The Man Who Liked Small Things

By Takayama Saburo

Hello.  It’s nice to meet you.  Would it be okay if I introduced myself?  If not, I apologize.  My surname, “Takayama,” means “Expensive Mountain” in Japanese.  You probably didn’t laugh very loud at that little joke, but I’ll bet you did laugh slightly.  This was my intention, as it would be impolite for me to make you laugh hard if you’re eating lunch or riding your bicycle while navigating the keypad on your cell phone.

Speaking of eating–not that I ever talk with food in my mouth, because it’s rude, and not just to you, but to the food, which demands the consumer’s absolute concentration, which is why I usually prefer to have my meals in silence, and frequently alone; that way I don’t have to engage in small talk, the one diminutive thing I cannot abide–

Anyway, as I was about to say before I so rudely interrupted myself, I like to eat my meals using toothpicks as chopsticks.  Admittedly, it takes much longer, but it enables me to truly savor my food, even though I must sometimes strain my senses to taste it, as if my tongue were squinting at what’s on it.  I also try to vary the movements from my bowl of rice and vegetables to my mouth when I eat, so that I do not induce carpal tunnel syndrome by robotically repeating monotonous movements with nauseating precision.

My life is complicated in its details.

The other day I spent an hour watching a bunch of ants carrying grains of rice from a place where some wanton boy had discarded some food by a picnic bench to a hole in the ants’ home-made hill.  It was a fascinating process that required the utmost cooperation and a painstakingly concerted effort on the part of these heroic insects.  As a loner, I admired their teamwork and envied them their collective sense of purpose.

One of the ants I regarded appeared to be struggling under the weight of the grain of rice she bore, supporting it as if it were a canoe she was maneuvering through a portage between puddle-sized lakes in search of ant-fish to catch.  She blushed when she caught me looking at her and paused to grunt from her burden–not that I could make out the tiny sound, but the way she hunched her shoulders suggested she was grunting–and seemed to say, “Stop staring at me!  To you I may just be an ant, but mark my words, gigantic stranger–some day I’ll be a mother.”

Despite an unambitious lifestyle that leads me to strive for less than what I want, like everyone else I need money to survive.  I’m not too proud to beg–just ashamed.  I know how hard it is for people to make ends meet these days, and I don’t wish to impose on them.

I’ve had a series of odd jobs, including that of a sidewalk-sweeper in the park.  It was a challenge to keep the pine needles from getting lodged in the cracks between the paving stones.  Sometimes I had to stoop and pick them up with my fingers and put them in my pocket.  If I found two that were joined at one end, I’d sit down on a rock and open them in an attempt to re-create a woman’s breast in profile.

As I enjoy working with my hands and fingers and have a jeweler’s steadiness, I used to manufacture miniature chainsaws for laboratory rats trained as lumberjacks to use to cut down trees in the Bonsai Forest.  I quit when I realized I was accelerating the destruction of the environment, and disturbing a lot of tiny beavers to boot.

Now I have my own bar of soap.  Even though the floors and stools get slippery when it rains, and certain customers are apt to end up on their backsides after they’ve had too much to drink, at least it’s always clean and their breath smells fresh as they speak in wobbling chains of iridescent bubbles that hover like cloned globes for a moment before they silently pop.

Children aren’t allowed in the bar–not least because it’s illegal and I don’t want to lose my liquor license–but because they get too attached to the bubbles and whine pathetically when the spherical phantoms snap and vanish in the air.

So that’s my life for you in an acorn shell, supported by a squirrel standing on his hind legs, the shell holding a shuddering, glistening mirror of rainwater as the adorably timid rodent hunches over on his haunches and regards the world through incessantly watchful eyes, always on the lookout for an attack from a cat or an energetic dog, pausing before he drinks the crystal elixir, ditches the acorn shell, and scampers up the tree to hide in a hole, the better to watch the clouds roll by through the branches of the tree as the swaying crowns of green leaves breezily whisper to him to relax and let go of all fear and regard the world itself as a cloud that will some day melt and dissolve into rain, beautiful though it still sometimes is in its dizzying, slowly rolling glory in which day blends effortlessly and repeatedly with night.

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