When I was a young man, I began searching for the meaning of life. Along the way, I wrote a travel journal, a mix of prose and poetry, and labelled it Fool’s Odyssey.
Newly arrived and oldly lost, I spent my first feverish night at a third-rate London B&B waiting for the sun to rise. I was pretty sure they still observed mornings here.
Is it morning? No. Sleep. Is it morning? No. Sleep. Is it morning? Yes!
Breakfast. What? Eat breakfast. You know, “Break your fast.” That’s English, hah, hah, hah—
I clambered down ten flights of stairs to a bed-and-breakfast basement with good-morning-yellow wallpaper, mediocre marmalade, bogus bangers and bloody eggs. Oh, yes, and fake Tang (which in itself is fake orange juice), along with sexless white toast, counterfeit coffee and tea-hee-hee.
Me. With fourteen Arabs, and one Japanese fellow.
Yoshi Tsukura practiced his English on me while I dangled on the brink of eternity: Is this it? Is this culture shock? Is there life after breakfast? If an egg falls in the forest…? “Oh, I’m sorry, what’s that, Yoshi? Um, no, there are fifty states. What? No, Puerto Rico’s not a state, it’s a… I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a state.”
Yoshi was studying to be a big-time politician in Japan: law, business, IQ of like 748 (but maybe that was in yen). One day, he told me, he’d be the Minister of Something-or-Other in Japan, and I could visit him and they’d drive me around in a Toyota limousine, and everyone would cheer and throw corn flakes on me and give me hot baths and walk on my back, and…
Oh, God, I’m in London, England! And I don’t even know why I’m here. And someone said something to me in my sleep last night, and I don’t even know who it was. I mean, it might just have been me, but then again it might have been… Oh, God!
That day the first of my fantasies began over tea: “Yoshi!” I thought. “You clever Japanese person, you! You had it all figured out, didn’t you?” And then I had an epiphany. Or something like one:
Life is a game of capital gain,
Buy and sell, delete your pain—
Capital idea! The pound’s the thing!
It’s got the dollar by the collar,
O buck, where is thy sting?
And so that day I ‘gan to dream,
began to figure figures and schemes.
With a belly full of bean juice, I started to perk.
Forget this silly search for meaning,
It’s time to get to work!
And so began My Life of Happy Materialism in England!
Which lasted exactly six days.
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