Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Holiday at the Zoo

The ultimate design – to sleep the hours she wants (needs), engaged in her waking hours in activities she truly enjoys, endeavors with purpose, with money enough to live independently and with only the most necessary of luxuries (a car, perhaps, or a bike), and in time, some pleasant people about to hug her, share her meals, share her wine. I wonder if anyone gets what they really want. At twenty-three, I’ve already resigned to the idea of ‘good enough,’ settling into a bearable something that pays. Committing to an interminably long road of work because it’s what is done. Marrying rich, an alternative, but not really. The idea of settling into a bearable someone that pays is a bit harder to stomach, and it seems unlikely that a someone notably well paid would interest me, given the breed of work that must be done for such earnings. Notwithstanding, I am but twenty-three, and after some years, of course it’s possible that dragging my caffeine beaten self from monthly planner Monday to Friday in a suit skirt that grows a little more every year will greatly transfigure my stance. For all I know, I will be praying that a whale will care to look at me in ten years.

Readers, this is what has ailed me over the past month (and to a lesser extent the month before that). I’ve spent some time away, was dipped into various vats of responsibility at once, but here I am again, at last. Writing from a quieter place, though not entirely cleaned up yet.

Nearly a month it has been since I last wrote, in fact, so allow me to begin from where I left off, progressing quickly (for all our sakes), chronologically, so we may reach today and have a long, loud sigh together from our respective chairs.

I left you with mention of a vacation of sorts, to Kyoto, to visit friends. It was as delightful as I’d anticipated, though not in any way that is as boring or predictable as it sounds. Activity and crowd were up to my man Corey Waite, which had me feeling pretty good about things, this man who less oft lets me down than pigs fly in the sky, or somesuch infrequently occurring phenomenon. After eight hours of train hopping, I arrived in Shiga, body weary, met Corey and friend Dylan at the bottom of the station steps. From there, some conbini food, Futurama, and preparation for friend Corey Washburn’s arrival next day from Korea.

Next day, a two-hour train trek to Osaka to join with Washburn at the glowing can’t-miss-it Glico running man, then to assemble with a slew of others from around the country (girls from Niigata and Osaka, some gentlemen from Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka) for dinner. My heart set on Mexican food. Collected Nicale en route, swathed him in my pro-burrito fervor, and he enlisted. Somehow, hours passed, restaurants filled, and we were left with that shady empty restaurant people know better than to go to, or are willing to spend a few extra dollars or hours in crowded restaurant waiting areas to avoid: Shakey’s Pizza Buffet.

Do not be fooled by the remodeling, though it looks nice. They dimmed the lights. The booths are comfortable. The fried food looks flakey, freshly fried, demanding of a good finger-lickin’. New pizzas materialize every five minutes, sprinkled with magical oils that sparkle under heating lamps. Only five bucks for nomihodai (all-you-can-drink). Seemed promising. We rushed the place with our American-sized bellies hungry to demolish that tabehodai. Lined the bottoms with beer. Perhaps our first mistake.

It seems my standards are lower than most; many of us refused to clean off the first helping; Dylan ate a slice of pizza, a few noodles, was ready to claim food poisoning; Nicale, who eats two burritos per my every one, gave up mid-second round; I went for thirds. Felt I’d been poisoned three times. Still human.

Frothing from every pore, the lathered beer matter, malt and sugars cloyed and webbing our insides together; More beer! the tall men shout, and they are listened to because they are the easiest to follow in a crowd of 160 centimeter people. Stuffed into a convenience store, radiation lighting – whoever’s in the security booth can see all of my bones. I get ice cream. It is delicious.

In two hours’ time, our convenience store crawl has led us to Ame-mura, short for American-mura, Japanese for ‘American village.’ We idle in the main square for some time, delaying our entry into the club across the street, as crowds don’t really happen indoors this early. It’s now eleven o’clock. I’m on the stairs with a homeless man and his buddy comfortably splayed on the ledge a few feet above my head; the English being spoken around me drowns out all other noise, including that of the crackling potato chip bag and subsequent crunching going on directly above me, which I’d almost rather hear. Fatefully, some heavily German-accented English is heard from a few meters away; I turn. I think of Nils, my German friend now living in Tokyo, think he may be in the group, though of course it is small-minded of me to assume the only German in Japan is my own friend Nils. Nay, it is his ex-girlfriend, Doreen. Pretty good.

Finally, into the club we go, to dance until the trains start up again. Beyond that, little additional explanation required. Vague ‘we danced’ is perfectly accurate.

Next morning, we required nourishment. If we were to make it home. I insisted on ramen, and no one argued. Twenty minutes, we walked this way and that, following the directions of wrinkly pudgymen with their own reasons for being out at four in the morning. We ate. We enjoyed greatly. We regrouped outside, discussed what would come next. A few of us were soaring on our second and third winds, others used the wall as a bed. Who knows how time worked then, but after a while, we were approached by a group of four outlandishly attired party virgins with their minds set as ours were – drunk, food on the brain. Their inspirations were different, you could tell; the tan one with a curly ponytail, he went for Prince; the pretty one with a well-layered bowl cut preferred the likes of Abercrombie models; the yelper with a deep red mane wanted Gwen Stefani but got Scary Spice; and for her friend, who seemed afraid of foreign things, Hello Kitty. With everything we said, they knew a way to work it into an American pop song. Entertaining folk. What stuck with me most was a new version of the oft-heard ‘Your face is so small!’ (which I may not have told you I’m told all the time, by everyone, even today, by a student, but I am). It went like this:

Abercrombie: You have – small face.
Me: Why does everyone say that!
Scary Spice: Yeah! So small!
Me: Okay, I get it, it’s a small face.
Everyone: (staring at my small face)
Me: I’m sorry! Stop staring!
Abercrombie: Small face make me fall in love.

Next day, I went to sleep. Awoke at five to join male forces (Corey, Dylan, Corey, Nicale) for dinner, a beer on the bay, and sleep came quickly again.

If you are following the chronology, you’d know that I next woke up on a Monday. That’s right. I thank old people for allowing me the extra day of rest, or whoever was in charge of designating that Monday as Respect for the Aged Day. I spent my last few hours with friends unrolled on a rocky beach, among barbecues with some lean bodies of meat browning on top, Seados and speedboats splashing girls from the brink of a lane line spread to save the frolickers’ bikini strings from being pulled, and freshly-turned twenty year-olds reveling in their agedness by chugging beers, yelling, and cheering for their friends as they chugged beers. Welcome to Santa Barbara, Japan. That afternoon, I introduced my friends to the word game Ghost, and we continued to play it from beach to station, station to train, train to platform, until the moment we separated. And then another eight hour trek back, a bike ride from Iiyama station to my house, and crash.

The next Thursday was shubun no hi, which means another day off from work. To those who care, it was Autumnal Equinox Day. I spent it at the kitchen table, dimly lit, to watch a most triumphant battle; the summer heat of death and stirring block of cold met mid-air, bowed. Heat was weary from a long, hard term, but dogged, still, to have another day. Its opponent, fresh and steely. Gelid metal spears shot down, struck heat to pavement, impact spread light through the sky. One last hot spell unfurled like an earthquake tumbling out from its epicenter, and one night, heat slogged away into the darkness until its glow could no longer be seen, as would a cowboy who drew too slowly. It has yet to show itself in these parts again.

While I’m thrilled, somewhat, watching the temperature continue to fall, rain continue to pour - it’s only so long before we have negative numbers and snow. The season of kerosene and kotatsu. Test of my independence, patience. Preparation begins now. Which is why I now have a car.

Yes, that’s right, I have a car! It is the kind that has come to be what I consider the quintessential Iiyama car: kei, because it’s cheaper (specifically, the largest size cut-off-van-looking kei car to transport snow gear and young children), four-wheel drive, and a steering wheel on the right side of the car. This is something I’m still getting used to; I’ve taken Crystal’s advice and feigned planning to place whatever I’m holding on the passenger seat when I mistakenly open the wrong door, which is useful because it makes me feel less stupid. Otherwise, driving on the left side of the road came naturally; I ably set the clock, have yet to confuse turn signal with windshield wiper, and I always remember to stop before crossing train tracks. I also remember that I am to wait a couple of seconds at the traffic light after it turns green, but that’s a silly rule.

One day I left my car parked under a tree at the train station. I thought nothing of it, mostly because I arrived to the station at the same time as the train I needed to be on, so I locked my doors and ran. When I returned home, my car had received a thorough paint job by the local pigeon community (or maybe they weren’t pigeons, but I’ll blame them anyway because we all well know the whole race of them is terrible). Knowing how Japanese people are about cars – the facades are always clean! – I vowed to push it down the street from my house to get washed within a couple of days. Don’t want the neighbors judging you for your shit.

Unfortunately (for my car – I had fun) I was occupied painting skulls and jack-o’-lanterns on rot-breathed kids’ faces and sneaking handfuls of candy corn into my mouth all weekend, so the car wash never happened.

Luckily, yesterday, after sprinting home on my bike in the rain (yes, I have a car, but as long as I can continue to save the air (exercise at all), I will), I had the brilliant idea to move my car to the lot next to my house to, you know, show my car what rain was (get a free car wash). Car is looking respectable. Nature and I, we help each other.

Today I am at school. We have tests happening in every class in every period on Friday, and as such, I foresee an easy week. Test prep. Test distribution. Returning tests. I think teachers see me mostly as the game lady, so it’s likely their want of me will wane as the week wears on.

So, I’ve been giving some thought to that concern I raised last time, about considering myself an outsider in this finely tuned and unified company. I wonder if this will ever change, and if I have any power in changing it myself. If not ‘the foreigner who knows how to play lots of games,’ who am I here? As of now, I feel like the tail on the donkey. Tacked on an otherwise perfectly functioning animal. An animal, in fact, that is better looking without its tail, as it requires some sort of fastening agent to stay. And what’s a tail good for? Swatting flies? What good’s a tail on an animal that would rather take the trouble to synchronize the parts, individually ward off the flies together? Write up memos to photo copy and pass out to all other parts, informing them of the fly that almost landed on their ass last week, then one part to moderate a discussion of the fly, and how to prevent another fly from almost landing again. Anyway. I just. Wonder.

At last, at least, the teachers have all forgiven me for whatever it was I did wrong when I first arrived, and we are all on speaking terms. I’ve even managed to remember a couple of my students’ names. Maybe I can be a friend after all.

Tomorrow is a minimum day, and come 5pm, I will be attending the district-wide all-teacher volleyball tournament. I have denied two invitations to participate, seeing as, I suck, and I shouldn’t always have to say yes to playing games just because I’m the game fairy, but still, we’ll see. On a similar note, I hope to teach gymnastics during PE sometime soon, to the ‘special class of advanced boys.’ Some of them can do back handsprings. I’m trying to get this organized partly because I think it’ll be fun, but mostly because I need a quick route to respect. The boys don’t think much of me, but they will.