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Saturday, Oct. 29, 2005

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Joji and the flagon: a 'Flactured Fairy Tale'


Man can learn much from myths. For example, one thing I learned from the myth of Sisyphus was never to name my kid Sisyphus.

Yet another message gleaned from that old-time rock 'n' roller is that stories and tales can often lend sense to the nonsense of daily life. It would seem, then, that an occasional fairy tale might put a little shine on the absurdities of life here in the "land of the writhing sun." With a respectful tip of a cockeyed hat to Jay Ward Productions, let's call such fictional forays "Flactured Fairy Tales."

Once upon a time there was a young Japanese lad named Joji, and his parents -- energetic examples of their efficient countrymen -- took it upon themselves to plan his entire life at birth.

The "mikan" of their eye, little Joji would begin piano, tennis and swimming lessons at age 3. Following this, he would enter the finest kindergarten in the land, which would be certain to spring him forward to success. The best elementary school would follow, then the best junior high and so on.

After graduating from the nation's premier university, Joji would enter a top-flight company and pogo up the corporate ladder until he became president. Along the way, he would marry the right girl from the right family and have 1.28 kids, whose lives he and his wife would then creatively plan to be just like Joji's. After making tons of money and paying off a 40-year mortgage, he would eventually retire and discover the ecstasy of "gateball."

But something went wrong. Specifically, English education. Oh, Joji had no trouble reading or writing English. In fact, he had these abilities hammered into him by instructors very skilled at hammering. Yet when it came to actually using English, those teachers were not so adept. Upon graduation, therefore, Joji could translate the entire works of James Fenimore Cooper without even one literary offense. But . . . he could not speak.

When faced with a foreigner, Joji's limbs would tremble, his lips would jerk and the 10,000 English terms and expression he had perfectly memorized would just as perfectly disappear. He found all he could do was chuckle with his mouth crooked and recite a tongue twister he had mastered in junior high, "Lulu loves Ricky." Which he mispronounced as, "Rooroo rubs Licky." It was all he could say.

But that did not hold him down. Per his parent's schemes, he entered and exited the finest schools and then joined Sunburn Electronics, a choice company. There he quickly caught the eye of his superiors, who promoted him along until one day he found himself in charge of international marketing.

"But . . . I can't speak English," he told his boss.

"Rubbish. You're brilliant. Your first presentation is with a Canadian buyer next week. A piece of cake. Just remember . . . the future of all of our lives depends on you."

One week! Frantically, Joji enrolled in an English conversation school to try to conquer his phobia. The teacher swish-swished into the room, asked him how he was, and Joji gulped and mewed . . . "Rooroo rubs Licky." For 90 minutes, it was all he could tell her. Every day was the same.

Desperate, he contemplated leaping in front of a train. But when he spoke his fears aloud at a ramen stand, the old crone behind the counter perused him with a yellowed eye. She then pulled out a crusty flagon from below. It contained, she swore, a magic potion.

"Take one swig before your presentation and you'll be babbling English like a movie star, guaranteed!" His face twitching with hope, Joji reached and placed his hands on the unmarked flagon.

The next day, he took not one swig, but three. Then three more to be sure. He took so many swigs he arrived late for the meeting.

Just as his Canadian guests were about to walk out, Joji burst into the room, his necktie askew and a lampshade on his head. "Canadians, eh? Well, I always get my man!" He then cartwheeled around the room while singing the Canadian national anthem. He next recited the entire Toronto phone book from memory while juggling open jars of maple syrup. "Well, do you want our product or not?" "Yes, yes," cried the Canadians. "You're fabulous! Where do we sign?"

So it went. Joji would take swigs from his magic flagon and then proceed to wow every client. Sunburn made money in buckets, and Joji -- literally staggering from success -- was pushed to bigger and bigger clients. Finally, he had a date with the biggest of all, Microsnot. Yet at that point, his luck ran out. For the magic flagon was empty.

The night before the meeting, he crept back to the crone at her ramen stand. He would pay her any price for one flagon more.

She cackled. "Silly, that wasn't magic! It was just the first bottle I laid my hands on. You had the ability all along!"

Joji blinked. He shook. And then he passed out. When he came to, he begged, "Please, more magic!"

"But there is no magic! It's only you!"

So the next day he stood before mighty Bill Goats and the boards of directors of both firms.

"Tell me, sir," Goats bleated, "exactly why we should sign with you."

With his hair disheveled and his eyelids flipping madly, Joji wrung his hands and mumbled his reply.

"Sorry, come again?"

"Can't you hear? I said, 'Rooroo rubs Licky!' " He was still shouting this when Goats took his business elsewhere.

Now Joji resides among the homeless in Shinjuku's central park. Approach him and he will wax eloquent on his fall from grace, in Japanese . . . or English.

"For too late I discovered magic flagons were on sale at any liquor store."

And these days he has no plans other than drinking them.

To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to marriedtojapan@yahoo.com


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