The Smiths

Feel me

Her name is Mary, her husband is Mr. Smith. I don’t know what his first name is, as it is never used. They have two children, a boy and a girl. The girl, like her mother, only wears dresses.


They are 1950’s throw-backs. They wake up at 7:30 every morning and have breakfast together. They always have cereal, the kids drink milk. Mr. Smith works in an office building and has a good relationship with his boss as evidenced by their frequent chats in his office where Mr. Smith often asks for his boss’s ashtray.


Sometimes the Smiths eat out where Mr. Smith politely requests a menu, and Marry orders a salad. Usually, though, the family has dinner together at home. The kids drink more milk. After dinner, he reads his newspaper while the children watch TV and mother sews.


I worry about them. Cracks are beginning to appear in their Father Knows Best veneer. Mary always drinks wine at dinner, for example; and, although everyone smiles, they never look at one another. Marry is learning Spanish at a language school. She is planning a trip to South America, and it looks like she is going alone.


Their town is equally peculiar having only two houses but a church, a movie theater, a book store, a flower shop, a park and an office building. There is a bizarrely large apartment building and a hotel. There is also a major department store having at least 6 floors -- the women’s department is on the 6th floor. A German man lives in the town. He only smiles when he is in his sports car. It is little and read. The Smith’s neighbor’s are married and have three children.


There are only Caucasians in this town. Despite its small size, I constantly have to give the Smiths directions.


I hate this place.


For three hours a day, 5 days a week, Weirdville is the sole topic of conversation. My Japanese teacher, armed with her Weirdville picture book, picks a page and the day’s lesson begins. Desperate to change the focus, I have been known to interrupt class with, “Excuse me, but I have a question <Sumimasen, Shitsumon ga arimasu>.”

“Dozo… <Please>.”

“Why do people move away from me on the subway?”

“Nihongo de hanshite kudasai <Say it in Japanese, please>.” This was going to be harder then I thought requiring a new verb and grammatical constructs. By the time I can say it correctly, class is over and my teacher flees the room - question unanswered. Next time I will start class with the question.


Speaking of subways and Weirdville, I had an unsavory experience – a variation on a theme that is apparently on the rise in Japan. I’m on the subway, minding my own business, tired and a little cranky, when a 40-ish, Japanese gentleman boards my car. Despite being fairly empty, he chooses to stand next to me. A few minutes later his hand, seemingly by accident, brushes my crotch. Meeting his eyes I take a step back, clearly annoyed. The man counters by moving in front of me. Pretty soon he is backing into me. I step back, again clearly providing the necessary “leave me alone” expression and vocalization. Our good man backs up, yet again, causing un-wanted and clearly intentional contact.


What’s a boy to do?

I leaned forward, “Do you speak English?”

“Yes”, he replied.

I whispered something truly terrifying into his ear. He paled, took two large steps forward and exited at the next station. A little harsh, perhaps, but I was in no mood. First they move away from me, and then they want to cop a feel!


What a relief it was that he spoke English. Two weeks ago, Gloria and I went to Akasaka. After site-seeing, we had a terrific meal at a very interesting sushi restaurant. As we were leaving, the host made an incredibly rude comment about Gloria complete with vulgar hand gestures. I was stunned. She was dressed quite conservatively and, other then being a pretty Caucasian, there was nothing note-worthy about here appearance. I didn’t know enough Japanese to discuss the matter with the man. I had no cultural context in which to place the incident. Really, I was at a loss.


Back to the subway event: on the bright side, I now know how I will next interrupt my Japanese lesson. If only I can figure out how to say, “Have you ever been on the subway when…”