It’s just past midnight as I exit the train station at Hibarigaoka, in the western part of Tokyo. The effect of the drinks I had earlier in Ikebukuro are starting to wear off, and I can just feel an onslaught of loneliness, mixed in with self-pity or self-loathing, coming on. Just when I turn left onto a main street (just about the width of a car), I notice something I have never seen before. Instead of rusting slats of steel shutters, I see a sign in English words, “The Blue Marlin,” painted in marine blue just above a brown wooden door with a round portal window. On the street, just in front, is a lit-up street sign with an image of a marlin propelling itself from the surface of the water.
A calming beam of blue neon light filters out through the window. And as I press my ear against the door, I hear indistinct voices, female voices singing from within. I look down the street, contemplating my home, where showers are coin-operated (100 yen for 10 minutes) and the mattress on my bed is so thin that I can feel the metal frame digging into my back. It’s also around this time that the young woman living next door is boldly broadcasting to the world that she is indeed capable of having multiple orgasms.
I notice the eye of the marlin has changed somewhat, as if it were alive, trying to tell me that if a lower species like a fish dare poke its nose out of its own watery domain, why shouldn’t I? And so I reach for the door. As I enter, a chorus of irrashaimase welcomes me. A tall woman in a China dress with a slit on one side takes my jacket and shows me to an empty table. Most of the club consists of these low-standing tables that come to knee level, surrounded by brown leather sofas that softly curve around.
A young woman wearing a tightly-fitted red mini-skirt comes to the table. She’s got long, jet black hair that goes down to her shoulders, and a healthy, tanned face, unlike the pale Japanese women I am used to seeing.
“My name is Leanne,” she says. “Is this your first time?”
I can only nod, hoping she’ll soon sit on my lap.
“Can I sit down?”
I nod. Here it comes, I think to myself.
But all she does is sit next to me. She snuggles up so close that her exposed thigh is pressing warmly against my leg. I get a tingly feeling just under my balls. She leans in when she starts asking questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do? As I answer, she seems impressed as she presses her body tighter against mine. I remain motionless, trying not to make a move that she would consider overtly pervy. Hopefully, she won’t notice my eyes examining every inch of her body. I think she realizes I won’t grab her breasts (how nicely tanned and perky they may be) or slide my hand between her legs (however nicely muscular they are). I am starting to think this anticipation beats any of the other businesses down the street, the ones with the girls working outside, trying to grab a drunken stray salaryman or two into their booths, and offering blowjobs for 4000 yen apiece, or for the spendthrift, a bargain 2000 yen to be jerked off.
Back in the Blue Marlin, the girls seem classier. But are they? I ask myself. Perhaps the 2000 yen drinks in slender glasses may be affecting my judgment. Perhaps all this is just a preamble to something bigger, bigger than mechanical handjobs, or more magnificent than routine blowjobs. Could it be that after all this ritualized foreplay, I am going to be taken to a backroom to conclude, for lack of a better word, the session?
But I am way ahead of myself. Leanne’s only got her hand on my lap, innocently placed as if we were high school students out on our first date. This is going to take all night, and a bigger chunk of my pay cheque! That blowjob is starting to sound like a real bargain. At this rate, I could’ve already been blown six times!
Just when I am about to ask Leanne if she wants to meet up after work, I notice the bartender make a signal to her. She quickly dismisses herself from my table to greet a fat Japanese man who just entered the club. This jabba-of-a-man is dressed in a nicely tailored suit and a Rolex that helps illuminate his pudgy fingers. Soon, he’s guzzling down Don Perignon champagne with a special vintage gold label on it. Now, he’s got his arms around the four most beautiful women in the club, two on each side. Leanne’s there, standing in front of them all with a bottle in her hand, inviting him to drink more. Asshole.
When Jabba settles down with half the club at his bidding, Leanne is back with me again, apologizing for having to leave, but because two of the girls had to call in sick, she had to help make up for their absences. As she fills my glass, I sense something is different this time. It seems that I have to fuel the conversation now. Somehow, the roles have reversed; she’s telling me about how she has to put up with all the loser stories she has to listen to every night: stories of authoritarian bosses, cold-hearted wives, and ungrateful children. With me, she says, she doesn’t have to pretend to be a sexual object. I put on my serious look, make a mental note to myself not to tell her my loser stories, and comment about how pathetic those Japanese men are, indeed. I even shake my head back and forth to complete the illusion.
“When I save enough money,” she says, “I want to go back to school.”
I have an image of Leanne in a nurse uniform hiked up to her crotch, giving sponge baths to her patients.
“I want to be a weapons technician,” she continues.
There’s a moment of silence between us. My mind struggles to understand what she just said.
“What?” I answer.
“You know, the ones who work on aircraft carriers and put the missiles on the jet fighters’ wings,” she clarifies, as if I didn’t know what weapons technicians did, which of course she was correct in assuming.
What the hell? Aircraft carrier? Did she just say aircraft carrier? Does the government of Philippines even have enough aircrafts to warrant the purchase of a carrier?
I come up with other sexual innuendos, accompanied with their own laugh tracks. The alcohol is doing a number on my hypothalamus. Or is it actually Leanne herself setting me up? Yeah, she’s really into guys with heavy loads. Hey, Leanne, how about hooking up on this missile?
When she sees my blank look, she continues: “If that doesn’t work out, I want to be a master diver.”
Diving? Shit, how should I interpret all this Freudian symbolism? Is she making it all up to try to make me horny, and if she is, why the hell is she working so hard at it? I want her to stop talking, especially the stuff with all the masculine imagery, trying to show me she’s more of a man than me, which, by the way, has never been a turn-on for any man in the history of the universe. The perky tits had done it for me already.
But then suddenly, it’s all over. I feel the folds around my eyes and forehead wrinkle up, I pull fistfuls of gray hair out of my head, my joints start to ache, and where the hell did I leave my glasses? I can’t see anything in the dim light without them. I am just another middle-aged pervert in a city, a world no less, populated with them, trying to fight against time, to find the fountain of youth. The marlin behind the bar looks more plastic, the smiles more strained, the laughter at the other tables break out as if on cue.
It’s time to go. As I leave, I see Leanne already sliding up next to Jabba with the Rolex. He’s already got his hands on her thighs, squeezing them. She doesn’t even look up to say goodbye.
Outside, the autumn air is cool, fresher. I notice a group of salarymen looking around for a place to enjoy the last drink of the early morning hours. When one of them spots the Blue Marlin sign, the rest agree. And as the door opens, a loud welcoming irrashaimase cheer comes from within and they’re all swallowed up whole.
Hauquan Chau writes creative nonfiction and teaches writing at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario. He was published in the anthology, The Best of Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2, edited by Lee Gutkind.