I used to sit at the front desk of the Japanese corporation I worked for (only from 12-1 so the receptionist could take lunch). Our executives were Japanese, and rarely mingled with the rest of us. It was around New Year when our CEO set a beautifully decorated paper-mystery of sorts on the front desk. It was red, white, multi-tiered, and had extravagant frilly things swirling from the top like delicate ribbons.The closest shape I can liken it to is that of a wedding cake.
I was sitting at the front; Abeni (the receptionist) was away at lunch. I was doing my usual shenanigans: internet hijinx coupled with spinning around in the office chair when Karl came by. Karl was the accountant. He had a graying soul patch, golf shirt, and car so sporty that you didn’t need to see the driver to know that it was the result of some epic mid-life crisis. In a hurried Southern lisp I hear, “What’s that?” He was walking by to fetch something important and clearly this derailed his task; like a parrot to sparkly earrings. “I dunno. Ask Abeni. I think she said the president put it there for some weird, Japanese New Year thing-” Immediately he started touching it. This concerned me, but my childlike curiousity and earnest drive for mischief prevented me from stopping him.
“It opens!” Karl gasped as he began fucking with the delicate box-like thing and forcibly prying it open from the side. “Something’s in here!” Another gasp of wonder and delight; he poured out several hard, heavy-sounding, disc-shaped things -each wrapped in plastic. “Can you eat it?” That was his immediate thought (which obviously came flying out of his mouth at the same time). Clearly I didn’t know, hell… I didn’t even know there was shit in the box in the first place! “Can you eat the weird, skin-colored saucer-like things? I don’t fucking know Karl!” (these were my thoughts.) So naturally, given that this ornament of sorts (which he had no right to touch) was open, he decided to unwrap one of the strange things. He took a bite… It sounded like it chipped his tooth and his hand flew to his mouth as he spat out something that I can only imagine tasted about as foul as giving Dick Cheney a rim-job, and that’s judging from the look on his face alone. He ran to the bathroom to wash out his mouth, and came out even more determined to figure out what the fuck those discs were (and possibly how he could still eat them). Kyle, the boyish, intern-like accountant came out. He was always excited, eager to please, and a bit like a dog in his attentiveness and loyalty to his almost-meaningless work. He had papers in his hand; he wanted to know what his boss was exclaiming over and meticulously examining as I sat quiet, wide-eyed, and observant at Abeni’s desk. “Do you know what this is?” Kyle’s eyes widened and he shrugged, clearly trying to find some answer to please his gainful employer, and said, “I dunno. Pfffttt… Could be, uh- is it cake?” Karl made a gesture and went on about why Kyle should not try to eat it, “Maybe it’s soap?!” That was my guess. “Yeah! Soap! Is it soap!?” Karl grabbed another disc and walked to the bathroom to try washing his hands with it. Now Vicky, the older accountant, was involved and so was leopard-print-cardigan lady that always wore shiny, red heels and had a mysterious job that I presume involved Facebook for 7 hours and Solitaire for 1.
I was quietly delighted. Everyone wanted to solve the mystery, and I was still gunning for the soap-theory, but Karl said it didn’t work. Leopard-print-too-much-lipstick decided to taste it, despite our advice, and surprisingly… So did everyone else. I think everyone but me decided to try eating it. I’m not going to lie, even I was starting to get curious despite the overwhelming negative response the disc-as-food continued to get.
Abeni came back. “What is going on?” She was gaping and very clearly in shock. “What did you do!?” She saw the crowd, the unwrapped discs and their many broken fragments (we thought perhaps if you broke them open you could find something actually edible inside; apparently everyone was hungry). “That belongs to Mr. Maruto!” (*name changed to protect that fact that I can’t remember his name). “Oh my god, Karl! What have you done?! Amber-” she was looking at me as if it was my fault, and I guess I kind of was supposed to be watching the desk, but I was not going to be held responsible for a senior-level accountant’s brute force, childlike wonder, and relentless desire to eat anything. “I didn’t do it. It was Karl. He just opened it, I mean… I didn’t have time to stop him.” “By the way, Abeni… Don’t you think it’s soap?” Kyle jumped in, “It’s got to be some sort of a wick-less candle.” For whatever reason, all of us pocketed a few, and hustled out of the area. Well, not all of us. “AMBER!” It was more a stern, loud, stop-you-in-your-tracks tone than a shout. I slowly turned, eyebrows lifting and nervous, innocent-looking (though clearly fake) smile spreading across my face, “Yes, Abeni?” She melted into panic and explained how Mr. Maruto had proudly brought the item in that morning, beaming the normally-stoic Japanese man very carefully placed the item in a proud display and had come by repeatedly admiring it. “What if that’s some freaky Asian shit for New Year’s and you’re not supposed to open it up for a while and it’s like his luck or something!?” she asked and the severity of the situation sunk heavily on my chest as I stared at the mashed crumbles of disks, disheveled box-thing, and unwrapped solid ones (which we had licked, bitten, rubbed on our skin, attempted to wash ourselves with, and finally determined were either a solid lotion or wick-less candle) strewn across the front desk. “You don’t fuck with Japanese people’s luck.” Being the asshole that I am, I slowly snuck out as Abeni put her hand to her forehead and began cleaning the mess up.
When I got to my desk I pulled one of the stolen goods from my pocket and attempted to lick it myself (for the second time, don’t ask). I finally decided to just take a photo of it and e-mail Tomoko (my favorite Japanese comrade that worked in our San Diego office). She told me that in actuality you are supposed to eat it, but definitely not raw; it was a hard type of mochi that you had to bake.
I went home and baked mine and I swear to god, I’m not making this up (because I don’t even think the sort of thing I’m about to type is funny) but it looked EXACTLY like a cock (and nothing like a mochi bun). It was not delicious.
[I think it’s obvious as to why Japan is on my mind today. I am happy to learn that Tomoko’s family there is safe. I was pretty emotional thinking of her and several other people that touched my life in a wonderful way. There’s one left to hear back on…]