It’s a few days back and I’m in line at a nightclub, afraid the hostess will tell me to take a hike, or rather, tell me I’m not on the list. I’ve never been on any list before. I THINK I’m on this list…I registered on the club’s website days ago – I even got a confirmation email. Could there be more than one list? I suspect that people who really ARE on the list don’t get there by email. Like David Bowie, if he had been there. I make it inside, but I’ve arrived too early. No corners to hide in or conversations to join. I pass some Japanese couples and notice a trio of Samoans who look like football players or sumo wrestlers. I spot a man about my age who appears as uncomfortable as I am; I consider talking to him but I’d rather nurse my mojito, which, after two sips has already shrunk into its ice. What am I doing here?
I don’t enjoy nightclubs and for some reason I’ve interpreted this as a character flaw. Perhaps I watch too much TV or too many movies, but it seems that Americans spend an awful lot of time in nightclubs – I don’t want to miss out on the fun. Trouble is, spending time at a nightclub is a skill I haven’t acquired. And it kills me to be bad at anything, which is why I’ll torment myself whenever the opportunity arises. So when I was invited to this trendy club from a girl I just met, I had to say yes. Anything in the name of self-improvement.
Years ago, as a high school teacher, I would rise at 4:55, often waking before my alarm because of the sense of dread in my stomach. In the early winter months when I left the house before the first sign of daylight, my mind would picture Soviet steelworkers battling drifting snow and frigid air as they walked 2 miles to work in perfect darkness. I would picture these unlucky souls that I had read about in Behind the Urals and consoled myself with the thought that, as much as I dreaded my day, at least I wasn’t a steelworker in Magnitogorsk. So why did I become a teacher? I would ask myself. I could remember the reasons, but it didn’t feel like my decision. It felt like someone had chosen for me, and I was one paying for it.
At work last week, hours before my nightclub excursion, my stomach was filling with a familiar sense of dread – part honest nervousness for the unknown and part intuition that something wasn’t right. As my dread of the nightclub grew, I recognized another fear – that my moving to Japan was a complete mistake. And how could it not be? Here I am forcing myself to go to an event I have little interest in, worrying about what clothes to wear, and for what? Because of some misguided ideas about self-improvement? Where were my friends and family to fall back on, to remind me who I am and what I believe in?
Speaking of reinventing oneself, I just saw Limitless (2011) with Bradley Cooper. The plot goes like this: a failed writer with messy hair and a grunge wardrobe takes a miracle drug that makes him very, very smart. After finishing his book in four days, the first thing he does is get a haircut and buy a nice suit. And then he goes and makes a boatload of money. Oh, and he also has a lot of meaningless sex and may have killed someone. Though completely far-fetched, the film raises some interesting and troubling questions. What would most people do if equipped with the ability to do anything extremely well? According to Limitless, the first thing they would do is buy a new suit and make money on Wall Street. Sounds a lot like Ivy League graduates before 2008.
Back at the nightclub I decide to chat to that other awkward guy. Turns out we have a lot in common and we stick together most of the night while the room fills up with Japanese women and mostly American men. The club’s dress code requires men to wear suits, and as I look around, they all strike me as young and cocky…and the word that flashes into my head is ‘dipshit’. Dipshits in suits. I have the feeling they all want to be Bradley Cooper.
I choose to leave the club well before the party is over. As I walk out the doors, past the small line still waiting to get inside, I can’t help but smile. As un-enjoyable as the night is, I feel confident and serene. Alone in a foreign country, I find it is easy to lose my bearings. My first week in Tokyo was a rush of experiences that caught me off-balance. The terrible experience I just had at the nightclub feels familiar, and because it feels familiar I am comforted by it. Having left the club early I now have the whole night ahead of me – the possibilities are limitless. I think I’ll grab a hamburger.