In Chris Jericho’s first book he told a story about being considered late for the departure time on a Japanese wrestling tour bus, despite arriving at the time they told him - because, culturally speaking, on-time is fifteen minutes early. I remember reading that and thinking, “That should come in handy one of these days.” It took many days but it did.
On my first tour in Japan, I made sure to be fully ready at least fifteen minutes before the time I was told we were going to leave. Every time, like clock work, my Japanese guide - translation babysitter/handler - who was responsible for making sure that I arrived safely and securely to wrestling event venues and bus meetups, would show up fifteen minutes earlier than the time he told me he would be there the previous night. Well, almost every time.
Shirtless On The Streets Of Tokyo
“Maybe I misheard what time he wanted to meet.” I thought, as I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook to cull my anxiety about my guide to the streets of Tokyo being late for my first long road trip of my first Japanese wrestling tour.
When he did show up, his face clearly said, “You didn’t mishear me: I’m running late and not psyched about it.” I slipped on my flip flops and followed quickly behind as he waved me out the door.
“I should have worn better shoes.” I thought as I worked hard to keep pace with my companion.
“I really should have worn better shoes.” I added a few moments later, as he was now in full elderly person determined to stay in great shape power-walk mode and my shoes and feet were humping their way to a litter of blister babies.
It was after 10 pm Tokyo time, which meant the streets were damn near silent, well, other than the building echoed clip-clop-zebra-hooves-on-a-basketball-court noise of my flip flops tapping out to the abuse I was putting them through.
My guide was studying his phone intently, which I assume was him checking when the last subway train runs from the part of town we were in to the part of town that we needed to make it to.
Like a grand version of patting your head and rubbing your belly, my guide, without slowing his steps a single kph, was typing into his phone at double digit mphs. Before I could be impressed he looks at me with desperation in his eyes and sternly asks, (or maybe politely demands), “Dash?”(Maybe: !)
I shrugged my shoulders to say, “Okay. F**k it, I’ll dash through the empty, late night streets of residential Tokyo, even though my feet are already cussing me out. At least it should make a funny little story I can tell later.” As we run I sneak a glance at his phone and see that Google Translate told him the best way to get me to run was “dash”.
With my flip flops making a noise that must have had confused-in-the-morning Japanese families dreaming about giant robots fighting or f***ing, ferociously depending on their age respective age demographics, we made it the mile or so to the train station on time where Google told by my sighing-with-relief Japanese friend to tell me, “Relax.”,
I reply with a shrug meant to convey, “I am relaxed. Nothing like a brisk jog in the late spring night to make me feel at home.”
Meanwhile, my feet were saying, “F*** both you f***in’ f**ks.”
I glanced down at my gashed up feet and torn flip flops, “Yeah, definitely should have worn better shoes. Yeah, definitely going to make a funny little story.”
Despite the fact that he had the unenviable job of dragging around an English speaking wrestler with a baby’s-first-words grasp of Japanese, who has a head tattoo that makes most people in public consciously avert their gaze, my guide spoke about as much English as I do Japanese. So, most of our non-Google-assisted conversations went like this:
“We go?” He asks in heavily accented English.
“Hai!” I answer in heavily accented Japanese.
Mostly we communicated in body language. Someone stands up on the subway train, creating an open seat: he presents it to me with an low, upside down wave. I decline with a dismissive nod, right side up wave and a point to express, “Nah, it’s all yours, bro. I appreciate the offer but I’ll just feel anxious and insecure when older people get on the train and are standing and I want to offer them my seat, but don’t know if I will be able to communicate with them politely or how they’ll take it. So, I’d rather stand and have peace of mind than sit and have comfort of body.” I don’t know if he got all that, but he gladly takes the empty seat every time.
Other times I point and say proper nouns with a vocal emphasis that I’m making a request:
“Lawson?” I ask after a long night at wrestling venue, meaning “I’m really f***ing hungry and could go for a grocery bag full of red bean, barley, and seaweed onigiri (rice “balls” that are actually in a triangular shape) and inarizushi (fried sweet tofu wrapped in vinegared rice) from the open-late convenience store that has items labeled in English!”
“Okay!” He answers and waits patiently while I load my hands full of post-match guilt-free carb-y goodness and sift through not quickly recognized coins and bills of money to try to match the electronically displayed set of the Western version of Hindu-Arabic numeral symbols that I learned pre-Kindergarten and am thankful are the common across much of the World; I ignore the alien speak coming from the face of the helpful strangers and stare at the might-as-well-be-magic window that turns 1’s and 0’s into 0’s through 9’s..
Sometimes I wait to get back to my room while my sodium rich treats taunt me like a haunting heartbeat in an another alliterative author’s art. Other times, I devour the Earth-grown goodies just moments after I have traded colorful-receipts-for-efforted-time (translation: money); before I even make the hey-someone’s-coming alert go ding-dooong. During the latter times, I have a memory arise. A memory from a cross-country trip I took with my wife…
Maybe we were in Wyoming, maybe Oregon, or even Tennessee...that part I simply can’t remember, but here’s what I do remember: while waiting for my wife to take her obligatory, before-we-get-back-on-the-road, rest room visit,, at a Superchain Market, where I had just purchased some in-season strawberries, rinsed them in the fountain, and taken a bite of the sweet, vitamin C, rich, unguilty treat, a man I wasn’t aware existed the moment before created a moment that keeps lagging in my memory banks. He looks at me, enjoying the juicy, red berry goodness, smiles greatly, yet somewhat diabolically, and says words that continue to try to rob the juice out of my life; he says, “Just couldn’t wait till you got outside could ya?”
I paused with my hand in my easily recycled number 2 plastic container containing dopamine releasing Earth-gifts, like a child with their snot wiping hands caught rummaging through a cereal box trying to find a prize that makes 25 cent machine “toys” look like handcrafted works of lifelong passion. I was caught so by surprise that I couldn’t formulate a proper response like, “Wait… What the f*** is the bizarre programing in your circuitry babbling about, buddy? Is there special places that I am and am not supposed to crush things with my face and turn them into people; if so, I blow my own d*** in the general direction of your arbitrary borders between acceptable places to cram literal future-sh** down my happy to have it gullit.”
Maybe if I had said that, or something similar, rather than just raising my eyebrows and nodding my head in a way that probably properly conveyed the subconscious thought of, “You’re not doing anything so bad to me that I can justify this sensed-need to defend myself, but I still want to be unkind to you in ways that will make people go, ‘For f***sakes that was a bit of an insane overreaction wasn’t it?’”, I wouldn’t have that voice like a stalking shadow figure in my only-for-me-World trying to ruin all my store-bought base-instinct gratification by saying, “Just couldn’t wait till you got outside could ya.”
Well, Mr. Just Couldn’t,, I don’t know if you’re still alive, out there somewhere in the Othersphere,, trying to psych out other snackers, but it seems that as long as my Innersphere is creating new episodes,a piece of you may just live on even if you don’t.
“I wonder how many neurotic footprints I’ve left in mud of other’s upstairs ant farms.” My innervoice wonders, as I look at my Japanese handler and offer one of my many gain-friendly-grains morsels of mmmmm with body language as we leave a Lawson, on any given Tokyo-night.
“No.” He says in English with a face full of “But thank you, though.”
(That’s right, I’m doing a motherf***ing crossover, possibly building a complex non-fiction Universe or some such ambitious artsy sh**. Suck it, Marvel.)
Is It Hard To Be In A Place Where You Don’t Understand or Speak The Local Language?
Superficial, quick answer: Nah, I know enough to be polite, usually that - and knowing how to read body language - is all you need.
Deeper answer: Sometimes it can be frustrating, but, a lot of the time, it’s my favorite part about traveling to foreign lands: not feeling the need to fill the beautiful silence and shared human experience with words.
Wait, for a guy who seems to have nerd-level love for words to the point you wax poetic over the simple, slamming drums of wrestlebeats… Wait! See! You did it, again, even as you were calling yourself out for it, you f***er! Isn’t communication beautiful?
Well, yeah, Othervoice Inside Me That Sounds Like Someone Outside Me, communication is very beautiful and I do love words, but their both really f***ing difficult to master without the benefit of a backspace button.
So, what you’re saying is, “I like to go places where I’m not expected to speak because I’m a pu**y about speaking.”
Um, no.,Well, yeah, kinda.
Don’t be a d**k. This is the in-depth part of the Socratic Dialogue, explain yourself.
Well, I recently read a book that I love, with a line that I love: “Introverts like people-watching. Extroverts like people watching.” (Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book by Jonny Sun).
I happen to enjoy both people-watching and people watching… Like a lot of people who are drawn to the performing arts, and in the words of Robin Williams, “I’m a case specific extrovert.”
Okay, we get it you’re a quiet weirdo who also still looks for approval from without by performing look-at-me tricks for all the mommies out there, what does that have to do with your attack on spoken human-interaction and heralding of the virtues of boring-ass silence?
Well, as a quiet weirdo, I’ve had a little time to think about that. Why do I prefer short-worded or silent interaction?
Yeah, that’s what I’m asking.
Because saying the wrong thing has strong consequences.
I remember when I was in Middle School and an older kid told me, “Hey, I like your shoes!” And that made me feel pretty damn good for a moment.
You’re arguing against yourself...I’m mean even more so than this.
Then, he asked me where I got them. I quickly answered, without the slightest reservation, “Walmart.”
He quickly answered my answer, without the slightest reservation, “Hahahahahahaha! You shop for clothes at...Walmart?!”
That felt pretty damn bad for a lot longer than a moment. The following Christmas,I begged my parents for Nike’s and saved up my money to buy my baby brother some Fila’s: you know, to set him on the right path - away from embarrassment - early.
It took me many years to let go of obsessively having to have name brand shoes and judging those that didn’t.
So, ass**les, say mean sh**, does that mean the rest of us should shut the f**k up and lead by example?
The problem is that he wasn’t an ass**le, well, I mean he kinda was, but he was my friend and responded so fast that there’s no possible way that he had time to consciously decide to say something that he knew would make me as insecure as flip flops on a “dash” through the streets of Tokyo. He was just having a conversation that he probably forgot. A lot of the time, it seems that many people’s most-silly-to-everyone-but-serious-to-them psycho-emotional hang-ups that keep them from squishing the juice out of life comes from other people just having a conversation.that they probably forgot.
I have to walk around with the sh** that I knew was f***ed when I said it lurking around in the remember-when-you-we’re-a-d**k-don’t-be-a-d**k-anymore neighborhood of my memory, add in the sh** that I’ve said and never thought twice about that may be echoing in other people’s caves-of-insecurity, and it’s really nice to spend a vacation where I just know how to smile and say,things like “Thanks, so much.” and “Nice to meet you.” and not be expected to say more. When you only have nice words you can’t help but say something nice or nothing at all.
I’ve had my heart broken over words, broken hearts over words, I’ve spent a lifetime watching people hurt each other with arguments, fist-fights, and wars over words...when, from an outside perspective, they’re in total agreement over the meaning that lies behind the words. I’ve also had my broken heart mended with carefully chosen words, mended broken hearts with carefully chosen words, and been able to defuse conflict with carefully chosen words.
So, yeah, I love words and love sharing my carefully chosen words with people and that’s precisely why it’s nice for me to take a break from my spoken vocabulary every once in a while and watch how it enriches my interactions with people by meeting them at a place that’s more natural substantial than words and watching words that I would normally say without thinking come into my mind but get put away in the don’t-know-how-to-say-that-here-drawer and informs me on how to choose my words more carefully when I do so that I use the right words at my disposal to communicate wisely.
But doesn’t having very few face to face conversations for a month make you a little crazy.
Of course: that’s why I make videos where I'm shirtless on the streets of Tokyo, as we’ll talk about next time on Shirtless On The Streets Of Tokyo.