Friday, March 10, 2006

Sleeping in the Gutters: "Shimura Cleaning"


By Muff Richardson

Being a Scotsman, I took a pair of ancient forlorn summer sandals with the left sole hanging off to the local "Mister Minute" shoe-fixer place inside our goodly neigbourhood depaato on Saturday, only to find that the cobbler's in question has recently gone arse-upwards and closed down with a frozen f*cking yoghurt and crepe emporium standing proudly in its stead.

Undeterred, I lurched along to a nearby smallish easily missed joint further down the road that's a dry cleaners by name but, I'd been told, also does alterations to clothes and, more importantly to my good self, offers a shoe-repair service to, erm, boot.

This place is manned, ironically given their gender, by three Jap birds. It's a bit of a "Generation Game" sketch, to all extents and purposes: meet the Shimizus! The miniature leather-faced old bag that sits on a stool at the end of the counter looking pissed and bewildered and staring into space; her middle-aged daughter, a rotund and ruddy-jowled excitable woman with breasts like melons who barks at customers with a rasping growl that sounds like she's been gargling diesel all morning; and the grand-daughter, a jolly wee bundle of dentally-challenged energy of some twenty summers whom, given half a dozen tins of strong beer and previous access to internet porn, I'd definitely shag once she'd taken her bottle-end specs off and made friends with a toothbrush and some mouthwash.

Anyway, the damaged shoe sole in question needed, basically, a smattering of glue. Mister Minute would have bonded and set it while I waited, polished the shoes up a bit on his spinning brush-wheel, told me about the time he went to Oregon to visit his sister who married a lumberjack, and charged me the princely sum of 200 yen for the entire 20 minute operation. I say this with unbridled confidence, for Mister Minute had done exactly that to this same pair of shoes 6 months ago.

With the Shimizu clan, however, a different scenario immediately unfolded. They don't do repairs in situ but, rather, sub-contract the job to some bloke somewhere else. It'll take about a week. The bloke will look at the skis and give you an estimate for the job. If you agree to his quote, he'll fix them and you can pick them up from chez Shimizu when they're ready. Fair enough: how do I know what the estimate comes to? No problem: leave your phone number and we'll ring you before Wednesday with the price.

I gave them my keitai number and wrote my address on a form for them in scribbled kanji and kana that were much admired by all three ladies, the moreso as the calligraphy flowed from a gaijin hand. In short, we had no problems communicating and I left the store with a spring in my step to the usual chorus and catcalls telling me how stunning and fluent my Japanese is...

Imagine my surprise, then, when I check my keitai an hour ago and there's one voice message. I recognise the voice. It's Rotund Shimizu, and I can hear Grandma and Jack 'o Lantern Teeth in the background filling in the harmonies. It goes like this (in Japanese):

Rotund: Eeeeeeeeeee. Aaaaaaaaaaa. Doushiokaaaaa? Gaijin nan da yo, dakara nihongo wakaran daro, messeiji nokosu no niiiiiiiiii? Dou sureba iii?
Grandma: Hayaku shiiiiiyaa!
Rotund: Maki-chan eigo dekiru jarou? Shabete!
Jack 'O' Lantern Teeth: Iya da! Yamete chodai! Mouuuuuuuu! Okaasan eigo de shabriiiiyyyyaaaa!
All: Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!
Call abruptly terminated.


Rotund: Oooooooh shite!. What the f*ck shall I do? He's a f*cking foreigner, won't understand a f*cking word of Japanese even if I leave a bloody message? What the f*ck shall I do?
Grandma: Get a move on you daft cow!
Rotund: Maki, you can speak English can't you? get on this f*cking blower!
Jack 'O' Lantern Teeth: Piss off! Give it a f*cking rest! Shite! Why don't you speak to the c*nt in English, mum!
All: Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!...
Call abruptly terminated.

I called them back (their number was dispayed on my keitai). It went like this (in Japanese but I'll give the English version only):

Rotund: Hello, Shimizu Cleaning.
Muff: Hello, I'm the foreigner who can't understand Japanese. You called my keitai earlier and left a message. I presume you've got a price for my shoes?
Rotund: Eh? How did you know...
Muff: I heard your message, and realised who it was.
Rotund: But I didn't leave a message.
Muff: But I heard you talking, saying that I wouldn't understand because I'm a foreigner.
Rotund: Oh, sorry, sorry. I'm so rude. I'm sorry.
Muff: I thought it was funny.
Rotund: You speak very good Japanese. Unbelievable.
Muff: How much are the shoes going to be.
Rotund: Erm..... 4,600 yen.
Muff: What! I paid less than that when I bought the bastards. They only need a bit of glue. Mr Minute charges 200 yen for fixing the f*cking things.
Rotund: But we have to send them to Osaka.
Muff: F*ck that then. All bets are off. I'll pick them up tomorrow and take them somewhere else.
Rotund: Okay. You speak very good Japanese...

.........Sleeping in the Gutters will appear around twice a month in this space. You can contact the author at All comments and queries are welcome, but he especially hopes to hear from "any birds that's not too particular like." Finally, please remember that any opinions and vulgarities in "Sleeping in the Gutters" do not necessarily reflect my own views............


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