Now they grow up sharing McDonald’s and Disneyland

I’ve taken to wearing a beard and mustache, which I prefer to spell moustache, for no explicit reason. Having never actually witnessed what happens when I do not shave my face, I decided to give it the old college try for the first time last November, a month that some people have taken to dubbing “movember,” perhaps because mustache starts with an m and they want a sanctioned excuse to not shave and look like filthy mountain men. It was a short-lived experiment, I didn’t like the way it felt. When I left for Thailand at the end of December I decided not to bring my electric razor cause it was bulky. I haven’t shaved anything off since then except for a little trimming. So here I am, kinda mustachey, kinda beardy. It took a while before people at my schools started remarking on it, but things are in full swing now. It came to my attention the other day, via one of my good co-workers, that “many” of the students have been asking “why” I am now wearing hair on my face. I told him, as I struggled to come up with an answer, that I was basically doing it to see what it would be like. They thought it was hilarious, a reaction I often encounter when I say something that is not funny at all.

I told them that Jessy liked it, that it was just kind of interesting to see, personally, how it would come in, if my mustache and beard would ever connect (they won’t, it seems), what I would look like. I asked them if they had ever grown a mustache or beard and they said no. One of them is probably sixty, the other is two weeks younger than me. I considered asking why they had never tried it, just to put them in my shoes. I did not ask them. In a way this minor act of growing hair on my face almost makes me feel more foreign, since nobody at the school has a mustache or beard–I feel like I’m slowly re-Americanizing myself in preparation for the move back home.

Speakin’ of America I accidentally got into a conversation about old times today and found some pictures that I had of my room when I lived in Pittsburgh, and it sorta depressed me because I looked at them and the first thing I felt was man, I miss living in that place. Like you always think about a time when you are most happy or something, and I really felt “I was more happy then than I am now” and it was kind of a sad thought. I want to be happy! I wonder what it is I need to change or do. Maybe it is just the impermanence of living here that is driving me crazy, not that anywhere else I’ve ever lived has been any more permanent. It kind of seems like the times I get the most depressed are when I’m sitting here at night school doing jack shit except thinking about things that I used to do, which is probably confirmation of my brand new and groundbreaking theory that idle hands lead to minds that wish their hands weren’t idle but don’t have the ambition to make them move. Yes that’s it

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE NOM
– Today’s gummy snack from the FamilyMart, featuring three different flavors of gummies: melon soda, cola, and lemon sour, and named “Cola up! &Friends”
– My distinctly non-romantic idea that because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day me and Jessy should go on a date “to the curry restaurant in the basement in Sannomiya that we both really like” but hey she was like OH MY GOD YEAH and I was like take that, someone
– The loudspeaker van that I walked past on the way to school that was yelling in the top of its lungs about Japan needs to REVIVAL!!!!! but he sounded so angry about it
– Ate McDonald’s MEGA MUFFIN the other day for breakfast, it was pretty mega if i am to be perfectly honest with you. It is part of their annual “Big America” series of strangely-themed “American” sandwiches like Texas Burger and Idaho Burger that are both nothing like anything available in America and at the same time a good reflection of what a global burger company comes up with when they want to portray “America” to the average Japanese person
mcdsTHE END OF FOOD IN JAPAN

I went to karaoke last weekend again with some pals, a kind of renaissance of karaoke after having not really gone in over a year or so. Evidently, somewhere along the line, the Big Echo place replaced all their ancient fuckin’ TVs and the horrible stock videos that play behind the lyrics with brand new widescreen TVs and newly-shot HD videos. It’s kind of a bizarre change, updating the old fashions for the new. The old videos were really amazing in a way, most of them obviously shot at-or-around the turn of the century, full-frame, people in ridiculous clothes and dated storefronts, hilarious foreign actors recruited by Japanese companies to shoot these things. These new ones are sort of a strange anachronism, brand-new high-definition video matched up to goofy lyrics for Take Me Home Country Roads like some teenagers hangin’ out in an apartment eating pizza or whatever. I feel like there’s a short story in there somewhere, that whole scene must just be the weirdest goddamned thing.

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A fly lives 10,000 years

I got on the train after work the other day, had been stayin’ late with the ESS (that’s English Speaking Society, though I often feel like the only member), and all I wanted to do was sit down and play some Fire Emblem on my little game thing.  And it was so full, I had to stand, and we weren’t moving, so I walk over into the next car right, and I sit down and get ready to play and this kid he sits down right there next to me, almost on me, starts jangling the little plastic chef thing I have hangin’ off my laptop bag like he’s a farmer and I’m the bull to be used in his latest foray into husbandry, floppin’ em around there.  And I kinda check over at him, yo man, what you doing there, and he gives me this weird distorted thumbs up, like his thumb is bent all the way backward.  He must be like fifteen or sixteen, whatever, I figure you’re janglin’ my sack around a little bit if you dig it roll on my daddy-o, I will be into Sannomiya in like five minutes.  But we just keep sitting there!  The damned train ain’t be moving.  And then he starts getting frisky.  Before long he has his hand slid under my bag onto my thigh, and he squeezes it a little bit, and I say like “whatchoo doin, there, guy,” only obviously he can’t understand me and I don’t feel like straight up telling him to fuck off in Japanese yet, and then he kinda slides his hand into my pocket, he is right on goddamned top of me!  There are seats free in this car, I should say, like all the way over to the edge.  I sit for a while he’s just grabbin’ on me, I figure whatever the kid is obviously mentally Disadvantaged and whatever I will be to Sannomiya in like five minutes, BUT WAIT WE ARE NOT MOVING YET WHAT

Eventually I pick his hand up off my leg and put it over onto him, and say “No” and shake my head, no, but he puts it back, I look around the car to see if anyone is getting this shit and every single person has their head turned as far away from me and this situation as possible, like only Japanese people can do, like I am emitting a blinding, sun-killing light and they have to turn their faces away, oh god, oh god don’t let it get in my eyes, eergh, eughhh, aghhhh, but there is nowhere left for their heads to turn cause if they turn them too far they will be up in someone’s FACE, and I say aloud, 

“nope”

and I get up and walk off the train and not sprint or anything but brisk walk down the train platform to a different car, get in it, go through the inner-car-door to a different car, and sit down in a free seat and pull out the goddamned Fire Emblem.  “Then it still takes for fucking ever for the train to get to Sannomiya” jesus christ i swear it took like 45 minutes for that train to go 10 minutes there was some crap on the track or maybe the kid ran into the conductor’s booth and started grabbin’ his coin purse or something holy god.

CURIOUS JAPANESE DOINKS OF THE PERIOD OF TIME ELAPSED BETWEEN BEFORE AND NOW
– Gotta give a presentation in the computer class at night school here tonight, they told me “just do something” and so I am going to show them where I am from on Google maps then nervously stammer for the remaining 44 minutes
– Jessy is sick again somehow and my throat starts to act up every now and then but then gets better, it’s just kinda tellin’ me, hey, hey you, I could kill you if I wanted you know
– Wait does that count as a Japanese thing of the week
– The new Twinbow gummies come with a VITAMIN SOUR pouch in them now, you’re supposed to empty the sour pouch into the gummy pouch and shake it up to make them double sour, I did it and man they were lyin’
– I tried explaining some Iowa foods like a breaded tenderloin sandwich and tater tot casserole to some Japanese person the other day, that sure did not work out as I had planned
– Tomomi Itano is graduating from AKB48!!! How on earth will people find my blog via google search now without lots of references to tomomi itano duckface tomomi itano naked pictures akb 48 akb48 girls with mysterious smile and expressions cpt. pee pee jumbo book osaka dogfart game
– I kinda felt like going and doing something jappy during our upcoming three day weekend cause of the holiday, but instead Jessy scheduled us a dentist appointment ha ha ha thanks baby
– Wait does that count as something Japanese
END OF CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS

The other night I went to a Sukiya place for dinner with my peeps, it is my favorite “beef bowl” place and man it sure was good.  For a minute I was like “oh gosh if i leave japan i cannot eat beef bowl at sukiya anymore” but then I remembered that I know how to cook and also you can buy “international foods” in America so I will just cook it and pretend I am at Sukiya when I eat it. Or maybe I could just eat 30 pounds of awesome Texas barbecue and Mexican food, yeah I think I will do that instead.

Speaking of food, last night I made a food my grandfather used to fondly refer to as Shit on a Shingle, though I don’t know how fondly.  Turns out that apparently I love to eat shit.  I am a shit eater

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Many foreigners have come and gone

I’m eating a piece of Pumpkin-not-cake-not-bread baked thing, prepared by my “head teacher” who speaks shocking, disorienting, English that would be almost perfect except for the occasional times he just doesn’t know a word. Imagine conversing with a good friend of yours but then every now and then you bust out a sentence like “My sooth-saying has been verily challenged by your keen insight,” and then your friend says “what is keen?” He got the recipe off a website of some girl from Iowa who apparently posts recipes for baking things on the Internet. Remember when I used to post things on the Internet? The baked thing is not bad. I am eating it while drinking a paper container full of “abundant milk cocoa,” which tastes sort of like semi-notable chocolate milk. In the refrigerator are two ham and lettuce sandwiches, I am going to eat them later after the novelty of pumpkin thing wears off.

I took a really long trip to Thailand and Laos over the winter break, it was a thing. I only wrote anything down once in my notebook, because writing full on out my brain with a pencil and paper is too slow and I cannot keep up. This is what I wrote. I was gonna write more later, but then I did not, and the longer I don’t write something the more all I do is think about writing it instead of writing it. So here is what I have got from my trip, typed directly out of them pages and onto this screen.

STUFF I’VE GOT FROM MY TRIP

The first person we meet in Luang Prabang, which is a city in Laos, which apparently is a country, before anyone that seems interested in checking us into the hostel we’ve strolled up to, is a shorter, slightly more pathetically facial-haired version of a beanie-wearing young Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused era, named Reuter, or Rutger, or Ruben, maybe it was Ruben, or something.  He says yeah mate a lot and cheerses our 10,000 kip (~1 US dollar) beers over virtually anything it is possible to cheers, even the act of clinking the bottles themselves together, yeah mate what a nice sound I will cheers to that.

He is on holiday with his “crew,” literally all of which have followed him to this very hostel, ten or so of them.  I recognize the types but cannot be sure if they are merely emulations of the filthy backpackin’ hippies we all know from movies and Woodstock reels or if this is what passes for one now.  As we talk about our lives submerged in a bit of drink I notice for the first time in my life that I feel acutely older than someone I could theoretically consider a peer.  I think the phrase is “I remember when I was your age.”  I don’t say it but wonder if my relaxed disposition gives it away–I don’t have the energy necessary to chameleonize anymore, and I’ve seen where the roads lead.  The mystery of the unknown is gone.  Or maybe that’s just it, I can just make it out up ahead like a familiar billboard.

LiORdjf

When Rooper begins laying down “the rules” of what goes down here at the $3 a bed per night dorm-style hostel I feel like I’m actually back in college, I am eighteen years old.  I check out, my brain turns in the keys.  They go off to smoke and drink, I hit the sack at 8:30, the day after my New Year’s Eve in another country entirely, off a handful of zs.  Then I am awakened by a baby, or two, screaming and screaming.  And a rooster squawking so hard its voice gives out, which I did not know could happen.  And the tuk tuk drivers, who are insane, parked outside the place, revving their little motorcycle engines like if they do it hard enough some tourist will jar himself loose from the sky and fall into the back, pay him 500% the normal rate for a trip across town.

The next day most of them leave, a thing I am sure of because of the elephantine stomping that echoes through the old house.  I know it is old not only because it is old but because there is a handwritten sign in the lobby, pieced together presumably by the owner, using the English phrases that seemed appropriate to him at the time.

We shall never replace the building with modern luxuries like concrete and steel, it says, we will not alter the building and will preserve its natural history.  This note is glued to the wall, written in permanent marker.  Up around the top of the room, where the walls meet the ceiling, I can just see some ornate decorative painted designs that have at some point been painted over, I step on a hastily repaired piece of wood as I pace the room to check them out. It creaks a little bit.

WELP THAT IS IT

We did other things on our trip too. For instance, I took a propeller plane and tried to not be scared of anything, because my New Year’s Resolution this year was “don’t be afraid.” I tried to clarify the resolution with explanatory conditions but can’t quite get it perfect the way I want though. Don’t be afraid of anything!!! seems a little broad, we should probably fear some things. But then if I start making exceptions I have to consider each time I am afraid of something if it’s a thing I am allowed to be afraid of, which is just bullshit so maybe I should leave it, don’t be afraid. Anyway I lived, on the propeller plane, then I bought some Valium without a prescription and a half-hour before my next flight I took some and woke up in the air with a mere half-hour to go, that worked pretty well.

I ate lots of food out of dirty filthy street carts and paid almost nothing for it, except my life. I drank lots and lots of beer and slept in beds next to strangers. One day I took a “cooking” class and didn’t really learn anything. I saw three movies. On New Year’s Eve, a neat band rocked my head off in a small bar while we drank Coca-Cola and gin out of a literal plastic bucket with straws, maybe four of us to a bucket. I was propositioned by suit tailors approximately eighty-five times. Before we came home to Japan I bought a cheap duffle bag and went to the supermarket, then filled it with food and checked it as my piece of luggage.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LAST HOW MANY FUCKING MONTHS HAS IT BEEN NOW
– There is a new convenience store next to the exit for my usual station, it is a FamilyMart which is maybe my favorite kind, and I actually thought “finally, a new convenience store” even though there are already two of them on my way to work within three minutes walk of each other but I am so damned sick of them ooooohhhhh
– The yen is tanking because everything in the country I guess is turning to shit
– One of my short stories that I like got translated into Japanese by a couple friends of mine, I would show you it but it’s all in Japanese
– I bought a new kind of gum, it’s called “Megashaki” and inside each huge piece is a reservoir of sour Pop Rocks goop and you are like “yowza” when you bite it
– You can buy 7-Up here now
THAT IS OK I GUESS

I added up all the words in every Nom a Day I have ever written the other day, it was some crazy number like 132,000 words which would be really great if it was anything worth a damn!

But it is just this stuff.

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He ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends

If there’s a single decent thing about summer it is that it reminds me that life isn’t always this shitty like it is now, that no matter how much I hate sweating to death and being sapped of energy and moving, at all, things by default will be better when winter rolls around again. You ever heard of that made up mental illness called “SAD” which is short for seasonal affected disorder only I think they say it is from people who have no sunlight? Maybe I am the opposite of that. TOO MUCH SUN. Anyway, I don’t know how long it took me, in my life, to realize that I had seasonal preferences. Maybe it wasn’t until I even came to Japan that, like with my declared religious belief, favorite food, “hobbies,” and other menial answers to frequently asked questions, I firmly decided to Ultimately Choose that winter was my favorite and I hate summer. It just makes things easier, since nobody understands my ambling, self-exploratory responses that play around the edges of answers like people fingering the ridges of a quarter with the end of their thumbnail. One word answers are king here, where people would rather not have to work to understand what I’ve just said.

Maybe part of it is that there is literally nothing I would ever enjoy doing that would be much better in summer than it would be in winter, appropriately clothed at least. Beach party? Pf. WINTER beach party? Sign me up. Grilling outside in the scorching heat? Fuh. Cooking a pot of stew over a log fire while exposed to the elements? YEAH! What I mean is just that unless the occasion is “being scantily clothed outside,” and actually enjoying it, I will take winter, especially this pussy willow Kobe winter, where At Freezing makes people bitch and complain, and I am like “ah, this is great.”

On my sweaty walk home from a small office party last night, some crazy man followed me and my coworker through the ticket gate (he ducked under the barrier to avoid paying), then followed us onto our train, and for a few stops repeatedly gestured toward me while speaking to other random people sitting down, trying desperately to ignore him. He was saying stuff in Japanese like “hey, check out this foreign guy, don’t you want to take a picture of him, I bet he is American, they sure beat us in the war, they sure did their best in that war didn’t they, look at this tall gaijin, he sure ain’t Japanese.” I told me coworker that in America we have a nice phrase that goes something like “fuck off” that we would say to annoying idiots like this, but in Japan it is generally accepted that if you pick a fight, absolutely nobody else is going to help you, look at you, or say anything at all. I turned my back to him, occasionally making eye contact with other horrified passengers, a stupefied grin on my face, shrugging my shoulders like Michael Jordan hittin’ ethereal threes. “Sorry dudes, I just am so foreign.” then i killed the guy

WEIRD SHIT THAT SHOULD SEEM WEIRDER THAN IT DOES TO ME BUT I HAVE BEEN HERE TOO LONG
– Didn’t have my hanky yesterday cause I washed it and it needed to dry, felt tangibly uncomfortable all day with no hanky to dab my forehead with
– I ate a cow’s tongue last night and actually thought it was delicious
– Drinking almost exclusively green tea, am beginning to be able to tell the slight differences between different types
– Fake bands made of fake high-school girls wearing real bikinis continue their relentless popularity, “obviously”
– Of course you can’t buy beans in the grocery store, why would they need strange ethnic foods like beans in the normal supermarket
ENOUGH

I’m taking three days off next week for summer leave, during which I plan to cook awesome food and visit a local beer brewery. For some reason I am thinking that the perfect accompaniment to my vacation would be a viewing of Doctor Zhivago, I am truly becoming insufferable.

Love,
Brandon

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Look at what I’ve done

It’s been forever in here, mainly because I’ve put my authorial weight back behind N-Sider and all the writing I do ends up being game stuff that shows up there instead of here. For the last six weeks I have literally had whooping cough, I went to the doctor’s place twice and spent all kinds of time for them to tell me that. I even got a chest CT scan, it felt like I was in Ghost in the Shell or something with all this crazy machines.

It’s been three years since I came to Japan, and most of the things I’m doing are the same as they were last year at this time. The heat is disgusting and oppressive, the air conditioner is doing its job. My classes are over until September and finals are finished, so I’ve mostly been wasting time doing nothing. I have to renew my residence status here for Japan pretty soon so they don’t extradite me to a place that is not Japan.

Mainly, to you, self, and people who read this, I am sorry! I always prided myself on at least writing something in each calendar month, but I missed last month, and that is just terrible.

I already wrote an article for the site today too and I don’t have it in me, I’m reaching down there for something but there isn’t anything.

You could do what I do sometimes and read what I was doing a year ago at this time. That is what I’ll do, while I remember what it was like to have something to say. Three years really oughta be the longest I ever stay anywhere, this is liable to make a man wacky in the brains, this comfort.

I played in Joe Louis in a playoff game

My predisposition to “just going with it” has led me somehow to, through a series of 23% understood entirely-Japanese conversations with the principal of the night school I work at on Wednesday nights, register Jessica and I for a volunteer, 250-person chorus that we must attend practices for ten times between now and December. It culminates in a December 8th concert at a music hall in neighboring Akashi, where I will, surrounded by legions of middle-aged Japanese men likely possessing far greater vocal ability than I (though their karaoke skills are no indication), sing Beethoven songs for the locals while wearing a black suit. This might sound enjoyable if I had ever been a part of any choir in my post-fifth-grade life, or even enjoyed singing when not completely inebriated. According to Google’s automatic translation of the event page, we are to be the “protect food Jiro response rate” chorus.

While I filled out the papers, trying my hardest to conjure up the Japanese necessary to say I really couldn’t do it, or anything whatsoever, I had to mark whether I was a tenor or a bass, a point of self-knowledge I do not even slightly possess. Principal marked bass for me because he said “it sounds like this” and then sang “la la la la” and then marked it. There is a seventy dollar entry fee! Ostensibly it covers the costs of some big party we have or something, but I couldn’t figure out when the party is. We also get a CD and some sheet music or whatever, I don’t know how this shit works. I can’t even read the damned paper. I guess I’m supposed to go to this place on the map next Thursday after work. Someone might call me or something? It’s on the second floor of a building in a place I’ve never been. Jessy will be off to goddamned Australia so I will be going it alone the first week.

“fuck”

It’s getting to be summer which means it’s time for that annual tradition of “Cool Biz,” the guilt-mandated effort to wear dorky short-sleeved dress shirts with no ties or jackets so that we can keep the air conditioner barely running and sweat to death in the name of conserving energy for our soon-to-be-powerless country that has no nuclear reactors running. Another thing that it means is that it’s time for seasonal Pepsi, and this year it’s a doozy! “Salty Watermelon Pepsi,” which releases July 24th. Signs you’re in Japan: a soda release date is announced almost two months in advance of the product launch, and it finds immediate coverage all over the news.

I’ve been playing a game lately on my home video game console called Yakuza 4. It’s kind of a open-world game that takes place in Tokyo, and you play as some hardass and you run around and do minigames. I spent probably four hours last night doing a minigame that isn’t even really a game, where you click some buttons to set a training regimen for your virtual dojo’s virtual recruit, and his stats go up, and then you enter him in tournaments and he fights, only you don’t even get to fight with him you just WATCH HIM. But for some reason I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it it was like the old days, hammering away at the button to make the number go up, but why, why?!

It reminded me of my first experience in life where I was fully able to rationally recognize I had “wasted time.” It was when I was maybe ten years old or so and I had rented Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball for Super Nintendo. I got it home and spent all day playing. After a while I had figured out how to break the game, just had to keep grinding away. I think I needed $3 million to buy Bill Laimbeer himself. The whole time I remember some of my family was there, they were playing in the other room or watching a movie or whatever, and I was like “hey sounds fun but the job has to be done,” and so I kept playing to get money to buy Bill Laimbeer. Hours passed! Hours! Playing Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball! And then, eventually, I got the money to buy him. Oh! How sweet it was gonna be. I bought up that old white turd and stuck him in the fuckin’ game, he sure was the best player. And then I went out to check the other room and see what fun everyone was having, but it was too late. It was time for them to GO HOME. I ground the gears for a second. “What have I been doing with my life? All this shit for Bill Laimbeer?” I suddenly realized the ultimate futility of my actions, of the actions of humanity as a goal, in microcosmic space: burning my life away doing the same thing over and over to get three million dollars so I could buy Bill Laimbeer. Obviously I learned my lesson and never spent time on video games again.

Look at that piece of shit!

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WHAT
– Today’s beverage of choice, which has for reasons I will never fully comprehend, become a totally normally-named grapefruit-tasting drink to me, called “POCARI SWEAT”
– The lady who called me on the phone last night and said like “hi mister ryota ishikawa” and I was like “that’s not me chigaimasu chigaimasu” and she was like “oh that’s not you” and I was like “nope not” and she was like “well do you have a minute to talk about insurance” and I was like “aha excuse me” and I hung up even though we don’t really “hang up” anymore we just push a button and it isn’t even a button anymore just a picture on a screen that says “end call”
– The lesson I’m currently teaching on Japanese haiku and English haiku and how we can use the haiku form to make English poems, during which I write a haiku poem in Japanese on the board to explain it and then someone points out that I should have made this one line before the other one in stroke order even though I don’t bother to point out that when they say “I like to watch birds frying” it doesn’t mean what they think it means
what what

The other day in front of the elevators some young kids were waving these wands around to make big bubbles and then running away, leaving them suspended in the air. A lady and I happened to cross paths where the bubbles floated, and for some reason both of us stopped right there in the middle of the sidewalk, separated by this wall of shiny orbs, wondering if it really was safe to just walk right through and pop the bubbles, these temporary little things with no feelings or emotions that took less than a second to create. I walked around the side, on the grass, to avoid the bubbles, wondering for a second how many little bugs I was stomping to death in the name of beauty! A perilous existence up here in me.

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Kissing a girl who is leaning away from you

At a fancy table I mentally fidget with my lines–I am a couple minutes away from getting up in front of everyone who holds any sort of employment at my school to give a short speech in Japanese. We’re all piled into a fancy dining room on an upper floor of the ridiculous monstrosity the “Meriken Park Oriental Hotel,” a triple-A lodgery which according to Wikipedia was designed by “a corporation” to resemble a luxury ocean liner “for some reason.” If you could move the upper image on my website a little to the side, you’d see it there, a staple of the waterfront view. I’ve had a few beers at this point, though it’s hard to say exactly how many due to the irritating yet awesome Japanese office party custom of always refilling the drinks of anyone next to you any time you see they aren’t completely full. When they call my name I realize that the speeches everyone else have given have been pithy, short introductory missives, cursory pap delivered obligatorily in the native language of this country. Mine is a two-and-a-half minute jaunt down ha-ha road, originally penned by myself in simple English, simplified even further for easy translation, translated by a co-teacher of mine, then personally re-simplified to make the Japanese sound like it could theoretically have been pieced together by my infant brain. Before I get up there, I realize I have no idea what the fuck I have done.

it's on the right

The topic of the speech, an introduction and farewell to one of my coworkers, who has been recently transferred to another school but returns tonight to receive the honor of this speech (along with a couple envelopes of money from the PTA), is the concept of the relative humor that we share, and how sometimes during our conversations in English, neither of us knew exactly what was funny and what wasn’t, leading us to ignore jokes and laugh at the mundane, which is perfectly enough what I tend to do even if I can understand you. In a case of art imitating life (intentionally), my speech, written in English and delivered in Japanese, finds itself bouncing around in my mind like an enigmatic memory, constantly analyzed: which section of this is precisely when “the joke” comes out? Will their sensibilities allow them to find it funny, or will they, fearing staff retribution, laugh only at the safe parts? Perhaps appropriately, even though I analyze my own speech on numerous occasions prior to delivering it, as I orate in a foreign language I barely understand even as speaking it, I receive laughs at unplanned junctures, and my perfect pronunciation of “Iwasaki-sensei wa naze KONna ni waratterundaroukaaaaa” gets only a few titters. Jessy suggests that perhaps the inflection of the line was too good, making me sound serious “why the hell were you laughin’ at that, Iwasaki?!” instead of endearing “wonder why she’d laugh at that, hmm!” It’s happiest for me to imagine that for just a moment I sound like a violent, rough-and-tumble Japanese gangster with a knife to the throat of my dear old lady coworker, but not at all out of line for me to believe that, as with English, they just can’t tell if I am being sarcastic or not. Then I tell them all to choke on their fried mayonnaise shrimp and flip themselves inside out.

One teacher later on in the evening stops by to refill my drink for the seven-hundredth time and tells me that my speech was “by far” the best one of the night, which mentally I assume is because I had actually written one and liken to defeating a gang of Antarctican six-year-olds in the indoor-heating knowledge Olympics. Still, the victory is sweet, sweet like Chinese wine, which I glug down until I cannot remember who I am. Another office party victory, filling myself up with open bar liquids and Chinese food that is too fancy for me to appreciate.

Yesterday’s solar eclipse offered the fun opportunity to watch various Japanese humans stop themselves in their tracks and stare directly up at the sun, searing their corneas into ash. I, never one to over-prepare, determined that I did not need the special glasses and that taking a peek using the reflection of my cellular telephone screen would be enough. It kind of was, I could see that the sun looked like a little ring in the sky. I read a story that at a zoo here all the lemurs went apeshit cause it got dark so they thought it was night and then it turned day again. I like to imagine how crazy that crap must be to you if you are a lemur. “Holy shit, the day only lasted five minutes and now it is night again, does that mean there is a new episode of Jeopardy already or.” Knowing that, if I was privy to that information ahead of time, I think instead of just planning to watch the eclipse I’d have tried to get me a ticket to the zoo and go watch the lemurs go crazy instead.

I also enjoyed considering what the prevailing mentality must have been way back in the turgid-cortex brainflop days, before people could understand at all what was happening and perhaps, for a time, assumed that this was truly the end of days. Did they resort to the mentalities of unrestrained monkeys, ranting and raving? Maybe for a time they all picked up ancient acoustic guitars and told it near the train station, hurry and adopt Our Lord And Savior before it is too late! At any rate, by the time I was at my desk doing my “job” which during midterms this year means “nothing,” things in outer space were all back to normal. I celebrated by eating a old rice cracker I found in my desk that tasted kind of like dried squid for some reason, and maybe the reason is that they made it taste that way on purpose.

Defying the odds, Mello Yello is somehow back, or maybe it just never left and they’ve brought it into higher distribution for the summer. I bought a bottle because I missed seeing it, which might lend some credence to the Coca-Cola company’s theory of seasonality. Surely if it had been here all along I’d have paid it no attention, a cruel and shocking allegory for what my daily life truly amounts to as I pump on through the days and nights. A few weeks ago just to make things different I switched the living room again. That’s when I move all the stuff that’s on the north wall to the south wall, and move the stuff on the south wall to the north wall. It tricks me into believing things are fresh and new, regardless of whether they are or not.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE LATELY
– Osaka’s mayor, who is on a personal crusade to fire anyone who has tattoos, is prohibiting dance clubs from allowing dancing, and who apparently never saw the movie Footloose and thinks the current year is 1928
– The popular American movie “The Avengers,” which, despite having been out in America for a few weeks, will not release in Japan until August 17th, by which point several people who are alive today will certainly be dead
– Television
OH THAT WILL BE FINE

I’ve been doing a tongue twisters lesson in class for the last week or so and I have so many stupid tongue twisters memorized that I cannot handle it. If two witches could watch two watches which witch would watch which watch ripe white wheat reapers reap ripe white wheat right we’re real rear wheels scizzors sizzle thistles fizzle six thick thistle sticks eleven benevolent elephants betty botter made a batch of bitter batter but with butter it was better rory the warrior and roger the worrier were reared wrongly in a rural brewery.

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A good imagination and a pile of dung

When I am out on Hanshin line along the bay and we bust outta the tunnel and I see the sun over the water on my way to blind school, I sometimes start thinking about dog shit. Because I know I’ll run into it, and all it entails, very soon. I get it, dog owners, sometimes you’re walking your dog and it just blows a hollow point load into the concrete, it just went off officer yes I have a permit, but you don’t have your little doggy crap bags or whatever you use to pick up its hot log so you just leave it there. Do you know who you piss off? The little old lady (or guy but I prefer to imagine it is a lady!) who leaves these fucking things next to the shit!

Yes, you can be of limited vision and still notice the variety of yellow, laminated triangular cards peppering the Takinochaya park on Thursday morning, quaintly placed near dog wads of assorted vintage, for your convenience. The text on the cards says something like “Let’s all pick up our dog poopy.” They are perhaps the most perfect example of non-confrontational Japanese passive-aggressiveness that I can specifically cite with photos. There are a few layers of amusement here, starting with the most obvious, I guess, that obviously this gal at some point lost her tenuous foothold on sanity and decided once and for all that she would put a stop to all this dog wad lying around by “almost doing something about it” that had nothing to do with actually removing the keester cakes from the concrete. Then, she set about not only making the signs, but making multiple signs, which must have involved a computer since they are printed, and involved special yellow paper, and involved lamination, a significant step. These things are goddamned laminated!

I like to imagine her routine, during which she teeters on down to the old park at the crack of dawn to carefully examine the park for any fresh grogans, then plucks her signs from the oldest, most disintegrated growlers and places them on the fresh ones, held steadfast against the elements by nice hefty rocks. “Ah yes,” she reflects. “The park sure looks a lot nicer with all these bright yellow notices pointing out how many lawn sausages we are currently playing host to.”

For me, they serve as a sort of Hollywood star map, pointing out the best places to catch a glimpse of the newest celebrity. I coast past one that marks only the skeletal remains of an amorphous deposit, evokes the memory of a whisper: “I once was, then was again, and now only the spirit persists.” Secretly, I want to waddle over to the hedges and chisel a grunt sculpture for her to discover the next day. It will shake the foundations of her earth, and she will need to print and laminate much larger cards.

CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– I recently purchased a beverage which was a soda that claimed to feature an “adult taste” of apples and hops
– In Japan, the Filet-o-Fish at McDonald’s is a breakfast sandwich, which means I can get one with a drink in the morning for the meager sum of 200 yen
– I have not been able to find fucking cauliflower for the last five goddamned days
– Last weekend in Osaka we ate at a brick-oven Italian place with some friends and I got a “large” calzone which was over twenty dollars and had a partially-cooked egg inside it for some reason
– A program on television last night featured “hilarious foreigners” who posted videos of themselves on YouTube in which they are badly singing and playing Japanese anime songs, they were roundly mocked to my amusement and delight
– Found clearance-priced boxes of orzo at the grocery store the other day, it is called “risoni” here and boy I sure am loving it
– There is an advertisement for a video game on the screens in the JR station, it is based off a cartoon and the name of it is “Milky Holmes,” this is totally normal
LIFE GOES ON

As I waited to cross the street on my way to night school today I heard someone to the right of me say “how’s it going,” which is not something I often hear “while mingling in the public sector.” I turned my head to see who it was and it was some guy who looked kind of like the food vendor in Blade Runner. He seemed Asian but was speaking flawless English. He said he lived in Georgia and that he was an “expert in fifteen languages.” He followed me as I walked up the street to school, making intelligent but oddly non-sequitur remarks outside the edges of whatever temporal conversation we happened to be having as I proceeded. He told me he had two hundred and fifty addresses, “just for fun,” and that he couldn’t even remember them, but it was just something you gotta do, have some addresses.

Before we parted he started to say and spell words that were not words, asking if I knew them, like Sngaus and Thahdg, and I said man, I don’t know what that is, and he said you know, the pronunciation of English you gotta teach them students of yours, and I was like yeah, I know. Even now I am not sure if it was real life or a waking dream, an extension of my everdeath, the whims of the swirling winds blowing past my skeletal remains like the aurora borealis, dandelion seeds on the tradewinds caressing my prefrontal cortex like so much fossilized dog ejecta.

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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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If the flower is to be beautiful

As if on cue, as is typical with Japanese weather, suddenly today it doesn’t suck total mung, and it’s fifty Fahrenheit and the sun be glowin, people are stopping to look at each other’s dogs again, and walking with their heads up, and I took off my scarf and felt great about it. Today would be March if it weren’t for The Leap Year, a day that happens as often as the summer olympics. I am drinking a 7UP, which up until recently you couldn’t really get in Japan except in its “CLEAR DRY” weird sugar-free version, and oh it is nice. In fact, it almost makes up for the fact that Japan has now in the last year or so briefly introduced and then immediately discontinued Sprite, Mello Yello, and Citra.

We’re slowly gearing up for our trip to Okinawa, on which we leave in about two weeks. Okinawa is pretty much the last place in Japan that I have really wanted to visit and still haven’t, so I’m looking forward to it. I heard the food down there is real outta line. Okinawan cuisine in general is markedly different from the mainland, so they say, and they even have their own beer called Orion, which I have had canned and which tastes like every goddamned other Japanese beer but I will still drink myself stupid. They also have taco rice! Taco rice is like a big taco in a bowl, but instead of a tortilla or a shell, it is rice. Taco rice is awesome. Anyway, despite it being basically summer down there and being all kind of beaches and shit, it will still be something new and different and that is really all I ask.

japan in one photograph

JAPANESE STUFF OF THE LATELY
– “Nama pasta,” which is fresh pasta in little plastic bags in the cooler that you boil at home, and which seems like a groundbreaking new concept to me despite the fact I am sure we had this shit in the states and I just never bought it cause I was a tightwad
– This French/Japanese newscaster girl Christel Takigawa who is in all kinds of commercials now and who I will probably have to divorce Jessy for pretty soon sorry jess
– Went to a shabu-shabu restaurant last Friday and ate so much meat that I was like “oh god, I ate so much meat” then I drank a bunch of sake and some whisky and beat up my friends in real life in Street Fighter IV
– This new game show called TORE! which you should really click here to watch some of where talent stars have to answer silly word game questions or get shoved by foam blocks into a bottomless pit, among other ridiculous challenges, it is basically the second best show on Japanese TV behind VS. ARASHI
THAT’LL DO PIG

DOWNER ENDING

I “dealt with” the news that I received yesterday that one of my young students from the blind school had passed away unexpectedly of the flu by googling his last name + インフルエンザ, assuming that the hyper-paranoid infuruenza fearing gods would have already sortied and converged on the news. I tried his name and the city, I tried the school’s webpage, but there is only nothing, just an e-mail from a co-teacher that one of my students, who I had just talked to about foods in Thursday’s lesson, was a hundred and four on Sunday and dead by Monday. I found myself strangely grasping for something, perhaps trying to embrace the false but comforting thought that somewhere there exists a permanence to replace the idea of impermanence, an external source, a confirmation, the idea that somewhere someone has written something, set it up somehow like I always have to do for myself.

One of the things that fucks me most about it is that pervasive Japanese school mentality this whole time that I have completely disregarded as being a total farce, that Oh The Flu Menace, and “we wear facemasks” and “we sanitize our hands” and “we cancel large school assemblies because of flu” but then I mean, they wash their hands in freezing cold water, they turn on the heaters in the rooms and leave the windows open, and whups, one of our students died of the flu, which means they either their bullshit straight up Doesn’t Work or without the worthless masks half the school would be dead, I have no goddamned idea.

All I can remember is we last talked about fried chicken, and he thought it sounded delicious, and we went to lunch which was not fried chicken, and he could never remember what came after August (Septoner). At Christmas he told me that what he wanted for Christmas was Yui, another one of my young students who wears enormous coke-bottle glasses and loves dogs. I wrote two simple English stories for her once about dogs so she would have some dog-fiction. One of them is named Gourmet Dog and it features Dog President Bark Obwanma, “wan” being the Japanese noise for the sound dogs make. I also wrote Skydog, which is basically the story of Star Wars. I wrote it only so I could make a character named Wan Solo.

AN ABRIDGED VERSION OF SKYDOG, BY BRANDON

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, it was Thursday. A dog took a walk. His name was Skydog. He was a small dog and he had blue hair. Skydog wanted to go on the space shuttle. But he had to do his homework first.

On Friday, Skydog met Wan Solo in the city.

Wan Solo said “I have a space shuttle. Let’s go to space together!”

They went to space very fast!

But, in space, there was a big star. It was so hot! It was dangerous to the space shuttle.

“Maybe we can never go home!” said Wan Solo.

But Skydog had a plan, because he studied science every day. He barked very loud.

“Bark bark bark!!”

Then, the big star went away.

Skydog, Wan Solo, and all but one of their friends got presents.

THE END

Anyway, he will not get Yui for Christmas. I also used to put a chicken hat on his head during Halloween dress-up days, which seems to be too many chicken-related memories for one person. I believe that it hasn’t affected me in the sense that composure-wise, I am the same person, and I still joke with Jessy about horrible terrible things, and I still laugh at stupid crap, and I still cook supper and drink tasty drinks and swat Kiki around. I suppose if you teach for long enough and meet enough people it’s bound to happen, especially at a school where kids have disabilities of various sorts. But it’s lodged in there somewhere, the idea of it, without any other pretense, so there it stays. I don’t feel less or more but it’s just stuck, cause I thought about it while I was going to sleep last night, not with any real feeling but there it was, and here we are again, even though I don’t feel like I need to say anything. But I was googling for an article, and I guess I need there to be something about chicken hat boy, who has ceased to exist, even if the article is only for me. So here it is, for now or later.

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