I'd seen him before.
A slight, harmless-looking man walking around our neighborhood. Looking to be in his late 50s, he always wears a tan canvas jacket with red/orange flannel peeking out from the inside.
I shuffle by him on my daily walks, he shuffles by me. We often nod politely to each other as seems to be the custom among neighbors here. He mumbles stuff at me (near me?), words I can't quite understand, but I assume they are a) a greeting, b) an expression of annoyance, or c) he's just talking to himself. Whatever it is, I smile real big, nod, and keep going.
In light of recent events, I fear that my big, stupid smile at this man might have been humbly accepting his muttered disapproval of me. Maybe I didn't respond appropriately in Japanese at some point when he mumbled at me? Maybe it's the way I dress? Maybe it's the fact that I'm that weirdo American woman who absentmindedly sings 80s sitcom theme songs to herself?
Did I mention I'm the village idiot?
Anyway, I know of the existence of this man, I'll call him "Al," and he knows of me.
Before I go on, let me say that as twitchy and shy as I can come across, few things make me bolder than a bully. I can't stand for bullying — aimed at me, or aimed at others. Despite my long fuse for idiocy, I have a very short fuse for bullies.
Sometimes this short fuse helps me uphold my rights, my dignity, helps me shut down people who think "goofy ol' Lou will let me take her flip flops from gym class, she's not going to stop me." Sometimes my rage gets the better of me, and I wished I'd stopped talking before stumbling into crazy territory.
Things got a little weird with Al.
The other night, Friday at around 1 am, I was taking out the garbage. The "burnables" to be exact. Japan has a very strict, detailed schedule on how you're allowed to get rid of your garbage. Yokohama especially prides itself on how complicated their garbage/recycling system is. You can only throw away certain garbage items (cans, bottles, burnables, plastic, boxes, your soul, etc) on certain days. We have a full page garbage schedule on our fridge.
Anyway, early Saturday morning is burnables day. Just like everyone else on my street does, I grabbed a pre-approved white garbage bag full of our paper, foil, and food waste, and walked half a block down to the "garbage cage" — a green gated cage where you deposit your garbage for pickup.
As usual, the cage was full. Everyone on the street had taken their burnables out that night for 7 am pick-up in the morning.
I dumped my burnables, closed the cage, and started the half-block walk back to my apartment. No more than a few steps later I heard a loud male voice behind me.
Figuring it was probably a drunk dude babbling on his way home from the bar, I quickened my pace and didn't turn back. The barking behind me continued louder. A little uneasy, I slowed to glance over my shoulder. Wrong move, Hung.
It was Al. Arms gesticulating at me, then at the garbage, then at me, then yelling loudly in Japanese and barreling toward me.
The level of noise Al was making at me was, and is, unheard of in my neighborhood; most Japanese neighborhoods. It is extremely rude to the community. I heard windows slam around me.
Al ran up to me and started waving wildly. I couldn't catch all his rapid Japanese, but I caught the words, "burnables...morning...do you understand?..not okay...stop...night...DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
Not accustomed to being yelled at like this, I was dumbfounded for a moment. All my accumulated Japanese dribbled out of my ears and I just stared, brow furrowed, mouthing the words, "What the what?" amidst the onslaught.
Finally I came to my senses and was able to calmly say, "I'm sorry, I don't understand. I only understand a little Japanese. The garbage is...not okay?"
At the sound of my terrible Japanese, Al got even angrier. His flailing intensified, and I marveled at how a man of his age had such lubricated shoulder sockets.
"I'm sorry, tomorrow is Saturday...burnables day? I'm sorry, I speak English...very little Japanese," I said, the anger starting to bubble.
"EIGO?!" Al bellowed the Japanese word for "English." I supposed I should have been scared, he was obviously unhinged.
Reaching for my arm, which I quickly snatched away and said pointedly, "NO" in English, he ran over to the garbage cage, and shouted at me, "Take...garbage! You cannot...(gesturing around the neighborhood)...not for you. I tell you...take it...I know...you, no."
Standing my ground, I said firmly, "Why?"
Al exhaled sharply and said in Japanese, "Really? You don't speak Japanese?" and some version of "You've got to be kidding me."
Finally, done with the theatrics, I apologized to weird Al, and turned again to leave. I heard him advancing behind me, and when I turned to shut him down he was almost on top of me, "You...take bags...NOW," he said in English.
I started to hear windows opening, and a door opening up the street. Al was waking up the whole neighborhood. So mustering all the language skills my 1am brain could dig out, I barked right back at him, "Tomorrow is Saturday. Burnables day. (Gesturing around)...all the houses bring out burnables NOW. I bring burnables now, too. (Pointing at the full garbage cage)...LOOK, burnables!"
When I was done, he just looked me square in the face, pointed a finger at me and said clear as day in English, "But NOT YOU."
Furious, I waved him off (fighting the urge to unleash a downpour of my favorite four-letter words) and climbed the stairs to my apartment, a little nervous he might follow me up. He didn't, he just yelled up at me. My husband came out our front door as I reached for the door handle.
Half asleep, he asked, "What the hell is going on out there? The yelling woke me up."
I gave him a quick rundown of Al, his flailing arms (really, he must take some excellent Glucosamine supplements), and the burnables issue. Al could still be heard mumbling in the street.
My husband walked past me, down the stairs to Al. Greeting him in Japanese, he asked Al what the problem was. Al started flailing and barking, and pointed first to me then to the garbage cage.
After a few moments, Al quieted and my husband and him settling into a heated, but quieter discussion. Shortly, Al stormed off down the street.
When my husband came upstairs, he had a mildly nauseated look on his face. "Leave the garbage. That guy is one part crazed, one part asshole."
"I don't know if your mere Americanness pissed him off, but he just wanted you to do what he said. He said something about how as an ex-volunteer fire fighter, he thought it was more appropriate for garbage to be taken out at 6 am, not the night before, and that you as a young woman should listen to him — because he's a man. Doesn't matter what everyone else does."
I got chills from the anger that rolled over me. In the moment I knew Al was not of sound mind, and of an older time when maybe a good little woman would do whatever he said. I also knew that the whole debacle was over a bag of used cat litter, eggshells, and a some food wrappers.
But that specific fury over being bullied JUST BECAUSE, made my heart race and my hands shake.
Seeing my eyes turn black like the souls of a million roid raging demon badgers, my husband said, "I don't think you should engage him anymore. I know it's ridiculous, but I don't think you're going to win this one. He was 'relieved' to speak to your husband."
As much as I knew my husband was right, I couldn't help but be annoyed. Annoyed that because of my lack of Japanese skills "my man" had to smooth things over for me. Annoyed that nothing I could do on my own would likely have stopped Al from trying to push me around. Annoyed that I let myself get swept up in Al's potentially dangerous nexus of irrationality.
Despite my rage however, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him — which both confused and annoyed me further. Al seemed like a man out of place and time. What kind of life does he lead?
I have seen Al in the neighborhood since. We carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe he doesn't even remember me. But I can't help but wonder if when the mood strikes him next, will Al take issue with me again?
Regardless, I'm a little more careful taking out the garbage after dark now.
What bizarre or unexpected bullies have you randomly come across? How did you deal with them?