Archive for the ‘BYRM – An Excerpt & an Illustration’ Category


Illustration by Max Currie

On Shabu Kent believed he could find a way back to what he’d once been, the only thing in his life besides Kumi that ever made him feel that way. Kumi had saved him from what he’d left in the States. From Allan’s death and his mother who fell deeper into an already dangerous alcohol dependence and seemed unable to forgive him. From his stargazing father who offered no solace beyond the possibility of reincarnation via suicide. Kumi’s love and his popular success as RI-CHU-MAN-SAN! had convinced him that he was better than the person he’d left in America, that he was capable of being someone beyond the seven-year-old infamous for fratricide.

On shabu, Kent believed his life would turn around. Kumi would take him back, and they could start over for real this time. Ozman would be captured, his sentence lengthened, security in his cell heightened. Kent would return to Tokyo, rebuild his career, and forget Monique and Ozman. He’d forget Kumi had ever left him. Forget Renzo’s ridiculous publicity stunt. Together he and Kumi would once more become Tokyo’s Favorite Celebrity Couple.”

On shabu, Kent sorted out the disorder of his life. His thoughts marched along single file. On shabu, Kent trusted his life was fixable, that the chain of events which had led him to Japan and on to Tokyo sound stages and his life with Kumi, and, finally, to a small town in the mountains of central Japan would also point him right back to Tokyo and the good life he once enjoyed.



Illustration by Max Currie

Beside Azuma’s train terminal and under a pedestrian bridge, Kent spotted a group of Iranians huddled near a telephone booth. At train stations all over Japan, the immigrants had fashioned a surrogate world. They assembled around minivans and kiosks, peddling cheap silver and gold, phony telephone cards, hashish, prescription pills hard to come by with Japan’s conservative national health program, and shabu. Kent fingered the bills in his jeans pocket, thinking about how far he could go if he spent a little more than he should. Walking past the group of Iranians, he looked for recognition from any one of them. He pretended to use a pay phone nearby and when finished with the charade nodded to a man who nodded back but didn’t speak. He was tall and wiry, his black hair shaggy over his weathered face. He fidgeted beneath an oversized black silk shirt in gold damask. A gold medallion in the shape of a dollar sign on a thick, braided chain hung from his neck. Following a practiced assessment of the white gaijin, the Iranian smiled and held out his hand. With the handshake, he and Kent were old friends, the imminent exchange understood.

The Iranian patted Kent on the back and spoke in English. “Hello, my friend. How are you? I am Oscar.” A light wind seemed to circle him in the shade of the station, his shirt rippling like a sail.

Kent stood sweating in the humid air, reduced to squinting in the dark corner. “Nani ga arimasu ka?” He didn’t care what Oscar had, only what he wanted.

Oscar switched to Japanese. “Nihongo wakaru?” Thus began a dance of efficient nods and gestures that signaled Kent’s purpose and the beginning of a buy. It was a choreographed routine, other Iranian men nearby appearing then vanishing inside a minivan. The terminus speakers broadcast a waltz as if in time to their movement. Within seconds, Kent had lost sight of all but Oscar as the others vanished.

Oscar pulled Kent by his arm into the shade of the stairwell. “Do I know you? You have been here before?”

“No.” Even in the shadow of Azuma’s train station under the cloud of a drug deal, Kent felt a tingle of satisfaction at being recognized. He nearly swept his glasses from his face.

Oscar took his hand again, squeezing it for another five seconds, as if searching for credibility. “I think I do know you, but it’s okay. Maybe I don’t. So, you want something from Oscar?”

“Yes, I want something from Oscar. Whatever you got.”

Like a magician pulling a quarter from mid-air, Oscar opened his hand, a matchbook-sized plastic baggie in his palm. “Is this what you want?”

“That’s a start,” Kent said.

“What are we talking about?”

“About five times that. And some hash. Whatever you got.”

“Come back at six. I’ll meet you at Uncle Bob’s Burger House. You know, up the street?”

“I can find it. Can you give me what you got now?”

“Take it all, friend. I can take off work early and go see my girlfriend. She’s always complaining I don’t spend enough time with her.”

In a telephone booth, Oscar left two grams of shabu, a gram of hash, and an assortment of painkillers, their identities for Kent to sort out. Kent replaced it with ¥15,000 inside the pages of the telephone book after pretending to make another call. Oscar’s compatriots reappeared from the shadows, huddling and nodding to Kent. The sweet smell of cheap cologne found in most public onsens lingered around the telephone booths and over the sidewalk, clouds of it under the stairs. As Kent turned to leave, Oscar smiled, his mouth growing wider until Kent thought it would stretch to his ears, and waved him off as if they were old friends.


Illustration by Max Currie

After an hour down a narrow, winding road, Kent was back in the center of town. The morning was damp and cold, and the umbrella did little to protect him from the rain. His clothes were soaked, his shoes sopped, and water ran from his wet hair inside his shirt. His glasses fogged over and he feared the sad umbrella would lose its battle with the wind. Rivers rushed by him in the gutters, so many streams of water and debris that he gave up avoiding them.

The sky grew brighter as Kent followed a river tributary through a small park. Old men and women in polyester athletic suits shuffled along a tarmac path; dogs trailed on leashes. He was eager to get back to the hotel and clean up, look presentable for whoever he was supposed to meet, especially if the documentary crew was with them. Then there he was: Ozman, weathered and torn on the side of an abandoned building in an old poster advertising Airship Japan. Kent stopped and bent, his hands on his knees as he struggled to breathe. That face through a fish-eye lens, trademark mohawk rising in the sky like a shark fin, his eyes bugged, his mouth in a scream, his pierced tongue lapped over his bottom lip. A short samurai sword—a chisa katana used in ritual suicide—ran in one ear and out the other.


no sex love hotel

Illustration by Max Currie

The last time he’d been in a love hotel he shared a bed with Monique. The day ended with a surgeon trying to piece together the puzzle that had become her face.

Comment ça va, Monique?

Kent first met the Quebecois expat at a club opening in Shibuya. He smiled at his good fortune. He’d never cheated on Kumi, but flirting with beautiful women was part of his job. And at 5’11”, with blond hair to the middle of her back, the woman from Montreal glowed a ghostly white in the club’s darkness. She seemed to believe that Kent might serve as a springboard for a career in television and the movies. He let her believe it, though he couldn’t do much for her. He worried enough about his own career. His role on The Strange Bonanza kept his bank account healthy, but he was being offered fewer and fewer roles beyond his regular gig. His renditions of

“Yesterday” and “Imagine” were included in the script less and less. Negotiations for the nighttime drama he hoped for had stalled, and Lark had not renewed his endorsement contract. That went to Ozman, smoke streaming from his ears in the train station advertisements. Kent sold the cigarettes with class, at least in the beginning, before they asked him to wear chaps and a cowboy hat on a horse in a fake desert. In the beginning, he wore a gleaming blue suit as he swaggered down Tokyo streets. Kent looked a giant, his walk of success photographed at street level, an angle that reminded Kent of John Travolta’s opening scene in Saturday Night Fever. His gait was like an alien’s who had conquered the city as pedestrians, frozen in the still shot, stepped aside and pointed in recognition and awe. That’s RI-CHU-MAN-SAN! and he smokes Lark! He knew the whole scenario meant little, but believed the approach did the trick. The next time smokers, particularly men, went for a pack at a vending machine, they would hear that groovy song and recall Kent Richman striding down the sidewalk. They’d press the button under Lark and, for a moment, believe they were that cool.

Ozman, on the other hand, looked ridiculous, a cartoon, a clown with smoke shooting from his ears. Who wanted to see that? Who wanted to be that guy? By sleeping with Monique, Kent had returned Ozman’s many insults and cautioned him that the RI-CHU-MANSAN! brand still held some sway in Tokyo. Two months later, Kent and Monique were still seeing each other, still cheating on their spouses.


KumiKent returned each evening to his capsule with bloodshot eyes and a headache from staring at a computer screen all day. Outside, he wore out his eyes scanning the faces of every woman he passed on the street, in a store, a park, or a train station. Occasionally, on a crowded train or in a queue for a movie—evenings in which he sat alone with his popcorn and soda, wondering if Kumi were in the audience with her own popcorn and soda, falling asleep like she did through every movie they ever watched together—he spotted a “Kumi.” Kent looked at the world around him so carefully he wouldn’t have been surprised to see her anywhere nor would he have cared how she appeared to him, via the swirl in his coffee or a puffy white cloud, as an angel or in the guise of a child. Perhaps she’d speak to him from the big screen, step right out of the celluloid and into the theater, a holographic Kumi, her voice full of reverb, an image of dancing light. Some of the “Kumis” Kent spotted had straight, dark hair, subtle figures and benign smiles; others in zero-sized blouses above capri pants and enormous platform shoes that left them bowlegged and clumsy, eye shadow and expensive perfumes; a few wigged devotees of cosplay.


Illustration by Max Currie

Kent first met Kumi at a charity photo shoot. She wasn’t out of her teens when she’d begun modeling for shampoos, soaps, creams, and lotions, whatever product her agency could negotiate. She bore an innocence in her face people couldn’t get enough of. They believed her. Kent met her in a green room before the photo shoot. He’d seen her print ads. He knew she was going to be something rare, someone you didn’t forget. She was taller than the other girls and sure of herself, already a professional despite her age—as if she knew all along what she’d become. The press called her neko-chan—little cat—because of the way she walked.

She peeled a tangerine.

Even now, Kent was surprised by how much he remembered, the sweetness of that fruit that lingered in the room. The talent waited for a group photo shoot—a charity event they had committed to, and the whole room was filled with the sharp smell of tangerine. Kumi focused on the fruit, as if nothing else mattered—this girl, still a teenager, surrounded by adults, veteran actors, and models. Celebrities everywhere, but Kumi was oblivious to it all. She was young but at the same time grown-up. One minute her tongue was lodged in the corner of her mouth and she bit at her lip as if her job that day was to peel that tangerine. The next she was texting someone on her cell phone with a slice of fruit in her mouth.

Kent knew Kumi noticed him watching her—she was used to people watching, a lot. Everyone—everyone—knew who she was. But she sat there and moved tangerine slices around on a napkin in her lap as if she didn’t notice. She picked up a juice box and slurped at it. Then she gave him the slightest smile; and however subtle, there was kindness there. Kumi was known for her pout, which Kent first believed was phony, a part of the role she played for photographers. He soon realized it was a gesture she was unconscious of. Her bottom lip was always swollen and red from biting it. Makeup artists complained that they couldn’t hide it. Directors and photographers couldn’t get enough of it.

Kent imagined Kumi by the bar door, Hey, cowboy, her forehead to its glass as she stared out into the street and smoked a cigarette.

Ku… mi… ko…

To acknowledge the sound of each syllable, so unlike its brothers and sisters, such a solitary sound, equal in emphasis but peerless in combination. Not ka or ki, but Ku. Not ma or mu, but mi. And finally, the character for child, that also told you she was a sheko.

There were fifty-five characters in the hiragana syllabary, but there was only one combination that formed Kumiko: forever beautiful child.



Illustration by Max Currie

Someone switched the television back to the celebrity gossip program, which now flashed images of Ozman: popular grinning mug shot, publicity stills from Airship Japan, manga and other comic likenesses of the shock comic in full howl. Ozman had been sentenced to fifteen years in a Japanese prison. Fans, however, had decided that what happened with Kent and Kumi was another of Ozman’s shockwaves, as they had taken to calling his outrageous stunts. Instead of a needle through his cheeks, he’d put a bullet through his wife’s face.

“Shockalicious!” hailed the Tokyo Journal.

“Mohawk with a Bullet,” wrote The Japan Times.

“Cock of the Shock,” proclaimed Robot Monkey.

Reports of Ozman sightings popped up on internet fan sites following his arrest, and blogs scrolled with theories of the Australian’s imminent return. T-shirts with Ozman’s face in an open-mouth assault were sold in the Koenji Flea Market. One read “Brain Salad Surgery, another “Use the Illusion,” yet another “Like a Hole in My Head.” New legions of shock comics turned up on variety shows. One ambitious young Japanese tried to run a coat hanger in and back out both sides of his nose on live television but put himself in a wheelchair, his basic motor skills gone. When the thin wire hit his brain, the amateur comic fell to the stage floor, flopping around like a fish. The audience went wild with laughter.