With great thanks and enthusiasm for our many entries (you guys are funny!), please applaud the winning entry by Kerri Buckley:
People jump to—from
Underworlds, Heavens, watched by
Open mouth, glass eye
Kerri Buckley won First Place for Poetry in the 2009 Inland Empire California Writer’s Club’s (IECWC) Annual Poetry Contest. In 2010, she has poems in two anthologies: The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems (Red Hen Press), and Chopin and Cherries—which sounds better than frozen fish head on concrete, hold the garnish.
(PS. Anyone up for making this an annual contest?)
Previously, on “Japan, My Foot.” Now that we’ve covered that:
As it turned out, I panicked needlessly. The Uniform who pushed my wheelchair used a freight elevator that left both Cliff and me outside the ticket gate.
I might have noticed that I was outside the ticket gate when I discovered Cliff’s rail pass, but I was too busy being hysterical. Cliff, on the other hand, calmly proceeded from coin locker to TIC, as planned. When I didn’t show, he set out to find me.
We successfully used the wheelchair system to return to Tokyo, then to leave the country. Heading to Narita Airport from Ueno, one of Tokyo’s mammoth train stations, the Ueno Uniform rolled me right up to the main escalator and chained it off behind us, forcing many harried commuters to take the steps. He stopped the escalator at a stair that opened up into a platform and loaded me onto it, all the while providing a constant stream of exquisitely polite narration:
“I am now troubling you greatly by making you wait for the escalator.”
“I am now locking down your honorable wheelchair.”
I traveled from Ueno to Narita, flew to Bangkok, changed planes, flew to northern Thailand, and checked into our hotel in Chiang Mai, taking no more than forty paces. My pregnant dromedary trotted gamely alongside the whole way. Two weeks later, we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Cambodia? This chick is going to Cambodia? At the very least, she’s bound to stumble into some renegade Khmer Rouge. I’m not counting on her survival, but we’ll find out soon enough.
If you are just joining us, click here. If you have been a good reader, an attentive reader, welcome back after a long weekend of getting dressed for the Oscars. I’m wearing Armani. Our lame heroine is not. In our last episode, she was wearing little more than her borrowed wheelchair. As we resume, however, she appears to forgiven that cad, Cliff …
What a relief, to discover that Japan’s larger train stations offered wheelchair services. Suddenly, our journey back to Tokyo was looking manageable. Cab to Kurashiki Station, where a wheelchair manned by a station employee in a crisp uniform, cap, and white gloves rolled me to our seats. The employee then radioed to Kyoto, our destination, where a similarly dressed fellow would take over.
The long train pulled into the somewhat familiar, ten-story amalgamation of train station, department store and underground shopping arcade. Waiting on the platform was another white-gloved Uniform. He stood behind a kuruma isu, stood at the precise spot where the door to our car would open. We split up, Cliff to drop in a coin locker the excessive luggage he still carried and me to meet him at the Tourist Information Center.
As if by perverse plan, the moment Cliff disappeared, The Uniform said he could not take me outside the ticket gate.
He said, “This is a Japan Rail wheelchair. It can only be used within the JR.”
“But I’m meeting my husband at the TIC.”
“Then you will have to walk.”
“I can’t walk.” Hence the wheelchair, you lame-o.
The best of my grunty Japanese convinced The Uniform to take me to an elevator that left me fifty feet from a ticket gate. I reached into my fanny pack for my JR Pass.
I found not only mine, but Cliff’s.
Cliff couldn’t exit the JR area without the pass to prove he had paid his fare. He was probably being detained at one of the dozens of ticket gates. In this hyper-honest country, he was probably being bludgeoned as a thief.
I gimped twenty feet, to the Reservations counter, trying not to sob as I stood in line. When my turn finally came, I got out “husband” and “lost” before the waterworks took over completely. The eighteen-year-old behind the counter shook in consternation.
I clutched my cane. If he said my Japanese was very good, I would cave his skull in.
Eventually, I made it clear that he needed to make an announcement. At long last, over the muffled loudspeaker, I heard, “Would Mr. Hall Alle please meet Miss Meyer Cliff . . . ” in the accented English understood only by those who could also speak Japanese.
Really weeping now, I decided I simply had to walk to the TIC. I made it up the first flight of stairs and started across the long passage when I saw a single, shining, white forehead bobbing amid a sea of immaculately groomed black hairdos like a beloved buoy.
Well! I, for one, am quite relieved. For the moment … see you in two days for the next calamitous installment.
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Previously, on “Japan, My Foot”:
We planned a day at Korakoen, one of Japan’s “Big Three” gardens. This would require somehow taking the wheelchair on the train from Kurashiki to Okayama. Kurashiki’s main station had no elevator and no escalator, only a steep staircase and four able-bodied railroad employees. They surrounded me, a precision drill team, turned my wheelchair around and carried me, in it, down the steep stairs. Backward.
“This is a little scary,” I told the team captain.
“Your Japanese is very good!”
The next obstacle: finding a bathroom.
Next to Okayama Station, in Daiei—a department store akin to K-Mart—we were happy to discover that the Japanese love of technology had affected even the wheelchair-accessible dumping grounds of low-end department stores. I pressed a large red button to open the door, rolled in, and pressed a large green button to close it. Cliff thought it would be funny to play a trick we often played on each other back home. He thought he’d turn the bathroom light off with me inside.
Unfortunately, instead of hitting the lights, my husband pressed the large red button. The door slid open, revealing me and my big, white butt.
I yowled as you might expect a person to, should she find herself in a foreign country with her anus on display. Flustered by the murderous caterwauling, Cliff proceeded to punch every button in sight. The door closed and the light shut off, leaving me in the pitch dark, half out of my chair.
These two travel like The Three Stooges. Wanna read more funny bumblings?
Kuruma isu? Oba-use? What is going on?
We left Nagasaki for Kurashiki, a city of 500,000, known for its historic district of restored wooden buildings and a long moat surrounded by willows and crossed by bridges. Quoth the guidebooks: an ideal atmosphere in which to amble. I finally agreed to go to the hospital.
The doctor diagnosed a pulled tendon and oba-use. That’s Japanese for “overuse”; I shit thee not. He prescribed painkillers and an ace bandage. (Note to self: add ace bandage to medical kit.) I asked if the hospital could lend me a kuruma isu.
The doctor sucked air through his teeth. This meant what I had asked for would be very difficult. Fifteen minutes later, however, a wheelchair appeared. The seat was brown, the leather cracked and the footrests rusty, but it got me around Kurashiki—despite the cobbled streets and museums lacking elevators. I developed a fierce resentment for those unaware of the difficulties of someone in a wheelchair, trying to make her way through the narrow aisles of a crowded shop. With my cane, I poked meanly at their ankles.
“You’re being,” Cliff grinned through the beard he was tugging, “a bitch on wheels.”
A break from Kurashiki was in order. We planned a day at Korakoen, one of Japan’s “Big Three” gardens. This would require somehow taking the wheelchair on the train from Kurashiki to Okayama. Kurashiki’s main station had no elevator and no escalator, only a steep staircase and four able-bodied railroad employees. They surrounded me, a precision drill team, turned my wheelchair around and carried me, in it, down the steep stairs. Backward.
(No dramatic music) We can’t even ask questions here, so baited is our breath. Tune in next week for more Foot-less in Japan.
Raher than rent a car, we decided Cliff would carry everything. He stuffed the contents of his daypack into his main backpack, then donned the now sixty-pounder. Next, he hoisted my pack in front, covering his chest and stomach. With one free hand, he clutched my daypack. The poor boy looked like a pregnant dromedary on its hind legs, forced to carry a daypack. Every time he moved, he clanked and rattled.
“What is that?” he demanded, prevented from tugging his beard by the pack slung across his stomach.
I could hardly say, “Twenty-one pounds of ineffectual potions in individual glass bottles.”
We took the train to Shikoku, the smallest of the four Japanese islands, met our friend, and continued to the next island south, Kyushu. Cliff bought me a cane. Crossing the entirety of Kyushu to Nagasaki, we stayed at Minshuku Fumi. Minshuku are family-run inns, but Minshuku Fumi was run by one extremely sweet guy. He told me his surname several times, but between the Nagasaki dialect and the incessant throbbing in my foot, it wouldn’t stick. I thought of him as Mr. Fumi.
Cliff thought I should ask Mr. Fumi if they might have a wheelchair at our primary destination, the Gembaku Shiryo-kan, referred to by everyone but the guidebooks as the A-bomb Museum. As soon as my sentence hit the word I didn’t know, “wheelchair,” I mimed rolling myself along.
“Kuruma isu?” asked Mr. Fumi.
Kuruma is Japanese for “car.” Isu means, “chair.” I grinned and parroted, “Kuruma isu.”
Mr. Fumi clapped with delight. “Your Japanese is so good!”
(Dramatic music) Again with the dramatic music? Feh. Post more mishegas, already, so I can get to my early-bird dinner.