Writer in Search of Self –Second Person Singular

Writer in Search of Self –Second Person Singular

In my yet-to-be-published novel, The Dead Enjoy Eating, Too, Charles Borromeo is my alter ego. He sets the scene, introduces the characters, and describes the different locations. In the earlier chapters, he introduces his life-long friend Eric Haas. Eric, in reality, is Borromeo’s alter ego. From Borromeo and Haas, the readers get two descriptions of Terrell’s Bar. Borromeo’s description introduces Terrell Henry Greene, the bar’s owner, cook, and bartender. He provides visual information about the exterior of the bar and a humorous interlude about the quality of the wine. But he leaves the description of the customers to Eric Haas.

Eric is a frustrated unpublished writer. He tries to add to his value as a writer by using the second person singular in describing the bar’s customers. Borromeo is unimpressed. And Terrell? He’s a little perplexed.

The following is Eric’s story:

Terrell’s Bar is located on one of the less-traveled roads in Motomachi. Walk past the bar and up the hill and you end up at the Foreign

Terrell’s Bar on the way to the Foreign Cemetery

Cemetery. In fact, a few of Terrell’s customers eventually ended up in the cemetery. But that’s another story.

Customers new to Terrell’s might mistake the building for an old tool shed. But once they enter, they find the ambiance inviting, almost ethereal despite the shabby exterior. The bar is set to the side of the room. You see Terrell standing behind it, no doubt shaking a cocktail shaker to the beat of a distant drum. Big Terrell, whose forebears came to Virginia on slave ships owned by his mother’s Dutch ancestors.
He’ll greet you with a “Hey, man, how you are doing?” He’ll thrust out a hand that covers your own. You wince as he gives you the Terrell firm handshake.
“Meet my old Navy Chief. Harold Grimes.”
You look over at the towering man leaning on the bar. He has thick shoulders and arms bigger around than your waist. His head is completely bald. Two fiery brown eyes bore into your soul. He reminds you of the Old Testament prophets you read about in Sunday School.
He grabs your hand and squeezes it. Without preamble, he asks you, “Been in the military?”
You tell him you served in the U.S. Navy as a personnel man.
“You mean as a pussy-man,” he roars. He increases the pressure on your hand. You wince again while Terrell joins in the laughter. Obviously, they both shared in their disdain of sailors working in offices.
He releases your hand and turns back to his beer on the bar. Your audience with him is over.
At the bar near the restrooms sits a solitary figure hunched over a writing tablet. He is biting the end of a pen; no doubt, you are imagining, he’s pondering which words to jot down. “That’s Kirk Thompson,” Terrell informs you. “He sticks pretty much to himself. He works for Tokyo Research Institute, but his dream is to become a documentary filmmaker. ”
You nod your head. “Don’t we all,” you mutter to yourself. You order a beer and sit with your back against the bar.
You see a few round tables here and there. A fake fireplace with old books aligned in a neat roll on a faux mantel in one corner. Over the fireplace is an antique mirror covered by a thick layer of dust.
The customers, you noticed, are Japanese and non-Japanese. They stand in clusters or sit squashed around the tiny round tables. One cluster is made up of global villagers. These people work as financial analysts or maybe accountants or even lawyers. They have names like Jason, Felicity, Mark, Robert, or Carol. A few work for corporate giants with businesses in countries worldwide. They wear their job titles like outrageously priced accessories for others to compare and admire. They are capable men and women who discuss deals and executive office politics over drinks, for they never really leave the office behind. One or two of the men who have removed their wedding rings for the evening fondle young Japanese women who work as assistants or executive secretaries. These men hold MBA degrees from high-powered business schools. They’ve concluded business deals that assured them a place on the escalator up the corporate structure. Tonight, they’re simply men with hard-ons.
Cramped around the tables near the fireplace is another cluster of regulars. They’re the lifers, men who spent most of their adult lives living and working in Japan. They’re cultural refugees. They can’t go back home and they can’t fit snugly into Japanese society. They’re the English teachers, the freelance translators, the proofreaders, the copywriters, and the narrators. They had monetized the English language to support themselves and pay tuition bills for their children. A few have made it into the rarefied world of university teaching. As erudite professors, they teach two or three days a week, and the rest of the time they attend faculty meetings where the topics under discussion go around and around with no decision in sight.
Those less fortunate scratch out livings by teaching at language schools. They become like the indentured servants of colonial America. They are indebted to the school for their visas and teach at the hours the school assigns them.
The credentials of the teachers are spotty. Some graduated from bonafide graduate schools; a small number manufactured their academic credential. They have names like John, Dick, Kermit, Kevin, or Morgan. When they look into the mirror over the faux mantel, they see men with a full head of hair and taut skin, virile men with a future. Only a few of them dare to wipe the dust away and venture a closer look. Under the surface of their boyish immaturity lies the scabby reality that their future had become their past.
You glance at the other corner. There you see black people sitting at tables and laughing. You’re amazed. There is no dividing line drawn on the floor. Yet the whites and blacks sit at their respective tables on ‘their’ side of the room. They have names like G-Ball, J-J, Ramon, Terrance or Bennie. One or two of them completed their MA in teaching English as a Second Language. They came to Japan only to learn that they had the right degree but the wrong color skin and eyes. Many work as musicians, as security guards at major gigs, or as bodyguards for Yakuza bosses. And the more entrepreneurial like Terrell, open up bars, restaurants, and even bakeries.
Right now they are laughing loudly at, you presume, a joke the man with a dreadlock hairstyle is telling. He stands up in a burst of enthusiasm and acts out the story he’s telling.
“That’s Michael,” Terrell tells you. “He works at the Bar Nasty.”
“He seems to be quite a raconteur,” you remark.
“Bullshitter’s more like it. But you’re right. He can tell a good story.”
You’re about the leave when a haggard-looking man enters the bar. Painful brown eyes accentuate the ill-shaven pale face. He brushes a hand through his prematurely gray hair and stands at the entrance, bewildered. He makes his way to the empty table at the side of the faux mantel. You try not to stare, especially when his eyes dart in your direction.
Terrell heads over to the man. “Hey Felix, what’s happening?
Felix appears uncomfortable at the attention Terrell pays him. He averts his eyes from him. “I’ll have the body and blood of Christ.”
You hardly believe your ears. You stare more intently at the man cowering in his chair.
“Sorry. Not on the menu tonight. Chicken curry. How’s that?”
Felix lifts a hand to hide the side of his face. You wonder who he is hiding from. He nods his head and says, “Also the blood of Christ.”
“Right. Chicken curry but I got no red wine tonight. How about a glass of Chardonnay?.”
“Altar wine!” he calls out as Terrell scoots back to the bar. He glares at you and shouts, “I hate God. I hate Him. I hate Him.”
Quicker than a lizard’s tongue, he turns away. “No, no. I love Him. Truly, I love Him. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph forgive me. Please forgive me.”
When he finishes his litany, he recites the Hail Mary. You gawk in amazement. No one is paying attention to Felix. In Terrell’s Bar, you learn later, customers rarely cast stones at others, for they could not withstand an examination of their own personal lives. Only a thin tissue of respectability protects each of us from condemnation.
“Terrell, two more gin and tonics!”
The scratchy voice of an elderly English woman distracts you. You turn toward her. She sits alone at a table by the jukebox. Straggly gray hair hangs over her ears and neck. The face is a mass of wrinkles with eyes clouded by cataracts and a pug nose stuck above lips heavily ladened with dark red lipstick.
So that’s the Madge Brown you heard about from your colleagues at work.
If you show up in August, they told you, you’ll get to see Madge. She is as English as Shepherd’s pie. She came to Japan ten years ago after she got married to an aging professor of American literature at Meiji University, Professor Shoji Uehara. The professor died five years later. Every August during the season of the Obon, the professor’s spirit returns for a visit, or so Madge insists. She sits at her table and drinks copious amounts of gin and tonics. All the while she carries on conversations with an empty chair.
The regulars consider Madge a seasonal event. For them, the season of Obon officially begins the moment Madge walks into Terrell’s and shouts out in her gravelly voice: “Everyone! Look who’s come back for a visit.”

Borromeo was unimpressed with Eric’s use of the second person singular. What about you?

For another side of me take a look at wwwtmpcarol.com

 

 

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