Waste not, want not

“Oh, man” The Plain mutters.

The Plain often mutters to himself. Usually it’s about things IT related — in your short time with the firm, you’ve never seen anyone more prone to software crashing, computer rebooting or hunt-and-peck typing than The Plain.

“Oh, man” he mutters again. You hear the mutter from behind you; your attention is face-forward on your work.

“What is it?” you ask, still not turning around.

“It would seem,” begins The Plain — who, while being completely fluent in English, speaks it for some reason with a Christopher Walken-like delivery — “that I’ve gotten myself into a predicament.”

koraYou turn around. The Plain is standing behind you, looking distressed. In his hand is a stack of printouts. At a guess, you’d say around 400 pages of printouts. You immediately burst into laughter.

“Dude, what did you do?” you ask, still laughing.

“I merely intended,” The Plain responds, his face unflinchingly stoic, “to print a single paragraph of this legal document, which I had highlighted. Unfortunately, I printed the whole section.”

Your gaze flashes from The Plain’s intimidatingly large frame to the childlike look of discomfort on his face back to the stack of papers in his hands. You’re unable to control yourself and you burst into an even louder bout of laughter. The Plain eyes you a moment, and then his usually stony features melt and he’s laughing as hard as you.

“Man,” you begin, finally coming up for air, “what are you going to do with all that?”

“I’m not sure.” He eyes his bookshelf. “Put it here, perhaps?” He places the stack of papers on his shelf; it is by far larger than any of the specialized dictionaries he keeps on his shelf, which sets off a fresh round of laughter.

“Nice phone book you’ve got there,” you quip, which gives The Plain a hearty laugh.

You turn back to your work. It is a completely uninteresting piece, and you find yourself resenting the fact that you have to work overtime to proofread it. You’re vaguely aware of The Plain getting up from his desk, walking somewhere and then returning.

“Oh, man,” you hear from behind you.

“What now?” you ask, eyes still on your work.

“This is something else. Could you come here please?”

You get up from your desk, follow The Plain toward the copier. When you get there, suddenly you’re laughing so hard that you’re clutching your sides and trying not to fall over.

“Apparently,” begins The Plain, already beginning to chuckle, “I printed not just a section of the document, but the entire document.”

You eye the massive stack of printouts, completely weighing down the printout tray and threatening to start spilling onto the floor, and break into another peal of laughter.

“How many pages is this?” you ask, wiping a tear from your eye.


More laughter.

“But … this looks like more than 1,600 pages.”

“Yes. It would seem I printed it twice.”

The Plain hoists the stack of papers, dropping it onto his desk with a massive THUD that echoes through the office. The two of you giggle like schoolkids again.

“Seriously, what are you going to do with all that?” you ask when you can finally catch your breath.

“I think,” comes the thoughtful reply, “that for some time, my children will have no shortage of scratch paper.”


Having gotten such a kick last week out of the weirdness that is your coworker Mr. Balls, you’ve found yourself listening in to his conversations to see if he has any other interesting anecdotes. Or updates regarding the state of his genitalia.

Unfortunately, neither have been forthcoming.

What has been forthcoming, however, is Mr. Balls’ rather annoying overuse of the word sugee, meaning “awesome.”

Given the number of times sugee gets thrown around on any given day, there are apparently a great many things Mr. Balls finds pretty fucking awesome. And the awesome-to-any-other-word ratio gets upped even more when fellow office drone and stater-of-the-obvious The Parrot gets in on the conversation. A typical example:

gnomez“This is awesome!”
“It’s awesome, right?”
“It’s so awesome!”
“It’s pretty awesome.”

According to Mr. Balls’ strict criteria, anything that is not awesome would by default seem to be yabee, meaning “bad” (as in, having potentially damaging consequences).

“This is bad.”
“It’s bad, right?”
“It’s for real bad.”
“It’s bad, this is.”

On rare occasions, when something is really bad, the two words are combined to make sugee yabee, or “awesomely bad.”

Today, as it turns out, nothing bad is occurring. On the contrary, something must be pretty freaking incredible, judging by the number of times sugee is being used.

You’re staring at your computer, putting the finishing touches on a paragraph that’s been giving you a fair amount of grief for the past half hour. Mr. Balls and The Parrot let loose with another “Awesome!” and you sigh loudly, shaking your head. The Posture, seated in the cubicle to the left of yours, leans in toward you.

“What do those guys even do?” he asks you in English.

“I don’t think they do anything,” you reply, which gives him a bit of a giggle. Just then, the pair in question shoots off yet another “Awesome!” The Posture, who’s actually turned out to have a decent sense of humor, mimics snatching a dictionary off his shelf and punting it over the cubicle. This time it’s your turn to laugh.

Then — as if on cue — you hear Trixie the Monotone Pixie walk up, thus completing the unholy trio.

“Dude!” Mr. Balls calls out. “Look at this!”

You hear a paper rattle.


And then a female voice exclaiming:

“This is awesome!”

Mr. Balls

It is your second week at the new job.

The work is challenging, but rewarding. You find yourself once again cursing your old job, which — during the year and a half in which you were employed — was of no benefit whatsoever.

Except, that’s not entirely true.

The job itself had as much merit as a pile of dried faeces, but the bizarre folk that were your co-workers provided you with no end of entertainment. Your new job, however, pales in comparison; sure, a few people have their quirks, but there simply isn’t anyone around of the caliber you’d grown used to.

That is, until Mr. Balls decided to announce himself to the world.

You are seated at your desk, trying to wrap your head around an extremely technical piece of Japanese writing. Mr. Balls sits at the cubicle directly opposite yours, the partition between which is high enough that you’ve never actually seen Mr. Balls, only heard his voice.

ballzAnd seen his slippers.

You’re gnawing on the end of your thumbnail and staring at a page of nigh-impenetrable text when someone approaches, starts engaging Mr. Balls in conversation.

“Hey,” the newcomer begins. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much. I’ve got this weird rash thing going on, though. I’ve got like itchy-rash disease!” Short burst of laughter. “Is that even a disease?” Mr. Balls chides himself.

“A rash, huh? Where?”

“Right here. But also on my balls!”

“Your balls?!” comes the startled reply.

“Yeah, my balls! Look!”

“Dude, I don’t want to see your balls!”

“No, not my balls! Here. Look.”


“I know! And it’s on my balls!”

By this point, you’re plugging your nose to hold back laughter at the sheer number of times the word kintama, or “balls,” has already been uttered in this short exchange. Just then, you hear someone else walk up.

“Hey guys,” a female voice calls out, “what’s going on?”

“Mr. Balls here has a rash — and it’s on his balls!”

“His balls?!”

At this, you’re reaching for your iPod and cranking the volume to drown out the rest of the conversation before you lose it completely.

Through the looking glass

You walk through the revolving doors that take you from the lobby of your new office to the sprawling concrete courtyard beyond.

A looped recording cautions you to be careful, as failure to do so could — regardless of the fact that the winged panes of that door revolve at a pace that would have geriatric turtles tapping their watches in impatience — apparently have dangerous results.

The area that opens up before you presents various options.

Train lines.
A sprawl of as-yet unexplored office buildings.

You opt for the last of these, feeling a twinge of something like sadness as you do so.

You hated your last job. For the last few months before you were mercifully let go, showing up to the office was little more than a formality. But you miss your co-workers, and you miss the area in which you used to work.

spurtRegardless, when applying for this job, you hoped it would be located at least somewhat closer to your current residence. And as it turned out, it was indeed closer.

Exactly one station closer.

A bit of a burn, but still, there can be quite a distance between stations … right?

You walk through the revolving doors of your new office. The recorded voice reminds you — multiple times, lest you have forgotten in the precious seconds prior to your previous reminder — that you should be walking slowly.

You descend the steps, begin walking at random … and suddenly realize you know exactly where you are.

Welcome to your new job. Same as your old job.

In that it is exactly a 10-minute walk from where you used to work.


It rubs the lotion on its skin

You’re sitting across the table from the woman who will shortly be your supervisor.

To your left, fellow new recruit The Posture sits bolt upright, clearly nervous and nodding with almost manic intensity to show that, yes, he is indeed listening to the boss. You, by comparison, are leaned back in your chair, arm at your side — not out of arrogance, but because you are completely at ease.

what1Through whatever quirk of genetics or personal upbringing, you get along almost freakishly well with Southern Belle, your soon-to-be boss; as in, the two of you were bouncing jokes off of each other within 10 minutes of last week’s job interview. Today, with employment papers to be signed, the tone is more serious, but every once in a while you’ll let loose with a zinger that gets a laugh from her and has The Posture — a straight-as-nails Japanese returnee who spent several years in the States — turning to you with a look of almost comical shock.

What are you doing?! his gaze seems to be saying. This is the boss!

The Posture is escorted out of the room to get his tour of the office, which you have already received. With you and Southern Belle alone the tone starts to get silly, alternating between what will be expected of you on the job and rather corny jokes on both your parts. Before long, there’s a soft rap on the door and Mr. All Right, the HR person, enters the room.

“Is everything all right?” he asks. “We could hear you two laughing all the way down the hall.”

Southern Belle excuses herself as the conversation switches to Japanese regarding the particulars of your new employment. Everything seems to be in order, and you sign your name on the line.

“OK, so if everything looks all right, we’ll send out the rest of the papers you’ll need before the end of the month, all right?”

“Sounds good,” you reply.

You leave the room. You thank your new boss for her time and walk outside, fresh working papers in hand. You pull the papers from their envelope, give them another once-over … and see something you hadn’t noticed before (bold added).

“John Turningpin is to receive its payment on the 25th day of each month.”

Hey, dammit!

Identity theft

You are standing at the train platform with three of your friends.

You have just concluded a tasty, multi-course meal at a nearby Cambodian restaurant run by a portly fellow who would gesture in mock anger whenever the male patrons weren’t drinking enough alcohol.

Needless to say, he was your kind of fellow.

You originally met all three of these friends at the workplace, though only one of them now remains; The Gentle Sage left to start up his own business, and Lady Mankiller temporarily exited the workforce in favor of marriage. Newlywed life seems to have made her a little more tired-looking than you remember, but you reckon she could still slay a male or two if she had to; you once saw her work an entire roomful of men with surgical — and frightening — precision.

cooktailRounding out the members of your party is Quiet Naoko, for whom The Gentle Sage organized this birthday dinner. Several more people could have been invited, but it was decided to keep things small — just the four of you, who for some reason have always gotten along. You enjoy their company, and moreover, are intensely grateful that conversations with them are completely natural, never drifting toward the dreaded, “Your Japanese is so good, English is so difficult” territory that has characterized more talks than you’d care to count.

Up until a few moments ago, you and the others had been waving goodbye to Quiet Naoko as she alone left to take a different line. Suddenly, however, a route hit you that would let all four of you take the same train.

“Hey, you’re right!” The Gentle Sage said upon hearing your suggestion, and the three of you had raced to catch up.

“But I thought…” Quiet Naoko says quietly, eyes wide and surprised.

“John Turningpin here realized we could take the same line,” The Gentle Sage explains.

This gives you a laugh. To the people of Tokyo, knowledge of the public transportation systems borders on a religion. They are obsessed with knowing where you live, where you work, what train lines you take to get from Point A to Point B, and if there is a more efficient way of doing so. You’ve seen people get into heated debates over this, pulling out their cell phones and consulting navigation software to find and defend alternate routes.

“Yeah,” you say, still grinning. “And why is it the foreigner who realized this?”

Lady Mankiller turns to you.

“John Turningpin,” she says, placing a hand lightly on your shoulder, “you’re already Japanese.”

The others nod in agreement.

And you’re not quite sure how to respond.

Four homeless men

I’ve actually been sitting on this post for the past couple days while contemplating the potential moral backlash.

It then occurred to me, however, that in a previous post, I not only insulted most of Tokyo, I capped it off with a picture of Jesus Christ flipping the bird. Thus, it would seem the moral outrage boat has already well and truly sailed. And so here goes.

Your day at work has concluded.

As usual, you feel angry and unfulfilled.

gatedNormally, both of these sentiments can be addressed by slugging down a vodka-infused chuhai on your walk to the station. Today, however, a single chuhai just doesn’t do it. You stop at a convenience store along the way and slam another. It still fails to do the trick — upon reaching your destination and exiting the train, the thought of having to transfer to yet another train makes you want to disembowel yourself. So you decide to leave the station and go get yourself a couple beers.

The weather in Tokyo has been chilly recently, and on this night, a number of homeless people have taken up shelter in the station’s underground. They line themselves up against the walls, mostly alone but sometimes in small, disconsolate-looking groups. By far the majority of them are asleep or insensate — one group, however, catches your eye. In contrast to their peers, this group of four is laughing amongst themselves, sitting side-by-side and drinking cans of Kirin Tanrei. There is nothing drunken or exaggerated about their manner; instead, it says, “At least we have friends, and — for the moment — we can toast one another.”

You walk past them, going up the stairs toward the liquor shop that is your destination. You grab a few cans, place them into your basket.

Heading back into the underground station, you again see the group of four homeless men. They have since finshed their beers, and their mood is quieter, almost introspective. You walk toward them, offer them the bag in your hand.

“Here,” you say in Japanese. One of them makes a small utterance of surprise.

There are any number of arguments for you not to do what you’ve done. But in the end, flawed as your logic may be, you’ve decided you’d rather treat these men as equals than something to be pitied.

There are four beers inside.

The man to the far left bows his head stiffly. “Sumimasen!” he says, nodding again. Contextually, the word means “Thank you,” but translated literally, it means, “I’m sorry.”

You give a small nod in return, begin walking away.

“I’m sorry!” he calls out after you. “I’m sorry!”

You board your train. You put on your headphones, slip your iPod into the pocket of your new jacket. Then — in full view of the angry-looking housewife staring disinterestedly at her book … of the cellphone-stabbing salaryman swaying crazily behind you … of pretty much anyone in the train cabin who happens to glance over at your foreign self — you’re crying a flood of hot, bitter tears.

But for some reason, only out of the left eye.

October 9, 2007

In the present, your pointless day at work has concluded.

You are walking down the street toward Shimbashi Station when a propaganda-blaring loudspeaker van comes idling up behind you. Like all propaganda vans, it is loud and gleefully obnoxious; in contrast to its brethren, however, this one is narrated not by a man but by a strange semi-male, semi-female Dalek-like voice. Despite your fluency in Japanese, you have no idea what it’s saying.

“What the heck is it saying?” a Japanese person behind you asks his friend. “Beats me,” comes the reply. You feel a bit better knowing that even the locals have no idea what the thing is blathering on about.

And then, for some reason, you recall October 9, 2007.

On that day, the black loudspeaker vans belonging to the uyoku, Japan’s radical right-wingers, had been blaring non-stop since morning. You’d decided to walk outside your office and see what all the commotion was about… to find what appeared to be every single policeman and riot policeman in Tokyo barricading every single side street as far as the eye could see. Every uniformed one of them stood at attention, batons drawn and ready, should there be any trouble from the uyoku vans.

yokuAll two of them.

To your left, a trio of riot police watched while the vans cruised slowly — very slowly — past their vantage point. As the vans inched away, one of the riot police muttered, “Y’know, we could walk after them and follow ’em.” Shrugging, they deserted their post and begin walking after the departing vans.

You quickly fell in behind them.

Your little group bravely followed the menacing duo of vans, whose occupants alternately bitched about North Korea and taunted the cops with zingers like “Are you really friggin’ protecting the wealth and welfare of we Japanese?!” Tiptoeing, you were able to peer into the louder of the two vans; inside was the driver, a young-looking fellow shouting belligerently into a microphone, and a single passenger in the back seat with his face buried into a manga.

Several blocks and loudspeaker-delivered rantings later you arrived at Shimbashi Station, which had apparently been set as the meeting point for your vans to rendezvous with five or six others. As with the previous vans, these newcomers were stuffed to capacity with a full 1-2 uyoku members. Truly a force to be reckoned with.

Having merged, the two groups of vans began trundling their way toward an intersection bustling with cars and pedestrians. It was clear that if something wasn’t done, massive congestion — if not an outright collision — was imminent. Just then, one of the riot cops sprang into action. He leapt out into the street…

And began directing traffic.

Including the uyoku vans.

If you were smart, you would have been out robbing a bank. After all, practically every cop in Tokyo at the time was busy helping the mafia out with their little demonstration.

As opposed to doing any actual fucking police work.

Yamato logic

You are seated across from your boss, trying to make sense of the situation as it has been presented to you.

do2Two months ago, you were promoted.

In the present, you are being reprimanded for not having put sufficient effort into the Excel document that charts your goals for FY09…
while being repeatedly told there is a high probability you will be laid off within the next 3-4 months.

Whatever else your weekend may hold, you’re quite certain it will revolve principally around beer and polishing your resume.

Field of view

The New Girl is staring at you.

Up until a few moments ago you’d been slurping up today’s lunch, also known as last night’s sukiyaki with a quarter bottle of Louisiana Habanero Hot Sauce poured into it. You always eat on the clock around 11:30; that way, you can spend the whole lunch hour without squandering your time doing anything else. Like eating lunch.

The New Girl is still staring at you.

angelThe office door had opened with that wretched beep-beep-beep sound it makes and in had barreled Effeminate Lone Ranger, decked out in the suit and tie that has been his outfit of choice since his recent promotion. Closely in tow had been The New Girl, dressed in conservative business attire of a conservative gray hue. Effeminate Lone Ranger had stood at the front of the room and sought everyone’s attention. Apparently he has a cold — he’s wearing one of those silly surgical masks that people here wear whenever they’ve gotten sick. Perhaps to be better heard, however, he has lowered the mask around his chin, thereby defeating the whole goddamn purpose.

“Everyone, excuse me!” Effeminate Lone Ranger had begun in that misguidedly pompous voice of his. “I’d like to introduce The New Girl.”

Ah. Introduction time.

Entering a Japanese company is, frankly, a pain in the ass. Not only does the interview process take two to three months and involve several people you’ll probably never see again, once you’ve finally entered the company you’ll be paraded around to each division, where you’ll be given the same damn introduction and required to repeatedly state your name and previous employment, as well as some obligatory modesty about how you know so little and are bound to be a bother to everyone.

Now, in the present, The New Girl is giving her own spiel.

“Hello, I’m The New Girl. My previous job entailed developer-side relations, and I’ll be working on that here as well. I’m still learning the ropes, so I hope I won’t be too much of a bother on you all. Thank you.”

With that, she concludes her introduction.

And gives you one Good. Long. Stare.

If she’s doing the introduction thing down here, it would mean she’s already done so upstairs. Meaning she would’ve seen Lanky Tom, your co-worker and fellow white devil. She should’ve been sufficiently broken in, as it were, in the foreigner department. So what’s with the stare?

Was it the double-punch, the unexpected whitey+whitey combo that took her so far aback that she just had to gawk at you?

Or maybe being hung over and unshaven just makes you look that much hotter.