Saturday, October 16, 2004


Today the three roofers were here, as they have been for the past several days, pounding, drilling and crowbarring on the roof right above our heads; and every day, as is always done under such circumstances here in Japan, around three oclock in the afternoon-- tea time-- the lady of the house brings out some tea or coffee and snacks for the workmen, a ritual ceremony couched in the honorific female-to-male language traditionally suited to such employee/employer-related service occasions since feudal times, and so it has traditionally gone until today, when my wife had to go on several urgent errands in the afternoon and I happened to have to remain at home working on some manuscripts, so was assigned the task of preparing and serving, at three o’clock sharp, the tea and snacks for the burly guys pounding on the roof.

And so I did: three nice hot cups of tea and a plate of nicely arranged cookies on a doily and I went outside on the deck and set up the table and put the tea and cookies and silverware etc. on it and said up into the sky a singularly male but neither-here-nor-there ‘excuse me,’ and the high-up pounding drilling and crowbarring descendants of samurai paused in their labors and looked over the edge of the roof at the long-haired foreigner standing there (I did NOT have an apron on) and I pointed at the tea (I’ve always been a bit iffy on ceremony) and they…didn’t... know... what... to... say...

There was a long silence that said what there was nothing in their language for... We were all thus abruptly plunged into an antimatter universe, where men serve tea and cookies to men, a place where there was no cultural history, no paradigm at all, so the roofers struggled valiantly with the dilemma and eventually came up with a kind of general all-purpose neither-there-nor-here ‘ok, thank you...’

Thus do we, as world citizens, collectively embark upon the teatime of the new millennium...


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