Tokyo, 2006August 10th, 2009
by Todd Zuniga
LOS ANGELES, CA-
The hotel we booked online is communist concrete chic, a six-story bunker renting rooms. Inside’s a mess, shoved luggage carts piled into one another, floor littered with fliers, confused commotion at check-in. Olivia pulls the plug, says no way we’re staying.
Outside in light rain, a cab’s door automatically opens, we shimmy inside, name the only hotel we know: the Park Hyatt. The lone lodging Olivia wanted to avoid because she found it pretentious, we arrive at Lost in Translation’s three-towered megahotel, are told at the entrance that every room is booked, only suites remain.
Relieved we have a room, no more chasing, I thrill at the preposterous nightly price tag ($1,400) when Olivia pays—three times the cost of a regular room, 1.5x my monthly Manhattan rent—a once-in-a-lifetime I could never afford is only pennies to her. I can’t hide my enthusiasm after check-in—the premiere home base for our time in Tokyo—but Olivia’s all sighs, presses bony fingers hard into her temples, rubs, meets my “What’s wrong?” with silence. We sky to our junior suite, take two different elevators to reach the 53rd floor, two king-sized beds inside a walk around square, a pair of huge screen TV’s, sightlines that last until far-off fog.
Finally settled, both starving, Olivia suggests room service for our late lunch. Adrenalized by the novelty of the suite’s price, I’m sobered by the cost of room service. My intentions to pay—food: a staple I can afford—are frozen by the $28 hamburger as the cheapest option, fries an extra $6. Olivia orders two different salads, a fruit bowl. The costs skyrocket and I lose my enthusiasm to splurge. When the food arrives she refuses all but an orange slice, her eating issues a common theme, but I gently insist, cozy up briefly, but discover Tokyo—like Shanghai before it—is a no-touch zone, my romantic advances slammed with cold so clear it borders on abuse. She puts on her noise-canceling headphones, a silent signal that she’s not to be disturbed, so I eat in silence. I want to call my mother in St. Louis, explain she’s all wrong to blindly think Olivia is a perfect fit for me, her last of eight. Only privy to a small sampling—a layover-flight lunch two months before—my mom was mistakenly wooed, as I once was and probably still am, by Olivia’s shock-quick smarts, prom queen pedigree, and financial stability that my mother so craves, and once came close to: a million dollar inheritance she and my father squandered before they divorced at sixty. I try to dial a room away, but after a series of international beeps and buzzes, I give up, instead take a nap while Olivia ignores her haunting fiction to stare at her tiny laptop, conjures up nowhere travel pitches for The New York Times, a justification for this pricy planet-circling.
At dinner that night, Olivia’s anxiety clouds the air, a rainstorm inside of her and out. A silence between us I can’t counter, so I stop trying.
At two a.m. my night’s joy begins: consecutive World Cup quarterfinal matches. So Olivia can sleep, I undo the sound system, scramble to plug in my head phones seconds after kick-off, listen to Japanese announcers pronounce names I know during long strings of what I hear as otherwise gibberish. Situate my computer on my lap, chat back and forth in spurts with Ben during the first game. Quarter after four, during England v. Portugal PK’s, I turn on a video camera for a laugh, record my silent reaction to each miss or make. For each Portugal goal I celebrate by dancing a mute and mutant funky chicken, each English miss brings fist pumps. With Portugal in control, a light flicks on, Olivia shouts at me for all the noise I’m making, my whispered cheers apparently anything but quiet. I apologize, remain noiseless until 5:37 a.m. when France takes a 1-0 lead over Brazil. I can’t hide my joy, hop so high my headphones spring from my head, a surprised yelp, then dancing. An ongoing wave of elation I’m relieved she sleeps through.
Next day, eyes razed with red, I’m awake at one o’clock in my own king-size, Olivia insisted we sleep apart.
She’d woke early to write more pitches for the Times, but now she’s in her own huge bed, face stone, stares at the ceiling. She starts to cry about her wasted life, that nothing she ever does amounts, a failure at everything, maybe she should do what everyone always wanted: go work at her father’s company? Exactly how it happens, I don’t know, but my soft-toned attempts to console are all wrong—a fight breaks out between us. To me, this life is full of genius surprises, amazing even at its crummiest, but she expects the worst and when it doesn’t happen, still figures a way to be disappointed. Her drumming dread fires arrows at me: disquiet fills my throat, inches to my stomach, I feel my hair grey. I strike back weakly, tell her I don’t understand how in all of Tokyo, only the heated toilets make her happy. She dresses fast, exits. I shower, dress, wait, wait, wait, time fading our last-day chance to visit the Miraikan, a museum that showcases innovation and emerging science that she knows I’m desperate to see.
She returns, showers while I seethe—the museum shuts in two hours, an hour to get there, at least. We arrive fifteen minutes before closing, aren’t allowed to buy tickets, so I ask to use the bathroom, sneak past a distracted guard, rush job through with Olivia trailing behind me. When we reach the giant, suspended Earth dangling from the soaring ceiling, security rushes at us, demands we leave—a hopeful, pleading tone meant to sound aggressive. Escorted to the exit, I pause to pet a stuffed animal that reacts to touch—the guards stomp with upset while Olivia laughs at my defiance. Outside we buy gross flavored drinks—fizzy orange, cappuccino, Kit Kat—out of a vending machine, should feel wacky and adventurous, two lovers at play, but doesn’t.
We subway to Akihabara, see Tokyo’s Electric City rife with blaring white lights that elevator up every wall, arcades and anime, tech shops selling robotics. Off Chūōdōri Street, an otaku’s paradise, we sift through Japanese-only PlayStation2 games, quirky gadgets, remote control everything. My headphones broken, Olivia says she’ll buy me a new pair, but I decline, say I can borrow hers, or go without, no big deal. An out-of-nowhere overreaction, she treats me like a disobedient child, intimidates me into indifference. I point to a pair—try to explain that I didn’t research online, can’t read the specs—but she snatches them up, hurries to the register angry. I tell her I feel emasculated, and she tells me she feels like Sara, buying me things like this. The wrong thing to say, hammers of upset bang in my lungs, a fire stoked in my belly. Outside, I’m ready to erupt, but walk away, turn only to tell her I give up, leave her to hate everything on her own.
A long block later, I’m surprised she’s not behind me, find a cramped store, seven stories of toys, perfect gifts. I shop alone, move through slow and easy, price compare, choose the bloody-clawed Gloomy Bear over the plastic bluebird that sings in sunlight, not enough money for both. A sealed part of me cracks back open: not everything fiscally accessible, I feel my version of normal. Exit with flooded bags, but no cash left and my ATM card’s busted, forced to take the slow train back. Four hours after I left her, arrive at the hotel, the elevator ride in soothing slow motion, a cool walk through the soft-lit library. I feel invincible, my head fills with possibilities, ready to squash the rest of this globe-trot, save it for the right girl, a different time, my pretend stretch with riches ready to end.
Inside the room, Olivia’s face is slack with upset, asks, “Where were you?” I don’t explain, just hold out the bags. Apologies pour out, that she was worried, that she didn’t mean it, that it was an awful thing to say. We sit across the room from one another for a long while, and she explains herself. I react, ask questions. An easiness rises, the bad air seeped out of our relationship’s big balloon. Reservations from hours ago missed, we agree to have dinner at the top of the hotel, Tokyo everywhere around us. Midway through my main course, I check a far-off clock, see it’s seconds past midnight, Independence Day in America. A chirping giddiness rises in my chest: our flight to Munich in the morning that I don’t care if I take, enough money in my account to get back home, if I want to, alone.