Whenever I go on a business trip, I want to fuck. This is most likely an atavistic response. In the distant past, the only reason you would leave the confines of your family or tribal group and the land it occupied would be to hunt, kill, or inseminate. Your genes want to do this. They long to launch themselves onto every foreign cervix, every fertile ovum from elswhere.
I don't end up fucking, however. I am loathe to disrupt the aforementioned family group that I have cultivated in the Homeland. I am also loathe to weave an elaborate web of lies or live with the guilt of deception. So, I walk the streets of Amsterdam or Munich, Tokyo or Osaka, horny and not a little hung-up.
Nevertheless, I seek out the company of women in these foreign cities. In Amsterdam, a cynical and beautiful (or is that "beautiful and cynical"?) woman, A., is my hostess. She takes me to a low-key local restaurant. I'm the only American there. It's not a tourist place, set in a neighborhood somewhat removed from the city center. The tables are carved from heavy, dark wood. The waiter takes a long time before taking our order, before bringing the food, before anything. A. tells me this is the Dutch manner. The people of Holland have grown accustomed to making the most of being indoors and are in no rush to venture outside.
As the dinner ends, A. says, "So. Shall we go to the red light district?" (It's funny because I assumed then that she meant just to stroll around there and look at the prostitutes like I did on my first trip to Amsterdam when I was 18. Only now, as I write this, do I consider that she may have meant something quite different. Perhaps she was suggesting that we go there so she could watch while I sated myself on some whore.) I tell her that I'm not interested in that; I'd rather go to a coffee shop.
We go around the corner to a rather non-descript, sort of beat, under-decorated, two-room pool hall. I check out the menu and buy some of the Kali Mist, because I love the goddess of death; I love her necklace of skulls; I love her skirt made of human arms and I love the way she stands astride Shiva as he lies burning with lust on the ground, a serene look on his face, cobras twined about his neck, slithering through his matted hair. A few minutes later, that's exactly how I feel.
We leave that place, too (there aren't many people there and the music is a generic techno pulse, neither annoying nor engaging). We wander down the cool, damp streets. As we cross a brick plaza, I stop to tell A. of my love for Kali. I explain to her that death permeates the universe, that the endless cycle of creation and decay, of fiery destruction, repeats itself not only on a broad temporal scale taking billions of years, but also in every instant. Looking at her angular face, her blue eyes, her bemused smirk, and I see the infinite proximity fill with blossoming vortices, whorls of unfolding energy.
We somehow arrive at another bar playing generic American rock music. In fact, there is nothing about this place that marks it as being in Amsterdam or any other country except the U.S. It's then that I appreciate the subtlety of the Dutch, their self-effacement, their accomodation. I also see it as a kind of slow-motion tragedy --- a "go along to get along" resignation. "Let others rule and conquer the world, we will pursue the chameleon of commerce. We will profit by their indulgence."
I ask A. if she thinks it inappropriate for me to get so lifted with her since this is, ostensibly, a business trip. She says that, what is important to her, is that I feel comfortable, that I am able to relax. The Dutch display hospitality by making sure that your needs are met. They remain opaque, without necessarily withholding themselves. There is an availability, but you have to seek it out, open yourself to it.
This model of hospitality contrasts with that found in Germany two days later. I travelled to Munich directly from Amsterdam. Getting from the airport to the hotel was uneventful. When I got into town, a large crowd was in the street because they had been showing a movie in the park. I ask a guy for directions. He's a little drunk and doesn't know the street I'm seeking. He asks where I'm from, since I speak German with an accent. I tell him I'm an American, that I just came from Amsterdam. He asks if I got high there.
The next few days are spent with a very intense German businessman. He is relentless. He invites me to his home in the countryside outside of Munich. It's a long drive and he talks the entire way about the complexities and challenges of doing business in Germany. He's just recently moved into a relatively spacious home built in a quasi-traditional style. His wife is very beautiful, as are his children. She serves us coffee on the patio and even drives into town to get us Kuchen. We go to a Volksfest (sort of a carnival). There, we drink beer and eat flatbread.
We sit at picnic tables and everyone sits very close together. I eventually get up and move to the end of the picnic bench because I'm feeling claustrophobic, cramped not only by the physical proximity but also by the atmosphere of Bavaria. I can't even escape into incomprehension; my knowledge of the language precludes that.
I ask the young administrative assistant where she's from. She tells me, "Dachau." I say I've heard of it, but only because of the camp there. She says everyone associates Dachau with the holocaust. When she and her friends were in France, the waitress never returned to their table after learning of their hometown. "It's really a nice place with a beautiful 'old town.'" I'm sure she's right.
I ride the train back to Munich with a fellow who has a PhD in architecture. His English is pretty good. He's obsessed with his American father, who knocked up his mother, a German, and then bailed. He eventually found his father, who lives in Texas. Reunited. This allows my traveling companion to get an American passport. Now he lives here.
By the time I leave Munich, I'm going insane. The Bavarian notion of hospitality is the reverse of the Dutch variety. The Bavarians invite you into their world, their lives, to show how comfortable they are with you. This is their openness. They remain closed, however, to your wants. The more I was welcomed into their homes, the more alien I felt. I fled.
Arrived in Frankfurt with a deluge and took a crowded train to the city center. There has once again been some mass gathering and the soaked participants are talking animatedly as they return to their homes. I'm happy when I get a cab and the driver is Iranian. He was trying to get to the States a decade before and got stuck in Germany. He's doing ok.
When I finally get to my friend's apartment, all I can say is, "I hate Germany. How can you live here?" He's an American married to a German woman whom I once dated (or tried to). (One snowy night, we went out to a bar and then ended up back at my apartment. All I had to drink was a bottle of Jack Daniels and I tell her that the only "mixer" available is some pear juice my roommate bought. We sat in the kitchen kind of drunk. I didn't make a move but she says, "I think you are a nice guy, but you have to face the rationalities of life," as a way of putting me off. I ask her what she means but she just responds, "You know.") He does not reply. Instead, we go down the street to a Greek restaurant. It already feels more cosmopolitan than Munich (where my host complained of its "Italienization"). It reminds me of Amsterdam or Toronto --- different enough to be familiar. We have lamb and it tastes good.
It's fun to be in a foreign land with a friend. We are intimate, in our way, though I do not fuck him. We wander around the city, go to a museum where there is an exhibit of erotic photographs featuring Madonna and Heather Graham. I only speak German when I have to.
One morning, we're sitting on his balcony and watch some kids playing tag on the cobblestone corner. A young girl, maybe 11 or 12, pursued by a boy of perhaps 9, wiggles her ass tauntingly at him. This is a common gesture in that sort of game. You wag your ass at someone and say, "You can't catch me." But what is that gesture really about? My friend says, "The point is to torture you with your own lust." That lust is unfulfillable, and therein lies your vulnerability. Later, we write and record a song called "Honey Fist," which begins with the line, "White bitch/ She tortures you with your own lust."
A few months later I'm in Osaka. Walking around the city one morning, I feel more foreign than I've ever felt. This is the first place I've been where I can't even decipher the street signs. I can't tell the difference between a restaurant and a shop and an office. I can't ask for directions. There is a castle in Osaka with a samurai museum in it. The grounds are well-kept and because its fall, the ginko trees have turned bright yellow against the clear blue sky. In the pine forests around the perimeter, I see blue tarps strung through the branches and men milling about. When I ask my friend about this later, he says, "Oh, you mean the beggar people?"
I'm very hungry so I go to the office. My friend is not there but a coworker is. Her English is not so great. I tell her I want lunch. She asks what I want and I say "noodle soup." She says she's hungry too so we close up the office for a bit and head out. She takes me to an AM/PM Minimart, just like we had in my hometown growing up. She shows me the packs of ramen noodles and gets a sandwich. I don't know how to tell her that I wanted to go to a restaurant, so I buy some noodles and we go back to the office and make them in the microwave. This woman does not interest me at all sexually.
A similar thing happens that night. We go to a restaurant that specializes in "Tako-yaki," a kind of octopus fritter. This is essentially fast food in Osaka, but we have an actual 12 course meal with octopus served with differenct sauces and in slightly different modes of preparation (mainly alternating between boiled and fried). After dinner, we meet my friend in the street outside the restaurant. He asks how it was and I discover that he has never eaten there and neither has my dinner companion. He wanted to show me something typical for Osaka, but in a manner that was, as it turns out, atypical.
We go to a karaoke place. Unlike in the States, where there is a public, performative element to karaoke, we are shown to a private room and brought drinks when we order them. I'm disappointed since I wanted to strut my stuff for the locals. We get drunk. My friend sings, "Born to Be Wild" and "We Are the World." I sing, "Hello, I Love You" and "Downtown."
The next night, I give a presentation to a marketing study group (at least that's what I'm told it is). Afterwards, we go to a faux "brew pub" run by Kirin. It is set up like an Anglo-American men's club with wood trim, green walls, and prints of horseracing from the turn of the century. A woman who I am sure is a transvestite asks me in a strange, husky voice to look at her website and tell her what I think. I say I will. The translator, who is sitting next to me but who I later find out has butchered everything I said, tells me too much about her life, which has not been exceptionally happy. I tell her that this restaurant is decorated exactly like a place I would never go in America. She seems surprised, "Aren't places like this popular with the young people over there?"
I take the train to Tokyo. We go right past Mount Fuji. When I arrive, I'm exhausted but my local contact says I have to complete my presentation (on "Designing the User Experience"), which I haven't yet written, so it can be given to the translators. I throw it together and hand it off. It takes me so long that when I'm done, it's already time for dinner, so I don't get a nap.
Y. meets me at the hotel. She's rather masculine, or at least androgynous, though not unattractive. I've known her for a few years, and I've never been sure if her inscrutability is characteristic or cultural. She asks where I'd like to have dinner and I ask her where she normally eats. First she makes a "joke" about not eating dinner because she works so hard (she does indeed work very long hours), then she says that she usually eats pizza. I tell her that I want some "authentic" Japanese food.
She takes me to a restaurant that I would not have recognized as such were I on my own. We enter an old school establishment with laquered wooden sliding doors and low tables. It's exactly the kind of place I wanted to go. She orders for us --- a large tray of sashimi and then a noodle soup with fresh seafood that we prepare ourselves at the table. I drink beer and talk through my presentation. Later in the meal she asks me, "Why are you not like the usual salaryman?"
The next day I have to give the same presentation twice, once at "Internet World 2000" outside the city and once again back at the luxury hotel where they've put me up. In my presentation, I emphasize that I am a web user, rather than a designer, and that the explorability of a site means more to me than its usability. Virtually infinite explorability will keep me coming back again and again to a site like amazon.com, which I visit frequently because I find the user reviews useful. However, my basic point is that consumer interest drives use of the web, rather than intrinsic attributes of a particular site. I go to amazon.com for the reviews, but I tend to buy things from speciality sites like "Blackmetal.com," because they carry obscure discs that amazon.com doesn't (I can find amazon.com's stuff used locally).
There are a couple hundred salarymen in attendance and they seem mystified and disappointed by my words. Of course, they are probably not listening to my words which are being simultaneously translated by a man and a woman. The man strikes me as a serious though relaxed fellow who has spent some time in the States. The woman, M., strikes me as an eccentric person who sends out "the vibe." They are also engaged to translate my presentation that evening. That presentation goes better because the audience has a large complement of designers and young people who are intrigued by my ideas (or at least talk to me afterwards).
At the reception following the presentation, I'm talking to M. about music and she asks me if I want to attend a party with her the next night. I regret to inform her that I'm leaving in the morning. I would gladly have gone with her. It is one of my greatest pleasures to go to unexpected parties with women I barely know in places to which I may never return. (I went to a party once in San Francisco with a lady friend of a friend. I met a woman there, L., who was a video game animator. A few months later, when I was in Berkeley giving a paper on LSD, I got together with L. and she took me to a party in Oakland. I spent most of the evening talking about drugs and eventually alienated her by making an offhand comment about Osip Mandelstam. He died in the gulag.) We part company and I go back to my room to change before dinner with our local branch staff.
I keep thinking about her. Should I have invited her for drink or something? I let it go (or try to). As I step out of the elevator on my way down, I run into her again. We exchange an awkward greeting and I let the opportunity recede into the possible. I join the women from the Tokyo office and we go to an Italian restaurant where we order pizza and salad, talk and laugh. I'm intrigued by them, but I go back to the hotel alone. I realize that the hotel's bookstore is well-stocked with erotica, but I don't buy anything.
When I get up the next morning, I watch CNN and the anchor is a woman whom I befriended, and obliquely pursued, during my freshman year in college. When I climb on the bus to the airport, Y. mysteriously appears. She wants to give me a gift for traveling all this way on behalf of her office. She gives me two picture frames both containing advertisements from our company. I thank her, even though these are the most impersonal gifts imaginable. (When I arrived, I gave her some Sanders hot fudge I purchased in the airport in Detroit. That stuff will always remind me of my father.) On the flight home, I read Soseki's Kokoro, which my friend in Osaka gave me. I'm enthralled, haunted, and saddened by this strange tale of self-sacrifice, betrayal, and unutterable desire.
Like I said, in all my travels, all these stories, no fucking (though constant thoughts and intimations of it). The desire to sire children on these women I've met is really the wish to be their unborn child, floating safely in their loving wombs, my unconscious needs immediately fulfilled by a body that does not resist, that gives its very essence without hesitation. In utero, contact, connection, communication are free of compromise or negotiation --- desire devoid of vulnerability because, egoless, non-existent, we have nothing to lose. What is the catered comfort of international business class compared to that irretrievable utopia?