The 2nd floor of Doutor cafe is the smoking section. There are a few available seats, but most are stuck between or opposite people I notice. Most eyes spot me instantly, then check their vicinity for free seats. The people with empty seats beside them start to shift and fidget. I have four to choose from. I select the free table for two not too far from the staircase, and cop a squat. The woman sitting at the table beside mine hadn’t looked up when I arrived, but did as I sat down. She gave me a double take and her totally relaxed posture became erect as a cat with a growling dog nearby.
I wasn’t intending to play but she started the game with a bang by moving her bag from the seat across from her which was near me to her lap, but…she was probably expecting a phone call from her boyfriend and I reminded her of her boyfriend, a handsome black soldier stationed at Yokosuka Navy base, who kicks her ass twice a week for letting the phone ring as many as three times before answering. The cellphone was in her handbag and she didn’t want to miss the call or have any delays answering it. That would also explain why she turned her chair away from mine. When she catches a glimpse of me she can psychosomatically feel it in her recently cracked ribs currently on the mend.
Usually I go out of my way to ignore the show the Japanese put on whenever I cop a squat in their midst but occasionally when I can’t think of anything else to write about or it’s just too damn intriguing to ignore I check it out surreptitiously as possible. And occasionally I play a game in my head (and on paper sometimes). I call it: Iiwake. Iiwake is the Japanese word for excuse. I started playing it a while back without realizing it. It wasn’t a game when I first began. Far from it. What I was doing was trying to find alternative reasons for the bizarre behavior of the Japanese people around me. What I do is I endeavor to detach myself emotionally and examine everything going on around me from as objective a state of mind as I can manage.
I give myself 20 points if I make myself laugh (reduced to 15 points if I laugh out loud), 10 pts for merely creative Iiwake, 5 points for mediocre, -10 points if I fail to come up with an Iiwake and -50 if I even think a negative thought about my fellow Japanese customers. My high score is 175. My low score is too embarrassing to mention.
Why do I play Iiwake? Simple. I want to rule out paranoia. I suspected I was becoming paranoid, thinking that everything going on around me was somehow being caused by me or was as a direct result of my presence. So, initially Iiwake served three purposes: one was to get out of my head for a bit (never a bad thing) and see life through another’s eyes, so to speak. The other was my secret hope that by doing so I would be able to gather ammo in my on-going internal war against the part of me that finds most Japanese people irretrievable cowards and unconscionable xenophobes, thus repulsive. If that side of me wins I would be forced to leave this land that I have grown to adore, with a bitter resentment. If I could find other reasons and/or rationalizations for their behavior- something that paranoia had heretofore blinded me to- then I’d score points and so would they. It’s a Win-Win kind of game.
The third reason was simply for entertainment. If I could laugh at them or at myself then I would feel so much better.
Half-way through her cup of coffee the woman at the table beside mine stood and decided that she was going to leave her soldier boy with the penchant for using her as a punching bag, leaving him for good this time. She would go home immediately, pack her stuff, and go stay with the grandmother in Nakano he’d never met…
As she was leaving to start her new life, another customer came up the stairs and was scouting for a seat…he spotted the one she’d just vacated beside me and was on a beeline for it when he noticed me and suddenly remembered that his girlfriend was coming to meet him but wouldn’t know he was upstairs in the smoking section because he hadn’t told her he smoked. He had been keeping it a secret because she’d expressed on several occasions that if he were a smoker that would be a deal breaker. So, he diverted and sped for the window seat across the room which was also available and from which he could see his girlfriend’s arrival and pop those mints in his pocket before he spoke to her.
Another woman, middle aged, well-to do, arrived at the stairway landing. She sees me and decided that now is the opportune moment she’d been waiting for to quit smoking. “It’s a nasty, stinking dirty habit and I must quit now,” she mumbled under her breath and returned downstairs so as not to be tempted by the death sticks being consumed so gratuitously on the 2nd floor.
Another woman appears at the landing, younger this time, maybe late 20s. She spots me and the available table beside mine. Then she surveys the rest of the room looking for…ummm…looking for her friend. Right, she’s looking for her friend that she’s supposed to meet here, but her friend’s not here and all the other seats appear occupied, so she gingerly, painfully slow, takes the seat beside me, her whole body turned away from me. She’s giving the room a twice over…for her friend. She actually didn’t want to sit down as not to put too much pressure on her buttocks because of her explosive hemorrhoids that have been inflamed for days now, and that medicine the doctor had given her only alleviated the pain temporarily…and the doctor had also prescribed plenty of, ummm, ultraviolet light, right. For an unrelated condition…her skin, which was actually kind of lackluster. Which would explain why she can’t take her eyes off the seats in the rear by the windows. And, suddenly, when someone at one of the window seats rose to leave she darted that way, almost spilling her mocha from her tray in her haste to follow her doctor’s orders.
20 points (-:
A couple arrive at the landing now…the girl spots the table beside mine and heads directly for it, but before she could sit down her boyfriend actually grabs her arm and with a penetrating gaze conveys the message, ‘did you forget?’ (ummm…god, this is a difficult one…Iiwake is not an easy game) ‘…that we sat over there on our first date? Over there!’ He points at a currently occupied table for two over yonder, and almost on cue the man who was sitting there stood up and began packing his things to depart. Lucky them.
Another woman comes up stairs, spots the table besides me, and sees that I’m writing the words you’re reading now, and decides that the absolute last thing she would ever want to do in life is disturb my composition with her presence, and upon seeing no other free seats, replaces her ashtray and heads back downstairs. God she was thoughtful, because if she couldn’t sit by me without fidgeting and flinching and jumping every time I made a move like most people do she would have, indeed, disturbed me. Damn!
Another man had come upstairs while I was writing so I barely caught him noticing me and the empty table beside mine. He walks to the middle of the room and does kind of a slow pirouette scanning the room for a seat, as his eyes pass by the seat beside me they actually make a detour up and over the area I’m seated in, looking for a seat on the ceiling or something… because he had a…umm….fuck! He had a mental blind spot. Yeah, a mental blind spot, and he…ah fuck it, he’s just crazy!
Then, he comes and sits beside me. I try not to notice anything about him in my peripherals. I mean, the really crazy ones…they make my skin crawl. But, he’s just a-flinching and a-fidgeting and scratching his head like he’s having an actual allergic reaction to… something. Ah, got it…He’s allergic to my tobacco smoke. It’s not a brand typically smoked by Japanese so his polluted lungs aren’t able to… Another seat opens up and he jumps up and heads for it because…oh fuck him…I’ll take the point loss!