80. Stephen Green In My Life

80. Stephen Green in My Life

A few days ago when I went for my daily exercise walk, coming out from the alley behind our house and looking across the street, seeing on the edge of the Spirit Forest a sign reading: DO NOT DUMP REFUSE, I began to muse on how that sign might be altered to change its meaning; and that took me back to days of sign-altering, and to the person with whom I used to do it: Stephen Green. Today I tried to find him on Google, but without success, however many clues I typed in after his name: there are too many Stephen Greens, and this one, important as he was to me, seems to have disappeared without leaving a Google-worthy trace.

Stehen H. Green (as I remember his name—middle name Henry?) was born early in 1926—he was six months older than I—and died some years ago—exact date uncertain, as I had been out of touch with him and found out only later. His parents were school-masters in Yangzhou, and Stephen spent his early years there, speaking fluent Chinese along with English. He could recite and write classical Chinese poetry, and loved to do so. He came to the U.S. with his parents, it must have been in 1942? escaping the Japanese invasion of China—he could tell stories of terrible sights he had witnessed—and appeared suddenly at Berkeley High School, where we soon became friends. He even took part in a mock-political campaign that I was then conducting for another friend, Gordon Cyr, ostensibly aimed at getting Gordon elected as Student Body president—he had been disqualified (because he was seeing a psychiatrist?) and we campaigned for a write-in vote. We passed out Sen-sen (a popular breath-freshener of the time to which Gordon pretended to be addicted, this being the mock reason for his disqualification) along with tags reading “Sen-sen For the Masses.” I wrote the campaign literature—for one, a parody of Charles Erskine Scott Wood’s “Heavenly Discourses” in which famous literary figures converse with God—then a favorite book of mine—and Stephen wrote a parody of Lewis Carroll’s “Hunting of the Snark,” which he could recite from memory. We printed these on a reproducing machine (pre-Xerox—it used stencils) in the basement of a nearby church, and passed them out on the Berkeley High campus. The campaign was its own reward; the handsome campus football hero (Scott George, as I remember) was elected as expected.

Of Stephen’s stories about his early, Yangzhou years, I remember only one, and that is a version of a generic story about foreigners in China. His mother, as he related it, lost her way while walking in the countryside outside the city, and stopped two farmers to ask them which road to take—speaking in her near-perfect Yangzhou dialect. They reacted by waving their hands before their faces and otherwise indicating that they couldn’t understand her. She persisted, and finally, annoyed, began to curse them out in Yangzhou swear words, which she had also learned. At last one of them turned to the other and said: “You know, this foreign speech isn’t so hard after all—if you listen to it for a while, you begin to understand it!” As I say, this is a generic story, which may well never have happened, but it’s a good one.

Stephen and I, after graduating from Berkeley High, enrolled in U.C. Berkeley, only a few blocks away. We were immediately drawn into the Freshman-Sophomore Brawl activities, to which our contribution was to hang a 40-foot sign down the front face of the Campanile, with the words (the Freshman motto) “46 STINKS.” (We must have been the class of ’47?) This took some planning and maneuvering—a friend of ours, a Berkeley High classmate named Leonie Logan, played the campanile bells and was able to let us in. The sign remained hanging there, very visible, for some hours before being taken down, and was written up with a photo in the Daily Cal, so in that sense we were successful. Shortly after coming down, however, we were captured by a group of Sophomores and given the close haircuts they administered to opposing Freshmen. (When, in later years, I walked on Campanile Way as a professor and saw misguided students hanging signs from the open upper storey of the Campanile where the bells are—the wrong way, because the sign can become entangled with the hands of the clock—I felt like going to them and saying, “No, no, you hang it from the window below the clock…” But I never did.)

We both got jobs working in the library, and spent some of our time, by Stephen’s contrivance, finding ways to get into locked and supposedly inaccessible areas—sometimes by climbing precariously down window-wells. We were book shelvers, and occupied our time memorizing verses, Gilbert & Sullivan songs, and the like. And we worked together on other projects, such as the sign-altering one. To fill that in: it was a common prank then, and still is. At its lowest level, signs reading “TO LET”, i.e. “For Sale,” are given a perpendicular line down the center to make them TOILET. DON’T PARK’ became DON’T BARK”  by the addition of a single curved mark—and so forth. The music building sign reading BAND ROOM was easily altered to BAWDY ROOM, and stayed that way for years. Later Berkeley sign-altering was political: many STOP signs became STOP WAR. (Just to conclude: the sign near our house could be changed to a different admonition by the addition of two punctuation marks: “DO NOT DUMP, REFUSE!.” I’m happy to report that my son Benedict, when I talked of this project, immediately thought of that. Well-raised young man.)

Back to Stephen Green: later, after I had seen The Third Man, I used to refer to him as the Harry Lime to my Holly Martin: the boyhood friend who always had the exciting ideas, some on the edge of being dangerous, who knew where and how to get things we needed to carry out elaborate pranks, who was sophisticated and a bit mysterious where I was wide-open and relatively naïve. He lived with his parents in Oakland in those early years, but came to Berkeley daily for classes, and often stopped at Duffey’s boarding house (on Hillegass Ave. a half-block east of Dwight Way—still there, #2528?) where I was living, and where I worked for my board and room. (Mrs. Duffey had been designated as my guardian by my father, who died during my last high school year.) Also living there, and my roommate, was a friend from childhood (Fort Bragg elementary school and junior high), Eugene Ainger. Eugene once waterbagged Stephen—dropped on him, that is, a paper bag filled with water from a window over the front steps as he came up them—and became Stephen’s chosen victim for elaborate pranks. Stephen had hundreds or thousands of tiny cards printed with “PRAISE EUGENE” (in green) on one side and “PRAISE HIM” on the other, and we planted these everywhere—in Eugene’s books, his clothes, his mashed potatoes (I worked in the kitchen) so that he could not move without finding one. Present-day inhabitants of the house probably still find them in the woodwork. We once, while Eugene was away, removed everything from his desk into a box, lined all the cracks in the drawers with modeling clay to make them more or less watertight, and filled them with water, so that when they were pulled out, water would slosh onto the lap of the sitter. Delivering water was the goal of many of the pranks—wetting the victim without really harming him. Here is a technique for delivering it into the lap of a diner: boarding house tablecloths are usually made of a waterproof oilcloth and hang down on each side of the long table. If diners who are “in the know” pick up the edge below them to form, together, a trough, and one of them pours water into this, it can be skillfully tilted to deliver the water into the lap of someone sitting, unaware, several seats away. . . Try it.

It was Stephen, of course, who knew how and where (at some drug store in Oakland) to purchase canisters of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, which could be sprayed onto a handkerchief; inhaled as it vaporized, it induced wild levity and laughter. It was a hit among Duffey’s boarders until Eugene, always prone to unwise excesses, inhaled too much and passed out on the floor of our room. Mrs. Duffey, finding him there, phoned the police, who took us off to the station and gave us a lecture on how laughing gas, although not harmful in itself, was a step on the way to really dangerous mind-alterers such a marijuana. . .

Stephen, being half a year older than I, was drafted into the Army first, and because of his fluent Chinese (a head-start toward learning Japanese) was sent to the Army Japanese Language School in Ann Arbor. We exchanged piles of postcards, and his, among other things, urged me to come to this school—“You don’t want to be an infantryman!…”—if I took only a single course in Japanese, he advised, and then applied when I was inducted, I would automatically be sent there. I did (the course was taught by the great Peter Boodberg, all Japanese then being away from the Pacific coast—see an earlier Reminiscence), I was sent to Ann Arbor soon after becoming a soldier—so began my career in East Asian studies.

Stephen, I learned later, stayed in the Army long enough after the war ended to have exciting times—he was assigned, because of his trilingual gifts, to a team tracking down Japanese war criminals in China. We were together for a year or so again at U.C. Berkeley in the late 1940s as undergraduates. He was not a serious student, occupied as he was with other matters that remained mysterious to me.  I remember sitting with him in a Berkeley coffee-house before a final exam for a course given by Leonardo Olschki (see Reminiscence no. 70 above), whose lectures Stephen had scarcely attended. He had me teach him a few esoteric and impressive bits of information from the course lectures and reading, which he could use in an otherwise-improvised exam essay--the reader would assume that if he knew those, he must have a good grasp of the course materials. He got a B+ for the course.

I encountered him next when I arrived in Tokyo in the Fall of 1954 as a Fulbright student. Stephen was by then working for the Fulbright Commission in Tokyo, and was living with a Japanese woman, Sumiko, whom he meant to marry—she was trying to get a divorce from an abusive husband who had left her. (But only husbands could get divorces in Japan at that time—they needed only to go to an office and sign a paper.) The divorce eventually came through, and they were married. Through Sumiko’s holdings of stock in the Sankyo pharmaceutical company, later Sankyo-Parke Davis, Stephen eventually got a high-ranking job in their Tokyo office—he turned out to have a genius for reading difficult legal and business documents in Japanese, as well as for interpreting and negotiating on a high level. During those years when I was visiting Tokyo regularly, for at least several weeks each year, he would meet me at my lowly ryokan (Japanese inn) near Kyôbashi and take me for a great evening on the town. Japanese business executives regularly entertain clients and customers (and each other) with lavish expense accounts—that is what finances much of the Ginza and other Tokyo night life--and Stephen was on that level; he also had full-time use of a black limousine with driver. So off we would go, to his favorite places, all far beyond anything I could afford in “real life.” Among those I can recall were:
- Bei Rudi, a German beerhall and restaurant (sauerkraut and sausages) in a basement near the U.S. Embassy in Akasaka, with boisterously gemütlich band music and singing.
- The Caravanserai, elegantly Arabic (in the Casablanca manner), for quieter and more refined drinking and eating.
- Mon Cher Ton-ton, a super-expensive beef restaurant where the chefs prepared cubes of tender Kobe beef on the grill before you while you drank martinis.
- a gay bar, where hosts instead of the usual hostesses sat with you and professed to be erotically attracted to you. (Neither Stephen nor I was drawn in that direction, but it was fun anyway.)
- The Utamaro, in the outskirts of the city, most lavish of the many toroko or “Turkish baths” in Tokyo, where, in a private room with tubs and steam-boxes, a charming Japanese young woman (sometimes Chinese or Korean) treated you to a prolonged, sensuous bathing that could end in more active sex if you negotiated for that. (I once, later, took Max Loehr to this place for a treat—he remembered it as “like being a child again, bathed by my mother.”)
And there were others, which have dropped from my memory. We might end up in some small bar, talking with the bartender and eating one or another of the simple late-night dishes they put before you, along with your drinks—yakisoba was a favorite, sometimes ochazuke, the tea-over-rice dish that inspires such nostalgia In old Japan hands. And so back to the ryokan still by limousine, in the morning hours, happy and tired.

Stephen still loved reciting Chinese poems, or composing them himself. His literary Chinese was far beyond mine. He had a memory for verses and songs, and would try to teach them to me—I can still sing the “Bus Girl’s Song” from an old Japanese film starring Takamine Hideko—“Inaka no basu wa, omboro-guruma. . .”

I would sometimes stay with Stephen and Sumiko, or nearby, when they lived in an apartment near ---Akabono-bashi? (near also where Cheng Chi lived.) As a government employee (Freer Gallery being part of the Smithsonian) I was issued a new PX card for each visit, and would always be taken by Sumiko out to the PX to purchase everything on the card, which ended up thoroughly punched—how many washing machines and vacuum cleaners did we buy and have delivered to their apartment? I would be invited sometimes to their parties with friends—parties to which, for entertainment, one might order by phone, much as one orders a pizza, sex performers to come and do their act on the living-room floor, watched by the guests. One ordered, as I recall, shiro-kuro or white-black for woman-man pairs, shiro-shiro for both women, kuro-kuro for two men. I twice went on weekend trips to scenic places—Nikkô, Lake Nojiri—with the two of them and a girlfriend of Sumiko’s. All this took me into areas of Japanese upper-middle-class social life I never could have penetrated otherwise.

Then Stephen retired from working with Sankyo Park-Davis and they bought a house some distance from Tokyo—in Kawagoe, as I recall. Sumiko had somehow become an invalid, semi-paralyzed, through suffering some kind of stroke, and Stephen remained devoted to her, returning there every evening from his work—now with a legal firm in Tokyo--to look after her. I saw less of him from that time; but sometimes in later years I would phone when I was in Tokyo and meet him at the Press Cub, on the top floor of a building near Tokyo Station, for dinner and talk. Still later, even those meetings lapsed into infrequent communications, and when he died, I learned of it only by chance, some time afterwards. Now I have only memories, and wonderment that someone who seemed so much more gifted than myself should end up forgotten, unGoogleable. He must survive in the memories of many others, people scattered and diverse, who could put together a great book-length collective narrative, if we could all come together and reminisce.

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