“He couldn’t look happier. Couldn’t have more satisfaction written into the drunk wrinkles of his face.”


I duck under the low lip of the sideshow-ish tent, under the crenelated skirt which drips rainwater on my head. Jordan is shaking a big man’s hand. The man’s face is reddish-purple, the face of a drunk guy who has spent a lot of time in the sun. The man says, “Haikou,” which rhymes with psycho.

Jordan is laughing the kind of laugh you produce around people you don’t know, in situations you don’t understand. The kind of situations where the only thing to do is laugh.

The man says, “Haikou,” again. “Haikou.” He says it in that roughly unbelieving way of a gruff person of intelligence listening to someone tell them something they don’t know. The way a professor in an oversized jacket might say, “Terrific, terrific,” listening to a student say something particularly insightful. “Haikou, haikou.” Again, again.

It occurs to me that he’s saying the word saikou, which is Japanese for ‘fantastic’ and is an actual homophone of the English psycho; but he’s saying it through a mouthful of Hokkaido backcountry accent, or maybe he has a speech impediment, or maybe it’s just the alcohol. He is complementing Jordan on carrying the float, earlier, for the Takinoue town festival. Aha.

He says, “Erai,” which means, ‘great,’ and then “Haikou,” again.

The mayor, who is also standing nearby, says, in English, “Float, carry, thank you.” And then he says, “Saikou.”

The other guy nods fervently in agreement. “Haikou, haikou.

I have lost track of how many times he has said haikou.

Jordan says, “Thank you, thank you,” in English, but the guy doesn’t seem to understand, and keeps going, “Haikou, haikou,” and then “erai.”

The mayor says, “Jordan, please shake hands,” and gestures to the man still saying, “Haikou.” He holds out his hand and Jordan juggles the pickled vegetables she’s carrying for a moment. She puts them down on a nearby table and takes the guy’s hand and they begin shaking vigorously. Serious up-down action, a far cry from the single brusk downward jolt that I was told by a particular Men’s Lifestyle Magazine was standard operating procedure. Jordan and the guy go at this, shaking hands, Jordan laughing, the guy saying, “Haikou, erai,” shaking his head now, back and forth, as if unable to accept the true haikou-ness of this moment.

He finally lets go of Jordan’s hand. The mayor looks proud. Jordan has one hand over her mouth, laughing, her eyes little sparkling crescents of confusion and tentative delight. The guy says, “Haikou,” with finality. Says it definitively, like a judiciary verdict. He couldn’t look happier. Couldn’t have more satisfaction written into the drunk wrinkles of his face. The mayor, also smiling, looks from Jordan to the guy, puts his hands on his hips. I’m still half-hunched standing by the tent’s crenelated skirt.

The guy says, “Haikou, haikou.”

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