Wearing a Yohji Yamamoto pigskin coat
I had a reproduction of Ren Xiong’s self-portrait on the wall of my one room apartment in Richmond. The colors were off. It looked darker. I had been trying for a long time to write something or only think something novel about the painting. I read Vinograd and Cahill writing on it. I eventually decided that I liked the self-portrait and had nothing at all to say. The self-portrait cast the artist as a jiānghú rebel, baldheaded and draped in a costume of flowing hemp robes. I think of the portrait, when I put on my pigskin Yohji Yamamoto coat. The coat was second hand. It was a gift from a friend that I worked with at one of my first jobs in Tokyo. He never wore the coat but picked it up from another collector that he met at a bar near his home in Shinjuku, a man that edits an enka magazine. The first time I put it on, it felt wrong. The coat is too long. I can feel the hem tapping the backs of my ankles as I walk. It reaches almost to the ground. The coat is heavy. It hangs from my shoulders. The wind cannot lift it. I think about working slaughterhouses. The last time was at a building shaped like a throat lozenge and made of aluminum. I think about the bath houses I went to in Dalian and the tanned backs of the laborers that bathed there. Undyed pigskin, left raw like this, feels like my own skin. The coat feels like a costume. I feel as if I am carrying it on my shoulders. I feel like Ren Xiong in his hemp robes. A poet visiting the frontier, beyond Mukden, coal dust in his teeth. Head shaved to white. The costume fits the neighborhood. The coat is old. There are scuffs on the cuffs and around the collar. I am standing against a wall in the Irohakai shōtengai. The wheatpaste art on the wall has been torn away by wind and rain. From further away, the leather looks like wet cardboard. The neighborhood was the home of day laborers and men that worked at occupations that were banished to the margins. The men that gather in the shōtengai on this day in January wear similar clothes: old and oversized and rough around the edges. The coat has a different meaning here. The men seem not to notice me. Cloak of invisibility. The men here, they don't work anymore, most of them, the men under the covers of Irohakai on a warm afternoon in winter, smoking cigarettes in the alley beside the condo block on the lot that was once home to Nodaya. I was in the shōtengai a few days before, standing at the east entrance, watching the men and a few women parading up to the kōban, scuffling lethargically with the police. Watching the demonstration felt like watching the rehearsal for a play, in an empty theater. The streets around the shōtengai were empty except for a few foreign tourists, smoking Lucky Strike Menthols and trying to figure out what they were looking at. They were standing under a sign that said: TOURIST INFORMATION. The hostel is painted flat black. I watched for a while and left. It was a cold day. Today is a cold day. I wear an old haori under the coat and Yohji Yamamoto corduroy trousers, dark brown and shapeless, a replica of a pair of 19th century French workwear product. I look like the men on the shōtengai or the men in the August Sander photographs that inspired the designer. I wear the coat with a Yohji Yamamoto sweater with a tight, stretchy weave. The clothes have nothing to do with the black blankness and asymmetry of most Yohji Yamamoto. I stand for a while and smoke a few cigarettes. I have nowhere to go.