Patchwork Yokohama
26. Sports Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Vince had already  missed out on selection in the Australian
          team  for  the  Barcelona  Olympics.  This  was  not  a  new
          phenomenon. He had  missed  out  on  all  Olympic selections
          since the Rome  Olympics  in  1960.  Vince  was  not  at all
          surprised when he  wasn't selected for the Japanese team for
          the Barcelona Olympics, especially as he wasn't Japanese. It
          was therefore a  double  amazement  that  he  was  chosen to
          represent Negishi-chiku in  the  Ikebe-cho  Community Sports
          Day. Not only  had  he  not been born an Ikebean, but he was
          not even a  resident  of  Ikebe.  He  lived  in neighbouring
          Saedo.

          Vince didn't know  what strings Osamu had to pull to get him
          onto the team.  Maybe, each chiku was allowed one foreigner,
          a little like  the  Japanese  baseball teams or the Hawaiian
          invasion of sumo.  This  was  not  an uncommon phenomenon in
          professional sport anywhere in the world. Or perhaps, he had
          been  adopted by  the  local  community  for  his  excellent
          display of omikoshi  toting  at the local festival. Whatever
          the reason, Vince  was  exceedingly  proud to be included in
          the team.

          He had sat  on the side lines, two years earlier, during the
          local sports day  and watched Negishi-chiku come in a dismal
          last.  The following  year,  the  whole  business  had  been
          postponed because of  Typhoon  Keiho  and  after two further
          postponements due to  rain, it was finally cancelled. It was
          traditionally held on Taiku no hi or Fitness Day, a national
          holiday commemorating the  opening  of the Tokyo Olympics in
          1964. Companies organised  sports  within  their own numbers
          and local communities had their own day.

          The Ikebe-cho Sports  Day  was held at the Ikebe-cho Primary
          School and Vince's  initial  observations had suggested that
          it was just  a  fun  day of silly team games, where everyone
          got a prize but no one really cared who won. The prizes were
          also very practical - rubbish bags, cooking oil, dishwashing
          liquid, bundles of  soba noodles and the like. This was also
          Vince's idea of  what  sport  should  be  all about. Through
          intense social observation,  he  had  come to the conclusion
          that competition really  served  little constructive purpose
          in most endeavours in life and what was generally needed was
          cooperation. And here  was  a  gleaming example of how sport
          could be community based around cooperative goals.

          Vince had a  glimmer  of  realisation  that  his  vision  of
          Ikebean altruism was  not quite what it seemed when he found
          Osamu's own parents in their backyard throwing little pieces
          of foam rubber  into  a  netted hoop. There was little doubt
          that the older  Mr.  Atsukawa was no Michael Jordan, but, in
          partnership with his  wife,  he  had  the air full of little
          foam pellets, some  of  which actually went into the basket.
          Osamu was standing  nearby with a stopwatch and clocked them
          at two minutes  before taking the hoop down and counting out
          35 little bullets of foam.

          "Isn't that one of the games in the Sports Day competition?"
          Vince asked casually.

          Osamu blanched visibly and gulped, "Er ... yes."

          "Well,"  Vince pursued  the  idea,  "isn't  it  cheating  to
          practise beforehand?"

          Osamu didn't answer  right  away, but suggested that the two
          of them go  for a jog. Vince couldn't think of a worse idea.
          Jogging, to him,  was  akin  to  shooting  heroin. There was
          little or no  point  in  doing  it, but once you started you
          were hooked for  life. Besides, he knew that Osamu would set
          off at a  cracking  pace  and  they'd  both get back and not
          enjoy lunch.

          Osamu's cracking pace  didn't  last  long.  He slowed at the
          corner and took  the  fifty  steps up to the local shrine in
          twenty bounds. Vince  trotted up more slowly and found Osamu
          sitting on a stone cornice waiting for him.

          "It's like this,"  he  murmured.  "The  last sports day that
          Negishi-chiku won was in 1965."

          "So, you want to win this one?"

          "Yes!"

          "It's really that important?"

          Osamu detected a  note  of  skepticism  in Vince's voice, "I
          think it is.  There  are  many  reasons  why  Negishi  isn't
          winning the Sports  Day.  Other  parts  of  Ikebe  have gone
          ahead. There are  big blocks of apartments, shops, factories
          and so forth.  Negishi-chiku  just  has  the  same old farms
          we've always had with fewer farmers."

          "And that makes it important?"

          "Negishi knows it's going to lose, so half of the few people
          we have don't  show  up.  Even my own children don't want to
          compete. None of  their  friends  are  going to. Their other
          friends are in other teams."

          Vince was suffering  from  a hangover on Taiku-no-hi, but he
          dragged himself out  of  bed  at  7  o'clock so that he'd be
          ready for the  start of the full day's play and had competed
          in five events  before  the  Atsukawas  arrived.  Vince  was
          panting after the  dribble  and skip relay in which the male
          runners  bounced  a  basketball  while  the  female  runners
          skipped rope for  some  fifty  metres each. Vince's team had
          won and he  had  been  presented  with  two  bottles of dish
          washing liquid. He  smiled  at  Osamu  as he came across and
          offered him a sweaty hand.

          "We're doing quite well. We've won three of the first five."

          Osamu gritted his teeth, "You're playing for the wrong team.
          That's the Nakasato team. We're the Negishi team."


          "Oh," Vince said, surprised. "I thought we were purple."

          "We're pink."

          "Oh!"

          Vince  looked  over   at   the   scoreboard   and  saw  that
          Nagasato-chiku had 37  points  and  was  in  the  lead while
          Negishi had a  solid  zero  against their name. Vince walked
          over to the  main Negishi tent. It was all but deserted. The
          large taiko drum  stood idle with no children playing on it,
          the flag sagged.  Vince scanned the tents of the other eight
          chiku. Each was  bubbling  with enthusiasm and activity. One
          man was waving  the  yellow  Kogata-chiku flag backwards and
          forwards. There were  children  pounding out tattoos on each
          of the drums.  The  red Takayagato-chiku team was sounding a
          war  chant  in   preparation  for  meeting  Negishi  in  the
          tug-o'-war.

          Vince suddenly realised  that  he  was  the  one  man on the
          Negishi  team  who   could  win  Taiku-no-hi  for  them.  He
          remembered the times  when  he'd always been last chosen for
          the team and now he had his chance to vindicate himself.

          With superhuman strength  and  all  of  his  95 kilograms of
          weight behind the  tug-o'-war,  Vince  pulled  the  pinks to
          victory against not  only  the red Takayagatos, but also the
          green  Shimoyabunes,  the   maroon  Kochis  and  the  orange
          Hoshiyas.

          He entered every event he could. He disguised himself with a
          shawl and threw  his  share  of foam into the basket to help
          the older Atsumis.  He  even  ran  in  two of the children's
          relays  before  someone   realised   that   he   wasn't   an
          over-enthusiastic parent trying  to  encourage the littlies.
          He was disqualified  from  the  three person centipede plank
          walk for being the only member of the Negishi team.

          Connie arrived around  this  time to witness a new Vince. He
          was just leading Negishi to victory in the lemonade drinking
          relay. And she  stayed  to  witness  his  victories  in  the
          obstacle   course  race,   the   backwards   marathon,   the
          grandmother piggy back  and  the  tandem basketball carrying
          event. He was  the only man to enter the women's dish drying
          marathon and was  lauded  by one and all for his third place
          in the event.

          Connie shook her head, "I don't believe it."

          Nozomi  nodded,  "I   never  knew  that  Vince  was  such  a
          sportsman."

          "Oh no, he's  not.  It's  hard  to get him on a bicycle ride
          down the river."

          "But he's won about half of the events all but on his own."

          "I'm just wondering ..."

          "Wondering what?"

          "I'm just wondering if he's on anabolic steroids!"

          The second to  last  event  was  the  all age relay. Negishi
          didn't have enough competitors to field a full team. By now,
          the scoreboard read  Nakasato  145, Negishi 141. None of the
          other teams had  passed  50.  Vince  had never been a sprint
          man. It usually  took  him 400 metres to reach top speed. At
          last, his hidden  ability  as a strategist came out. Instead
          of running just  one slow 50 metres he would run all 16 legs
          of the race. This would also lessen the risk of dropping the
          baton.

          At the end  of  the fourth change, he was in last place. But
          hitting full stride he started to move up through the field.
          First he passed  the  Kochi  maroons, then the fastly fading
          Kamayabe whites and  the  Hoshiya  oranges.  On  the  eighth
          change, the Hashoyado  blues  dropped  their baton and Vince
          moved into fifth  spot  before  pegging  down the Takigayato
          reds. Laps were  running out, but Ikebe-cho was not prepared
          for a Murray  Halberg finish. Halberg had won the gold medal
          in the 10,000  metres  at  the  Rome  Olympics  in  1960  by
          starting his final  withering sprint a full four laps before
          the finish. Lightning  Vince  streaked  past the Shimoyabune
          greens and the  Kogata  yellows.  Only  the Nakasato purples
          were in front.  The theme music from Chariots of Fire echoed
          in his head.  He  squeezed  out one last burst of energy and
          edged in front  of  the last Nakasato runner. Into the clear
          around the final  bend,  the  last  20 metres, 15 metres, 10
          metres, 5 metres.


          At three metres,  a sudden pang hit Vince and he stumbled to
          the ground. The  Nakasato  man  flew past him into the tape.
          Vince crawled the last 57 centimetres into second place, his
          leg aching with a cramp.

          As they carried  him back to the Negishi tent he leaned over
          to Osamu and asked, "If we win the last race, do we take the
          pennant?"

          Osamu had made  some  quick mental calculations and replied,
          "The last race  is  the  marathon.  If we get the first five
          past the post and nobble the entire purple team, we'll win."

          Knowing that he  couldn't race himself, Vince muttered words
          of encouragement in  English,  "When the boys aren't getting
          the breaks just  tell 'em to go out and win one more for the
          ..."

          If the Negishi  team had understood what he was saying, they
          might have been  moved  to win the marathon. As it was, they
          thought he was delirious, even if he did sound a little like
          Ronald Reagan, the United States president voted most likely
          to succeed as  a  Japanese  politician. The Nakasato purples
          had no difficulty  in  taking  the  first five places in the
          marathon and nobbling the entire Negishi team.

          If Connie had  been  impressed  with  the  change into Super
          Vince, she was  certainly not impressed with the change back
          again. Vince was  a  wreck  who could hardly move for over a
          week later. Even  so,  Vince  had  won  enough  dish washing
          liquid,  washing powder,  plastic  rubbish  bags,  boxes  of
          tissues  and  cooking  oil  to  last  them  until  the  next
          Taiku-no-hi.