Tag Archives: birthday

Beneath the wool

Today I had the displeasure of paying a man 10,500 yen (the cost of one hundred individual goods at the 100-yen shop, plus tax) to come to my apartment on my morning off with an enormous tool that looked kind of like a machine that you might use to give a robot an enema.

I don’t own any automata but he definitely reamed something other than my wallet: our shower room’s drainpipe, which clogged Monday night and flooded the kit and kaboodle while Jessy tried to do laundry. The only physical good I have been left with as a result of this monetary exchange is a sizable, tightly woven wad of assorted hair which now rests in peace inside a vacated tissue box planted firmly in the garbage can. After removal, the man gestured to it sitting on the shower’s tile as though it was either a cancerous blob or some sort of holy implement; I’m not sure, I don’t know the vocabulary for what he actually referred to it as. I am sure at least that since it was mine it became my “honorable disgusting wad of gross crap,” at least. I cannot recall the specifics. Anyway, though I am missing out on the boatload full of potential 100-yen items, I can now bathe myself and wash clothes, which has to count for something.

Last year’s Nomaday from this very Wednesday in 2009 reads like an eerie parallel of the current situation. To excerpt: I am again waiting to receive this year’s [i]Call of Duty[/i] shooty-game in the mail, I’m attending the Japan Games Festa in Osaka this weekend, I’m really looking forward to payday next Tuesday, and it’s my birthday today. I am not doing anything too special, unless special includes paying a man to dig hair out of my plumbing.

In other news I’m happy to report that the weather is really starting to cool off, and it’s no longer an incredible, shitty pain in the ass to go on trips.

How about the cat? He is as cat-like as ever, routinely lying around, sleeping, headbutting hands and legs, lunging mysteriously at toys that he is suddenly frightened by, attacking every rug in the house, and meowing for no reason. When the bathroom was flooded the other day he hopped in, then freaked out and leapt three feet in the air. Sometimes I pick him up off the ground and hold him like a baby to see how long he can go before he tries to squirm his way out. He lasts longer each time, and before long I’ll be twirling him above my head.

I am happy to report that although I am not participating in this fool’s errand you may have heard of called “national novel writing month,” I have indeed been doing some meaningful work on my novel over the last few weeks, albeit slightly limited in word count. At any rate, I am pleased with its quality. Perhaps it is because I routinely compose 2,000+ word articles over at N-Sider or in this very journal that I am not compelled or content to write simply to produce strings of letters, though for every man who has that super exciting Ninjas vs. Cast of Glee fanfiction epic bubbling up inside them I am sure this communal opportunity for shared busywork is a godsend.

Anyway, I just couldn’t leave you sitting here any longer without at least something in you, precious journal. You looked old and dead and that was creepy. So here you go, right on schedule, three weeks back. Maybe I will find some other, better time to use on the story-writing, because by gosh I missed you.

– Pepsi released their new “Mont Blanc” special-edition cola last week, and though they claim it tastes like chestnuts what it really tastes like is a cross between Vanilla Pepsi and the maligned Coke Blak–a delightful combination of sweetness and coffee. It is slammin’. Other new product? Pizza Margherita Cup Noodle, which tastes more like pizza than several actual Japanese pizzas I have eaten
– That Russell Crowe movie Robin Hood, which came out in the States some months ago, finally releases in Japan some time in December. In honor of its impending release, we downloaded the uncut high-definition version from the Internet and watched it at home
– I’ll be going back to America for the holidays in approximately five weeks, and I’ve already bought the ticket. I reserved it on the internet, grabbed a confirmation code from an e-mail, went to a Lawson convenience store, used their special terminal to print out a payment slip, then took it to the cash register and bought my ticket by slapping down well over a thousand bucks, in cash. She didn’t act like it was a big deal
– Japan and China kinda hate each other right now, because everyone seems pretty focused on fighting over a bunch of dumb shit like someone’s boat running into someone else’s boat. I think Japan is forgetting the good things about China: they invented fried rice, and some other stuff
– Still learning and studying Japanese, at a bit of a deliberate pace. Even at two nights a week I am stripped of virtually all my weeknight free-time, and despite my time investment just last week I finally learned how to say that I want something. It’s hard to say how much longer it will take, but before long I anticipate moving from the level of cerebrally-challenged carrot to that of slightly-stilted squash
– Street Fighter IV is more and more a Japanese game as I continue to play it: your performance is attributable solely to you and dependent on no other factors outside of your opponent. This game still incites stronger feelings of accomplishment and self-hatred than virtually any other game I have ever played, which is kind of reflective of the Japanese spirit in general

We’re getting a new refrigerator triple the capacity of our current one next week, which is a concession I made to Jessy despite my desire to return to simpler times when we had less stuff. As a sort of compensatory event we have agreed to at least rid ourselves of the old, tiny fridge, and perhaps trade the desk for some open space. Still, despite the additional space gobbled up and the expense, I am having a hard time not being excited about the fact that I’ll be able to keep more than two beers in the refrigerator, and I’ll be able to buy huge packages of meat from Costco and keep them in (one of!) the freezer(s). The damned thing even has a fourteen-space egg tray! In addition to the fridge on top and the two freezer drawers on the bottom, the very very bottom is a vegetable crisper drawer, an impossible luxury. The idea that I might be able to preserve a quantity of food significant enough that I need not visit the grocery store four times a week is liberating and shocking, and soon I will understand what it means to live in this bold new year, 1968.

I think part of my apprehensiveness to getting more things is knowing that as usual I am still transient. Though physically I now settle into a comfortable sort of established life in Japan, the fact that I’ve become increasingly aware that my time is limited causes me to revolt against the idea of being comfortable. Part of me says that’s what life is, always coursing on with the possibility that any day could be your last one in any certain place for whatever reason, and the other part says for the same reason, why not get comfortable? I think it might become a little different once the prospect of moving does not involve sending everything I own 6000 miles across the ocean.

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I trust cows more than chemists

How time flies: tomorrow it’s Jessy’s 6th birthday, and what a good girl she has been! As a reward I will be taking her to Saizeriya, the restaurant for which she commands the most disparate affection to justification ratio of any eatery we have come to know. Liking (nay, desiring) Saizeriya is somewhat akin to being fond of reruns of The King of Queens: once you’re there there isn’t really anything wrong with it, and Leah Remini is pretty attractive, but do you realize what else is on? Jessy’s love of Saizeriya is like looking up these reruns in TV Guide and setting her VCR to tape them off TV as she watches them, being quick-draw-McGraw on the remote so she can pause out the commercials. Presumably while Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus plays concurrently on another network (I am just assuming that this movie is awesome). But it is her birthday, and so we shall go buy plates upon plates of mildly flavored and inoffensive Japitalianese, and consume them with frenzied teeth gnashing. Afterwards I will buy a glass jar of sake from a vending machine, drink it, and then ride the escalators in Joshin up and down until they close the store and disable the escalators, stranding me between the refrigerator floor and the one where they yell at you about lightbulbs.

I am now the proud owner of a “nook” eBook reading device, which has offered me, finally, the chance to use a battery-powered portable gadget to perform the function of something that absolutely did not need replacing (dead trees with ink on them). The most convenient reasoning behind it is simply enough that dead tree with ink on it (for the sake of this conversation, a “book”) takes up physical space, while a collection of electronic data representing the same information takes up no physical space whatsoever. In such a way, one need not pay any manner of courier to transport said “books” from their country of origin (the United States) to my country of residence (Japan), which is a powerful argument for the existence of the electronic book and what seems at first blush like a luxury device. The truth is that it is a luxury device only in so much as one considers reading a luxury as opposed to a necessity, which I must admit I do not. In fact, the arrival of this toy has brought exciting new life to tales most certainly un-new, most prominently that modern and relevant tale of The Hobbit, which just came out recently in 1937, and which I never could bring myself to get through in its dead tree form. Have you heard of this fellow named “Bilbo?” This story is going to be big, real big! Seventy-five years from now we might even see a movie about it.

The other recent arrival is that of a friend I am never too far from: Mr. Throat Itch. He showed up recently to ruin my life, and is doing a pretty decent job of it on a daily basis. He did such good work a few days ago that I actually called in sick to the office for the first time ever so I could stay home and party with him. In an unexpected twist, I actually felt Japaneseily guilty for shirking my workplace duties by staying home, a development I quickly dealt with by ceasing to care whatsoever. He was even kind enough to offer me some interesting situations during my first Japanese language class, where at least I was able to use the excuse “I guess I’m allergic to Japanese,” but only in my mind.

What do I have left to say? It has been nine months since I came to Japan and I simultaneously remember the day I arrived like it was yesterday and a decade ago. I am at home and a stranger, an outsider and a citizen. I dry my clothing on the porch, take my shoes off when I get home, and have a closet full of Kraft Dinner. I have a photograph of the first vending machine I ever saw in Japan, and now it’s just a photograph of a vending machine.

– Today’s bento, which, at a paltry 709kcal, is barely worthy of mention, but consists of a huge bowl of rice atop which sits a hamburger slathered in mysterious red sauce and a fried egg
– Cough drops here are useless, cost 220 yen for a ten-pack, and taste like what would happen if you crossed those Ludens cherry throat lozenges with the full dosage of a 100-man study on the effectiveness of a new medication on causing fatigue, only the pill is a placebo
– When I got to Japan there was a song they used to play on TV with three “girls” singing about how it’s okay to fart all over the place because farting is natural, and it is still being played regularly, and in this country it is rude to blow your nose in public
– Parsing the convenience store clerk’s question of if I would like my bento heated, answering appropriately in comfortable Japanese, and then being looked at hesistantly as I am asked, with comically wild gesture, if chopsticks are okay, finding myself disappointed I lack the skills to say that no, they are not okay, because I eat only with my fingers, and am allergic to sticks

Tonight there are no classes, because the kids are learning about how to drive in Japan. I do not envy them because I am sure driving down these meter-wide streets is fucking impossible, but last time I had class my lesson was that we would go to the downstairs classroom and watch Speed Racer on Blu-ray. I think I have done my part to prepare them for the imminent and very real world of futuristic automobile racing.

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The sauce to meat is ceremony

One of my kids the other day, when trying to tell me in English that a particular person was, as we would politely put it in the states, a little Husky, a little bit portly you know, rounded out, packin’ heat, used the matter of fact phrase “he wears meat,” which didn’t register as anything other than nonsense for a moment or two until I thought about it and deemed it logical. This fellow’s skeleton, after all, must find some level of comfort and protection in it, wearing it, all clad in meat as it were. The mental picture also conjures up images of scrumptious delights, full-body steak-vests embroidered with bacon highlights, fried chicken shoes and socks, turkey gloves, a real belle of the meat ball.

Somewhat bored recently with the idea of watching more animation to connect with our new culture, Jessy and I have turned to the delightful world of Japanese dramas, which are essentially what they sound like: hour-ish long evening drama programs that air on TV for ten or twelve episodes and then, their conflicts and issues resolved, drift away. Through the magic of the Internet (and conveniently educational English subtitles) we’ve given a few series the old evening run-through, an episode each night while we have supper. Last night we started a new one, “Kekkon Dekinai Otoko,” which means basically The Man Who Can’t Get Married. This show is about a very bizarre forty-something architect who is kind of a primadonna. Last night the episode ended with him about to receive a rectal examination from an attractive middle-aged doctor for his raging polyp, after having stressed himself out by climbing across a balcony wall three stories in the air to check on his neighbor and her dog, Ken-chan, who the man thought was the girl’s boyfriend. It is a pretty weird show, which is probably why I am going to like it. Last week we finished a show called “Gokusen,” which is about a 23-year-old female fourth-generation heir to a notorious Yakuza family. She decides to become a high school teacher and berate her deliquent students. It is impossible not to realize there was a certain personal enjoyment in projection for me in this case, though I am unlikely to punch any of my students in the face or fight large gangs barehanded to come to their aid. If television in the US was this good, I probably would actually miss it.

For my birthday dinner I decided it would be more satisfying to cook my own meal at home than to go to a restaurant, which kind of began as a tradition last year with our weekend retreat to the Pennsylvanian cabin and our gluttonous indulgence in all manner of foods including but not limited to stew with dumplings, pan-fried scallops with risotto and asparagus, and bacon-stuffed cinnamon rolls. This year I chose to tackle a new ingredient: wagyu (Kobe-style beef). Though there are a variety of articles about it on the Internet, this is Kobe’s “famous” food to the masses–expensive, delicately marbled beef that melts in your mouth and costs an arm and a leg. We ended up forgoing any thick, teppanyaki-ready steaks, instead grabbing a combination pack of thinly cut pieces of assorted qualities ranging from the more lean to the heavy marbled good stuff, just for variety. My inexperience with outrageously expensive meats notwithstanding, I think it turned out pretty well with a quick salt-assisted sear on each side and accompanied by some mixed stewed veggies (potato carrot onion mushroom) and a scoop of new autumn rice. Another new birthday tradition: why dink around with cakes when we live in the pudding capital of the world (well kinda)? We each grabbed our own special made puddings. Jessy went with a standard chocolate cake/mousse affair while I selected a more understated layered custard with a cocoa layer, thick whipped cream, pecans, mint, and chunks of powdered sugar cake on top. We even put a candle in it!

Reflecting my post-birthday ultimate downgrade I now sit at work with a tall grape Fanta, a package of ramune/cola gummies, and a hundred-yen packet of “consomme” flavored potato crisps. It is all pretty good in a nutritionless way, but depressingly steak-free.

One thing that I had naively anticipated for my birthday was a copy of Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to 2007’s stupidly popular first-person shoot-’em-up game for the 360. I take a certain amount of pleasure in virtually engaging a variety of individuals in simulated modern combat on my television over the Internet, and this particular video game software does it better than any other one I’ve used. The release date for the game was November the 10th, in the states anyway. Residing in Japan I am subject to the whims of the Postal Deities, who have passed down the law from upon high: All games that Brandon orders to be delivered to him in Japan will arrive precisely ten days after shipping! So for me the release date is November the 20th, and that is not very exciting because it’s nine days away! Modern wonders being what they are I’ve taken it upon myself to watch videos and read reviews and monitor discussions in online gaming forums, but I fear this is of little use. All it does is remind me that I have nine days to go.

Interestingly, I’ll be heading east to Osaka, the second-largest city in this country, this Sunday, for the Japan Game Festa. I don’t know much about it, but I think it’s some sort of Festa about Games in Japan. Probably I might get to play some of them, and put together an article. Excitingly enough it’s Wednesday right now, which means only a few more days until the week’s over and delightful pay day rolls around on its per-monthly basis. This time I get the pleasure of dropping maybe seven hundred bucks on new six-month train passes, which I’d be pissed at if it wasn’t such a massively good deal (refer to much earlier entry for information on multi-month commuter pass savings).

It’s rainy as all get-out today, but one of the shrine cats didn’t seem to mind. He was just sitting out in his parking lot like every day, getting rained on, camping the garbage pile for chow. Perhaps if he eats enough, he will start wearing meat.

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The Easter Bunny Vespucci

The time difference has introduced peculiarities into the measures with which I am to judge precisely at what rate I am decaying: though I took my first glance at this Earthy place at around four in the morning, in Iowa time, I suppose the demarcation of one’s “Birth Day” does indeed cover all hours of the associated unit.

That said, it’s my birthday right now, where I am, anyway, here in Japan, by Japanese time. But my body’s clock senses the lie. It knows that not for another hour will it have become the tenth in Iowa, where I came from, and it feels slighted. However, joy of joys: I will celebrate for all of my Japanese birthday, and then, at three p.m. Japan time, when it becomes the tenth in Iowan time, I will Start My Birthday Over Again, to fanciful effect.

I have spent the day teaching my children about Thanksgiving, the mysterious United States version of the holiday anyway, a compelling story that begins formally in the year 1621, when some people from England decided they wanted to believe basically the same things as the government said but a little differently, and then brought a bunch of diseases to the people of America as a present. One of my students, after having been told the story of Squanto (in English) had only this to say when I asked him “Who was Squanto?”:

Santa Claus.

Of course! The Famous Native American Santa Claus, who helped the pilgrims survive their stupid adventure and then took the next day off to drop presents in all their chimneys.

It’s okay if you can’t understand the history of Thanksgiving, I tell them. It’s mostly about being a pig and eating a lot of food, then maybe watching football on TV if you are ambitious enough to hit the power button on your remote. They also really enjoy it when I tell them what gravy is, and extol its virtues.

The last several days have been what I have come, generally, to expect, with a few exceptions: after a delicious stop at a ramen place in Sannomiya, Jessy and I popped into NAMCO LAND, which is an enormous video arcade with an entire wing devoted to UFO catchers, which I have talked about in here before I think. These are crane games, only in Japan they are actually popular, and have awesome prizes, and there are Arcade Attendants who monitor the machines and restock them right after you win stuff, and basically ensure a bitchin’ time. In fact I probably need to write a Nomaday some time about all the different varieties that they have. Anyway the exception is that I actually won something cool: an Evangelion statue figure thing.

When I won it went PING as the little claw flicked the ring holding the box up off of the peg, and then I felt like the most sweet and cool person alive and it was the best. Also this week I finally picked up Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii from the library of games I brought over and proceeded to get all the stars in it and unlock the Luigi mode which was pretty cool.

Tonight I think I might go out for that fabled delicious Kobe beef steak for the first time, as a birthday treat. If I never write again, know that it was because the steak was so delicious that I am comatose, or that I choked on it.

I have to teach a class in a minute, so this will be a little short for a Nomaday. In the words of myself, as I often end class, “See you next time! Okay you can go. Please leave now goodbye.”

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