PART I: Something's Fishy
of The Donut
Good Times! Drink Sake!
Copyright © 2019 C.L. Carroll
Front book cover design by John Paul Gaunt
All rights reserved.
Hadano Station. Mister Donuts. 2:30PM. I sat next to a 2nd floor window staring at the full cup of coffee before me, focusing on the wispy white swirls of cream as they blended into the dark ebony of the surrounding hot brew. Flowing through the dark substance of bottomless coffee like journeying through space, I searched for the untold stories these worlds possessed through the billions of eons, the strange geologic roasting processes that transformed them, the unknowable caffeine truth hidden in those silent distant café realms, even for bizarre life to encounter and sip.
How uncanny was the Universe? Or was it an unimaginable freak creation defying explanation? Could it be that the Universe was contained in an fantastical sized coffee cup in some donut shop in some super reality? Was there a super dimensional coffee drinker staring down at us contemplating this very same question? And was that super dimensional coffee drinker stuck in her own universe within an even much larger cup of joe? This coffee was spacing me out.
Riders started to queue up outside, faces expressionless, checking cell phones or reading a crisp newspaper. Burnt orange and tan Kanachu prefectural buses parked in front below, one after the other, the sky clear but warranting layers. I took a few slurps when my powder keg blue LCD display lit up on my cobalt blue Vodafone Sharp keitai, which, when I bought it, was all the rage. It was my friend in Mishima.
“Moshi moshi!” I picked up.
“Any plans this weekend?” he asked on the other end.
“No, nothing in particular.”
“Up for a trip to Tokyo?”
“Dude, not only am I UP for a trip to Tokyo, but I’m also DOWN for it, too.”
“How about 2 nights? We’ll be back Monday.”
“That’s the spirit! Bring whatever you’ll need. But there’s a little matter I need to attend to,” Mike informed.
“Sounds good. You know where we’re staying?”
“No worries. Business hotels. One of them’s paid for.”
“Let’s do it!”
“Great! I haven’t been this excited since that date I went on with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.” (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, or KPP for short, for those who don’t know, is an internationally famous Japanese idol singer.)
“That wasn’t a date.”
Momentary awkward pause.
“That was a concert at the Tokyo Dome with 50,000 fans.”
Mike didn’t answer.
“Sorry,” I added.
“It most certainly was a date,” he countered. “She…uh…She winked at me during Harajuku Iyahoi. I know it was at me specifically and not at anyone else next to me! Of that I am certain. Doesn’t matter that I was 48 rows back.”
I exhaled, realizing the pointlessness of debating this. “I’ll take your word for it,” I replied.
“Laura’s also going,” Mike added. Laura was his girlfriend.
“Fine by me.”
“Alright. Meet me at the First Kitchen outside Odawara Station. You know, the one with the castle.”
“Is 3PM good, somewhere around there?”
“I’ll see you there.”
Looks like I was headed to a fukking I told myself. So I went to the north entrance of Hadano Station and glided up the stainless steel escalator to the elevated terrace. The movable steps were rank with the putrid odor of vomit like the shared bathroom of a frat house at a Pac-12 party school on a Saturday morning at 2AM, but this did not surprise me. It’s always this way. I kept thinking it’s because of drunken salarymen who returned from Shinjuku and then indiscreetly ralphed at some point on this remarkable feat of engineering of an escalator. While I had seen many an inebriated worker barf it up after a night of obligatory after-work revelry, I hadn’t seen this artistic displacement of acidic contents happen here, so the rank escalator was technically still a mystery.
The second floor terrace was wide open, not crowded, with good views of Hadano’s city center, its thin slabs of boxy pastel Lego-like buildings tightly hugging the edges of the decorative concrete-lined Mizunashi River, which cut in a straight line through what became a garishly neon lit downtown at dusk. Beyond the tightly packed cacophonic environs of Hadano, colored in neutral shades of crème and beige, rose the heavily forested verdant green of the Tanzawa Mountains, visible in the background. A wide bridge across the station plaza connected the two sides of the river, a tacky proportioned clock tower stood at the halfway point. It tolled the hour and even had a functioning set of chimes.
I bought a ticket, stopped to watch a crew of teenage break-dancers practicing in the atrium in front of Tsutaya Records, walked through the ticket gates and leisurely took the stairs down to the covered platform. I wore simple clothes: jeans, a tight light blue Back to the Future t-shirt with an image of the DeLorean from the movie, and a turtle-necked Calvin Klein black jacket with a chest and shoulder design that made me look like a Federation cadet from Star Trek. I could have gone straight into a James T. Kirk impersonation at any moment. But fortunately, for my sanity and for that of the people around me, I wisely chose not do this.
Q: The Federation conducted an inspection of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Guess what they found in the officer’s restroom?
A: The Captain’s Log.
Sorry/not sorry for inserting that juvenile joke into this here novel. We all need stupid humor from time to time. And it’d be dishonest to suggest that such a joke would be the last of its kind, so consider this a warning. However, if you’re really pissed about such trite and sophomoric word comedy, you’re more than welcome to send your futile complaints by telepathy to my publicist, whose address is as follows:
Mr. Diplodocus Jackson
1625 Loser Blvd.
Idiot City, Iowa
I carried a gray hat, a scarf, and wool gloves inside my faded black shoulder-strap suitcase, just in case the dry coldness of Tokyo’s winter became too much. And yes, I am a major supporter of the Oxford comma. If you can’t hang with that, then tough noogies! Cause that’s how it rolls, man! Don’t know what an Oxford comma is? Google it!
Detecting the smell of curry, five school-uniformed high school students walked past chatting. A conservatively dressed older dude in his 60’s sauntered toward the elevator carrying a kennel, inside which I guessed was a cat, as I could see an orange furry paw sticking out of one of the ventilation holes.
The train for Odawara pulled in. I boarded the silvery Odakyu Line and took a seat along a north-facing window, as that’s the side with superior views of Hadano and the fabulous Tanzawa Mountains. The doors swooshed shut and the train lurched forth. I read a chapter out of Spencer Wile’s Pacific Touch as the urban hodge-podge of Hadano rolled by, the Tanzawas looming clearly in the distance. I noticed a group of recreational hikers sitting together at the other end of the carriage. The city was a popular hiking destination, especially for retirees. They got off the train in well-organized groups equipped in tan hiking gear, complete with walking sticks, thick soled boots, gloves, wide-brimmed hats, and knapsacks that had everything they needed to survive in the mountains for a week (even though most of them would only spend the day up there). You could easily spot them in any crowd, their appearance leading you to presume they were on their way to meet Dr. Livingston in the African jungle.
It wasn’t long, however, when I detected a salty smell, a fishy smell, a mysterious odor that got more repulsive as the train clanked its way into the Kanagawa hillsides.
“Geesh. Something’s fishy around here,” I quipped.
“Oh?” suddenly piped up a loud, rumbling disturbed baritone voice next to me, a newspaper rustling.
“And I suppose you think that’s funny?”
I jumped out of my seat.
“WELL IT ISN’T! It’s offensive!” the irritated and grumbling voice continued.
I turned to determine the owner from whence this upset response came only to ascertain that it belonged to a six-foot tall red snapper, complete with glossy fins, shiny red scales, and ogle fish eyes. My jaw dropped to the floor like Paul Tsongas’ chances of winning the 1992 U.S. Presidential Democratic Party primary after confiding that he’d raise taxes if elected.
“What the….!” I exclaimed wide-eyed.
“How…How dare you!!” the fish gasped. “In addition to blithely engaging in trite sophomoric double entendre regarding my natural body smell, of which it is most certainly beyond my immediate personal control, you have the sheer rudeness and audacity to confront me like you’ve never seen a six-foot tall talking fish before!?! ’What the’ indeed! Shame on you! What do you have to say for yourself?” berated the sea creature in a judgmental tone. I now realized that I had unknowingly sat next to a smelly talking fish—something that didn’t happen every day on the Odakyu Line. The Sotetsu Line? Perhaps…but definitely not the Odakyu!
Dumbstruck and panicked, I tried to fit in a word edgewise, “Well, I, I, it’s just that I’ve never…”
“Exactly!” the red snapper snapped. “It’s provincial uncultured humans like yourself who perpetuate the species classism and segregation in post-industrial society!” the fish frothed with admittedly cute bubbles emanating from its perched mouth, its lidless ogle eyes not quite able to look at me directly due to the neckless physiological disposition of fishes’ heads and the placement of their eyes.
“Your species’ ignorant, self-centered, paternalistic, corporate capitalist driven consumerist schemes, coupled with your lackadaisical and narcissistic mannered lifestyles will be the doom of us all! And what’s more, you, personally, don’t even possess the slightest of pleasantries! I say, what’s with you, man? I call upon you to henceforth have your head dislodged from within your rank posterior and screwed it on where it belongs without delay! Immediately!” the fish spat, accusingly jostling its slippery fin in my direction.
“Uh, I’m, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that I’m not used to smelling and talking to a fish on a train, that’s all,” I spoke with a quiver.
“Well, the world is a much bigger place than your small mind portends, that’s for sure! And humans are not the only sentient critically thinking species on this planet, I’ll have you know!” lectured the fish, pointing his right fin while adjusting his monocle.
“I…I apologize for my inappropriate remark,” I continued to plead, hoping to calm the recalcitrant red snapper.
“Well, I hope so!” stated the fish with more emanating bubbles, folding a newspaper and setting it on the seat while adjusting that crème Bay Area trilby it was also wearing. “If you were in the Fish Kingdom and if you had said such an uncouth comment, you’d have had your neck extracted.”
“The Fish Kingdom?”
“Oh, but of course!” turned the elite ocean creature to me condescendingly. “You haven’t heard of it, have you? Silly humans!” mocked the red snapper. “Spending all your time on the surface dithering about in your irrelevant affairs! I might as well tell you, though you don’t deserve to know, that I am none other than the esteemed Vice Sturgeon General of the Pacific Fish Kingdom, located 3,000 meters below what you foolish types would refer to as Hawaii,” it proudly declared. “I also worked at Donut Deep, but that’s just part-time.”
“I see,” I replied, getting annoyed with the pomposity.
“And, I have been sent on special assignment to seek redress for a real estate venture gone horribly wrong, thanks to you humans, of course.”
“Several of my aqua-bound brethren were taken hostage over a speculative coast-based joint venture located off of what you would call the Izu Peninsula 2 months ago. They were promised a 50/50 ownership in a new submarine shopping complex next to Atami. Instead, they were hoodwinked. Hoodwinked, I tell you!” the fish defiantly rattled as it spoke.
“My fish friends were given an opportunity to present proposals in a meeting in November. Instead, they were lured into a bad deal, tricked, and captured! The human JV partners baited a financial line of credit, and reeled in my hapless friends, one of which was a flounder with a degree in Kelp Sciences from Pacific Abyss University. How dare those humans treat such an esteemed colleague with disrespect!” charged the snapper as it adjusted its eye-catching Regis Sturgeon necktie.
“Yes. This is an outrage! And what’s more, the humans caused irreparable damage to the mouths of three of the captives. They tried to hook my friends on a 5-year revenue stream that didn’t even take into account the high number of vacant units and the lack of committed tenants to the project. Never have fish been so manipulated, lied to, and caught up into a questionable investment proposal! I warned them that it was too good to be true and that they wouldn’t have the equity, but they simply couldn’t resist the offer. Now, I must go to Usami Beach and secure their release and file litigation.”
“Wow. I’m sorry to hear that, man!” I lamented, trying to sympathize with the irritated sea creature.
“Man?!” retorted the fish with disgust.
“I mean, I’m sorry to hear that, fish!” I corrected.
The red snapper paused, a bit flustered. “That’s better,” the fish grudgingly replied. A couple minutes passed with no conversation as the train weaved its way through tunnels and forested hillsides, leaves not yet open.
“It’s none of my business,” the fish broke the pause at last, “but where are you headed?”
Somewhat pleasantly surprised the oversized marine animal had cooled off and asked a non-aggressive question.
“I’m off to a fukking,” I answered.
“Fukking. I’m off to a fukking,” I repeated.
Slightly shocked, the red snapper exhaled and raised its fins in resignation, “I’m sorry I asked. You should have kept that perverted information to yourself. Gracious me, in addition to your impudent stupidity regarding proper manners and the world at-large, I have to tolerate your crass mentality.”
“It’s not what you think it is--”
“I know precisely what it is!” the fish interjected with anger. “You think that just because I’m a fish I am not aware of topics related to human procreation and sexual activity?”
“Well! I am actually well-versed in the topics of human sexual intercourse, thank you very little!” the fish huffed.
“But, but, but that’s not—“
“No! I will hear no more!” the fish interjected, stiffing his fin in front of my face. “I’ve had enough of your insolence!”
I sulked in despair.
“I will tolerate it no longer! I’m getting off this train and taking the next one! You watch yourself, young man!” the red snapper warned as it stood up for the door, the semi-express already slowing down for the next station. “I have connections! Powerful connections. Even on land!” the fish threatened. “I’d stay away from the beach if I were you! Or else!”
And with that, the scaled creature about-faced toward the opening doors and plopped its way out onto Shin-Matsuda Station, leaving an embarrassing trail of slightly slimy discolored saltwater behind. “And another thing,” the red snapper blurted as it awkwardly tried to maintain its balance on the platform, “Don’t ever try to write fictional narratives using anthropomorphisms. It’s insulting to animals!”
The doors sealed shut, the train on its way again. Mr. Snapper left a nauseating stench, so I vacated to the next car. I had already resigned to the fact that the rotten seaweed salty odor had clung to my clothes. There was no way that funk was coming out. I’m gonna have to get a fresh t-shirt at a convenience store and stash what I have on now in one of my bag zipper pouches. Seal that hazard off! And I’m gonna have to do a double wash on the laundry.
What a loser! I thought. Just who the hell does he think is? Coming in here and acting all stuck up and holier-than-thou! So what if I was insensitive when I stated that something was fishy. It was just an observation. How was I supposed to know that some large talking fish just happened to be riding the Odakyu that day! If anyone needs to develop some manners, it’s Mr. Snapper! Vice Sturgeon General of the Pacific Fish Kingdom? Pfft. That jackass probably made that up!
15 minutes later I arrived at fabulous Odawara Station. Still perturbed from my encounter with that lousy monstrosity of a sea creature, I went out the south exit to the bus and taxi stands below, glimpsing picturesque Odawara Castle perched like an alert hawk on top of a forested hill. It stood proudly, its gray-hipped roof carving out its unmistaken form in front of an overcast March day. The feudal fortress, rebuilt in reinforced concrete and not the largest of its kind, nonetheless provided Odawara with an immediate and visible landmark. It loomed just west of the station, impossible to miss.
Straight ahead was the narrow main street lined with canyons of offices, souvenir shops, a boutique mall and restaurants. But on the other side of the south exit rotary there it was…the fukking! And a lot of people were there, too.
“Ohh my!” I observed in a George Takei-like voice.
I guessed that everyone wanted it. I would have to wait to…ahem…get some. So I excitedly hurried down the escalator, barely able to contain my stamina, and intricately made my way through the bawdy, crowded center of Odawara, passing a florist, a convenience store (in which I entered and bought a new shirt and took off the old one in the convenience store bathroom), a kissaten, a barber, and a tempura restaurant en route to the destination. Before long I arrived at the fukking.
I stepped inside and ordered a set combo featuring a breaded chicken fillet sandwich, ulon tea with ice, and BBQ flavored French fries that needed shaking before eating, as the flavoring came in the form of a powder that had to be distributed evenly with the fries. After getting small cups of mayonnaise, thousand-island dressing, and garlic sauces at the condiment stand (Because after all, if you’re gonna eat, eat safe. Use condiments!), I found a seat next to the window.
Looking at my electronic dictionary, or denki jisho, it was at that point I realized that I had been misspelling and mispronouncing the Romanized katakana word for the nickname the Japanese gave to First Kitchen, the Japanese-owned American style fast food restaurant I was then patronizing. It was not fukking, I discovered. It was fakkin.
“Oh! Thank goodness I picked up on that one!” I let out with relief. “Otherwise, I could’ve caused a misunderstanding!” I started chowing down on the burger, waiting for Mike and Laura.