A Yank, I have lived abroad for decades. My initial journey was involuntary, but thereafter I stayed gone willingly. Returned for college and later grad school, then gone again. I learned in college that “deracination” — to lose one’s roots — is how science labels the ex-pat process. Only I don’t see the process as one of subtraction, but rather addition. My roots are intact, enhanced via exposure to cultures unlike that into which I was born. I currently reside on the homeland’s periphery — Hawaii.
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written by Francis Duffy
Sometimes life comes full circle in the most unexpected ways, at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. In Francis Duffy’s short story, “Bar Kafka,” the unexpected arrives half the world ’round from where it began — along with a war and a woman.
Bar Kafka is the gripping story of Joe Nickerson’s adventures after serving in Vietnam. We travel with him from Vietnam to Japan, and after he arrives home, from Los Angeles to New Jersey. Captivated by a stalwart, seductive, and enigmatic woman, he ultimately returns to Japan… which leads to a most unexpected encounter.
This story was first published by Eclectica Magazine, Jul/Aug 2019
Read by Paul Aulridge
Q&A with Francis
Tell us about your story...
After retiring from editing nonfiction publications, I began a series of short fiction that had been surfacing like champagne bubbles (even as I edited nonfiction). They focus on a young male hitchhiking from NJ to CA with orders to war. Joe Nobody from Nowheresville, going nowhere via dead-end jobs, is prime cannon fodder. Via Selective Service targeting expendable males, he gets swept up into a war-tornado, like Dorothy’s house, on her way to Oz.
I’d published several from the “hitch series” with more planned when a friend emailed: “Nice, Duff, but when will he get to war?” Seeing her point, I task-switched ahead to a longer tale set in Vietnam and Japan. Couldn’t keep Bar Kafka under the usual 5,000 words and still detail its three main characters: Father Farrow, Michiko, and Joe. Result: 8,500 words. War-bound Joe hitching coast to coast knows not what lies ahead, but Joe in Bar Kafka has been at war for two years.
Why so long? Marines sent to Vietnam did 13 months — because the Army required soldiers to do 12 months, so, of course, Marines must exceed that. If they survived their tour, they’d not be required to return to Nam (unless they volunteered to go back).
Joe did his 13 months but thereafter declined orders to homeland bases, instead opting to stay at war via three six-month extensions. Bar Kafka shows the whys (Mitch) and wherefores (Father Farrow).
What was the inspiration for this story?
A lioness, an oddball priest in my NJ parish, and a woman known to would-be conquerors as Bitchiko.
Also patriarchy, I suppose, as that word best describes the societal ‘normal’ into which we’re all born (and schooled to obey as God’s plan for humans).
As a male born to matriarchy (barfly Dad, lioness Mom, two older sisters), it’s been obvious since grammar school that society treats females as inferior to males. Such alleged inferiority was not the case within my female-dominant family, where the only male worth imitating was Mom’s father. I should be grateful that Dad wasn’t a violent drunk. Unlike his elder brother, who’d return from dank, males-only bars Friday and Saturday nights keen to beat wife, a rite/right of patriarchy their ten kids witnessed till sons grew large enough to restrain Dad.
As a child, teen, and young adult, I hadn’t yet acquired vocabulary to label the adult behavior I observed, and wouldn’t till college. The best I could muster was, “Who died and left males in charge of everything?” What’s obvious now wasn’t then: It’s been that way since males authored the Book of Genesis, featuring God the Father, not yet God the Son, and zero chance there’d ever be God the Mother, or God the Daughter.
I also noticed patriarchy labels spunky preschool girls who resist gender-assigned roles as “tomboys,” knowing the socialization process that begins with school will force them to conform to male notions of how females should behave. If they don’t, they’ll be badgered by parents, ostracized by peers, and mocked by males.
Socialization likewise pressures boys born to matriarchy to embrace the soothing male delusion that females are a subspecies. Inferior since Eden, where Eve didn’t merit creation equal to Adam but rather was jury-rigged from his sparerib. Our species’ first female was but Yahweh’s afterthought, to serve first male created in His image and likeness.
Ergo, when males define normal, life gets rigged against females: Who did Adam blame for his choice to eat forbidden fruit? As our parish monsignor blamed Mom when she sought counseling for Dad’s daily boozing and frequent desertions.
But, you might say, that was last century. Things have changed for the better in our era. Really? Are gender bias and sexual harassment unknown in Silicon Valley? Who do incel males blame for their inability to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one?
We have female rabbis and female ministers (both can wed, if they choose), yet celibate male priests ban women from Catholic ordination—two thousand years, and women still aren’t qualified?
As with tomboys, males who deny patriarchal privilege will be ostracized, an arrow I remove from their quiver by self-ostracizing. Yes, I’ve long worked with males (and call a very few friends), but I don’t socialize with most. Especially not in boozy herds, because, “. . .when they crowd together and follow each other, they are brutes, like animals who stampede” (Gertrude Stein).
Joe describes ‘normal’ males stampeding in a war-fueled boomtown outside a US base in Japan, details of which their kin at home would rather not know.
What have you recently read that you loved?
‘Pray for Your Poor Uncle,’ a Predatory Priest Told His Victims, a July 15, 2020 New York Times piece (following 18 months’ research) by Elizabeth Bruenig re the Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse scandal. Why? Because patriarchy began with Genesis: “So God created man in his own image. . .”, with Eve made not whole but rather as a divine afterthought from Adam’s sparerib. I had short fiction published on that topic.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Unhurried mornings with wife at Starbucks on weekdays, when most are at work or school. Sans phones or newspaper, we converse eye-to-eye, and people-watch.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I adapt well to other cultures because: 1) reared in ethnically diverse NJ, and 2) novelist Tom Robbins: “Perhaps the most terrible (or wonderful) thing that can happen to an imaginative youth, aside from the curse (or blessing) of imagination itself, is to be exposed without preparation to the life outside his or her own sphere—the sudden revelation that there is a there out there.”
On the weekends I like to...
Stay home with wife, yielding Starbucks to those unable to chill there on weekdays.
Heard any good jokes lately?
Ten-minutes of Dick Gregory = howling tears.
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