I was rummaging through one of my desk drawers earlier today and came upon a pile of essays and other stuff I wrote back in the early ‘80s. A lot of it is destined to stay in the drawer for the rest of eternity, but I found a dozen or so essays that rather tickled me; one of which I have posted in its entirety below.
The contents have aged slightly in such areas as discount now being a common factor in electrical shops and the Russian Threat no longer being very threatening, but apart from that I believe that it has stood up to the ravages of time rather well with regards to the Japanese point of view.
Anyway, here it is…
Sock it to ‘Em!
(by Christopher Belton)
One of the most frustrating things about living in Japan is that nobody is willing to accept responsibility for anything. The request of a $10 cash discount off an expensive piece of electrical equipment can assume nightmarish qualities as the salesman takes the problem to his boss, who takes it to his boss, who takes it to his boss, who introduces it onto the agenda of the next board meeting. Two weeks later (if you are lucky) one might receive a telephone call to say that the offer has been accepted. Not only has the company lost the initial $10, but $500 in labor, $6 in paper, and $3.75 in telephone calls.
This, however, is the Japanese way of business and one learns to live with it, but when this great national pastime of Pass-the-Buck enters the confines of one’s own home, it is difficult, if not impossible, to accept.
The incident that springs so readily to my mind is the Affair of the Discarded Sock, which reduced me to a quivering mass of insomniatic nerves and made me realize that the Russians could take over Japan any day they liked without firing a shot.
I woke up one fine spring morning and, as is my custom, took my coffee and newspaper out onto the terrace. Something white in the corner of the garden caught my eye, and investigation revealed it to be an Yves St. Laurent sock with a hole in the toe. My wife, Michiyo, denied all knowledge of it, and through the process of elimination, we decided that it must belong to one of the other five apartments in our block of six.
Our enquiries, however, proved fruitless, so I suggested that she throw it away.
My wife was shocked to the core. “Oh, I couldn’t do that!” she exclaimed, “It is not mine to throw away.”
This, I informed her, I was aware of, but as it did not belong to anyone living in our block, it was an illegal trespasser and therefore entitled to a stiff sentence.
“It might belong to the people who live over in the house at the back,” she said thoughtfully, ignoring my observation.
“Why don’t you go and ask?” I said, not unreasonably.
“No, that’s no good. I don’t know them.”
“Do you need to know somebody before you can ask them if they’ve lost a sock?”
“But it might not be theirs, and then they would be offended that I had imagined them to be the owner of a sock with a hole in it.”
“Lots of people have holes in their socks. Nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve got a few myself.”
My wife said that not everybody had a big toe like mine and went on to generalize heatedly about my feet, using one or two derogatory phrases and rather casting aspirations as to the legitimacy of the offending limbs.
However, it was finally decided that we should hang the sock over the fence so that the woman could creep out in the dead of night and reclaim it without embarrassment, and there the matter rest.
Until the next morning.
I arrived on the terrace armed with coffee and newspaper, and the sock, about which I had completely forgotten, was still there and seemed to be mocking me with its very presence. There is something about an Yves St. Laurent sock—possibly the quality of material and stitching—that attracts and reflects sunlight with the efficiency of a highly polished mirror. The more I tried to concentrate on my newspaper, the more it distracted me.
In the end I gave it up and finished reading the news indoors, but I could not get the sock out of my mind. The guilty feeling I had at not taking a stronger line and throwing the thing away snagged onto my brain and refused to budge. Inside my mind, the simple fate of a discarded sock with a hole in the toe grew out of all proportion and had me sweating. At regular intervals throughout the day I peeked out at the window from behind the cover of the curtain; it never moved. That night the nervousness set in. I tried to concentrate on a TV movie, but I invariably found my eyes on the ceiling and my mind on the sock. Finally taking two sleeping pills, I climbed between the sheets and sweated pints for an hour or two before eventually dropping off.
Then the nightmares began.
The sock grew until it filled the entire garden, and the carefully embroidered YSL contorted into a maniacal face that twisted and turned with bulbous, obese movements as it tried to force its way into the apartment. The frayed rim of the hole, having squeezed its way in, knitted itself into a pair of crude lips and began to speak. Its voice reverberated and echoed around the flat, knocking dishes off shelves and rattling all of the glasses.
“Take me home……” it quavered, its pitch rising on every syllable, “Take me home…… I may be holed, but I’m good for another tennis season. Help me find my master. I am your responsibility. It is your duty…..”
That the reason for my existence was to take care of a sock with a hole in the toe shook me considerably. There was I thinking that I owed my all to the betterment of mankind, and all the time I had owed to it a sock. I woke with a start and without thinking, jumped out of bed, rushed to the end of the garden and heaved the sock as far as I could into the blackness of the neighbor’s garden.
Only then could I slip back between the sheets and into oblivion with an easy mind.
The next morning the sock was back on the fence. The woman from the end house obviously knew the ropes. Gibbering to some extent, I dropped my coffee, took a bite out of the newspaper, and hurled myself at the sock with a roar that was no doubt heard in Osaka. Pulling my cigarette lighter from my pocket, I grabbed the sock and put it to the flame.
Yves St. Laurent knows his business. He makes his socks with an obvious mind to the rigors of a grueling tennis match, and therefore includes inflammable materials amongst the ingredients. The sock put up resistance I would not have credited it with, but fifteen minutes later it was laying in charred ruins about my feet and being relentlessly ground into the sod with a merciless boot.
Having given of my worst, I heaved a sigh of relief and staggered back to the terrace to relax—and I mean really relax—with my newspaper.
And then I remembered the communist threat. It suddenly occurred to me that if the Russians filled ten million socks with nerve gas and a small timing device, sewed a little crocodile on the side of each one and planted them surreptitiously in every garden in Japan, they could wipe out the entire population of this great nation and waltz in waving the Hammer and Sickle at their leisure.
Grabbing feverishly at my brow, I crashed into the house, through the front room, and into my study. My wife was sitting on the sofa flicking through a magazine, and my entry caused her to look up.
“Will you go and pick up Shane from school?” she asked sweetly.
“School? School? Bugger school! I’ve got more important things to think about!”
She looked at me kind of funny, and with her head on one side, said, “You Englishmen are okay, but I do wish you would take a little more responsibility around the house.”