Hi, how are you?
This morning I went to a zoo in the neighborhood to see the kangaroos. It’s not a very big zoo, but somehow they’ve managed to gather together most every kind of animal — everything from gorillas to elephants. But if what you’re after’s a llama or an anteater, then you’d better not go there. There aren’t any llamas or anteaters. No impalas or hyenas either. Not even a leopard.
Instead, they’ve got four kangaroos.
One is a baby, born just two months ago. And there’s one male and two females. I have no idea what kind of family organization they have.
Every time I look at a kangaroo I always find it strange to think of what it’d be like to be one of them. What are they jumping all around a silly place like Australia for? And why are they killed by such an awkward sort of stick as a boomerang?
I really don’t know.
But, well — it doesn’t really matter. It’s no big deal.
At any rate, while I was watching the kangaroos I found myself wanting to send you a letter.
You might think this is a little weird. “Why did you want to send me a letter after watching kangaroos? What do kangaroos have to do with me?” you’ll ask. But please don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter. Kangaroos are kangaroos and you are you.
What I mean is this.
There are 36 subtle steps between the kangaroos and you, and when I followed them one by one in the correct order, I arrived at where you are. That’s all there is to it. Even if I tried to explain all of these steps to you one at a time, I don’t think you’d understand and besides I don’t even remember them.
‘Cause there’re 36 of them!
If the order of anyone of them had gotten messed up, I wouldn’t have been sending you this letter. Instead I might have all of a sudden decided to jump on the back of a sperm whale in the Arctic Ocean. Or I might have set fire to the neighborhood tobacco shop.
Guided by this stack of 36 coincidences, though, here I am sending you a letter.
It’s all very strange.
O.K., let me begin by introducing myself.
I’m 26, and work in the merchandise control section of a department store. This is — as I think you can easily imagine — a terribly boring job. First, we check the merchandise purchased by the stock department to see if there’re any defects. We do this to make sure no cozy relationship builds up between that department and the wholesalers, but it’s all done kind of half-heartedly. We sit around shooting the breeze, pulling at shoe buckles, or taking bites out of cakes, just things like that. This is what they mean by merchandise control.
And one more job, actually our main one, is to answer complaints we get from customers about our merchandise. For instance, two pairs of new stockings both got runs in them, or a wind-up toy bear fell off a table and won’t work anymore, or a bathrobe shrank by a quarter in the washing machine. Those type of complaints.
Well, you might not be aware of it, but the number of these complaints is depressingly large. There’re so many that four employees, running around all day, can’t keep up with them. Some complaints seem justified, and some are outrageous. And some are hard to place in either group.
For convenience’s sake we divide them into three ranks, A, B, and C. In the middle of the room are three large boxes labeled A, B, and C, and we throw the letters into them. We call it the “Three-Step Critique of Reason.” Of course this is an in-joke at the office. Please don’t let it bother you.
Anyway, the three ranks are as follows:
A. Reasonable complaints. Cases in which our company must take responsibility. We take a gift box of sweets to the customer’s house, and exchange the merchandise for something appropriate.
B. Cases in which our company is not to blame, either morally, legally, or according to standard business practice. In order not to damage the store’s reputation, and to avoid any unnecessary trouble, however, we take the appropriate action.
C. Cases in which it is clearly the customer at fault. We explain the situation and request that they withdraw their complaint.
Now, concerning your complaint we received the other day, after careful examination, we’ve arrived at the conclusion that it’s the type that should be ranked C. The reason why is — all right? Please listen carefully —
1. The record that you bought 2. especially after a week has passed 3. without a receipt, cannot be exchanged. No matter where you went in the world you couldn’t exchange it. Do you understand what I’m saying?
This ends my official explanation.
Your complaint has been rejected.
However, if one distances oneself from the official position — something I’m always doing — my personal reaction to your complaint — that you mistakenly bought Brahms instead of Mahler — is one of sincere sympathy. This isn’t a lie. And that is precisely why instead of a perfunctory office memo, I’m sending you this kind of, in a certain sense, intimate message.
To tell you the truth, all week I’ve tried over and over to write you a letter. I’m very sorry, but according to standard business practices, we can’t exchange your record. But something in your letter touched me, and personally, blab blab blab….That kind of letter. But I never could write it well. It’s not that I’m poor at writing, it’s just that when I decided to write, the words wouldn’t come. The words that did come were not to the point. It’s a strange thing.
So I decided not to reply. If I’m going to send you an incomplete letter, it’d be better not to send anything. Don’t you think so? I do. An imperfect message is like a mixed-up train schedule.
But this morning, in front of the kangaroo’s fence, I experienced the accumulation of 36 coincidences and had a revelation. What this was, in other words, was an enormous incompleteness.
What, you might ask, is an enormous incompleteness? — and well you might ask. An enormous incompleteness, well, to put it simply, might be something like someone in effect ending up forgiving someone else. I forgive the kangaroos, the kangaroos forgive you, and you forgive me — this kind of thing, for example.
This kind of cycle, however, is not permanent; someday the kangaroo might not want to forgive you. But don’t get angry at the kangaroo just because of this. It’s not the kangaroo’s fault or your own. And it’s not my fault. The kangaroo, too, has very complicated reasons for this. Who could ever criticize a kangaroo?
To grab hold of the instant is all we are able to do. To grab hold of the instant and take a souvenir photograph. In the front row from the left, you, the kangaroo, and me.
I gave up trying to write it down. No matter what I did it wouldn’t come out right. For instance, if I write the word “coincidence,” what you feel from the shape of this written word might be completely different — or even the opposite — of what I feel from the same shape. I think this is very unfair. I’ve stripped to my undershorts, but you’ve only undone three buttons of your blouse. It’s really unfair.
So I bought a cassette tape, and decided to record the letter to you directly.
Always get the last word.
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(Whistling. Eight bars of “The Colonel Bogey March.”)
How’s that? Can you hear me?
I don’t know how you’ll feel when you receive this letter — I mean tape. I can’t even imagine. Maybe you’ll feel very uneasy about it. Because — because in response to a letter of complaint from a customer the head of merchandise control records his reply on a cassette — and it’s a personal message — and sends it, a highly irregular, and depending on your viewpoint, really stupid thing to do. If it does make you uneasy, and you send this tape back to my boss, it’d put me in a terribly delicate position at the office.
If you’d like to do so, please go ahead.
If that happened, I wouldn’t be angry or hate you.
You see, we’re on a 100% equal footing. That is, I have the right to send you a letter, and you have the right to put my means of making a living in jeopardy.
That’s right, isn’t it.
We are equal. Please just remember that.
Oh, right, I forgot to tell you something. I’ve named this letter the “Kangaroo Communiqué.”
Everything needs a name.
Let’s say you’re keeping a diary. Instead of writing something long like “Today an answer to my complaint came from the chief of merchandise control at the department store,” you can just write “Today the ‘Kangaroo Communiqué’ came.” And it’s a wonderful name, don’t you think? From far across the broad plain, a kangaroo with mail in its pouch comes hopping your way.
Rap rap rap. (The sound of a table being hit.)
This is a knock.
Knock knock knock … do you see?
If you don’t want to open the door, you don’t have to. Either way is all right. If you don’t want to listen anymore, please stop the tape and throw it in the garbage can. I just want to sit outside your door and talk by myself for a little while, that’s all. I have no idea whether you’re listening to me or not. If I have no idea, then it doesn’t really matter whether you listen or not, does it? Ha ha ha.
OK — anyhow let’s do it.
Incompleteness, though, is quite troublesome. I didn’t think talking in front of a mike like this without any script or plan would be so hard. I felt just like I was standing in the middle of a desert sprinkling water around with a cup. There’s nothing to see and no response.
So I’ve started talking toward the needle on the VU meter. You know what a VU meter is, don’t you? It’s that thing with the needle that shakes and oscillates according to the volume. I don’t know what the V and the U stand for. But even so, they are the only presences that show a response to my speech.
By the way, they have a simple set of values.
In other words, V and U.
This V and U are like, well, a comedy team. If not V, then U, if not U, then V. What a wonderful world. It makes no difference to them what I talk about. All they’re interested in is how much my voice makes the air tremble. That’s all. For them, because the air is trembling, I exist.
Isn’t that great?
When I look at them, I feel like saying anything, just to keep on talking.
That reminds me. The other day I saw a really sad movie. It was about a comedian that no one laughed at, no matter how many jokes he told.
You understand? Not a single person laughed.
Talking in front of this mike like I am now, I suddenly remembered that movie.
It’s a strange thing.
The same lines spoken by one person are screamingly funny, but spoken by someone else are not funny at all. Strange, isn’t it? I thought about it, and felt that maybe the difference is somehow inborn. I mean, you know, the tips of their semi-circular canals are curved a little more than other people, something like that.
Sometimes I think about how happy I’d be to have that ability. Things I always find funny that have me rolling on the floor, once I tell them to others are not a bit interesting and are surprisingly boring. I feel like I’ve become the Sandman of Egypt. And first of all…
Do you know about the Sandman of Egypt?
You see, uh…the Sandman of Egypt was born the prince of Egypt. A long time ago, the age when there were the pyramids and the sphinx and all. But since he had such an ugly face — a really terribly ugly face — the king shunned him and abandoned him deep in the jungle. And what happened next was he was raised by wolves or apes. Not so unusual. And then for some reason he becomes the Sandman. Whatever the Sandman touches changes into sand. Breezes change to sandstorms, brooks become streams of sand, and plains turn into deserts. That’s the story of the Sandman. Heard of it? You haven’t, right? That’s because I made it up. Ha ha ha.
Anyhow, talking to you this way makes me feel like I’ve become the Sandman. Everything I touch turns to sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand….
. . . Somehow I’ve talked too much about myself. But if you think about it, it can’t be helped. ‘Cause I don’t know anything about you. All I know about you is your name and address, that’s it. I have no idea how old you are, how much you make a year, what shape your nose is, whether you’re fat or thin, married or not. But those are not important. It might even be better that I don’t know. I want to handle everything simply, as simply as possible, in a word, metaphysically.
What I mean is, I have your letter here.
That’s enough for me.
Just like a zoologist who can calculate from droppings he’s collected in the jungle an elephant’s diet, behavioral patterns, weight, and sex life, based on one letter I can feel the existence of a person — you. Of course facial features, brand of perfume, etc., those kind of useless things are left out. Existence — itself.
Your letter was really quite captivating. The style, handwriting, punctuation, paragraphing, rhetoric — everything was flawless. Not outstanding. Just flawless.
Every month I read over 500 letters, but honestly this is the first time I’ve ever read one so moving. I snuck your letter home, and read it over and over. Then I analyzed it thoroughly.
Since it was a short letter, this wasn’t much trouble.
I found out a lot through analyzing it. First of all, the overwhelming number of commas. For every period there were 6.36 commas. A lot, don’t you think? That’s not all. The way the commas were used really went against all rules.
Please don’t think I’m making fun of your writing. Because I am simply moved.
Not just by the punctuation. All the elements of your letter — even the single ink stain — aroused and shook me.
Because, in the final analysis, in those sentences you are nowhere to be found. Of course there’s a story. A girl — or a woman — bought the wrong record. Though she had the feeling that the wrong pieces were on it, it was a week before she realized she’d bought the wrong record. The sales clerk wouldn’t exchange it for her. So she wrote a letter of complaint. This is the story.
I had to read your letter three times before I understood that story. Because your letter was completely different from the other letters sent to us. To put it plainly, there’s not even a complaint in your letter. No emotion either. The only thing that is present is—the story.
To tell you the truth, I was a little worried. I couldn’t figure out if your letter was meant to be a complaint, a confession, a declaration, or whether it was the establishment of a kind of thesis. Your letter made me think of a news photograph of a massacre. No caption, no article, just a photograph. A photograph taken in some nameless country beside some unknown road, of corpses strewn about.
I can’t even figure out what it is you want. Your letter is like the jumbled complexity of a makeshift ant hill, giving no clue as to where to begin. A marvelous thing.
Bang bang bang … a massacre.
That’s right, let’s simplify things further. Make them very very simple.
What I mean is, your letter uplifts me sexually.
That’s what I mean.
I’d like to talk about sex.
Knock knock knock.
If you aren’t interested, please stop the tape. I’ll talk to the VU meter by myself. Blab blab blab.
The front legs are short and have five toes, while the remarkably large hind legs have four. Just the fourth toe is fully developed. The second and third toes are quite small and are fused.
. . . This is a description of a kangaroo’s feet. Ha ha ha.
Well then, about sex.
Ever since I took your letter home, all I’ve been thinking about is sleeping with you. In bed with you beside me, when I wake up in the morning you’re still there. When I wake up you’re already up and I can hear the sound of a dress being zipped. But I … hey, do you know there’s nothing that breaks as easily as the zipper on a dress? … I keep my eyes closed and pretend to be asleep. I can’t see you. And you walk across the room and disappear into the bathroom. Then finally I open my eyes. I eat and go to work.
The night is pitch black — I’ve put up special blinds on the window to make it that way — and of course I can’t see your face. I don’t know your age or weight, or anything. So I can’t touch your body with my hand.
But, well … that’s all right.
To tell the truth, it’s all right whether I have sex with you or not.
…No, it isn’t.
Let me think for a minute.
OK — this is what I mean. I want to sleep with you. But it’s OK if we don’t. What I mean is I want to be in as fair a position as possible. I don’t want to force people to do anything or have them force me. It’s enough to feel your presence beside me, to have your punctuation marks running around and around me.
Do you understand me?
What I mean is this.
Sometimes it’s very trying for me to think about the individual. A soon as I do my body feels like it’s about to be broken into pieces.
Take, for instance, when I’m riding on a train. There’re several dozen people riding on the train. In principle these are merely “passengers.” “Passengers” carried from Aoyama Itchome to Akasaka Mitsuke. But sometimes I get to feeling very uneasy about the presence of each passenger. What could this person be, what could that person be, why is he riding on the Ginza Line? And then it’s too much. Once I start to feel uneasy there’s no end to it. That office worker’s starting to go bald on both sides of his forehead, isn’t he…the hair on that girl’s shins is a little thick, wonder if she shaves once a week…why is that young guy sitting over there wearing that tie whose color clashes?…like that. And finally my body starts trembling all over and I want to leap from the train. The other day — you’ll probably laugh — I was on the verge of pushing the emergency brake button beside the door.
But just because I’ve told you this, don’t get the idea that I am particularly sensitive or nervous. I am not overly sensitive or nervous. I’m a very ordinary, everyday office worker, the kind you see everyday, who works in the merchandise control section of a department store. And I like the subways.
And it’s not that I have any sexual problems either. I have a girlfriend, and since about a year ago we’ve been sleeping together twice a week, an arrangement we’re both pretty satisfied with. But I’ve been trying very hard not to think too deeply about her. I don’t feel like marrying, either. If we got married, I’m sure I’d start to think deeply about her, and I have absolutely no confidence we’d be able to get along once that started. That’s the way it is, isn’t it? If you worry about the way the teeth of the girl you’re living with are aligned, or the shape of her nails, it won’t work out.
Please let me talk a little more about myself.
This time without any knocks.
If you’ve listened this far, please listen all the way to the end. Just a moment. I’m going to have a cigarette.
… Up till now I’ve hardly ever said a thing about myself to anyone. ‘Cause there’s nothing much to talk about. Even if I did, probably no one would be interested.
So why am I talking to you this way?
It’s because, like I said before, right now I am aiming at an enormous incompleteness.
What was it that touched off this huge incompleteness!
Your letter and four kangaroos.
Kangaroos are fascinating animals, and I never get tired of looking at them, no matter how many hours I watch. What are they thinking about? They jump meaninglessly round their enclosure all day, and occasionally dig holes in the ground. And what do they do with these holes they’ve dug? Nothing. They just dig holes. Ha ha ha.
A kangaroo gives birth to just one baby at a time. So a female kangaroo gets pregnant as soon as she’s given birth. If it weren’t that way they couldn’t maintain their numbers. A female kangaroo, then, spends nearly her whole life in pregnancy and raising young. If she isn’t pregnant, she’s raising them, if not raising them, then pregnant. So you can say that kangaroos exist to make kangaroos continue to exist. Without the existence of kangaroos, they wouldn’t continue to exist, and without the goal of continuing the existence of kangaroos, kangaroos themselves wouldn’t exist.
It’s a strange thing, isn’t it.
I’m sorry the order of what I’ve said has gotten all mixed up.
I’ll talk about myself.
Actually, I’m extremely frustrated by having to be myself. Not by my looks or ability or position. Just by my being myself. I feel it’s extremely unfair.
Now please don’t get the idea from this that I am a very frustrated person. I’ve never once complained about my job or salary. Sure, my job is pointless, but so are most jobs. And money’s not a big problem.
Let me be more precise.
I want to be in two places at once. This is my one and only desire. Besides this I have no other desires.
But this separate entity known as me gets in the way of this desire. Don’t you think this is a very unhappy fact? This desire of mine is a modest one, I think. It’s not that I want to be the leader of the world or an artistic genius. Or to fly through the air. I just want to exist in two places at once. Not three or four, you understand, just two. While listening to an orchestra in a concert hall, I want to roller-skate. While being the head of a department store’s merchandise control, I want to also be a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. While sleeping with my girlfriend, I want to be sleeping with you. While being an individual, I also want to be a universal.
Let me have another cigarette.
I’m a little tired.
I’m not used to this, talking so honestly about myself.
One thing I want to affirm: I don’t have any sexual desire towards you, a woman. As I said before, I am very angry at the fact that I can only be myself. Being a single individual makes me terribly unhappy. I can’t stand odd numbers. So I don’t want to sleep with you as you the individual.
How wonderful it’d be if you could be split in two, and I could be split in two, and those four people could share a bed. Don’t you agree?
Please don’t send a reply. If you want to send me a letter, send a letter or complaint in care of the company. If you don’t have any complaint to make, think of something.
Well, that’s all.
I just played the tape back up to this point. To tell you the truth, I’m not satisfied with it at all. I feel like the guy in charge of feeding animals at the aquarium who lets a sea lion die by mistake. I worried quite a lot about whether this tape’s something I should send to you or not.
Even now that I’ve decided to send it, I’m still worried.
At any rate, I’ve been aspiring to incompleteness, so I guess I should go along with it without any qualms. What supports it all are you and the four kangaroos.
Well, that’s all.
6 thoughts on “The Kangaroo Communique”
Read this while I was supposed to be editing something, and, like many guilty pleasures, The Kangaroo Communique had me laughing out loud and also maybe considering the idea of how nice it would be to split in two and go to bed. Murakami has this effect on me whenever I read his work; he’s so personal an strangely endearing.
So, can we discuss which kind(s) of mental illness this guy has?