Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Past couple days, were you to drive by my house up here on this mountainside in central Japan you might see a very focused foreigner, kneeling in his driveway with a small bamboo rake in his hand, nose close to the ground, peering intently at the soil. That would be me.

I’m kneeling not out of reverence of any standard kind, though reverence should never be very far away no matter what you’re doing, even writing about love hotels, as I was doing before I came out here to kneel in the driveway. No, I’m kneeling in the driveway because we have a new roof. Lately I try to spend a couple hours a day out here, when I can. Because if you’ve recently had a roof put on you can’t really spend too much time kneeling in the driveway.

And what in the world is the connection between those disparately eclectic events, I can hear folks asking from many and varied locations. The connection, if you must know - and if you are planning a new roof it could certainly be to your hoove to know – two flat tires so far: One. Two. Snow tires, too. Actually the same tire. The one that enters the driveway first.

It all began a month or so ago [cue music segue, softly blurred visuals] when we had our first flat tire in 15 years. Took it to the tire shop to have it repaired and the guy said the cause of the severe flatness was a nail: a short nail with a large head. Well, a bit of bad luck, we thought, running over that nail on the road by sheer chance, fell off a carpenter's truck or something.

Then a week later, the same tire went flat overnight. Lousy repair job, we thought. Another guy at the tire shop said no, it was a new leak, caused by a nail: a small nail, with a big head. That was when the 5- yen coin dropped (idioms don't travel well). Roofing nail. ROOF. From when the guys tore off our old shingles and all the tarpaper. A few nails had escaped into the wild, just as tacks often do, there to lie pointedly in wait for soft prey...

So the next day that had any decent sunlight I was out there kneeling where we used to park the van, bamboo rake in hand, going over the ground inch by inch (a square inch can hold about nine roofing nails, points up). After the first ten minutes I was appalled by what I’d found, and amazed that we hadn’t had a flat a minute for the past month. Kind of a miracle, actually. Though the gods aren’t exactly smiling on us, they’re definitely not frowning. More like a smirk. Make that two smirks.

Which is why you see me kneeling in the driveway, honoring the gods.

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