One time, I heard thumps from next door, so I walked over to his space. He was making food when I showed up.
When I asked about the noise, he said he had been shooting his .22 pistol. He stepped to the spot where the wall met the floor and picked up two telephone books. "Look," he said. "The bullets went through both."
I sat at the kitchen table and ate salted minnows from a plastic bag while he cooked a radish at the stove. Now and then I fed a minnow to Edith, his cat. The backs of her eyes were reflecting the overhead light.
When the radish was soft, Toshio took it out of its pot with chopsticks and put it on a plate.
"The fox spirit is in the cat," he said."Her eyes are glowing green," I said.
I began to practice karate kicks by taking whacks at a plastic baseball hanging at eye level on a string.
"It makes you more observant," Toshio said.
"I want to shatter noses," I said. "I want to bend elbows the wrong way."
Toshio went into his work area and cut a wood plank into sections. He placed two pieces across bricks on the floor. "Punch through them," he said. "Aim for the floor."
I twisted my fist for torque and hit with the heel of my hand. The wood snapped apart.
Toshio held another piece of wood in one hand and broke it with the other. "It shatters on the backswing," he said.
"Once," he continued, "when I was in Okinawa, I wanted to start a fight. There was a monsoon, and I was drunk. I hit a metal pipe instead and broke two knuckles."
Edith leapt onto the table and clawed at the bag of minnows.
"When I start my vegetable business," Toshio said, "I want my uptown-women customers to pay me in cash. Then I want to open an account at a large, commercial bank."
"I have to leave," I said. "I want to continue my career. I want to have a clean record in the personnel office. I want to receive a promotion."
I picked up the bag of minnows.
"They belong to you," he said.
I had a feeling that things might fall apart at the office.
I might exit the elevator and find the building gutted, the walls splintered, the floor cluttered, and the person I work for standing on a desk and making a speech about the Nineties. "We need to name the Nineties," he might be saying. "Is this the We Decade? The You Decade? The They Decade?"
"What does hippy mean?" he might ask. "Does it mean flower child, or does it mean fat thighed?"
I might sneak into a meeting to find out how many of my friends have been fired. The phone might right and I might answer it.
"Is my friend there?" the person on the other end might ask. "Who is your friend?" I might reply.
"My friend is the owner of the company," the person might say.
This owner might happen to be sitting right there. "Who wants to speak with me?" he might ask.
The person on the other end, I might learn, might not be the person who wants to speak with the owner but might only be the persons secretary. The persons secretary might have the right number but the wrong area code, the right date but the wrong time zone. Suddenly, I might feel that I am talking not into a telephone receiver but into a house cats asshole.
I might then give the handset to the owner and say, "I have no idea where the person who wants to speak to you is. So you will just have to wait."
The owner might seem amenable.
Later, the person I work for might take me
aside and say, "I dont mean this as a criticism, but you dont seem to
understand what the word system means."
"You want to go out?" Toshio asked me one night. "Ill take you in my van."
He brought me to a "stopless" bar.
I found a pinball machine and started to
As I punched out a ball, an unstoppable dancer climbed onto the glass. She swung a leg over each side of the machine and began to move with the bumper tones.
I saw my ball rocket forward, then roll under a buttock. I saw it reappear, then shoot under the opposite but equal buttock.
"How about an extra game?" the dancer asked.
My coordination deserted me. When the ball kissed the plunger, I could not release it. When the ball dribbled from the chute, I could not pursue it. When the ball approached a hole, I could not sink it.
The dancer snapped her elastic. "For twenty-five dollars," she said, "we can go in the back, and you can buy me a drink."
I was unchurched, undone, unmanned. My hands shook. My eye wandered. I could not flip without paying a tip. I could not hear a beep without taking a peep. I could not work the shooter without seeing a hooter.
(The game has never been the same.)
As we walked out of the bar, Toshio said,
"I think I am more of a man than you."
Back at Toshios loft, I picked up a guitar and played "Cherries Ripe."
Toshio brought out his pistol and pointed it at my head. "What are you singing?" he asked.
"I want to bend like a reed in the river," I said," move like a leaf on the wind."
He laughed very hard and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked, and he put the gun down.
I picked up the gun and pointed it at his head. "Why are you laughing?" I asked.
"I dont want to work for anyone," he said. "I dont want to agree to deductions. I dont want to pay taxes."
I put the gun down. "I have to leave," I said. "I want to get a good job review."
He gave me a radish on a plate.
"If I leave," I asked, "will you shoot Edith?"
"My experience," he said,
"will be nothing like yours."
At the office, I might find the person I work for and say, "Ive always known but could never say that system has an entirely different meaning for me."
"If, to begin with, you had been as polite as you are now," the person might say, "you might have been promoted to a less lousy level."
I might go out to the street, look into a
store window and see a snowflake paperweight. Inside the glass ball, a toy man might be
shoveling fake snow. The flakes might swirl through the liquid air and settle at the toy
Originally appeared in Roughhouse. Published by Kaya, 373 Broadway, Suite E2, New York NY 10013.