CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Taking Credit—Who Cares?— I Do

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By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on October 6, 2010.)

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We all know about Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers and the dude who concocted the atomic bomb. They were all pioneers, exceptional individuals who gave society something significant and original. There were others, Charles Lindbergh and Neal Armstrong, who were trailblazers rather than inventors, remembered for being leaders.  For whatever xenophobic reasons, we Americans are obsessed with being first.  No one remembers, let alone cares about, runners-up.

And then we have compilations, lists of the most meaningful in certain fields of endeavors: Time Magazine’s annual 100 Most Influential People in the World, 50 Most Beautiful People, Top 40 (why not 50?) recordings,  Forbes 400 richest people in the world (too bad 401.) Just like David Letterman’s Top Ten list, copied by historians, sportscasters and lesser lights, five is not enough, eleven too many.

What prompts me to kick off the column on yet another near-fetched premise? The receipt of e-mail forwards from varied sources regarding the 50 Most Memorable Moments in television history.

If you were assigned to come up with such a list, the first dozen or so would be fairly easy to name: First man on the moon, assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11. The compilation would be subjective and arbitrary long before #50 is reached.

Making the e-mail route lately has been the revival of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show sketch of many years ago (pre-1970), hilariously remembered as The Japanese Bath episode.

The skit had the stripped down host, with two attractive attendants, preparing for a nihon-buro, complete with wooden water-filled tub and miniature stool. For the benefit of those who have never seen the show (very few according to various watchdog sources), the ladies explain the process of how to take a bath in Japan—mainly that washing takes place outside the tub. [Because it was a passing fad at the time, included was a walking-on-Johnny’s-back treatment by one of the ladies;  a perfect scenario for Carson commentary and Groucho Marx-like leering.]

An original and comedic piece on its own merit, it was lifted into television’s pantheon of entertainment history when Don Rickles suddenly appeared unannounced. While the audience enjoyed the surprise intrusion and ensuing banter, little did they know it was completely unexpected and unrehearsed!

It all came to a climax when Carson and Rickles engaged in what began as a friendly wrestling match, wound up with the two falling into the nihon-buro, Carson in briefs, Rickles completely clothed.

The house was engulfed in an uproar while the daunting duo could only wipe their faces and laugh at each other like a couple of rascals, immersed in the tub.

One of the e-mails I received, with a replay of the skit, noted that the eventual Nisei husbands of the two servants live among us; one noting his wife seldom mentions the experience but smiles when a residual check unexpectedly arrives in the mail.

The most noteworthy adjunct, as far as CR2S is concerned, is the fact that I, your faithful scribe, played a role in the memorable moment!

Out of the blue a Tonight Show producer called my Crossroads newspaper office, asking for a carpenter who might know how to construct a Japanese bath. The conversation led me to contact my cousin in Japan for information and added details, all of which I compiled into a lengthy five page, single-spaced report for the show. As a reward for my help and diligence, the producer notified me when the episode was finalized and scheduled to air. (Thus am I aware the Rickles intrusion, which “made” the sketch, was completely unexpected—but welcomed!)

It turns out four seats together were not available at show time so my wife and guests Bob and Dot Oda, two never miss Tonight Show devotees, sat together while I was alone stage right. Bursting in my sharkskin britches, I had no one to share The Moment with.

Sometime after The War, in company with junior college vet classmates, we strode into Slate Brothers night club in Hollywood. Even before sitting down at a table in the nearly empty dive, the emcee began a torrent of Pearl Harbor jibes and Jappo references.  Without a word (or drink) we walked out;  CR2S’s introduction to the acerbic prattle of Don Rickles, comedian. A decade later in the Riviera lounge, the Howard Ogawas and Hirotos were subjected to jibes by the show host, Rickles. Everyone laughed.

During the heyday of Yamato Restaurant in Century City, once a Sunday month the Rickles and Bob Newharts had early dinner in a favorite zashiki room. It became so routine, other patrons would reserve a nearby room to better listen in on their conversation. The bald round one never failed. He would talk non-stop for two hours. As if he knew there was another audience, Newhart would purposely ask a provocative question whenever there was a lull in commentary.

According to the waitresses he was a very friendly patron but not nearly as nice as Newhart. And a fairly average tipper.

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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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