DONT GO HERE 1
The first time I modeled in Tokyo was in 2007. Cell phones existed, but international roaming would have sent my family into debt. My agency gave me a phone calling card; I used the model apartment’s landline phone to call home once a week. There was no Google Maps. If you got lost on a way to a job, you depended on the kindness of strangers to help you find your way. The Japanese agency I worked for was not a terribly kind stranger; they were required to drive us to castings, but heading to our jobs once we booked them was our own responsibility. The night before your job, the agency handed you a small manila envelope with a print out of the job title, your net day rate, and instructions on what to bring with you: a nude thong, high heels, a nude bra. Sometimes they included a little message asking you to please take care of your body hair removal.
There was also a map, but it wasn’t a real map. It was hand-drawn, with little landmarks like “KFC,” “7-11,” or the number of a subway station exit. They often excluded the number of streets between point A, B, C, and D, so it was impossible to know where to turn unless you passed a worthy landmark. I often left two hours early to give me enough time to hunt down the job location, or I’d call crying from a pay- phone. Lateness incurred a monetary penalty, a lecture, and cool looks of shame from the entire photoshoot staff for the day. As with most difficult-but-enlightening life experiences, I look back on these moments and laugh.
In every city I’ve lived in, I’ve made my second home at a bar or coffee shop. I find somewhere I like and go frequently until the regulars can no longer avoid my presence and come to accept me as one of their own. I love these places. They are my friends and they are my family, and, quite frankly, I don’t want your shitty ass taking up space at my bar unless you’re worthy of being there. So let’s make a deal: I’ll tell you a story about my favorite places, and you take a real hard look in the mirror and decide if you’re a respectful person. If you think you are, then you can follow my terrible Japanese modeling agency-style directions and try to find it.
DON’T GO HERE
There’s always a fifty percent chance that the owner of this bar will be asleep when I arrive.
I go upstairs and knock on the door. If he answers, he’s awake, and if he doesn’t, he’s asleep and I let myself in awkwardly and tap him on the shoulder to let him know my friends and I have come. The room is small and grey, and it smells like liquor-infused carpet and spilled ashtrays. There’s a TV on the wall that plays Japanese variety shows at a barely audible volume. Two long couches line the walls, paired with tables and cozy sitting stools. The owner, Mr. Pachino, is an elderly man with smoke stained fingers and an entourage of interesting customers. On any evening it’s common to meet a Japanese AV (porn) actor, a rapper, or a group of yakuza. If it’s empty, Mr. Pachino will talk about his daughter, an artist, and grab a binder full of magazine clippings featuring her work.
I frequent this bar when I want to avoid the typical Shibuya night crowds. Accompanied by a drunken friend, I sit down on the old, stinky couch and quickly befriend the tattooed gaggle of gangsters. My Japanese conversational skills are limited, which is embarrassing given the amount of time I have spent in Tokyo. (An ever constant back-and-forth between Seoul, Tokyo, and NYC leaves me learning and forgetting whatever new skills I acquire.) Alcohol is a miraculous social bondant, traversing language and cultural divides. My friend finds a girl to talk to and leaves me to fend for myself. I make bar talk with the tattooed guys: where am I from, where do I live, I came here by bicycle? NO. WAY.
Bicycle, that’s right. The crazy American girl rode her bike ten whole kilometers to come here. I feel for the key to my U-Lock in my short pockets, but it’s gone.
No matter, I think, bending over to search through my backpack. Not here… not here… not here…wheeeere?
A pimpling of sweat breaks out above my brows. I dip my hands in the couch crevices. This garners attention from my friend and new acquaintances.
“What are you looking for?” My friend asks.
“My bike key is missing! How the fuck am I going to get home?”
I am now frantic. The trains stopped at midnight, and a taxi to my house would be fifty dollars that I don’t have. I don’t have the tools to bust open a U-Lock. I rush through the varying scenarios in my head, despairing of losing my main mode of transportation due to the loss of a stupid, tiny key.
My bar compatriots sense my anguish. They start looking on the floor with their phone flashlights. Under the couches, in the couches, the bathroom, the bar counter, no no no it’s not here. Another man unearths the couches from against the wall, strewing the cushions all over the floor. The entire bar is on a drunken scavenger hunt, and I am a mess.
But then. Oh no. My sock, I put the key in my sock.
I remember and my face instantly flushes red. I pull it out from the imprint it had made against the skin of my ankle.
The crowd gathers around me. I cry more, this time with embarrassment. But they hug me – these big, tough looking dudes. And they laugh with, and then at, me. In a swoop they lift me up into the air like I am surfing a crowd and toss me like a high school cheerleader, over and over again, until I was laughing too.
Written by: Sasha Owen-Longfellow
Edited by: Susannah Rand