Home > An Opening in the Body > Red Letter Day

Red Letter Day

April 4, 2006

Japan was a trip, sometimes in more ways than one. This guy Paul I used to hang out with got a buddy back in the states to mail him some LSD. Something told me not to drop with him, so I politely turned him down when he offered to share. Another one of our classmates had no such scruples, however. I don’t remember his name, but he was the guy who started the Buddhist meditation group in the foreigners’ dorm.

He told me they ate two tabs each and rode the trains back and forth for hours. All the rice paddies were flooded, so it quickly became impossible to tell where the sky stopped and the ground began. Clouds above, clouds below, and in between the mountains were like enormous green Buddha-bodies, swollen with wisdom. For a while, he said, they were bowing gassho to everything. When darkness fell, they started looking at the lights as if each one was a vow somebody had made, a little particle of determination.

They were trying not to attract too much attention – like a foreigner in Japan can ever avoid being noticed! – but as they were coming back toward the college, a pair of giggly co-eds sat down across from them and they began to flirt.

“We started imitating them, you know? Putting our hands over our mouths to hide our teeth, which of course made them laugh even harder, so then we started speaking the most atrocious Japanese phrases we could think of, like gokiburisama deshita and bikkurisumasu, until we knew we had it made. Every girl wants a guy with a sense of humor, you know?

“It turns out one of them has an apartment not too far from the Makino station, so we go there, stopping at a couple of vending machines to pick up a packet of condoms and one of those mini-kegs of Sapporo. Paul was crazy, he wanted to tie them up right away, but I said no, first we had to snuggle and look deeply interested while they told us all about themselves, got sloppy drunk, started whispering secrets in our ears. Which were safe with us, because we didn’t know what the fuck they were saying once they lapsed into heavy Osaka dialect. Mine even blubbered a little, which of course made me cry, too. That’s just the way I am.

“Paul and I were coming down by this point, but the sex was still pretty strange. It didn’t help that they were both virgins. Mine was nice, she went through all the motions of liking it, but blood is hard to hide. I figure she must’ve looked at some of those pornographic comic books that the salarymen are always reading on the subways, because she knew the routine pretty well – even tried to give me a blowjob. But the girl Paul was with lay still as a stone and whimpered the whole time. He gets that look in his eyes. It scares people.”

He said he persuaded Paul to give them the rest of the LSD, four more tabs.

“We told them it was a kind of medicine, that it would make everything beautiful. Pretty soon they were tripping really hard, and Paul got the idea of writing our names on their forearms with the point of a knife. They loved it! You know how Japanese are about anything with Roman letters on it. When we left, they were both totally engrossed, staring down at the red letters as if they could see all the way inside. Hell, maybe they could. It gave us something to talk about the next day, after the mountains went back to being mountains.”

by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa

  1. April 4, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    Great title. And an interesting (if a little grisly) take on the body-as-page idea explored by Greenaway and others…

  2. April 4, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    aiiii. Great story though, and well told.

  3. April 4, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks, Beth and Pica. Now that I re-read it, Christ! it is a little grim.

    For what it’s worth, the basic facts of this tale are all nonfiction. I didn’t keep a journal then, so the guy’s monologue is made up pretty much out of whole cloth.

  4. April 4, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    You have the state of mind in the story almost perfect, I’d say. I remember that it took 3 tries by 3 guys over a year maybe, and the second one was similar to the scenario you describe. We were stoned. He took me into his room, was surprised that there was blood. We never spoke at school again either. The first and third guys loved me. Which was entirely different. Not that your story asked to be echoed in any way – but I find the emotional tenor for the age and the sense of ‘with strangers’ very accurate, and thought to relate my own experience to back that observation up. I also read this without knowing it was you who wrote it, too. And it was gripping, sent my mind off on all sorts of tangents, memories, ideas, other cultures, youth, drugs… like, great stuff, Dave.

  5. April 5, 2006 at 12:27 am

    I agree with Brenda, that the emotional tenor is right; I’ve listened to the stories from the guys’ side (having been friends with a lot of white men in Korea trying and usually succeeding at finding a Korean woman to sleep with). Paul Theroux describes going to a pornographic show in Japan (The Great Railway Bazaar), and the strange mix of blood and sex and even fear that the Japanese he observed watching the show with him seemed to take in stride…more like aspirin than LSD, a simple matter of life’s natural pharmaceuticals. The twist on “mountains are mountains” is also good, and such a contrast to the otherwise surreal and definately *not* Zen mood of the rest of the piece.

    It packs a punch in very little space. Or, perhaps more accurately, slides between the ribs with the thinnest of blades.

  6. Bill
    April 5, 2006 at 8:50 am

    Hi Dave, Thanks for reporting that occurrance. So far, I think an opening is an increase in surface area. The pantomiming and giggling on the train cuts into the air with flashing petals. I think back to bubbles forming in glass under tension, some of which initiate a new surface, others collapse and dissappear. Then I think of mountains condensed into bounded bodies over a lapsing sky. Dropping pressure. Under a plunging barometer do spring storms suck buds into flower? Am I getting too graphic? Yes!

  7. Bill
    April 5, 2006 at 9:04 am

    What else can I think, when mountains have bottoms?

  8. April 5, 2006 at 11:20 am

    I really don’t know what to say. Am I too easily shocked? It’s a fine piece of writing, and I’ve been back several times to re-read it.

  9. April 5, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    I too found it grim. Like Jean I felt a bit shocked, maybe because it was so unexpected. It’s powerful writing to bring out these emotions in me and leave me thinking about why.

  10. April 5, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for all these comments & honest reactions.

    Haven’t read that Theroux book, but I definitely never understood the East Asian attitude toward sex. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than our attitude, just very different.

  11. April 5, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    Yes, a gripping tale and authentic in its reporting of the coldness of the stoned mind. That’s what struck me most in my brief experience of being stoned, and also closely observing friends who were frequently stoned. The emotional distance. What shocks me in this story is the guys’ cold parting “gift” to the naive girls of their remaining four tabs.They might have been giving them death (some people’s first trips have been nightmarish) or self-mutilation on grand scale.

  12. April 6, 2006 at 11:39 am

    Yes. That’s been my experience of LSD from the outside — that it gives “wisdom without compassion,” in Buddhist terms — an understanding of why it doesn’t matter without the complementary understanding of why it does. I knew a lot of acid-heads in my youth. Been away from that milieu for a long time. This brings it unhappily back.

    But I don’t know how far an understanding from the outside gets you though.

    I found this really ugly. (What’s presented, I mean, not how it’s presented. It’s beautifully presented.)

  13. April 6, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Natalie and Dale – There’s stoned, and then there’s stoned. Each substance is different. I deeply distrust anything made in a laboratory: LSD, cocaine, heroin, distilled spirits, etc. I agree with Dale’s estimation of an acid trip, though I would also go further and say that wisdom without compassion is an ever-present danger for Buddhists, too, at least judging from the public behavior of some undoubtedly very advanced teachers of it.

  14. April 6, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    Wisdom not in the service of compassion is the definition of sorcery, really. I guess you’re familiar with my skewed perspective on this – that we live in a society run by and for sorcerers. Power is enough of a drug for most of them.

  15. April 6, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    Yeah. Every once in a while my local lama warns us not to confuse compassion with being nice, which is a point well-taken — also that what he calls “highly realized beings” (a phrase which I confess makes me want to throw up) are playing with a different deck than we are, which is true too — but… yeah.

    Rove as sorceror works for me :-)

  16. April 6, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    I was with these guys in the beginning–especially when they were bowing gassho to everything.

    But once they approached the girls, I was with their victims, laughing behind my hands, enjoying the jokes, actually believing that the guys who “snuggled and looked deeply interested” really were.

    That whimpering girl broke my heart. How well you captured this, Dave: the tawdriness, the cold morning that everyone faced in the end–both exploiter and exploited alike. The mountains that had gone back to being mountains.

  17. April 7, 2006 at 6:45 am

    Dale – Actually, I’ve said that myself, about being kind vs. being nice. And we all know how “realized” I am. :)

    Patry – It’s good to get the perspective of a “real” fiction writer. Many thanks.

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