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Ruffians!

So I'm up bright and early Saturday morning. The night before I'd had one too many swigs of alcopop before I'd returned sometime after midnight and had quietly vomited in the toilet while my host family slept, but I felt fine come sunrise, save for a certain unavoidable tiredness. Alcohol robs you of REMs, you know.

The reason I had no chance to sleep-in was a mandatory HIF excursion. They like organizing these sorts of things, to make us bond in a regulated environment where we're fairly forced to speak Japanese. It's a little infantalizing, but necessary. We'd all just speak English peppered with Japanese words in strange constructions otherwise ("Man, I totally yokudekitaed that shiken once I got past the yomimono. I'm not too jouzu at kanji but I can kick the bunpou's ass..." for example. No, I swear I'm not exaggerating. And no strange looks, they do it to our language, we can do it to theirs just as easily. So there.).

So what was this excursion? Climbing a mountain. Why not. We were supposed to do so with our host families, but Kouichiro got sick the night before the climb and his mom stayed behind with him, so it was just my host dad and my little sister. We slathered ourselves with bug repellent, got into groups, and proceeded to trot up the mountain.

This looked sketchy to me, because as far as I can tell the mountain is one vertical rise of impenetrably thick forest, but it turns out there's a very windy, very steep path through the woods when you get to the end of the paved streets that peter out up the side of the slope. The path was long, muddy, and slippery, but my extremely inconvenient boots that I've had to lace and unlace every time I'm entering a school, a household, or just special rooms served me well this time. Ankles protected, no slips, no sore soles, unlike most of the other students trying the climb in sneakers. I had plenty of time to admire the ancient trees and the buddhist alcoves all along the climb.

I was also wearing my Swedish army jacket (or as HIF friends have taken to calling it, my homeless bum coat) and fingerless gloves. It was a breezy summer day in the low sixties and with killer humidity, walking, as we were, literally into a cloud that completely shrouded the mountain peak. I got sweaty. Very quickly. Students repeatedly asked me if I was hot with that sort of tone that suggests, "I know you're hot and you should take the damn jacket off and stop being so weird." The air was literally thick with mosquitos though, and I wanted as little exposed skin as possible, so I waved off their questions and stuck to the sweaty hobo fashion trend. I prefer the half-hour's discomfort of being too hot and a little dehydrated to the several days' discomfort of roughly two billion mosquito bites per square inch of skin surface.

Did I tell you bug repellent never, ever worked when I was a kid? Anyway, I remain completely bug bite free, something the rest of the students can't all say.

Seeing the city from the mountain peak was, of course, gorgeous. We ate snacks, played the Japanese version of pinata with watermelons on the ground, and chatted idly for a little while till it was time to descend. Oof. I had thought that was going to be relaxing. Instead it was just hard on the knees.

I wanted a nap, but immediately thereafter it was time to hightail it to the middle of the city for a meet-up with the Iai Private Girls' School English Club. Nearly half the HIF students were coming on invitation. Why? One word: barbeque. They beckoned us with the promise of barbeque (like, I mean, a real one, not crazy Japanese mayonaise corn fish-sausage soy sauce with a heaping side of rice or whatever barbeque) and we obeyed. The head of the club was the school's English teacher, an American and a Methodist missionary. Some of the more secular among us squirmed a bit when she told us that, but she was extremely nice and all around not crazy. The brats were delicious by the way. Oh god. Brats. With ketchup. And proper buns. And chips. And salsa.

I never eat brats back at home, by the way. Or hamburgers. Guess which are my two new favorite foods after a month of delicious but very-not-familiar Japanese cooking?

We tried to speak English with the very nervous, very shy high school girls, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Generally we'd say something in English, they'd stare at us in terror, and we'd say the same thing more simply in Japanese at which point they all nodded and responded in Japanese with relief. Hey, I definitely don't blame them. I'm sure I still stare in terror whenever some stranger says something to me in Japanese too. At least when I'm sober.

Drunk, though, is a different story. Lemme tell you about our next sequential Goryoukaku excursion. We were planning on hitting a particular club that had caught our interest with the promise of dancing that hadn't been open on Friday, but when we all met up, it was still preparing, so Lawson it was then.

By the by, one of the more confident but, shall we say, less culturally sensitive students I've made friends with (he speaks Albanian, a language I've been learning, and he goes to the UW, in a weird enough pair of coincidences) has been worrying his mother sick going out every night drinking, but has been learning plenty of very useful street Japanese. I technically speak better Japanese than him, and I can read more than he can, but his confidence renders all of that totally moot. He completely bests me. So this guy immediately approaches a pack of Japanese hipsters hanging on a streetcorner when we find out the club isn't ready yet and starts up a conversation with them.

The Japanese seem generally nervous and reticent until you let them know you can at least sorta speak Japanese. Thereafter they're quite friendly and open. Fully aware of all this, I still can't just approach Japanese people, usually. But the fruits of this guy's confidence was an evening of hanging out with some really cool, really coarse Japanese ruffians getting very, very drunk.

Us gaijin and these guys merged into one big group and intermingled in frenzied conversations of broken English and Japanese. It was probably a scary sight for the passersby, but we were harmlessly entertained. I heard my first real rolled R from one of the particularly macho members of the pack and had a strange, very hilarious conversation about bisexuality with another one.

I had to call it an evening early before we could even get into the bar because a friend got sick and I had to help her home, but still, I'd chalk Saturday up to a success.

Sunday was homework. Forget that. Monday was awesomely super psycho-go-nuts scrumptuous, but I'll save that for tomorrow's post. Till later.

The Man in White- Pt. 3

Laura Colson and I have some history. We've crossed paths once or twice, worked on cases together or sometimes been at odds with each other. Laura has a certain sharpness and intuition that makes her one of the best Private Investigators around. She always has a wry knowing smile, guarded by locks of blonde hair.

John has the longest history with her, which is why he's waiting outside her office.

Pushing open the door she greets me with her smile.
"Here for business or pleasure?" she says, laughing slightly. "Although I think I could guess."
"Business, sadly. Although we could try pleasure first..."
"Same Thomas Lavell. How've you been?"
"Confused, although I've gotten used to it by now. How's tricks?"
She shrugs slightly.
"You know the deal Tom. Same bastards in and out of my office. Same types of people. Sometimes I swear there are only a few molds that people are formed from. So what are you here for?"

I explain to her the nature of my case and try to explain the possible connection.

"So what you're saying is that because of the victims had similar occupations the murders are connected. It's a pretty weak link if you ask me." she tells me after hearing everything.
"Of course the information I'm missing is what you've found out. Care to fill me in?"
"Of course. First of all, I was hired by the victim’s wife to find out what happened. As you know he was found brutally murdered outside his home. Ran over repeatedly. A few witnesses said they saw the car but not person inside."

"So far it sounds like a normal hit and run. As strange as it sounds, and as much as we'd like it to be false, random acts of violence are not uncommon. However this was until I examined his work place. It's filled with books."
"Books? How many?"
"I have no idea, but to give you something of an idea most of the stacks were taller then I was. I figured he must have been researching something in there. The majority of the books were ledgers, as far as I can work out. Financial records."
"Financial records. If we work with the theory that the two cases are connected... then logically he would be looking for signs of corruption."
"I wish I could confirm your theory but before I could get a better look the police booted me out of there. Now they won't let anyone in because they're looking for evidence and because the information in the books is confidential. And from what I've heard illegal."
"A nice coincidence. I might have to pay a visit."
"If you insist. I don't really want to go back there myself. Someone could have hidden a body under all the books and it take weeks to find it. That and the book smell overpowers everything. No I intend to follow up a lead I have- I've been in contact with someone related to my case, but he is afraid to come forward. If I got any more relevant information I'll tell you."

We said our goodbyes and I left. John walked over with an anxious look across his face that suggested he was about to ask a question. I pre-empted him.

"No John she didn't mention you." He visibly sagged. "In all fairness I got the feeling she wanted me to bring you up during the conversation just so she could talk about you. I'm sorry but that's a conversation that should only be between you two. I really shouldn't listen in."


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For the Wordmongers' Masque

Ruthless

When I was packing everything up for the move I found a faded polaroid of her between the cushions of the couch. I didn't think I had anything of her left. In the picture she's wearing a green dress, it doesn't suit her. It's the only time I can remember her wearing a dress. She wasn't a pretty girl. But pretty girls don't waste time on losers like me. Her homeliness was part of her charm. You couldn't help looking at her. She had freckles everywhere, big brown ones that almost covered her face. Her hands were large and mannish. She had thick, clumsy fingers and broad palms and tended to drop things. She had a wide gap between her teeth, and when she was thinking she'd coil her tongue in the space there. Just the thought of that little pink tongue slithering between those big square teeth still makes me hot. She was all angles and curves in places where there shouldn't be angles and curves. She was at home with herself in ways pretty girls never are. I never caught her making faces in a mirror. She didn't wear makeup or douse herself in perfumes. When we started fucking, she would sweat rivers and we'd slip around in the sheets like grunion on the shore. Afterwards, she'd make coffee. She made lousy coffee.

I ought to burn that picture. It's kind of a slug to the gut even after all these years. It's like Ruth's coffee, burns going down, doesn't sit right. Ruth. She didn't even have a pretty name. But sometimes when the wind blew cold and gritty, I'd hold her close and feel how warm she was and think everything was gonna be alright. I never said anything like "I love you" to her, wasn't raised that way. I grew up thinking a piece of pussy was nice if you could get it, but nothing to wreck yourself over. My pop tried his best, but I never learned how to deal with women who weren't whores. With hookers you know were you stand, you pay your money, you get off, they leave. I dated a couple of pretty girls, and there wasn't much difference in dating them and buying a whore. Maybe I had to be a little nicer, maybe it took a little longer before they put out. But in the end, it was bartering, I'd buy them things they wanted and I'd get off. They'd mumble shit about emotions and feelings and cry crocodile tears, but when it was all over, they were relieved. And I was too. The girls with cash register hearts and perfumed wrists are easy to understand. Ruth wasn't one.

We met at a Roller Derby bout. All-girls. The chick skaters are especially vicious and your blood sings when they pound each other into walls, slam elbows into ribs. They had two dollar beers, and I had a thirst. She was working the tent with the keg. She'd fill up the plastic cups quickly, with hardly any foam. I liked that. When I got to the front of the line she smiled her gaptoothed grin and said, "You don't look like a Pabst Blue Ribbon guy."

I didn't know what she meant. I wasn't any classier than any other joe around the rink and I started to think she was mocking me. I turn red when I get mad and my fists ball up tight. She saw this and laughed, "Hold on there. It wasn't an insult. Let's say I make it up to you by buying you this beer. And you can make it up to me by escorting me to dinner".

A girl had never asked me out before. After the bout we went to this all-night greasy spoon that served great apple pie. I don't remember much what we talked about. Three nights later we fucked the first time. A week after that she moved in.

Those five months together were sweet. I'd hurry home from my crappy, dead-end job just to see her. She'd burn something in the kitchen, and we'd go out for a walk and a hot dog from a vendor. We never talked about the future. She wasn't that kind of girl. I didn't buy her pretty things. I never felt like I had to. Sometimes we'd just sit together and not say anything. Those were the best times. Being together was enough for me. I'd like to think it was enough for her too, but when you look back on things, you don't get to allow yourself much in the way of illusion.

The last time I saw her, she was wearing that green dress. I bought a new polaroid camera on account of our trip to the coast I was planning for that weekend. I like to think she had a sadness about her. I said to her, "You look so beautiful today."

She smiled and said, "Don't you lie to me, Ernie."

But it wasn't all a lie. I just laughed and snapped that picture. Maybe I should have said something else, something romantic. But it wasn't our way. She had a purse with her. She never carried a purse. I remember, she looked at me funny and said something, I don't know what it was, but I'd like to think it was goodbye. Then the lights went black.

I don't know how long it was that I was out. The back of my head throbbed something fierce. She wasn't there. I sat on the couch and waited for her until the sun came up. She didn't come back. She never came back. I didn't think to report anything to the police until my bank statement came in the mail at the end of the month. She had wiped out my savings. Twenty-five thousand dollars that I'd been saving up to buy a house. Twenty-five Gs that I'd been thinking of spending on a house for me and Ruth. She never left a note. The police knew her though, she was a grifter, worked with a partner, her boyfriend. She took in lots of sadsacks like me. Usually ran confidence scams, but had been quiet for a while.

I'd like to think that she was trying to go straight. I'd like to believe that we had something there for a minute and she was forced back into her old life by that dickweed boyfriend. I'd like to think two lonely people had a moment together. But as I get older it gets harder and harder to lie to myself. We only ever believe what we want to believe. I don't know if I'd have fallen for her act for a minute if she was a blond bombshell with bedroom eyes. But she wasn't a pretty girl.

part of the wordmongers' masque

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