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Perfectly Good Stuff

April 2000

By Chris Ward

In Japan, no one has any room to store much of anything, and when you get something new you have to get rid of something old to make room for the something new. When you get rid of it, if it’s big, you have to call the “sodai gomi” (big garbage) agency to find out what day they can pick up your sodai gomi; then you put it out on the sidewalk and they come and pick it up. End of story, unless you’re a gaijin living in Japan. You drive by and see perfectly good stuff sitting on the sidewalk and say, “Jeez, that’s perfectly good stuff! They’re throwing it away! We could use that! Let’s take it!” This is what happened to someone you know just the other day – we’ll call him Bud.

Bud was riding along on his bike in his business suit. He was on his way to his kids’ school, where he reads to the 2nd and 4th grades every Monday morning whether they want him to or not. He was riding along and then he saw some perfectly good stuff sitting on the sidewalk: two pretty nice tansu (Japanese bureaus made from nice wood with lots of drawers) tagged as “gomi” and ready to be taken away. Wow!

“How can they throw this away?” Bud said to himself. “My wife —we’ll call her Nipsy – and I shelled out $1,000 for one of these things in an antique store last year and now here are two of the sons-o’bitches sitting on the sidewalk, fergodsake!”

He continued pedaling, knowing that he could not fit these tansu in the basket on the front of his bike. He went to his kids’ school, and read to the kids, all the while thinking, “How can I get my hands on those gomi tansu?” When his reading chores were done, he called his wife and told her, “Nipsy! Get in the car and drive down Imadegawa to Kushihachi! There are tansu on the sidewalk! I’ll see you there!” And he rode away to meet her.

Nipsy jumped into the car and met Bud at the spot with the tansu ten minutes later. “Oh, boy – tansu!” said Nipsy. “Let’s take them home!” Bud took off his suit jacket and the two of them set to work cramming as much of the two tansu into the car as they could. It was hard work, but Bud and Nipsy were getting perfectly good stuff for free. They managed to get most of it into the car, and Nipsy drove home and Bud went off to work.

There are many alternate endings to this story. On a sitcom, Bud and Nipsy would get the tansu home and discover that it had an infestation of rabid weasels inside! Ho ho! Or maybe they’d be arrested for theft because their Japanese was so bad that they mistook a delivery from an antique store for some gomi! Ha ha! They’d get taken to jail and be thrown into a cell with the Kyoto equivalent of Rob and Laura Petrie, who’d been mistakenly arrested for some silly thing themselves! Wild! In a Hitchcock film the tansu would hold some secret plans in a hidden panel, and Nipsy and Bud would be stalked by Willem Dafoe wearing an ugly tooth-prosthesis like the one he had in Wild at Heart. Wow!

The real ending is that the tansu are sitting in Bud and Nipsy’s bedroom. I said this was a typical story, not a funny story. Sorry to disappoint you. What’s remarkable about all this is that two grown-ups would risk the glares of offended Japanese to take home garbage in broad daylight, loading old furniture into a car with diplomatic plates – the only such plates in Kyoto. (I forgot to mention that Bud is a diplomat.) But Bud and Nipsy are Americans – gajin – and they can’t bear to see this stuff thrown away. Waste not, want not. And besides, they have a big enough apartment to take such stuff in. It’ll look like a rummage sale by the time they leave. Adventures in paradise! Gomi galore!

© 1992 by Christopher Ward. All rights reserved. This column first appeared in the Fall 1992 edition of  "The Spouses’ Underground Newsletter.“