Draft: ‘My Number’ and Your Business
It is blisteringly hot outside. The bank lobby is no better-well maybe it is only stiflingly hot. There is no sun beating down on me like a ton of bricks. The small glass wind chimes and bamboo in ATM lobby don’t project coolness.
I raced into the bank at 8:55. My clean soap smell now is like ozone because of the amount I can perspire in a given time. In my past life-I am convinced-I was a pot which grew hydroponic tomatoes. Then I do the totally unacceptable action, I scoot under the metal gate coming up. If this were Jamaica and I had Calipso music behind me, I could claim I was doing the Limbo dance as I shimmied under the metal gate now 4 feet up from the ground. Alas, that is not an option.
“OKYAKU-SAMA!~!” You can hear the desperation in the call out to the wayward customer. Who was misbehaving now?
“Cherysh-san!” Oh that’s me. Crap! I am the misbehaving one.
I smile my biggest smile and make a tiny 1/8 inflected bow to Mr. Tanaka. “Ohayou Gozaimasu, Tanaka-san!”
“Please, the gate is dangerous.”
“Oh I know. I shouldn’t have.” But I do my dumb puppy look as I stare at it now fully retracted into the ceiling. People are moving past me. I motion Mr. Tanaka towards the machine that doles out tickets by activity. Today I have to do the dreaded money transfer home.
Mr. Tanaka is about 55 years old. I imagine in his prime he was a heart throb. He still is. He has a wonderful full on look. It wouldn’t surprise me if he broke quite a few hearts in his overseas assignments. His English is quite fluent but he prefers to pepper it with Japanese phrases. I suspect it is so his staff can follow along that he isn’t chatting but actually working in customer assistance.
To me, Japan has unfathomable values regarding labor- we have a labor shortage here. There is a population deficit from a lack of babies born since the 70s. The newspapers say, we will need to bring in people to run the country. Should companies want everyone to retire early at 53 or 55 when they live to 85? I think a big part of their labor shortage would be alleviated if retirement was closer to 60. Economically many people will need to work till then or past. Mortgages go for 35 years here. I beleive tThey have perfectly good people who can still contribute and make productive lives. In American we work till 65 or 72. Not manyNo one would dream of retiring at 53 even if they won the Lotto. What do you do with your life for the next 30 years if you retire early? I cannot imagine in America or here in Japan. I think iIt makes sense you try to keep working longer at what you like to do.
Mr Tanaka used to be a high powered employee. Now he contends with customers in the lobby. He runs interference with little old ladies who forget their eyeglasses-that bank keeps spares available. He is excellent in Chinese as well. I guessed he worked in Singapore and was told no, he was sent to Shanghai a few decades back. That is Japan, we don’t have enough workers so let’s retire them early or make them work out of the country. Go figure. Don’t get me started on discussing Japan’s labor woes. Mr. Tanaka just shrugs. He seems happy in his work and I am happy to have him at my bank.
“Cherysh, how will you use our bank today?” His arm sweeps the array of counters.
“I need to send money home.”
“To Hawai’i?” He asked. I have even gotten him to say the trailing “i” like a local back home. I feel such an unspoken compliment. I could have hugged him.
I could have hugged him. He grimaced. “Have you seen the exchange rate?” He commiserated with me. I nodded. “It just dropped another 4% over the week!” he said. That was why I ran into the bank to send this off to my bank in Honolulu. If the rate went up to 120 I would be hurting on getting yen back into inflated dollars.
He pulled out the form I needed. Why did I never take a few forms home and have them ready? My best friend was irritatingly prepared with forms stashed in a file for post, bank, train tickets., etc. Some people think they rule the world and there are those that really do because they just follow the rules and flow through the system without effort. Planning was such a gift, like being multi lingual.
I rapidly scribbled out my name and address. Mt Tanaka looked at the form and did not register disappointment in my using block print English instead of the Japanese kana and kanji he knows I could have used. I filled in the bank name, routing code and amount. All done.
I leaned over with my ticket, form and my bag to see how many people I had to wait for.
“Do you have my number?” He asked me. Was he asking me on a date?
I smiled at him and said nothing.
“Cherysh-san, do you have my number?” Again I did not respond. He shook his head, and stopped. “Cherysh-san do you have your special tax number. It is ‘My Number.’”
Oh goddamitallthewaytohell ! He wasn’t trying to pick me up. This was laughable! He was asking, “Do you have ‘My Number’?” That was the Japanese version of the new social security and tax tracking number they launched here a few years back. Slowly it has gained traction and now you need it for more and more financial dealings. I thought back to my overly prepared friend who actually had his number memorized and the physical card made. I felt a little sick because I didn’t know where mine was. I mean I know it’s at home, I just can’t walk through the door and lay my hands in it in fewer than 5 minutes. I’d have to search for it. It was one of those ‘I’ll do it later when I have free time projects.”
“Do you have your “my number” at home?” The double conflicting possessive pronoun was lost on Mr. Tanaka. I nodded. He smiled. “Go home and come back in 15 minutes and you should be ok.” He leaned up to me and said, “Everyone forgets to bring it, and the foreign currency counter really opens at 10, but TTS/TTB dealing can be started early.”
I was out and back in 20 minutes. It was still before 10am. I called the office to delay my arrival. I walked back into the bank and saw my ticket number miraculously displayed as I held up my little paper indiscriminate green/blue/gray ‘card’ and walked quickly to the counter.
Mr. Tanaka looked at me and then was distracted with a foreign customer struggling with the cash dispenser. I watched him patiently help the person go through the steps they needed. The foreigner looked like a first timer because I saw a small memo pad come out and the foreigner took notes interrupting each step.
The whole procedure took 10 minutes because everything had to be done, confirmed and then sent to a superior for authorization and then reviewed one last time for accuracy-they do the same thing in Korea and Hongkong when I did banking. There is something comforting in the ritual of upward submissions. I followed the progress of my form from clerk to processing clerk to section manager. Then the little dish with the receipt came back to the counter. I was called up to the counter.
I folded up my receipt and was looking for a safe place to put it in my wallet.
I nodded to ‘my Mr. Tanaka’ and he waved back. His voice followed me as we passed at the door, “thank you for doing business with us today.” He got my best 2000 watt smile and a wave.
An Excerpt from Men I Have No Business Having Crushes on