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Thomas Wictor

A forgotten memory resurfaces

A forgotten memory resurfaces

Mom saved all my letters. I found them in a box marked “Tom’s letters,” sensibly enough. Mom didn’t always write such precise descriptions on her many, many, many boxes. Most are unmarked, or they say, “Memorabilia,” or “Photos.” Even the boxes marked “Wictor photos,” for example, have lots of non-Wictor images in them.

Tonight, in “Tom’s letters,” I discovered a note that at first someone else seemed to have penned, though it’s in my awful handwriting. Thinking about it for a while made the entire episode come roaring back.

When I was a senior in college, I bought a cheap, right-handed eight-string bass that was so neck heavy it was unplayable. I had to support the neck with my fret hand, which made it impossible to do fast runs. After several fruitless months I bought a left-handed Fender Precision bass and put the eight-string neck and hardware on it.

A great instrument, I left it in California with all my basses when I moved to Japan. The only luggage I took was a backpack. I figured I could buy whatever I wanted in Tokyo. Not so; left-handed basses were very rare. The Japanese firmly discourage left-handedness in their children. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

In Tokyo I moved in with a Japanese-American woman named “Nakamura.” We’d met at a guest house. It was a horrendously volatile relationship that ended after she became violent. She kicked once me as hard as she could, and a few nights later I awoke to find her crouching over me with a serrated bread knife.

“I could’ve cut your throat,” she said with a grin.

At the time I worked at a conversational English school. A male colleague had the worst body odor I’ve ever encountered. It was the scent of a person who hadn’t bathed in decades. And he had a girlfriend! Maybe she thought his swamp-dung-roadkill-sweat-cheese reek was endearing; maybe she had anosmia. Everyone chain-smoked around him to keep from throwing up.

Someone recommended a Swiss guy who had lots of apartments for rent. I called him and he told me about a place close to my school, which was reasonable and had a shower. Plenty of apartments in Tokyo lacked bathing facilities, so you had to go to the public baths. I’d gone to one when there was no other choice. It was a nightmare. Being naked in a crowd of naked, staring people struck some primeval phobia-nerve. It gave me the urge to do this.

I went to the Swiss guy’s apartment to check it out. He looked sheepish as he let me in.

“Now I want you to understand something,” he said. “The previous tenant had a terrible personal hygiene problem, so the room, um, stinks. But I’ve got fans going, and I’m going to wash everything, so I’d like you to see it and then come back tomorrow.”

He took me to the room, slid open the shoji door, and I was slammed with the miasma of my colleague at school. There were six giant fans going, blowing the hideous odor out the window.

“Is his name ________?” I asked.

“Yes. Do you know him?”

“I work with him.”

“Is he sick? I mean, physically ill? Like rotting with leprosy?”

“I think he just loves being dirty,” I said. “It’s a big ‘Screw you!’ to the world. I’ll come back tomorrow, and if it doesn’t stink anymore, I’ll rent it.”

The next day the room smelled fine. The Swiss landlord had scrubbed the tatami, washed the curtains, and bought a new futon. I moved in.

As this was happening, my band A Window—Steiv Dixon on guitar, Tom Hojnacki on drums, and me—had met up with a Japanese producer who said he wanted to record us, but he asked that I use an eight-string bass. I scoured Tokyo: nothing. Since there didn’t seem to be any choice, I wrote my parents and asked them to send me my homemade eight-string. There was no response for weeks.

I wrote to Tim, and he said that Mom had lost the letter, and besides, Dad was pissed off at having to send me a bass. I didn’t know what to do. My relationship with my parents was nonexistent, one of the reasons I fled to Japan for five years. But the Japanese producer was becoming impatient.

Then at two in the morning, someone rang the doorbell of my apartment. It was Nakamura. She asked if she could come in. I was afraid of her but still found her sexually irresistible. I let her in, and she collapsed on the floor in her characteristic sitting position. It always made my knees hurt to see it.


“I just had my first threesome,” she said. “I don’t wanna be bisexual!”

The woman she’d slept with was a loud, fat, obnoxious creep. Gallons of alcohol must’ve been consumed. A long talk convinced Nakamura that one drunken fling didn’t make her bisexual, and then she went home. She called the next day, and we reconciled, a bad decision for both of us. Though there was no more physical violence, we just weren’t suited for each other. Because of our histories, neither of us knew how to let go. Our biggest shared fear was loss.

Part of me wanted to suggest a threesome with a much more attractive woman, but I knew I’d be too embarrassed to go through with it.

I then wrote my mother a second letter, the one I found tonight.

Dec 12, 2023

Dear Mom:

Hi! Forgive the racist stationary; it was the only stuff available in the apartment. I don’t know what “HIPPER” means. Maybe the guy pictured is is from the HIP tribe, or maybe the misguided Japanese think it’s HIPPER to dress like a Zulu warrior. Who knows?


Anyway, everything’s fine here. Same job, different address, no live-in girlfriend anymore, but what th’ heck. I’m writing because I need something, but this time I need it badly, so you gotta send it ASAFP (AS SOON AS F________ POSSIBLE).

I wrote a letter asking you to send a bass, but this time it’s serious, so please don’t lose this letter. If you can just send the parts of the bass, that’ll be great. On the other side of the page, you’ll find a drawing of the parts I need. They’re all labeled for yer convenience, but you’re going to have to do a little mechanical tinkering.

If you’re not sure what to do, have Dad or Paul do it, but I stress: I NEED THESE PARTS. They are virtually unobtainable in Japan. See, I’ve joined a band that has been offered a recording contract, and they really want me to play an eight-string bass.


This here is my eight-string bass. I have only one, and it’s in the hard plastic carrying case with the word FENDER embossed across it. The bass has a yellowish body, and the end of the neck, called the headstock, is dark brown.

Please send, as quick as you can, the neck, the bridge and screws, and the backplate and screws. Don’t send all of the bass, and don’t send the strings (I can get more here). Please do this soon, because as I said, I have a chances to get some recording done, but I need these parts. Also, don’t remove the tuners (see above); just leave them on the headstock.

Well. I’m waiting anxiously, so please please please send these things as quick as you can. Thanks. I hope everything is okay there. Take care.


This is a photocopy of the letter. What I’m sure happened is that Dad made a copy and marched up to Tim’s house with it, swearing a blue streak, while Mom again misplaced the original. She could lose things in seconds, which is why she always bought three pairs of glasses. One by one she’d lose them all.

A couple of weeks after I sent the letter, the parts arrived. I put them on my Japanese copy of a Fender Precision, and we were ready to record.

Except that the producer had moved on to other projects. Then our drummer quit. The band never went anywhere.

Before I left Japan in 1991, I put the eight-string bass outside on “big garbage day,” the third Thursday of every month, I think. It was the day the Japanese got rid of furniture, refrigerators, and so on. I’d bought or made so many basses that I didn’t have enough shipping cases for them. Besides, the eight-string had a lot of bad memories associated with it. So I took it outside without a case and leaned it against a desk someone had thrown out.

As I walked away, I heard a noise behind me. When I turned around, the bass was gone.

I wish I hadn’t thrown it away. That was my pattern until 2011. Things that hurt me went into the garbage. Now I accept pain as part of life. Having the bass again wouldn’t bother me, any more than it bothers me to look at pictures of Nakamura or think of her. I’m glad I recovered this forgotten memory.

Maybe some left-handed Japanese kid who refused to bow to societal pressure came across my eight-string bass and couldn’t believe his luck. If so, I hope he played it for a long, long time.