Give a Man a Fish

I heard that damn proverb again. I could give a man a fish, and he’d eat for a day, or I could teach a man to fish and let him eat for a lifetime.

That shit is pure, uncut ignorance when it is used in regard to social welfare programs.

You know what else he needs in order to eat for a lifetime?

A body of water.

A pole and tackle.

Fish.

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Vegetable Juice

I am the owner of the greatest crap. I’m sure your friend Martín has an ancient shark tooth in his parlor that was excavated somewhere like Hungary where they don’t have sharks anymore. I just read about whale fossils in Michigan, so it’s possible, maybe. That’s nice. He probably bought it on eBay, though, and it might even be made out of cement. I’m not talking about junk.

I mean feces.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan, and my most recent stint, as of this writing (2014), was in Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi is speckled with beautiful metropolitan cities, but they’re all Sendai. This capital of over one million souls boasts trees. It’s exactly like Tokyo, but with more trees (per capita, too. Get it?). It also doesn’t have most of the things Tokyo does, but it’s much, much smaller, and 220 miles north-northeast by north, where it really snows. People in Aomori (which is 220 miles north-northwest by north of Sendai) will laugh if you tell them it really snows in Miyagi.

I love Sendai completely, and I have absolutely nothing bad to say about such a wonderful sanctuary of beautiful women, zunda, clean air, rice fields, good life, nice people, cheap fish, open roads, and trees. Of course, I love Japan completely, and also have not a single complaint about such a magnificent haven of cultural tradition and karaoke.

My name is Steve, and I’m going to tell you about all the shit I have endured while living in Japan. Oh, how I hate Japan.

Of course, I have to start with Miyagi… and Sendai. I can’t remember a time I have ever thought to myself, “I really don’t like Sendai very much.” It really is a fine metropolis, and living there for years at a time would make someone really have to think hard about leaving. I know plenty of foreigners (or “aliens”) in Sendai, and many of them confess that they “could live here forever, man.”

I didn’t, of course, live there. I lived in Ishinomaki.

Ishinomaki is the second largest city in Miyagi, both in terms of population and not area. Having the second largest population in Miyagi is not difficult. I could probably do it if I had even a small financial incentive. The population of Sendai is, right now, per The Internet, listed at just under 1,060,000. I moved to Ishinomaki in 2009, and in 2010, there were about 165,000 people in the city. Now though, there are, sadly, far fewer. I’ll let you figure that one out.

The mayor of Ishinomaki is still Hiroshi Kameyama. I know. Is he even elected anymore, or does he just renew his own contract? (2016 Update: He’s still there.) Anyway, I have met Hiroshi a few times. He’s a good dude. I like him very much, on a deep personal level. We’ve only ever exchanged salutations, but I know we really connected, and I assume he feels the same.

The first time I met Hirosh, as I like to call him (Mayor Hirosh to his face), was in the late-summer of 2009 at a softball tournament for city employees. I found out when I arrived that I was Ogatsu’s ringer. Of the twenty or more teams, I was the only “outside person”. That’s not to say that being non-Japanese makes you a better athlete (have you ever watched Olympic gymnastics?), but I am a softball fanatic. I hit a couple home runs and had some defensive highlights. If they had named an MVP of that event, it could very well have been me.

Anyway, the tournament took place at Ishinomaki Senshu University, and lasted all day. I was out in the sun long enough that I began covering myself with blankets to avoid sunburn. My team was planning a “barbecue” after the event, and my co-workers were going to take me home when it was all over. The “barbecue” was at a park on the side of the road, and we ate oysters, octopus, and squid. I think we played tennis, but I was pretty drunk, so we might have just walked to the tennis courts. I don’t like seafood. Well, I like fish like salmon and halibut. Cod is good, too. I don’t like weird seafood like squid, octopus, and oysters. I thought “barbecue” meant grilled chicken and steaks. I didn’t eat much and the beers went straight to my head. I got sick on my first company outing in my new town. I didn’t ruin the party or anything. I just had to sit down with my head in my hands. They wanted to be protective of the new guy, so they almost made somebody stay with me that night, but it really wasn’t that bad. More of a headache than drunkenness.

My co-workers took me home and I slept for the rest of the weekend. That was one of my first good times in Ishinomaki, which has since become my second hometown. I love that city, and I will love it for the rest of my life. If I were to win the lottery, the first thing I’d do, is buy a house in The Ishi.

Oh, just for the record, I didn’t really live in Ishinomaki, per se. Technically, my address was in the city limits, but if I told someone in Sendai that I lived in Ishinomaki, I’d basically be lying. Ogatsu is a small fishing village, very far from the city center. Any time I wanted to go to Ishinomaki Station, I had to get in my car, make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything I’d need that day, stop by the convenience store for a bottle of water, and hit the road. It was only 20 or 30 miles from the town, but…

One Friday I finished work early, and was actually going to drive back to Ogatsu, shower, change my clothes, and then go all the way into town. Three of my nine schools were over half-way to the main population center, so sometimes I got to pretend to be a city boy. On this particular day, I was working at one of these schools, but I must have forgotten something at the house. The road from the city to my town, Ogatsu, was a wide-open country highway. It runs parallel to the Kitakami River, between two ranges of small mountains, north toward the sea. There were rice fields, farm houses, a dairy, a lumber yard, small villages, vending machines, boat ramps, people who would be drinking juleps on a porch swing if they were in America, and on that day, a “mouse trap”.

The speed limit on this wide-open country route was fifty. Those are kilometers though. Fifty kilometers is thirty-one miles. Thirty-one miles per hour won’t get you a speeding ticket on the housing tract street where I grew up in residential Irvine, California. Thirty-one will get you the horn on almost any street in California, but in Miyagi, on a road with a “mouse trap”, thirty-one is pushing it. I was clocked at seventy-three kilometers per hour, trying to be patient. That’s about forty-five, American. You plop that same road down in rural California, and forty-five gets you killed, rear-ended by a semi-truck who never even saw you. That’s why Ogatsu felt so far from downtown. It was only twenty miles away, but took nearly an hour to reach by car.

I was driving home from school, just going to change my clothes. To drive fifty, I would have needed to rest my foot on the break, instead of resting on the gas like any normal person does on any normal road. Every time I drive that road with a friend, I demonstrate how slowly I’d need to go to avoid getting that ticket, and they just shake their heads and laugh. This one Friday, I noticed a black box on the side of the road, no bigger than a microwave oven. It caught my eye, and I thought, “I don’t think I liked that thing.”

About one kilometer (.62 miles) down the road, I saw an orange shape. It could have been an abused horse or a traffic officer standing in the road, holding out a vibrant banner, telling me to pull off so they could write me a ticket. It was the former.

Just kidding; it was a cop. As I sat in the back of the police van, waiting for the officer to process my international driving permit from the Auto Club, I bit my tongue and listened to his partner lecture me on the dangers of “speeding” and “reckless driving”. I found out later, from the police officer in my village, that if I had been going just slightly faster, I could have lost my permit, and the opportunity to convert it to a Japanese license… permanently. As it were, I was fined the equivalent of $150, and I decided to just go home and forget my plans in town. That was the first of two tickets I got in Japan. The second one was Cameron’s fault, though he has done enough for me in life that I can’t hold a grudge.

At the end of my conversation with the jerk police officers, the one who processed my license, apparently deciding that the professional transaction ended when I took the citation from him, began asking me personal questions. He was excited to meet the new teacher in town, and started speculating about whether or not I taught the children of any of his friends. I was cordial while sporting a hardhearted frown, and I nodded my head, answering in single syllables. After dismissing me with a bow, he called out as I got to my car. He shouted, “Sensei! Please do your best in school!” After hearing his unintentional condescension, I hurled my papers through my window, got in my car, nearly pierced the chassis of the ’95 Trueno with my seatbelt, almost crushed its frame with the door, and drove off. I slammed my sunglasses onto my face as I drove by his waving, smiling ass, and I’m pretty sure the shockwave knocked him off his feet.

That’s not the point, though. This story is about poo.

One day there was a big earthquake and I had to flee from a tsunami, so I was on top of a hill. I had gone out that day wearing jeans, a fake leather jacket, and Converse sneakers. You may remember that it was March 11th, 2011. Early March is very cold in Miyagi. I sat on top of my hill like a bogan at the ball, under-dressed for the occasion, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do.

Luckily, I had filled my gas tank that morning while driving to Ogatsu, two or three hours before Mother Nature dragged her mouse around the perimeter of the scallop-fishing, seawater-smelling, problem-free, storybook hamlet and pressed delete. So as I sat on top of that hill, I had the luxury of idling my car so I could run the heater. I still didn’t want to waste too much gas, though (quite prescient as the entirety of northern Japan would be rationing for weeks), so I ran it until I got warm, turned it off until I couldn’t feel my toes, then ran it again to thaw, repeating that cycle for four or five hours. I did spend part of that time outside, watching the city to see what was happening. It was snowing pretty hard, covering us with soft white blankets most of that time, and we couldn’t make any phone calls, so we were basically just chatting.

Up on that hill, I met the mother and younger sister of a girl named Kuremi, on whom I had previously had a desperate crush. Kuremi hates me, even now, for no apparent reason. (2016 Update: She’s married and does not hate me.) With them and a bunch of other strangers, I just watched. We talked. I asked them if “you think a tsunami can make it all the way up here?” They thought we were fine.

The vast majority of that time was spent by everyone trying to stay warm in their cars. It was thermals and mittens weather, but most everyone had been watching TV at home, or, like me, just going out for some coffee. Nobody expected to be on top of a hill for eight hours, out in the snow. I sure as hell didn’t expect to not go home for a week. Thus, we were not prepared.

I didn’t have any food or water in my car. My feet were terribly cold, and I remembered that my P.E. shoes were in the back of the Mitsubishi EK Wagon, 2003. They were slightly thicker and warmer than my Chucks, so I put them on. I also got hungry and thirsty, and there was a fellow I’d spent some time getting to know who seemed to be in a similar dilemma. I asked him if he wanted anything from the convenience store, and he asked if he could just go with me.

It was getting dark, and we went down the hill. We drove to the mall to see if it was open, and, of course, it was pitch black with nobody there. We drove to a few convenience stores before finding one with people. It was at this point that my stomach started pinging, and not out of hunger.

In the shop, there were maybe fifty scared people waiting in a single file line. There were no lights, and only three or four employees (heroes). The shelves had blank CDs for data recording, bleach, and a few other things. The water was gone. There was not a bottle of anything hydrating in the store. Imagine going into a gas station’s mini-mart, dying of thirst, and finding nothing that could help. It was just like that except this place wasn’t distributing gas. I was, though.

We bought Pringles and vegetable juice. I had one sip of the vegetable juice before I decided to just suck on snow. The streetlights were off, and it was getting a lot darker. There was a very strong aftershock while we waited in the store. People grabbed onto things, and children howled. You have to remember, when I say “very strong aftershock,” I mean an earthquake measuring higher than seven on the Richter Scale, and just off the coast of Ishinomaki. Shit was falling off shelves, and the people weren’t grabbing onto things for show. A light fixture fell to the floor while we stood in line. An earthquake in California that shook as hard as the aftershocks that night in Ishinomaki would have been on the news for weeks. It would probably have its own Wikipedia page.

The employees were running all-cash registers with handheld calculators, by flashlight, and there was one “runner” calling out prices across the store by looking at the labels on the shelves. The man I drove down with made some comment about how he was sorry that they (the Japanese) weren’t better prepared. He was apologizing to me. I told him something like, “Bro, if we were in America right now, there sure as shit wouldn’t be people waiting in line to pay for no G.D. vegetable juice.”

When we got back on top of the hill, my crap cramps were starting to affect my mood and my actions. I had my chips, so I thought I was fine. I had also bought paper towels at the convenience store. When you’re in that sort of situation, thoughts like, “Oh, damn! I can’t believe there are still paper towels,” run through your head, and in the basket they go.

Back on the hill, just before I would have turned the car back on to get warm, I stepped out. I walked around and asked my vegetable juice companion how he was doing. He told me he was worried about his wife. He didn’t live in Ishinomaki. He was only there on a day-trip for work. His wife was in Natori. Natori got pummeled, I’d find out later. (2016 Correction: Natori got fucked.) I tried to get in touch with him a month or so after that, but it didn’t work. I know he was okay, but I never found out about his wife.

I got back into my car, and I reclined my seat to get some rest. I turned on the engine to try to avoid frostbite. I may not have emphasized the shaking enough yet. The aftershock we felt in the convenience store was huge, and there were some other big ones. I wrote an essay for an E-book that my college professor Jeff Kingston was producing for Foreign Policy Magazine. In it, I wrote, “There were so many aftershocks that I could not tell for days whether or not the Earth was shaking at any given point.” That is true. To this day, I still feel earthquakes that aren’t occurring. I think that’s post-traumatic stress. I might even have the full disorder.

While standing on the hill with strangers, I noticed things like a residential area and junior high school being unusually reflective of light. We quickly figured out that the ocean had filled the streets. We noticed that the sky behind Hiyoriyama, my neighborhood, was red. We realized as the sun was setting that soon, we would have no visibility of any of the city. It turned out that it was something like the whole of northern Japan that had gone dark. We knew nothing at the time.

The redness of the sky was the refraction of firelight on smoke and snow. The elementary school around the corner from my apartment was burning to a skeleton. That was tough luck, because it was also being battered by the sea. The people who evacuated to that school had to wait for a break in the tide (as the building in which they waited was burning) to leave and rush through mud and debris to the top of the nearby hill. A lot of them were kids, and many of them were watching their homes, cars, and neighbors swept out to sea. All I knew was what I heard on the radio, but that was about as encouraging and reassuring as the people who work Immigration at LAX. The voice from my car speakers was just counting how many people were on roofs in different cities, and giving locations in the hope that guys with helicopters were listening. It was really depressing. I learned a lot of vocabulary words. “Epicenter.” “Stranded.” “Evacuate.” “Victim.” “Flee.” “Shelter.”

My emotional sickness from the information I was hearing coincided perfectly with the sickness I felt in my stomach. I won’t tell you that I wasn’t drinking the night before (that Friday, March 11th, was my first day of spring break, and I had celebrated on Thursday night with my first-ever bottle of Jinro), so I can’t claim that I don’t know why my belly was acting up. McDonald’s for lunch may have played a role as well. Stress too? Here’s something I didn’t include in my contribution to Professor Kingston’s publication:

I could no longer take it, and I got out of the car. It was totally dark at that point, and I was freezing cold. I don’t mean pretty dark and kind of cold. I mean that the power grid would be offline for days and I had to keep my fingers in my mouth because I didn’t have gloves. I locked my car with the remote, and was immediately shivering. I walked toward the homes on the hill, hoping to knock on a door, give my sales pitch, and win the contract to paint their toilet. I felt pretty guilty, because that happens when you’re white in Japan and you knock on someone’s door hoping to take a shit in their house. I also felt guilty because I was about to explode, and the power was out. So were some of the waterworks. Flushing capabilities were offline for a lot of people with those high-tech toilets Japan is famous for. That made for some other funny poo stories, but none quite like this one. I thought better of it and decided that I’d pee on a tree, and see if that helped ease the pressure.

Nope.

I walked back toward the dark homes, using my dying cell phone as a light. I only knocked on one door before coming to the conclusion that, “Steve, this is not gonna happen, kid.” I walked back to my car and grabbed some of the paper towels. I put a few squares in my pocket and treaded in the opposite direction of my new neighbors. I think you can conclude that my intentions were not pure.

I was in the trees. I could feel, in my bones, the seawater sloshing around my city, stealing things away with it… things that belonged to me and my friends. I could faintly see the crimson light of my neighborhood burning in the distance. It was twenty degrees Fahrenheit, the ground was shaking, and I couldn’t make out what was ten feet in front of me. All I knew was that if I didn’t unfasten my belt, I was not going to be pleasant company for a while. Turns out, I would have smelled like festering fecal tar for a week.

So during one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history, after my cell phone service had shut off, with my friends and family worried sick about me, I wandered into the woods. I found myself out of sight of the other cars on the hill. I was in the forest. The ground was covered in snow, and it was getting my socks wet. I squatted. I took my shaking, shivering hands to the button of my jeans, and opened it all up.

Luckily, hole-in-the-ground toilets are common in Japan, so I was practiced. Out of sight of any other human, surrounded by trees, in a type of darkness you don’t see anymore these days, while being snowed upon, trying to keep my balance as the earth shook, while my apartment could very well have been burning to the ground behind me, as a tsunami was swallowing my city, while a nuclear power plant was melting down seventy miles to the south, and I was starting to feel pretty dehydrated, I let go.

Now, I would have remembered this dump if it had taken place at my parents’ house at the end of the front hall. This was something that had been hurting for a couple hours, and by the time I got to my spot in the woods, felt like a knife in my abdomen. I seriously almost had to do this in front of people. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill poop. I exploded. It was audible diarrhea. It cackled at me, and probably melted the snow on impact. If I had woken up and had this in the morning on a normal day, I might have called in sick for work so I could sit around and contemplate it. I thought I might have gotten on my shoes. The previous sentence has no typographical errors or missing words.

It was the best crap I can remember, regardless of the situation. Add the earthquake-tsunami-fire-snowstorm-homelessness-paper towel-vegetable juice-wet socks-darkness-foreign-forest situation on top of that, and I defy you to ever in your life find someone who could possibly even tell a fictional story of a more incredible number two than the one I had on Shirasagi-dai on March 11th, in 2011. You won’t.

You won’t.

The second time I met Mayor Hirosh was at my high school’s graduation.

Semi-Informed Observations Concerning the Japanese Language

My adopted Japanese and my native English do not match. I once tried to illustrate this to my articulate father during a conversation regarding machine translations by taking a sentence he volunteered in English (“These pretzels are making me thirsty.”), writing out a simple Japanese translation, and putting it through the ringer to get English back.

“It is felt thirsty to this pretzel.”

Dennis loved it, and I felt validated. I carried out the test again years later (yesterday) with a simpler Japanese sentence, and a third time with the words a Japanese person would actually use to express the same thought.

“These pretzels are dry my throat.”
“Dry throat to eat this pretzel.”

On top of that exercise, I think of times I’ve been asked how to say a certain word like light, and had to first determine context in order to make a judgment and issue my translation. 日 (hi)? 光 (hikari)? 電気 (denki)? 明かり (akari)? Something else?

If translation were easy, it wouldn’t be so difficult, but it’s not, so it is. This incompatibility between two languages born of different worlds leads to a mystique around Japanese that, to me, seems more rooted in linguistic ignorance than in any inherent characteristic of the vehicle itself.

I’ve read a number of articles over the years written by folks professing to have amassed a collection of gorgeous words for which an English equivalent is nonexistent. These lists inevitably include not only multiple Japanese words (some of which being fairly legitimate examples), but invariably the distinctly non-English, non-Western concept of komorebi.

Komorebi could be artfully described through study and reflection as “sunlight leaking through trees”. Allow me to attempt to break down that interpretation of this uniquely Japanese “word”.

Komorebi is written 木漏れ日.

木 (ko in this case): trees

漏れ (more): leaking

木漏れ (komore): leaking from trees

日 (bi in this case): sunlight (depending, mind you, on context)

木漏れ日 (komorebi): sunlight leaking through trees

Another example would be the Japanese “word” karoshi. Karoshi is the concept of death from overwork. What an eccentric single unit of vocabulary!

過 (ka): exceed

労 (ro): working

死 (shi): death

Komorebi is about as much of a “word” as sunlight leaking through trees, it’s just that the language allows it to sound like a word the way English would if we illustrated that same image with words like treepasslight or perhaps perarbolux*.

This new classification of what constitutes a word sparked two notions in me. The first was that Japanese doesn’t so much have words as it has parts. Does “exceedworkingdeath” sound like one word to you? I’d found the secret to these unique Japanese words:

Japanese doesn’t have spaces!

Allow 食べ (tabe),  the verb stem for eat, to explain this to you. Here are some sentences made by conjugating that verb that don’t actually contain any additional words:

食べた (tabeta): I ate.

食べなかった (tabenakatta): I didn’t eat.

食べさせた (tabesaseta): I made/let them eat.

食べられた (taberareta): I was eaten./I was able to eat.

食べさせられた (tabesaserareta): I was made/allowed to eat.

食べさせられなかった (tabesaserarenakatta): I was not made/allowed to eat.

食べさせられてはいなかった (tabesaseraretewainakatta): I wasn’t necessarily being FORCED to eat it, per se.

As you can see, the two languages are completely different beasts working on totally separate operating systems. I would like some pizza right now. To examine Japanese language elements through the lens of English is misguided. That’s why learning Japanese appears to be so difficult from the outsider’s perspective or from that of the beginning student. You don’t learn, speak, or study Japanese based on your knowledge of English.

It’s fun and nice to pass off mononoaware as a single Japanese word, but it is literally a series made up of the word for things, a possessive particle, and the word for pathos or something like grief. The entertainment value isn’t lost on me. My grouse is with the intentional ignorance of the structure of the language. Mononoaware, karoshi, komorebi, and nomihodai are not individual words.

物 (mono): things

の (no): possessive particle

哀れ (aware): pathos

The second notion was that I wanted to compile a list of English “words” that don’t exist in Japanese in a manner as accurate and practical as the lists I’ve read making the point in the opposite direction. Without further adieu, the product of my worthless pursuit…

Five Beautiful English Words That Don’t Exist in Japanese:

HAVEANICEDAY – This single word is used to wish a companion well throughout the course of the current day. It is not an acknowledgement of hard work and it does not request a specific action like taking care or resting. It has a general implication similar to gokigenyo, but it is less about the mood of the individual than it is about the events of the day. There is no equivalent to haveaniceday in Japanese.

SELF-RESPECT – This means placing a value on one’s own being. This concept would possibly be described best in Japanese using the three symbols 自尊心 (jisonshin, self-respect).

GOODLUCK – Japanese tend to say ganbatte in cases in which a speaker of English may wish for their companion’s good fortune, for things to go their way. This Japanese phrase asks the person to do their best, or give it all they’ve got. You can wish somebody good luck in Japanese, but not quite with one word.

FOLLOWYOURHEART – It’s not fair to say this concept is absent in Japanese culture, because that would be bowing to perception and accepting stereotype, but there is no single word in Japanese that perfectly encapsulates the same idea.

HELLO – It’s a greeting similar to konnichiwa, but it does not refer to a specific point in time or situation. There are some interjections like oi that call attention to the speaker in a way similar to the English hey, but a standard greeting used to open a conversation or merely acknowledge another person in any social situation is absent. Modern Japanese doesn’t seem to have a hello.

*”perarbolux” first known usage May 2016 by blogger Steve Corbett in his article Semi-Informed Observations Concerning the Japanese Language

Sean

Of all the things I could have said,
“I love you,” never came into my head.
The words that did, just like any other,
Were not enough for a brother.
I keep your picture near me all the time.
I fear your face abandoning my mind.
Until the day I follow you around the bend,
Farewell my friend.

A few thoughts about the best friend I’ve ever had in my life, today, on the sixth anniversary of his passing:
1) If he were here today and I could tell him one thing, I’d say, “PLEASE just crack them all at once! Interlock your fingers, and do it like this.”
2) I got LINE something like 4 years ago, so we never sent messages on anything other than facebook (and myspace). If he were here today, I would need a much bigger data plan.
And 3) In the words of my favorite poet Frank Turner, “Brother, I miss you like hell.”

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

Soy Milk

DISCLAIMER: Upon rereading this, I felt the need to be perfectly clear. This is satire. I have no negative feelings toward vegans, vegetarians, or veterinarians. Seriously. The events are true but the commentary is a total… total joke.

This is bullshit.

When I was young, my siblings and I would occasionally stay with my maternal grandparents in El Monte, California while our parents went on trips, attended events, or just offloaded us to get some freedom. Often times, or maybe every time, our cousin Emily would join us.

Jim and I did things like staging full football games on the front lawn with Scotch tape face masks. I have no clue what Erin and Emily did, but I’m pretty confident neither of them was running any routes over the middle. Not on our defense. For the record, I don’t think Jim and I were either; I’m pretty sure we just blocked and tackled, which came in handy later in life.

Grandma would always take the four of us to the Pic ‘N’ Save one of the mornings, and she’d give us each a dollar, or maybe five, to buy toys or accessories. She’d always say, “Buckle up for safety,” when we got in the car, and every time we backed out of the garage, I’d think of Napoleon, the old dog whom I believe to have been run over by a car backing out of the same spot. Might have been the same car.

When it rained, we’d sit at the front door and watch cars drive by to see which made the biggest splashes. We called those “Record Breakers”. We’d all share a bath in the evening, and I still get teased every so often that I used to stand up in the tub. Grandma would give us dessert each night, and we’d all fight over the GOLD SPOON!!!

Inspector Gadget was on the TV no matter what was happening in the world.

One night at dinner, I just would not quit the milk. I have always loved the stuff, but this night, seven-year-old (or thereabouts) Steve was going nuts. I recall Gram warning, “You’re going to toss your cookies,” and I thought these two things:

  1. “Toss your cookies!” Ha! Shit yeah. I’m using that.
  2. You can’t get sick from milk. Milk does a body good.

I had about ten cups of milk. It came back up.

I LOVE milk.

I love meat too. I once ate an 8×8 at In-N-Out, and thought about getting another Double-Double for the road.

The point is that I am not a vegetarian. I couldn’t imagine it. That’s why I feel so betrayed.

What irked me were a couple of things I came across within a day or two of each other. I was hit with a Facebook post about milk, and a silly but aggressive video about vegan cuisine.

The milk post was a graphic comparing the dairy product to various alternatives. I liked what I saw from soy milk and almond milk, though I avoid almonds for one reason or another. The part that bothered me, though, was what it said about cow’s milk. I don’t want to scare anyone, so I’ll just say that there are some disgusting things in consumable milk that I didn’t need to know about. I’ll let you do the investigative legwork there if you feel so compelled. I personally will not perpetuate the takedown of my favorite drink.

I was disgusted. That day at the grocery store, I looked at my beloved cow pus blood juice in its antibiotic- and hormone-rich glory, and shuddered. I reached for the green carton of bean juice and slid away…

…to where they keep all the chicken. I got some sliced breast meat that is labeled as “for Oyakodon”, which is a rice bowl with chicken meat and egg. “Oya” means parent in Japanese, and “Ko” means kid. “Don” with a vowel sound similar to the one in the word “homophone”, means bowl. A chicken and egg bowl, is a “Parent and Child Bowl”.

Anyway, I bought the chicken.

A day or so later, another jerk friend posted a video produced by some militant vegan who is out to ruin the lives of everyone around them. In the video, a woman demonstrates the preparation of a “Tofucken”, the vegan answer to a “Turducken”, which I believe is a turkey stuffed into duck that was raised on chicken, as I was.

In the video, this vegan villain uses strategic wording in an attempt to sicken any meat-eating viewer. Well, her vile propaganda worked on me. I felt weak and vulnerable, but at the same time, I felt offended and a bit venomous. I will not tell you what she said that made me feel this way, but it was awful. I will leave it to you to find out for yourself if that is your self-destructive desire.

How dare she put these thoughts into my head, though? I love chicken, but when it came time to shop for groceries a couple of days later, I couldn’t even look at the poultry, let alone cut it. I was sick to my stomach when I recalled the vegan chef offering tofu as an alternative to “a corpse” and adding that one of the non-health benefits was the comfort of knowing that you didn’t need to consume “body parts”.

It’s been two weeks now, and I am on my fifth carton of delicious soy milk, wondering what the hell happened. My childhood self would be perplexed and even disappointed. I’ve had meat products since then, and even had the strength to cook them myself. I still haven’t been able to handle cutting any though. What if I never can again?

What if I spend the rest of my life disgusted by meat!

The thought that scares me the most though, is what if somehow, someday, I make some money and have some kids? What if some social terrorist then shows them that vitriolic vegetarian cooking show? What if they are just trying to enjoy still shots of “milk” on Yahoo! like their old man, and stumble across that meme I saw? There aren’t parental controls that precise.

What if my hypothetical kids (or yours!) are indoctrinated to be afraid of or disgusted by animal products at a young, impressionable age? What if despite all my efforts, they just reject meat?

I am bouncing back, albeit slowly, but if I had been exposed to this smut as an elementary school student, I may have been turned off to meat and other animal products this whole time!

It really is chilling to know that this kind of true information is available on the internet, and I guess you just have to trust that people will be strong enough to dodge it or filter it out all together.

It’s just scary. I’m still not back on cow’s milk.

It’s bullshit.

Who Said It? Part I

Who said it?

On the US Congress:
“They’re playing for the quarterly report, they’re playing for the next election cycle, and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation. The rest of the world is going to pass us by.”

No Squid for the Ladies

After graduating from Temple, I took a trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima with my parents and my grandmother. The plan was that we’d return to America together, but I regretted that I wouldn’t be able to have a going away party with all my friends.

My parents agreed to change my ticket, so I could stay a couple weeks longer. I had my apartment for as long as I wanted, and there was nothing in particular for which I needed to hurry home. So once I finished my exams, we took off for Kyoto.

I was pretty worried about my language skills, because I had been told repeatedly that Kansai Japanese is totally different from textbook Japanese. I spoke fine back then, but I wasn’t fluent. I had nightmares of not even being able to order food. When we got off the train in Kyoto, I asked a lady at the station information desk how to get to the New Miyako Hotel. Of course, I asked her in Japanese.

She wrote the name of the hotel in English. I stood there for a moment. I looked at her, and then I looked at the paper. Then I looked back at my parents, who were standing near the doorway. I looked at the station staff member, and I asked, “Where?” in the local tongue.

She was pretty embarrassed, and she drew me a little map. She also pointed and told me, “You can’t miss it.”

We checked our bags in at the hotel because our rooms weren’t ready. In defense of the New Miyako, it was morning, and we arrived early to get on a tour bus. We rode through the city, and out to Nara, where we saw a giant Buddha statue inside an even bigger wooden temple. Outside of this temple, Todaiji, you can buy some kind of crackers or biscuits which are meant for deer. Once you get your hands on some, you have new friends.

These deer will stick their faces in your ass. They’ll try to open your bags. They’ll peck at your rig. They’ll try to bite off your hand when you feed them. They’re not particularly violent, they’re just hungry. Of course, I bought a bunch of crackers, or biscuits, or whatever they were. I feel like my dad took some pictures, but I don’t remember seeing any.

The bus took us around to a few more sites and I became acquainted with wisterias. The wisteria is a beautiful flower. It’s no wonder that its Kanji symbol is used in seven out of every three Japanese surnames. We stood under a canopy of them on some forgotten path in the Nara woods of April, and I thought to myself, “When I go home in two weeks, there’s no way I can let it be my last time in Japan.”

I had very little trouble ordering food that night, but I didn’t know exactly how to read the menus. We ate ramen in a truly diminutive shopping mall. I think it consisted of like six restaurants, a travel agency, and a place to take passport photos. I had to point to the pictures because I wasn’t familiar with the type of ramen. Kanji symbols aren’t so simple to read. There’s no inspecting letters, no sounding it out phonetically. It was really embarrassing to have my family see that. I swore to myself that was the last time on the trip. I made a point of impressing them with my ability.

That leads us to the next night we went out in Kyoto, which could have been the following evening, or it may have been a couple days later. There was a day trip to Hiroshima mixed in there somewhere, and that night, we just went to a chain izakaya and had Ramune sours with egg mayo pizza.

The night I’m talking about, we walked the streets of Gion, and were lucky enough to see a sampling of three different types of Japanese performing arts. We watched Noh, Kabuki, and one other thingy. We’re open-minded folks, but when we walked out of the theater, we didn’t really say much. I don’t remember who broke the ice, but someone said, “Was anyone else kind of creeped out?” We had a pretty good giggle.

Gion is absolutely marvelous, but it wasn’t my favorite spot in Kyoto. Kiyomizudera is right up there near the top of the list of most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. So, aside from that, a night on the streets in Kyoto’s geisha district is most apt to have you re-thinking what you’ve made of yourself. Just try to avoid going in late April, May, June, July, August, September, or maybe even early October. The main shrine was adorned with lit red lanterns, and for some reason, nobody else was there. We did a lot of staring. That was all after dinner though.

Before all that, we took a taxi straight from the hotel to a small restaurant just down the street from the shrine, near the theater we’d eventually walk to for the Kabuki and stuff. The driver dropped us off right at the door, and he may have even walked us in and introduced us. I might be filling that in with my imagination, though.

It was a small place. When you entered through the sliding wooden door, which faced the sidewalk, you could reach the bar if you had arms. I noticed three or four salarymen sitting on bar stools to the left of where I stood. The master welcomed us and motioned for us to sit at the one table which had space for four. It was to my right. That’s all that this restaurant was. Four stools and a four-seater table. The hotel called ahead for us that day or maybe one before, so we were expected.

I surprised the master, his wife, and the few other patrons at the bar with my language ability, which was petty bull compared to what it is now. Nonetheless, it was a spectacle. We made small talk, and I told them about my studies, my family’s visit, and our plans for the evening. We were the toast of the tavern, at least for a moment.

We had some options. They asked me if there was anything we couldn’t eat, so I said, “Peaches,” and all the salarymen laughed. I asked the big kids, and my mom said, “Octopus and squid, and stuff like that.” My grandma seconded.

The master’s wife understood what they said, so she checked with me, and I affirmed. I think I also added something trivial like mustard. She relayed the information to the master, and he muttered benevolently that they “don’t usually serve octopus or squid anyway.” The bar crowd chuckled.

Now, Japanese culture is what is referred to as “high-context”. A brief example to help illustrate what that means is the issue of my inclusion in a school field trip. In 2011, I was working at two all-girls high schools in Ishinomaki City. One of them was totally destroyed by a tsunami. As a gesture of support, the city of Osaka arranged for transportation, lodging, and a stipend for that year’s trip, so long as the trip was to Osaka. Perfect. They probably would have gone there anyway. When I first heard about this, I was very happy for my students (a group of around one hundred girls, aged sixteen and seventeen). The dream of most teachers in my program was to go on a school trip with the students. My partner teacher, Erika, said, “Hey, why don’t I ask the principal if you can come with us?” I was shocked, assuming that it was out of the question. She had been at the school for ten years though, and she thought it was a good idea. Now, in a low-context culture, the principal would say, “No. Are you kidding?” Low-context people use definitive statements and provide little room for interpretation. Japan, though, is not one of those cultures. So when Erika asked the principal about taking me, he said, “Absolutely not. That will not work.” Not very Japanese of him.

Back to Kyoto. The master and his wife (or the master and her husband, either way) started planning the meal, and I heard the words for squid and octopus again. My mistake was that I dismissed it as chatter. I didn’t think about the fact that I’d not mentioned my own distaste for blobby weirdfish with a million legs. Then, the master told the other gents that they didn’t usually serve it.

Being the high-context culture that Japanese is, when I confirmed that the ladies were the ones who didn’t want squid or octopus, I was, by proxy, special-ordering it for my dad and myself. It didn’t hit me until they brought out our appetizers. The ladies got something that looked very nice. It was thickly-sliced ham with a mustard sauce.

The owner (the female one) brought out two bowls and placed one in front of each Corbett man at the table and walked away. In perfect synchronization, we looked down, looked straight ahead, turned to each other, and made the “Oh shit!” face. Three thumb-sized, purple and white squids were sitting intact, on rice in each of our bowls. I think I saw one move, and they were definitely looking at me. When I picked one up to inspect it, some grains of rice stuck to the thing, and I thought about coating the whole guy with a rice layer. I decided that would slow me down, and my best bet was to maximize efficiency. I felt some cultural insensitivity coming on.

We ordered more drinks.

I had one specimen, swallowed it whole. I thought of my stomach as a miniature sea, and of the creature as an old, old wooden ship. When I stood, the ocean was upright and the U.S.S. Diversity sat floating near the top of my midsection. As I fell onto the firm bed at the New Miyako, rogue waves splashed the little guy around so he touched all my inner walls. He righted himself just under my abdomen, and enjoyed a moonless night on soft seas. For the next few days (until I was sure he had been passed), I repeatedly cringed, kicked, and writhed at the thought of what I had done.

Mr. Corbett was much better about it. He had two.

Coffee is Magic

April 2008. I was a week away from earning my college degree, a goal I long thought I’d never achieve. Three members of my family had just arrived, and were preparing for the grand tour. I had a couple of papers to finish and another couple of exams. We started sightseeing a day or two before I finished, so I was juggling being a student and being a host.

Obviously, our time in Japan was limited, so we had to jam a lot of sand into a small shoe. On the day of the final exam of my undergraduate career, I rose before the sun (a misdemeanor in Japan). The test was at seven o’clock that night, but we had a full day planned.

I put on some clothes and a shoe or two and walked around the corner to meet my parents and grandmother at the Sunshine Prince Hotel. It was four in the morning, so we had to take a taxi across town. The trains weren’t running yet, and we had to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market in time for the tuna auction.

This was my second time watching this daily event. I did a little interpreting for my folks when the auction started, but it was really hard to pick up what they were saying. Even on my third trip, four years later, I couldn’t catch much of anything. Fly to the other side of the world to watch an auction, and you’ll realize that we’re all fundamentally the same. I did speak to one reporter though, and when I asked about the most expensive fish he’d ever seen there, he told me that a solitary tuna had once sold for six million yen. That’s approximately sixty thousand dollars. This was where the best fish were sold. The sushi you could get at Tsukiji Fish Market was the best in the world.

We got breakfast at that McDonald’s right there across from the station. It was still only about seven o’clock in the morning though, so the coffee was magic. We had a long way to go. After checking out a small shrine or something in the area, our next stop was the Ueno park and zoo. We got there before the zoo’s opening, so we had to wait around in the park for a bit. It was fine though, because there were kindergarteners waiting with us. If you’ve ever seen a class of Japanese kindergarteners…

We spent the whole morning with the animals. Ueno Zoo has a magnificent population, but some of the cages are pretty depressing. The otters, in particular, seem especially dejected. The zoo is split into two sections. Typically you’d start the visit with a walk around the east garden, taking a look at the panda, other bears, elephants, gorillas, birds, monkeys, penguins, and big cats. The west garden is below, and you can get there by walking down the hill or riding a tram. Then you can go back up to the east garden because you missed the capybaras. If you come down the path at dusk, you can catch the angular sunlight gleaming through the bamboo and off Shinobazu Pond as the pelicans flutter about. It’s one of those sights that really allows you to feel shitty about yourself. When you’re looking at those birds, it’s kind of embarrassing to think that you complained about your download speed no more than an hour prior. You think about the things you call problems and you say, “Fuck that. Look at this.” Either that or you need to learn to appreciate your world a little more.

We were really hoping to see Japan’s only fully-Japanese-owned panda, but Ling Ling wasn’t feeling too well. He ended up dying the next day.

In the afternoon we went to Asakusa. Exiting the station, I told the folks to turn around and get a look at the Asahi building across the river. It’s a tower of twenty-two stories, built to resemble a foaming beer glass. It’s difficult to hold onto a bad mood while looking at the beer tower and the giant flaming turd next door (look up “Asahi building”), so we proceeded to Kaminarimon with a good chuckle. The giant traditional gate summons thousands of tourists each day, and rickshaw runners try to get their money.

We proceeded through (around) the gate, three of us in awe. I had seen it many times, but I still adore the sight. There’s a good little flea market on the path to the temple, Sensoji, and we got a chance to look for trinkets. Sensoji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and it’s one of the city’s most famous attractions. After gazing into Buddhist wonder, we proceeded to the river. The plan was to take a cruise down to Odaiba, which is the perfect cap to an Asakusa visit.

We relaxed on the Sumida River, passing under a thousand bridges. The boat docked at the man-made island, where we walked around the shopping mall and took in some breathtaking views of the city. The sun started lowering and my seven o’clock test began to loom. It wasn’t exactly multiple choice, so it had been grabbing at my shoulders all day. I had already turned in a ten-page paper entitled “Japan and the League of Nations” for this class. Here is a totally random selection:

“It was well known that before the annexation of Manchuria in 1932, Japan was alienated from the other members due to the distance between Tokyo and Geneva, the lack of a racial equality clause, the lack of Asian representation, the lack of concern for Asian issues, and eventually the Manchurian Incident.”

This test was going to be another handwritten paper of five to ten pages. We had from seven to ten o’clock to complete it. This was a capstone class, which meant that it was requisite for graduation. I was in no trouble of failing, but I had become a competitive student. I just now looked at my transcript and saw that I got a B+. I still graduated magna cum laude, and summa was way out of reach, so it ended up not being a big deal. I had been out for drinks the night before, up at four in the morning for the fish market, walking around all day, and writing a freaking book in a silent room with about twelve people on a weeknight, so I am not ashamed of what happened.

The professor was named Kazuhiko Togo. He is an incredibly impressive man. The first night of the class, he introduced his career to me and the other students. I can’t even scratch the surface of his résumé, but he was a diplomat who worked in Russia, The Netherlands, and on many other assignments. One of the last questions we asked him that first night was, “Aside from Russian, Japanese, and English, do you speak any other languages?”

“French,” he replied, “and Dutch,” he added almost as if there might have been more, but he couldn’t remember them all. He was brilliant, moderate, and descendant of a historical diplomat cut from the same cloth. His grandfather was Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Second World War. He was also once the Minister of Colonialism. Needless to say, he was a contentious figure. After the war, he was indeed arrested by Douglas MacArthur and convicted of Class-A war crimes (though there is a great debate about not only his guilt, but the validity of his conviction). His grandson, my professor recalled that Minister Togo answered the call of his country because he felt that it was his responsibility and he thought his best chance to do good was to effect change from the inside. It is universally recognized that my professor’s granddad was an adamant opponent of most of the campaigns which constituted his crimes, but he was a victim of circumstance and his own patriotic loyalty. Shigenori Togo died in Sugamo Prison in 1950. His soul was enshrined at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. In 1971, Sugamo Prison was torn down. Today, its former site is home to the Sunshine 60 building, and the Sunshine Prince Hotel, where I picked up my parents the morning of the test.

I can’t recall the subject of my exam, but like I said, I barely missed out on the A for the semester. I’m quite sure I know what happened.

I fell asleep four times while composing my paper. I literally trailed off mid-sentence. There were at least three spots on my paper where a letter became a drag mark, and one of them ran off the top of the page. I apologized to Professor Togo, and before hearing my excuse, he said, “I understand. Well done this semester.”

After making it out of the room, I met up with my best friend Bernadette, who was also in Togo’s class. We hustled across town to Shinjuku where we met up with my family and went to an izakaya. We were joined by our buddy Tatsuya, and the six of us held graduation ceremonies for me in a red-light district tapas restaurant. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Soon after, we sailed south for some squid.

To be continued.

Kugunarihama

My time spent living in the fishing village Ogatsu was short. I was there for a year and a few days before I moved down to the center of Ishinomaki. When the move took place, I changed from rural middle and elementary schools to two suburban high schools for girls. I still made weekly elementary school visits and monthly visits to a special education school room.

I was very excited to move downtown, because I would be able to go to the mall any time I wanted, join a gym, go out for drinks with my friends and walk home, and take the train without having to pay to park my car. The drinking was the most important part.

The legal limit for alcohol consumption and subsequent driving in Japan is none. Drinking a beer in the passenger seat of a moving car is fine, but have one sip and get behind the wheel and you are probably going to jail. That is, of course, assuming you’re caught. In the case of a foreigner working in Japan on a teaching visa, if you get caught, you’re on a plane home immediately following a nice vacation in a cell.

I was terrified of getting charged with that sort of crime, so I never committed it. During my year in Ogatsu, if I wanted to drink with friends (who didn’t have cars and wouldn’t come to me even if they did), I had to spend the night. So much for having a cold one with dinner, or trying the microbrew a buddy discovered. If I was to be introduced to a new kind of sake, I needed to borrow a futon too. This quickly evolved from charming to annoying. Of course, the root of that problem was not alcohol. It was my detachment from everything fun while living out in the sticks. When I say “the sticks”, I really mean it. Ogatsu had one convenience store, some mom and pop shops, one traffic light, a small bank branch, a little post office, and two restaurants with parking. The gas station closed at four in the afternoon. The elementary school had about one hundred and twenty kids, many of whom commuted by bus or taxi.

When it came time to decide whether or not I would re-contract with my city, I told my supervisor that I would stay on if I could be moved downtown. Luckily, a spot was opening up. It was at the two all-girls high schools, though. There was some initial concern over sending a tall, athletic, American man into those settings, but my professionalism and the city’s desperation to avoid the cost of hiring a new teacher won out.

As my time out in the bush was nearing its end, I began to get emotional. I realized that I would miss filling my water bottles at an artesian spring. I was sure to miss driving through the tunnel into that sliver of habitation that was hugged so tightly by the mountains, and kissed so sweetly by the sea. I launched an initiative to be outside as much as possible before moving into a six-story concrete building on a narrow street by the downtown docks. I fished for tadpoles with the special education kids under the bridge on Saturday. I rode my bike instead of driving. I read my book at the picnic table in front of the Family Mart. I jogged through town to the City Hall branch office instead of up the mountain to Shinrin Park.

One of my friends (I’ll call him Mike, because that’s his name) invited me to go camping out near a small beach on the Oshika Peninsula, still inside Ishinomaki City limits. We got beer and fireworks, and we were excited to swim in the ocean and drink by the fire. The ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) who was placed out in Oshika met us at the beach. His name was also Steven. We three guys, Mike’s girlfriend Kei, and her friend Mika made up the camping party. Mike is a Canadian.

I parked my car near the beach, and we all started drinking on the sand. We ate some easy food because we didn’t feel like grilling. We played in the water and enjoyed the incredible Pacific afternoon. We didn’t really have all that much to drink, and the atmosphere was pretty serene. It was more recreation than adventure. Just for fun, Mike threw me his girlfriend’s floatie. It was a colorful duck made for children. I put it around my waist and swam toward the rope in the water which designated the end of the swimming area.

There are giant concrete tetrapods lining much of the Japanese coast. These are enormous four-pronged jacks which interlock randomly to form a barrier in front of the shoreline. The idea is that they help blunt the power of tsunamis. They’re rather unsightly, but you just have to get used to them, because they’re basically impossible to remove.

Steven and Mike thought it would be a good idea to climb on these mountains of piled stone eyesores. At this particular beach, Kugunarihama, they couldn’t have been stacked too high. My guess is we were ten feet above the ocean floor when we made first contact. It could have been much deeper, but I felt better thinking it was ten feet. There was something terribly ominous about the tetrapods, and when Mike and Steven climbed up, I stayed in the water. It was getting dark, and we could barely see the shore.

The guys goaded me into climbing up, so I landed tentatively. I felt off balance, since there were no flat surfaces anywhere. All we had for footing was curved concrete, and between the prongs of the tetrapods, there were large gaps. I sat down on top of one, and the guys walked parallel to the shore. They continued to call back for me. I was content to sit and look back at the landscape beyond the beach until Mike topped off one of his taunts with, “… you pussy!”

I stood up and took a step forward. I promptly lost my balance. My right leg fell back to the block behind me, but my left leg whiffed and fell straight down into one of the gaps.

My foot was under water inside the cornucopia of concrete hands and arms. I found out later that I took a chunk out of my right big toe trying to pry my left leg free. The missing piece was about the size of an almond. I was able to finally get my leg out, and on pulling it up, I looked down.

A valve had opened, and blood was pouring out of a canyon in the flesh just above my knee. I didn’t want to cry wolf, so I had to focus on trusting my eyes. I was probably about one hundred yards off shore with a very serious laceration on my leg. It was getting dark and I was in pink swimming trunks, with a duck floatie stuck around my waist. What’s worse? I was in the middle of nowhere.

I gathered myself enough to realize that I had to act, so I yelled, “Guys! I’m hurt! I need to go now!” I immediately dove off the tetrapods and into the water, with blood gushing from a wide gash. I created a new variation of swimming I like to call the shitstroke — a hybrid between a three-limbed freestyle and feeble writhing. I howled not in sentences but single words. My head rose out of the seawater, “Help!” Back in. Back out, “Fuck! Help!” Down. Up, “Guys!” In. Out, and extended for maximum attention “Heeeeelp!”

Later when I told some co-workers what had happened, and told them where it had happened, one of the teachers said, “Oh, wow. There are sharks out there.” I asked if that was true, and the others nodded with concern.

I hobbled up the beach, leaving a visible trail of blood in the sand. The girls were very alarmed, and the guys had followed me back to shore. Steven later told me he had never seen someone swim so fast, and that I looked like Michael Phelps. I think it’s probably true. I could have lifted a car, too.

I reached the road to try to get someone to call for emergency assistance. I was close to falling into shock. I couldn’t see anything on the beach, so I had walked right past my belongings. I stood in the middle of the road to try to stop an oncoming car. The driver saw a large, soaked, shirtless, panicked, bleeding, white man and slowed to a stop. I was saved.

Just as I was letting out a sigh of relief, the car started moving again. Backwards. The driver made a three point turn and scurried away. I was bleeding in the street, and the Good Samaritan ran away. I was blind and deaf to what was going on around me. I left a crimson puddle where I had stopped to flag down the car. If someone were to have walked through, it would have splashed and gotten on their ankles. I was bleeding for real.

I tried to touch my cut to see if I could do some sort of first aid. It was so disgusting that I just closed my eyes and shivered. I had to get somebody to help me. I started calling out to the few nearby homes. I saw a porch light, so I limped over to the house. The window was open and there was a light on inside.

“Excuse me,” I called in the calmest voice I could muster. “I’m badly hurt and I need your help. Will you please call an ambulance for me?”

A woman of at least eighty approached the window. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m really sorry, but I’m seriously injured. It’s an emergency. Please call an ambulance.”

The woman backed away from the window and said, “(Something something something something). Alien (something something). I don’t know. Alien.”

A man approached the window and shouted at me. He was hostile. I was in trouble. I was in bad trouble, and I was very obviously asking for assistance. The people in the house were actually going to turn this into a conflict.

“Good evening. I’m sorry. I need you to help me. Please call an ambulance now.” I backed up into the light to show him my leg. He told me to go away. I approached the window again, and he shouted at me again. I shouted back, “Hey! Call an ambulance now! Now! Call it in! Now!” I repeated my orders, and he shouted at me again. The old woman started crying.

In a holler, I demanded to know why they wouldn’t help me. I had my face up against the screen, and I could hear my friends calling for me from the road. I yelled angrily for the old folks to call an ambulance, and they declined. I was starting to feel light-headed.

I had the idea to threaten to enter their house. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I figured that if they wouldn’t call me an ambulance, maybe I could get them to call the police, who would then call me an ambulance. I no longer cared about my job or my status in Japan.

I shouted, “I’m a robber! I’m going to enter! You had better call the police!” The response I got from the old man utterly blew my mind.

He said, “The police won’t bring you an ambulance! They’ll arrest you.” He was not a senile old bastard. He knew exactly what I was trying to do, and he wouldn’t let me do it. I got fucking pissed.

I started to scream at the top of my lungs. I yelled for them to call an ambulance. I pounded on their screen. I screamed that I was going to die in their yard. I pounded on the screen some more, and the frame rattled in the wall. I was not going to stop. I had turned down a path that wasn’t going to lead anyone anywhere good.

My friends finally caught up to me. Apparently someone on the beach, one of my group, the driver who fled, or a neighbor had realized what was happening and called for an ambulance. Mike, Steven, Kei, and Mika had yet to see my state, so they were not ready. As I came out of the devil family’s yard, I approached the others as if walking on a peg. I didn’t want to bend my knee.

Mike said, “Dude, there’s an ambulance coming for you,” in a tone that held the connotation, “You’re taking this way too far.”

I screamed, “Look at me!”, and as I got close enough to see, one of the girls shrieked. She ran off to grab something to wrap around my leg, and instead of going for my white t-shirt, she apparently chose her new sundress. I was later told that she forcefully wrapped it on me, so now I was sporting a sundress bandage, pink thigh-length trunks, and an inflatable, pastel duck.

The ambulance pulled up, and the paramedics came over to me. They took my hand and guided me into the treatment compartment. Mika wanted to accompany me to the hospital, even though I barely knew her. Actually, she had been rude to me before, and I didn’t want her with me for this. She thought she was doing me a favor, but I didn’t think I needed it. It was pride or something. I insisted to the ambulance crew that she not come with me. I repeatedly demonstrated that my Japanese was fine, and she couldn’t interpret anyway. I never would have been so rude if I was completely sealed. She rode with us. A few months later, at a Halloween party in Sendai, I met another friend, and when I told her my name, she turned to Mika and said, “Oh! Is this the ‘I’m gonna die!’ guy?” So I guess their group of friends made fun of me for this.

The paramedics cut the floatie off of me, and replaced the sundress with real bandages. They may have injected me with something, or maybe I really was going into shock. I don’t remember everything. I won’t go into too much detail about the twenty-two-mile ambulance ride, but I’ll give you the abridged version. Here are some highlights:

“Have you guys seen Inception?”

“Nope,” the paramedics replied.

“But you know Leonardo DiCaprio, right? You should go see Inception. I really mean it. Seriously.”

After explaining to them what the old man had done, “He was a monster. I love Japanese people, and I’ve met so many nice people here, but that guy was inhuman.”

“Can you see the bone?”

“Yeah, we can see it.”

“Where are we going?”

“Red Cross.”

“How will I get my car?”

“Don’t worry about that now.”

“You guys are awesome. I really like you guys. I hate that guy back in Kugunarihama, but I really like you guys.”

“Hey, what’s the length of the cut?”

“Almost ten centimeters.”

“Am I going to get stitches?”

“Haha. Yes.”

“Wait, did you guys already stitch me up?”

“We didn’t.”

“We’re here? I can walk. I’ll be OK.”

“You’re not walking anywhere. Just wait.”

So after the marathon drive to the downtown hospital, where I would meet the CNN reporter just about eight months later, I sat on a gurney in the emergency room for at least an hour. I was taped up and relatively stable. I was getting light-headed though, so I asked for water repeatedly. I went to the bathroom a few times. I had been given a robe, so I was able to wield at least a modicum of dignity, which I promptly tossed away by bleeding on the floor and having to hold myself up on the wall.

When they were finally ready to zip me up, I was given a bed. The doctor came out and asked me a few questions. They told me they were going to “suture” the cut. I assumed they meant that they were going to stitch the wound. That’s not what they meant.

Kuht… ching. The first staple went in. It got progressively easier, and the sixth one was a breeze. Taking the staples out at Ogatsu Hospital a couple weeks later was the hard part. I was returning to America for a summer trip, so they removed the staples a few days early. I got some good, strong medical tape.

They bandaged me back up on top of the metal sutures. I had to go through some paperwork and chatting with the doctor. I got instructions and prescriptions. When I was released into the waiting room, Mika was waiting in a low, gray vinyl chair. The others came around shortly after.

They entered with bags of food. Mike said to me, “Dinner’s on you.”

I said, “Haha. That’s fine.”

I found out the next morning when I opened my wallet that he didn’t mean I owed them a debt of gratitude for picking me up. What Mike meant was that he got my wallet from the glove compartment of my car, took out my alien registration card to bring to me, then he took my cash out of my wallet and used it to buy food for everyone. You know what he bought me to eat? He bought me eel. Other people got beef bowls. I got fucking eel.

We decided to scrap camping so we slept in Steven’s apartment, which was pretty close to the beach. I slept on the hardwood floor with no pillow and no blanket. I had six staples in my knee and various chunks missing from my feet, and my “friends” really pulled out all the stops to make me comfortable. They even went so far as to buy themselves food with money taken from my wallet, just so I didn’t have to go to the trouble of deciding how to show my appreciation. For the next few months, they also insisted that I owed Mike’s girlfriend a dress, as if I asked her to tie her cheap slip around my leg. The paramedics took it off a minute later, and I never even realized it was there. They left my t-shirt on the beach. Plain white. Too small. Sweat stains.

When we awoke in the morning, I was not in a good mood. I wanted to get to my car and get the hell back to Ogatsu. They doddled. Somebody made some pancakes. They watched internet videos. I asked them to take me to my car and they wouldn’t. I got impatient and told them that I was leaving, but I needed some bandages for my toes, and the decent thing to do was to give me a ride.

Mike and Steven looked at each other with that juvenile “Do we tell him?” look on their faces. Apparently the old man and woman who refused to call an ambulance for me had complained to the police about my actions. The guys told me that I was going to be asked to pay for a new screen, because one of my fingers had made a cut about a fifth of the size of the one in my leg. They wanted ten thousand yen, or about one hundred dollars. I was to send it by the post office’s verified cash envelope service because my “friends” had taken my money for dinner and I was broke at the moment. I was furious. I was so fucking furious.

They also wanted to take me down to the house to apologize face to face. I gave the most contrived, sarcastic apology imaginable. The old man berated me for calling him a “monster” the night before, using a barely-comprehensible reproduction of the English word just to show that he knew it. I had said it in Japanese, though. Whatever.

I stepped back while the others talked to him, and I said, “This is such bullshit,” to Mike.

Mike made an “Are you serious?” face at me and said the words, “Dude. Think about what you put them through.” Those were his exact words, and I’ll never forget them.

“Think about what you put them through.”

He said that.

“Think about what you put them through.”

“Almost ten centimeters.”

“Can you see the bone?”

“Yeah, we can see it.”

“The police won’t bring you an ambulance! They’ll arrest you.”

“Almost ten centimeters.”

Kuht… ching.

“… you pussy!”

“Oh, wow. There are sharks out there.”

“Think about what you put them through.”

When the post office opened that Monday, I went over to their ATM and made a withdrawal. I folded the bill a few times, crumpled it a little, and walked up to the counter to ask for a verified cash envelope. I had written out a note that I was going to include with the cash, and you bet your ass I verified that note right there in the fucking envelope with the freshly-weathered ten thousand yen. It read something like this:

                Here is the money to fix your screen.

                Next time there is a person who needs help, help them. I am embarrassed about what happened, but not because of anything I did.

                Enjoy the profit you’ve made at my expense.

I frequently thought of immature measures of revenge for them, and now I’m ashamed of my pettiness. At the time, I wanted to burn bags of dog shit on their porch. I wanted to tag their perimeter wall with a penis so everyone who drove through the village could see. I wanted to park my car down the street in the dead of night, and cut a full ten centimeter gash on their pretty new screen.

On March 11th, 2011, those tetrapods did absolutely nothing. Kugunarihama was wiped clean by the tsunamis. The subsidence of northern Japan (point of highest recorded sinkage: Oshika Peninsula, Ishinomaki, where Kugunarihama was) produced haunting effects. The sandy beach is gone. At the time of this writing, the waves crash right up onto the road. The land is flat and it’s difficult to make out foundations of buildings. The water level has permanently hidden the tangled wall of concrete jacks. That old couple’s house? Much like the gash in my leg, nothing but a scar. Everything in Kugunarihama is gone, and it is pretty reasonable to suppose that the old couple went with it.