was anxious, and calmed him considerably. She was trying to invite him to her home, but he didn’t respond, so she just shrugged her shoulders and kept talking about her teaching job. A while later, dinner was served, after which she watched the movie that was being shown on the flight, and Richard, still exhausted, went to sleep.
The plane began circling over New York, shortly after Richard woke up. The Captain announced over the loudspeaker system, that it was 6:00 p.m. local New York time. Before they landed, the Japanese lady started talking to him again, and he slowly began opening up to her; now that he had finally rested; after all the weeks of constant non-stop tension. He even tried some of his broken Japanese, to which she was delighted. Her name was Haruko, and when she smiled at him, he realized how pretty she was, reminding him slightly of Aiko. And she was so warm and kind. As they spoke, a song was playing over the cabin stereo system. Richard recognized the song as the one that he had heard being played constantly, on radio, television, inside ‘Art Gallery Kimiko’ and Tomoyuki’s Record Shop, even in the coffee houses; the entire time he had been in Japan. Always playing in the background, he had never really listened to the words. But now he heard them, with crystal clarity. The song was ‘Year Of The Cat’ by Al Stewart.
After the plane landed, he reached up and got Haruko’s coat for her, out of the overhead bin; and they ended up exchanging addresses and phone numbers, and he was very happy they had done so. She told him he had a beautiful smile, and that she would have to cook him a good Japanese style meal when he came to visit her in New Jersey. He felt his heart jump, and realized that he had something new and wonderful to look forward to. After he put on his coat and disembarked, he was ecstatic to be back on American soil. He and Haruko said their good byes. He, shyly shaking her hand, and she, giving him a hug and laughing softly. After passing through Immigration, he got his bags at the pick up counter and went to Customs. After going through Customs, Richard Kermode went through two big doors that led to the outer Passenger Reception Area. As he changed his Japanese Yen back into American Dollars, at the Currency Exchange Bank, he didn’t notice the headlines on the evening newspaper that a man was reading nearby. They read:
BOMB FOUND AT NEW AIRPORT
UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN JAPAN
"SUBVERSIVE NETWORK SUSPECTED"
One night, Richard and his wife Haruko, were sitting in their living room, looking out of the window, embracing, and watching the full moon and cloud formations together. It was a beautiful New York Summer evening, and Richard was about to be visited by Darryl Tallmadge, a student from Scholar’s International Institution of Learning, whom he had not seen since their Freshman year.
Earlier in the day, Darryl had called on the phone, out of the blue, having gotten his phone number out of the phone book; and invited himself over to Richard’s apartment. From their conversation on the phone, Richard had surmised that Darryl was out of work, and expecting to get a job at Scholar’s, on the faculty; and Richard was very aware of his motives.
Recently, Scholar’s had been reduced to begging for new students through a local newspaper, by way of renting a hall space in the downtown area of New York, in a commercial building. This was subsequent to a wholesale school wide purge that resulted from questions having been raised, about the proof of educational credibility in the college’s Governmental Financial Entitlement Grant base. Scholar’s was using a newly installed Director and faculty from the Japan Center, to do the recruitment drive, along with the help of a new Director from World Headquarters. Alas, this sad, desperate and orchestrated event was to no avail, as the college continued to flounder. And the final nail in the coffin was the recent question raised by an investigative reporter in a local newspaper, concerning the Treasurer for the college, Ike Lowery's alleged association with a certain known mobster; due to gambling debts and school funds. This quite messy situation was beginning to unravel on Scholar's long and winding trail of suspicious activity.
Richard sent Haruko into their bedroom, as Darryl Tallmadge came upstairs in the elevator. Greeting Darryl at the door, and taking him into the living room (where Darryl, grinning with a false smile, immediately began looking around and firing as many personal questions at Richard as he could think of; particularly concerning the past history of the Japan Center), Richard watched him very carefully. He realized after awhile, that Darryl had been sent by Ike Lowery, who apparently had led him to believe that there was a possibility of him acquiring a faculty position at the school, if in return he could pick Richard’s brain for some information about the Japan Center during Bob Woverback’s tenure; following Elizabeth and David Fellers departures and resultant CO-directorships at World Headquarters. This was a tall order that Richard had no interest in, especially when it became clear that the next item Darryl was leading up to was the relationships that went on at the center during that period, and who was involved in what. Getting nowhere with that attempted line of questioning, Darryl’s brief visit was quickly worn out by his almost demanding to know what Richard was doing these days. (After Richard’s graduation, he had had his name removed from the school’s mailing list.) Richard patiently escorted Darryl out of the door with a firm handshake, and wished him good luck. Darryl got no information, and left very frustrated, never to be seen again. Subsequently, during the following weeks, Richard who by this time was studying photography, would go out for an early morning walk and shoot photographs of the many colourful and beautiful murals that talented artists were painting on the sides of buildings, as part of a citywide sponsored project created just for New York City that Summer. On one particular morning, Richard was shooting photographs in the lower downtown area below 34th St., on the East Side of Manhattan, and wearing a green bomber jacket with deep breast pockets to hold the extra rolls of film for his electronic camera, which he held ready on a neck strap around his neck. He passed by an Irish Bar, and a lone figure stumbled out of the door. An older man wearing a rumpled suit and a loosened necktie, carrying an attache case, he looked as if he had been on an all-night bender. Standing a few feet away from Richard, he weaved and bobbed, focused, and recognizing Richard, glared at him with deeply bloodshot eyes. It was Ike Lowery, the school Treasurer. Ike Lowery reeked of alcohol and smelled so bad he made Richard nautious. With that, Richard shook his head in pity and utter disgust, turned, walked away and left the past where it belonged, and continued walking forward into the future; raising his camera, to shoot another colourful mural that a talented artist had painted on the side of a building. He couldn't wait to get home to his lovely wife Haruko later that morning, to share his new photographs.
Within a year Scholar's International Institution of Higher Learning was nothing more than a fading memory, as it had ceased to exist.