few months ago, I received an email from an old friend… Well, friend may not be the exact word, but I would like to think that we were more than just acquaintances. JU was a member of my patrol in Boy Scouts, and we were together in Karate and the same private high school. But what I believe to be our true bond was getting drunk together in Tokyo. I mean, getting shit-faced on sake in Takadanobaba is truly a bonding experience.
As usual, the following is as true as I remember it–we all remember things in our own way and memory should always be held up to scrutiny. If it is inaccurate in anyway, I hope that JU will point it out to me. In any event…
JU and I went to the same elementary school, Maryknoll, near Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. He lived in East LA as I did, but in another area near where 4th Street turns into 3rd Street, so we never rode the same school bus. Since he was two years younger than me, I didn’t really get to know him until he entered our Boys Scout troop. Back then, our troop had a membership of around 50–I’m guessing actually–and we were divided into patrols, each patrol consisting of scouts from basically the same area. The westsiders made up the Bear patrol–BK might want to verify that. Those from Monterey Park were represented by the Rising Sun Patrol–formerly the Beavers, but we had to change the name. The Cobra were from the Boyle Heights area.
I lived in the Belvedere area of East LA and found myself in the Firebird patrol with people I barely knew: Yonai who was two years older than me, Piki who was one year older. Yonai eventually dropped out and Piki was promoted to Assistant Scout Master, so I became patrol leader for a group of fellow Eastsiders named Kuch, Banzai, Yonai’s younger cousin, the Ezaki twins and JU. A classmate, Rhubarb, was also in our patrol, even though he didn’t live on the Eastside. He lived in Eagle Rock where no one else lived, so he got stuck with us. We were not necessarily a motely crew, but Yonai the elder, and others from an earlier generation ensured that we had a reputation of being slackers and screw-ups.
But that reputation was not necessarily a bad thing. Those of you who have read NLUTE know that I considered myself a GLOB (good little Oriental boy), so a reputation as a slacker had its appeal. Perhaps, however, more to the point, few had any expectations of us, so we could slack off and no one would get on our case. Once we had a physical fitness night and each patrol had to perform a set number of exercises, including a 50 yard dash, chin-ups, and push-ups. Since the patrols came in various sizes, the competition between patrols would be limited to only a few members, but each member had to participate. So the weekend before we got together to decide who could do the best in each group. I was not the fastest person at school, and my short legs made the matter worse, but I was about as fast as anyone in our patrol. When we tried to do push-ups, I recall Banzai not being able to do even one. I thought he as joking and slacking off–and if you are thought to be slacking off amongst a bunch of slackers, then that would be REALLY bad. But he was seriously push-up impaired. If I met him now, he’d probably kick my ass, but back then, he could barely do one. We did not fare very well.
However, when we did perform, people were actually impressed. Once, we had a drill contest between patrols and we actually tried to come up with a marching routine that would look kinda cool. We were supposed to march in formation and split into two different groups and then mesh together at the end. As you might imagine, in the middle of the competition, one group took a left when they were supposed to take a right, and we were all screwed up–almost like the Stanford marching band. But for some reason, at the end of the routine, we all ended up at the right spot. Personally, I was pissed as hell and couldn’t wait to tell them they had fucked up. But as we stood at attention and saluted Imu, the Assistant Scoutmaster, he nodded as he jotted something down on his clipboard, muttering “pretty good.” We ended up in third place with a routine we had messed up.
I have a number of other memories from my Scout days, but I would be deviating from the purpose of this post: JU. As far as I remember, he was a good kid, a solid member in our patrol. I say this without a hint of sarcasm. He was athletic, sharp and willing to work hard, which might explain why he’s a lawyer now. But when I met him in Japan a number of years later, he left me with a different impression.
To be continued…