Monthly Archives: August 2010

In a cat’s eye, all things belong to cats

Every time I think it can’t get any hotter it does, perhaps a sentiment crystallized by one of my co-teachers the other day:

“This year, the summer has been exceptionally uncomfortable.”

Tell it Kenzo! It reached 35 degrees Celsius yesterday in Kobe, a number which I now associate with a feeling divorced entirely from the United States scale. Google tells me it’s 95 degrees by that measure, a number I can no longer remember in context of any specific temperature. I have mostly been avoiding the heat by sitting inside my air conditioned apartment with the curtains drawn during every moment that I am not occupied with either traveling to or being at work. But I did take a little time off from sitting on my ass to launder and dry my sweat hanky, because it smelled like a dead cat barbecued over formaldehyde briquettes.

Speaking of cats, but (optimistically) not dead ones, we’re getting a cat! It is a decision that comes after much rumination and the repeated viewing of YouTube videos involving lazy Japanese cats being cute and loveable. His name is Kiki, and he is three years old, and he is a black rescue cat, which means that he saves people from impending danger. Ha ha I am just joking. It means that before he was ground up into slurry by a neglectful owner or the mean streets, some people with too much conscience and not enough resources rescued him from an unenviable fate and decided to store him in their shack with forty-five other animals. But now we get to take him away from that madhouse and make him a happy member of the family! I have run the numbers, and my calculations are showing me that he will provide about 28% more fluffiness and cuddliness to the apartment over what we have now, and I anxiously await finding little black cat hairs in and on everything I eat, sit on, touch, or wear. Ha ha I am joking about that too. I do not await that at all. Bonus: if Kiki survives our stay in Japan, we can take him home with us to America without any extra fees or medical quarantines, because Japan is recognized as a “rabies free country,” a decision I assume was made by someone who does not watch television here between the hours of seven and nine in the evening.


Actual photo of Kiki!

But it seems like the right time and the right place. It’s been a long while since I got to joyfully stroll down the cat food aisle and decide I would probably eat most of this canned food, and it’s been even longer since I got to assist a small feline in gettin’ high off the ‘nip. It will also be a good trial exercise to see if I can keep something that is not Jessy’s fish or plants alive, just in case I am ever saddled with human spawn one day (thanks Mom and Dad). I am already figuring out how I can take everything ornamental or cool or fragile that I possess and put it somewhere where nobody will ever see it again so the cat does not eat or destroy it. I do not think cats are intimidated by scantily-clad anime statues.

Jessy’s back in Japan after a long trip to the states as I write this! I haven’t actually seen her yet on account of the fact that I am at school right now, but I’m taking a half-day of paid time off so that I can get back there and cook up a dinner feast for my woman. I got some chocolate tiramisu cups for dessert, do women like chocolate? Ha ha I am joking. I don’t care about the feelings of women.

STUFF FROM THE DAYS RECENTLY
– Band of Brothers, an 8+ hour HBO miniseries about World War II, which I watched while I had all my free time with Jessy gone, and which is really awesome, and which features Ross from Friends in a minor part, Jimmy Fallon for ten seconds, and the Office Space guy as a major star
– Our new favorite darts bar which is called either Swordfish or Swordtail I can’t remember, and where during Happy Hour (before ten P.M.) you can play darts for only a hundred yen a player, and where we have been so often lately that the crew remembers our complex foreigner names like “Bob”
– The bizarre realization that at 150 yen each way, my 4-days-a-week work commutes cost me 1200 yen a week, and at four weeks in a month that’s 4800 yen, and for three months that makes 14400 yen, while the three month commuter pass costs 14880, and so I’m not going to buy a commuter pass until January when I’ll get a new six-month pass (compelling)
– The grapes here are fucking awesome and at six bucks for a tray of them they had damn well better be, which they are so I love them
– The exchange rate of the yen against the dollar, which is so strong lately that it’s like I get a ten dollar a month raise every day for doing nothing
ALRIGHT THEN

Last weekend after some good decisions that always seem poor as I am making them, I found myself at “the club” a couple hours after midnight. We decided to create stories for the people who were standing around engaging in “party-making,” but I am afraid I forgot all of them except one guy who I figured worked at McDonald’s for no reason other than McDonald’s was on my mind. Last week they had a special promotion where you could get a Big Mac for only 200 yen. I celebrated yesterday by clogging my guts with two of them and it was amazing.

Anyway at the club I was rather intrigued to discover that very few of the people were actually bumping and grinding, let alone even dancing. A smattering of people threw their hands in the air, but even fewer did so [as though] [they] just [didn’t] care. Even acutely aware of my poor self-parodical efforts I didn’t feel too out of place, which maybe had something to do with the fact that I was the only American in there and I am now more comfortable being completely isolated from people of my own race than I am when I find myself around them. If I even end up standing next to someone who may or may not be an English-speaker or shit even a Westerner I find myself uneasily on edge, like they’re going to find my secret out, like they know they are better than me, like they have already judged me. Sometimes I worry about what it’s going to be like to go back to the States and live again among people who could if they so desired speak to me at any moment. Maybe I’ll just get a sign that says “I’m deaf, no talking to me” and tape it to my shirt.

I’ve only been at work for forty minutes and I’m already chomping at the bit for my last few hours to be over. You’d swear I had a new video game waiting for me at home or something, but surely all that waits for me is the promise of continued verbal abuse at the hands of the female. Perhaps that feels most like home.

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A day which will live on in green tea

The bachelor life means steak for supper, a big one with corn on one night and literally two steaks the next night with soumen, and as I enter hour four of my non-stop marathon of the descriptively named “WWII in HD” TV series with my steak and my beer and my full plump Japanese grapes I realize I have become an old man and it is fucking sweet.

Brenden is back to Canada and Jessy’s still in America which means that as the Master of My Domain I am free to do as I damned well please when I damned well please how I damned well please, a revelation both invigorating and selfish, only occasionally tinged with loneliness. For the most part I enjoy the fact that I can have a glass of tea, leave my glass on the table, go to work the next day and come home to my same glass in the same place, rinse it out, and pour another glass of tea. I am living the same awesome day over and over in perpetuity, which is the glory and curse of solitary singledom.

The other night I briefly consider totally eschewing perpetual domination by that woman in favor of lighting a cigar inside the house as I sit on the couch, but then I wonder well will the smoke alarm go off, and so I go and deactivate it and I think I have it deactivated and I sit back down on the couch and I swear to god as I am about to strike the match she appears on the TV screen in the creases of MacArthur’s pressed pants and she says “Brandon of our apartment you fuck, I have returned, and I have total control over your daily life” and I put the cigar back down on the table gently like it’s a mine and eat another grape and examine the pattern on the wall.

At night school on Wednesday I didn’t write a damned thing on account of I bought this book called Live from New York, which is basically an oral recount of the history of Saturday Night Live, and it in its printed form is about 680 pages, which meant in its eBook form I was capable of reading it for seven straight hours and not finishing it. I alarmed myself with my dedication so concretely that I went ahead and finished it the next day and bought Chris Farley’s biography too, to totally tap out this rich vein of potentially interesting subject matter and to ensure I will never find it compelling again.

In the interest of getting this over with this time I will merely state that last week in a couple of day span I managed to play foosball, Street Fighter IV, and darts against a variety of human opponents and I never lost. It felt right.

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There are no karaoke dreamers

In Sannomiya’s Super Jankara karaoke box 332 no one can hear you scream, a literal truth, making it all the more appealing. Right thumb all painful from tapping on a tambourine, I eat a convenience store sandwich in about thirteen seconds, drink a glass of Coke spiked with snaked-in Suntory whisky, and assist as the four of us deliver the psalms: Sunday Monday Happy Days, Tuesday Wednesday Happy Days, Thursday Friday Happy Days, the weekend comes, my cycle hums, ready to race to you.

This is not the first time this has happened.

Hours ago I was witnessing the annual Kobe Shootin’-Fireworks-For-Who-Knows-Why fireworks festival over the Kobe harbor, which is to say I watched fireworks from behind a tree while surrounded by women in casual summer kimonos and men who put far less apparent effort into their appearances but still nearly universally carried purses. My purse contained five cans of beer.

Now, in Super Jankara karaoke box 332, it contains just one, which I forget even exists until I get home, following a four-a.m. conversation in completely repugnant Japanese with a female taxi driver who did not see the fireworks, and I said we saw them, a little bit, and the fare is very affordable, and she calls us handsome. The next day for me gets started at about seven-p.m., the first time of day I find myself capable of eating food.

Though the recurring theme trends toward fermented malt beverages in my mind, I gingerly note that while affected by The Vapours I have far fewer qualms about embarrassing myself completely in a foreign language. Even though my command of Japanese resembles that of a growth-impaired turnip I resort to it earlier in the week while having a look around Osaka with Brenden, and most specifically I use it to try to divine the location of a big bright busy section of town called Dotonbori, which as it turns out is totally not anywhere near where I stumble into a Lawson and say “I’m embarrassed but where is Dotonbori I don’t know.”

Thirty-seven years later we find it and are plunged mouths-first into adventure with the assistance of a guy who looks like one of my first-year baseball kids after getting married and divorced and then falling asleep in a tanning bed for ten years. He says as we are walking by “HEY WHAT’S UP!!” and I, conditioned to respond in kind to the streetwise pavement slang of my generation, issue a “what’s up” back. The response I get is one virtually the same in English and Japanese, and sounds like the word beer, and so we go for one, and it is beery.

In the bar I resort to my conversational fallbacks in much the same way that celebrities being paraded around from talk show to talk show on the promo junket retell the same stories on Conan and Kimmle, only none of the things I have to say are interesting or intentionally funny and are instead just the only things I know how to say. With command of no more than three verbs I spin a compelling tale of international intrigue: I came from America, and now, I am a teacher at a high school. My friend, he came from Canada. We like to drink beer. Today, the weather is hot. No, not here in the bar, but there, there out there it is hot. In here, don’t worry. Is that woman there your lover? No? Well, we are going.

In the NHL ’96 video game for Super Nintendo, Brenden and I are currently in command of a heavily modified Detroit Red Wings team, a team which neither of us particularly endorse or support in reality but which has the highest base statistics in this game. To start the season, we immediately create two players named after ourselves using a cheat code to turn us into 100-point dynamic gods, then release the shitty players we are replacing into free agency. Our goalies, we decide, are no good, so we create two goalies of the worst possible skill named Derp Herp and Pee Man, sign them to the Blackhawks, release Ed Belfour into free agency, and sign him. Much to our chagrin, Derp Herp is now the 33rd ranked save percentage goalie in the league, while Ed languishes near the bottom.

We are frequently terrorized by a man named Joe Sacco, who in 1995 played for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, unremarkably, and who scores on us with seven seconds to go in regulation to snatch our wins away. Sometimes, the organ plays the same song eight times in a row. After a few cold Sapporo Mystery Kanji and Hops beers, we discuss the underlying elegance of the gameplay mechanics and physics in NHL ’96 for the Super Nintendo, and ruminate on how we might reiterate this game for today’s people exactly like us. Then we eat banana cake pudding, Kobe’s delicious specialty.

EXCITING JAPANESE IS THING AND FOR TO THE
– New, limited-edition Cup Noodle, which brings back my favorite flavor Chili Tomato in three varieties: regular, with cheese, and five-spice, and adds miniature plastic Gundam models snapped onto the top of the cup, raising the price to 498 yen and being unavailable without the Gundam, as is my Chili Tomato curse
– New Spicy Grilled Chicken Cup Noodle, which does not have any Gundam livery, and which is available for the actually reasonable price of 138 yen
– The Osaka aquarium, which we went to, and where I saw really weird glowy jellyfishes that looked exactly like the Metroids in the tubes from Super Metroid and I think I know where they got That Idea
– Our trip to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Noodle Museum, where we got to decorate and formulate our own Cup Noodle flavor (I chose standard broth with pork cubes, asparagus, cheese, and potatoes), and which may or may not be the third item on this list that involves Cup Noodle
– The arcade next to Ikuta shrine, which I basically totally forgot slash didn’t realize was even there, where we played co-op Espgaluda II and where I was completely housed by some Japanese guy at an arcade fighting game called Melty Blood, the duration of which involved me trying to kill him with two young girls dressed up like Little Red Riding Hood who fight with a mop and a frying pan
– The new Kirin commercial, which depicts baseball hero Ichiro taking a big slag of beer and then looking at the can with a facial expression of delight and/or shock so devastating that it looks like his throat is being ripped out of his ass
THAT’S ENDING

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to live in Japan during the “Happy Days” of the 1950s like in the TV show, and to imagine it what I do is I take Happy Days, replace all the cast with Japanese youngsters, and then instead of Pat Morita I basically imagine Sylvester Stallone.

その上に座ってPotsie!

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I don’t know no Snakes

I have not seen Harry and Marv take such a beating in ten years but I remember it like it was yesterday. Tonight, with a vending machine beer in hand, I watch Home Alone with Jessy and Brenden, we being three of only four souls inhabiting the Tokushima Youth Hostel in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku, a landmass to which I am no stranger.

A fan oscillates in front of us and next to me is an enormous magazine rack filled with old manga and magazines from 2006. One series of magazines features the same attractive woman in a slightly different pose and outfit on each cover for months and months. Home Alone is on VHS, and has been selected by us from among a variety of video tapes arranged in their thick plastic cases on a wooden bench next to the small television. It is a “SAMPLE” copy, as are several of the other tapes, and I figure they must have bought out a closing store’s advance copies. The large white block letters SAMPLE are burned into every frame’s upper right corner. The movie is subtitled in Japanese that reads simplistic to me when compared with the actual dialogue, when I can translate it, leaving the true intonations of phrases such as “keep the change you filthy animal” up for debate.

The movie starts halfway in, presumably because the prior (possibly Japanese) viewers were unable to glean the intense cultural sensibilities necessary to understand Kevin’s unique plight (summon scary cops to arrest burglars, or attempt to kill them?) and chose to hit stop, foregoing the option to be kind and rewind. The video resumed at around the part where Kevin slides on his knees to go underneath a bumbling police officer’s legs in an attempt to evade prosecution for stealing a toothbrush, the first of his soon-to-become-increasingly-violent crimes.

Whoever was watching this fucking thing first didn’t even get to the whole point of the movie: watching Joe Pesci get his ribs broken with a crowbar! Retrospectively, with a position favoring the criticism of a movie I have seen well over a hundred times, the movie becomes ghastly, gruesome Schadenfreude: the acts against humanity committed by the demonic eight-year-old human child “Kevin McAllister” are heinous and he revels in watching them play out in ways akin to torture. To witness his vile acts is to stare into the face of the Dark Lord and laugh at his joyful demeanor while he rips the fingernails from your hands and licks them clean.

My favorite part, upon this rewatching, was seeing Harry have his head lit on fire by a blowtorch, and then Kevin running away, fists-a-pumping, screaming “Yes yes yes yes yes.” I also enjoyed watching him make the financially poverty-stricken pizza-delivery boy deal with a twenty-cent tip and then lead him to believe he is about to be murdered by gunfire. He is obviously a man who takes pride in his work. I debate with Brenden and Jessy the relative merits of each bandit’s incredible punishment, mentioning the conversations my sister and I used to have about which bandit, theoretically, it would be better or worse to assume the role of, based on the levels of their abuse. In the moment I figure Marv takes more blunt damage, while Harry has to suffer having the image of the house’s doorknob (a large M, for McAllister, the initials of his fiendish overlord) melted into his hand by way of an electric coil heater. He even screams, whimpers in pain, and tries to blow on the fucking thing to cool it off. Jesus!

The weather in the hostel is as hot as the opposite of Chicago during Christmas, as depicted in the movie Home Alone, which is to say that it is goddamned hot. Our room contains four beds via two bunk setups, and a tatami area with a table. The air conditioner is cutely coin-operated: a 100 yen coin gives two hours of cooling, as low as we can turn the remote (20 degrees Celcius, full-blast fan, and boy do we ever need it). The hostel’s proprietor, a pleasant elderly-ish lady, gives us three coins to use as we check in. While we eat the supper she’s made us (fried pork cutlet with cabbage, peanut-dressing salad, miso soup, rice, cold soumen with dashi sauce, hot tea, and god knows what else), I see who I presume to be her husband meandering around in the definition of Tiny Little Running Shorts.

There is a beach here at the foot of the hostel’s property, though a sign forbids swimming. Still, it seems to me a rarity thus far in Japan, and I even see and smell groups of people grilling meat. For a moment I believe I am in America, and then the cicada calls deafen me and destroy my capacity for rational thought immediately. I rectify my hollowness by skipping rocks from the shore out into the water, skip skip skip.

As we relax that evening I fight metal slimes in Dragon Quest IX on my DS, a now-proven companion capable of getting me through any time period that could be considered even slightly boring. The two-hour bus rides from Kobe and back serve as excellent opportunities to test its mettle, and are felled admirably.

The next day sees us tour a special old-town where we are beckoned into a small shop by a husband and wife who woo us with green tea, mochi, and pickled cucumbers and tomatoes. We are guilted into the purchase of a kilogram of homemade miso paste from them, which we later mux together with some other ingredients for use as a sauce on our own cabbage salad back at the apartment. This has left me with approximately .99 kilograms of miso paste that I have absolutely no idea what to do with.

EXCITING JAPANESE HERPS OF THE DERP
– Lawson cheese chicken breast, being a deep-fried piece of breaded chicken and melted cheese all together under one crust and the perfect size for a bun
– A special certificate, presented formally to me by my principal, indicating that I have successfully held my job for one entire year
– CoCo Ichibanya curry restaurant, which delightfully provided Brenden and I with plates of piping hot and delicious curry rice for a low fee
– Namco Land arcade and its Street Fighter IV machines, which I didn’t realize were there on the second floor and which look totally easy to hop onto for a game or two
– San Plaza gashapon and game shops, ensuring that if I ever really need a bunch of little plastic toys I will be able to find precisely the ones I need
– Sanuki udon self-serve shop in Tokushima city, bearing delicious niku udon with a piece of shrimp tempura, ice cold water, and boilin’ hot broth
ENOUGH HERPS

Today is the one day this week that I actually have work, which in August is the term that I use to mean I have to be in the office. I just completed a five-day stretch of delightful time off (three weekdays and two weekends) and that means that today serves as both my Monday and Friday, as I also have the next four days off (two weekdays and two weekends). It feels weird to not be working, but not that weird, because I’ve been pretty busy trekking around Kansai the last few days, and will likely get into a good deal as much in the next few.

Jessy leaves for the States on Saturday, which saddens me, but mostly will just be strange because aside from one overnight trip she took with her teachers a few months ago, we have not spent any full days away from each other since we moved to Japan. She’ll be there for a couple of weeks, and is treating the impending nature of the trip so lightly that it boggles my mind. She knows that she’ll be going from “Osaka to Tokyo to Taipei or somewhere and to America” which is just lackadaisical enough to cause my chest to go all aflutter. I have instructed her to get her ass back here with a refilled prescription of the Xanax, which I am sure as shit going to need when I take my trip back home for Christmas this year. In her stead of course I have Brenden, who on the upside will probably not complain to me about household matters, but who on the downside will probably not do my laundry.

Finally, I should mention for the sake of posterity that a year ago today I was ironing my too-big suit shirt to go under my too-big suit jacket at the too-big Keio Plaza hotel in Tokyo, having just recently arrived in Japan and having been completely overwhelmed with everything. I remember being terrified and excited and ready to go and meeting my teachers in Kobe and moving my huge suitcases into the apartment and I remember the first two weeks here feeling like ages and the next few months breezing by and the terrible heat of the summer and my birthday pudding in November and Christmas cake in December and Hokkaido in January and cherry blossoms in March and the school year ending in April and Japanese class starting and Fuji in July and here I am again in August with a year gone so quickly. That’s not to say there’s any point to recalling it now, only just to say that it was so. So it was!

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