Ever since I was a kid reading Terry and the Pirates I’ve always dug uniforms. I dug football uniforms, the clash of team colors against each other, and the heavy German uniforms in World War II movies; I dug braid and insignia, Ike jackets were very cool and air force blues. Whenever I drew a picture in school it was of an air force pilot in smart blues with wings and ribbons. My greatest desire was to fly a P40 over Europe and come back and have my parents say, “You were a bad motherfucker up in that sky.” I think deep down I must have been a really patriotic cat. The American flag has always looked groovy to me, though I came to dislike a lot of the people representing it.What screws up the flag too often are the people who try to interpret for everyone else what it stands for. But I believe my fondness for the flag is what put 1 me in the army when I wasn’t supposed to go in, when I could have got out easy as running an F7 chord.
I was the only bona fide 4F I knew who got drafted. At Fort Ord my records somehow got stamped iA, but when the last doctor saw the scars on my arms he put me on medical hold and sent me to a psychiatrist who asked if I wanted to get out. Now this was 1952 when representing the American flag wasn’t that much of a drag. I started thinking about Terry and the Pirates and the flag and said I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to get out. He left it up to me, told me if I thought I was going to make it, okay, but if I thought I was going to get fucked up and strung out again, which I eventually did, then I ought to split. When I finally walked out of there, it hit me like the Santa Ana wind. I could have got out. Shit, I didn’t want to go anywhere, I just wanted to play music. But for some crazy reason—and as I look back I was completely crazy in 1952 (it was almost fashionable to be crazy then; musicians would go around saying, “Catch that crazy motherfucker,” and it was like a badge of praise)—I kept walking in a daze down that hot dusty road straight into the army.
My records kept on getting fouled up. By the time I boarded ship for Korea I’d been AWOL so many times and served time in so many different stockades there was bound to be a lag in the paper work. Forty of us were marched to the boat under shotgun guard. When the boarding officer came to me he looked at his list and said, “Who the hell are you?” I said, “Shit, man, you ought to know, you put me on the boat.” He said, “You can’t go to Korea, I don’t have your records.” I said, “Well I’m here, what do you want me to do?” and he said, “Don’t worry about it.”
They put us, the forty under guard, down in the hold, and about the time the boat was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge a navy officer came down and said, “Gentlemen, welcome to the United States army.” All I could think of was if only I’d been in the air force with my wings I’d probably end up a colonel and groove right through to the end of the war. After a while they let us up on deck and when we looked back, there was San Francisco no bigger than a thimble. What they were telling us in effect was, OK, you’re free, go jump off the deck if you think you can swim.
Yokohama Bay was so filled with ships it was like a toy armada floating in a bathtub. There was no parking space at the piers so we had to stay anchored overnight. They showed a movie, but most everyone stayed on deck staring at the shore lights and talking about one thing: Think of all those Japanese broads waiting for us, we could be screwing like mad. 1 went along with them, agreeing. Right, you right Jim, crazy bitches, never had no Japanese ass, but what I was thinking was. This is the Orient, man, there has got to be a lot of groovy • dope in that town.
The continued foul-up of my records kept my ass from being shipped to the front lines in Korea. I was sent to Camp Drake, a replacement center in the town of Asaka, which was cool; they had Japanese cats doing KP and chicks on the gate as interpreters.
On my first pass, shoes shined and pants creased like any sharp potato-fed U.S. soldier, I split from the group heading for the town bars wondering how I was going to score. All my life I’d heard from junkies that dope in Japan and China was it. Now at the time I wasn’t strung. I had a habit when I entered the army, kicked, but every time I was AWOL or home on a pass I’d use. But with the time in the stockades and the boat trip it had been some three months since I’d used.
I started walking into town along some rice paddies trying to figure out a course of action. I knew I couldn’t stop some strange cat on the street and ask because—number one, there was the language barrier, and two, I was smart enough to know there were probably some undercover CID people around. My mind was just focusing on the idea of 5i«—where there’s one kind of sin there’s usually another, i.e., a whore- house was the thing—^when like a genie out of a bottle a little old cat popped out in the road in front of me. Strange brand of genie wearing a kind of hip hat, funny raincoat and tennis shoes. He said in broken English, “Hey, where you goin to?” Just goin, I said. “You want nice girl?” Okay.
He trotted down the road ahead of me and the next thing I knew I was sitting in a house on a bamboo bench and Mamasan is parading some sharp groovy chicks in kimonos before me, bowing and smiling, doing their part to get me excited. I turned down the first chick and Mamasan brought on two Others, equally fine, opening their komonos and flipping their breasts around so I could appreciate their youthfulness and spring. I said I didn’t want them either. By this time everyone’s looking at me funny, thinking this dude’s got to be in the wrong pad, must be looking for a nice fat Japanese boy, and I’m losing heart too. But when the sliding door opened to admit the fourth chick I happened to glance down the hall and saw a skinny bitch pushing a broom. I almost fell out. Felt my face break into a big happy grin because even at a distance I could see that this chick’s arms look like the Penn Central switching yards. I’d never seen arms with that many scars, could hardly conceive of anyone pumping up their veins so bad. She was emaciated, couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds; her jaw was sunken, there were dark circles around her eyes and it was understandable why they had her pushing a broom. No soldiers were going to pay any kind of bread for her, so if you can’t fuck at least keep the place clean. When I saw that mess of tracks I said to Mamasan. That’s it, that’s who I want. She looked back at the broompusher, then at me, puzzled because I’m the most unlikely-looking junkie she ever saw; I’ve been eating three squares a day, plenty of army potatoes, and am coming on fat and sassy. Suddenly she’s in a sweat, batting her eyes and fluttering her fat hands. Oh no, bad girl, not good girl for you—so I figured the ultimate thing to do to close the deal is to bring out my wallet. Mamasan glanced at my bread and I knew if I’d said right there I wanted to screw the bamboo bench I was sitting on she would have given me the bench to screw. Ah-so. She went down the hall to tell the broompusher she’s it, and that bitch’s eyes lit up; she must have thought Buddha’s elevated her back to the good graces and done sent her somebody to love. Dropped the broom, happy as a kid, and went running into a nearby room. You wait, Mamasan said, she’ll prepare for you. I didn’t need anyone preparing for me but I didn’t want to give my game away. Let her put on the powder and lipstick and whatever else, do the whole thing. I’d waited this long anyway. When she was ready I went down the hall into the room, and even as I pulled her into a corner and whispered in her ear, “Ahen” (heroin), she kept , smiling and bowing, thanking Buddha for relieving her of’ the broom, putting her back in harness. I had to say again. “Ahen” and it must be very hard for an Oriental chick’s eyes to get round but suddenly this eighty-pound Japanese junkie is Orphan Annie backing away from me frightened and [ cowering against the wall, those moon-eyes taking in a heal- ) thy potato-fed American soldier, wondering since when’s the CIA hire spook undercover agents. I rolled up my left sleeve to show her and now there were moons within moons. Soldier shoot up ? You dumb bitch, what do you think I been trying to tell you for the past minute? She took me to the window which looked out on a courtyard and signalled to the little genie in the hip hat and tennis shoes who was squatting down in the dirt doing something to a bicycle. He , came over, she jabbered a few sentences at him, slipped him some of my loot and in the time it would take to play three slow choruses of Aunt Hagar’s Blues, the little guy had cycled ) off, copped, and was back with the shit.
Now this chick who’s been on a broom for months, wasted, probably having to steal what little dope she got, is so god- damned happy to have found a compadre she’s laughing and kidding around, hitting me on the arm, and I’m as happy as her. I’ve got it, found my source, we’re like two kids racing across a meadow with bright balloons and she’s getting the \ accessories out of a bureau drawer, being very careful with the | amount of shit she’s allotting me, doling the stufl” onto a crushed cigarette package shaped to a tiny basin and adding water, she doesn’t want to lose me, knows I’ll be back, scared I might die in this goddamn place six thousand miles from Jefferson Street. “Aren’t you going to cook it?” I ask. She doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I’m thinking. How can this bitch have all those tracks and not even know how to cook it? No cookie in Japan, she finally gets across to me. just draw it up straight ahead and shoot. Use more. No-no-no. too strong. Listen, do you think this is the first time I shot shit? i I’ve been shooting shit from Watts to 130th Street (letting her j know what a bad cat I am), come on, shake it out. No-no, too much. Will you listen to me, I’ll shoot Unguentine, battery water, don’t make no difference—it’s my money, if I die I die, fuck it. Fats Navarro went down, we ain’t no super race... Please-no, I like you. I like you too, baby, but don’t blow the light, I want to cet tore up!... We compromised, she shook out a little more then squatted down in front of me, her kimono parting—not all that bad, I thought and made a mental note. One of these days I’m going to ball this bitch but for right now let’s get high. She tied the tourniquet, looking at me, still fearful and I’m saying. Don’t grade no tests till the bell rings mother, will you goddamn hurry it up. She stuck the needle in, jacked it off so the blood came in, got ready to shoot and I’m getting ready to say, “This shit ain’t nothin.” I looked in those dark-ring almond-eyes and said, “This shit ain’t...” and it was all over. Over and out. After all that conniving and pleading, going through all those changes to get a shot. When I woke up, the whole family, Mama-san, Poppa-san who had come in, couple little kids, all the young fine chicks and my bitch were sitting around in a circle fanning me, saying, “Yes... ah-so...” Groovy.
Then and there I became the best goddamn ambassador for the United States. The American image over there at the time was soldiers balling Japanese daughters, buying beer, drop a kid a quarter for a shoeshine, 4-star suckers walking around showing off the stars and stripes and generally trying to lead these Orientals into more affluent ways, right? But I came over with my black ass messed up and right away they under- stood me. Took me into the bosom of their family. See, American soldier fucked up too. That’s what gets you across, opens the lines of communication.
The next day when I got my pass and started down the little road past the rice paddies with some pears and candy bars I’d bought, the word had already got around: “Umasan’s coming.” (They didn’t know how to say “Hawes,” it kept coming out “Horse,” so rather than offend me they hit on “Uma-san,” as “Uma” is Japanese for horse.) “Uma-san’s coming.” Little kids on bicycles met me halfway. Mama-san greeted me at the door saying, “Ah, ah-so, Uma-san.” I hugged her and said, “Where’s my woman ?” She was in back getting prettied up, happily putting on her powder and lip- stick. So I lay around the parlor sharing my pears and candy while Mama-san and Poppa-san brought in grapes and other goodies. Here was a house of prostitution and they were treating me like a son, like King Farouk. But you know when the sliding door opened and my queen came in, skinny as a stalk. her little sunken face snow white against ruby lips and dark eyes, I glanced past her down the hall and saw one of those fine sharp bitches I’d turned down yesterday. Damn if they didn’t have her on the broom.
One night I played at a Red Cross club and some people said, “Oh, shit, there’s a soldier plays good.” Somehow word filtered down to Yokohama, where the 289th Army Band was stationed, that there’s a jazz musician at Drake who’s cut some records and he’s not even assigned. So the lines of communication were opened and I was pulled into the army band. It was a sad leave-taking after three months with my adopted family. I thought of all the good days at the house, the cama raderie and King Farouk grape sessions, the nights I pulled fire guard, walking up and down in a striped helmet with a flashlight and walking stick and some of my family always on the other side of the fence, walking along with me so I wouldn’t get lonely.
The day I left for Yokohama they were all there to see me off, the chicks and the little kids, Mama-san and Poppa-san, crying and carrying on as if I were being taken away to train as a Kamikaze pilot, knowing they weren’t ever going to see me again. It got to me so I started crying too. I’d never known that kind of affection before. Then the train was ready to leave, I was hugging everyone, my woman was laying a traveling supply on me and I thought. Well here I go, big city, ready for all that shit again. Because during those three months I had got strung and I knew it was serious.
My third night in Yokohama I saw two soldiers nodding in a service club and said to myself. Something’s happening here.
With my first pass I wandered into town along one of the main streets, down a line of bright neon bars, the lights wavering through the fog like streaks of lime and lemon paint in a greasy river. Picked up on some high-pitched female cussing through a doorway and out of one of those bars came a chick looking like Susie Wong, the hippest baddest whore on the block, fine and tall and strutting like proud.
She called to me from across the street, “Hey soldier, doko-e-ikima-su-ka ?”
I knew what that sounded like and just kept on walking.
“Hey, motherfucker, where you goin?”
Now I stopped. Faced this bitch across the street in her tight shiny skirt, hands on hips, feisty-looking like she owned the whole block and said, “Goin to get high.”
She smiled and said, “You don’t know, do you?”
I said, “Do you?”
She said, “You bet your ass. C’mon.”