“Anorexic is the new sexy.”
Through the shop’s sliding panel glassed door I can see it’s small but not crowded. A family at a table in the rear, a couple of couples sharing the table nearest the order machine, two buddies man stools along the perimeter of the cooking area. Slow Thursday night. All customers are engaged in lively conversation, and a J-pop hit is playing over the speakers.
I slip in and turn immediately to the ordering machine, like I know what I’m doing…cuz I do. I’ve never been to this ramen shop, but the ones with the ticket machines pretty much all operate the same way: You choose what you want from listings on the machine, insert your money, press the appropriate button, take your ticket, take your change, give the ticket to the staff. Not rocket science. Hardest part is reading the kanji, but most have pics, and a ramen shop veteran like myself knows almost all the ramen-related kanji so it’s no sweat.
While you are doing this, the staff are watching you, usually in anticipation of you being clueless, but once you turn immediately to the machine, that usually gives them a clue that you are at least partially clued in. And when you start inserting money and pressing buttons, there’s an almost audible collective sigh of relief that they won’t have to assist you no more than they do the typical Japanese customer.
This is going through my mind as I hand my ticket to the cute staff girl, suffering from anosexya, what I call these ultra-skinny chicks that are under the impression that rib cages are the new breasts, stilts on stilettos are the new legs, and anorexic is the new sexy.
She greets me and asks would I like Soy, Miso or salt-flavored ramen. “Soy please.” She smiles, pleased that I understand her, and her facial skeleton protrudes through her skin. She asks would I like it soft or hard. “Soft please.”
It’s about then that the volume of all conversations hit the 1 decibel mark, and all customer eyes hit me — During this convo — cuz my accent is decidedly not Japanese. It’s probably the equivalent of the accent of that Chinese Restaurant owner in your ‘hood whose been serving you Sweet and Sour Shrimp since you were in Suede Fronts and Sergio Valente Jeans.
“An Asian strain of Tourette Syndrome…”
I take a seat on a stool in the corner. And I don’t look at anybody. I know they’re gawking at me. They’ve been doing it for damn near a decade now…and there’s really very little to be said or done about that.
They know it’s rude but they’re compelled to do it, a compulsive urge. They simply can’t control it, no more than I would be able to avoid staring at a person with three fully functioning arms.
But, usually, if you let the gawkers get it out of their system, then they’ll resume some semblance of normality…some even manage to forget you’re there. That’s why I don’t look at them. If I look they’ll simply wait till I’m not looking –perhaps this is an example of their world-famous politeness– and keep checking over and over and over until I’m not looking, to get their fix, but the fix will be gotten come hell or high water.
Some people say staring is offensive, and i used to be one of them, but now, to me, it’s just an annoyance, and after all these years, it’s not even a major one.
On the annoyance meter it often registers somewhere between ants on your blanket at a picnic and sand in your sandwich at the beach. The fact that it’s an everyday occurrence makes it even more tolerable actually. I just write it off as an Asian strain of Tourette Syndrome where staring is the most popular tick.
Customers come and go as I slurp my noodles. One man comes in, gets his ticket, turns to sit at a stool near mine, spots me, then scans the ramen shop for other available seats.
There are plenty.
He checks me again as he walks towards the far end of the ramen shop. Then he walks back and suddenly plops himself on the stool right next to mine, throwing back his shoulders, puffing up his pecs, and aggressively pours himself a glass of water from the pitcher he damn near snatched from in front of me…like I was hogging the water.
I was watching all of this peripherally, unbeknownst to him. I resist acknowledging cats like him. But my mind is all over it.
There are only certain types of Japanese people, in my experience, who voluntarily sit next to me…when there are numerous other options. It happens periodically.
Sometimes they want to strike up a convo and practice their English. Dependent on my mood at the time I’m either open to this and give them the time of day (sometimes to good results…i’ve met some cool people this way) or I shut down completely, same as I would back in NY.
But sometimes, like today…and I can tell by the body language…sometimes the person, always male, is just doing something I think is important for all humans to do.
I just resent the fuck outta being the object they use to do it.
“I also feel fear…”
So, how does that play out in a ramen shop in Yokohama?
A man walks into a ramen shop and seated there at the counter he spots another man…a strange man. a man obviously from another land, with a strange language and even stranger customs.
Instinctively (he believes) he is cautious. If anything is certain it’s that this stranger’s motives are uncertain, his behavior unpredictable. Perhaps even dangerous.
It’s probably best I keep my distance, just to be on the safe side, he tells himself…
…but then again…
…this is so ridiculous…he’s just a man, just like me.There’s absolutely nothing to fear.
But, buddha bless me, he’s huge, and black and…
(Then it escalates…)
But, damn, this is my country, my city, my home! Why should I allow him to terrorize me in my own damn home? If I do, what kind of man does that make me? I ain’t no punk! My grandfather was samurai! This fear is beneath me.
This land is MY land!
AND I CAN SIT ANYWHERE I DAMN WELL PLEASE!
Meanwhile I’m slurping my noodles, and pretend not to see/hear all this body language he’s yelling at me unawares. He craves my attention. He wants me to see that he believes he has taken his fear by the gonads and conquered it. When actually all he is showing me is that he is just as capable of aggression as I am (or as he perceives I’m prone to be).
No, I don’t look at these guys…anymore. Cuz now I understand, thanks to Mandela and others.
You see, in that moment, I also feel fear. This guy is also a stranger, also unpredictable, and he has just become irrationally aggressive provoked by fear manufactured in his imagination. A fear just as real, to him, as any rational, tangible fear, and just as likely to result in similar behavior: violence.
But, I let the words of Mandela course through me…and don’t respond instinctively to his aggressive posturing, and somehow justify it, and perhaps encourage him to further unleash it, with some retaliatory aggression of my own. I restrain that reflex. I don’t snatch back the water pitcher. Or turn toward him and try to alpha-male his ass into submission.
I just eat my ramen. And a moment later, when his bowl arrives, and it occurs to him that he’d created a frightful scenario in his mind so far from reality as to be absurd, he relaxes, conspicuously so, and does the same.
Book cover is FINALLY done. YAY!
Unveiling coming soon so stay tuned (-;