As you can see, it’s integrated into this speaker thing mounted on my wall. This is not my actual phone, but rather the thing connected to the door buzzer. So if someone comes to your apartment downstairs and dials your room number, you can talk to them via this phone and (if my apartment had a locking main door) buzz them in…
It has several other functions as well, including buttons to automatically dial the police, fire department and ambulance. I don’t think they work, however, since this phone isn’t connected to an outside line and no one in my landlords office really knew how to use it anyway.
This is my laundry rack. Since most houses in Japan don’t have dryers, people usually hang their clothes up to dry on plastic racks like this.
You’re probably wondering why I’m showing you my laundry rack and what it has to do with anything (especially the mysterious sounding “Emergency Button” up at the top). Allow me to show you.
Once, about a year and a half ago, I was hanging up some laundry to dry in my living room. As the bottom of the laundry rack started to run out of space, I started flipping open the legs on the top level of the rack to hang more clothes on. As I was flipping them, this accidentally happened:
Basically as I flipped one of the legs down, it struck the Emergency Button and the next thing I knew, a piercing alarm starting ringing and red lights started flashing. Very Star Trek “red alert” style. Of course, I start freaking out, because the last thing I need is the police rushing into my apartment, so try to “unpush” the button – only, it’s stuck “pushed in” and won’t turn off no matter what I do!
Finally, after about 10 minutes (literally) of increasingly desperate manipulation on my part (at that point I was basically pounding the thing with my fists trying to break it), I stumbled upon the solution: you have to pop the little plastic cover off with your fingernail (there’s a hidden switch behind the cover on the top of the speakerphone) and then you can deactivate it from the inside. As the red lights faded away and the klaxons died down, I remembering wiping the sweat from my brow and thinking to myself that it was pretty depressing to think that a loud emergency alarm had been wailing away for the past 10 minutes in the middle of a crowded residential neighborhood yet nobody – not a single person – had bothered to inquire as to my well being. *sigh*
Cut back to yesterday. I’m sitting at home, starving with no food in the house, too tired to brave the pouring rain outside and with 2000 yen burning a hole in my pocket (ah, payday). So I do what any true panda would do – I order pizza.
For the record, it was delicious and oh-so-yummy. Dominos pizza opening up a shop in my neighborhood was the best thing to happen to the hood in a long while. But before we get to the part where I enjoy my succulent taste treat sensation, let me lay out the dramas for you.
So I’m sitting at my desk (they umm, cut off my internet for forgetting to pay them, so all I could do was stare glumly at the non-connected computer and sigh) watching the seconds tick by when suddenly I hear the familiar “ding-dong” of my doorbell. Hooray! Delicious pizza is soon to be had! I leap out of my chair and run over towards the door phone buzzer thing to confirm it’s the delivery man and not some random person trying to get me to buy something (or, heaven forbid, the NHK guy). I pick up the phone.
Disembodied Dominos Delivery Man Voice: “Hello. Domino’s pizza. Is – ”
Emergency Alarm of Doom: aaaAAAUUUUOOOOOGGHHHAAAA AAAAUUUUOOOOOGGGHHHAAAA!!!! BBZZZZ BZZZZ BZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!! aaaAAAAUUUUOOOOOGGHHHHAAA!!!! BBBzzzBZZZZ!!! BZZZZ BZZZ!
Disembodied Dominos Delivery Man Voice: “aaaAAHH!! GOMEN NASAI (I’m sorry!!!)!”
Panda: “What the hell…?”
I realize to my horror and dismay that the emergency alarm has been tripped. My first thought (besides “shit, the delivery boy is probably running away right now clutching my sweet piping hot pizza”) was that I had somehow accidentally pushed the button by mistake when I picked up the phone to answer the door. Panicking, I rip off the cover to the button and toggle the reset switch to no avail. As the alarm keeps sounding and the lights flashing, I realize I have no idea what to do. But I do know that I want my pizza, and so not really sure what on earth is going on, I run over to the front door and fling it open to find….
The crazy senile old woman from down the hall standing in her pajamas in front of my apartment. I stop short and stand there and stare at her, now definitely not sure what the hell is going on.
Perhaps a brief explanation is in order. I don’t much talk to my neighbors – while most of the tenants in my apartment are scummy hosts and hostesses who work the clubs downtown, the ones on my floor tend to be older working couples. They keep to themselves, which is just fine by me, and aside from a few brief greetings on the rare occasion we might share the elevator or run into each coming out our doors in the morning, we have barely acknowledged each others presence in the past three years.
A few months ago, the neighbor down the hall – a nice enough middle aged woman with an on-again off-again male aquaintance I see staying over sometimes – had what I can only presume to be her mother move in with her. Her mother – the aforementioned crazy senile old woman – is exactly as described: old, crazy and somewhat senile. She has a penchant for wandering around in her pajamas, is clearly not all there in the head and speaks with an incomprehensible inaka dialect. She’s also picked up by some sort of senior center/nursing home van three times a week and appears to enjoy weeding, which would make a lot more sense if we had any grass in front of our apartment instead of just a concrete lot. This unfortunately does not stop her and on several occasions I have come very close to running her over pulling into the parking lot as she sits just around a blind corner pulling random bits of greenery out of the cracks in the asphalt.
Unlike the rest of my neighbors, the crazy old woman doesn’t appear very concerned with the rules of our unspoken non-communication covenant and as a result she often tries to talk to me whenever we pass each other in the halls. Now normally this would be something that would make me quite happy except in her case a) I can never understand a mushy dialect ridden word that comes out of her mouth and b) I don’t think she realizes I’m not only in my 20′s but also a foreigner, and thus even if I could understand her, I still, erm, couldn’t understand her. So our conversations usually go a little like this:
Crazyoldwoman: “mmmpphhhhgghmmpphh hhhmmm ne.”
Panda: “Ummm. Yes?”
Crazyoldwoman: “mmmphhhmpphggghghhh mmghhghghghhh ghhhhgg desho.”
Panda: “….right. So I need to go now.”
Crazyoldwoman: “mmmmp yone. hehhehheh.” *burps*
Anyway, so back to the situation at hand. The crazy old woman (in her pajamas) sees me come out of my door and starts trying to talk to me in her incomprehensible mishmush speech. The general gist of it is that she accidentally pushed the emergency button in her apartment, doesn’t know how to shut it off and wants me to come into her apartment and help her.
I hesitate. I can’t help but be shallow for a moment and think that all I wanted was a delicious and tasty pizza to place into my starving stomach and now this crazy senile old woman has gone and completely screwed things up, there’s an alarm going off all around me, red lights are flashing and the delivery boy has probably run away in terror at this point. The old woman keeps standing there in front of me gesturing towards her apartment and asking me to go in and help her shut off the emergency button.
And herein lies the dilemma for myself, a foreign male in Japan. I know how to fix this situation – indeed, it would take me all of 5 seconds to run over there, pop the button off the machine and be done with it, but THE LAST THING I want is for the police or someone to show up with emergency alarm ringing and red lights going off to find me A GAIJIN standing in this old woman’s apartment trying to deactivate her emergency call button. Jesus christ, what to do!!!?? The fact that she’s senile and probably won’t be able to explain to the police what happened clearly either doesn’t help either. Because they sure as hell aren’t going to believe me without corroboration.
There is a dual discrimination at work here which I am acutely aware of:
1. I’m a man.
2. I’m foreign.
Make no mistake. A foreign female could walk into this old woman’s apartment, deactivate the alarm and if the police show up, explain the situation without any problems. She’d probably get a medal or something. But with men, people always assume the worst – it reminds me of this time in university when I was sitting in a park – hanging out, relaxing – when all of a sudden three cops rolled up along side and started asking me what how I was doing – what I was doing. They weren’t outright accusatory but it was clear from their tone of voice that they thought it was pretty strange a young (minority) male would be hanging out by himself in a park filled with kids. They left me alone after a couple minutes, but the experience made me pretty pissed – after all, they didn’t bother any of the half dozen or so young women sitting at benches scattered around the park. The message was clear: if you have a penis, you might be a pedophile. *sigh*
While I can understand the logic behind their actions, it doesn’t make it any more “correct” than racial profiling – pulling over black drivers, strip searching air travellers of middle eastern origin, what have you. Yet that’s the way the proverbial sexist cookie crumbles when you’re a man, and I’m aware that the Japanese police would probably be a lot more… skeptical than the Madison PD if they were to show up while I’m in this old woman’s apartment trying to deactivate her emergency alarm.
But being a man is not the only reason why – after all, a Japanese guy might get some initial static from the po-po if they found him in a similar situation, but I’m fairly certain the misunderstanding would be quickly cleared up. On the other hand, I have the misfortune of existing in that murky overlap at the centerof the universal ven diagram of cultural misunderstanding: not only am I a man, but I’m also foreign. And it goes without saying that to the Japanese police – hell, to any police, anywhere…! the term (young, to boot) “foreign male” can be considered synonymous with the term “criminal”.
I’m reminded of a verse from Mos Def’s “Mr. Nigg*”:
They stay on Nigg* patrol on American roads
And when you travel abroad they got world Nigg* laws
Some folks get on a plane go as they please
But I go over seas and I get over siezed
London-Heathro, me and my people
They think that illegal’s a synonym for Negro
Far away places, customs agents flagrant
They think the dark face is smuggle weight in they cases
Bags inspected, now we arrested
Attention directed to contents of our intestines
Urinanalyis followed by X-rays
Interegated and detained to damn near the next day
No evidence, no appology and no regard
Even for the big American rap star…
Societies all over the world have always been pretty hostile towards foreign males in their presence, and never is this hostility more vehemently expressed than when it comes to “protecting” “their women” from the “marauding clutches” of foreign males. One can only wonder, for example, how many young minority males in America have been lynched, executed, disenfranchised and/or falsely incarcerated under the pretense of “protecting” white anglo-saxon females from all manner of imagined evil. This – along with the less-than-tender ministries of the Japanese justice system – hanging heavily in my mind, I decide that the wisest course of action at hand is simply to tell this woman how to fix her emergency button and let her do it herself.
So I do:
Panda: “Listen. You need to remove the cover and hit the ‘reset’ switch, okay?”
Crazyoldwoman: “mmmgggfhhhhmmmmm ne.”
Panda: *sighing heavily* “Please listen. Just remove the cover and press the switch. That’s all you have to do.”
Crazyoldwoman: “gmgmmmmggmmmm….wakaran (I don’t know how to do that)”
Panda: “Look, you’re killing me here. JUST REMOVE THE COVER – with your hand – AND PRESS THE SWITCH. I CAN’T COME INTO YOUR APARTMENT TO HELP YOU.”
Crazyoldwoman: “wakaran wakaran. Onisan chotto tasukeni kitte!?”
(“I don’t understand, I don’t understand. Can you come and help me?“)
*sigh* I don’t know what to do or how better to explain the process to her (it’s really not that complicated but as previously mentioned, she’s a few cookies short of a dozen) and I’m still trying to figure out where my pizza went. So I just repeat myself one more time, then close the door and go grab my cell phone, hoping to ring up dominos and explain what happened to them so they can send the delivery driver back. Just as I grab my cell phone, the doorbell rings. I run back to the front door and open it to find a very confused looking pizza boy standing there. He looks really young and his crooked plastic white nametag reads “Kita”. He glances at the name on the pizza box, then up at me.
Kita: “Mr. Michael Panda?”
Panda: “Yup, that’s me. Gimmie gimmie!”
Kita hands over the pizza and I pay him. He keeps glancing over at the alarm going off to the right and the senile old woman sticking her head out the door. I realize that if I don’t do something right now, I’m going to have to listen to that alarm all night long. And Mistar Dominos Delivery Man is my best chance to handle this situation without getting falsely arrested. I grab his arm.
“Kita is it?” I ask, looking at his nametag. I’m certain at this point that he must be no older than 18. “Mate, you need to come with me” I say to him. I take him by the sleeve and pull him over to the woman’s apartment. The old woman starts beckoning us to come in.
“Kita, you’ve gotta hold the door” I tell him, “and no matter what, don’t lose sight of me. I’m going in to fix this woman’s alarm and I need you to be my witness.” Kita – empty blue pizza carrier bag tucked and folded under his left arm is shooting me a look like “WTF mate, WTF.” I realize how bizarre this situation must seem to him, but at least if the cops show up, this way I’ve got Kita the Dominos Pizza Delivery Boy at the door who can hopefully attest that I’m here trying to help this old woman as opposed to raping or trying to murder her.
I roll inside the apartment and pop the cover. The old woman stops her pacing for a minute and is all like “Ahh, that’s how you fix it. Why didn’t you just say so?” (cue sigh on my part). More for Kita’s sake than out of actual concern (I’m pretty irritated at this point) I make a point of exaggeratedly asking the woman if she’s okay.
“Yes, yes, I’m okay” she mumbles incomprehensibly. “I just wanted to push the button to see what happened.” (or something to that effect). It’s all I can do to avoid growling at her. Kita is standing at the door possibley even more uncomfortable than I.
“Well, don’t push it again unless it’s a REAL emergency, okay?” I turn around and roll out the door, pausing to say “thank you” to Kita. He shoots me a look like “WTF mate” to which all I can do is shrug because I’m not about to try and explain this situation to him when all I want to do is put pizza in my bellah.
The sad part of this story is that I know he went back to Dominos and immediately told everyone he works with this story, which sucks incredibly because everybody already knows me as “the gaijin that orders pizza” and no matter how Kita lays down this story, it’s going to sound seriously messed up, because it is (“So then when I showed up there was this alarm going off and red lights flashing and then the gaijin went into this crazy old womans apartment and disabled her alarm and told me to leave…”). Now they’re going to think that I’m weirder than they already think I am (because once I asked them to make a pizza without mayonaise and shrimp) and I’m gonna have to wait a few weeks before ordering pizza from there again lest I die from embarassment.
Thus, the moral of this story: if you see a button on the wall with red writing on that says “EMERGENCY” – DON’T F-ING PUSH IT UNLESS THERE’S AN EMERGENCY!
Now watching: “世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ”
(“crying out love in the center of the world“)
“In 1980s Kyushu, two teenagers fell in love, and exchanged their secrets and thoughts by way of sending tape recordings to each other.
More than a decade later, the boy (now grown-up and embittered) rediscovers the last recording of his long-dead lover’s voice. Her words trigger a series of flashbacks illustrating the joyful beginning and tragic end of their relationship.“