(It is with my usual misgivings that we return now to the manuscript of miscreant malcontent Eddie Trombone. –Consular Ofc. Dirkins)
After spending the first week of my two-week suspension from Joyfull English at my friend Owen’s, drinking Osaka tap water and shochu (a Japanese spirit that can be made from rice, wheat, potatoes, sugar beet, old newspapers, cats, dogs, those plastic, unbreakable pocket combs, and I suppose anything that can be broken down chemically) and watching Japanese game shows where people hurt each other very badly while others look on and do nothing to intervene and prevent injuries that are clearly foreseeable, it occurred to me that perhaps this suspension was a blessing in disguise.
For one thing, I learned that shochu in the right amount can almost completely mask the awful stench of water that has been sucked from murky, mysterious Lake Biwa, run through miles and miles of ancient pipes, and finally spat from every working valve, faucet, spigot, hose, and fire hydrant in Osaka. I also came away with a deeper sense of man’s inhumanity to man, a phrase coined by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in the 18th century but not really driven home for me until I saw one man release an oversized rubber band directly into the face of another man on Channel 8 because he didn’t know the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture.
But it was a small explosion at the back of Owen’s TV and the sudden onset of searing abdominal pain that stirred in me the sense of promise and limitless possibilities for the second week of my suspension, for even though there may have been still more to learn from continuing to watch snippets of commercial Japanese TV during what were becoming increasingly shorter periods of semi-lucidity, this was not to be, as the TV had indeed broken and several of my organs had begun to bleed from small holes made by the tap water I was mixing my flammable alcohol with, all of which meant that the great, wide world that lay outside the narrow confines of Owen’s room had with violent precipitousness become my oyster. In fact, you could see a narrow strip of that world where the walls did not properly meet the ceiling. Eyes turned hopefully toward that band of flickering fluorescent light, I considered how to best spend the glorious seven days still left to me, what challenge to take on, what mountain to climb, what river to cross.
After a nap of either 1 or 13 hours (there was no window, and Hello Kitty on the clock smiled the same at 8 am as at 8 pm), I would have bounded from Owen’s apartment if such a thing were possible. But between me and the door at the opposite end of the three-meter-long room rose the futon which had been folded and folded until it would fit into the paltry 17 centimeters that constituted the width of the apartment. The futon was stuffed in the narrow space like a hot dog, a Chicago hot dog, and I thought about Byron’s by the Sheridan El stop.
Owen looked down from the edge of the towering, multi-folded Japanese mattress.
“You Americans all cried when Kennedy was killed.”
I put my hands to my face. I had not realized I was crying.
“No, that’s not it,” I began.
“Yes. In the newspaper. You all cried. Both Kennedys. Martin Luther King, too. You Americans and your guns.”
“No. Hot dogs.”
“Just as deadly. Certainly a slower death, mind you.”
“Your American hot dogs.”
“No, no. Byron’s. I was thinking of . . . ”
“Don’t think he got that far west. Mostly went east, Byron.”
“Died in Greece, I think.”
“No, fever I think.”
And as I began to scale the great pleated tower of Nipponese bedding, Owen began stentoriously, “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.”
As I squeezed through the narrow space between the ceiling and this mighty futon spire, Owen continued with what might have been the second line of Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” but with his face pushed against the wall, sounded like, “In a corset, he was grinning and burping and cold.”
By the time he got to a bit about Galilee, I was out in the hallway. I dashed through the eerie flickering fluorescent luminescence that offered even less indication than did Hello Kitty as to the time of day, or indeed whether there even was a day or a world outside, or whether the Rapture had come and gone and had, understandably, left this particular building behind, smiling Hello Kitty clock and all. I pushed open the dark, heavy door, blinking in anticipation of the possibility of sunlight.
(What will happen to our hapless hero, Eddie Trombone? Will he make something of himself in the Land of the Rising Sun? Is there indeed a land remaining outside this door, and if so has the sun risen? Is there is a transcendent Creator who has already come and collected his believers, and has this deity left Eddie behind? Wouldn’t you?
Will the manuscript Teach Yourself Japanese ever end?
All good questions that will go answered at a slightly slower pace this month, as Mrs. Doyle and Mr. Kikuchi have abandoned their work duties during the 3-day Japanese Obon holiday, which is a sort combination of American Thanksgiving and Mexican Day of the Dead, but with heat exhaustion. –Consular Ofc. Dirkins)