Thursday, September 24, 2009


Oh, we have a cat now. RD Condensed version: found an abandoned kitten pathetically trying to keep warm in the rain behind the exhaust of a filthy vending machine; we slipped it into a box for the night via rubber gloves and paper towels given its obvious and myriad parasite infestations; the vet said it will probably die but to try keeping it warm and fed and see what happens; we try; it's dosed with flea and mite meds; it stays alive; we kept it in the box in the entryway for the two weeks it took for the mites and their eggs to die; it's noisy and we worried we'd get kicked out of our No Pets hermitage; we didn't; two more weeks spent bathing it every other day to clear up mite ravaged, mangy skin--white fur, so it looked all nasty, poxy pink; still not dead; found a possible home but decided to wait to get it healthy and vaccinated so someone else won't have to; it made a full recovery--too full; possible home fell through; there are ZERO city/county/prefectural animal shelters in Japan; they eat dolphin here too in a few quaint little sea villages; I don't even know what to think about that; we considered the only private shelter in Kansai, but they have enough work and by then the cat was living here. It's name is Lolo.

Lolo is a tomcat, white with ice blue eyes, big pointy ears and a faint brown stripe that looks like the inside of a younger brother's dress shirt collar was wiped gently along the top of its key-crooked tail. He's constantly ambushing our feet, which earns him the off kick when we don't notice in time, and we're trying to break a biting habit, though most of that's probably just because he's teething. Lolo gets on OK with Coco, the in-laws' mutt. She's fascinated with him and sometimes gets too excited, but he'll smack her if she gets too close. Tomoko's mom's in love already and will take care of him when we're not here, despite her cat allergy. Sniffling weirdo.

Also, since it's sick, I'll mention it. Last Friday, we found little maggoty writhing sections of tapeworm in its stool, so we ran immediately back to the vet in vile angst for a broad spectrum internal parasite treatment. The next day we found out that it worked, but I can't believe the zoological extravaganza of freshly extinct vermin that burst forth in fecal jubilation as the wildly effective drugs passed through the little cat. Abject foulness. The cat sniffed its ghoulish waste once and walked off, totally nonplussed. I, however, am still retching, very, very plussed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I'm writing this on the printer's and flyleaves of a novel someone left at work (though am transposing it here at a later now). That someone was doubtless a teacher, since a) the book was in the teachers' lounge and b) only teachers use the lounge. Two things may be gleaned from this: 1) I am a teacher, and 2) at least one teacher takes things another teacher has left lying around. I have no qualms about this. Let me assure you here that all teachers do this, this being acquiring things that another doesn't own or is not likely to miss. The very fact that an item is left out in a teacher's lounge means that said item has either not yet been acquired or, more probably, has been dis-acquired by another teacher and is, therefore, fair game.

Teachers are a hoarding lot, but they're also usually fairly generous, so it's assumed that any teacher will hang onto what they may conceivably need now or at some future time and leave anything else for some other teacher to procure. That way everyone builds up a huge mass of stuff and nothing gets thrown away. Ever. Certainly ecological, but a system not with out flaws. Namely, no teacher will willing relinquish space, say a classroom or office, unless the alternative is better from every discernible angle (administrators are a cunning pack). This is not because we are whores for a bigger window or room nearer the elevator, though we are, but because classrooms, offices, lunchrooms, lounges, labs, etc. are sacred spaces to teachers. The major thing that physically binds us to our trade are the place wherein we ply it. The blind hope that a mind might be reached may be the furtive god of us heathen, but the real worship is of our spaces. No church can compare to a well located and appointed classroom or a good rack of bookshelves.

In the meantime, I acquired the book I'm still writing in, but I need to assure you that no thievery was involved. I feel compelled to put your mind at ease on this moral point and also make it clear that I am not attempting a thin, droll rant that sets up a cheap jibe because the name of the book is The Book Thief.

But whatever its title, its not a very good book. Of course, Elle and Woman and Home Magazines disagree with me as reported in the Acclaim for The Book Thief pages. USA Today adds that it should be on a shelf with The Diary of Anne Frank--"set to become a classic." Who am I to argue with USA Today? They're in full color! Talk about scraping the review barrel. To be fair, I guess the 50 pages or so I slogged through weren't awful (If you want awful, try The Pornographer's Poem. You'll be wanting to puke in your mouth and then explode that vomit in a fountain of incredulous laughter. I can't say enough bad about that steaming sheaf of monkey dung. It is neither edgy or important. It is tripe.), but The Book Thief has a number of problems I just couldn't get past. 1) The interspersed interjections of mantras, asides, images and other texturizers lumbering in centered, bold type throughout are annoying and make the book look like a pre-teen fantasy; 2) the story is told by a whimsically philosophical Grim Reaper who gets emotionally caught up in a jewish kid's struggle to survive Nazi Germany and the omniscient, though cloyingly sentimental, narrator bit is jejune and tired (in this way it reminds me of Lovely Bones, but not quite as bad); 3) it's written in Australian (I can just hear the audio book: 'ee maibee deed!); 4) the text is blatantly self-reflexive and consciously genre bending while at the same time being poorly crafted in both style and delivery (there is no atoning inelegance in a published text [just so were clear, online publishing is not publishing, except in a peer refereed academic journal that no one will read anyway. Let's not kid ourselves]).

In short, don't bother. Reread Anne Frank instead.

And get preached at by some random blog, while you're at it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Day in Yoshino

My goal is to update this at least once a week in some way. To help that end this* is recycled, but you don't know that.

Last week we drove a few hours to hang around the river that runs through the mountains of South Nara. A beautiful day. The kind that make you wish you'd paid attention in elementary school, when such days stretched out from June into the infinite of summer vacation. A day cloudless and breezy, warm enough to finally ride with the windows down and AC off after three months of Monsoon that just wouldn't give up its suffocatingly hot pervasion. After rounding up essential supplies (i.e. leftover curry I made way too much of, bread--nan being slightly out of my culinary domain, random containers of green[ish] tea, rice balls with grilled salmon a la 7-11, and string cheese) we were off, puzzlement over string cheese notwithstanding.

Arriving at the secret spot Tomoko's brother had exhaustedly delved through untold camping-otaku blogs in order to find, a hidden Eden where the bank was wide and flat and the river was deep enough to swim--a veritable paradise of peace and seclusion, we began to hike down a long switchbacked trail from the village where we parked the car and emerged from a mountain bamboo thicket into the much sought Utopia...only to find that the secret setting was know only to us, the blogger, and at least several hundred other people who were already there.
We picked our way through the throng chockablock along the bank and found an untaken spot to spread out among the boulders, horseflies and deafening drone of dancehall reggae. Settled, I looked up through a sweet fog of barbecue smoke and tanning oil vapor at the majestic, though hazy, mountains rising in evergreen from the opposite side of the river into a sky that was, to wantonly rip-off a film of my youth, so blue it hurt my eyes. Or maybe it was just the flaming cord of cigarettes billowing over from our neighboring revelers that caused my tears.

The food was the same as I remembered it was from dinner the past two nights, so no complaints. Plus there was string cheese.

Someone told me once that you should never swim within an hour of eating lest you cramp up and drown, presumably, down. Cub Scouts, mayhaps? Who knows? I might have made it up. Eitherwise (that needs to be a word), I once related that to Tomoko, who in blind faith and abject trust believed me and added the slip of trivia to her vast and encyclopedic fund of hypochondria/nature-paranoia. For her the world is fraught with dangers, vermin, filth and germs in even the most sterile environs, let alone a river that could, for all we knew, be careening murderously through the perhaps fathoms deep gorge before us. Never mind the lazily bobbing inner-tubers drifting most un-NASCAR-like past the rail-thin co-eds wading across an ankle lapping ford! We could DROWN!!! In other words, I had to wait to swim. So, I slathered on some sun screen, started re-reading The Third Policeman, and proceeded to burn the shit out of my feet and ever widening bald spot, where I have woefully forgotten to SPF-ize.

The hour up, we wound our way down the river to a narrow canyon where the water was deep enough to no only swim, but had rocks and cliffs that gleefully beckoned for the jumping off of. The water was crisp and clean flowing turquoise at its deepest, bubbling around rocks and eddying in apses in the escarpments jutting up on both sides. Immediately we climbed onto a large rock that stood in the midst of the opening of the narrows. It was maybe 2 meters tall and bedecked with teens daring each other to jump. Having luckily grown up in the shadow of Waiamea and Laie Point, a mere two meters lacked any sort of fear factor for me, so I stood up and dove in to the current below. I'm sure the sight of a mildly (allow me my euphemisms) out of shape man approaching middle age in his gleaming white and redness piercing the water was the epitome of grace and physical prowess. Feel free to fill in the details with your imagination. My brother-in-law was stunned. He's pretty physically adroit at most things, especially compared to me, who is, as you may be aware to varying degrees, perhaps the clumsiest of person you know. (I once punched myself in my braces filled mouth in 10th grade while describing a fight I seen after some show to Cassy Johnson in Balborona's photo class. Easily one of my coolest moments.) For some reason, my brother-in-law can't swim all that confidently, much less dive.

So I, yes I, was asked to instruct him in the art of no flip, no tuck, no twist, straight boring diving.
So, I began my course in Remedial Ornamental Water Entering. The teacher was crap and the student worse, so not much progress was made. He just could not get it. I felt like that was fine. I mean, who really cares if a 30 year old can or can't dive, especially when that person is native to a place with zero coastline. Finally, I was asked to dive from something higher so he could better see what I was doing. Obligingly, I climbed up to a higher spot on a cliff and dove off. Now as I'm sure you know, checking the depth of the water before diving from a new place is a sound and wise thing to do. I, however, am neither sound nor wise, as can now be attested to by the bone deep puncture I was bequeathed by a jagged shallow stone and now sport horrendously on my bandaged left thumb, which I have now smashed wincing against the space bar countless times while writing this just because I care that much.

*Long, Needlessly Embellished Story Warning

Friday, September 11, 2009

Akira in Miwa

Akira stayed the night on his way to Tokyo and Akainu died without even a whimper from the Osaka indie music scene. Ingrates. While he was here and in a flurry of Japonifilia we trekked south to Omiwa Shrine, entertained en-route by a 10 year-old-ish train otaku-nymph engrossed in snapping picts of passing trains and stations and then commenting on his shots quietly to himself. We imagined him all grownup later on the way home as we watched a man, T-shirt belted into jeans and carrying a small suitcase/backpack by the attached grip with the telescoping roller handle extended up beneath his armpit, walk up and down the platform in front of where we sat and Akira dragged out a slow burn off an American Spirit.

Omiwa Shrine, literally “the big God God enterprise”, it turns out, is well worth the outing. Japan's oldest after some manner of reckoning, the shrine is famous for what it lacks, a main worship hall, boasting instead a singularly unique (as if there were other uniques) triple torii, or gate, at the foot of the small mountain rising holy behind the shrine site. The gate is designated as a national cultural treasure and is not only a glorious wonder to behold, but is also entirely invisible. Akira and I traipsed with no success all over the site searching for the gate clearly photographed in the brochures one of the shrine-maidens forced on us so Akira would stop asking her arcane questions about the protective charms for sale in a cryptic effort to flirt with her.

Unable to locate the gate, we finally marched into the obviously official administrative reception hall, presumably where gads of yen are gifted wish-laden to the gods of the shrine, namely, if you must insist, Ohmononushi-no-ohkami (aka Yamato-no-ohmononushi-kushimikatama-no-mikoto, the hefty deity of the progress and development of Japan wholly!), Sukunahikona-no-kami (the Drug, Herb and Sake God—he's well worshiped by young and old), and Ohnamuchi-no-kami (who is, as far as I can make out, the God of “Also Appearing at this Shrine”). Clad only in the slippers we took off in the entryway of the building, we marched straight up to the nearest priest piously plugging away at some Excel spreadsheet behind an imposing desk and demanded to know where the famed yet seemingly non-existent gate stood in shamanistic glory.

The venerable priest looked up from his screen and perused us in a somewhat cockeyed manner, but that was because his right eye was in fact cocked alarmingly to an even more extreme right. He crookedly informed us that the gate was completely hidden behind the ceremonial pavilion in the middle of open area at the top of the stairs between the mountain and the gravel road through the forest we'd walked to get to the shrine site, beaming that we were the first people to ask about the gate in several months! Mental. Like going to d'Orsay and missing Sunflowers. He then asked us to follow him up into and through the ceremonial hall overflowing with mystic opulence, telling us that it's a holy place where only initiates can can tread but that we're okay with him since he's know all the other high priests since thay were kids, so we walked through the solemn vestibule at peace in the knowledge that the gods would accept us since our holy guide had once played truth-or-dare with the rest of the shrine elders.

Eventually we passed through the hall and walked along an ancient hallway-like terrace with a mahogany (since that sounds good) floor worn lacquer smooth by centuries of shuffling tabi to where we could peer around the back of the building and see the fabled torii towering about eight feet high in sacred majesty. Actually, it was quite stunning in a manner typically Japanese in understatement: the unpainted gate drew our eyes past it's modest, though rather fey, eaves to the mountain beyond thick with towering cypress that truly did bespeak a divinity echoing with the faith of countless believers. Terribly sublime.

The old priest joked with us as he saw us out and we thanked him awkwardly for the generous tour. Properly awestruck, somehow on the way back to the station the late summer sun didn't seem as hot nor did the cicadas sound as shrill as they'd been the day before.

Ah, my corniness offends even my own sensibilities.