It started as a normal work day. I woke up with a head that felt like a yak had slept on it. I lit a smoke and had a few puffs. I then pulled a beer out of the personal beer cooler I kept by the bed. It was a lazy habit, but it gave me a reason to sit up in the morning. It's hard to drink a full can of beer supine.
I told myself I didn't expect to be drinking beer in bed in the morning forever. The stomach wasn't exactly receptive at first, but after a few gulps, it saw the error of its ways and relaxed. I smoked my cigarette down and gazed at the pale blue sky outside. I never understood the anaemic sky in Japan. It can look as weak and gentle as a sleeping baby and still be hot as hell. I lit another smoke, drained the beer and pulled out another. Finally I was up to taking a shower.
After my shower, I splashed a goodly amount of Portugal on my face and wiped my hands on my armpits which were due to be recreating primordial soup by mid afternoon. I headed off to work. Despite the powdery sky it was hot and by the time I got to the office I had steam cleaned my shirt from the inside. That day I was due to head to Osaka with the Artist. We had some kind of important meeting in the morning. I wondered how early I could walk out without raising eyebrows. I put in two hours in front of the computer, invented an appointment and left the drones to their work. I picked up a few beers at the station and forked out the extra for the express into Tokyo. Apart from the air conditioning and the individual seats, the express has soap. With a few beers in me I had several chances to sway a piss out while holding on to the geriatric rail and then cut all the oil off my hands with the green soap at the auto tap.
I met up with the Artist in Tokyo station and after a couple of Sambucas we headed for the wine shop. Given the three hour journey we stocked up accordingly. We walked out with a dozen imported beers each, a bottle of both white and red wine each, a bottle of sherry, a bottle of port, and a bottle of whisky. We had some time before the train left, so after going through the gates, we headed left and downed a couple of beers at the tachinomi [a concession stand where you can get a beer and a snack]. Then it was train time. Looking at our spoils, we picked up a few chuhais on the shinkansen platform, just to make sure we didn't get thirsty after all that wine.
The Artist is so called not because of his artistic tendencies, but because of what he does with alcohol. Not only is he a man with a powerful thirst, he knows the etiquette and has an uncanny ability to match drinks with moods and physical conditions. He drinks like an artist. And that goes all the way from sipping champagne at receptions to drinking shochu in the street. We downed one of the chuhais in the smoking area while the train was being cleaned then jumped on.
We had been allocated the two seater which spared some poor salaryman from the shock of watching us get drunk at his elbow, but that didn't mean we couldn't annoy the locals. With both of us over six feet and one hundred kilos, we spilt over into the aisle and neighbouring seats and seemed to tilt the whole carriage in our direction. We started with a Tecate, which we finished in the station while travellers got on and searched for their seats with worried looks. The ones who realised their seats were down the other end from us walked by relieved. Cloth briefcases went up on the shelf. Suit jackets were hung up by the windows. Bentos and cigarettes were lined up on trays. We went on to a Grolsch. Halfway through that noble beer the train glided out of the station. We each had a bag of booze under our legs, a full pack of smokes, and some cigars for the port. We had three hours of solid boozing and not one rule in the country that could stop us. Every building we passed put another barrier between us and our offices, and every beer we drank put us closer to oblivion. In other words, we were as close to heaven as either of us were ever likely to get.
We went through Holsten, VB, Singha, Dos Equis, Tsintao, San Miguel, Nastro Azzuro, Newky Brown, Hoegaarden. By Shin Yokohama we were opening our last beer, Guinness. Which introduced the question of whether to drink the sherry first. After all, it is a kind of aperitif. As usual, the Artist had no problem solving the issue. He pulled out the plastic wine glasses and poured us both a generous amount of Uncle Peter.
"Drink 'em together," he said. The result was quite invigorating, leaving a taste like bitter chocolate in the mouth. The Guinness was soon gone, and we were left with twelve empties and half a bottle of sherry on deck. I decided to do a gomi [trash] run and take the chance to release some of the suds building up inside me. While taking a piss I wondered why it was that we were moving at 200 kph but the piss just came out straight as ever. You'd think it would curl just a little in the direction we were coming from. I decided to ask the Artist what that was all about. I washed my hands, splashed a little soap on the visage and went back to my seat.
We were soon through the Sherry and onto the white wine. The Artist always travelled with a full set of tools, i.e. a waiter's friend. I'd be happy to tell you the name of the wine and describe its aroma and flavour, but it wouldn't matter. Even if I could remember that it was a "tarty little number with acorns, roast aardvark and Belgian rainforest on the nose, and a palate of bruised fennel seeds, Sargasso seaweed and transmission fluid" that would all disappear in the plume of smoke the Artist blew between the ears of the people sitting in front of us as he leaned back, exhaling a seven star, glass in hand, saying: "Good drop, that."
The Artist was married to the maddest girl in Japan, which is a claim not made lightly. About this stage of a drunk, he would get talking about her latest episode. This time it was her claim to speak better English than him. Despite her apparent disadvantages over the Artist, being born and raised in Japan, for example, this didn't stop her marching around the house muttering under her breath (in Japanese) about her husband's dubious English, and how she could do his job "properly" if she didn't have to spend all her waking hours cleaning up after the man. Now the Artist is an Oxford graduate and has a vocabulary so rubrical and multifarious he could function as a walking thesaurus, but when it was pointed out to his wife that she couldn't even understand his English, she barely even paused before saying: "That's because I speak American English." Which closed the matter as far as she was concerned, and became as much part of the Artist's household as the bricks and furniture.
As we neared Nagoya we had finished our reds and were onto the port. It was a pleasant enough drink, and went well with the King Edwards we used to out-smoke the smokers. I remembered the question I had about the non curling piss, and the Artist told me something about relative gravity that I have since completely forgotten. It could have something to do with the amount drunk that night, but it could also have something to do with the Artist being full of shit. I guess I'll never know. Eyebrows were definitely being raised in the area around us as a cloud of white smoke gradually engulfed half the carriage. There were a few deliberate coughs and looks around from the troops.
"Fucking smokers," I mumbled. "You're on the fucking smoking carriage and you're choosy about the kind of smoke. You're worse than a meat eater who objects to people eating whale or whatever other animal you think is fucking cute."
Admittedly, things weren't helped by the Artist's habit of exhaling prodigiously at head height and at times aiming directly at people's coats.
After the port is was time to cleanse the palate with a chuhai and send the Artist off to get ice. Amongst other kinds of artist, he was a great bullshit one. I watched him limp down the corridor to the service car with a twisted ankle no doubt due to a sudden curve in the tracks and return in full stride with several cups full of ice. We had decided to go proper and get a Laphroaig. This would nullify any cloying from the heavy wine intake, not lose out to the cigars, and annoy anyone within whiffing distance. The only problem was we only had forty odd minutes to finish it. The Artist placed three cups of ice on each of our trays and filled them all with whisky. That pretty much drained the bottle. For about the tenth time that day, we tapped glasses, said "Cheers," took a sip and let out an "Aaaah. Good drop, that." And it was. Even in the smoky atmosphere, the fumes curled up my olfactory tubes and released peat and sea spray into my tired nose. It was like sheltering on the beach in a eucalyptus bushfire.
The announcement for Shin Osaka came exactly one cigarette before the station, right on time. As the train pulled in, we downed the second glass of Laphroaig, stubbed out our smokes and gathered up our things. We stood two abreast on the escalator down for no other reason than we were completely drunk.
"Top up, old man?" said the Artist as he emptied the bottle into my glass. We boarded a taxi with a glass each of Laphroaig in hand and rode imperiously to the hotel in Shinsaibashi. We had hit a comfortable groove of banter, mostly centred around the respective weirdness of our women. My girlfriend, I related, was the worst cook in the free world. Her effort of the previous night was cold spaghetti with a tin of tuna dumped on top. No sauce, no flavouring. I had to make my excuses and wolf down a sandwich on the way back from the convenience store. We spent the taxi ride working out reasons I could give to cut off the relationship.
"Tell her the truth," the Artist said.
"Tell her to go make her miso soup elsewhere."
"That's a bit cruel, isn't it?"
"Whatever. You're going to hurt her anyway. This way she'll be able to learn something."
We booked into the hotel, which was directly above a "Freshness Burger," which just happened to have beer on the menu. That's where I found the Artist after putting my stuff in my room. We had a couple of beers before heading out on the town. First call was dinner. Now, the Artist eats anything. I'm not fussy, but the Artist actively searches out the weirdest food possible. It's just his perverse way of doing things. So whenever we go out for dinner, it inevitably involves eating manta ray testicles or horse snot. Mostly, I've given up actually eating, and just enjoy the beer side of things. This night we found ourselves at some skewer place that should have been named "Things no Sane Person would Ever Eat." As I settled into a beer, the Artist was receiving plate after plate of skewers. "What's that?" I'd ask. "This one is dolphin eyes, that one is swan brains, and that one there is tanuki[raccoon] dicks." And down they all went. I believe the Artist has some kind of list in his head, and won't be happy till he's eating everything. He ticks them off one by one, like a teenager putting notches on his bed post.
After dinner we went looking for a suitable girlie bar. Our typical way of doing this was to find the "man." This meant looking for the scout who would give us the best deal and be bullied down in price. The advantage of a scout is that they are there to fill empty bars. Full bars don't need scouts. So the price is always negotiable. You don't want a junior scout who can't set the price himself, nor do you want one who can out barter you with experience. So selecting your "man" is the most important step to a successful night. You can also demand he takes you around several bars and not pay till you're satisfied, but that's another story.
There was no need to bully the guy this night, because for 3,000 yen an hour we found ourselves in an almost empty bar full of girls in high school uniforms. We got two each, one on each arm. A bottle of whisky was produced and the typical set of ice and water. The Artist made the wise move of sending the water away to stop them serving the whisky too weak. So we settled into a good old fashioned drunken flirt with the captive audience. There were so many girls around that we realised there was no need to put up with anyone sullen or frigid. I kicked a couple of girls off before I got the looks and personalities I wanted. We polished off our first bottle in an hour and a rather panicky "boy" came out with a fresh one. He also tried to pull a "Soro soro girl change" move on us which I answered very quickly: "Don't be ridiculous, man. There's no one else here, we'll keep these ones. Now leave the whisky and fuck off." Which he did.
We ended up finishing three bottles of whisky. I fell asleep around 2 a.m. and when I came to it seemed that atmosphere had changed. We decided to head back to the hotel. As we weaved our way along the footpath, the Artist informed me that I had broken the toilet in the bar.
"There was water fucking everywhere," he said. "I opened the door and it was gushing out of a broken pipe. They wanted to make us pay for it."
To this day I have no memory of deplumbing that toilet. Somehow the Artist managed to bullshit our way out of trouble, not for the first time. After a drunken trek around Shinsaibashi, getting lost about six times, we found ourselves back at the hotel. Just across the street there was some kind of party going on, with cute girls hanging around outside. The Artist went up to bed but I decided to get a night cap and see if I could get my dick wet.
I strolled up to the lectern parked in the entrance.
"This is a private party," the bouncer informed me.
"Of course it is, that's why I'm here."
"You're not on the guest list."
"Naturally. I'm a journalist."
"Bullshit. You're just a drunk foreigner trying to gatecrash our party."
"I swear I'm here to cover the event for, um, an internet site."
"It's an English site that covers Japanese news and events. Lots of foreigners in this country, you know."
"What's it called?"
"All right. In you go."
Once in I found two rooms. To the left was a full bar with no one sitting at it. To the right was a room full of fashion models. Girls so beautiful that they could make your heart cry. I headed left.
"Don't know that one. Can you tell us how it's made?"
"My good friend," I started off. "My good friend. This is the greatest cocktail ever invented. This is the original cocktail. The original cocktail. This is New Orleans in a glass, the big easy distilled into 50 mils of pure, elegant, sin."
"But how do you make it?"
"Look, I'm a journalist. Here from Let's Japan dot com. How should I know? Give me a whisky."
"Journalist eh? Not just some drunk gaijin wanting a piece of our girls, then?"
"No sir. I'm here on a serious mission, reporting on the latest Osaka trends for Let's Japan dot net. Fill her up."
"Tough job, I expect."
"No, journalism. How do you report?"
"Well, I have here a pen and, just a sec..." I reached across "...some napkins here so I just jot down what happens here and sculpt that baby into a report in the morning. Very tough boss. Very tough. Is someone keeping a cork in that whisky?"
"Here you go."
"Well thanks there, my friend. Nothing's lonelier than a glass of ice. Unless, of course, you count me into the equation. Ha ha ha!"
"I think I'll just head over to the next room and take some notes on my, er..."
"That's it. Napkins. With my pen here."
"Don't mind if I do."
The party ended with me clasping a glass of whisky in one hand while vaguely attempting to stay upright and interview members of the band in the foyer. The girls had all gone home. I had gotten so into the role that I had some poor man against the wall questioning him about bass techniques. He turned out to be a roadie. The perfume of the girls lingered around just long enough for me to smell the escaping dreams of a wannabe teenager. Just enough for me to carry home the memory of girls chirping into taxis, their linen crushing into a neat shape and disappearing to the suburbs. Girls with plans so facile, so brand oriented, that I couldn't talk with them about more than the weather. I was having trouble distinguishing what happened ten minutes ago and what was happening now. I was drunk beyond what any lexicographer had ever planned for the word.
Luckily the hotel was across the street. After a farewell to the bouncers, I checked back in and made my way up to my room. Hung my suit up carefully and threw my shirt and undies on the floor. I had somehow acquired an egg sandwich and a packet of nuts, both of which I was way too drunk to open. So I went to bed with a vague plan to open them in the morning. After getting into bed naked, I felt the need for one last monumental opening of the floodgates. So I did what I always do. Got of bed, opened the heat door before the genkan, and turned right to the toilet. I fumbled around a bit, trying to find the porcelain in the dark. "Fucking light switch," I said as I thumped at the air. Except it wasn't dark. And there was no light switch. I looked up and blinked. I was in a hotel corridor. The door swung shut behind me. Self locking. It was 5 in the morning. I was naked.
I tried my door. Locked. I tried the Artist's door opposite. Locked. "Shit," I thought, in a rare moment of clarity. I knocked on the Artist's door tentatively. I could hear snoring from within. I knocked harder, but that bastard just kept on sleeping. After trying out every volume from pianissimo to fortefortissimo, I was launching my body against that door, trying to get the fucker awake. Finally the door opened and a face appeared in the crack. A small, bespectacled Japanese face. A face that looked up and down, not believing its eyes. A face with a look on it as though I had just murdered his children. "Wrong room," I said, cupping the old delicatessen in my left hand.
I retreated to the vending machine alcove. I needed a beer but had no loose change about me. After a few fruitless and painful minutes of trying to kick a beer out, I decided I would have to swallow my pride and head down to the lobby for a key. As I approached the elevator, there before me was the only good news for the entire night: a phone! I dialled for the front desk and explained I was locked out of my room to the man.
"No problem, sir, I'll send one of the girls up right away."
"Jesus Christ man, don't do that!"
"I think you better handle this one yourself."
"Okay. I'm coming up."
Two minutes later, the man calmly segued out of the elevator, slid across the carpet, and whipped my room open with a master key. Not once did he look so much as vaguely surprised at my condition. He even held the door open for me.
"There you are, sir. Good night."
"Great night!" I smiled.
Somehow, I made it to the meeting the next morning.