Archive for January, 2010

31
Jan
10

The Street Fighter: Sonny “Shinichi” Chiba

When I was a kid there were only two types of movies I wanted to see. What came to be known as Blaxploitation films (Superfly, Shaft, Buck & the Preacher, Uptown saturday Night, Let’s do it again, etc etc etc) and martial arts movies, or rather Karate flicks. Bruce Lee was of course the biggest and most famous of the martial artist of that time, and he was indeed my favorite. But, number two would be Sonny Chiba.

I remember the first time I saw “The Street Fighter.” It was playing at a rinky-dink movie theatre in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn, on Fulton Street, called The Banco. The theatre was one good huff and a puff from being condemned as you can see in the natsukashi (fondly remembered) picture I was able to find on the net (God I love the net!)

It wasn’t much to look at but it was in the neighborhood and cheap and a good way for my Moms to get me and brothers out of her hair for the day. The theatre had rats so there were cats on patrol and occasionally while you’re watching a film you’d feel a cat brush by your leg or even hop in your lap if it were a slow day and it was feeling friendly.

A dollar or so (can’t remember the price well) would get you in to see two or three movies. One was the main attraction and the other two would be throw ins. These were the kind of movies that influenced Quentin Tarantino’s career. Car chases, motorcycle chase, B-movies that probably don’t even have a surviving print let alone be found on DVD.

In “The Street Fighter” Sonny Chiba burst on the scene and immediately kicked ass. He had incredible charisma and a round house kick that would send the opposition flying in all directions. While Bruce Lee usually played good guys on revenge kicks, Sonny was just a mean motherfucker and his movies were much gorier than Lee’s.  On the strength of the success of “Street Fighter” two sequels came later: “Return of Street Fighter” and “The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge,” as well as a spinoff: “Sister Street Fighter.”  (Gotta love the 70s. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.)

Chiba-san was born in Fukuoka and studied Kyokushin Karate in university. He later became a huge Television star here in Japan. (I’d love to see some of those old Japanese TV shows starring him. If anyone knows where I can pick them up, don’t be shy.)

Recently he was in Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” though not as a fighter. He reprised the role he played in “Kage no kundan” or “Shadow Warriors” where he played the famous true life samurai Hattori Hanzo.

I hear Chiba-san lives in Yokohama now. Man would I  love to run into him at a café.

Here are the original trailers from Street Fighter and The return of the Street Fighter…

Loco

PS: I know I already made a post for the January Matsuri. This was just an afterthought…a good one!

29
Jan
10

The trials and tribulations of teaching English in Japan pt.1

What can I say? It aint all Manzai and Kawaii kids…

Yesterday a woman from the Board of Education came to observe me teach. She’s a nice woman, been at her job for a long time. Not Japanese, I don’t think, but she’s been here so long you can hardly tell she’s not from here. She has adopted most of their mannerisms and can probably speak Japanese better than many Japanese can.

This is an annual review, making this the third time she has come to watch me do my thing, and I’d had a month advance notice of her visit, so I wasn’t especially nervous.

Only, this week- the week I planned to prepare this lesson carefully with the Japanese teacher- Yoshida-sensei (not her real name) had been out sick. Monday and Tuesday she spent in bed, as per her doctor’s orders, and left me no clue about what grammar point we were to cover. Also, unlike the other English teachers I’ve worked with over the past 3 years, Yoshida likes to make her own lessons. At least I believed this to be the case because she always has. I’d come to the school and there’d be a lesson on my desk that she had taken from some textbook (not our school’s) or some internet site. Or, she’d pull me to the side and ask me what I thought of her lesson. Yoshida joined the staff last year, and this has been her routine the entire time.

Well, Wednesday came around and Yoshida returned to work. I had a full schedule so I didn’t have time to meet with her but for a few minutes before home room and a few minutes after lunch. She presented her idea to me: a game where the kids break up into teams and construct sentences using sentence fragments found on slips of paper.  The team to construct the most sentences correctly wins.

Not a traditional lesson but the BOE woman wasn’t disappointed with it. In fact, my observation went rather well considering I only had a few minutes of planning. She said I clearly had a rapport with the students and handled them with care and professionalism. “You could dish out a little more praise though. The kids really need it.” I took notes dutifully during the feedback and asked questions to clarify her remarks.

One thing she took special note of was my smile. “You have an incredible smile, a powerful smile, which is both a blessing and a curse.”

“Can you clarify that statement please?” I asked.

“Well,” she began, “Your smile is remarkable! You know how many teachers I meet and observe all over this area, but the one thing I remember about you is that smile. I actually look forward to seeing it when we meet it’s so wonderful!”

“Thank you,” I said, feeling a little embarrassed. I might have even done something as gay as blush a little. Of course I’d heard such things about my smile before, but rarely had I received such flattering remarks in a professional setting nor from someone I hardly knew. I suddenly felt a red flag go up…right up my spine via my rectum! She was setting me up like a pro, cushioning the fall with a little misdirecting sweet talk!

“Your smile lights up a room,” she said through pearly white teeth. “But, it also has the effect of turning that light off when it’s missing. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied nervously, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. “I need to smile more.”

“Yes! Even if it’s fake. Fake is better than no smile, especially for you!”

“My curse,” I sighed.

“Exactly,” she said, with a finality that almost made me think she was wrapping up. I was about to put my pen down when she Lieutenant Columbo’d me with a “One other thing…”

Ah, here it comes! ” Uh huh?”

“A little earlier we had a short meeting with Yoshida-sensei,” she said, and she was no longer smiling. Pearly whites became pursed lips set in a dour grin. Laser eyes scorched my eyelashes. “She had some complaints…no I shouldn’t say complaints. She had some concerns.”

“Concerns….”

“Yeah.”

“Concerning?” I asked but I regretted it immediately. I was getting defensive. I heard it in my tone. And if I heard it I know the BOE woman heard it too.

“Now don’t get upset with her…she was just doing her job,” the BOE lady said like we were in this together. It was in her tone.

We were sitting in the principal’s office having this meeting. Rather large black & white framed posters of every principal of this school since the school’s inception during the Occupation after WWII up til now on the wood-panelled walls surrounding us, watching us as we sat on leather sofas facing one another, with a fine coffee table between us, a lovely coffee service atop it, with little delicate porcelain coffee cups and saucers with flowery designs. The principal was actually sitting at his desk a few feet from us, shuffling paper around and, I’m sure, listening to every word we said. But, he’s Japanese and so there are certain things he can’t hear, like her tone. Her tone said, this is how they do things! And believe me, brother, I know . I’ve been here longer than you and when you leave I’ll still be here, and I’m nobody’s fool! So listen to me. Learn from me. Trust me. Don’t get upset with her. She’s just being Japanese. “You understand?

“Of course,” I said. “That goes without saying…”

“Good,” she said. “Well, she mentioned that she had been out of the office Monday and Tuesday this week and so your lesson was kind of done on the fly yesterday.”

“Yeah,  but…”

“It’s not an issue.” she said , cutting off my defense. I decided to just relax, then. Whatever will be will be. “I really enjoyed the class.”

“Thanks…”

“She also said that she is usually pretty busy, so she doesn’t have time to meet with you as often as she’d like.”

“Uh huh…” I said, cuz she’d paused.

“And, she’d appreciate it greatly if you would take a greater role in lesson preparation because, with all of her responsibilities over the course of a day, she just doesn’t have time to prepare lessons, too.”

“She doesn’t?”

“That’s what she said…”

“She’s been preparing her own lessons since she started here last year…”

“She would like you to prepare the lessons.”

I was about to ask the BOE lady who happens to love my smile, ‘why, instead of taking it to the Board of Education, essentially my boss’ boss’ boss, and being that I’ve sat next to her for the past year happily preparing lessons for the other two Japanese English teachers and helping her tweak her own, why didn’t she just tell me that she’d like me to prepare her lessons as well?

WHY?

But if you know Japan then you know that in Japan that is a rhetorical question.

The BOE lady watched me suffering, choking on the unaskable unanswerable question and said, “Well, Mr. Loco, that’s it for now. Ganbatte ne!” (Hang in there!) And don’t forget to smile!”

“Ganbarimasu!” I replied, automatically.

After the BOE lady left I went back into the teacher’s office and spotted Yoshida-sensei at her desk. She looked up at me with that same nervous look she always has, but I never paid it much mind before because many teachers…hell, most people in Japan…have that same nervous look around me. But now I could see Yoshida’s nervous look  for what it really was: actual nervousness.

“I think we need to talk,” I told her, with a big plastic smile on my face, showing a mouthful of coffee and tobacco stained choppers. “You got a sec?”

to be continued…

Loco

29
Jan
10

Manzai of the Onanii Brothers pt.2

The day’s grammar point was: I’m too something to do something or I’m so something that I can’t do something. My instructions to the class: Make pairs and prepare a skit using the following guidelines, but feel free to expand beyond it. Let your imaginations run wild:

Student A: Hey _____________  , let’s do something today.

Student B: Sorry _______________ but __________ am/is/are too ____________ to do something today.

Student A: Oh, I see. That’s too bad.

Student B: How about something else?

Student A: That sounds like fun but I can’t. _______________________ am/are/is so _________________ that _____________ can’t ____________________________.

Student B: Ok, I understand.

Student A: How about tomorrow?

Student B: That sounds great!

A pimp named Slickback

I had already taught them the grammar the previous week, so this was kind of a review and an opportunity to demonstrate what they’d learned. This was my English Elective class so the students were mostly the ones who who love English or are pretty good at it. At first I was going to have them perform their skits before the entire class, but I changed my mind. The potential embarrassment often restricts the weaker student’s imaginations and they’d likely stick to the safe and simple, instead of spreading their wings a little, which is what I like to encourage them to do. So I told them that they need only perform it before me or the Japanese teacher. If they do it they’ll get a stamp, but if they use some imagination they’ll receive two stamps. The Kids love stamps. I have a Snoopy stamp that I use. (Can’t find any “A pimp named Slickback” stamps anywhere) (-:

“Yoroshii deshou ka?” (Is that ok with everybody?)

No response, which could either mean yes or no depending on the quality of the silence, which I still have trouble reading.

“Ok, let’s make pairs!” I said and held up two fingers. My kids know a lot of classroom instruction words like “make pairs” “Make groups” “Sit down” “Stand up” “Answer the question,” etc…but they choose to disregard the meaning whenever it’s inconvenient. Some girls like to work in threes or fours. Some guys like to work in a mob. Pair work is just not group enough for some kids. So I had to walk around the classroom breaking trios, quartets, quintets and mobs into duos for a few minutes.

Tarou and Yuuji naturally paired off, no arm twisting necessary. They were manzai, a team. And I could see in the purposeful expressions on their faces that they had big plans for my guidelines. I couldn’t wait to see the result. To be honest, sometimes I design lessons with these two in mind because they are always good entertainment. Not always fun for the family, though. Generally PG 13, but sometimes R-rated and even X-rated, but since I’m the only one in the class that can understand them (including the Japanese English teacher most of the time) the students don’t know exactly what they’ve said, only that it was enough to bring tears of laughter to my eyes or to make me cut them off mid-sentence or mid-word and say, “Okaayyyyy, thank you very much, Tarou and Yuuji! Next!”

After about 20 minutes or so, the higher level students started coming to where I was at the front of the class to show me the skit they’d written. Most were about shopping, purikura, baseball or karaoke. Hey Natsuko, let’s go to purikura. Sorry but I’m too tired to go to purikura. Hey Let’s go shopping. I’m so sleepy that I can’t go shopping. OK then. Some of them were pretty good, most were safe and exactly what I had asked for minus the imagination running wild part. I gave out a lot of single stamps. Only a couple of students warranted double stamps.

It was one minute until the bell and Yuuji and Tarou were still at it, rehearsing and re-writing. Watching them was like  having a behind the scenes, behind closed doors view of a brilliant comedy team like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance or Jay and Silent Bob, or even Beavis and Butthead. I would have loved to watch them a bit longer but the bell had begun to chime.

The students all returned to their seats and we closed the class as we always do with a bow and a roar of “Arigatou gozaimashita!” As I collected my materials to head for the teacher’s office, a little disappointed that they hadn’t finished in time, here came Yuuji and Tarou.

“Loco sensei, Ima chotto yatte mo ii?” (Can we do it now?) Tarou asked.

“Osoku natta deshou?” (A little late aren’t you?)

“Yoroshiku onegai shimasu…” (please…) Yuuji sang/pled.

“Ja, douzo” (Alright, go ahead) I said like I wasn’t eager to see it.

They faced each other, hands free, having committed the conversation to memory:

Yuuji: Hey Keiko-chan, let’s make love tonight.

Tarou/Keiko: Sorry Yuuji-sama, but my pussy is too hurt to make love tonight.

Yuuji: Oh, I see. That’s too bad.

Tarou/Keiko: How about anal sex?

Yuuji: That sounds like fun but your ass is so tight that my big dick can’t get in.

Tarou / Keiko: Ok, I understand.

Yuuji: How about a blowjob?

Tarou:Keiko: Oh yes, That sounds wonderful!

Then, Tarou looked cravingly down at Yuuji’s crotch and licks his lips. He was about to kneel when I grabbed him and said, “just go get your books so I can stamp them!”

I gave them both double stamps of course. I know I probably shouldn’t be encouraging the dirty English but I’m just so damn proud of how they’ve grasped the language, I’d hate to be party to anything that discourages them in any way.

Loco

28
Jan
10

Black and White in Japan pt.5

I used to work for a financial printer in NY- a big one. Many corporations, when they initially went public, printed their prospectus and  many Fortune 500 companies printed their quarterly and annual reports through our company. As you might imagine, with Wall Street at the door on a daily basis, there were many perks: Unlimited overtime, free meals, limos home, the works. I eventually became a customer service rep, but initially I was a proof reader. Proofreading quarterly reports is like, well, put it this way- If the Japanese had been up on this form of torture during WWII and had used it on captured American spies these spooks would have certainly and happily given up all kinds of secrets and we would have lost the war; and consequently my Japanese would be much better than it is now.

There were a few other proofreaders working in the department. The proofreaders, as a rule, were always doing this to make ends meet, in the meantime between time. There was Andy who was really a screenplay writer and director and is now out in La-La Land  trying to make it happen. There was Theo who was putting the final touches on his manuscript. He eventually got it published a year after I met him and it did pretty well as I recall.

Then there was me and Aaron. I was happy just to have a job at the time, and Aaron had been proofreading since the 50s and wasn’t going anywhere unless it was on a stretcher or in a hearse. He was a great old guy, salt of the earth, and he’d lived a full and interesting life. He’d often regale us with sumptuous stories of how he’d proofread and copyedited various famous writers’ works, and how the prissy bastards used to complain all the time.

One day he told us about how he even proofread a colored writer’s work once.  “I forget his name…though he was a pretty famous colored guy, and a helluva writer!” The rest of the proofreading staff shifted uneasily in their seats with Aaron’s use of this anachronism, smiles glued to their faces, like you might do if your senile grandmother farted while she was talking to you. Andy, always good for a laugh, said “Don’t you mean, Negro writer? My god, Aaron, live in the now.” I guffawed. Paul grinned from ear to ear.

But, Aaron didn’t get it. And he was American!

So how in the world was I going to get Greg to get it?

I mean, political correctness and sensitivity to minorities in language is mostly an American idea. I had no idea what Australia thought of us or where they stood on the issue, but if Greg’s use of “colored” and “abos”was any indication, their racial sensitivity lay somewhere between Japan’s and South Africa’s. So I sat there trying to think of a way to tell Greg that, though, I assume, he meant no offense by its use, I’d prefer he didn’t refer to black people as Colored, or Negro, or Niggers, or Afro-Americans, or Abos, or anything other than black, or people of African descent (though I have no idea where the Aborigines in Australia came from originally, if anywhere) or African-Americans, or whatever nationality the person happened to be. That his use of colored was more distressing than the threatening call from the main office about the noise, and even more upsetting than his allusions to some kind of barbaric religious practice taking place in my bedroom. As you can see this was a very complicated subject. Short of explaining the US history of racism and racial bigotry and the impact of slavery and Jim Crow, etc, etc, etc, etc, how could he possible get it?

So I decided to go light first.

“”Have either of you received a call from the main office?” I asked them.

“No,” Joe said, “But, I lost my phone the other night so…”

He was on his third phone in as many weeks. His M.O. was to get drunk as possible as often as possible and challenge himself to get home safely with all his possessions and body parts intact. He failed constantly. He often came home minus some blood, skin, cash, even a tooth once. And that’s the times when he made it home at all. Sometimes he crawled into the house in the morning after having slept on someone’s lawn or  on the ground in front of the train station waiting for the first train. Greg was worse. Greg didn’t even bother to come home and shower up. He went straight to work that way. Straight from some street corner or friends house, or gutter, grab some Mintia (Japanese tictacs), brush the grass out of his hair, throw a little water on his face and try to stay awake and employed. His co-workers would call me sometimes when he hadn’t gone at all. Sometimes he vanished for days, on a binge. His office would call me inquiring about his whereabouts. “Hell if I know…” He’d show up  a couple of days later looking the worst for wear.

“They called my school, I think, but I wasn’t there that day,” Greg said.

“Well, the thing is…” I began. “They’ve gotten complaints about the noise from our landlord, and they threatened me over the phone, talking about we’d be evicted if it continues…”

“What kind of bloody noise?” Joe asked, looking a little puzzled.

“Yeah? What the…?”

WTF! You know good and damn well what kind of noise they’re talking about, both of you do! I wanted to yell. You fuckers come home every night pissed and play the guitar like this is Fuji Rock , or blast Red Hot Chilli Peppers like you want to introduce the whole neighborhood to rock, or bring a mob of Aussies up in here for laughs and brews, and all in the livingroom, just outside my bedroom, regardless of the time. But I didn’t yell. I kept my cool.

“You think they can hear you?” Joe asked, looking up at the ceiling, and at the walls. “I imagine they must, I can hear you even in my bedroom down the hall.”

“Hear who?” I asked.

You, dude! When you have one of your Japanese girls in there it’s like a war zone.”

“Yeah, I almost opened the door to make sure everything was alright one time,” Greg said, laughing loudly. “I thought you were killing her. Now I know it’s  just your style!”

“What the hell are y’all talking about?” I was perplexed.

“You!” Joe said. “I mean, I don’t like to talk about what a man does in the bedroom but, you!! ” Joe was shaking his head.

“Yeah, we gotta nickname for you, don’t we Joe?”

“Yep!  The Machine!”

Loco

to be continued…

27
Jan
10

Manzai of the Onanii Brothers

I have two third-year students who, over the course of the past three years, have made it their prime directive to shock and amaze me…and their escapades have escalated with each passing year. Just try to imagine Abbott and Costello, then picture them together as Junior High School students in the 21st century. Now picture them as Japanese. The resulting picture will probably resemble Yuuji-kun and Tarou-kun. Yuuji is kind of chubby but with the pep and agility of an athlete, like one of those fat comedians that can break dance. Tarou is the straight man who gives the duo balance. He can set anyone up for a prank with the skill of a seasoned pantomime.

I knew from the first time I met them, back when they were 1st year students, that they would be inseparable and a handful. They had already been a popular  duo since Elementary school, so Junior High School meant some new audience members (classmates coming from other elementary schools) and fresh teachers to impress. Both just happen to have IQs off the charts so not only are they the class clowns, they also ace tests in almost every subject.

English was a new challenge, however. They came to the school with as much exposure to English as the other students in the class: little to nil. But, they took an immediate liking to me and began from day one demonstrating an intense interest in learning about me and the language I spoke.

And, by intense, I mean they took the initiative like you wouldn’t believe. They are classic examples of why I don’t assume anything about what Japanese people know or don’t know, especially students. They started by not watching but studying English movies and TV shows, especially comedies and rather racy stuff, and getting at me in the hallways to explain to them the meaning of  words or running the expressions they’d learned by me to see if they had gotten it right.

That first year, I remember Yuuji stopped me in the hallway one day and said, “Good Morning Loco Sensei! How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you…and you?” I replied, like I do 1000 times a week to my kids.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

It was just as I had taught him and his classmates a few weeks earlier, straight from the textbook. And I was about to praise him on his voice and diction when Tarou walked by. Yuuji was looking in my face, the perfect expression of a student awaiting a pat on the head, when he turned and saw Tarou like he’d sensed his approach. Suddenly, Yuuji burst out yelling, “You son of a bitch!  I ought to kick your ass!”

Tarou turned and hissed like a snake and assumed a battle-ready stance: “You just try it, you fat fuck. I’ll wipe that stupid look off your face!”

I stood there with my mouth open in shock. I’d never seen such aggression from Japanese people except in a K-1 or PRIDE fight. Suddenly they were grappling with one another, and Yuuji got Tarou in a bear hug and was squeezing him, pumping him from the rear like a sodomite, yelling, “how do you like that? Huh? How do you like that?”

An audience of students started to draw near but no one intervened, just stared half-amused half-shocked.

Tarou’s face was turning red so I stepped over and told Yuuji to let him down. In English. That’s when I realized that  I understood perfectly everything they’d said because they too had been speaking English.

WTF!

Yuuji was watching my face and started laughing as he set Tarou down. Tarou still had the crimson hue of someone who had got the air squeezed out of him, but he was laughing, too.

Two professionals.

I was speechless. They both nodded like they understood what I hadn’t said: you guys are gifted!

Tarou and Yuuji kept this up for their entire first year of school. Their English was still at a primary level, but they were learning many natural English expressions on their own, and incorporating them into their everyday conversation. Each expression chosen for its shock value and they rarely failed. I’d ask them, as I ask all students everyday, “How’s the weather today?” Most students would say sunny or rainy or cold or cloudy. Some students might rememeber to say “it’s” before the weather condition. Most don’t, regardless of how many times I try to ram it into their heads. Yuuji would say, “it’s cold as a fuck!” and Tarou might say, “Who cares? We’re inside!” With those two you never know what you’re gonna get. Even when I was expecting a trick, they’d figure out a way to catch me off guard, or they’d do nothing and have me second guessing everything. I was their foil.

Their second year, they took to hanging out around the bathrooms between classes with a mob of fans. When I walked past they’d grab me by the crotch and try to drag me into the bathroom. Japanese kids have no qualms about playing grab-ass, no homo hangups like we had back when I was a junior high school student. So, I’m subject to all kinds of sexual assaults when I pass by. One time I let them drag me into the bathroom against my better judgement just to see what they were up to in there. Four of them pulled me in where another 10 or so were standing around like a scene from any American school movie ever made. Only no one was smoking, or drinking, or writing graffiti on the wall, or anything like that. Just a bunch of kids hanging out.

One time I was flung into this mix and the ones who were already in the bathroom froze guiltily or jumped about like I’d caught them doing something. From their behavior I wouldn’t have been surprised to find one of the female students on her knees in one of the stalls giving head. I looked hard but I couldn’ t see, hear or smell anything amiss. So, I figured maybe it was some kind of group masturbation. If shoving their fingers up my ass is ok (koncho) who knows what goes on with these kids in Japan when no adults are watching? I certainly don’t.

“Nani shiteiru?” (What are y’all doing?)

“Nani mo nai yo” (Nothing)

I knew the Japanese word for masturbation so I said: “Yappari…Onanii shiteiru deshou…” (Probably whacking off in here!)

“CHIGAU!!!” (Hell no!!)

Since I’d gotten a rise out of them I figured I must have hit close to home.

Of course, Yuuji thought this was the perfect time for some hijinks. He started pretending to give Tarou a hand job. And Tarou looked perfectly like someone trying to pretend he’s not receiving a hand-job while he is experiencing intense pleasure. I almost fell out laughing.

“The Onanii Brothers!” I called them, and they loved it.

And the name has stuck until this day.

Today, three years later, their skits are much more sophisticated. And much dirtier. You won’t believe what they did to shock me today.

Loco

to be continued…

PS: Manzai is Japanese for a comic routine done by a duo

26
Jan
10

Black and White in Japan pt.4

When I was four or five, my family and I arrived home from an outing to surprise a couple of thieves robbing our apartment. Since my father was not with us, they didn’t panic so much as they decided that they had better flee the scene with whatever they could carry and run with at the same time. My mother, once she’d finished screaming hysterically, called the cops. A while later, two big, white giants stood in our living room, jotting down my mother’s hysterics in huge black leather books. I stood there, in awe. I’d never seen a white person- not on TV – up close before that point. Maybe the doctor that had given me my first spanking was white, and the one that trimmed the foreskin from my member was probably white, too. I have no memory of them but I sure am glad they were around to make sure my black ass was alive and kicking and not walking around with excessive  foreskin on my joint.

Well, from that tender age on, I kept my eyes out for white people. When I was very young, besides law enforcement and fire fighting, they were the butchers, the pizzeria proprietors, the bank tellers, the Con Ed guy and the Ma Bell guy, the bus drivers, the engineers and conductors on the subway, the grocery store clerks, the supermarket staff, the fish mongers, the taxi drivers…They were everyone my mother gave her money to. They were everyone in any position of respect in my neighborhood. They always smiled. They were always nice. They were everywhere. And then, suddenly, they weren’t. The grocers became Latino, the fish monger became Chinese, the fruit and vegetable stand became Korean, the bank teller became black (that’s before the bank relocated entirely), the subway staff became black and Latino…only the police and firefighters remained white.

One time when I was about 7 years old I got lost in the subway and a big friendly white cop saw me crying and asked where were my folks. I told him I didn’t know between sobs. He took me to the transit police station where I suddenly found myself surrounded by a mob of uniformed humongous white men with guns. And, as TV cop shows taught me well, I was  super safe. My tears vanished. I was the center of attraction. One cop put his cap on my head and told me I’d make a great cop. The cop who’d found me came back with an Ice cream sandwich, handed it to me, told me to cheer up and asked me  for my name and phone number. Luckily I knew it. I’ll never forget the smile on his face. Sometimes I still see that face in my dreams, but never do the words, “You smell like shit!” emerge from  it.

“I what?”

” You STINK!” Greg reiterated, like I was deaf and he was one of those idiots that yell at deaf people.

“Every time you open your room door you stink up the whole house!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not to mention how I was hearing it. I mean, men stink. Hell, people stink in general…that’s why man-made deodorant and cologne and douche and perfumes and incense and what not, People in general produce some god awful funk, and as evolution went on I guess we just got used to human stench, as long as it wasn’t extraordinarily reeking. And, I don’t reek! I’m no Felix Unger but I shower daily, sometimes twice. I wear Speed Stick deodorant, Polo cologne. I mentioned my foot odor  in an earlier post and I thought it might have been an issue. But since we moved in my shoes have been in the entrance area and I’d been monitoring the smell carefully, marking the improvement my shoe-removing life in Japan had wrought.

I was pretty secure my hygiene was not the issue here, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was.

“I don’t know what you guys are talking about,” I exclaimed in my defense. “I don’t stink, and neither does my room!”

“You can’t smell that shit, mate?” Joe asked incredulously. “Smells like you have an animal living in there…”

“Yeah, a dead animal…” Greg added with disgust. “You’re not doing some dodgy religious shit in there, are you?”

“I…I…” I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t even respond. The intensity in their voices, the venom in their words, I was wholly unprepared for. I wondered if they were pulling  some elaborate gag, some humor from Down Under to break the ice. It was either that or my room really did stink to high hell.

Looking at their faces, I was leaning towards the latter.

“I don’t know what to say…”

“I’ll be satisfied if you say you’ll stop sacrificing animals or whatever the hell it is you’re doing in your room that has the house smelling like a zoo,” Greg said.

“I don’t sacrifice animals…what do you think? I’m a witch doctor or something?”

“I don’t know what you are, …”

“Listen, there must be some mistake!”

Joe, the more reasonable of the two, asked what could  it be. I told him I didn’t know.

I thought back to our first day. Joe and I actually arrived on the same train from Tokyo. I saw him, struggling with his duffel bags and guitar while  I had only one suitcase, my other stuff to be delivered another day. In my other hand I had a map and a layout of the apartment, as did he, which is how I knew he was Joe and we were headed for the same address. But, I’d be damned I was going to help him. Usually I would have but that day we were racing. Or at least I was. He didn’t care I would later learn.

5 Tatami mat room

The 3 bedroom apartment we would eventually occupy was currently empty. There was a 5 1/2 tatami mat (a tatami mat is about 3ft by 6ft) room, a 6 tatami mat room and an 8 tatami mat master bedroom I presumed. This master  bedroom was next to the living room and also had a door that led out to the backyard. I wanted that room. Smoking was not permitted in the apartment according the forms I signed at the office, so, for convenience, and for size, I wanted that room. I tried to reserve it with the company but I was told the rooms were first come first serve. “You guys can move in as of the first of April.” The first of April found Joe and I on the Saikyo line headed out to Saitama. April Fool’s day found me running through a train station with my suitcase in one hand a map in the other with Joe strolling behind, looking high or drunk. He always did. Like a hippy.

I couldn’t figure out the kanji-plagued map I had so I asked the staff. They wakaranai’d (I don’t know) me. So I asked where were the taxis. I hailed the first taxi I saw, pulling on the door. It wouldn’t open when I pulled but once I’d let it go suddenly it spring open like that car in the Harry Potter movies, and I jumped back like the damn thing was going to eat me, tripping over my suitcase.

Meanwhile I could picture Joe just strolling along lackadaisically.

“Take me here!” I said to the driver, pointing at the map. “Please! Here! We go Here!” I knew no Japanese at the time. So I used universal hand symbols. At least I hoped they were universal. He glanced at me and then at me hands and then at the map then back at me and nodded “hai hai shitteru shitteru.” I turned to close the door when suddenly it lurched  at me. “Fuck!” I turned to the driver and he had a little smirk on his face as he pulled off.

The apartment is about 2 minutes by cab from the station I would later learn. I’m pretty sure that first day the driver took about 15 minutes. I kept asking him was he sure where he was going. “Hai hai hai hai hai” he replied. But I’m sure he’d gotten lost. Finally he pulled up in front of an apartment complex and the door opened on my side. I realized it was hydraulic then. “How cool is that,” I said. I paid him and got out, practically on the run. The taxi was on a long road but I could not see Joe anywhere. Fuck, did he beat me? I thought.

The apartment was on the first floor. I raced down the long hallway and finally I reached it. The door was still closed and locked. I whipped out the key they’d given me in the office and opened it slowly, listening for life within. Nothing…no sounds.

YES!!!

I’ studied the the floor plan so well I knew it by heart. The two smaller rooms were on either side of the hallway leading from the front door. I peaked in both as I proceeded towards the master bedroom. No Joe. They were small, but not so bad. The company had provided us with futon to get started, and both rooms had them, rolled up in the center of the waxed plywood floors. A little further down the hallway there was a toilet room on one said e of the hall and a shower room on the other. I found that interesting. I’d never seen a bathroom where the toilet had a room to itself. A little further and you enter the rather spacious eat-in kitchen, with a couple of appliances provided by the company. I’d have to go through the checklist to make sure all the items were there. The livingroom was next to the kitchen and a pleather couch was there as well as a TV, TV stand, and a large sliding window / patio door that looked out at a backyard full of weeds and chrysanthemums.

And to the right of the dinning room was a sliding door. The other two bedrooms had regular doors. I smiled. Mine was the most “Japanese”. I slid it open and a smell wafted up in to my nose like a…

“Oh shit!”

Tatami Mat

“What?” They asked at my sudden jolt.

“Come here both of you…” and I lead them to my bedroom door, slid it open and pointed down.

“Smell that!”  I said, pointing to the tatami mats. They both slowly kneeled down and gave it a whiff.

“That’s it!” Joe said

That’s the fucking smell! ” Greg agreed. “It’s this bamboo…stuff? Damn, how can you sleep with this smell?”

“I got used to it after a couple days. I don’t think about it anymore.”

“Damn, Loco,” Joe began. “I am so sorry, I….” and he broke out laughing. Greg also apologized for jumping to conclusions and regretted some of the things he’d said.

“No biggie! If either of you were stinking I would have gotten at you the same way, trust me.”

“Well, I guess we can wrap up this meeting, and go get some brews!”

“Not just yet…y’all didn’t hear my beef, yet.” I said. “The colored guy has something to say.”

Loco

to be continued…

25
Jan
10

Stop Whining pt.3

Life’s what you make it…stop whining baby…”

From “A place in heaven” by Prince

“…It’s not something I’m ready to talk about,” I told him. “Not yet. Give me a few weeks or so…”

“Well, can you give me a hint?” He asked. I had him curious now.

The cafe around us was filling up with the after-work crowd and the waitresses were hustling from table to table settling them in and serving them.

“I wouldn’t know where to begin…” I said.

“One sec,” he said. “Sumimasen!”

The waitress acknowledged his beckon with a shriek of “hai!” as she trotted by with someone’s order in her hands…”shou shou o-machi kudasai.” (I’ll be with you in just a moment.)

A 20-something couple came through the door dressed sharply and came our way. They hadn’t seen us yet they were so focused on the empty table beside ours. They paused before the table as the man noticed us and flinched like he’d seen a rat scurry by. His companion had already begun to slide into the booth when,  just before she could plant her behind on the bench,  he grabbed her arm and pointed towards another table across the room. The girl was a little confused by his suddeness and sensed something was amiss. She looked around to see what (which I could tell from the expression on his face he wished she hadn’t done), saw me and my friend, smiled awkwardly and rose and followed her beau across the room. I didn’t watch them go. Instead I watched my friend to see his reaction. He shrugged his acknowledgement and said, “where’s that waitress at?”

“When you see shit like that what do you think?” I asked. I was curious at his total lack of reaction.

“That’s how Japanese people are…what you gonna do?  Waste your life writing and whining about it?” and snorted a laugh.

“It doesn’t bother you at all?” I asked. I wasn’t buying his nonchalance.

“Not enough to get me up in arms,” he said. “I mean, sometimes, sometimes, I want to react. But then I tell myself reacting to them gives them power over me.  I’d much rather ignore them. If they want to live in a world where it’s ok to treat people that way, more power to them. My peace of mind is my priority.”

“Omatase shite shimatte taihen moshiwake arimasendeshita” (I’m very sorry to have kept you waiting) the waitress said as she arrived before us, bowing deeply.

“Nama biiru wo futatsu kudasai. (Two regular beers please) Don’t worry, I got this round,” he said. “I think you need one and you’re making me need one.”

As the waitress sped away I asked him, ” Do you really think I should leave Japan?”

“I sincerely hope you don’t. You’re about the only real friend I got here…” he said kind of sadly. “But I wouldn’t blame you if you did…I know it’s been rough on you. And if you find the conditions here as intolerable and unacceptible as some of your blog posts suggest, I don’t see you have much choice.”

“Some of my blog posts describe in detail why I love it here too…”

“Really? I didn’t see those…are there many?”

“Yes!” I almost shouted. “I think I have a balanced life here. At least as balanced as it was back in New York. Maybe more so. And I think my blog reflects that balance.”

“You really think so?”

“Ok…” I sighed. “Initially it didn’t I admit. I started  the blog in the midst of a dark patch, if you remember. I’d lost Aiko and she was my touchstone, my lifeline. And I’d just recently moved from Saitama to Yokohama, which didn’t live up to its hype of being this place where Japanese are less…Japanese, cuz of all the foreigners living here. So, I was in hell, yo. And that may not seem like the ideal place to write from but I think I squeezed a lot of quality posts and essays out of that period. Hell, that writing is what put me on the map, so to speak. Some of my readers identified with my pain, and some just appreciated how I put myself out there. I reached people. I touched people. I even built up a little following, a small but quality readership, and they in turn fed my creativity and kept me motivated. Writing and my readers got me through that rough patch as much as anything else. Even more so than my friends and family, my writing was there for me. ”

“Ok…” he said, and he finally stopped looking at me like I’d truly lost it. “What now?”

“What now? Well, I’m going through another transition, and I’m putting together a game plan…”

“A game plan?” he said, straigtening up. He wasn’t used to this kind of language from me. “Let’s hear it!”

“Ok, let’s face it: I’ve never been a sunshine and flowers kind of guy anyway, have I? You know me… I was Loco even before I came to this man’s country, and I’ll be Loco when I leave. In the meantime I think it’s high time Loco became all he can be.”

“Here?” he asked, surprised. “In Japan?” 

“Good a place as any. Sinatra said it best I think, if I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere…”

“What do you mean ‘make it’?”

“Make Loco work for me. Make the life I always wanted. Make it happen!” 

“How to whine your way to succees in 10 easy steps?”

“Shut up!”

We both laughed as our beers arrived.

“Here’s to making it happen in twenty 10!” he toasted.

“I’ll kanpai to that!” (Japanese “cheers”)

Owari. (The end)

Loco




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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