The Machida Trail, part 2
By Grin and Barrett
Jacob lifted the rib-eye with his hand, reddish gray coals from the small hibachi kicking up hot sparks and singing his fingers as deftly placed the steak back on the grill rack, spice side up. He jerked his arm back with an audible “Eye-yi-yi-yi” and instinctively placed his singed fingers into the protective cover of his other hand. Damn, he thought, I hope no one heard that. He glanced around, embarrassed, and shook his head as he reached into the small Styrofoam cooler at his feet. Girlish squeals aside, this wasn’t too bad a take on a warm Japanese evening; steak on the grill, beer in the cooler, and cherry blossoms beginning to dot the landscape with white and pink petals. Jacob settled into his mushroom lawn chair and popped the cap to his MGD. He kicked at a decaying tennis ball on the back porch and tilted his head back as he took half the bottle in one long draught.
It had been a boring four days since Jacob had arrived in country, and he was already tired from the 12 hour days, same repetitive schedule over and over again. As the lowly Captain on the Corps Battle Desk, he was the receptionist and errand boy for a host of Majors and Lieutenant Colonels. Tonight, however, he had a full evening to explore Zama City, and he planned on making the most of it. As he took another drink from his bottle, his mind wandered to the beautiful Japanese women he had seen sporadically on post, wondering where they all went at night, wondering where the night life actually was. It certainly isn’t here, he thought. Aside from a small PX and gym, Camp Zama had little for a single Soldier to do. His thoughts slowly drifted away from the mystery of night life to his dinner as the smell of his rib-eye brought him back to reality, but it was the bap-bap-bap on the front door to his quarters that brought his thoughts fully back. What the hell?
Jacob put his beer down next to his mushroom chair, slipped his feet into his worn pair of shower shoes, opened the back screen door, and entered the house where he crossed the living room to the front door. As he opened the front door, Jacob was greeted by an overwhelming smell of garlic noodles and the muffled hum of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. A short, seemingly ancient Japanese man stood on his stoop, a worn leather bag in one hand, a lunch pail in the other. The old man looked up at Jacob, squinted in the fading sunlight and offered a short, “Hello.”
Jacob took a quick look up the street, void of any signs of life, and reciprocated, “Hello right back at ya’.”
The old man put the lunch box down on the stoop and extended his hand, “I’m Mr. Sorayama. Most of the Soldier’s call me Sorry. You also can call me Sorry.”
Jacob looked back up the street, curious how this old man had arrived at his doorstep, and curious why. He shook the old man’s hand, surprised at the strength of his grip. “Well, I’m a little confused Mr. Sorayama, exactly why you’re here.”
Sorry took up his lunch pail and walked past Jacob as he entered the quarters, dropping his leather bag in the living room as he walked toward the back laundry room, calling over his shoulder as he went, “I handle all of the home problems for the temporary quarters; electrical, plumbing, all of that stuff. I was told you are having problems with your fuses.”
Jacob followed Sorry into the laundry room, “Yeah, I’m having problems, but I don’t know if it’s the fuses or not, electrical keeps buggin’ out on me, I have to flip the fuses back on every couple of hours, but I’m not sure what is trippin’ them.”
Sorry opened the fuse box and looked inside, hands on hips, his face a look of intense concentration. Jacob held back the urge to laugh, watching the old man study the inside of the box as he unscrewed the panel and pulled it off. As Sorry continued to work on the panel, Jacob slipped on his running shoes and stepped out the door, “I’ll be back in about 30 minutes Sorry, you good while I’m gone?”
Sorry shouted back from the laundry room, “Go ahead, this is a mess. You’re lucky you haven’t set this place on fire.” Jacob left through the front door with a wave.
“I lived in Cleveland for eleven years, that’s where I learned to speak English so well.” Sorry was munching on the remains of the T-Bone steak that Jacob had thrown on the Hibachi for him. Jacob sat back at the “dinner cot” with an empty paper plate, belching as he put down the empty beer bottle and grabbed a carrot.
“Cleveland? Holy Crap, you’re a buckeye!” Jacob laughed as he crunched down on his carrot, tossing a bottle of MGD to Sorry as he did so. “That’s okay, I won’t hold it against you.”
“Hold it against me? Why would you?”
“Hah, I’m from Ann Arbor! Maize and Blue through and through.”
Sorry looked at Jacob and cleared his throat, knotting his hands in a fist as he did so. With an earnest face, he looked into Jacob’s face, “I’m very sorry Bo Schembechler is dead.”
Jacob and Sorry stared at each other for an awkward moment. “Um, thanks, I guess, I appreciate that.” Jacob laughed again, “You’re a funny dude Sorry.” Sorry sat back from the cot, reached into his pocket for a cigarette and gestured to Jacob. “You’re a good man Jacob Patrickson, I appreciate the dinner. Have a good time in Zama tonight, but be careful, not everyone is what they seem.”
“Yeah? How’s that.”
Sorry lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply. “Zama is a military city, but not our military. Not everyone here appreciates the U.S. on Japanese soil.”
Jacob stood and took Sorry’s hand, “Well, we’re kind of used to that. There’s always somebody somewhere who has an issue with U.S. policy, can’t make everybody happy.”
Sorry smiled and tilted his head. It was the knowing smile of a carnival hawker who knows the game is rigged. “Nippon is a different world Jacob, a different culture. I can guarantee you this my friend, you’ve never experienced anything like you will here.” Sorry’s smile broadened, he slapped Jacob on the back as he added, “Especially the women!”
Sorry grabbed his satchel and his lunch bag and stepped out the front door, “Just watch out for the gamblers, the whores, and the Sushi bars that serve Americans. And I’m very serious when I say this my friend, don’t go anywhere with the men in black suits. If you see a black suit, turn around and go away.”
Jacob held the door as Sorry walked out, “Back suits? A bit over-dramatic isn’t it.”
“No, my friend Jacob. Black suits are Yakuza, and more than anyone else, they do not want you here.”
Sorry walked out and turned toward the active part of post, heading down the abandoned road, kicking at cherry blossoms as we walked along. Funny cat, Jacob thought to himself, funny cat.
As the dark slowly crept upon the horizon, Jacob covered the still warm hibachi and got into the shower, washing off the sweat from his run and the charcoal smell from his hair and body. His new Japanese cell phone rang twice and Jacob grabbed it from the back of the sink, water dripping all over the floor as he grabbed it with wet fingers.
“Jake, it’s Matt. You ready?”
“Yeah, brother, I’m ready. I’ll swing by in ten minutes. You got the directions?”
“Yeah, see you in ten.”
Matt Launger was another TOC rat, brought in from Hawaii to run flight operations during the day. Earlier that day, Matt had described the ideal spot in Machida for them to go to. Matt’s Japanese aviator buddies were more than willing to give up the goods on the hotspots. Gambling, girls, and Sake. Jacob wasn’t sure about any black suits, but he would cross that proverbial bridge when he got to it.