It seemed like a really good idea at the time. In late spring of 1990, the entire family was crammed into the Buick, with my wife behind the wheel, coming back from Monroe. "You know," I said, "we ought to get a foreign exchange student to live with us for a year."
"Are you out of your mind?" my spouse gently inquired. "How many of those beers have you had? We have four kids of our own, and the place usually looks like the orphanage in Oliver Twist as it is. How do you propose to feed another mouth?"
"I assure you I have consumed an insignificant number of beers--still in the single digits, I think. This is an excellent idea. We can experience alien cultures without ever leaving the cozy confines of Log Cabin, Louisiana. A true educational experience for these growing young minds, both foreign and domestic. These exchange students pretty much pay their own way. We just provide a bed and another place at the table."
"I guess you'd suggest getting some 18-year-old Swedish nymphet to live with us for a year," she said, in an unnecessarily surly and suspicious tone.
"No, no. Those Europeans are a bit wild, and I don't think I'm ready to tackle the upbringing of a teenaged girl. How about an Oriental boy? I was stationed on Okinawa for a year, and the Japanese strike me as quiet, industrious, polite, studious and conservative folk. He'd probably be a good influence on our own kids," I commented, casting a fishy eye toward 12-year-old Jenny, who was preparing to enter junior high, and who also was, even at that tender age, beginning to show ominous signs of shiftlessness.
The following day, to my amazement, Trish didn't slam the door on the idea when I suggested calling the local representative of the company that handled the exchanges. The woman arrived at the house, took a quick look around, didn't notice any obvious drug paraphernalia or pornography lying about, and approved our suitability as a host family. She opened a portfolio, dumping dozens of pictures and files onto the floor.
We quickly eliminated all the wild Europeans, as well as candidates from some of the more obscure third-world countries, as Trish became concerned about the dietary preferences and peculiarities of Sri Lankans and Mesopotamians and such. "Here's a boy from Tokyo," the rep announced, "speaks English, on the high school swimming team, and eager to come to the United States." The boy in the picture looked a bit larger than the Japanese men I remembered from my service days, but Trish, incredibly, gave her approval, and lots of documents were signed.
In August, we appeared at the airport to await the eastbound flight, armed with crude signs announcing "Welcome To Our Home, Nobuhiro," we'd drawn in crayon on the back of surplus posters from my old parish (county) government campaign. "Keep your eyes open, kids. He'll probably be very shy, and wearing a suit, and have a camera around his neck," I cautioned.
As the plane from the West Coast, via Dallas, emptied, and the doors closed, we felt sure we'd missed him. As we scanned the crowd again, we spotted a big fellow, obviously not a Texan, with long hair, baggy and torn jeans riding alarmingly low, a guitar slung over his shoulder, and an earring in his left ear. "Uh, oh," I thought to myself, sneaking a glance over toward Trish, who'd also spotted him, and whose mouth had reached new pinnacles of agapeness. "He probably didn't want to wrinkle his suit on the plane," I offered lamely. She didn't speak.
He proved to be a pleasant chap, although his expectations of the United States had been largely drawn from Hollywood. Needless to say, Log Cabin, Louisiana, was not what he'd had in mind when he signed up for the excursion. As a resident of the largest metropolitan community in the world, he managed to duplicate Trish's shock and surprise as we drove down the Old Monroe Road on the way home. "Oooooh, Louisiana is much like Hokkaido," he observed. He was referring to the northern Japanese island, which is considered backward and primitive by sophisticated Tokyoites, who consider their metropolis to be "ichi-ban," roughly translated as number one or first class. "There is nothing here."
Nonetheless, he soon settled into the routine of Log Cabin life. All our kids are assigned chores around the house, and he was somewhat dismayed to find that his assignment involved periodically cleaning the bathrooms. "Oooooh, clean bathrooms?" he told me. "I want another job. You can clean bathroom."
"No, Nobi, American boys all clean bathrooms. That is why America won the war. Builds character. Besides, in America, children respect and revere their elders, treating them with dignity and listening to their words of wisdom. I am too venerated and wise to clean bathrooms. You will thank me some day. Think of this as a sort of Zen experience."
"What is Zen?" "Never mind."
Although he'd just completed the 10th grade, his educational experience, coupled with some "creative scheduling," enabled him to enroll at Bastrop High as a senior, and he would be able to graduate in May, if he successfully completed the year. On the other hand, the educational credits he earned in America would not be accepted at his school in Tokyo, so he'd still have another year-and-a-half to finish when he returned home, in order to receive his Japanese diploma.
Math proved to be pretty much international, and he had little trouble with the course. I tried to help him with his biology, quizzing him in preparation for an exam. "Okay, Nobi, tell me the four characteristics of a mammal."
"Oooooh, mammal have fur. Mammal have warm blood. Mammal give birth to live babies and mammal babies drink milk."
"Good! Now, is a cow a mammal?"
"Oooooh, cow have fur. Cow have warm blood, give birth to live babies and babies drink milk. Yes!"
"Excellent. What about a dog?"
"No? Does mouse have fur?"
"Warm blood and live babies?"
"Babies drink milk?"
He looked incredulous. "No!"
"Yes. Baby mouse drinks milk. What do you think he drinks?"
He knew I had to be joking.
"There is no mouse milk. Baby mouse drinks water."
I don't know why I do these things, but sometimes I just can't stop myself. "No, mouse milk is very popular American drink. There are mouse milk dairies, in Alabama, and little children are trained to sit on tiny stools with little buckets and milk the mice. American soldiers all drink mouse milk. This is why America won the war."
Coach Hutson allowed Nobi to join the football team, probably the proudest experience of his year at BHS. He never played a varsity down, but had a great time suiting up and prowling the sidelines. Just before the first game, he came home, puzzled. "I must give speech tomorrow at pep rally. What is pep rally?"
"Nobi, a pep rally is a gathering of all the students and football players, designed to give them extra spirit before the big game so that they will win."
"What do I say at pep rally?"
"Well, you are the first Japanese football player in Bastrop Ram history. What does a general say to Japanese soldiers before they go into battle? He tells them to fight and die for glory of emperor."
"Bastrop High School does not have emperor."
"Well, Mr. Zametto is sorta the emperor of the high school."
"Team must die for Emperor Zametto?"
"No, just fight hard for glory of school and principal."
The next day, I heard the reports of the pep rally from those who were there. It must have been a sight to behold. Nobi apparently went onto the stage, exhorted the team to fight for the glory of the school and Honorable Zametto-san, then led the students in several rousing cries of "banzai." Wrapped the whole thing up with some sort of rap song. Wish I'd been there.
After the first game, Nobi approached the car, with tears in his eyes. "What's the matter, are you hurt?"
"No. Bastrop Rams lose game. I am shamed and mortified." "Are you sad? Why are you crying?"
"No, I am not sad, but when you lose game, you must cry to show the coach your mortification."
"Nobi, let me put this gently.
Bastrop High School does not have a reputation as a .... er ... football powerhouse. If you intend to cry after every loss, you are gonna need a pretty big handkerchief. Just get out there and have fun. Mortification is neither expected nor desirable." I was afraid he'd find it necessary to fall on his sword, but, despite a winless season for the Rams, there were no more crocodile tears after that.
Although he didn't get any playing time on the varsity, he did make an occasional appearance for the JV. At the time, I was attending college at night, so the Bastrop-Ruston game was already into the second half when I arrived at Ram Stadium to watch the junior Rams take on the JV Bearcats.
As usual, there were only about a dozen spectators in the stands for the junior varsity contest, and I sat down next to Bobby Herndon, there to watch his son Eric. "Nobi get into the game?" I asked Bobby.
"I don't think so. I just got here a little while ago, but his uniform doesn't look dirty."
After the quarter, I walked down to the sidelines, and found Nobi, still clean, but basking in the congratulations and high-fives of his teammates. "What happened? Did you get in the game?"
"First quarter, I don't play. Next quarter, I don't play, so I go up to Coach Haynes and say, 'I want to play.' Coach says, 'Okay, go in on kickoff return team.'"
"What happened then?"
"I don't know. Ruston boy kick ball to Joe Rainwater. I don't know what to do, so I run in front of Joe Rainwater and knock down Ruston boy. Another Ruston boy come up and I knock him down, too. Joe Rainwater score touchdown, and everybody run up and pat me on butt." I patted him on the butt.
"You'll be ichi-ban American boy after all. Welcome to Hokkaido. Banzai!"
George Sims lived in Louisiana when this story took place. He can now be reached at Route 2, Box 237-3, Mansfield, Missouri 65704-9564, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||The hapless homesteader|
|Publication:||Countryside & Small Stock Journal|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Feb 29, 2012|
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