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Just when you think nothing can go wrong

by Thomas Dillon

You’ve heard it . . .

Japanese can take an idea and improve upon it, but they can’t come up with the idea themselves.

A tiresome notion that needs to be washed away by all the abundant evidence to the contrary. For the Japanese do indeed list many dynamic inventions. Exhibits A, B and C?

Paper shredders, Cup Noodle and karaoke. What more do you want?

And in the arena of “improvements,” there is one outside idea that Japan has advanced so far that the word “innovation” no longer does it justice. In this case, the Japanese have taken a foreign concept and not merely improved upon it. They have promoted it to a form of art.

That idea? . . . Murphy’s Law. Which states that if anything can possibly go wrong, it will.

With the Japanese version being . . .

Who cares about “possibly”? Things go wrong. Period.

Now I might support this argument with illustrations from business, politics or even sumo. But why roam so far when I typically meet disasters enough all on my own, albeit on a smaller scale?

Exhibit D: a certain Wednesday this past fall. Which welcomed me innocently enough. My task was to conduct a test in one of my university English classes. The test paper was ready and the students were prepared. All I need to do was get there. I drifted to bed on Tuesday night with visions of my cutesy-cute weather girl smiling from the TV screen.

“Tomorrow,” she winked, “will be nothing but sunshine. I promise.”

Morning . . . and the first sprinkle of “sunshine” hit when I had reached halfway to the station. A cutesy-cute introduction to the downpour that followed.

Of course, I always carry an umbrella in my bag. But — and also of course — my wife knows this as well. So at that moment my umbrella lay in her bag instead.

OK. I would drip dry on the train — a sleepy ride into the hinterlands of Tokyo. Unlike inbound rides, this journey never met resistance. No delays. No lack of open seats. I would sit and snooze while I dried.

Except now the platform burst with predawn commuters, all thoroughly soaked.

“We’re sorry,” came the announcement. The train would be late. It had been . . .

Struck by lightning. Hit by a meteor. Swallowed by a whale. Or some such calamity. I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that the platform kept gathering bodies and until it at last held enough to fill 10 trains.

And that is when one arrived. . . . But we all got on. Hundreds of wet humans mashed together like Gummy Bears. With one fellow bear exhaling soy breath right into my lips. For eight straight stops.

When I at last clubbed my way out and rose from the station, I had but 10 minutes to catch the final bus that would get me to school before class. Long enough to grab a take-out cup of coffee.

“The machine’s broke. No coffee,” said the clerk.

“Tea?”

“No tea bags.”

“Cocoa?”

“Yes, but . . . no paper cups.”

By then I had no time. So I rushed to my bus.

No bus.

“The rain froze on the hilltops. The roads are too icy,” explained my cab driver. Who was also barred from the hills by the police. So he took the long way. A ¥3,000 ride.

Of course, I always carry an extra ¥10,000 bill in my wallet. But — and also of course — my wife knows this as well.

Yet I had just enough bills to make the fare. I leapt from the cab and dashed up the stairs to the faculty room. I had five minutes to make copies before the bell. And two other teachers stood in line before the copier. OK. A few minutes late wouldn’t matter.

But the one before me held a stack of papers six inches thick. And so when the other said, “Drat, the machines on the fritz!” I sped to the office.

Where I knew they kept a backroom copier, only for clerical use. I begged to make 20 copies.

The clerk sucked his teeth. And told me this particular copier was for office use only. He raised his brows and added . . . “By rule.”

I pushed through, wiped the dust from the copier lid and yanked my test sheet from my bag.

To find it had been ruined by the rain. The words had smeared into one giant blot.

OK. I would wing it. I would write the questions on the board.

I rambled past the clerk, who had sucked his teeth so hard he was now choking, and flew to my classroom. I burst through the door and at that very moment the bell rang.

But . . .

Not a kid showed. I waited alone for 90 minutes.

“You’re exaggerating,” says my wife. “None of that really happened.”

My umbrella? My ¥10,000?

“The umbrella . . . I left on the train. The ¥10,000 . . . Hmm. What’d it look like? I can’t recall.”

See? Things go wrong. Period. Case closed.