You can get into so much trouble without even trying...
I was on a dance floor one night, feeling shy and a little awkward.
It had been 6 months since the divorce and it was time to do what I thought
I'd never have to do again...enter the dating world later in life.
Luckily, an equally shy-seeming guy asked me to dance.
That took the edge off. He wasn't much of a dancer, but he was kind
of cute in an earnest kind of way.
After awhile, he leaned in and asked if we could take a break
and get something to drink. He was in a little pain, he confided.
He was dancing on a broken foot.
"Wow!" I thought. "He must really like to dance!"
When he told me a little later that he had broken BOTH his feet
that very afternoon, I concluded (quite mistakenly) that this guy
was crazy about dancing!
And so...on the basis of that single...and singular...wrong impression,
I put a rather curious dent in my life for the next 2 1/2 years.
But what has this got to do with Tokyo? I was just getting to that...
Anyway…. so we started hanging out together.
Though we were worlds apart on any regular scale of things,
something clicked with Joe.
He was fun-loving, spontaneous, basic...in that good way.
Just the opposite, in fact, of my ex. Good medicine for the time...
Joe was a rambunctious Irish redhead with a streak of innocent charm
that was quite beguiling. But he was a handful at times!
He loved a good fight, a strong drink and was an avid hunter.
He pulled me into a few worlds I wouldn't have encountered otherwise
and I managed to do the same for him-like the time I took him to Tokyo...
At the time, I was doing business in the Orient. Now Joe was a homebody
and he hated to be left alone while I traveled for 2-3 weeks at a stretch.
When he couldn't persuade me to stay home, he took to unplugging my alarm clock so I'd miss my flights. He tried to sabotage my trips to Japan so many times that I eventually decided to resolve the situation by taking him along.
Joe had never left the state, let alone owned a passport.
This was going to be the adventure of a lifetime for him.
As we headed to the airport that morning, I began to wonder who
would experience the greater culture shock...Joe or the Japanese.
I would have to rein him in a bit and maneuver him carefully through
their complex system of manners.
I should have known better than to try that...
Joe was going to be 'Joe', no matter what I tried to tell him.
There would be no 'civilizing' this Irishman!
It was going to be a bumpy trip!
We were tired and cranky by the time we arrived in Tokyo and made it
through customs. I was hoping to get some sleep as night fell,
was suddenly wide awake given the 12 hour time difference.
Joe was eager to hit the town!!
So off we went into the night for our first round of exploration.
Joe was unstoppable.
Finally, I pleaded with him to get some rest.
I didn't want to start my 1st full day in Japan with a whopping hangover.
We butted heads until finally, in exasperation, I left him at a busy intersection saying I was going back to the hotel!
"You can't just leave me here like this!" he said.
"Watch me! I need sleep!" I answered.
We parted ways.
He beat me back to the hotel...
The following morning after a traditional Japanese breakfast of steamed rice,
miso soup, grilled fish, pickled vegetables and dried seaweed, which proved inedible to Joe, we went off in search of bright yellow arches...McDonald's,
where he vowed to eat every meal throughout our trip.
Not only was he perplexed with the food, but the calm reserve of the Japanese people was maddening to him.
Joe took one look around at all the sober expressions and decided that this
was not the place for him.
"These people are no fun! You know what they need?! They need to get drunk!
I’m not leaving this country till I get somebody drunk!!"
"What sights do you want to check out?" I asked calmly, changing the subject.
I had a checklist of possibilities ready.
Joe had but one request.
Joe wanted to see Sumo wrestling.
That was hardly my idea of a good time.
But it just so happened that a Grand Sumo Tournament was beginning in Tokyo that day.
"Let's go!" He was halfway out the door as I was telling him we would never get in on such late notice. Seats were reserved a year in advance and the best seats were held by big business and government interests. You couldn't just march in and get a front row seat, but that is what he was determined to do!
I did my level best to reason with him, but soon we were on the train
headed for the stadium.
We argued and fussed the whole way.
Once there, we found the ticket office where we were politely informed
that there were no seats available.
"See?! I TRIED to tell you, but would you listen?! Noooo!"
The scene that followed is best left to the imagination...
Joe was not so easily deterred. We circled the stadium until he found
a momentarily untended entrance.
We slipped inside over my hushed objections.
He was going to find that empty seat!
We walked the nearly empty circular halls. Fans were filling the stadium
in anticipation of the matches. Security was tight.
Joe was not going to get past the attendants at the entrances.
But there was no way Joe was going to get this close to his beloved Sumo
and not be able to watch it in person. By this time, the doors were closing
and the announcers were heard as the crowd began to get quiet.
I pleaded with Joe to give it up. Surely we could find a sports bar
and watch the matches on a big screen somewhere.
Sparks flew between us once more and this time we blasted apart in utter frustration! We stalked off in opposite directions once again!
"I'll see you at the hotel!! Good luck finding your way!" I fumed.
I walked the halls waiting for us to cool off. We should have passed
each other along the way, but there was no sign of Joe.
Something wasn't right!
I began searching for him. No luck! An hour passed.
I was getting nervous. I asked a security guard to help. Still nothing.
Slowly, it dawned on me that the only place we hadn't looked was INSIDE.
He couldn't possibly...well...oh no!
How would I ever find him in that sea of people?
Wait a minute! He's bound to be the only red head in that sea
of black haired folks!
I peered inside...
Moments later, I found him way down in front waving wildly in my direction.
He was calling me down to the ring area. How on earth?!
I slipped down in disbelief past all those rows of seats to an expensive
box seat just 3 rows from the front.
Joe had his arm around an elderly Japanese gentleman.
They were all smiles...just like best buddies!
Then I realized that Joe was propping up a gently swaying drunken
elderly man. They were all smiles, all right!! They were drunk!
I could feel from the surrounding stares that we needed to take our seats.
As we settled in, an attendant brought tea and served it with great care
and ceremony. Then we were served snacks.
This was soon followed with elaborate bento box lunches.
Not your average stadium food!
Box holders were treated like royalty.
I could hardly believe what was happening but there was no time
for explanations. The elaborate rituals were beginning...
A Shinto priest in traditional robes came in to bless the ring
and the participants.
Joe was beside himself with excitement as the first Sumo wrestlers prepared for their contest with the throwing of salt over their shoulders and squared off with the stamping of their feet.
I found it fascinating myself. I began to have a newfound respect for the sport.
It was magical that we were almost close enough to reach out and touch
We were engrossed in the spectacle when suddenly, I felt a sharp tap
on my shoulder.
I turned to see that we were suddenly surrounded by stern security guards.
We were not authorized to be in that box!
All of the luncheon amenities were quickly stripped from the table.
We were being hustled out of the stadium in great disgrace!!
The mildly surprised, but approving nods I encountered on the way down
to the front were replaced with vigorously disapproving glares as we were removed from their midst.
It was agony! I should have known!!!
I was so humiliated!! Joe had stolen someone else's seats!
We would probably be arrested and promptly deported!
Boy! Was Joe going to get a piece of my mind after this mess!
We were led out of the stadium and warned in no uncertain terms not to
re-enter. Tossed out on our ears!
Once outside, humiliation led to fury!
We flared again and stalked off in opposite directions once more!!
An hour passed and once more I was wandering the lonely empty hall.
I should have passed Joe a few times by now but once again,
he'd gone missing.
I started to keep an eye out for him.
This time, the one place he WOULDN'T be was inside.
That much was sure...
I rounded another bend. Still no Joe, but then I saw a well-dressed middle-aged man striding purposefully in my direction. He looked and felt important. I braced myself.
When he was full in front of me, he accosted me with an accusing tone.
"Old man!" he stammered gruffly.
"Old man!!" he persisted.
There was trouble! Had Joe gotten him so drunk that he'd fallen?
Or worse...had a heart attack?!
This situation was getting worse by the minute!
"Old man! You see old man?!" His voice was rough and insistent.
I couldn't lie.
I nodded weakly, bowing my head in resignation for what was to follow.
At this, his demeanor changed abruptly. His face broke into a broad grin.
He bowed slightly and introduced himself. "Come with me, please!" he said excitedly. He took me by the arm and led the way back into the stadium.
We rushed down toward the front rows.
I was aghast! Could this day get any crazier, I wondered?
In fact, he led me back to the very same box we had been expelled from!
And there sat Joe, smiling his most triumphant smile with the old man grinning at his side!
Once we settled in, the rounds of tea and lovely food commenced again.
We were treated like cherished guests!
Then the man explained to me that the old man was his 86 year old father.
His life's work until he retired was as a janitor in that stadium.
His young son, our host and himself now head of an important Japanese company, had often accompanied his father as he cleaned the stands.
He had practically grown up in this stadium.
Now he was a box holder in his own right.
Joe, in befriending his humble and aged father had shown the old man great respect.
Getting him drunk and happy had made his day!
Therefore, we were now his honored guests in return.
in a post script to this story...
I will never forget the day that my rambunctious Irish redheaded friend,
Joe, burst through my back door and strode through the kitchen past my astonished eyes to the living room where he promptly flung himself down
on the carpet, spread-eagled, face to the sky, and cried out with all his big heart “I LOVE being me!!!”
I ran in, alarmed, only half-registering his words.
I was my typical somewhat moody and serious self that afternoon.
Once I actually realized what he had shouted out, I wondered what great event had set that off.
Moments later, I stood over him.
He looked so pleased with himself, fairly bursting with happiness.
The feeling of it just filled up the room and made me want to laugh out loud. He was so disarmingly….well, just so happy.
It made me wonder if I had ever encountered the real thing in all my 40 years. It was as though everything that claimed itself to be happiness to this point had been a mock up, a poor imitation, a caricature.
Now, THIS was happiness!
Writ large, sparkling, bright with shine, electrifying!
The sheer sincerity of it demolished any possible criticism of arrogance or grandstanding. One might suspect that with Joe, for he was larger than life, but not on this day.
In fact, maybe I began to know the real Joe that day.
Not wanting to burst in on his obvious elation, but wondering on one hand what could possibly have happened to put him in such, even for him, high spirits, yet thinking to myself that no one could really be this happy in this day and age, I chose my moment.
“Joe”, I chimed in happily, “what on earth has happened?!”
"Nothing happened!" he grinned back.
For the sheer charm of these moments…
To be sure, relationships are far from perfect and many go by the wayside, especially if one or the other was focused on guiding that relationship in the direction of 'happily ever after'.
Not every relationship belongs to that starry-eyed and hopeful state.
We tend to consign them to the trash heap of personal history and we can neglect to treasure the good and true experiences that that were also a rightful part of those relationships.
Each encounter is filled with wonder and each soul has special value
even if we make a few mistakes along the way...
We should hold to the good whenever possible...