01-21-18 Tomorrowland Au Naturel, the third of the novel’s four parts is set in Tomorrowland and unlike the other fantasy tales, the writer protagonist is not a famous writer of children’s classics but a science fiction writer of my own creation. He is loosely based on a childhood friend of mine, Peter Tomita who in real life became a well-regarded musician. But since the novel is themed around writers and not musicians, I’ve recast him as a writer of science fiction. That and I’ve given him the history of his mother, Mary Tomita, who had the misfortune of being an American citizen stranded in Japan during the whole of WWII. Even with these changes, I don’t think I can write the character without thinking of my good friend who passed away a few years back.
Each of the four stories is prefaced with a biblical quote. From the Song of Songs, here follows the quote, scene one and part of scene two for Tomorrowland Au Naturel.
The Lost Lover Found
Daughters of Jerusalem: Where has your lover gone,
most beautiful among women?
Where has your lover withdrawn
that we may seek him with you?
Woman: My lover has come down to his garden,
to the beds of spices,
To feed in the gardens
and gather lilies.
I belong to my lover, and my lover belongs
he feeds among the lilies.
Song of Songs, 6:1-3, NABRE
Toyoji Peter Tomita, a Nisei born in Torrance, California in 1936, knocked on the door of his best friend’s parents’ house. He’d come over to watch, with Sean and Sean’s older sister, Kierra, Dateline Disneyland, the park’s opening day television broadcast, this on July 17th, 1955.
“Hey, Peter. Come on in.” Sean opened the door wide.
“Surprise!” The young woman, in her mid-twenties, jumped out from the living room entrance to the foyer.
“Kierra! I thought, I mean… In your letter you said you were way too busy with your doctoral thesis.”
“Changed my mind, because: I’m never too busy to watch a momentous occasion like a live broadcast of… How should I put this? The grand opening of an amusement park.”
“Of Disneyland, if you please,” said Sean.
“You boys still devoted to every Tomorrowland episode?”
Peter smiled shyly and said, “There’s some good science on those shows. Werner Von Braun was on one, and…”
“Come on, you two,” said Sean. “We’ll hide out in the family room. Everybody else is on the patio. Nobody but us wanted to watch the show, anyway.”
“Good thing,” added Kierra. “Uncle Jack is here. He’s a little bit creepy. Dad says he’s still shell-shocked from the war.”
“I haven’t forgotten it much, either,” said Peter.
“I guess you wouldn’t have,” said Kierra. They’d walked into the family room and before Peter and Sean sat down, she said, “I’ll go get us some hamburgers and cokes.”
“Wait,” said Peter. “I’ve got some news.”
Kierra paused by the door.
“I’ve been submitting this book I’d written to publishers. Anyway, I didn’t want to say anything until, well, I guess it’s finally happening: tomorrow morning it’ll be on sale in bookstores.”
“Congratulations!” said Sean. “That’s really boss.”
“Peter, that’s wonderful!” said Kierra. “In one of your letters you said something about writing a book.”
“Yeah, I think I might’ve mentioned it.”
“What’s it about?” she asked.
“It’s science-fiction. It’s about a space traveler who collects kids made into orphans by an inter-galactic war between galactic empires.”
“Saving orphans sounds like you.”
“That part they liked in my first version, but they told me it needed a ton more action, more spaceships fighting with space weapons kind of stuff, so I rewrote it pretty extensively.”
“So,” said Sean, “Tomita Tomorrow is no longer an inter-galactic peacekeeper.”
“The hero’s name is Lance Albright,” Peter said to Kierra and then he turned to Sean, “He was never going to be called Tomita, you know that.”
“Right,” said Sean. “Kierra, when you return with the burgers, I’ll have something very interesting to show you.”
While the two O’Connells were away on their separate tasks, Peter turned on the television and tuned in to the ABC channel. The show, scheduled to start at 4:30, hadn’t come on yet. After turning a knob to receive the clearest signal possible, he started to sit on the couch but then moved over to an easy chair. Sean came in with a cardboard box in his hands. He sat on the couch with the box set at his feet. Kierra came in with a tray of hamburgers on paper plates and bottles of Cokes.
“Ah, here it is!” Sean held up a scrapbook. “What I have here is truly a collector’s edition. The very first copy of Tomita Tomorrow; Atomic commando of the Twenty-first Century.”
“First and last edition,” added Peter. “Why’d you keep that? To blackmail me in my later years?”
“Later years? Why wait? I’ll blackmail you now. I demand fifty autographed copies of your book.”
“Oh, Sean, this is so neat! You must save it,” said Kierra. “Is that your artwork?”
“Yep. Peter wrote the story and described the scenes I hand inked and colored. See, I’m Sean the Planetary Pirate, and Peter is… Tomita Tomorrow!”
“Come on, give me a break, we were just kids.” said Peter, “Hey, look, it’s starting.”
They ate their hamburgers and munched on Fritos while watching Walt Disney’s dedication speech. Amused by the mishaps and the impromptu narrations by Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, and Bob Cummings they took note of the attractions and made plans to go to the park in two weeks. Midway through the show, Kierra stood up to go get more Cokes, but froze when she faced the doorway.
“Hello, Uncle Jack.”
Standing in the doorway, holding a beer can in his hands and his face blank of any readable emotion, his presence dominated the room. He nodded to Kierra but remained in the doorway. He stared at Peter until Sean said, “Hi, Uncle Jack. This is my friend, Peter.”
He turned his stare away from Peter. “Hey, Sean.” He fixed his eyes on Peter again, silent for a long moment, and then, “My brother told me you spent the war in Japan.”
Peter nodded his head and then said, “Yeah, I did, in Tokyo, until my grandfather’s house burned down.”
“That Jap city got hit hard by the B-29s. Did you see much of what they did?”
“We sometimes heard the bombs exploding and one night we got caught in the middle of a fire bombing. Grandpa’s whole neighborhood burned and a lot of people got killed, lot of women and children.”
“That’s rough. I saw it too. Okinawa. Lot of civilians getting blown to bits. You never forget that stuff.” He raised his beer can and took a sip. “What’re you watching?”
“It’s the opening day broadcast from Disneyland,” said Kierra.
“Mind if I join you?”
They shook their heads to indicate he was welcome to sit down and watch the television show with them. An animated Tinkerbell introduced the Tomorrowland segment like she did each week. Walt Disney came on screen and read his dedication speech. He finished with, “Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals, the atomic age, the challenge of outer space and the hope for a peaceful and unified world.”
As the camera switched from Walt to a flock of Doves released from the ground and flying into the air, Uncle Jack raised his beer can and said, “I’ll drink to that.”
He didn’t say anything for the rest of the show, but the three young people began to feel comfortable enough to make light conversation during the show and even make joking remarks. At the show’s end, Peter stood to go. He glanced at Uncle Jack and said, “Nice meeting you.”
Uncle Jack got up from the couch and said, “Same here,” before turning away and leaving the room. Kierra and Sean followed Peter to the door.
“So, two weeks from now,” said Sean. “It looks like it’s going to be lots of fun.”
“Yeah, it does. Hey, you wanna go bodysurfing tomorrow morning?”
“Nah, I can’t. Gotta start a job early with Pop.”
“Okay, catch you later, then.”
“Good night, Peter,” said Kierra.
Peter started to say something to her, paused, and then just said, “Good night,” before turning and walking to his car.
Early the next morning, just after sunrise at Redondo Beach, a shark cruising the surfline attacked Peter and he bled to death from the shark’s one bite.
SCENE TWO, August 6th, 1955
“It’s wholly ridiculous the way I died,” said Toyoji Peter Tomita. “The shark is one of the most primitive animals on planet Earth. I’d always thought I’d die in a jet plane crash, or one of those.”
“There’s no need to tell me about the primitive beast, my futuristic friend,” said Jules. “I did much research of the ocean’s fauna before I wrote my Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Seas.”
A few days ago Jules Verne had introduced himself to the slightly dazed Toyoji shortly after the young man had regained consciousness in this amusement park version of purgatory, a religious state of being he’d only faintly believed in while lately attending Catholic mass with Kierra and Sean. But as Jules had pointed out, here you are, and, most importantly, here you can design your own personal dark ride. So Toyoji did exactly that and now they sat having a relaxed conversation although Toyoji was silently wishing Jules would volunteer an opinion about what the French writer had just experienced in the dark ride. Toyoji didn’t want to appear desperate for a critique, so he continued with the natural flow of the conversation.
“I liked that book. I read an English translation while I was stuck in Japan. Actually, what I wanted were more comic books to read, but I had to wait until the GIs arrived.”
“It’s a pity that you never read my book in the original French.”
“Give me a break. At the time, I was struggling to learn Japanese. It was pretty much essential to our survival. You know, the Japanese regarded Mom and me, all us Nisei, as foreigners. Mom warned me not to read American stuff in public. The one time I did, this Japanese guy started yelling at me; really blowing his top over some stupid Superman comic book.”
“Ah, yes – the Superman fantasy, it is not truly a work of science-fiction in my opinion.”
“No, I guess it’s not. No biggie. Comic books were just a kid’s way of escaping reality, which was pretty grim back then. The funny thing is: Superman spent almost all of his time fighting crime. And crime was the least of our worries. The really goofy thing… here was this genius inventor, Lex Luther, using scientifically advanced type stuff solely for criminal purposes, and to get back at Superman, of course. But never for anything useful or fun like space exploration.”
“Did this Mr. Luther invent a terrible weapon like the atomic bomb?”
“No, I don’t think he ever did. Mostly death rays and weird machines.”
“None of my protagonists ever did either, which is a way of saying I had never envisioned the invention of such a nightmarish weapon. Tell me, if I’m not bringing up a memory too unpleasant to recall, but I’m intensely curious to know: did you witness the bombing?”
“Not the atom bombs. But I’ll never forget the firebombing of Tokyo; especially the night Mom and me had to run from Grandfather’s house, run away from all the burning buildings, trying to stay ahead of the firestorm, trying to find somewhere to hide from the flames. But we couldn’t.”
Toyoji paused, lost in a certain memory. Jules waited for him to begin again.
“The next day, for miles around, all I could see were blackened ruins. That was Tokyo. I had to leave because I didn’t know anybody who lived there, not anymore – I was almost moved to Nagasaki to live with a distance cousin I didn’t even know, but I had this Japanese friend and his family let me stay with them. It wasn’t far from Tokyo, out in the countryside. I remember one time I looked up to see way high in the sky a long formation of bombers. Later I learned those were B-29s – a very modern plane at the time. In my imagination, because of the contrails, I thought the Americans had invented rocket ships and at the time I thought that was a good thing because maybe it would end the war sooner and I could get the heck out of there. I hated the way the Japanese had been treating Mom and me. I kind of hated all of them. But after the firebombing and after I’d heard about what the atom bombs did to those two cities, I felt sorry for the people, the Japanese people, especially the kids.”
“Very sad times, indeed, my friend, very sad. Well, I’m due to rendezvous with my old friend, Captain Nemo. We want to re-imagineer that ridiculous movie set. The horror. In my book, I had described perfectly well, an elegantly sleek and hydrodynamic submarine. And the movie makers ignored it. Have you seen what the movie makers did with my story? You should come with… Wait, do you see that?”
Jules pointed to the bench across from them. Toyoji could only see a bit of blurriness.
“You haven’t been in purgatory long enough to know this, but occasionally, and for very special reasons, the living are permitted to join us for brief visits. Have you ever read Dante?”
Toyoji shook his head no as he continued to stare at the ghost like blur on the bench. After the image resolved and he could make out the figure’s features, he said, “I know that girl! It’s Kierra.”
“Ah, good. This one is for you, my friend. I shall leave you to it.”
Toyoji walked over to her and stood in front of the seated woman. She looked up at him, smiled, and said, “Peter. I love seeing you in my dreams.”
“It’s not a dream, Kierra.” Toyoji sat next to her. “Remember, how you used to try to explain purgatory to me?”