“門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む。 Mon zen no kozō narawanu kyō wo yomu, or literally: “An apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures untaught.”
Wherever we find ourselves, there is a truth that the environment which envelops us makes our character. As an extension, a locale’s surrounds also helps to fashion local iconic characters.
Pensacola has “Randy the Running Man.” The older gentlemen, probably at least in his mid-to-late 60s, who runs all over West Pensacola. But this really isn’t what sets him apart: he dresses in patriotic, flag-covered shirts, always wears his United States Flag ball cap, but most importantly, he not only waves to passersby, but he waves numerous American flags he carries on a short flagpole. Suffering from leathery sun-soaked skin from running so much in the Florida sun, he is seen at all times of the day, rain or shine, warm or cold. He simply keeps on running, although he has gotten slower and slower with the passing years….
“My name is Randy, but people call me ‘The Running Man’ because I really love to run. I have worked as a maintenance man at the Pensacola Naval Air Station for 36 years. I run by the hours so I don’t know how far I run, I just run for America. I carry two U.S. flags. The flag on the top is for all of the living Americans and the flag on the bottom is in honor of those who have died. I always wear my flag hat. If a fire truck, police car, or bus full of kids comes by I always give a salute!”
Pensacola’s “Running Man” receives numerous honks and waves from motorists, and he appreciates the responses he elicits. “Yes, sir, everyone is my friend. The best thing is, if a funeral comes by, I give them a salute and a bow because everyone has a soul you can appreciate and I run for them too.”
But Okinawa also offers a Far East flirtation with such characters. Two in our local neighborhood called “Miyagi,” a roughly 10 square block area of the town of Chatan-Cho, which Jody and I have quite innocently labelled “The Dog Shuffler” and “Sasquatch.” While these two men don’t run, they are still running quite well. Which is really the point in the end.
The Dog Shuffler is an old man who obviously lives somewhere in the neighborhood, who walks his dog a few times a day along the Sunabe Seawall which serves as our condominium’s front yard. But he just doesn’t walk; he shuffles in a distinct way, always wearing his fisherman’s hat. This particularly pairing between man and dog is almost divine. This man’s dog is clearly an older mutt, but a perfectly well-behaved one. While he (and there’s no doubt the dog is a boy) is on a leash while walking the streets of Miyagi, when the pair ascends the stairs to the seawall, The Shuffler sets his four-legged best-friend free and the dog walks up ahead, mimicking owner with his own aged canine cantor. The dog will shuffle ahead only so far; after a few steps, the dog will pause, then turn and check on his master, waiting for his human companion to catch up. In this way, man and best friend leap-frog down the seawall, stopping for numerous sit-down breaks along the way.
Our other character, somewhat coarsely called “Sasquatch,” is a very old Okinawan gentlemen indeed who we see walking the neighborhood almost every day, often more than once a day. Okinawans, like most Asians of the Far East, often appear younger than they actually are, often by a decade or more. While this man may appear 70-75, I would hazard a guess that he very well may be his in mid-80s, which means that he was a teenager here on Okinawa when the allies invaded in 1945 during WWII. Just considering what this man has lived through makes me stop and pause every single time I see him, each wrinkle ripe with a story of old. And seeing him shuffle in his own particularly practice all over the streets of our neighborhod, always dressed in slacks and a long-sleeved shirt (the Okinawans have long recognized the danger of the sun), I can only be inspired to be so active at that advanced age. So, what about the “Squatch” branding? Well, this man sports a rather interesting but disheveled array of facial and head hair, and combined with what appears to be a rather animalistic thousand-yard stare, it seemed not an all inappropriate nickname…at the time. Clearly no disrespect is intended!
These personalities in our far-removed Far East neighborhood help to offer a comforting embrace of a reminder of home. People, like Pensacola’s Running Man and Okinawan’s Dog Shuffler and Sasquatch, can be found in any and all milieu, and all help to bridge gulfs of time, culture, distance, language, and space. Our Far Eastern folks outwardly flirt with all things that bind otherwise disparate peoples together, rather than highlight the obvious differences which most people find themselves caught up in…. I’m happy to have them both here, each and every day.
What local personalities do YOU have where YOU live?
See more about Pensacola’s Randy the Running Man here: