Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Don't read too much into this...

Could male masterbation be considered genocide? With the apparent dearth of great minds in the world today, I shudder to think of the potential which may have been squandered in a pile of tissues.

On the turntable: Ray LaMontagne, "Trouble"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On the Rails Again

I remember when I first got to Japan, the new Kyoto station was in the midst of becoming the monstrocity it is today. Wandering through it was to traverse long featureless corridors enshrouded in white Christo-wrapping. (In fact it looks like Shinjuku station at this current moment of typing. Two weeks back, had much fun, drunkenly trying to find my locker with minutes to go until the last train. But at midnight in Shinjuku everyone else is drunk, so...)
I digress. The present Kyoto station building looks like a big Boom Box circa 1982. Pure Radio Shack architecture. Everytime I pass the place, I expect to hear Run-DMC blaring loud.

With each trip to Tokyo I also pass through Nagoya and therefore get to see the ongoing destruction of the Expo grounds. The now bare plots have been heavily pressed by Caterpillar treads. From above it looks like one of Mondrian's minor works.

On the turntable: Putumayo Cover the World
On the nightable: Hanif Kureishi, Midnight All Day"

Thursday, November 24, 2005

At a Bus Stop in Santa Barbara

A young, somewhat effeminate punk guy had just told his friend that he'd been accepted to law school.

"I just don't see you in a suit, Kyle," the girl said laughing. "You'll have to let me go shopping with you, we'll get some really outlandish stuff. Silk shirts with ruffled fronts and sleeves that are slitted, like the swashbucklers wore. Oh! And those mid-seventies suits with the flaired trousers and 1958 Buick fins. The jury'll take one look at you and they'll know that a man dressed as un-selfconsciously as you has to have his shit together. Wait! Or even better, a dress. Ha, ha, ha! Yes! Have you ever worn a dress, Kyle?"

The guy just looked at her and smiled.

She continued, "You really should. It's amazing what it'll do for a guy's psyche. No really, every man should have a dress and pair of pumps in his closet that he can put on at certain times, like when he has a fight with his girlfriend or if she won't ball him because she's menstruating or something. Just so he can relate a bit and open up to his femine side. I dated this guy and he did it. It was wild, he was this big jock type, all hung up on his attitudes and macho role playing. But he wore it. We went out to dinner and laughed and laughed, just like old girlfriends."

The guy was really grinning now. "Why'd he do it?" he asked.

"He had to! I made him! See, for my birthday, his present to me was that he'd be my slave for a day, do anything I said. So, I had him put on a dress. Nothing too obnoxious. He even bought it himself. I helped him pick it out, which was hilarious! Later on he did this little strip-tease for me. It was really fun" She hesitated a moment, smiling, either for effect, or in reminiscense. "Yeah, Kyle, you should try it. Let's shop when we hit the city. It'd be good for you. It really loosened him up."

"Did he ever wear it again?"

"No. Well, I doubt it. We broke up pretty soon after that. He screwed around on me a bit. The way I found out was that he got eyebrow crabs.

"On the turntable: Bloc Party, "Silent Alarm"

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

When we was gaijin

During my first few months in Japan, before I began to settle into my life in the 'Nog, I used to make bimonthly trips into the Kansai area. It wasn't such a long ride, about three hours by bus, and the lure of quiet afternoons spent strolling Kyoto's Higashiyama area followed by a few beers in the expat bars of Shinsaibashi allowed me to forget for awhile how far away from home I was.

About three months into my stay here, I was coming back from one such weekend. After leaving Kobe, the bus would follow the Chugoku expressway, a long concrete path through high sheet-metal-lined walls which barely hid the uninspiring landscape of pachinko parlors, golf driving ranges, and identical, non-descript department stores. On this particular day, the bus driver was going faster than usual, probably to make up some time before taking the route through the mountains, usually snow-covered this time of year. Time seemed to be marked by the rhythmic hum of our engine reflected off each car we passed.

At some point in my trip, I happened to look up from my book and out the window to the express bus running alongside ours. Inside was the usual scene of middle-aged Japanese on a day trip, the majority of heads bowing in slumber, jostling with the motion of the bus. Yet what made this group unusual was that each bobbing head was shaped into a samurai topknot. They were wearing wigs of course, but every man on that bus was dressed in a style most familiar to me from noisy afternoon TV. I'm still not quite sure how these men could fit into their seats, sitting side by side while wearing those kimono with long pointed shoulders. The women too were straight out of the Edo-period, their eyebrows a mere pair of dots high up on their heavily made-up foreheads.

As we came alongside the next vehicle, I saw the same thing, and on the bus in front of that one was still another scene of slumbering samurai. My usually uneventful ride home had placed me at the center of a Fellini/Kurosawa co-production.

On this front bus, one man was awake, looking out the window in obvious boredom. As our eyes locked, he did a visible double-take, noticing that the face staring back at him was not Japanese. To a foreigner living in the countryside, this sudden change of expression can be seen a dozen times a day. Being still somewhat new to Japan, I was just beginning to flinch at the sound of the word "gaijin." Not long before, I think that I had probably found the attention flattering, but by now I wanted to be considered just another unrecognizable human being in the midst of a daily existance.

So, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, I recognized the familiar double-take and the ensuing stare. But then I noticed something new. A look of sadness passed across this man's face just before he looked down into his lap. It was if he had realized that due to his attire and make-up, he was the one who looked different, the one on display. It was if he had realized that I had had more reason to stare than he. And with this realization, this sudden enlightenment on his part, we seemed to share a brief, mutual understanding of what it is like to stand out in a country which prides itself on conformity. And for a moment, I didn't feel so far from home after all.

On the turntable: David Bowie, "Heroes"
On the nightable: Bill Bryson, "Notes From a Small Island"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New Lint in Old Navels

Memories are silly. An event rehashed verbally becomes little more than anecdote eventually, the story, molded again and again, pieces added bit by bit like globs of clay, replaces the experience, creating it's own form of art. The experience itself, in the larger scheme of things, becomes minimalized. Each event is an acid test; it either helps support a beforeheld opinion reassuringly, or it does the complete opposite and reverses our taste about something. From here we progress, making future decisions which are tied to that particular event linearally. In its most basic form, each random causal event creates a scenario which is as simple as, yet simultaneously as incredibly significant as, the minor decision as to whether to take the right or left fork in the road. Our perception of reality based on said event will determine our live's outcome. So obviously, our present is invariably decided by interpretation of past events which individually have come to play a part in our future (as it becomes present). Yet, paradoxically, the memory of past events (which created this present moment of reflection), can in turn hinder the progression toward the future. The longing for something lost long ago muddles the decision-making process. When is it that we learn something? It's when an event enters our realm which deviates somewhat from the existing program. But what about the little details? Why is it that we remember certain things in our lives and forget about others? And why is it easy for our friends to remember those events that ourselves cannot? Conscious memory is a funny thing; it acts as the rudder to the ship of our active decision-making, yet it is the subconscious memory which is the tide and the wind. Memory exists where we changed course...

On the turntable: Putumayo Calypso
On the nightable: Michael Cunningham, "Speciman Days"

Monday, November 21, 2005

Long Forgotten Stream of Consciousness Post From Way Back In June

...Fishnet stockings. Fishermen net fish. Clerks stock fish. Sharks stalk clerks. And a few celery stalks, attached to bulemic twigs gingerly moving over Shibuya crossing, each step ready to bring down the whole house of carbs, balanced over chubby high heels, clip-clopping like pigs' trotters. And the Frankenstein high heels shuffling behind Tottori Station, legs angled like tweezers, sheer daylight at crotch-level. And another high-heeled slave, shoe caught in the train crossing near Hopetown. And Shell's right foot, tracing the circles of distant moons as her thoughts pass through their phases...

On the turntable: Milt Jackson and John Coltrane, "Bags and Trane"
On the nightable: Yagyu Munenori, "The Way of the Living Sword"

Sunday, November 20, 2005

I saw god today...

I saw god in the snow covered peak mimicking a scallop shell on a blue platter of autumn sky.
I saw god in the fog gently caressing the long slender fingers of valleys.
I saw god in the tree-lined stubble silhouette on the hilltops.
I saw god in the red and yellow leaves anointing my truck as it exited a tunnel.
I saw god as I traced a high, grey ribbon, playing connect the dots with mountains...

On the turntable: Traffic, "Mr. Fantasy"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I passed a week...

...or the week passed me, slung along by the autumn winds bringing snow to nearby peaks and rain to my rooftop. My limited free time was spent making sense of the 1's and 0's taking their respective places to form moving pictures which dazzle us again and again and help me temporarily forget the dreary weather which affects me as much inside as out.
"Carnivale" was a reoccuring theme, its creepy, surreal pacing a perfect dirge to this dying year.
Blown away by "Open Water, " especially after reading that the sharks swimming below and around the actors are not CG. Teeth with tails.
Two J-films round out our list. "Hana and Alice," showing us why Shunji Iwai is one of the best directors out there. Extreme close-up of the face of a jilted lover is held to the point where our agony begins to match hers. And then there was one... Fifteen years in the making, "Nobody Knows," goes beyond words. Could I possibly cry harder? Or more? The rain had stiff competition that night. Though it always does, as I once again begin my annual slide into seasonal melancholy...

On the turntable: Pink Floyd, "Atom Heart Mother"
On the nightable: David Sedaris, "Me Talk Pretty One Day".

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Haiku season words

Is smoke a "kigo" for autumn? 'Tis everywhere...

On the turntable: Son Volt, "Okemah and the Melody of Riot"
On the nightable: Sun Shuyun, "Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud"

Monday, November 14, 2005

Okinawa Getaway, Getaway

As I do every November 3rd, I set off to Tokyo to see the koryu demos at Meiji Jingu. It's a day of flying bodies, swirling staffs, and flashing steel (and worn out martial arts cliches). It culminates in the firing of ancient matchlock weapons, their surprisingly loud retorts filling the sky with crows startled from their treetop aerie. It's also a good chance for me to temporarily plug back into the Tokyo budo scene.

The next morning I headed out to Haneda to catch my Okinawa bound flight. The traffic was horrendous, making it look entirely possible that I'd miss the plane. So I sat there formulating a plan B: more yoga, more live music, more hang time with friends under blemish-free autumn skies. Plan B won. Though I made it to the airport on time, I cashed in my ticket and headed back to town, spoon-feeding my spirit a week of hedonism.

A major factor in my decision to stay is what occurred the night before. My jazz-singer friend Yumiko took me to see Toku at Body and Soul in Aoyama. He is amazing, alternating between flugelhorn and vocals ala Chet Baker. His jams were loose, his backing band incredibly tight. It's no wonder he's a major player on the J-jazz scene. Yumiko and I had a table dead center in front of the stage, the perfect position from which to watch the magic.
Near the end of the second set, Toku's attention was drawn to something going on in the corner of the club. It turns out Cyndi Lauper was there, with some famous kimono-clad enka singer. They came on stage to engage Toku in the usual babble best left on Japanese TV. Then Cyndi joined Toku in singing "Time After Time." The crowd sat with jaws on the floor. When Cyndi came off stage, she had to pass my table, so I held out my hand, which she took. I said, "Cyndi, thank you so much," to which she said, "That was a trip!" Toku took an encore, calling another celeb out of the crowd. Ogura Maki is a R'n'B singer, hot about a decade ago. She and Toku sang a couple songs together, then two more apparently famous jazz singers joined the fun singing backup to Cyndi Lauper doing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" Crazy. By the time they'd finished, the trains had stopped running. I was forced to take a cab home. Just another $200 night in Tokyo. God bless that city.

--------------------------(Cyndi, Toku and Ogura Maki on piano)------->

On the turntable: Gorillaz, "Demon Days"
On the nightable, Thad Carhart, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank"
Jumpa Lahiri, "The Interpreter of Maladies"

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gettin' the Willies on Halloween

I'd been putting off seeing the new "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" movie for months, due in part to the creepy-Michael Jackson vibe I got from Johnny Depp in the preview. But being that it was Halloween, and this is rapidly shaping up to be Johnny Deep Theme Week, I gave in and hit the late show. Rather than grossing me out, Depp's Wonka had me rolling at his absurd, pseudo-hipster lingo. He had quite the flair for comedic timing, like Jim Carrey with a leash. It was weird seeing the film in Japan, considering the OompaLoompa subtext. I won't be so uncharitable as to make height comparisons, but I found similarities in terms of fondness for uniforms, group exercise and para-para dance moves. Plus the strong work ethic. Yet, notice how only the boss got to break through the glass ceiling.

Best of all, the film is interactive.
Quoth Muffin:
"For each mention of the word "chocolate," in a movie
about a goddamned chocolate factory, we ate a
bite-sized chocolate bar. it's a like a drinking game
except the puke is a different color and you won't be
able to fall asleep for 3 days, as opposed to passing
out on the spot.

so now i ask of you, my sweet-toothed friends, my
super competitive arch nemesises to bring this
generation-defining challenge upon yourselves.

the entice you even further to join in on this slighly
dangerous jolt to your central nervous system, the
added benefits were a late night creative period where
i did some of my best work with wonka's river of
chocolate coursing through my veins. first, a haiku:

twitch. look, an oompa loompa.
maybe you should drive."

Now Steve:
"So yes, as Katherine already told you, I have come up with the idea
for the Charlie and the Choco Challenge. All you have to do is go
see the movie, and everytime someone says the word chocolate, you
eat a piece of chocolate. Simple, right?

Some bits of advice:

1) Don't jump the gun! It takes surprisingly long for this movie to
say the word chocolate, but when it does, oh man... Remember, this
isn't a sprint, it's a marathon!
2) Have some bite size choco ready. Sometimes the word chocolate
comes up about 10 times in a minute. You've gotta be on that!
won't hit you until about 2:30pm the next day.

For the record, I was not able to complete this crazy challenge
myself. I gave up with only about 15 minutes to go, but it was
probably for the best. We had Snickers, Nestle Crunch, Kit Kat,
Choco Almonds, and Peanut M&Ms. When I close my eyes, all I see is a
big chocolate waterfall...

For those of you who don't care for chocolate, here are some other
versions of this challenge that you can try:

1) Whenever people say the word candy, eat some candy.
2) Whenever the fat German boy says or does anything, laugh.
3) Whenever Willy Wonka says "let's move on", consume an
entire "Fuji Combo" in less than 30 seconds.
4) Whenever the Umpa Loompas dance, do your best to imitate them in
the aisle."

On the turntable: Sonic Youth, "Goo"
On the nightable: Douglas C. Haring, "Okinawan Customs, Yesterday and Today" (Guess where I'm going...)