Those Scammers on Wall Street

This is an excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

Tokyo, June 1996. Wouter the Dutch guy’s words course through my head like a refrain in a traveler ballad: You’ve got to go to Russia, you’ve got to go see Inga in Irkutsk. And I’m researching the first steps in that direction at the Maruzen Bookstore in Ochanomizu, which has a gaijin corner with a Lonely Planet shelf. I pull out Russia. But next to it are other evocative titles, like Vietnam, China, and Mongolia. I expand my research. These countries are linked by rail. In theory, you can go by train from Ho Chi Minh City via China, Mongolia, and Russia to Marseille. It’s one heck of a distance, it’s crazy, but it’s doable. Only South Korea—where my ticket is to—isn’t linked to anything.

Getting visas will be a nightmare. Then there are the different languages, an even greater nightmare. And there will be risks. It might take two months. But why shouldn’t I? I’m not permitted to stay in Japan, and I’m not permitted to enter Izumi’s life. Wall Street is underwriting my expenses. I’m forty, and there’s no better time than now to draw a scraggly red line halfway around the globe.

Feverish, I step into the swelter outside. The transformation of Tokyo from drab daytime city to nighttime center of energy has already occurred. A flotilla of girls with a whole spectrum of highlights clogs up the sidewalk, while salarymen and OL (pronounced o-eru, for Office Lady, the latest addition to my vocabulary) try to get around them. I get some iced coffee at a coffee shop and open the Herald Tribune to the stock listings to find out how much money I’ve made.

Biogen. Whoa! Dell. Oh my God! I go through stock after stock. My portfolio has crashed. Those scammers on Wall Street. I hate them! They’ve stopped hyping their worthless crap. And now they’re dumping it to get out of their Ponzi scheme, and I’m left holding the bag. If they keep it up, my broker will issue a margin call and liquidate my portfolio at the worst possible time. It’ll ruin everything. I’ll have to start over. I’ll have to go back and sell cars.

It haunts me, still, hours later, as I peer at my brewski at the gaijin bar in Takadanobaba. Fiasco is staring me in the face.

Darren, wearing his rubber-padded Slickrock hat, sits down next to me, orders a Guinness, and produces a photo of a Japanese girl in a miniskirt.

“She the one you told me about?” I ask.

“Yup. Got a date with her.”

“No fucking way! When?”


“I’ll be darned. Where are you going to take her?”


“What are you going to do?”

“She wants to go shopping.”


We chink our glasses. He smiles because he thinks he has a date with a hot chick, and I smile because I’m not the only one whom fiasco is staring in the face.

This is an excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

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