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Saturday, March 24, 2012
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Looking for work in all the wrong places
"Know of any jobs? Anything at all?"
So . . . I swallow some beer and give him my list.
Our doorbell's busted. Our front gate squeaks. Our light fixtures are chock full of dried bugs. And I haven't dusted my office bookshelves in six years.
He swallows beer back at me. And says that wasn't what he meant.
"I meant, you know . . . Jobs that pay money. Opportunities for employment. And so on."
Funny, but I get this a lot — from former colleagues, casual acquaintances or guys like this, a friend of a friend in a bar.
Maybe it's due to my years in Japan; people think I have "connections." Or maybe it's that I actually have a job and people hope I might have crumbs to drop.
Or perhaps they look at how I gulp down beer and figure the money must come from somewhere. And so they toss a simple flyer. Trying to discover if — job-wise — my glass is half empty or half full.
Answer: It's bone dry. But if I'm drunk enough, I'll answer back.
"Well . . . can you speak some Japanese?"
"Are you kidding?" He seems offended. "I can speak Japanese out my behind."
Wow. Now he has my attention.
"Listen . . . a i u e o, ka ki ku ke ko . . . And I can do it backwards, forwards and upside down. Need someone to ask what time it is? Or someone to buy some stamps? Then I'm your guy. I can handle all that stuff."
Oh. "And how's your kanji?"
"Kanji!" He almost bursts. "My kanji is sensational. I can write it with either hand. And then read it with either eye. I am, in fact, a kanji genius. I can even invent kanji. Sometimes people see my kanji and say, 'What the hell's that!?' Japanese people too! Who are born with kanji forged into their brains! And I have to teach them. That's how good I am."
"Well . . . can you translate?"
"Translate, interpret, decipher and transform. You need any of that and I'm your man. Give me a speaker of one language and I'll spit back not only what he said but also what he thought — in any other language you want — even before he thinks it. I offer total explanation emancipation. Complete freedom from words and meanings. Give me a job and you won't need to communicate with anyone else ever again. I am that good."
"And if the situation arises . . . can you teach English?"
"Teach English! Ha! Listen to this!" He raises his beer mug.
"Is this a glass or a cucumber? Right, it's a glass. No not, 'grass,' you pinhead. 'Glass.' Smile when you say it. Big smile. Glass. Now say it a thousand times. And don't slack off. I'm counting."
"Glass, glass . . ."
"No, not you. That was just a sample. And in the next lesson we discuss the difference between 'glass' and 'grass.' Like, which feels better to sit on. Or which would make a better eyeball. So as you can see. I'm a regular English teaching machine."
"Well, how about group dynamics then? This is a group society. Here, you have to mesh with the team."
"Oh hey, listen. All my friends call me, 'Mr. Group.' My enemies too. Lots of people don't even know my real name. It's Mr. Group that, Mr. Group this. It's because I hate to do anything alone, even think. That's why I love meetings."
"And," he continues, "I insist on teamwork. You know . . . one guy holds one piece of paper, another guy holds the other, another brings the stapler and another pushes it down. And last, another guy makes a 'ka-chunk' sound. That's the way to get things done."
"OK. How about respecting your elders? That's important too."
"Hey, I'm respecting you, aren't I? And you're not even buying. Still, I respect you. I like the way you ask stupid questions. Not everyone can do that. Thus you have earned my highest admiration. Which would zoom even higher if you can get me a job."
"What's your visa?"
"I use MasterCard."
"And how long have you been in Japan?"
I feel compelled to tell him the truth. Jobs are hard to get, I don't have any to give and he wouldn't get one if I did. I consider the most tactful way to say all this and then begin.
"Listen . . ." I pause over his name.
"Please. Call me, Mr. Group."
"Mr. Group. I got lots of bugs in my light fixtures and need to get home. It's been fun."
He blinks. "Oh sure, I understand. But if you hear of anything — anything at all — let me know. I'm often in the corner over there, drunk on my face."
And then I produce the biggest whopper of the night.
"Keep trying. Something will turn up."
"Don't worry. Mr. Group never quits. I'll give it another week, at least."
A motto to live by. I decide to apply it to my light fixtures.