"Please tell me what floor you would like," said the elevator girl.
"176th" answered the middle aged man.
"Floor 176. Alright sir."
"The 328th," said the young woman. She had really nice legs.
"Yes ma'am, floor 328."
"413th," I said.
"I'm very sorry," said the elevator girl, sounding genuinely apologetic. "This elevator only goes to the 390th floor."
“Lame," I sighed. "I left 3 pairs of socks up on the 413th."
“You’re welcome up to my place,” the young woman with nice legs softly whispered to me. “It’s on the 328th, but it’s much better than some old socks.”
It’s where I truly wanted to be.
She had an amazing room. Everything, from the lighting to her taste in furniture, the music playing in the background, the degree of air conditioning, even the softness of the carpet: all of it was perfect. Every little bit of it was exactly right for me, as if she had gone and figured out my tastes beforehand.
If I were James Bond, this is the part where I would have started gettingsuspicious, but lucky for me I wasn’t James Bond. Neither was I Mike Hammer, Lew Archer, or Philip Marlowe for that matter either. Isn’t it great being an ordinary citizen?
As we sipped some well-chilled champagne, we talked at length about things like music, literature, sports, and the tending of tropical fish. The only thing still bothering me was the fact that I still had those 3 pairs of socks back up on the 413th floor.
“Oh right, the socks!” she said, as she took my hand and led me into another room where she smoothly and soundlessly opened a large, mahogany wardrobe. Inside of it were close to 2000 pairs of socks of various colors, all of them neatly rolled up into balls and stacked as if they were precious jewels.
“Do you like them?”
“They’re... wonderful,” I breathed with a sigh. “Oh so very wonderful.”
“If you want them, they’re all yours!”
I drew her towards me, putting her lips against mine. Her nightgown fell gently to the floor.
Just about anyone looks silly when they're standing under cherry trees in full bloom.
As I took souvenir photos on the west coast, it looked as if everyone was right in the middle of shouting "Yeah!" in the pictures, but most of the time I think that was probably just an illusion of my viewing angle.
On the American west coast, I couldn't help but think that every single person going by was just putting on a cheerful performance. Then again, I suppose that there had to have been people putting on gloomy performances out there as well.
Right now, as I'm writing something under the title "west coast," it's almost as if the cherry trees are somehow blooming above my head. It's making me uncomfortable.
Interior design is probably one of those things with its own section in dating guidebooks.
The Queen Anne table and those Italian-influenced modern-design shelves; the "Under Construction" banner that was swiped during a drunken binge; the bookshelf, casually arranged to show only books on difficult seeming subjects; maybe even those tiny panties you have pinned up there on your wall, with the excuse that you thought they seemed cute: everybody owns stuff that they've put there just for the sake of other people.
Interior designs guard against the silence between words— they make up for their owners' lack of verbal finesse.
When a guest takes a look around, they're guessing at what kinds of things the room's owner has in their mind, and whether they might be a kind person or not.
The room's owner, knowing this, will stop talking once they realize that their guest is just gazing around at everything.
"What a nice room!"
"It's all just cheap stuff..."
"It's so you. It's cute!"
"Hey, take a look at this. If you look closely at the design on this curtain there's squirrels holding chestnuts!"
"Ah, so there are! You know, this squirrel kinda looks like you..."
"Oh wow... Oh! No, stop that. Umn-"
and that's how interior designs play a vital role by filling in for words while you're keeping company.
Now, there may be people out there who will hang up squirrel curtains and buy potted plants to stare at in rooms where no one ever visits, but that's more like keeping a diary. There's really nothing strange about having a non-social interior.
Once in a while there might also be somebody who says something like "I just love the color red, so I coordinated the entire room's interior in red!" but that's just like throwing a wild party every single night. It would make your social life rather difficult in my opinion.
What I'm really currently interested in is finding out where the limits of interior design are in the placement of household Buddhist altars.
This friend of mine has been making a ton of money. So much so that even he has no idea how much it is exactly. He owns a number of different companies, and each and every single one of them is tightly bound to the others like they're all part of some kind of jealous, many-legged beast. For example: company A makes loans to company B, company B exploits company C, company C skillfully double-crosses company D... you get the picture. So no matter what he tries, he just can't figure out the combined earnings of his businesses.
His accountant, a man who resembles Yoda wearing thick spectacles, would come along once a week. He'd punch away at the computer keyboard, write down a series of numbers with his fine ball-point pen, draw out some intricate line graphs, and run through the business records.
"I'm transferring these funds over to there," said the accountant.
"Uh huh," said my friend.
"But this is just on paper."
"Well, it's just on paper but transferring the money gives us an issue with taxes."
"But if we don't transfer it, the discrepancy in revenue between the last fiscal year and the current one looks too artificial."
"So we'll tabulate our reported net income at the same time that we transfer the money."
And that's how it goes. It's like running around hitting trees in the forest with a stick. In the end, you can't tell the trees you've hit from the ones you haven't. Even so, he still makes a profit.
No one knew how he had become so wealthy. He wasn't a remarkable man, and his grades weren't that good by any means. It wasn't like he was gifted with incredible foresight or quick thinking either. His character wasn't that exceptional. In fact, it was next to nothing.
So nobody could believe it when they heard that he had gotten rich. No matter how hard they tried to wrap their heads around it, it seemed like a bad joke.
"You're kidding me," said one friend. "If that guy's rich, then I can fly."
But facts are facts. He's making more money than any of us... no, more than all of us put together.
"A long time ago, I saw this comedy western movie," my rich friend told me one day. "What was it called... It had this train that was being chased by Indians. And so the people on the train are burning as much coal as they can to try and get away. But they've used up more than half of it, so they're running out of fuel as they go."
He and I had met for the first time in years, completely by chance at the bar of some hotel. I had just come from someone's wedding ceremony (I can't recall who now), and he was returning from a company party.
"Once the coal runs out, they start throwing stuff like the seats and sections of the roof into the furnace chamber. And when all the seats and roofing have been used up, they take off their clothes and burn them too."
"It's like a slapstick movie. You know what I mean."
"So, everyone burns their clothes. And after that, there's nearly nothing left. But the Indians are still in pursuit. There's no way out."
"Seems that way."
"Well, there's still one piece of luggage remaining. It turns out that it's filled with money. Right there in the train is the whole of the army's salary, packed away in bundles of cash. These bills could've filled Santa's sack five times over."
"So they had an easy time burning it?"
He nodded impassively. "Money's no substitute for staying alive."
"You're right about that."
"Well, it doesn't really matter. It's just a movie after all." He held a cigarette up to his mouth and the bartender swiftly lit it with a lighter. "The thing is, it's the way they go about burning it."
"How do they do it?"
"Well, basically they scoop the bills into the furnace with shovels. They shovel it in huge heaps right into the middle of the flames. Just try to imagine the sight of it. The fire's not important, but the shoveling itself!"
"I'm imagining it."
"How does it make you feel?"
"I don't feel anything at all."
He slid his empty glass about 10 centimeters forward, and 20 seconds later a new glass with a fresh drink in it was placed down in front of him with a satisfying clink.
"What's your annual income?" he asked me.
I told him the honest amount.
"Before or after taxes?"
"Before," I said.
"It's really that little?"
"Yes," I admitted. It was a frank question, but for some reason I wasn't that put off by it.
"Aren't you a writer though?"
"I am according to my tax agent."
"Why is your income so little then?"
"Well, it's just a job that's not very financially rewarding."
"It seems that way," he said, sounding bored. He looked to me like a golf singles player who just found out that he had been teamed up with a beginner. I almost felt like apologizing.
"Scooping up money with a shovel: when I think about it, it's almost like I finally understand it all," my rich friend said.
May 12, Shiseido parlor of the La Floret, Shinjuku. The young female interviewer is 30 minutes late.
"Well, Mr. Murakami, I'd like to ask about the kinds of things you like to eat every day. So let's begin with what you have in the morning."
"First of all, in the morning–"
"Wait, sorry. I forgot to turn up the volume on the recorder. Excuse me, please go ahead."
"First of all, in the morning I eat some vegetab–"
"Interesting. What time do you wake up in the morning?"
"I get up at five. And then–"
"Five o'clock? Five o'clock in the morning?"
"We're talking about mornings right now, aren't we?"
"I suppose we are... But what are you doing, waking up at five in the morning?"
"I'm running! It's not like I'm out stealing panties or anything like that."
"Hahaha.... So, around what time do you go to bed?"
"Nine thirty or ten. Anyway, isn't this interview supposed to be about food? I'm sorry, but I'm keeping people waiting and I don't have a lot of time."
"Right, right.... I apologize."
"I eat breakfast after I'm done jogging, at around six. I have a bowl of rice with plenty of vegetables, a roll of bread with two cups of coffee, and then two eggs, sunny-side up.
"It's really just because the vegetables near where I live are so cheap."
(Cups of coffee are served, clattering against the table.)
"And then that brings us around to lunch."
"It certainly does."
"What kinds of things do you have for lunch?"
"For lunch I usually– hey, the tape isn't moving!"
"Ah, ah, ah! You're right... Darn. What happened?"
Click, click, click....
"The switch isn't on. See, it's set to 'OFF.'"
"Ahhh! I thought I had turned it on..."
"What should we do? Do you want me to repeat everything?"
"No, it's alright. I'll be able to remember it all. You wake up at five and go jogging, have a bowl of rice with salad on top, a roll, and some ham and eggs."
"Yes yes, fried eggs."
"And two cups of coffee."
"Two cups, coffee."
"Can you remember that?"
"It's fine. I've got an incredible memory!"
Mr. Murakami has an early morning. He wakes up at 5:00 AM, and then goes jogging. "Actually, it's like I'm a panty thief, hahaha!" he laughed with embarrassment. His daily menu consists of a salad with ham and eggs, and of course two cans of beer...
Miserliness and avarice, frugality and rationalism.
There's people out there who will bring these kinds of bad ideas into your mind as they prompt you to make noise by violently putting their left and right hands together. You can find a lot of them at places like concert halls. They're out there, and in no small numbers.
As individuals, they don't have much power, but when many of them gather together it all makes for a thunderous noise. Once these malcontents understand what their din is forming, they're all completely filled with confidence by the noises that they're making. They have like-minded people all around them, so many of their bad ideas probably start feeling like good ones.
When things start getting this way, the threats among the noise eventually reach a purposeful crescendo. It's exactly like how a bill collector slams his desk to make you jump.
"Gimme my money's worth!"
"Come off it already!"
These sorts of rude remarks come flying out.
I'm the kind of person who finds this situation terrifying.
But when you're in the middle of an encore the atmosphere gets you feeling really good, so even I tend to join in with the "Gimme my money's worth!" people in clapping.
Just the other day, I went to a friend's concert and for the first time in a while I witnessed what could be called an encore-less performance.
In the midst of an unending applause, one of the band members just jumped up to the front and shouted into the microphone: "We're not performing anymore, so please go home! You can go amuse yourselves!"
The hecklers snapped to their senses, resumed their place as normal members of the audience, and gradually began to leave.
I guess they weren't really troublemakers individually. All of a sudden everybody was just caught up in the bad ideas.
Anyway, I just think this "quid pro quo" attitude is something that I'd like to see done away with entirely.
In saying that, I'd probably never make a good musician.
In a corner of the menu marked "Tonight's Special," I found a dish of antithesis.
"Fresh Normandy Style Antithesis in Garlic Sauce." is what was written there.
As I stared at the menu, I tried asking the headwaiter. "The antithesis, is it actually fresh?"
"Ah, there's no doubt about that, sir." answered the headwaiter, as if he was offended by having been asked.
"Even after being in business for more than 30 years, not one customer has ever been disappointed by what is printed on our menu. When we say 'Today is Monday,' you can be sure that it is 100 percent Monday. And when we say 'Today's antithesis is fresh,' you can be sure that it is 100 percent fresh. Literally they've just been harvested, and they're lively as well. Even now they're still snapping away."
"I apologize then. I was just being careful because I've hardly been able to find fresh antithesis nowadays."
The headwaiter narrowed his eyes and nodded, as if in affirmation.
"I agree with you completely. Certainly in the last 10 years all of the large fresh antithesis have been depleted, and in most places you're getting frozen Indian dwarf antithesis. Except you can barely call the ones from India antithesis. They're lacking in juices, and there's no character to their bitterness."
"However," said the headwaiter, interrupting my words. "However, you shouldn't be worried. We only take in the real thing. Tonight's antithesis is a once in a year delicacy. The price is a bit high, but trying it is worth it. We quickly peal the skin, score it with a knife, and then we pour our scalding hot garlic sauce on top in order to preserve the antithesis's natural crispy firmness. The skin is deep fried and enjoyed with a salad."
"Then that's what I'll have. Along with a dry white wine that goes well with antithesis," I said.
I felt that the price was a little too high, but what else could I do? I had no idea when would be the next time I could eat real antithesis.
When it comes to allergies, mine have been pretty terrible.
Because of this severe allergy I have towards women, I can't believe that I spent nearly 10 months in my mother's womb, but that's what the doctor says.
I have this space extending 2 meters around me. If a girl enters that space, I break out in hives all over my body. My tear ducts swell up and tears come flowing out. I start itching profusely, and I can't help but dig my nails in and scratch. Before long, the red swollen marks left by my nails look like a relief sculpture. The parts that I've scratched two or three times in different directions have started to look like the mesh of a net. I pick away at my scalp. I pull at my hair with all my strength to try and stop the itch. A huge amount of my hair has already come out. I sneeze and mucus goes flying. My wind pipe swells up, so I can't breathe very well. I try my best to breathe in and then out, but each time I end up making a wheezing noise that sounds like somebody blowing a whistle.
If a girl even comes close to that 2 meter area, I can't stop sneezing. That's my warning to quickly back off.
But that's all just a memory to me now because I've made a full recovery from my woman allergy.
Naturally... I like women. So maybe that's why I've been able to concentrate so much on my treatment.
I think that somewhere out there in my readership, there must be some people that share the same kind of problems I've had with woman allergies. I really want those people to be happy, so today I'm going to tell them how I overcame my allergy.
The premise is simple:
You know how people who can't drink sake have one small cup each day in order to build up their antibodies? This method is a lot like that.
In my case, I began with the smell. I started by just standing downwind from women. Then, I asked a friend and had him use an electric fan behind these women in order to give off a stronger smell. When I was on the verge of no longer feeling dizzy while doing this, I took another courage-filled step. I filled up a plastic bag with the woman-scented air, placed my nose and mouth at the bag's opening, and started practicing deep breaths-- just like how juvenile delinquents huff paint thinner. The first day I did this, I blacked out after taking a single breath. Nevertheless, I wouldn't back down. I steeled my weak heart and challenged myself over the next days.
I continued this training for about a month. When I was on the verge of reaching the final stage, I could be approached to the point of several millimeters before my nose started to twitch. I got to where I could even stick my face on the inside of a skirt, so I'd say that it was really worth it.
By then I was confident with the smell, but I was still quite weak when it came to the matter of touching.
I had gotten a piece of peeled-off sunburned skin the size of my pinky tip, and I began the treatment by touching it to all the different parts of my body. Of course, the parts that I touched became reddened and itchy, and I also felt nauseous at first, but since I had overcome the smell before, I was fine with just repeating that process.
Before long, I got as far as being able to hold hands, to embrace while clothed, to embrace while naked, to be OK with all the stuff beyond that, to go in without needing one of those you know whats, to become hated by women, to get to where I'm finally causing allergic symptoms in women all over the place, and even to have them almost call for police when I come within 2 meters.
There once was a young man who became a delinquent for the sake of his health.
His father had sold his libido to an old man that he had met in passing at a Pachinko gift-exchange station. In return, he got two packs of Mild Sevens, a tin of roasted seaweed, a toy car that changes directions when it hits walls, two grapefruit, and a plastic draw-string tote-bag with a picture of a steam locomotive running valiantly across the plains of Hokkaido. That last one wasn't really something that the young man's father had asked for.
"How generous," thought the young man's father. Not only had the old man given him those gifts, but he also received Keiko Takeshita's latest album, a Dunhill lighter, a tin of rice crackers, and some Golden Blend Nescafé along with sugar cubes.
The father had figured that his son's libido was only worth around four tins of roasted seaweed. At first he was suspicious that the old man would suddenly bring up an even larger request in exchange for the additional items, but he felt relieved when he saw him turning around to wash his hands with liquid soap, then going up the stairs.
There are a lot of people who have won more pachinko balls than that old man, but few could be said to have matched his level of grace and refinement. Those who merely take their balls and selfishly exchange them for gifts lack any sort of personal philosophy. The young man's father tried to ponder such things, but in doing so his head began to hurt, so he just gave an admiring "Yep" and smiled.
An entire week had passed since that day, but the young man still had no idea that his own father had sold off his libido.
Seeing absolutely no change in his son, the father became more and more concerned.
He tried asking his son about it in a roundabout way.
The son, not really understanding the meaning of the question, shouted "Kiyomi's a fine girl!" and threw an ashtray into the TV.
They had only moved into the house four years ago, but if there had been a Top 10 list for loud voices heard in that house, the son's yell with the sound of the cathode-ray tube exploding would have certainly taken 1st or 2nd place.
Having heard the racket, the delinquent son's mother returned home holding a several month-old infant in her arms. The father was concerned, but he warmly welcomed her back.
Another week passed, and the mother asked her healthily delinquent son about his libido.
"I dunno what yer talkin' about," shouted the son in a not-quite-so-loud voice and without throwing anything.
The father heard about their conversation from the mother and thought to himself: "Maybe I'll look for that old man again and sell my whole family's libido."