Rebel Without a Clue

I think I was, from day one, a bad boy .. hmmm .. perhaps that should be .. a Bad Boy.  I knew when something I did was wrong .. but went ahead and did it anyway.  I just enjoyed the anarchy I knew I could create.  Usually, I was sneaky enough not to get caught .. in fact, many, many more times I got away with mayhem, disorder and chaos than I got caught.  Not from high school, mind you, but from second and third grade.  I was a little devil. 

At age eight, we moved to Chateauroux, France and stayed in a hotel for military dependents the first few weeks.  There were slot machines in the lobby, and I bugged my parents incessantly for money to play them.  My dad said, "He'll never learn a lesson about gambling until he loses all his money."  He gave me an allowance advance, and I put a coin in a nickle machine.  It paid off a jackpot on the first coin.   I wish I had been looking at my parents' expressions at that moment - I'm sure I would have enjoyed it.  Guess who's loved gambling ever since? 

In 7th grade, I wrote for the school paper.  I caused some disturbance in a school assembly. You know, the old "wet hand under the armpit" gambit - and actually thinking no one would be looking for the malefactor. I learned from this: don't get caught. I got busted by the newspaper's faculty advisor.  The punishment was being fired from the paper.  That day, I created a sign that said, "Unfair!" and paraded my one-person protest march outside that teacher's classroom.  Unfortunately, her husband was also the shop teacher and sports coach.  He marched me down to a closet and gave me such an ass-whacking with a wooden paddle that I remember every lick to this day.

This e-zine is about life as a military dependent in post-occupation Japan generally; but, from a more personal perspective, when I was there as a 16 year old punk kid and a Rebel Without a Clue .. only thinking about the great times that all teenagers expect at that age.  I wanted less authority so I could do what I wanted!  But, I was living as an Air Force dependent .. yeah, right! Good luck! The military = more authority, not less! The military and I did not particularly get along, and I'm sure they were glad to see me disappear forever from their bases!  

Tokyo was and is one of the world's greatest cities. No worries, no bills, no sweat!  It was a time when we were all young and full of intense energy, and the world was ours to enjoy to its fullest.  To be a military brat was miserable to some: always moving, always leaving best friends behind, a rootless, ever-changing environment.  But, to many others .. and to me! .. it was the most wonderful existence imaginable.  To be able to spend years in places like Frankfurt, Paris, London, Rome .. and Tokyo .. was, in retrospect, like a dream .. a wonderful dream that ruefully had to end as we moved too quickly to adulthood. 

"I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again;
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat,
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that."
Bob Dylan's Dream © 1963 Bob Dylan
Growing up in Tokyo during that time was just amazing!  American kids were everywhere, soaking up the culture, traveling around the island, climbing Mt. Fuji, snow skiing for the first time, appearing as extras in Japanese motion pictures, absorbing as foreign a culture as we had ever experienced.  While our fathers were concerned with their workaday world that was little different from being stationed at Lackland or the Pentagon or Wright Pat .. the teenagers swarmed all over the island. We had no intention of staying home. And, besides, there was no TV! (that is, unless you liked sumo.)  Like kids in the States, we were looking to get away with as much as we could.  But, always looming over our heads was the threat of damaging your father's career by becoming a juvenile delinquent, or just "JD."   Some kids were so bad that they were actually sent back to the States without their parents -- the ultimate punishment.

We each had our little cliques, as teenagers do, and, together, we investigated this new world.  We boys, of course, were much wilder than the girls.  We sampled the forbidden pleasures of drinking in the bars in Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi at age 15, because we "gaijins"/ foreigners (was it my imagination or did they say that word with a sneer?)  all looked alike and they believed our phony ID cards.  We rented motorcycles on those same ID cards, and very few of us had drivers' licenses. Crash!

And, getting around was a snap, thanks to the efficient Japanese rail system.  A recent map of the Tokyo subway system can be viewed in its entirety if you will click here.  For two ¥10 coins (about five cents), you could get almost anywhere in Tokyo.  At that time, it was ¥360 = $1, and a $5 weekly allowance (there were no jobs) was typical and sufficient for most dependents, but not for some of the escapades my wild cronies and I had planned.   And, speaking of ¥10 pieces .. worth 2 ½ cents.. those things worked just fine back in the U.S. as quarters in soda machines .. oh, man! the exact size of a quarter! .. .. until the vending machine companies figured it out. The statute of limitations ran out years ago .. and so did the stash of coins.  I KNOW I'm not the only one who did this .. who took home a bag of ten yen coins! am i?

All of the American on-base housing was usually right next to a train station.  At Washington Heights, we couldn't have been better situated.  What luck! Right next to Harajuku Station, it was only a few stops to the notorious, crowded Shinjuku and Shiubuya night life areas. Grant Heights, Tachikawa, Yamato, Green Park and the other dependent housing were a lot further out, and didn't have the advantage of a five minute trip to Sin City.  Tokyo was still very much a post-occupation city, with a high GI population.  GI's meant money on the 1st and the 15th to spend .. on what GI's normally blow their pay on.  Ergo: a high ratio of bars per square meter.  Thus: lotsa ladies in those bars. The bars in Shinjuku and Shibuya catered to American GIs; but if, at least, your voice had changed, they'd serve dependents with the price of a beer. And sex?  Everywhere you looked.  For a price, of course.  But, even in that era, we were smart enough to bring condoms .. no one wanted to go to the base hospital for a penicillin shot.  Japanese "B-girls," or bar girls, were in the business of getting you to buy them watered-down drinks, but could sometimes be convinced to engage in an after work tryst .. especially if they found out you were a "cherry boy," a virgin .. and, if you were smart, you always told them that. 

Post-occupation Tokyo was one intense party town!  If you missed it .. too bad!  I doubt if there'll be another place like it in our lifetime.  From what I've read, Paris in the 1920's was comparable; but for a 15 year old boy, Tokyo in the '60s was .. and is .. Paradise Lost.  You almost expected to see some new Hemingway or Wilde or Picasso walk in the door of  one of those bistros .. there was that much of an excitement about walking through those city streets .. unafraid of crime, unafraid of anything .. we foisted ourselves on Tokyo .. and it foisted right back at'cha!  The town was waiting to take our money, and we were just as happy to give it to them!

Pachinko played a pivotal role in the social life that my friends and I enjoyed in Japan.  To the Japanese, and quite a few Americans, it's an outright obsession.  These vertical pinball machines never did make it to the U.S., mainly because they were clearly gambling.  You could spend hours flipping the silver balls into the targets that paid off in more balls, until you won enough to trade for  packs of Pearl cigarettes, which you could sell to local cigarette vendors.  The new machines are nothing like the old ones.  Today, they accept credit cards at the parlors and you can buy another credit card that works in their machines.  I even saw new pachinko machines that are automated - alas! - and the players sit back, smoking endless cigarettes, and watching the machine play itself.  What hasn't changed is you buy a hundred balls, try to win and become entranced by the movement and the sounds. You become hypnotized with the rhythm of your thumb flicking the silver bar .. in time, the flicks become more exact, to find the "sweet spot" in a machine .. to find that path that takes the ball into the payoff target, the one in the center that paid off more than the others, but was harder to hit .. and, just like slot machines, some of them were rigged and you could never beat them and those were the ones near the door that the gaijin tourists would play .. so we would find one in the middle of all the locals, 'cause if there was an easy one, it was there. 

We were good at pachinko.  Really good!  My friends and I skipped school to play pachinko waaayyyy too many times.  Because pachinko was much more than just a game to waste time. It was our rite of passage .. our breaking the chains of our childhood .. it was our entrance into the world of  teen-hood, and we used pachinko to finance some of our more .. memorable .. experiences.  It was gambling, and we felt just a little .. badder .. because we were in the middle of it.  Pachinko winnings allowed my friends and I to afford to go into Tokyo's night life in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi.  Too bad The Who never wrote a rock opera about "Akira, the Pachinko Wizard."   I loved pachinko.

 I was on the staff of The Dragon's Roar, the Narimasu High School newspaper, and Sensu, the yearbook.  But, we were censored as to what we could write.  Later, at The University of Texas, I wrote for the Texas Ranger, the campus humor magazine, and we were censored there.  Now THAT was a nefarious staff.  One of my pals was Janis Joplin, who wrote articles that were heavily edited, and she bitched about it ... and then we would follow her down to the Union, with her autoharp on top of her books, and forever trailed by this skinny guy in a t-shirt who always carried a banjo, and listen to her sing folk music, Appalachian ballads, Woody Guthrie songs and Bessy Smith blues. Everyone knew, even then, that Janis Joplin was not going to waste her time at college much longer .. and she didn't.
 Tony Bell, the great cartoonist, I understand, didn't make it through the 70's. The amazing, one-of-a-kind cartoonist Gilbert Shelton, now an expatriate in Paris, created Wonder Wart Hog, then The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat.  Hmmmm ... now, where is that Fat Freddy's Cat cartoon? .. where Garfield may have been an intern .. ? ...... Aha!-->

Anyway, we all got fired from the Texas Ranger staff when we tried to sneak every four-letter word we could muster into a drawing of a man behind bars to illustrate a piece on censorship (this WAS the 60's).  The words made up the bars on the cell. Sideways and hidden, but they were still there. 

The UT Regents were not amused. 

Gilbert Shelton started an off-campus magazine called Bachannal; I may have written some stupid poems for it, but the magazine was closed after two issues.  There was some amazing talent circling that campus.

But, none of that has anything to do with Japan ... slight detour. Now, where was I??  Something to do with ...??.. oh, yeah .. censorship.  None here.  Nothing particularly obscene, (gross?? probably!!) but I'll say what I damn well please.  "G" rated?  Not very likely. Young impressionables: tell mommy to put the filter on your computer. In fact, you should immediately click here.

I've returned twice in the past several years to promote music released in Japan.  Needless to say, everything has changed, but nothing has changed.  Does that make sense?  I hope not.  I took some pictures, some old friends e-mailed me some and some I pilfered from various Internet sources, which I have listed on the Credits page, as opposed to on each and every page.

I just seemed to be magnetized to trouble back then, and picked friends who were exactly the same .. like the time the Dirty Half Dozen was involved in .. jumping off the school bus on our way to school .. buying cheap wine ("bullshit!" says my conscience .. shoplifting)  .. Akadama Red, to you connoisseurs .. hopping back on as the bus came back around .. and having a merry 90 minutes on the rest of the ride . . 15 is an age at which you cannot hide being drunk, and for some reason, you are proud of it to the wrong people .. we  were kicked off the buses for three months .. and had to ride an open weapons carrier to school .. huddled together and shivering in the middle of a freezing-ass Japanese winter.  What an embarrassment that was to our dads.  Well, the group in that weapons carrier had no small share of its own discomfiture: having to disembark every damn morning in front of that school, to gales of laughter and howls of derision from cretinous bystanders.  Everybody in school knew after the first week, and we had to endure it for three months.  Would you like some cold with your chagrin??  That's the reason for the snow on top of the Dragon's Roar masthead .. I'll always remember that snowy winter .. and the physics lesson* it taught: every action has an opposite .. and oft times immediate .. reaction. (* Isaac Newton's 3rd .. yeah, I know .. we thought Jack Daniel's 5th was more interesting!) Maybe that's why I'm not on Death Row today. 


© 1998 Jazzbo