Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don Quixote Does Escalators

In Yotsuya station, at the bottom of an immensely tall escalator, a cleaning lady stands holding a cloth soaked in antiseptic against the handrail. Even though the escalator is a hundred meters long, she can clean it all this way, just standing there, enjoying a small break in her arduous day.

This is exactly the sort of thing I would never in a million years figure out myself.

Oh no, I'd be dashing up and down the escalator, flinging myself at the arm rail, gasping for breath, getting my pants caught in the jaws at the edge. Running up the down side, then down the up side. Of course! Let no one accuse me of being lazy or taking the easy way out! Unrivaled in my ferocity! Famed for relentlessness! Day after day I battle the escalator and lunge with my cloth at the rail, wiping six inches here, six inches there, as sweat and grime coat my distorted face, a man at war.

But I wouldn't complain, oh no. Not a word of complaint would pass my lips -- not even as I jostled a businessman, or sent a schoolboy in a sailor suit into a headlong plunge as I battled, desperate and fearless, to clean the handrail of the escalator. One brave and reckless man stands alone between Tokyo and contagion!

Not only would I not complain, I would respect myself even more. My hard work! My sacrifice! Oh no, I'd insist, I'd never trade shoes with anyone. This is my dharma, my sacred duty. The Emperor and MLK agree: Do your job and do it well. Oh I would really give it my all. . .
At the end of the day I would collapse in a heap at the base of the escalator. I would die young -- and cheerfully, knowing that I had saved the lives of millions of Tokyoites.

Because not even the greatest of heroes are entirely free of human frailties, among them resentment, I would often wonder why I had not been discretely passed a medal, why I had not yet been declared, to unanimous and thunderous acclaim, a Living National Treasure.

If, by chance, on my way home, I passed another station, another escalator, where a woman stood, holding the cloth against the moving rail, I would shake my head and feel very sorry for her. "Oh isn't that just the spirit of the times! Sure you can do it that way -- but then you miss entirely the spirit of the thing."

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