We returned to the barracks about midday since our three-day break was just about over and we would, as usual, begin our work 'period' with the evening shift. Like many aspects of the military, even within the ASA, illusion and reality were oftentimes quite different. The words 'three-day break' looked nice on paper but in reality we began work on the evening of the third day. It was hardly what could be called a full three days off.
On entering my room I discovered that I had acquired a new roommate. He had just arrived the day before. Harold Frederick Barnhart, originally from Pennsylvania. He had actually been in Japan for a number of months but had previously been assigned to the Naval Base at Sasebo on the southern island of Kyushu. He was a cryptologist and hence would be working in the Communications center. I asked how it had been working with the Navy and he replied that he had enjoyed being one of the few 'doggies' on a whole base of 'swabs'. He added that he felt that some of them were pretty queer, but nice enough guys to work with. I wondered, though didn't voice my question, if he meant 'queer' like in strange, or 'queer' like in fairy?
I immediately noted that he was very orderly, clothes neatly arranged in his closet, desk tidy with everything in its place, even his shoes were perfectly lined up under his bed. His shoes, oh my good Lord Almighty, his shoes. They were so small they looked like something from China's past, when all the women had their feet bound. Since he was lying on his bunk in his shorts, I couldn't help but take a quick look to see it the goods hidden inside were consistent with young Lenny's brilliant mathematical formula. Well, it was a bulge, not terribly significant, but there was obviously something there. As to whether it was a confirmation of 'Scientist. L. Stroud's' famous FootSize=ThingSize theory, I just wasn't sure. God, a few weeks with that crazy Len and I was starting to think like him. But I certainly couldn't stop myself now.
After a few minutes of conversation, I excused myself and rushed down to Len's room. Mike was sprawled out on his bunk sound asleep. Len was sorting out clothes to send to the laundry. I told Len I had a new roommate and it would appear that he was as fastidiously neat as Patrick had been sloppy. I asked Len to come down and meet H.F., also not to comment of course, but to take a look at how neatly arranged his shoes were. Len was introduced to H.F. and they chatted for a few minutes. Len's eyes finally looked down, saw those diminutive shoes, and unable to restrain himself, he said, "Oh my God, oh my GOD!" He wheeled around and rushed out of the room. H.F. looked a bit perplexed and I explained that Len was occasionally given to sudden, inexplicable religious outbursts like that. Then I added, "He seems to call on God at the oddest times." I knew that Len was undoubtedly, at that very moment beginning a new file, probably entitled Prince Tiny Feet or maybe, considering his warped sense of humor, Princess Tiny Meat.
H.F. was a chatterbox and immediately began talking about himself. He had never known his parents, in that they had died in a boating accident when he was barely two years old. He had been raised by his maternal grandparents. In fact his paternal grandparents were somewhat of a mystery and he didn't even know if they existed. His grandmother had originally been part of an Amish community, but having fallen in love outside of her closed society, had left them. While he was talking I finally figured out what was so odd about his boxer shorts; they were of a medium dark blue which was not especially unusual in itself, but they had three small bright red buttons on the fly. Not only that odd feature but they were skin tight, like form fitted. H.F. was almost six feet tall, trim to almost thin, and a nice tan complexion. Somewhat Mediterranean, but his facial features were very fine, thin lips and eyebrows, dark brown, flashing eyes. His dark brown hair was short, modified military crew cut in that the front of it sort of stuck up in a peak that gently fell over. Friendly smile with a flashing sparkle of gold. And tiny feet. Very small—I was surprised they accepted him in the army. In fact I was somewhat curious to see how he managed to walk on such small feet.
He continued by saying that when he got out of the service he planned to go back to college and probably major in Marketing or perhaps Fashion Design. He explained that his grandfather was a tailor and his grandmother helped out, working as a seamstress, in their small shop. He remarked that he had probably learned how to sew before he could read or write. I commented that was obviously the reason that I'd never seen any boxer shorts like his before. He smilingly explained that they were his own modification. He told me examine the stitching, all done by hand, on the sides where he had 'taken out the bagginess'. I looked from where I were standing and nodded. He insisted that I get close and really look at it. It seemed like I almost had my head in his crotch, but, yes the small, fine stitches looked as perfect as any I'd ever seen made by a machine.
The three of us went to the mess hall together before going on duty at 4:00 p.m.. H.F. seemed to really enjoy Len's campy sense of humor. In heading for the Operations Building H.F. realized he'd left his ID badge in the room, would have to go back after it, and told us to go on ahead. Len was cautious to keep his voice down, since there were other guys on the walkway, though not very close, and began his usual patter, "My God he's cute. He's got the sweetest smile, like an innocent young puppy. Well I've decided that we have to take that one under our protective wings. Now considering the size of those shoes and related anatomical parts, you know that if he goes to any of the whorehouses in Chitose the girls will just laugh themselves silly and probably cause all kinds of permanent psychological damage. Seriously. He needs to know that there are other things that can be done with that little weenie of his. I've never been concerned about size—well other than for scientific investigation."
"I hereby appoint myself protector and teacher to that sweet young thing. Remember I do have experience in that field, and since you are married and intent on honoring your vows of temporary celibacy, you're completely useless. Did you notice how his shirt is molded to his lithe, muscular body? Now that looks like an advertisement to me. Yes, he's definitely on the prowl, whether he knows it or not."
I explained that his father was a tailor, he had done the shirt modification himself and was even thinking about going into Fashion Design. Now Len was beside himself, "Oh a fashion designer, I have always wanted to know a Fashion Queen, just think of the marvelous party frocks he could design for me. And you know there is another thing that precludes your having anything to do with him. Your gold tooth."
I explained that I did not have a gold tooth, but rather a gold cap. "Yes I know and I'm sure you must have noticed that Freddie has one those things too. It would never work. Electrocution. Once those two gold teeth came into contact the sparks would fly and we'd have to have a double burial out there in the antenna field or someplace else equally suitable."
Fortunately we'd arrived at Operations and Len would have to shut up for a while. I'd never thought about it before, but his job must be a daily torture; having to be quiet for eight hours at a stretch.
It was pleasant working with 'the Butterfly' again and Randy efficiently flitted from one task to another. I checked his work and pointed out a couple of minor corrections. Suddenly I had become the big cheese in the Analysis Section for my shift. It implied a considerable responsibility to make sure that everything was as complete and correct as possible. However since both Randy and I were conscientious about our work it wasn’t any problem.
Finally the shift was over; after returning from break the first night shift always seemed especially long. A quick snack in the mess hall and back to the room to sleep until sometime in the late morning. Prior to settling down with a book I put on a record of soft piano music. I asked H.F. if he had any specific preferences in music. He claimed to like everything from Popular, Jazz and Country Western to Bartok—as well as just about everything in between. Well, he was very liberal in his tastes, since I drew the line long before it got to Bartok and his atonal compositions. H.F. then mentioned that there had been a letter on my bed when he came in and he had put it under the book on my desk. I'd sort of expected a letter from Gregg and I recognized the familiar writing on the envelope immediately.
Gregg was complaining about the cold. Of course with his fetish for lolling around in his white jockey shorts, and unless the facilities were well heated, there would naturally be a complaint about the weather. He also commented that it was time for us to begin planning a reunion during the summer. In August we would both be eligible for three weeks of R & R — he wanted to know what I thought about meeting in Kyoto. Gregg could fly into either Tokyo or Kyoto, actually Osaka which was the closest airfield. He seemed a little depressed; nothing specific that was written, just the general tone of the letter. I thought about responding immediately, but decided to do it later, when I woke up.
But first just a few pages in the book I was currently reading. It was Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. I had been reading for about 15 minutes when H.F. questioned, "What's Hans Castorp up to today? Obviously he had read it. He continued, "The novel by Mann that I really enjoyed, really identified with , was Death in Venice." I mentioned that I hadn't read it yet. Now what did H.F. mean by that? Although I hadn't read it I knew that there was something about a homosexual relationship in it. Was he referring to that? Yes, the cute little puppy was obviously bright, it appeared he was well read, and also somewhat of an enigma.
The swing, or evening shift, always seemed the most difficult, not for the work, but the hours off. It seemed like we just woke up, moved around a bit and it was time to go to work again. It was about noon, I was writing a letter and so was H.F. Len came in, and as usual, was loaded down with gossip. It seemed that the First Cavalry Division would be moving their entire unit and leaving Hokkaido. It was official since he had seen a directive in the office just a few minutes ago. They would be gone, bag and baggage, within a month or so. Actually they had been moving out their heavy equipment for several months now. The ASA unit had been informed because in the future we would have to receive supplies direct from ASA headquarters in Tokyo. Many of our supplies had previously had been supplied by the Cav. More important now we could soon walk the streets of Chitose and feel safe in that the 'savages were leaving'.
H.F. asked Len if the relationship with the guys from the Cav had really been so difficult. Len explained that "there was no problem whatsoever if you were masochistic and just looking for someone to beat the shit out of you and then as a crowning touch to have them slit your throat. Absolutely charming group, the 'Cav.'
"Now for the important news," as he continued with his tidbits of information. "The scuttlebutt from the gutter is that two young lads from our distinguished ASA field station have set up housekeeping in town and are rumored to have already tied the knot. Evidently it wasn't a large gala wedding with an abundance of bridesmaids;—just a quiet intimate affair. But it is unconfirmed since the two uniformed young ladies in question have refused comment. However, Hedda Len Hopper will keep all informed of any late breaking information."
H.F. was giggling like a little kid. I hadn't found it quite so funny since I knew exactly who the 'two ladies' in question were and was more than slightly pissed. Especially disturbed since it was a complete distortion of the facts.
Later, before going to work I stopped by Len's room and asked where he'd heard that most recent gossip. "Well, really no place. I made it up! It was specifically to test Handsome Freddie’s reaction. I knew that if he was hard core straight he probably wouldn't have laughed. If he was limp wristed, interested, or even unsure of what direction he was headed, I knew he would at least find it amusing. I hope you noticed he twittered and giggled like a school girl. And that little girl's formal education is about to begin."
Len was clever and funny, but he was also devious and absolutely single minded when he decided on a course of action. I sort of felt sorry for H.F. and in one of those hastily planned, and ill conceived schemes of Good Samaratanism, decided to save him from the clutches of Miz Lenny Lecherous. I didn't want to hurt Len, but at the same time wanted to find a way to assist H.F. in defending himself.
That night I decided to begin. The plan was so simple; engender H.F.'s confidence and then quietly advise him to be careful. The overhead light was out and we were reading by the light of our desk lamps. I had decided that 'Fred' sounded softer than H.F. and asked if he minded being called by that name. He was reading an old Time magazine and responded that I could call him just about anything as long as it wasn't Harold. He hated his first name with a passion. I pulled out Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.
"Fred, have you ever read much Science Fiction?" I inquired. He replied that he had only been exposed to a few short stories, and added that he had enjoyed the little he'd read. Then, as an introduction to a particular short story, I asked Fred if he knew of the British poet of the 19th century, Lord Byron. He once again explained that he knew of him, but hadn't actually read any of his poetry.
So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving.
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself must rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet, we'll go no more a-roving,
By the light of the moon.
Then I began to read '—And the Moon be Still As Bright' from Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, which utilized Keats poem as a part of the story. The story was no more than about 20 pages, but I knew that it would take at least a couple of nights; I also knew that nearly everyone enjoys being read to. Fred was no exception. On about the tenth page I saw Fred's eyes begin to droop and suggested continuing tomorrow. With his boyish smile Fred thanked me and mentioned that he had never considered the possibility of combining a 19th century poet with futuristic stories. "It's absolutely beautiful", he commented and was soon sound asleep.
The next night after the swing shift Fred could hardly wait to return to the barracks and continue with Bradbury's short story. I had just begun reading when he turned on his side, made a space, patted it with his hand and suggested that I sit on his bed while reading. This was working better than I had supposed; it was obvious he already trusted me. That was what I was aiming for, his confidence. I sat down and continued reading. The images in the book were haunting and beautiful. Sensitive, and the friendship between the two protagonists was extraordinary. On the third night, once again seated on his bunk, I finished the story. Fred was obviously impressed with Bradbury's writing and laughingly asked if I would consider reading the whole book to him. I smiled, suggested he read it himself, and handed it to him.
The next night he was busy reading the book and then finding a passage he found particularly beautiful, he came over, sat down on my bunk and began to read to me. Now it was my turn to become drowsy and nod, as he voice faded off into the distance. I felt him gently pull up the blanket to cover my arms before turning off the lights.
The last swing shift was over and it was time for a two-day break. I had developed a slight cold and decided to stay on the base and take care of my sniffles. Len had planned to spend the first day in Sapporo and asked Fred if he would like to come along. Fred declined and said that he wanted to just read and relax. I didn't feel like going to breakfast the next morning and Fred retuned with four lemons and proceeded to heat some water in the electric hot pot and fix "his grandmother's cold remedy', hot water and lemon juice. He then produced a bottle of maple syrup that he had swiped from the mess hall and explained that the original recipe called for honey, but this would probably work just as well. The 'honey version' was also one of my mother's home remedies so I knew it well, and found that the maple flavor made it taste like a really vile medicine, but didn't comment. Fred spent the rest of the day playing Florence Nightingale, hovering around me and making sure that I was warm, comfortable and constantly sipping that yukky hot lemon and maple syrup mixture. Curiously by afternoon my sniffles had begun to disappear.
Fred and I went to dinner in the mess hall and then afterwards decided to go to the club for a couple of drinks. We got to talking about our individual responses to being in Japan. We were both of the opinion that it was probably one of the most marvelous things that had ever happened to us. It appeared that Fred was almost as enthusiastic about Japan as I was. In fact he wanted to join Kinji and me for Japanese lessons.
Evening mail call had arrived while we were out. It appeared that Fred had yet another letter from the Sasebo Naval Base. I'd noticed that they were arriving with amazing regularity. From an Ensign Duane Freeman, and in fact this was the third one in a week. Obviously Fred had a 'friend', a very close friend it would appear, since he had been responding regularly also.
Fred read the letter, carefully folded it and put it back in the envelope. Then he squeezed the envelope, held it up to his nose and said, "Old Spice, Duane loves Old Spice Cologne." He sighed, smiled and began, "You know, we've only been friends for a few weeks, but I know that I can talk to you. Somehow I just know that you'll understand what I'd like to share with you."
"When I first got to the Sasebo Naval Base I was bunking next to this guy, a swabbie, and we became immediate friends. Within days it was like we had known each other all our lives. We ate together, went to town together; became inseparable. Then our friendship got just a little complicated, not much, but a little.. We worked shifts just like here and on one of the long breaks the two of us had gone to a Japanese inn at Beppo, a resort town on the Inner Sea. On the first night we were on our futons and just talking when suddenly Duane told me that he was in love with me. At first I didn't say anything. It was certainly something I hadn't expected to hear. Then I reached over, laid my hand on his shoulder and told him that I loved him too, in my own way, though perhaps it was different than what he had hoped for or expected."
"I could feel that he was shaking like a leaf. In response to his shaking, I reached down and held his hand. I went on to tell him that I felt honored to be the recipient of his love, but that if he expected me to respond in some physical way—well, I just wasn't capable of doing that. At the same time I wanted him to know that in my own way I was very fond of him—as a friend. I told him he was without a doubt one of the most special individuals I' d ever known. There was a long discussion of course, and I explained that my best friend in high school, Robbie, had confessed to me that he was gay. Robbie and I had known each other nearly all our lives and I undoubtedly knew he was gay before we actually discussed it. I told Duane that the revelation hadn't changed anything; he was still the same incredible friend I had always known.. "
"By the way I was still holding Duane's hand, but by this time he had calmed down and stopped shaking. He said that he felt fortunate to have found me. I let him know it was mutual. Duane and I have remained friends and we learned to completely accept each other without wanting to change the other person. Straight, gay, whatever; doesn't make any difference to me as long as people respect each other, and care for each other. Now, this may be a little premature, but I'm sure that I can tell you that I value you as a friend. You have no idea how much I have come to value your friendship in the short time we've known each other."
Fred continued, "I don't think it's any big secret that Len's gay and by now you must know that it doesn't make any difference to me. He's one of the most genuinely witty and creative people I've ever met. He's a truly nice person and to me that's most important, and what he does in bed, and with whom is his business."
By this time Fred had stripped down to his cute little shorts with the bright buttons and crawled in his bed. I had gone to bed immediately on arriving. As Fred was talking I had been mentally drifting—I thought back to my friend Sven and knew that I had been privileged to have encountered probably two of the most advanced human beings on planet. Their views were exactly what religion was supposed to be all about, yet very few of the millions of true believers ever got beyond their petty judgmental prejudices. And it appeared that neither Sven nor Fred had any type of religious leanings whatsoever. It was certainly something neither of them every talked about. Maybe true, genuine contact with the divine was something that occurred within and there was no need to try and convince anyone else.
I got up and went over to Fred's bed, placed my thumb on his forehead, in that special spot that Gregg had pointed out, then shook his hand and said, "Fred, it's my privilege to be able to call you my friend.." He smiled and the gold cap on his tooth sparkled, "Thanks, and I know that coming from you, it's a lot more than just idle words. "
As I was going to sleep, I began to think about how I had been thinking of helping to save Fred from the clutches of Len. Obviously the 'little puppy' was more than capable of taking care of himself. I couldn't help but inwardly smile at my own innocence and naiveté.
Winter continued. The buildup of snow was now almost five feet high in places and the daily trips to various buildings such as the mess hall or Operations building was accomplished by maze-like paths. The temperature hovered around -20° for days on end. Fred and I spent endless hours reading, listening to music and basking in our ever deepening friendship.
Len obviously had forgotten about his interest in Fred, 'the cute puppy'. In fact he had somehow become involved with a File clerk from the First Cav and they spent as much time as possible at the house. Seemed a bit strange considering Len's vituperative remarks concerning the mentality of everyone in the Cav. Once again it was evident that generalities of any kind were dangerous and more often than not could be proved to be wrong. Although many of the Cav. personnel had already left, or were in the immediate process of doing so, some of the office personnel remained to continue with their office duties related to closing down the unit. One of the windfalls of the Cav. evacuation was that they bequeathed most of their large library of books and records to the ASA station. Thousands of new books and most of the classical records had never even been played. For our small ASA unit it was like a gift from the heavens.
Soon the holiday season was upon us. Christmas dinner at the mess hall was excellent and after eating Fred, Len and I went into Chitose to the house. Mark, Len's friend from the Cav, was already there, had lit a fire in the stove and the house was cozy warm. Fred had taken it upon himself to be in charge of the music and Len saw to it that the glasses of scotch, soda and fresh snow, his new invention which he christened a Scotch Slush, were never empty. Fred, Len and I were at the beginning of our three day break and Mark had a two day pass. Instead of going back to base Fred and I decided to stay at the house. There was plenty of firewood, food, booze and pleasant conversation. Len had also purchased a new futon and explained that Fred and I could sleep together and he and Mark would share the other futon. It seemed to be a satisfactory arrangement.
Mark was talking about the fact that he had lived all his life in Montana and mentioned that the winters there weren't much different from the weather here in Hokkaido. Fred recounted that some of the winters in Pennsylvania were pretty severe too, but not nearly as frigid as what he had experienced here. Being Christmas season much of the conversation centered on nostalgic remembrances of our individual families. At one point I retreated into a reverie which included memories of previous Christmases with Bozhena. God, it seemed like a thousand years ago. It was getting late and Len started hauling out the futons. Fred was already stripping down to his shorts and I mentioned that I was probably going to sleep in my clothes—it would be warmer. Fred grinned and said for me to take off my clothes, it would be more comfortable and then jokingly remarked that he would keep me warm.
Len raised his eyebrows and began, "Well my dears, I have suspected for some time that there was some koochie koochie going on in that room down at the end of the our building, but now you have just substantiated my conjectures. Come on now, tell mother all about it." I immediately decided to set Len straight, for once and for all, though I had already explained it number of times. "Fred and I are friends, nothing more. Ponimayesh?" For emphasis I had added , 'Do you understand?', in Russian. It was breach of one of our most basic ASA rules, to never use Russian outside of the Operations Building.
Then as Len was getting up to turn out the light, he looked at Fred and asked point blank, "Are you really straight? What is your story, bright eyes?" Mark, who was obviously a bit shy and had been somewhat quiet most of the evening, interjected, "Ah, Len leave the guy alone." Len continued, "Well, are you or aren't you Fred?. You know we're all friends and we're not going to judge you one way or the other, and we're certainly not going to go rushing to the company commander, no matter what you say."
Fred hesitated, then responded, "You know Len, that's a good question and it's too bad I can't give a more explicit answer, but the best I can do is to say that I don't know. HOWEVER, I promise that when I do know I'll give you an exclusive! Not only that but I'll even sign a release form so you can put it in your files."
Mark, being a file clerk, was immediately interested and wanted to know what files Fred was talking about. Len was still standing up with his hand near the light switch. I was, as per Fred's instructions, taking off my clothes and quickly jumped under the futon quilt, but not before Len noticed my new pale green shorts with bright green buttons and his eyes got very large.
"Now look you two little faggots, you've been trying to pull the wool over my eyes, but the truth is slowly coming to light. Gordon, where pray tell, as if I didn't know, did you get those fancy little shorts with the pretty green buttons?" At this point Fred playfully put his arm around me and looking me right in the face, commented, "Under the fifth amendment you know we don't have to answer any of that filthy gossip mongers questions. Sweet dreams., honey" Now Len really was confused.
Len turned out the light and crawled under the futon quilt next to Mark. As I was drifting off to sleep I could hear Len and Mark chattering about Len's bevy of files. Then Len asked Mark why he didn't try to get a transfer and he could work in the office at our camp. He knew for a fact that our company was presently short two file clerks. Mark explained that it wasn't that simple and he didn't have a secret clearance which was necessary for all ASA personnel. Len acted shocked and commented that he couldn't possibly go to bed with someone who didn't have a top secret clearance, and sex, natural, unnatural, or anything in between, was definitely out of the question. They started giggling.
Len continued by explaining, "They can probably get you a temporary clearance until a permanent one is secured." I realized that Fred still had his arm over my shoulder. It felt nice and comfortable, warm, and not the least bit suggestive or compromising. It was a very friendly arm. He snuggled a little closer.
In the morning I could have told Len that his years of precious research into FS = TS (foot size - thing size) appeared to be an invalid theorem, but held my tongue. It wasn't so much that I didn't want to embarrass Fred, he had nothing to be especially distressed about, since bulges and foot size can evidently be deceiving. Fred wasn't about to win any prizes at the county fair, but it was also nothing to cause psychological alarm, as Len had previously surmised. I didn't want to compromise myself. I was the one self righteously proclaiming celibacy. And it was no big deal, just a little midnight exploration, nothing more. Evidently for Fred, it had been something more, and then too he had been the one doing the exploring. This morning he was especially chipper and happy. Maybe it helped to resolve his questions about himself. I also realized how difficult it was to be a male and not get aroused. Much to my chagrin I had discovered that males were evidently just naturally horny creatures.
Then it was Saturday, December 31, our first New Year's eve in Japan. Our shift was on its two day break between the swing shift and the midnight shift. Mark was on his usual two day weekend, and so once again the 'foursome' had arrived at the house for a small party to usher in the new year. Earlier I'd suggested going out for some snacks and more booze, but Len insisted that everything was taken care of. Len got drinks for everyone and Mark, for the first time a bit chatty, began talking about his family.
His mother was a teacher in high school and his father had an insurance business there in Helena, Montana. Evidently not everyone in Montana was a cowboy, and Mark explained that he had never ridden, or even been on a horse. As an only child he had received the complete attention of his two devoted parents, who were also his best friends Being drafted, and then put in the First Cav had not been the most pleasant experience of his life. He talked about how difficult it had been to make friends, especially when his interests were so different from everyone around him. He mentioned that having met the three of us had helped to change his life from boredom and frustration into one of the most pleasant experiences he had known. Suddenly Len looked at his watch, put some wood in the stove and told us to put on our coats since he had arranged a little surprise.
Len was being especially secretive and as we left the house and he closed the shoji and outer sliding doors I noticed that it had begun to snow again. A soft, gentle snowfall. Walking through the narrow streets with the muffled sounds of the individual houses we passed—music, chattering, singing—I realized how privileged I was to be in this special place. Len finally came to a large gate and pulled the outside bell cord. Soon a beautiful young lady dressed in a gorgeous kimono arrived and with gracious bowing and entreaties in Japanese, asked us to come in. I noticed that in her salutation she had referred to our group as 'honored guests'.
Len was all smiles as he explained that on this special night we were to be treated to real geisha entertainment. "Now these are not bar girls, but rather Geisha, artists and entertainers, and hence don't speak English, but Gordon and Fred can serve as our interpreters. It's going to be an evening of the real Japan." As we followed the kimonoed young lady up the freshly cleaned path I couldn't help but stop to admire the inner courtyard garden. There was just enough light from the shoji screens of the large house to dimly illuminate the tall granite lanterns, flickering with candlelight, and the well trimmed and trained evergreen trees and shrubs. In winter and covered with snow it had a distinctive enchantment. Before entering the small entry for shoe removal I'd noticed three cut pieces of bamboo, tied together and with a spring of pine needles; a good luck symbol for the New Year. We could hear someone playing a samisen and singing, obviously several other parties were already in progress.
On entering we removed our shoes and put on some slippers. We were greeted by an elderly lady in a elegant kimono who also graciously welcomed us. Led down the hall of brightly polished wooden floors we arrived at our room. We removed our slippers since the room was covered with tatami mats where even slippers were not permitted. We were shown into the large room that was to be ours for the evening. Inside two young ladies, each dressed in exquisitely colored kimonos, bowed low as we entered. There were cushions on the floor in front of a long, low table. They introduced themselves, Senko, and Tatsuko and asked us to please be seated, 'dozo, suwaru desu'. They attempted to learn our names: Mark became Maruko, Fred was Furedu, I also gained an extra vowel and was known as Gorodon, but Len presented a real challenge. Since the Japanese language contained no 'L' sound, he became Ren-san. Actually the suffix -san had been added to each of our names since it was a mark of respect.
The room was, in Japanese tradition, very plain and simple; exquisite in its simplicity. On the far wall there was an alcove, the 'tokonoma', which contained a hanging scroll of calligraphy, and a delicate floral arrangement. The young lady who had shown us in had disappeared and then the shoji door silently slid open again and there entered another young lady, even more beautiful than the others. It was somewhat of a shock when she said, in perfect English, "Good evening gentlemen. Welcome to our humble establishment, The House of the Crane. I am Kinko, but you may call me Connie if you wish."
It seemed that Kinko/Connie had spent most of her life in Seattle and had just recently returned to Japan. "Would you like some Sake or perhaps some other beverage to drink?" All agreed that it was to be a completely Japanese evening and sake would be in order. As the heated sake arrived and was poured into small, exquisitely decorated porcelain containers, Connie proposed a toast in Japanese, "Yoi otoshi omukai kudasai!" (May you see in a happy New Year). Since this was my first New Year's celebration in Japan I was pleased to learn this New Year's greeting, but then Connie cautioned that it was used only before the actual New Year's day. We could use it this evening, but tomorrow the greeting would become, "Akashimashite omedetô gozaimasu!" ('the New Year having begun, this is indeed a happy occasion') and she mentioned that it would be heard for several weeks as people encountered friends that they had not yet seen during this New Year. She then explained the various customs that surround the arrival of the New Year. For weeks now they had been cleaning their houses, buying new clothes for the children and most important paying their past debts. Family and close friends would also exchange small gifts. New Year's eve would usher in three days of festivities.
Thus began one of the most memorable evenings that any of us had spent in Japan. All three of the young ladies were charming, the endless dishes of food were delicious, the sake flowed. Itsuko produced a samisen and began to sing. Tatsuko danced in graceful, flowing movements. Then Connie decided to teach us all how to dance a simple folk melody, one of the traditional 'tanko bushi' songs. The lyrics were fairly simple and soon everyone was singing and following Tatsuko's lead in dancing. Every moment was beautiful and magical. It embodied joy and the age-old traditions of this magical land.
During the evening we learned that Connie was not actually a Geisha and was just visiting with her aunt, who was the owner of the House of the Crane. Learning of the visit of the four Americans she had volunteered to help make them feel comfortable, since she was able to speak English.
Then we heard the first gong from the large bell of the distant temple. It sounded once, as the suspended log struck the bell and continued for 108 times. Connie explained that the number was significant since it was counting the 108 human frailties. The New Year of 1955 had begun.
It was a joyous occasion and a most beautiful way to usher in the New Year. It was nearing two in the morning when we finally left amid many bows, a final "Akashimashite omedetô gozaimusu!" and many "sayonaras". It had stopped snowing and turned colder. The snow was squeaking beneath our feet. The clouds had cleared and crystalline twinkling stars filled the sky. A perfect ending to a perfect night.
The months passed. The intense cold lessened and then worsened. Some of the snow melted only to be soon replaced by a fresh covering. The time was spent reading, writing and with music. In our letters Gregg and I were making definite plans to meet in Kyoto the first or second week in September and would have three glorious weeks together. It was still six months away, but closer than when we had waved good-bye last August in Hawaii.
Hokkaido, due to its long cold winters, was an area, like Korea, which allowed the soldiers stationed there to be eligible for R & R, Rest and Relaxation, at government expense. The airfare and even staying at an R & R center was all paid for, though neither Gregg nor I could envision spending much time at an R & R center filled with other military personnel. But it could serve as a base from which we could then visit and stay in Japanese inns or hotels. Suddenly his letters sounded more positive and filled with anticipation. I knew that I would tell him about my sort of unwilling bedtime participation with both Len and Fred. We had agreed upon no secrets, but I wanted to do it personally and not in a letter.
Fred was also spending a lot of his free time writing letters. It appeared his correspondence with Duane had taken on a new aspect; Fred even confided that he been prompted to mention to Duane that he wanted to talk about 're-negotiating their friendship'. God, at times Fred was so weird, it almost sounded like a major business deal. Fred had planned to take an R & R later in the year and go south and he and Duane were planning to get together.
Fred also was quite candid about discussing how much his Christmas eve exploration had helped to release certain suppressed portions of his psyche. Evidently his grandparents were strict Lutherans and hence there wasn't much in the world wasn't a sin and one-way ticket straight to hell. Fred was at his desk writing when he mentioned how much he appreciated the Christmas present—and he wasn't talking about the shirt I had given him. He got up, came over and gave me a great big bear hug, exclaiming, "You know, your appearance in my life is one of the finest things that has ever happened to me! Except for Duane of course, and I might never have known how important he was to me if it hadn't been for you." I assured him the feeling of our friendship was mutual.
One evening Len came dashing into the room. "Listen up guys, you're not going to believe this. You know I have been trying to convince Mark to talk to Major Hawkins about seeing if he could transfer to our unit—especially since they've been understaffed for a couple of months. Well, Mark finally called Hawkings, who in turn called some friend of his in the Cav. and they made all the arrangements. He's going to be transferred over here by the end of the month." Len was ecstatic and I was once again impressed by how some people managed to mold reality around their needs and desires. I remembered it was one of Gregg's favorite tricks.