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River Crossing


OK. So I was close very, very close to securing an apartment in Kyoto, Japan. I went into landlord lady's office, I sat at her desk, handed her the rent money, then handed her the security deposit in a separate envelope and I smiled. She didn't smile back, did not speak. Looked vaguely embarrassed about the situation which meant that I had missed something - the clock ticked and I'm not going to lie - I did know what was missing but I hoped, I prayed maybe we were too enlightened for this last little part but apparently not. No expression on the lady's face, see what I had forgotten was the key money. What's key money, you may ask? In Japan key money is just extra money that you give - you hand over to the landlord for the privilege of renting to you, as a gift. And if you're a foreigner you've got to add some extra dough - straight extortion.

But since playing dumb wasn't working I reached into my jacket and I pulled out the third envelope full of her key money. I slide it over and say thank you so very much for renting me this apartment and allowing me to pay you all this cash. Japanese spoken. Then she slides over the keys. And it's done. It's taken such a long while sleeping on couches, living off rice and canned mackerel but finally, finally I have my own tiny little bitty piece of the big city to call my own. Well, buddy Ray and his girlfriend Karen, they take me out to celebrate. And we sit overlooking the beautiful raging Kamogawa river. They toast my success with bottles of ice cold Ichiban beer - finally, finally. I finally lived at the center of everything I wanted to do. This beautiful city of Kyoto. My struggle was over.

And that's when Ray said, you know, dude it's not over. What do you mean? Well before you're able to walk the streets of Kyoto as a self-respecting person you've got to cross the Kumano-Gawa. What? You got to cross the Kumano-Gawa River, man. I look out into the darkness at this angry, raging River and I'm like, what are you talking about? Walk across that river, you lost your mind? And Ray, he points to his girlfriend Karen. She did it. She's slight, petite, pretty, tiny. Karen did it and so did everybody else, man. You want to be a laughingstock - go-ahead. But if you want to be part of the club you got to pay up. I'd gotten this far. I tried so hard. I breathe, I consider.

Then I strip down to my boxers and sprint for the river. Careful man. There's lots of sharp rocks and boulders - they could slice you in two. I splash into the raging river. And it's cold, cold, cold - dodging branches, dead dogs, roof piles. My legs slip, the river drags at me, twists my ankle in a hole and I can't stop, I can't stop. I'm going to go under, it pulls me under. My knees scrape against cold rock. It's blinding pain, my head slams against the concrete pier. I've made it to the far side. But now I've got to turn around and go back - boxing thousands of gallons of frozen river, legs battered, so cold - cold like ice fishing. A laundry detergent box knocks me upside the head and then finally - I drag myself from the freezing water - trembling. Bruised by the mighty Kumano-Gawa River herself, but not broken. I belong in Kyoto. I've earned this. Dude - dude that was the craziest thing ever seen. I'm shivering. So bad. I can barely speak. You said, everybody did it.

You said, Karen did it. Yeah but you're supposed to do at the end of summer man, when the water's low and warm but right now it's springtime. The water's at its highest point - dude that's melted snow it's got to be crazy cold in there, man. (Laughing). And I wonder, I wonder if the police will catch me after I murder my good friend Ray. Or do they simply allow foreigners to resolve their own conflicts. I'm going to slay you. Oh, Karen look, he's mad. I think he's really mad. Hey, hey it's funny man, it's funny. Just be mad at yourself for being so stupid.

Today on SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR the Grand Illusion. Amazing stories from real people with their own understanding of how the world works. My name is Glynn Washington. Check to see that you're not flailing in someone else's River. Because you're listening to SNAP JUDGMENT. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.