58. Japanese Gumption II – The Archerfish

“Like when I created Eve,” his hallucination said.

“I see,” he replied, though as a lifelong Buddhist relatively unfamiliar with the fine points of Abrahamic creation mythology it was difficult to see how he really saw, but perhaps it was easier for him to lie to a god he didn’t believe in anyway, you know, like when you’re cornered at a party by a guy who’s had too much to drink and begins to share with you his unique interpretation of the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven, or explains how he’s not a racist and in fact actually prefers black women for three progressively racist reasons, or rails against what starts out as the general hypocrisy of the entire human race but soon narrows with extraordinary detail on how his roommate accused him yesterday afternoon of not having any life goals. Woke him up from a nap to do it.

“I see,” you say, and begin a slow drift towards the keg.

But this isn’t a party, and there are no prattling drunkards here. It’s a hospital operating room, and our anesthetized protagonist has been cornered by his own hallucination, begging the question, then, why. Why on earth would this Siddharthic non-creationist conjure up The Creator rather than, say, a daruma doll? I mean, what does a Buddhist know about the Bible?

daruma

To which a devil’s advocate might sneer out of the corner of his mouth, devil’s advocate-like, probably to a heavily tattooed friend on a neighboring bar stool, “how many Christians know their Bible?” And then, taking this barroom metaphor to its logical conclusion, his friend, who, let’s say, was recently released from prison after having served a 15-year term during which his ravenous though thoroughly undisciplined reading routine wandered aimlessly through everything from how-to books on drywall installation to the magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez to one rainy autumnal week a dusty lower shelf filled with works on Buddhism, would reply, “One hundred. One to hold the light bulb and . . .”

“No,” the devil’s advocate would interrupt, “I mean, how many Christians are, you know, truly well versed in Christian theology?”

And his friend, plunged into deep and apparently painful thought, would after a while venture uncertainly, “Seven?”

“No!” the advocate would, not meaning to, shout, “this is a rhetorical question,” which confused his tattooed friend, who, Malcolm X-like, had attempted to expand his vocabulary by copying out by hand the entire dictionary but, un-Malcolm X-like, was not an especially determined autodidact and quit seven pages before “autodidact.”

And it would be lovely if, Malcolm X-like, he were to be gunned down by FBI assassins, the devil’s advocate muses, having somehow become aware of, and then interjecting himself into, the private chat I am having now with readers of this manuscript. Rising to the bait, I remind Satan’s mouthpiece that the three individuals convicted of murdering Malcolm were members of the Nation of Islam, and he in turn counters with a longwinded conspiracy theory halfway through which the sleeping Buddhist’s anesthetically induced, white bearded, distinctly non-Buddhist God, who’s been waiting impatiently for this nonsense to end, clears His throat meaningfully and repeats in a loud Old Testament voice, “Like when I created Eve,” to bring my attention back to the narrative I began several paragraphs ago, and I turn back to the operating table just in time to see Him removing one neatly severed rib from a hole in the chest of the man he is the hallucination of.

Then the anesthesiologist, who it turns out is Woody Allen, pulls down his mask and leans toward a microphone that has just dropped from the ceiling. “Sex between two people is a beautiful thing,” he says to God, then, reaching over and pulling out another three ribs, “between five it’s fantastic,” whereupon the studio audience explodes into laughter, talk show host Merv Griffin drops through a hole in the floor, God and Woody Allen vanish into puffs of smoke, and the TV cameras and bright lights retreat behind the moss-colored walls of the Osaka hospital post-op room in which Mr. Fuji awakens to find it’s all been just a strange dream, all the stranger for its inclusion of an unfamiliar god, a foreign language, and a distinctly American type of standup comedy with deep roots in the country’s Borscht Belt.

All of it just a crazy dream. Well, except of course for the part about having four ribs removed, a medical procedure common among proprietors of Japan’s tachigui restaurants, a type of restaurant in this small island nation in which the customers stand (tachi) while they eat (gui), often in a space so small it is difficult to do either separately, let alone both at once, which necessitates surgical procedures such as the removal of ribs, organs, anything to free up space in establishments often no bigger than a sleeping bag, eateries so diminutive, so utterly lacking in space Mr. Fuji even had his name shortened to make room. Used to be Mr. Fujii.

Such is the awesome gumption of the Japanese small business owner, which, if gumption had weight and mass, Mr. Fuji might also have had removed along with the four ribs here or the two meters of large intestine last month.

It is this gumption, this weightless, massless ingredient in the national character, that has pulled Japan up by its bootstraps from the ashes of war, and launched it like a juggernaut onto the world stage, where it got tangled up in the curtains and mixed metaphors.

It is this moxie, if you will, that drives so many like Mr. Fuji to believe they can operate a restaurant on an expanse of land typically measured in microns, and it is this moxie, this pluck, this Bushido spirit that has inspired the stubborn short order chefs of this proud one-time empire to develop truly unique, outside-the-box, some might say lunatic, solutions.

If necessity is the mother of invention, gumption is its drug-addled cousin.

takoyaki-11

There is a fellow, for instance, in a suburb of Nagoya who prepares the area’s best takoyaki in a space so small the walls do not allow him to lift his arms above his waist. Unable then to use his hands to fill the dimpled hot plates with the chunks of octopus and thin, savory batter that make up these delicious tentacled dumplings he instead spits the ingredients with uncanny accuracy into each preheated semi-orb like some sort of dirty-aproned, land-faring archerfish.

His cheeks have over time stretched Dizzy Gillespie-like to the point where he can make two dozen dumplings before having to reload by throwing his head back and standing on his tiptoes to suckle from the bags of ingredients that hang from the ceiling like lumpy, misshapen udders.

Now that’s gumption.

Arigatou gozaimasu,” Dizzy says, inadvertently releasing a torrent of batter and bite-sized octopus bits down his front.

Dizzy Gillespie

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