“Yes, when I was a slave in Japan. I felt in total despair every day because I had to pretend to be someone else in order to earn money. I had to go to work to do my supposed duty, which I didn’t believe in a bit. I wanted to write a book, but I couldn’t produce anything. I wanted to escape from the futile social atmosphere, but I had no idea how. And suddenly, everything became impossible to me, and I could see only unlimited void in my future. I tried to read my favorite books to cheer myself up, but no use. Even Hermann Hesse couldn’t rescue me from the hopeless apathy. Thereupon, I surrendered to total despondency without fighting. I even went further and let myself lay on the bed for thirty-five hours.”
“What? Are you crazy?” his curiosity was piqued, and he demanded, “Did you lie down on the bed for thirty-five hours without doing anything? What did you do on the bed for such long hours? Tell me, Shogo, I beg you.”
“Nothing! Nothing at all, my friend. I was just lying down on the bed and staring at the ceiling. I was thinking how hopeless my future was and how my every fervent effort went wrong. But it did me good. After thirty-five hours of depression, I woke up again with renewed energy to start fighting for my life. During my brooding, I realized I was not ready to be defeated yet, because I’ve not done my best apparently; I had not even written a single book yet. I decided I would keep on fighting till the world recognizes that I have a literary power. My friend, why don’t you let yourself surrender and become dispirited today? It’ll alleviate your despondency somehow, believe me. But I don’t want to see you in this gloomy condition tomorrow; I expect you’ll be a different man and wake up triumphant.”
“I’ve never thought about that – it’s very interesting. I like your idea of total resignation. I’ll let myself be saturated with a gloomy view of the future today. I hope the feeling of antipathy will be gone tomorrow.”
Spring is coming with the scent of flowers, and trees are blossoming everywhere. The balmy weather makes me tranquil, and the sunshine gives me vigor. I have been writing serenely with diligence since my return to Mexico City. Now I can concentrate on writing fully and can spend all my time with writing. By virtue of Gerardo and Jorgito, who have generously provided a congruous milieu for me, I do not worry about anything; I am able to do what my heart desires every single minute. They are truly good friends. I feel so alive and live in harmony with the universe every day. I am beginning to be in love with myself and my life, day by day.
One day when I came back to the apartment in order to resume my work from my night perambulation through the park, an unanticipated scene was waiting for me. When I stepped into the room, a stark-naked Gerardo was lying on the bed and watching TV with vacant eyes. When I saw his ugly naked body, uncontrollable laughter assaulted me, and I let myself burst out laughing at him uproariously. And I said, with tears in my eyes, “Oh my God! You’re so disgusting. Cover yourself up, man!”
He seemed utterly crestfallen and seemed not to care about anything, including showing off his shrunken stallion. He glanced at me and muttered, “Have you ever really felt down in the dumps in your life?”
“Yes, I have. Anyway, please cover yourself up for God’s sake. Please, Gerardo!”
“What’s the difference if one wears fancy clothes, or if one is naked when he has no hope for his life?”
“Okay, okay, my friend. I understand your spirit is all torn up somehow, but right now, I need you to cover yourself up, so that we can discuss your gloomy prospects. Gerardo, please behave like a human being.”
“Selfish son of a bitch! You don’t let me be naked in my own apartment!” he cried out. “I’m trying to live as a primitive form of life anyway. Okay, I’ll dress, shit!” With that, he reluctantly picked up his clothes and started putting them on with ostentatious slowness, like a rebuked child.
I inquired tenderly, “What happened to you? Why are you all in all saturated with downheartedness for life, my friend?”
“I don’t know, Shogo. Today I feel everything is wrong. I don’t understand why I have to go to work every day, since I hate my job so much. And the worst part is that I don’t believe in what I am doing. I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I envy you, Shogo, for your life has meaning every single day. You absolutely know what you want to do for the rest of your life. You are lucky to be able to recognize what your heart desires. However, the majority of people, including me, don’t know what we want from our lives. We just go to work every day without thinking anything, since the world works this way.” He lit a cigarette, and his eyes were downcast. And he continued, “You know, today I tried to watch TV and tried to play X-box in order to cheer myself up, but nothing cheered me up; on the contrary, I’m getting more and more depressed. Tell me, Shogo, have you ever been in despair like this in your life?”
In my last day of sojourn in Los Angeles, I decided to pay a visit to LA Central Library. When I went to the library, I felt I was at home at last. I was impressed by the design of the building, and the stack of numerous rare books. The inside of library was artistically bedecked. For instance, an admirably painted ceiling in the first floor lobby: vividly colored rings, starbursts, checkerboards and names of Los Angeles novelists intertwined on the thirty-six foot by thirty-six foot ceiling. Also, each escalator landing had alluring lanterns. The shape of an upside-down human profile is repeated in the form of twenty-four radiating vanes on the upper portion of each lantern.
I fell into reminiscence of the one of my best periods in Vancouver. I love Vancouver Public Library more than any libraries in the world. The building is constructed like Roman Coliseum. I had always stayed there to bury myself into reading books for five or six hours a day. What a wonderful time I spent there!
When I came to the literature section, I went to the information desk to ask where I could find particular books. But alas, a librarian gave a brief glance at me and resumed his reading, without asking me if I needed some help. “He definitely misunderstood me. He must have thought that I am one of common Japanese tourists who do not have any literary taste,” I thought, “I should teach him to understand that he is dealing with a literary man.” Thereupon, I called into question with a straight face, “Excuse me, sir? I am looking for books.”
He did not stop reading the book and did not even glance at me. And he said annoyingly, “What do you want?”
“Hm, you’re reading Pushkin’s collected stories. What a tragedy he died at such young age. I wonder, was worthwhile for him to challenge his wife’s lover to a duel?”
His curiosity was piqued, and he asked me with an astonished expression, “Have you ever read any of his works?”
I nodded, “He is one of my idols. I love The Stationmaster the most. To tell the truth, I cried like a baby when I read it the first time.”
“Do you like Russian literature by chance?”
“I feel at home with it,” I replied nonchalantly.
“I’m so sorry. I thought you were like the modern Japanese who are interested only in technology and comic books, but not art.”
“It’s okay with me. I can understand it easily. Anyway, I need your help to find books.”
“Of course, sir. You’re obviously a serious man with literature at your heart. What can I do for you, sir?”
“Where can I find the works of Knut Hamsun and Henry Miller?”
When I invoked these names, his attitude toward me changed magically to the point of respect. He wrote the numbers down on the piece of papers where I could find them and gave them to me like a bat out of hell. And he let out, “You are totally confounding me. I am sorry, but it’s difficult for me to believe that a Japanese bird reads these giants. I might admit you read Henry Miller, but Knut Hamsun!”
When I scanned the bookshelves, I found two inspiring books: The History of NorwegianLiterature and Nothing but the Marvelous: Wisdoms of Henry Miller. While I was reading them, I became thoroughly engrossed in them and utterly forgot the time. When I finished reading them, I understood the vital process of writing a book. Now I absolutely understood why I was sent to Los Angeles. I needed to forget the pin number so that I could fall in with them. “Everything has a reason,” I thought to myself gladly. And this realization made me jump for joy and made me feel as if I were in seventh heaven. I finally restored my equilibrium with the sacrosanct faith in myself. Now I am ready to go back to Mexico City to resume my work. At last, the soaring sense of happiness reached the peak.
I was thinking about the last meeting with Jorgito, since I did not have enough courage to tell him the reason why I want to go back to Vancouver. I did not want to hurt his feelings. However, I have pondered over it again and come to the conclusion: even if I make him disappointed, I should tell him the truth, since he is my best friend, and he will eventually understand it. When I go back to Mexico City, I will tell Jorgito that I want to go back to Vancouver, because I love everything there, including its landscape, and above all, I love speaking English. Moreover, I will tell Jorgito and Gerardo about my discovery: Americans are so generous and are friendly people.
After I enjoyed wandering the streets of Hollywood, joining the Hollywood land tour, and floating the downstream of Hollywood night life, I finally decided to go back to the hotel. While I was riding a subway, suddenly, I felt famished, and without knowing where I was, I just got off it. It was the Vermont/Beverly Station. After eating dinner, I came back to the station again to take a subway. There was a young man, who looked like a teenager standing at the entrance of the subway station as large as life. He obstinately blocked my way as a mule and accosted me for my help. He said with a frantic expression on his face, “Mister, could you do me a huge favor? Please, I really need your help.”
I was a bit hesitant, but his desperate face won my heart. And I uttered, “Depend on what kind of favor you are asking me for, young man.”
“It’s very simple, sir. I just want you to give this subway ticket to the girl, who is sitting on the bench down the stairs, waiting for a subway. I am very shy. Please do it for me, sir.”
I looked at the ticket on which was written his name and mobile phone number. And I replied affably, “That’s it, young man? You just want me to give it to her down there?”
“Yes, sir. I’m very shy, but I like her so much. Could you do it for me, sir?”
“You are making your wish precisely to the right person. Today is the lucky day for you, young man. Your wish is just granted!” I bellowed high and mighty and bolted to the down stairs.
She was a brunette, had a pretty face, and looked like a teenager, too. I said to her, “Excuse me, miss, for interrupting you from reading a book, but I got message for you from the above. I mean from up the stairs. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you either, but I have precious message for you.”
She smiled and asked me, “What kind of message do you have for me?”
“Let me explain my errand correctly. I don’t know him, but I suspect you know him. He is a white boy, wearing a baseball cap –”
“I know him!” she chimed in.
“Hm… you know him… I see…. Anyway, this fellow approached me to ask his favor. He wants me to deliver this subway ticket to you,” I gave it to her.
She was little embarrassed, but a happy smile was appearing on her face gradually. And she said, “Thanks. I know why he gives me this. I know he always follows me, but never talks to me. Anyway, thank you very much.”
“I have accomplished my errand, so now it is time for me to vanish.”
She was laughing and asked, “You are a very amusing person. What are you doing here? Are you living here?”
“No, I’m not living here, miss. I am a total stranger to this city. I’ve been living in Mexico.”
“Ha-ha-ha. What are you doing there?”
“I am sorry, I want to go back to up the stairs to assure him that my errand succeeded. So, I hope you’ll call him and give him a chance. Remember he is very shy.” With that, I was gliding up the stairs without waiting for her reply.
When I appeared up the stairs as majestic as Angel Gabriel, the floor was deserted. He was gone already. I knew that he was shy, but why didn’t he wait for me to thank me? I hoped that he saw from the right angle how I heroically performed my errand. I said aloud, “You’re very welcome!” to the empty floor. “Tonight he will have a sweat dream,” I thought to myself. “God purposely erased the pin number from my mind with his mighty finger, so that I could come to Los Angeles at the right moment to perform my duty as a messenger, perhaps?” With this happy idea, I went back to the hotel in euphoric state.
However, I soon realized that I preconceived the prejudice toward Americans. I had thought that Americans were conceited, cynical, arrogant, and contemptuous creatures, but a number of incidents changed my mind. When I asked the stranger where Little Tokyo was, he did not know exactly where it was; however, he bided his time for me, took his iPhone, searched on it, and showed me the map to instruct me how to get there. When I reached the vicinity of Little Tokyo, I asked an American fellow how to reach Miyako Hotel. He happened to live in Little Tokyo, he was willingly to show me the way, and he insisted on accompanying me to the entrance of hotel.
The same cordial gestures I received the next day as well. When I was on my way to a subway station in order to see Hollywood, I became quite lost. Hence, I asked a woman just passing by; she happened to be going to Hollywood as well and informed me that I had to get off Hollywood/Highland Station. And she suggested me that we should go together, since we were heading the same destination. When we arrived at Hollywood/Highland Station, she said that she had a little time to spare, so we should eat breakfast together to get to know each other. Over breakfast, she explained to me what I should visit and what I should see and, finally, wished me good luck for my sojourn.
In Japan when I ask a direction to a stranger on the street, he ignores me and doesn’t even glance at me, but just waves his hand to shake me off as if I were not a human being, as if I were an insignificant fly. What a cruel way to treat a fellow countryman!
My mood was getting better, and the soaring sense of happiness almost reached the peak. At first, I did not recognize the reason for my sudden high spirit, but I gradually realized why I was in the cheerful mood: language. I really enjoyed staying in Mexico City and loved it there; however, one thing always bothered me, and I was occasionally frustrated by it: communication. The problem was that I could not speak Spanish very well, so naturally it was difficult for me to communicate with Mexicans, except my friends who speak fairly well in English. I had been often vexed because I could not express myself wholly in the daily life. But here I was as a recluse, who had not talked to anyone and had just mediated on his own thoughts for a long time, and who suddenly became talkative. I let myself talk unrestrictedly to strangers whom I fancied about anything under the sun.