Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Name Game

I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a chowderhead. I have lacked initiative, but have fortunately had it thrust upon me by my parents. To wit, they forced me into soccer and into music – and while I may not have appreciated what I had, I was able to teach piano and clarinet and play and also coach soccer.
Thank goodness they also forced me into fulfilling my obligation of going to Japan as part of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme as an AET (Assistant English Teacher). If it were up to me, I’d be sitting in my parent’s basement watching re-runs of Star Trek while trying not to get the Playmate of the Month pregnant.
My third night in Tokyo was another foreign affair – this time organized by the Tochigi-ken (Tochigi province, where I surmised I might be living) AETs.
We were led to our first Japanese Japanese restaurant by the stunning Gasoline – an AET returning for her third and final year in Japan. Gasoline is a tall, beautiful blonde Canadian girl given that unfortunate nickname thanks to the inability of the Japanese to pronounce her real name of Catherine (Komlodi from Calgary, Alberta).
Matthew Hall of Binghamton, New York and Jeff Seaman from Yuba City, California sat around me as we all delicately tried to figure out which end of the chopsticks to use. After copious amounts of beer, Jeff broke first and had to use the washroom. Excusing himself, he plodded off in a general direction – seconds later we heard a splash and a scream. Not wanting to stop drinking, we ignored it and waited for Jeff to return.
Featuring the soaker to end all soakers, Jeff explained that he had stepped into the toilet. Wow. How drunk do you have to be to do that?
Apparently three beers are not enough as Jeff explained that the toilet in this place did not have a crapper like what we Westerners sit upon everyday. No… this was a two-foot long by eight-inch wide porcelain bowl embedded in the ground that one is supposed to squat over. We found out later that in order to use said toilet, you need to remove your pants and develop great leg muscles.
Jeff said that in his first attempt to find the washroom he accidentally stumbled into the kitchen and was chased out and into the bathroom – it had no door or lights. Fumbling for a light switch, Jeff Seaman performed a naval maneuver to live up to his surname.
None of us laughed at Jeff – we all knew that any one of us could be the next victim of cultural indifference. Still, it was funny enough to take notes.
We quickly became suitably inebriated – so much so that none of us three noticed that there was a young lady sitting opposite me who had been keeping up with us in the booze department. Wow. How drunk does a virgin have to be to not notice that?
Apparently seven beers plus will do it.
Next Gasoline showed us the sights and sounds of Roppongi – Tokyo’s dance club area.
In Toronto, our dance club zone consists of maybe 30+ places and is spread out over the downtown core. But here! Oh my! Roppongi is a clubber’s paradise with quite literally 100’s of bright neon lit clubs from which to choose from with heavy-bass sounds thumping out from each.
Gasoline took us to the Java-Jive where we were told that you could only enter the place as a couple. While I attempted to make my move up to enter with Gasoline, a hand grabbed mine and dragged me happily into the place. At this point in time I had no idea who this pretty brunette with the squinty eyes and a southern drawl to drool for was, but I did learn that she was from Augusta, Georgia.
Quickly going through the coupons for free alcohol that we were given, she earned my fealty by buying me a couple of drinks.
Finally able to peel our eyes from each other, we noticed that we were the only two foreigners left in the place and – after decoding the Japanese numbering system – that it was 2:30AM. Actually, their clocks look just like ours.
Since I still had that box of matches with me – road map, remember – we knew how to get back to our hotel. Flagging down a cab, I handed the driver my matches and fell back into my fugue state with my new girlfriend… what the hell was her name? Seriously, I had no clue. She knew mine and was using it in ever sentence she spoke.
In my pathetic defense, if y’all will recall, at the restaurant I was talking/drinking with Matthew and Jeff, and prior to entering the Java-Jive, I was going to make a failed play for Gasoline. My new companion had never actually introduced herself to me… and while I am sure I queried her at the club, Groove Is In The Heart drowned her response out – probably the only non-Caribbean song they played that night.
The taxi driver got us back to the hotel in 30 minutes. Glimpsing the meter, I tossed him five ¥10,000 (yen) bills and told him to keep the change. Both he and she nearly had heart attacks at my generosity, as ¥50,000 is about $630 Cdn or US$500. I had thought that the ¥10,000 bills were ¥1,000’s – okay, I really had no idea what the exchange rate was – damn that orientation package that I should have read.
Even if ole whatshername hadn’t been there to correct me, the taxi driver would have. Unlike anything else I had ever seen in my limited travels around the world, the people of Japan are excessively honest.
This man said, “No, no, no!” and handed back my money. He then began pointing at my pants and saying dozo (please). Several embarrassing moments later, I figured out that he wanted my wallet and handed it to him. He opened it up and took the appropriate amount out and gave me back some change. When I tried to tip him, he would have none of it, came around and opened up the back door of his car with his white-gloved hands and said “hello”.
I knew what he meant, though. Hello new life.
The next day, all of us AETs were forced to go to an orientation meeting. I looked about for that girl I was with the night previous – saving her a seat next to me – not that anyone else wanted to sit near a guy sweating profuse amounts of beer and rum & coke. Matthew and Jeff wisely sat upwind of me and handed me a list of AETs in our prefecture. I looked at the list for a name that sounded somewhat familiar and southern, but aside from Rhett and Scarlett, I had no idea what a southern name was.
All of us AETs were wearing stickers on our shirts with our name on it… it’s probably why I was able to figure out who was Jeff and who was Matthew that morning. My mystery girl finally popped by my side at the end of the orientation – of course she wasn’t wearing her name tag and I was quick to point that out to her.
She smiled and drawled, “At least ya'll know what it is – and that’s all that matters. And besides, (breath) for everyone else I just tell them to think of Gone With The Wind.”
Oh man. Now I can’t even ask her. It’s not Rhett, is it? That’s a boy’s name, I think. I’ve never seen the movie – but if I wanted this relationship to work out I was going to have to rent the movie as soon as I got a chance!
I walked with her around the hotel – little Miss Social Butterfly seemed to know everyone, and everyone seemed to know her. They seemed to know me too, because I was getting the cold shoulder of indifference. Or maybe it was paranoia.
You might think that I now knew here name, but unfortunately, all of the women were saying: “Hey, girlfriend!” Or the guys: “Darling! Make sure you call me.” I was too confused to be jealous.
Hungry for answers and for lunch, we went to the hotel restaurant. When my unknown companion excused herself to go to the washroom, she left her purse on the table beside me. I’ve never seen a woman do that before. Of course, with my limited dating experience, I hadn’t seen a woman do much of anything before.
Quick as a bunny, I grabbed her purse, opened it up and began looking for some ID. There it was – a driver’s license issued to Ashley Benning.
Weeks later, she told me that Jeff had told her my conundrum so she’d let me off the hook by purposely leaving her purse on the table.
Oh well. At least I didn’t have to watch Gone With The Wind.

Somewhere where the surname is spoken first,
Joseph Andrew
The title for today's blog is by Shirley Ellis - BANANA SONG

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