The Salaryman’s View: BME/Japan [Guest Column]


“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

The alarm rings diligently on the floor next to his face. It’s barely 6 AM but already he is up and has stumbled into the small, plastic box of a shower room. Emerging from his steamy awakening soon after, he pulls out a smart, black suit, white shirt and purple silk tie. Darting out the door as the sun rises over the tops of the tall, modern buildings, briefcase trailing 45 degrees behind him, it’s only a short trot to the next stop on the way to oblivion. As the doors automatically swoosh open, he takes a ticket, sits quietly on the small, round stool, crammed in a line with the other bodies and begins the morning slurping ritual that descends upon them all — rice, raw egg, noodles, coffee. As they pile out and into the river of people that has developed quickly on the street his eyes are met with a myriad of weird and wonderful sights. Red hair, short miniskirts, garish, pink signs advertising rooms for sex, grey suits, lots of grey suits, convenience stores in garish yellows and greens, people, people everywhere. The sounds of outside simmer briskly above his head. He doesn’t even notice the fact that 80% of the people around him are male. Like a salmon returning to spawn he glides into the big building and down, down, down towards the labyrinth of tunnels and tubes that he knows like the back of his smooth skinned hand. For someone who doesn’t really like crowds it still amazes him that he doesn’t scream in the face of the tidily dressed man wearing a pointed hat and white gloves, who is busily pushing him backwards into the tightly crammed train.

“Nobody talks to each other anymore”, he laments. It’s all thumb movements and hand covered conversations with technology. People choose to doze their way through the pain; others project themselves into worlds of superhuman animation. Dyed blonde hair, thick brown make-up, pierced lips and ears, unbuttoned shirts, rolled up minis, gum, perfume, attitude, oozing sex appeal, the high school girls giggle at his conservative glare. He grieves the loss of respect and traditional values that his parents instilled in him when he was growing up. His society is changing, slowly but surely. Young women are marrying later, travelling more and becoming more independent. They can keep their jobs after becoming pregnant, men can get childcare payments, and shock of all shocks, some men actually help with the housework! He spat out an indignant spurt of air. “Not him”, he angrily thought.

At the office an hour later he has everything unpacked and assigned to its space on the tiny beige desk. Hazy light spills in the window, competing brashly with the fluorescent bulb overhead. The routine sights from the car park only inspire him to dream of a life not his own. Comic book imagery drawn by manic student artists night after night catapult him through the numbness and transport him into a time where people are cutting their tongues in half, tattooing their faces, hanging from meat hooks and piercing themselves with large steel needles. This is an alien world to him, thousands of light years away from the subordinate housewife, cleaner, cook and raiser of his children that his post-married life is made of.

His soul thrusts through hyperspace at breakneck speed, colours swirl like a giant kaleidoscopic hurricane, his chest tightens with a mixture of anxiety and unbridled excitement. Old, traditional culture, the one that he grew up worshiping melts in and out of sight… two old philosophies dominate the skyline here; Confucianism and Samurai thinking, a world derived from the Chinese Confucian heritage which values the group over the individual. The group, be it a family, or society at large, is greater then the individual, and group needs take precedence over individual needs. And so it is here that women took their historical place in the home and as inferior, subservient citizens. Swords and soldiers. Warriors and warlords. Tatami and tattoos. Criminals and men of distinction come forward, coloured and confidently like some bizarre, ghostly visitation. He thinks only of Yakuza and instinctively cowers into the foetal position, begging to be spared. As he cries to be saved, suddenly he finds himself dumped on the floor of a dark and pumping room. Music blares and shakes the very marrow of his bones, nubile young bodies gyrate in unison, lights flash, steam rises, all he can see are legs and sneakers. Young males and females alike breathe equality into the air, in fact, in some cases, the females appear to hold their puny male audience in some kind of spell. He just sits there and marvels.

For him, this is the world only seen in his comic books. Standing upright he moves sheepishly to the bar, feeling greatly overdressed and wonderfully overawed. Nobody seems to notice him and this makes him wonder if he really is a part of this strange new world or not. Not knowing what to do or say he opts for a seat at the neon-covered bar, orders a sublime, single malt from a country far, far away and drinks it quickly to calm his shredded nerves. The gravity of the situation now consumes him. Head in his hands he thumps on the bar and sobs for the stability of his drone-like existence, one where men and women both knew their place and the surroundings were as sterile and uninviting as his best company suit.

The music stopped abruptly and snapped him out of his trough, a last tear dried as he spun around to see only the backs of bright, spiky heads, young heads, all looking skyward. Naively he followed their line of sight and was utterly speechless at what greeted him. A beautiful young slip of a woman was suspended from the darkened roof by what looked like ropes from her back. Remembering comic book confusions explained the apparent superhuman feat of spitting ropes from your skin and attaching to something more solid, a la Spiderman in his finest web-slinging adventures, but then slowly and effortlessly the heroine of the moment spun round and around and as he squinted over the top of his thick, square salary man spectacles, a flash of silver pierced his eye. “Surely it can’t be so!” he squealed to himself, grimacing uncontrollably. Her back had hooks in it and she was hanging from them. Nobody appeared to be helping her. He sat there motionless, in emotional pain. But no matter what his instincts were telling him about the girl dangling from the ceiling, he couldn’t help but feel a burning desire to seek her out. She was smiling a lot and that made him itch for her company. He needed to talk with her, to interact with her, to probe her psyche and motivations. He just wanted to help her. A lonesome word echoed through the annals of empty space in his head… “why?”

The word had barely completed its lonely journey through his neglected neural pathways when with a “whoosh!” the young heroine was sitting opposite him, on a stool at the bar. Everyone else had vanished in the same instant. She had a strangely welcoming smile on her face. “Her name was Dita” she said and she believed he had some questions for her. He quickly scanned her friendly face and noticed firstly that her bottom lip was tattooed, subtle with a small narrow black line. His first question was of her heritage, “was she Ainu?” he asked nervously. The indigenous Ainu women of Japan tattooed their lips with a special spiritual significance, to ward off evil spirits. Dita laughed when she replied that “no, she was not Ainu”. The energy emanating from her kept her smooth, dark hair away from her small face and around it he saw various colourful adornments — a silver ring, large circular holes in her ear lobes, petit heart-shaped studs.

Almost without hesitation he blurted out “What does your mother think of all this?! And your husband too?!”

My husband didn’t like my modifications at first. As time goes by and he understands how much I like body modifications, he wanted to get some for himself. . Now he’s started full tattooed sleeves and is planning to get his back tattooed as well. I think my friends and I are a good influence on him. My mother never told me to stop what I do and enjoy. Now I think she knows all about me and my modifications and accepts what I do.

Dita’s arm and the centre of her chest start to bubble gently, like some hot volcanic mud, pushing up three, four, then five small spheres from underneath her skin. She sighs as she lets out “I’d like to get implants done but not so badly. Just thinking. My first plan is tattoo.” And with that they too submerge and are gone.

The room starts to spin violently again, no colours this time but huge Vaudeville type letters of red and yellow and green swirl clockwise above his head: T A T T O O T A T T O O T A T T O O. First one then two frogs jump in from the left, before long they have multiplied out of all proportion, jumping all over him. He recoils back into his familiar foetal position when, without warning a large enveloping womb begins hovering above his head like a mother ship. It extends its elegant fallopian tubes and descends to wrap him safely in its womanhood. He feels safe and warm and loved. Out of the corner of his eye, a pink Cheshire Cat sits perched in the corner, grinning inanely at this new surreal sight, tiny white stars on its forehead sparkling in the dark air.

He opens his eyes to see Dita holding a baby. It is leaning contently against her bosom and she is stroking its soft, dark hair. She starts to speak, her words pre-empting his next query.

Being a mother has only changed my plans for physical reasons, like I have to wait until I stop breastfeeding. That actually gives me more time to think about my future modifications. Also saving money. I don’t hide them, as I said above, and I don’t really show them off. Some people might treat me as a bad mother just because I have these modifications, but thankfully I haven’t experienced it yet.

I think I’m lucky to be a woman when it comes to modifications and their reaction. I haven’t really had any negative reactions. The only negative reactions that I’ve had are from my relatives and my boss. My relatives said that tattoos are stupid. My boss told me to take out my piercings at work. The reason why I don’t get many bad reactions is because I don’t tend to show off my modifications often to people who would take offence.

He spat out the questions anyway but knowing that they had already been adequately answered. All his upbringing seemed to be influencing his thoughts in the direction more of, what other people will think of how you look, rather than how you want to look, regardless of how other people think. This is the way he was brought up and this is the way he brought up his own children, roughly the same age as this well-balanced, down-to-earth girl and mother. She reminds him of pioneers, trailblazers, and strong-minded people, people alien to him. He was in their world now and they welcomed him. Embarrassingly he knew deep down that he would not be so welcoming to them if they had entered his world. Dropping his head in shame he falls to his knees on the floor in front of mother and child and begs their forgiveness. Of course it was instantly forthcoming and as she beckoned him up from below, Dita playfully stuck out the tip of her tongue at him, both her tips!

Turning around, he realises that they have both been sitting in the back of a shiny black truck for the last twenty minutes. It must have happened before but he was sure he had been sitting on a stool. Dita hops over the front of the hood in one short Potter-like burst and begins to pull the truck, hooks still in her back, skin stretched tautly on her back. He shouts at her to stop but all she does is turn around and blow a huge plume of bright orange flames into the air above him, while laughing merrily and skips into the darkness. Happiness flows from her whatever she does. On the floor, there he is alone again but for some small movement on his right. A pretty little baby crawls over to him and into his space. He bends over to pick it up and as he does so, it gets to its wobbly feet. With his head next to the baby’s it whispers softly in his ear, “Only if I want to. She won’t tell me to get modifications or not. She’ll be happy if I want, because it means that I would understand what she enjoys so much.

Another plume of flame and the baby was gone.

He stands dazed and confused. A light comes on and lights up a long stairway in front of him now. With trepidation leaking from his shoes he timidly creeps up towards the top to a small black door. Tentatively he pushes it open and peeks outside into the retina burning daylight that stands like a wall of intensity, blocking his entry to the next adventure. He eases out of the doorway, interested to have a look at what is going on next, only for his eyes to see a door into Clonesville. Aghast he steps into the river of people that surges past his tired face and with that he was gone. Gone down the street, miles away from the doorway, towards the big building under the ground along with all his fellow ant workers.

Just before he heads for the descent, he passes a busker outside of the crowds. She is dancing in circles, fingers clicking delicately in small brass cymbals. He is mesmerised as are others watching her show. She seems strangely familiar but annoyingly he can’t quite place her. He thinks it weird that a young girl would be dressed in such vibrant red costume and skipping around outside for the entertainment of others. The more he watched however, the more he was finding himself being drawn in, a slight foot movement here, a tiny hip sway there. It was invigorating for him to feel positively influenced by this girl. She was doing something that no one else was but he was doing something that everyone else was doing.

“Some people lead, others must follow”, he mused to himself as he slid down the moving metal staircase and into the abyss. He was back in his world again. Back on the seat. Back on his way to his daily banality. Before he sits down, he picks up the new glossy magazine lying there, left by the person before him, “2BME”, and stuffs it into his vinyl briefcase, to be read once he gets to the office. Maybe this one will take him back to that place… for once, he was looking forward to going back to the office.

– Ferg   (iam:bizarroboy)

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