Posts Tagged ‘brooklyn

06
Jul
09

School Gardens (It’s the little things #1)

As promised, here is the first installment in my new series: It’s the little things…

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Jackie Roosevelt Robinson

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Ebbets Field

I attended Jackie Robinson Intermediate School in Brooklyn, a school literally built on what is considered by most older Brooklynites as hallowed ground: the space that formerly held Ebbet’s Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yes, that would be the same Brooklyn Dodgers who decided against popular opinion to integrate baseball and the very same place where that color barrier in modern-era Major League Baseball was broken when Jackie Robinson took the field. From Slavery to Ebbets Field in 80 years. And from The house that Jackie jacked, to the White House (which was built with  slave labor jacked from Africa,) in a little over 60 years. Don’t you just love America? Anyway, the rest is history.

By 1980 when I attended the school it was not a fitting tribute to the great man. It was not so much an eyesore as a cataract or an eye cancer. I mean, in the 1970s, NY was financially going through a rough patch and inner-city schools were hit pretty hard. I.S. 320 was one of these schools. But, even in its heyday, assuming it had one, I’m pretty sure there was never a garden on the premises, unless you consider those weeds sprouting up through the cracks in the concrete on the handball court, or those stinkweed trees growing wild alongside the basketball court, pruned by passing trucks, some kind of makeshift garden; ubiquitous dandelions straddling its roots, their parachute-like seeds spread by wish-bearing children like myself (please God, make Stephanie love me.) He didn’t by the way. Goddamn weeds…

The facilities at a Japanese Junior High School aren’t much better. They don’t have generous budgets and amenities coming out the wazoo. They have just the bare essentials to give the students the education they’re entitled to; the quality of that education determined by the quality of the teachers and administrative staff, which is usually pretty decent I’ve found. Just take away the graffiti, the cafeteria (Japanese students eat at their desks) add a doujou for Kendou practice, central heating (Japanese classrooms have stove-type heaters in each room, lit hazardously with matches!) and shoe lockers (for outside shoes shall be removed before entering the premises) and…actually there are many differences. But, there’s one startling distinction found at many Japanese schools: a garden.

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Mokkoku Tree (Ternstroemia Gymnanthera)

Mokkoku Tree (Ternstroemia Gymnanthera)

All of the Japanese Public schools I have worked at have had at least one garden…usually maintained by staff and students. The pond above houses a growing number of rather large turtles (I counted over ten) and fish, assorted lilies and various plants. This Mokkoku tree above has been pruned (剪定) Japanese style (植木の手入れ)over the years. The other pond has what looks to be about hundred carp in it.

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Maybe it’s simply a cultural difference, but I find it very appealing for a number of reasons. For one, just as it’s the student’s responsibility to clean the school each day before they leave (a simple way to develop responsibility and respect for the premises, something direly missing in the public schools I attended in NY) the students are also required to maintain the garden…though I’ve never sensed there was any qualm about it. There seem to always be a number of students just dying to get their hands in the dirt and re-pot plants or grab a net and clean out the fish and turtle ponds. Though the pruning I’ve only seen being done by the maintenance staff for it requires special skills, I have a feeling the students would do it gladly if they knew how or if the tools needed to do it weren’t dangerous.

Sometimes, while the kids are busy in class and I have a free period, I grab a cup of coffee and sit out there and soak up the tranquility. Sometimes I just check out the wild life. Japan is replete with gardens and most are a 100 times more beautiful and elaborate than the one above. But, just having an area like this in a school, for me, naturally changes the atmosphere of the education underway. It’s just a little thing but man do I admire it.

Loco

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17
Mar
09

Conversation 3/16/09 – I hate waking up mad, too

This conversation took place between myself and my boy EZ yesterday. Actually it was via my blog comment area but I thought it noteworthy enough to make a post out of it.

EZ: All right, here’s my amateur translation of Sora’s blog post (currently with no comments). I apologize for any errors:

“So I decided to sneak a peek at Loco-san’s blog after a long while. It was the one that introduced me to THAT (当) Blog and this video . Although he has had this experience back in NY, in Japan he has it much worse, saying that he goes through this terrible thing ten times a day, every day. The purpose of this article is to raise the problem of how he cannot hold this kind of dissatisfaction with Japan, especially in light of the fact that foreigners exist throughout Japan we find this type of behavior strange. There is much to learn from the blogs that allow open comments and don’t block opposing opinions since there are a whole lot of opinions to be had.

Of course, such dissatisfaction is good to say and must be said. However, you must take care on how you say it. If you made the same video, you would just get more antipathy in Japan since the seeds of fear for black people have already been planted.

If you are going to relate your opinion, you must stress that such avoidances makes you unhappy. Also, a good shortcut is for black people to make the impression to more and more Japanese people that they really, really want to speak Japanese normally with them.

The Japanese have made firm opinions that all black people are the same as Westernized black people, based on the actions of some black folks, and this is wrong. There are good and bad images of black folks available. Hollywood films and foreign newscasts will show black people as the same and over blow unusual characteristics. Because of that, there are negative opinions about black people in Japan. There are a whole lot of people that have not met a real live black person.

I think that even if there wasn’t such a history concerning Westerners, if black people in Japan were to give the impression that they are against Japanese people, then this new image will just take hold again. If the discussion among the population spreads, as well as the cultural exchange, then a lot of the images might change, however, the opinion that Japanese people have of black folks will probably remain low for the years to come.

Recently, Mr. Loco made a post that included a videos his students graduating from middle school. The way he made his greetings without seeming bewildered was pleasant to see. This is the way black people, or any people for that matter, should relate to these kids. This goes for relating to adults as well.

However, cursing them and calling them hicks won’t open those doors.

Please say the following to the Japanese in their own language: “Hey, Japanese people, if there is anyone among you that looks at us black folks and runs away, doing so will make us very unhappy. We are just like you and we just want to get along.” Because I believe in the Japanese, I think just doing this alone will change things.

It would be good if the government or the administrations would do this, I think, the government and administrations are not as quick to act as we wish. Since we can’t see through a Westerner’s eyes, these tragic events will continue to accumulate. Of course, the media neither investigates it or pays attention to those incidents.

It all starts with a small voice. I’m sure that people that will cooperate will come. From that small voice they will gather into a bigger voice.

However, you must first get the Japanese people to join you. You must appeal to the hearts of the Japanese people. What you did will only inflame the passions of the Japanese people and turn them against you.

Because of that, the calls to cooperate from Debito’s blog are no good. Because of the reasons that can be found here ( http://blog.goo.ne.jp/kentanakachan/e/b06c3f2855a31c29161d62e486a03ad1 ) and the other things that he has written, and his is the only blog that is willing to cooperate, the sincerity and fidelity to this issue is held in doubt. It will just give another reason for all of Japan to hate the foreign-born.

In order for the Japanese society to someday be able to understand, or if possible, to be able to bring about the effect that you desire, by all means, work hard at studying the Japanese language because we really desire that.”

So what this dude is saying is that he also thinks Japanese folks should be mollycoddled when being called out on their racism and ignorance? Fuck that! If they won’t stand for that bullshit themselves (unless they do) then why should we stand for it?

All right, I guess I’ll make a deal. At first, I’ll get on the teevee, get all weepy and pull a Rodney King “treating us like criminals makes me saaaad! We’re just like you, can’t we all just get along?” and see if that sort of groveling to be treated as a human being actually works. If it doesn’t, then it’s back to kicking asses again, whether they like it or not.

Fuck, I shouldn’t wake up mad like this.

ME: YO EZ! My Man, 50 Grand! Thanks for the translation!!!! Otsukaresamadeshita… WOW!
Yeah, you said it, man, it’s a call for more mollycoddling. But, you know what…I’ve been doing some thinking (yet again, long and hard) and I’ve decided that I’m not going to fuel my anger, or allow them to fuel it anymore…enough is enough. The Iceman has cometh! I’m going to re-focus my energy on something more productive and let them be. I know it won’t be EZ (-; This issue is very complexed, and I’m hardly in the emotional shape to tackle it head on as much as I’d like to. I think my issues here are as much a result of the racial trauma I experienced back home as it is anything the Japanese have done, so for the time being I’m just going to deal with my own trauma, and if i can resolve that then I’ll be in a healthier state and better able to see the issues I’m having with nihonjin clearer, you know?

I mean I sat back and read a little James Baldwin (perhaps the most eloquent and intelligent man to deal with such issues) and Langston Hughes and WEB DuBois and then re-read some of the things I’ve been writing and I noticed some similarities but a big significant difference. They mostly came at the challenge the way Sora-san suggested. They Mollycoddled white people, sometimes. And sometimes they threw haymakers with the force of a Typhoon. It was all about timing, and knowing yourself, and knowing your target very well. Plus they were driven by the kind of passion that can only be derived from fighting for one’s home. And, while I live here, and pay taxes and have vested myself as much as one can in a place that one has no idea when they will leave, this is not home. The truth is, though I’ve been living here a few years, and i think I know Japanese people well, maybe I don’t know them as well as I should. So, I’ve decided to take a pause for the cause. Of course I’m going to continue writing…I love this too much to give this up…but, I too hate waking up mad. It’s bad for my digestion and my constitution and my general disposition, and so I’ve decided to go a lighter path for a while.

It’s funny though…I came to this epiphany a couple of days ago and I actually feel different already. I saw the same shit on the train today and my body tensed up but my mind was like “Yo, Dude! Chill!” The words actually almost came out my mouth. And you know what? I didn’t act out (well I did elbow this one asshole who was determined to keep his briefcase between us regardless of my efforts to avoid it coming in contact with me) I didn’t plot my literary assault (something I’m prone to do I’m sure you know) I simply chilled…and told myself something to the effect of “it must be a bitch being Japanese: intimidated by anyone and everyone, afraid of people who are not like you, stuck on a rock in Asia because your culture has made you unsuitable to survive off of it, afraid to look at or stand near a woman for fear of being accused of being Chikan, afraid of not being early for work and not staying late and not going drinking afterwards for then you may be labeled uncooperative…”etc etc. I looked around me and for the first time since I’ve been here…THE VERY FIRST TIME…I felt pity. It’s an awful feeling, feeling sorry for people, and I hated it. I’ve never really felt pity for people before, at least not healthy people anyway. But, maybe that’s it. Maybe I just realized that they are not so healthy, and neither am I. They’ve been traumatized by their society the same way I’ve been traumatized by mine. Mutually inclusive trauma…They see danger in my black skin…I see racism in their black eyes… They’re afraid of what they don’t know, and feel secure within the folds of the familiar, and I’m afraid of being persecuted and dehumanized for that’s what enabled the atrocities that have occurred throughout my life and our history in the US and I feel secure fighting against evil even if in some cases it’s only a delusion of persecution…
Yeah, EZ, I’m at a point right now where I just want to step back and NOT see what I want to see, or what I don’t want to see, but simply see what it is…and deal with it one moment at a time.

It’s the damnedest thing. I’m even having trouble articulating it…but I will, you can count on it. Whatever this is I’m going through, it’s changing the way I view myself and the people around me, for sure, and I think in a healthy, productive way.

But it could be that spicy (tasty) ass Ramen I ate last Friday…who knows (-;

PS: And thanks again for breaking down that post for me…
You are the most righteous…or you got too much free time on your hands between filling prescriptions and what not LOL

Peace

EZ: Nah, I ain’t filling no prescription yet, just applying to pharm school. If that 98th percentile PCAT score doesn’t put me in, then I’ll apply as a JET.

But you are right, though. Being an underemployed bum that I am, I do have too much time on my hand

But shit, though, wow. Hear you talk, you must have achieved the enlightenment of a Jesus or a Jackie Robinson. I don’t know if I’ll ever be that strong, I’d probably be binging at Roppongi bitching and pissing with the Army brothers stationed there.

ME: Tempting…bruh…tempting…sometimes the call of Roppongi (or shibuya or Kabukicho) is like a Siren’s cal lol

Shit, 98 Percentile??? you should be in no sweat.

Loco lite

Lyte as a rock

24
Feb
09

…And, oh yeah, one other reason I just LOVE Japan: The Girls!

Whenever I meet a new Japanese girl sooner or later they get around to asking me The Question: What are the differences between Japanese girls and American girls?

It’s a loaded question to be sure.

Back in 2003 when asked The Question, I’d look right into the doe-like eyes of my Josei (girl) du jour and say with a straight face, “Japanese women are sweeter,”  just to keep my answer simple and cajoling. A more thorough and frank answer would have been, ‘I think Japanese girls are the fucking bomb! In general, they’re prettier (in a prepubescent kind of way), sexier (in a dumb blond kind of way) and are just fiendin’ to be feminine, like overdeveloped (so to speak) pre-teens dressing up in Mama’s clothes. They’re passive and pliable and just dying to be led around and told what to do…which taps into some deep psycho-sexual sadistic thing dwelling in my psyche, I suspect. They taste great, they’re less filling, they smell better and are lower maintenance than their American counterparts. They require little to no game (effort) whatsoever…like Top Shelf call girls (even dressing the part) only relatively free of charge. They are awkward, giggling, confidence-free, drama-free aphrodisiacs incarnate…

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Yes, I was in Nirvana, quite removed from reality. And this high lasted for years.

I remember this Twilight Zone episode where a bibliophile who was taunted and harassed for his passion by his wife and others was alone in a bank vault when a sudden nuclear war occurred. He survived to find he was the last man on earth…he was about to kill himself when he found that  the library had also survived the atomic bombing (somehow). He was happy as a pig in shit until, in a particularly cruel Rod Serling twist, he breaks his glasses. That’s fucked up, right?

Well, my glasses broke, too. The rose-tinted lenses through which I adored Japanese women, that is. (I’m actually managing to retain 20/20 vision against incredible odds.) Yes, now I can see the truth behind the curtain of stereotypes about them. At least, I think I can (-:

The truth: They’re just women. And women are women.

So, you heard Japanese girls are easy? You want to know if it’s true? The answers is an equivocal YES, they are! However, I submit, they are no easier than American girls under the same conditions.

Case and point: When I was a teenager growing up in Brooklyn I was a very sentimental lad, and had very romantic notions about the opposite sex. Love songs made my heart pound. Rejection brought me to tears. I wrote tear-stained  pages of poetry and short stories about love and loss. I had a stack of  notebooks filled with this stuff, not unlike the guy who had previously owned the house that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton were squatting in in ‘Fight Club” (“I am Jack’s medulla Oblongata” “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise”) Mine was more like, “my heart is a red tear in the duct of a dead man.” That’s the kind of stuff I wrote after Kim tore me a new asshole.

Kim was my high school sweetheart, so to speak. She was this lightーskinned  cutie from Bed-Stuy who inexplicably managed to emerge from a Bed-Stuy housing project exuding a purity and sweetness so uncorrupted you’d think she was raised in, well, in Japan, or a Nunnery. Only problem was Kim’s high school sweetheart was not me, but this cat named Richard.  She just pal’d around with me. I was like her Forrest Gump. “Run, Loco, run.” Richard was a lying asshole, but we all were so that didn’t make him special. What did make him special was his heritage: he was half-Asian. Half Jamaican, half Chinese, and had those half slanted eyes and that half-straight hair, and was half as dark as me…and half the girls in the school went half-bananas for half a chance to run their fingers through it. He was my boy, until Kim went entirely  bananas over him. Then, naturally, I hated him.

So what he was exotic! Well, half-exotic, anyway. Who was the one writing poetry for Kim? I was. Did I give her my undivided attention? Well, when I wasn’t smoking blunts and drinking 40’s, you bet your ass I did. Did I make it clear that if this world were mine (yes, Luther inspired me) I’d place at her feet all that I own? Yes, indeed I did. But, did she give a damn after she met Richard? No. Did Richard give a shit about her? No. Did Richard talk to her on the phone every night and listen to her drone on and on about  totally mundane shit? No. Did Richard drag his ass to her church on Sundays (despite my abhorrence of all things religious)? Hell no. Did he hold her sheepskin coat when it was clearly too hot to be wearing one but they were fashionable so she wore it any fucking way? No.

Fucking Richard, lucky bastard…What the hell was my point? Oh, right! Sorry.

2628886Was Kim an easy mark for Richard? Yep! Goddamn pushover. Why? The same reason Japanese girls are easy. Here in Japan, I am, and virtually every foreign guy on this island is, Richard. We are all Richard. We are all lucky bastards. We are all exceptions and thus exceptional. We are a chance to feel different, to do things a little differently, to be a little different. We’re a ride on the wild side. A chance to learn about something aside from that which you know all too well. A chance for notoriety, if you desire it, or to say “fuck you” to a society you disdain. A chance to have a baby that looks like Richard.

Never underestimate the eroticism of exoticism.

And, on top of that, somebody’s been spreading rumors. A LOT of rumors. Somebody pumped Japanese girls heads so full of “information” about “me” that my actual input is redundant at best and counter productive at worst. They know all they believe they need to know about “me” to make an informed decision and, in a satisfactory number of cases, have somehow concluded “I” am indeed desirable.  I’ve spent a lot of energy and ink (so to speak) on the downside of being stereotyped, but relatively little on the upside. Not having to actually work for relatively quality girls (the stereotypes and rumors do all the work for me) is, for all intents and purposes, an upside (-;

Never underestimate human susceptibility to stereotype.

And, Kim, you heart breaker you…I hated you for a long time. But, now, I ain’t got nothing but love for you. I realize that anyone can be vulnerable to the exotic factor. Now that I live in a nation where a good number of the women are afflicted as you were, I am Loco’s complete lack of surprise that you let Richard run up in that when I offered you my eternal love. (-:

I sympathize and I forgive you

…bitch.

Loco (-;

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31
Dec
08

Home Alterations Part 6

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

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

Well, it was time to ponder.

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

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

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

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

So, what would it mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nande???” Why not? one asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loco

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

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

Thanks in advance

08
Dec
08

10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #6: Avoid Gaijin!

The Japanese do it, and you should trust their wisdom. If you follow #6: Avoid Gaijin (Gaijin bars, Gaijin friendly areas and the Japanese girls who dwell there) it can do wonders for your sanity. You would think in a country where the natives avoid you like the plague you might find solace among people who share your fate. Trust me, you won’t.

My reasons for taking such a drastic action have changed a number of times over the years. I mentioned before what I was like when I first came here. How I wanted to be the Kokujin Anjin-san. And so I wouldn’t sit and listen to foreigners bad mouth my new home. Well, clearly I was being a little facetious. Of course I hung out with Gaijin quite a bit in those early days. That’s how I learned that they are to be avoided…at all cost!!!

THIS IS NOT A TEST!!!

For one, I’ve found that when Gaijin get together there are three constants: Alcohol, anger-resentment-complaints, and misogyny (in the case of the men…don’t know many misogynistic women). Not that I hadn’t encountered any of the above before. Hell, America thrives on all three. But, I didn’t come here for more of the same. I actually wanted to escape from it a while. Especially complaining. Why? Because, of the Gaijin unholy trinity above, complaining is my favorite vice. Or, at least it used to be.

Everyone complained back in Brooklyn so your own complaints would more than likely get drowned out in the sea of complaints around you. To be heard you had to complain louder (which was not attractive at all) or raise yours to the level of art form (which was potentially attractive.) The idea was to be creative by finding a fresh angle on the complaint, something that made it compelling to listen to. Or, find the funny in it. Make it clever and witty and make people laugh so hard they almost forget you’re complaining.

I wouldn’t say I was an artist but among my friends I could hold my own.

Complaining, for me, was like a drug: euphoria-inducing and difficult to kick. I thought I might go cold turkey here in Japan. But, in the company of Gaijin, that is not possible. Accessibility is widespread. I’d have to truly lock myself in a room. I can get my complaint fix in any Gaijin bar or Gaijin friendly area in Tokyo or Yokohama, any time of the day or night; occasionally I breakdown, fall off the wagon (in person and on the web)  and indulge myself.  Sometimes I go just to listen to complaints, without participating… Like an ex-smoker sitting in the smoking section of a cafe, or an ex-carnivore turned vegan, dining at Peter Luger’s Steak House in Brooklyn, nursing a salad, salivating over someone’s sirloin…

But usually I avoid them.

And misogyny…fuhgetuhboutit. Many Gaijin here are out of control! The worst I’ve ever seen. Perhaps there’s something about Japan that can make man’s respect of women really tank.  I’m still trying to put my finger on the reason why. The level of misogyny encountered here even puts the level I experienced back home to shame. Mind you, back home I lived in an environment where epithets like bitch and hoe get thrown around like confetti.

Personally I think it’s because foreigners get treated, in general, like shit by Japanese people. A certain level of resentment for the people and the culture develops, and these emotions need venting. Abusing Japanese women is one way to vent, and they’re such easy targets. So, I think it’s partially about revenge. However, this creates a cycle of resentment, distrust and fear that I really don’t see coming to an end in the near future. I’m a little pessimistic so I may be wrong on that tip. But trust me on this one: Avoid Gaijin.

Of course I’m not talking about all Gaijin…they know who they are!

One night back in my early days here I went to Gas Panic in Shibuya after work. It was still early so when I arrived there were just staff people and bouncers hanging around and a couple of customers sucking down Happy Hour drinks. One was black the other was white. They both looked cornfed and had low-cropped haircuts.

The black guy spots me and gives me a healthy welcome. YO! What up, man?”

His greeting made me feel a little homesick. Or rather it reminded me of the part of home I’d gotten sick of and thus it was not a deterrent in any way to my leaving it behind. Plus he had a country accent. Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, maybe. I couldn’t name that accent in 4 syllables  but I knew I was in the right region. Country black folk have a tendency to make me cringe a little.  Even if I listen to Nelly or Master P I feel it.

“What’s up?”

“Ain’t no girls here so might as well kick it with us!”

“What’s up, bro?” the white guy said. Bro? I cringed a little but let it go.

We shook hands, exchanged names (Jason and Jeff) I pulled up a stool and ordered a beer.

“Where you from, Loco!” Jason asked.

“Brooklyn.”

“That’s what’s up!” he said. “I’m from Houston. My boy Jeff here, he’s from San Antonio.” He smiled. I could tell he’d had a few already. Jeff too. Texas ain’t nothing to be smiling about. Texas used to conjure images of Ten-Gallon hats and Oil Wells. Now I think of James Byrd Jr. being bound and dragged around by white supremacist in a pick up truck. Unfair, I know, but it was the most gruesome lynching in my lifetime. Jason here was probably too young to appreciate it and Jeff looked like he could be the Pick up truck driver’s baby brother.

“You in the service,” he asked with a look on his face that said he doubted it.

“Nah,” I said and left it at that.

“Where all the bitches at?” Jason blurted suddenly. “Shit, I came all the way over here from Yokohama for the bitches! Right Jeff? I heard there be  a trailer load uh hoes up in here. Where the fuck they at?”

Jeff nodded his agreement. They were both looking at me like I was a pimp with the answers or something.

“Yo, I’ll be back…” I said and headed towards the bathroom. I passed the exit on the way and made a detour. Once outside I took a deep breath, and headed for the station.

Another day, I stopped at The Hub in Shibuya, again, for a beer. At the bar were a couple of white guys dressed in business suits.  I sat down not too far from them and ordered.

“How’s it going, bro?”

“Hanging in there, ” I said after pausing appropriately for station identification. I don’t know who gave white guys carte blanche to call black men bro but it’s a done deal. They seemed friendly enough though so I let it go.

“You see them girls over there?” the other one said. I followed his thumb to two girls sitting in a booth in the back chatting and giggling. They were awfully cute.

“Yeah,” I said.

“We fucked them two weeks ago, didn’t we Joe? Took them to a love hotel around the corner there and fucked the shit outta them…”

I didn’t say ‘that’s nice’ but I’m sure my face said it. What always bothers me is that some white guys tend to think it’s ok to use the worst fucking language when they talk to me. Not that the language bothers me. It’s just the presumptuousness that I would indulge that kind of vulgarity. Some black people do it, too, but I don’t get sanctimonious with black folks.

“How were they?” I asked cuz they were still looking at me waiting for a reaction.

“What the fuck you mean, how were they? They were fucking great!”

“Then why the fuck they over there and y’all over here? Y’all had enough?”

“We’re waiting for these other two babes now,” the other one said. “They meeting us here in about an hour!”

They grinned egregiously and gave each other some kind of secret pound and grinned at me as if to say, ‘how you like me now?’

I didn’t. Besides I’m not keen on having sex with other guys in the room. I’d only done it twice in my life and the second time I had debilitating performance anxiety. The first time I came in about 15 seconds.

“I’ll be back…”

Another time I went to TGI Fridays in Roppongi. There were three black guys at the bar. Definitely military. I used to be military right out of high school so I can smell a soldier like a fart in a sauna. Plus their conversation about the restrictions placed on them after yet another incident involving a soldier and some hapless Japanese girl was a dead give-away.

“Yo, come over here!” one of them practically ordered upon noticing me. He was drunk. I obeyed. They had a pitcher of something with a head and poured me a glass.

“Here’s to this fucking country!” another said.

“Fuck them!” the third said.

A Japanese waitress, who apparently could understand English a bit, was standing by, smiling. I felt her embarrassment.

“Yo, you restricted?”

“Me? I’m not in the military.”

“What you do?”

“I’m an English teacher.”

“That’s what’s up!” another said. “At a High School?’

“Nah, at NOVA.”

“Man, I would love to teach at a High School here.  All those fucking mini-skirts and…”

“NOVA? Man, you must be getting mad pussy! How the fuck you get that gig?”

“Just applied and interviewed and what not.”

“How they treat you over there?” another one said. They all just kinda blended into one. That’s the goal of military training and it was a raging success with these three. They were a unit. I almost said ‘can’t complain’ out of habit but I might as well have said ‘y’all know how it is’ cuz they reacted like I had.

“These fucking Japanese, right?”

“Make you wanna choke the shit outta them!” Another said.

“After you fuck the shit out of them!” the third added.

They all laughed kind of lewdly. The waitress was still smiling. 100  buttons all over her uniform. One read “Kiss me I’m Irish.” Another read, “English OK!” Our eyes met for a moment and I saw a flash of irritation, then it was immediately replaced by her ‘would you like to order some appetizers’ customer service smile.

“She’s cute right?” another said. “I’d like to choke her with my dick.”

They all laughed. I grimaced.

“You know what fucks me up the most? I can clearly see why we shoved two nukes up their asses! They’s about some arrogant mother fuckers, ain’t they?”

“Word!” another agreed. “And the only thing standing between the Dear Leader- Kim Jong- whatever the fuck his name is- shoving a couple more up that ass is us! And they got the mother fucking audacity to be putting on airs with me. When they should be worshiping my ass like the Buddha!” He looked in the direction of the waitress standing by. “That bitch there…you know what she did?”

I almost said ‘what’ instinctively, distracted by my musing about a trip to the “bathroom”. I looked at him and I could tell he was waiting for the ‘what.’ I’d fucked up his rhythm.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Man, stop your fucking whining,” another one said. “Can’t you see the man ain’t trying to hear about your failed conquest? Nigga fucked one waitress at Outback’s one time and now he think he’s the fuckin’ mack. Motherfucker, it was luck!”

“And,” the other added, “As many bitches as there is up in here. you need to stop whining over that button chick and get back in the game, nigga. You embarrassing yourself, and us. Shut the fuck up about that bitch already!”

“You right, you right! But that was some foul shit she said!”

“Bitch don’t know English good…what the fuck? Cut her some slack!”

“She supposed to be the mother fucking ‘English Ok‘ bitch up in here! How the fuck they gonna claim they got English speaking staff while they got this bitch and she don’t even know the difference between mother fucking…”

I whipped out my cellphone and snapped, “Moshi moshi!”

“Ima doko?” Where you at?

Roppongi ni iru.” I’m in Roppongi.

“Hai, wakatta. Mata ne.” All right, got it, later.

“Well, fellas…booty, I mean, duty calls. Gotta run! Thanks for the brew!”

They bought my fake call, I think. I didn’t care. I left.

Another time I was in Roppongi, at some bar. There were two cute girls sitting at the bar chatting and giggling and looking entirely approachable. So I approached them.

“Hello…”

One turned, looked me up and down, winced a little like some foul odor had invaded her nostrils and turned back to the other without any further ado. What the fuck! I looked myself up and down, gave my underarms a quick sniff… No odor, nice suit, decent shoes, and I had a fresh shave and a haircut. The look she’d given me reminded me of the look some Japanese people would give me on the trains…a snub that wanted to be seen and felt. It also was reminiscent of the look club chicks in NY would give me. I’d accept it from the chicks in NY, but from these Japanese chicks? They had to be outta their fucking minds…

“Fuck is your problem?” I shouted. “Motherfucker say hi to y’all, respectfully and what not, and you give me your ass to kiss like you all that! Bitch, you ain’t shit!”

They were both looking at me, a bit stunned at my outburst. I wasn’t even sure what had prompted it. I’d never done anything like that before. I was more likely to walk away with my tail between my legs or pretend I hadn’t said anything to them. I’d never gotten aggressive with women in clubs before. Never! In NY it wouldn’t have been wise, anyway. Might get your ass maced.  Something about these girls just rubbed me the wrong way.

The bartender came over and said something to the girls in Japanese, they kind of offhandedly indicated in my direction as if to say but this one over here can’t take no for an answer…

The bartender was your typical skinny, friendly, perfect hair, half-gay looking Japanese guy. But the bouncer he’d signaled to come over to the bar was big and black and mean looking.

“Yo, is there a problem?” he said but it felt like he said ‘do YOU have a problem?’ His voice sounded like he had a zero-tolerance policy that had nothing to do with the bar’s policy. It was his personal policy.

Still, I didn’t like the way he presumed I was the problem and not these innocent fucking Japanese girls.

“Why don’t you ask them?”

He looked me in the eyes, deep. And he seemed to move a step closer to me, though I don’t think he did. “Cuz I’m asking you!”

I don’t know why – he was twice my size and obviously not accustomed to being challenged by sober people- but I didn’t back down. “Yeah, there’s a problem. You the problem solver?”

“That’s what they pay me for!” he said, but he had lost a little of his edge. “Why don’t you let me buy you a beer and we can talk over there.”

I liked his tone now. “Sounds like a plan!” I said. “Smells like rotten sushi over here anyway.”

We walked over to his station by the door. A waitress brought me a beer.

“Where you from, man?”

“Brooklyn,” I said.

“Word! I’m from Newark!”

“Fucking Jersey?” I almost laughed. New Jersey is a joke, and the punchline, to New Yorkers. But, Newark ain’t the funny part of Jersey. Newark is to New Jersey as Brooklyn is to NYC. “We’re practically neighbors. How long you been over here?”

“Too long!” he said. “But, ain’t shit happening in Newark so what the fuck!”

“I feel you, bruh,” I said. “What up with them chickenheads over there?” I said referring to the two girls I’d practically accosted.

“Man, don’t fuck with them. That’s this Yakuza cat’s daughter and her friend. They ain’t worth it. They like to come up in here, mini-skirts up to here, thongs showing, dancing like freaks on ‘X’ to Hip Hop and dick teasing motherfuckers. But, everybody know who they is except niggas like you just come through for a breather. So, sometimes I gotta straighten some niggas out, but, you seemed pretty real,  and you ain’t been drinking so…”

“Damn, yo!” I said. “Good looking out!”

“You lucky they don’t know English,” he said, and smiled.

Loco

Next up:#7: Escape fromYokohama!

22
Nov
08

Home Alterations Pt. 5

My family wasn’t thrilled about my moving to Japan. They’d treated my announcement like I’d announced “I’m disowning all of you!” The fact that it has now been five years since my fateful exodus hasn’t helped the situation, either. Maybe they had alleviated their anxiety about my move by telling themselves, “Oh, he’ll be back in a year, perhaps the better for it.” Well, I am better for it, but I’m not back, and feeling further and further from being back each day since I’ve been back.

There’s a 12-13 hour time difference (depending on daylight savings) between NY and Yokohama, and this has an lousy effect on keeping in touch with family. Either they’re busy or I am. Either I’m asleep or they are. Because of Yahoo and SKYPE communication wasn’t cost prohibitive, but these timing issues slowly made the whole effort mendokuse (too much friggin’ trouble.) At least for my family it did, I presumed. That is, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

For my mother, initially (meaning pre-SKYPE,) it meant using some crazy international code before the number. And why should she have to? After all, I didn’t give birth to her. She was the one who sweat through umpteen hours of labor trying to squeeze out my oversized head. The least I could do was return the favor and alleviate the crucible of having to press three additional numbers every time she wanted to hear her son’s voice. Well, she was still tucked away in a rehab, where receiving any calls was a no-go, so contacting her was out.  That was a blow but I rolled with it.

I have 5 brothers and sisters. My oldest sister, and her two daughters, live in California so that wasn’t going to happen. My two older brothers and my younger brother are MIA. Seriously. I didn’t know where they were. No one in my family could say definitively. If I asked my younger sister, the person in my family I felt closest to, she’d probably laugh. My older sister might walk past my little brother in the street without recognition. Even my mother could only give me leads.

“Oh, last time I spoke to your brother he was calling me from somewhere Upstate. He gave me an address but, I don’t know where I put it.” In NY parlance, Upstate means prison.

So, when I say my family wasn’t thrilled, what I’m actually saying is my mother and my little sister weren’t thrilled. My older sister over in Cali… she was thrilled! It didn’t directly affect her at all, so she was able to look at it objectively. Moreover, she is the most optimistic person you ever want to meet, and very supportive of anything I undertake. I believe she could actually be a motivational speaker and be a big hit to the tune of 5 figures a shot! I swear. She has more energy, intelligence, and life experience- that spans the spectrum of life experiences- than anyone I know, and can eloquently and passionately convey her thoughts and feelings. And she can draw from her experiences the wisdom to go on, and go on with vigor. I envy her. I think she’d probably be a better writer than I’m trying to be.  She’s the fucking inspirational bomb, and truly gifted! Every conversation with her either leaves me rearing to go or drained from the mental energy it takes my often brooding and pessimistic ass to keep up with her.

My move would mean absolutely nothing to my three brothers. My younger brother I haven’t seen in a solid 10 years or so. He’s schizophrenic, clinically, and divides his time between the Hip Hop career he created in his mind, insane asylums and prisons (assuming there’s a difference.) My second oldest brother…He used to be in and out of jail, but went straight and moved to the country somewhere, last I heard somewhere in Delaware. We’ve lost contact and I haven’t really made an earnest effort to re-connect with him, nor has he with me. We didn’t get along well when we were kids and our relationship as adults, with our relationship as youth as its foundation, wasn’t that sturdy or stable. No, those two wouldn’t even notice I was gone.

But my oldest brother…He, I was crazy about. There was no father in my house growing up so he was the closet thing I ever had to a father. Though he was a career criminal, he wasn’t especially gifted at it. But what he lacked in skill he more than made up for with style and audacity. He was my hero, my idol, and my protector. He was the toughest of the tough guys in the neighborhood. The other guys feared and respected him and the girls adored and hated him. He had a pathological duality about him. He was as harmless as a housefly at times and as dangerous as a Black Mamba other times. He was as funny as Richard Pryor (no exaggeration) one moment and the next he’d just lose it. One time I had to pull him off of my other brother after he’d ht him over the head with a brick. Born a year apart, they’d had the consummate sibling rivalry. Because of him, for me, life in Bed-Stuy was a breeze. His reputation for cracking skulls wrapped me, and anyone in my circle, in a protective cloak. I rarely had an altercation when I was growing up. Except with my second older brother…he was a bully, and my only nemesis as a teen. And my oldest brother was the only thing standing between me and a regular asswhipping from him.

I mentioned Franklin Avenue previously. My oldest brother RAN Franklin Avenue, he and his crew, and if something went down, you better believe he had a hand in it, or knew who the guilty party was. Unfortunately, the police knew this as well. He was the usual suspect, and usually guilty. Police at my door was not a rarity. Nor was the sight of my mother begging and crying before some judge for leniency. It was too late for mercy.

Before my previous trip home 3 years ago I’d searched on-line at the NYS Department of Correctional Services Inmate locator website and was able to locate my oldest brother. There he was, up in Fishkill, under one of his aliases of which the website had a list, at least the ones I knew. I’d sent him a letter and some loot and told him I’d be in town in the summer and to look out for me. I never got a response. I checked again before I departed and his status hadn’t changed so when I arrived in NY, Japanese girlfriend in tow, I decided to give her a rare experience and brought her with me Upstate to visit my brother. On a NY vacation, most Japanese never leave Manhattan, I’ve learned. My girlfriend got to see the real New York: Brooklyn, in all it’s glory and gore, and an American prison.

I’d actually never visited my brother Upstate before. I’d gone to Riker’s Island a couple of times, and several jails in the city, but I wasn’t about to go up to Sing-Sing (which is relatively close to NYC) or some of the other facilities he’d resided in wayyyy the fuck upstate, damn near in Canada.  I just wasn’t keen on seeing him in a cage, whether it was an hour away or a 6 or 7 hour drive away. Selfish, I know, but that’s me. However, I’d made an exception this time for a couple of reasons:

1-I hadn’t seen him in years and,

2- He is HIV positive and I really don’t know how many more opportunities I’ll get to see him.

The depressing idea of him dying alone, in prison, of that god-awful plague… Anyway, when we got there, I realized that it wasn’t quite a maximum security jail. More like a medium security, which means get those images of Shawshank out of your head. It means we didn’t have to talk on a phone through fiberglass, but could talk and touch and hug and have lunch and whatnot in the flesh. When they’d told him he’d had a visitor he’d come into the picnic area expecting to see some girl he’d convinced he wasn’t a lost cause. When he saw me and this tiny fine ass Japanese girl, he was so shocked and overjoyed he burst into tears, which isn’t exactly the thing to do in a jail, but like I said, it wasn’t Sing-Sing. It was a very emotional reunion but I think it added years to his life. He looked great. He always looks great when he’s been locked up for a while. While he’s in there he eats regularly and works out like a madman, but he doesn’t look like The Terminator. He’s more like Taye Diggs. Not bulky like a power lifter, but chiseled like a gymnast, a martial artist or a swimmer. Once he’s back on the street a while he starts to look like shit, again. The streets are his nemesis. He seems to thrive on incarceration.

This time around however, the website informed me that he had been released and so I had no idea where to find him. My mother had had a phone number for him but it was one of those disposable pre-paid cell phones, and apparently he had disposed of it.

So, that left my little sister and her daughter as the only family I could meet. I picked them up and we went out to dinner. In the car we carried a conversation about this and that but I was anxious and uncomfortable. I tried to relax and bask in the love that one can only feel in the company of loved ones, but I couldn’t. I felt estranged. We went to a diner my sister said was all that, called Purity Restaurant, over in Prospect Heights. The menu was oldtimey like the diners I loved growing up and the food was great. It was 8pm, but I had some pancakes and sausages anyway.

My sister hadn’t changed much. She was still her sassy, sarcastic, super intelligent self. But, something was different. She’d grown a little weary. She’d gained a bit of weight and that had her down. Her daughter was a teen and slowly falling out of adoration with her, and that was a hit. The men of quality that used to come knocking weren’t knocking as often and that was a blow, as well. So, she’d lost a little of her snap, but not irretrievably. I think she’ll be ok.

But, as she was catching me up on her life I felt an inkling of the reason I’d been feeling estranged. I couldn’t…no, rather I didn’t want to get into it with her until I had thought it out some more, though. My sister is a tough cookie. She has a heart as soft as butter, but she’d placed that butter in a meat locker a long time ago. I could thaw it out before I left for Japan. Our relationship was just that way. But, since then…I haven’t even put it to the test. She wasn’t being especially cold, though. Little stabs, like Sharlene and Wendy had made, little snide, verbal daggers that hit their mark with the precision of a circus performer.

I endured them, like a penance, from Sharlene and Wendy, mostly because they were drunk, but partially because they were friends. Their daggers stung. But my sister doesn’t drink. Not a drop. And, I was a little more vulnerable to anything that came from her mouth. She was my touchstone before I left. She was the person I could turn to for a reality check. I was the person she could open up with, let down her guard, be absolutely real with. I wasn’t prepared to accept daggers from her. Her daggers would draw blood.

I decided to avoid any serious topics.

On the way home, we dropped her daughter off at her cousin’s house. Then i told my siter that I wanted to drive by the old block to see if any of the old heads were about. She still lives in the area so it wasn’t nothing to her to see these people. But she said cool, anyway. We hit Franklin Avenue, and as I approached the signal at St. Johns and Franklin, I caught a glimpse of my oldest brother’s profile in my headlights.

“Oh shit!!!”

I pulled over and hollered out the window, “Yo Chuck!”

He was with a woman and turned around like he expected trouble. Then he saw me.

“Oh shit! Get out the car! Oh shit!!!” He started crying right there on Franklin Avenue.

I remember when he first told me he was HIV positive over ten years ago. He came to my old apartment and dropped that bomb on me. Back then everyone thought of it like a death sentence. Even though Magic Johnson was strutting around looking better than he had when he played ball. That was only because he was rich and had access to some super drug and the best healthcare imaginable, everyone believed. But for the average Joe the Plumber, it was deemed Death Row, you were a dead man walking. Everything about him had looked the same that day except for something in his eyes, or rather something that was no longer in his eyes. Even when I looked at his eyes through 3 inches of steel reinforced glass, in them I could still see that he was going to be alright. He could survive jail, no problem. He could handle them niggers in there. But, HIV? HIV had already begun its deadly task. The disease had killed something in him spiritually before it took its toll physically. We’d looked at each other that day. I don’t know why but he wanted me to see that he was dying inside. It was like he wanted me to see that the streets couldn’t kill him, jail couldn’t break him, but even the thought of this shit coursing through his body was destroying him. He was going to give up. I could see it. He was going to cash in his chips. He’d cried that day. Cried like a baby. I’d never seen him cry like that before. I couldn’t look at him. At this invincible mountain of a man, brought to this.

“Stop crying man!”

“This fucking shit…this…shit, it’s…”

“Man, crying ain’t gonna change shit,” I said but I broke down too. and we cried together for a long time.

And he was still crying 10 years later. I wasn’t. I stopped crying years ago when I realized that this dead man had been walking around dying for years, not months like I had feared. And if he had years then he had better fucking live them and stop crying. I had gotten really angry at him. Every time i spoke to him I told him what he should be doing with his life. I spoke to him like he wasn’t dying, because I didn’t want to deal with that. But, he still looked like he was waiting to die. 10 years, whenever he’s not in jail, he looks like this.

When I saw him crying today I cut him some slack. It must have been an emotional shock to see his favorite brother he hadn’t seen in 3 years and the sister he hadn’t seen in even longer than that. And I was so damn happy that I had decided to drive down that street. Serendipitous, was it not? That I could pick his profile out of a crowded street corner at night. It had that feeling of meant to be. I had resolved myself to the fact that this trip home I would only see a single sibling.

“Hello…” I said, to the woman with my brother.

“Yo, yo, this is my wife, man.”

“Your brother is so rude, hi, it’s so nice to meet you. He talks about you allll the time, his little brother in Japan.”

He’d told me about her before. That they were living together and planning to get married. I’d  thought that that was rather optimistic of him and was happy to hear it. I think he’d said that she was HIV positive as well, but I’m not sure and I wasn’t about to bring it up then. She was a little thing, looked about 40 something. Had that scratchy voice like a former lush, but she seemed really nice. She said that she had 4 kids and 3 grandkids. I was surprised but not too surprised. Young grandmothers are not that rare. Even Wendy is a grandmother and she’s only 41. Her daughter, all of twenty something now, had actually come to the bar the night I’d arrived and had a drink with us.

We stood on that corner, on Franklin Avenue, the avenue he used to run in his hey day, and talked for hours, as a family. I’d found the love I’d longed for back in Japan. And it felt wonderful…like Thanksgiving. He had my sister, his wife and I dying with laughter. He joked about all those crazy adventures that are the stuff of legend on the Ave, of all the people he’d robbed and cops he’d beat up, and so many things he’d done on these hallowed streets. Everybody that passed by shouted a what’s up at him, and once they noticed that I was there as well, they showed me some love, too.

After a while, the laughter started winding down. My sister was genuinely happy to see him but she was ready to go, and so was I. We exchanged numbers. I gave him my SKYPE number.

“What about when you go back to Japan, how the hell am I gonna get in contact with you?”

“You can use that same number.”

“Huh?”

“It’s like you’re calling my computer…wherever my computer is I can talk to you.”

“Word! Fuck outta here!”

“Word, yo.”

It was like he hadn’t been living these past years. Granted he had limited access to computers Upstate but I still felt really sad, then. I gave him a big hug and told him I love him very much and I told his wife to keep him out of trouble, and keep his stupid ass off of Franklin Avenue, unless she wanted to be visiting him Upstate.

After I dropped my sister off, I went back to Ma’s house. And, I cried for a little while. Then I did some writing.

Loco

to be continued…

(Links to Previous parts below)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

18
Nov
08

Home Alterations Pt. 3

It took me about a year of living in Japan before I had my first dream that included Nihongo, and about 3 years for my dreams to take place in Japan. I had such a dream here on Ma’s couch in Brooklyn. I couldn’t remember all the details. All I remember is that I was at an Onsen in Nikko with girlfriend and she was laughing…I woke up to the SKYPE line’s ring.

“Hello.” I just knew it was my girlfriend.

“You coming?” it wasn’t. It was Sharlene.

“Oh shit, what time is it?”

“It’s after 7.”

“Aight, give me a sec…”

I bounced off the sofa Ma had allowed me to crash on and made my way upstairs into the empty apartment where I had lived for the 6 years before I moved to Japan, and took a shower in my old bathroom. It felt strange being in my last home in NY without any of my old furnishings. Memories rushed at me. I’d lived a good portion of my life in these rooms. Major events. Love affairs and crazy break-ups. The novel I wrote in my little home office space. The end of the Clinton years, where I did very well, and the first of the Bush years, when i abandoned ship. 9/11- from the roof above I watched the Twin Towers fall and the fighter jets darting by overhead. A grand party celebrating my independence from corporate America. An emotional farewell party before I left for Japan. All in these rooms.

My landlord had done some renovating, changed the tile in the kitchen, added a doorway, a new fridge, some lighting fixtures, and she’d gotten rid of my purple. I’d painted the whole living room 2 shades of purple. I loved it. I guess the tenants that followed me weren’t feeling it, though. The apartment was unheated and that reminded me of my duplex back home in Yokohama…

Back home?

15 minutes later I was at Sharlene’s door tapping the first few notes to shave and a haircut on the horn. I felt weird doing it, like I was disturbing the peace. I rarely hear horn blowing in Japan. A guy was standing on the corner near her house. He was looking my way. “Sorry about that” I said and nodded and smiled/grimaced. Then Sharlene and her daughter came out of her front door. Damn, i remember when she was born. Now she’s a teenager and filling out them jeans, and the guy standing on the corner turned out to be her boyfriend. I aged about 20 years with that knowledge.

“Hey you,” Sharlene chimed.

“Hey. What time is the train?”

“It leaves at 8:20. We won’t make it.”

“Hell we won’t.” It was about 7:50. From Bed-Stuy to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, minus Traffic, is about a 20 minute bounce. I’ve done 42nd Street, where i used to work, in 20 minutes, if the bridges are clear. I raced that rental through Brooklyn to the bridges and crossed them no problem, green lights all the way up 6th Avenue to 34th Street and like clockwork the four of us got on the 8:20 train to Philly.

I’d never canvassed for a politician before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never cared that much about any particular candidate before. I’ve always been interested in politics, though and after 9/11 i became a political junkie. But, it never really made a big difference to me who the president was. And, local politics in NY is just fucked. I used to cover it for a local paper. You got a bunch of useless, untrustworthy black politicians in Bedford-Stuyvesant, from Assembly and Council all the way up to Congress…and as far as Senators are concerned, you got Hillary Clinton, the shameless carpetbagger extraordinaire.

But, Obama changed my opinion of Black Politicians. In fact he changed a lot about my outlook on things in general (more on the Obama Effect in a later post.) He was changing the game entirely. Pennsylvania is usually a Democratic state. But, the rough primary race with Hillary Clinton had made the state a little iffy. New York was steadfastly democratic, a shoo-in for Barack, so many New Yorkers had volunteered to take the 2-hour ride down to Pennsylvania and pull some PA coats get the PA votes. I’d been canvassing people in Indiana by phone from Japan (SKYPE made this possible) on my free time, but I was a little apprehensive about doing so face-to-face. I’d never even been  to Philly before.

Jill Scott

The Roots MFSB
And we weren’t exactly headed to Jill Scott’s, The Roots’ or MFSB’s Philly. Barack already had the African-American vote in Philly locked in. We were going to the lily white suburbs of Philly. These weren’t the same people that got angry at Barack because of an audio recording that surfaced after a fund raising event which caught his ill-advised statement about Pennsylvanians being bitter and clinging to guns and religion, and what not.
Thank God, cuz the last thing I needed to do today was take my black ass, best friend, her teenage daughter (and her friend) trick or treating for votes in Red Neckville, knocking on the doors of bitter, gun-toting, bible-loving, Obama-hating, so-called undecideds. That just wasn’t on my to-do list.
But, it was the same state, so I retained a little wariness.
That is, until i came to my very first door, nervous but determined to do my part.

“Good Morning…umm, well, uh…my name is Loco and I’m a volunteer for Obama/Biden 08 and, um, well, you know…” I stuttered to a pair of eyes peeking through a cracked open door.

“Did you say Obama?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m a volunteer for…”

“OH!” The door swung open, and I stepped back (prepared to breakout if necessary) as an elderly white woman strode out on to the porch. “Oh yes, me and my friends and my children and some of my grandchildren are all voting for Obama. He is a wonderful man, don’t you think?And…and he’s going to change this country for the better, by god. And it’s about time, isn’t it? Are you ok?”

“I’m fine…I’m just…well…”

“Where did you get your cap and t-shirt?” she asked “They’re really nice! Do all volunteers get them?

“Well, actually, I bought it from Obama’s campaign website.”

“Ohhh…well, it’s very nice.”

“Thanks…thanks a lot,” I stammered. I didn’t know why I was so rickety. I decided to stick to the checklist and script I had on the pad I was carrying. “Ok, so do you need a lift to the polls on Election day?”

“No thank you, kindly, that’s my car right behind you. I’m taking myself and all my friends…”

“Ok, do you know where your voting site is?”

“Why, yes, unless they changed it since the primaries…I voted for Hillary, then,” she smiled and winked a little. “The polls is a few blocks away. I may even walk there?”

“Ok…Will you be available to volunteer for the campaign on Election day?”

“Oh, no, I can’t on Election day. Sorry. I have to work, dear. I volunteer at the Senior Citizen center downtown. I’m a retired teacher, you know. But don’t you worry. I know these people in this area and they are going to support Obama. You mark my words. ”

“Ok…well, thank you so much for your time, and sorry to have disturbed you so early on a Saturday.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, you know old folks are early risers. I’ve been up since 5am, young man…” she said and smiled broadly. “Where are you from? Because I know you’re not from around here.”

“New York.”

“And you came all the way down here…that’s impressive! When you first came I thought you were Jehovah’s witnesses, that’s why I didn’t open the door. Anyway, you go ahead and wake up these other folks around here if you think you need to. But I know them and most of them are going to support Obama.”

Well, she was right on. Over the course of the day I knocked on about 80 doors and about 60 of them pledged their support for Barack, 10 for McCain and the rest were unanswered or undecided (wasn’t much difference between the two at this  point.) No one volunteered though. They were all white, working class, mostly of Jewish, Russian or Polish descent, some first generation American, most 2nd and 3rd generation. Some gave a short, kurt responses, some were long and talkative. And, no one was rude. No guns. No drama whatsoever. By the end of the day, I felt like I’d personally handed Pennsylvania to the senator.

When we got back to the campaign office to hand in our paper work it was as busy as a beehive. In an office suitable to hold a maximum of 50 there had to be 3 times that many. Even when we were leaving more volunteers were just arriving in droves. I overheard conversations of people who had been doing done what I’d done that day everyday for weeks…and the people coming and going, hustling and bustling, were predominantly white. I’m talking 90% white. It was absolutely remarkable, to me. This has never happened in American history. I’m certain of it. I almost started weeping right then and there as an overwhelming pride I’d truly never felt about America, and shame at the wasted prejudices I’d held for so long, swept through me, but I managed to keep it together.

Jet lag caught up with me on the train ride home and I slept all the way back to NY.

That night, I popped over to Myrtle Avenue again. This time, to my favorite hero shop, number two on food tour list. It’s called Farmer in the Deli. This is something I truly craved while I was in Japan. Japan has Subways but their sandwiches, comparatively, suck. Forget Subways…this deli is the ultimate hero shop and if you’re ever in Brooklyn, you MUST go there. They know how to make a manwich. The lines can get a little long and now that it’s catching on like the Soup Nazi’s soup kitchen back in the Seinfeld days, I’m sure the prices will go up too. I stood in line trying to figure out a way to smuggle a few back to Japan.

farmer in the Deli
farmer in the Deli
Farmer in the Deli is in Fort Green. I mentioned the fate of Fort Green in part 2.  Myrtle Avenue is trying to hold on, and has a pretty firm grip due to the existence of Fort Green Projects. Actually Fort Green Projects is two different housing projects: Walt Whitman Houses and Ingersoll Houses. Only Tenants and people who actually go there know this though. Farmer in the Deli is a block from Fort Green Projects.
There’s been a rumor circulating for years that the residents of both are being pushed out so that their homes can be turned into coops or condos. It’s a persistent rumor. These projects are in a precarious place, that’s for sure. Gentrification on two sides and Metrotech / Downtown Brooklyn on a third. It’s just begging for revitalization. Who knows what the future holds for Fort Green? Next time I come home maybe they won’t be there at all.
But, all and all it was wonderful day!                       Loco

Walt Whitman Houses Ingersoll Houses




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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