“My name is Eddie, and . . .”
The words caught in my throat. I closed my eyes against the blue cigarette smoke that filled the little church basement.
“I’m a . . .”
I couldn’t say it. Even with my eyes closed, I could feel everyone in the circle staring at me, so I turned my head and looked at the long folding table against the wall, and I could see the lonely tray there, empty save for some cookie crumbs and one final otabe that had already started to go hard at the edges. Next to the tray, where you would normally find the obligatory, big aluminum coffee urn, there was instead its Japanese cousin, an electric water kettle, which was surrounded by a small jar of instant coffee, a jar of something called Creap, which was either a powdered creamer or a slow-acting insecticide (it worked as both), a box of sugar packets, and a box of green tea bags.
“I’m a vitamin drink junkie,” I finally choked out.
“Konnichi wa, Eddie-san!”
“It’s been three hours since my last jolt,” I said, fingering the small, thick-glass bottle in the pocket of my suit jacket.
They waited until it looked like I was done speaking, then rejoined, “kyo ichi nichi,” which was the Japanese equivalent of “one day at a time.”
“Well, it hasn’t actually been a day yet,” I said.
After a pause and a bit of a murmur, there came a quieter, more uncertain, “Konnichi wa, Eddie-san.”
I nervously pushed down on the bottle and nearly tore a hole in the diaphanous pocket of what might appear at a great distance to be a typical Western business suit but what was actually a uniquely Japanese version of one. It was made of a material that might have actually been spider webs woven together. You could see through it when the light hit it just right. It was lighter than air. Literally. If you took it off, it would just hang there, like a day-old helium balloon.
This unusual garb was the result of Japan’s stubborn refusal to abandon the iconic Western business costume despite the fact that it was clearly un-, if you’ll forgive me, suited for a climate where summer temperatures can reach several billion degrees and humidity regularly exceeds 200 percent, conditions that cry out for the traditional jacket, tie and trousers to be replaced it with something more appropriate, say, for example, a parasol, pith helmet and penis gourd.
But the suit, like the mandatory placement on folding tables of large containers of bad coffee at 12-step meetings, were cultural artifacts had been adopted by this country. Or abducted. Snatched off the street, brought into an alley and roughed up a bit until they didn’t quite look the same, and then led quietly down the stairs into this church basement meeting, both the church and the meeting themselves being good examples of two other things that had been similarly snatched and slapped around a bit in transit.
“No, not yet a day,” I continued. “Only been about three hours,”
I stopped and gazed upwards, trying to recall exactly when I had drained the vitamin drink bottle that I had been fondling in my jacket pocket for the past 20 minutes, not at all noticing right before my eyes an incredibly accurate image of The Last Supper miraculously formed by a water stain on the low basement ceiling. Meanwhile, thinking again that I might be finished speaking, a few people mumbled “kyo ichi nichi” or “konnichi wa.” A skinny kid to my left, at the meeting for a glue sniffing problem, muttered unconvincingly, “Gambare.” Hang in there. An older woman who identified herself as “Mrs. K” when she earlier described in some detail her struggle with a pachinko addiction, chimed in with a bit of English so that I might feel more welcome. Smiling warmly, she piped, “You can do it, Mr. Eddie.”
“No!” I shouted, startling Mrs. K, who leaned forward and put her hands over her head, causing her thin frame to slip right through the back of the metal folding chair, which then folded shut and would have snapped her spine neatly in half if it had not been for the 30 years of yoga lessons she had been taking at the local community center, an accomplishment she somehow managed to fit into her previous monologue on pachinko and self-loathing. People rushed to unfold the chair and free the gambling grandmother from her metal snare.
“No, not three hours,” I continued, “It’s been closer to four now since my last vitamin drink.” I smiled proudly, absent-mindedly licking the pinky finger I had managed earlier to slip into the small, empty bottle in my pocket and extract one final drop of the caffeine and nicotine-charged “health tonic.”
Jesus looked down at me from the ceiling and, the faint sound of water running above, furrowed his brow in disapproval.
(The “diaphanous” business suits referred to by Mr. Trombone in the above post would place this portion of his recovered manuscript sometime before 2005. Since that time, while not going as far as the parasol, pith helmet and penis gourd sarcastically proposed by our wiseacre author, Japan has nevertheless gradually embraced the “Cool Biz” Campaign, a campaign most likely allied with the International Communist Movement that encourages office people to sashay about their offices during the summer months with neither jacket nor tie, thereby bringing humanity yet one step closer to an unacceptable tolerance of premarital sex, sandals without socks, and poetry that doesn’t rhyme. But as there seems to be no newspaper editor willing to print my letters, I will in the meantime continue to calmly watch the world go to hell in a proverbial handbasket. -Consular Officer Gerard K. Dirkins)