Thursday, June 09, 2005

I encounter my German Friend Again

It’s always a bad idea here to get in a quarrel with another foreigner, because in the small circles we foreigners hang out in, it can be difficult to avoid meeting the other person.

My previous blog accountdetailed my first meeting with “Tom”, but in repeating the story I have discovered a lot of other people know him, and that Tom and I probably share a lot of mutual friends and acquaintances.

The information I hear about Tom is somewhat mixed. Apparently at times he can be the friendliest guy in the world, and who knows? If I had met him under different circumstances we might have become good friends.

On the other hand John had a story about how his Japanese girlfriend had to stop coming to a certain coffee shop because Tom would always harass her there. This is somewhat more consistent with the view of Tom I had acquired. And yet another friend is absolutely positive Tom is married to a Japanese woman, which makes the fact that he is harassing all these other girls even creepier yet.

I had found out that Tom is a frequent patron of “Beer Hall”, one of the local foreign hang outs here in Gifu city, and after hearing that I came there less often. Some of my friends felt I was being a bit of a wimp about the whole thing. “Look, you shouldn’t rearrange your social life because of this creep,” someone told me. “He was the one who was in the wrong, let him find a new place to hang out.”

But to a certain point, who was in the wrong is almost irrelevant. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of Tom personally, as the fact that encountering him again in a bar seemed like an awkward situation that I’d just assume avoid if at all possible. I continued going to Beer Hall if I had definite plans or was meeting friends, but I decided to stop just randomly dropping in on slow nights to see what was happening.

I encountered Tom once on the streets of Nagoya just by freak chance. I was with another friend, and I saw Tom coming the other way. I thought if I just ignored him it might be perceived as a sign of weakness or fear, so I just simply nodded at him as we passed each other. He glared at me in return. “Wow, he was not happy to see you,” my friend said after Tom had passed. “I know Tom as well, but he didn’t even acknowledge me. He just glared at you the whole time.” And then he added, “I’m pretty sure he’s married, by the way.”

That was about a month ago. And then I encountered Tom again last night at “Beer Hall”. Given the fact that we both frequent the bar, I suppose that I was just lucky before not to run into him.

Jorge, a Peruvian friend working in Japan, had organized a bit of a get together at Beer Hall. I had come early in the evening when there were just a handful of people there, but more and more people began coming in. Given how wide Jorge’s connections seemed to be, I was not entirely surprised when Tom arrived as well.

As I had written previously in this blog, my aversion to tense situations had caused me to be a bit flustered when I first met Tom. But, replaying the incident in my head, I think he had been slightly intimidated by me as well. If I just kept up a strong front and didn’t let Tom know his presence was unnerving me, I could keep the advantage. But, unfortunately the pressure of not becoming nervous made me all the more nervous.

Tom didn’t seem to have any more desire to encounter me, than I him. We were both in the same bar, but avoided each other the whole evening. Since I have been getting good mileage out of the story of our first encounter, and had retold it several times, all of my friends knew about the antagonism between us. “Hey, did you see who’s here?” someone would say to me. Or, “Did you notice your best friend is sitting over there?” I would just respond that as long as he stayed away from me, everything was all right.

At the end of the evening there was talk of going to another bar. I was a little uneasy about this. Avoiding Tom when we were in the same bar was one thing, but if I was in a group with him walking to the next bar, that was something that could not be done without awkwardness. When I heard Tom’s name in a list of people who would be going to the next bar, and when most of my friends decided to call it a night and head home, I gave my apologies to Jorge and said I was too tired to go out to another bar. Everyone sort of left at once, and to avoid bumping into Tom outside I stayed and ordered another Oolong Tea. (All my friends think I must save a ton of money by not drinking, but I swear I must spend almost as much money on tea as they do on alcohol. It just feels awkward to be in a bar and not be drinking something.)

As I got my tea I realized that everyone I knew had left the bar. Fortunately in Japan there is always an escape from the awkwardness of standing alone: the cell phone. Japanese people love to play with their cell phone. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and began surfing the net. Some drunken Japanese businessmen I was standing next to started practicing their English on me, and I sat down with them while I finished me drink. At one point Tom walked back into the bar for whatever reason, but I was engaged in conversation with my new friends and so was able to avoid him. He left again, but it did occur to me that me might realize I was deliberately staying behind in the bar to avoid him, and that might be taken as a sign of weakness. I finished my drink quickly, said good-by to me new friends, and then headed out the door.

I started walking towards my car, and then saw Jorge and Tom and a few others waiting at the crosswalk. Despite the head start I had given them, they must have milled around by the door for a while. I thought about heading the other way, but again I didn’t want Tom to think I was deliberately avoiding him. I arrived at the crosswalk and talked with Jorge over Tom’s head.

“Did you decide to come with us after all?” Jorge asked.

“No, not tonight. But shouldn’t you guys be headed in the opposite direction?” I asked.

“We’re going to get his car first,” Jorge said, gesturing to another friend who had a car.

“My car’s parked over in the same direction,” I said. “I’ll walk with you a little ways.” Actually the last thing I wanted to do was walk with this group a little ways, but I was making a point of acting like I was not at all disturbed by Tom.

Jorge didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish, so we communicated in Japanese. At this point Tom, who apparently spoke several languages, launched into Spanish and cut me out of the conversation. I wasn’t able to understand what was being said, but because I caught my own name and I could see them gesturing to me, I knew I was the subject.

I could tell Tom was asking a lot of questions about me, and I could tell that Jorge, by his smile, and his friendly gestures towards me, was saying nothing but good things.

Eventually we came to the spot where our paths diverged. Although I had been walking right next to Tom, we hadn’t said a word to each other the whole evening. Instead I reached over Tom to shake hands with Jorge and said my good byes. And then I left.

The following day I was talking to a friend who was also at the bar, who mentioned how much Tom was glaring at me. I really didn’t even notice it at the time, but found it somewhat disturbing nonetheless. “Boy, what is he still mad about?” I asked. “The way he’s still acting upset after all these months, you would think I was the one who had been out of line.” Actually, from Tom’s perspective I probably was.

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