Shit, I forgot to put some money on my Pasmo…and I was in a rush to meet a student, so I didn’t stop when the little swinging doors on the turnstile slammed into my thighs. This was not the first time. Usually I would stop, go back and fill it up. Sometimes I keep it moving and fill it up later. I would have to pay the fare I hadn’t before I could use it again, anyway.
This time, though, 5-O rolled up on me- NY-Style. Very impressively. A short, sharp-looking undercover cop, dressed in Jeans and a rugged jacket, looking every bit the NY DT (detective), stepped in my path about 2 paces from the turnstile and whipped out a wallet, flipping it open to reveal a gold police shield.
I had a flashback to years upon years of turnstile jumping in NY. I could spot a detective, black or white, at 50 yards back home. Most teenagers could. And, naturally, if you were an habitual jumper like I was, it was a useful skill to have. But, in Japan, detective spotting had never crossed my mind. In fact, for years before I even came to Japan I’d been a law-abiding citizen, so whatever skills I had were long since rusted.
He was a pleasant enough fellow, this detective, and politely asked me what did I think I was doing.
“Excuse me sir but are you aware that you did not pay? That those gates, and that alarm you heard, means you were required to pay a fare?” he asked me in very polite Japanese.
I was still so stunned that I couldn’t speak for a moment, and the whole natsukashii-ness (deja vu) of the scene almost brought a smile to my face.
Just then another DT came up on my other side looking similarly conspicuously nondescript, only he was not pleasant at all. He was waiting for my answer impatiently. Good feeling gone. It was the good cop/bad cop routine, I ascertained. I didn’t know whether it was in my best interest to know Japanese or not but instinctively I went with not.
“I’m so sorry, I was in a rush!” I said like I understood the situation but not his words.
The other DT, the unpleasant one said, “Where’s your gaijin card?”
“I’m sorry…what did you say?” I asked in English.
“Stop acting like you don’t know how to speak Japanese…I’ve dealt with enough of your kind to know the difference…Your ass understands Japanese just fine!” *This is of course not a strict translation. He didn’t use those words, but this was the impact of what he said and how he said it.
I caught myself before I reacted to the “Omae” (the rude way to say “you”) and the other impolite Japanese words he’d used and said, “I’m a teacher and I was in a rush to a lesson.”
The asshole let out one of those Japanese gasps of exasperation and turned to Mr. Nice Guy, who proceeded to use the limited English he knew to ask for my Gaijin card. I whipped out my wallet and they peeked inside it while I fished for my card.
“Here you go,” I said and handed it to him. The other one reached for my wallet and I yanked it away and without thinking gave him a look like, You want to keep that hand? Better keep it away from me and mine!
He gave me a Yappari (Just as I thought…a wise ass) smile and said, “Alright, come with us!”
But he didn’t touch me. Just pointed towards the Police Box.
In the police box a third undercover joined in. This one looked like a street bum, and I was again impressed. I had no idea the police in Yokohama had their shit wired so tight. I actually had no idea they even had to, with the amount of lawlessness I’ve seen over the course of the past 7 years: next to none. I kind of thought of the whole police department like a couple of Andy Griffiths or Chief Wiggums and a bunch of Barney Fifes, harassing people over bike ownership and headlights; the causes of my two previous and only encounters with law enforcement.
Guess I was wrong.
The third guy started patting me down, frisking me, ever so cautiously, and with a great deal of courtesy. It was kind of cute, compared to the assault and battery NY cops put on you in the same situation. I had to resist laughing.
“Where are you from, Mr. Loco?” Mr. Nice Guy asked, in English, looking at my card throughly like there had been a rash of counterfeit gaijin cards and they were hot on the trail of the ring.
“I’m from the US, from New York,” I said like it was a badge of honor. Like it meant something. And, of course, it did.
“Should have known,” the tough guy said. “Think you can do whatever you want to do don’t you? Think you can just ignore all the rules, right?”
Are those the traits of a New Yorker or all Americans?
Mr. Nice Guy gave him a look, and tough guy’s harangue turned into angry mumbles.
“You not pay, but you have money…” he said flashing the few thousand yen bills I had in my wallet. “Why no pay?”
“I was in a hurry…I’m very sorry. Why don’t I pay now, and go,” I said slowly with hand gestures.
“We should keep him for a while, teach him a lesson!” said the tough guy, menacingly. I tried to remember my rights but I knew that was a waste. I had none. I’d broken a law and I was in their hands. I felt his words in my gut and failed to keep it off my face. “Hora!” He said pointing. “He knows Japanese, I told you.”
“I know a few words, ” I said in halting Japanese, now that I was busted. “I used to study, but I gave up…too difficult.”
I made sure my Japanese was broken textbook stuff, which wasn’t hard. It truly is sometimes.
“Listen,” Mr. Nice Guy said, in Japanese now, a little disappointed at having lost a face before a Junior I presume, taken in by my ruse. “Next time I catch you not paying your fare, we won’t be so accommodating. You understand?”
“Yes,” I said, deciding it wasn’t in my best interest to give him a hard time any longer.
“Here’s your wallet and Gaijin card…take care.”
He handed me my stuff and I walked out of the box a free man. The air of Yokohama smelled fresh and clean. I turned back and the three of them were watching me. The tough guy had a look like, “I’ll see you again…”
Not if I see you first.