Sometimes no mere mortal can prevent the scourge of the Mothers of All Evil! When that torrent comes falling and you’re at work and you remember that your bed sheet is flapping in the wind…. When those cute little Lady Bugs that scuttle like little red buttons up your raspberry vines suddenly multiply into hordes of ferocious, scarlet, winter-woods carpets, when the antenna on your roof breaks loose and threatens to make contact with the antenna of that loathsome Mr. Pinkley next door, when, Lordy no!, Mrs. Igglefleur’s paper grocery bag loses its bottom and her oranges go bouncing down the hill straight toward Mr. Dorpermeyer driving his Cooper Mini while ogling Miss Lukeshins waddling up the street, not watching where he is going…
Who do you call!? Why….Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Never fear! The Laughing Beast, of course! None other! Other than none! None the other! The none of other! Neither none, nor other! Other or none! An other none!? Or none too other? Other when none? None for other? Other, then none? Ohhhh… give me that!
Wah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah (more “h’s” have more effect). It is I, Laughing Beast! The Master of Darkness, when no light there be, but shadows form where there be no light! And among the shadows be I not other than when I am! Me, the Laughing Beast! Hah-Hah! Take that! And That! And that! That-that!
Via Rana, using The Hero Machine. This was a lot of fun to make, but I’m afraid I’m more of a Japanese hero fan. I grew up with Gatcha-Man, Casshern, Ogon-Batto, Tetsuwan Atomu (Atom Boy), Testujin 28 (Gigantor), Ultraman, Eito Man (Eighth Man), Mahha Go Go (Speed Racer), Cutie Honey, and Captain Harlock.
I’ll (try to) be back! Wah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah!
The brochure design project I am working on went though a critical review session yesterday with the hotel people and, while wringing my hands under the table, culminated in the turning point of the design. With my design partner and I anxiously peering at our clients, wondering what they thought, and with me basically sitting there overwhelmed by all the arcane Japanese politesse that was flying between my partner and the reviewers, I kept repeating the litany in my mind: “I will not die if they don’t like my design. I will not die if they don’t like my design. I will not die if they don’t like my design.” I brought my hands out from under the table, picked up, for reassurance, the ball point pen I always use for sketching wherever I go, forced myself to sit up straight, and deliberately, and s-l-o-w-l-y, turned it over in my fingers, to give the impression that I was cool and nonchalant.
Probably the clients didn’t really care. They were all eyes for the brochure. After about five minutes of passing the mockups around, the leader nodded, looked up, and pronounced, “Ma, iijanai?”, which, translated literally means, “Well, good enough, isn’t it?”, but, which in the parlance of Japanese restraint means, “Looks great. Exactly what we were looking for.” There weren’t even any criticisms of the details. My partner turned to me and, tightlipping a restless grin, mouthed , “Fantastic.” It was like a key to a landslide. All the sleepless hours, all the grand visions of failure, all the intimidation of creeping under the shadow of the hotel skyscraper, came tumbling down and disintegrated like popping bubbles at my feet. And, much more than relief, I felt a sense of accomplishment that perhaps I haven’t felt often enough in my life. Good, honest hard work has its own rewards.
Needless-to-say, I feel pretty battered and torn. I tried to get up to go for my daily exercise, but the body had other ideas. I puttered about the apartment, dabbled in blog comments, read some more awful news. And ended up collapsing in my bed like deflated dough. And napped.
I just woke from the nap a little while ago. From a bad dream, actually. I had been dreaming about this beautiful blogger (with the familiar face of a woman I knew back in college… but it’s so unusual… I never have fantasies about blondes…) with whom I had exchanged telephone numbers for some not-too-hard-to-fathom reason. In the dream I gathered up the courage to ring her up. We talked about the topics we both enjoyed writing about, then decided to meet.
The next scene found us standing face-to-face on the street outside my apartment here in Japan, just at a you wish distance apart, mumbling to one another, but already beyond intelligible speech. This woman blogger was about to say something very profound (at least for me), when from all around us a hoard of Japanese children, mostly boys, started gathering. They didn’t speak or move their hands, just advanced toward us. My blogger diva, frightened, clung to me (can’t recall in real life a woman ever clinging to me out of fear), and I, so manly like, pushed through the crowd toward my house (yes, it was a house now). The children grew insistent, however, and a wordless moan rose up among them. The female blogger and I dashed into the house, slammed the door behind us, and threw the lock before anyone could get in.
I switched on the lights. The interior of the house boasted walls stripped down to the frames, moulting armchairs and sofas, and a chandelier that had crashed to the floor. Dust had settled over everything. We tiptoed through the rooms to my studio where my computer was located. I guess I wanted to show my blogger date my stuff. Instead we encountered the entire back wall of my room fitted with a giant 2 meter by 3 meter LCD flat panel monitor (lots of unrequited desires here, no?) on which was running a documentary, narrated by David Attenborough, about tree frog mating habits. My blogger lover and I reached out and took one another’s hands to comfort one another in the face of this monstrous horror.
I noticed that my usual computer desk was gone and that the room was occupied by three beds, and in each bed, wrapped in a bed sheet, facing the monitor, lay a different woman. Each of them sat up and I recognized them: my wife, an old friend from college, and a childhood victim of my puppy love. They said nothing, just sat there staring at me. Did I feel guilt?
The next moment my brother Teja (hi Teja!) walked in through the door, carrying a notebook PC (it wasn’t Apple, that much I am sure). He stopped, held out the PC to me and frowned. Playing on the screen was a news clip of me marching in the antiwar protests here in Tokyo last year. I held a placard with the words, “Out with Bush!” scrawled in black paint on its surface. When the clip was done, my brother lowered the PC and stood to join the women.
My blogger delight was gone. I raised a hand to make my protest when, out of nowhere, the doorbell rang. I tried to open my mouth, and the doorbell rang again…
I woke from my nap. The doorbell was ringing and I could hear the sound of the mailman’s motorcycle.
I slipped out of bed and trotted to the door, opened it. The mailman was dripping wet from rain. He handed me an envelope and asked me to sign it. Which I promptly did. I closed the door behind me and ripped open the envelope.
It was a new credit card from Master Card.
It is 3:00 in the morning, my brain has oozed into the consistency of refried beans, and surely my eyeballs must have loosened in their sockets… Here I am attempting to write copy for the hotel’s restaurant brochure. It’s been a slog of hours now and, by Jove, the words have turned off the Muzak and taken to dancing on the table. What d’ya think, as an introduction to a major offering of victuals:
“The world reeks of flavors. All kinds. And the flavors come with food. All kinds, too. There’re hot flavors, cold flavors, Japanese flavors, French flavors, Korean flavors, and even Karaoke flavors. And they’re all good. Really good. Nothing bad. All really, really good. Cooked by good cooks who can cook good. No really, no one bad. Well, at least not where you can see them. And the seats are straight and the tables don’t wobble. No really. Sturdy as Gigantor. The restaurants are good. You can enjoy food. Come and eat.”
So what do you think? Simple, straight, to the point. Can’t be anything wrong with that! Ugh, gotta get back to the notebook…
Sleep a wink for me, ye Ramblers of the Land of Dreams…
Well, so much for my triumphant Rocky antics. The day following my euphoria and canine empathy session, I woke up to a blithering cold sweat and a stomach playing, “Pass the cheese, please.” I spent a lovely, sunny day staring into the toilet bowl and wishing gravity were on my side. I wore a down quilt about the apartment like a northern king and spent too much time genuflecting to the refrigerator, seeking something, anything that would not offend my oh-so-vapid nose. Nothing doing. The mere whiff of anything hinting of nutrients sent my inner space into earthquake musings, so I finally bowed to my body’s greater wisdom and lay for two days, fasting.
Just when I thought the storm had passed, the vile little space invaders decided to try WMD’s. My fever abandoned me to the exquisite world of pain, and after four weeks of working on my abs for that “leaner, straighter look”, found myself hobbling about the rooms bent over like a wizened old man. “Good evening, my dear,” I was forced to croak to my wife, “Would you be so kind as to help an old pretzel like me to lift a glass of water?” Needless-to-say, that night recounted, for my wife, the sheer joy of the nocturnal callings of wild creatures in the jungle… as she endured the grunting, oofing, moaning, snorting, panting exhortations of this fitful boar, awash in a high fever, beside her.
Yesterday she accompanied me to the hospital. The taxi driver kept flicking nervous glances in the rearview mirror as this foreigner in the back seat of his immaculate car made strange noises that didn’t quite sound like language. I must have looked like a none-too-distant relation of Mr. Hyde, with my dark, unshaven face, cactus hair, and smudged mascara-look under my eyes. The hospital had just opened and the young receptionists, clear-eyed and smiling (I was quite surprised when the entire front desk staff lined up and bowed a cheerful good morning to all and sundry… I breathed to my wife… some unconscious attempt to emulate Marlon Brando upriver, no doubt… oh, the horror, the horror… that I wondered if they were going to sing and dance a scene from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), greeted everyone with an enthusiasm that surely made the venetian blinds wink and the potted plants dance a jig.
Until one of the receptionists met me. She told us that, since this was our first time at this hospital and that we didn’t have a referral from my usual hospital, we would have to cough up Â¥2,000 (about $22.00). I was incensed (as much as I could be that wasn’t already pretty much up in smoke already) and must have slobbered on the counter or something, because she stopped talking and stared at me. Luckily my wife intervened and a rational progression of vocabulary ticked out of her mouth. Both of them didn’t say a word, just silently endured my presence and agreed on the inherent boorishness of men.
The doctor. too, couldn’t restore my lost Rocky Horror Picture show. He greeted me with a pale blue face mask obscuring his features (he did have nice eyes, I have to admit) and a habit of rearing back from me when I leaned in to make a comment. With the avian flu scare and mad cow disease and SARS and worldwide flu epidemic I guess he had every reason to suspect some foreigner who complained of “very painful intestines, possibly due to a semi-satisfying meal (though the company was wonderful) at a Mexican restaurant on Friday night”. He laughed, albeit somewhat with a hiccough, saying, “Ah, you can speak Japanese! That makes me feel much better!”
In the end, it was simply a stomach flu, nothing to notify Doctors Without Frontiers about, or the CIA, or Jean Luc Piccard. I am safely back in my cell, ready to stand up and sing, “The Boar’s Head”.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll give Rocky another go for his money.
I’ve decided that I need to write something funnirial. And challiarging for the speldchicarner. Not anything earslitting or bellyarchical or anaesthysing like that. Just somesting counterlative to the slewt of potaten salad gruftiness of my last fued enteritries. For farth tood long have I wayloaded in svelt-pituity, constantinopoly frocussing upon the darthkling sidelongs of the wyrrald. Therrust must be mortok to the actuallections of darley elixisistentious than wharf the newstactions ripplort abuit the wyrrald. You knyow, that parhips there are actuallectilly goord thyings hiphopning arondel the wyrrald, tood. Like riucht nowst. The suurn cominigith uurp, the firsest liricht of the dyey. It is goord to byen arliv.
(just needed to break out of the regular pattern here. nothing too groundbreaking…)
Maybe because November winds are blowing and daylight is stopping short of 5 o’clock Tokyoites have moulted into blacks and greys and seem more sombre than ever on the trains. In the annual rite of mourning the sunlight, some students file into my classroom on the verge of somnambulism, the same people who had filled the lessons with laughter and energy during the soporific summer heat. The cells know better. It is time to shut down, to conserve your calories, and hide in the shadows. And on the trains dour commuters pinch their frowns a little further.
So it was quite a delight when this elderly couple stepped on the train while I was on my way home tonight. The man wore an old, ill-fitting navy blue suit, and the woman an old grey flannel dress, probably their best clothes. The man’s skin was mahogany brown from a lifetime out in the sun, and his wife wore her hair tied back and had a smile full of flashing gold fillings. The moment they stepped on the train the man’s voice was too loud for the confines of Tokyo sensibilities and everyone turned to stare at them both. The old man had the temerity to turn to the business man reading the newspaper beside him, bow his head, and apologize in his hillside bred voice, “Sorry! Sorry! Just have to push my way into this sardine can and jostle all you folks. Please, don’t mind me. Pay no attention to me.”
His wife pressed her hand over her golden teeth and suppressed a giggle. “Look dear, you shouldn’t bother this nice Tokyo man like that!” The Tokyo man rustled his newspaper but kept his nose buried in the news.
Sitting down right beside the two newcomers was a young couple, probably in their late teens, dressed in the whimsical fashion of those who love trance music. The boy wore a loden green tunic with a hood, and had a leather satchel, studded with bolts, slung over his shoulder. The girl wore an onionskin series of Indian and Indonesian gauzy, printed fabrics, not unlike a moth with gossamer wings. Both of them were deeply involved with one another, faces pressed together, legs entwined, in a way that, here in Japan, definitely meets with clucking disapproval, even glares from the elderly.
The train stopped at one station to wait for the following express train to pass and the two lovers suddenly jumped up and stepped outside. As they stood up, some gum that had been left on the seat pulled in a long green string from the boy’s bottom, with a large green blob fixed to the seat.
The elderly couple, seeing the seats open up made to sit down, but the old man noticed the gum just in time. In a loud voice he called out, “Now who would do such an inconsiderate thing? This is really terrible.” he grabbed the boy’s arm as he made to step off the train. “Did you do this? Would you leave gum on a seat to trouble another person?”
The boy looked back, surprised, “Oh gosh, I’m sorry!” he blurted out at first, then corrected himself. “But I didn’t chew any gum. It wasn’t me.”
The old man frowned, then laughed. He pulled out a newspaper from his wife’s handbag, placed it over the gum on the seat, and announced to everyone in the car, “I’m going to sit down and just have a test to see if this gum will stick to my buttocks. Don’t worry about me!” He plopped down on the newspaper, wriggled his butt, and sighed. “My dear”, he said to his wife. “It’s safe.” She sat down beside him, both of them laughing. For about five minutes, as the train waited, the two of them discussed, in full-throated enthusiasm, the perils and effects of sitting down on wet gum.
After the express train had passed the boy and the girl stepped back into the train and stood in front of the elderly couple. The old man started talking with them, asking where they were from. The two were shy at first, because no one talks to each other on trains in Tokyo, but their demeanor changed as it became clear to the four of them that they all came from the countryside, all from up north in “backward” Tohoku, the boy from Iwate, the girl from Miyagi, and the old man and woman from Fukushima. The old man let out of roar of laughter, folding his arms and nodding. “I’m just an old country bumpkin (“inakappe”) and don’t know anything about living in the big city. Just came here to attend my brother’s funeral, that’s all. And today I went downtown to look at the big electronics stores. And what are you two young uns doing here, anyhow?”
“Studying,” replied the girl, smiling shyly, completely different from the lover making out on the seat just ten minutes earlier.
They talked until the train arrived at the young couple’s station and they both made to leave. “Wait,” said the old man. “How’s the chewing gum on your butt?”
“We got most of it off,” said the girl.
“Lemme have a look,” said the old man, and he made to grab the boy’s buttocks.
“Dear! You don’t go around grabbing strangers’ butts! What will people think?”
The girl hooted with laughter and the boy tried unsuccessfully batting the old man’s hand away while blushing red as a tomato. The old man’s wife managed to subdue her husband and let the young couple exit the train. They looked back, laughed, and waved good bye. I was sitting half a seat length away, barely able to keep from joining in the laughter. Everyone else peered down at their shoes or newspapers or cell phones, frowning, pretending they hadn’t witnessed a thing.
At the next station the elderly couple got off and fell behind as the train pulled away. The train fell silent again and I watched the rain hitting the window panes. But a warmth remained. A sense of a vital force having just passed through, like a fresh wind. I got off at my station and whistled as I walked home, in the dark.