Readers Note: This story is a departure for me. I normally write things in the moment; memories, fantasies, real life events. All chronicling my thoughts and experiences as Mr Perfect, obsessive asshole, but I’ve always wanted to write about my dad. Since my preferred style is short and succinct, I’ve struggled to make this piece fit that voice, because in reality, it spans a lifetime. So as you would expect it became too long.
Rethinking my original story I’ve cut it into manageable pieces like a long wandering kudzu vine. Anyone who has lived in the south knows that each piece of the kudzu can stand alone, and so it is with these stories.
Part 2: Made in Japan
I was born in Japan, just outside Tokyo. I always like to say that I was made in Japan, today you think of things made in Japan as quality, but when I was little in the 60’s, stuff that was made in post-war Japan was considered dime store quality at best, it was a euphemism for crap. By saying I was made in Japan, depending on your temporal perspective, I was either quality or just cheap shit. I liked the dichotomy, since I was at the tail-end of the post war period, that was pretty accurate, and it could go either way. Still could.
But this is not a story about me, but my dad.
In those days if you were in the military under the rank of E3 you had to stay in the barracks, you were not paid an extra allowance for living off base, and you couldn’t stay in married quarters, even if you were. So when my mom arrived in Tokyo, hugely pregnant with my older brother, they lived “out on the economy,” as they said back then, amongst the Japanese.
My mom later told me those were the best years of her life, she felt warmly welcomed by the locals, odd since we had dropped “The Bomb” ushering them, and the rest of the world into the nuclear era just ten years earlier.
Japan was pretty cheap when you had American dollars to spend, so it was not like living stateside, but Airman pay still didn’t go very far when you had a wife and a kid on the way, so dad supplemented his pay by selling american cigs and whiskey on the black market.
They lived in what we would call today a quad. Four small homes that shared a central courtyard. Their house was two rooms and the interior walls were made of paper screens. The only heat was a charcoal hibachi stove that also was the place where mom cooked. In winter, the dog’s water dish would freeze overnight. The bathroom was shared by all four houses.
I imagine my dad, a happy go lucky, rebel without a cause. A James Dean like character, leather jacket and all. Out on the street corner in the seedy side of Tokyo saying “pssst, want some cigs? Booze?” And Japanese business men coming up to him and pass him a million yen for a fifth of Johnny Walker.
To hear my mom tell of it he was gone drinking and gambling most nights and when my older brother was born he was out drunk, with his pals.
I remember that is when my dad earned the wings, the ones that I never heard the story behind, but I can suppose, because he called them “red wings”
I also remember a story of how they used to work for hours on hot-rodding the tugs, those vehicles you see pull planes and baggage cars, then blowing a whole months pay drag racing them on the runway. Maybe doubling your pay if you won.
All of that aside, I know that when he held my older brother in his arms, naming him after himself, that something changed in that moment. Gone was the boy I never knew, standing there transfigured was the dad I did.
I know from my own experience that change, I too felt it when I held my first born, also a son. Like a switch thrown, instantly you are no longer a boy.
©The Autobiography of Mr. Perfect, 2013, written entirely on my iPhone.