Tag Archives: america

A faded word on an old bumper sticker

If I really add them all up, I suppose I am now on my 14th paying actual job, which means that I have gone through the processes of getting to know my coworkers, finding break rooms, learning about the surrounding eateries, crunching out the commute routes, and mentally calculating the maximum possible amount of weeks/months/years I could theoretically do This Job Without Going Crazy more times than I could count on both hands and a three fingered foot.

Before Christmas I worked in “the greeting cards sector” and now I am technically working for a publishing company. What I do is basically email people, we use the AP style so I have to say email instead of e-mail now which I mean, come on, but whereas Japan saw me be a foreigner for money, I am now a professional organizer, I get information from one party, pick two parties to do a job for a fourth party, and then get it put all together to the satisfaction of all parties before passing it to the fifth party to print in the magazine to be read by an amount of other parties. I keep them all straight, I use GMail, my job is mails. I neither write nor photograph nor sell nor print, I just make sure everyone else does that stuff, and then I take all that stuff, and I give it to someone else. Also i look at google maps

Jessy and I drove 3,700 miles during a couple weeks over Christmas to go see everyone, man that was a lot of driving.

CURIOUS AMERICA THINGS OF THE NOW
– I used to think Japan had lots of flavors of stuff, let me tell you that America has the flavors, and so well-stocked, there are like eight flavors of Wheat Thins now, I was okay when it was “wheat” as the flavor
– Taco Bell constantly releases new products but most of them are just a burrito with the tortilla in a different shape
– It takes me half as long to go 25 miles to my new job as it did to go 5 from my apartment to work in Kobe
– The beer in this country sure is top notch
– Virtually every Chinese, Thai, Japanese, or Korean restaurant here serves things from every other country, they are all the same, they all have some name that includes “palace” or “paradise” or “royal” or “sushi” it does not matter nothing matters
– Everything is cheap
END OF THINGS

My grandma in her house has a folder which contains every single entry from this very online repository, the sum totality of Nom A Day, all that has ever been written. Apparently my aunt, while I was living in Japan, took to printing off a month or two of them on paper at a time and bringing them to my grandmother for her to read since she does not have a computer or cellular telephone or any of that “computer stuff” but she does have cordless phones though. She showed it to me when we went back to visit her. It is a fat manilla folder, tied together with string like some sort of historical archive, which I guess it now is, if Historical Archive is a title allowed to be assigned to a collection of musings about how Christel Takigawa is my future wife and talking about dog poop. She noted that I had mentioned her in the Nom A Day only a single time, I have now made it two.

She calls them my “print outs” and seemed concerned that because she had them I might somehow no longer have them, I explained to her that I am in possession of the “originals” though really I am not sure what an original even is since all this shit is just on the WordPress thing here. Last year I downloaded the whole thing outta curiosity to see how much writing it actually was when I used to put out a couple thousand words a week on it and was surprised to discover the total was 135,000 words, roughly three times longer than Fahrenheit 451 or a quarter of the size of War and Peace. All of that about Tomomi Itano wearing assless chaps while driving a golf cart in the winter.

It is either depressing or uplifting that I ran outta Nom steam as I got closer to America, maybe I just need to look harder at this weird old country to find everything that’s as fucked up about it as the entirety of my daily life in the land of the rising sun.

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Melancholy minus its charms

In about three months I’ll leave Japan for Dallas, a city I’ve never visited in a state I’ve never been to, much like every single place I’ve ever moved. It’s amazing how fleeting everything became so quickly, and already I find myself opening up cabinets to take stock of just what exactly I have forgotten I’ve owned in the last four years. In one bag, above our cupboards full of stashed foodstuffs that it is becoming increasingly clear we will never have enough time to eat, I discovered not only my last cell phone (the one I purchased when I got here) but also the cell phone before that, the one I used during my last couple years in Pittsburgh. Just looking at the fucking thing was like peering into a funeral parlor, peeking inside a coffin–did people really used to dress like this? The screen is the size of a Mamba. Could I turn it on if I wanted? If I did, could I get anything off it, this relic back before universal connectors and Wi-Fi? I spun it around in my hand a couple times just to remember how it felt.

I found my router, the one I had my dad send over for our Internet, which didn’t work when we switched providers. And my Wii cable, which doesn’t work in Japan but doesn’t matter cause I have a Wii U now. And a bunch of stuff for my 360, which broke months after I arrived. A charger for something I do not recognize. Four ethernet cables even though we use wireless now. A guitar strap for the guitar I replaced with a newer, better guitar that I probably can’t take home with me. When will this all be over?

I have considered cleaning up the apartment to be really nice and warm for when Jessy gets back from her week in Korea so that she might be suddenly aware that I am so great, but every time I think about it all I come up with is why should I clean when we are moving out in a little over two weeks? And then comes the oh shit oh shit I have to pack up the things I’m sending home, why do I have eight Famicoms, what the hell is all this shit, why do I have all this stuff, what the fuck was I thinking, maybe I should just stay here in Japan, no it’s too late, no it’s not yes it is you don’t really want to stay yeah you’re right no, no, yes no yes

Somewhere along the line here I committed the cardinal sin of transient men and decided consciously not only to Acquire Possesssions but mainly to acquire ones that serve as little more than souveniers, and now it will take boxes and boxes to send them back to America, a bed I have made and now must sleep in. I tell myself I’ll probably rather be with them than without them, during my imagined, impossible future in which I am happy and own a house and have a nice place to surround myself with everything I love, so I gather now while I can. And here we are.

I’m on the last day of “golden week,” that long holiday during which people who want to hate their lives attempt to travel Japan among everyone else who hates their lives, which is 88% of the population of the country. This year in an attempt to be part of the twelve percent basically I just stayed home and watched movies (Rocky III and IV, Titanic with director’s commentary, bizarre Italian crime movie Rulers of the City, and Bad Boys II followed by Bad Boys I, which was far inferior). I also took the opportunity to get rip-roarin’ drunk and fall asleep on my friend’s floor, someone put a pillow under my head I do not remember it.

I suppose this is what I wanted, really, that spark of unsettledness, of discomfort, of feeling, of change, despite the spurs. Everything difficult, from upset a rightsiding, another couple years of being the person I like being instead of the complacent bored fuck that sits around watching Rocky IV again.

curious japanese things of the lately
– Sure is gettin’ harder to fill this up each time
– Got an ice cream sandwich, that was kind of uncommon
– Switched the brand of yakisoba noodles I use in sobameshi to one that is a little thinner, it was a big improvement, what the fuck am i talking about
– Next weekend is our school culture festival, which means I have to work on Saturday and Sunday and it is gonna suck
– But I get that Monday off
– But Monday is my easy day goddammit why can’t I miss a Friday or something
end of things of there

I made curry the other day and it’s in the fridge. I’m getting hungry, which will at least give me something to do. What excitement!!!!!

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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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If I were Boyardee

A few observations, based on my students’ reactions to the things I brought back from America for them to look at, under the guise of a lesson plan:

Firstly, it’s true, everyone does want a Slinky. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese appeals to fifteen- and sixteen-year-old Japanese boys and girls and American toddlers alike (frequently heard comment, lovingly translated by me: “WANT TO EAT”). The kids are intimately familiar with the pyramid structure on the back of the dollar bill (“free mason free mason”). The students are impressed at photographs of big American pork chops. The students are adept at posing intriguing written questions on their comment sheets, such as:

“who is person drown in bill of 20$”
“Which do you like RICE RONI or Japanese sobameshi?”
“How many does Stride gum has?”
“Do you put fruits on Triscuit?”
“Do they eat cookies for lunch in America?”
“Can this candy eat?”
“Is ‘APPLE JACKS’ more popular than ‘CORN FROSTRY’ in America?”
“Is the kitty famous in America?”
“What is DORITOS NACHO CHIPS”

And perhaps, most interestingly, one group of four boys was absolutely obsessed with the can of Chef Boyardee, leaving me this comment sheet, containing a variety of questions and an artistic, tender drawing, based on the can’s illustrated portrait of Chef Boyardee:

I am a personal fan of the hypothetical question “If you were Boyardee, what would you do” though the existential ramifications of “Who is Boyardee” cannot be ignored. Italian food pioneer? Human-turned-marketing icon? A teacher suggested that perhaps Boyardee is like Colonel Sanders, a compelling argument I could not discredit. What is DORITOS NACHO CHIPS

At any rate, this lesson has firmly brought the hot wet American flair to this freezing winter at high school. The kids are endlessly interested in these bizarre American treasures, as rudimentary as they are. Who ever could have figured I’d get paid to show children such delights as packaged pastas, supermarket advertisements, and used train tickets, extolling them as sacred and rare artifacts? I celebrated the resounding success of my effortless lesson personally last Friday evening, getting so drunk off gin and tonic that by the time we made it to karaoke I was drinking straight whisky, believing that it was a highball because it “didn’t taste whiskey-y enough.” I then proceeded to select and ensemble sing the Happy Days theme song, repeatedly shake the tambourine, and then, apparently, and I am only stating this through hearsay, ram into my friend on the escalator, lose a single contact (confirmed the next morning), and then bet Jessy fifty cents that I would take the three headache pills that she gave me before I fell asleep (I lost the fifty cents). The next day I cooked two boxes of Macaroni and Cheese (WANT TO EAT) and everything was better.

Life without my computer is largely proceeding, with the only noticeable annoyances being that I am incapable of outputting downloaded television shows and movies to our television, and that I cannot add any books or music to my portable devices since my libraries were wiped out in the crash. I have taken the first step of ordering a new mounting bracket and SATA cable for the eventual new hard drive, though I first plan on running this final, really-it, totally-last-ditch software I got to see if I can possibly recover the pictures from the last eight months. But mostly, life is just the same as it ever was. Japanese class too proceeds on schedule, with the first review session finishing uneventfully.

In five weeks the third semester will be over, marking my first totally complete full school year (April to March), and leaving me with a repertoire of lessons running the full gamut. From here, the stress of lesson planning will assuredly be almost totally eliminated as I have a sufficient library of quick diversions and multi-week projects to pull from, only 4% of which have anything to do with Chef Boyardee.

LONGWINDED CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK
– McDonald’s has new burgers again this year with the second series of their “Big America” campaign, just as they did last winter. The first one this year is a new version of last year’s most popular “Texas Burger” with chili beans and other stuff. But the other, forthcoming ones are stranger: the “Idaho” has a slab of hash brown on it, while the curiously named “Miami Burger” has salsa and tortilla chips, two things I am not entirely sure the average American associates with Miami
– Monday marked the sixteenth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake that happened here in Kobe in 1995 and killed over six thousand people, destroying some part of almost every form of infrastructure that existed, sandwiching entire floors of office buildings, and setting fire to most of the old houses in the ward of Kobe where I work. We observed the day with a minute of silence in the morning, though I half expected one of those stupid election or nationalist trucks to round the corner with its rinky-dink loudspeaker music playing and ruin the whole damned thing
– I today had a lunch-time conversation with one of my co-workers entirely in Japanese, about where I lived, where we got on the train, and what we did for winter vacation. From what I can make out, he lives in Suzurandai, has two kids in Kyoto and one in Tottori, we both agree that there’s nothing to do on Port Island, and octopus tall sixteen dancing must captain ship frequent
– Though an entire box of Rice-a-Roni contains about 900 calories when prepared, making it “unhealthy food” in the eyes of my students and coworkers, the packaged bento I purchased today, consisting of beef with sauce on rice, contains 806, making it obvious diet material
– I yesterday had an incredible craving for Texas toast with garlic butter and melted cheese on it, which would have required some extra effort if all the bread in Japan wasn’t already sliced like Texas toast and sold in packages of five slices
– A recent survey doing the rounds on the Internet states that one in three Japanese men aged between something like fifteen and nineteen has either no interest in sex, is indifferent toward sex, or actively finds sex distasteful. They say that this has something to do with the “herbivorification” of Japanese men, who have become complacent and are content not pursuing women. I initially interpreted this survey as saying “one in three Japanese men aged fifteen to nineteen are clinically mentally deficient.” But then I considered the financial commitment necessary by two out of three Japanese men aged fifteen to nineteen, who are apparently funding young women all over Kobe well-enough that they afford numerous pairs of knee-high black leather boots and thigh-bearing mini-skirts, which they wear in the middle of winter (having an appreciable effect on one out of one American man aged twenty-seven)
– In an recent effort to interpret katakana with incredible haste, strengthening my quick-reading skills, I last evening misread a package of ice cream single-serve cups as “Cookie Banana” flavor, when in actuality they are “Cookie Vanilla” flavor. Still delicious, but distinctly un-banana’d
– The other day, just as I left work, I kind of felt a little pang of sadness that I wasn’t in America. But then I went to CoCo Ichibanya and had a big plate of hot cheesy chicken katsu curry with the little pickled whatever squares and I was like “Japan ain’t so bad.” Later I paid two dollars for an individually wrapped carrot
– In our first game of Carcassonne, the tile-based kingdom-building-and-control board game I brought back from the States, Jessy beat me by a huge margin of points, which has nothing to do with Japan and isn’t really that curious and actually didn’t even happen this week, but that doesn’t matter because I’m going to murder her in her sleep with a pillowcase full of ice
END OF LONGWINDED CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEEK

My newest computer-related acquisition, meant to ease the access of and safeguard the small, personal files that I had almost always ought to have on me (writing, lesson plans, and other irreplaceable documents), is a solid metal key, which instead of containing mere metal, actually contains an impossibly small eight gigabyte flash drive. In addition to being significantly durable and finding a home on my keychain, where I can never possibly forget it unless I also forget to lock my apartment on the way out, it offers the appearance of a truly luxurious and resplendent personal existence: that is to say, it gives the impression that I own more than one thing by virtue of being the second key on my keychain.

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Big Hammer

Three days deep into the first workweek back and I’ve yet to teach any actual “classes,” owing to Monday being a holiday, yesterday being my school’s opening ceremony day, and today being the annual “mochitsuki,” a ceremony slash event where we beat cooked rice with Big Hammer into a stretchy goo and form it into balls and eat it, which is totally a normal thing to do. I’m not sure what tomorrow at the blind school will bring, but Friday is most definitely a class day, during which I will have to explain about my trip to America without the help of the pictures and videos that I took, all lost to a random and cruel hard drive failure three hours before my flight back to Japan (along with all other pictures and videos we’ve shot since April 15th, my last backup). Are you reading this, Brandon of the future? Have you signed up for one of those handy persistent online backup things yet? To make a long story short, I can’t replace the hard drive or reinstall an operating system until I get a couple spare parts from the States, and that probably won’t happen for a few weeks or so (I’ve still got Jessy’s to check e-mail and Internet when I need to).

So, because of the lifestyle shakeup, I’m finding myself unconsciously acknowledging that I don’t have my friendly computer to sit comfortably in front of and sink time into, and am instead sinking time into other, valid pursuits: waking up and preparing breakfast, diddling around with some of the Playstation games I brought back, and endlessly tormenting my cat with the best $2.49 I’ve ever spent: a compact laser pointer that projects a single, emotionless red dot whereever there a surface be, unchanging like the bright eye of Lucifer, made manifest via three watch batteries and the souls of the Torment’d. Fixated upon it, the cat will spin circles on the ground as though a malfunctioning, indecisive Roomba vaccuum cleaner, ready to obliterate the particle of dust, if only he could catch it. And when he does, where does it go? Onto the back of his head, invisible to him, destroyed but perpetually revived, an eternal plaything and nemesis. I use it as mind control: just trace the path you want the cat to follow and watch him bend to your every whim, even leaping diagonally at the walls in an effort to strike the dot from its perilous arc up and off the floor.

Perhaps the biggest trouble I’ve had with re-integration to the society of Kobe is sticker shock, especially in the realm of fresh foods and produce. To go from paying 49 cents for a pound of apples to potentially 500 yen for a single, though surely tasty apple, is bizarre. The stores, devoid of any sales or discounts, are massively less exciting for bred consumers such as myself than the ones in the States; upon check-out from our local supermarket the other day I received an automatically generated coupon from the machine next to the register. It was for ten cents off my next single can of Suntory beer and lo there was rejoicing, and by rejoicing I mean I urinated due to pure glee so divine I lost my bladder control at the very sight of those two numbers one and zero right next to each other dear god ten cents off.

This is to speak nothing of course of the annoyance that comes at again being incapable of confidently conducting casual, reasoned conversations with shopkeeps, coworkers, and ne’er-do-wells in my vicinity. Right now I find myself in the somewhat annoying position of having about twenty pounds of coins that I’d like to deposit into my bank account, which I can apparently only do from the hours of 9 to 3 on weekdays, hours when all normal people are working. The one possible day I could do this is Wednesday morning, because I go into work late for night school. The idea of bringing two huge bags of coins into the bank and slapping them down on the counter by myself without actually being able to express any sort of thought related to “put the money in my account please,” assuming no possible denials of service or “count it yourself”s, is a bit unsettling, especially since I’ll have twenty pounds of coins in my possession and carrying them out of there once I’ve brought them in is not something I care to do. In the U.S. the process would be simple: call the bank and ask “can you put twenty pounds of coins in my account if I bring them in?” and then do it. In Japan, asking such direct questions is impossible, you are meant to divine the answers to questions through the careful reading of blood types, tea leaves, and phases of the moon. I think the etiquette for depositing twenty pounds of coins is to bring them to the bank, take a number like at the DMV, and then place them on the counter with your passbook while bowing and apologizing profusely for all this damned money you have. Then they will take it to the back room, make you wait for ten minutes, and return to the counter, saying only “we have intercepted your honorable money, is that okay?” Then they will wait for you to leave. Anyway I’m going to have these coins forever is the point. Hey future Brandon who now does the online backups of his data, do you still have the coins? Oh that’s terrible.

BULLET POINTS OF CONSEQUENCE
– I have now seen Tron Legacy in theaters three times, which is probably the most I have seen a movie in the theater since Mortal Kombat
– We made salads the other day from a whole head of lettuce, an apple, some carrot, chicken, and raspberry dressing, and they were way more awesome than you generally figure a salad to be
– We also watched that Baz Lurhmann movie Australia, and it was pretty alright despite needing some editing in the first third awful bad
– I’ve made breakfast burritos the last few days with some tortillas I brought back from the States and they are slammin’
– The sole literally fell off my shitty worn-out black shoes yesterday, and I sat in taffy in my newly dry-cleaned suit pants
– Somehow, the taffy came off the pants
WHOA GRIPPING

The best thing about being back in Japan is ironically that things are now “back to normal,” here in the land of good convenience store food, hyperactive nonsense television, tissue-packet distributors, ramen shops, and all-girl 48-member idol bands. It is thanks to Jessica that I find an anchor, as occasionally worrysome an anchor as it is, though not as worrysome as Big Hammer, which I have to be careful of tonight when the mochi beatings happen “because the splatter.”

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Gecko and Fox

With five hours left to go on my 4,923 mile trip across the Atlantic and other occasionally rocky-looking landmasses, the dryness of the air scratches at my prefrontal cortex like fine-grit sandpaper, with every breath: I am reamer, rout, roto-rooter, it says, and your body, the minefield, is this week’s episode of New Yankee Workshop. I have already watched three movies, gotten three hours of sleep, eaten my meal, done some reading, and drank two beers. There is nothing left for me on this aircraft, absolutely fucking not. In the agony of dryness I cover my face with a blanket, try to create humid air. I consider wetting my fingers with water and stuffing them up my nose, then refrain for unknown reasons. I look out at the wing, and am so tired that I watch it wobble in the air, unusually convinced that by looking at it, I am causing it to bear a greater load, which will cause it to break, plunging us into the icy depths.

Stomach increasingly fucked from the headache’s pain, I convince myself I am about to die, and adopt a new philosophy of life for the year 2011: Impermanence, love, and melodrama in reverse order, while I’m still in my 20s and everything’s beautiful. I write it down and it reads true to itself if not a little stupid, so I change it to “choose life” and realize that sounds like an anti-abortion ad and also the tagline from Trainspotting. I further revise my revised philosophy: just love and impermanence, but not impermanent love, and not necessarily the love of impermanence. I guess what I’m trying to say is that most innovatively I find myself in conflict with the desire for permanence and impermanence in material ways, which perhaps brings about the true mantra: only love! But John Lennon already kinda said that. Underarching really seriously true mantra: Know thyself.

(Complication: making thyself a person worth knowing, myself)

New year’s resolution, 2011: achieve utter and total harmony, through love and knowing thyself

In noise-cancellers courtesy of lucky random upgrade to Economy Premium I feel behind glass, a Hermes object looked at but never disturbed, then flick the noise-canceller switch on and off to hear the difference. During a scene in Wall Street, one of the featured on-demand in-flight movies, in which characters at one point converse aboard a plane, I switch the cancelling off only to discover that the actual ambient noise of the aircraft I am on is quieter than the airplane noise coming from the movie, and I commit ritual seppuku.

The second in-flight meal is a treat, a real joy: a warm, soft, foil-wrapped foccacia sandwich with roasted tomatoes, pesto, and stringy, stretchy mozzarella cheese, which for my dollar they can put on fucking anything and I’ll eat it. Side dishes: fruit cup, yogurt cup, cup of coffee.

Walking into my apartment is like walking into a room carpeted, wallpapered, and filled entirely with JELL-O brand pudding snack, a rich, lush, velvety wave of relief and comfort washing over me as completely as spray tan. My cat indifferently greets me at the door, then resumes being totally insane, while the delightful Kaori, who has been using our apartment as a palace of twisted immorality for the last two weeks, informs me that she has already run the bath for me, because she saw that I said I wanted one on my Facebook. This is further evidence that we truly lived in a connected world, but also that Kaori is obviously too good a person to be staying in our apartment. That night I cooked a box of Deluxe Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese that I brought home in a box with a ton of other unhealthy American delights, then slept the best five hours of my life before waking up fully rested at four A.M. thanks to the jet lag. Remedy? Eating all the leftover mac and chee and playing video game pinball until it was time to go to work. Downside: I’m sitting at my desk with seven hours to go and I’ve already been awake for six hours. Upside: it’s Friday, and Monday’s a national holiday.

But what about America? I will remember it as two things. The first is as a blitzkrieg of wild, excessive consumption the likes of which are unfathomable in Japan, eating more food items than exist meals in the day, spending meager amounts of money for hulking, unfinishable plates of food, and drinking to excess at a rate such that the number of beers total is a variable Bt and the number of showers total is a variable St and the variable Bt fits in the equation Bt > (St * 2) and is a valid expression.

The second thing I will remember it as is a re-centering trip, an inspiring, internally touchy-feeling reconnection with the things I never realized I loved about the place I’m from and a wake-up call regarding the Japan I call home. What makes me American is that I’m from America. Japan doesn’t want me to be Japanese, because I can’t be and I’ll never be. The shame of being myself had started to creep up on me so slowly in Japan I had barely noticed, and today I stood up straight and walked to work with a different awareness. Before, I had found myself acutely obsessed with the duality of my presence here: believing I was both an exotic object of desire or a reviled, repeatedly sounding klaxon I mentally positioned myself as an object that all persons had an opinion of. Lost in the sea of anonymity that besets those citizens of the United States I was able to experience what someone might interpret as “a lack of self-consciousness,” and, having returned to Japan, I find it a thrill to apply it in a society where I can still feel unique without even needing to dress myself in freakish black eye makeup.

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Gluttony, ammunition, and shopping

Thanks to my selective video capture, the presentation I give to my students once I’m back in Japan will likely elucidate the following things about The Home of the Brave: we eat huge, extravagant meals, shoot guns, shop in stores where there are fifty kinds of cheese and an entire aisle of potato chips, and our houses are enormous. Is this America? Well.

The story of the trip has been shopping, and going to places to shop, and being in stores and not shopping, and buying stuff anyway. America is truly the Land of the Deal, and the perpetual promise of weekly sales, deep discounts, and huge stores with shelves full of items keeps the hunt entertaining if totally unnecessary. I have acquired enough Blu-rays and PS3 games to last me longer than I’ll ever have to watch and play them. I have three new card and board games, a bag of stuff for Jessy, plenty of exotic snacks, and fifty pounds of flight allowance on a second checked parcel, should I choose to exercise the option. Currently I am leaning toward wrapping a box with string and tape and filling it with mac & cheese and Triscuits then lugging it awkwardly all the way back to Japan.

With a Spanish .380 pistol in my hand the other day I found myself squeezing off a few rounds at the Buena Vista Gun Club, an impossible novelty after a while in the Central Land of Reed Plains, where guns are like lasers, or ninja stars to Americans–Hollywood inventions, manufacted nethecite. Surely I am better a person for knowing how to load and discharge a variety of firearms safely for entertainment or self-defense. I often run into arguments with people from other countries or those who support the total abolishment of guns. I don’t ever have much to say to them because handling both sides of the guns/no guns debate is like juggling handfuls of sand in a wind tunnel. But shooting guns ain’t as easy as you see in Hawaii Five-0. You don’t hear anyone arguing for the abolishment of bows, and I saw this TV show the other day where a hunter shot a balloon from like two football fields away holy shit. Anyway we are all still alive, and the guns didn’t jump out of our hands and murder anyone for drugs or because of a baby mama, because we are not idiots.

Last night was New Year’s Eve, which we spent watching the hometown Sioux City hockey team playing like total amateurs (which they basically are), compared to the Pittsburgh hockey I am used to seeing on television. I drank two huge cups of cheap draft beer from a plastic cup and swore more loudly at the ineptitude of the passing game as time bore inexorably on. We lost, poor bastards, and to celebrate I came home and ate buffalo chicken wings and mozzarella sticks.

To make a list of all the stuff I’ve eaten here that I can’t eat without a struggle or can’t eat at all in Japan would be an exercise. Can I remember it chronologically? Doubtful. Giant Culver’s mushroom and swiss burger with cheese balls and a root beer, beef burrito from Estas, Red Hot beef burrito from a gas station, chicken Pad Thai from Thai Kitchen, pork chops, steak, big bowls of soup, a country-fried steak and gravy biscuit from Hardee’s, Chic-fil-a spicy chicken sandwich, spicy Pad Thai in Storm Lake, some Taco John’s burritos, a few frozen pizzas, delivery pizza, chicken and noodles, curry rice, deli chicken, mac and cheese TV dinner, and a bunch of other totally unhealthy garbage.

Today, as retribution, we are having cornish hens. This makes up for it because they are entire hens, and each person gets their own.

They are cornish, which must count for something.

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Butterburgers, gas station burritos, and 33 pounds of dog food

The most peculiar thing is that I now feel like an outsider who is inside, or perhaps someone who was always here but isn’t any longer. In Japan I am acutely foreign, both invisible (like Internet advertisements to a seasoned browser) and visible (bright, flashing Internet advertisements), depending on the interpreter. This duality has become part of my consciousness in Japan, making me always aware that to everyone I am at least someone or no one. In America it is different, because I am neither someone nor no one but Everyone. There is no duality that comes from being different, to be ignored or stared at but at least one or the other–there is just existence, part of All People.

Yet, still in command of the I’m In Japan mentality, I find myself mostly oblivious to their presence around me, conditioned as I am to mainly ignore what I recognize as the same (most people). The problem is that I am also conditioned to recognize what is different, which for the last year and a half has been “foreign people,” and by foreign of course I ironically mean “not Japanese.” To suddenly become aware of all the conversations those around me are having is like someone flipped on the switch that opens Pandora’s Box, forcefed me the apple of the tree of sin’s origins: can these people really be comfortable with knowing that everyone around them is hearing what they’re saying to each other? Then, two realizations: 1. I just asked that out loud to my sister, completely forgetting that suddenly everyone around me can understand me too, and 2. to someone for whom the regularity of constant bombardment of exterior conversation is not remarkable, it is unlikely to be even slightly of note that someone around them is speaking to someone else.

I’m lonely but not alone, I’m everyone and nobody: nothing on my face says I’ve been an outsider for this long, or that I’m still just temporary. I get a thrill out of speaking in a cool, casual way to gas station attendants and the guy who gets the game out of the rack at Target, catch myself speaking way more politely to anyone than I ever would have thought to before, and find myself for what is likely the first time in my life genuinely unconcerned about what anyone thinks about the things I say, do, or how I look. Peculiarly enough it’s only since I have lived in a place where I am forced to acknowledge that I am the Other that I am capable of believing I’m nothing. Is the suppression of self-consciousness what self-confidence really is?

In other news: huge burritos, frozen pizza, steak, cottage cheese, Thai Kitchen, Jimmy John’s, American football, and other such delights, hung from low branches like ornaments, and I am the cat.

I woke up at 2:30 this morning.

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That class of problems with which men will never have to cope

Tomorrow I leave, which means that the last couple months have pushed by faster than I had hoped. That’s not to say that I’m not looking forward to being flung through the air three separate times (and once for twelve hours) on my way back to the states, only that I will miss being able to leisurely enjoy my holiday season here at my place.

To be sure, nothing could be more leisurely than the comfortable familiarity which awaits me back in rural Iowa: no work to do and no trains to take and none of my usual household chores to keep done will ensure I have plenty of time by myself and with my family to wander around, confused, feeling like an outsider in the place I belong, with no strangers at all the wiser that I’ve pretty much been in a coma for the last sixteen months. The upshot is that all the commercials will be new, and I will be able to spy on people having conversations.

The Internet has not left me with any confidence about the weather conditions I’m about to experience; the other day as though watching some sort of confusing new addition to the football broadcast I saw a video of snow dumping down through the Metrodome’s dome, and then checked the Iowa road condition map and saw a lot of road shaded the colors that meant “completely covered” and “travel not advised.” Also, though I’ve pretty much obliterated any meaning that “temperatures” ever once had by virtue of trying and failing to internalize the Celcius system, I have come to understand that it is Much Colder in Iowa than it is here, not that I would know by what degree or to what extent.

The sandwich I am eating right now, brand name “Delicious Sandwich Fresh and Juicy Sandwich,” bears a useful phrase on its package: “It is a sandwich made with love by the use of the bread selected carefully. Please take it.” Take it I did. The crusts have been cut off.

I guess the prevailing mental broadcast is just that I’m getting tired of the build-up to this goddamned journey. I’ve been Nomaday bitching about it for what, three weeks now? This is not normal. I know it’s going to be an exhausting pain in the ass and I’m gonna have to drag my bags downtown at 5:30 in the morning and go through all this madness. I’m just ready to get it over with (but not yet, not yet oh god!). In preparation I am buying an extra-size battery for my PSP and hoping to whatever it is that governs my mental faculties that I am able to concentrate on the ones and zeros popping out of enemy heads instead of the fact that I am on an airplane. It sure would be nice if I could get over flying to the extent that my life is not sectioned mentally into countdown portions entitled “Time Since Brandon Has Been On An Airplane” and “Days Until Brandon Absolutely Must Fly Again.”

Even irrational fears must have a basis, I suppose, and I figure the only real good reason to be afraid of something such that it cripples you is that you are afraid the thing will kill you or you’re afraid of your death because of it. I suppose this is likely it, and not even so much because I am personally afraid of dying but because I am afraid of the terror that would accompany the knowledge of inevitable death. I wish I was more like Vasquez in Aliens who knows they’re coming for her and is just like “word” and toasts herself like a real Bro. And airplanes aren’t even extraterrestrial predatory creatures hellbent on human destruction!

I think I read once somewhere that it is the most common fear, that of flying, and mostly cause we never hear a news story about how all the airplanes landed successfully. I think part of the draw for me personally to these incidents is also the incredible series of events that must occur for things to go wrong. Something like the last Concorde crash, where because of some issue on the first plane a piece of metal fell off it and the plane after ran over it and it happened to puncture the tire at full rotation speed and the tire blew up and flew up and damaged this and this and this because of this and so on–these cause and effect stories are too interesting for me to ignore, and yet I am drawn to the tragedy of the human element: how did they react in these moments of duress, as transcribed from the flight recorder? In most cases, my morbid finding is yet oddly reassuring: not much of a reaction whatsoever, because it just happened too fast. And so my inundation in stories about when flights went wrong instead of when they went right lopsides my viewpoint.

This is the flawed, terrible thought process of someone unhealthily fixated on what the experience of a remote possibility would be like! I guess I imagine the thrill of potential excitement that comes when you buy a lottery ticket, and I swing it in reverse. It is ultimately my logic that fails me when I am faced with the odds: even if something is a ten million to one shot, I find myself thinking that any single instance of occurence is still just as possible as an incident of failure (assuming a 50/50 chance instead of a 1/10,000,000 chance, because I will either complete or not complete the flight, binarily, and here is the flaw). What is the mental acceptance I need to internalize? What is the proverb I must chant? Does fixation on repairing this fear necessarily assure it will become so prominent to me that I am unable to forget about it? I will playfully suggest to myself that the only cure is getting on the plane totally exhausted and getting drunk in the air, with full knowledge that I will be incapable of relaxing enough to sleep even when drunk. I shouldn’t even focus on “one in ten million,” I should just say 0% chance, cause that is more accurate when you do out the numbers.

Ugh!

Did you know that in Japan a lot of spaghetti is sold in packages of five or six, where the number refers to the number of servings, and that each serving has a little plastic sticker around it so you just grab one “bundle” out of the package and poof there is your serving of spaghetti? True story. Also spaghetti sauce is not often sold in jars but pouches which you boil in water and then open. They are about a dollar and serve (though I am being slightly generous) two adult humans. What a funny world.

The other day I realized it had stopped being weird to me that when I buy carrots I buy two huge individually wrapped carrots, or when I buy potatoes I get seven potatoes the size of chicken eggs in a little bag. The feeling of holding a twenty pound bag of potatoes again–this is another reason I will enjoy going to America, just as all those before me, who (pretty much) made it there just fine.

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As stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after

I went to Ikea last Saturday and though we intended to get a lazy morning breakfast in their restaurant section we were indeed too late to break fast. So for some reason instead of getting the meatball plate I chose the daily special, curry rice with a pork katsu. It was in retrospect a bizarre and uninspired decision, because who goes to Ikea’s restaurant for breakfast, and who goes there and in the absence of breakfast chooses the meal equivalent of “spaghetti with sauce?” The only things more common on the dinner table than curry rice in Japan are either seaweed or stuff with their eyes still in them, perhaps covered in some sort of vinegar (the curry rice was, expectedly, of a middling to low quality).

Speaking of frightful things, today I actually expressed some excitement to a coworker about making mochi again on January 12th at my night school. Last year’s mochi-making day was the coldest evening I have ever experienced in this country, the weight of which was tempered only by the deliciousness of hot chicken soup with beaten, gooey rice wads in it. You may recall this particular event being mentioned to me last year by way of my now dearly-departed principal, who cryptically warned me about it with just a single line: “Cover your jacket with something when the beatings happen because the splatter.” (This phrase has since become a sort of personal life mantra, applicable in nearly all situations.) I anxiously await the return of Big Hammer, and all the stretchy rice-based delights that will come with it.

As an aside, I think those guys who were turning Japanese could not possibly have had the brash outspokenness necessary to record an electronic pop song declaring it so if they actually were turning Japanese. (I really think so)

I’m already starting to feel separation anxiety a bit, still two weeks out from when I’ll be boarding a series of public transit devices to fly away from the place I’ve called home for the last sixteen months. I’ll only be gone for three weeks, generously, but look what I’ll miss: Christmas cake, Kentucky Fried Chicken, drinking myself stupid, nabe party? Receiving bad-luck fortune at Ikuta Shrine, NHK’s year-end celebrity-filled singing competition, silly grab bags full of random goods, Paul McCartney’s Christmas crime against humanity being piped through all PA systems in every store in the country nonstop for days.

Of course making a list of all the stuff that I already miss and will get to enjoy will take much longer. I am kind of excited about the following things, excluding family, the obvious but not-entertaining bullet-point: Buying a carton of milk which is a full gallon and wondering how anyone could ever fit that inside of a refrigerator. Enormous, affordable pizza with thick buttery crust and lots of cheese and absolutely no mayonnaise. Strolling through a Target store and being all like “whoa” at the Blu-rays priced under sixty dollars. Shootin’ guns! Television, signs, and conversations in my native language, football and people who know that football isn’t soccer, Taco John’s, Subway, Arby’s, Chik-fil-a, Thai Kitchen, Cocost, Hickory Park, steaks from a grill that have names other than “cut steak”, cheap beer, cheap fruit, cheap everything. Finally, seeing some men my age dressed worse than I am, and also snow. I trust I will get to revel in the carefree and brazen excesses of most of, if not all of, these things.

But what about the weird stuff? Will it be difficult to get used to the fact that I can’t get very good food at a convenience store, or that trains can’t zip me around wherever I need to go, or that I can’t just walk somewhere with five hundred dollars worth of cash in my pocket and feel safe about it? Will I god forbid have to drive a car (on the right side of the road)? Will I cope with eating every meal with a fork? Yeah probably.

I got a haircut the other day at “BILLY” which is a hair salon I’ve been to twice now that allows racism to work in my favor: specifically, though a cut for any old Japanese person is about 4500 yen, a cut for a “foreigner” is only 3000. The place is run by a guy and his wife, who both speak English and worked (I believe) in London for a time. That thirty dollars gets me a pretty meticulous and careful cut, a shampoo and conditioning with minor scalp massage, a blowdry, and even a little dab of product all up in there, about forty-five minutes of attention. The place is named after their one-time pet dog, BILLY, who is taxidermied and watches over you as you are trimmed. On one side of the place is a weight bench covered with magazines; I like the guy’s commitment to simultaneously working out and staying informed about what Ms. Kardashian is up to.

I can’t quite figure out why it’s cheaper for me to get my haircut there unless they see it as kind of an occasional and random way to keep their English sharp by having a chance to practice with real foreign people–it’s the only thing I can think since the foreigner discount isn’t really posted anywhere in the store and they give it to you without your asking. Now, if I go to my Real Japanese Place, a kind of trendier but franchised salon called END, I can get the works for only about 2500 and they spend maybe an hour on me (you even get a hot towel on your face while they wash your hair, a more vigorous scalp/head massage, a free drink while you wait, and a piece of candy and grateful bow as you leave). The rub with that whole thing of course is that I have to speak Japanese, which gets pretty pathetic for both me and my stylist pretty quickly. Making an appointment can also be… troublesome. This time I just got my hair cut as short as possible to prolong the amount of time before I’d need to get a cut again. I’m happy with it, though after my first day back in the real world I received the following occasionally confusing comments:

– Is that from hazing or something (guy at Japanese class)
– Miss Misumi says a handsome guy is a handsome guy either way (teacher at school)
– You are same, same (a student pointing to his friend, head totally shaved)
– It’s like a David Beckham haircut (Jessy, akin to maybe someone saying “it’s like a Ronald Reagan haircut”)
– Your new hairstyle is very nice (a third-year kid, followed by the class erupting in unbridled, monkey-like shrieks and laughter)

At any rate I feel colder, though it is a fact that the weather itself is cooling off. And I think I actually caught a bit of a cold last afternoon, though I can’t attribute it specifically to the hair. Copious amounts of chewable vitamin C seem to have mostly helped me bounce back after only a day or so though (thanks for sending it Mom!).

Oh I almost forgot about the CURIOUS JAPANESE THINGS OF THE WEE k
– Ringer Hut, a restaurant where you can order champon, a kind of chewy noodle dish with thick soup, offering either standard size, 1.5x size, or double size, all of which are the same price (and I only ordered 1.5x because in a totally un-American moment I thought “I know it’s free to get more but I don’t know if I can eat all that”)
– Monster Hunter Portable 3, probably this year’s biggest non-Pokemon game, for the PSP, which comes out today and which many of my students (and several of my teachers) have been talking about for the last two months, and which I can’t play cause I am sure there is a Butt Load of Japanese, not that I’d have any goddamned time for it anyway
– Red Ginger soda from Suntory, which is totally bright pink in color, and adorned with a black and pink wrapper that looks like some sort of lascivious corset, and which I bought without really considering how girly it looked because I like ginger ale and I like red, and which tastes exactly like regular ginger ale, a fact I only discovered by shamefully drinking it at work like a total woman
– Went to the music store to find Square Enix’s Christmas album and got sidetracked looking at the Jazz, which is conveniently separated into “Jazz” and “J-Jazz” sections to totally confuse me when I can’t find any Japanese artists in the Jazz section
– Mos Burger’s Mos Burger, which is a burger with a slice of tomato and this special red sauce that is kinda like a big dollop of meat sauce with cream cheese in it and Jesus Christ would probably come back from the dead to eat one jeepers is it ever fucking delicious I want one now immediately I will buy one after work.
THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH isn’t it

On my train ride home from night school last week I had a beer and sat in the front seat of the Port Liner with the big front window, and there was one of those huge manga magazines that someone had left there. So a little tipsy I made the decision to pick it up and as I flipped through it looking at the bikini models in the front and the colored-paper comics in the back while the lights of the city shot past me I realized for a second that nobody who saw me reading the comics could possibly know I didn’t understand the things that were happening in them. They might have even thought I bought the book myself, who knows! I felt like a real cock of the walk, which was also part of the illusion. For ten minutes I could pretend to read manga while looking at the pictures like anyone else, and nobody was the worse off for it, like I got to operate myself from outside, a simulation, a battery of tests. I have come to realize that for an often-inhibited and occasionally inexplicably-depressed sociopath such as myself, this is why alcohol works: not to alter the world around you, but to alter you around the world.

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