Notes from Underground

Opinions - November 2nd, 2001
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

This comes from under­ground. Not The Underground, just under the, ah, ground.

You see, there’s just too much happening up on the sur­face for me to handle in my normally detached fashion. I have to get away from things for awhile to put it all into perspective. And flying off to a remote island somewhere is not the answer. The “flying off part (or more accurately, the “flying into” part) is one of the happenings I wish to avoid.

And then there are mad cows threatening to turn us into bab­bling, drooling fools because the same ethically challenged bureau­crats responsible for introducing HIV-laced blood onto these shores (in between bouts of supervising dairy products and the keep-your-fingers-crossed nuclear power industry) are on the case. (“Milk’s the white stuff, and nuclear energy is … not. Right?”)

My trip underground, by the way, has nothing to do with the presumed and imminent collapse (despite the positive cheerleading of my fellow columnist Henry S-S) of the Japanese economy. I just need time to sort out my feelings about struggling to pay off a ¥2 million note to the bank while that same institution just “for­gave” slightly more than ¥100 bil­lion in loans to shadowy corpo­rations from the bubble days.

Anyway, here I am. Down here. Underground. The shelter was built years ago as protection from air raids. The entrance is under the stone Buddha in the garden behind the house. I dis­covered it by accident. (I thought the stone Buddha would look nice in our genkan—guarding the shoes.)

Day 1: Settle in with copies of Tokyo Weekender to keep up with happenings in town, the Christian Science Monitor to keep up with the wild and wacky satire of their columnists, and Sports Illustrated to keep up with a tally of the human condi­tion. My wife promised to slip beef-free sushi and daikon spears down the air tube at dinnertime. (Still hungry, she responded to shouts and rolled a half dozen hard-boiled eggs along with four Kirin beer cans down for a night­cap. She also sent a Bitamin She drink for breakfast.

Day 2: Discovered I’m not alone in the shelter. Astonishing­ly, two old and wizened men (one old, the other wizened) crawled out of the shadows and presented themselves. Actually, they saluted—and surrendered. Whoa. World War II days. “We knew it would happen some day,” said the old man. “But we didn’t think we’d be captured by a dork with a bad knee,” said the wiz­ened man. We all laughed at that. At least they did.

Day 3: Spent the morning trying to get FEN on the radio. Reception underground is bad, and it is particularly difficult dis­tinguishing the Eagle 810 musical trash from the sound of the heavy equipment machinery digging a foundation next door. Spent the afternoon describing the AMTRACK system in America to my new pals. Just why those trains were wreaking havoc in Florida, Congress and various post offices is not clear—just like the radio reception.

Day 4: Tried to explain the political situation in Japan to my new pals, but they kept dropping off to sleep. It was only when I mentioned that the Foreign Min­ister was a woman that I got their attention. They laughed. At my wit. (“A woman in a position of authority? We’re staying down here,” they said between bouts of eye-watering hysterics.) I also tried explaining that it was now possible to travel by train from Tokyo to Osaka in less than a day. They stopped laughing and looked at me. They no longer thought me witty. Obviously, and sadly, they concluded I was a flaming idiot.

Day 5: In a moment of recep­tion clarity on the old radio, I realized the threat up above was actually anthrax. God help us all. I explained my previous misun­derstanding to my new pals, and they took it quietly. One of them knew about anthrax. “My brother is in Unit 731, researching in China,” he said. “Or at least he was.” There was a thoughtful pause. “At least,” said the other man, “we know he’s not the For­eign Minister.” They both fell over themselves laughing again.

Day 6: Am having some per­sonal issues brought about, most probably, by an almost exclusive diet of hard-boiled eggs. It might be time to think about resurfac­ing. That plus a spot announce­ment heard on the radio urging military types to “not go around dressed like Americans”—instead adopt the clothing and demeanor of the native population so as “not to stand out and be recog­nized by our enemies.” What’s that all about? Are our enemies, whomever they are, sufficiently stupid to think a six-foot, four-inch guy with short blond hair wearing a kimono is really Japan­ese? I’ve got to see this.

Day 7: Fresh air in my lungs and the bright sun in my face, I climbed out of my hole and marched off to do my duty in this new world of ours. I accosted the first foreigner I saw and dragged him over to the police box. He was behaving suspiciously, i.e., he was wearing dark glasses, and people like that should be kept under strict observation. Besides, that particular foreigner once said something bad about one of my columns.