Software Pancake House: Karaoke

Hiroshi Kazuki and  Kenji Tsutomo, known to the patrons of the Park Cosmos as Godzilla Eisenhower and Genghis Brando, were up at the mike. They were handed the helmets bristling with LED's and lenses for the Ho-Lo projections the club provided for those unable or unwilling to bring their own. True, the helmets were a bit the worse for wear and smelled a bit, but Hiroshi and Kenji had still not made the final payments on the Sonymac helmets they had dreamed of owning for so long.

Even with stock hardware, the patrons of the bar had come to reverence Godzilla and Genghis for their unusual phrasing and the intangible something which they brought to the slightly outdated menu of songs available at the Park Cosmos. It was no secret that A&R men from some of the big media sites had begun to put in appearances from time to time. They tried to appear inconspicuous behind Flyspex night goggles and the inevitable natural-fiber suits which wrinkled and creased so deeply, unlike the long-chain polymers most people wore.

Godzilla and Genghis had chosen a golden oldie, made famous by the Mohair Sushi Gods, over 3 months before "To Your Heart Anjimoto Drinks". Most of the patrons agreed that their rendition of the event was superior to the original and many had their handkerchiefs out before it was over, dabbing discreetly at their tears. Delicious chills ran up spines as the opening themes were skillfully spun by Genghis Brando--the bittersweet smell of autumn in the air, leaves falling in swirling eddies all over the bar, the crunch of Eddy Bodikon's feet strolling sadly through the soft focus forest of lost love. Slowly at first Godzilla Eisenhower began to weave the face of Midori Monroe through his partner's matrix, building with irresistible  complexity of a Bach fugue, evoking the yearning of a school boy kicking a playground merry-go-round at twilight, wrestling with the torments and delights of the onset of puberty.

Before anyone realized what had been happening, the Park Cosmos had assumed the dimensions of the grounds of the Imperial Palace, swirling by now with evocations of death, fire, Shinto gods stirring the primeval soup, doomed and volatile love, schoolboys practicing how to kiss by kissing their own hands and becoming erect from their own hot moist breath and all of this corresponded somehow with the conflagration of the Imperial Palace, the transgender Emperor himself bursting  through the rice-paper walls of his private quarters, hair flaming, face melting, seeking too late to quench himself in the green waters of the moat, expiring just centimeters before the bank, his urge to live becoming the dominant leitmotif in the fabric spun by the two Mitsubishi employees in their Ho-Lo helmets.

When the song wound down to its end no one applauded. Their helpless sobs said it all. Had it not been for the government-dictated media filters at the door of the place, most of Shinjuku would have been sobbing as well. Only the A&R men were immune, for they wore cunning designer shades which delivered a synopsis devoid of emotional content to their eyes, allowing them to make "rational" judgments on what they saw. There were other men, unnoticed, unremarkable, wearing far more cunning and sophisticated Flyspex sitting in the shadows of the Park Cosmos. Power of this magnitude could not go unnoticed.

Hiroshi had been coming to the Park Cosmos Ho-Lo Karaoke Bar for so long he couldn't imagine his life without it. Over fifteen years ago, he had been wandering around Shinjuku after work at the Mitsubishi Spacecraft Design Center when he had literally stumbled upon the place. He had tripped over one of the small ledges which caught everyone walking Tokyo sidewalks and had tumbled down the stairs leading into the place. The doorbot, a state-licensed appliance required by law at every bar or restaurant had dusted him off, making sure that he had sustained no injuries and delivering a legal notice of limited liability in the voice of Clint Eastwood. Once it was convinced that no serious damage had been done, the doorbot carried Hiroshi into the place, sat him down, and ordered him a bottle of whisky. Hiroshi found nothing unusual about all of this attention. The state felt uneasy about Japanese men wandering the streets alone at night, so it had written mandatory software for all doorbots compelling them to place solitary men in some kind of group. Citizens had the right to refuse, difficult and complicated though it was and the doorbots were always polite, but the fines levied were such a nuisance that everyone just complied. In any case, most Japanese tended to panic when they found themselves alone.

Hiroshi Kazuki had been looking for a Karaoke place anyway. Like almost everyone in Japan, he had been bitten by the Karaoke bug while he was still in school. First school, then work at Mitsubishi was only made bearable by the prospect of the night ahead. Hiroshi's nights were Karaoke nights.

Hiroshi had been onstage, earnestly working his way through "Sumitomo All Right" by Yasuhiro Orbison when the stage was mounted by an interloper! An espontaneo, who leapt up and seized the microphone from Hiroshi's grasp.

私はあなた私はあなたをどのように戻って名古屋でそれを行う表示!見る  cried Kenji Tsutomo, red with outrage.

"Genghis Brando will show you....I show you how we do it back in Nagoya!!


The two men had come to blows, drunkenly falling off the stage in a violent embrace. Afterwards, during a shouted and repetitively emphatic declaration of mutual respect, the two men had resolved to work together from then on. The rest could have been history, though who can say?

Karaoke had arisen out of necessity in the early days of the Asian Industrial Revolution. Japanese society had become so regimented that the collective psyche of the workers cried out for a safety valve of some sort. In essence, Karaoke had invented itself.

The original formula had been beautifully simple, like the clean lines of a Shinto shrine. Musicians and engineers made audio which lacked only a vocal. Machines were designed which made even the poorest singer sound like the media pop gods . An illuminated stage with a video monitor had been provided to make even the humblest cog in the corporate behemoth a star for the few moments he or she had reserved at the mike.

Karaoke had taken off like the bullet trains which linked the coastal cities. It was just too perfect. Culture, finance, government, and technology, increasingly indistinguishable had joined forces to keep the beehive state afloat by providing the workers with just the right amount of slack in the leash. Stripped of inhibitions by alcohol, the repressed Japanese workers would have their moment of glory at last, every night after work.

Technological innovation had proceeded logarithmically forwards, until the modern Karaoke experience became increasingly coaxial with and indistinguishable from the traditional perception of reality.

Surprisingly, no one laughed or clowned around when at the mike. This was serious business. The doorbots clapped in rhythm with the singers, attempting to conjure up an air of hilarity, but the singers knew always that they were being judged as they in turn passed judgment upon all the others present.

Hiroshi and Kenji returned to their table near the stage and had one more shot of Jack Daniel's before deciding to leave. They both had to work in the morning. They handed their credit slabs to the doorbot, who placed them in its mouth. It extruded an adhesive label from its ear and stuck it to the bottle, indicating the level and the owner in Katakana characters. The next time they came they could just check out the same bottle. In many ways, the Park Cosmos resembled a lending library for drunks.

They felt a slight tingle as they passed through the media screen at the door, unlike the man wearing the Flyspex who exited a few seconds later. That man had a fix on their brainwaves and their pheromone signatures, leaving little chance that he would lose them in the sewage-scented alleys of Shinjuku. In many ways, Flyspex Man was little more than a mobile recording device, equipped with a capability to make intuition-based decisions which still eluded all but the most cumbersome Artificial Intelligences. Besides, human operators were far cheaper to produce than AI-linked drones and more expendable. An assassination drone would hardly be sent out to follow a couple of drunk Mitsubishi workers. This mission was vampiric and low-priority. Call it a recruitment drive.

Hiroshi and Kenji passed by one of the low-tech dives frequented by American G.I.'s and private security grunts who still labored under the illusion that their empire was intact and functional, its hegemony unchallenged. Even the teenage gang members who sold them their drugs and whores on the street corners knew that the notion of western domination was held together by gaffer tape and blue-tak, but no-one would dream of telling
them. Where would the island nation be without its Mercenary Army? Small matter that they still considered themselves the occupying garrison. The government and company men who manned the stalls of Shinjuku would still lapse into Pidgin when met with the meathead hordes of steroid-pumped barbarians who shouted English and reeked of dead cows.

"Hey G.I. Joe, you got chocolate? You gotty chewing gum? Nyrons? My seester, she virgin, rikee doggy style, you betcha!"

The poor screening around the Montana Rainbow Room leaked out visions of impossibly pneumatic pink women, jiggling like rendered pork aspic to "Green Onions". The grunts chugged detergent and food coloring which they called beer, shouted at the red white and blue doorbots and moved through an image matrix filled with huge cars, back-yard Barbeques and hordes of sub-human Gooks and Ragheads struggling to understand the power of the green paper which they worshipped with erect attention and absolute devotion. Hiroshi and Kenji covered their eyes and ears until they were well clear of the place.

The man in the Flyspex and baggy mauve linen suit also shuddered when he passed the Montana Rainbow Room, but for a different reason. Before the operation, he had been one of its regular patrons and he had liked it. In those days he had been known as Dep Conair, and he had been indentured to the CIA. Unlike most of his buddies, one night he had begun to notice that the internal logic of the Montana was flickering around the edges and an alarm had gone off in one of the doorbots. Before he knew what was happening, somebody slipped a hood over his head and spirited him away. Next thing he knew, he woke up Japanese. Somehow, in an unpurged corner of his memory, there flickered the image of a baseball. He clung to that baseball as he remembered it, sitting on a shelf in his California condo, autographed by Hank Aaron. The leakage from the door smelled like that baseball. The ball-point pen scrawl of Hank Aaron's name floated over the door in pink neon, a warning, a blessing, a curse, like the blood over the doors of the Jews in Egypt that had warned off Samael, the angel of death. He had been emptied and refilled, become Samael, become Azrael, and now he stalked Godzilla Eisenhower and Genghis Brando.

Dep Conair/Samael felt the theoretical crosshairs slide into place in his cortex and he despaired slightly over the fact that he could do nothing to alter or abort the sequence once he had set it in motion. He watched wistfully as Hiroshi and Kenji, still thinking of themselves as Godzilla and Genghis, still wearing their Clubbing Clothes, their worker uniforms stashed in the rucksacks they both wore, emerged from the pedestrian maze and made for the safety and warmth of Shinjuku station. He tried to think of the baseball, but the image was too tenuous to override the sequence which now coursed through him. Some campus wit had christened it "The Lugosi Script" and God or Buddha knew how right he had been. It reminded him of fly fishing for trout. The blue line of energy snaked out from his navel into the deep blue pool where the awarenesses of Hiroshi and Kenji floated like feeding trout. He reeled in his catch, clubbed it over its metaphorical head, just enough to stun, and stored it away in the matte black slab which he pulled from his pocket.

At the turnstiles of Shinjuku station, the husks which had been Godzilla Eisenhower and Genghis Brando crumpled to the floor. Most people took them for drunks and stepped right over them, rushing to fight for a place on the last train to the burbs. The shadow of the angel of death passed quietly through the valley.

Quiet and efficient municipal drones liquefied the two cadavers and evacuated them into the sewer with the rest of the evening's garbage.

Blaine L. Reininger
Tokyo and Brussels,

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Karaoke by Blaine L. Reininger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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