Just because I called his canal ‘boring’ and remarked on all the crackheads in the streets of Panama City
Some years ago after a stint of selling fake Rolex watches in Tokyo, I got a job wring a column for a little free listings magazine called the Tokyo Notice Board. It was a rag where you looked for apartments, jobs or dates with Japanese girls who wanted a gaijin boyfriend as a fashion accessory.
The written content was usually quite abysmal with titles like ‘Why I Love Pizza!’ but the editor, Eiko, was so taken with my writing that he/she (I never did find out) declared that I’d be paid 6000 yen per article. That came to around $45 for each weekly column and as I was used to traveling like a hobo that seemed enough to keep me on the road.
I was given free rein to write about my travels as long as it didn’t include anything illegal and pretty soon some fan mail came in and Eiko was delighted to have hired me. Then, however, the hate mail also came in from Indians who thought I was making fun of their ‘great country’ which would one day ‘rise up and become a superpower’. Eiko was terrified at the prospect of offending an unknown reader on the internet and almost fired me when I declined to apologise. I had the feeling that had a respectable Nazi written in to complain about a remark I’d made about Hitler I’d still have been in hot water.
Anyhow, the weekly income kept me on the road living in a tipi village in Spain and then traveling through Central America where it took some ingenuity to live on $6 a day, especially when the odd article got canceled to make way for payign advertisements. The end was bound to come, however and it came after the Panamanian ambassador complained about an article I’d written about Panama City. Eiko, dreading confrontation as much as the average Japanese, flew into panic, demanding that I apologize at once.
Apparently, the Panamanian ambassador had taken issue with the story as I had dared to make fun of the Panama Canal, declaring it to be kinda boring.
‘The Panama Canal is one of the greatest feats of human engineering in the world‘ he spluttered, pouring out a whole pile of statistics about cubic feet of water and earth.
And he also thought it unfair that I’d written about the terrifying experience of walking through the neighbourhood where I was staying at 9am in the morning.
‘_These are problems that every developing nation experiences_’ he declared and seemed miffed that I hadn’t mentioned the historic significance of the neighbourhood.
‘Oh, that will be where the crackhead crawled out of the wall the morning we arrived!’ my friend Joe wrote me, who had been with me at the time.
I’d written to Joe to share the comedy of the situation but here’s the thing. I took the original email from my editor, retitled it Kowtowing to Japanese editors and began the email with:
Can you believe the shit I have to put up with from these people?_
Now here’s the thing: I forgot to change the address. I sent the above message straight back to Eiko, my editor.
Or rather, by this time, my ex-editor.
My weekly income had come to an end and I was stranded in Colombia with $300 in the world.
But that’s another story. Ah, the bliss of being one’s own editor. Now I get to give other writers shit.