57. Japanese Gumption


There’s a man who sells shellfish in Shinsaibashi.

That is not a tongue twister; it is a simple truth. But I guess it is a tongue twister, as well, so I suppose it is possible to be both, and there may actually be somewhere a fellow named Peter who is gently twisting from branches peppers the Piper family has daily and for months meticulously brushed with seasoned brine, perhaps in preparation for Peter’s upcoming marriage to a lovely young woman named Sally whom he met through her brother, an exceptionally sibilant-capable sibling, kind and well-meaning but possessing a preternatural pride in his sister’s shell stall down at the water’s edge, so much so that he can often be seen stopping people on the boardwalk and, without preface or proem, artlessly launching into the same short, dry speech over and over again about Sally, what she sells and where, which is how, by the way, he met Peter in the first place, poor Peter bent over his heavy peck-sized basket of marinated peppers, listening to this odd, probably autistic fellow’s sterile soliloquy about his sister and her inexplicably profitable trade in, of all things, shells, and, of all places, smack dab on a shell-laden beach, all of which brings us back, sort of, to the guy who sells shellfish in Shinsaibashi, two notable differences being the guy in Shinsaibashi is selling shellfish, which are of course far more desirable than just shells, and he is selling them a great distance from the ocean, thus creating a business model miles apart from that of Sally, who apparently cannot even struggle a meter or so off the beach in order to sell her wares to people who are not literally tripping over the very things she is trying to sell on their way to and from the public toilets.

Plus, the guy in Shinsaibashi goes the extra distance and actually prepares the shellfish. The guy’s got gumption, like poor Peter out in the blazing sun frantically pulling at peppers made slippery by his family’s mystifying decision to pickle them pre-harvest, or even Sally’s mildly disabled brother out all day in front of some pretentious oceanside salt-water taffy boutique or Ye Olde Candle Shoppe, babbling on before brightly colored tourists about his beach-bound, deadbeat sister, a woman who is in contrast so startlingly lacking in gumption she is all by herself a statistically measureable drag on the economy, a woman so deficient in entrepreneurial spirit she is performing the equivalent of something even more pointless than carrying coal to Newcastle; she isn’t even doing the carrying part.

No, the guy in Shinsaibashi actually prepares his shellfish. The man’s got gumption. Initiative. Pluck. I mean, he’s not just out there on the street beside a stinking, wet burlap sack, yelling, “Asari! Hamaguri! Come and get ‘em! Two fistfuls for 500 yen! Mix and match! Akagai! Shirogai! Murugai! Baigai!”

“Wadagai!”

Huh?

“What a guy!”

Who? I asked the voice in my head that occasionally visits to keep me from getting lost down some tangent.

“The fictional character you’ve created just now, yelling out the Japanese names of shellfish at passersby.”

Right.

“Sorry for interrupting.”

Huh?

“You were saying?”

Oh, yes. I was saying.

There’s a man who sells shellfish in Shinsaibashi. Prepares them, rather, for consumption on his premises, premises which, and this is where I was initially heading before being distracted by tongue twisters, pepper pickers, soggy burlap sacks, and a voice in my head that cuts me off just before I get to the good parts, a voice that sees in the occasional tangential wandering only needless and unproductive deviation leading inexorably to distraction and gradually devolving narrative. A voice that sees nothing but pointless, sucking swampland where I see vast verdant vistas of verisimilitude over which to run free and unfettered in search of something more meaningful than the simple truth, something deeper, something indeed truer than truth. Something more unvarnished . . . less varnished . . . even more less . . . something without so much . . . you know, a shade less—

“And the fellow with the shellfish?”

Yes. Right. Sorry.

As I was saying.

There’s a guy who sells shellfish in Shinsaibashi. Prepares them, rather, for consumption on his premises, premises which, by the way, occupy a space on earth just a bit broader than the plastic sandals of the plucky chef, who has found it necessary, given the extraordinarily narrow confines of his eatery, to hang his four sole cooking utensils from hooks in the ceiling so that, depending on the direction this restaurateur turns, his face is partially obscured by a pair of long cooking chopsticks, a small stainless steel spatula, a larger stainless steel spatula, or a specially designed hook thing he uses to grab and twist sazae out of their turban shells.

Sazae

Sazae

“Sounds tough.”

Yes . . . Wait, why do you say it like that?

“Like what?”

Kind of smirky.

“Smirky?”

Yeah, like that.

“Okay look, you’ve just written about a guy who operates a restaurant that offers nothing but shellfish.”

Right.

“In Osaka, a city famous for its cuisine and infamous for its blunt, straight-talking, gastronomically hypercritical residents.”

Correct.

“In the bustling, highly competitive restaurant area of Shinsaibashi.”

Uh huh.

“And so small is this shellfish . . . restaurant—”

There, you did it again!

“What?”

The smirky—

“So small is this shellfish restaurant, the cooking utensils must be hung about the cook’s head like some sort of greasy wind chime. Do I have this right?”

You have captured the essence.

“And where might the customers sit?”

Stand

“Stand?”

Stand.

“Where might the customers . . .”

Stand.

“You’re sure?”

Yes. This is a tachigui place.

“A tachi?”

Stand.

“gui?”

Eat.

“Place.”

Right.

“And these places exist? I mean, they’re not like Sally’s autistic brother, peck-sized wicker baskets, or burlap sacks filled with rotting shellfish. They aren’t tangential fictions you make up in the search for a truer truth.”

Smirky.

“What?”

Nothing.

“So they—“

Exist. Yes, they exist. All across Japan.

“And this particular one is only slightly bigger than its chef’s sandals?”

Again, you have captured the essence.

“The essence.”

Yes, the essence.

“You may continue then. But I must urge you to keep to the topic and avoid exaggeration, hyperbole, and other such lies. I prefer nothing truer than the truth, which is true enough after all.”

Smirky.

(To be continued . . . )

tachigui-soba

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One Response to 57. Japanese Gumption

  1. mark renusch says:

    Moxi. The dude’s got moxi.

    Liked by 1 person

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