I managed to escape getting a single mosquito bite all summer thanks to the cool San Francisco weather, but in the last two weeks, the mosquitos have had their revenge. My legs and arms and even my hands and feet are covered with bites. The first encounter took place in Tuscany at the Villa where Aiko and Bill got married. The bugs were so huge and omnipresent that even the bug spray couldn’t help me. Subsequent visits to restaurants with open doors and windows finished the job. I loathe mosquitos.
There are some things I will never understand about Japan no matter how long I live here. One of those things is the relative freedom people here seem to feel about pointing out physical attributes. It’s fairly normal here for variety show MCs on television to talk about the size of a young female celebrity’s breasts, and the women themselves will sometimes even start a conversation about it.
But it’s not only on television. It seems that one of things that people here think is a sign of affection or friendliness is to comment on someone’s weight. That’s not a problem if you’ve lost weight, but that’s not necessarily always the case. I was in the elevator of my office building last week, when two guys (colleagues?) bumped into each other for the first time in a long time. After the initial “long time no see” greetings, one guy pleasantly asks the other, “Did you gain weight?” The other guy replied laughing — “Yeah, I did, and I’ve even bought a snack right now.”
I was trying to come up with any scenario in the U.S. where that kind of question would be appropriate.
Today was my grandfather’s 49 day memorial service. As the kindly priest explained it, people used to bury their dead right away to avoid decay and family members would visit the grave every 7 days for four weeks. Since cremation became popular and as people have started to die, not in their homes, but elsewhere, the ashes are kept in the home so the dead can rest at home for awhile before they go to “the other side”.
I’m a Catholic so I don’t quite understand everything about the ceremony, but it was clear that most of my relatives didn’t either. I find most religious ceremonies to be spiritual and this priest had a great chanting voice, but I was worried about having to sit with my feet tucked under me, which can be very painful if you’re not used to it. Fortunately, modernization had helped take care of that problem. Since the last time I attended a Buddhist ceremony, it appears they discovered stools.
I really hate Japan right now. I needed to get my passport renewed so I went to the Passport office bright and early this morning. Before I went, I carefully checked the Web site to make sure that I had everything because I know by now that there’s a lot of documents that you need to prepare. Armed with my passport photo, my current passport, my hanko (chop) just in case, and a self-addressed stamped postcard (which they require you to provide because they can’t spare the expense of mailing you a notification card), I arrived at the office, determined to zip in and zip out.
No such luck. Of course, the one item, they won’t provide online is the renewal form. And of course, that requires the one piece of information that I didn’t have — the address of my official registry. And of course, this is the day that no one in my family, who knows, is reachable. And now I have to go back.
Damn Japanese bureaucracy.
A few weeks ago, I decided to see what all the hubbub was about. You know, the hubbub surrounding that ever popular organization for retired drunks, condemned quitters and judgmental born-again Christians known as Alcoholics Anonymous.
For over a month now I’ve been drunk free. Notice how I didn’t say drink free. Drunk free means I allow myself a drink (as in one drink) at night, usually a scotch and usually around 9:00pm. I nurse the damn thing until the cows come home, shit all over the meadow, are butchered and appear in the meats section at your local grocers. Drunk free means I haven’t been buzzed or wasted. Drunk free means I’m craving sweets like crazy. Drunk free means I bought a pack of Marlboro Lights last week. And guess what!? It’s working.
At my first and only AA meeting here in Tokyo, I was confronted by the force of a collective raised eyebrow and an intense, accusatory gaze. It demanded to know, “What are you doing here?” To which I replied, “To learn more about the Church of Latter Day Saints.” Dead silence. I think I heard a cricket commit suicide.
I quickly learned that in order to attend the meetings regularly you had to stop drinking completely. If you didn’t, you weren’t welcome back. If you did, they had some cool-aid for you to drink.
So I’m going it alone. I honestly thought it would be harder than it has been. Will I get drunk in the future? Certainly. Will that future be anytime soon? Probably not. Why the fuck not? Because I like knowing that I have control over me and it’s become a bit of a game. And God knows, I like me a good game and will not give up so easily…give up drinking that is.
I swear I will kill the next person who asks me when I’m taking my summer vacation.
Every summer, I go through this routine where person after person asks me if I’m taking a summer break. When I say “no,” there’s this shocked pause, followed by sympathetic sounds. It’s all just really tiresome.
Where does it say that everyone should take summer vacation, and if you’re not, you’re to be pitied? People here just don’t seem to understand that Americans take vacation whenever it suits them during the year. I don’t want to take a vacation during the summer when all the schools are on summer break, everything is crowded and expensive AND it’s hot no matter where you go unless you’re going south of the equator, where it’s winter. I happen to like working through the summer and taking my big vacation in the early spring (which incidentally shocks people too, though with envy)
Some things, I just wish people would leave me alone about.
My partner and I went to Seoul last weekend for the hell of it. A dear friend warned me that as a vegetarian I should bring a stash of saltine crackers with me on the plane. I chose to ignore her advice. And I lost one kilo because of it.
Koreans have never met a pig they didn’t like. You see barbecued hog jaws piled on top of each other at outdoor markets. They love their cows too. At most local restaurants, you sit Indian-style on the floor and inhale a feast of cow inards and side dishes that include tiny, whole fish seasoned with what looks like diarrhea juice. Yummy!
During our day trip to the DMZ, our tour bus stopped at some fly-infested, Korean barbecue dive for lunch. On the way there, the tour guide asked if anyone was a vegetarian. I was delighted that she asked this question and was happy to discover that there were two other herbivores. So the totemo genki tour guide pranced over to my seat and asked if egg was okay. I said yes and she smiled like I had just told her that she had won a million Yuan.
Egg. Hmmm, egg. How would it be served? Scrambled? Hard-boiled? Sunny side up? No, silly goose. Raw! My bowl of veggies came with a raw egg in the center.
It’s hard for me not to get “that face.” “That face” that my partner says annoys him until the cows come home. And I mean this quite literally as the waitress placed before him a sizeable portion of beef. “That face” that he says makes him see red. “That face” that says I’ve become Joan Collins on Dynasty.
My partner asked if I was going to eat my lunch. I looked at him with “that face” and said, “I’m not going to eat a fucking raw egg in some fly-infested shit-hole!” The men at the next table looked up from their dead cow. I said that I was going for a walk and quickly left. But my baby new that “going for a walk” was code for I was going to find some beer.
There was a gas station next door. I bought a can, sat at a table outside, contemplated my behavior and thought about the DMZ. I downed the tall boy quickly so that I would not get caught. You can’t visit the DMZ if you’ve had a drink earlier that day. Not even one. That’s like telling me I can’t have chocolate chip ice cream when I go to Baskin Robbins. Plus, I hate anyone telling me what I can and cannot do so it was my mission to have a drink before I stepped foot on North Korean soil.
Thank God I opted for the hotel room with executive lounge access. With the exception of one lunch, I ate all my meals at the exec lounge in the Westin Chosun. Scrambled eggs with salad for breakfast. Cheese with salad for dinner. All three days and nights. Now that I weigh 70 kilos, I’m two kilos away from my flat stomach, summer weight. I should go back to Seoul for a week!
I emailed in sick early this morning. Cough, cough. Seriously, my throat is a bit scratchy but I mostly called in “sick” because the thought of dealing, by myself mind you, with that too large of a group of overly pampered children for an hour was too much to bear. And honestly, I’m thinking of quitting that part-time gig or at the very least, working fewer hours.
Because I don’t have to work, my bullshit threshold is low. This means that when I hint that I don’t want to be alone with ten children between the ages of four and nine with varying degrees of English proficiency, I mean that if you continue to assign this challenge (nightmare) to me, I’ll walk. Get someone else to play London Bridge or read Curious George. Incidentally, I have no idea how the same damn story can be so appealing to those kids over and over again. I keep hoping that halfway into yet another tale of Curious George’s misadventures, the “man with the yellow hat” takes out a Smith and Wesson and wastes that fucking monkey.
Today started like every other except that I knew I had the day to spend doing whatever the hell I wanted to do. I put on my favorite shirt that I got at this vintage shop on the Lower East Side when I was still living in New York and took a stroll thru Nakameguro and by the Meguro Canal. I had a proper lunch at Michelangelo’s in Daikanyama. Salad, pasta, dessert, coffee and a couple of glasses of red wine, of course. I then went window shopping at those furniture design shops down the street. I just got back to the apartment. So much to do and see literally steps from my apartment. I didn’t get on a train to do or see any of the above.
So why the fuck do I bother with a job at all? Guilt? Self-worth? Masochism? Do I crave a life of leisure? To be some spoiled bitch? Maybe. Maybe not.
Moving to Japan meant shifting my definition of self from me-centered to we-centered. I say “we” a lot more now. “We” like that restaurant. “We” get our green tea there too. “We” think that place is overrated. There is a lot of “we” going on and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
The money I do make from my part-time gig allows us to more easily say “fuck it” and go to the Westin near our apartment and have a martini and read the FT on a Sunday afternoon (eventhough we’re technically a day late for the FT they always find one for us at the gift shop). Would we do this anyway? Probably. But it would be harder to justify.
And that’s really what it’s all about anyway, right? To justify. Can I justify my life? Not to others but to myself. And do I really need to?
The other night I rented Prom Night Two: Hello Mary Lou, a very silly 80’s slasher flick. Look, I enjoy scary movies, even when they are not at all scary but instead so stupid they are comedies. Besides, my partner is out of town on business so renting a real scary movie now would mean not sleeping at all.
The first and only time I saw this movie, until last night, was back in high school and given that I’m a gay man, I didn’t remember that the movie included a few vagina shots. Back then they were hairier than their present counterparts and so harder to miss but I wasn’t interested in that. Still, if those ‘gina shots were fuzzed-out when I first saw the movie, I’d be more likely to remember them. How can a pixeled vagina not cause more of a stir than a vagina al fresco?
Here in Japan they disagree, or at least the censors do. The offending vaginas were pixeled (pixelated?) out of view, fuzzed-out, and this offends me. Not only does it make me remember them more than I would if they were not censored, it makes me feel like a stupid child with an overprotective parent looking over my shoulder.
What will the censors do when Babel is released in Japan? When I saw that movie in The States and the Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi bared all, the first thing I thought was “How are the Japanese censors going to deal with this?” Incidentally, her performance was the best one in that movie, with or without a “money shot.”
As a “single” trailing partner in Japan, I’m not granted the rights afforded to married trailing partners. Japan, like the US, does not nationally recognize gay unions, so if you’re like me, you’re shit out of luck.
If you are a straight trailing partner and in a relationship but not married you find yourself in a similar situation. I’ve met a few women in this predicament here in the land of loveless marriages. It’s not the kind of information they share with their married lady friends over lunch at The American Club. But I’m not a married lady friend and I’m much younger than the married ladies these “single” ladies lunch with. So after ten or fifteen minutes with me over coffee or a cocktail, I become Oprah and they become my guests.
The other day, a “single” lady friend of mine told me that she and her partner were not married and that she had been doing the visa run thing every 90 days or so. I know this run well. It involves long, lonely plane rides back home and the ability to earn shitloads of American Airline miles. God love ‘em.
A couple of months ago she tried to extend her visa another six months. So she enlisted the help of a Japanese acquaintance, had her make some calls and then visited the dreaded immigration center in Shinagawa.
It turns out that in order to even be considered for an extension, she and her partner had to provide mortgage information, life insurance documents, joint bank account statements and a declaration of love to one another on paper. And, I shit you not, a letter from her partner’s parents declaring their support of this unmarried union.
My advice? If you can get married, do. Why put up with all this BS? And if he doesn’t want to marry you, I say go on a visa run and never come back.
$39.99 is what one has to pay to try out the on-line dating for a month. I figured I have spent that amount or more on things that aren’t nearly as valuable as finding the love of your life (wrinkle cream, $80 hat, my frequent stops at Starbucks, etc.). I must say I will have to add listening to Dr. Phil and trying the on-line dating on my list of wasted forty dollars. 2 weeks of it and still getting creepy e-mails and random “winks” from people who obviously are incapable of reading (since they don’t fit my profile at all!). I finally got tired of waiting to find the right match so I did a search determined to at least “wink” at 3 guys. Didn’t ask for much…a guy that is taller than me (I’m 5′2″), a guy that makes at least as much as me (which really isn’t much), and a guy who has a bachelor’s degree. ABSOLUTELY NOBODY I would be interested in “winking” at. I guess I’m searching in the wrong pond. Anyhow, for those of you trying or thinking of trying the on-line dating here are some “note to self” tips:
1) Don’t post a picture taken from the web cam with the computer light gleaming on you. It will make you look like one of the pedophiles that get caught on 20/20.
2) Don’t post pictures where you obviously cut out your ex-girlfriend. Not very tasteful.
3) And don’t put “looking for 18 – (whatever age)” unless your 18 yourself. Creepy…
I teach elementary school children at an afterschool program. Half are full on Japanese and half are half and halfs–one parent local, one parent gaijin. But without any exceptions, they are all cuter than cute. We’re talking so cute you just want to rethink your whole attitude towards not having kids cute. But not really. Maybe. That’s why what I witnessed, yet again, this weekend really bothered me.
Cute gaijin kids traveling with their parents on the subway never get second looks from the locals. True, it’s rare that a cute local kid will raise an eyebrow. But there is one type of kid that I’ve noticed gets more looks and smiles than a shapely whore in pink heels. The French Kid.
Sure, the French Kid is a gaijin but remember that the Japanese worship all things French and that includes their fugly rodent spawn. I wasn’t surprised but I was angry when I saw no fewer than three Japanese adults smile and admire the ugliest little croissant I have ever seen. She had the forehead of that popular Mongolian sumo wrestler, the ears of a rat and the eyes of a nocturnal marsupial. But none of these horrible deformities stopped the offenders from smiling at her like demented clowns.
I want to see more locals smiling at their home-grown kiddies and even (am I asking too much?) at the half and halfs. Please?
So not that I don’t already have enough to do with my full time school counseling job, part time foster care social work, and fashion school classes, I also babysit occasionally. As I was in line with the zillion other cars waiting to drop off their children, I realized I would be that heartless parent who would rather have their child walk to school in this unsafe world than wait every morning for 30 to 45 minutes in line with all the loving parents. After safely dropping off the child and starting to accept that I shouldn’t reproduce, I saw a child heading towards school walking like Forest Gump. Her parent was making her walk to school with a full on leg brace! Now that’s tough love. So maybe I wouldn’t be the WORST parent after all
So my sister has asked me to write on her blog since she is busy with all the marvelous trips and of course work. I have to warn you that my writing is a bit EL (English Learner) but none the less, I thought I could add a bit of the west coast flavor to the site.
Living in Orange County, California, is quite interesting. I mean all the quality shows take place here. There’s Laguna Beach on MTV, The real housewives of Orange County, The OC, etc. etc. Well, as much as the show makes a mockery of us Orange County residents, I hate to admit that there is some truth to the materialistic, fake boobs, and “don’t talk to me unless you’re rich” attitude. Now trying to meet quality mates in this environment can be such a challenge. I went to the Landmark (a popular night spot in Corona del Mar) and a girl bumped into me with her fake boob which was so hard that I had to gasp for air. Of course following the girl were men gawking at her.
So I have decided to give an on-line dating site one month. Just to see if the on-line world is any better than these bar scenes. The fun part of it so far has been it’s just like on-line shopping. You click on a picture and you say “ooh that looks nice” and then click on additional pictures and say “ooh not so nice, nevermind.” Or you check off all the qualities that you are looking for in a mate and search for a match. So far I have had lots of Asian guys “wink” (on-line flirting) and creepy old men (no offense to anyone) but I will definitely keep you guys posted. This shall be an interesting ride. Is it like this every where? or are other states better at dating?
I recently got a part-time gig teaching kids at an after school program close to my apartment. I’m working with kids. Kids. You know, the little people who haven’t yet mastered the art of driving or coloring within the lines.
Now I never had any desire to work with the kiddies. Back in college, I earned a secondary teaching certificate so that I could avoid the little ones. A primary teaching certificate was for those women who peppered their speech with words like “cute” and “adorable” and for men who were too creepy to comprehend. School-themed bowties my ass.
And now, half way around the world, I find myself reading “Clifford the Big Red Dog” at storytime. The kids are sprawled out around me focusing on my every word. I’m a celebrity. It’s intoxicating.
The Valentine’s Day cards I received in my homemade Valentine’s Day box had me laughing out loud when I read them in my kitchen. When my partner got home from work, I read them to him and said things like, “Isn’t that cute?” and “That kid is adorable.”
What next? A creepy school-themed bowtie? I’d rather jump in front of an oncoming train.
A friend and fellow resident of this great city invited me to be an online “friend” of his on this one website. Out of loyalty and curiousity I complied. How middle school, cut-throat cafeteria would it have been for me to not to? I quickly learned that two of my best friends from the states already had profiles on this website and that this website is the seventh most visited website on the internet. And no, it’s not myspace.com. What am I, 15?
When it comes to the internet I am Kermit the Frog green. But when it comes to matters of the heart, or of the liver, or of another organ, well I’m cherry red or rotting depending on the organ.
I wasn’t an angel in my past life (pre-partner). In fact, I was quite the devil. My 20s were spent in back alleys, opium dens and steak houses. Okay, just one back alley that I recall, no opium dens and more than my fair share of steak houses. I did afterall live in Chicago for over three years and was, at the time, a practicing carnivore.
So what if the past comes back to haunt me? What if those I left hanging, those I left wanting and those I left seething found me online? I’ve spent more time than I care to admit on disappearing: on papers, on records, on any legal documents. Now, suddenly, as an internet “friend” I am quickly connected to old friends and perhaps old enemies.
But really, it’s not like I killed someone and secretly hid their mutilated body in the upstairs broom closet of that dilapidated crack house in Jersey City south of where I used volunteer. Now that would really come back to bite me on the ass.
Last week, I returned something in Japan for the first time. This is something that is extremely discouragedÂ here and simply rarely done. I’m happy to report to you that the experience was just as bad as I expected. I had bought a USB cable for my iPod nano that was made by a third party Chinese manufacturer at Bic Camera, a large electronics retailer. I was told that it was the same exact thing as Apple’s cable, but when I went home to try it out, iTunes for some reason wouldn’t register my iPod’s presence. When I looked on Apple’s Web site, it told me that this would happen with some third party cables, so obviously I took it back. First, the sales person stared me down for awhile, then persisted in asking what was wrong with it. When I told her about the problem I had, she stared at me some more and said my problem was impossible. Only when I stared right back at her, did she reluctantly exchange my cable for one made by Apple. All of it was unpleasant and quite unnecessary in my opinion because I ended up spending more money. (Of course, she sort of had a point because the Apple cable still didn’t register my iPod’s presence. It was only after I rebooted my laptop, did things work. Makes me wonder if that was all it took with the other cable.)
A friend of mine, who works in retail, said that they are encouraged to discourage consumers from returning things, but if you make a big deal about it, and don’t back down, they will always give in. The bottom line is they need to make sure that the customer leaves happy. That’s good to know, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning items is a pain. It’s occasions like this when I miss the good ole U.S. of A.
We usually don’t get much relevant mail, but yesterday I got two — my tax form (ugh!) and a big envelope that contained a four page survey form from the realtor that we used to find our current apartment. I was a bit surprised that they would even try to send me this — if you ask me, anyone who has time to fill out a random survey has too much time on their hands. But they were way ahead of me because as I was getting ready to toss the thing into the waste basket, a small card slipped out. It was a 1,000 yen gift certificate to buy books.Â A thank you in advance if you will. It’s probably the most clever thing I’ve come across in a long time. Like any self-respecting person with a conscience (something that the Japanese are particularly sensitive to), I, of course, filled it out and will be posting it tomorrow.
My answers were pretty neutral. The realtor, Ken Corp., is one of the biggest and most exclusive realtors in Tokyo. As such, they have a huge database of some of the most prime property around. If you’re looking in certain tony areas of town, there’s really no way to avoid them. In our case, the realtor that we wanted to give our business to couldn’t get the contract so we went to the listing realtor, which was Ken. Here’s my real two cents on Ken Corp — They’re a decent realtor with a great selection, but if you speak any Japanese, I would use the Japanese Web site and call up the Japanese contact person. I made the mistake of going through the English Web site, which got me a contact in the foreign division. Our guy got the job done, but he was too young, wasn’t aggressive enough and a little bit rote in his manners. My theory is that the foreign division gets all the guys, whose primary qualification is they speak English. The really good guys, who know the business, are in the regular division.
No, not New York. New York is too American and not American enough. I’m talking about the montrous, smoggy, flat and muggy city of Houston, Texas, the cesspool my sister currently calls home. Houston is undoubtedly, the ugliest big city in the US. Just walk down one of its city “sidewalks.”
If you had to live in Houston though, you’d want to live in my sister’s neighborhood or area or location or whatever the hell those upwardly mobile, urban bumpkins like to call it. Not surprisingly, it’s where gays, shopping and money meet, off Montrose, near the Galleria, a stones throw from River Oaks. It’s also (surprise) overwhelmingly white.
On one relatively brisk Houston day this past December, I decided to walk to the Galleria while my sister was at work. Her apartment is literally a few blocks away from a plethora of shops and restaurants. And I’m not talking about a plethora given Houston standards. I’m talking about a plethora given any big city’s standards. But you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the neighborhood walking to these shops and restaurants. Knowing this, I decided that as a big city boy (New York and Chicago via Mexico City) it was my duty to show these fat-assed hillbillies what walking actually looked like.
I walked down broken, uneven sidewalks, brushed some overgrown brush out of my way, darted across railroad tracks and crossed myself before crossing a busy feeder to a main highway. And on this relatively brisk winter day, I actually broke a sweat. As soon as I entered the Galleria, I made a b-line for the nearest Mexican restaurant and had myself a margarita.
I did, however, pass a few other people on my walk. A fellow brownie sporting a fast food uniform, a couple of middle-aged, black ladies waiting for the bus and one of those guys who you aren’t sure is homeless but you are sure you should avoid. Luxury cars zipped by us on their way to Neimen Marcus and Saks. Yes, I was headed there too but I was walking there, dammit.
This past Christmas holiday, in addition to my week in Houston with my sister, I was able to spend a week back in New York and a pleasant 24 hours in Chicago. And on my flight back to Tokyo, I was happy to be returning to another real big city where people actually walk on sidewalks.
This morning I had to wait at a crosswalk with a child clearly possessed by Satan.Â The kid had a set of lungs on her and wasn’t at all ashamed to use them.Â She just kept on screaming.Â Her mom did nothing.Â
Now, I like to think I’m enlightened when it comes to child-rearing but this kid was way past a timeout.Â She was beggin’ for a beatin’.Â If I had pulled that crap at her age my mom would have told me that if I really wanted something to cry about, she’d help me out.Â
Remember when moms could smack their kids into submission?Â Smack them senseless or unconcious.Â Either way you’d end up with a quiet kid.Â My mom used to hit me with whatever was nearby.Â Brooms, brushes, belts.Â Which I guess explains my aversion to sweeping, my short hair and why my pants keep falling down.Â