A Japanese colleague trying to improve her English via episodes of the TV sitcom “Friends” once asked me this . . .
“Was ‘Friends’ really aired on prime time television? The content seems so racy. Here this would have been late night fare, for adults only.”
I told her I wasn’t adult enough to answer. Plus I know American TV schedules the way most people know the dark side of the moon.
When was “Friends” aired? In the Reagan years? During the Great Depression? In the Paleozoic Age? Whenever, I told her, I was in Japan at the time.
And I can remember days — and not in the Paleozoic Age either — when Japanese TV itself would have been deemed the boob tube in more ways than one. And at almost any hour. It has since cleaned up its act. Yet, somehow those older, fleshier days also recollect as being purer. As if more direct was simpler and more innocent than the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” wise-cracking of today’s variety shows.
And my colleague’s “Friends” comment stirred up just such an innocent memory, resting deep in my anecdote pile.
It’s the story of a foreign girl, a rooftop and a brassiere. And although in this column I do take liberties with the truth at times (OK, always), this story is factual (most of it).
It was — it seems — in another lifetime. I was manager of a small English conversation school near the heart of Tokyo. How small? I had but one fellow teacher to manage, a young American woman fresh from college.
As luck would have it, she resided only an apple toss from the school’s front door, in a high-rise apartment building, below which sat a solitary Japanese home, residents unknown.
Now this teacher was popular. And justifiably so. For she was cheerful and clean-cut, and with an endearing mix of cuteness and klutziness. Japanese found her outstanding in another way as well. In a manner of speaking.
One day, a spring breeze lifted one of her undergarments from the clothesline on her balcony, to have it flutter onto the rooftop of that house below. Where the garment spread apart, as if the house were modeling it.
“I have a problem,” she told me. “One of my bras fell on top that house.” She pointed. “We have to get it off.”
“But it can only be seen from above and no one know it’s yours,” I said. “So just forget it. Surely you have more than one.”
“Are you kidding? Every tenant in my building looks down upon that house and they all have it figured out!”
“How?” I asked.
She crossed her arms. “How do you think?”
Before I could say, “I see,” she went on. “People are smirking at me in the lobby. Little kids are pointing. I hear whispers on the street!”
I asked what I could do and she said, “Go to the house and tell them.”
I began to pace. “Tell them what? That they have a bra on their roof? I can just picture the husband, calling back to his wife: ‘Honey, there’s a gaijin at the door who says we have a bra on our roof, a great big one.’ “
“Well what do you expect them to do? Fall to their knees and weep? Call the fire department? What?”
“Please do this for me! You know I can’t speak Japanese!”
“Right. And you think I’m somehow skilled in addressing strangers about brassieres? I think your lack of language would work to your advantage.”
“But I am so embarrassed!”
“And you think I won’t be!? Gosh, it’s not even mine!?”
“But how can I explain? I can barely buy a stamp!”
“You don’t have to say anything. Just bring a sample and point.”
“Arrgh!” She lifted her hands as if to strangle me. “If you weren’t my boss . . .”
Her next idea was to write a note and leave it in their mailbox. But while I might speak some Japanese, writing was beyond me.
“I could draw a picture though. You know . . . with their house and then a large bra falling from the sky.”
“You think that would work?”
“If we could get big enough paper.”
Again, she didn’t strangle me, but had me phone my wife instead. She could write the note.
“And how am I going to phrase it?” said my wife. “Dear So-and-So . . . be advised there is a big brassiere on your rooftop. The entire town is laughing at you. Sincerely, A Friend.” She refused. It helped that she was two hours away by train.
“Maybe,” said my co-worker, “we could get it ourselves. Maybe we could ninja our way up there at night.”
I made a managerial decision.
“Absolutely not. I can just picture myself trapped in a police spotlight. With my hands up high and holding that bra.”
And so it went. For maybe a week. Until one day the bra was gone.
Another tricky breeze? Someone in the high-rise with a fishing rod? Or a curious crow? We never knew.
Not quite an episode of “Friends.”
Yet a prime time memory just the same.