I arrive back in San Francisco after a couple weeks down the coast to house and dog sit for friends who are taking their daughter to Hawaii. “Remember, Mika [the Corgi] is our first born,” they announce on the way out the door as a reminder to stay in check while ‘the cats’ are away. The dog looks at me, I look at her, then she heads over to her favorite spot on the dining room floor to take a nap. I think we’ll get along brilliantly!
I’ve decided to take advantage of San Francisco while I am here for the next few weeks. I have a bunch of adventures scheduled – at least mentally – to fill the “unstructured” time (as my friend calls it). Day one: Japantown for lunch followed by a soak in the Kabuki Hot Springs. I have a tattoo appointment the following day, so this will be my last chance to soak or swim for the next couple weeks while my ink heals. After walking the dog around the block a few times, I head out of the fog to Japan Center.
My First stop is the newly opened Daiso, which, from the looks of it, is Japan’s version of the 99 cent store. I decide to ‘just browse’ and take a few pictures of the packaging, which is in Japanese and English. The Halloween costumes are my favorite: witch hats, pumpkin streamers and fake noses are displayed in neat, orderly rows. Next to them are the plastic boxes and mesh bags, which I simply must have to organize myself. After an hour dreaming of the ways I will package my life in the rows of cute, practical plastic gadgets, I purchase nearly $19 of the junk and some Halloween decorations for my friends’ daughter. I guess it’s how those stores get you!
I lunch at what appears to be a popular sushi restaurant where small wooden boats float around a water fed conveyer belt displaying sushi of various types and prices: eel hand roll $2.95, california roll $1.75, clam $3.95, spicy tuna $1.95, sea urchin $5.25. Initially, I grab items I trust: eel, tuna and seaweed salad. Then I spy two huge oysters coming around on a $3.75 plate. I grab them thinking I have scored. Bringing the almost hand-sized shell up to my lips, I pause momentarily breathing in the briny essence of the bivalve. Tossing it back like a shot of Jaegermeister, I catch it with my tongue and bite it in half. Creamy filling explodes in my mouth and overwhelms my senses. Normally, I chew an oyster once, twice tops, and swallow. This one is so huge, I chomp seven or eight times before letting it slide down my throat. I gag, but prevail.
Not wanting the sushi chef to see me choke, I decide it’s best to finish this plate quickly. Without pausing, I down the second oyster, this time attempting to swallow it whole. It gets stuck half way down – too big to swallow – so I spit it back up. Slimy flesh hits my front teeth and sits there momentarily. I imagine the oyster no longer wants to go down, having witnessed what happened to its mate. I gag; the oyster persists. I imagine if it had arms it would try to pry my mouth open and leap to the table. Looking around with this fistful of flesh in my mouth I’m desperate, but then devise the perfect plan: chew like mad and follow the creamy bottom feeder with a spat of green paste and flying fish eggs. I do this, hoping, no . . . . praying, that the small salty roe will wash away the taste of sea sludge. It does the trick, but the wasabi is hot and my nostrils are now on fire. I toss back some hot green tea and ask for the check. Walking through the center, I wish I could scrape the taste of dead oyster off the roof of my mouth.
I don’t know if it’s advised to sit in a hot tub full of naked men after one has eaten oysters, but I wouldn’t have listened anyway. The Kabuki Hot Springs is a Japanese style bath house complete with showers, hot tub, cold plunge, dry and wet saunas and relaxing areas. The establishment provides lemon and cucumber water and slices of apple during your stay and an assortment of body products for post-soak. Every other day, one gender is allowed clothing-optional access to the facility. The exception is Tuesday, when everyone is invited, but bathing suits are required.
Before entering, I imagine that I will encounter elderly Japanese businessmen and maybe a Buddhist monk or two. Like Tassajara, I am surprised by the amount of, um, white guys. I walk in and plunge into the warm soak. My plan is this: hot tub, cold plunge, steam sauna, rest, repeat. After a few moments I notice the men seem to fall broadly into two categories: squinters or cruisers. Squinters peek; cruisers gawk. Straight or gay, men do check each other out and, I think, are interested to see what other guys have for, uh, equipment. It’s one of the reasons we dudes think we have inadequate tools; because we see one or two in the showers who are “show-ers.”
I feel a certain sexual energy in the place that is hard to describe. Maybe the oysters are kicking in like ecstasy tabs. If the music were pumping disco or dance, instead of Buddha lounge, I might pop into the steam room for a little wank. There is enough room for Bette Midler to perform if she chose to resurrect her bathhouse singing career. In light of the fact that a businessman or monk might walk in one day, the management keeps the place above board. Attendants keep close watch on the sauna and tubs to ensure a hanky-panky-free environ. But there are still looks, glances and stares.
I leave the Kabuki slightly frustrated – damn those briny mollusks – but, find solace in Mika when I arrive home. She is a bundle of love. It’s really all I want right now – some unconditional affection. We play hide and seek where I throw a ball then take off to another part of the house to hide behind a door or piece of furniture. She seeks, all the while smiling with her tongue hanging to one side. When she finds me – and she gets quite good at this – she barks madly and shakes her furry, tail-less butt. We do this over and over . . . and over.