SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
June 15, 2014

The Silly Little Man

 

At the University of Chicago, I found myself living on the same floor in a shabby, low-rent high-rise dorm with any number of interesting eccentrics. Insane geniuses who refused to wear shoes, streetwise kids from the Bronx who were apparently also geniuses, obese rockínírollers (we had four of those), skinheads, whores, funny queers, dancing fools, stoners, rednecks, snooty rich girls with serious and complicated daddy issues, libertarian horndogs, con artists, a wild tapestry of outsider types crammed into very snug quarters together, and I talked to very few of them. Every once in awhile I find myself idly curious about what happened to this one or that down the line. Not all of themóin fact I couldnít give a shit about most of themóbut a couple anyway.

††††††††††† Oddly enough the one I find myself most curious about was a funny little Japanese man who, to hear him tell it, had his whole life mapped out for him at birth. His name was Yuki Maruko (not exactly his real name), and he was shaped like a Warner Brothers bulldog. Oversized head, broad shoulders, short arms and legs. He had a round face and wore thick black horn-rimmed glasses. His English was passable but broken. He dressed casually but fastidiously (which could be said for very few at Chicago), and his hair was always neatly combed (ditto) Although he was an intense little fellow, he seemed terribly enthusiastic about most everything he encountered in America. Enough so that I once composed an impromptu song about him. But Iíll get to that.

††††††††††† Through the luck of the draw (or so we were assured), while the rest of us were living in squalid glorified cells with built-in desks, gray cement floors, army cots and a common bathroom one floor up, Yuki lived in an actual apartment one floor down with a clever and misshapen closeted gay youngster named Chuck. To the fuming envy of the rest of us it seemed a lavish place, complete with real beds, carpeting, and their own bathroom. The latter seemed especially important to Yuki, as according to Chuck he took at a minimum eight showers a day. I canít say whether or not this was true, though Yuki always did seem unusually clean.

††††††††††† Yuki told me heíd been sent to the University of Chicago specifically to study with conservative economist Milton Friedman, who had become quite the celebrity on campus during the Reagan years (I spit on him once). I didnít want to bust Yukiís bubble when he told me this, but it was going to be awhile before he got anywhere near Friedman. Heíd have to get his undergraduate degree first, then get accepted to the School of Economics before he even had a whiff of a chance of studying with Friedman, and even then it was a long shot. But heíd find that out for himself. I donít know if this is true either, but Yuki told me his father was a member of the Japanese parliament, and he himself was being groomed to become the chief economic advisor to the prime minister. Given some of the other students I encountered when I was there, I wasnít about to call him a liar. Whole damn place was swimming with the spawn of the rich and powerful. I never had the slightest bit of interest in economics, but Yuki and I remained on pleasant if not exactly chummy terms. You never can tell when knowing the chief economic advisor to the prime minister of Japan might come in handy.

††††††††††† One bright spring afternoon I was walking down the sidewalk on my way from the dorm to my Roman history class. Iím not real sure why Iíd signed up for Roman history, except with everyone else lining up for days to get into Karl Weintraubís World Civ course, registering for something else was very easy. I was in no particular hurry so was ambling along slowly when Yuki charged past me from behind, programmed forever to move at a double-time short-legged march. He paused long enough to say hello, then was on his way again, two large economics textbooks under his arm.

††††††††††† About thirty feet ahead of me he paused, staring down at the sidewalk. He then stooped, picked something off the ground, and turned back to me with a broad grin on his face, holding whatever it was aloft. Although Iíd seen him smile before, it was a rare instance. And Iíd never seen him quite so suddenly happy.

††††††††††† ďI found . . . a quarter!Ē he called back to me. Then he turned again and resumed marching. It was at that moment that I composed my little song. It went like this:

Yuki, Yuki, Yuki

You silly little man

You find a quarter on the street

Youíre happy as a clam!

††††††††††† From that moment on I was never able to see him without reciting this to myself.

††††††††††† Okay, two years later Iíd left the university given I could no longer afford it, transferring to a much cheaper school instead. I still took a bus back to Chicago every now and again to troll the bookstores on 57th Street and see the two friends I still had there. During one visit in the autumn, I was walking through the Quad when I saw a big to-do of some kind outside the administration building. Students were waving placards and chanting things. Student protests against one damn thing or another were a daily event in Madison, but at Chicago they were almost unheard of. In an old ratty trench coat and with a filthy cigar clamped between my teeth (maybe I was in Columbo mode at the time, Iím not sure) I headed toward the action to see what the hubbub was all about.

††††††††††† The first thing that struck me was all the protesters were male. That was odd, at least when compared with your traditional Madison protest. The other odd thing was that they all seemed to be very well dressed, in sharp suits and ties. That was just weird. What the fuck did they have to be upset about?

††††††††††† I couldnít catch the gist of what they were chanting, but boy, they sure seemed mad.

††††††††††† From the signs a few of them were carrying, and with the help of a young harlot of a revolutionary communist I knew from Madison who was coincidentally down there to take part in a counter-protest, I learned that the guys in the suits called themselves the Brotherhood of the Iron Fist, and they were demanding the university immediately purge itself of all homosexuals.

††††††††††† Before I could even crack the first of the countless jokes to be found in an anti-gay group calling itself ďThe Brotherhood of the Iron Fist,Ē I stopped. There in the midst of it all, with a newly-shaven head and pumping his short arm angrily in the air with the rest of them, was Yuki. Given he was the only non-Caucasian in the hugger mugger, he was easy to spot.

††††††††††† (Yuki, Yuki, Yuki, you silly little man . . . )

††††††††††† Well, that was a surprise, and after reflexively reciting the song my second thought was that his old roommate Chuck probably hit on him (or worse) and he snapped. But who knows? Theyíre an inscrutable people, the Japanese.

††††††††††† I decided against approaching him at that particular moment, figuring it was probably a bad time to ask him how he was doing, what with the university so rife with those dirty insidious homosexuals that way, better to leave him to his fun.

††††††††††† I never saw Yuki after that, never heard a thing about him. But it was that last encounter, with his shaved head and suit amidst all those angry, homo-hating white guys, that has kept me wondering if he ever did in fact become the chief economic advisor to the prime minister of Japan. Iím not sure what it would mean if he did, I'm just curious.

 

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