February 20, 2014

Just Being There

The Yamanote train line encircles Tokyo. It hits all the major stops from Shibuya and Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Ueno.

I was riding the Yamanote at rush hour and anyone who rides at rush hour knows that you should never, ever ride the Yamanote at rush hour. It ought to be avoided like splinters, land wars in Asia, and stepping in dog poo.

The train was packed. When I say packed I don't mean a lot of people were on board, I mean everyone was on board. Like all of Japan was seated, standing, squashed-against-your-neighbor-as-they-are-squashed-against-you packed.You've seen the photos of those guys at Tokyo station; the guys with the white gloves pushing and shoving people onto the train at rush hour. I was one of the pushed and shoved.

I was to exit at Ebisu station. Ebisu is a nice station. It is clean and modern looking. I can't remember why I was to exit there, but I was. This station and I had history. Several months earlier I had been running to catch a train. The nice station lady on the loudspeaker always tells you not to run for the train because in Japan another train is just around the bend. But I ran for the train anyway - to hell with the nice station lady.

The train was leaving, the tones were toning, I ran, and I missed the train. Not literally, mind you. I didn't literally miss the train. I literally hit the train. See, the doors closed on me just as my left foot left the platform. My left foot hit the train. Literally. And because my weight was on it, I fell. I fell into the space between the train and the platform. My entire left leg - up to the groin - was dangling into this space and my back was splayed against the train. Uncomfortable.

There were gasps - not my own. People on the train freaked. And the train was leaving - they had a schedule to keep. So, I moved quickly and tumbled my way out - I shifted my weight and threw my leg over my head and front rolled or something. It worked. I wasn't cuisinarted between the train and platform and shredded to death as I would later hear someone actually had been. As I came out of the roll I tried to act natural. I mean, as natural as one can in avoiding spinning, shredded, cuisinarted death. So, this station and I had history.

We pull into Ebisu and it just so happens I am the first one off the train. This is quite liberating, knowing that, in a sense, you control the destinies of everyone in tow, since you lead the charge out the doors. I was ready to charge after the packed, sweaty, ride. The trains in summer can sometimes be as fresh as gym shorts.

The train stops, the doors open. I take a single step out, ready to sidestep the deluge of people about to flood the platform - there's a certain undulating inertia needed for that many people to exit cohesively. But there was a problem. The guy off the train right after me trips. He didn't even step upon the platform, he trips out of the train and spills onto me, like the creepiest human blanket ever.

Now, had I taken just one more step it would have spelled curtains for him: This fellow would have hit the deck and everyone in Japan would have avalanched in the most epic Mt. Fuji dog pile ever. Mel Brooks once said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." My one more step begged comedy gold.

Bear in mind, "Comedy Gold" does not meet a high bar in Japan. I remember watching TV upon my arrival and being utterly dumbfounded as to what the hell was so funny about skinny men failing miserably at head stands while wearing black unitards.

And then I lived there for three years. And I gotta say, the sight of a grown man standing atop a table wearing nothing but a Kewpie doll hair cap imitating the naked Kewpie doll he has just posed into Yoga's "sun salutation" in a bid to crack his stony-faced cohorts deserved a goddamned Emmy.

So, I braced. I braced until "Trippy" found his footing and his balance and didn't face suffocation under the rest of Japan. I waited, along with everyone else, until he got up and off me. It was only then that I took my second step and continued on my way. Just being there is sometimes enough to help someone else find their footing.

I had only made it about five more steps when a young, suited fellow walked quickly in front of me, spun on his heels, bowed, and said in perfect English, "Thank you!" He then spun just as quick and disappeared into the crowd.

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