Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (20 page)



e're leery of these toilets.

When you approach the one in our hotel bathroom, the lid lifts automatically. I find this kind of charming; I've been missing Lilly again, and being greeted by our toilet each morning is like waking up to a cheerful new kind of pet.

David, however, feels personally threatened—I think he'd rather make his own choices about the orientation of his toilet lids. He may be messing with this one a little, sending mixed signals, possibly sneaking around the perimeter of the room on entry so as not to trigger the sensors. While he was brushing his teeth last night he says he was distracted by a whirring noise coming from behind. When he turned around, he caught the lid of the john in the act of opening, which he found sort of presumptuous; he'd been in the bathroom for quite a while and had given no indication of any interest in using the toilet. When he tried closing the lid manually, he claims the thing resisted, and somehow during the scuffle it slammed down rather abruptly on his hand, and refused to open.

I'm definitely intimidated by the toilet in David's dressing room at the studio. You have to lift the lid yourself, which after a few days in our posh hotel is a hardship. David's dressing-room toilet compensates for this deficiency with a dizzying array of alternative functions controlled by buttons displayed on a single armrest, helpfully diagrammed and labeled in English.

The Volume feature seems superfluous, as does another marked Spray, which sports a big, rounded
(clearly meant to represent someone's bottom) with a little cartoon fountain ejaculating up at the
from below. I cannot imagine submitting to Spray without a change of clothes handy, so I've been careful not to touch that button. It's tempting, though, given there's no other option that appears remotely likely to persuade this dressing-room toilet to flush, aside from one labeled Flushing Sound (whimsically illustrated with musical notes).

Flushing Sound did not, however, trigger any kind of useful result the first time I tried it. It merely caused the whole appliance to erupt with a lusty, deep-throated
, roaring enthusiastically no matter what I tried, including repeatedly, frantically, jabbing Stop, or (in despair, before fleeing) hammering Volume's minus sign with every last ounce of strength (which I think may have muffled Flushing Sound somewhat, although by then I was too rattled to stick around and find out).

There must be superior logic at play. This is Japan, after all.

I encountered a singularly accommodating toilet in the ladies' room at a fancy restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza District. When I first went in I couldn't find a light switch, and while I was fumbling around in the dark, the seat began to glow eerily—blue, like a nightlight.

When using shared facilities on a Japanese soundstage, you must swap your shoes for special bathroom-only slippers. It's very important to remember to change back before returning to work. More than once, David has been tackled at the men's-room threshold by members of the crew intent on keeping him from contaminating the floor of their set with offensive bathroom microbes.

David's okay with the vertigo, though he might really have to lock up the sharp objects now that I know a few things. Instead of resting after the stunt that day in New Orleans, David went and played frigging
with his cronies from the crew. And get this: the doctor told him she couldn't forbid this trip, but she'd never get on a plane in his condition herself. I'm trying not to think about it too hard—what's done is done. In a way, I'm glad we're here, now that we understand what the real agenda is. Japan is still in recovery from that dreadful tsunami, and the financial crisis has affected everyone deeply. They're in need of a morale booster, and NHK has figured out that a vivid reminder of the story of their survival after the devastating humiliation of World War II could be inspiring.

We've always wanted to come back to Japan. We tend to hold out until work takes us to faraway places like this, when travel and lodging is covered, which means when we do go somewhere distant­ and exotic there are all sorts of time restraints. We were disappointed by our first visit—a quick, wasted Tokyo pit stop on the way home after a long job David had in New Zealand and Thailand. What babies we were.
I was pregnant with Eliza; we were eager to get home and could not manage much more than a stifling bus crawl from the airport to overpriced hotel sushi, a sprint past the Imperial Palace, and a tourist-trap shiatsu massage.

I've always had a feeling we'd come back, because there seems to be a mutual attraction going between David and all things Japanese. David's best dining option allergy-wise is sushi, and I think he acquired a sort of fan base here at some point. He had a flurry of very entertaining letters from some ardent ladies in Japan back in the 1990s, mostly incoherent due to the language barrier, and he was actually sort of chased once, Beatles-style, by a squealing pack of Japanese schoolgirls on a field trip when they spotted him window-shopping in Cambridge, England. Usually people are sort of confused when they recognize David—they can't figure out why they know his face, and assume he went to high school with them or something. Those Japanese girls in Cambridge knew exactly who David was.

I'm waiting to identify the significance, if there is any—wondering why our first faraway trip together as empty nesters brings us back to the setting of that final, botched fling on the brink of parenthood. Now, a quarter of a century later, just a month shy of our thirtieth wedding anniversary, we're in Tokyo again, only a little worse for wear.

Actually, David looks better than I expected. The steroids seem to be helping. The people at NHK are being incredibly hospitable, bending over backward to make sure he's comfortable and well fed, eager to show me around and help find what we need to keep things running smoothly. At first I stuck close to David, keeping an eye on him while fighting jet lag on the dressing-room sofa during the day. Now that I'm confident they are not going to kill him, I've been indulging in adventures. A friendly young Canadian actor named Eric took me on the subway to see his stomping grounds in the Kabukicho District, where I got a peek at Tokyo nightlife—fascinating—long-haired, skinny David Cassidy types dressed in skintight black suits and cartoonish, pointy-toed shoes straight out of
The Mikado
, loitering on street corners distributing pamphlets for the “host bars.”

Host bars are not about sex. You can find legal sex for hire here, but Eric says a lot of single Japanese professional women are lonely, and too busy to organize a social life. They don't want to cook after work, and they are practically phobic about eating alone in a restaurant, so the hosts are in great demand just for dinner and conversation at the end of a lengthy workday. Why any woman would prefer to eat with these androgynous boy-band types I'm not sure, but the female customers have their own rather baffling style: ankle socks with patent-leather party shoes, pigtails, and schoolgirl kilts are the rage for these young twentysomethings out on the town.

It's a little like New Orleans, in fact, all these costumes, but the biggest surprise so far has been the dogs in Tokyo's tony shopping district, Ginza: A pug, sporting a leather vest and chaps. Pairs of poodles in pink-and-purple tutus. A Weimaraner dressed as a farmer—plaid flannel shirt and denim overalls with a handy functional slit at the business end.

I'm aware of recent dog trends in Manhattan—tiny Chihuahuas peeking out of designer purses—but clearly Japanese people are taking things further. Inexplicably, a lot of them like to push their full-sized dogs, really big ones, around in baby strollers. Nobody has been able to explain the point of this, but I swear it's true. The sight of it almost comforts me—I feel a little less foolish about fussing over Lilly with coats and special beds.

This is the longest I've been away from Lilly since she arrived, and I feel like an amputee with phantom-limb syndrome. I keep thinking it's time to go for a walk, even though I know Gaillard's got it covered, sending me e-mails to ease my withdrawal—re­assuring photographs of Lilly and Joey lolling together on our lawn in the sunshine.

Big news: I've finally gotten to the bottom of Flushing Sound. Eric says Japanese women are bashful; they don't like anyone to hear what they're doing in public facilities, so they flush the toilets over and over while they're engaged. Overflushing is a serious concern in this island country due to a water shortage (especially since the recent earthquake), and the quick fix for ladies' public toilets has been Flushing Sound. Apparently there are endless options I have yet to experience—heated massage seats, toilets that play classical music, toilets equipped with air deodorizers and little blow driers so there's no need for mopping up after employing the Spray function. I hear foreign visitors grow so attached they arrange to take particular favorites home with them.

We will not be importing a souvenir toilet.

I am trying not to think too much about David's most recent report from the bathroom in our hotel apartment. Sometimes when he's sitting down, he hears a subtle mechanical noise coming from somewhere deep inside our john, which (he insists) signals the emergence of a skinny metal probe-type tube, inspecting him from below. I fervently dread a midnight encounter with David's probe.

But the toilet's not the only thing that confuses us in this apartment, which is very comfortable despite a random beeping noise I can't identify. I think it's either the laundry machine or the dishwasher. Plus, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to work the television. I had to spend some time working alone in here the other day, and there was an actual earth tremor, my first since our big one in 1994. David thinks this building is probably earthquake-proof, but still, the whole country is a seismic powder keg after all, and that one little shake flashed me right back to our patio with the ceramic tiles raining down. I spent the next hour or so cowering in a fetal position on the floor by our bed, feeling rather foolish, especially because the people down at the front desk did not seem even slightly rattled.

They're prepared in this city. Eric says Tokyo soda vending machines are programmed to dispense their wares for free if there's a big earthquake. He was in town for the horrible one last year, the one that caused the tsunami. Eric makes his bread and butter in “stop-motion” as a body double for animated martial-arts-type video games, and he was working that day, on a very high floor of a building in one of the business districts where everything's pretty much earthquake-proofed. He has no children, and he was not particularly scared when the shaking began, partly because he could see out the window into a tall building across the street, where there was a guy at his desk rocking from one foot to another as his own building swayed, still typing away at his computer.

It's true the workers in Tokyo never stop. I'm very grateful the Screen Actors' Guild rules restricted David from submitting to the typical Japanese actor's twenty-hour workday, although he has compromised, allowing much shorter turnarounds than he's used to. He's coped pretty well, considering, not exactly pacing himself, but I think he'll survive. And now, finally, he has a few days off before going into the countryside next week to film an outdoor scene: MacArthur's iconic arrival after the surrender, poised triumphantly on the aircraft's top step, brandishing his signature corncob pipe. (MacArthur was a showman. David's been studying old newsreels, and he's supposed to
down those steps, which may be a challenge.)

Our NHK friends graciously arranged a real treat to kick off our holiday: tickets to one of the final days of the big Grand Sumo Tournament. A famous Hawaiian Sumo champ named Konishiki kindly offered his box at the stadium, which was amazing. It's like being given priceless, unattainable Super Bowl tickets—a huge thrill for our companions (David's translator, Yoshi, and Tadashi, the line producer for the miniseries), both avid Sumo aficionados.

It was very odd seeing something like this without the kids. Till now, I've always had them with me for the big trips. Sumo is just the sort of thing the boys would love, and I kept identifying photo opportunities for Eliza. So much pageantry—kimono-clad officials dancing around, striking brass gongs and chanting; the gigantic elaborately ponytailed wrestlers strutting in, adjusting their fancy, tasseled silk thongs, tossing handfuls of coarse salt (a Shinto ritual meant to purify the ring before each bout), gravely bowing, repeatedly slapping their massive rippling flanks in preparation, then squatting in astonishing deep pliés, impossibly nimble and flexible for their size. Sumo wrestlers live together, almost monastically, in communal “training stables.” (Like racing dogs!) There's none of the brutality of an American boxing match; Sumo is as quick as a thirty-second dog race, the only objective being to force one's opponent out of the ring or onto the floor, either of which can happen in a flash, at which point the winner helps the loser up (if necessary) and they bow all over again. Brilliant.

Next: a night in historic Kyoto; train tickets and hotel carefully organized by our gracious Japanese hosts. Everyone's hyperaware that we have to keep David intact for MacArthur's jog down the airplane steps. With the help of an extremely efficient guide, Hiro, we've covered a lot—palaces and museums, temples and shrines. For lunch: skimmed tofu, a slippery experience, which will sound utterly disgusting if I try to describe it, but in fact was delectable.

Romance is everywhere. As the story goes, Kyoto was removed from a short list of targets for the second atom bomb in World War II because the American secretary of war once honeymooned here. I love seeing real working geisha dressed in traditional kimonos, trotting briskly to liaisons along narrow cobblestone streets. We're trotting briskly ourselves—me hovering behind David in case he topples unexpectedly, both of us conscious of the role reversal between this and our first tour of New Orleans, when I was the fragile one—so much to see, torn, wanting to cover everything and savor details: creaking “nightingale floors” at a palace, designed to alert the shogun when enemies approached; a precarious jumble of turtles piled on a small rock behind a Shinto shrine; a stepping­­stone bridge surrounded by water lilies. Just before we cross, something strikes me: A need to stop and document this sweet, fleeting adventure at the close of our thirtieth year. Impulsively, I toss the camera to Hiro and take David's hand.

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