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Patient Zero (Not Me)

The Datsun is not even trying to hide itself now. It tails me closely. I am sure the driver reads this blog.

Please, sir, meet me in Cleveland! I’ll sign a book for you! Anything for a sale.

The second Chieko told me, the last time we lay together in bed, that people like us were not safe in America. Honestly, I thought she meant Asians.

Chieko has a mark, too. It’s on the sole of her foot, instead of her hand. I used to love to kiss it.

I think Nakamura had one, too. At least, Chieko did not have it until she spent that month with Nakamura planting persimmon saplings and breaking my heart. I am not a virologist, but I am not stupid, either. Boy-girl-boy…and that girl in Tokyo, on the train, with her blue hair. What of me was left on her when she woke up in the morning?

Perhaps viruses also have myths, origin stories, fell rites and chronicles of heroes. I wonder where we fall in the long history of this strange disease. Are we war heroes, are we serfs, are we gods?

I am obscure. I must be obscure. I am watched, above and below, and if I were to say plainly what I mean, if I were to type into this white page what has happened to me, to us, I think I would meet the driver of that Datsun rather quickly. Yet I cannot stop teasing him—I float close to the limit of what I am allowed to say, I flirt with him, I dare him to silence me. Perhaps I am only bored. Perhaps I have become addicted, like the rest of the world, to the forgiving text box of an update page, the ethereal confessional of this poor blog, which I really do not think is selling any books, with apologies to my publicist.

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An Experiment

Before I left Japan I took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, which is something of a ritual with me, like church on Sunday. (How funny things are here—diners called DINER, hotels called HOTEL, churches called CHURCH, as though one might mistake one for the other if not warned!)

There was a girl on the train, with blue hair. She was very young, and pretty, like those empty-headed things that giggle on the street corners when men of my age walk by. But she was not empty-headed. She was going to church, too. I understood that about her immediately—when you study trains as long as I have, you learn to recognize who is a commuter and who is an aficionado. I showed her my book. I showed her…it’s hard, sitting at an Indiana service area, eating a gluey, salty cheeseburger and sucking on horrible, pre-sweetened tea (called TEA), to be brave. I showed her my hand.

Lightning does not strike. The blue Datsun out there under the gas station lights does not roar to life.

On my hand there is a mark like a map, and that is what I showed to the girl on the train.

Still nothing, oh devil Datsun?

Let us try this. The map is not really a map. It’s a symptom. It shows a city called—ah, there we are. The headlights flicker on, the dog-headed Virgin car crawls by the window. I have gone far enough. That is the word I cannot say.

But every map has a referent.

The girl with blue hair let me fuck her in the little space between train cars. What power books have.

Too personal?

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Greetings to the Gentleman in the Blue Datsun. Your Lights Are On.

My publicist says that American readers will not understand my bathing naked with my family, even though it is a common custom, and especially they will not understand my kissing my sister when I was eleven. American children do not play like that, she says. Oh, don’t be stupid, I told her. I have read American literature. Faulkner, etcetera. Of course American children do these things, only with them it is not play.
I am in Chicago this weekend. At my book signing, they listened very politely and remarked that Japan was such a very fascinating place. There was a man in the audience I thought might have something more interesting to say. His fingers were black, and I thought it was…well, I was mistaken. He was a mechanic; it was oil. I felt oddly disappointed.

I do not need a publicist to tell me not to speak of what I hoped his fingers meant. America is not Japan. I have seen already the same blue Datsun in the parking lots of my readings, with South Dakota license plates and a Virgin Mary bobble head on the dash. The head of the Virgin had been cut off and replaced with a plastic dog head. A beagle, I think. I have no attachment to Mary, but that seemed unnecessary. At any rate I understand the message of the blue Datsun: blogs are for those with no meaningful secrets.

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Two Chiekos

Very well. Personal. I can be personal if if will sell three copies or four of my poorly-translated opus.

There have been two women named Chieko in my life, and I have loved both of them. I have often thought about the symmetry of Chiekos, my sister and my academic advisor, both older than I, both shorter than I, both beautiful, both bitter.

My sister Chieko was the first to publish me: she printed out my bits of tourist blather on glossy paper and handed them out with ice cream cones at the intersection of three holy avenues leading to a Shinto temple, a Buddhist Shrine, and a pachinko parlor. I loved her utterly, in the way a young boy always manages to love the sister closest to him in age. When our family bathed it was her half-grown breasts at which I stole glances. Her music I listened to (vile electronic stuff), her boyfriends I imitated. I associate the taste of sweet potato ice cream with her still, purple and thick and cloying. Once, she took me up through the forest behind out house and let me kiss her while the cicadas screamed all around. Children play, it meant nothing, but the insect shriek of the summer even now arouses. One of the boyfriends got her pregnant and they married at the temple near her ice cream parlor when she was nineteen. She sweated through her diadem and I was sad for her. She had wanted to go to university, to study chemistry, but her child (a daughter, then two sons later on) kept her firmly at home, and she withered up. I don’t speak with her now. She has nothing but bile for the world.

My academic advisor Chieko was beautiful and cold and fifteen years older than I. She was my first lover and I did not need to steal glances. She didn’t like kissing or cocksucking–nothing that meant she must use her mouth. She had no children, and did not want any. I found that radical and fascinating when I was twenty. She also hated ice cream. She was thin and brittle and brilliant, and whatever she says in her interviews, it was I who broke it off, I who ended our professional relationship. She was not faithful—she collaborated with other men. When we went to Hokkaido, chasing down an old conductor by the name of Nakamura Taro who had retired to the snow after losing his thumb while repairing an old engine, she stayed on with Nakamura for three weeks while I went back to Honshu, doing who knows what that she wouldn’t answer for, and Nakamura an old man with no thumb! How can one work with such a woman? I don’t speak with her now. I did not tell her I was coming to America.
Perhaps to be named Chieko is to torture men named Kenji.

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My publicist says I must share personal anecdotes if I expect to generate traffic. That sounds like I intend to peddle drugs. I am not by nature a friendly person, and if I wished to write an autobiography, or indeed, the sort of fiction that makes one’s heart bleed for the author, I would not have become an anthropologist. Though blogs are interesting to me in aggregate, as any culture is interesting, with its own myths, rituals, and wars, individual blogs are bizarre.

For me to write this is to ask you to become an anthropologist of a culture of one: a Kenjiologist, and who would want to be such a thing? Who would wish to crouch in a dusty corner and conduct field research on a middle-aged Japanese gentleman who enjoys trains, golf, and American diners? What rituals can he have, what myths of himself, what origin stories can he tell? None, nothing. If it is important to the culture of him, he cannot tell, for such things are secret.
I suppose that is interesting. Secrets always are. I have them; we all have them. Mine are perhaps…different, than yours. I have not cheated on my wife or lost a child, nor have I been in prison.

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Under Duress

I have been told by my publicist that it is more or less the law of the jungle that an author must have a blog if he is to sell books. I certainly want to sell books.

But I think that I wrote a book, and that should stand on its own, without my being forced to tell the world what I had for breakfast (I ate at a diner called DINER and had two poached eggs, sourdough toast, and really terrible tea with sweetening already in it.) But she is a publicist and I am…a privatist? So I will do as she says because I am good at obedience.

As my publisher is not a large one, I have rented a car for my “tour,” which I am paying for. It is white and nondescript, much like DINER and everything else in the western part of this country. I am currently just outside Denver, traveling to New York for my US book launch on January 21st.


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