A crew of us wandered down the obnoxiously clean and organized street, overfilled with signage to assist with your every move, warnings and signals invading my thoughts as we cruise past the single story shop fronts. Every now and then catching a glimpse, passing a break in the stucco buildings, remembering that the land has form and body, I gaze down the decrescendo hill toward the slab of Pacific Ocean. The magnitude catching my breath, sending mixed emotions, my mind failing to compute. With no signs telling me my next move I stop in cross walks to notice the soft pinks of the sunset. Then the curves of the world ducks back behind the hard lines of window panes, curbs, and the rigidity of squat block buildings. We press on towards a sushi location that someone’s robot had told us lies ahead.
Two large fish kiss at the building’s pinnacle. Standard sushi place mats with multilingual nomenclature and beer adds, a requisite to be in the sushi business, are plastered across the front window. A neon sign of red and blue blasts “SUSHI” across the sanitized street just in case you did not notice the wallpapering of bite size fish on white backdrop. “Tuna, Maguro” “Octopus, Tako” “Sea Urchin, Uni”.
There are 4 stools in the place, and eight of us. The joint is taken up by a large glass display case that showcased pastries or breads at one time in its life, but now houses many white cats that salute with promises of abundance. Tea sets and glassware fill out the rest of the case, and a middle aged Japanese women stands behind her collection with big eyes that I lock with between head bows. The other space hog is a glass doored cooler displaying eccentric beverages made of passion fruit, tamarind, tapioca enhanced sodas, over priced water, and some iced tea drinks, along with a cluster of shrink wrapped cucumbers. We filter in and fill her shop shoulder to shoulder to glass case.
I am disappointed to find an absence of sake and plum wine, but become comforted when I recall the liquor store we had passed just across the street. I glance out past the neon IHSUS sign to check that the liquor store is still there. It hasn’t moved, but the cross walk says orange man walking. I order a Chirashi bowl with “Yellowtail, Hamagachi” and “Tuna, Maguro” sashimi, sign the slick ticket in agreement and sort my way out of the shack towards a bottle of sake.
I catch the cross walk on go, and round a wide turn into the next striped white walkway, feeling a little sense of creation as I establish some independence from the prescribed signals. The liquor store is set back and has bars on the glass door. I grab a liter of Sake and sign the white stub in agreement. This country seems to no longer have a need for currency. Police lights are reflecting off the stucco from the multiple paddy wagons up the block, so I figure the jaywalking anarchy with booze in hand will be allowed temporarily.
The cops seem like they have their hands full with what looks like a domestic violence case. A small boy, no more than eight stands stuck to the side walk, his hands clenched together on the crown of his head. He does not sway a centimeter or turn his stare to answer the questions of a couple officers that hover over him from the curb. He keeps his focus forward, watching a handcuffed women pleading against her arrest to a crowd of cops that are giving her the rundown. Before entering the squad car they ratcheted open one of the cuffs, she is gratefully given a free arm and hussles over to give the small boy a hug. At her touch he finally drops his arms from his forehead. By the way she grips into him, you can tell she isn’t coming back tonight. The embracing couple weeps, and I make assumptions that he has once lived inside of her. That she is the most important thing he knows.
With all of the cops just a couple houses down, I switch the sake from the blatant green bottle into an empty black can that recently housed passion fruit juice. I sip on my rice wine, mash raw tuna between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, and take in the tragedy. Kid will never be the same. We won’t either.
The couple works on our orders behind us in a closet of a space that is so narrow that they cannot stand side by side. Instead, they operate two stations back to back with a couple inches to spare for their personal flinches while grabbing norri or returning the masago to the coolers at their knees. A small hole has been cut out of the closet, and I can peak in to see the top of a slightly graying head of hair that bobs gracefully as hands and blade cut into raw fish flesh. The small cutout also allows for short blips of Japanese to quietly float back and forth from the closet to the bakery display.
The soft spoken friendly woman steps outside to deliver all eight meals at once, dropping her head as she presents her family’s work. It is beautiful, they say that Japanese food you eat with your eyes. A few friends depart for the beach with their food art in plastic displays. I stay passing around the can of sake and watching the commotion unfold down the street. I soak up stories of Ethiopia and Senegal, and dream of far off lands while taking moments to savor the slices of fish so succulent that I need not chew.
We joke about the State trying to stop us from partying, but the night rolls on for another ten hours of laughter, stories, dips in the ocean, and raging. We prove to be unstoppable. As I collapse in my bed at nearly 5 am, and drift into slumber, my thoughts return to Tuna Maguro, black can sake, young boys who are down by law, and unstoppable chillers.