|Travelogue - Home|
<22 April, 2004>
Serious hangovers call for serious breakfasts. The kind of breakfast that spans two plates and dirties every dish in the kitchen. Serious hangovers require a full pot of coffee drunk from a big mug, to chase down two aspirin. Serious breakfasts should be eaten sitting seiza, kneeling as in prayer, seeking absolution from the previous night's sins. Today's breakfast was eaten at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Last night was 80's night at the Metro, a gaijin club on Kawabatadori near Marutamachi Station. Until now, I've been too proud to show my face at 80's night and have missed out on the institution which has sprung up around it. The day got off to a rough start; I worked a shiftswap in order to put together some days off for when Julie visits me in a couple weeks. This meant working a six-day week. But, I'd forgotten until I awoke that my coworker with whom I had swapped worked at 10AM and not at 1PM. The realization struck me as I emerged, refreshed and well rested from the shower. And the adrenaline of panic took the place of a peaceful night sleep, in which prophetic dreams had revealed flaws in the pronoun structure of English. The transcendant peace of my restful sleep shattered, I threw on the first set of clothes to fall into my hand, grabbed my laptop, and dashed out the door. A panicked phonecall to the office, and a new record set from waking to working.
The penalty for being late to work is steep. Besides the personal debasement, showing that I can't be trusted (a scout is trustworthy, loyal, etc...), I have incurred a penalty on my coworker's paycheck to the tune of five lesson's pay (the penalty is four lesson's pay plus lessons missed; I missed one lesson). Of course I will repay him, but its a wound that will necessarily be reopened whence payday comes; it's a 68 dollar mistake. Fortunately, the other teacher working that morning had a free lesson, so he was able to cover my class for me; the correlary being that I took his free lesson from him; free lessons are covetted.
Nevertheless, I made it through the day, hiding my shame. And the benefit of working early is, of course, leaving early. I came home, made Okonomiyaki and did my laundry. Okonomiyaki is essentially a seafood and vegetable pancake with Cabbage and Yama Emo (Mountian Potato: a peculiarly glutenous tuber which when grated turns to goo) being invariable, but any other fixin's desired thrown in. Most commonly Okonomiyaki involves shrimp and octopus but I usually stick to vegetables. The resulting pancake is typically cooked on a tepan or hotplate in the middle of the table, and topped with a particular variety of barbeque sauce, mayonaise, and dried bonito flakes, and nori (fish flakes and seaweed, yummmm!). Okay, I'll admit from a western frame of mind, this description isn't exactly tantalizing, but trust me, its fantastic. Its so o-ishi that I had to make some more right now. This one is a little different. I used yellow onion instead of green onion. Cabbage, diced red ginger, shitake (for the record, the kanji for 'tah-kay' means 'mushroom'; but when you're talking about mushrooms in general you say 'ki-no-ko'), and topped it off with melted gouda! This is probably one of the rarest moments in gouda history; where else have fish flakes, nori, gouda and barbeque sauce been brought together?
So, yesterday, after okonomiyaki, I went bowling. Did well; better than usual when I bowl in the mornings. The principle diffferences being I was limber, calming down from the day, and a bit drunk. I'd drunk a beer on the train home from work, and sake with dinner, and another beer at the Bowling alley. I was up to par, a 130 average and a 147 high game... When I got home, I read the email I'd downloaded earlier. In it was an invitation to 80's night.
Now, several years ago I made a conscious decision. I decided to change my default setting about things. I remember one day in Asheville. It had snowed the night before, and everyone in 'The Chaos Collective', the hippie comune I was living in, was going sledding. I sized up the drama surrounding a family outing and opted out. Its not a decision that I necessarily regretted; but its given me pause to think for many years. Whilst my pleasure in having the house to myself was arguably equal to that if I'd gone sledding, I must look at the state of mind involved in the decision. One of my housemates, Cactus (I never learned his given name), a man of obvious talent, an alpha male, a person I respect, once offered me some friendly advices. He mentioned that people would like me more if I was less aloof. He called me an anthropologist. I was always observing and never really wholely or whole-heartedly participating or present. In the years that were to come, I had decided to change. It was a simple matter of giving everything less reflection: instead of intellectualizing every decision, I decided, "when in doubt, say yes." Last night was one of those moments. It was 9:30 and I had nothing to do, and 36 hours to do it.
My friend Melissa met me beneith the Sanjo bridge, where I was introduced to a flock of Nova teachers I'd never met before in one group, and several whom I'd previously met in another. The two groups merged and the earlier group dispersed, some bound for 80's Night. The vodka was flowing, and I clearly underestimated the intentions, for I only brought two beers. A drinking game ensued.
At the beginning, everyone is named 'Bruce.' One person says to the next,
A: "G'day Bruce!"
Now, clearly, after a handfull of screwdrivers, this gets confusing. In the event of a screwup, one becomes "Sheila." Now it looks like this.
A: "G'day Sheila!"
And this is where the fun begins. Now, you have to keep everyone's name straight. If you mistake someone's name, or fuck up in any way, you drink. The progression of names is thus:
Now we have...
A: "G'day A Dingo Stole My Baby!"
...and "Morning-After" Breakfasts will be eaten by all.
Around midnight, the motley crew remaining walked the two blocks to Metro. Stumbling along, I upon my bike, all others sensibly afoot (25 years of experience riding bikes has paid off. Even drunk I'm a confident rider). The night air was cool, but not chilly. Azeleas in bloom fell victim to the hands of drunken girls. Young men's buffoonery met young women's coquettishness. A guest from out of town shared stories from China. Honestly, its all a bit blurry at this point... whereupon, we enter the Metro.
Throbbing beats from the darkest era of music greeted us at the door. 500 yen proffered. Lockers requisitioned. The ubiquitous humidity of pheremone and confusion. Lights pulsated as a man in a mexican wresters mask sang and gesticulated to the music. A total of seven people on stage, but not one go-go dancing girl. Apparently we're to appreciate the antics of the not so attractive men here. I was intrigued by the "special," Iced tea and vodka, so I bought one. Downed it in a gulp, and pushed through the tight crowd to find Melissa and the entourage. Three in Four people are Gaijin--foriegners. Interspersed are interracial couples, lots of white flesh borne below middrift baring tops. Single shoulder tanktops, bright primary paisleys. The some very obscure 80's music mixed in with the unavoidable "Take on Me." And at one time, the Smiths, "because, if its not love, then its the bomb the bomb the bomb the bomb... that will bring us together..." As I sung Morrissey at the top of my lungs, grinding Melissa on my hip, she pulls me close and says, "You realize, -------------CENSORED------------." Only Morrisey could bring out such sincerety.
As I turned from partner to partner, I found one Japanese girl who kept catching my eye. Perhaps 5' 4" and all giggle. I approached her, moved into her space, and we began to dance. Every move I busted met with a laugh. Disconcerting as it was to be laughed at by a stranger, she was all agleam with the moment. I could never work out if she was with the guy beside her, so I played it cool. I began to pull her close to me and thought better of it. We danced together and beside eachother for a while, and between songs, I managed to belt out, "Namae wa, kudasai?" Which, now that I think of it, isn't actually a question. But she responded, "Ie, or Rie." I replied, "Hadoson desu" or something to that effect, and felt proud that my command of Japanese has progressed so much in ten months.
The Village People were played, B-sides of Madonna. Intermittantly, Melissa and I were drunkenly... um dancing... on the dance floor as I kept stepping on her feet. We joked about the other girls around, and she kept encouraging me to move in on one or two of the svelt young ladies about us. Which I half-heartedly tried, but always returned to Melissa. 'Better the devil you know,' I think the saying goes. And also I danced with Jillian, with her thick Scottish brogue and healthy endowment, her perky nose and hopeful blue eyes. But Jillian, Melissa's roomate always flirts reticently with me; she's a little shy, I think.
The night wound down, and before the last song, I had taken a breather off to the side, but Melissa drug me back onto the floor. We danced, and by Three I was thankful for in the end for I could dance no more (as to which Melissa's toes must attest today)... Bags retrieved from lockers, coats and hats to fend of the pleasant evening chill. We spilled out onto the street, spent, damp with sweat, irredeemably drunk, buffeting the fresh night air with the requisite cloud of cigarette smoke. In the ensuing taxicab melee, I managed to find the presence of mind to request the email address of a cute, possibly Phillipeno-Australian girl visiting her friend here in Kyoto, who lives just down the street from me actually. I had assumed she was working in Japan like the rest of us, and only at the end of this drunken debacle did I find out she's in the midst of her 'An Aussie's Year abroad'. China, to Japan, and next to London. We could have talked, but the alcohol came between us. We danced a bit, but I couldn't read her. So I hooked on to the only filiment I could find, her email address, and cast her back into the pond; you see, I'm ALL class. Everyone else took a cab (cab? perhaps someone had a car... through the haze of memory I'm seeing a private vehicle), but I'm a fan of drunken bicycle riding (kids don't try this at home). Melissa beat herself up on a curb one night using a bicycle after 80's night, but I actually ride better than I walk when I'm drunk... at least as long as its all up hill...
Stopping by the International House at three thirty I checked my email from the Wi-Fi Access Point that is my Internet-Addicted Methadone clinic. Its on my way home from everywhere. It makes me feel less lonely. I read from Frank of love and war, the acquisition of Terabeam by another company. His relocation to Provo, Utah. Apparently it's snowing in Provo...
And home. A class of water in a feeble attempt to stay the inevitable. I woke long enough to drink more water, take a tylenol, use the restroom, and carry my aching head back to bed... Then as the first tylenol was wearing off, I realized it was 1:30 and very warm today. A beautiful blue sky assailed me, and after a formidable breakfast--HPC signature Masala Omelet, home fried potatos, Toast, Melon, and fresh ground French-pressed coffee--I began to diddle with my computers. I came to my senses, beat my futon (you have to/ought to beat futons like carpets... Japanese futons are light and portable, very thin, unlike their western counterparts), and grabbed my bokken and a saw and went to play in the woods. I was still not wholely present and wore the most ridiculous choice of shoes, completely unsuited for what was to come...
Boku-tou is the Japanese name for what we refer to as a Bokken in English. A Bokken is a wooden sword used in Kendo, Japanese fencing. However, in Japanese, "Toe-ew" means sword or knife, "Boku" means tree, or wood. Interestingly, Bo-ken is another way to say wooden sword, same kanji as boku, tree, but the spoken form gets reduced to bo(+little pause) from boku. apparently an older japanese kanji for sword is ken, hence ken-do, is sword-doing. Like Qu-do (archery) or Sho-do (caligraphy). But all my students call them bokutou not boken. Long story short, I found one in a 'free pile' when my neighbors moved out. So I brought it with me to play, walked across the street and started breaking branches and slashing fallen trees and imaginary foe. The bokken didn't last long; I shattered it within 30 minutes. So I was left with a beautiful afternoon, a mountain forest, and a saw. I should come with a warning label.
I started climbing the trail, and it occurred to me that I would be taking Julie along this very trail in two weeks time to watch the sunset from Shogunzuka (Shogun's mound). Shogunzuka is a favored makeout point for young Japanese lovers. It offers a view of the kyoto city lights at night, and has a wide parking lot. I think you can put two and two together as well as all the young Japanese can... Anyway, I hesitate to say I decided, but I found myself clearing the trail. The saw was in my hand before I knew what I was doing, and I began pruning the trees, cutting back the undergrowth, removing fallen limbs from the trail. I cleared a wide swath to the top, and again, coming back down, leaving the entrance from the top partly obscured, as it is a 'social trail' and not an officially sanctioned one. I visited shogunzuka and returned the way I came. It was not quite sunset yet, and I found a spot that afforded a small window view of Daimonji across the valley from my house. But there was a dead branch in the way. No matter; I appropriated a long limb and cleared it. Now there was the broken branch that had snagged the fallen branch, and my long limb wouldn't suffice. I considered using my shoelace to tie the saw to the limb, but opted to simply climb the tree instead. So, one branch removed. In the process, I found a sizable rock, which would make a nice seat for my newly cleared view. So I carried it up the hill. And before I knew what was happening, I had constructed a fort. a somewhat level area in the ravine has become my 'spot' in the woods. So I gathered fallen limbs to obscure it from the trail, And as I become more sophisticated in my woods-fort-building, I've learned to incorperate living vegetation. I began transplanting ferns to form a wall. But I ran out of light. I'll complete the fern wall another day.
My agenda has changed very little since I was a child. Childhood forts were a place for hiding from adults, and that remains unchanged; however, adolescent forts were a place to masturbate to pornography, whereas today my forts are a places for making out with actual girls, or occasionally homesteading--and hiding from adults. Hence the need for the fern wall. Its funny. My reflex to build is just that; a reflex. If I stop paying attention, I find myself building. Usually in the spring. Nest building is inherently a spring activity. In fall, I build a cocoon to shelter me from the onslaught of winter's angst and existential ennui. But I and all the rest of the snakes in the grasses around these parts, are emerging from winter's hibernation. The moths and I are emerging from Winter chrysalis and spreading our wings. Winters den is too small for the flood of summer; fortunately in my front yard is a 1000 foot hill, and several square miles of forest. So as the ferns uncurl their new growth, as the mosquitos emerge from damp earth, as the fallen leaves of fall are peirced by monstrous bamboo shoots, you will find me clawing with my fingernails in the dirt, wrestling with fallen limbs, and setting up imaginary fortifications against imaginary foes. I giggle as I think of all the places in the world I have forts. Boone, Berkeley, Colorado, Bodhgaya, Kyoto, Salt Spring, Nelson, I had plans for a fort in Seattle, but then all my friends started acquiring houses and stability. Nevertheless, I know where I would build... Always building. Its totally a reflex. Maybe I will have to go back to Architecture School after all.
The best part about Japan is the bathrooms. Toilet rooms and Bath rooms are separate in almost every house. And the bath room is all about splashing water around. I became my mom when I walked through the door. I stripped off my clothes, shook them out and threw them straight into the washing machine. I didn't let me touch anything and immediately started filling the tub. I shaved, trimmed my black fingernails, picking out the bark and gravel from underneith and poured basin after basin of water over myself until I was squeeky clean. Only then, into the tub. Just a little too hot, the way I like it. Then to the cold shower, guzzeling water straight from the showerhead, and once I'm cold again, plunging again into the hot tub. Again and again until I'm feeling higher than a kite. My nose and sinuses washed clean with saltwater, my belly full of clean cold water, sweat pouring from every pore in my body, then. An orange, macha tea from my ridiculously expensive teabowl (ochawan), and silent meditation. Incense smoke curls up to the ceilng, a cultivated smell of Japan. I sweat and sweat the last of last nights toxins from my body. The Arti lamp from India illuminates the Sino-Thai crystal ball on my Japanese Kamidana. Rocks from my travels about the world remind me of places and people I've been. I play a slow song on the Shakuhachi I brought back from China.
Then I write this to you, my imaginary friends...
</22 April, 2004>
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