Introduction by Grand Journal
What is the purpose of a print publication in 2021? I was asking similar questions when I opened a bookstore in 2015. One Grand Books began as a website on which I would post, each week, a new list of ten books recommended by a celebrated figure—Tilda Swinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Bill Gates, Alice Waters—and so encourage people to discover books beyond the algorithmic ghetto of Amazon. But it soon became clear that One Grand Books needed to be a physical store, if only to scratch the particular itch I had. In a world defined by the endless scroll, by the complete and absolute availability of everything all the time, there is not only value to limits, but a thirst for it, too. Having four walls and a ceiling is like having a first and a last page. It creates a defined space, a beginning and an end, a “once upon a time,” and a “happily ever after.” It’s not that print is better than digital; it’s just different.
Grand Journal springs from the same germ as One Grand Books, and reflects the community of the bookstore, not only because it’s produced in Narrowsburg, NY but because it showcases some of the talent here, too. One of our covers is by Narrowsburg resident Jorge Colombo, an illustrator for The New Yorker. A nine-page graphic memoir was the work of bookstore regular Dasha Ziborova. Likewise, our associate editor, Aaron Fai, tapped into writers he’s befriended at creative writing programs at UCLA, UC Davis, and at the University of Oregon, as well as a community creative writing workshop series he co-directs at the Madison Public Library.
This is how “Akira Hirata” by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi came to be in our debut issue. I remember reading it shortly after it came in and laughing out loud at its cheery cynicism, the relentless hubris of its self-serving protagonist, Akira Hirata, the eagerness in which he colludes in his own undoing. The story is short and efficient, with a musicality that helps the sentences glide. We are quickly catapulted into Hirata’s clandestine affair, consummated in the banal contours of suburbia: Starbucks, Olive Garden, Applebees. The object of Hirata’s infatuation is Faye Imamura, a “Voice Talent, Multi-Instrumentalist, Children’s Media Consultant” who conjures up absurd similes for children’s voices—“a warm ectoplasmic egg-yolky yum yum”—the way wine connoisseurs talk about wine. Imamura thinks Hirata’s three-year-old daughter, Allie, could inspire the voice for a new character on the show Mo Bananafish and Chums—about an octopus who falls in love with a bagpipe.
We know quite early that this story won’t end well for Hirata, though Araki-Kawaguchi doesn’t indulge in pathos. As with Kristen Roupenian’s celebrated New Yorker story, “Cat Person,” rejection engenders rage, but of the most pathetic and impotent kind. Plus ça change.
– Aaron Hicklin
Editor-in-Chief, Grand Journal
The Life Destroying Magic of Parking Lot Sex
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“Akira Hirata” by Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi
On a playscape outside the Oyster Ridge Public Library, a woman in a dinosaur t-shirt approached Akira Hirata about recording his three-year-old daughter’s voice.
Although the woman was slight and boyish, Akira noticed a respectable snugness where the dinosaur’s face stretched over her breasts. Akira’s fingers moved unconsciously to fix his hair. The woman handed over a foil-printed business card that read, “Faye Imamura: Voice Talent, Multi-instrumentalist, Children’s Media Consultant.”
“Her voice has a newness to it,” Faye said. “A sort of warm ectoplasmic egg-yolky yum yum to it.”
“A yum?” Akira said. “I’m not sure I understand. You’re a researcher?”
“I’m an actress on television program called Mo Bananafish and Chums. I work out new characters using voices I think are unique.”
“We know that show,” Akira said, gesturing to his daughter. “Banana chum-churum, Allie.”
Allie’s wide-cheeked face looked up with a blank expression.
“Hey Seymour! Keep it down! I’m trying to count my sheeps!” Faye said loudly. She was demonstrating a voice that was part whining parakeet, a little British, a little donkey squall.
“Holy nuts!” Akira yelped. “That’s that clam on the show!”
“Scallop actually,” Faye said. “That’s me.”
“Cool,” Akira said. “You think Allie’s voice is unique? She sounds like every kid here to me.”
“Oh nope nope no dad,” Faye said. “I’ve got maybe ten thousand voices in my archive. Her voice is a five-leaf clover.”
“C’mon. No way.”
“Oh yes. Very fresh and bright. Very thickwood whistlepig. Very Egyptian gerbil. Very pygmy rabbit-esque.”
“Is your character going to be a gerbil then?”
“No. It’s an octopus who falls in love with a bagpipe.”
They exchanged details. Faye’s offer was four hundred dollars if Akira would bring his daughter to a local studio for some recording sessions.
“So this is a real thing actors do,” Akira said. “Study the voices of children.”
“That’s right,” Faye said. “You know, like a painter’s basement is chock-full of palettes.”
“Or like when a serial killer saves a little toe from every body he’s hacked up.”
“Yup, exactly like that,” Faye said.
“I don’t want this to come off rudely,” Akira said. “But how much does a cartoon voice person make in a year?”
“About 300k after taxes.”
“Jesus Christ supernova. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know. 30k?”
“It just depends on the popularity of the program. I’m lucky. I’ll see you two on Friday then.”
Faye did a little fist bump with Allie, blew it up, and then did a little robot-in-distress dance.
“See you later, Terminator!” Faye said, her voice returning to the squalling donkey-Brit.
By Saturday night, Akira and Faye were having an affair. Around nine o’clock, Akira told his wife, Mariko, he was going to Starbucks to finish some homework. Akira had been plugging away at an online Brand Strategy and Positioning certificate.
“Make us proud daddy,” Mariko said, patting him on the shoulder. “Go get it.”
And then Akira drove to meet Faye in an Olive Garden parking lot just six blocks from his home.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Akira said, a second before peeling off Faye’s t-shirt and taking one of her barbell-pierced nipples into his mouth. It was like someone was clumsily feeding him a ripe summer berry, a metal utensil clanging along his front teeth.
Faye’s skin was warm and succulent. The entire van was bathed in the smells of her shampoo and perfume. Akira was in a blackened forest of orange honeysuckle trumpets. Faye’s shining hair fell in choppy layers over his naked skin.
“Don’t sweat it,” Faye said. “I’ve done this lots of times. It gets better and better.”
The affair lasted six weeks. Akira and Faye always met in the Olive Garden parking lot and stripped down in the back of Faye’s Chrysler Town & Country. It was a surprisingly good van to have sex in.
On one occasion Faye and Akira met in an Applebee’s parking lot. But Faye felt like the energy was off, and so they carpooled over to Olive Garden. Akira was happy he did not have to spring for hotel rooms.
Akira knew making love with Faye was textbook betrayal, but a current ran through him that made him feel beyond reproach. After all, Faye had pursued him pretty aggressively. Akira believed there was a big difference between the betrayals you pursued and betrayals that fell into your lap. He was reminded of his first sexual experiences in high school, when Oyster Ridge High’s valedictorian, Samantha Hershlag, had given him a summer of blowjobs in the basement of her family’s beach house.
Had it been wrong? Samantha had been all over him that summer. True, Samantha was his swim coach’s daughter. A swim coach who had once declared, “Anyone tries something with my daughter I’ll kick your little dick off its hinges.”
On the other hand, Coach Hershlag was a laughing stock until Akira came along and vanquished every backstroke and breaststroke record in the county.
On the third hand, Samantha had been dating Channing Shriver, who had also been Akira’s childhood friend. But on a fourth hand, Channing ended up stealing Akira’s bike and trading it for a Ziploc sack of marijuana. Didn’t one or more of these details mitigate the bad behavior?
Akira had found himself stretched half-naked on a borrowed beach towel, Samantha’s warm lips sliding up and down his cock ten thousand times. Akira knew the scene would’ve horrified everyone’s parents.
But Akira was struck by a sense of impunity. He had been fifteen-years-old and a C- student. Samantha Hershlag had been seventeen and the smartest person in school. She was going to Yale to study Philosophy and Political Science. Didn’t Samantha have a superior understanding of what was acceptable? Of what was customary high school mischief? It felt like the most qualified mind was in command of the situation. The commander wanted a cock in the mouth. Akira had decided the blowjobs were beyond his control. They were somehow key in developing the attitude of this future professor or senator.
Was Akira being disloyal to Allie and Mariko? Sure. Had he told his beautiful and trusting family lies? Sure. Did he feel guilty? Sure. But at his core, did he own a mean, awful, disgusting soul?
Was Faye an awful person? She didn’t look awful. She didn’t smell awful. Akira had watched Faye give leftover pancakes to a homeless person. And after all, wasn’t Faye’s job to strike joy into the hearts of thousands of children every single day? Wasn’t Akira also a part of that work in some small way?
Akira and Faye made love exactly nineteen times. On the night of the nineteenth orgasm, Faye said she would be traveling internationally over the next month.
“Let’s take a little break,” she said. “I’ll call you when I get back into town.”
That same night, Akira presented Faye with a gift. It was a lightweight cashmere scarf of darkened cobalt.
“It was my grandmother’s,” Akira said. He stroked Faye’s neck. “She was an acclaimed singer. It’ll keep your instrument healthy.”
In the first weeks that Faye was gone, Akira began to lay the groundwork for his escape. Akira told Mariko he felt underappreciated in their marriage.
Hadn’t Akira started an Italian herb garden? Hadn’t he replaced their toothbrush mug with a Yamazaki alabaster toothbrush tower? Hadn’t he replaced the hanging toilet bowl cleaners with French vanilla candles? Other stuff too of course, but he felt like three was the correct number of examples to provide in the moment. Mariko didn’t acknowledge the efforts he made to keep their lives full of joy and vigor.
Mariko never made efforts to be desirable anymore. After Allie was born, she never wore sexy underwear again. Outside of her working hours, Mariko slipped into more Adidas tracksuits than a Russian gangster.
Was Akira wearing an Adidas tracksuit when he pointed this out? Yes he was.
But Akira only wore Adidas tracksuits in retaliation for Mariko’s utter tracksuit resignation. Akira’s tracksuits were symbolic and defiant. This is why his were the ugliest color available. Crossing-guard orange.
Akira suggested a Napa Valley getaway and couple’s counseling. He felt like all this would cushion the plummeting anvil of separation and divorce. Wasn’t it the natural progression? Disgruntled husband plus unflattering Adidas tracksuits plus marriage counseling plus impassive Napa Valley getaway equals inevitable anvil of divorce?
Two months passed and Faye did not call. Communication via text had been curt and infrequent. Akira had Faye’s work email. But he did not have Faye’s personal email or home address.
Akira began to worry. He had given notice at his job. Faye’s current salary was more than enough for both of them. And he felt he could improve her branding. Perhaps he could be Faye’s agent? Akira did not plan to be competitive about custody over Allie. If Akira was free during the workweek, perhaps he could go back to giving music lessons. His grandmother had always praised his singing voice. The grandson of the famous singer, Yuki Hirata, would turn heads. Could he even have the right stuff to become a voice actor himself? He thought about slipping the idea in passing to Faye.
Then Akira ran into Faye at a Whole Foods smoothie bar. She was ordering a mango smoothie and wearing two scarves. One was Akira’s grandmother’s.
“Faye,” he gasped. He gripped her arm from behind.
“Oh hey!” Faye chimed. “Yowza! Olive Garden! I was just thinking about you. I see your face anytime I smell breadsticks.”
“What in the fuck? I was sick worrying about you. You haven’t texted me in weeks.”
“Yes yup yup sorry about that,” Faye said. “I’ve only been back in town for a couple of days. And then I’m leaving for Dubai on Thursday. I wanted to connect, but you know.”
“But if you’re only doing voices,” Akira said, “does whomever really need you on location? The director?”
“What?” Faye said. “Oh no. This isn’t a work thing. I’m going on vacation.”
“Listen,” Faye said, kissing Akira on the cheek, “I’ll call you soon as I’m back in town.”
The next time Akira saw Faye was six months later. She was giving a talk in the Film Studies department of Oyster Community College. It was a shockingly large and spirited event. Akira guessed two hundred people were in attendance.
Akira considered confronting Faye during the Q&A. Did she know how much anxiety and embarrassment she had caused his family? Did her fans know she was a sexual predator? But once the microphone was in his hand, Akira just asked an awkwardly-phrased question about getting into the mind of a scallop.
Akira had to wait more than an hour after the event to confront her. Many parents and fans had stayed behind to ask Faye to sign t-shirts, toys, Blu-ray disc jackets. Akira had to hide behind a thorny blackberry bramble and corner Faye in the parking lot, beside her van.
“So this is the way you end things,” Akira said. “It’s real sweet.”
“I’m sorry,” Faye said. “I thought I made my intentions clear. It was my mistake. But it was always sex in a van. Isn’t that the epitome of casual?”
“Did you even think my daughter’s voice was special?” Akira asked. “You only did the one recording session.”
“Your daughter?” For an instant, Faye looked confused. “Oh your daughter! Allie! Her voice is pretty cool. Very saffron, very bourbon vanilla. Very woodchuck. I decided to go in another direction with my character though. I could tell from the initial recordings it wasn’t going to work.”
“I don’t want her voice on that garbage show,” Akira said. “It doesn’t make any sense. All those talking crabs. I could probably make my own kids show, and it would be a hundred times better.”
“Okay,” Faye said. “You’re entitled to your opinion. I’m not going to fight you on it.”
Akira didn’t let Allie watch Mo Bananafish and Chums after that. In his spare time, he wrote negative reviews about the program on IMDB, Metacritic, Netflix, Rotten Tomatoes. He badmouthed the stuffed animals on Amazon. He developed a number of different usernames and personalities to write the scathing reviews.
In closing one of his reviews, he wrote, “I also heard from a friend that the voice actress who does the clam and eel is a real asshole.”
Thirty minutes later, a new review had replaced Akira’s at the top of the feed. The new review said that they had met Faye Imamura before and that she was one of the coolest people they had ever met.