Thus far, I’ve succeeded in taking out two of my four types of garbage. Trash is so fascinating to the Japanese that they’ve seen fit to divide it into four types and given each its own special day of the week for pick-up. There’s Plastic Bottle Day, Can Day, Unburnable Trash Day, and Burnable Trash Day. They even have signs printed in English explaining the concepts. And the first time I read the sign, I was like, “burnable?” Man, I’ve been camping and I know that given a big enough bonfire pretty much anything’s burnable. You can trust me, I teach English in your country and I know what “burnable” means. Now quit screwing around and let me take out my trash.
Well anyway, I finally met one of my neighbors in the hall. He’s this old Japanese guy, and I saw him as we came out of our respective apartments. So I was like, konnichiwa, and he was like, konnichiwa. And then he looks at me in fear, like what’s the white guy going to say next? So I leaned in toward him and looked him in the eye and said in Japanese, “you want some milk?” You can bet he didn’t see that one coming! Then before he could answer, I ran into my apartment and grabbed a quart of milk. Because, for some kindhearted but misguided reason, one of my co-workers had given me milk and cereal as a welcome gift. As I don’t drink milk, I’d been wondering how to get rid of it, since it doesn’t fit into any known trash category. So I explained this to him and showed him that it wasn’t expired, and he seemed rather pleased. He thanked me, then took his milk and went into his apartment and locked the door.
And then I had some beer. And because tomorrow is Can Day I figured I’d take out the expanding pile of beer cans that was threatening to overtake my living quarters. Now, one thing I like about my tiny apartment is that it requires a key to lock it, which is good, because it means that I can’t lock myself out, even while drunk. But one thing I don’t like is the feeling I get when I take out the trash and realize it’s possible to lock myself out of the entire building. So I’m outside in my slippers and shorts and no shirt, holding a bag of empty beer cans and I’m like, oh shit, tell me that didn’t just happen. And I’m looking up at my place and it’s all bright and cheery, and I’m outside and thirsty and I’ve got to teach class again in about five hours. I can see people walking by trying to look like they aren’t watching me as I test out the drainpipe to see if I can scale it and get up to my place. It’s pretty clear to me at this point that I’m either going to be arrested while climbing up the building or that I will plunge to my death in the attempt and wind up shirtless and dead in Tokyo. So I sat on the curb and thought for a while, but I could feel that old dehydrating sobriety setting in, so finally I walked back up to the building and rang the intercom and the milk guy answered. I was like, remember me? Yeah, well guess what? I’m an idiot and locked myself out of the building, so would you mind? At which point he rang me in and I went back to drinking beer in earnest and making more garbage for Can Day. Later that same evening I walked through the sliding screen door to my balcony and the screen (and nearly me) went careening down to the street. So many close calls. I don’t know why people say Japan is safe.