Gi-na! Gi-na! Big titties! shouted “One Eye,” as he cupped his hands under his chest and energetically pumped them, knocking over his beer glass.
“Flaming drunken asshole,” I muttered, not that anyone would understand even if I spoke louder. As I wiped the counter down, I pasted on a fake smile for One Eye, whose long ink-black hair sliced off half his face. His friend, “Licker,” leaned forward and with his chopsticks dropped a large, steaming shrimp down the scooped neckline of my dress. It stung as it hit my sensitive flesh, but I stifled the urge to cry out.
“Eat me!” said Licker, who sported a mustard yellow t-shirt with fire-engine red letters reading “Lick my hot dog,” accompanied by an ambiguous picture of a pink tube grazed by an oversized, pointy tongue.
I reached into my bra where the shrimp was wedged, pulled it out and popped it into my mouth. One Eye clapped. Licker banged the counter like a drum. I bowed, and they bought me a drink. It was all part of the nightly juvenile charade at the Dog and Pony Snack Bar in Narimasu on the outskirts of Tokyo. But a girl had to make a living, didn’t she?
Then Frenchie walked in, and my heart danced. Frenchie was my only regular customer on whom I had a crush. Maybe it was because he was one of the few who didn’t comment on my breasts or try to touch me. Maybe it was because we spoke to each other in French, the language of romance. Maybe it was because he did a mean Elvis imitation. Of course, Frenchie wasn’t his real name, which was Norio. For that matter, Gina wasn’t my real name either. In the daytime, I was Dorothy, a low-paid, blue-suited, twenty-three year old American intern in international banking. At night, in a slinky dress and high-heeled shoes, I tried my best to be Gina.
Hostess bars in Japan are legendary houses of illusion. Middle-aged salarymen travel in collegial packs, become intoxicated, and for a couple of hours maybe even believe the flattery of the attractive women who pour their drinks, light their cigarettes, and flirt with them. The “Snack,” as everyone called it, wasn’t one of those places but rather a poor man’s imitation serving a younger, suburban working class crowd. What it lacked in intimacy and tasteful furnishings, it made up for in general spirit, with the whisky, karaoke, and sexual banter flowing as freely as at any classy club. In addition, its horseshoe-shaped counter offered a partial protective barrier from unwanted pawing. That I didn’t speak a word of Japanese when I began or that my customers knew about ten words of English, most of it crude, was irrelevant. I was the only Western hostess, a “gaijin”, or foreigner, and by definition exotic.
Although verbal foreplay was routine, follow-through was not generally an expectation of management or customers. I did have my suspicions about the after-hours activities of one of the hostesses, a pale, emaciated woman named Kiyoko, whose expensive jewelry suggested a larger financial compensation than most of us received. I didn’t have any sure way of finding out given my limited Japanese. As for me, I was certainly no virgin, but I never thought of sex as a commodity. Besides, the nightly overdose of obscene talk on top of my late nights and early mornings had put a temporary damper on my own appetites.
Frenchie changed all that. He was taller than the average Japanese man, handsome, and clean cut in his pressed blue Oxford shirt and khakis. With his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked like an intellectual, someone with whom I might actually have a deep conversation, that is if we’d both spoken more than the equivalent of third grade French. Mostly he came in with a couple of buddies. He was always quiet at first, and then after a couple of drinks, the daytime veneer of excessive politeness so characteristic of the Japanese melted away. But rather than commenting on my breasts (even in French), he asked me questions about myself. I shared my career plans and stories about my travels. He told me that he worked in computers and lived with his parents but was saving up for his own apartment.
As he was talking, he focused on his beer glass, occasionally glancing up at me with dark, brooding eyes. French was our secret language, and mostly we discussed serious things. Referring to me as “une femme des affaires internationales” was as close as he ever came to a joke. Bar hostessing isn’t exactly high status work, but Frenchie treated me with respect. I felt like he had a sense of the importance of my larger ambitions and maybe even a glimmer of who I was as a person. I looked forward to his weekly visits to the bar. If I was engaged with another customer when he came in, I would sneak looks at him and feel a little jealous if Kiyoko or one of the other hostesses attended to him first.
Like most of the customers, Frenchie had his routines. His was two beers, one order of fried shrimps, and if he was with friends, a turn at the karaoke. That was when Frenchie came alive. After taking off his glasses, running his fingers through his black hair so it fell down over his forehead, and undoing the top two buttons of his shirt, he grabbed the microphone and channeled Elvis. Every week he performed a different song, word perfect despite his lack of English, complete with hip thrusting, appropriate pout or sneer, and the occasional wink at one of the hostesses. Despite wild applause and whistles from his captivated audience, he sang just one. Following a quick bow, he smoothed his hair back, put on his glasses, buttoned up his shirt, returned to his stool, and asked for another beer. The only lingering signs of his performance were his pink face and the light sweat on his upper lip. At 11pm he would leave. I was smitten after the first few bars of “All Shook Up,” and completely in love the following week after “Teddy Bear,” particularly when he winked at me. Elvis was one of my musical idols. In his brief moments on the stage, Frenchie transported me home to the safe America of my imagination.
Now in my fifth week at the Snack, I was feeling more comfortable and less revolted by the coarseness of the chatter, which I realized was just a harmless venting of normally forbidden speech. I’d even learned a few words of Japanese to improve my ability to initiate conversation about nothing. In appreciation, the customers bought me drinks, and the Snack would give me bonus money for each. If encouraged, I performed the occasional karaoke number. That night, without any prompting from Frenchie, I chose Elvis’s “Return to Sender,” hoping to impress him with my knowledge of the King. I saw him watching me, his face emotionless. He applauded with the others when I finished but without any great enthusiasm. Maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe he saw Elvis as his exclusive domain. Maybe I was a worse singer than I thought. Even though he came with his friends, Frenchie didn’t sing that night. When I asked him why, all he said was, “N’importe.” It doesn’t matter. I detected a note of sadness. He left early, and I wanted him even more. As I went to bed that night, I imagined myself the recipient of his magnificent pulsing Elvis hips.
Frenchie didn’t show up the following week, and I was desolate. I worried that something had happened to him, that he had found a girlfriend and no longer needed the solace of the Snack, that I had done something to offend him. As my fears increased, my fantasies about him became more frequent and more vivid. In one of them, we devoured each other in the back seat of a convertible. I was never one of those women who had sex in a car. As a practical person, I understood it was awkward for those of us who are not contortionists. But in my dreams, anything was possible.
Frenchie came next on a Friday night rather than his usual Thursday, and at 11pm rather than 10pm. He came alone. Something was different about him. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, his hair already had that disheveled Elvis look, his shirt was unbuttoned down through the third button, and his face was flushed. With a little more swagger than usual, he plopped down on a stool. When I saw him, my legs felt wobbly, and my underpants became instantly damp. I wanted to talk to him, but I was afraid I’d give myself away. I turned my back and scooped at some ice in the barrel.
“Gina!” he called out. “Bon soir!”
“Bon soir,” I answered, only half turned around. “Bieru?” I asked in Japanese.
“You betcha,” he said in English. “Tu es belle ce soir!” he added in French.
He had never been so bold as to tell me I was beautiful. I wasn’t wearing anything special, just a short ivory colored brocade shift with an unrevealing high neckline. I rooted in the ice chest for a Sapporo, his favorite brand of beer, opened it, and fetched a tall glass.
“Merci beaucoup,” I thanked him, my eyes lowered. I tipped the glass and poured the beer so it wouldn’t foam up too much, but my hand was shaking, and the beer flowed over the rim of the glass onto my hand and the counter.
As I was about to fetch a rag to wipe up the spill, Frenchie said, “Attende.” Wait. And he took the wrist of my wet hand, brought it up to his mouth, and licked off the beer with short, gentle laps. His eyes, sparkling but questioning, locked onto mine. I realized then that he was somewhat intoxicated, but this act was both so sweet and so sexy I wanted to throw myself across the counter and plant him with a big kiss, an act I had pictured countless times. Of course, I didn’t, but I let him hold my hand a few seconds longer than necessary, my pulse hammering against his thumb.
He ordered chicken wings, one of the Snack’s most popular appetizers, with their succulent meat and spicy barbecue sauce.
“Pour toi,” he said, when it came, pushing the plate towards me. Normally, I took just a bite of something when offered, but Frenchie had ordered these for me.
“Arigato,” I said in Japanese this time. “Thank you” was the first Japanese word I had learned. I stared at the wings for a minute not quite sure how to attack them in all their glorious messiness. Then Frenchie picked one up, bit off a chunk, and held the gnarled bone to my mouth. I nibbled at it, the spiciness burning my lips and tongue. He finished off the wing and gestured to me to take the next wing and offer it to him. Before long, our hands and our lips were covered in sauce. Frenchie leaned forward and patted my mouth with his napkin and then his own.
Next, he clasped one of my sauce covered fingers and sucked it slowly all the way to my knuckle, and then another and a third as though it were the most natural thing to do. Since it was Friday, the Snack was busy. I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. Not that I cared by this point. My heart was pounding double-time. After wiping his hands on the stained napkin, Frenchie rose from his stool. I was afraid he was going to leave, but he strode to the karaoke machine, took command of the microphone, and belted out, “A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action, Please,” eyes fixated on me the whole time. His pelvic motions were even more censorable than usual. The rowdier Friday night crowd was as appreciative as ever although I doubt most of them understood the raunchy implications of the words. I wondered then if Frenchie did.
When he came back to the counter, he gestured at me to lean towards him. Cupping his hand over my ear, he whispered, “Gina, es-tu libre, ce soir?” Are you free tonight? His breath tickled my earlobe, and the smell of his aftershave mixed with his Elvis sweat sent a surge of raw energy through every vein and cell of my body. This was my dream, my fantasy. But now it might happen, I was both excited and scared. I had never been out with a customer before, and I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was. But Frenchie was more than a customer to me. Didn’t we have a special something that went beyond the standard barroom flirtation? I said “yes,” eager to be released from my self-imposed celibacy.
Frenchie left at midnight, but I had to stay until closing time at 12:30. Normally I watered down my drinks so that I could maintain my demanding schedule, but that night I knocked back a couple of glasses of neat whisky to squelch my nerves. Around the corner Frenchie was waiting with a taxi as we had agreed so as not to arouse suspicion. During the ride we didn’t say much, or even have our first kiss, but we held hands, moist from anticipation. Frenchie lightly circled his fingertips around the soft cushion of my palm. I would have made love with him there in the back seat if he’d asked.
The taxi stopped at the Hotel Twist in Shibuya. The main sign was in English, its neon “H and “T” hissing and spitting. I knew little about the ubiquitous “love hotels” of Japan except that they allowed for short-term or nightly getaways for illicit affairs. They also provided privacy for those whose living quarters were small or crowded. At any other time, I might have been embarrassed to be seen entering one, but tonight all I could think about was ravishing Frenchie.
The hotel was old, and from the look of it, the limited décor had not been changed in a couple of decades. The lobby was poorly lit, dimmed further by dark wood paneling and a faded wine-colored carpet. Frenchie pushed a button on a large room menu and paid a fee to a faceless person behind smoky glass. We traveled up several stories in a tiny elevator that smelled of disinfectant. Frenchie stood with his hands clasped in front of him. For a moment, he looked like a small boy, full of wonder and fear on his first day of school. With his hand burning the small of my back, he guided me down a long hall with identical doors except for their dull brass number plates.
At number sixty-three, Frenchie bent down and removed my shoes. Ever so lightly, he stroked my toes before taking off his own shoes and leaving both pairs outside the door. The door was unlocked, and we entered what could be described only as a shrine. The walls were covered in fading burgundy velvet. On them were hung at least a dozen portraits of Elvis, also on velvet, punctuated with replicas of gold records with the names of his number one hit songs. In the middle of the floor was the piece de resistance, a giant model of a pink Cadillac convertible with exaggerated fins. Rather than seats, the interior was outfitted with a mattress covered in zebra-striped fur, two large matching pillows, and an oversized steering wheel in the middle of the dashboard. Across from the car was a large television playing a mute version of “Viva Las Vegas.” I stood in the doorway while Frenchie stopped to push a button on a mini-jukebox situated next to a karaoke machine. Soon the stale air of cigarettes and past lovers was filled with surround-sound Elvis crooning “Help Me Make It through the Night.” Frenchie looked at me proudly.
“C’est bon?” He asked, peering at me with twinkling eyes.
“It’s good,” I said, stifling a giggle. It was a ludicrous place, but I felt strangely happy, a young girl in love. Frenchie opened the convertible door for me, and I sat down on the fake fur with my legs dangling outside. The red and pink spotlights dotting the edge of the ceiling were not bright, but they were hot.
While Frenchie was pouring us drinks from a bottle of whisky he produced from his pocket, I quietly removed my pantyhose and sat there with my short dress hiked up. The fur tickled my legs in a pleasantly arousing way. After handing me my glass, Frenchie downed his own and went to fiddle with the karaoke machine.
He returned, microphone in hand, and kneeling in front of me sang in an appropriately mournful style the first five lines of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Then he presented me with the microphone. I missed my cue, fumbling two lines, but recovered. As I was singing, off key, but with gusto, Frenchie began to kiss my calf, lingered near the back of my knee and nuzzled his way up the sensitive flesh of my inner thigh. I leaned on my elbows, and my voice trailed off as his lips hovered close to my panties.
He stopped what he was doing for a moment and gently urged me to “Chante encore!” Keep singing. By now, I was hopelessly off track, but I hummed or made up phrases. Frenchie pulled back one edge of my panties, and continued grazing, so lightly I could feel his warm breath. Then he buried his face in my crotch, his tongue and lips exploring me expertly in time to the beat of the bass guitar. My hips also rotated in sync to the ballad, pushing up against his mouth. But my futile attempt at singing morphed into a sigh, and the microphone fell to the ground with a thud. Frenchie stopped again. This time he removed the whiskey glass from my other hand before I spilled it on the zebra cover.
I wanted to be naked, and I wanted Frenchie to be naked, too. I wanted to see his erect cock, touch it, lick it, and have it swell inside me. I also wanted him to resume where he had left off, and I tugged on my panties to indicate I wished to be rid of them. And then the song ended. Frenchie rescued the microphone, stood up, and sauntered to the karaoke machine again as though he’d been in the middle of cooking and had to fetch another ingredient. I considered removing my own panties, but Frenchie seemed to have some delicious recipe in mind that I didn’t want to spoil.
While he was spitting out the lyrics to “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” he unbuckled his belt and with one quick motion whisked it from the belt loops. I laughed at the fake bravado of that moment, unsure whether that was the right thing to do. Then Frenchie gave me one of his crooked Elvis smiles and unzipped his trousers, his penis straining against his white underwear. But he stayed fully clothed as he again kneeled down in front of me. “Chante encore,” he said as he handed me the microphone.
Even after he yanked off my panties and probed me with his pointed tongue and those exquisite lips, I managed to comply with his wishes. He swept his mouth back and forth from my swollen, wet genitals to my tummy, streaking it with a damp trail of my juices and his saliva. I could hear myself get breathy and punctuate the song with low moans, but I kept on singing. The last bars finished moments before I was about to reach orgasm. I sang even without the accompaniment, my voice now faint, my limbs limp. The microphone slid from my wilting hand.
Frenchie stopped again, leaving me panting. He rose slowly and pulled down his trousers and underwear just low enough to release his engorged penis, like an artist undraping a piece of sculpture. I stared at it in worshipful silence for just a moment before grasping it at its base with both hands and giving it a long lick all the way up to its glistening tip. His eyes closed, Frenchie serenaded me with a few bars of “It’s Now or Never.” I was about to take his penis into my mouth, when he whispered, “Attende.” Wait. He thrust the microphone back into my hands, sheathed himself with a condom he produced from his pocket, and slid onto the fur next to me, pushing his trousers and underwear towards his ankles. With the microphone cradled between our two torsos, I guided him into my welcoming vagina. As we merged, suddenly the car started rocking back and forth, the mattress vibrating, and the headlights flashing, as if cued by our heat and urgency.
Over the new noise, Frenchie screamed, “Chante avec-moi!” Sing with me!
The karaoke pulsated with the opening bars of “Surrender.” On the screen, Elvis, as large as life, was silently singing and urging us along with his own gyrating pelvis. Our bodies undulated in perfect rhythm to our voices, to Elvis, to the pitching and throbbing of the convertible. I climaxed quickly and then again, but Frenchie held out until the last refrain. The car grew still. Frenchie kissed me on the lips for the first time, not a kiss of longing, but of welcome release. We collapsed back on the fake fur cushions, and on the ceiling I saw for the first time a large mirror. I realized that, minus my underpants and Frenchie’s belt, we were both still dressed, a couple of wide-eyed teenagers discovering each other in the King’s car. Across from me on the wall, the Elvises smiled from their serene velvet perches.
I must have drifted off for a long while because when I awoke, Frenchie was gone. And in his place was an envelope addressed to me. Wrapped in a plain piece of paper with the words “THANK YOU” printed neatly in English were 25,000 Yen in crisp notes.
I wanted to return the money and let him know I wasn’t “that” kind of girl, but he never came back to the Dog and Pony while I worked there.
For a while, I was sad and lonely, then confused and angry. How could I have let myself be so used? At the karaoke, I alternated singing “Hound Dog” and “Devil in Disguise” to convince myself that Frenchie was a loser.
A few weeks after our tryst, I received a handsomely wrapped gift, a copy of Elvis’ lyrics all in French. The card, signed Norio, directed me to page 24, where the song “Memories” was highlighted with a yellow marker. As I imagined Frenchie’s brilliant rendition of it, I felt my knees go weak and my pulse quicken. Maybe we did have something real. Then a few chords of another song intruded. The King himself accompanied by a chorus of smirking velvet Elvises drowned out Frenchie with a powerful arrangement of “Heartbreak Hotel.” The forlorn lyrics snapped me to my senses.
Over time, other customers came and went. I managed to keep a lid on my desires. After all, I was a bar hostess. It was my job to create the illusions, and just to be on the safe side, I switched my allegiance to the Rolling Stones.