|

Don Maloney’s ‘Never the Twain…?’ Japan Times column: some choice cuts from the 1970s

The main article about rediscovering Don Maloney 40 years on can be found here. Some excerpts from Don Maloney’s “Japan: It’s not all Raw Fish” (1975) and “Son of Raw Fish” (1977) collections of Japan Times columns:

From ‘I Felt Better with the Paper’:

I was going to the big post office in front of Tokyo Station to pick up a package on which I owed some customs duty.

Now I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t manage that customs operation inside the post office, so I took along my Japanese secretary. But, I was naive enough to think I could tell the taxi driver where we were going. So, I told my secretary to keep quiet, that I’d handle it myself.

We got in the cab and I said — with tones that would make Naganuma (the Japanese language school) proud: “Chu-o yu-bin-kyo-ku.”

The driver put that “What-the-hell-are-you-talking-about?” look on his face and said, “Eh?”

I repeated: “Chu-o yu-bin-kyo-ku.”

And he repeated: “Eh?”

I gave my secretary a defeated nod and she said, not one bit better than I’d said it, “Chūo yūbinkyoku.”

The driver shot back a “Hai,” and we were off to the post office. The same sort of dialogue, with the same sort of result, was repeated on the way back to the office.

Secretary Sumiko could see that I was crushed. “Please understand,” she soothed. “Your Japanese is fine. It’s just that taxi drivers — and many other Japanese, too — make up their minds when they see you that you speak a foreign language, not Japanese. So, even when you speak Japanese, they are all tuned to hear a foreign language and that’s what it sounds like.”

From ‘The Day the Toilet Paper Ran out’:

“Where, oh where,” I yelled out to Wife Sarah, “is the toilet paper?”

Talk about keeping cool, Wife Sarah casually answered, “There isn’t any.”

“What the hell do you mean, ‘There isn’t any?'” I bellowed. “There has to be toilet paper. Even if it’s pastel green.”

“Well, there isn’t any now. And, there might not be any tomorrow either,” she warned.

“Send one of the kids to the store now,” I insisted. “I can’t just sit here until tomorrow or the next day.”

“You don’t understand,” came the voice thru the door, “the store doesn’t have any either. There’s no toilet paper in Tokyo.”

“How about the people next door?” I asked. “See if you can borrow a roll from them.”

“That’s where I got that horrible pastel green roll the other day. And I know they don’t have any more, anyway. They all just left a little while ago to use the john down at the Hilton Hotel.”

“How about the guy on the truck with the loudspeaker? Doesn’t he give out toilet paper in exchange for old newspapers?” I wondered. “He used to,” wife Sarah acknowledged, “but this week he’s giving money. I’m sorry I didn’t keep the newspapers.”

“What about Kleenex,” I pleaded. “Is there any of that around this house?”

“No luck,” sighed Wife Sarah. “Kleenex must be out, too. I even noticed two hired cars on Meguro Dori this morning without a box in their back windows.”

My God, I thought, this is serious.

From ‘Everybody, it turns out, has a gate’:

It worked like a real gate.

Of course, there are a few details that still have to be ironed out. Like, for instance, the men only brought enough paint to cover the areas of the gate that they cut, welded, bolted, chipped and hammered. This paint doesn’t match the color of the old paint and our working gate is two distinctly different browns.

And, after I open it and get in the car to drive out, the gate slowly swings closed by itself and so has to be propped open with a large brick.

But, after all, I didn’t say I wanted it all one color or that I wanted it to stay open long enough for me to drive out. I merely said I wanted it to open and close and it does both — quite well, indeed.

What amazed me about the whole gate story was the knowing sympathy I received from so many foreign friends in Tokyo. It seems everybody has similar problems of their own.

There is, for instance, a friend in Meguro who decided he wanted to pay for his morning paper delivery annually because he’s not always home when the newspaper boy comes to the door with his monthly bill.

He called the paper, told them his problem and explained he wanted to send them a check for an annual payment in advance. They told him the amount and he sent the check. Starting a few days later, two copies of the newspaper now arrive every morning. And the newspaper boy still comes for his monthly pay for one of them.

At last report, my friend hasn’t been able to shut off either copy. …

And on and on go the stories. One thing sure, they helped me get my own problems with my gate into proper perspective. It all boils down to the one common bond shared by we foreigners who live in Tokyo.

It’s simply this: Everybody has a gate.

From ‘Ginza Gomi’:

There was a story in the paper recently about the “Garbage Display” in Ginza (the Oriental Times Square). I saw the story and was certain that something was lost in translation. The Governor of Tokyo could not possibly have been dedicating a display of garbage.

Well, I went down Ginza the next day to see for myself. “Where,” I asked the policeman, “can I see the garbage?”

“Anywhere in Tokyo,” he assured me.

From ‘Japanese is not my cup of tea’:

Now, I hope that at least you realize that I meant I wanted milk in the tea instead of the lemon he didn’t have. But, he’d already poured the glass of milk and I decided to drink it. But, I still wanted the tea. I tried again. “I want the tea, too.”

“Too?” he asked.

At least I thought he asked, “Too?”

But, when he turned around with a pair of cups of tea, I realized that what he really asked was “Two?”

I started to explain to him that communications had totally broken down and that all I really wanted was a single cup of tea with a little milk in the same cup.

But, I decided against it. It was much simpler, I correctly figured — although slightly more expensive — to take the glass of milk and two cups of tea and sit down. And I did.

Just then, the student I met at the door who directed me to the cafeteria in the first place stopped by my table. “I thought you wanted Iced Tea,” he remembered.

“I did.” I admitted, “but I’m afraid the waiter misunderstood.”

“You mean the waiter misunderstood one Iced Tea for two hot teas and milk?” he asked. Then, he advised, “You should have spoken to him in English. They all understand English here.”

Five years ago — back in Cleveland — so did I.

Your comments and Community story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp
The main article about rediscovering Don Maloney 40 years on can be found here.