Chapter 2: The Los Angeles Grind
The gang culture remained an ever-present fact of life during my early youth. Although I was never a full-blooded gang member, I often claimed affiliation when it was convenient, as no affiliation with a local gang could potentially expose you to the risk of beatings, assaults, and even death, by any number of outside marauders. Our block was home to the Gladiators—a close-knit band of juvenile misfits led by an unlikely gaggle of characters such as Makeetha, Yellowbird, and Gangsta Frank. The “Glads” were aligned with the Brims a.k.a. the Bloods, who controlled the west side of town much like the Crips controlled Compton, Watts and much of South L.A.
Chapter 2: The Los Angeles Grind (cont-)
My time at the Federal Reserve Bank, which lasted over three years, introduced me to my first regular contact with, not only a concentrated number of Caucasians, but whites of the gay community as well. After all, this was the L.A. branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where openly gay men dominated much of the corporate matrix. Our young and vigorous department manager, Chris, looked more like a blond-haired surfer than a banker, was feminine in every observable fashion, but said to be formerly gay, now married with kids. Ken, the shift supervisor, was one laid back dude. A hillbilly from some nameless outback in rural Montana, Ken wanted nothing to do with company politics. As I recall, most of his conversation was about fishing, or tinkering with his truck. I had always maintained the impression that he was recruited from the Maintenance Department, where men in faded coveralls were occasionally called in to fix a leaky pipe or a busted door hinge.
There was also Christopher (not to be confused with Chris, the manager) who was whispered to be a former manager. At 35, blond, and a tad stocky for his six-foot frame, Christopher pigeon-toed his way in and out of the Sorter Room. Whenever he and I would chat, he was quick to remind me of his two Master’s degrees, occasionally pooh-poohing about my closed mindedness towards homosexuality, practitioners of whom were “far more enlightened.” he said.
“Yeah muhfuker, keep talking!” I would say to myself.
Indeed, the night shift at "the Fed" featured a cross section of colorful souls where alliances—both on and off the floor— were quickly established. There were the Cholo’s of East L.A. who were pretty laid back, though stoned half the time. They worked in lockstep with the gays, Jesus freaks, and fresh-off-boat Filipinos. There was also the “yuppie” crowd, some of whom were going through the bank’s management training program. Then there were the blacks: from a hand full of well mannered “uncle toms” (carpooling from places like Reseda or Simi Valley), to a dotted assortment of ex-knuckleheads who rolled in from Compton, Watts, and South Central L.A.
Chapter 3: Europe
Only moments into my Europe journey, a young man approached me and asked if I wanted him to snap a few photos of me standing in front of some of the monuments. “Sure.” I said, and afterward Philip agreed to be my guide for the next couple of days.
Philip guided me around the city on foot and by subway. Together we took in some amazing sights. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the breathtaking view I saw on the subway called Le Metro. For a flickering instant, I caught the eye of an adorable, olive-colored girl with curly black hair who reminded me of a mixed-blood Shirley Temple. It was as if somebody had sucker-punched me right in the stomach. I was literally bent over trying to catch my breath. When Philip and I arrived at our stop, I gestured to him not to move a single inch.
“You see sum-sing?” asked Phillip, pumping his eyebrows up and down.
A couple of stops later, the foxy young woman stepped off the train, and like a desperate idiot, I ran up to her on the platform and nervously introduced myself and found that she spoke not a solitary word of English; and I, of course, knew virtually nothing about French. Philip was kind enough to step in and translate for us, and from the next day on I had one of the cutest young tour guides in all of Paris. Her name was Marie Helene and her family was from the French Island of Martinique.
Chapter 6: Osaka Arriva
Shinsaibashi (pronounced Shin-sai-ba-she) is anything but your typical asphalt jungle. Comprised of a gleaming mix of glass, steel, and man-made fairy dust, the area is an ecosystem unto itself. Its mile-long shopping arcade is filled with the sights and sounds of an adult theme park, combined with a brightly lit overhead canopy making up what’s collectively referred to as a “sho-ten-gai”, the longest in the city. Engulfed in this raucous, glittering strip mall is an endless sea of humanity streaming past one another in endless swaths. The scenery also showcases fashions that define—or perhaps defy—whatever is popular in Japan.
Just outside the shotentai lies a monotonous network of narrow streets and a configuration of pathways almost sure to confound the most seasoned expeditioner. This exotic maze of merriment is home to a staggering array of micro-bars, cafes, restaurants, hostess lounges, karaoke joints, beer halls, and nightclubs —some lavishly laid out — stacked upon each other in three, five, or sometimes ten-story complexes throughout the entire square mile area. Engaging all the pleasure spots in a single block alone could take years. For party animals, recreation junkies, or certified shop-a-holics, Shinsaibashi has all the trappings of a dream world, unmatched by anything you’ll find this side of the Alpha Centauri.
Chapter 7: Club Life
It was my fourth week in Osaka. Once again, I tagged along with G through the twisting and turning rat-maze of Shinsaibashi to a humongous nightclub. A wink and a whisper to the Japanese security guards on the door waved us through. The name of the club was Tri Color.
Behind the ten-foot-tall caste-iron Bohemian double-doors, was an airplane hanger filled with dark-haired young folks, plenty of whom were Japanese starlets mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. As we took our first few steps inside, we blended into the dark, smoke-filled atmosphere. The deafening sound of R&B music blared from concert speakers all around as G quickly disappeared into the crowd. Hoards of people sat at tables, filled the dance floor, and circulated about the warehouse, should-to-shoulder, in pairs, or in small groups.
Many of the women were from the countryside; others were either college students or office ladies, referred to as “OLs.” Well-dressed, slim, and sexy, many of the girls I observed were overly young, perhaps never having been to a club or even had a drink. Some were generously endowed and looked ripe for the taking, reflecting the most desirable breed of mates I could possibly hope to find. Still many were simply breathtaking, yet even the less glamorous were worthy of a gentleman’s glance.
In essence, Club Tri-Color was the most jaw-dropping gathering of “honies” I had ever encountered—both then and since. I had no idea places like this even existed. Since the days of the Tokugawa Shogun, I doubt there has ever been a more rapturous interaction between the sexes beyond palace walls. A mind-blowing scene to us mere mortals, the spoils of this nightly party was not just for kings, princes, or Arabian sheiks—none of whom were actually on hand—but for ordinary guys like me who came to bask in the overwhelming bosom of the female presence. Best of all, this was not a dream. This was a real place where elegant women hunted men, especially foreign men, who were considered prized accessories of the time.
Chapter 8: EHLE Business College --My First Teaching Job in Japan
Working alongside the Japanese sometimes reminded me of a human ant colony, where everyone had their role and performed each task dutifully, without deviation, unlike any group of workers I had ever seen. Just before the morning bell, all of the teachers would remain at our desks and observe the morning ritual known as Chorei. The supervisors and administrative staff, all seated, stood up in front of their chairs and placed their hands behind their backs. There was complete silence. The lead person at the head of the circle began to speak in an authoritative tone as the rest of the group listened on. They started the meeting by bowing in unison, stopping on cue, and repeating “ohaiyo gozaimasu” (good morning) about a dozen times—and then a few more times after that. Then, one after the other, with their heads bowed slightly, and their hands still clasps behind their backs, each employee gave testimony on how his or her individual performance was going to save the day, or sometime like that. Everybody then took turns reciting various passages of the company mission statement, purpose, or history, followed by more successive bowing on command.
On the sidelines, teachers sifted through papers, took a few notes, and dreamed, for all I know, of sunbathing in Brazil—always mindful not to utter a sound.
My initial impression to this sacrament was air-gasping astonishment. Was this a religious ceremony? If so, what was it doing in an office? I struggled with my natural inclination to go over there and choke the shit out of somebody. Gradually, I would come to grips with the fact that I was not in LA’s Chinatown or little Tokyo—not even in Hawaii. I was in a place called Osaka, the heart and soul of the Kansai region of Japan—the birthplace of Japanese capitalism, and, more importantly, my new home.
Chapter 13: A Look at the Private Teaching Industry
The language school industry in Japan, referred to as eikaiwa (pronounced AE-KAI-WA), consists of a few entrenched brands like NOVA (recently defunct) Berlitz, GABA, and ECC. But most eikaiwas are largely anonymous single-branch operations. As expected, these businesses are Japanese owned. Foreign-owned eikaiwas are frequently run by a Westerner and his Japanese wife. Names like Tom, Dick, or Harry’s English school is fairly prevalent throughout the industry landscape, and can be found in practically every nook and cranny where foreigners reside. The remaining eikaiwas run the gammit between one-room, one-table operations to something slightly more substantial, with kid’s lessons being a significant part of their customer base. On one level or another, every gaijin is potentially a walking billboard for private English lessons—a portable school masked in sneakers or leather shoes and a chance for the foreigner to make quick pocket money at a local cafe or lunch counter, not to mention a free cup of coffee.