Japan has a lot of national newspapers. The Yuhi. The Uriyomi. The Maiasa. The Zenkei. The Shoukei. They're basically different shades of vanilla and I could care less which newspaper I read, as long as it has the weather and sports. I change newspapers every year, because when I do, they usually give me something "extra." The "extra" may be boxes of detergent, towels with that newspaper's logo silkscreened on them, or a pair of tickets for a baseball game at the Tokyo Dome -- along with a month's free subscription. Nothing big or fancy. But that hasn't stopped me from changing newspapers every year.
It's something I do.
When the end of one subscription nears, I wait for a salesman from another newspaper to knock on the door. Visits by newspaper subscription salesmen -- more often than not the guys who deliver the papers -- are a part of life here in Japan. As I'm not picky about the newspapers I read, I usually sign with the first salesman that shows up at my door.
At end of the my subscription to The Uriyomi, the first salesman who showed up was a woman. One of those Japanese women with the kind of flawless, white complexion that makes it very difficult for others to guess her age. She could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty-five. She wore nerdy black-rimmed glasses and no makeup.
She said she was representing The Zenkoku.
I groaned; The Zenkoku is one of those newspapers "normal" people don't know about, much less subscribe to. It's sponsored by a shady religious group based in Tsukuba; I think their group is to bring together science and the teachings of Buddha, Christ and Gurdjieff.
I may be wrong on one detail or another; looking into this sort of thing isn't something I do.
After listening to the saleswoman make her pitch ("award-winning coverage of religion and science"), I asked about the "extra" I'd get if I subscribed for a year. A box of detergent, perhaps?
"We don't give out detergent. They tend to bad for the environment. We can offer you a month's free subscription."
"All newspapers offer that, along with something else. The Uriyomi gave me baseball tickets."
I started to close the door.
"Wait. We have quotas. I will ask the district supervisor to do something. Is there anything we can get you besides detergent and baseball tickets?"
I wanted to end the conversation as fast as I could. "Well, I'm a widower. How about bringing my dead wife back?"
Without raising as much as an eyebrow, the saleswoman said, "I will ask the district supervisor. I will be back this time tomorrow."
Sure, I thought. I was pretty sure I'd never see her again.
My wife, Toni, had died a long time ago when she was hit by a truck in Kayabacho. Both the police and the doctor said she didn't feel a thing.
She liked Japan. Probably more than me, and I've been living here for twenty-five years. Some expats really like the country they choose to live in. Not me. I probably wouldn't have stayed if I had someplace to go back to.
I was shocked when the Zenkoku saleswoman really did come back the next day.
"We will bring your wife back to you for one month -- and give you a month's free subscription -- if you will subscribe to Zenkoku for one year," she said.
I signed; I figured that at least I'll get the weather and sports free for a month.
The saleswoman zippered her bag and said, "She will knock on the door after I am gone."
I was shocked when Toni showed up at my door fifteen minutes later.
"What's the matter?" she asked as she took off her shoes. "You look surprised."
I said nothing and hugged her as hard as I could.
The next thirty days were the happiest I'd had in a long time.
Toni disappeared exactly thirty days later. I looked everywhere, but came back empty-handed. I tried the police, but they were puzzled why I was trying to report the disappearance of a person they considered dead.
I called up the Zenkoku saleswoman and asked her about Toni. Where had she gone?
"We promised you that we would bring your wife back for one month," she said. "That one month is now over."
"Please bring her back."
"I'm sorry, things like bringing customer's loved ones back isn't something we do often and we won't be able to do it again until you renew your subscription a year from now."
"Can't I sign up for another subscription now?"
"You may, but we won't be able to bring your wife back. I am so sorry, but we have strict rules . . ."
This back-and-forth went on for a while, but it became obvious that I would have to wait a year to see Toni again.
A year later, the Zenkoku saleswoman returned to renew my subscription. When I did, Toni returned -- and I got another free one month subscription.
Toni disappeared again exactly one month later.
A year after that, she returned when I renewed my Zenkoku subscription.
This has been going on since for at least six years. For one month I get to live with Toni. Then I have to wait twelve months until she comes back again.
I don't ask many question either to Toni or the Zenkoku saleswoman. It's not something I do. If I can have my one month of happiness, I'm fine. If waiting a year for Toni is something I have to do, that's fine too.
Happiness is knowing what you want and not wanting more. I don't know if that's Zen or something a Chinese sage said a thousand years ago, but living by it is another one of the things I do.
After a few years of this I was surprised when I realized that I was actually enjoying the time I spend waiting for Toni's return. All I had to do was to acknowledge that I didn't have to gloom and drink excessively. And I'd thought I was too old for change.
Somebody give this old Marine a medal. And a great big one for his ex-USO wife. And still another for a poker-faced newspaper saleswoman who I will get to smile one of these days.
Three more months until I see Toni again. I'll take it one day at a time.
It's something I do.