3. There is a pencil here

   (Mr. Trombone’s tale continues. Readers will notice the inclusion of a photograph in this latest installment. This photo was not in the original “manuscript” and is placed here only after much spirited discussion among staff, Mr. Kikuchi arguing that the use of such photography would acquaint readers outside Japan with the country’s cultural artifacts, thus increasing the possibility that these readers may recall facts pertinent to the case.  Mrs. Doyle pointed out that because readers outside the country would be unlikely to have any information germane to the investigation of an American missing in Japan Mr. Kikuchi’s point was moot, but here she pronounced “moot” as “mute.” Possibly believing that Mrs. Doyle was making a remark regarding his lack of participation at weekly staff meetings, Mr. Kikuchi persisted with increasing determination, and the discussion began to stray from the photograph to a dozen unrelated slights both real and imagined between these two staff members over the past seven years. It should be noted that Mr. Kikuchi’s spirited support for adding photography to the web site came as no surprise to anyone in the office, all of us having been made painfully aware of Mr. Kikuchi’s passion for photography after his photos of the Consulate’s 2004 Labor Day picnic near Yodogawa River were downloaded from kikuchi.com by a Guamanian pornographer, radically photoshopped, and sent to every U.S. embassy in the Far East, so that it was only after a stern warning not to include photos of Consulate personnel or their family that Mr. Kikuchi was finally granted the newly created position of web site photo editor. Now, without further ado, back to Mr. Trombone’s manuscript.  –Ofc. Dirkins)



I sold my motorcycle to a very nice guy who almost certainly killed himself with it not too soon after. I watched him wobble into oncoming traffic on Irving Park Road, then I walked over to the Sheridan El stop and caught a train to work. I opened to Chapter One. “Koko ni enpitu ga arimasu.” There is a pencil here. “Soko ni enpitu ga arimasu.” There is a pencil there. “Asoko ni enpitu ga arimasu.” There is a pencil . . . there. Over there. Yes, there is a pencil over there. My attention soon drifted out the El train window to watch the people eating dinner in the kitchens at the back of their apartments.

I was still on Chapter One a week later, after I had quit my job and packed everything that would fit, including a frying pan and an electric typewriter, into cardboard boxes that met exactly Northwestern Airlines’ maximum allowable luggage specifications. I was still on Chapter One as I sat on one of these boxes waiting for my friend’s 1972 Oldsmobile 98 to come sputtering into view. And then almost a day later, sitting on the same box, now bent and creased a little here and there, on a street in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, I opened the book to the last page of Chapter One. “Doko ni enpitu ga arimasuka?” Where is a pencil? Where, indeed.

I was in Japan with no home, not enough money, a vague promise of a job, and a book that was due back in a library on the other side of the planet in about a week. I was hungry and tired, and all I could talk about with the people around me was the location of a pencil that wasn’t really even there. So after eating something that was floating in something else at a place where no one sat down and the man behind the counter made me point and choose among a variety of things that had all been battered and deep fried to the point that you really had no idea what they started out as, I went to a stationery store.

Koko ni enpitu ga arimasu.

The old woman made a face like she had just bitten into a very bad pistachio. She looked up from her newspaper and saw that it was not a bad pistachio at all, but me. A warm, welcoming smile began to cross her face, and suddenly realizing my mistake I shrieked, “Doko! Doko! Doko ni enpitu ga arimasuka!

Looking back on it now, I think that it was this sudden and enthusiastic self-correction of mine that sent the woman scurrying into the back room, and not what I assumed at the time to be the exceptional Japanese customer service I had heard so much about. This would also explain why she never came back out, even after I had gone and found a pencil and waited patiently near the register for nearly half an hour.

“I figured it was the right thing to do.”

“The pencil?”

“Yeah. I mean, I figured I ought to buy something. It is a place of business, after all. It’s not right to just . . . “

photo by Kikuchi

Then a beep, and the big green phone spit out my phone card. I really needed to get my own phone. But I needed a futon first, because it turns out tatami mats are harder than they look. A futon and a pillow, and maybe the pillow first I thought, wincing at the pain that zipped along my neck as I bent awkwardly at the waist to look at the phone card sticking out of the pay phone. Hello Kitty looked back, upside down, trembling in the evening breeze.

“It’s not right to just use a person like that,” I was in the middle of telling my friend in Kyoto, which based on how quickly my phone card got spat out one would assume was about one billion miles from this Osaka pay phone. “So I left the 100 yen by the register,” I would have finished.

My friend and I had been reminiscing. Talking about the old days, back when we had just arrived in Japan. I walked back to my apartment. I had no TV or radio, and I had already finished the stack of books I borrowed from the U.S. Consulate. Then I noticed it, under an empty bottle of Kirin. Teach Yourself Japanese, overdue now three months.


(Immediately after reading this final paragraph, I took the elevator down to the Consulate library and woke the librarian out of a deep sleep, only to be accused of being a fascist when I asked for a list of the names of everyone who had borrowed a book in the past ten years. Refusing to rise to this bait, I persisted in my demand and soon learned that no such list existed, and that in fact there had been no records kept since the current librarian had been hired during the Clinton administration when the Consul General at the time mistook the new “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for a revised set of federal guidelines for job interviews. The librarian has already been scheduled for a new interview, and it has been made clear that questions will indeed be asked and he will indeed be expected to tell. Unless he is asked if he is gay, which he won’t be. Asked, that is. And if he is, he may refuse to acknowledge this. Being asked, that is, not being gay, which he may be. Gay, that is, not asked. And by “may be” I mean “allowed to be,” not “is possibly,” as I do not mean to suggest I suspect him of being gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Mr. Kikuchi and Mrs. Doyle are always quick to point out whenever the subject of my son and his roommate comes up. –Ofc. Dirkins)

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