Kiyoko the Demon Barber of Shinjuku

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The following is from Gino Vannelli’s personal journal about events that transpired during his last visit to Japan.
My hands and feet felt like mysterious, prickly appendages after half a day of cruising at 37,000 feet. I admit to being an air-traveling agitator and somewhat of a space invader; in this case, using the 767 aisles (irrespective of class) as my own private jogging path, sometimes severely pissing off the flight attendants pushing their duty-free trollies, hogging the empty bridge ways between aisles, squeezing in a few yoga postures; using the head just to say a quick hello to whatever bloodless entity is staring back at me in the wavy mirror. Twelve hours of inhaling three hundred people’s filtered sighs, moans, wheezes, snores, sneezes, sniffles, gasps, hacks and other noxious gases can do funny things to one’s think box. By the third hour I immediately threw away my no-exceptions dietary regimen and turned into a human trash disposal, devouring whatever little shiny square packet was handed to me, no matter how violently my better judgment protested. A thing of nothing to put on a few, just sitting there, mindlessly grazing on odds and ends masking as food fortified with a litany of multi-syllabic chemicals.Despite the latest Brad Thor page turner, Ayn Rand’s “We the Living”, or Thich Nhat Hanh streaming from my IPod directly into my drums rendering me a slightly more educated soul than I was twelve hours prior to the trip, I became worse than a restless tot in a high chair by the final hours. I blew out a deep sigh of relief the moment our rubber hit the hot Japanese pavement. (90 degrees with over 90% humidity) Who cared if the pilot was having a bad day and our tail got a bit squirrely. I don’t think I would have even minded much if the plane spun once or twice—terra firma felt great.
Flying long runs for many years, more and more I have come to the conclusion, the human body just wasn’t cut out for this kind of stuff, leastways not mine. But Nature is benevolent to we wandering minstrels, supplying us with only a fuzzy memory of our travails after even the most grueling trip—come to think of it, not unlike most women when it comes time to recollecting the unpleasant particulars of childbirth, ready to have another the second labor is over. Yep, give us a few footlights and a stage and all is forgiven and forgotten.I may as well have been baring it all, when I was asked to strike the shades for customs and immigration. My peepers narrowed like Dirty Harry, the face below felt like it was jerry-rigged by a couple of clothespins clamped to my temples with a strip of scotch tape from chin to brow to keep the mouth from gaping too wide. I slurred and fumbled over a few simple boilerplate questions posed by the woman in uniform. I was hoping my work visa would speak for itself, because left up to my performance, I thought I was certain to be incarcerated for some old crime I had just inadvertently confessed to.Then came the uneasy: hold-your-horses and brace-yourself-for-the-worst moment, waiting for bags. I watched the belt go round and round piling up with suitcases, everyone’s belongings but mine it seemed. My uneasiness turned to squirminess that gradually progressed into quiet panic as I suddenly had visions of performing in the same clothes I was wearing for the upcoming six shows at the Cotton Club. But just as I was about to abandon all hope, like a shaft of light beaming through a patch of blue, the darkness lifted and my threads appeared.
The hour and a half to the Hilton in Shinjuku, a ritzy section of Tokyo, was educational and surprisingly enjoyable. Rene, from the Cotton Club, an intelligent man of an interesting background, Japanese-Jordanian, had much to say in the way of saving the planet in a rather jam-packed ninety minutes. Our rapid-fire conversation about America—namely, the actual America versus the regurgitated America as seen through the eyes of most of the world, fogged up the Toyota Crown windows pretty good. (It struck me that second or third–hand information (more like infotainment) is like passive smoking: lots of stink and fume without the real tobacco taste). Praise God for treadmills and dumbbells. When it’s noon in Portland and 4am, the next day, in Tokyo, the lower road is the only road to travel. Forget poetry and navel gazing—get those bones to rattle and the muscles to ache so the brain can step aside and let the inner clock reset a lot faster.  So, I see this hole-in-the-wall hair salon, not too far from the hotel, and say to myself, “What the hell . . . live dangerously . . .take a leap of faith . . . think out of the box . . .steel your heart . . .gird your loins . . .beard the lion . . .” and so forth. I am still astounded that I allowed a perfect stranger in a foreign country to futz with the follicles and give me what ended up being a drastic re-do.
Kyoko looked modish, a bit futuristic. She was young, delicate but slouched towards the dangerous, even devilish; something of a “Kill Bill’s” Gogo Yubari vibe about her—sans pigtails and schoolgirl tunic. Kyoko was an all out, hot-off-the-spit, urbane fashion radical, over-made and over-civilized, dressed in primary colors as perky as a Japanese anime. She handled that pair of cold steel blades like a ninja warrior, tossing it back and forth from hand to hand without as much as a downwards glance. She was one of those latest-wrinkle techno-coiffeurs, in all probabilities not empathetic to my retro curlicues and loops—the perfect prescription for trying something new, I reasoned, as I bravely sat myself down in her chair. I’ll never know what came over me, as I closed my eyes, and sat there for forty-five minutes, handing Kyoko total creative control. I broke the silence only now and then with some polite small talk, figuring some personal rapport might ease any frustration with my web of tangles and temper any temptation Kyoko might have had to just throw up her little hands and give me a buzz cut.  She kept courteously nodding and replying, “Hai. . .hai,” so I took that to mean we might have been carrying on a two-way conversation after all, despite my nagging suspicions.My dad claimed I was the most uncooperative customer who ever sat in his chair. He called me a Mexican jumping bean on several occasions. So I did my damnedest to sit perfectly still, act like big people, and try my utmost not get a scissor in the eye.
When Kyoko was done, she smiled, quite pleased with herself, and handed me a big round vanity mirror for my personal viewing pleasure. I couldn’t bear any sudden shock to my system, in light of still being another three days away from time-adjusted, so I said, “Oh, that’s okay Kyoko . . .domo arigato . . .just tell me how much, rubbing my thumb and index together.” By the look on Kyoko’s face, America’s world image took another serious hit when I leaped out of my hydraulic chair and walked out of that salon without even so much as taking a peak at what manner of skill and artistry had just been heaped upon me. “Bye . . .Bye!” she waved briskly, as if she was washing a stubborn gnat off a window shield, her plum lips smiling, while the eyes peeping through her false lashes looking a little hurt, on the verge of contempt.“Bye . . .Bye!” I waved slowly, certain that a sudden look of concern had come over my face, as I sensed a breeze on my neck for the first time in a couple of years. Perhaps it was buyer’s remorse, but I didn’t stand before a mirror and check out the upshot of my adventure into Kyoko’s establishment for hours; and when I dared, just prior to hitting the hay, I did so at first as if I was peering through half-parted fingers during the scary part of a horror film. “What the hell did I go and do?” I said to myself.
I must admit Kyoko’s brainchild had thrown me off some, while I prepared for the first set at the Cotton Club. (Though I was happy all six shows were filled to capacity after not having played Japan in ten years) It had been a while since I had worn my hair so short. I felt a little self-conscious and over-exposed, like something was showing that ought not to show, as I looked into the cosmetic mirror bordered with bright bulbs. The bean looked rather Spartan—a pared pineapple, came to mind. Actually, Kyoko’s handiwork was precise, executed to a T–much too much to a T, I feared—definitely a coif that would ease up . . . given a week or two. But no such grace time was in the offing. Then suddenly, just as I was about to enter the spotlight feeling like a shorn lamb, as if the Fates conspired to do me a solid, some kid with an out-of-control fro, whose job it was to chaperone me to the stage, looked closely at my new do and enthusiastically claimed he wanted the exact same thing done to his own black ball of twine. “Mm, I’ll go with that,” I thought to myself, my stage legs suddenly returning to me. I blurted out the name of Kyoko, the demon barber of Shinjuku, to the young man, as I dashed to the stage and went into “Crazy Life”.

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