(The Rapture not having come during Mr. Trombone’s week spent drinking shochu and watching TV in his friend Owen’s apartment, the story continues. –Consular Ofc. Dirkins)
The sun had not so much risen as it had sort of seeped up through the pavement, giving Osaka a familiar gray glow that signaled to its weary residents a new day to be, if not seized, at least faced. I stood in front of Owen’s apartment building, bathed in this concrete-colored gloaming.
I still had one week left of my suspension from Joyfull English, and before me stretched the whole wide world, its seemingly infinite opportunity, limitless promise, and somewhere between 20 and 30 bags of garbage, it being one of the two days each week when neighbors brought out their burnable trash to be collected and deposited in a landfill on top of bags of non-burnable trash that had been carefully separated and brought out on two other days of the week, one set aside for the collection of bottles and cans and the other for plastic rubbish, which together made a funny rustling/shattering noise when the bags of coffee grounds, crumpled utility bill envelopes, and pickled plum pits fell onto them from the Osaka City garbage trucks that backed up to the lip of the same gargantuan garbage grave four days a week.
I smiled as I watched a skinny, one-eyed cat fight with a crow nearly twice its size over the polished skeleton of a sanma. Anything was possible, I thought to myself as I stepped high over a pile of rotting garbage, the world was truly my oyster, and then I slipped on one. A deep-fried oyster, probably from the restaurant next door, and borne along by the oily mollusk, I slid out onto the street directly before an oncoming Number 78 bus. The bus merely grazed me though, spinning me around just in time to see the narrow, monocular feline finally pull the strand of fish bones from the powerful beak of its winged urban rival, and I knew deep down that this was an especially promising day.
And at that very moment, from within the slowly dissipating cloud of black diesel exhaust left behind by the Number 78 bus, there appeared before my eyes, bit by bit, a sign. Across the street, in a second-floor window of a purple and yellow striped building with orange awnings, a sign. It read:
And below this, an infectiously enthusiastic call to action:
Let’s Studyin’ The English Weakly Together With Us!?
At the bottom of the sign, in slightly smaller letters, one final appeal for those still on the fence, unsure, requiring clarity:
Negro BASEBALL salad? With me always fine sunshine!
The idea, explained to me upstairs by a salesman at Weakly English English Lounge and Talking Parlor who had a narrow mustache that ran just along the very edge of his upper lip and curled up at the ends, was simple: Japanese people had an “English complex” that made the formal study of English awkward, even psychologically painful. They also had very busy schedules. The answer? I started to answer, but it turns out this was just a rhetorical question. The answer, Mr. Kan continued, lowering his hand from my mouth, was three-minute English lessons.
“Packaged and sold in bundles of 700.” Mr. Kan twirled one end of his mustache between his thumb and forefinger.
“Three times 700 . . . “
“Thirty-five hours of three-minute lessons. And of course there are other conditions.”
“Individual lessons cannot be combined into a longer consecutive lesson, minutes must be used within four months from the time of purchase, weekend and holiday minutes are calculated as 30 seconds, if a teacher dies before the completion of a lesson the remaining seconds are pro-rated . . .”
“Do many teachers die?”
“Some of the teachers find the average of 200 lessons per day stressful. They seem to prefer suicide, especially given the somewhat restrictive policy regarding breaks.”
“Not really. There are always more teachers.”
Mr. Kan noticed me looking around for the source of that sound.
“It’s a drum and symbol kit the teacher uses in cubicle 137.”
“What’s he do with that?”
“I have no idea.”
“Aren’t you concerned at all with what your teachers are doing here?”
“Only if a customer complains.”
“Are you familiar with the Ministry of Education English Instruction Guidelines?”
“No, but if you hum a few bars . . .”
“Okay, that’s really irritating.”
“Where are you from, sir?”
“Me? Uh, Chicago.”
“Great town, Chicago. I spent a year there one weekend.”
Mr. Kan waited. The silence was unbearable. Then,
“Take my wife,” Mr. Kan continued, not missing a beat.
(To be, believe it or not, continued. –Consular Ofc. Dirkins)