Chapter 3—Hair, There, and Everywhere
[This story is serialized so if you wish to read the chapters in order, please go to the categories: humour, nonsense, books, characters or Japan.]
By the time the elevator arrived at the fifteenth floor Mr. Horie was practically ecstatic. A quick telephone call to the company president was all it had taken to organize an impromptu meeting of all company executives and senior managers. Now they were all shuffling along to the executive board room, and he, Kenji Horie, was practically guaranteed a speedy promotion into an executive position.
In the executive directors’ room, Horie quickly introduced Yasuda and briefly told all present that their guest had a proposal that would rejuvenate the company. Everybody bowed. Yasuda flashed a blinding smile, swept a long strand of hair around his head and strode over to the table. He placed his briefcase on the table and stepped back. All eyes went to the case.
Yasuda’s smile took on a slight sleazy tone as he stepped up to the table, opened the case, and threw a hairball into the middle of the table. The clock struck eleven. Every single man around the table stretched forward to get a closer look at the hairball. They all shot back in their seats when Yasuda started speaking.
“The merkin,” said Yasuda, pointing to the hairball, “has been stashed away in museum basements for too long. It’s time to bring it out of the dark and dank storerooms of history and put it where it belongs.” He paused and took a long swig of water. All eyes went back to the hairball. “And the merkin,” he continued, “belongs in the pants of every young woman in this country!”
Ono almost choked as he tried to stifle his laughter.
Horie thought he was hallucinating. I must be hearing things, he thought. What the hell is he talking about? He started to sweat. He noticed that Ono, who was standing by the door, was smirking. That bastard, he thought, he’s set me up. I’m in the shit. What the hell is this fucking madman going to say next? When Yasuda did start speaking again, Horie almost started crying.
“In Renaissance Italy merkins were extremely popular.” Yasuda’s voice sounded to Horie as if it were amplified. “In fact, they were the best selling fashion accessory throughout the 15th and 16th centuries.” Again Yasuda took a drink of water. “For practically two hundred years merkins were flying off the shelves. Merkin designers, developers and merchants were superstars of the era. They were some of the richest men in the world.”
Horie sneaked a glance at the company president. His face was blank, as was the face of every other director present. But Horie knew that behind the masks, they were all as confused as he was.
“The rebirth of the merkin should start here, in Japan,” said Yasuda. “Women today are more hygienic than they were in the seventeenth century.” He chuckled. “In those days the women had crabs here,” he said, vigorously scratching his crotch.
Horie amost fainted.
“They had crabs there,” continued Yasuda as he raised his left arm above his head and scratched under the armpit. “In fact,” he continued, “the dirty buggers had crabs everywhere.” He scratched his head with both hands, moved on to both armpits, and he finished off on his crotch. The directors, mouths hanging open, stared at Yasuda in disbelief at what they were witnessing.
Then the president coughed and looked at Horie, who followed the president’s eyes to the furry object and then on to Yasuda. He knew what was expected, and there was no way he could avoid it.
“You say it’s called a merkin,” said Horie.
Yasuda turned slowly to where the question had come from. He placed his hands on his hips and inhaled deeply, inflating himself like a poisonous blowfish. Ono felt like dancing. Horie was about to get a kick in the teeth and he, Ono, although vicariously, was about to deliver it.
“Of course it’s a merkin,” said Yasuda. “What does it look like? A fur frigging hat?
Horie almost choked. Around the table mouths dropped even further and expressions of shock and horror replaced those of astonishment.
“Er, no,” said Horie. “But what exactly is a merkin used for?”
The tension in the room started to rise as Yasuda focused on Horie. “A merkin,” he said at last, “is a pubic wig. What do you think it’s used for? Wiping your sweaty brow?” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and threw it at Horie. “That’s for wiping your brow.”
Instinctively, Horie took the handkerchief, wiped his brow and then continued. “I’ve never heard of a merkin before. Why would anyone want a pubic wig?”
“You’ve never heard of a merkin?” Yasuda was incredulous. “That’s why this company is going down the drain. If I were your boss, I would grab you by the short and curlies and drag you around the room until you wished you were wearing a merkin!” He clenched his fist at crotch height in Horie’s direction and skipped backwards miming the scene he had just described.
“The merkin,” said Yasuda as he leered at the young lady serving green tea, “enables even the most hirsute females to shave their private parts and maintain a canopy of modesty at the same time.” The young lady almost dropped the teapot. Yasuda continued. “Hairs can get stuck in your teeth. I’m sure you’ve all suffered this embarrassment before. But if there are no hairs around the object of attention, you eliminate the problem of having to dental floss a short and curly out of your teeth.”
The young lady turned quickly and hastily left the room. Yasuda paused while his greedy eyes followed her legs out of the room.
The company president coughed to attract Yasuda’s attention. “Mr. Horie is a little old fashioned,” he said. “Why don’t you explain the ….. er ….. merkin to him?”
Three minutes later, Yasuda’s laptop was set up and he was ready to begin his presentation. “The merkin,” he said enthusiastically, “was invented in Egypt toward the end of the Third Dynasty.” With a click of the mouse 2600 BC appeared on the screen.
“Merkins were first used by the pharaohs but eventually the custom was taken up by all well-born Egyptians. They achieved the highest popularity during the Twenty-first Dynasty, which was about 1000 BC.” Another mouse click produced a time-flow chart of Ancient Egypt.
“In fact,” said Yasuda, as he fished around in his briefcase, “this belonged to the royal lady Istemerken, wife of the High Priest Merkhenperre.” He threw a sorry-looking piece of matted fur onto the table. “It’s almost three thousand years old.”
One of the executives leant forward until he almost touched it with his nose. His nostrils flared and the pupils of his eyes seemed to dilate before he pulled back in horror.
“Merkins were popular in Persia by the middle of the 10th century BC. We know this from the works of Xenophon, the Greek writer, who described the shock he received the first time he saw one. He was in a brothel in Ecbatana, the capital of Media in Persia, where he was guest of Cyrus II, who was also called Cyrus the Great. After the gentlemen had consumed a great deal of wine, the dancing girls came in. Xenophon stood up to relieve himself but stumbled and as he fell he grabbed at one of the girls. Her merkin came off in his hand, and he fainted with shock. When he came to, he was still holding the merkin. The other guests were howling with laughter and Cyrus explained what had happened.
Greece 401 bc appeared on the screen and Yasuda continued. It wasn’t long after Xenophon arrived back from Persia that the merkin took off in Greece. Practically everyone wore a merkin. If you don’t believe me, take a good look at the genitals next time you see a Greek statue. There’s not a single pubic hair on any Greek statue. If that isn’t proof, then I don’t know what is.
The company president nodded in agreement with Yasuda and the other executives followed suit.
“Of course,” continued Yasuda, “the Spartans didn’t wear merkins, and we all know what happened to them, don’t we?” Everybody nodded. “They literally buggered themselves out of history. Spartan pederasty was legendary throughout the ancient world. It is a well-known fact that in all their battles, the Spartans never once managed to take any male prisoners. Their enemies all fought to the death. Mind you, we can’t blame them, can we?” Everybody shook their heads.
A crude image of a man bent over a table with a dozen men lined up behind him appeared on the screen. “That’s what would have happened to anyone foolish enough to let himself be captured by the Spartans. And they didn’t have Vaseline in those days!”
One of the executives winced, another turned crimson.
“The Romans conquered Greece in 146 bc and one of the first things they did was to start wearing merkins. In fact the Romans took the merkin to a new level,” continued Yasuda. “Messalina, the nymphomaniac wife of the Emperor Claudius, was known to have a whole wardrobe of merkins. She liked natural hair, and had pubic hair imported from all the fringes of the empire. She had black merkins made with hair shipped from India, flaxen and red haired merkins from Germany, as well as fair hair from Gaul. She was reported to have been meticulous in her selection when she went on her romps in brothels: one day she would pose as an Indian princess, the next as a slave from Germany.”
By now Horie was convinced that he had gone mad or had fallen asleep and was in the middle of a bizarre nightmare. He took his pen out of his pocked and stabbed himself in the leg. His scream distracted everyone temporarily; then they all focused their attention back on Yasuda.
“The Romans,” said Yasuda, “were notoriously cruel. But they were also ingenious, especially when it came to inventing excruciating punishments. And there was no Roman emperor with more imagination than Caligula, who was a drunken pervert. He used to murder his enemies by stuffing a merkin down their throats.” He paused to absorb the horror his words had induced, and he reacted with an obscene smile before continuing, slowly and deliberately. “Moreover, gentlemen, he never used a clean one. No, not Caligula! He would scour the brothels looking for the dirtiest and smelliest merkins he could find.”
Yasuda paused and a collective shudder when around the room. “Christianity was the downfall of the merkin,” continued Yasuda. “The Council of Constantinople in AD 692 issued an edict excommunicating Christians for wearing merkins, but this did not stamp them out: it only drove the wearers underground. In fact, as a result of this edict, a secret society sprung up, and it still exists today. It has rather a sinister reputation, unfortunately, for it is believed that this organization wields an extraordinary amount of political and economic influence. And now and again the ugly head of intolerance rears up and the members have suffered horrific persecution.”
Horie noticed the company president was fully focused on every word that Yasuda said. And he seemed to be nodding in agreement with the madman or he was on the verge of falling asleep, something he did in practically every meeting.
The next visual appeared. It was a visual of what looked like the beard of Leonardo da Vinci. “As I have already told you,” continued Yasuda, “the renaissance saw the second coming of the merkin—everybody wore one. This is the one worn by the greatest artist and scientist of the time.” He then rattled off the names of a dozen historical characters who had been patrons of the obsolete hairpiece.
Horie stared at the screen, totally bewildered about what he was seeing and hearing. It is peculiar, he thought to himself, that every merkin Yasuda displayed seemed to resemble the beard or moustache of the man who wore it. Nietzsche, Stalin, Hitler and Salvador Dali all wore merkins that resembled their moustaches, while the merkins worn by Confucius, Marx, Freud and Abraham Lincoln were all styled after their beards.
“But it is not only famous historical figures that can wear a merkin,” said Yasuda. “Anybody can, and everybody should. I’m wearing a merkin as I speak to you right now.” Then, to everyone’s surprise, he dropped his trousers, pulled off his merkin and threw it into the middle of the table beside the other two. Then, totally exhausted, he slumped into a chair and sighed.
For a split second there was a tangible silence, then, almost simultaneously, the entire management team stood up and started applauding wildly.
Yasuda was invited to lunch in Le Grand Coq, the exquisite French restaurant that was haunt of the aristocracy and corporate elite. The lunch was a boisterous affair, and the only topic of conversation was the merkin. That is until Horie finished his third glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape and, in the loudest possible voice, suddenly began talking about the female pudenda.
The restaurant fell silent; the head waiter tugged at his bow tie and looked nervously around at the other guests; Baron Ozeki, a distant relative of the Emperor, threw his knife and fork down and stormed out swearing never to come back; the cook came out of the kitchen to see what all the excitement was; and Keiko Ono giggled behind her hand while her latest lover, the president of a large construction company stood up and threatened to smack Horie on the nose.
Yasuda took the ancient merkin out of his pocket and threw it across the room. A photographer from Good Morning Shinbun, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Japan, and an even larger reputation for scandal and smut, reached for his camera and snapped a shot just as the merkin landed on the chin of the irate executive. The photograph appeared on the front page the next morning with the caption “Van Dyke or Van Dick?”
The executive issued a summons against the newspaper for libel, but withdrew it when he discovered that the photographer also had a shot of him with his hand up the skirt of Keiko Ono during their lunch.
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