In Westfield, New Jersey, United States, North American Continent, at my apt upstairs from the now-long-gone Tullio’s Hair Salon (which daily pumped up the odoriferous air of Free Heat, Aqua Velva, and Brill Cream), I received a visitor from not another planet exactly but instead from a way strange land indeed.
On my doorstep landed a stunned-looking Japanese, with a backpack tortue, who introduced himself, “Kanichiwa! I am Ken!”
Looking like a kamikazee pilot ready to commit haru-kiri, ken took off up the stairs and entered into my humble abode.
A good galpal of mine, Jen Harmon, upon whose dormitory floor at “collitch” I had once hungoverly awoken surrounded by a circle of carefully placed cigarettes, had lived in Tokyo for several years, TEFLing “Englis” and deejaying for a considerable sum indeed. In fact, we now called her Yen Harmon, because she had made a fistful there. Anyway, luckily she had called in advance warning of Ken (short for “Kenziburo”) and his imminent visitation as an uninvited Japanese houseguest.
Indeed a stranger in an even stranger land, unused to our customs, he politely excused himself to clog up the toilet, without plunging it, or even mentioning the incident.
He seemed politely overawed by my awesome collection of bookshelves jampacked with Gumby-worthy reads gleaned from free books stolen from Pocket Books, where I then worked as an editor at the Simon & Schuster Building on Avenue of the Americas, Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York, United States, North American Continent.
Ken paused like a lousy fly perusing the spine of the late family friend Paul Fussell’s bestseller THANK GOD FOR THE ATOM BOMB! Which was a book I believed was not only banned in Nippon, but which is considered an infinite slight on the former kingdom of Emporer Hirohito.
Of course, I neglected to mention that my cousin Toby, a forestry worker in Oregon and a board member of our privately held family oil company based in Houston, TX, and New Orleans, LA, was the grandson of the legendary Commodore Scott from the US Navy’s “Pacific Theater.”
Like his friend Akiyoshi who had once visited with Jen, Ken was studying “Norwegian Studies.” (Why? I don’t know.) Ken was assured a good position for life in a big company like Sony or Toyota, just for getting into college in the first place.
With a smile like a Pap Smear and only babytalk “Englis” within his lexicon, including such whoppers as “Disneyrand” and “Basebaru,” Kenziburo somehow got across that he was stopped at Customs at Newark International Airport as a suspected Yakuza member, on account of his bald Caillou-like head and weird serpent tattoos. “No Yakusa, see ten fingas!” The Yakusa, as we all know from spy novels, are Japan’s legal mafia, made up of both Nipponese and Korean band members.
After using up all the good conversation (no: fatigued by the efforts in lost-in-translation), I yawned several times to politely hint that it was time to go to bed.
“Oh, John, you so tiresome!”
Really resembling a Kabuki Theater Puppet, strings pulled by an Architect of the Universe, Ken slept every night during his roughly two week stay, struggling with bad dreams and crying out the names of Japanese Horror Film monsters such as “Gameragodzillarodanhydra!”
Inscrutable yes, but I like them too. I even had a theory that Perry Mason, star of the original black-and-white film “GODZILLA” might in fact be an Ainu ancient, maybe even a descendant of continent-stomper Aaron Burr or a member of the Japanese Royal Family. Ditto, Nick Adams.
Ken helped out a little bit around the apt, busily cleaning my phone cord and refusing our lavish dinners, preferring instead his packet pouches of Tokyo-brand Instant Ramen Noodles.
But then one day he hopped the train and headed to Asbury Park to visit the Shinto Shrine of The Stoned Pony, where Bruce Springsteen got his start, after a delayed start as a pumpmeister at petrol stations:
Tramps like us
Baby we were born to run!
Returning looking a little shaken and stirred, having slept, as was his legendary wont, on the beach and under the boardwalk, he left me a gift in the fridge, a white box with glutinous MSG (the ingredient, not the Garden), a Moo Goo Gaipan glop with sticky rice, ridged circular carrots, and baby corncobs, along with a hastily scribbled note: “Here some strange foods to you eat.”
Yum! Thanks. Upchuck.
Kidnapping my Japanese Houseguest and driving him in my Peter Honda over to my parent’s yellow manse on the border of Plainfield and Scotch Plains, once again in colonial New Jersey, Ken marveled at the size of the structure, intimating that they had nothing like this in Japan.
After a lavish feat of Roast Beef and Yorky Pud, out came the Angel Food Cake with ridgelike waves of spatula-painted Mocha Frosting.
“How do you like desert,” my father leaned over with a smilish grin.
“VERY SUGAR!” Ken came up with with a Lady Gaga grin.
Soon afterwards, Ken’s head went whump! Forehead seemingly glued to the dining table, Ken began to snore heavily, as we all roared with animé laughter. This was a funnier mise-en-scene even than “Speed Racer” or “Kimba the White Lion.”
And much more like “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
We left Ken like that, but then he suddenly woke up, with cartoon stars circling around his head.
After Ken left our gracious hospitality (that is, sponging off us for roughly two weeks), I receive a postcard from Israel: “Hi, it’s Ken. I am now in Israel, because it is very cheap!”
After a tsunami typhoon of nuclear laughter, I called up Jen Harmon again, who confided, “Ken is something of a legend in Japan, for sleeping in parks and on beaches to save money.”
I told her I could not believe how nice Ken really was.
I stuck an obsolete cassette tape into the vagina of my VHS player box and watched a classic Japanese horror film, “FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD,” starring Nick Adams, which I had first seen at Mr. Maddox’s house in Plainfield, New Jersey, a Victorian spa town filled with vets burning with revenge for the Yellow Man. . . .