Monday, November 7, 2016

Japan: Base Housing

From the start, he 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.
Spoiler alert from previous post: Their baby kept breathing.

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.

His 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 a few meetings, he consoled her 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 this as soon as she arrived in Japan. 

But the 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 he believed he was more pervert than preacher. And anyway, his wife was as a 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." To hang it was to drink all night, then go 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.

Close to 3 a.m., they became hungry, but all they had in the room was peanut butter and bread. 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, but 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. 

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 man and his pregnant wife slept on a cheap futon unfurled on the 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.

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.  

After what seemed like several years, the couple moved into their own house, composed of roughly the same material as the shoji. It swayed when the wind blew, when a truck drove by, when someone walked up the stairs. They loved it. It was the best house they had ever lived in, and it would be the best for a long, long time.
The couple's new house. The dog is Woodstock.

As the baby's due date drew near, the rain started up. The husband believed it was monsoon season. He had read about monsoons in school, but he associated them with India. Maybe it was a typhoon.

It rained every day. Grey skies, no lightning, dark clouds hurrying across the sky like bombers. Rain, all the time, rain, rain.

The young couple had found an old mini-car, a Cony, for $200, but it would not start in the rain. The husband had to ride to work with Vic who drove a dependable Toyota. Soon there was standing water in the streets, and even the Toyota protested. And the couple's baby began to grow restless in his own snug little home, and he moved and kicked and shoved, trying to find a comfortable position.

It rained till the water in the street outside their house was almost knee deep.

One afternoon, the husband was at work when the creepy lieutenant told him a call had come in, it was about his wife, she believed she was going into labor. Her OB, however, had to make sure they were real pangs and not just Braxton Hicks, fake ones, because the nearest military hospital was all the way down to Sasebo, 90 miles away, and too often young moms would make that long trip only to learn they just had gas or some such discomfort, and return embarrassed to Fukuoka.

It was Friday when the call came in. The husband was told to stay busy with his work until further notice. Somehow, the husband didn't know how, arrangements were being made outside the secluded top-secret compound where he worked, and after a while the lieutenant said it was time, and someone drove him home then called a cab that somehow made it through the deluge and took him to the train station.

Off to Sasebo, where he would become a dad. 

Later, he would become a reader and writer, a searcher and sucker for symbols and myths. This scene he was living out now, a journey on a train through the rain -- too trite to write about. What a cliche. Too literary to be authentic, to ring true. A character's rite of passage, his baptism into another life, a higher level of being. His past flying by out the rain-streaked train window, the juvenile foolishness, drinking himself sick with his roommates, the nomadic couple with no place to lay their head, all of it blurred by the speed of its passing, the rush to Sasebo, . . .

Would Sasebo be the Promised Land of milk and honey and a family, stability and peace, or the witch's house, fraught with danger, a dark night in the dark forest, requiring yet another crossing of the water?

But these ancient myths, though stale from overuse, were inaccessible to the young man on the train.

The rain just kept falling. Across from him, an American, a dense but talkative Navy career man, told an old Japanese couple about Japan. He said now that the bombs had been dropped and General MacArthur had helped rebuild Japan. the white man and yellow man could be friends again. He said Japan now had the largest population in the world. The old couple nodded, humoring him.

The young man who was about to become a father thought the train was really hauling ass, racing for shelter from the rain, roaring, creaking, rocking, the dipshit across him full of lies, jabbering away, as Sasebo drew closer and closer. 

A dad. Daddy? Father? Papa?

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