Stranger in a strange launch

"On the outside looking in,
it's a mystery ... "
Dateline: Greyhawkin'

Welcome to the Petri dish, of the universe.

The Milky Way's spumoni of the species.

A patchwork planet. A place, of places.

Your place.

My place.

That guy over there's place.

"Where you from," the planetary anthem.

Cultures built on how far your ancestors could walk.

Cultures built on how far your ancestors could paddle a canoe.

Cultures built on which way the wind blew your ancestors sails.

It's not DNA, it's sandals.

We are who we are because of pre-historic flip-flops. Doesn't matter where we started from, what matters is where we stopped.

Long ago some of us stopped in Asia.

Some stuck in Europe.

Others in Africa.

North America, South America , wherever.

Our ancestors stopped, inter-peopled, and they became us.

Then someone built a fence.

And fences became countries.

And countries became, yours.

And countries became, mine.

And you did things your way in your country.

And I did things my way in my country.

And you became "them" to us.

And we became "them" to you.

What was once just called "here," now became known as "there."

And we grew apart.

Even though we all started out the same, in the same way, in the same place.

Earth.

And that was never brought home to me more than today at the Bassmaster Elite registration shindig of all places.

I went there to interview Elite pro Morizo Shimizu.

He only speaks Japanese.

I only speak American.

I would ask a question he didn't understand.

And he would give an answer I didn't understand.

So we needed someone who could speak in him, and then turn around and speak in me.

Seigo Saito, a photographer for Bass, turned out to be that person.

During the interview, I asked a question of Morizo that Seigo translated into Japanese. And the question was this:

"Morizo, do you miss your one and a half year old daughter, Mao, seeing that she is in Japan, and you are here."

Seigo then took my English, and turned it into his Japanese.

And Morizo turned from listening to Seigo, and looked right at me, and bit his lip, and his eyes watered, and his head nodded yes as he gently picked up a photo of his daughter, and as he pointed to her picture he looked at me and said ...

"Yes ... very much ... miss Mao very much, thank you."

No translation needed for that communication.

Didn't matter that he is Japanese. And I am not.

Didn't matter where his ancestors came from. Or mine.

At that moment we became the same, once again.

Just dudes.

Just guys.

Just Dads.

Speaking in 4x6s.

Speaking in semi gloss.

Speaking in 19 cents a print.

Morizo's reaction to that question is the same reaction I have to that question.

A bite of the lip.

Watery eyes.

"And yes ... very much ... I miss my children very much, thank you."

Strangers, in a strange land.

Speaking the same language.

In this Petri dish of ours.

The one language of earth.

Love.

" ... I know I'm a stranger in a strange land ... "

He is a small man.

In a large country.

6,884 miles from home.

Living 15 hours different than his family back in Suita, Japan.

His wife, Chinami, used to travel with him, used to help interpret for him, used to be there when he took off, and when he crossed the stage.

The face in the crowd he knew, and who knew him.

Now, through Seigo, he tells me this.

"Right now hard time for me. Checking into hotels real hard, going out to get something to eat, harder yet."

As I'm thinking of a follow-up question to that, Seigo says to me, "It is so hard for him that Morizo now just cooks dinner in his hotel room and only goes out to practice, or to work on his boat.quot;

Morizo is looking at me smiling. Don't know how much of that he understood, but I do know that I didn't ask a question to get that response.

Seigo, also of Japanese heritage, knows and cares about his friend.

When I met Seigo to do this interview at the Elite registration he told me this: "db, I don't need to be in this story, it's about Morizo, I just take pictures, that's all I do."

And I said, "Got it, don't worry dude, you won't be."

I lied. Ooops.

At the moment Seigo said that, I was pretty much, for the most part, sort of telling the truth. You can see they are more than just friends.

But then I stood back and watched the two of them, and knew, knew that Seigo was more than just another guy from the same country as Morizo.

Seigo's job was to be at the event and take photos of the Elite guys, and that's what he did throughout the registration, but he was never far from Morizo, and many times I would watch as he took a picture of Skeet, KVD, or Rick Clunn and as soon as the picture was shot, would put the camera down and look around to see where Morizo was.

At the sign-in table, as Morizo started to write stuff on the paper, Seigo went over to the table, knelt down opposite Morizo, and helped him throughout the paper filling in process.

Morizo does have other friends on the tour. Grant Goldbeck also keeps an eye out for him, saying, "It's cool. He is teaching my son Japanese."

And Grant helps him with the various tournament rules, but he can't be there all the time, and he can't be there during tournaments.

Again, through Seigo, here's Morizo:

"I stress about fishing in an off-limit area. When I see a sign I just leave. Leave."

Seigo filled in the blank look I had on my face when I turned to him for a "what does he mean by that."

"db, Morizo can't read English, so when he is out fishing a tournament and he sees a sign, ANY sign, he leaves the area so as to not chance fishing in an off-limits spot."

Morizo is looking at me nodding his head.

And I'm stunned.

ANY SIGN.

He could come up to a sign saying "Fish HERE," or "This is where a Ten-pounder lives," and he would flee the area.

So as to not violate a rule.

A rule he cannot read.

"... just a stranger — I'm a solitary man ... " In Japan, Morizo is a famous angler ... his own TV show on a 24-hour Fishing Network ... I asked him if he was famous back home.

&I got a shoulder shrug.

Then I got a grin.

Then a smile that consumed his face.

And finally, a very slight nod of the head. Yes. And his eyes drifted down to the table top.

Morizo through Seigo:

"Big stress I have in America ... I really a talkative person, love to talk, to make jokes, and here I'm not able to speak up because no one understands me. Real stressful. Real stressful."

Imagine that.

In the loudest nation on the planet, he can't join in.

In the land of free speech, he is speechless.

To be of many words, and not be able to use them ... can't imagine that. And when I looked over at Seigo, and he shook his head yes, with sad eyes and body language, I reached across the table and told Morizo ...

"Talk to me dude."

And Morizo looked to Seigo, and then back to me. Seigo translated as I talked.

"Just come up to me and talk to me ... doesn't matter that I don't understand you, or you don't understand me, but talk dude, talk, don't hold it in. And I will listen in English, and you will speak in Japanese, and that somewhere during the train wreck, you will laugh, or I will laugh, and that's what you need, what we both need. You don't have to understand someone, to get who they are."

And Morizo looked at me throughout the whole turning my words into his words ... and he smiled ... and he responded with a smile ... and words to me without ever taking his eyes off me.

Morizo's words, Seigo's voice: "It has always been my dream to come to America and fish against the best. To fish against Rick Clunn, KVD, Skeet Reese. Always my dream, to come to USA and fish. Compete.

"I here now fishing against them, and every night my wife emails me from Japan a photo of my daughter taken that day, and I spend lots of time looking at the picture on the computer when I'm in my hotel room. Last week my wife Chinami sent video of my daughter to my cell phone ... and I miss her, and my wife, miss both, but I'm here on my dream ... American dream."

Today at the launch I pulled up into the parking lot just as Morizo was. As I was climbing out of the truck he saw me and came walking over, very fast, and gave me a quick hug.

Then Morizo started talking to me.

The Japanese started soft.

But got louder.

And came faster.

I nodded my head, and smiled, but had no idea what he was talking about.

And when I smiled he broke up laughing.

And I broke up laughing.

In the pre-dawn launch parking lot.

Through the language of laughs.

With no translation needed.

The Petri dish called earth.

Just got a tiny bit smaller.

"... all alone I stand about, just a stranger in a strange land
In a strange land ... just a stranger."

Stranger in a Strange Land
Eddie Money

PS: And for all the people in the town of Yazoo City, Miss., where the angry sky tore up ... goes my heart, my prayers, my tears.

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.

Also By This Author