French ventriloquists don’t make enough money.
I don’t know how much these uncharacteristically steady-lipped Gauls earn at the moment, but it cannot be enough to compensate for the miracle of uttering with frozen face a language normally requiring such a mighty movement of lips, cheeks, tongue, larynx, and, for one vowel, the rubbing together of vertebrae, that the caloric requirements for even a basic linguistic exchange, say, a short dialogue over the fence with a neighbor, may help explain why French food has become nearly synonymous with a high-fat, high-calorie, high-cheese diet.
Japanese ventriloquists, on the other hand—should there exist an individual possessing the level of indolent sloth that would be required to pursue such a vocation, given the fact that to speak the Japanese language otherwise, to speak it with even the slightest movement of anything above the neck, is to render any utterance incomprehensible to a native of this noble island population—in the unlikely event that such a pathetic underachiever should somewhere in this Land of the Rising Sun shuffle slowly onto a stage seeking some sort of sick societal sanction for their profligate lifestyle, this person ought not only be denied financial gain but should be immediately frog-marched (no offense to the French) into a waiting van and taken to a leaky boat for transport to a hastily prepared gulag on some disputed island uncomfortably close to North Korea, where they will find the diet of seaweed and saltwater more than sufficient to provide the energy required for even the longest of conversations in their incredibly energy-efficient language, conversations that will at any rate, in accordance with the rules one would expect at a “gulag,” not be allowed.
Now, some might find this extreme.
Perhaps. I must admit I am at the moment a bit overwrought. In my recently undertaken crusade to master the Japanese language through determined avoidance of any book, magazine, flashcard, or printed medium whatsoever, relying, in place of these stuffy, old-fashioned learning tools, on total immersion into the teeming humanity babbling all about me, I may have failed to see some of the potential pitfalls, and this itself may be the result of a fall immediately preceding my possibly hasty decision to turn my back on the world of literacy, may indeed have been caused by the unexpected drop from a height of about 30 meters in which I managed somehow to turn completely upside down while keeping my arms tight to my side, like some sort of suicidal Olympic diver, so that I might meet the pavement with the very top of my head, and then, in true Wile E. Coyote fashion, lie there beneath a shower of broken concrete that had only moments earlier been the veranda on which I stood chatting with a sociopathic prison guard from a distance of about 50 meters, if you measure from the end of the mounted gun that he had trained on me, who stood silhouetted atop a prison wall against the horribly beautiful backdrop of a petroleum fire in the neighboring town. (see previous two chapters, if you must)
Meanwhile, I have indeed immersed myself in this teeming humanity, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Maybe because it’s summer. The humidity and all. And by now you’re probably wondering what French ventriloquists have to do with all this. That’s easy.
Not the French ones, anyway. I just threw them in for contrast. Read on.
Part of my immersion strategy has been to seize any and all opportunities to subject myself to native Japanese language input of all types. So when I heard there was a sales meeting at Weakly English, formally Joyfull English, formally Happy Salad Time Hello Friend, I asked the school’s owner, Mr. Inoue if I could sit in, to which he replied, “Who are you?” I reminded him that I was a Weakly English teacher, and then he said I was using the adverbial form where I should be using the adjectival form.
“Huh?” I parried.
“See?” he replied.
“No, no. I am a teacher here. At Weakly English. I am a teacher at Weakly English.”
He looked disappointed about something.
“I heard the salesmen are having a meeting,” I continued. “I’d like to sit in.”
“What do I care?” he replied encouragingly over his shoulder as he walked away.
It was shortly after that when I began to hear voices. Disembodied voices all around me. Sitting at a steel table with a circumference only slightly smaller than that of the room it was in, my rib cage resting on its hard, unforgiving surface, I desperately scanned the faces of the three salesman pinned by the table against the other walls of the tiny room.
“Kaiwa Ginko wa nanji ni ikimasuka?”
The voices were definitely coming from within the room, but from where? I thought of looking under the table for some recording device, or perhaps a speaker with a wire leading to some device outside the room, but of course I could not get my rib cage down through narrow gap between table and wall. I felt around under the table with my foot, and came across an object that I believe was Mr. Sato’s leg because after exploring it for a bit, Mr. Sato reached under the table and took my hand. The voices continued.
“Hai. Kaiwa Ginko.”
They seemed, incredibly, to be coming from the heads of the salesmen at the table. But their lips did not move in the slightest. I studied Mr. Nakamura’s mouth. Nothing. I stared into the impassive face of Mr. Takakura. Not a twitch. I fixed my gaze on Mr. Sato’s chin. He gently squeezed my hand.
“Kaiwa Ginko ni ikanai yo.”
I thought I was losing my mind.I looked frantically from face to face.
“Daiwa Ginko deshou!”
And there followed an hysterical rush of laughter from all sides, halfway through which I lost consciousness as a result of panic-induced hyperventilation while being unable to properly breathe, pinned, as I’ve already described, against the wall by the hard-edged table, an inconvenience that may have actually saved my life by not allowing my head to fall onto the surface of that very table, but just left it bobbing like one of those dogs you see on dashboards or in back windows of older American cars.
But just before I lost consciousness, I could see from the corner of my eye a slight movement in the Mr. Nakamura ‘s Adam’s apple.
“So! So! Daiwa Ginko!” came a voice from his head.
And the laughter swelled and pulsed all about my bobbing ears.