The Importance of Knowing What to be Afraid of
One of the things I like best about Japan is that it’s so incredibly safe. I mean, sort of. Like, you can stumble half crocked up to the ATM at midnight, take out a couple hundred buck’s worth of yen, and then float your way to a darts bar without a care in the world. That’s a bar where you play darts, which I guess is kind of dangerous in its own right, especially after a few cocktails. But at least it’s not the U.S., where you have to barricade yourself into your house with an assault rifle, to protect yourself from everyone else who’s got an assault rifle. But you know, price of freedom and all that.
So if Japan’s not quite so free, at least it’s safe, partly because it’s so surprisingly unforgiving. Like, if you left your MacBook laying on a table in the back of the darts bar and went to talk to the pretty girl at the counter, you could be pretty sure that some dude wouldn’t dash out the door with the thing. Because in a country where showing up for work five minutes early can result in your boss tearing you a new poo hole, stealing someone’s electronics would be a one-way express ticket to sleeping in a blue plastic tent in Yoyogi park for the rest of your life. So people are honest for a reason, is what I’m saying.
Losing my Lunch
So I felt pretty good when I left my lunch in the basket of my basket-bike last week. I’d stopped by the convenience store and bought a bento box of salmon, rice, omelette, and pasta, plus this delicious pickled daikon. Man, the food in 7-11 here is tremendous, not like those nasty microwave burritos you have to eat in America. Jeez, what’s in those things anyway? Like someone force-fed chunky bean puree and Velveeta to a tortilla. Well, whatever. When I got to my desk at school, I remembered that I forgot it outside. But I figured Eh, no problemo. It’s Japan, right? No way anyone’s gonna boost a bro’s lunch out of his basket-bike basket. Plus, I was only five minutes early for work, so I didn’t want to chance it by going back outside. Best just to lay low, if you know what I mean.
So I taught my first class, and then ran out during the break to retrieve my bento box. Which had, to my great surprise, gone missing. But upon closer inspection, it turned out that it was only partially gone, as some of it was laying on the ground half-devoured and the rest chucked all over the parking lot. There was rice, pasta, and delicious daikon radish strewn everywhere, amidst shards of ripped plastic container and a plastic bag full of holes. My first thought was, What the eff? Followed closely by, It’s still good, it’s still good. Five second rule.
And as I was desperately trying to pick up the pieces of my lunch I suddenly noticed there was a gang forming a circle around me. Like West Side Story, only without all the snappy dancing. One was up on a wall, several trying to sneak up from behind, and two brazenly striding toward me, fixing me with cold, black eyes. I was like, Yeah, bring it on. Ken Seeroi backs down from no one. Well, maybe someone, but not from freaking lunch-stealing crows. Sure, they were ten times the size of any decent bird, with scary beaks that could crush plastic and talons capable of ripping to shreds the strongest plastic bag, but they’d taken my delicious 7-11 bento and destroyed it, the bastards. I intended to let them have it.
“You bastards,” I said. “Look what you did to my lunch.”
You know that’s gotta sting. But the thing about birds is, they’re surprisingly unrepentant. They didn’t do anything predictable, like say “Nevermore,” or quoth me a rhymed apology.
Sorry that we stole your bento, bento from the corner store
Ravens rave ’bout 7-11, that’s the chain we most adore
Omelette all fresh, pasta all dente, Next time, Ken, please bring some more
That’s all I wanted. Only that, and nothing more. But while that would have been cool and all, instead they just cawed and flew off, leaving me to pick up my ruined bento from around the parking lot and try to salvage what I could of the salmon and daikon. Boy, I really wished I had a rifle. Stupid un-free country.
Truck Tires, Mighty Tasty
So I told this story to my friend Lilli over dinner at an Okinawan restaurant, while eating these things called “sea grapes,” which are just like grapes, only they’re super tiny, grow in the sea, and taste like salt water. So they’re nothing at all like grapes, is what I mean. Then to cheer me up, she ordered my favorite dish, which consists of a vegetable called goya, sautéed with eggs, ham, and tofu. Goya tastes exactly like the tire off an old truck, but for some reason I like it. Probably something’s wrong with my brain. Anyway, that plus about ten beers did the trick, to the point that I forgot all about the stupid birds and felt amazingly good. So then I walked my bike home, because I’m responsible like that. Plus the chain fell off and I couldn’t get it back on.
The Two Things Japanese People Steal
Then the next day, as I was going to work, I came out of my apartment and Boom, my bike was gone. Just vanished. You know, in Japan, the only two things people steal are umbrellas and bicycles. No one knows why. It’s a Japanese thing. Well, whatever, I had to get to work, so I figured I’d deal with it later.
Then when I came home at night, sure enough, it was still gone, so I walked around the neighborhood looking for it. Man, it was probably in the river by now, I figured. People don’t litter in Japan. They won’t toss a gum wrapper onto the sidewalk, but they will heave a bicycle into the river. Again, it’s a Japanese thing. Who understands this stuff? So I knew I’d have to call the police and report it as stolen, and I sat down and started to rehearse how the conversation would go in Japanese. The whole thing was confusing and stressful, so I had a nerve-calming can of malt liquor, just to take the edge off. I knew they’d want the registration information, so I drank another can while I rummaged through the giant box of Japanese papers that serves as my filing system. Then by the time I found it, I was half plastered, so I figured I’d just call the cops the next day. Never do drunk today what you can do drunk tomorrow. That’s on the Seeroi family crest.
So the next day I came home determined to finally call the cops. Here’s how the conversation would go, according to my imagination.
“Hello, this is the Japanese police. Please state the nature of your emergency.
“Hello. Yes, my basket-bike’s been stolen. Also, some crows ate my lunch.
“I see. May I get your name please.
“Seeroi. Kenneth Seeroi.
“Okay, Ken, I’ll need your alien registration number.
“It’s ‘Seeroi,’ and what makes you think I’m foreign?
“Who are we kidding here, Ken?
“Okay, right. Don’t you want to ask when I last saw the bike or something?
“Well okay, that is a good question. So when?
“When I rode it home from the Okinawan restaurant.
“Weren’t you drinking there? Isn’t that biking while intoxicated?
“Well, not really, since I only made it half a block before the chain fell off.
“Because you were drunk?
“Yeah fine, you got me. Anyway, I clearly remember having the bike when Lilli and I said goodbye.
“And what was the last thing she said to you?
“She said, ‘Don’t you dare stop at another bar, Ken Seeroi.’
“But you did, didn’t you?
“Of course . . . not . . .”
And you know . . . well, everything was a little fuzzy. But I definitely made it home. Okay, I might have stopped at the ATM and taken out a couple hundred bucks worth of yen. And possibly I dropped by the darts bar for just one drink and wrote some sloppy emails on my MacBook before stumbling up to the bar and trying to chat up this pretty girl. After which I walked her outside and she disappeared into a taxi. Well, you can’t win ‘em all, you know. So then I went back inside and collected my laptop, had another cocktail, and then walked home musing about how safe Japan was. But I definitely took my bike with me . . . right?
Riiiiight. So now I took a little stroll over to the darts bar, and sure enough there it was, sitting forlorn and embarrassed with a terrifying red tag on its handlebars, which I promptly tore off and stuffed into the aluminum can recycling bin. So I’d basically stolen my own bike. I just thank God I didn’t report myself to the police. Anyway, since I was there, I figured maybe I’d go in and have just one cocktail, to celebrate the return of my trusty friend. And then I had a couple more and talked to the same pretty girl at the bar again, and we had a few cocktails together and she still wasn’t into me, but that was all right, because at least I safely had my bike back. Hey, one out of two ain’t bad. You gotta be grateful for the small things.