Monday, November 26, 2007

Bread, and madness


Argument in the kitchen today over when the correct time to eat bread is. The Home Helper woman, who comes by each day to make meals for Mr. Ito’s decrepit father, maintained the bread is for dinner, and dinner alone. Mr. Ito, meanwhile, was willing to grant that it was a fine part of breakfast as well. This was the bone of contention since the helper felt that breakfast was, if anything, the worst time of day to eat bread.

My suggestions that we perhaps have some bread with lunch was roundly rejected out of hand. Lunch is the time for rice.

It is good to know that my life certainly isn’t becoming any less insane since having left Okinawa.


New Hobbies

I could say that my month with Mr. Ito is speeding by, but by doing so I would be perpetrating a lie so great it would make me cross-eyed to read it.

I knew in advance of my arrival that I would be “only cutting wood” for the duration of my stay, and I welcomed the idea of some good solid physical work and really getting my hands dirty. As it turns out Mr. Ito adheres to an emerging rule of WWOOF hosts, that they all have one machine to facilitate their work. At Numajiri Kogen Lodge it was a mechanical dish washer, at Pension Mutti it was an industrial snow blower, and at Mr. Ito’s it is a wood splitter. This means that instead of taking to the field every morning with manly axe and wedge I stand in one place and slowly feed logs into a machine for six hours.

At first I thought that cutting firewood was difficult work, but I have come to realize it is actually just tedious and very boring work, work which is both perpetual and unrelenting. As such, I have cultivated several hobbies which I can engage in under Mr. Ito’s stentorian eye without rebuke:

Thinking. Thinking long, rambling discursive thoughts which never manage to reach any conclusion. This has been a life long passion and I have advanced it into new grounds in these dull days. A choice subject is revisiting conversations I have had with my friends and how they would have gone if one of us had said something different. This is every bit as fruitful as it sounds.

Watching my hair grow. This is definitely a winner. There is nothing Mr. Ito can do about my hair growing and I do so with impunity, reveling in the seconds between one log and the next while my beard grows with fierce, bristling intensity. I haven’t set blade to my face in a week, and I’m electrified by the follicle developments each morning when I reach the bathroom mirror. The chief front of interest is whether my neck hair will grow into my chest hair, thus rendering me in appearance as to some species of bald-headed bear. What’s more, by the end of week two of my untamed hair growth I will have blown past all previous personal records of neck and facial hair growth. God only knows what may come.

Other hobbies:
Taking pictures of wood.

Listening very closely to song lyrics / thinking about what songs to listen to tomorrow.

Trying not to look at the clock every few minutes.

Unfortunately I can’t add writing to this list as that it, more than anything else, seems to invoke his ill tempers. I have been forbidden from taking breaks during work to write, and if I write in Mr. Ito’s presence after work has finished he immediately becomes agitated that I’m not searching for some chore to help him with around the house and will testily reprimand me about it later on. (“You are always scribbling in that little notebook of yours! What are you writing in there?”)

Nevertheless I find my time to write, and write I shall.


Vase prices


I certainly don’t understand pottery at all. At a pottery exhibit in a Fukushima city mall we browse among pots and plates of which none is less than 8,000 dollars, top off around 34,000 dollars and travel form that into the land of large decorative platters – price unlisted.
Mr. Ito takes these in with only a modicum of surprise. Occasionally he grunts and stares closely at some unadorned, pot with flat white glaze, and then reconfirms with me that these small, lumpy vases are in fact the works of a master.

We spend some time looking at the adjoining painting exhibit just next door. Huge, beautifully rendered works of waterfalls and mountainsides are on display. They are done with just that touch of abstract artistry that appeals to me. One work in particular, a woman before a great snowy escarpment, strikes me as particularly nice. It measures something like 3 feet by 5 feet, and is priced at 12,000 dollars. Mr. Ito takes one look at the price and exclaims in surprise “Wa!”, as in, “My god! No way is it that much!”
Search me.


Friday, November 09, 2007

The idiosyncratic cleaning habits of my delighful host.


I am not the most fresh and friendly person first thing in the morning. In fact, most days I would rather be dead than have to haul my dog's body out of bed. For that reason I have to remind myself to withhold judgment of what may constitute peculiar behavior, and what is simply me projecting my own inborn hate for self and world.

I have begun to conclude, however, that my benfactor holds to a set of cleaning practices that may certify him as idiosyncratic, eccentric, colorful, or pehaps mad.
The evidence is mounting:

- When you clean the dishes, first fill the side sink with water, entirely with water, then soap the dishes, all of them at once, then place them in the sink and wash individually. This is the only acceptable dish washing method. Variation will be strictly reprimaned.

-You may not hold the vacuum by its handle, the one that was made for the explicit purpose of carrying it, while vacuuming. Instead, you must drag it along behind you by the hose, regardless of how troublesome that may be.

-Vacuuming is to be done parallel to the floor boards only, due to the belief that this is the only way they will become clean.

-When wiping the floors by hand cloth the same holds true. Use wide strokes only. In this, as in everything else, variation will be strictly reprimanded.

It is worth mentioning that all these activties will take place between 7 and 8:30 AM, which is to say in a period of time somehow not factored into the 6 hours of work I owe.

Mr. Ito - the wacky Buddhist monk.


The guy I am staying with, Mister/Monk Ito, is crazy as a spring hare. This is a partial list of things he has done in my first 3 days.
An impromptu handstand, fallen asleep on the floor afterlunch, suddenly remembered it was O-Bon, one of the most important Buddhist holidays, had me rush off with him to his mother's grave for impromptu cleaning, incense burning and prayer, demanded to listento my MP3 player, and did so for 15 minutes. Sing "Puff the Magic Dragon", play a harmonica with one hand while driving, tell me that a dragon lives in the lake, fondled the sides of a pot he made and wondered aloud if he should put breasts on it, had me watch video footage of how great he is, told me that his specialty is the "Whack-a-mole" game, and tells me every day, several times a day, "You must chop fire wood!" in English, and laughs.

My October

I am spending my once-per-week day off in a distant town waiting with Mr. Ito for his daughter's dance recital to begin. To kill the time I struggle over a blank postcard.
I ask Mr. Ito what I should write and he tells me the following:

"I am splitting wood everyday. I'm so tired. Mr. Ito is always angry. >:(
So, I want to go home!", then he hits me on the head, which is how he demonstrates he is being playful.

This is largely an accurate and concise summary of my 5 weeks at Mr. Ito's house, so feel free to go ahead and skip over the next 20 or so postings if you are not particularly interested in the breakdown.

If you would like to journey with me through the longest month of my life and meet the least pleasant Japanese person I have yet encountered, then please read on.

Apple Core

In transit. Sendai-city, Late September. Some bad language follows, sorry.

My backpack is unbearably heavy. Every time I lift it I try and tell myself it is, honestly, not that bad, but gravity is never fooled and it gets around to stating is case 15 - 20 minutes along.
What I really need to find is a bench, just here, on one of these street corners. I look around, but of course there are no benches.

Of course, I reason, Of course there aren't. Every city in Japan is just like New York City, not a lick of humanity in its design. People in New York would laugh in your face if you told them it would be a good idea to have somewhere to sit. Trendy standing bastards. Some day I'm going to a city with plenty of benches everywhere and the people will be nice and pleasantly apple-cheeked and I'm going to live there for the rest of my life.

Around the next corner are two benches, set quite nicely into some bushes and with a light over them. On one of the benches sits an old Japanese man, bald as a spring peach. He is sitting hunched over one of the benches, hurriedly eating a banana. I watch this with good natured interest as I stagger nearer under my load. As soon as he finishes he throws the empty peel to his feet and produces another banana from the great grocery sack of bananas next to him. At his feet are, like, five banana peels. About 15 feet away, right by the other empty bench, I can see a perfectly fine trash can.
"I hate you," I think loudly, "This I why New York City can't have nice benches - because of all the crazy banana eaters."
I briefly consider taking the other bench and teaching him a lesson in good manners by sitting there silently, eating no bananas at all, but he shows no signs of stopping his banana frenzy and I cross the street.
"What would happen if a bike courier came zipping around the corner and skid out on those banana peels all outrageously?" I ask myself in sage tones, "It would be hilarious, but ethically reprehensible."

The old man represents a form of madness I never want to fall to in my old age. The madness of forget-the-world,-this-shit-is-too-hard-anymore,-I'll-just-withdraw-into -my-skull-and-take-my-hate-out-by-not-giving-a-shit. Fucking bananas.

On the other side of the street, sure enough, is an identical set of benches, nice and empty.
"Predictable old city planners," I think, "Easy enough to figure them out."
I take a load off, which is very nice.
I've been eating cheap on the road, and dinner didn't do the job, so I enjoy a delicious crisp apple from my bag of fresh Sansa apples, bought earlier that day. And as I reach into my bulging bag of apples I realize I am sitting exactly opposite the old man, eating from a bag of fruit, and that I too am bald as a spring peach. Two fucking bald men sitting on opposite street corners devouring their bags of fruit. What crazy conspiracy is this, the business men must think as they cross the intersection.
"Let them think what they want," I revel, freely, "There is a clear line between enjoying fruit and monstrosity."
Except that, contrary to all possibility, there is no trashcan on this corner. What the fuck? - the city only had money enough for the one trash can? I'm left with a dripping apple core in my hand, just sitting there, in front of those big bushes - where an apple core would serve as fine fertilizer - on the cusp of becoming everything I hate.
I devour the apple core, seeds and all, and tell myself I love it.