Posted Monday, December 6th, 2004
I was sipping tea with my husband on a rare Saturday night out when I heard the news: Atsushi had sold the Tokyo Rose and was leaving town. This marked the end of an era – no doubt for him, but also for me.
I met Atsushi when I was 19. I was desperate for a summer job. I’d already been turned down by the bagel sandwich shop, and I couldn’t go back to Aunt Sarah’s. When I called, I had trouble understanding him. I showed up at 3:30. When I arrived, he was busy arranging flowers for the night, but he sat down with me and offered me a coke while I filled out my application. Then he asked me a couple of questions. “Was I familiar with sushi?” No, but I was looking forward to learning all of the Japanese names for it (I never did) and trying everything (you bet I did). Atsushi told me about the dress code (all black) and hired me on the spot.
Atsushi was quite simply the best boss I’ve ever had. And working at Tokyo Rose not only marked quite a sexy couple of summers in my life, but was also one of the more satisfying jobs I’ve ever had. My colleagues came and went. They were almost all fantastic, and of course, they all wore black.
There was Mariah—the 26 year old, self-assured goddess. A painter, a veteran of waitressing and men. She complained to me of two half-inch varicose veins she wanted removed on the periphery of her knee. There was Edy, a Ph.D. student in archeology who had worked at Tokyo Rose for decades. She was in her thirties, craved sex constantly, and threw legendary brunches. Then there were the countless protective bartenders (all male—that was a rule—Atsushi only hired women for waitresses and men for bartenders, eventually, I’m told, that fell by the wayside, but at the time it imposed an appropriate pecking order in the world of food service) Jamie, Ravi, and Jake…
I liked working Thursday nights best. The trendiest band in town (whichever one it was at the time) had a regular gig. Atsushi gave them sushi half off on the nights they played, so they’d eat and drink before the show. By the time I had counted and reported my tips (Mariah advised me never to report more than half), wiped the tables down, and refilled the soy sauce bottles, I could drink a Sapporo and catch the second set. There were some memorable times…The time my ex-boyfriend came in with his new girlfriend. The night Dave Matthews kissed another man on the mouth. The night Dave Matthews tried to filch some beer and then make it up to Atsushi by signing his famous signature on his office door. The night I went home sick, even though the trendy band was drinking and getting rowdy and telling me I’d regret it, and I did, because they played nude.
Back to Atsushi and his tremendous skills as a boss. He had a dry sense of humor. He was harsh and loveable all at once. He would walk me to my car to make sure that I got to it safely every night. One time, some regulars – business students – came in, and I served them countless bottles of sake. At the end of the night, they left, and I collected the credit card receipt. When I saw the tip, I couldn’t believe my eyes. An $80 tip on an $80 table! The total was added correctly. I went to Atsushi. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. He was staid. He shrugged his shoulders and told me not to bother him while he cleaned up the sushi bar. Jake, the bartender, berated me for going to Atsushi. “Don’t ever do that again! Atsushi will be suspicious that you did something to earn a tip like that. Keep it to yourself next time. You don’t want him to think you are furnishing all of their drinks on the house or worse.”
A month later, before the Rose had opened for the night, I saw Atsushi and the business student (let’s hope he wasn’t majoring in accounting) crouched over the bar. Atsushi called me to his side. He asked if I remembered taking an $80 tip from this man. Yes, of course I did. The student explained that he never left that kind of tip and didn’t know how it happened. When he saw it on his credit card statement, he had to come in to revoke it. Much to my immediate disappointment, Atsushi refunded him the tip. My stomach hurt. The $80 was long gone. At the end of the night, Atsushi sat down with me. He said he wanted me to give him $30 back. He’d take the $50 hit. This always struck me as humane and fair. I never begrudged him that. After all, $30 was barely a third of my night’s earnings. And I’d be back on Saturday night to pocket another $120. What’s more, he never spoke of it again or treated me differently after that.
When I graduated, Atsushi walked by and said under his breath that he’d miss me. Later, he hired my best friend and my sister. He even sang a set of beautiful pop songs at my wedding reception. I never made it to Tokyo Rose in my grown up life as much as I wished I had…I lived on the other side of town. I no longer got the sushi discount. It became increasingly more difficult to fake intimacy with an era in my life that I’d left behind. I will forever miss those gray walls, shaded by bamboo, lit by tea lights; Atsushi’s eclectic collection of incandescent lamps, his rich and innovative desserts, his seafood chowder; but most of all, of course, I will miss Atsushi.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Russell Bittner on Tuesday, December 7th, 2004 at 6:31 PM
A lovely tribute! However, this reads very much like non-fiction. Is that what you intended?
Posted by Terrence Templeton on Thursday, December 9th, 2004 at 7:55 PM
Russell - she's talking about a job she had. That's nonfiction.
Posted by Russell Bittner on Sunday, December 12th, 2004 at 12:58 PM
Oh. Thanks for clarifying. 'Cause other than the paycheck, all of the jobs I've ever had always left me wondering: fiction or non-fiction? Truth or consequences? To work or not to work? Maybe that's why I wasn't very succcessful at keeping them for any length of time :-).
Posted by Katrina Denza on Monday, December 13th, 2004 at 9:23 AM
What a touching recollection, Jessica. He sounds like a wonderful man.
Posted by Christine Sterling on Monday, December 13th, 2004 at 3:56 PM
Great piece Jessica...i'll miss that beatles guitar!
Posted by Myfanwy Collins on Tuesday, December 14th, 2004 at 8:30 AM
Wonderful. Beautifully written, evocative and touching.
Posted by Katharine von Ter Stegge [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Tuesday, December 28th, 2004 at 9:53 PM
Great piece, Jessica! Makes me sorry I've always had an aversion to fish, seaweed, and hipsters. I missed out on part of Charlottesville by staying away from that joint.
Posted by Willie Hoffman on Wednesday, December 7th, 2005 at 12:57 PM
Yes, Atsushi was like none other. I often wondered what an album would be like with him and Bjork singing together. And I too have experienced similar Tokyo Rose moments, he let me and four other friends play live upstairs every tuesday and provided free beer or miso soup. One time he invited me to a Star Wars party and dressed like Darth Vader. And I'm sure everyone will miss the unmistakeable sarcasm spoken in hushed tones.