Halloween in Japan: an excerpt from “Ghosts of Nagasaki”
There must be something about the late October air, a crispness that draws the cats out of hiding, creates them out of the molecules in the air, causes them to hang off of balconies, crawl out of sewers, fall out of the sky, and land at our feet. They lounge, sit, or wander, some weary, some starving, others screaming their miseries in cries that cut through the night.
On our way to a Halloween party in a small club in Shianbashi, Nagasaki’s red light district, I begin to notice them for the first time. The phenomenon is disturbing enough that I say something to the Welshman. “I never noticed all of these cats here before.”
“They’re everywhere,” he says. “No one bothers to neuter their cats here, I guess. I’m usually against putting animals down. That sort of discipline and control has a way of finding its way to the human population, if you know what I mean. This usually bodes poorly for bottom-of-the-gene-poolers like you and me, but I think you could make a good case for it here.”
Jim from Jersey is listening in on our conversation. “It’s tragic,” he says. “Half of them have split ears, cut up bellies, or are just plain starving to death. Don’t get me wrong. I think Nagasaki is a great place to live, but someone needs to do something about these cats.”
“I wonder how they all make it,” I say.
“Well mate, someday you’ll realize that there’s no hole or corner of the world too filthy for someone or something to crawl into it. That usually applies more to the homo sapien population than the animals,” the Welshman says.
There are five of us: the Welshman, myself, Jim from Jersey, Scotlandman, and the new guy. Walking down Shianbashi, half of us wearing cheap vampire teeth, we look a bit like the international version of The Lost Boys. Love that movie: Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Kiefer Sutherland, vampires, and who could forget the old grandpa in the movie who gets the last line. What was that line? Something like: “If there was one thing I could never stand about this town, it was all the damn vampires.”
Out of all of us, Scotlandman is the only one who has put any effort into his costume. He’s dressed as the Highlander, sword, kilt and all. The rest of us have barely done anything. I have vampire teeth; the Welshman wears an undersized Superman T-shirt that shows off the beer belly in his midsection along with a small cape; Jim from Jersey has on a wig with Jheri curls, as well as the same cheap vampire teeth I wear. The new guy doesn’t really wear anything, but we’ve hooked him up with some vampire teeth in case he decides to change his mind.
I look at Jim from Jersey.
“And who are you supposed to be, Jim?”
“I’m a vampire Rick James, bitch.”
As we close in on our destination, we pass three indolent cats lounging on the side of the street. One has a scratched ear and looks emaciated, another seems to wander around lazily, but the third is fat and just lies there. I point them out to Jim from Jersey who is busy adjusting his hundred-yen-store cape, but he just shrugs it off nonchalantly.
“Just leave them alone. They’re not bothering anyone.”
Mikey Welsh looks closely at the fat one. “This one reminds me of one of my mates from Cardiff―brutal motherfucker. I’m going to call him Roscoe. I bet he pimps out the others who are heroin addicts.” He turns to address Roscoe. “How you doin’ today, Roscoe? Beaten up any lazy whores this evening? Do you ever get to enjoy the product or are you just the pusher, fair and true?”
Roscoe ignores us, his eyelids moving up and down, his violent pimp laziness in full swing.
“Well,” I say. “I have to admit, Roscoe has the look down.”
As we make our way closer to the club, I become transfixed by Jim from Jersey’s wig. Black with lustrous curls, it’s just the kind of gaudy kitsch we need to give our party class.
“Jim, where did you get that wig?” I ask.
“Believe it or not, I found this wig in my apartment.”
“You found a wig in your apartment?”
“Yeah, it was just lying around.”
“You found it, and now you’re wearing it?”
He shrugs off my rhetorical question. “Oh come on. I washed it out and bleached the inside. It’s not like crawling with lice or anything.”
“There’s a ton of crap in the apartment that people have just left lying around,” Scotlandman says. “I guess we shouldn’t complain. After all, I got a free stereo out of it. And, of course, Jim got that classy wig. But there is also a lot of useless crap, like old sneakers, old clothes, expired condoms and what not. We should really think about throwing it out, huh,” he says addressing Jim and the new guy. Jim shrugs, and the new guy doesn’t seem quite sure what to say.
“I wonder how many generations of teachers’ crap are lying around in our apartment,” I say to the Welshman.
“Oh God, mate. You should see some of the stuff I threw out from the refrigerator the other day. I found these pickles in the back of the fridge. When I pulled them out they looked like bright yellow turds. I think one of them had actually formed a mouth and was pleading for its life as I was throwing it out. I actually took pictures of them.” The Welshman pulls out his phone and shows us pictures of the pickles.
We all stop on the sidewalk and move out of the way to let some bystanders walk by. We take turns looking at the Welshman’s picture. None of us can quite make out a mouth, but the bright yellow color itself is pretty disturbing.
As I’m staring at the picture of the yellow, turd-like pickles, the new guy pipes up. “I found some guy’s diary in my apartment when I first got here.” Up until this point, the new guy has been rather quiet. “I found it in one of the drawers as I was unpacking.”
“You read it?” Jim asks.
“Just a little,” he says. “I didn’t know what it was.”
“Aw, probably one of the teachers that was there before you, trying to write his novel or some such wank,” the Welshman ventures. “You get a lot of those over here, wannabe writers and failed something-or-others. I reckon we’re all probably failed novelists or poets, or something of that sort,” the Welshman proclaims. “Who else here fancies himself an artist or a writer?”
Only Jim from Jersey raises his hand in confirmation.
“Just you and me, aye Jimbo? Well, what the hell are the rest of you doing here?” the Welshman says in disbelief. “Go fuck off to business school or get your law degrees already. Jim, what do you write?”
“Ummm, short stories mostly.” He stops for a moment and thinks. “You know what, I bet the diary is Travis’s. A bit of a weird fellow. Stayed to himself, played guitar alone in his room quite a bit, and then ended up just leaving one day.”
“He just left?” I say.
“Yeah, I guess it happens every once in a while to some of the new people. Usually, it’s the twitchy ones. I guess they just freak out, especially if they’re not used to living on their own.”
We all try our best not to look at the new guy.
“So, what did it say then?” the Welshman asks.
“Don’t you think that’s personal?” the new guy says.
“I most certainly do,” the Welshman replies. “But you’re the cunt who brought it up, now aren’t you? So you can’t just leave us hanging. Now, what did it say?”
The new guy mulls it over.
“Oh come on,” I say. “I mean it’s not like we’re ever going to see this guy Travis again.”
The new guy looks like he’s thinking it over. “Well, like I only skimmed a few pages, but it said some stuff about ghosts and an island…”
Ghosts? An island? In my apartment in Tokyo something rings familiar. I stop to stare out the window. Is that really what the new guy said? When I try to think about what the words “island” and “ghosts” signify, however, something strange happens. I put my hand on the window and try to write the two words in kanji on the glass with my finger, and when I do, I’m back at my desk continuing to type these words.
“Yeah, that seems like Travis,” Jim says. “He got here, played guitar in his room alone for like three weeks, and babbled on about following the lost gods of rock to an island. Then one day he’s gone. I swear, every time I saw him come out of his room it was like he was stoned. Even at work, he would like stare out into space. Then he would throw up devil signs and start doing air guitar.”
“Sounds like a cool fucking dude,” the Welshman says. “Hey, I got an idea. We should wait till the end of the pay period, when none of us have any money, and go over to you guys’ place and read this guy’s diary. Like get drunk and really perform the thing. What do you reckon?”
Jim and Scotlandman shake their heads like the Welshman has said something gravely offensive. Personally, I don’t find anything that offensive about the idea. From there, however, the subject drops.
We all look around trying to figure out whether to start walking or to keep standing on the sidewalk loitering without a cause.
“Well, I guess we should get on with it then,” the Welshman says, eventually.
And so we do. As we walk, we’re all pretty quiet until the Welshman looks suspiciously at Scotlandman and me. “Let me guess, a failed soccer player and a ballet dancer.”
I look over his way and, off guard, almost trip on a cat.
“Well, I see why the ballet thing never panned out,” the Welshman quips.
Mikey looks over at the new guy. “And you, graphic designer or someone who wants to make the next role-playing game.”
The new guy raises his head in a way that suggests the Welshman might have hit on something.