Schrödinger's apartment

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So last week Laura thought I had died again.

Here's what happened: As we were saying goodnight on the phone, she offered to call me at seven in the morning to make sure I was awake, since she knows I often sleep through my alarm clock. This is not an unusual offer. I accepted.

Then I did a strange thing. I woke up at five in the morning and decided I wasn't going to be able to get back to sleep, so I got ready and went to the office, figuring I could get some work done on my book before anyone else got there. I was out of the apartment by 6:30.

Well, around 9:30 I got a call at my little cubicle. "This is Bill," I said.


"Oh, no! I came to the office early and forgot to call you!"

"I've been calling your answering machine for two and a half hours trying to wake you up! I didn't know if you had the bedroom door shut and couldn't hear me or if you choked in your sleep! My coworkers are mocking me! I was about to go to Brooklyn and make sure you were alive!"

Well, I apologized as best I could, and she insisted that I call my answering machine and listen to all the torture I had put her through, which I happily agreed to do.

This episode harked back to the most infamous "Bill is dead" episode of all, which happened at a little ryokan in the hills south of Mishima on whatever that peninsula is called that juts south off Honshu from Mt. Fuji. My high school friend Jon, who has lived in Japan for eleven years, hosted us on a two-week vacation. This particular night, he had booked Laura and me into a small traditional inn with famous natural baths, arranged everything we needed with the staff, then taken the train back home.

This particular ryokan featured co-ed bathing in a natural cave, but only at certain times of the day. That evening Laura and I agreed to each try the segregated indoor and outdoor baths, then to meet back at the hotel room at 9:30 to visit the co-ed bath together when it opened.

After an amusing adventure deciphering the kanji for "men's dressing room" and "women's dressing room"—and a near-disaster when Laura almost walked naked into the men's bath—we each found our respective baths and began soaking. I started out in the men's indoor bath, then moved to the outdoor bath. I had it to myself, and there was nothing more pleasant or relaxing the whole trip as sitting back in that hot water with twisted trees all around staring up in the night sky with a light snow just beginning to fall.

After a nice long interval, I hauled my carcass out of the bath and dressed. According to my watch, it was about 9:22, so I figured I'd rest in the dressing room, looking out at the snow, for a few minutes before returning to our room to meet Laura. I felt very relaxed.

Next thing I know, Laura is grabbing me by the shoulders shouting, "I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!" and bursting into tears.

I sat up, confused, and looked at my watch. It was 10:15. Oops. Must have fallen asleep.

Over the next hour or so, Laura regaled me with the story of how she had tried to communicate to the staff of the ryokan, none of whom spoke any English whatsoever, that her boyfriend had not reappeared from the baths and had probably hit his head and drowned. The little man who eventually understood had apparently seen me sleeping in the dressing room and led Laura there, asking her, "California?" as they negotiated the maze of hallways.

"No, New York City," she said, stunned that someone should try to make small talk while her boyfriend was lying facedown in a pool of hot water and blood.

Then the little man opened the dressing room and motioned for her to go in. As soon as she saw me and started emoting, he discreetly disappeared.

We didn't end up trying the co-ed baths that night, but we did the next morning, and I saw enough naked old people to last me a lifetime.

I hope I'm not making Laura sound bad. In fact it's pretty nice to have someone who worries that you're dead if you don't answer the phone for two and a half hours, or if you don't come out of the hot spring on time.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 4, 2000 11:00 AM.

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