By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
"When were you born?" he asked.
"1987," I said.
"Ah! That's exactly when I worked there!" he said. "I bet that at one point, your mom was walking around and holding you, and I was walking around, too, and we saw one another. It's almost like fate. Like we were meant to know each other. Like we should have known each other all along."
The check came right around then: $320. Son of a bitch, I thought. I'd never eaten so well in my life. He put down his credit card, and I saw that after the tip, the bill came to $370.
"We should go to Kaoru now, so you're not late," he said.
Mama-san started yelling right when we got in.
"Where were you?" she said.
"Dohan," I said. "Look, I brought in a customer."
"Go change!" she said.
And I did.
The bartenders said not to worry, that Mama-san wasn't really mad.
"Mama-san's crazy," one of them said. "She's, like, menopausal, you know. Her moods are all, like, up, down."
The rest of the night just felt off. The man who took me on my dohan was talking to another girl, which was fine, because he was so dull and there was little else to say about our celestial hometown connection. But now I saw that every time another hostess reached over the bar, he'd try to play grab-ass. She'd playfully swat his hand and laugh. And he'd buy her a drink.
At one point shortly after that, I went into the kitchen for a smoke.
"You like this work?" Mama-san asked.
"Good. We put you at six days next week. That OK?"
"I'll check my schedule."
"OK. Check your schedule. We put you on six days."
Mama-san was right. It takes about three weeks for the customers to warm up to you. What she didn't mention is that it also takes about three weeks for them to get grabby. And that's why it seemed like a good idea to spend no more than a month at Kaoru—I'd figured out what it was like to work there, and wanted to leave before anything really weird happened.
One night, a group of Japanese mariners came in. They had been out fishing earlier that day, went to dinner and to an all-Japanese strip club, and decided to make Kaoru their last stop for the night. One of them, the sexton, was wearing lime-green Crocs and a baggy sweatshirt.
"Some girls like smelly men," he said, lifting his arm in a hostess's face. She squealed. "You like that?"
"No, I don't like smelly men," she said, smiling.
"What about this?" he said, popping off a shoe and holding it in her face.
An hour later, or maybe it was earlier, I was in that same corner booth.
"You must be Eastern European," a man said.
"Polish, in fact."
"I could tell."
"Polish girls like short skirts," he said, putting a hand on my thigh. My bare leg was pretty hairy. He didn't say anything.
"They also like to drink," he said.
"You're right. Could I get a whiskey-Diet?" I said. He agreed.
The bartenders knew to just give me soda. This way, I could sell at least ten $13 cocktails per night. I would also keep the customers happy by "drinking" with them, but I wouldn't get drunk at all.
He left the table for a moment. Then his friend put his hand on the same spot, right above my knee. He also didn't mention the hair. I drained the Diet Coke, and the bartender brought over another "whiskey-Diet" with a knowing laugh.
When I left that night, I noticed that one of the hostesses—a tall girl in a creamy beaded gown—happened to be walking a few blocks in front of me. She was arm-in-arm with the man she'd been on a dohan with, and had sat with all night. On his other side, also holding his arm, was another hostess from the bar. I followed them for a few blocks. They didn't part ways.
A few nights later, the man who told me about the "seaweed sake" returned. He was sitting at the corner of the bar, surrounded by the three women he'd paid to flirt with him. He'd been here a little less than an hour, but had already downed half a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. He suddenly got up and ripped open his shirt, flashing a hairy nipple in front of the girls. They squealed. "I showed you mine, now show me yours!" he said, reaching across the counter to pinch a girl; his gut swung freely, so the bargirls scrambled to keep the drinks from spilling. "Come on and show me!" he said, but the girls refused, laughing politely.
The bartender sighed.
"He's really living the American dream," he said.