It was a nice quiet Friday evening in Ol’ Edo. The fan was humming along, blowing the hot humid air around in an attempt to keep me cool. There was no need, as I, being naturally cool, was just fine.
I had the kitchen door open to provide a bit of cross ventilation, something the brilliant architect who designed my mansion had never thought of. I heard a cough outside. I ignored it. Then I heard a “Gomen kudasai.” Who could this be I wondered, not having enough sense to figure out that since I did not know the owner of that voice, it was probably bad news. Like the NHK guy, or a salesman.
"Yes?" I said, as I went to the door.
Outside was young longhaired fellow holding a bunch of plastic bags for recycling the Yomiuru newspaper. He was only slightly surprised at seeing me, and recovered very quickly once he figured out I could speak Japanese. He was the type though, who even if I could not speak Japanese, would probably have not been deterred from his sales pitch.
"I have some vinyl bags for recycling newspapers," he said handing me one. "Do you take a newspaper."
"No, I don’t now," I replied, hoping to get him on his way as soon as possible.
"How long have you been in Japan?"
"About 14 years," I said, falling for first stage of his sales tactics.
"Can you read newspapers…kanji" he asked while drawing something in the air with his left hand.
Catching on slowly, I tried to start extricating myself. “Well, some,” I said.
This made him very happy but not as happy as when he pointed at 読売新聞 written on the vinyl bag he handed me, and asked “Do you know this?” and I mindlessly read the name. He became so happy with oowws and aahs , that I worried he may start dancing. He gave me another vinyl bag. He started asking about my job. He asked if I had ever taken a newspaper before. He asked all kinds of questions, seemingly getting more excited with each one.
"Do you like beer?" "Do you like music?" The fight or flee reflex began to set in, for I was beginning to fear that he was a bit off and was going to ask me to go drinking with him.
But then he went to stage 2 of his sales pitch. “I am 3rd year music student. This is my part time job.” “You like beer, don’t you.”
I tried to deflect that question by putting on a “Nah, not especially” face, but the empty Asahi Dry Black can on the kitchen sink sorta foiled that plan.
"Just a minute, I have some beer. Just a minute." He handed me the rest of the Yomiuri vinyl bags with a laugh and ran for his…whatever vehicle he came on.
I was stuck. Seemed like a nice young kid, or at least a good enough actor that I didn’t wanna be rude and lock the door before he came back.
I waited. He came running back with stage 3 of his sales plan: An overpriced gift box of standard nothing special Japanese beer that we can find in department store during gift giving seasons.
"Here, please take it," he said as I waved it off. "Thanks, but…."
"Please, as a favor to me, please take it." I did not accept it, so he put it on the floor in the entrance. He began to tighten the screws.
"This is my part-time job. If you could take the Yomiuri, for how long would you like it." I did not recall saying anything about taking the Yomiuri, but I replied, "One week." He looked at me a bit confused, but quickly recovered, and said, "If you decide to take it, could you take it for 3 months?" "I’m a student and this is just my part-time job, but could you think about taking it?"
"I’ll think about it," I said, and before I could realize my mistake in saying that he jumped.
"When could you start? Since this is my part time job, I’ll probably be leaving it within this year, so could you think about at least starting from October."
Shit. How did I get into this. “Well, maybe, but I can’t decide now.”
"Please, could you take it? Please?" Lots of salesmanship in Japan includes "please" and repeated bowing I have noticed.
Then I made a lucky mistake. I meant to say that my circumstances right now wouldn’t let me make such a commitment, but he either misunderstood me or I misspoke, and he thought I meant my physical condition wouldn’t let me decide. Either way, it was BS and he knew it, but that sorta BS often works in Japan. Better than just saying no.
"OK, could I come back in September and see if you have decided."
"Sure," I said, pleased that I would get rid of him before work starts on Monday.
"Thank you! I will bring this beer back then," he said as he picked up the gift-box he had placed on the floor of the entrance to my mansion.
With a few bows to me, and me reflexively back to him, he left….leaving me with a bunch of Yomiuri bags with which I will line my trash boxes. Sorta like I’d use the far right Yomiuri newspaper itself to line a birdcage with if I had a bird or if I ever subscribed to the Yomiuri.
The moral of the story could be to never answer the door in Japanese, but then I wouldn’t have had what has to pass for fun and entertainment on a Friday night alone in Tokyo.