"I'm going to start with a warm-up song."
That's my first line at the karaoke box. Singing runs in my family, and one of the things I love about Tokyo is the prevalence of intimate places to sing along to a machine.
So every first date begins with "Piano Man." I have sang it as an opening several times now, and each time I sing it across from a lovely young lady, we end up in the sack several hours later.
I don't know why this happens: for that matter, I don't know whether the deciding factor is "Piano Man" or the obligatory midway performance of U2's "Even Better Than The Real Thing" (by which point in the ritual I'm generally comfortable enough to lean back on the couch, nearly into my date's lap) or the embarrassing moments when I decide to do Japanese hip-hop.
Doesn't matter. I love the song. It brings something out inside me.
I know that when I was broke, anonymous and depressed in college, I thought anything must be better than wasting away in a sweaty dorm room making writeups about Japanese railway lines. I dreamed about becoming a big-shot politician and seducing the beautifully-sculpted South American girl I had a crush on in high school.
It turned out that when I finally went on the campaign trail, I found practicing politics to be too corrupt, too cynical, and when I got that beautifully-sculpted South American girl in bed a couple of years later, she turned out to be a basket case. I was back to square one, knowing only that there was someplace that I'd rather be.
So I ended up in a little law firm in Tokyo. The little law firm turned into a big law firm which turned into a financial institution, and before I knew it I was spending my weekdays in a Herman Miller office chair on the upper levels, writing contracts for billion-dollar deals and looking out my window over half of Japan. High, but enslaved to debt, and constantly throwing money at my own lack of fulfillment and lack of dreams; a young man who had lost his younger man's clothes.
My dream girlfriend freaked out, dumped me and started dating one of my friends a month later.
The guys who hired me were laid off in the recession, and the papers piled higher on my desk.
For the first time in my life, my father was clean and his son was a drunk. The smell of success, whatever it was worth, was the smell of a beer.
And finally, one night, when it was all crashing down, I put the bottle of Nikka Black back on top of the fridge, left my apartment and walked for four hours down the river, lost in the lights of the city and the deep sound of the waters.
The river slowly washed my tears away, and as I walked farther from home, I remembered my English teacher from high school. She was an energetic lady who, soon after, quit her job to become a full-time novelist and sailboat captain.
She wrote in my yearbook when I graduated: "You can follow law or politics or whatever, but deep inside, you're a writer. Never forget that."
Somehow, I felt the poetry stirring in my soul, words circling like a carnival ride.
And I sat there on the shore, and the only question left for myself was obvious: "Man, what are you doing here?"