: Response : What’s “semi”?
Mattblue: I find it strange that as a manager of a factory you became a “semi” big-shot. What about the job made your social life so active all of a sudden?
Haha! Busted! Just kidding… I will tell you I don’t think I was a big-shot either–especially as I look back on it now–but in J-Town back then, I became a familiar figure since the Sweetshop was one of the oldest extant stores in Lil’ Tokyo (ca. 1910s), and it was growing by openning stores at four different locations in SoCal. Further, I became close with the owner–a popular and active figure in the community–and many people thought we were brother and sister. Indeed, her mother–defacto “chairwoman”–still tells others that I’m like her son. So in J-Town, I was a familiar figure among a group of people who, for the most part, never went to college, considered themselves blue-collar workers–drivers, cooks, waitresses, store clerks–or were still very young like me. I don’t claim to have known everyone, especially the more influetial people, but for a 21 year-old with limited experience, I sometimes felt like “big shot” when more people knew me than I them. Still, as you suggest, I was not really a “big shot”; but that’s why I threw in the term “semi”, which suggests half-baked, quasi… you get the picture…
Not Living Up to Expectation
Installment seven. Originally posted on the JAJournal Friday, August 22, 2003
In the summer of 1979, I was still hanging with my J-Town buddies at the bar we always went to in Monterey Park. There was a singing contest sponsored by Suntory held in J-Town, and the producers–a small, local Japanese TV production company–went to all the local piano bars–there was no Karaoke back in the day–to hold tryouts for the “Second Suntory Kayyoku Butsuke Honban Grand Champion Taikai” At the bar I frequented, Sanch・ I was considered–at the risk of sounding immodest–one of the better singers. When the tryouts were held at our hangout, I sang a song by Azusa Michiyo called “Futari de osake wo“. The producers chose only two from each establishment they visited and I was not one of them. My buddies and even the owner of the bar were surprised.
“They should have chosen you,” said James through his cigar.
“Yeah, who’s that guy anyway? He’s usually drinking at Eigiku. What’s he doing here?” Tom stared at the intruder.
The owner, of course, was all business. After talking to the producers and congratulating the contestants for the contest. She came back to the bar where all the regulars sat. “Apparently, they had more than two singers at Eigiku that they want to compete, so they distributed them to other bars so they can eventually be chosen as contestants… at the expense of one ‘legitimate’ patron,” she explained, looking at me sympathetically.
With my chin resting in my left palm, all I could do was stare at the cutty and water I stirred aimlessly with a swizzle stick. I was not especially surprised, but I was depressed.
“What am I doing here?” a recurring question in my life.
A bit bummed out, I began the process of reorganizing my life. One of the things I specifically pegged as a major problem to fix was my drinking. I had been drinking scotch and water everday and I found myself uneasy, jittery when I didn’t have a drink. I was also dissatisfied with the way my ife was developing, the direction in which it was headed. So I forced myself to take stock, to figure out what I should do to resolve these issues. I concluded that life in a JA only world was to small, confining. Everyone knew each other, and everything you did and said was open to scrutiny… and gossip.
“Did you see Marumaru-san last night? He was so drunk.”
“Yeah, I heard he went home with the girl from XYZ…”
“Her? That girl went to the doctor the other day because she’s been slleping around and caught something, y’know…”
“Well, if Marumaru-san catches something, he better not give it to his wife.”
“Won’t happen. I heard they sleep in different beds now…”
“Did you hear about Onigiriman?”
“Yeah, he got the shaft, but maybe he wasn’t that good anyway.”
“Maybe. Even if he was chosen second, its obvious that he wasn’t as good as the other Sanch・singer…”
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And these were guys! Helping to manage a business was pressure enough, but to have your private life hung out like dirty laundry was beyond the pale. Recalling my time with BA, I decided to step away from this JA/J-Town life and the first step was to quit my job as manager of the sweetshop factory–not that I was any good at it anyway. This would lessen the number of times I came in contact with my J-town “buddies”, reduce undue stress, and allow me to clear my head. I have often wondered if I was running away, just because I wasn’t chosen to participate in the contest… and I guess, in a way, it was. But there are times when you need to escape, need to retreat, to back up to a previous fork in the road and see where the other road takes you. Life does not always afford this luxury, but when it does I felt that I should take advantage of it. I stayed home, and thought about reapplying myself academically by going back to the local community college again. This was my start, as mundane as it was, going through the ELAC course catalog to figure out what classes I would take for the Fall semester, when I got a phone call.
“Hey! Whatcha doin’? We haven’t seen you in a while! Why don’t you come by Sanch anymore?” asked James.
“Uh, well,” reaching desperately within myself to find an excuse. “I’ve been kinda busy.”
“Man, you quit the sweetshop, and you don’t come to Sanch・ We thought you commited suicide. Hehe…”
“Anyway,” James continued, “T asked me to call you to tell you to come by. She has something important to tell you.”
“I’m kinda busy, figuring out my future…”
“Well, T thinks this will affect your future, too.”
“I doubt it.”
“No really. The first round’s on me.”
“Make it the first three.” I figured I may as well make him pay for pulling me away from my deliberations.
“We’ll be waiting.”