Everything compounds until I’m ripe for madness. The iron will not heat when I plug it in, no matter how many combinations of switches I try, not even when I unplug it and place it on the radiator. I’ve used it once. And that’s the way with us here, we use things once and then they commit suicide. The dishwasher worked once, and then began emptying its bowels on the kitchen floor. The hookah worked once, and then its copper pipe split in two, and if one wants to know why stereotypes persist, go speak with the salespeople at Tobacco Club & Gifts Inc on Cary St (Carytown), Richmond, Virginia. Here’s a conversation that we have once a week, every week, for three months now:
“You come back tomorrow and man who can help you here, but what can I do today? I am the only one here, and if I go through that door and get you what you ask for then nobody out front, so I cannot do that.”
“But…what about the other three guys working right now?”
“Yes, they can’t help you either. I want you to be happy, I would give you the piece you need, but I just can’t go back there. I’m new. I just started. What can I do? You see, perhaps you fix it yourself with a little bit of wire.”
“But we spent over a hundred dollars on this thing and we don’t want it to look like crap, you can understand that right?”
“Of course, of course, but what can I do? I am new, you need to speak to someone else.”
“One of those guys?”
“No, you need to speak with the other man, he come in tomorrow.”
“With the mustache.”
“I already spoke to him, he told me the person who needs to help me is in another country.”
“What do I know, I am new.”
But ironing. When I die and they compute how I spent the majority of my time on earth, ironing is going to be second to sleeping. And I have an iron that will not iron. It also turns out that $50 can’t buy you an ironing board that stands up on its own. All life becomes a test over how you spend those eight precious hours you have to yourself each day. Within them you must eat three to five meals. You also must shop for the food. And prepare it, cook it. And then clean the dishes and the kitchen afterward. You must commute to and from work. You must buy the gasoline and rotate the tires. You must put on your clothes, and take them off, and wash them, and iron them. You must wonder what that dull aching pulse in the back of your skull is and judge whether or not it has anything to do with your dizziness. You must find the perfect balance of coffee and alcohol to both stay awake and happy just until bedtime. You must wake up two hours after falling asleep to take an assortment of acid-reduction pills. You must burn your leg on the radiator while trying to open the window. You must go back to your parents house every time you need to do something that doesn’t involve a broken modern convenience. To press a shirt. To toast a slice of bread. To seal an envelope. Even the water here doesn’t work right. Not the plumbing. The water. The only way you can get the trash collector to take the trash is if you leave it outside the trash can. The doors are set in their ways. And my head is rebelling. I’m even dizzy in my dreams.
So if one thing is certain, it’s that things compound. If one thing doesn’t work, it has to snowball. It can’t just be too warm in the house, you also need to have diarrhea and a plastic bag wrapped around your head.
And that’s why I identify with Zatoichi today. In the first Zatoichi, all he’s trying to do is find a place to hang out, eat, sleep, for a night, but by and by he ends up having to kill a whole bunch of people, which leads their relatives to seek revenge, and what for a moment was just a request for a bowl of soup turns into needing to kill fifty or sixty swordsmen. None of the moral ambiguity of the first episode. It’s always okay to kill people who are trying to kill you. In Virginia, though, you have to be fancy about it. Let’s say you carry a gun, and somebody tries to kill you, you’re allowed to kill him in self-defense, but only accidentally. If you do the whole “two shots to the chest, one to the head” thing, then you’re the one who gets in trouble. My favorite scenes in Japanese movies are when everyone who’s been killed by the hero is still in the process of dying, rolling around on the floor groaning as the hero walks away. That’s my whole life, rolling around on the floor and groaning as the heroes walk away. The heroes today? The iron. The wrinkled shirts. My equilibrium.