15
GOOD TIME CHARLIE'S


I personally wished to continue the salmon roe processing
at Sea Catch. I had just started to like this job although there
had been hard times. Eleanor was also a reason why I thought
that way. I didn't want to end this work in a way Eleanor
would feel disappointed.
To escape from Sea Catch became impossible. Dave had
a shot gun and he kept an eye on the sujiko and me. His
expression seeing on me had totally changed from before.
I refused receiving salmon roe and made a complete stop
to the sujiko processing.
Eleanor once came to the place I stayed at the plant. Doris
might have told her to do that, but I don't know. She asked
me why I stopped producing sujiko.
"Company orders," I answered.
I tried to express a feeling that it was not my real intention.
It was because I was worried that Eleanor might hate me.
"Hum," she said.

Doris searched for a customer for the salmon roe I rejected,
but she didn't succeed.
The salmon season was about to end for Sea Catch. The
final stroke was Nichimen's expression of their intention to
stop buying salmon from Sea Catch. The rate of chum salmon
in each catch increased and that was the reason for the refusal.
There had been no sense in staying in the plant anymore,
so I decided to go to town to have some fun.
Just before entering the urban part of Kenai, there was a 7-
Eleven. I made a phone call to Mr. Nakagawa there. It was
only for regular reports.
After the phone call, I went to a bar named Good Time
Charlie's
, outside of town on the opposite side from Sea Catch.
Good Time Charlie's was a drive-in with a dusty old
parking lot, where a couple of pickup trucks were parked.
Inside the bar, there was a counter, a juke box and a pool
table.
Once in a while, at the corner of the bar, a dancer came out
and danced a strip tease.
The second floor was a brothel.
What I had heard from my friends before was that if I paid
a room charge to the bartender, who wasn't the friendly type
at all, he would give me a room key and I could go upstairs.
The squeaky old stairs made a lot of noise and everyone in the
whole bar would applaud.
Watching a black girl dance at the sides of my eyes, I drank
a Budweiser at the counter. The music ended and she went
away.
A new dancer came on stage.
She was white.
And Holy smoke! She looked like Eleanor.
It couldn't have been Eleanor, but the more I watched, the
more she looked like her.
The other people just watched the dancer dance quietly.
There were no big enthusiasm.
I looked more carefully at the dancer and realized that she
had some wrinkles at the edge of her eyes, which was
something Eleanor didn't have. The dancer was quite more
glamorous than Eleanor, I imagined.
It was clear that the dancer wasn't Eleanor, but I couldn't
take my eyes off her.
She danced slowly like she didn't move at all.
Doris had not given up the game yet. She was still trying
to produce salmon at her own risk. She held a meeting at Sea
Catch to work things out. She invited many set net owners
and fishermen of the Cook Inlet area to the meeting. She sought
to gain their support.
Doris asked me to attend the meeting, so I did.
I had no good reason to refuse and although it was beside
Fuji Marine's intention, I suppose I wanted to help Doris.
There were a number of people: about 50 to 60 that gathered
at the meeting.
First, Doris talked.
"At the beginning, let me say that I am very happy to see
all of you folks here."
At a corner of the meeting room, I sat looking at the same
direction as the set netters and fishermen. Doris seemed to
have made some kind of joke, but I couldn't get it.
"The reason why we held a meeting here tonight is to
explain clearly about the rumour heard recently. That is, the
rumour that Sea Catch might go out of business, which I feel
some ill feelings about. I want you to know that it is not the
truth. I wish you people not to worry, and keep bringing salmon
to Sea Catch the same way as you always have been doing,"
said Doris in a rather low tone.
"As you know very well, it has been a long time since Sea
Catch has built a very close and friendly relationship with you."
The set netters and fishermen had been closing their mouths
tight. Most of them were wearing caps. The ones usually
seen in Alaska. American space pilots wear that kind on earth.
"Salamatof Sea Foods, Alaskan Packers, and most of the
other major fish plants have lost their independence as private
firms."
Doris kept on talking and little by little she turned her face
towards me. Her eyes were still looking straight forward. I
understood that Doris was intentionally trying to turn the
audience's consciousness towards me -- the only Japanese at
the meeting -- and let them notice the fact that it was the
Japanese companies that were taking over the Kenai area fish
plants. It was a good performance for Sea Catch but not for
me.
She paused for a moment, and after that, she started talking
in a different tone than before.
"But Sea Catch is still independent. Sea Catch has been
working for many years for the profits of the set netters and
the fishermen. We bought the raw material always 5 to 10
cents more expensive than the other plants. This was made
possible because you people brought good and fresh fish only,
and because we had a staff that worked hard to improve the
business."
Doris stopped here again to see what the reaction of the
audience would be.
She was trying hard to show how strongly she stood on the
set netters and fishermen's side.
"This gentleman sitting beside you is Mr. Nakamura, the
chief technician of the Sea Catch salmon roe production line,"
said Doris.
An applause happened.
As a matter of fact, I wasn't hired for Sea Catch but Doris
just introduced me like that. I swore at Doris and stood up.
I bowed and sat down.
Then, Doris introduced Dave to the audience.
"This is the new foreman of this plant," said Doris.
Dave stood up and started to talk.
"Hello. It's nice to meet you people. I've been in charge
of this Sea Catch production line lately and so far, we've had
productions of reds and chums, and salmon roe have been all
delivered to the Japanese buyers. We have earned somewhat
of a profit from this and there is no worry about the production
from now on, so I wish you to bring to Sea Catch a lot of fish."
Dave spoke fast with both of his hands stuck in his jeans.
There was a man who rose his hand. He had a question.
"Do you mind if I ask something?" said the long faced
man who spoke in an accent of the southern part of U.S.A..
"No. Not at all," answered Dave. He spread his arms
open for the question to be invited.
"Well, I heard that you had a business relationship with
Icicle. Is that true?" said the long faced man.
"Yes, absolutely. I worked for Icicle before."
"Rumours say, under orders of a certain bank, Icicle sent
you to Sea Catch. How about that?"
Dave chuckled a little bit. And then, he said quietly, "No,
no, no. No way. I was head-hunted from Icicle, so I'm here."
Doris talked.
"Dave is a man of great ability. So he is here. He has been
in the fish business for many years. I heard that there were
some differences of ideas towards the business in Icicle
between the management and Dave, so I decided to hire him."
Dave nodded his head to what Doris had said.
Doris continued.
"And talking about banks -- okay, Sea Catch is surely in
the state of Chapter Eleven, but as Dave also said, we are still
earning some profit, and we are not letting the banks tell us
what to do. Everything starts from now. There are our
lobbyists in Washington D.C., who represent our interests.
They will not let the government act in a way to ruin our
independence of Sea Catch and give away the hegemony of
the Kenai salmon fishing to the Japanese. We already have a
contract to sell 2 thousand tons of red salmon. So please keep
on bringing us fish, as you always used to."
Talking so far, Doris stopped.
It seemed likely that Mitsubishi or some other company
talked with Doris to buy 2 thousand tons of red salmon.
However, at that point of the salmon season, it was
necessary to catch more than the same 2 thousand tons of chum
salmon in order to produce 2 thousand tons of red salmon
because of the mixed-catch. Without plans of what to do with
this chum salmon, things could not have gone forward.
Another man stood and asked a question.
"The Japanese are starting to leave Kenai and they say it's
because they can't buy chum salmon. Why can't they buy
chums?" The man said as though he was trying to assist Doris.
"I don't know," answered Doris. "Mr. Nakamura, can you
explain why the Japanese don't want to buy chum salmon!"
Doris asked me to explain since I was Japanese.
I turned from the notes I was taking and stood up in agony.
The eyes surrounding me was asking me to speak up.
"The reason why Japanese can't buy chum salmon is
because there is a large amount of stock of domestic chum
salmon produced in Japan, which has similar quality compared
to Alaskan ones," I said.
The questioner talked back.
"But you got to buy chum salmon if you need red salmon.
You can't get only what you need."
"We'll lose money if we buy chum salmon. Salmon with
white meat are no good."
"Is white meat bad?"
"Yes, it is. It's predicted that the chum salmon catch in
Canada is going to be good too. The supply of chums is too
much."
"Is it true that red salmon that are traded at 1 dollar 30
cents per pound here are sold in Japan at the price of 5 dollars?!"
I tried to make calculations in my head in a hurry.
The yen rate was 220 yen per one U.S. dollar.
5 dollars were 1,100 yen per pound.
Yes. It was a reasonable price in Japan.
"True," I said.
"Then, Japanese companies must be earning lots of
money."
"Not true," I said but no following words continued.
Not to mention about the bankruptcy of Hokushou, there
were almost no fish companies that were earning profits under
the depressed situation.
Many English and Japanese words appeared and vanished
in my mind.
<Loss of other fish. Interests. Stock charges. Stock risks.
Recovery. Sales promotion fees. Differences between market
prices and retail prices. Retailers that earn lots and retailers
that don't. Complicated distribution. The Hokushou scandal
and its influence on the whole fish business. Cumulative
deficits. Year-round supplied fish items for supermarkets..>
I didn't seem to be able to make up my idea, so I said,
"Anyway, we have to lose lots of money if we buy chums."
Silence prevailed in the meeting room.
Doris broke it.
"Well, now, are there any other questions?"
She answered some questions concerning predictions of
fishermen prices in the future; other companies' information;
news of other fishing grounds.
Finally, she mentioned that there was some food and drinks
prepared outside of the meeting hall to have a small garden
party together.

I thought that there must have remained in the minds of
the set netters and fishermen a weird feeling towards the
Japanese in general. That feeling must have been close to the
feeling received when one heard the story of the melting black
cod.
Even in the major Japanese trading corporations, there was
no one who made good and correct explanations about Japanese
fish business and distribution. The business existed, and still
exist, in the dark continent.
Imagining about how government decisions might be
affected by these weird feelings thought by Doris, her lobbyists,
or people like set netters and fishermen who attended the Sea
Catch meeting, made me feel a chill.
This same kind of situation of misunderstanding and
distrust was found everywhere I went in the world for business
trips to buy fish.
I always thought that this picture of the Japanese fish
business had the same shape as the whole Japanese inter-
national relationship: just different in scale.

Despite all the efforts Doris showed at the meeting, soon
Sea Catch stopped all production.
I was going to leave Kenai. The day before I did, I made a
phone call to Eleanor from the hotel I stayed in. I asked her if
she could come to the hotel. She accepted heartily.
Eleanor and I met in my hotel room. There was nobody
else but the two of us. It was hard for me to find the words to
say.
Eleanor wore her hair in braids like a Swiss girl. Her neck
from her cream coloured blouse was very pale. The jeans she
wore had a wide hem. They seemed to be newly washed.
I tried to kiss her but I couldn't.
Eleanor was cool but surprised. I tried again to kiss her.
"I love you," I said to Eleanor. "I'll never forget you."
We looked at each other. She didn't let me kiss her again,
so I quit trying.
The bed sheet where we had been sitting got ruffled.
"I love you too," said Eleanor and she gave me a slight
kiss.
After I sent Eleanor home, I checked out of the hotel. I left
all my luggage at the Kenai Airport counter and went to Good
Time Charlie's.
It was dark already. I drank a bottle of beer and asked the
bartender to let me stay in a room upstairs. He gave me a
room key. I paid him twenty dollars and I walked up the stairs
but no one clapped hands.
The room was small with no windows. It was like a garret.
I lay on the bed when a black girl, who had been dancing
on the stage the other day, came to the room. She took me to
another room, which was like a medical operating room, and
there were lots of medical instruments installed.
On the operating table, we made love but I didn't come.
We spoke a couple of words and left.
Back in the room, I was lying on the bed again. A sound
of someone knocking on a wooden door or something was
heard from the direction of the hallway. The sound continued
endlessly with an interval of about two or three minutes.
The naked light bulb of the room threw its dim lights.
I walked out of the room into the dark hallway.
The door at the opposite side of the hallway was slightly
open, and light was coming out from the room behind it. There,
the dancer who looked familiar to Eleanor was walking back
and forth from room to hallway, and from hallway to room, in
her nightwear.
I waved my hands to her and I did it continuously. I tried
to tell her to come to my room.
Finally, the dancer seemed to get my message, and she
made a sign for me to wait in my room, so I did.
The fake-Eleanor dancer came to my room near the break
of dawn.
I felt like I had met my long lost lover. The dancer also
seemed to feel that way, I suppose.
We fucked each other like two hungry animals.
"You little creature!" I heard the dancer shout.
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