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It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute.
That is not so ridiculous when we take into account the unusual size of Tanuki's scrotum.
Well, okay, it's still pretty ridiculous--and no less so just because in relation to his overall body mass, Tanuki's scrotum is proportionately larger than the scrota of elephants, whales, and the Jolly Green Giant. In those days, his testicular balloon bag may actually have been even more voluminous than it is today, though that's difficult to imagine since his balls very nearly drag the ground as it is, and any increase in volume would surely have been an impediment to mobility if, indeed, not a source of some pain. There is also the possibility that Tanuki had (and perhaps still has) the power to increase or decrease scrotum size at will.
Yet, having said all that, we must concede that the role of anatomical size per se in Tanuki's descent is not easy to determine, and a more pertinent question might be not how the badger managed to use his significant seed sack to parachute to earth but, rather: Where did he parachute from? And why?
"Don't be stupid. Tanuki. Himself."
"Oh, I see. Well, where did you come from, Tanuki himself?"
"From the Other World."
"What other world?"
"The one before this one, moron. The World of the Animal Ancestors." His voice could have been shoveled from a gravel pit.
"Ah so. Excuse me, then, honorable animal ancestor. How did you get here?"
"Parachuted in. It's strictly forbidden, of course. Againstall the rules. But what the hell. . . ."
The farmer looked around for signs of equipment, for a silk canopy, specifically, and a harness.
"Never mind that," growled Tanuki.
"Well, what is it you want here?"
"To drink rice wine."
"Sake? Understandable, but I don't think so. From the look of the grin on your face, you've drunk too much sake already. Anything else?"
"Yes. Girls. Young, pretty girls."
The man snorted such a laugh that something shot out of his nostril. "Forget about it. No girl would have anything to do with a funny-looking creature like you."
"Don't be too sure, old fool," snarled Tanuki, and with that he butted the farmer in the midsection with such force that the man fell to the ground, speechless, gasping for breath. Then, on his hind legs, round belly jiggling like a Santa Claus implant, the badger waddled over to the well where the man's daughter was filling water jars, and fixed her with his toothy, high-voltage grin, a smile so overheated and manic and wild it could crack a funhouse mirror or peel the lacquer off the chopsticks in a maiden's hair.
What immediately follows is a brief, and only partial, clarification concerning Tanuki's nature. To wit: while virtually everyone refers to him as a "badger," to the point where
"Badger" is practically his second name, the scientific truth is, Tanuki is not a badger at all. Any zoologist will gladly point out that tanukis are a species of East Asian wild dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), possessing the long snout, coloration, and markings of a raccoon, although lacking the raccoon's famous ringed tail.
The fact that tanukis are nearly tailless, coupled with their penchant for standing upright on their hind legs, undoubtedly plays a role in Tanuki's being so generally regarded in an anthropomorphic light. At the edge of a dark forest, it would be fairly easy for the impressionable to mistake a tanuki for a little man. But, thanks to his otherworldly powers, there happens to be an even more legitimate reason for Tanuki's anthropomorphic reputation, as we shall soon enough find out.
Before moving on, however, we must address the probability that the perceptive reader will have noticed in our narration an apparent and perhaps troubling inconsistency. Unless the author is simply too careless and sloppy to be trusted, why does he sometimes write "Tanuki" (singular, individual, a capitalized proper noun) and at other times, even in the same paragraph, write "tanukis" (plural, generic, an uncapitalized common noun)? The explanation is simple. This badgerish creature, like God, is both one and many.
Both. In the same instant. Like God.
As anybody who knows anything about the Unknowable well knows, "God" and "gods" are interchangeable. The exclusivistic patriarchal Jehovah/Allah freaks are not incorrect when they insist that there is but one Supreme Being and that "he" is immutable and absolute. However, neither are the wide-eyed inclusive pagans and primitives wrong when they recognize gods of fire alongside gods of rivers; honor a moon goddess, a crocodile spirit, and deities who reside in, among countless other places, tree trunks, rain clouds, peyote buttons, and neon lighting (especially the flashing whites and the greens).
Thus, if the reader is wise enough not to try to impose
human limitations or narrow notions of uniformity on the
Divine Principle, is nimble-minded enough to realize that he or she can be (perhaps should be!) simultaneously monotheistic and pantheistic, then he or she will have scant problem in accepting the paradoxical essence of our small friend, Tanuki of the tanukis.
At first, the daughter at the well seemed prepared to accept Tanuki's invitation to lie down with him. She was a farm girl, after all, and the mating activities of animals were as familiar to her as the sprouting of rice or the ripening of plums. Likewise, bestiality was not unknown to her, for she had brothers, cousins, and young male neighbors who, from time to time, were prone to so indulge. If we seldom if ever hear of girls participating in such sordid practices, it's certainly not because rural girls are any less lustful than their masculine counterparts. Perhaps it's due, rather, to the universal girlish character, which is cleaner, more restrained, sensitive, and finer-grained than that of the hopelessly coarse adolescent male. Or, it may only be a matter of logistics: it's one thing for a hormone-racked boy to mount a ewe, but a maid presenting herself to a ram is so awkward an enterprise as to be nearly unthinkable. It would test the girl's ingenuity and probably confuse the ram.
Still, Tanuki was no ordinary beast. He walked upright, had a charming accent, a confident and exotic manner, and a riveting, if somewhat unnerving, grin. So cute was he, and so persuasive, that she soon found herself loosening her kimono. Alas, when he commenced to boast about how he had recently parachuted to earth from the Other World, she grew frightened, ran away, and bolted the farmhouse door behind her. "I thought I saw a demon," she told her mother, to explain her blush and why she'd returned home without water.
Dejected, Tanuki stole a small jar of sake from its cooling place in the well and lumbered off into the forest to brood. At some point during the night, when he was quite tipsy, he began to drum on his protruding belly, as tanukis are wont to do, and the pla-bonga pla-bonga sound of his drumming eventually attracted a kitsune. A fox.
"You idiot," Kitsune scolded him, after Tanuki had bemoaned his woeful failure. "How could you be so naive as to tell a human being the truth? Men live by embedding themselves in ongoing systems of illusion. Religion. Patriotism. Economics. Fashion. That sort of thing. If you wish to gain the favor of the two-legged ilk, you must learn to fabricate as wholeheartedly as they do. Actually, by sabotaging their static illusions, we can sometimes help turn their stale deceptions into fresh possibilities for their race, but that's probably a mission you're neither interested in nor suited for. So, just lie to people any way you see fit and reap what benefits you can--but do bear in mind that you should never, ever lie to yourself."
Much of the fox's wisdom was lost on the drunken badger, but he'd grasped one important fact, and the following dusk when he approached the farmer's daughter at the well, he took a different tack. "My pretty cherry flower," he rasped, "I am, in fact, merely a simple beast of the woods who has become enchanted by your beauty and yesterday was driven to misspeak due to the intensity of my desire to hold your sweet hand and nuzzle your exquisite neck."
"Oh my," gasped the girl. And she watched him with a mixture of pity, vanity, and awe as his tiny fingers undid her sash.
Afterward, leaving the girl exhausted on the moss, Tanuki rapped at the farmer's door. "Ten thousand pardons, honorable sir," he said, bowing deeply. "In addition to the impolite interjection of my head bone into yesterday's conversation, I'm afraid I also told a little fib. Look at me, sir. Look me over. Obviously, I'm no Animal Ancestor. Damned ridiculous! No, I'm merely a poor orphan of the woodlands, temporarily down on his luck and maddeningly hungry. Both frogs and wild onions are scarce this season, and my ravenous self would be forever in your debt if you might spare . . ."
Somewhat apprehensively, the farmer set a bowl of boiled rice by the kitchen door. Tanuki proceeded to eat, taking deliberately dainty bites, chewing very, very slowly; and when his host grew bored and turned his attention to some household chore, the badger suddenly seized a cask of sake quite as large as himself and, short legs pumping, heavy scrotum swinging, escaped with it into the brush, one step ahead of the farmer's ax.
That night Tanuki got snockered so enthusiastically that the sake got snockered along with him. He thumped his full belly--pla-bonga pla-bonga--and his grin fought a duel with the moon.
Tanuki relished homemade sake. He liked dancing his drum-belly dance in the moonlight, he liked gorging himself on fat frogs and yams, and as much or more than anything else, he liked seducing young women. After his initial success with the farmer's daughter, he embarked on a long spree of seduction. Over the years, he enjoyed a great many such successes, and the encounters brought him immense delight, despite the fact that some of the girls would later give birth to strange-looking babies, which, believing them to be demon children, the girls' families would drop over a cliff or drown in the nearest creek.
Eventually, however, Tanuki grew weary of country girls, with their frank and easy ways; and he commenced to wander into cities, where the women were glamorous and sophisticated, were wrapped in rich silks, recited poetry, served sake of a noticeably finer quality, and smelled of powders and perfumes instead of farm sweat.
After stealing into a garden or a courtyard or a courtyard garden, he would saunter up to a woman there, his scrotum swaying, his smile on fire. "Pardon me," he'd say, "I'm a lonely denizen of the purple hills, who has been pulled into town by nothing but the beacon of your own beauty, which in my innocent way I long to . . ."
Reaction depended upon the female's age. A really young girl--fifteen, sixteen, seventeen--would scream as if a godzilla egg had hatched in her bathwater, and run right out of her getas in her haste to reach the safety of the house. Girls in their twenties, on the other hand, would hurl their getas at him, would hurl books, flutes, teapots, iron lanterns, inkwells, and stones; hurl them with such bone-bruising force that it became his turn to scramble to safety. If the object of his intentions was thirty or older, she'd usually regard him with calm contempt, wag a sharp, painted nail at him, and admonish him coldly, "You're stinking up my chrysanthemum beds, you obscene monkey. Crawl back to your filthy lair before my retainer treats you to a taste of his blade."
Each successive rejection took a larger bite out of Tanuki's confidence, until finally it was gnawed down to the core. With what passed for his tail between his legs, he did, indeed, slink back into the hills, so far back that the lights of no city, town, or village could muffle the silent beeping of the stars. After a halfhearted meal of shelf fungus, he slurped a jar of purloined sake (down-home variety) and began a halfhearted shuffle upon the fallen leaves. Around midnight, a fox appeared.
"What a pathetic excuse for tummy-thumping!" Kitsune chided him. "I could produce better pla-bongas by beating a steamed dumpling with a toothpick. Have you completely dissipated your sense of rhythm?"
Resisting an impulse to bludgeon the kitsune with the empty sake jar, Tanuki instead embarked upon a mournful litany of urban failures, not caring that he was losing face by the bucketful.
Kitsune shook his orangish head. "It's beyond me," he said, "how you ever acquired a reputation for cunning. Listen, loverboy! All human beings can be deceived, but they can't all be deceived in the same way. The very hook that will snag a bumpkin, an educated cosmopolite will spit out or brush aside. Unless, of course, it's baited with money, that fatal lure that regularly makes a fish out of men of every station."
"I hear you can exchange it for sake," Tanuki objected. "The good stuff."
"True enough. But you'd have to steal the money in order to purchase the sake, so why not just steal the wine and cut out the middleman? Money! Before it was invented, men were nearly as savvy as us. Not that you are overwhelmingly savvy. All that hug-me-because-I'm-a-furry-little-lost-animal crap. That's for amateurs. That's for house pets and teddy bears. You still haven't sorted out the knots and tangles of the human mind. Well, I'll tell you this much: if you're going to recline on a lady's futon, you're going to have to recline there in a gentleman's body."
"But how . . . ?"
"How? How? Are you an Animal Ancestor or aren't you?" Properly exasperated, and convinced that food, beverage, and worthy entertainment were irreversibly absent from the badger's clearing that evening, Kitsune loped off into the shadows.
Tanuki lay down in the dead leaves to try to attain the degree of sobriety necessary for a full grasping of the fox's meaning. A few snowflakes began to fall, falling slowly, very slowly, taking their time, as if waiting for Tanuki--or anybody--to notice them; as if stalling until some wonderstruck bystander might remark on their beauty and how no two snowflakes are ever exactly alike. At what point, it's fair to ask, did snowflakes start believing their own publicity?
That had been the first snowfall of the season. When the last snow fell at winter's end, toward the middle of March, the figure that stood in the badger's clearing was casting a humanlike shadow. Falling only marginally faster than November's intrepid trailblazer; preening on the breeze; boasting in a fluttery stage whisper,
"Regardez-moi. The likes of me has never been seen before and will never be seen again," the very last flake in line (self-delusional to the finish) landed on an eyelid that could have belonged to Toshiro Mifune, complete with epicanthic fold. There, it was summarily flicked off by a thumb. Not a claw, but a thumb.
From the Hardcover edition.
Copyright© 2003 by Tom Robbins