Sunday, September 28, 2008


it's a grey monday, and the air smells like toasted marshmallows and campfire. the temperature dropped twenty degrees this weekend, and the mornings are stirred with chill. the air is drying up in the woodsmoke. i smiled to myself as i took the rubbish up to the bin this morning because i love fall even though it freezes into winter. at least i have my clear windows now!
the walls of my house are patrolled endlessly by tiny jumping spiders. last year i would have put them outside, but this year i don't care anymore. they are one of the least offensive arachnids i've encountered: too small to look horrible, they don't spin webs, and they do a funny little flex with their facial feelers which makes them look like tiny boxers preparing to scrap. i leave them alone to catch the other bugs. me and the spiders. i've been soo lucky this year and have only seen one (one!) mukade, and i'm hoping to keep it that way as long as possible.
saturday was a brilliant, sunny, chilly day--my favorite kind. i got up early and danced around the house in the sun. it was the kind of morning you want to do the crossword over coffee with your darling, full of fresh air and light. i like that "darling" is a word that has become synonymous with "boyfriend" in japan. friday i was asked, "darling imasuka?" i couldn't help smiling, but the answer was still, no, i don't have a darling. that's the same boy, who instead of saying, "joke! joke!" like most of my kids when they say something untrue, blurted out, "it's fiction!"
this year i have been really working on the ankle i injured several years ago in a skateboarding wreck. i want the mobility and strength back, so i've been running and stretching, running and stretching. i'm amazed what a difference it's made. it still aches, but i don't get foot cramps when i point my toes and faux-ballet around the room. i've been doing that a lot lately.
the barbecue/onsen party was interesting. after 45 hellish minutes in the back of a van on a narrow, twisy road that would make any sane person green, i emerged on shaky legs and stood forlornly in the forest. was it really worth it? mr. sugar turned to me and smiled in the faint light, "hi lauren."
the group was intimate by normal party standards, just nine people. we stood around some rustic picnic tables, and everyone rustled into action. i didn't know what to help with, so when someone brought a bench, i sat. soon there was fire and food. i was on the corner by mr. sugar. i marveled at his quiet conversation, that he seemed content to talk to me about pancakes. he was quietly, gently attentive. another beer, more vegetables, even noticing when i had bits of corn cob and pepper stems in my bowl and offering a place to discard them. i understand him less as time goes on, but i loved those sweet moments.
finally, just before the girls headed off to the onsen, kuma-san looked up with a rascally smile and told me there was a "konyoku," a bath where men and women could bathe together, and he pointed right at me and mr. sugar! in the midst of the translation, i didn't really have time to respond, and after a pause, mr. sugar spoke up in what i supposed at the time was a proxy response for me, "no thank you!" later, though, i wondered if that was really for himself, which made me a tiny bit sad.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the mongrel cat came home, holding half a head

last night i had some bizarre dreams, bizarre like i used to have. bizarre like i have something going on in my head again. the first part was some older man in my life trying to marry me off to another older man who i only slightly knew. i started protesting, "but he's much too old!" and the man told me that "it doesn't matter to God." i'm sure it would matter to God that i didn't love him, though! my mom seemed to support this marrying-off thing. i was like, "but i'd much prefer a guy like joe," (an estimable friend from my real past, who ironically i dreamed years ago that i couldn't marry). their answer was, "but you don't know anyone else like joe."
part two we get to the serious stuff. i was over at a friend's house and discovered she had a face that looked just like mine, my "extra" face in a square aluminum pan. she gave it to me to care for. it was just the front half of my head, though i still had my own. it was heavier than i expected, and the back was open and exposed and vulnerable. i suppose that's how you attach it to your head if you need it... the poor thing looked hot and feverish, and i wondered how long it could survive like that. i put it in some cool water and soon it looked much better. it didn't look as feverish, and the lips were just a little chapped. i carried it away with me. i felt protective tenderness for it, but how do you care for just a face?
part three: i still lived in japan, so i wasn't familiar with many people. one of my friends died. her body was wrapped in plastic, and since there was no one else to respectfully treat her remains, i put her in a wheelbarrow and walked a long way through early winter streets to the cemetery, so i could bury her body. when i arrived, i realized i had forgotten a shovel. sigh. but then i ran into my friend sadye, and she had a shovel. i could see there were some bugs inside the plastic on the top of my friend's wool coat, and i was loath to see my friend's body touched by them when we put her in the ground.

that's it. i wasn't as disturbed by these dreams as i could have been. i was more grateful for them, because at least they're imaginative. what is my heart trying to tell me? the strongest thing i felt when i woke up was the need to start loving my face with the rest of me. i've always been happy with my body and displeased with my face. long and skinny with an under bite and too much chin, poor skin when i was younger, swampy eyes. but in my dream i was like, "it's a good face. and what's more, it's my face. who's going to care for if i'm not?"
i know, deeep. but it's true.

i was a little jumpy in my sleep due to a late-night nerds candy fix. sugar before bed, not a good idea. (oh the connotations that statement now reeks with!) i woke up when someone walked by my window about 4am, and then again several more times until my alarm finally went off. urgh. then i fretted over my lack of money and went to school.

when i got to school, i barely had a moment before a young teacher came down to invite me to a yakiniku/onsen party this evening. she began to list the people coming. the second person she mentioned was of the sucrose persuasion, so it was decided, of course i would go!
i recently got some information passed to me from one of the office girls that at the most recent enkai, she overheard an older man known as "kuma-san" (mr. bear) who was observing me talk with mr. sugar comment, "they look like they get along well. maybe they should get married." it happens to be kuma-san who told the teacher to invite me tonight. what's he playing at? it's probably nothing, but it's an unusual time for a party, so i am excited.

last week i was in the middle of composing a deflated post called "now sugar-free." it started, "it seems my last giddy post about mr. sugar was my last giddy post about mr. sugar." he almost visibly, physically ignored me for a month after our happy, comfortable baseball lesson. one day when we came face-to-face and i started to say hello, he gave me a look like he was drowning. i just kept walking. i mean, who does that!? it was just a hello. the next day when we passed, i gave him the stinkeye. maybe it was a subtle stinkeye, but it was still there. that night, i had a good cry and started to feel better. i embraced the idea that i can't force anything and don't want to waste time feeling sorry over some guy who can't pull it together enough to figure out if he likes me.
the very next day, dressed in a slate blue shirt that was dead sexy against his dark skin (sorry, it's a fact), i looked up to find him waving from across the room. what is it with that wave!? it gets me every time. i waited several minutes and then went over and we talked for a bit. it settled me on many levels. i guess it is unlikely we will be anything more than sometimes friends, but i feel better about that since then. it felt less final than the drown-face.

one of the things i told him was that i have decided to take the JLPT, a japanese language test. finally, i have started setting some goals. having this to work toward has made a huge difference in my life. i have also been feeling like it's time to write my book, i finally have something to say again. my voice comes in fits and starts, but like a temperamental fountain pen, it's getting stronger the more i scratch it across the paper.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

home again home again, jiggety jig

when i boarded the plane to fly home this summer, i was staggered by how close together the seats were back in regular price land. not first class, business, or even "economy plus," the seats were unbelievably crammed. now you have to pay extra just so your legs won't fall asleep! i've made this flight several times by now, and i was certain this was a new low. i even checked the air and light panels above to see if they had just moved the seats back a few notches to fit more people in! when i sat down, my knees actually touched the seat in front of me until i took out the magazines in the seat pocket. it was going to be a long flight.
four hours later i decided, as i stared at the "moving" map of our progress across the ocean while waiting for another movie to start, that this is a special form of torture. it's like being forced to watch the slowest download in the world. ooh, a whole 12% complete! only 640 hours to go!
mt. fuji

but home was still there when i arrived.
i had this fear as a child that i would go on a trip and return a few days later, only to find my family long gone and everything changed because i had really been gone 30 years. i also feared at one point that my mom had been replaced with a very convincing double who would eventually kidnap me and replace me too, but that was because of Get Smart. thank you Nick at Nite.
so i've not been living in the US for two years now. that is apparently how long it takes to completely lose the ability to cope with bad customer service. without fail i leave the nagoya airport feeling peaceful and respected as a customer, and arrive in san francisco to be dismantled by the security personnel screaming in my docile face to "MAKE TWO LINES!!" or something like that. i wonder what it must be like to have never experienced america and have that be your introduction to it! are we really that unruly? after 15 hours of travel, does it really take all of your lung power to get me in a line? i would have done anything for the promise of a face cloth or extra deodorant.

ahh, america! the country where my hair looks good.

perplexing service people, a favorite pastime...

...second only to trying genghis khan-flavored caramels. i kid you not. actually, the meat and onion caramels were pretty good, like a tiny little willy wonka meal.

ugh. i will try to ignore how gross i feel right now and write this, because there are many little things to talk about, and i haven't really been getting them up lately.
so, in my never ending quest to make grammatically perfect japanese sentences (yeah right), or at least ones that aren't complete gibberish, i was preparing to ask the old man of ye corner office supply store what colors of plastic tape he had. was it nan iro, nani iro, donna iro? i cross-referenced my handy online dictionary to see if the combination of characters meant something other than what i hoped to say. nani is used all the time and means "what," and iro means "color." this was the result:

(nani) 何 【なに; なん】 (int,n) (1) what; (pref) (2) (なん) how many (some counter); (col) euph. for genitals or sex


(iro) 色 【いろ】 (n) (1) colour; color; (2) sensuality; lust; (adj-f) (3) various

what!? so i could conceivably be saying "what color?" or "genital sensuality!" you can see the kind of danger that awaits me around every corner.

i often order books on because japan still believes you will pay Cash On Delivery shipments. i order the books i want, and when they deliver them to my school, i pay the delivery guy. just like a pizza! the one thing i always forget is that they call me a few minutes before they deliver to let me know they're coming. usually i miss the call because i'm in class, but last time i heard my phone ring and answered. a mistake? maybe. the guy said some LOONG something about who he was (i guess?), but i heard the word "amazon," so i figured it out. he paused. i said a very tentative (if you had looked up the word tentative, this would've been the example) hai...
it seems like all people ever say on the phone in japan is hai. people have entire conversations made of the word hai! this seemed to be an acceptable answer, so he said something else, even longer!
and paused.
i tried another tenuous, hai..... he continued! what on earth could he possibly be telling me about a single book delivery!? another pause.
this time it was more of a hai? i was losing faith that we would ever reach a conclusion. i was going to be trapped on the phone forever, understanding nothing, blindly agreeing. finally he said something i did understand, so i got to say with conviction, sou desu. "that's true." and then i got to hang up.

my last story of the day is how to be lazy and solve problems with your digital camera. i always have my camera with me, always. i've gotten into the habit of taking pictures of anything i find amusing, to share with you later (see the vibrating worm video below).
i was at the home store to buy a shelf for my shower room. i found the shelf i wanted, but it was cheaper than i remembered. i realized they had replaced the old price tag with a new one, cool, a discount! but i have often found that these "new" prices don't get rung up correctly (and without the ability to really explain, i usually let it slide), so for the hell of it, i took a picture of the shelf with the new price tag. when i got to the front, sure enough, the old price came up. i was like, wait. then i showed the guy the picture. ha! he called someone to check on the price and finished ringing up my other stuff. then we stood there awkwardly, and i could just imagine him thinking, "why on earth--? how did she--?" and i just stood there and quietly smirked. and then i got my discount.

and here is some fun...there has been a massive hatch of these caterpillars all over town, and i discovered they will writhe around or vibrate if you blow on them, and i think it's dead hilarious.