Author’s Note: This is a piece about a guy called Whit. Over the past little while I have run into this guy called Whit in a couple of craft beer pubs in North and Central Kyoto. In a sense, this piece is faithful to the original intention of thekyotokibbitzer, which was to check stuff out around the local area. Naturally, “local” is a highly fungible term, which is what makes it so excellent, however it is good to get back to basics. Interested readers may also want to check out my earlier piece on my North Kyoto run-in with the musician Damon Krukowski, presently a prominent critic of Spotify’s business practices, but formerly a d*** to my face.
I met this guy called Whit at a Kyoto pub which we will call T’s. T’s is owned and operated, naturally enough, by T. T’s is a pretty nice place, although not everybody thinks T. is a nice guy. He and I though, we “rub along okay.” T likes to wear sandals. So do I. T’s sits about 20-25 and allows other patrons to sort of stand around without a seat so it can get pretty crowded. On the evening I met Whit, however, it wasn’t; there was just me at the L in the bar near the entrance, Whit and three male friends at a table, a lone female mid-bar, and a few other folks. Whit and his buddies were winding things down, and before they went to pay Whit sidled up alongside the lone female. “Genki desu ka?” he asked? Now, to fully understand what’s going on here you have to know a little about the Japanese phrase “Genki desu ka?” It translates literally to “are you cheerful?” and means in practice “are you well?” or just “how are you.” “Genki desu ka?” can and is used all the time in normal situations and is a standard Japanese greeting. It is also, however, a classic and flexible pick-up line. The pick-up artist, as well as the regular old sleazeball, is known to deliver their “genki desu ka” with a leering undertone, a knowing wink. This guy called Whit, I could see immediately, was leaning heavily into the leer.
I have no idea of how this guy called Whit would have fared with his approach if it had been allowed to develop because T himself came flying around the bar and snapped at Whit (in Japanese) “don’t talk to her, get away from her.” As a mere observer to the developing situation this seemed excessive, especially because T’s is the kind of place where fairly easy conversational congress between the sexes is not only tolerated but actually encouraged. T and his crew will proactively introduce men to women and women to men on the regular. Later in the evening, all sorts of events may transpire at T’s. So this was out of character for sure.
This guy called Whit was taken aback, and soft-pleaded with T to let him join the woman, however T was firm. “If you don’t go back to your table you will have to leave. If she comes to talk to you you can talk to her. Not before.” Again, I cannot stress enough how out of character this is for T’s, so naturally I was curious. I am not normally nosy, however when curious I can be. Whit took the L and slunk back to his table. His friends didn’t seem to have noticed the action, but I did, so I said to him, “hey man, that was pretty crazy. What did you do?” “Nothing,” said Whit, “I just wanted to talk to the lady.” “Yeah,” I said, “I’ve never seen T react that way.” “He just doesn’t like me,” said Whit, “maybe I’ll never come back here.”
Whit and his crew left shortly after and I asked T what was going on. “Whit always hits on women,” he explained, “I don’t like it.” “What about Philip?” I asked (“Philip” here being someone T and I both know), “Philip is always hitting on women too.” “Case by case,” said T, “case by case.” Case by case arguments are very hard to rebut as they index in advance their non-adherence to norms of “fairness” or “consistency.” Also, I knew nothing about Whit and was in no way invested in manning his corner. T and Whit have a history, I supposed, and T would not kick a customer out just because. Such was my first meeting with this guy called Whit.
Not long after this first meeting I was with a friend at a pub we will call K’s, which is in Central Kyoto. K’s is smaller than T’s, seating only about 8-10 inside with some flexible outdoor space as well. Unlike T’s, at K’s there is not much flirting and the like as the space just doesn’t really allow for it. I was there with a buddy and who should come in but this guy called Whit. Now I didn’t mention that at T’s Whit had an American accent. (I later learned he is from Philadelphia by way of San Fransciso.) However he rolled into K’s rocking a full-on British accent, and not a bad one at that. He was standing right next to me, and I did a double take. “That’s that guy called Whit,” I thought, “but it can’t be, Whit’s American.” I looked again. Definitely Whit.
So I asked him, “hey guy called Whit, what’s with the British accent?” He slipped back to his American accent, “oh yeah mate, that’s just something I do sometimes.” OK. We chatted a bit and it was clear that he didn’t recognize me. I reminded him of our meeting at T’s, and he recalled the incident. But I could tell he wouldn’t remember my name next time. He left K‘s after one beer.
My buddy hadn’t met this guy called Whit before, however I had already told him the story of his getting s***canned at T’s. “That was the guy,” I told him, “that guy called Whit.” “What was with the British accent?”my buddy asked. “I don’t know, some kind of affectation. Maybe he lays it on when he tries to pick up women.” Just a guess on my part, however a good guess considering later events.
A few weeks later I was at a pub we will call M’s, also in North Kyoto with another friend we shall call “Philippe” in order to easily differentiate him from “Philip.” It was just before seven in the evening, when who should walk in but that guy called Whit with none other than the newly appointed United States Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and his wife Ann. They just strolled on in and it was clear that Whit was somehow chaperoning them. I stared over at Rahm Emanuel for a bit and then said “hey there Mr. Rahm Emanuel.” Rahm Emanuel (or just Rahm, as I like to call him) acknowledged his identity and he and I started chatting. At the same time Ann was chatting with old Philippe there at the bar. Before I said hello to Rahm I wondered what on earth he was doing with Whit. And then I thought well, I know Whit doesn’t have a job, he seems to frequent pubs all the time, probably he has some money somewhere, tech money or something. Maybe he’s some kind of VC and the Rahmster has gone out of his way to meet him in Kyoto. Implausible as this scenario seemed, I didn’t know what another explanation for this threesome could be. However, I was off-base.
Had this guy called Whit in fact been a prominent VC it would have added layers to my understanding of him for certain. So I asked him, “hey there guy called Whit, how do you know Rahm Emanuel?” “I just met him,” he replied, “across the street at L’s. We got to talking and I brought him over here.” (L’s is a cocktail bar I have never been too, which is 15 feet from K’s.) It turned out that Rahm and Ann were in Kyoto en route to Hiroshima where they were to visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum with none other than the Prime Minister of Japan. In the meantime here they were, hanging with Whit. Rahm explained the situation thusly: “here in Kyoto my minders let us off the leash so we can walk around freely. This would never happen in Tokyo, because we have security around us all the time.” He seemed genuinely happy to be minderless, and was as relaxed as could be at the bar. In no time he was dropping f-bombs, dapping up the waitresses, and asking me how to say things in Japanese. Rock and roll Rahm baby.
(As promised in the title, Rahm is only supposed to have a cameo in this story, however I have to recount our brief conversation about politics. After I introduced myself, Rahm asked me “are you on the team?” I understood him to mean was I a Democrat. I replied that I was basically on the team, but that I was kind of a left libertarian. “No such thing,” said Rahm. “Well then you’re looking at a unicorn baby,” said I.)
In any case, once I had gotten a bit of a feel for my new buddy Rahm I had to fill him in on something. “Hey Rahm, you know this guy called Whit likes to go into bars and put on a fake British accent?” Rahm didn’t miss a beat as he turned to Whit and, I swear, elbowed him in the ribs, saying “did that help you score buddy? Did you get across the finish line?” Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Obama, former Mayor of Chicago, and presently the honorable ambassador to Japan, had already grasped the essential nature of this guy called Whit. And he, for one anyway, had no issues with it.
A week or so later I was back at M’s with a few people, which by this time was becoming my “regular.” They like me at M’s because I “bring exciting people.” I also behave myself. It’s a place to behave. This guy called Whit though is not the kind to simply bow down to behavioral norms. This much was already clear. Now, despite the impression this story may be creating, I do not go out drinking craft beer every night. But I do go “sometimes.” Anyway, on this evening sure enough in walks Whit. The main bar at M’s is a classic L shape and there is a table for 4-5 in the back. I like to stand in the corner near the entrance on the short part of the L. M’s sometimes gets crowded, however they always manage to fit me in. Standing bars are like that, however they also allow the bar staff a certain amount of discretion as to when to declare the bar “full.” On this day, the bar was far from full. There were at least three open seats right in the middle of the bar that were clearly unreserved. There was space. And yet, as soon as Whit came through the door the bar staff told him the bar was full-up. He looked at the open spaces, looked over at me and for the first time quasi-recognized me. “Apparently they’re full,” he said. “Apparently so,” I said. But I wanted to talk some Rahm Emanuel so I invited him into our area. Once this guy called Whit was consecrated by a trusted regular, the bar staff let it go and we chatted with him for a while. His conversation was normal-ish, it was in the general zone of normal, and yet there was something “off” about him that I couldn’t quite pin down. As before, he had one beer and said goodbye.
I) Clearly the guy called Whit’s presentation and moves violate some kind of unspoken social code in Japan. He is somehow overly “overt.” I personally have not seen him engage in anything all that out of the ordinary; I have not seen him be rude, abusive, or aggressive apart from confidently sitting next to a woman, a normal enough action in Whit-preferred settings. However, as mentioned above there is clearly something off about him, and maybe it’s just of matter of this being “scanned” by bar staff at different establishments. In other words, maybe Whit just exudes the general aura of trouble. That’s possible. Conversely, it is also possible that he has a history at a number of places of line-stepping and the reason I haven’t really seen it is because he is now “Whitted” before he even gets a chance. (Philippe coined the term “to get Whitted,” as an alternative to “to get booted” from a bar.)
II) When I connect the available data points: i) the guy called Whit never has more than one beer at a given place; ii) and yet, he talks of coming from some place and moving on to another; iii) he appears to have some money and definitely does not work; iv) he is known to affect a fake British accent, the intent of which my good pal Rahm ascertained immediately; and v) he has been Whitted or proto-Whitted from at least two establishments in short order, suggesting a wider “fact pattern,” we come up with the following theory: Whit moves from bar to bar over the course of, possibly, every evening, drinking one beer per place and “scanning” for women at each one. Whether he is some kind of sex addict, a desperate guy with disposable cash, just enjoys the act of the scan itself, or some combination of the above, this appears to be pretty much what he is up to.
III) Does the guy called Whit have any success? Does he “get it across the finish line” to use Rahm’s somewhat crude phraseology? I have no idea. Overall, I would have to say probably, as he approaches his craft with energy and doesn’t seem to be overall put out by rejection, or even outright eviction. But I just don’t know. I read a story once about a tennis player from the 1970’s from somewhere in Eastern Europe, I forget. This dude, it was said “just asks every woman he meets to sleep with him. Some do, some don’t; it’s all the same to him.” In practical terms, this is clearly a smart approach if one’s only goal is to move matters across the finish line, capaciousness here being the opposite of particularness. I once told my brother about this tennis player and he said “why that’s the (E.B.) strategy; he does exactly the same thing.” Is this the Whit approach? A large enough net must catch some fish I suppose. Next time I see him I’m going to ask him. That is, unless he gets Whitted first.
Certain names have been changed to protect the guilty.