[17 February 2007]
I was in Tokyo for work at The Japan Foundation and ended up at the Mandarin Bar. This watering hole commands the entire 37th floor of the 38-storey building that houses Mandarin Oriental, one of Tokyo’s nascent six-star hotels. Rooms at the MO start at five hundred bucks, which is why I was only having a drink there. As it was, drinks were about 20 smackeroos a pop, which is also why I was there. I wanted to partake of what surely is one of Tokyo’s most expensive pubs. As dear as it may be, if drink is your thing then you should consider going. And if you go I would recommend the Martinis. Ample in portion, very dry, chilled, and shaken, and probably strong enough to stop a rampaging rhino at fifty furlongs.
The Manhattans were not bad, apparently, as the woman seated next to me was quickly learning. Red (were both the drink and her cheeks), with enough whiskey to make “s” quickly transmogrify into “th” (and occasionally x, y and z). This inadvertent seatmate introduced herself as Sachiko (which, soon enough sounded seriously like “Thathiko”) and after the slow dance of “how-and-who-are-you”s, and the magic elixir of a softly-lit, tastefully understated, but glistening, vibrant, barroom full of sleek, well-appointed, self-satisfied people, Sachiko and I were quickly moving toward shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie.
Sachiko wanted to work on her English, which could have been a come-on, given the fact that her sheer, form-fitting black one-piece seemingly spoke in a different tongue. So, too, her quick, precise observation of the ring on my finger and inordinate questions about my marital and family life. For my part, my interest was basically academic: mainly in learning more about life, which is why I was sitting in Tokyo’s most expensive bar. I said as much and off our time together went in a different direction.
Sachiko told me that she had always wanted to come to the Mandarin and, after years of waiting for the day, she had arrived. Actually, there was more story to it than that. She confessed she had met some guy on line and after weeks of back and forth through email they had agreed to meet for a drink. Sachiko told me that she had given him two choices: “one” or “two”. Without knowing what was behind either door, he had selected “two” which made Sachiko jump for joy (so she said) because “two” meant the Mandarin. When she told him that this would be a first for her, he seemed pleased to have pleased her, but the next day when they had negotiated arrival time, he mentioned that he had checked it out on the web and the place cost, like, a little finger just to gain admission. That must have been a tell, because that was the last Sachiko heard from him. So maybe the guy was on a budget.
Or else maybe he went to bar “one”. Wherever that might be.
In any case, his loss was my gain. In his absence, my presence. Instead of his shoulder for her to lay a head on, it was my shoulder to cry on. But not too much. Sachiko was tough, or so she repeatedly said. “I’m tough. I can take it.”
I know this for a fact because this was the assertion that accompanied her repeated requests for my opinions. Punctuated by “tell it to me straight. I’m a big girl.” Which was funny, since Sachiko was exceedingly petite. Her black hair was parted on the side, and though clipped, a hefty cord kept flopping into her eyes. I kept getting the impulse to retrieve it and set it back in place behind the barrette, but of course I didn’t know Sachiko well enough for that. That would have been an intimate maneuver and we were only on a “tell it to me straight” basis.
Sachiko wore some aboriginal-looking earrings which, I later learned, was due to a two year stay in Australia. There she had studied veterinary medicine and written a Master’s thesis on wombat skin disease. Truly. Her eyes sparkled when she discussed animals. Except when she came to the story of the dog with the inoperable tumor that was brought in to her clinic this week in agony. She referred to it as a “patient” which I thought was cute. Then she said “I lost my patient yesterday” and, seeing the pain throbbing in the lines around her chin and mouth, I realized how tough this work might be. It was no longer a quaint triviality; it was her life laid out before me.
Sachiko also told me about her cat “jazz man” (or maybe it was “Thazu mint”), who came to her as a stray, and a dog, whose name I didn’t catch. I gathered from her descriptions that these animals were not patients, but pals. Sachiko explained that she worked long hours – usually not getting off before ten, home by eleven. She generally worked weekends and holidays and, in fact it had been yesterday, Thursday, and today, Friday, which had been this week’s days off. Many other vets, it turns out, only get one day off a week; Sachiko said it was one of her stipulations in taking the job. Two days or no hire. Not only tough is this Sachiko, but a tough negotitator.
With the drinks moving straight through our stomachs to our heads, we decided food might be wise. My “s”s were also refashioning themselves as “y”s. Now for the next problem: since we only met through the confluence of chairs, relocating might threaten the tenuous construction of our coincidental union. The next sitting might create an unpropitious rearray of atoms and molecules and isotopes and the like. Besides, it was heading on toward the witching hour and the streets were as cold as that other phrase involving witches. So, at Mandarin bar prices, we ordered some of the most expensive finger food in Tokyo. Two thumb-sized wads of Peking Duck for twenty-five dollars, a half a club sandwich for twenty, and then some skewered veggies for the same. Add that to the multiple martinis and I don’t want to see the bill.
Inevitably, though (and regrettably), that bill did come. From there, it was out those post-modern doors, into the mirrored and chrome elevator, and down the 37 floors to the concrete and neon below. Along that stone walkway, Sachiko and I staggered, trying our level best not to let the liquor show. Who did we think we were kidding? Try though we might, it was near-nigh impossible to avoid those “y”s from making appearances here and there (and just about everywhere in between). Even more puzzling were the agglomerating pool of hows. Like . . . how to locate my hotel room or how to even get foot one in front of foot two.
A shaggy man wearing two jackets, a sweatshirt, and a sweater passed, pushing a cart piled with his worldly possessions. He had a knit cap holding his tangled hair in place. I would be surprised if he had eaten three meals in a day at any time recently and I am not sure where he would lay his head tonight, but I wouldn’t bet that it would be indoors, beneath covers, with a pillow for his head. And I doubt, were he to read this entry, that he would smile sympathetically at a writer complaining about the price of Peking Duck at a hotel with 5oo dollar a night bedrooms, called the Mandarin Oriental. I tried to explain this to Sachiko as we exited together, but the gusting freeze hit us like a dark mallet on the side of a fish’s head. And there was a train for her to catch. And, besides, whatever bond was formed by the accidental alignment of our stars this evening had been severed by the disengagement from the Mandarin Bar.
So it was goodnight and fare-thee-well and “sure I’ll call, you don’t be a stranger, yourself”—the little white lies of sociality passed furiously through the vermouth haze—and close the book on the most expensive watering hole in Tokyo.