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The Hammering Heart

Still beating.

Month

July 2010

Treachery at the “Gladness Café”

Let’s pretend I posted this a month ago, when I wrote it.

Well you know, I think it’s safe to say I’ve officially reached Regular status at the Saiwai Café located in the back of the basement supermarket by the train station. They smile a little warmer at me now, they call me oniisan (literally, “older brother” but in practice, something like “buddy”) instead of calling me nothing, and waitresses go, “Have the usual today?” to which I respond “No” with ironic frequency and proceed to order something unusual. Spaghettiburgers, or a corndog with “the works”.

So here’s my new conundrum: Saiwai Café offers the amenity of a single free donut to anyone who orders coffee. It’s an attractive perk in theory, but its execution is dashed by misfortune. For you see, these free donuts are infatuated with their own oil, and hard-pressed to leave the fryer when the fryer ought to be left. We’ve all been there, hanging onto the one we think we love when that one is slowly destroying us, turning us gross and malformed. These donuts are all perpetually there, each one eventually emerging from the vat more oil than dough, an abomination of the original concept.

These wretched donuts will appear on your table whether requested or not, and I will inevitably eat them each time after thoroughly but futilely squeezing and rubbing them on my cocktail napkin, all the while thinking, “Next time I’ve got to remember to say, ‘No donuts, please.'” That next time never comes as envisioned. I’ll go back to the Saiwai Café again and again and say, “Please bring me such-and-such, please,” and then sit there with a blank grin on my face. “That takes care of everything I had to say,” I’ll add with misguided satisfaction. Then, enter the donut. “Aw, damn it.”

Yesterday I thought for an instant with great resolve that this would be the day I would finally put a stop to the donuts; if not for me, then for my various arteries. I would do it with great eloquence and finesse, without hurting the feelings of my faithful servers or marring the reputation of the establishment (Saiwai, after all, means “good fortune” or “gladness”, and far be it from me* to cause a name change (every establishment in Japan whose name isn’t a pornographic mashing of liberties taken with the English language gets massive brownie points)). I’d crammed for this shit.

Fists at the ready, planted mightily on the table, I greeted my waitress. “Hi.”

“Hi there!” she said with a womanly waft of familiarity.

“So today, here’s the deal. I’m’onna have. . .”

“Oh, not the usual today?”

“Nope. Today, gimme one of these so-called ‘Hamburg* Sets.’ And I’ll take that with a cappuccino.”

“You got it. And d’you want that cappuccino with your food, or afterward, oniisan?”

I sat and stared blankly again as her last words reverberated kinetically about my cranium. Oniisan-san-san-san. The usual-al-al-al. There was no denying it–I’d worked myself intoa rut. I was a regular, who had been regularly careless with my table instructions. There was no turning back now.

“I. . . .” I whimpered in the style of a man greeting the realization that the time has come to confess what happened in that unaccounted for summer of ’74. Just picture it: “No donuts, please,” I could have said. “For you see, even though I’ve been coming here regularly for much of the last two years, I hate them and fear they are plotting my death.” Or even if I’d been cordial, think of the implications. “I who you’ve just embraced as a brother, have invested so little trust in you oer the past thirty months that I’d rather take frequent blows to my health than admit to you that I don’t like donuts. Now don’t you feel silly about all the “brother” business?

This would be a surefire path to humiliation. This would be an impossibility. The Saiwai Café is a place for coffee and gladness. Not for treacherous donut situations. I held my tongue this time as I would continue to do subsequent times. There can be no delayed refusal of the donuts at Saiwai Café.

Bigots in Tajimi

I suppose things in Japan didn’t end up very conducive to cultural comparison, because what started with an all too short stint in the Japanese equivalent of St. Louis quickly devolved into a secluded lifestyle in the Japanese equivalent of Little Rock. At least, how I’ve always imagined Little Rock. Neither of these places have much in common with places I associate with “home” to begin with, which means Nagoya versus Washington is only as valid a comparison as St. Louis versus Washington or Tajimi versus Nagoya. Sadly, much of my opinion of life in Japan has been shaped by the constant presence of ignorant rubes in the town where I reside. Not to sound arrogant, but when part of a man’s self-introduction includes the fun fact, “America is the country I hate most,” it raises some questions about his validity as a representation of an average human being, but then those questions seem to be put to rest by the complete lack of reaction from anyone else in the vicinity.

Then you start asking other questions, like, “What other countries does he hate, and how long did it take him to come up with this ranked list?” And somewhere in the midst of all this wondering, it occurs to you that somewhere at any given time, someone in America is saying the same exact thing about some other country, and suddenly it also occurs to you that saying “I hate America” is only about as broad a statement as saying “I am American,” because really what does that mean beyond that I spent the first half or so of my life bombarded by commercials for Dunkaroos? And I’m only American by the same hand of fate that deemed another man Japanese and another man dyslexic. You’d be American too if you were me and I’d hate America too if I was born, raised, and for all intents and purposes trapped in Hickville, Japan my whole life wondering why we have to wear suits and use the English word for coffee even though it’s not an English concept, when all of these things practically swear allegiance to a country that, according to my history class, microwaved two whole entire cities without provocation while all of our nation’s strong men were out committing deeds of valor. You bet your ass I’d hate America, and probably even more than all the other countries I’d learned to hate for being uncooperative or strange or assertive. Yes, I feel that as long as man is restricted to the perspective presented by having a single physical body, he will hate other man. Woman, meanwhile, will be standing in the corner with her hands on her hips, tsking the night away.

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