by brian warfield
I rode the midnight subways of Tokyo. Seven years ago was like a dream of the future. The crisp surrealism of underground Tokyo.
The subway system of Tokyo is much like that of any major city. Moscow, Paris, New York, Little Rock. It moves like an earthworm through the city. Eating the city as it comes towards it and shitting it out as it goes.
We were all worms, dead maggots, wasted half lives in our cement grey cubicles waiting for our destinations. It was midnight because I had a strange sense of fun and wanted to be out when Tokyo was empty and the subways would not be filled with their daytime denizens: short businessmen, school girls in miniskirts, punks with safety pins through their eyelids.
Of course, Tokyo is never empty and you cannot escape your fears and there is nothing to the future except what science fiction has promised us.
I woke up at midnight and left the hotel with its noises and lights and I went outside, around the corner to the metro station and down the stairs. I entered into a tangible darkness.
When I say "midnight," I only mean it in the romantic sense of the night. It was closer to two or three on most nights. I'd have trouble sleeping. I was 42 and alone in Tokyo. I didn't want what Tokyo had to offer.
I was the only one on the platform. Soft female voices made announcements. A train approached. The doors opened. I stepped inside. This could be anywhere. I could be anyone.
What did it smell like? The memory has left me. Where was I going, what did I see, did it matter, would it change me?
There was an old man wearing shorts and a sweater and sunglasses. There was a boy maybe nineteen whose nose was bleeding. I looked out the window at nothing. At the earth speeding past.
Everything looked the same. Every car and every train and every seat and every station and every platform and every man and every night and every death. They replicated each other on a photocopier and I was a grey line, an aberration, a mar.
The Tokyo subway system describes a circle. The holy halo, the zero, the womb, the asshole. I emerged from it.
There is nothing that you can see above the ground in Tokyo that you haven't experienced already in your dreams, in movies, in books, in the future of our collective memories.
Tokyo is the dream we never had.
In order to escape order you must stay under. And so I would go back and ride the rails as the hobos did in the Midwest. Only I was in the Far East.
The train picks up speed late at night. It becomes reckless. It has no watchers. It is a criminal. It steals the ghosts of souls from vacant expressions.
I was not young at the time. I hadn't been young for a long time. And so I had nothing to lose or worry about.
A woman came on and I knew that she was a whore and that her life was as sad as an Akira Kurosawa film. And then she was gone.
I stared at my reflection as it flashed on and off the window. I would appear in the darkness and then disappear when someone else's face would replace mine. A tired old man in a business suit who had done poorly in business.
There were animals. A black dog, unaccompanied. Men with: monkeys, birds, some sort of large cat, lizard, rat. Once I saw a young woman with a very small dog. They were wearing matching t-shirts.
For weeks I rode the midnight subways of Tokyo. I would be going home soon. Where was home? It no longer mattered.
Would I ever return to Tokyo? Yes, but unfortunately in the company of others who had better ideas than traveling underground. They wanted to see things. What did they know? But I let them.
I gave a blind man a few yen. I gave directions to a young couple. I accepted a religious tract. I bought an ice cream for an old woman. I warned a young lady about the gum on her seat. I held the door open for a late-comer. I missed the last subway and slept under a bench.
Did I learn anything? I learned that life is not about learning poignant lessons. I learned that my maids or whatever they were called at my hotel were stealing from me. I learned how to speak without inhaling.
There was one person that I saw more than once. Everyone else had only cameo roles. But this one guy I must have seen five times over the course of 2 ½ weeks. I will not describe him.
At the end of my stay I had ridden the Tokyo subway system at every hour that it operated. I had seen everyone that would likely be seen and I felt hungry. I felt like I had eaten and was famishing. There could be no end.
I left Tokyo on a Monday at 5 pm. A horrid hour. I left by plane. The plane did not remind me of my midnight subway experiences except for the fact that they were nothing alike.
I arrived in LAX the next day or maybe it was the day before, I'm not sure. But the day after that I took the Los Angeles subway system just for the hell of it.
It was crowded and I could understand everything everyone was saying. I wanted to vomit. I felt as if I had woken up from a very lucid dream. As if in the middle of my dreaming my upstairs neighbor's piano had crashed through my ceiling.
From birth until death there is a thick red cord winding its way through one's life. And as you follow the thread, at points it becomes knotted or threadbare. And there are moments when this notion of the thread becomes known. My traveling on the midnight subways of Tokyo, for me, was one of these moments. I saw how my whole life was connected. How everything flowed from everything else.
I had experienced many things before going to Tokyo. I have owned my own business and had arch nemeses and drawn treasure maps on the skins of lovers. Afterwards, in these past seven years, I have done one or two slightly interesting things. And in the future, what may come of it, I can only hope and guess. But I will always return to that time and that moment.
The opening of a door. The vast culture above me. An ancient land full of violence and grace. The earth that gives it birth. A teeming society breeding millions of some of the most integral components of the human race. The closing of a door. The sleeping eye. The waiting monster.
I am the embodiment of all fear and hope. As the world lies sleeping in its bed I crawl through its intestines like a parasite. I am Tokyo. I am an earthworm. I am alive and dead. I am the future. I ride the subways of Tokyo at midnight.