A Good Sport

There’s always that flurry in the pit of your stomach when you know you have to impress someone. It’s what makes job interviews so nerve-racking for some of us; the knowledge that our future wellbeing is dependant on our ability to make a stranger like us. This is all the more worrisome if you live your life under a ‘I don’t much care about other people’s opinions of me’ philosophy, as you’d have little needed practice at showing your best side. It was not a job interview that had gotten me on edge however. Cece’s parents were coming to visit.

My best side is a somewhat obscure idea. How exactly should I present myself? The most obvious solution is to take up acting. Learn charming lines, get the costume department to dictate how to look, find out the opinions of the people you’ll meet and then match them accordingly. The fundamental flaw in this endeavour is longevity; how long can you keep the act up until they realise that actually, watching sports can bore me into an early grave. It’s decidedly fatal. Then there’s the alternative to lying, a favoured politician’s technique. Avoid inflammatory subject matter as if it really would burn you alive. Faith, politics, supported sports teams, and anything else really that exposes a genuine thought in your head. Dress as plainly as possible on top and if you’re successful you’ll achieve anonymity (don’t wear the V mask though. That counts as a thought on something). This is not lying about you are, so much as it’s an artful skill and dodging questions that would reveal who you are. Are you interested in films? Well, films have had a long history, and I feel like we’re all influenced by it in our own way. So where are you from? Well, it’s always difficult to put a name to a home when you travel around so much. What are your intentions toward our daughter? Well, I imagine the two of us will make an appointment, complete with refreshments naturally, and discuss the terms of the relationship. (The only thing you could ever gauge from a person who answered this way was that they’re an ass).

Finally there is the last option; be yourself. That can be a particularly terrible choice though (sorry for destroying anyone’s hope inadvertently there). If you have a burning passion for liberal politics and the parents are very conservative, your natural passion might be your very undoing. The same way that if you’re a psychotic killer who just wants to settle down and start a family, mentioning your tendencies might not be seen as an asset (although if that were the case, you might have more pressing concerns than judgemental parents).

I considered being myself and it certainly didn’t appear to be my best side, if I do indeed have one lurking somewhere about my person. I’m a dashing individual with a penchant for ponchos, a compulsive need to have an umbrella at all times, a ‘slight’ addiction to sugary drinks and suffer from regular bouts of rage brought on by social injustices and the use of puns. I’m not sure just how much ‘dashing’ redeems me in this description. But alas, I prefer elaborate lies only for entertainment and directness in conversation for clarity, barring me from the other two options.

Cece’s family is an international bunch, making them especially interesting to talk with. They juggle multiple languages, are well travelled and seek out friendship wherever they go. But they’re also related to my girlfriend, and that means I’m going to be tested. I have to watch my grammar mistakes in multiple languages, bear in mind a brief version of their history to reference when conversation calls, and develop into a sociable go-get-‘em kind of guy before they arrive. The schedule they had planned was nothing so ordinary as a quiet dinner and conversation. Instead, a series of excursions had been planned. On the first day, a family trip to the onsen, separated by gender naturally (because what boyfriend doesn’t want to meet the father, brother and sister’s boyfriend of his own partner for the first time, sitting naked in a hot bath together? Not a go-get-‘em kind of boyfriend, that’s for certain). On the next day, a live baseball game, complete with crowds of crazy Japanese people chanting and smashing plastic bats together regardless of what the players are actually doing (don’t forget to come without your over-priced memorabilia or your fake enthusiasm). On the third day, a karaoke trip would round the visit off; the joy of screaming into microphones amidst the flow of alcohol (and as someone who can’t sing and doesn’t drink, I’m sure you can imagine just how well I’d fair).

But alas, in a very unfortunate turn of luck, my flight back to Sapporo was mistimed, leaving me three days late (and I was so looking forward to that bath). But fear not, I told Cece as we discovered this piece of amazingly tragic news. I would meet her parents soon after and things would work out. Perhaps in more ordinary, less compromising settings.

The day after I got back, I was invited to meet them on the outskirts of town, an instructed to wear comfortable clothing. Naturally, I made sure to dress smartly before I met her parents (comfortable can also be smart), along with all the other necessities. Shave, shower, combed hair. Conversation starters in mind, umbrella on my arm and a hop in my step as I made my way to meet everyone. As it turns out, I would later arrive at a sports centre, with its very own gambling machines, arcades and electronic massage chairs (curiouser and curiouser). The family were gathered around one of the arcade rhythm games, that required you to beat a drum with a pair of sticks in time to a song. Cede introduced us to each other, and I shook hand with her parents. Keep cool, think carefully and be sophisticated. Her sister came off the machine to say hello, and before I had a chance to react, a pair of sticks was thrust into my hands and the song started. Far too fast, and a tune I didn’t recognise, I struggled between keeping up conversation as well as the game (nothing could be more sophisticated; frantically smashing a plastic box with a wooden stick).
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What followed was a tourist’s trip of the sports centre. One by one was tried by the family and myself, from solitary golf, to paired badminton and as far as teamed sports with basketball and football. Each one was met with as much enthusiasm and drive as the other, and in short time, I was lost in the games. It wasn’t long until that I found my smart clothes soaked in perspiration and my hair wild (which must have made a wonderfully comfortable look). But the sports continued and I did my best, to both do well as well as to relax, despite the feeling that my prowess in sports was now the prime source of judgement.

The evening was rounded off with dinner at a restaurant, where I could rely on less physical strengths. Regrettably however, they could match the Marx brothers when it came to speed eating. Within moments I was trailing behind, leaving them to watch me patiently as I kept them all from catching the bus home. in the end I sacrificed the last of my dinner (my Jesus moment of the day), feigning that I was full so that we could leave.
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The following day I joined them at home for a far more laid back dinner with the extended family. The Japanese made it difficult for me to fully join conversation freely, but it could have been far worse. Cece’s mother went as far as to keep to a basic polite form whenever she spoke to me, in order to make it easier for me to understand; not entirely necessary but most definitely appreciated. The household swayed with the number of bodies flashing through on their own individual objectives, and the dog barked throughout to make it all the noisier. Eventually I needed to check the bus timetable for when I would get home, and went with Cece to her room to go fetch the paper copy. Now, it was a busy, noisy house. I hardly believed anyone would notice our absence for two minutes, and I hadn’t had a chance to kiss my girlfriend in over a fortnight.

Two very short minutes later when we turned to leave, Cece suddenly frowned.

“We should have closed the door”

“Why? We can hear anybody come upstairs”

“Well, actually, I forgot to say. My dad is right next door working silently on his laptop”.

Really needed that information two minutes ago Cece.
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Rather unusually though for me, I wasn’t so unlucky as to suffer any major mistakes during the visit, in spite of the bizarreness of it all. Perhaps in spite of my fears, I was no different to Ethel from ‘Barefoot in the Park’; a good sport as Mr Velasko would say. Regardless of the lack of familiarity, I gave everything a go and much to my surprise, enjoyed myself quite thoroughly. Before you roll your eyes at me for patting myself on the back (I know what you’re doing), I would say that this condition is not of my doing, but instead is rather contagious. The entire family inspired that behaviour by practicing it themselves, and by being welcoming through sheer warmth. If I started to adopt such a healthy and joyous outlook, then perchance I might counter my own unlucky streak. But I imagine it would take an awful lot to accomplish that.
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