After Nakagawa-san was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army he became ill and was hospitalized before his unit was ordered to Manchuria. Thus he escaped being captured by the Soviets during the last few days of World War II. Only a small percentage of his fellow soldiers survived imprisonment. When I met him, he was a businessman in Tokyo’s fabulous wholesale fish market.
O.B. Nelson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the late thirties, was an electrician in 1920-vintage S-boats, served as chief of the boat in fleet-type submarines during World War II combat patrols, and after retirement as a Captain became the program manager for construction of Trident submarines. No other former white hat (enlisted man) experienced so much as a submariner.
More dissimilar people do not exist anywhere, but Nakagawa and O.B. had something in common. In a world competition for the most embarrassing moment they would tie for first place.
In 1973 Rhoda accompanied me to Japan where I participated in a survey of shipyard management methods. We planned to spend a weekend with our son Richard, then employed in Japan, who had lived a year in Nakagawa’s home. Nakagawa and his wife wished to take us on an overnight visit to Nikko, the burial place of the first Tokugawa shogun. We were delighted to accept their invitation because of a popular Japanese expression, “Speak not of beauty until you have seen Nikko.”
We were to meet the Nakagawas in the train station where we would board the Romance Car.
The Nakagawas were a few minutes late and Mrs. Nakagawa, already giggling, couldn’t wait to tell us what had happened. Richard translated the story that seemed to bubble out of her in bursts of Japanese as the giggling turned into nearly uncontrollable laughter. Grinning Mr. Nakagawa stood by with his raincoat draped over his clasped hands.
They had walked to the subway entrance near their home. Since the morning rush hour was over they were the only people on the station’s platform. Mr. Nakagawa came out from a short visit to the men’s room and told his wife that he couldn’t zip up his fly. She knelt and tried to work the zipper closed. She was so engaged when without warning, as if appearing from nowhere, the uniformed station master grabbed Mr. Nakagawa by the shoulder and demanded to know what was it she was doing to him right there on the train platform!
Richard, because he was laughing so much, had a hard job translating the last part of the story. When Rhoda and I finally understood we also busted up and suddenly realized why Mr. Nakagawa was standing with his raincoat draped in front. His zipper was still jammed open!
The story put all of us in a great mood to start the weekend. Since there was time enough before we had to board the Romance Car, with Richard again translating, I told the Nakagawas about O.B.
O.B. and I, as lieutenants in Washington, D.C., were assigned to that branch of the Bureau of Ships that managed noise, shock, and vibration research. One day during a coffee break, O.B. told Bob Taggert and me about what had happened to him years before in Norfolk.
Per Navy practice, weekend liberty started at noon following Saturday morning inspections. Then uniformed sailors exploded from ships at the Naval Operating Base and dashed to locker clubs located outside. The racing Olympians quickly shifted into civy slacks and sport shirts.
On one such Saturday fastidious O.B. bolted through his locker club in record time and caught the Grandby Street trolley for downtown Norfolk. Since he was always cheerful and neat when I knew him, it’s easy to imagine young O.B. strap hanging on the crowded trolley, humming to himself, tapping a foot, and occasionally looking down at his spit-shined shoes. One such glance disclosed that his zipper was open.
As Richard translated O.B.’s story thus far, Mrs. Nakagawa’s laughter was already attracting the attention of passersby.
O.B. didn’t panic because as a submariner he had been trained to be calm in emergencies. He drew himself up a bit so as to keep the unzipped fly taut, looked around, and when he was sure no one was watching he zipped up with a lightning-like flick. Since no passenger reacted O.B. smiled at his submarine-like stealth and relaxed to his normal height. A minute or two later, as the trolley was approaching its first downtown stop, the young women who had been seated directly in front of him stood up and discovered that her angora sweater was caught in O.B.’s zipper! Upon hearing the translation, Mrs. Nakagawa howled and doubled over.
O.B. said that both he and the lady that he had become suddenly attached to, both turned beet red. He wasn’t trained for this kind of emergency, so before he had a chance to react, she yanked down on her sweater and hopelessly jammed the zipper. Excited, she kept yanking away. Nearby passengers assessed what happened and began to laugh uproariously, while O.B. screamed, “Stop it! I’ll get off with you!”
We had to lead Mrs. Nakagawa to a waiting-room bench. She couldn’t see through her tears. Richard wasn’t in such good shape either. Unmercifully I continued.
O.B. described how getting off the trolley was not a good idea because the angry and determined young lady continued pulling away at him while a crowd of shoppers gathered around. With a superhuman effort she tore apart her sweater and dashed through the laughing crowd while leaving O.B. with what could have passed for a bunny tail except for its being attached to his front. When hysterical Richard finally translated that much, Mrs. Nakagawa hurt so much from laughing that she had to lay sideways on the bench with her knees pulled up to her chin.
O.B. ran around the block and, in an apartment doorway where he was concealed, picked away at the angora.
Mr. Nakagawa spent the entire weekend in Nikko with his raincoat draped over his clasped hands.
Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo