31
Dec
08

Home Alterations Part 6

I had planned to do some more canvassing in Pennsylvania for Obama on Monday, but Sunday was such a drain.  I was emotionally spent.  So, I couch-potatoed half the day away. I didn’t want to see anyone. The phone was ringing, my friends were reaching out, but I wasn’t in the mood to be reached.

Every evening before my trip home had been spent devouring every thing available on the net about this election, and blogging. But, since my arrival in NY I had been trying not to think about it. I didn’t want to ponder the most pressing of questions: “what does it mean if he wins?”

Well, it was time to ponder.

An Obama win was the unthinkable not a year ago. Not unthinkable in “he’ll never raise enough money,” or “his position on abortion is too controversial,” kind of way. Unthinkable in the I WAS NOT BORN IN A COUNTRY THAT IS CAPABLE OF ELECTING A BLACK MAN AS ITS LEADER kind of way. I mean, it went against everything I thought I knew about the US. It seemed almost un-American to toy with the idea. Extraordinarily cruel and fiendishly wicked to dangle the impossibility as they have, I thought.

Visions of a handful of old white power brokers smoking cigars and drinking pricey liquor deciding the next president dominated my thinking, not unlike these guys from one of my favorite movies, Being There:

And I never believed in a million years that any of these guys would say, “How about this Hawaiian mutt with the Islamic name and exotic background? He seems pretty, I don’t know, electable. Let’s give him a shot.”

But, everything that had happened during the campaign pointed towards a Barack landslide. McCain’s only chance of victory was if a whole lot of white people decided to stay home and sit this one out or suddenly got behind that curtain, looked at that ballot and said, “Oh, Hellll no! What the fuck was I thinking?”  And if those were the only two ways McCain could win, then this thing was over. Because if the people I’d canvassed in Pennsylvania were any indication of the people across America pledging their support for Obama, no way would this so-called Bradley Effect occur. I think the predominant vibe I got from the Pennsylvanians was that they were of the mind “If Barack loses it won’t be because of us.”

So, what would it mean?

To me, an Obama victory would mean everything, EVERYTHING, I ever thought I knew about my country was mostly bullshit. That the country I thought I understood I really didn’t understand at all. I liked to think of New York as the ideal America, and I knew NY would support Obama. When I say America, I always mean those people who supported Bush the second time. These people I couldn’t believe really existed. I could understand them putting him in office in 2000 what with all the nonsense generated by the Clinton administration (and if you set aside the whole Florida thing) but the 2004 election established these people as beyond…well, beyond my understanding.

But, even before then I thought I knew America. I had experienced America vicariously through my parents and teachers and their experiences were mostly horrible. Even the evidence before my eyes couldn’t invalidate the impression they instilled in me. As an adult, I could look around me and see that America wasn’t necessary black and white, but green. Clearly America was about the money. Money and ability and belief in one’s self…and a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt, either. It was about those who have these and those who do not, and aside from a few ignorant people here and there, trapped behind the color line, these were the deciding factors in how one progressed in America. And, I actually lived my life according to what I experienced more so that what my parents and teachers had. Of course, white privilege was and still is a reality. But, I could attribute that to just bad cultural habits more than some organized agenda by the man to keep the people in their place.

But, from time to time, especially when a crisis would arrive, I’d feel that lowest common denominator pulling me down. This damn race thing. Rodney King, James Byrd Jr., just to name a couple. These types of incidents reminded me of just how how close we were as a country to our dark past. But, on the other hand, I could look at Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. And I knew that progress was being made.

And, that’s exactly what an Obama victory would mean, I decided. That America had truly progressed…no more, no less…ok, perhaps a bit more. (-:

In my apartment in Yokohama I have an American flag. It’s about the size you might find oncimg0015 a front porch or in a flowerpot. I keep it on my desk. I don’t know why. At least I didn’t until today.

I didn’t realize that although I did not feel that America was all that she had claimed to be or had the potential to be, that I had been harboring all along a secret desire to be proud of my country; a secret I even kept from myself. And, I have the Japanese to thank, partially, for revealing this secret longing to me. Though they’d never admit it, the Japanese are nationalist. They’d deny it on a stack of whatever texts are sacred to them, but I watch them. i watch them at the bars during a World Cup soccer match or an Olympic event with a Japanese contestant. They’d say it’s niwaka aikokusya (にわか愛国者) or instant nationalism, but it shines through and it’s extreme. I see it when there’s a sumo tournament and they must yet again watch a Mongolian Rikishi walk away with the Emperor’s Cup. I hear it in how often they use the word Japanese as an adjective to distinguish their country’s products and ideas from others…from rice to dogs to plastic bags.  The equivalent would be like an American saying, “do you like American rice?” or “Do you know how to use American can openers?” Yes, they might be a few generations removed from the loyalty the Imperialism of earlier times mandated but Japan and all things Japanese hold a prominent place in the hearts and minds of most the people here. And, they ain’t ashamed to show it. And, living among them and among this nationalistic energy tampered with my harbored desires.

For example, in Japan I often find myself in the awkward position of defending American products and ideas that I honestly never really thought twice about or felt any particular allegiance to, like Coca-Cola or Disney.

“I’ve never been to Tokyo Disneyland…” I responded to a one of the teachers in the office one day who asked did I like it. Shock swept across all their faces. “Uso!” stop lying! some gasped.

“Nande???” Why not? one asked.

“Well, I don’t really like Mickey Mouse. When I was a kid there were 3 famous cartoon mice. Mighty, Jerry and Mickey, and of the three, Mickey was the corniest. ”

2005_08_09_mightymouse

jerry-mouse-ozartmickey-mouse-c

(By the way I was a HUGE Tom and Jerry fan! Not to mention Itchy and Scratchy!)

“How can you not like Disney??? You’re American, right?” It was like they were offended. To them, it was almost the equivalent of a Japanese person not speaking Japanese or bashing the emperor. Which, I suspect, brought them to the ridiculous conclusion that I was not an “average” American, and since I represent all African Americans in their eyes, it meant that African Americans were not “average” Americans, something to add to their Yappari arsenal. They actually questioned my nationalism based on whether or not I held affection for an outdated icon and an amusement park.

“I like Coca-cola, though” I said in my defense, taking a sip from mine and giving them an “ahh, now that’s American refreshment” face. But, the damage was done.

“Cola is poison,” the vice-principal blurted out. “It melts bones! Japanese Green tea is healthy. That’s why Japanese are healthy people and live long lives.”

“It’s what???” I responded, a little shocked myself. “Poison?”

Of course I knew Coke wasn’t exactly a health tonic, but I took it personally the way he’d called it poison. It seemed to me like an indirect way of saying America is poisoning the world and by virtue of being American I was a representative of a nation dead set on melting the bones of Japanese and any other race I could get to suck on my poison…

“Deshou?” he said, like everyone knows what you guys over there are up to.

“Well,” I said, “Green tea is high in caffeine!” I wanted to add: no wonder you guys can work 12 hours a day 6 days a week, but I didn’t.

They all looked around as if they were seeking confirmation of my claim in the one another’s faces.

“Deshou?” I added. “And caffeine is a drug. An addictive drug!” I wanted to say: all of you guys are junkies, but again I didn’t. Though I’m sure they could hear it in my tone. Japanese drink green tea like the rest of the world drinks coffee.

I’m terribly defensive sometimes. The things I do for America. Scenes like the one above occur quite frequently here in the land of products that start with the word, “Japanese.” And, after five years, I now have an arsenal of brain-stumping and/or sarcastic comebacks for most of their nationalistic assaults. Especially the ones that attack America.

Yes, it’s a strange feeling defending a country you abandoned.

That night I went to the next place on my list of must eats: Juniors, in downtown Brooklyn. 26_juniors_lglJunior’s is actually located across the street from the University I attended, LIU Brooklyn campus. It brought back a lot of memories being there. Junior’s is famous for Cheesecake. Once you’ve had a slice of their cheese cake it’s pretty difficult to ever call another cheese cake cheese cake. You’d sooner call it imitation cheese cake. I stood in the line…there’s almost always a line for cheesecake…and through the window I could see my alma mater. It had grown in the years since I graduated. Two new buildings had been erected and a great deal of renovation had been done.

liuOriginally, my school had been a movie palace and theater. paramount1Really. It was called the Brooklyn Paramount, and hosted many famous performers from Duke Ellington to The Beatles.

I wonder what the people who lived at that time in Brooklyn, would think of Brooklyn now. Maybe the same way I was starting to feel about Brooklyn: like it was ever-changing and will never be or feel the same again. I guess there are worst things a theater could be turned into, though. There was another famous Movie Palace in downtown Brooklyn: The Albee. It should have been a landmark but they tore it down when I was a kid and built a shopping mall. I guess Joni Mitchell said it best: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

But, Junior’s cheese cake is still the same: delicious. I ate it while I watched an old Peter Sellers movie…I didn’t know it then but the next day my country who I’ve defended to the Japanese so vigilantly would reward my unsung efforts by electing the first African American president.

You’re probably thinking I could have experienced this all from Japan being that I was just laying on my landlord’s couch eating cheesecake and watching old movies…but tomorrow I would learn there’s nothing quite like being there.

Loco

Here’s the hilarious final scene from the film, Being There

PS: I’ve written, and am in the process of revising, a novel. It’s unrelated to my experiences in Japan. If you enjoy my writing and have a little free time please check out: Real Gods require Blood. I’ll be posting it chapter by chapter.

Thanks in advance

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22 Responses to “Home Alterations Part 6”


  1. 1 TLR
    January 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Being There Classic movie – Peter Sellers was robbed and should have taken the oscar for best actor that year! Amazing movie!

    aloha and Happy New Year!

    TLR

  2. 2 Locohama
    January 1, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Yeah, he sure was robbed…The original Forrest Gump (-:
    Happy New Years!
    Thanks TLR. I hope all will be well in your Garden this year (-:

    Loco

  3. January 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Good post and an excellent analysis of the election. Whether or not you support Obama’s positions or policies, you have to admit that the system does, indeed, seem to work quite well… At least better than in a lot of other places.

    You have the American-in-Japan dilemma pretty much pegged. As I have said elsewhere, Loco, you also seem to be blessed with the ability to confront it all with the humor and good cheer that are so essential to live successfully in Japan.

    Happy cheesecake!

    EC

  4. 4 Locohama
    January 1, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks Chmura-san!!! I really appreciate your feedback (-:

    One day you must make your way to Junior’s. You won’t regret

    Loco

  5. 5 ItAintEazy
    January 2, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Omisoka omedetou! Yes, I also think that if five years ago you would have told me that a state Senator from Illinois representing the blackety-black Chicago South Side with an A-rab-sounding name would be our next president, I’d be getting you the lithium myself. But I’m not giving white people much credit since only 43 percent of them voted for Obama anyways – an improvement of only 3 percent that Kerry got.

    • 6 Locohama
      January 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm

      I hear you, EZ…But even 43% is saying something in my book (-:
      Happy News Years!

  6. January 3, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Well, EZ, if you want to play with numbers, you also could say that black people don’t deserve much credit for Obama’s victory because they make up such a small percentage of the U.S. population.

    The fact is Obama won. Why not relish the moment and hope for the best instead of searching for dark linings in silver clouds?

  7. 8 ItAintEazy
    January 4, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Actually, Edward, you can’t do anything BUT give black people, and other minorities, credit for Obama’s win. Face it, if it was just up to white people, they would once again vote on the wrong side of history. Blacks made up 13 percent of the vote and just over 12 percent went for Obama. Since Obama won against McCain by 7 points, you can see the impact the large turnout of black voter had on his victory.

  8. 9 ItAintEazy
    January 4, 2009 at 8:06 am

    See, Loco, I told you I was a keep-you-down mf-er. Can’t be happy with anything can I :^)

    • January 4, 2009 at 8:46 am

      No Sweat easy! It’s all good! As a loyal reader you’ve got carte blanche to call em as you see em. can’t wait to hear what you think of “Real Gods” (-:

      Loco

  9. January 4, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    “And, after five years, I now have an arsenal of brain-stumping and/or sarcastic comebacks for most of their nationalistic assaults. Especially the ones that attack America.”

    I’d PAY to see the list… haha… or it could be a very entertaining entry if you gave some of your more confrontational daily dialogs. How do you get sarcasm to work there anyway? Have you deciphered their version of it well enough to concoct stuff that will be understood properly AS sarcasm?

    • January 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm

      Nope, I’m afraid not. Sarcasm is virtually beyond Japanese. I just have to play with irony a little, and try to give it a light hearted edge. For example:
      Typical Conversation
      JP: Americans like oily food…we Japanese do not like oily food.
      Me: I can’t speak for all americans but I love me some fried chicken.
      JP: Sou desu ka.
      Me: But only if my mother makes it. I can’t eat KFC…now that’s some greasy chicken! Is KFC popular here?
      JP: Un! Very popular!
      Me: I see! Do they fry it in tofu or something?
      JP: Anoooo, eeeeeto!

      (-:

      Loco
      PS: Maybe I will do a post! Good idea, Justin!

  10. January 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    When I first got here there were no McDonald’s type of hamburger shops. I was told back then that such shops would never succeed in Japan because Japanese etiquette would never allow The Japanese People to open their mouth wide enough if public to take a bite of a burger.

    I was also told at the time that sit-down type Western-style toilets would never catch on in Japan, because the squat-type bomb sight benjo was more compatible with the physique of The Japanese People.

    And the list goes on….

    • January 4, 2009 at 5:53 pm

      Wow, they’ve come a looooonng way baby. Before long diabetes and obesity will be on the rise, no more girls squatting talking on their cellphones on the subway platforms and the workplace toilet will become a place to hide and read the paper.
      The end of civilization as they know it
      (-:

      Loco

  11. January 5, 2009 at 1:50 am

    I had written a reply to this and hit the wrong button – which prompted me to login to WordPress again and – damn, I lost the whole reply. I will never be able to recreate what I said – but I am amazed when black Americans express surprise that Obama won – even though it pretty much looked like he would win the whole election – after he beat Hillary that is. And the whole Brady effect argument never made much sense to me – white Americans (along with Americans of all races) came out in droves to rallies that were televised – they would not have been there (many with tears in their eyes) if they did not mean to be there out in public (they were proud for people to know who they supported so they certainly wouldn’t worry about what to do behind the voting curtain.

    There is certainly still a very large race disconnect in America – but not just with blacks and whites – with all races – we are never all going to be the same – there will always be arguments (especially about who deserves what). But America is giving what it promised. Maybe in little spurts here and there – but sometimes in big spurts. For every unsuccessful black person there is an equally unsuccessful white person – or hispanic – or whatever.

    It just makes me so said that IT SEEMS that many black Americans do not recognize the success of so many who have gone before them. You do not have to be President to be deemed successful. There are so many black Americans who are really living the dream and so many non-blacks who are not. We truly are a melting pot.

    Anyway, this is not at all what I had originally written – that was really much more on point. But I am glad that you can be proud of America – and FYI – America can be proud of you – but only if you get enough cheesecake to share with everyone.

    I love the name of your novel – I cannot wait to begin reading it.

    • January 5, 2009 at 8:59 am

      Hi Reason2! Thanks for the thoughtful response…(-:
      Yeah, it is amazing, isn’t it? I have a theory, though, as to why some black people (myself included) had a hard time believing an Obama victory was possible. And I think it’s connected to your idea about the racial disconnect. There’s a lack of trust, plain and simple. When you’ve (meaning blacks as a race) been lied to over and over, have had promises broken, dreams crushed (and/or assassinated) children (and adults) killed, received little to no protection from the powers that be (meaning white) and in fact endured quite the opposite for decade upon decade, century upon century, this distrust almost becomes part of the DNA. Almost a common sense survival instinct. Don’t believe, don’t trust, don’t care, and you won’t get too hurt. It’s so human, if you think about it. And kinda tragic (in a Shakespearean way). It takes a great deal of conscious effort to break this coding…if you don’t make the effort (and I mean a strenuous one) or have the good fortune of growing up in an environment where this disconnect is addressed very early in life, you will definitely default to distrust.
      Obama was lucky. He grew up learning to trust, to care about and believe in white people. And white people responded. He was not disconnected at all.
      Most black people, myself included, never had that experience. In fact, many have had the opposite…they were told by their parents and grand parents that America is a white country and blacks have to either tread lightly and carefully or fight inexhaustibly and disproportionately in order to make strides in it. That’s why there have been the kind of successes you mentioned. But most of these people feel they’ve achieved their goals, reached their dreams DESPITE America, not because America gives what it promises. But because they were strong enough to TAKE what America wouldn’t have given freely to any black person.
      Taking from America is the black American dream. Taking that which has been denied since her inception. Kicking and punching and scratching and clawing, bitching and moaning, singing and dancing, (fake) smiling and grinning, marching and protesting, rioting and boycotting, robbing and stealing, for those inalienable rights and pleasures many feel white Americans have been given based solely on skin color…
      Like I said in the post, I thought I knew America. And what I thought I knew I embraced like common sense. The Obama victory to me was like the equivalent of learning that locking your doors and windows at night was not a necessity or if you leave your cellphone and briefcase on the table when you go to the bathroom at a Starbucks they will be waiting for you when you come back unmolested. (-:
      (I’m talking about my life now, btw)
      So, I’ve reconsidered many of my previous ideas about America as it pertains to common sense, as I’m sure many people have as a result of this. I’ll see where it goes but so far so good…
      (-:
      Loco

      PS: I can’t wait to hear what you think of the novel! Yeah, I love that title too. It’s something my favorite writer wrote. Do you know Zora Neale Hurston?

  12. January 5, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Hi again:

    I was worried I might have insulted you with what I wrote – sometimes I speak too freely – but I am just so thankful as to how responsive you are and how willing you are to explain your side of things. I am just so amazed that black Americans don’t see their potential as well as many white Americans seem to. It’s really, really sad. Maybe Obama’s victory will break down some of those disbeliefs. I saw a congressman say that he had always told his kids they could be anything in America – but he did not believe a word of it until now – until Obama won. Holy crap. He is a congressman. That is something I will never be. I have not had horrible, life-ending struggles in my life – but life is not easy for anybody. And I don’t think being white has gotten me my happiness. It has been hard earned. And I think that is true for most people. It is just so interesting to read your blog. And I am so thankful you are open to discussion. It is very helpful! Thank you for sharing!

    • January 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

      It’s not really so sad, actually. I think in a sordid way it has been good for black people. Not the disbelief part, but the belief that because of white privilege (whether you agree it exists or not) black people have to work twice as hard to achieve the same goals. If this privilege does exists then the result of working twice as hard is a racial balance of achievement, if it doesn’t exist and all it is is a perception then the result is over-achievement on the part of those who overworked erroneously. Either way it’s a successful end. I don’t think being white = happiness, and that white people don’t have to work hard in America. Sorry if I suggested that…it was unintentional. I know that everyone who wants to achieve their goals must struggle. My point is that race had undeniably been an obstacle in America making the struggle just that much harder for people of color. And the psychological side effects of these additional hurdles have been both positive and negative. Positive in that they’ve inspired many black people to work that much harder to clear them, and negative in that the people who don’t have the wherewithal to believe they can hurdle them default to blaming the hurdles for their shortcomings or blaming white people who they believe placed the hurdles there in the first place or deny the hurdles existence. the old blame game that has no winners only losers.

      As for that congressman…I don’t know what to say except I know EXACTLY how he feels.
      And I’m always open to discussion. I think this kind of give and take is essential. I wish it was possible with Japanese people but they don’t have as much experience with racial issues as we Americans so their ignorance on that matter, and their denial of its existence despite overwhelming evidence makes the conversation sort of….kimoi. But I haven’t given up. I have met a couple of people who are not so ignorant and we have some pretty lively ones…(-:

      Zora Neale Hurston wrote several books. My favorite is a book called “Their eyes were watching god!” I read it at least once a year. It’s like an old friend now. I highly recommend it. But she uses a lot of colloquialisms, in the parlance and patois of black folks in turn of the century Florida. So it might get a little tough, but it’s worth the effort. (-:

      Loco

  13. January 5, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Oh sorry I forgot to answer your question – I do not know that author – but I am getting some books ready to send to India for reading while I am there – which book is your favorite? I will get it to read.

  14. January 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Hi again:

    I know racism is real – but it is a two-way street – I have been hated too – really, I know it is not the same, I really do – but it can be vicious on both sides. Hate is hate and its sting bites hard. I don’t discount past experiences – they are terribly important. Clearly the message from older generations will be hard to change. I understand that they are calling it like they see it. It is just so interesting to me – I think our generation might be the start of a new belief in possibilities – I hope so. There will always be people who make decisions on non-factors and I don’t want to pretend they don’t exist – but I think that they are getting to be fewer and fewer and are not going to find themselves in positions of power. I think our generation knows that you want the best person doing the job for you – even if they are purple. And you want nice people around you – even if they are green. Anyway, I continue to read your writing!!!!!

    I grew up in Georgia so if I read aloud I might be okay with Zora’s book.

    Have a great day!

    • January 5, 2009 at 10:56 pm

      You’re right…Hate is Hate. And if people hate one another based on race then it’s racism. I’ve never hated anyone until i came here (-:
      I think it takes a great deal of love and strength not to hate people that display hate or symptoms of hate towards you. Actually living in Japan is the first time I had to deal with this thing face to face. Ironic being that i come from such a racially charged country.I have learned so much about myself and the feelings I’ve harbored without my knowledge. Feelings that kind of unpacked themselves like some kind of virus attached to an email.
      And I also agree that the new generation of Americans are DEFINITELY less sensitive and bogged down with the race question and at this rate it is almost foreseeable that a day will come when I will look at an job application or a census and it won’t have a section as long as my arm for racial classifications.
      I think that is a wonderful thing about our country though. It is a place where humanity can come together and live as one…someday.
      A Georgia girl??? Wow. My family is from Savannah. My mother just bought a house down there. I haven’t been to the house yet but I’ll get around to it. I lived in Savannah for about a year. Trying to get away from it all for a while. But Savannah was a little too far from it all, if you know what I mean (-:
      And you’re right, you’ll probably have no problem with Zora if you’re a Georgia native. Her hometown is near Orlando in Gainesville. I went there to see for myself (the book was about that area – the first black town in America) and it was beautiful. And they have a museum for her there. (-:
      anyway, thanks for reading my labor. I love your blog as you know.
      You enjoy your day as well

      Loco
      Loco

  15. 22 Hiero/fudgepudge
    March 1, 2009 at 6:21 am

    “They actually questioned my nationalism based on whether or not I held affection for an outdated icon and an amusement park.”

    >> i dont know, them associating your indifference to disney to lack of nationalism is stretching a bit too far to me, it seems

    maybe it’s not about nationalism


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Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

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Not the one you feel you need to be
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