Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coffee & Samba

Someone tells me that a man over by the post office can repair a broken clock. Twice, other repairmen have said that the Seikosha station wall clock is too old and cranky to restore. Made sometime in the early 1950s by the company now called Seiko, it is one of many that once hung on train station walls all over Japan. In 1892, an industrious thirty-one year-old set up the Seikosha factory in Japan, choosing the name, Seiko meaning “success” or “exquisite” in Japanese. I found the wall clock hanging in the cobwebbed corner of a small shop overlooking Inokashira Park, its hands stopped at some ten-twenty-three of the past. After cleaning and a few small adjustments the old clock ticked and worked in a manner of sorts, but without much accuracy. Recently it has begun chiming on a schedule little to do with hours and minutes. I am taking it to the man over by the post office.

“Look here,” the man says, shining a small light inside the clock case. “That gear needs to be replaced, but with a clock this old the problem is finding a replacement…an expensive proposition. Around two-hundred, maybe.”
“That high? I can’t spend so much.”
“Leave the clock with me for a week or so, let me take it apart and play with it. Doubt I can do anything about the worn out gear, but I can get it running a little better.
“How much?”
“About $20, okay?”

Doutor Café is on the way home and with a glass of iced coffee I climb the stairs to the third floor, my usual spot for a stretch of time gazing idly out the windows, reading, writing a few lines in a notebook, or oftentimes discreetly observing others at nearby tables. Never sure what the mix is going to be on any given day, it may be quiet and peaceful one day, rowdy the next. Today the shades on all three windows are up and a flood of sunlight brightens the room. The sight of six middle-aged housewives spread over two tables in the far corner is nothing new, but for me a disappointment because it promises a tidal wave of loud simultaneous talk. I have seen these six before.

They have just returned from a trip somewhere, probably a two-night stay at a hot spring resort, or a reunion of sorts. Travel bags are stacked chest high in a corner. At the moment of my arrival voices are raised in fond remembrance of the ballroom dance teacher who hosted their getaway. In a voice toned by cigarettes and Suntory whiskey, one describes the drape of an arm, illustrating the movement with an outflung arm that threatens cups and saucers. Another moans about the difficulty of a chassé while two others try to remember the teacher’s rule about the Cuban hip motion.

Done with her explanation of arm gestures, the woman suddenly pulls another of the ladies to her feet, leading off in a rehash of the samba bounce. With little or no room between tables for two husky women to practice the samba, a college girl at the adjacent table cringes, clamping hands over her jittering coffee cup. And just as suddenly, both dancers execute a spot turn and return to their coffee.

The dance demonstration all done, another familiar face arrives and takes a table across from me. This is a college student with whom I’ve spoken on several occasions, a man whose Japanese is always a challenge. Everything is slang or vernacular mostly mumbled, a jargon that leaves me unsure of any details. He enjoys reading books in English and the last time he was in the coffee shop I gave him a couple of paperbacks. His name is Hideto and today he has a cold.

We talk across the space between tables, but after a little of that Hideto picks up and moves over to my table. A typically modern student, sloppily dressed, fond of punk rock fashion, he has an email address that begins with ‘fabricatedviolence@.’ He sits opposite me with a trail of snot dripping from one nostril. The sight makes me look away, look down, talk to my lap. Then finally he snatches up a napkin and blows his nose.

Almost dark when I leave Doutor and turn for home. Halfway, I stop in Little Mermaid and buy croissants for Sunday morning.


  1. Well done. Reminds me of writers who find inspiration in the small details of life, in the ordinary happenings all around. Our classmate in junior high and high school, Robb Forman Dew, winner of the National Book Award for Dale Loves Sophia to Death, displays an affinity for portraying the everyday details of family life.

  2. Interesting day.....wouldn't you say??????

  3. I have a clock just like it. Now to find the prndulem, and a key.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America