I’m less nervous about it than I was about flying to Japan, but only a little: on Sunday morning we leave a group of fellow teachers for a five-day visit to the frosty northern region of Japan, Hokkaido. Two hours away by way of the airport that is literally minutes south of my house, Hokkaido promises everything you’d hope for from a winter getaway destination: the coldest temperatures in Japan, mountains covered in snow, offensive, pervasive wind, the chance to break all of my limbs while skiing for the first time, the privledge of paying to rent equipment that will facilitate this, and a tour around the set up for the annual Yuki Matsuri, a literal festival of snow, during which I assume there will be booths that allow you to fork over a few hundred yen to “experience the thrill of watching water freeze in a four hour traditional outdoor ceremony on your knees” or “burn your ass on this block of ice by touching the skin directly to it for as long as you can” or “see how many packets of fermented gym sock beans you can eat without experiencing violent digestive atrophy.” But really, I’m excited. I’ll just be more excited once I’m on the ground in Hokkaido, maybe sedated in a warm alcoholic stupor, and perhaps with a huge plate of crab meat and butter in front of me. And then again when I get back to Kobe, knowing I won’t need to get on another plane any time in the immediate future.
It’s worth noting that for the second time in my life (and the first time I’ve gone a whole season without watching a game at all) the Colts are going to the Super Bowl. The kickoff is at 6:18pm EST on Sunday, February 7th, meaning that the concurrent time in Japan would be Monday, February 8th, at 8:18am, or roughly the time that I catch the Hanshin local train from Sannomiya. I’m not entirely sure what to do since viewing live isn’t an option and I don’t get any sort of delayed satellite broadcast that might exist–avoid looking at my cell phone, CNN, any Internet forums, hell the entire Internet, all day, avoid talking to anyone who might have a passing interest in American football (I’m looking at you, nearly everyone I know), evade all foreigners, do not speak to anyone, do not mention the Super Bowl, sports, competition, or games in any way to anyone, and go straight home after work to somehow download a torrent of the game without actually seeing who won anywhere on the Internet or through my e-mail, IRC, or any other random website? I might have to appropriate a friend ahead of time who either will have already watched the game or who simply doesn’t give a shit (Cory) to locate a torrent for me and have the link waiting in my message box when I get home so that I might immediately download the file and watch the game. The alternative I guess is to just ruin the surprise by looking at the score after my classes, which occur for the duration of the game and end probably around the time the game will be over, pray that my team wins, and then download it leisurely at home for a magical Super Bowl party time evening anyway. The downside is that if the Saints win I’ll either have played conservatively and spent my entire day without Internet for the grand payoff of watching the Colts lose, or I’ll have ruined the result ahead of time likely resulting in me never having the desire to see the Super Bowl at all. What is a man to do?
To distract myself from these horrible impending conundrums, I spent a large portion of yesterday’s down time at work reading about pinball, an endeavor in no small part prompted by this week’s sale price on the PS3’s Zen Pinball game (only five bucks)! Steeped in lingo and rife with history and terminology the Internet pinball community and its wealth of database sites has still not ceased to impress me. I remember a handful of machines from my youth, and in most cases the places and times that I played them: A Super Mario Bros. machine by Gottlieb at a hotel arcade in Missouri, a half-functioning table set on free play in the basement of a neighbor’s house, a handful of games I’d routinely lose my spending cash on as a member of the bowling team in town, having ample time to tinker with them as I waited between or after games (Twilight Zone, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Pin-Bot, and many others cycled out bi-monthlyish). Any kid who grew up enjoying pinball will probably tell you that it’s their dream to have their very own pinball table at home, and maybe an endless bucket of quarters to fill it with.
Slightly older, a few thousand miles away from the country I’ll surely end up living in again one day, and lacking any space (or source) to facilitate the execution of this dream, the pinball machine will have to wait a few years. But I’ve enjoyed reading the Mister Pinball classified ads on the Internet. There is some sort of quaint feeling in the idea of a small group of people selling huge wooden boxes containing all kinds of wires, electric parts, contraptions, and gizmos that they have carefully tended to. I also like how they are referred to almost by name, not like “this Twilight Zone pinball machine” but more often “my Twilight Zone.” With machines having all been made of a zillion complex parts and usually limited to production runs in the mid-thousands to maybe twenty-thousand tops, there’s also a kind of excitement associated with the whole thing. No reprints, no copies, no other way to play this game but to find one of the machines, pay a (couple) thousand bucks for it, and throw it in the back of a truck to haul it home. (Optional: disassembling, tweaking, cleaning, fixing, Loving.) With only one company still in existence that actually produces new pinball machines there’s also the allure of the Bygone era, in much the same way there were the golden ages of automobiles, comic books, and video games, only Those Things Still Exist: Here’s my Twilight Zone with LED mod, new flippers, and a restored playing field (“and I even went over it with clearcoat three times for the shiny look!”). It’s a hobby for which I currently have no element required to participate (save interest and the propensity to undertake peculiarly obsessive quests for no reason), which makes the whole kick a little fruitless. What it is, like so many other fantasies, is pretty alluring up there in my mind, where it must currently stay. This (and video pinball) is enough, for now.
This isn’t meant of course to imply that I even have the time to pursue another hobby: I cook regularly, which I consider kind of a hobby even though I have to do it to survive, and once you subtract the eight hour work days and two more for commutes, factor in the nightly Curb Your Enthusiasms, doing the dishes, the already time-consuming video gaming, and ensure you’re getting to bed at a somewhat sensible time, this basically leaves the weekends. Is this the real life?! I suppose it’s better to live with Jessy and not be bored than it was to live by myself and desperately seek out something (anything) to burn my time off, which usually amounted to excessive alcohol consumption and swearing at people in online games, however glorious. Still, sometimes I tire of endless video gaming and it would be nice to have something involving to take the place of writing when I either don’t find it particularly engaging or aren’t feeling quite emotionally motivated enough to put words together. I’m only even writing this thing today out of habit: it occurred to me last week that if you add up all the Noms I’ve put on here in a few months the word count exceeds that of my half-done languishing-forever novel. If you’re crazy enough to have read most of these posts (and you aren’t related to me) could it have possibly been worthwhile to hear me blabber about myself on a weekly basis in so many words?
I remember yapping about tater tot casserole in here not too long ago, and talking about how impossible it would be to make it, and it was no sooner than last night that it finally happened. The ground beef was in the Going To Rot Soon Half Price cooler, and in the fried goods area there rested a new elusive tray filled with what I can best describe as super-miniature versions of McDonalds’ hashbrowns. Maybe the size of a USB thumb drive or a lipstick? They were ten yen a piece and we bought fifteen or so, which happened to just perfectly cover the mixture that went also just perfectly into our new Pyrex cake-pan-turned-casserole dish, which itself also fits just perfectly into our microwave that is also an oven. It is not every day in Japan that I get to eat like an American, but any one-dish meal that allows me to combine a deep-fried product with greasy ground meat and smother it in processed creamy mushroom gloop before baking gets the OK in my book. Taters-a-crispy, veggies and mushroom soup pipin’, it was an exceedingly respectable effort that might be aided in the future only by throwing some rice in there. And I think I know where I can find that around here.
Tonight I am going to infringe trademark/copyright on yet another intellectual property, and this week the lucky star is Pac-Man. His likeness, and those of the dots, power pellets, and one of the ghosts (I’ll just pretend it’s Clyde) have been appropriated for use in my crudely drawn instruction sheet for “PAC-MAZE,” a game where we draw a maze on the board and then make a blindfolded student guide Pac-Man by using a marker through the maze according to the shouted directions of his fellow students. This game teaches UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, STOP, and AND. It is my first last class, which is to say it is the first class that I am having with a group of students that will be seeing me for the last time. This being the night school and they being my fourth-year kids, they will do this up and then go off and graduate. I have considered how it will go, what I can tell them, but I am sure any sort of subtle emotional impact will be lost in translation. Like so many other goodbyes (my last day of summer camp, leaving my family, quitting my jobs, moving out of every apartment, all the Final Classes I’ve Ever Had), I imagine the shared echo of sentiment will suffice: Despite not knowing each other as well as we might like, we’ve had an alright time together, haven’t we.