Monday, November 7, 2016

Japan: Base Housing

From the start, the young man was counting down the days till his wife joined him in Japan. He was there through no wish of his own. He had avoided the draft by joining the Air Force, and now he was a member of the USAF Security Service at a base across the bay from Fukuoka.

She was pregnant, and her obstetrician had given her a small window of opportunity for making the journey from Florida. 

His staff-sergeant friend Vic Takata had helped them find a home in a nearby village, but it wouldn't be ready until after the safe-to-travel period.

The young man's first home in Japan was a cramped room in a WWII-era barracks. He had two roommates in this little cell: Spencer Haywood and Ernest Peace.

Ernest, a garage-band musician, wore glasses as thick and distorting as Roy Orbison's. Though not much of a reader, he knew enough about Tolstoy to think it would be fun to name one of his sons Warren. 

Ernie was also waiting for his wife to join him. In his early days there, his wife's letters were all about how much she loved and missed him, and sometimes she would include perfectly rhymed poetry she had written herself. 

Suddenly, though, her letters grew colder, and they focused on the sweltering Kentucky heat and how much she hated moving back in with her mom. Something sounded wrong. Ernie began to anticipate a Dear John letter. 

He was right to worry. His wife, grieving over his absence and their financial hardship, sought consolation from their pastor. After he had soothed her with garden-variety pastoral solace for a while, he consoled the lonely girl by making "gentle love" to her several times, she said, but it was all over now. 

How many times? She wasn't sure. Several.

She told Ernie the day she arrived in Japan. 

But the young man wasn't worried about his pregnant wife doing that sort of thing. He and she were still crazy in love. Plus her pastor was a deranged old coot, and the man told his wife the pastor was probably more pervert than preacher. And anyway, his wife was as trustworthy as the sunrise.

About a week before the man's pregnant wife came to Japan, the three roommates decided to get drunker than usual and to "hang it," which meant drinking all night, then going to work in the morning without ever going to sleep. 

They did it. They drank rum and Cokes until they ran out of Cokes. Then they passed around a fifth of Bacardi, sipping cautiously from it, because they weren't crazy, they knew the dangers of drinking liquor straight.

Around 3 a.m., they became hungry, but they only had peanut butter and bread. So they made sandwiches, then sipped the rum to keep from choking on them. When all the bread was gone, they decided maybe they would go to bed after all, but by then it was time to get on the bus that took them to work. 

It was hilarious. They had earned the distinction of being real men. Only pussies couldn't hang it. The three of them laughed and laughed.

About mid-morning they began to grow pale. Then they started puking. Then they got the dry heaves, each of them returning from the latrine claiming his suffering was way worse than the others'. Then they got the raging shits accompanied by excruciating nausea and cramps. 

They vowed never to drink again and the next night they had only a couple of beers, Old Milwaukee, because the base liquor store was almost always out of Bud and Pabst.

A few more days, and the man's wife would join him. He was pretty sure he wouldn't be "hanging it" anymore after that.

Always expecting the worst, he had come to believe he would never see his wife again, but she arrived safely, still alive, still his wife, and they were beside themselves with joy. Finally, the Air Force would leave them alone and they could be married again for a while. 

The completion of their house had been further delayed, however, so they would live somewhere, anywhere, they didn't care. They were young. He was 20, she was 19.

The first night or two they stayed upstairs in his creepy lieutenant's house. The lieutenant had a scarcely visible wife and an ill-tempered toddler who was farmed out to a babysitter at every opportunity. Neither he nor his wife enjoyed the cranky and willful brat's company. 

The lieutenant was not manly. He wore thick-lensed glasses and oiled his thinning hair as if he were living in the Fifties. He had fingers like bread sticks, long, thick, soft, with nails chewed off as far as his crooked front teeth could reach.

The first night, he showed them to their room and, like Norman Bates with his guest Marion Crane, helped them settle in, the towels are in here, jiggle the handle if the, uh, you know, if it keeps running, and it's okay to crack that window a bit. 

Between her pregnancy and the 14-hour flight, the wife was exhausted, but the lieutenant kept coming into their bedroom to make sure everything was okay. He was clearly a pervert.

As soon as possible, the couple moved in with Vic and his new wife, Sharon, a big-boned, buxom blonde Aryan just a generation out of Berlin, but now a Texas cowgirl.The young man considered her legs shapely, but a few sizes too large for the runway and her clothes. 

She liked to wear tops that revealed a generous amount of cleavage, and shorts that allowed onlookers to see roughly two inches of her buttocks. Vic's fellow airmen called her "sweet cheeks," behind her back and to her face. She called them "horny GIs."

But that was okay with Vic. He encouraged her to dress like that. He was shorter than his wife and a little tubby, and he was aware of the stereotype concerning Japanese men's lack of virility. 

So having Sharon show off her boobs and sweet cheeks was his way of saying, "Take a look at what I sleep with every night and eat your hearts out!" 

The man and his pregnant wife enjoyed Vic's and Karen's cooking. Vic made perfect sukiyaki, and Karen made the best Tex-Mex food the young couple had ever tasted, even though they had lived in San Angelo for nine months where his wife was a waitress at a Tex-Mex restaurant. 

But the food was the only thing the couple liked about living with the recently married Vic and Sharon. The little Japanese house had only a living room and a bedroom. The young man and his pregnant wife slept on a cheap futon unfurled on a tatami floor. They were separated from the Takatas by a sliding door called a shoji that was literally paper thin. 

So it was often difficult for the young guests to fall asleep. They could clearly hear the German American wife giving frequent, insistent instructions to her Japanese American husband, tirelessly tutoring him to become the efficient, effective lover she so richly deserved.

Sometimes doing his best was not enough.

Still, the young couple was happy. They joked about their lusty hosts and speculated about their soon-to-be new home and what it would be like to have a child. Their friends from their Texas days all assumed their baby would be a boy and would only refer to it by the husband's name. But the couple wanted to name him something else. 

How about Stephen? Luke? Something strong. Maybe Daniel. The lions' den, and all of that. 

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