The Japanese are such masters of graphics that these signs still make me anxious. When I look at them, I hear screaming, sense the tunnel collapsing, and feel panic approaching. It could be that trains scare me just a little bit.
My very first night in Tokyo, I became lost. This was long after I stopped collecting lost pet signs, so I do not think it was a conscious ploy by some residual conscience. I would like to say I was only a little bit lost (like being a little bit scared), but lost has an absolute aspect. Had it been day, I probably would not have become lost. I was on my way back to university guest lodgings from the train station about one kilometer away. There are so many little alley-like streets that I must have missed a turn. Being on a bicycle contributed. It was really dark. I cannot remember if alcohol was involved, but I think not substantially. I realized something was wrong when I came to a railway. Without crossing, I stopped to think (when confused, I find it advisable to stop and think). While pondering my certainty of not having crossed rails and visualizing where my lodgings were in relationship to the Chuo line and Kokobunji station, a train came and passed at full speed. Having such a large mass pass so close at such a speed generated a stress response. I began to contemplate my situation seriously. On a random walk, I would likely never find my lodgings, any place I recognized, or anyone who spoke English before I succumbed to starvation. I could neither pronounce nor spell the name of my host institution. With such grim realizations, I chose to carefully retrace my steps until I recognized where I may have mispedaled. Less than one hundred meters back, I saw the lit 7-11 sign just around the corner from my street. A familiar beacon of salvation in a strange dark land, a light unto the world.
That phrase reminds me of another memory I worry could be false. So far, all my dubious memories have been validated, but this one is irking me. I remember a building in downtown Portland with a lit sign “Light Unto The World,” or some such fervid phrase. This was back in the early 80s, the grim days of Reaganomics, collapsing timber industry, black and white, constant drizzle, and soup kitchens. At least that is how I remember then. The black and white nags me. It suggests a memory of a photograph more than a seen scene, but at night, colors would be absent, and I certainly would not have noticed such a beacon during the day. Beacons are for night, despair, and the lost. I even wonder as to the vantage I could have had: across the Burnside? From the Ross Island bridge? When I think of downtown Portland in the late 80s and later, it is all sunny and hip, and the Salvation Army a bygone relic. Yet when I searched for any hint of that beacon in Portland photographic history, I find nothing. I do not know what is creepier: the beacon, that there is no record of the beacon, or that I recall something that never was. If the latter is true, I should turn from these attempts at creative non-fiction and just write what I remember and call it non-creative fiction. The spontaneous generation of fiction from memory would literarily be an emergent situation.