One cannot live on tomato alone, but one can be very, very inspired by a tomato.
All the thrills of crossing the ocean, the many memoirs of geisha I planned to write, and I was stuck in the rut of a routine that was killing me. Turns out the English Conversation schools that set you up with work visas and apartments expect you to work in return, the bastards! They aren’t paying you to sightsee or write the great novel. I hadn’t gone to Osaka for this. To teach eight conversation classes a day. Yes, at first it was the easiest job ever because you’re paid to chat. That’s what the students want. But give it a couple weeks and you’ve long since run out of conversational material. It’s not like you can assign in-class work either. Your job is to chat, to always be "on," engaging and entertaining like a clown without the makeup or a psychiatrist without the sedative; you don’t even have a set of steak knives to sell to give the interaction some purpose. And believe me, after eight hours of being "on," even the most loquacious conversation teacher goes mute.
This was the opposite of inspiration. This was dispiration. Once again I was living for every lunch break, end-of-day, day off and – dare I say – holiday? They get them in Japan too, sometimes.
When the long weekend in May finally came, I hopped a bullet train to Tokyo. I’d have yelled FREEDOM out the train windows with a bad Scottish accent but I feel conflicted quoting old Mel Gibson movies. Also, the windows were the kind you couldn’t open.
SHEEP IN CHRISTIAN SLATER'S CLOTHING
They say the hardest truth of travelling is realizing you must take yourself wherever you go. I’m not so sure. I’ve been other people all over the place. Like back in high school when I pretended I didn’t like reading and wore a trench coat to travel downtown, to smoke cigarettes and perfect my pool game and impersonate Christian Slater impersonating James Dean. The good sheep from the white suburbs turned baaad, scamming free meals I’d convince fast food managers to give me for some “mistake” one of their employees had made the day before (an alleged allergy to onions or something). After that I learned to complain my way into movies, into concerts; I even scammed my way into a Leafs game once, a playoff game.
I could be other people in
JUST LIKE THAT
Roppongi Hills is a new, super-fashionable district of Tokyo. I was supposedly there for the museum, but really I cared about the newly built movie theatres with their first-class seats and their high-rise tall screens. It was by accident that I came upon the Tokyo Grand Hyatt (like a regular Hyatt, only a five-star hell of a lot more grand). I already had my ticket for a George Clooney movie and had time to kill. So the hotel.
As soon as I walked through that lobby I was walking taller, prouder, imagining myself as someone. Not like being rich was my biggest priority. Duh, I’m an English teacher who wants to be a writer. But one classy hotel and suddenly all I ever wanted was a little ritzyness in my life. Up till then Japan for me had been all ramen noodles and $1 sushi and more McDonalds than I’d like to admit. No more. Fuck it. From now on (or for the weekend anyway) I was some fancy writer drinking highballs and writing stories. Not just writing them, selling them, not just selling them, but actually earning the big bucks for them. Oh yeah, a regular F. Scott Fitzgerald. I liked that. F. Scott. Just like that. That’s who I’d be. I wasn’t in a suit but that was ok. I had my journal. A couple pens. They were in my knapsack, and I was wearing hiking shoes but that was ok too; so long as I felt it. They’d see it. They’d know. Just think it: F. Scott. F. Scott.
The image of the scotch on the rocks at the classy hotel bar – it’s always been a favourite. The ice tinkling against the glass as I finish my drink. The fantasy suitably rounded out when the older lady sitting beside me, her slim cigarettes in their silver case, asks me for a light, then she takes me back to her room. It’s that easy. The illusion shattering realities of budget and knapsack being the only hindrances to the plot. Never mind. The idea was to get a free drink or two. I’d go in for the old ‘journalist doing a story’ bit. It wasn’t so far-fetched. I’d written. Even if very few had read me. I was a writer. That’s what I told the lady at the reception desk that afternoon. I’m here to write about the hotel’s jazz bar, I said. And indeed I was. I would be. I could be.
[The Tomato story continues here.]