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Junk Bonds



  • An active interest or pursuit, especially one involving competitive engagement or adherence to rules.


Three Card Monte is a confidence trick that originates from the turn of the 15th century and is, ostensibly, an easy chance to make quick money. The dealer, or shill, in the local parlance, usually aided and abetted by two nefarious associates, will set up a rudimentary table, a cardboard box say, and lay three playing cards face down. One will be the “money card,” which is more often than not a queen. The aim of the game is to watch the dealer shuffle the cards before they are set down and try to remember which the queen is– and if you can point to the right card you’ll win your stake money back and then some.

Of course, this isn’t really a game, not in the truest sense of the word, as the participant, or “mark,” has almost no chance of winning. The shill and his associates will create an elaborate scam using sleight of hand and misdirection to fool the mark into parting with their money. One simple trick is that the shill will actually have four cards in their hand, and will show the mark the queen before depositing it up their shirtsleeve like a rat up a drainpipe. The other three cards will then be placed face down on the table, and the mark will have only one chance to choose the right card. Another is to actually use the queen, but to only accept the highest bidder on the outcome, so if the mark bets say 10, the shill’s associate, masquerading as another mark, will bet 20, with the cumulative total prize fund going to the highest bidder. No matter how high the mark bets, the shill’s associate will always bet higher, and once you’ve put your money in the pot– there’s no getting it back out. Now all the shill has to do is give his associate a signal to which is the right card, a twitch of a particular finger perhaps, who will then find the queen and “pocket” the money, to be given back to the shill at a later convenience. No matter which way you look at it, it’s a scam, which the mark can never win except by some mistake on the part of the shill or his companion(s).


And so April brings the start of the new year here in Japan, where the office desks are shuffled as well as the personnel, where the hands that do the shuffling are never seen and move without warning, where longstanding bonds are broken, be they the steel of teamwork and mutual respect, or the knotted mucus strings of disinterest and unfounded criticism. Yessir, April means it’s one more time to play the relationship game. I found out a few weeks ago that a few bum cards were being switched, which after 2.5 years was a real relief. However, the hands weren’t done and I just found out that my two queens, so to speak, albeit one in the guise of an erratic 60 year old English teacher with involuntary tics and OCD, and the other the most batshit crazy amazing wonderful office lady who chewed out (in American terminology) two stunned kyoto-senseis when the photocopier broke in front of a packed office, were being moved too. This morning was a rough one, and as I write this I’m still getting over the fact that the two people that have shown me the most kindness, given me the most eye contact and stopped for a chat, the two people who have shown the most interest in me without wanting something in return will not be here in a week’s time.

And so this will be my third time at the table, and so far the queens have been few and far between, the pocket stuffed with not cash but optimism, desire and an eagerness to learn and build bonds has been dipped into one too many times, and I’m cautious about what I should put on the table this time around. Investing in those around you is an important deposit, which yields high interest, or so they say, but there’s only so long you can play the mark.

Maybe the queen is already tucked into the shirt cuff, but, with over a year left to go on JET, I know I have to put my hand in my pocket one more time. And so, here we go again, time to watch the shill and try to figure out the trick one last time.

The ol’ switchamaroo, yessir.


Scott Patterson

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