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--- T O M   B R A D L E Y

A cement mixer roars across a riverside construction site in the blackest depths of the Hiroshima night. Ishida-san, a noted figure in the local power structure, has chosen this location for his new pachinko parlor, which he intends to be the most stupendous gambling hall west of Osaka. Under hissing arc-lights, work is being done around the clock, to realize his dream quickly.

A huge billboard out front reads, in both Japanese and English--


The old man himself stands right in the middle of things, overseeing the work, a cigar pursed unlit between his lips.

A fabulous array of neon lights, all colors and configurations, has been wired into the fresh facade. And, on the top, where the steeple might be if this structure were consecrated to a god other than Mammon, a gigantic fiberglass Statue of Liberty has been installed. She is very buxom, with moon-sized turquoise eyes and lemon-yellow hair that curls and tumbles richly from under her spiked crown.

The ultimate finishing touch is being lowered from the polluted heavens by a yellow crane. It's an almost full-sized epoxy-resin King Kong. The destination of this whale-sized monkey seems, for all the world, to be the shapely shoulders of Lady Liberty.

* * * *

As furtively as possible, a little archaeology professor from Hiroshima Municipal Women's College scales the clanking chain link fence that defines this construction site. He starts to poke around in the shadows.

This professor is a native of the city. But he wears a beard and dresses in rumpled pseudo-proletarian clothes, adhering very self-consciously to the western academic style. His efforts to look like a foreigner have caused many of his more conservative countrymen to question his patriotism.

But he is not here tonight on a political mission. He believes this stretch of riverbank to be of great archaeological significance. Assuming that his research and calculations are correct, this is the former location of the harem of Daimyo Mohri, Hiroshima's founder, and the very author of the local way of life. If the professor's not mistaken, the soil under Mr. Ishida's new gambling den could bristle with priceless 400-year-old relics that prove Mohri was not Japanese at all, but a transplanted ethnic Korean.

Merely to whisper such heresy would be to enrage the extreme rightist community, of which Ishida-san is not exactly a member. But he shares several friendly connections with the fanatical super-patriots, and has been known to do certain of their more unpleasant chores for them. He also dabbles in Filipina sex slavery, methamphetamine distribution and labor racketeering.

The archaeology professor does not worry about these ominous connections, for he cares only about the truth. And he is convinced that Ishida-san is burying this town's cultural heritage under slabs of reinforced concrete. So, tonight, he pries back a couple such slabs, turns over a few shovelfuls of mud--and does, indeed, discover an artifact from the time of the great Daimyo Mohri.

The professional pleasure in his face turns to adolescent glee, then intensifies into megalomania. He must think he's been suddenly rendered immortal, for he chooses this moment to deliver the muddy item, personally, to Ishida-san, along with an ultimatum.

No longer caring if he is seen trespassing, the unprepossessing professor pockets his find and treks out across the construction area, toward a large house trailer, which serves as a twenty-four-hour on-site administrative office. On its front awning is hung the sinister-looking kanji emblem of Ishida-san's underworld organization, big and conspicuous in the artificial light.

* * * *

Unlike most such temporary offices, it's lavishly appointed inside, complete with black-velvet paintings of tigers, a wet bar, and even a fake European-style fireplace with a deep mantelpiece for Ishida-san's gentlemanly bric-a-brac. The old mobster has decided to pitch camp here, so he can personally supervise things until the work is done.

The unlit cigar still clenched between his lips, he sits behind a grand mahogany desk, shuffles invoices, and tries not to eavesdrop on a conversation that's being conducted outside. His number-one lieutenant, a sallow, reptilian fellow, is standing sentry at the stoop and speaking to a couple of problematical-looking persons.

"This project is the pride and joy of our oyabun's work life, just as his daughters are the jewels of his love life. The old man beheld this place in an actual mystic vision..."

The lieutenant is addressing a couple of teen bikers, known in Japan as bosozoku. They wear purple and green spike hairdos, brown lipstick, and buttock-exposing cutaway leather jeans. On the backs of their jackets is emblazoned the name of their gang:


In the whole universe, these two "bozos" want nothing more than to be admitted to the ranks of the Japanese Mafia. To that end, they've been hanging around Ishida-san's trailer for weeks, sleeping in the mud and peeing in the weeds, just so they can be available to fetch him canned coffee and rice balls, or even their own sisters, if he so requires.

Through an emotion-constricted voice box, the lieutenant is saying, "It's his dream. Let me tell you just how dear this project is to his old heart. Our oyabun's not the type of person who gets rushed very easily, but--"

"No shit," blurts the less intelligent biker.

The lieutenant nails this callow boy to the still-warm asphalt with a serrated glance, which says, "It would be better for your health never to interrupt me again." Then he preens himself a tad and continues where he left off.

He explains that Ishida-san has given orders to toss this parlor up in record time. And today The Home of the Brave stands on absolutely no foundation at all, in violation of every building code ever enacted on this earthquake-prone archipelago. The law has no relevance in the life of such a mighty man.

The bosozoku suck in the lieutenant's every word like babes at the pap. And he, in turn, has taken a paternal interest in these youthful hangers-on. He likes to feel them looking up to him. So, when the archaeology professor comes striding out of the night like some hairy-faced ghost, the lieutenant tries hard to conceal his momentary terror.

The intruder heads straight for Ishida-san's door, neither bothering to explain his unauthorized presence on the premises, nor troubling himself to ask permission of the sentry--who is no longer frightened, but extremely angry. Not about to lose face in front of representatives of the Keloid Krowd, the lieutenant promptly knocks the professor flat on his back and removes the contents of his pockets, including the ancient object. This he passes through the window to Ishida-san, who has risen from his desk and pulled back the lacy curtains in mild curiosity.

The left side of his head is being ground into the mud by a bosozoku's hobnailed boot, so the shaggy academic must shout to be heard. "Ishida-san! Bribe me generously, or I go public with that item and all work ceases around here!"

There's a third alternative, which doesn't occur to him until the old man nods his head gently, and the razor-sharp blade of an exquisitely-crafted Samurai-style wakizashi blade glints in the arc light.

"See now," the lieutenant primly says, taking this opportunity to provide his two admirers with some practical instruction, "you don't just jab straight on like this. His sternum gets in the way."

When the tip of the knife clicks against his breast bone, the archaeologist looks more surprised than pained.

As the lecture-demonstration in basic Yakuza skills continues, the old man retires from the window and settles himself in a sumptuous green leather armchair, imported from the Occident and sized accordingly. He looks like a little boy usurping Daddy's favorite perch, as he examines the potsherd. It's intricately decorated in the ancient Korean style.

"This is the proper angle," says the voice outside, "between these two ribs. Slice in, firmly, to get through the muscle fibers, and then up, up, up. Come on, don't be so polite about it. I mean really up! Try again... Okay, now watch his eyes. Count to ten... See that? The life goes out at a leisurely pace, and he sort of snuggles into himself with a sigh, like a tired baby at bedtime. That's because we have just cleanly sliced his left ventricle in two, in the efficient and effective manner of our proud Samurai ancestors."

Ishida-san stands, traverses his office, and arranges his new curio attractively on the ersatz mantelpiece. He squints his eyes and tilts his head, to check the effect in this particular slant of light.

"Now, if the old man told us to keep this person alive, for whatever reason, and we didn't want him to run away, we'd do this to the soles of his feet... It's a technique we learned from La Cosa Nostra, except we improved on it. If you slash only in one direction like the Italians do, sometimes a tough man can bear the pain and use his feet anyway. So we make the mark of the Chinese character sei... But you boys are probably junior high dropouts, so you can't be expected to know your kanji, right? Well, let's just say it looks like a tic-tac-toe game. And it makes a wound in the pads of his feet that never heals up, not even if he lives another six or seven weeks."

"With his eyes bugged out, and that beard," observes one of the youngsters, "he looks just like an American."

"Hey, numb-nuts," snarls the lieutenant, "down here. We're working on the other end of him, in case you haven't noticed." Then, in a gentler, more patronizing tone: "It's best not to look at their eyes after you've tucked them in. Their soul is looking for a place to hide from the devil, and it might just choose your body." He pauses for that sobering admonition to sink in. "And now, you ignorant boys, I want you to think hard. Under these circumstances, do I even need to ask how we dispose of our handiwork?"

Ishida-san hears this last question and breaks into a small, fond smile. He gazes out the window, across the site of his future dream palace, and his eyes alight upon the cement mixer, whose roaring continues unabated.

By this time, King Kong has successfully mounted the Statue of Liberty, and is being fastened on with sturdy rivets. For now, until the next seismic event rumbles along, the big plastic monkey perches right where Ishida-san wants him to perch. With the rough-edged wit that appeals so strongly to the Japanese working class, he dry-humps Lady Liberty's left eye socket.

* * * *

Later that night, on a moonlit stretch of riverbank further out of town, a pair of thugs, one recognizable as Ishida-san's favorite lieutenant, are pulling someone with a beard from the back of a beautiful Toyota van. The little archaeologist looks, for all the world, every bit as dead as the flotilla of carp carcasses through which the two gangsters must tiptoe on their way to dump him in the water.

The earth begins to move, in a moderately strong example of the temblors that rock western Japan a couple times each year. It's nothing unusual; but, under these special circumstances, it's enough to fill any self-respecting Yakuza with superstitious dread. Their palms get so sweaty that they accidentally drop the rumpled corpse in the toxic Ohtagawa mud, cracking his poorly-cast cement overshoes on a culvert. Two dead, bare feet appear in the moonlight, the flesh pulled away from the Chinese characters which the lieutenant earlier slashed into their soles.

Obviously, this is an ill omen. So they abandon the archaeologist on the bank, leaving this disposal job half done, and run to cower and cringe in their vehicle.

Whimpering among blood puddles on the plush-carpeted floor, the lieutenant rubs and puffs and licks his Shinto fetishes, and tries to bribe his countless gods for deliverance, while the handsome vehicle bounces and squeaks on its shocks, and the temblor continues.

* * * *

At this moment, more unhappy things are happening in Bosozokuland, which is located further downstream, under the turnpike bridges, where barge locks flush the dregs of Japan's inland sea uphill in a crumby backwash. In the Keloid Krowd's hangout, teen bikers in outlandish punk-derivative garb are working on their motorcycles and hot rods, by the light of a vast styrofoam bonfire that fills this whole quadrant of the north Pacific with a black syrupy smoke of pure dioxin.

The bozos are copulating, sparring, shooting up, and covering every surface with incredibly beautiful graffiti. Skulls, mushroom clouds, vaginas and English words are spray-painted everywhere with effortless, hallucinatory, Ukiyoe-like clarity. Nylon paint-inhaling bags flutter in the air like giant dandelion flocculi, and the surface of the water is only visible when a garbage barge's wake jostles its glistening skin of spent prophylactics.

The Keloid Krowd clubhouse is less a proper building than a lean-to, composed of discarded tatami mats. But the walls possess just enough integrity to shield the eyes of any but the most morbidly curious onlooker from the goings-on within.

The number-one lieutenant's two apt pupils are practicing the assassination techniques they learned at The Home of the Brave construction site. For a fine Samurai knife and an archaeology professor they have substituted an aluminum rat-tail comb and an aged, incontinent wino. So far, they've only succeeded in injuring him.

When they feel the earth shed some of its solidity, they abandon their practice, adjust their green and purple coifs, and sprint outside, where they join dozens of comrades in manning the throttles of various souped-up rice burners. This is a regular Keloid Krowd drill.

The bikers rev in unison, trying to frighten the disruptive subterranean spirits off with a blast of infernal racket from their unmuffled engines. They almost sound like an inbred Appalachian prayer-house choir belting out a chorus or two of "Amazing Grace."

* * * *

Meanwhile, at the Home of the Brave, the Goddess of Democracy and her tall, dark lover are having their first scrape. The freshly installed King Kong begins to slip from his moorings. His epoxy-resin thighs groan, creak and crack against Lady Liberty's cheeks and earlobes. Ishida-san's contribution to Hiroshima's renovated skyline is far from secure.

The spectacular gambling hall is shifting on its non-foundation. The focus of King Kong's affection is no longer Lady Liberty's left eye socket, but has slipped down several yards, to a lower aperture. Now he's being fellated by the mammoth dream queen.

In succumbing to gravity, the monkey's lower mandible has caught on one of the spikes of her fiberglass crown, like a rainbow trout on a hook, and his mighty neck has snapped backward. He adores the gouts of sulfur and diesel that broil overhead, and bares his Volkswagen-sized canines in ecstasy.

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