lørdag, september 30, 2006

Explosive Laughter

Oh, wow. Yakov Smirnoff is still going with the Russian comedy bit. His Web site includes a warning about "Explosive Laughter" and "Dynamite Russian Comedy."

Visiting his site leads me to believe that Branson, Missouri is the city about which I've most often said, "Dear god."

Just a little light fare for the weekend. Some things you can depend on.

fredag, september 29, 2006

Pardon the Interruption

But this just grossed me out:

A young man comes into the coffee shop. He's fidgetty. He has this horrible habit of kicking his leg out a bit, as if shaking off a cramp or maybe trying to undo a wedgie. It's sort of what a leg would do if it was impersonating Rodney Dangerfield adjusting his tie.

The young man orders two massives donut-like pastries. He's totally housing them. There's even like a full-torso and head hitch as he raises the pastries to his mouth. He's really into this.

And then he gets up. And goes into the bathroom. With his pastries.

Food is NOT to be brought into a bathroom. Ever.

Your Excuse

The Danes have given you an excuse to exercise less: it's better for you. From the Copenhagen Post.


I recall reading a note about Franz Kafka that detailed how he stayed up all night once writing a story. That isn't a feat, really. But it was what the night meant to him. It was his crucible--his proof to himself that he was a writer. He would write until he finished the story. It took a night.

Or so the story goes.

Jetlag has made me feel this way. I'm not sleeping at night. I'm a sleepwalker during the day. My mind is running non-stop. When I sleep, I sleep lightly and dream much and wake frequently.

I slept briefly two nights ago, but woke in a state of fear not recognizing my hotel room. Then I realized that I was in my own bedroom. I was home. This was Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Yet it still didn't look familiar. The fear remained.

It's been a year of travel. As we enter October, I realize I've spent 2.5 months of the year away from my city. It's a strange feeling. The year has been thrilling, but it's left something of a homelessness in me. Or maybe what I mean is a placelessness.

(God that word looks nuts: placelessness. It looks like a dinosaur's name, though doesn't sound like one. Or maybe it's just the jetlag and insomnia doing things to my eyes.)

Random thought:
I like my chef's to have a belly and my chef's assistants to be without. I feel the exact opposite of nearly all other professions.

So at 4 pm yesterday I fell into another dream coma and woke at 9:30. The need to pee forced me out of bed, but I wanted to stay there under the comforter, especially with the new bedding and the chilly air in the room. In the back of my mind, the nagging version of me kept saying that if I want to enter the Zoetrope All-Story fiction contest, I need to send the manuscript today (Friday, September 29). So I got out of bed, emptied this bastard we call a bladder, and fired up the computer.

I was determined to write until I could (legitimately) say I'd finished the story. I worked from 10 to 2:30, writing, reading aloud, rewriting. I drank tea to keep my hands warm. (This apartment is frigid tonight: low 50s.) I took breaks to walk about and think about other things, which usually consisted of telling myself (aloud) to stop writing. But I kept returning to it.

Weeks from now, I'll look at what I wrote. I'll decide I'm insane. I'll decide I suck. I've already decided both of those things, but in a few weeks, I'll have the clarity of mind to analyze the proof.

But I feel good for having subjected myself to this. I couldn't sleep after the writing. I gave up. I've returned to the computer. Now the weight of gravity is different. I've sleeplessness to thank for that, I think. The world shifts in my vision a bit, like that camera effect used in Batman Begins to show the drugged up perspective of certain characters.

The sun is still 90 minutes away. I'm eating rice. I'm drinking tea. Elizabeth will have the baby soon, quite soon. Before the sun has set on Monday. Tom and Hope marry in a month. Erin and Jim are now engaged. (Coincidentally, both sibling engagements occurred while I was in Asia; one while in Korea in June, one last week while in Japan. Asia and I are an engine of law-bound love.) And autumn is painting the leaves throughout the neighborhood.

Somewhere back in the noise and lights of Tokyo, as I wandered endlessly and spoke only a few words aloud each day, a tremendous calm entered my heart.

I'd like to think it was the wolf in me finally being put at bay. I'd like to think that he's turned his fury and hunger to more valued endeavors, such as focused writing rather than this desperate scramble of unreason and doubt and obsessive scribbling. I'd like to think that all the inner vagabonding and all the intentional self-defeating decisions have played themselves out, that they've wandered into the valley and gotten lost and have set themselves down for a very long nap. Not even the coming storm can wake them. But only time will tell.

You can't outrun your shadow.

I know this much: these are gorgeous days.

torsdag, september 28, 2006

Gang Signs of the Deaf

Though this bum foot bone is a temporary gig, I'm considering getting a cane just to avoid the sort of panic thoughts that strike me when I know people notice the limp. I'm so not prepared for what to do if people do not believe me. I'm not prepared for what to do when I cannot believe that people believe me, and that I cannot believe that people aren't thinking something about it.

It's illogical, yes, it's a Riplian logic (as in the parlor tricks one might believe or not), but perhaps I actually can read minds, but only their scarred, deeply archived, seldom-accessible files of teenage subconscious paranoia.

(More than likely, I'm only projecting my own.)

It's a Sisyphan task. In lieu of a rock, I push a large, quivering, gelatin sphere in the center of which is a jiggling, blue rose.

Gang Signs in Aisle Five

Home from two weeks in Japan and greeted by an apartment I'd abandoned in such a paper-strewn state I thought I had been robbed or was actually a heroin addict in a made-for-tv movie, I had to get out. I needed groceries. Mostly, I needed low-fat vanilla yogurt, because I'm a creature of habit, and because between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 a.m., I suffer an unjustifiable interest in ingesting only foods that don't require real chewing.

So I limped a circuit through the grocery store. In the cereal aisle, a woman spoke in sign language to a wide-back, slump-shouldered young man who stood stockstill in a way that made me think his eyes might be closed and his mouth slightly open. There was a somnambulic ease to it all.

The signing was in my peripheral vision, and it caused me to glance twice, once at the motioning, and again to assure myself that I hadn't been waved to or perhaps this was someone gesticulating wildly, in which case I'd look just for the sake of people-watching.

Nope. Sure enough, it was sign language. Maybe she was the deaf one. Maybe they were both deaf. Her lips moved with her words but not even a restrained breathiness escape with the movement of her mouth, so I assumed she was deaf (though obviously this should have made me believe she was either mute or could hear and knew how to silence what is often a faintly audible, hot-breath mouthing of words...the latter trait often hilariously afflicting people listening to music on headphones).

Once upon a time, I lived across the hall from a chain-smoking writer whose sister was deaf. I asked him what her dreams were like. She'd never known sound. He said she dreamt in images and tremors. Walls and tables vibrated, that sort of thing. The whole world in her dreams had a bit of motion and instability to it.

That fascinates me.

The woman in the grocery store met my eyes on my second glance. I could sense some distrust from her, and it made me think three things:

1. She thought my look was to sign fear or disgust, something of an "Oh, oh dear god, there are DEAF people in my path!"

2. She thought I was faking my limp, perhaps even to mock her (or his) disability by faking one myself.

3. She or he was both deaf and had a limp. (Double whammy!)

Once upon a time, a beat up car passed my family's car on the highway. The absent back window had been replaced with a white sheet of plastic that was, by this point, breaking up, a piece of it fluttering behind the car. The vehicle was in need of a new muffler. The license plate had a handicap symbol. The plate's handle: YMELORD.

It was magical, that moment.

So I limp past the sign-language woman. The young man has yet to move. The woman stops signing. She watches me. In a David Lynch film, this is the moment that deep-welling synth-and-horn score intensifies.

As I pass, she sort of leans against the cereal shelves, just angles her body towards the tireless order of packaged goods. Yellow boxes. Blue boxes. Orange boxes.

It was a very streetlike gesture. As was the slow, seemingly sarcastic way in which she folded her arms--shoulders rising, forearms lifting her breasts, her head dropping a touch--all the while watching me.

onsdag, september 27, 2006

Dine and Dance

1. Sweet fancy Moses! This is perhaps the most satisfying gross-out bit of culinary prose the BBC has ever published. Well written, alarming, and very funny. I'd totally like to share a meal with the article's server (Nancy)...but I'd insist on choosing the menu.

2. I know that many of you consider video viewing over the internet to be tedious, but don't you want to see some 1970s' Finnish music? You do. Please. You won't regret it...especially once the dancing takes over. So get yourself to NoisedFisk and watch. NOTE: The volume on the video starts at nothing, so use your cursor to hear "I Wanna Love You Tender."

Yoshida and Tanaka

Written on departing Yokohama for Shibuya, September 23:

Each day I play a game with Yoshida and Tanaka. I clean my hotel room in Yokohama, but I put a few things slightly out of alignment. Yoshida and Tanaka, the maids who re-clean my room, correct each one of these imperfections and find ways to establish even greater order among things I’d believed we’d already settled upon.

Unable to choose what clothes to wear on the first day, I left some rejected schemes on the spare bed. I returned to find these items folded neatly on the edge of the bed.

I’d also left a bit of coin stacked and the rest haphazard on the cover of a book. I returned to find all my books and coins neatly stacked on the sill behind the gauzy curtain. Each book was centered within the frame of the larger book beneath, the coins were centered to the side.

On the nightstand, a little card had been signed YOSHIDA. The game was afoot.

After breakfast the next morning, I hurried back to my room to clean before the first lectures in the conference hall. I folded unused clothes and closed all but one drawer flush against dresser. I left that drawer peeking out just a touch. I started a folded dirty-clothes pile in the luggage closet. I restacked my coins and books. I wiped up the water drops around the sink, draped the rag to the side so the room would look appropriately lived in but orderly. I arranged some toiletries in something of a square.

When I returned that evening, the toiletries had been rearranged in a close line, as if marshaled for duty. Some business cards I’d neglected on the desk had been stacked and centered in a little open zone at the front of the desk between my computer and the desk edge. The drawers were flush. The books were perfect.


This continued with me trying new arrangements to trick them each morning. I’d move the pens 5 degrees out of alignment on the memo pads by the phones. No dice. Yoshida caught it. Did she pack a protractor in her supplies carrier?

Lollie suggested I leave one shirt unfolded and another folded but not with skill on the bed to see what would happen.

We knew. So did Tanaka. She refolded them. Perfectly.

A crooked wastebasket, two receipts on the desk, the position of my shampoo in the shower: Yoshida and Tanaka had an orderly answer for everything and new answers for the things I hadn’t touched.

It got so that I did things like wipe out and dry the soap holder—I even DRIED THE SOAP!!—just to see if I could detect whether they let one inch of the room go unchecked.

No deal, cK. Y & T were on a mission, and they succeeded.

tirsdag, september 26, 2006

The Six-Week Limp

Penned 14 hours ago over a Sapporo draft in Tokyo's Narita Airport:

I’ve made it as far as the airport. And I broke a foot to get here. Seriously.

While running for the Narita Express in Shinagawa Station with only 2 minutes between my connecting train’s arrival and the Express’s departure, I felt a pop on the outside of my right foot. As I’ve had this same break twice before it’s old hat. A crappy hat, but a familiar one. One must remember now not to lift the toes. That’s about all. And one must wait six weeks for the ache to subside. Dammit.

But if you’re to break a bone, I’d recommend a small fracture on the outside of your foot up towards the pinky toe. It’s annoying, but it doesn’t pulse and is useless to cast. All in all, not horrible.

Plus, you gain the sort of bone barometer that will allow you to say in your old age, “There’s a storm a-comin’.” Hey: Perk.

The whole day has just been bonkers. I had the same dream twice last night: a faceless woman and I were talking about strange striping that had crept into my hair. The lower ends were blonde, the middle black, the top brown. When I pulled at my hair for a sample, a large tuft of this striped hair came out along with some maggots and mud. Even the faceless woman was grossed out.

I woke up. I went back to sleep. I dreamt it again, woke, and stayed awake. I tried to reread from Pychon’s Crying of Lot 49, but it seemed noiser than even Shibuya. I couldn’t keep a bit of it in my head. It was like a literary Pachinko parlor.

And then it was 10 and I had to get to Shibuya Station. The morning commute was thinning, but I still had a crowd to battle as I huffed and hoofed it like a pack mule up flights of stairs to the third level where the JR connections to the airport depart. I needed to get to Shinagawa Station, at which point I’d change trains for the Narita Express, which had stopped at Shibuya Station up until 14 minutes prior to my ticket purchase. So I had to connect at the next major stop.

This was not an easy feat as the platform is at the top of the station and way the hell away from the normal madness. You scale the stairs in the commuter sea. You walk down a rather long corridor, down more steps (because you’ve gone up so many). There is no one for information but other passengers.

So I get to the platform and find that I’ve missed the Shinagawa train. It’s closing in on 10:30. That’s how long it took to get to the platform: 20 minutes.

I take the escalator up to the ticket turnstile and ask the fare adjustment agent what train I need. “Go to Osaki,” he says. “Platform 4.”

I turn to see the Platform 4 train arriving in two minutes. Back down the escalator. I look up at the platform route marker and see Osaki, yet it isn’t part of the Narita route. It’s a totally different line.

Here’s where one must trust that young businessmen in Japan know a bit of English and that if they do not, they very well may identify someone nearby who knows enough to issue directions. I walked up to one man and asked for his help. He was about 32, my age. He had a sharp suit and an easy manner of waiting. He fit the description.

“I need to get to Narita,” I said.

“Narita,” he says. “You must go to Shinagawa.”

He stared at my ticket.

I added, “They say Osaki.”

“Yes!” he says. Now he has it for me. “Osaki. Then you change trains. You go one station to Shinagawa. One station. And then you take…” he looked up. His eyes blinked rapidly. He said, “Thirteen. That will be your Narita track. In Shinagawa.”

“Shibuya to Osaki. Change trains,” I said. He nodded. “Osaki to Shinagawa. Change trains.” He nodded. “Shinagawa to Narita.”

The train to Osaki would leave at 10:35. My Express ticket was good for the 10:50 departure. Start the Run Lola Run music!

“Yes,” he said. “I take you to Osaki, okay? And show you where to go for Shinagawa.”

This is both typical and wonderful about Tokyo.

So we boarded the train together and talked. He apologized for his English. (All Japanese apologize for speaking good English.) He’d been to the United States once, eight years ago, for his honeymoon. They went to Los Angeles and Hawaii.

“Hawaii!?” I said. I was incredulous. I was jealous.

“Yes, it…it…Hawaii is very nice,” he said. His smile remained and he looked to the side both puzzling through some English—his lips moved—and remembering the trip.

He wanted to know what I found most interesting in Japan. I told him the trains. I told him the way people were kind to one another. I told him people laughed a lot in Japan, that they understood how to be happy. “I’m very comfortable here,” I told him. “I’d like to have a longer stay in the future.”

“My company,” he said, “they have offices in California. So maybe I can go back to California again.”

“Maybe for your tenth anniversary,” I suggested. (US Board of Tourism! I’ll take my check now, thank you.)

He laughed. “I think my wife will say the money is too much.” He made a joyous gesture of handing out money everywhere.

Osaki arrived and we queued for the escalator, at the top of which I had to muscle my bags up another short flight of stairs. (Being a mule or sherpa must suck.) The businessman pointed towards a down escalator to another platform.

“I’m going this way,” he said, motioning to the exit gates, “but you go there. You will get to Shinagawa. One stop.”

I still had two good feet. I was full of hope. Talking with him had been such a nice break from the frenzy. I thanked him, and as we parted he smiled magnificently and patted me lightly on the shoulder and said, “Okay. Good friends.”

fredag, september 22, 2006

Turkey Does the Right Thing, Finally

Author Elif Shafak has been cleared of charges in Turkey.

We had cool weather here in Yokohama today. A nice change from the steamy, typhoon-induced weather. Here's hoping the autumn refreshment continues in Tokyo, as I return in the morning.

torsdag, september 21, 2006

Dreams (But Not About Kurasawa)

That all experience is incomplete. That the curve of the earth and ten hashes of latitude makes sunlight seem to fall from a different star. That a life’s distance from Japan makes everything in Japan seem new, and this newness makes the eyelids defy gravity.

One does not need sleep, not yet. Not yet.

But for the first time in a week on this side of the Pacific I could really sleep. I couldn’t do anything else. My head buzzed from so much food last night that I fell under, deliriously poisoned. I slept so deeply that when I woke at 5:15 a.m. with the sun, which burned orange as an overcooked egg yolk in the harbor's white haze, I could not find the episodes I’d dreamed but knew I’d dreamed them. I’d left them far back in my head, on a beach, in a cave, at the bottom of a small blue bowl full of rose petals and dead bees. Or perhaps I'd left them far forward, since dreams come in the rather light and generally concluding stage of sleep.

I'm scattered now. Maybe it’s because today comes after a sudden sleep in the wake of so little sleep. I feel wonderful, but I’m reaching the point in a conference at which I know my best efforts are not there and that I have to choose carefully where I direct my energy, lest I do damage to either my company’s image or my own, the latter scenario also negatively impacting the company, which would not be so bad if the company was not small and the child and charge of good friends.

I’m at the stage of the conference at which the coziness of this professional community begins to feel like a small town. One is greatly attached to many of its characters and intrigues but longs for space at certain times.

The opening of the elevator doors accelerates the heart. No bathroom is private. The eyes may not rest.

But small joys gather on the other side of the scale. Colleagues break from the academic discourse and tell stories of embarrassment. You're shown baby photos on cell phones. The waitress in the hotel's bayside café seems ready to laugh that for the third—or is this fourth?—day in a row I’ve ordered an iced latte in the afternoon. She smiles in a way that says, “Yes, I know.”

Travelers are curious people. I watch them, I adore watching them, but I’m not silly enough to think I’m immune to being shelved in another's curiosity shop.


Russia is Another Story

The now-very-dead Russian writer Daniil Kharms wrote a great number of short stories. Joyce referred to his as epiphanies. Kharms referred to his as incidences. Kharms’ work was very short, many of the stories not exceeding 500 words. (Most, actually, were probably sub-300.)

I like Daniil’s writing, but it's rarely forward in my thoughts. I had occasion to recall him yesterday when a Russian colleague (now happily based in New Zealand) told me two jokes, after the first of which he apologized once his shoulders had stopped shaking from the laughter.

“I’ve a strange sense of humor,” he said. “Dark, I think.”

I shook it aside. I said, “It’s not unusual, but it is very Russian.”

(This was not a comment about his background, as he knew it better than I, of course. It’s just a cultural note that acknowledges how language and shoes are not the only divisions in this world.)

And then he told the second.

The First Joke

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet walk into the woods. Winnie walks in front. Piglet walks behind. Now the forest is getting dark, the trees are really thick. Suddenly Winnie turns around and smacks Piglet right in the face! Piglet says, “Winnie! Why did you do that!?” and Winnie says, “Because you never know what the pig behind you is thinking.”

The Second Joke

A woman is walking at night. She’s in a city and the sounds of her footsteps echo against the walls. But she hears someone else’s steps too. The steps are behind her. So she walks faster but the other person walks faster too. She turns many corners, so does the other person. She starts to run. The other person runs. Now her heart is racing and she runs around a last corner. She finds herself in an alley with a brick wall at the end. She looks around wondering what to do. She turns. There’s the shadow of a man. She shouts, “What do you want with me!? What are you going to do!?” and he says, “I don’t know. This is your dream.”

onsdag, september 20, 2006


Too busy to write about last night's awesome dinner in central Yokohama. (Multiple courses, the translator sitting next to me, my curiosity as to whether shark fin soup actually contained shark fin, etc.) In lieu of a blog post, I'll recommend you read about two of Saint Paul's most well-know roommates.

tirsdag, september 19, 2006


I'm curious whether the citizens of other nations that have major Chinatowns feel surprised when they voyage and encounter another Chinatown in another country.

Tonight I was fortunate enough to visit Yokohama's kickass Chinatown. I'd heard much about it and seen some lovely photographs through images at Flickr.com, but I hadn't put this part of the city on my official list of things to do during this conference.

Luck was on my side. Luck is often the result of one's own hesitation to take action. It struck twice tonight.

So there we were outside the exhibit hall, Lol and I. She was looking for a client-like dinner. "I've got one more sale in me," she said.

I had nothing. I wasn't even sure I was hungry. But I stalled. I stalled long enough to have her get the dinner invite she'd quietly and quite successfully conjured. She said: "What I really want is a dinner with the South Africans."

That wasn't really a sales wish. That was a guilty pleasure wish...though we might find money in it down the line. Really, it was a guilty pleasure to spend the evening with the South Africans. I'm pleased as punch I got to ride Lollie's coattails. Moments after she'd wished this, one of the SAs walked up. Lol asked what he was doing tonight. He said he and a group were going to Chinatown. He invited her to dinner. And since I was the chipper-faced yahoo standing next to her, he politely asked me. Sweet.

We'd sat in the hotel bar last night near a thick knot of this international group. (They were from South Africa but a couple had emigrated to Australia.) In the bar, nearly all of them spoke Afrikaans--a language/dialect I really don't think I even knew about. Lol mentioned it. I said, slowly. "A-fri-KAANS?"

Lol liked the sound of the language. I did too. It reminded me of Danish with its bubbling tones, all soft sounds clipped together and skipping along. Mixed with accents that told a history of South African imperialism (English pronunciation contained elements of Welsh, Scottish and English), the sound of conversation was as lovely to hear as the meaning (when I caught it).

Afrikaans is descended from the Dutch.

So nine of us took the train three stops to Chinatown, wandered in a couple blocks, and paused long enough outside a restaurant to read the menu that a young man stepped out and spoke to us in English. Luck had rattled its sabre a second time.

It was his family's restaurant. He was the only one working there who spoke English. He'd been studying at the University of Kent, England for five years.

What a meal! Gorgeous food. The spicey tofu was particularly good.

But it was the dinner table conversation that really rocked. A wonderful blend of stories and casual thoughts. Loads of laughter.

I feel blessed.

mandag, september 18, 2006

Strangers in Shibuya

So I went running on Saturday morning at 5:30 because I was still having trouble sleeping. This was in Tokyo's Shibuya neighborhood, or district, or ward. Call it what you will.

Back in Saint Paul, I run the hill roads daily. It keeps my attention more than flat courses. In Shibuya there were many roads winding up Love Hotel Hill, at the base of which I stayed (and will return following this week in Yokohama).

As it turned out, the clubs spilled their contents onto the streets between 5 and 5:30: all the kids, drunk and disoriented, emerge with the dawn while the business garbage bags placed along the curbs during the night are collected by the morning crews.

Many of these clubs were woven into the hill. As I turned out of the hotel and took my first steps, it became apparent that the run would have its difficulty. I had to dodge waves of very drunk youngins who were making their way toward Shibuya Station to buy yogurt and Red Bull and gelatin and such at the convenience stores and hop trains home. Many of them just found a place in public to sit and sober up or nap.

One girl hobbled down the hill in wooden sandals, her short steps clop-clop-cloping while she held what seemed to be her preferred hangover hand on her forehead. She wore a beige bathrobe, open, with nothing beneath.

I saw her the next morning outside my hotel as I returned with a grape gelatin cup loaded with tiny pieces of fruit I ate with a tiny spoon. She was clothed this time. She was drunk, yes, but hadn't been shuttled to the pain stage. Not yet at least. She said to me, "Why you no run today?" before her buzz swept her sideways as if an invisible off-stage hook had taken hold of her and given a good tug. She staggered off looking through the side of her own head for guidance, all the while laughing.

Everyone was laughing. Everything was laughable.

Sunset happens here earlier than I expect. Sunrise happens well too soon.

On a street fifteen minutes later, lathered up from my run, I wound up in a slow-moving, downhill crowd that stank strongly of beer. We were walking, sort of, and watching police order young men to take off their shirts as they exited a club. The young men were compliant with the stripping, but then started screaming what I think were obscenities. The police calmly went about their business, one shirtless man after another, gently moving each one aside with a baton and dismissing them. There didn't seem to be a reason to it all. Maybe it was candid camera.

We all found it amusing.

In this mob I passed a hooker who'd been working the narrow street next to my hotel the previous night. She'd solicited me that evening (to no success, hey). She'd tried in Japanese but I'd said one of the only Japanese phrases I feel confident about: "Sorry. I don't speak Japanese." I said something like that.

So in this slow-moving crowd she spots me and takes up alongside. We're just having a stroll, chatting, watching these cats strip for the police. She says, "Now I try English. You come for Japanese massage and shower." (Was this a crack about my sweating?) "We have apartment very near," she says. "It's very nice."

I thanked her but passed. There was an energy in her eyes though. Or maybe some drug. Whatever it was, it was comfortable. I got the impression that in the world outside her work, if she was every really free of it, she was probably quite a funny person. And funny people are so often secretly, or sometimes we wish more secretly, sad.

It's the sort of thing you can't think on too long or it'll take you in.

We walked a few more steps, trading some impish glances. The air was awful, all diesel, yeast and urine; and plenty of refuse had yet to be collected. But there was a breeze sweeping up the hill from the direction of the station. I said, "It's a nice morning, isn't it."

"Yeah!" she said, cheerfully, and punched my arm. We were pals, man.

She added, "So you come now. After massage, I give you free blow job!"

This reminds me: In Copenhagen earlier this month, while walking the edge of Nyhavn towards the bridge to Christianshavn, I passed a Thai massage parlor with a stark red sign on the white door: NO SEX.

I'd intended to walk up the same road that night to see if she'd have anything new to say. I'd become fond of her. She was part of my Tokyo, which having come into the world less than 48 hours before was as narrow and noisy as the few sidestreets I shared with the real Tokyo.

But in the rush of light and sound, I went another way, sat with my notebook in the din of another joint, and wrote a bit about her.

søndag, september 17, 2006

A Poem

Because it's got more going on than my first, endlessly jet-lagged, WAY over-stimulated post from Japan: a poem from Paul Guest.

Because I've been thinking about it for the last four or five days. It's really quite good. Please read it.

lørdag, september 16, 2006

Navigation: Harajuku

NOTE: Finally have internet hook up here in Yokohama. This hotel room view of the bay is gorgeous. Will upload photos in a week or two when I've returned.

I'm so terrible with directions that I rarely make an effort to follow them. I said goodbye long ago to suffering any stress about not being anywhere on time or even knowing where I am. One must have adventures.

So on my first day in Tokyo I took the train from Shibuya to Harajuku, just one stop north. I waited until about noon to allow the morning commuters to have their way on things.

The train commute is wild. It looks like one of those crazed photos that appear from Iraq or Pakistan--those photographs depicting a bus loaded like a phone booth jam. The trains in Tokyo look like that during the commuter rush.

I was ambling about Shibuya's curving, hilly streets on my first morning when I spotted a train crossing. The gates were coming down. This wasn't Shibuya Station. It was some smaller stop wound more tightly into the neighborhood. So I watched trains coming in and out of this point.

It was magic. A mildly crowded train passed, but only a handful of people were standing. Then 30 seconds later that train (or another?) would depart the station in the other direction. This time it would be packed with people pressed up against the doors.

I wanted on that train.

But I saved the crammed commute for the next day. On that first day I let the station clear just a bit. Then I hit Harajuku.

I'm out of touch with pop culture. I did not know that the MILF queen, Gwen Stefani, had played a Harajuku Girls card. She has. This is a shame, because Harajuku, as pose-happy as it is, can never be manufactured like that. It's too freaky.

While the main roads teem with global corporate stores (such as the Gap) and huge crowds, the narrow side streets feature a mix of high-end and totally local brands, a mix of thrift, design, popular trends. And those side streets seem to sweat teenagers.

On Sundays, I've read, more of the cosplay goes on: the costume play. This is the real Harajuku element. The crazyass outfits and make up. I fell in love with a jacket at a shop called Ragtag. It was a $270 bit with a cute little B on one shoulder. Ah, buckets. Couldn't drop the cash, but I am going back for the grey and orange MilkBoy scarf. That's only $30. If it's still in the shop, it was meant to be.

So there I was walking against the crowd along Harajuku Street. Everywhere one goes in Tokyo seems so crowded one feels one is walking against the crowd. Suddenly I was swept up in a sea of teeny bopper girls dressed as dolls, right down to the totally unnatural garish hair, oversized lolliepops and painted on freckles and tears.

After this absolutely satisfying weirdness, I turned a few more corners. The streets kept winding. I'd given up the previous night upon arrival trying to use tall buildings as visual markers. The architcture shifts so greatly from front to back that you might believe you'd stopped paying attention and had walked a long way, for this was clearly not the same building. Yet it is. You pass another building. Now you can no longer see the first. The roads twist. More buildings, each one shape-shifting.

That's it. You give in. You give yourself to the city and just walk.

So I was wandering about Harajuku. I'd started using elevation as a marker, walking up hill from major roads believing that finding myself going downhill would lead to a major road. (This proved correct.) Tokyo couldn't rise forever, could it?

I had to pee. Badly. I'd been living out of vending machines, all day. I'd been entranced by the range of weird drinks like "Vitamin Squash."

So I looked for a downward road. I looked for a train station, where I knew there'd be a free public toilet.

As I walked downhill, the wind picked up. Something seemed familiar about this spot. I passed a Doctor Drive mechanic. I passed two McDonald's in a four block stretch. I spotted a JR Yamanote station.

I'd spent over an hour in Harajuku and another 30 minutes wandering about wondering where the hell the trains were.

As I waited for the light to change so I could cross with the sea of people heading into the JR depot, I noticed the name on the station: Shibuya Station. I was back at my base.

I crossed to the 109 building, wrapped around to the hotel. I peed. I napped for many hours. I woke up in a dark room and remembered I'd forgotten to eat that day. I developed a theory that one can live on visual stimuli alone in Tokyo.

onsdag, september 13, 2006


The phrase “to cut one’s teeth” disgusts me. I am disgusted now. Yet, the use of the phrase interests me. I love phrases. I love words. Like Hamlet says when he’s feigning madness (Is he feigning, hmmm?), “Words! Words! Words!” I love the bending of language and intermingling of languages, the way the Germans embrace mongrel children such as Das Computer while the French kick e-mail to the curb in favor of courriel…which comes, surprisingly, from the Québécois, the French language's step-child.

I love the way Danish floats softly with rhythm and poetry from the mouths of women but swells for the bursting in the mouths of men. The words emerge guttural and ill fated, as if a Danish man will, at any moment, vomit his entire esophagus, a hard rubber fist, perhaps a full-grown crow still sopped with the jelly of its birth.

Or maybe it’s simply because the cutting of teeth reminds me of the opening chapter of Pynchon’s V in which Pig Bodine—wasn’t it Pig Bodine?—has teeth he’s filed to points. Or because I love Clem Snide’s song “Loneliness Finds Her Own Way,” one of the only Snide songs I think really has its act together. It includes the line “I’m cutting my teeth on her shoulder and cracking my knuckles while holding her hand.”

Gross, but good.

The Tongue With Which I’m Trying To Speak

Prior to nearly all trips (and dental visits), no matter how dearly I look forward to them (This does not apply to dental visits), I cut my tongue on my teeth…and that’s a literal cutting. At night I feel the cuts coming.

I’m off in my half-dream state, the place in which I’m willing, sort of, whatever visions and conversations. This is the place in which I’ll do things that weeks later I’ll realize never happened.

The birthday card has not been sent. The laundry remains undone. No one spoke cruel words to me. I haven’t bought those black jeans, dammit. And you, my dear friend who I see so rarely, did not in fact call and tell me how your new job is going, but it’s going well, thank god, because I imagined you telling me so and I was so close to sleep that it must have been true. It was a thing I stole from your head the moment you could not resist sleep and I could not find it.

Time is too slow or too fast in this state. It never matches the state of the waking. It’s like waking time in retrospect, the way one realizes that it is almost 2007. Everything before has been woven into a single scarf characterized only occasionally by a bit of uneven stitching. Winter will come, nonetheless. Winter will go. A friend’s child that was once a child is grown. Some friends are no longer friends. One has been alive many years. One has many years to go.

(Heather: We must, when I arrive in Vegas, have the Old Letters party, for you and I have, habitually, written but not sent so many letters. And we’ve a decent number of sent ones in the well. Who the hell have we been? Good souls, yes, but I agree: I don’t remember me, just as you do not remember you. We are ex-patriots of our own lives.)

In these half-awake hours I catch myself pressing my tongue firmly against my teeth, biting my tongue, curling it atop these damn vampiric eyeteeth.

The cuts, when they form, match the points of my lower front teeth exactly, eyetooth to eyetooth. They fit together like a little raw puzzle in the shape of a smile.


Today I leave for the future: Japan. Two weeks. Tokyo, then Yokohama, then Tokyo once more.

Déjà vu ain’t so bad.

The point of my tongue is tender but the cut I know is there is not there, at least not yet. I’ve concentrated at night on pressing my tongue against my lower lip. I reign in my lip. I sit up, close my eyes even though it is dark, and speak Japanese to the darkness. I let the words work on my jaw, let them roll about my head. I puzzle out the r which is like a d, or the d that’s like an r. The f which sounds like a Southern Baptist preacher inverting the wh in what. The f which sounds like an f.

I cannot eat seafood. I’m afraid of dying in many ways. But for better or worse, the word vegetarian, like homosexuality, is a word nearly all languages have adopted whole-parcel from the English (which has drawn upon the Latin and Greek), as if the concepts themselves were just as foreign. Everywhere.

I’m riding the subway. I’m crossing with the crowd outside Shibuya Station. I’m 12 hours ahead of my siblings in Minnesota, six hours ahead of Mama and Papa (pronounced in my mouth Muh-MAH and Puh-PAH) in Sweden. I’m winding back into an electric neighborhood believing I really do know where my hotel is even lost in a night conjured by another language and an entirely different way of life.

The earth is spinning at 927 mph beneath my feet. My heart is alive. My brain burns hot thoughts against its cage, my eyes against my new surroundings. All these people with whom someone is destined to fall in love.

My eyes are bluer and wider by the moment. My mouth shrinks. I will not sleep. I’m losing weight.

I’m gone.

tirsdag, september 12, 2006

Hussein in the Hall

Was Saddam Hussein a fan of the Kids in the Hall? His quote in this article's headline suggests so.

Crush, crush, crush ...

Devolution of Memory and Haiku

This morning I am less than 30 hours from departure to Tokyo. Shibuya!!! But every practical phrase I have learned has left my head. The impractical ones have become fixtures: "It is a highway. It is a new car."

Where did my memory retention go?

I blame all the garlic I ate the other day...though do not regret eating it. I blame Danish beer, though do not regret drinking it. (Dear Denmark, please pay me to live within your borders! I'm potty-trained, I swear.) I blame Netflix for not yet sending the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner, which is what I really wanted to see tonight.

I have a tape version, but no VHS player. This is just like me, primarily because it is me.

In the interim, movie-less and paranoid about spending money ahead of travel, I'm reorganizing closets and sneezing dust. Yesterday I found, in storage, a rather heavy paper grocery bag containing about three-months worth of handwritten short story drafts and novel notes from early 2002. Much of this work is unfamiliar to me. In my defense, I'll just say I wrote it in a fugue state.

I'm beginning to think that I'm the perfect candidate to lose all my early work in a fire. It would probably help things.

So I’m listening to Mogwai’s “Auto Rock” repeatedly, sometimes Xiu Xiu's "I love the valley, OH!!", and trying to finish up some work but the coffeeshop wi-fi connection keeps imploding and I have to turn to typing things like this in Word, knowing full well that all the work I’d lined up to finish in this waking hour, all that relies on a steady internet connection, will not advance because the wi-fi will not advance.

In times like these, I turn to what we all turn to in times of self-consuming anxiety: half-assed haiku.

Haiku for Shitty Wi-Fi
By a Guy Trying to Leave the Country

The leaves crabwalk ‘cross the floor
of the forest as
autumn settles in. The clouds

swell and storm. The squirrels cease
fucking around and
prepare for winter. The birds

make their travel plans. I have
made mine: Shibuya
awaits. Tokyo calls, yet

I lick stamps and drink coffee.
Autumn knocks upon
the glass, but the shitty wi-

fi owns my attention. The
sky opens for the
plane. The waters wave me on.

But haiku for shitty wi-
fi does not help me
feel better. Work remains.


It's amazing how far the human form might evolve yet how little the mind moves with it. This article says more about the human condition than anything else we'll read today. I'm sure of it.

mandag, september 11, 2006

Today Has No Title

On her album Universal Mother, Sinead O'Connor says in her song "Famine": "We're all suffering from post traumatic stress disorder." It comes as part of a not-so-successful but sincerely educational rap about recent Irish history. The line has its appropriate effect.

(The song includes a stranagely Machiavellian line that speaks to the shitstorm we're currently wading through and stirring up: "An American army regulation says you mustn't kill more than 10 percent of a nation because to do so causes permanent psychological damage." That's one grim trial and error scheme.)

And I'm thinking of this today because 9/11 information is being jammed down our throats. And because that makes me think about what is happening down in the minds of people in Iraq and Israel and Palestine and Lebanon, what is happening down in the minds of people way out in Wymoing and in Atlanta and everywhere.

I don't find a tremendous amount of importance to numbers ending in 5 or 0. I don't feel any significance to being five years from 9.11.2001. The 5 shouldn't make one feel more or less, but maybe it's a necessary cultural waypoint, a reminder that people should evaluate their feelings from time to time.

But I found myself unable to look away from the 9/11 documentary aired last night about the French filmmaking brothers based within a firehouse close to the World Trade Centers...how everyone in the company, save for the minister, survived even though all of them save for one probationary firefighter and a filmmaker were in one of the towers when the first one fell.

I avoided this film when it first came out. I've avoided the two dramas released this year about 9/11.

Yet last night I watched it holding my head and feeling sick. (I feel sick just writing about it.) I tried to watch football instead but kept turning back.

The sounds of the suicides were haunting.

I woke up from that sound punctuating a dream but the dream had left all but my heart.

This is the same thing that happened to me five years ago. For a number of months I kept waking with the feeling of having dreamed about plane crashes, but only one thin horrible postcard image remained in my thoughts--the plane hitting the towers as caught on film perfectly and by chance by one of the French filmmakers.

I don't know what unfolded in those dreams. They made my heart race. They kept me from sleeping. But I don't want to know what went on in them. I think I'm the sort who'd rather bury stress (which is not to say I think we ought to forget these things). It's just that I rarely understand how one achieves closure.

There are just some things we'll never talk out. I'm curious to know if this is something felt by the generations of Japanese directly affected by the bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It caught me quite by surprise one day while watching a British detective movie when a character told another about "closure," for he said it was an American concept. He suggested it was a nice idea, one maybe they needed in their own culture, but there was a certain reserve in the tone that signed a distrust.

søndag, september 10, 2006


Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. BananaGate does not refer to him, sorry...but have any of you ever seen the final silhouette shot from Lundgren's version of the Punisher?

Congratulations are in order for (a) Martina Navratilova for winninng the Mixed Doubles title at the US Open at age 49 and in her final professional tournament. She's on my list of people I'd like to have dinner with. (Jeers for the match not being broadcast!)

And, (b) for Maria Sharapova who played quite well last night in winning under the lights in New York. I was, per usual, rooting for my shorty Justine.

One ought to root for players who are about the same height, I think, as it gives one some delusion of developing comparative skill. I've even adopted the one-hand backhand over the past few years after watching Henin play. Hers is the sweetest looking shot on either tour. It is the sun while mine is light from a distant star.

(Justine! Can't you see that Pierre-Yves is a skinny dork who files his elbows to razor sharp points!? I mean, really. If you want to spend your life with a dork who doesn't make money, you could really go so much dorkier. I can help.)

But last night Justine was rattled. She seemed to be just trying to keep the ball in play, which is, yes, a sensible goal, but it's a disastrous strategy when Sharapova is hitting her groundstrokes. That girl can hit. Hard. She ran around many forehands (because Henin wasn't moving her side to side) and struck them at rather impressive angles. She hit her lines. She blasted winners. She even had a drop shot working.

She earned it.

Comically tarnishing the victory was yet another BananaGate episode. Coaching is illegal during a Grand Slam match. It's illegal during most matches (though it's folly in today's entourage system). Interaction on any level is illegal. Players are not supposed to make sustained eye contact with coaches, and coaches are not to sign anything to the court beyond basic, controlled cheering.

But Sharapova watches her team. She eats a banana when her coach-father or trainer does. She holds up a banana. They point at a banana and make an eating motion. She eats. She drinks water when they drink water. Are we to think she's too timid to feed herself? Or was Rocky IV correct about the Russian regimental behavior? Is her training like that of Ivan Drago?

But she played well. Very well. Still, in her post-match award acceptance and celebration, she did two things which are going to cast her, unfairly, in a bad light because she's sort of blonde and her looks are promoted.

First, she said that because she'd lost to Justine the previous four times, she had to do things differently. She said she had to do a total 360...in which case my cutie Belgian should have won again.

Second, she hopped as she raised the lidded trophy, spilling the lid which clattered on the court. I believe Sampras or Agassi almost committed this faux pas one year. (Was it Sampras at Wimbledon?) But neither is going to get the dumb blonde insult. They weren't blonde, and they were balding. That's just the way the world works right now.

That poor girl. I'm happy for her and I enjoyed the match. I adore the tennis slams. But it's so sad when players demonstrate the sort of clumsiness I normally associate only with people like myself.

Only I don't drop trophy lids. I drop hot pans. (NOTE: Reread that if you read "hot pants.") And I don't say "a total 360" during awards acceptance speeches. I say it during job interviews or when trying to say something witty to a woman I'm blushing inwardly towards up until the moment I say that.

As Milhouse declared in Shelbyville when he discovered his Shelbyville double using words he considered his own: "That's that thing I say!"

Da Da Da ...

lørdag, september 09, 2006

Dansk Lit

The population of Denmark is roughly 5.5 million. As such, not much in the way of Danish literature or film makes it into English. Even renowned (and often reviled) Danish filmmakers like Lars von Trier have moved to working almost exclusively in English.

For some films that are truly Danish and very very good, rent The Celebration and Open Hearts. Paprika Steen is a wonderful actress. She provides one of Celebration's eeriest scenes and is surprisingly effective in Open Hearts for being given so little screen time. Both are crushing Dogma 95 pieces, but really sharp. (Less crushing than, say, Dancer in the Dark, if you'd like a measure, but that is perhaps because the directors of the other two films use a bit more movement among characters. Lars von Trier tends to vaporlock on a character who's going to take an unyielding amount of crap in the face.)

As for Danish literature, Peter Høeg's name is recognizable to many readers, but only for his Smilla book. He has a new one out, The Quiet Girl, but it has been in need of translation.

The Danish Arts Council has entered the ring with some funding. They've provided up to DKK 50,000 (USD $8,500) per book to support translations and printings of five Danish authors in English: Morten Ramsland, Janne Teller, Christian Jungersen, Lief Davidsen, and Peter Høeg.

Read about it in the Copenhagen Post (a weekly, English-language newspaper).

fredag, september 08, 2006

The Lesser Passions of Passions

Passions! This is the second consecutive episode on which you have plugged this Sunday night's NBC broadcast of the Giants - Colts football game. And I don't mean with commercials. You've worked it right into the script!! NBC: You are welcomed to deliver the goings-on of the magical town of Harmony--hey: I'm watching--but do not foist your programming world upon its inhabitants.

May Theresa Lopez Fitzgerald-Crane destroy you!

I'm so irritated I'm going to end without vowels: Hrmph.

Turning Japanese

How can one avoid referencing that song? let alone without feeling vaguely racist for knowing it yet not knowing why it might be racist? I don't think it is, really; I just think it's stupid. I think it's stupid on the level of Hulk Hogan's "Real American" song.

Quite possibly what I'm saying: No more pop tunes about national identities.

So I'm working daily on Japanese ahead of next week's trip. I nearly left a brick in my shorts yesterday when I realized that I leave in five days. GAH!!

I hate finding myself unable to pronounce things in a tone that doesn't ape the speakers on my language CDs. With the Japanese, the woman's tone is sort of like a chipper fairy godmother. The man's tone is this raspy/husky, emotionless patter that barely escapes a sigh and seems to end properly with a weary head dropping slightly.

The woman says, "Tomodachi ga ishiki o ushinatteimasu." (My friend is losing consciousness.)

The man says, "Fakkusu o okuritai n desuga." (I need a fax sent.)

Sukoshi wakarimasu. (I understand a little.)

torsdag, september 07, 2006

My Space Trebuchet

People Who Deserve to Be Launched into Space Via a Massive Trebuchet: Anyone under 30 years of age who has dreadlocks.

I accept and even admire one who ages into dreads via philosophical reflection and a bit of life experience, or one who attains this ‘do simply through years of almost-admirable and extraordinary resistance to bathing and convention.

But if you are, say, white and 22 and in love with hemp adornments and have a totally affected stoner laugh that you’ve learned through movies, get ready for life in a vacuum, pal. You’ve just earned a free ride on the Space Trebuchet.

Now, let me share one thing I find super cute, knowing fully I might be placed on a trebuchet for people who write or say "super cute": Architecture in Helsinki’s video for “Like a Call.”

Architecture in Helsinki - Like a Call

Ah!!!! My heart! That cartoon is awesome. I love the pooch!

onsdag, september 06, 2006

The Aerials of Nyhavn

Not the swing aerials I witnessed at McJoy's, but similar.

On the last night in Copenhagen, feeling a bit sad about the impending departure, I wandered over to Nyhavn 17 where I'd found the interior highly conducive to writing. The winds outside were strong, and each time the door opened I had to shield the candle on my table to keep it lit.

I wrote fiercely while an adorable student took to the mic and played acoustic versions of American songs from the 60s and a few from the 80s. She played Dylan's "Times They are A-Changin'," so I thanked her on behalf of Minnesota during the break.

"Have you heard Dylan's newest one?" she said. "The very new new new one?" I said I hadn't. "I'm going to give it three more listens," she said, "and then maybe close it for good."

It's a curious thing how well Scandanavians play American folk. They play it with an honesty we don't seem to possess anymore on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe we feel the '60s are too far away. Or maybe we play it with the same honesty but we can't avoid a self-important, disastrous sentimentality.

I'm not sure. They're just more straightforward with it. More natural. Or maybe my ears are welcoming to it simply because I'm Elsewhere.

It was a really productive writing session. Then a Swede leaned over and started what turned out to be a very spirited conversation. He launched it in Swedish, but I asked as soon as I could without feeling rude if we might speak English--"Får vi tala engelska?"--and he said, laughing, "Ah, then you ARE American!"

"Why are Americans always writing in Europe?" he said. "We like it, but it makes us laugh."

It was a fine time.

Afterwards, I walked along the canal. When I reached the corner pub (McJoy's) across from my hotel, I decided to pop in for one more pint before the next day's airport hell was upon me.

A rollicking young group stood in the center. They were hugging one another. They were laughing loudly. Their cheeks were rosy with drink. They danced for 45 seconds at a time.

I asked the barman, "Is it like this at the end of every night?" and he smiled in a way that said he did not know if he could say what maybe he wanted to say. "No," he said with a good nature. "Not always."

I sat with my notebook and chased out a few more thoughts while the young group continued their rambles. Abruptly they pushed aside some tables and chairs to create a more open space. One of them, a young man with boxer shorts that kept popping into view, began a clinic on dance aerials.

(Sidenote: Those boxers had something like sailboats and berries. They made me think of kitchen curtains.)

One by one women would come forth and he'd toss them about. He spun them around his body. They jumped and wrapped their legs around him. Pause. They he'd dip them lower, rise, and cast them out into the bar where they landed with greater and lesser form.

Finally, the aerials got a bit too adventurous, or maybe he'd grown tired, or maybe the suspension of disbelief that alcohol enables had worn out. He twisted a young woman around, but as she passed behind him at a near horizontal postion, he lost his grip and she crashed out behind him. And he fell back upon her.

It was magnificent. They laughed themselves to tears. Everyone was happy.

I imagine the night felt much different for them and their kidneys in the morning, but it was grand for me then to have witnessed their spirit and the memory remains so now.

Trip fact:
I fell in love 3422 times.
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