Archive for June, 2009


Dear Micheal: You live on…even in Japan! pt.2

By the time I returned to the teacher’s office, it had been saturated by the news of your passing. Your name was on everyone’s lips. Now everyone grew silent and looked to me with half-condolent half-it’s nice to have something to talk about except tsuyu-expressions on their faces, confirming that, at least in that office, you were my misfortune, my sorrow, and mine alone. My colleagues only felt sympathy for me. You were simply something to chat about.

Your words were still in my head, and another song reached me lips. I sang: how does it feel, when you’re alone and you’re cold inside…like a stranger in Moscow...

“Must have been suicide,” I heard one teacher say, with that Yappari tone in his voice, like over-medicating was the American version of the all too-popular Japanese Splattercide where one decides now is as good a time as any to become an ancestor and hops in front of a racing commuter train during rush hour.

“He was using drugs,” another said with haughty contempt, like it was something disgraceful that neither he nor anyone he’d ever met, nor anyone who shared his values, would ever do.

I pretended not to understand, to not even hear them. Several people asked me, sincerely, if I were ok.

“I’ll be alright, thanks.”

“Did you like him?”

I wanted to tell them that like doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings I have for you…but I didn’t. “Like” in Japanese (suki) has an altogether different meaning, as you probably know as worldly as you were. It’s actually substituted for love quite often. My first and only love in Japan used to say, “Suki yo!” to convey her feelings for me…and I knew she would have done anything for me…I used to sing your songs for her. She loved when I serenaded her with your words: The way you make me feel…you really turn me on…you knock me off of my feet…my lonely days are gone…

“Yes, I liked him very much,” I said.

I’ve learned how to do a few things during my tenure here in Japan. One of them is to downplay my feelings. I now show less emotion and share fewer of my real feelings than I ever have. But, your passing was proving to be too much to make light of. You are a part of my life.

I remember when I was a kid, my older brothers took me to the movies to see, “Ben.”

The ushers gave out barf bags just in case, you know, a bunch of sewer rats attacking someone turns your stomach. It was one of those movies. I personally didn’t think it was horrifying at all. I liked rats…not sewer rats, of course, but clearly Ben was domesticated, not unlike a Guinea Pig, which I had two of, at home.  And the thought of them protecting me was a warm one. The movie’s theme song, your song, about a boy’s affection for a rodent, moved my pre-adolescent heart and made me cry. I had never been brought to tears by music before. And, though I already thought you were the shit by then, I think that was the point when I really fell unconditionally head over heels…and it had become official in my heart: you could do no wrong.

But, you tried, didn’t you? You made it increasingly difficult to openly love you. I had to go way out of my way to defend you; which I did and do to this day, and I will continue to do so as long as I can. Why? Can’t you see? You’re just another part of me…the greatest part of me, and so, indeed, defending you is self-defense.  I watched you trying to defend yourself against what had become indefensible. From We are the world to They don’t really care about us, and understood you and felt your compassion and pain every lonely step of the way.

“He was the king of pop,” my colleague whispered to me, while her hand gentled my back, as if acknowledging your royalty would mollify my grief somehow. I looked over my shoulder at her. She must have seen something in my eyes cause her hand stopped stroking and retracted. I smiled but too late, the damage was done. I’d frightened her.

The king of pop?

The Godfather of Soul…now that’s a fucking title! That’s a throne to plant your ass on forever and sit contentedly. When James passed I didn’t grieve. Hell, I wanted to party! I had ants in my pants and I needed to dance!  He’d done some questionable shit, too, but James spent his whole career bringing the noise and bringing the funk and I’d be damned if I was going to desecrate his legacy with sobbing. He died as he lived, saying it loud: I’m black and I’m proud! There was nothing sad about James.

But you, Mike, you seemed to shun your own skin. Maybe when you looked in the mirror you couldn’t see how beautiful you were. You were looking at the surface, while I, and millions of people that James reached through you, were looking at the you, and all the beauty, all the artists, the artistry and genius within you. Didn’t you know that? When I think of you I think of a story I heard in a film called “Basquiat.”

There was this little prince with a magic
crown. An evil warlock kidnapped him,
locked him in a cell in a huge tower and
took away his voice. There was a window
made of bars. The prince would smash his
head against the bars hoping that someone
would hear the sound and find him. The
crown made the most beautiful sound that
anyone ever heard. You could hear the
ringing for miles. It was so beautiful,
that people wanted to grab the air. They
never found the prince. He never got out
of the room. But the sound he made filled
everything up with beauty.

That’s what you do, Micheal. You fill everything up with beauty. My sadness comes from your never being able to get out, but man did you try, and the harder you tried the thicker the bars got.

I saw you trying, through your gifts, in the Earth Song video and especially in the They don’t really care about us and Scream videos, the latter your most expensive video. In the former I saw you trying to reconnect, tapping into your roots, communicating as we did in ancient times: with the drums!And the latter…the latter, I was moved to tears the first time I saw it. Everyone wanted to see you and Janet dancing together but you showed me something that I had been looking for much much more than a team-up of pop idols. You showed that you were not alone. That you had a sister, a family, and she was there for you and you for her. And the lyrics! My god, man, poignant and scathing, they were!

Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
The lies are disgusting
So what does it mean
Kicking me down
I got to get up
As jacked as it sounds
The whole system sucks

Peek in the shadow
Come into the light
You tell me I’m wrong
Then you better prove you’re right
You’re sellin’ out souls but
I care about mine
I’ve got to get stronger
And I won’t give up the fight
With such confusions don’t it make you wanna scream
Your bash abusin’ victimize within the scheme
You try to cope with every lie they scrutinize
Somebody please have mercy
‘Cause I just can’t take it
Stop pressurin’ me
Just stop pressurin’ me
Stop fuckin’ with me
Make me wanna scream

I wonder if people were really listening to you and Janet or just watching y’all dance and entertain! I doubted very much if my colleagues got it. Otherwise they would know that that evil warlock that had you locked in a cell was named The King of Pop.

But, you know what I would find out later that day? I was wrong. Some of them did get you.


…to be continued

ps: a little something from diddy and game


Dear Micheal: You live on…even in Japan!

Dear Micheal:

This is just another letter from one of your many adoring fans who will miss you something terrible. I’m not one of those screaming, fainting fans, though I can certainly understand how they felt. In fact, I had totally taken you for granted while you were here in the physical form, as a force of nature no more mortal than a cyclone. And, I didn’t realize the depth of the feelings I held for you until the news of your death reached me here in Japan.

I was at work. I had just finished teaching a class and I received a text from a Japanese friend of mine informing me that you had passed. I read the message, looked around and read it again, and looked around again. I couldn’t believe it. Why? Because the world was still spinning on the same axis it had been before I read it, and teachers in the teacher’s office were still making out like they were busy, or were laughing, or sipping green tea and chatting with one another…all normal. Nothing to indicate that the world as we know it had been drastically changed, that a life force such as yours was no longer in it.

So, naturally, I knew my friend must have been mistaken.

Then, I checked the Internet and on the MSN homepage, just like hundreds of other famous deaths over the past years, there was the news of yours. The headlines were the normal fare, with just enough warmth to remain impartial and informative yet show minimum consideration for the millions of visitors who may have been, like myself, in shock. I clicked absently on a few stories…all mentioning “King of Pop” (which for some reason feels and sounds like a slur to me now,) and of course the scandals, within the first paragraph. After I read the word scandal I couldn’t read them any further. I wasn’t around when Marilyn Monroe passed away but from Elton John’s song “Candle in the wind” I knew how it must have felt for the people who loved her. I couldn’t think of  anything but you… I hoped the media had jumped the gun like when they’d called the 2000 election for Al Gore before the Florida count was in. Maybe you were on some operating table doing that magic that only you can do and giving the Grim Reaper second thoughts about taking you.

I turned away from the monitor to the teachers’ office and I saw that the television was off. Not like when the Swine Flu had landed in nearby Kawasaki, or when Japan was playing the USA or Korea in the World Baseball Classic…and it made me feel alone. I figured none of them knew yet. I could hear you singing in my soul, You are not alone… I hummed it in my heart like a silent musical vigil as I made my way to the Vice-Principal’s desk…

“Can I turn on the TV for a moment?”

The vice-principal never understands my Japanese. I had figured he had some kind of mental block against understanding Japanese when spoken by a non-Japanese person, something that is quite epidemic here. But, this time, he understood.

“Why, what happened?”

Another teacher chimed in, “Oh, Micheal Jackson passed away.”

I was shocked! Someone knew! In fact several teachers knew and several didn’t. All looked at me as if I might give them some hint as to how they should feel about this news. One turned on the TV and started flipping channels. No breaking news, no banners racing across the top or bottom of talk shows about food and quilt making.

“I’m sorry,” one teacher said to me, like you were a friend of mine or a family member. Usually this kind of thing would irk me. Reminiscent of the slew of congratulations I received when Obama was successful in his coup d’état.  But I somehow felt it was appropriate at this moment because I truly was beginning to feel like I had personally suffered a terrible lost. I kept flipping through the channels, telling myself this is a good sign, for naturally your passing would be big news everywhere in the world, and Japan, at least news-wise, is on this planet, most of the time.

The bell chimed for the next class, which I was due to teach and had totally forgotten about.

“Shit!” I snapped, grabbed my lesson materials and ran up the four flights of stairs to the classroom, arriving just a little late. I looked out over the faces of the children, huffing and puffing from my exertions, and was reminded of what you must have encountered on your many visits to this country: a sea of adoring Asian faces, crying, screaming, fainting, etc… My children, though some are still adoring, were anxious about the test they were about to take.

They stood and bowed and grumbled “onegai shimasu” as is the practice at the beginning of a class here and I bade them good morning and asked them how they were doing.

“Fine, thank you, and you?” they replied in unison.

The Japanese teacher, who had been in the office for the news, and probably had an inkling how I must’ve been feeling, for my eyes unfortunately tell my whole story sometimes, looked at me anxiously, probably wondering if I were going to kill the mood in the class by announcing that I was upset.

“I’m fine, thank you very much,” I responded to the kids to the Japanese teacher’s obvious relief.

Everything was so ordinary in the class. It felt so unnatural. You might be dead, or dying. The Japanese teacher had to repeatedly remind me of the role I’ve been playing for the 3 years we’ve been team teaching now I was so distracted. While the students were taking the test I sat on the teacher’s desk and watched them. They probably hardly know who you are, I thought. With visions of Arashi and Exile dancing in the heads, You would be just another strange American pop-idol, if they even know that much. The Japanese teacher knew though. In her mid 20s, she was just old enough to know about your plastic surgeries and the child molestation charges and your strange eccentricities…no, she wouldn’t understand my feelings, either. This lack of understanding seemed to surround me and then collapse upon me. The loneliness of it all hit me sharply. I had no one to share my feelings with. You were dead…I knew it, suddenly, like you had confirmed it to me, and I turned away from the class and faced the board…and I cried. The Japanese teacher was beside me and asked if I were ok. Her eyes were filled with concern for me…nothing for you, Micheal. You touched so many people, but none in this room. I didn’t want to cry there, not amidst those who wouldn’t understand.

“I’m ok,” I told her, and wiped my eyes with my sleeve. I turned back to the class. they hadn’t noticed a thing.

Towards the end of the class we began an exercise but I couldn’t focus. I kept contemplating a world with no you. You’re words kept bouncing around inside my head. A song got trapped in my mouth. It was “Beat it.” I started singing right there in the class…The kids in the front few rows could hear me. They looked up from their note taking and listened.

“Whose song?” one girl, Harumi, asked, bobbing her head, clearly enjoying it.

“Micheal Jackson’s,” I said. “You don’t know Beat it?”

She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. You were awfully big in japan, but of course she wouldn’t know of you, I thought. My god, the song is older than her, by more than a decade. Still, it’s so incredible to talk to people who don’t know you or at least your work. I might as well have been talking about Sam Cooke,  Nat King Cole, Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Chubby Checker.

We use English songs in class quite often so the kids are used to singing in English. But usually the Japanese teachers choose the songs and they invariably use songs that the kids are familiar with already, either from their use in famous commercials or popular TV shows. Thus they are familiar with Karen Carpenter, The Beatles, Queen, George Micheal and several others.

But they don’t know beat it.

Just singing it made me feel good. And the students somehow sensing and acknowledging your magic made it feel even better, suggesting to me that even if you had been born in this time you would have still been the greatest ever. My grief dissipated for the moment and I started doing some of the more basic dance moves from the video. When the Japanese teacher caught me dancing she was aghast but the kids loved it and upon noticing their glee she relaxed. Some of the wilder kids got up and tried to do your moves, too. Some knew them better than me. They didn’t know you, but knew of your moves. Maybe they’d filtered down to some J-pop band or maybe they knew Usher, or something. They didn’t know you were dead, either. To them, you were alive. They could see you in me. You touched them through me!


…to be continued


Still Mourning for Mike

I miss you already Mike

You will always be the best there ever was.

You lift my heart like no other entertainer could ever do.

Rest in Peace, with your bad self (-:


What is alchemy in Japanese? pt.3

“You mean this,” I asked, holding up my damaged hand.

“Of course…what happened?

I told her. She said, “Oh my god! Basketball is dangerous! You must be careful.”

I didn’t say I’d been playing basketball since I was a kid without serious injury. I didn’t say I planned to return to playing the moment I recover, and hopefully with the same level of confidence and disregard for the possibility of  injury that I’ve always had. “Thanks, I will,” I said.

“Are you sure you’re ok,” she asked, searching my face.

“Do you know what alchemy is in Japanese?”

“Aa-ru-ke mi? No…” she whipped out her electronic dictionary and handed it to me not even attempting to phonetically spell this one, something she would usually do.

For Alchemist the dictionary read: 錬金術師 I couldn’t read it. I just knew it was something about gold. “How do you say this?”

“Renkinjutsushi, ” she struggled to say. “Maybe…I never see that word.”

I repeated it, trying to memorize it for some reason. “What does it mean?”

“I’m not sure…an artist or scientist maybe. He  makes gold…” she said.

“Ok,” I said, wondering if there were alchemist in Asia in ancient times…if there were they’d probably be Chinese. Those

Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk

guys go way back like the Egyptians and other African civilizations. They would have tried to unlock the secrets of the universe for sure. J.K. Rowlings touched on it in her first Harry Potter book. It was about the Philosopher’s stone (though she changed it to Sorcerer’s stone for American consumption, probably concerned about our religious crackpots calling her a heretic or something) and the Elixir of life, as was The Alchemist. One of my favorite cult films, Hudson Hawk, hypothesized, for comical purposes, that Da Vinci was not only an artist but was, among other things, an alchemist and had built a machine that could make gold.

“Do you want to make gold?” she asked, half smirking, and probably half wondering if I was off my rocker.

“What is gold, anyway?” I asked. I wanted to explore my thoughts with someone and my student had been a willing companion for going on two years now. Sometimes I even feel guilty taking cash for our lessons, she’s so receptive, and tell her, ‘this one’s on the house.’

“A valuable, shiny metal…you make jewelery with it and stuff…like that….” She pointed at my gold bracelet, dangling over my makeshift splint. I had inherited it from my father when he passed away several years ago, of cancer. “It’s beautiful!”                                                                             

I looked at it carefully. As carefully as I had the day I first received it. That day it seemed to radiate on my wrist, warm to the touch, like it had a life of its own. I had the lock welded shut. I never remove it…and since I’ve been in Japan I don’t really even think about it. Back in NY I used to be concerned about the undesirable attention it might’ve attracted. I had even been tempted to conceal it on several occasions. It’s 18 carats, heavy and, like she’d said, valuable, but the only threat to its separation from me had been the lousy lock it used to have and I had fixed that permanently. Now, it’s like a family heirloom. Along with my father’s name, I plan to give it to my son one day. When I no longer need it…Need it? I used to wear a two finger ring with my nickname, Unique, written in cursive, a diamond embedded in the “i”. I had planned to give that to my heirs, as well. But, I was strapped for cash one day and needed to escape so I had pawned it and bought a ticket home to NY…and never looked back. It had served a purpose, my purpose.

The idea of making gold from valueless metal- of making something from nothing- of being purposeful- resonated inside of me. And it made a sound, and that sound was as beautiful as gold…and it was my purpose; had been so since I can remember.

“Writing is like making gold,” I just blurted out, watching my bracelet catch the light, sparkling like a brilliant idea…then, catching a glimpse of my fucked up fingers, despair creeping up on me like a ninja in the shadows, I wondered how long will it take before I can… 

“How’s your blog?” my student asked, interrupting my thoughts.

She’s a writer, too. She’s an office lady by day but she writes inspired haiku poetry in her free time. I try and help her translate them into English sometimes, but I can never give them the panache they have in Japanese.

“It’s ok.”

“I had some free time yesterday and I read some of it… 10 ways how not to go loco in Japan, something like that…”

” Yeah,” I said, surprised, looking up from my hand. I’m very selective with which students I give my blog address to. I trust my hunches and recently I had had a hunch about her so I’d given it to her. “What did you think?”

“I think maybe number 11 should be: Write!”

I smiled.

I was still smiling when I arrived late to work two days later.

I’m still smiling now though it has taken me twice as long to finish this post as it would have if I hadn’t injured my finger.



What is alchemy in Japanese? pt. 2

Like most people, I love a good story so I read a lot. And, though I love to read new books, if I fall in love with a book, I always read it again. I’ve even repurchased books I’ve already read  if my copy was lost or loaned out to parties long forgotten (a writer and publisher’s wet dream I am). I do this mostly to see if it has stood the test of time. Have I outgrown it, or it me? Have I changed since the last reading? And, if so, how? Has the story, or at least its meaning for me, changed? Some books help me understand the art of telling a story or the craft of writing better. Other books help me mark my growth as a human being.

I have a list of books that are like good friends to me…books that speak to me, comfort me, instruct me or simply entertain me. Most books I read just once. Even if I think it is an exceptional read, once is enough. Sometimes I read a book 2 or 3 times and then decide it can’t hang. However, I’ve read all of the following books at least 3 times and at most 10 and they still do it for me: “Their eyes were watching God,  The Catcher in the rye,  Shogun, Bonfire of the Vanities, Bright lights-Big City, Dune, The killer in me, The Friends, Without Remorse, The Vampire Lestat, Jurassic Park, The Godfather and, yes, The Fountainhead (actually my last read of Fountainhead I skipped over 200 pages and that’s a red flag…doesn’t augur well for future reads) . The list goes on and on…

I’d been sitting in Doutor’s Cafe reading “The Alchemist” when I thought,  久しぶり “Long time, no see.”  It had been a while since I read a book that made me feel that way so quickly. A whole lot of dead trees. But from the first few pages the book had started a conversation with me like we’d been best friends kicking it in a previous life and been interrupted only to pick up where we’d left off here in my current life…almost without missing a beat.

The loud screech of a chair against the floor tore my attention from the book. I looked up to see a rather attractive woman. She was sitting not far from me and I could see- for she made no effort to hide it- that she had been staring at me. She grinned, and in her grin it was obvious that something about me had impressed her so much that she’d lost all sense of  the propriety I’ve come to expect from Japanese women.

However, very unlike myself, I couldn’t care less…I returned to my conversation with my friend, who was catching me up on his adventures in Spain, Morocco and across The Sahara.

The main character, Santiago, left Spain to follow his dream of finding treasure near the pyramids of Egypt.

I told him that I too had left my home in Brooklyn in search of something but I wasn’t sure what.

He told me about an Alchemist he’d met along the way who taught him how to understand the language of the world.

I told him about Aiko and how she’d impacted my life and helped me understand many things about the world and about myself.

“She sounds like an alchemist to me,” he’d said.

“Actually, I think she was the treasure I didn’t know I came to Japan to find,” I said without even thinking.

He told me that when he arrived at the pyramids he was mugged and beaten by bandits.

I told him about the lost of Aiko and the battering my soul is taking here in Japan.

He told me that, following the beating, he learned- from one of the bandits no less- the true location of his treasure…

I scratched my head. “I’m not sure what I’m learning here among these bandits,” I told him, meaning the Japanese. Then, my watch alarm beeped. It was time to teach.

The verdict: “Well, it’s fractured,” the doctor said. “….But not seriously.” 

My eyes were transfixed on the x-ray. A fine line cut diagonally across the first metacarpal, a bone chip dangling on the edge of the crack. I caught the doctor looking at my eyes and again he smiled.

“It’s a little crooked,” he said, and it was. It bent to the left. “But, if you don’t mind a little deformity…”


“…it’ll heal in 6 weeks or so.”

“6 weeks?” My first thought was Damn, there goes my summer. But I can get a lot of writing done so…wait a minute! Oh shit! Will I be able to type?

Maybe he misread the concern on my face because he added, “But, if you want it to be straight again, perhaps you will need an operation.” He slowly took my pinkey in hand and showed me with a gentle touch…”cut along here, insert a metal rod and, in 6 months or so, it’ ll be like new.”

“6 months!?”

 I felt my tear ducts welling up…I never knew how important writing was to me until that very moment.

Then, without any invitation, “Santiago” started whispering in my ear. “Sometimes there’s just no way to hold back the river.”

“Well, sensei, I’ll do whatever you suggest,” I said in surrender. He looked at me…through me, actually. He had those kind of eyes that have been there, seen it and wrote a book about it. I felt his two hands caressing my swollen pinkie and it felt very calming, like some kind of ancient secret physical therapy. As I looked down I saw him grip it just so and suddenly yank and straighten it. I screamed out in agony. But the doctor wasn’t moved. He kept pulling and twisting adroitly for a few seconds longer. I couldn’t watch. I looked up at the nurse, who stood by with a handful of gauze and other materials necessary for immobilizing my finger. Apparently she’d known or had anticipated what the doctor would do. Upon seeing this I relaxed and though the pain hadn’t subsided a lick, I felt  relieved to be in the hands of professionals.

“Well, it’s straight now,” the doctor said, dead-pan, like nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. Like I hadn’t scared the shit out of all of the patients waiting just outside his door. “… so you may not need that operation after all.” He wore the same knowing smile while he and the nurse worked on setting my hand. Once they were done he added, “come back next week and I’ll take another look.”

There was joy there in his face. Not a sadistic joy, but the joy of not only knowing what he was doing, and being able to do it well, but in knowing that he had discerned his path in life, followed it, and now he was living his dream. I don’t get this feeling from doctors very often. In fact, it’s rare. Most of the doctors I’d visited back in NY seemed to be distracted, like I was keeping them from more important matters, or aloof and cloaked in professional distance. He was neither.

I looked down at my finger then at the X-ray of its cracked crooked skeleton then back at it, with one prescient thought in my mind: This is a sign.

Santiago had spoken to me  a great deal of signs at that cafe the day before. “Signs,” he’d said, “are like messages from the Creator.”

“I know,” I said. Santiago has a tendency to get a little didactic at times, and repetitive too, to be honest. But so do I. It’s one of the many things we have in common. “I’ve believed in signs my whole life. You know that!”

“I know you think you have,” he said. “But your belief ends at acknowledgement way too often, and your resolve to finish things you begin is weak at best. You don’t have faith in the Creator nor yourself.”  He’d said it quite harshly, too, spanking me with his words, speaking to me in a way I’d only let a friend or family speak to me…actually I don’t even let family get away with that crap anymore.

But, he was right.

“Are you ok?” my student had asked me. I was still smarting from the pimp-slapping that Santiago had given me just moments ago.

I shook it off and apologized to her. “It’s just this book. It’s…I don’t know.”

I hate to get too personal with my students. But she was one of the exceptions. We never use textbooks anymore. Our lessons have evolved into something akin to a paid friendship…

“Ee?” she’d said like she couldn’t quite follow what I’d said. “A book?”

I wanted to tell her that it was fucking with me the way books fuck with me sometimes. That it had gotten in my head, deep in my head, and was pushing buttons and turning dials and flipping switches. But instead I asked her, “Have you ever read a book that feels so familiar that you think the writer was thinking about your life when he wrote it?”

She looked confused. I tried to think of a way to ask the question simpler…

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean, what happened to your hand???”

to be continued…


btw, this is my 100th post! Anyway, it feels like a milestone to me (-:

Once again I want to thank all of my readers for your support and encouragement.

I feel like a change is underway.

What can I tell you? Stay Tuned…


What is alchemy in Japanese?

I walked into work yesterday 10 minutes late, but 20 minutes earlier than I’d expected to. The  western God of churches and cathedrals and father of a blond hair blue-eyed Middle Eastern son that has followed me from the States to Japan must have conspired with the countless kami of shrines and giant buddhas of temples to make everything go perfectly between home and work. One of those days that songwriters write sappy, catchy tunes like, ‘Beautiful Sunday’ about. In fact, I’d been whistling that tune for the past two days.

I barely stepped in the door of my job when dare-dare sensei runs up to me excitedly and yells: My god, man! What happened?”

I stopped whistling.


“Well…” I said, and realized I wasn’t prepared to explain why I was late. “Sorry I’m late. I was…I mean, the train was…”

“I don’t care about that,” he snapped. “I mean your hand!”

I looked down at it like it was someone else’s hand that had been bandaged tight enough to obstruct circulation and immobilize it. How I managed to ignore the throbbing ache is a mystery.

“This?” I held it up.

“Yes, of course!”

日曜日にバスケットボールをしている間小指を折りました。I broke my pinkie playing basketball on Sunday.”

“Really? That’s terrible. Are you okay?”

“It still hurts…”

What I didn’t say was that on Sunday, after having watched Kobe open up a keg of whupass on the Orlando Magic the previous day, I was feeling particularly genki and tried to represent not only all the playgrounds in Brooklyn but in the entire friggin’ USA. And I was puttin’ in work until the above happened, when rapidly ascending Pinkie met rapidly descending ball on a rebound attempt. Of all the dumb-ass shit to get injured on, a friggin’ rebound.

Absurdly,  I’d thought I was invincible…I’d never broken anything…most of my friends have been on crutches or had cast arms and various other injuries. One of my friends even had to shit in a bag attached to his waist for weeks after being stabbed in the guts. But, me…nothing. I had started to believe that I was invincible, that only tiny accidents could befall me.

Well, so much for that fantasy.

I’d gone to a hospital on Monday in the evening and told them I needed to see a doctor, showing them the finger my fellow weekend warriors had put in a makeshift splint. I’d told the staff: 突き指かな I think it’s jammed.

“I see…well…we don’t handle these kinds of cases here.”

“You don’t?” I asked, puzzled. This was a medical hospital, specializing in sports injuries. They even had an emergency room…So I added: “I think it may be broken.” Just to add a little drama to it.

“Ah, so sorry.”

I recognized the expression on her face. Yep, no doubt about it:  it was the Great Wall of Japan. I’d met this wall before…it’s tall and solid and ancient and apologetic and polite as all get out. I could stand there beating my head up against it in a foreign language I haven’t mastered for an eternity or I could keep it moving. After all, Japanese hospitals have been known to turn away people in much worse conditions than mine. The only reason I like the hospitals is because most of them accept credit cards and my insurance requires payment up front and I don’t walk around with loads of cash (one of NY habits I’ve yet to break.)

“Well, where shall I go?” I asked, capitulating before the wall’s awesomeness.

They directed me to a clinic not far away.

The clinic accepted me and after filling out a single form I was hustled before an English speaking doctor. Lucky me.

“How can I help you?” he asked with all the confidence and self-assurance of the competent. I immediately felt at ease in his care. Stark contrast to the way I felt after he removed my busted splint and took a glance at my pinkie.

“Hmmm…” he said in what has to be the international language of doctors. He looked like he wanted to test it by manipulation and I withdrew. He smiled at me and said, “let’s do some x-rays, ne.”

They shot my finger from different angles and then told me to wait a few minutes. It  felt like an eternity. I just knew it wasn’t a sprain. All day I had been feeling my bone shifting beneath my skin. I still feel it now even as I’m typing with my eight remaining free digits.

“Loco-san,” the nurse called out.

What’s the verdict? Is my summer fucked?

I walked back into the doctor’s office. My x-rays were displayed, and there it was in black and white, indisputable evidence of my vulnerability: between the joint and knuckle, a crack.

Upon seeing the fragility of my mortality I felt a little freaked out. (I know, it’s dramatic but I swear I was in shock) I hid it, though, which is very unlike me.

I thought about the previous day, when I had left the gym with my finger splinted and aching, walking to the coffee shop to meet my private student. I had decided that I would not panic. I would just finish out the day. I had had three private students scheduled and I wasn’t about to cancel any of them. I needed the money, if for nothing else, to pay for the doctor’s visit I’d decided to make the following day.

I had about an hour to kill so along the way, I stopped at a bookstore.

英語の本がありますか?”Do you have any English books?”

“Not really…just a few…upstairs.”

I went upstairs and, yep, she was right. There was one tiny rotary of English books, which was one tiny rotary more than I had expected to find at this tiny book store. They had a bunch of classics, all the Harry Potter books, and the two Obama books. I’d read their whole selection already, but I needed something to distract me. I gave the rotary one more twirl and a book practically jumped off the shelf at me, literally. Somehow my twirl had dislodged it. I instinctively reached to catch it with my bad hand and my three free fingers caught it.

The name of the book was The Alchemist.TheAlchemist

What can I tell you? I really hate books like this! I don’t know if any of you have read it but I’m sure many of you have. It’s one of those international bestsellers that people read and then recommend to any and everyone they know.  One of those allegorical, philosophical, spiritual, mind numbing, oversimplified if only the guy who writes fortune cookies would write a book type books.

I don’t know what made me buy it. I read the back cover. Hoopla, hoopla, hoopla. What did you expect? But, I needed something to distract me from my pending mortality (if that bone rattling under my skin I was trying not to think about was any indication of the verdict I would face tomorrow) so I bought it, went to the cafe where I was to meet my student, ordered some coffee,  lit up a Black & Mild, and started reading it.

You know what? Let me go back a little further…

When I was back in NY, working as a salesman at a respectable company making (after bonuses) respectable donuts, I dreamed of being a writer. And at that time a friend of mine lent me a book called, The Fountainhead . Yes, yes, yes, Ayn Rand and her endless rambling and sermonizing about the nobility of man’s individual creativity and the scourge of the parasitic second-handers running the world…into the ground. Yep, she rocked my boat! I wrote my book, quit that job that paid well but ultimately was taking me nowhere at hyper speed (and with Howard Roark as a role model, wasn’t nobody going to pimp Loco anymore), and with that I had reclaimed my life.

Yes, with a bit of  “beginner’s luck” the creative forces of the universe had conspired to put me on the path to achieving my dreams…

Who knew that path would lead me to Japan, to a clinic in Yokohama where a doctor hovers over film of my fractured pinkie,  with a verdict that would change my life on the tip of his tongue, while a paperback copy of  The Alchemist burns a whole in my backpocket…

…to be continued


Anti-Acts of Retailiation #3: Team Chikan

This morning, as I passed through the ticket gate, I could hear the train pulling into the station so I sprinted up the endless staircase taking the steps two at a time. By the time I reached the top the passengers had already boarded and as I rushed towards the nearest door the passengers facing my approach liked to jump out of their skin. I had to touch people a little to get on…something that was never really an issue until I came to Japan. Now I avoid it whenever I can… A woman on my left and a man in front of me decided this was entirely too close for comfort and hopped off the train running to the next door which was equally if not more packed.

This gave me a little breathing room so I was grateful for their iwakan. I needed it. Being a smoker, I was winded by my climb, full-tilt up Mt. Fuji jr., to catch this sucker.

I was facing the door. Someones briefcase was being shoved against me. I peeked left and right to see if there were any way he could put his briefcase where it wouldn’t be up against my back. Of course there was space. He was using as a barrier between us.


So I turned around to face him, daring him with a glare to put his briefcase against my stomach or chest. He didn’t dare. Rather he avoided looking at me and turned his body so that his shoulder was now wedged between us.

Actually, not typical…

Typically Japanese men are not even this aggressive. Japanese men that actually get physical with me scare me a little, to be honest. They behave as if they have something to prove. Like they know they ought to be intimidated by my size, or my strangeness, or even my color. But defiantly go against that inclination, somehow blaming me for producing the fear they feel. Of course all of this is conjecture based on my interpretation of body language, which I’ve learned since I’ve been living in Japan is notuniversal, so I could be misreading theirs. But, avoiding looking at me while directing a menacing stiff shoulder towards me, in my face vicinity…hmmmm, I wonder if some body language is universal.

Fortunately, the next stop was only 2 minutes away. I can ignore him for 2 minutes, I told myself. And then I can move. We pulled into the next station and I prepared to do just that. A good number of people got off  including my aggressor. I wanted to trip him but I didn’t. I waited until they had all exited amid the line of passengers waiting to board…as Japanese etiquette decrees. Some of the waiting passengers scrutinized me and retreated to other lines extended before other doors, as, apparently, Japanese prudence decrees.

I took a deep breath of patience, boarded, and made my way to a strap near the corner to the right of the door between the cars. I whipped out my cellphone and started playing Tetris. I try not to look at Japanese people as often as I possibly can. It’s the only way I’ve learned to not start to really hate them. I know what they are going to do, that they really can’t control it…most of them. It’s instinctual like blinking when something is headed towards eyes, or ducking when something airborne approaches your head.  It’s even predictable that one or two people might do something unusual like stand comfortably near me…like I’m a regular person. It happens often enough. I used to feel hope at those moments but it’s mostly fool’s gold. So I really don’t need to see it- the good nor the bad…Something inside me wants to see it…some feeling inside me wants to be felt… But in a self-therapeutic measure I’ve chosen Tetris over torture. I don’t need to play with that scab, rub that itchy eye, scratch that itch.

As the passengers boarded and the car became more and more densely crowded I noticed something peripherally that drew my attention away from my high scoring session with Tetris. A high school girl entered with a Salaryman on her tail practically glued to her. Maybe he was even holding her. I couldn’t see his other hand.  Yappari, chikan, I thought.


I wasn’t far from him… They had been pushed along until they were practically standing behind me, separated by one man in-between us. I considered cockblocking, running a little interference. But, I was still fuming a little over the behavior around me and besides I actually hadn’t seen him do anything aside from be pressed against her and considering the compactness of the car, and all the pushing and shoving that goes on, it’s hard to distinguish between the incidental and the intentional. I moved a little to the left to see if I could catch a glance of his other hand. I could see her sailor uniform- her navy blue skirt -very short-  rolled up high on her thighs. She wore the thick white socks bulging around her ankles and she was standing on the backs of her penny loafers, wearing them like house slippers. Her hair was bleach blond and long and the wire for her I-Pod snaked out of it.

I noticed there was another man on her left and he was closer to her than it appeared to be necessary. Or rather he didn’t appear to be trying to conspicuously stay away from her which is what half the Salarymen do when they are in close proximity to schoolgirls on crowded trains. They like to keep their hands where they can be seen at all times, in order to avoid any accusations or even suspicions. You’ll see them reading Manga (even if there is no room to do so smoothly they’ll have it almost pressed against their faces) sometimes they hold on to straps with two hands, cellphones are always held high so people can see, sometimes they even just play with their faces or put their hands to their mouths as they pretend to read advertisements…anything not to be mistaken for a chikan. Which makes chikan easier to spot. They are among the minority whose hands are not visible. And even from a rather close distance, this guys right hand was not visible. The first man’s hands I couldn’t see either but from his shoulder’s position I could tell he was doing something with his cellphone. Maybe I was wrong about him. The man between us suddenly opened his newspaper fully and began reading, only the top of his head was visible. This pretty much prevented me from seeing anything. He seemed to be unaware that he had accomplished this so I didn’t think anything of it.

At the next stop, a bunch of people got off. But the HS girl and her parasite remained, as did the other man. I could see her face for a moment.  She wore heavy eyeliner and and long fake eyelashes and had really shiny glossy lips. She didn’t appear to be in any distress…but, like I mentioned, Japanese body language can be misleading. I turned away and noticed there was a long line to get on, so I decided I would use the surging boarding crowd to adjust my position and get closer to the girl and see what was happening and possibly in position to intervene. As I maneuvered to the spot where I would be pushed towards the girl if the surge had proceeded naturally, as I should have expected, upon seeing me, the surge diverged like a river around a rather large rock. A river of people pretending not to see me. Suddenly the river ran out of space and burbled awkwardly towards me like the tide lapping at the shore. I turned away from the door and faced towards the girl, the crowd lapping at my back. I couldn’t use the crowd to inch me in closer because they wouldn’t touch me. Great.

But, now I had a different angle and I could see what I couldn’t see from behind the guy reading the paper. The girl was  hemmed into that location by the first guy who was still glued to her and appeared to be rubbing her breast  through her white cotton sailor blouse while holding his cellphone against her, but I wasn’t 100%, and the second guy was still extremely close to her…and his hand was sliding up and down her thigh…of this I was sure. Two chikan!.

Not typical…

I’ve seen two chikan in a car before. The Saikyo line was infested with them. But, they always worked separately. These two…they seemed to know each other. They seemed to be complimenting one another, covering for one another. Of course the people around who could see what was happening more clearly than I were pretending to be oblivious. Then the guy with the newspaper moved slightly into my path again and I suddenly I realized something. The man with the paper had his back to the girl…and his paper was making it difficult to see clearly what was going on. Oh man! He was working with them, too!!! A three-man team, or was there another man? I started looking around for other possible accomplices…There was another guy on the right with a newspaper. It wasn’t opened and he seemed to be…I don’t know…solid, like a solid citizen. He was dressed as a Salaryman. In fact, they all were. There was nothing distinguishing them from regular Salarymen.

The first guy’s shoes were a bit worn down and the other guy, the thigh rubber, his sports jacket was a little threadbare, the guy with the Newspaper was flawless…maybe he needed a shave, and this new guy, his briefcase had seen better days. But that was it. Otherwise they were your typical everyday Salarymen.

I’m not a fool. I wasn’t about to play hero when there was clearly a gang at work here. I mean, shit, this is their country and their turf and all these cowardly fucks are just standing around, afraid of me, afraid of these three (or four or more) chikan plying their perverted trade right before their eyes. If they go out of their way to avoid touching me now I know they wouldn’t lift a finger to help me if I were dying, especially since they won’t even help the most helpless of their people, their women (or in this case adolescent.) So, I was tempted to just let it be…mind my business… to write the whole scenario off as one of those When in Rome…things the way many here have written chikan-ing off as one of those Shouganai  things like atomic bombs and Perry’s Black Ships…

But was I allowing my experiences here in Kawaiiland to diminish my personal sense of common decency? Probably.

At the next station many people got off and another mob was waiting to get on, but  Team Chikan hadn’t budged. In fact, even when people tried to get by they wouldn’t budge. The 4th guy with the newspaper had gotten off so there were at least 3. The crowd waiting to board took a gander at me as they prepared to board and I could see the distaste in their faces, the raw fear, the desire to evade…and it gave me an idea.

I quickly moved over to where Team Chikan was. The Newspaper guy only had one direction covered so without a good crowd encircling them they would not have the privacy they obviously desired. So I stood in the area which would have given them optimum cover and privacy, and the predictable Japanese went the opposite direction scampering as far away from me as they could. One man boarded, saw me, started finger fucking his face and then turned around and started walking backwards like he was a mentally challenged crab. A woman literally took to her heels and ran…maybe she owes me money, another man…etc, etc… I’m sure the chikan behind could see what was happening and the reason but I don’t think they knew I was doing it purposely. I turned so that I could see them and their hands. The first guy was sending an email or something on his cellphone but now that he had no cover and could be seen very clearly and easily, here in the gaijin perimeter I enmeshed them within, he lost his confidence and had released her breast. And the thigh rubbing second guy was looking at me like he suspected something. But his hands were nowhere near her thighs… And the newspaper guy, well, he just read his paper.

The girl looked exactly the same way she had when the chikan had had their hands all over her body…

…like it had never happened…

dou itashimashite (you’re welcome)



Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

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!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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