Parking Attendant

On my bike ride to school this morning, I saw the first spiderweb of spring in a gaijin trap. That spider is the harbinger of evil hot weather. Poor guy. He’s about to be sandbagged by all the asshole Price is Right spiders.
Today was graduation at school. I got to school 30 minutes earlier than usual because of an alleged meeting. I was also told to wear high heels for the ceremony, instead of my usual flat indoor shoes. As soon as I stepped into the office, a full foot taller than most everyone there, I saw the rest of the staff, including the woman who made the heeled shoe request, wearing tennis shoes. Awesome!
I was told to go outside and to direct traffic. This is big in Japan. If there’s some fog outside, you can expect 30 teachers standing on sidewalks outside the school to direct bikes away from hazards such as trees or Mount Fujis. If you go to the grocery store, there may not be enough people to bag your purchases for you, but you can be sure they’re fully staffed outside, telling cars how to get into parking spaces.
My supervisor told me to wave a flag, motioning where cars should go, and keeping pedestrians safe. “You should also communicate with them if they have questions on where to go.” Unfortunately, I’ve only gotten far enough on my Japanese iPod lessons to be able to say “My husband is in New York, and my son is in the bathroom,” so I hoped they’d ask about that.
Another problem was…I had absolutely NO idea where the cars are supposed to go. The few parking spots allowed for teachers were no match for the parents of the 400-person graduating class. I was left alone with a shy boy holding a sign that may have said “Please don’t back into parking spaces” or it might have said “I’m with stupid” (“Baka issho ni”).
Cars started heading towards me. I was armed with only a yellow flag with some kanji on it. I’m usually so good at pretending I know what I’m doing, but I don’t even know what my GOAL is. Are people’s lives in my hands? Do I need to steer the cars clear of pedestrians, or the pedestrians clear of cars? Should I wave the flag, or hold it straight out so they can read whatever the kanji says? Wait, does it say “stop” in kanji? Should I hold it in front of cars to stop them while I decide where they go? If I motion with the flag for them to go in a direction, and the flag has “stop” written on it, won’t they be confused?
I did what any person would do when faced with the potential of causing vehicular homicide, and I slipped my iPod headphone in my ear, so I’d look like a member of the Secret Service. The other faculty members kept in radio contact around the rest of the perimeter of the school, so I felt entitled to keep in radio contact with Pink Floyd. The shy boy holding the sign saw me, so I smiled and held my finger to my lips. He laughed and told me in Japanese that it was all right.
When all was said and done, I guess I pulled it off. I waved the flag that may or may not have read “stop,” and the drivers bowed at me from behind their steering wheel. Then they continued off to wherever I had motioned them to go; perhaps to the nearby baseball field, hitting each base and scoring a run.
Graduation itself was surreal. There were a lot of speeches and songs, but Japanese people don’t really clap to signify the end of things. Instead, the huge gymnasium just kept sinking into an awkward silence after every moving presentation. Awkward silence, besides of course…the tinny Pink Floyd ballads emanating from the gaijin-in-the-corner’s earbud.

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