Growing on a river bank, the knotweed knows nothing of what drifts beneath the surface. In sapless oblivion of the currents that nourish its world, it comes and goes.
I dial the number on the card he gave me. It only rings once. Then, a click. Then, nothing. Then, a couple more clicks with some sort of echo, and finally static.
“Hello?” I ask, not sure if the connection has been made.
“This is Bryan.”
“I’m guy from the Stock Items Items Stockroom over in the Meatpacker’s. You bought two T-Shirts the other day.”
“Oh sure, I know who you are.”
“Are you overseas?”
“No. So you’re calling about the job?”
“Great! Can you come over to the Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue at ten to six tonight?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
“I’ll be waiting for you in the lobby.”
“Okay, but do I need to bring anything?”
“What do you mean, like, your shoes and glasses, so you have them?”
“Huh? No, I mean like, I took some clippings from a couple of Japanese magazines to illustrate my ideas for the brand.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary. Today we’ll just have a chat and have you guys get to know each other. But it’s important we’re on time. No excuses.”
“No no, sure, I will be on time.”
“Great. See you later.”
“Okay, see you, Mr…?”
He’s gone. So that’s how awesome careers start - with a one minute phone call. I’ve never thought that my big break would come courtesy of a creepy banker type with a sixty grand watch. Whatever. I’m feeling hungry, and I have to brush up on my Japanese before I go to the meeting. Konichiwa, motherfuckers!
I arrive at the Kitano Hotel at a quarter to six and enter the through the main entrance, but my guy isn’t there. I even dressed up a little, a nice classy curation of orSlow, Workers, Sassafras, Engineered Garments, and Post Overalls. If I don’t get the job with this curation, nobody will.
There he is.
“Hi Mr…” I say, extending my hand for the shake. But he doesn’t take it.
“Thanks for being on time. Did you find your way here easily?”
“Yeah, I’ve been here before for Sushi.”
“Are you ready? Shall we go upstairs?”
“I didn’t prepare anything, like you said.”
He walks towards the elevators. We enter and he pushes the button for the top floor. The elevator moves up smoothly. No talk at all, just like important people who’re up to important things. Cool. There’s a metal badge attached to the panel, reading “Hitachi”. Not a common sight. I’m good at spotting interesting little quirks like that. We’ve arrived. I step out onto the thick dark carpet. A young Asian guy in a white untucked shirt and slim jeans approaches us.
“Welcome! Glad you made it on time.”
I look at my watch…we’re ten minutes early. Whatever.
“My name is Keita. You are Mr Bryan, yes?”
“Yes, I’m Bryan Williams, nice to meet you, uh, Keita-san?”
I do a sort of half-assed bow. Don’t know why but even though I trained it in front of the mirror, it feels awkward. I don’t think he even noticed so we proceed to shake hands.
“Please take a seat and I will be right back.”
We sit down on this antique looking wooden bench. I look around the corridor. It’s got an distinctive 80s feel to it, but not of the good Dieter Rams kind. Nicotine stained walls. Actually there’s a faint stench of nicotine in the air, too. Yuck. The wallpaper has some sort of bird pattern. Can’t say this is a hotel I’d like to stay in.
“Have you ever been in a Japanese business meeting, Bryan,” watch guy says.
“What? Oh, yeah, been to loads. Last year in Tokes I had tons.”
“Anyway, just never use the word ‘no’. If you think you have to, just say nothing, and I’ll jump in.”
“Yeah sure, but I really am familiar with all things Japan. Even my Ex-Girlfriend is Asian. Crazy polite people, right? I think we’ve all got so much to learn from them!”
“With that attitude, I see no reason why they wouldn’t like you,” he chuckles.
Keita comes back. He stands before us and it seems like he has to collect himself for a couple of seconds. Finally he says, “Mr Bryan, please follow me.”
We get up. Keita leads us down the corridor to the door on the far right end. Along the walls are paintings of older Asian gentlemen, Japanese I suppose, but I don’t know any of them. Probably politicians or business leaders, because they all wear suits.
We stop in front of the door. Keita looks over his shoulder, as if he wants to make sure we’re behind him. He seems tense, but then proceeds to push down the handle and enters the room. We follow.
It’s a small meeting room of sorts. There’s a heavy wooden table. On the other side, there are two Asian men. A sharp looking, younger guy in a dark blue suit, with shoulder long, slicked back hair. To his right, next to window, sits an older guy with glasses and white hair. I think he looked at me as we entered the room, but now he just stares straight ahead.
Keita walks over to their side, kneels down, and starts to speak softly in Japanese. Once he’s done, the younger guy in the suit gets up and gestures me to take the middle seat on our end. I look to watch guy because I’m suddenly unsure if I can just sit down, but he gives me a slight nod so I go ahead. He sits down to my right, and finally Keita sits down next to the door.
Oh I know this game, and it is totally awesome, like something out of Last Samurai or whatever. I notice there are business cards spread out in a perfect row in front of me. They read “Keita Watanabe, PR Manager”, “Daisuke Ikada, Lead Lifestyle Producer”, and “Kodama Hiroshi, CFO”.
For what must have been only a couple of seconds, nobody says anything. We’re all just sitting there, casually nodding at each other, with the exception of grandpa who now looks even more grumpy, and still won’t look at me. Just as I’m about to start talking to break the awkward silence, the door opens, and three Asian women in full Kimono gear walk in, carrying little trays. We watch them carefully set down the tablets, and pour some tea for each of us. I can immediately tell it’s got that Matcha flavour. My being immersed in Japanese culture for years finally pays off.
“Mr Bryan, do you like Japanese tea?”, Keita asks me.
“Yes, I like it a lot!”
“Please go ahead and enjoy.”
Damn, how do you do this again? I guess you have to take the cup with both hands, and take only a very small sip. Which I proceed to do while the suit guy intensely watches each of my movements. I put down the cup.
“Do you like the, ah, delicate taste?”, Keita asks.
“Oh, yes I like it, it’s good.”
“How about the creamy texture?”
“Uhh, yes. The texture has especially caught my attention.”
Keita and the suit guy smile with a satisfied look on their faces.
“I was told you have traveled to Japan.”
“Yes, I went there a couple of times. Last year for example.”
“So how do you like it?”
Oh, I get it, he’s making small talk to help me overcome my nervousness.
“It’s my favorite country. While I like it everything about it, it’s the clothing sector that seems particular nice.”
“Do you like the unique culture?”
“Well, yes, I do. I like it. It’s beautiful.”
“What do you like best about Japan?”
“Oh, let me see, I guess the tradition? And craftsmanship? We went to see the denim factories in Okayama. And Tokyo is so interesting, I think it would take years to explore every little corner of Nakameguro alone. What else…let me see…oh, and the Japanese women are so beautiful.”
Keita translates what I said for the other two. Halfway through, the suit guy starts to smile and nod at me. But at the end, he makes a concerned face. Old grumpy guy suddenly looks straight at me and makes some sort of grunting noise, then looks out of the window again. Did I say something bad? I don’t think so. I look over to watch guy. He just sits there, with a deadpan expression.
Now the suit guy starts talking in Japanese, looking straight at me. It’s some sort of long-winded story, that much I can make out. I think he drops the words “Nigo” and “Basingu Aypoo” a couple of times. Keita starts translating. Suit guy keeps watching me intensely.
“Mr. Ikada here is the head of our new company, which will enter the American market soon. The concept is a high-end streetwear brand. Mr Bryan, I think you know the ‘Bathing Ape’ brand?”
“Yep, sure I do…”
“Oh, very good. Then you know of Mr Nigo, too?”
“Yes, it’s his brand, he started it in Harajuku and did all the designs for it. He’s great, a real trailblazer.”
“Well, then you will be pleased to hear that our company was an investor in the ‘Bathing Ape’ brand. And we are now trying to recreate its success in the American market.”
“I see. This sounds like a big operation.”
“Well, it is a small operation now,” Keita says with a sly smile, “but we hope it is going to become a big operation.”
“Now we are looking for a face to represent the brand. Someone local, but someone who knows and respects Japanese traditional culture.”
“Then I’m your guy. But I’m from Canada orginally, not from around here.”
Keita translates. Suit guy shakes his head, and grandpa looks like he’s zoned out already.
“Mr Ikada says it is not a problem, as Canadians and Americans look…ahh…the same.”
“So you want me to model for the brand?”
“No, it is not a modeling job. We are looking for ‘the modern way’. You will be brand ambassador and you will be official designer, too.”
“Yes, like Mr Nigo.”
“Oh, okay. So I’d need to come up with a design concept. Like, we produce everything in the US and source only the best cottons from Japan, and stuff? I’ve got all the connections.”
Keita looks a bit embarrassed now. He translates. Suit guy shakes his head again, and starts to speak.
“You official designer. You Nigo. We make connection,” he says.
“Yeah, okay, but what does that mean exactly, ‘official designer’?”
Now Keita takes over, speaking a lot less patiently than before.
“You are designer. OK?”.
There’s clearly some tension in the room now. Suddenly, watch guy jumps in.
“I will explain it all to Mr Bryan later on. Shall we talk about compensation now?”, he says.
Keita takes out a piece of paper from a suitcase that had been sitting on a chair next to him.
“OK, this is the contract. We would like you to read it carefully, and please ask any question if you have.”
“Do I need to sign it today?”
Keita translates for suit guy. Then suit guy asks him something. Keita doesn’t seem to know the answer, but finally suit guy gives Keita a condescending little motion with his hands to continue.
“No, we don’t need your signature today. But please read it once now and ask a question.” He passes the contract over the table. I start reading.
It’s basically a contract for a consultant position. I’m free to do whatever I want on the side. Great, so I could continue with STOCK ITEMS in my free time. Frankly, there’s not a whole lot written in here. Are these guys really professionals? They seem to be. I skip to page two. “Compensation”. Wait a second. Is this Japanese Yen? It says “The agreed upon monthly base consultant fee of 25,000 USD plus expenses is fixed for the length of the contract.”
I’m speechless. That’s a lot of money. More than my Dad makes, even. I need to stay cool here, though. I let my eyes wander from left to right and down and left to right again, so it looks like I’m actually reading it. Then I put it on the desk in front of me. Poker face and all.
“Any questions, Mr Bryan?”
I look at watch guy, he looks back at me.
“Uhm, no thank you…it’s all pretty clearly written.”
“Please don’t talk to anyone about the contract now.”
“Nah, no way. I’m not stupid.”
“Good. So when do you think you can make a decision?”
“Uhm, well, you know what…”, I begin to say, thinking about the 25 grand per month. I’m about to say I’m signing right here and now, but suddenly watch guy chimes in.
“Mr Bryan probably wants to let it all sink in for a day or two. I will answer all his questions about the position, and keep you updated. You will have a definitive answer by the end of this week.”
Keita starts translating. Suit guy listens and nods, and says something in Japanese to me. I look at Keita, puzzled.
“Mr Ikada says he is okay with waiting two days.”
“Say ‘thank you’,” watch guy whispers.
“Oh, yeah, thank you. Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome. Please enjoy your tea, Mr Bryan,” Keita says.
“Thanks, I’m good, thank you.”, I say, provoking another grunt from grandpa, who still looks out the window.
Seems that now we’ve entered that awkward post-meeting phase where no one wants to be first to break it up. Are we done? Suddenly Keita’s phone starts ringing. He immediately silences the ringing, and reads the display.
“Mr Bryan, I am so sorry, but I have to take this call. Please excuse me for a moment.”
“That’s alright, I think we were done anyway, right?”
“Mr Bryan, please wait just a moment.”
He exits the room through the door where the women entered. It’s very quiet in here now. Suit guy stares me down with a grin on his face. Like a maniac. Half a minute later, he starts to speak.
“So you like…aahh…Japan?” he goes.
“Oh yes, I love it!”, I repeat myself.
“Ahh..you love Japan!”.
Come on dude, are you mocking me? I’m not sure I like this guy. Keita seems cool, though.
“Yes, I love the culture.”
“Japanese culture is very nice…ah…tradition? Traditional?” he says.
“Yeah, it is. I certainly think so.”
“You like traditional?” he says.
“Yep, like it. I like tradition.” I look down to not further engage him.
“You, ahhh, love tradition?”
“Yes,” he says, nodding, and finally adding a drawn out “eeehhh”, like he’s impressed by what I said.
Our little moment ends when Keita enters the room. He looks really concerned now. He walks over to grandpa, gets on his knees next to him, and starts whispering into his ear. Suit guy keeps staring at me. Does he expect me to say something? As Keita is done whispering, Grandpa gives him this little wave gesture, ushering him away. Keita sits back down on his chair, with a very red face. His forehead is really shiny now.
“Mr Bryan, if you have any further question, please do not hesitate…”
Suddenly watch guy jumps up from his chair.
“Sorry to bother you during this busy phase. There are no more questions at this point,” watch guy says, gets up, takes a little bow, and says “Thank you very much for your time.” I do the same. I even say “Arigatou gozaimasu”, one of the few things in Japanese I know. Suit guy says, “Thank you! Thank you!” in this completely over the top manner, and extends his hand for the shake. I shake it, and do my little bow again. We leave the room, with Keita following behind. We walk towards the elevator.
“Mr Bryan, thank you for coming in today.”
“Oh, my pleasure. And, Arigatou gozaimasu! And also Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” I’m back on top of my game.
Keita smiles, bows, and leaves. At the door, he turns around again, takes another bow, and remains in the position. I don’t know how to react. The elevator doors open. Watch guy pushes me inside. The doors close.
“Wow, that was something, wasn’t it? Who was that grumpy guy at the end of the table?”
Watch guy looks at me, but doesn’t answer.”
“What? Oh, I am not sure either,” he says.
“But clearly that young guy in the suit is calling all the shots, right? I don’t think he liked me that much,” I say.
“He’s a bit intense.”
“Right, right? He’s like an entrepreneur type of guy, and the older guy is more like an investor I guess…”
Watch guy chuckles. “Who knows. It’s probably better to deal with Keita and not worry too much about the other two.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure what this meeting was about. They didn’t really ask me anything but whether I like Japan. Are you going to explain to me what being the ‘official designer’ actually involves?”
“Oh that…hmm. Let me put it this way. That was a perfectly normal Japanese meeting. They only wanted to get you to know in person.”
He is looking at me again, thinking. Finally he says, “You will get a lot of money for very light work. Maybe approve some designs. Maybe even create some of your own. But I wouldn’t expect it to be a creative job. They already have the whole operation in place. I heard the clothes will be made in Malaysia. Your position will probably be more like a PR guy, like that Nigo fella, if you know what I mean.”
“I see. I’m not sure if I’m the right guy for this, though. I want to work creatively. I mean I just was elected one of the top thirty young entrepreneurs of the Vancouver area.”
The elevator door opens. We walk through the lobby. Suddenly watch guy stops and looks at me.
“Look kid, you like Japan, you work in fashion, this is your chance to work for a Japanese fashion company. The money’s good. This won’t last forever anyway. Take the money, and start your own thing once it’s over.”
I think, hard. I’m actually not that keen on the money, my family is doing pretty well already. Sure it would be nice to get the Valentus Brain Optimization program every day and actually be able to buy each new Visvim collection on launch day and not have to wait until sales …but I guess what really excites me is I’ll be able to say I work for a Japanese company. How cool is that? I don’t know anyone in our circles who has been offered a such a job.
“You know what, I think I’ve made up my mind. I’ll sign that contract.”
“Not so fast. I want you to let it settle for a day. Call me tomorrow and we’ll set up another meeting if you still want the job.”
“I see, if it’s still on offer tomorrow,” I say, a bit disheartened.
“Trust me, I’m here to help you. Also, I need you to sign the contract so I can get paid.”
“Yeah, about that…I wanted to ask you since we met, are you some kind of headhunter? I was wondering how you found me in the first place.”
“That was pretty easy, when you Google for people who like fashion and Japan, your name comes up first.”
“Haha, really, that’s how you found me?”
“Yes, but I still had to see if you’re a candidate, so I came to your store to see you in person.”
“My space,” I correct him.
“I’ve got to go now. Call me tomorrow between noon and three pm. No later.”
He turns around, and walks down Park Avenue towards Grand Central. A strange, but cool guy, I think. Different from all the people I’ve met so far. Doesn’t care much about clothes. Something feels wrong about getting a 25 grand job from a guy you’ve only met last week. But then again, this is New York, right? Stranger things have happened here. I look at my watch. Dinner time.
The next day, I’m in the space early. It’s another quiet day. I don’t think we’ll be able to keep this space unless my Dad makes another investment. I’m hunched over the counter, watching the hands of our in-store Braun AB1A clock move. Actually I didn’t do much else since I came in two hours ago. Did I make up my mind? Hot damn, did I ever. Time to move on to bigger things. You’re looking at the next Nigo. Times a hundred. That’ll shut up all the hating bitches out there for good.
It’s 11:59. I take out my 5S in this really smooth, well-thought out motion. It’s like time moves in slow motion, that’s how important this feels. Can’t be long now. My heart’s beating like crazy. I go into my contacts and scroll down to “watch guy”. There he is. Bam! It’s 12:00. I take a deep breath and dial his number.
This time, it rings like it’s supposed to. Nobody answers. It’s been ringing, like, 10 times already. Aww dude, don’t make we wait like this? I let it ring some more. Then I hang up. Aaand, we’re off to bad start. Or maybe I was too eager?
I meditate. A minute passes. I meditate some more, this time even deeper. Don’t look at the clock, don’t look at the clock….don’t….fuck. I grab the phone and dial his number again. This time he’ll answer, I know it.
It rings and rings. No answer. I let it ring about fifty times but then the connection just hangs up itself. Immediate redial. Again, I let it ring. Nothing. I hang up.
OK, so either they found another guy, or he’s too busy. Anyway, I have to find a way to stop looking so desperate. Maybe grab lunch. But I can’t eat now. Shit, what do I do…maybe I should masturbate? That usually works. I walk over to the computer, and open ‘playboy.com’, my favorite. Then the phone starts ringing.
I close the browser and look at the phone. Why is there a photo of my brother showing? Wait a second - that’s my brother calling! What the fuck does he want now? I put him on voicemail. But a couple of seconds later, he calls again. I will just quickly tell him to fuck off.
“Hey Ry-Bread,” he says.
“Hey moron,” I answer, “did you get fired or why are you calling me during the daytime?”
“I took a day off. Because unlike you I’ve got a life to attend to.”
“And that would be…what exactly?”
“My wife and son.”
“Oh, I totally forgot about them. What’s their names again?”
“Yeah right, because in your world of queer fishing vests and hipster ceramics, women and children don’t even exist.”
“Dude, I’m waiting for a call here, what do you want?”
“Just to make sure you didn’t forget to book a flight.”
“Your hometown, assrocket.”
“Why would I…oh shit!”
“Oh well, here we go…”
“Is that this weekend?”
“Is that thiiis weekend???” he mocks me.
“Gardening with Dad, I didn’t forget it.”
“Whatever. Just book the ticket for Friday evening and send me the flight number. I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“Uh, okay, thanks man. But brush your teeth first.”
“Only if you shave. Oh hey, did you hear about Chinatown?”
“No, what happened?”
“It’s pretty horrible. Yesterday the police busted this huge operation of human traffickers…”
“…there’s this building near Chinatown, like, an old office building everybody thought was empty?”
“They found dozens of illegal immigrants in there. Chinese mostly.”
“OK so what’s the big news.”
“Most of them were dead, dude. They were locked in with no food or water, so some started to munch on the dead. Must have looked like a Nazi concentration camp in there.”
“Wow…holy shit. That is horrible.”
“There were children too, man. Starving Chinese children.”
“Okay, okay…I get it. No need for details, asshole. Who locked them in there?”
“Nobody knows yet. Looks like the bad guys were able to run the day before. The police is investigating.”
“Some kind of mob operation…”
“Well, thanks for brightening up my day, bruh.”
“You’re welcome. Will you send me that flight number tonight?”
“Don’t make me call again.”
“Or I’ll tell you another horror story.”
“So it’s all bullshit? The Chinatown thing?”
“Yes, all bullshit. Don’t believe it.”
“Okay, bye then, asshat.”
“Bye. Hang up now.”
“Why don’t you hang up first.”
“You’re the one waiting for a call aren’t you?”
“Oh shit, right. Bye.”
I hang up, and dial watch guy’s number again. He doesn’t answer.