I have taken to occasionally enjoying a cigar on my Tuesday evenings, just a small one. I usually pick one out from the pack tenderly like I’m examining a flip-top coffin full of grasshoppers, confused but interested in its grotesqueness. The ritual is still new to me. They are just little guys, the size of golf pencils, and finish in something like ten minutes, if I am paying attention to what I am doing. I always wanted to be a cigar smoker, but never a smoker. There have been times in my life when I’ve smoked, though I never considered my smoking making me one who smokes, just a man who at this time, and during times occasional in the past and future, has and will do the same.
It is a strangely isolated pursuit for me, most chiefly because of how I must do it. I can’t just curl up in my chair with a tiny implement and a game controller, or puff away in the kitchen. I need to proceed outside to my balcony, structured more for utility than enjoyment, and drag on among my drying clothes and air conditioning vent fan. I sit on the concrete, back against my sliding glass door, and peer between socks or undergarments out into the evening. On floor seven surrounded by monolithic apartment buildings I feel totally alone but also as though I am being watched–by anyone, by everyone, by someone, at least. But I am also low enough to the ground that I can peer over the railing at the people biking or walking. They are surely oblivious to the tiny man up on floor seven having a novel Cuban cigar and barely peeking through his railing. A miniature thrill.
I focus on the tastes that I notice: warm flavors, the tinge of wood, of sweetness. On the Internet they tell me that people often associate their cigars with spiciness, and it becomes immediately apparent, like eating chocolate with chilis in it. You are supposed to swish the smoke around in your mouth but not inhale it as you do with other smoked material. I do it wrong the first few times and realize my error.
This is my solitude, my Japanese isolation. I stream music through my Playstation and pump it out the screen door for something to break the ambient distance-grind of whining motorcycles.
I usually make it about seven minutes before going back inside.
It’s 27 degrees today, which is much hotter than it sounds to someone used to Fahrenheit, though I cannot give you the exact number without working to discover it. Me, I haven’t been fully able to internalize the conversion scales, both due to their complexity and owing to the fact that all it would do would be allow me to transpose one meaningless number for another. Instead, what I do know is that 27 feels about like this: uncomfortable, moist, the absence of pleasantness. The Firm Awareness that spring is over and I don’t want to be outside anymore. Each degree higher adds another level of discomfort. When we get to 30 or 31, as we were upon my arrival in Japan, the repeated cries of “hot, hot” throughout the office will be the only things I hear from the staff members that aren’t blowing days of paid time off in a row.
I have made it another week without turning on the apartment air conditioner, a minor achievement since I would have done it last night without Jessy’s unreasoned, threatless warnings not to. It is both my failing as an independent man and my escalating success as a future husband that I credit with this blind, defeatist patience. I have recognized that it is worth even less to get what I want than it is to preserve the effort I would need to expend to argue with that beast in my own defense. Hi, Jessy!
Things are as busy as they have been for a month or so now. The day job, evening Japanese classes, teaching night school, social functions of all sorts, and natural human fatigue are all working together to keep me from cooking up any magnificent schemes, the kinds of things testament to the potential of guys with too much time on their hands (can openers built from LEGO bricks, balloon-popping laser guns harvested from CD drives, pizzas topped with cheeseburgers). I tell myself on occasion that it is for the best, that this routine busy-ness will allow me to cherish the times I do have free. But it is a lie. When I find myself with nothing to do I am compelled merely to enjoy a beer and my wild cherry incense, staring blankly at the match-up screen for Super Street Fighter IV. True relaxation?
So what I’ve ultimately decided is that I am probably happier busy, but just get tired too quickly. I’ve gone from compulsively waking up at 6:45 to waking up at 6:00, and the last two days it’s been 5:15 with no desire to go back to bed. This usually results in my getting home from the day around 9:20 and immediately falling asleep on the living room rug while Jessy idles away on the PC until one a.m. for no reason. Did I mention it’s really hot right now?
As if to make matters somehow better, I received in the mail yesterday two video games I’ve been waiting on for a while, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. A joke! A cruel fucking joke from the universe to me. The bright spot at the end of this ridiculous tunnel is that Japanese classes go on hiatus beginning at the end of the month, and so do classes for summer break, leaving essentially the whole of July and August rather stress free. I will go in to the office as usual, but need not do any teaching or studying, and things will be good except for the Brutal Humid Heat!
As I mentioned last week, I did indeed make it to Osaka’s Nipponbashi (or Den Den Town), the Kansai area otaku’s holy Mecca of all things anime and retro-gaming. Inside one store, Englishized from the Japanese as “Retro TV Game Revival,” I found my Famicom, modified with AV cables so it can work on modern TVs. Work it does–and reminds me of the better (worse) times, when the mere display of an image on the TV was good enough to classify your system as working. The picture this thing puts out is Not Good, especially compared to the flawless output of my magical homebrewed Wii retrobox paradise. But it does output, which I suppose is all I ask. The controller cables are also a comical length, maybe three feet? And hardwired directly into the system. Joy!
JAPANESE BEE’S KNEES
– The new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, a man who is known mostly for being not from a political family, and for being prone to irateness
– Goddamned McDonalds, who took my favorite menu item, the Juicy Chicken Akatogarashi (red spicy deep fried chicken sandwich), which has been a regular menu item since I arrived last August, off the stupid menu and replaced it with nothing of any value
– The new Evangelion 2.22 movie finally coming out on Blu-ray and being the highest selling Blu-ray in Japanese consumer history
– A man in the station today, who on his bag bore a rubber keychain with an emblem reading in all capital block letters, “SUPERMARKET FANTASY,” and the consideration mentally of what exactly such a thing might be
– Online shopping in Japan, a process during which you select not only the exact day but the down-to-the-hour time range that you want the goods to be delivered (up to 9 p.m. even on weekends), and then pay the courier in cash for your stuff when he arrives
– New Cup Noodle flavor “MEAT KING,” which is loaded with chunks of dehydrated, brown-colored salty meat, and little bits of dehydrated chickeny meat, and which is really delicious, at least about as delicious as Cup Noodle can get
– The vending machines, which all humorously were switched out to stop offering the hot versions of their drinks on June 1st just as all the office workers changed their wardrobes
FEE FI FO FUM
I managed to order a random grab bag of ten Famicom cartridges with my cell phone entirely in Japanese last week, and they were delivered COD to my apartment tonight. More and more I come under the impression that my Famicom will be used less as a legitimate gaming device, and mostly as the tool with which to humorously cruise through these grab bags of cheap games. I am surprisingly okay with this. Inside this first bag, among the original Super Mario Bros., Tiny Toon Adventures 2, and some mahjong game, was a copy of a game literally translated as Princess Tomato of the Kingdom of Salad. It got an English release in 1991, the accomplishing of which I am sure involved some sort of miracle on the part of the guy pitching that one to the board (okay, you are a princess, and you are a tomato, and you are in a kingdom made of salad, and the game is a text adventure entirely in Japanese, and I want to translate it and sell it to kids for fifty dollars each). I will tell you what the man likely did after the board of directors gave him the go-ahead for that one: sat on his balcony and smoked a nice cigar, even if he wasn’t sure why.