Monthly Archives: March 2012

A broad national consensus

I’m on this high speed ferry to Zamami island, barely inhabited town/landmass south of Naha, and we’re hitting choppy water like Jackie Chan, chop-socky, enough to make me wince just proceeding. I think back to bathtubs, plastic boats with peeled-off stickers, how I’d launch them off my leg waves, this grand landscape: porcelain walls and caulk rot, wonder how the little Playskool people are getting on in there. One of them turns to his notebook, to channel his thoughts. I like to consider the unrepresented horror beneath their unchanging facades, never-ending comas, as they cry out internally, thrusted forty bodylengths in the air at the whims of a young boy. Oh god, help me, they beg, but I am the only god they have, and I am angry as these very seas, a twisted psyche that knows no ends. Today the young boy is a Playskool man, thrusted at the whims of some other god, the keeper of the ocean, this grand landscape: sand-circled mountains and Sammo Hung waves, ebbing along like I’m rollin’ with my homies, only an island when I’m finished, only a rock in the water. We bank, begin the final approach of the boat world, I’m in the upright and locked position as the seas calm to welcome me, then we pitch down and my left hand digs into this spiral, for the amusement of a young child, for the amusement of my only god, carving nonsense into the Penco Progressive Recorder.

Otsukaresama deshita, they tell me, nice work. No problem guys, I did it all for you. I get off the boat, seawater salt and forty body lengths of trees. So this is Okinawa, but really this time, no trains or Lawson convenience stores, a group of kids on bikes in the alley, an empty shed on one side and a soba shop on the other.

As the last bit of daylight leaves us we barely light the charcoal before a man assists us. We met him earlier, in town, after he told us the local shop owner (who could sell us a lighter) was out harvesting his sweet potatoes but would be back in an hour. We sap the last bit of fluid out of a borrowed red clicker and he strolls up from behind our tent with a tabletop gas canister in one hand and a nozzle in the other, perhaps sensing our desperation from afar, then ignites the grill’s coal like firing pottery or field cauterizing an unexpected amuptation. I watch the reflection of the fire in his crazed eyes! On the metal grill skillet Jessy and I fry thawed chicken on skewers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and miniature hamburgers that we picked up from a different market earlier and let out at the camp site to de-freeze while we combed the beach for sea glass and ankle-deep skipped flat rocks off the waves. Dessert is a hearty metal can of Pork and Beans heated in the can and eaten with plastic spoons, a rare treat that somehow completes the night.

After a few hours of restless sleep I hear some rustling, some scrape-y sounds from outside our tent, and while figuring they are from some manner of hostile beastie I choose to investigate anyway with the aid of Jessy’s tiny broken-Crayola-sized travel flashlight. Under the space left inside the scalene triangle made with the ground, an off-kilter tree, and the propped-up grill tray, I see two large hermit crabs stretching their pincers out like Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam to scratch the bits of stuck-on chicken meat that still remain, and then I pan the light and see more of them and more, twenty or thirty of them congregating and marching through the place where we had tossed a couple tough mushroom stems, some oil from the griddle, poking at the ground. They prattle on, larger hermits with tiny ones following them, as the oceanic pied-piper, not but a hundred feet away from our tent, plays for them. The music for me is the ebb of the ocean, rhythm guitar to their tiny little steps over dried leaves and pine-needle kindling, sounds like we’re a piece of sliced banana in a bowl of active Rice Krispies and the world is snap crackle popping.

We do other things. We take a kayak out on the water, get caught in a thunderstorm while bringing home a bottle of wine, and peer at old garbage like lost histories washed ashore. We eat goya, a bitter melon, and shikwasa, a sour lime. We drink Orion beer, root beer, Dr. Pepper, eat fried bread with chicken inside it, chicken with potatoes around it, potatoes with cheese and chili on them, sesame seed ice cream, rice with taco meat, pasta, steak, Korean soup, Japanese breakfast. I eat a bowl full of pig ears slathered in miso sauce and walk through an open air market where the dead eyes of fish peer into my soul from beds of ice. I sit on beaches and stand on mountains just to look. We sit in bathtubs full of hot water outside and drink little glasses of mango juice. I wander into a two story arcade and destroy a huge gold robot with Chun-Li from Street Fighter and a guy that looks like Speed Racer. I buy Okinawan liquor and special salt to bring home, I ride a rented bicycle through puddles, I burn my skin in the sun.

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