Life is full of trivial pursuits. A month or so ago, I was in an office, buried in a low-rise commercial district of Tokyo, taking some notes from my boss. He's not yet 40, makes half a million a year (by my best estimates), drives a Ferrari, and sleeps with ten women a week. He spends most of his day schmoozing clients, picking up new gaijin businessmen and swiping their contracts with the big-boy law firms around town. He does his job well, apparently: he gets a level of deference not afforded the two partners who founded the firm.
Now, he was telling me, "You know, if you have to pick a specialization, pick the one you're going to make the most money on. Really, that's going to be securities, banking and finance. Because no matter what you're going to do, there are going to be days when you just don't want to do it. The beauty of this kind of work is, even when you don't want to do it, you can always fall back on 'well, at least they're paying me $100 an hour to do this,' and that makes it all better."
The night before, I paid a visit to my best friend's apartment. It was a tiny place, what used to be a single hotel room, refitted with a micro-kitchen. He was paying $1,500 a month for it, but it was in Aoyama, practically right next to his and everyone else's office, and I figured he couldn't have done much better for the price unless he had a car. "She was so drunk, man, oh God, let me tell you. Dropped her cell phone in the toilet, then got in bed with me and passed out." He had been working for the last few days on some government issue with Osaka Gas, tankers, refineries, that kind of noise. "Then, it's like 5 AM, and she suddenly wakes up, and just starts humping me. It's like she was possessed or something." He took the open cell phone off the plug-in radiator, tried turning it on. "No good. Anyway, now she's gone, but she's supposed to be back tonight..."
"What does that bring your summer body count to?" I asked.
"Four," he said. I could smell the pride coming off him as he took off his tailored Burberry jacket, hung it on a crowded rack of lawyer clothes. We lit cigars, made glasses of room-temperature Awamori, sat on the tiny veranda, listened to the city, and kept talking: about work, women, the future. "They're making me an offer, man."
The week before, we were getting loaded on sushi and beer at our favorite watering hole. We were power men. There were quite a few eyes on the young white men in their nice suits, talking history with the old man cutting up their toro. Someone in that place probably figured we were going to cut some high-dollar deals in the morning, and they were kind of right. On the other hand, I was flirting with a stringy-haired girl, who spoke English as well as I could counter in Japanese, and with an almost-perfect accent to boot.
A few days later, I picked her up after work. We wandered down the road to a bar, took our Smirnoff Ices to a conveniently-located couch, spoke for thirty minutes, made out for sixty, went to see Revenge of the Sith without actually watching it, and found ourselves in my apartment around 3 AM, making love like lesbian jumping beans. I saw her off at the station the next morning, and never saw her again. She was leaving the next day to backpack around Europe.
Between the thought of her body, the taste of the Awamori, the smoke of the cigar, and the strange haze of Japanese atmosphere, I realized, on that balcony, sweating just a little in my good suit, that I never wanted to leave.
"So put in some time at a big firm," my boss continued. "The best thing to have on your resume is that you went to Harvard or Yale. Next best, that you did time at Skadden Arps or White and Case. After a little bit of that, every hiring partner will know that they can drop you at a desk and you can start making money. You'll be the lifeblood of the firm then... the reason they exist. It's the best job security in the world, and you can have the Ferrari and the girls. Now, I've got a Cayman Islands partnership for you to look at..."
I wanted to see just one person when I came back to the US. It wasn't my father, or my stepmom. It was a girl I had fallen for in high school, a long long time ago, who finally admitted that she had a thing for me. Once I had moved out of my old apartment, I quick-booked a flight to Miami and called her to tell her I was coming. She never answered, except to tell me that she had better things to do. And then she went to Switzerland.
Late August, an e-mail comes in from Tokyo. It's the hiring partner at Skadden Arps. He wants my transcript. I realize, for the first time, that I'm bound to make six figures at the age of twenty-three. I realize again that I'm not even halfway to halfway. I never wanted a Ferrari, and the only girl I wanted is in Switzerland. I suddenly want my Lego back.