"Furious George: A Schwarzeneggerian Terminator of a Tale " - previously published* in "The Globe and Mail"
The anecdote you are about to read is true. Some names** have been changed to protect the innocent. This is the harrowing story of one young gaijin's (foreigner's) journey, his quest, to get breakfast for his girlfriend and himself from a Japanese convenience store.
Baby, he said, leaving to get his woman some food, I'll be back.
* * *
The gaijin in question, a Canadian if you must know, had been teaching English in Japan a year, and was living forty-five minutes north of downtown Osaka in the suburb of Seiwadai at the time. Because it's a rather new development, hip and with it Osakan urbanites might laughingly refer to Seiwadai as “in the mountains” (read: pine-covered hills) because it is a fifteen minute bus ride from the nearest train station. Really, it's no more rural than any North American suburb. Walking distance from the Canadian's place there was a McDonalds, a post office, a supermarket and a Lawson - the 7-11 of Western Japan.
The three minute walk to Lawson was not the harrowing part of the story. There was the obstacle of a large main street to cross, but no red rover, red rover Tokyo type crowds to cross against. The Canuck (call him Gord if you like, though in truth he couldn't work a skate key much less play hockey) was the only person out there that time of morning (again, very North American suburb). The harrowing - the downright terrifying - portion of the story still to come, he made sure to look both ways before crossing.
This is not one of those cultural difference is so difficult type stories. A year in to his stay and our hero, Gordo, he was not gonna have trouble navigating the Japanese convenience store experience. After many such experiences he was no longer taken aback by the shouts of greeting when he entered the store, or the odd mix of foods, Snickers and Pringles alongside prepared Japanese foods like onigiri (rice balls) and oden (soggy fish cakes swimming in brown water held in small aluminum containers and seated on convenience store counters across Nippon).
No. It was after the shaggy teenager working the cash (clearly an international phenomenon) bagged Gord's bread and orange juice, when he left the store to the usual chorus of “arigato gozaimasu” from the staff that the crux of our tale really begins. It was in morning sunlight walking across the parking lot when Gord caught sight of the monkey coming towards him. Oh yes. Monkey. Now he knew there were monkeys in Japan, in the same way one might know there are grizzly bears in Canada or cobras in India. Sure they existed, but not in a suburban parking lot. Yet there the furry creature was, hanging out like some bored adolescent, but a rather big and lumbering adolescent at that. He may not have been gorilla big, but he was, to be sure, the largest monkey Gord, as we're calling him, had ever met outside a convenience store.
They say you musn't stare when encountering potentially dangerous wildlife. They also say to stay still when confronted by grizzlies. Try accessing these pearls of wisdom in the moment. Gord, despite a goodly amount of time spent watching Animal Planet, sure couldn't. Because he saw that monkey and what did he do but stare, he stared good. Of course he did. He stared at that stupid simian. Stupid simian stared back at him. The harrowing portion of the tale comes right about now as the monkey, that had to this point seemed a lumbering, buffoonish creature, in a flash had leapt up so fast, so quick to grab at Gord's plastic bag of food. Gord didn't let go. A tug of war ensued, the monkey holding on for dear life, his hairy legs dangling helplessly in the air. But Furious George was a strong son of a bitch. It was with literally all Gordie's brute strength, the kind usually reserved for lifting small cars off of helpless infants, that he managed to pull hard enough to get the bastard to let go and drop to the ground.
Moving quickly towards the main street and the girl he had waiting for him in a house not far across it, Gord fast-walked it only to be confronted by a red light and a steady enough stream of traffic to prevent J-walking, jogging or even sprinting. Meanwhile, the monkey was bearing down on him. Our poor hero kept looking over his shoulder at the advancing creature.
The people of Japan are a profoundly patient people. (The monkey was closing in.) In Japan you are not to lose your cool. (The monkey was getting closer.) Like its people the traffic lights of this ancient nation seem too to be in no kind of rush whatsoever, changing as they do every quarter century or so. (The monkey wasn't a few feet away and those hands had claws goddammit.) F%$#$!
Gord kept turning round. The monkey still coming. The damn light. A true suburban nightmare. A Schwarzeneggerian Terminator of a tale. When the light finally changed our Canadian boy half-ran across the street excessively relieved to find the monkey hadn’t crossed. He just stood there. He scratched his head.
Panting but unscathed, Gord returned home to his girlfriend (a girl he might, he hoped, one day marry), orange juice and bread for toasting safe and sound in the bag swinging at his side.
He told her. The whole thing. That he'd braved the monkey, baby.
A monkey, she said and burst out laughing. In the Lawson parking lot?
He said yeah! He then said that she couldn't have any breakfast.
*This is a revised version of what was originally published.
** 'Baby' is one those names that was changed. Of the 3,264 nicknames I have for Ai, baby has never - not once - been one of them.