21. Battleship and Onions

Addresses in the United States are arranged on a grid, like Battleship, that game “FOR AGES 8 TO ADULT” because attorneys for Milton Bradley decided that by the age of eight the company is not liable if you choke on one of the red or white markers, or manage to jam an aircraft carrier up your nose, and the marketing team figured that if you still found this game challenging by the time you were an adult, you were probably illiterate, and therefore couldn’t read the box anyway.

Battleship (archive by Kikuchi)

So 1124 West on one side of the grid and Wilson Avenue on the other brings you with great precision to the crosshairs of 1124 W. Wilson Ave. And unless you’re a Chicago police officer there on official business, or are searching for a nice place to buy crack cocaine, I suggest you take a bus to another spot on the grid.

Addresses in Japan, on the other hand, are arranged as an onion, layer upon layer, each layer bringing with it more tears and sniffling, until you are standing there on the street, head bowed, weeping uncontrollably, wondering what led you to leave your nice little grid for this land of noxious bulbs.

Addresses in Japan (archive by Kikuchi)

dohshitano?” a nice lady stopped and asked.

I held out the crumpled paper with a trembling hand and waited. After a moment, I heard the clicking sound of heels on concrete. Finally, I looked up and saw that I had been holding the paper too high for the small, kind-faced obahsan, who, despite her advanced years, had been leaping into the air trying to snatch the paper from my hand.

I bent at the waist.

Click, click, click.

I bowed lower.

Click, click, click.

I crouched.

Click . . . click. . . click.

She was beginning to tire. I knelt and slid the paper along the pavement.

She bowed and accepted the paper with both hands like they do with diplomas at graduation ceremonies in Japan. She began to read.

Hyohgo ken.

Hyogo Prefecture. The first layer of the onion dropped off.

Nishinomiya-shi.

Yeah, yeah, I knew I was in Nishinomiya City, and I began to tap my foot impatiently, nearly crushing the kind-faced woman, who dove from beneath the spreading shadow of my descending artificial leather sole.

Koshien Guchi,” she continued, catching her breath.

Another layer slid off, and my eyes began to water.

Roku chohme.

Yes, I remember writing that when Jerry read it over the phone that morning. “Six chohme.” Chohme, like a district. A district in that Koshien Guchi place. Or a section, or a block, or a . . . well, just another oily layer sliding away. I sniffled.

yon no ichi no san maru san.

4-1-303.

I burst into tears.

The kind-faced woman reached to take my hand in hers, which of course she couldn’t because her entire hand was only about the size of the tip of my pinky, but I nevertheless felt her tiny calloused fingers on one of my knuckles, which caused me to flinch involuntarily and send the poor woman skittling across the pavement into plain view of a crow flying overhead, which then began to dive, living as crows in Japan do on a diet of garbage (previous chapter), lunch boxes taken outside and left unattended for more than five seconds, and small, elderly people born during or before the Taisho Era.

I quickly snatched my tiny friend from the beak of death, and held her up before my face, close. So close that my eyes crossed.

kochi! kochi!” my tiny friend cried, pointing down the street. I set off in that direction. “Migi ni magatte!” I turned right, went as far as the next intersection, then, “Hidari ni magatte!” and I turned left.

I continued like this for about 15 minutes, holding my friend, who seemed to be actually shrinking, up near my ear so I could hear her directions. And because she could now not be seen by anyone more than 10 centimeters away, people got out of my way in a nervous hurry, which is tricky in Japan because there isn’t much “way” to “get out of,” as most streets have very narrow sidewalks, or no sidewalk at all, but rather a sort of mutually agreed upon space along which to walk, that mutual agreement being exceptionally easy to mutually agree upon, as it could only be that narrow, constantly shifting corridor between the hard, impenetrable buildings on one side, and on the other a stream of cars, trucks, scooters, bicycles, motorcycles, electric senior citizen golf carts, cats, dogs, tour buses, and occasional right-wing sound truck.

koko! koko!” And we were there. With the help of my microscopic friend, I had successfully peeled the onion, and stood now before the small, pungent core, which in this case was actually a large, brown apartment building.

I thanked the kind-faced woman, whose face was now so small I could not actually make it out, then laid the back of my hand on the pavement, allowing her to leap off my palm and onto the concrete, where I heard a sound that may have been her eensy-weensy hip breaking.

I turned around to face the apartment building, ducking to the left a bit to avoid an oncoming crow diving toward the spot just behind me where, I realized too late, I had just deposited my nano granny.

This was to be my very first children’s class (previous chapter). Few foreigners had managed to avoid this financially lucrative level of Hell for as long as me. But after nearly a year, I finally answered the Siren Call of children’s classes and steered my ship toward the rocks, this ominous apartment building, the 45 children who would soon gather here to do unspeakable things to me, to bring me to my physical and psychological breaking points, to waddle innocently over to where I sat on the tatami mat and scream with all their might directly into my ear, to sneak off to the front door and put pieces of half-sucked hard candy into my shoes, to lower their heads, run the length of the apartment and ram me in my tender regions while I stood speaking to their mothers.

“Don’t worry about those things now, honey,” my mother told me long ago when I asked if I would die one day. “You have plenty of time left.”

And it occurred to me that I did. Two hours to be precise, as I had allowed plenty of time to find this address, not realizing I would be assisted by such a kind, incredibly small senior citizen who was by then probably about halfway through the digestive tract of a crow.

Plenty of time.

(To be, for reasons that escape me, continued . . . –Consular Ofc. Dirkins)

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