Thursday, May 3rd, 2007
by Elizabeth Koch
Part travelogue and part convoluted love story, The World Tour Compatibility Test is a series of true stories set in exotic locales, as two American writers decide whether to break up or move in together. Click to catch up on Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, a little more Tokyo, two entries in Nara, two in Kyoto, and a return to Tokyo.
Outside no one is around, probably because Japanese people don’t do things like linger in museums past closing time just to piss people off. We are hungry and thirsty, but the only food source we find is a vending machine that sells liquid candy bars. Kit Kat soda, fizzy coffee, orangesicle drinks—they look disgusting. I want to try one of each.
Todd looks skeptical. “For the memories,” I say, because I know Todd would trade in his grandmother for a good story. We unload our change into the machine and purchase eight different cans and taste each one. None are worth a second sip. Todd carries several to the nearest trash, only to discover that what he thought was a trash can is in fact a mailbox.
“Just line them up on top of the machine,” I say. “Maybe a homeless person will find them.”
We look around. No sign of a homeless person.
“What do you think they do with their homeless people here?”
We sit across from one another on the shuttle. The sky is electric blue above the rail wires, and in the half light everything looks metallic—the warehouses we speed past, the empty seats in front of us, Todd’s clenched hands.
“I’d like to take you to the electronic district now,” Todd says. “You’re going to call it a clusterfuck and try to hate it, but please just be okay with it.”
“I’m okay with it,” I say, relieved he’s still interested in showing me anything.
Forty-five minutes later we’re in an open shopping area lit by neon and halogen, where PlayStation2 and Nintendo are advertised with roving laser beams, and plastic ducks quack when you walk past them, and slot machines shout encouraging remarks to no one in particular. We need to find gifts for the Learys to thank them for letting us crash at their house in Shanghai, and Todd swears that somewhere around here are toy stores with funky little plastic creatures somewhere, but the only toys we find would make the Leary girls cry—even the key-chains and flashlights here are vaguely pornographic.
“I need headphones,” Todd says.
“I need a watch battery,” I say.
“We also need a portable wireless router. There’s an Apple store near here.”
“Do you know where it is?”
“It’s just up here.”
We walk to where he’s pointing. No Apple store.
“Huh,” he says, and looks back at the way we came. “Oh, that’s right. It’s that way.”
We go that way. No Apple store.
“Must be around that corner,” he says, his feet pointing one direction, his face pointing the other.
“Don’t fucking say it, Elizabeth.”
I want to walk away from him. I don’t know how to handle Todd when he’s mad at me. I don’t know how to undo this tension between us, and moreover, I’m not so sure I want to try. But I can’t walk away from him. It’s pitch-black out. If we separate, we’ll have no chance of finding each other again.
We step into a store with hospital-bright lights and televisions hanging from the ceiling. The aisles are hip-slim and jammed with CD players, halogen lamps, electric fans, satellite radios—and everything is on. Fat wires snake across the walkway and plug into extension chords that disappear into holes in the wall.
I pull a small battery off a display and interrupt a man who’s stocking electric shavers.
“Watch battery?” I ask, and point to my wrist.
He shakes his head and points to his ear. “Healing.”
“Healing,” he says again, and reaches into his ear and pulls out a hearing aid and holds it out to me, which seems pretty aggressive and not at all Japanese to me.
I go to find Todd because I know he will laugh about the hearing aid incident. I find him in front of the headsets, looking very depressed.
“They’re $200,” he says. “And they’re Sony.”
“Sony’s no good?”
“But your headphones are broken.”
“Yeah, they are, and the flight to Munich is 12 hours long. I will kill myself if I have to watch you type up the Vik Muniz interview for 12 hours.”
“Then why don’t we get them?”
Todd chews on his lip.
“You don’t want to pay for them.”
“I can’t pay for them.”
“I’ll get them.”
“It’s okay, I don’t want them.”
“I’m getting them.”
I grab a pair and take them to the counter.
Todd follows me with his head down. He’s chewing on his cuticles and mumbling, which makes me angry. I’m angry that he can’t just tell me what he wants instead of getting all tangled and confused. I’m angry that he wants something he can’t pay for. I’m angry that I’ve put both of us in this position, where I’m paying for things Todd can’t afford because I feel guilty denying him anything when he’s given me so much in the way of patience and love and I am such a terror. I’m angry that those girls on the playground in sixth grade called me a rich bitch when they knew nothing about me except my last name. I’m angry that I have everything in the world I could possibly want and yet I’m still angry.
I give the man behind the counter my credit card and something inside me breaks.
“I feel weird that you’re buying those,” Todd says.
“You feel weird,” I say. “I feel like Annabella.”
That was the wrong thing to say. Possibly the most wrong thing I could ever think to say.
Annabella is Todd’s ex-girlfriend, an aggressive daddy’s girl who used to barrage Todd with presents—fancy leather jackets and Italian shoes and tailored pants—so she could feel good about appearing with him in public. She insisted that he take her to five-star restaurants he couldn’t afford, then humiliated him for ordering an appetizer and no alcohol. She belittled his family and hated his friends and made fun of his drafty Brooklyn apartment, and Todd put up with it, perhaps because he felt indebted to her pseudo-generosity and maybe a little crippled and dependent.
“I cannot believe you just said that,” Todd says.
I want to laugh it off as a joke, like, haha ha, remember when I introduced you as my gigolo to that waitress in Nara and she thought Gigolo was your name? Wasn’t that funny? Money issues are so funny.
We walk outside. The sky is black now. I push the bag at him. He holds his hands in the air. “Take them back. I don’t want them.”
“They’re yours. Take them.”
“I don’t want them.”
I drop the bag on the ground. “If you don’t want them, you take them back.”
He disappears with the bag and I stand by a TV monitor just outside the store, pretending to watch soccer. When he comes back out, he mutters, “They wouldn’t take them back,” and walks right on past me, quickly—running almost. Todd always complains about how fast I walk and accuses me of trying to lose him. I always laugh and tell him no, that I just have a lot to accomplish, but of course something in me is always trying to lose him.
Right now, Todd is most certainly trying to lose me.
I think I see him duck inside a video game store, but there are so many people and so many noises that I can’t be sure. I sit on a stump on the sidewalk and wait. I wait and I wait, and he doesn’t come out.
Finally I go in the store and look all around the downstairs and the upstairs, too, but I remember from Outward Bound that if you’re lost in the woods you should stay in the same place because two moving people may never find one another. So I go back outside and wait on the stump, for ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour. I watch people go by, the teens with blue Mohawks and neck acne, the big bellied dads in golf shirts, the duck-footed businessmen in blue suits and ball caps. I keep waiting because I don’t know if Todd is shopping, or if he’s trying to punish me, or if he’s simply lost. I don’t know if he’s left the area and returned to the hotel, or if he’s still in the area and has merely left me.
Surely he hasn’t left me.
I start taking pictures just to have something to do, and two albino Japanese people walk in front of my lens. I put the camera down and watch them. Their skin is pinkish and their hair is white and their bodies are lumpy, and I wonder what it would be like to be stripped of tone and color in a city where most everyone looks the same, in a city where standing out isn’t illegal but it’s certainly not prized the way it is in America. I know this is the sort of thing Todd likes to discuss, and I want there still to be hope for us, so I hold up the camera and take pictures to save our relationship, and keep taking pictures even though I feel guilty and ignorant and monstrous for gawking, but they never even notice, or if they do, they don’t let on.
After forty-five minutes on the stump and no sign of Todd, I get in a cab and go back to the hotel. Maybe he is back at the room waiting for me. I desperately hope that he’s watching soccer back in the room so I can be mad at him for leaving me.
I get back to the hotel and go to the room and Todd’s not there. I vaguely remember him saying that he had no money, not after unloading all his change into those drinks machines, and no ATM machine in Tokyo will accept his card. I consider going back to the electronic area in case he really is lost or stranded. Instead I go back downstairs and ask the concierge and the bag attendants and all the cabs outside if they have seen my skinny boyfriend in his lime-green button-down shirt and wispy dark hair, and they all shake their heads no. I wait on ground level for almost an hour, then I go back to the room hoping he’s slipped by me. He isn’t there.
Maybe he’s walking home. For a second I wonder what my life would look like if my boyfriend were hit by a Mack truck and killed during our trip to Japan.
Another hour passes. I try to tell myself that he’ll probably arrive any minute in a taxi, that the phone will ring and it will be him asking me to come down and pay the cabbie. But I know Todd wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t ask me for cab fare after I brought up his ex-girlfriend in such a hateful way. Todd may be thinner and more affectionate and hungrier for attention than I am, but Todd is still a man.
There is nothing to do now but wait. And in the waiting, I think about how until now Todd has never left me, how he has never allowed me to think for more than a minute that there was something unfixable between us. I’m the one who storms out of restaurants and slams apartment doors and slaps a pillow over my head in the middle of arguments. Todd is the one who wakes me up at 4 a.m. with tears streaming down his face, apologizing for things that he didn’t do just to make things right between us. But it’s up to me to make things right between us. For the first time in our relationship, I am determined to make things right between us. I cannot go back to the way things were before I let Todd in my life. I cannot go back to panic attacks and meltdowns and doctors and pharmaceuticals and terrifying my parents and staring down that dark well of nothing you do will ever be good enough you privileged waste of flesh. I cannot go back to believing that that load of crap is true. I will do anything it takes to not go back to that.
I sit at my laptop and write him a letter, begging him to come back to me.
Please Todd, come home so I can make things right between us.
There is an ending to this saga, and brand new beginnings, but for now the story ends here. Elizabeth is currently working on a book, a novel probably, roughly based on these adventures. She and Todd live in San Francisco…together.