A coworker in the restaurant moved out of his car and into the dorm recently. He has a Border Collie he used to sleep with in the car, and now the dog lives in the car by himself parked outside of the dorm. I’ve only ever seen the coworker in the all you can eat place, mostly cutting vegetables and meat, his head down and wearing a ski cap, his long hair falls in two black chin length puffs on both side of his face. He has scruffy facial hair like most of the Japanese skiers and boarders/summertime white water rafters who work in the area. He’s quiet, and now that he’s come into the dorm I’ve seen him pacing around touching things in the kitchen, not moving his whole head, just his brown eyes side to side. I don’t think he likes me much, I am the worst waitress at work and that is a burden for everyone, but when he plugs in his I-pod, I go out of my way to compliment him on his taste in music. I suppose I need people to be on my side, and most of the music is good. It’s not J-pop.
So the other day he was in the dorm kitchen pacing, sniffing, and touching things–probably because no one has ever shown him around–and I said to try to lighten things up, “You look like a dog.” I guess I associate him with a dog because he has one, and his hair sometimes falls on both sides in two puffs likes Snoopy’s ears. In English I can usually throw ideas out out loud and then decide what I want to do with them, but occasionally in Japanese I don’t have the skills or energy to expand on or defend what I’ve just said, but I don’t remember that in time to stop myself from saying weird things. So apropos of nothing I said he looked like a dog and he didn’t laugh. He just looked at me directly with the brown eyes he doesn’t usually look at me with. Then I left the kitchen. Whatever. What I was also thinking is that he looks like he just got out of prison, because he always wears his jacket and hat inside while he paces, so I guess I could have said something even weirder and harder to defend. It could have been worse.
After work we’re docked a half hour’s pay in exchange for dinner. Usually greasy meat dishes and white rice. Sometimes there’s cabbage. When it’s just me and the kitchen guys I haven’t got a chance in hell in understanding them. They talk fast, they mumble, and their mouths are full. They also don’t talk directly to me and are usually talking about things they all already know about, and I can’t follow it/them, but I don’t exactly mind; I’m tired from making so many mistakes all night and from saying sorry for running into people with my Western sized woman shoulders in a walk-through Japanese kitchen. When my roommate is working she lightens things up at dinner and speaks English or swallows the food in her mouth and talks to me directly in happy Japanese about some bodily function of hers, but on the nights that she leaves early to work at the bar across the street, it’s just me and those guys until around 1:00 a.m.
So the guy who was until recently living in his car with his dog had had a good day boarding in the back country on Mt. Yotei and that was making him more talkative than normal. We were talking about how the manager has a cavity. His cheek has been twitching since I met him, and I asked if he had health insurance and could get it fixed. I was happy I could participate because usually I can’t participate in the conversations because I don’t understand them or because my participation slows down or alters the course of the conversation. I’ve missed some of the best things that have gone on like at one point I knew one waiter had a swollen hand, and I knew he had punched a drunk Australian at work in the bar, but I never put it together until it was directly told to me that his hand was infected from bacteria in that drunk Australian’s mouth. Anyway, on this night I could ask a direct question about the cavity, and we could stay on topic. Score. So the manager said yeah, he had health insurance and he was something something. Besides direct questions, the other way I can participate in conversations I don’t understand is by telling semi autobiographical stories, so I said, again happy to be on topic, one time I went to the emergency dentist for people without health insurance in Portland, and the waiting room was one of the saddest most uncomfortable places I had ever been. I said that if you think your life is bad, you should just go hang out in that poor person’s emergency dentist waiting room for a while and you will feel better about your life. Seriously.
The guy who moved in from his car looked up from his rice and greasy meat and lost it. He started talking rapidly about my dark side. He pointed to our manager with his chopsticks and said he was normal, he pointed to himself and said he was normal, he pointed to my roommate (who had thrown up at work from being hung over that very night) and he said she was happy, but I had a dark side/came from the dark side. No one was laughing because it was too true and too mean. He said it was like I had come back from war etc. etc. etc? I kind of looked at my roommate to translate it, but it was too true and too mean for her to get involved. Also I pretty much understood it and it was too true and too mean and I am too deficient in Japanese to be able to defend or explain myself when I’m the object of a direct attack. Everyone was looking at me, so about having a dark side I said, “maybe” and about war I said, “I have never been.”
My dark side is not a joke, but since then it has become one.
When we got in the van on the way to work last night he asked me if I remembered my dark power and my light saber. He’s called me Darth as in Darth Vader in the kitchen a couple of times.
Over dinner I said Hirafu ought to have a trampoline center for the green season, and he said, can a trampoline hold Emily’s body weight while he was looking right at me and eating, and I said “fuck off,” an English expression I’m starting to try and teach him, and he said, “See? That’s your dark side coming out.”