Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Moominpappa's Memiors, by Tove Jansson. A wonderful series that I remember from my childhood by a Finnish author. Her Moomins are very popular, at least in image, here in Japan. I don't know how widely read the stories are, but they are quite good, fantasies about these small creatures and their friends, but written in chapter book form and with lots of really great big words, like lugubrious and meerschaum.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Scootering home on the highway the other night, I saw an accident with two motorcycles and a truck. There weren't any bloody corpses apparent, but there wern't any emergency vehicles at the scene yet either.
And yesterday, I was heading down a small, one-lane, blind-corner road when a truck came tearing around the turn. I was going pretty slow, and luckily, because we both slammed on our breaks and i jerked to the right to avoid hitting his truck. We were nose to nose, my bike a little askew of him, but yet there wasn't enough room on the road for me to get by.
The guy was young, and he looked shocked. I was grim, but reached up to tap the window and motioned for him to continue up the road, as I couldn't pass until he moved. He drove on. I hope that the encounter will encourage him to drive more carefully in general and to mind us little scooters, but who knows.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

in the cold cold night

riding my motorbike home at 9pm, i keep seeing these guys around the neighborhood. there may be women too, but i've only seen men so far. they sit on the street corners on folding chairs, holding clipboards. I can't tell what they're doing, and they don't seem to be interviewing anyone.
it's really cold out these days, and especially at night. i wouldn't want to be outside for 30 seconds more than i had to, but these people are apparantly sitting around, doing... what?
-vigilantes, neighborhood watchdogs, scanning the scene for crime?
-carspotters, kind of like trainspotters but more boring?
-sociologists, monitoring the behavior of drivers vs. pedestrians?
who the hell are they?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

ahh love

Teaching little kids is sometimes very hard, and often really awesome. I have big respect for real teachers, which I am not really. But this is my main job, and here in this country, we get away doing this with very little training. I've done it a bit before, so I'm not a total novice - but there's a lot more I could learn, and I'm certainly not the best teacher I could be.

I really love my kids, and that helps. There are very few who I don't love, and even them, I want to love them at least a little. My company doesn't provide much training or support, so I'm mostly winging this, going on instincts, and trying as much as I can to relate to the kids and teach them in a way that is fun and intuitive.

One of my most popular kids' songs right now is "Shake your sillies", a song with lots of body movement and dancing around. The little ones especially love it, in the 2-5 age group. Today, Mutsuki and Tomoka came into class grinning, and as their mom left, they ran toward the stereo, saying, cd! sing! I asked them - "do you want to sing a song?", and Tomoka threw her arms around my knees and looked up at me, shouting, "the wiggle one!" How could I refuse? So we shook our sillies and wiggled our wobbles away. Singing is great, and for the kids who don't have inhibitions about it, it's a wonderful way to learn, especially songs that are instructive.

Little kids age fast - right at the beginning of conciousness, it seems that they develop at lightning speed. On the other end, we have the elderly, people like my grandparents and the old fart musicians, fading with equally alarming rapidity. But I feel like I'm somewhere in the middle: slowly inching older, but not showing change day to day, hour to hour any more. Change feels almost imperceptible right now. I crave having these two kinds of people around me as a shock to the system, reminding me both of the potentiality of life and the fullness of life lived long. Show me the way, wee ones and grannies - I'm following you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


This is a few years old and pretty naive but I am posting without edits.

One summer, 21 years old, I decided to spend summer by the sea: The cool misty Oregon coast, the town of Newport.
Our house was situated only blocks from the beach, painted bright blue and white. Across the street was an ex-hostel cum rooming house where there lived old people and less old people, made old by smoking on the porch for hours, hours, stolidly peering through the smoke cross the street into my wild yard. George the fire-swallower lived there, and a woman who was rumored to love scrabble. Cranky, manky sea dogs, snaggle toothed and weathered as the creaky wooden houses lining the beachfront. An ocean mural was painted on the side of the building. The real ocean just three minutes' walk, the waves sending up spray over by Jump Off Joe, sculpting the sand into tiny perfect crests.
Nights I worked at a small outdoor café replete with tiny lights and small children - mischievous, big-eyed kids playing the harmonica and drawing on the sidewalk with colored chalk. Tables nestled under trees and around firepits, and a torch overhead illuminated us below. The café was filled with weird, beautiful people with open, generous hearts. Laurie, the owner and mother of four of the children, steered the place with nervous energy bordering on terrific hysteria. Her vulnerable blue eyes laughed as easily as cried, her love was freely given. Night after night we drank organic Guatemalan coffee and ate chocolate things and danced to the strummings and singings of Rick and Joe and Jimmy and June.
All summer strange and wonderful travellers from near and far stepped into and out of our lives. Bringing dreams carried across miles and water, they slept on our floor and in the yard, telling stories and drawing pictures, casting their eyes all around. Chocolate eyes drinking you up; Mikael took photographs and dug his bare toes in the sand, doing cartwheels with me by the ocean. Flashing devilish blue eyes, winking and wicked; Jason from England cycled down the West coast, pausing for two days looking to chat someone up with his charm on full. Hazel eyes darting round and his mouth moving like windup chattering teeth; Hans told elaborate lies, decorating every word. Lustful eyes, glancing and leering; Geert painted beautiful naked ladies and tried to get me to sleep with him. Friendly eyes peered over sunglasses; Liz’s lush mouth broke into a gorgeous grin as she unloaded her panniers. Coaldark eyes, alert and noticing; Naif kissed me on the cheek as they drove away and left a wish in my heart.
Night walks along the shore, day trips with friends and Spanish classes and bingo at the VOA across the way. Wednesday night bingo: filled with area senior citizens, cheap pineapple upside-down cake, and smoke. Experience told me that respect in the bingo parlor is earned, not given, so I toughed it out, bringing my mandatory collection of daubers and good luck charms, coming every week. At first it's vicious, with Ethel and Gordon across the aisle muttering epithets when you get lucky. But gradually, though the dagger glares don’t stop altogether, they being to call you honey. They begin to know your name.
Joe was my benevolent bingo angel. He played Saturday nights at my magic café, and Wednesday and Sundays he filled in as the caller, announcing the numbers with style and grace. I think Joe was in his fifties or so; glasses, grey hair thinning, crooked teeth, a grotty beard and mustache, a plug of a nose, a blues man’s soul. Crinkled peering eyes, a fresh plaid shirt; he called my numbers, he rocked and rolled. He had a friendly way, and a gentle nature. I thought nothing more until one night, dancing at Laurie’s dad’s wake, Joe caught me up. Hesitantly, he asked me if he had a
chance with me. He looked at his shoes. “I know I’m old, older than you,” he said. “But I’m not in my mind.” And there by the punch bowl, with the night air coming in and the music going out, I got a little sad and a little scared and my heart broke a little bit. Because my small faith in Joe had been pierced and there was an ache in my chest for him. I couldn’t conceive of how to fix this so it was better, how to give a magic gift of youth or a narrowing of a generation gap or of my own prejudices. I am no Harold. I could not perpetuate this hope. How could my benevolent bingo angel do this thing? Mummified, I stepped into the night. The trees choked the roads and the dark pounded down. I headed for home, my little blue and white house by the sea. Passing the VOA, the library, the rooming house. I packed up my daubers and my little cot, my postcards and scotch tape and airline blankets and water glasses. Soon my car was full and my house was not. I drove around the block. I walked down to the waterside. The buoys and boats blinked in the distance. The lighthouse watched. Joe, I am not good enough for you. My young and foolish heart is not match for your tough and tender one. I drove into the dark and the town was swallowed up behind me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

trying to put it into words

since losing all of my grandparents recently, i feel a real dearth of older people in my life. i have a lot of young kids around me these days, but i'm missing the other end of the spectrum.

Monday, November 07, 2005

old timey

The other night I went to a small live house in Akabane with my parents and old family friends. The Suzukis have known my parents since before I was born, a fact that Mr. S. pointed out to the singer of the rockabilly band we were there to see. The Suzukis have been frequenting this bar for awhile, and have made friends with both the barkeep and the band, to the extent that the band played at their daughter's wedding.
The bar is very small, seating perhaps 30 people at capacity, which it was filled to that night. Everyone in the place looked over forty, with the exception of myself and a girl at the front next to the stage, who turned out to be the singer's fourth-grade daughter. The table next to us was filled with septa- and octo-genarians, one of whom remarked that we were the kokusai (international) table tonight. Their table was a lively one, the old folks knocking back the drinks, coffee, and cigarettes with impressive alacrity.
The band mildly rocked, playing lots of Elvis covers and the like. They wore a rockabilly uniform of coveralls (singer/rhythm guitar), overalls (stand-up bass), flannel shirt (guitar), and jeans. The guitarist, who had played with some of Elvis's ex-backup musicians at some past date, was talented, with lots of hot licks and a charmingly demure stage presence, offsetting the singer's slightly obnoxious hamminess. The singer spent approximately fifty percent of the stage time telling anecdotes and jokes, most of which, being in Japanese, went over my head. He kept poking fun at the table of old timers, guessing at their age and making predictions about their demise. The old folks took it in stride, shooting witty, cranky comebacks toward the stage.
After an hour set, the frontman told the crowd that the old-timers were actually old-time rock stars, and after a little cajoling, coerced them on to the stage. Two guys and a woman took the stage and belted out a beautiful Hawaiian wedding song; next she sang a near-impeccable Tennessee Waltz. Then another old guy replaced her and sang his ass off, doing Sunny Side of the Street complete with Louis Armstrong vocal chops.
They were utterly fantastic: their English talent in singing and stage presence blew the other band out of the water; but even that aside, they had something the other band didn't. Grace, style that didn't come with hokey requisite costumes, genuine likability rather than trying-too-hard comedy...
The rockabilly frontman reclaimed the stage a bit later, with jokes about how the old fogeys' group was called the "Heabenly Fathers", who could sing to you from the other world. But while I'm not sure I would pay to see his band again, if the Heavenly Fathers were on the bill, I would certainly attend. Jokes aside, these folks' time probably IS running short, making them seem all the more valuable. I couldn't seem to get a good picture of them with the crappy camera phone - maybe the halo around the lead singer is indicative of something.
After the show, we saw a few of the old folks in the train station, and told them how much we had enjoyed the show. I hope to see them again on this side of the great divide.