Friday, December 30, 2005

Winding down without winding up

Here I sit on the cusp of 2006 and the years chores are almost completely done. The only major thing left for me to do is to finally get the last car load of stuff out of my old office at the university. That happens tomorrow, the 31st.

My dear wife has penned her last New Years card and I have dutifully mailed them all. The kids are in bed, and well, there is a sense of completeness to it all-no, more like relief.

I will really sigh in relief once the moving is finished tomorrow.

We do not celebrate the New Year in the customary Japanese way here at our house, and my wife is not killing herself to make all the special New Years foods that look so beautiful but frankly speaking, taste pretty darned awful.
We don't visit her parents or other relatives on the 1st either, and of course we have no need to go to the Shinto shrine to pray to the pagan gods for luck either.

So it looks to be about 4 or 5 days of serious laziness!

I think Shakespeare would have termed us as "slug-o-beds" for the upcoming holidays.

It is quite liberating to NOT have to jump through all of these cultural hoops while in Japan.
Also, driving around town during the New Year holiday is a real traffic hardly, and seeing the streets for the most part traffic-less, well, it is almost eerie (in a good way!).

Down time (IE: not being so busy) in Japan is a rare thing, so I plan to enjoy it. I am looking forward to ONE thing, however....

The big event: WVU is playing Georgia in the Sugar Bowl!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Am I the only one?

Todays post is going to be rather short.

Am I the only person who thinks that Will Ferrell is completely untalented?!

And in the same vein, do you know anyone (that is not constantly plugged into the TV) that truly likes Bjork or Beck?

Discuss, discuss.....

Monday, December 26, 2005

The grinch of Christmas present- Santa opens up to Geraldo

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to you all!

For the last 8 years I have spent Christmas eve and Christmas day dolled up as the man in red.....usually I appear at a local hotel lobby and restaurant or in some cases, at a shopping center. Heck, I have even made appearances at the boat races, which further confirms to all children who gamble that Santa is, indeed, everywhere.

Besides the rather unbelievable financial rewards of donning the red sweatsuit of happiness, I do enjoy seeing the little kids reaction and listening to them tell me what they hope for. I had a pack of them hugging me around the knees and seeing the joy on their faces was worth all the hassles that wearing the outfit entails.

For those of you who have never been a "professional" Santa, here are a few facts and reminders:

* The suit is thick and hot. Think sweat lodge and you are beginning to get the idea. If Santa is indoors in this suit, Santa is sweating and very uncomfortable.
* The beard and wig are made of polyester, which is like putting an itchy heating pad around your face and on your head- Santa is sweating and very uncomfortable.
* Smart Santas are wearing only shorts and T-shirts under the costume. If wearing more than that- Santa is sweating and very uncomfortable.
* Santa does not want to hold your screaming kid. If the kid screams, discerning parents with slightly higher than 2 digit IQ's will know that THIS IS A SIGN THAT THE KID DOES NOT WISH TO BE NEAR SANTA and then, you the parent, must hold said screaming spawn. Remember- Santa is sweating and very uncomfortable.
* Santas beard is attached to his face by elastic bands that criss cross his scalp. If you pull Santas beard, the top of Santas head is severed by said bands. Remember-Santa is sweating and very uncomfortable, already.
* Santa doesn't like to get patted down by adults (unless they are adult females and very cute) so please keep your hands off Santa- Santa is already in a bad mood because Santa is sweating and very uncomfortable.
* To the lovely children: when Santa gives you something from his big bag, don't tell him you don't want it. He is just doing his job and the presents are what the cheapskate promoters gave him to pass out. Take the present, and pretend to be happy. You are probably better off than 85% of all people on earth as it is.
* To the lovely parents who foster such attitudes in your children: Teach your children respect, compassion and generousity. Teach them it is better to give than to receive, that they should show gratitude to those around them and above them.
Teach them by example that sharing is the norm, not the exception. Take your children out and show them charities at work helping the homeless or shut in. Get them involved.
Show your kids that Christmas is about giving, and that giving feels better than getting.

And someday, when you parents are older, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Port Caffeine: Coffee, coffee, lonely people

Never really liked coffee.

I can say with some certainty, that prior to my 24th year on this rock, I drank about 1 cup of coffee a year; and then it was heavily sugared and creamed.

I suppose I had an aversion to it because I associated it with my father and cigarettes- the latter which I abhor and well, when you combined coffee and cigarettes....let's just say Godzilla probably had better breath than my Dad.

Even during finals week at college I usually didn't drink coffee.

But NOW I drink coffee; black, with cream, with a little sugar, or any assortment of, java, joe, courage, go-juice, whatever you wish to call it- I like it now.

The reason? It beats the hell out of green tea, and there are nice little coffee shops tucked away in every town and neighborhood in Japan.
These little shops are like a quiet port in a storm of noise, heat and frenetic activity (aka: JAPAN).
I pop into a coffee shop ("kissaten" in Japanese) and let the opressive heat and stress just melt away like the whipped cream topping my drip-brewed-Kilamanjaro-blend-cup-of-happiness.

Starbucks has really made the experience all the more enjoyable by having the shops completely non-smoking and also having very comfy sofas and chairs to sink into.

I popped into a Starbucks downtown this evening to meet with another sax playing friend of mine. Sitting around me were maybe 8 or 9 girls in their 20's, all reasonably attractive in their skirts, black leather knee boots and sweaters (in case you have never been to Japan, this is the official winter uniform of all 20-ish single Japanese women)...and all very much alone.
They all pull out their cell phones and lay them on their table, as if awaiting a call; calls that never seemed to come.
Their eyes wander to me, they smile as if they want me to approach. One girl even changes her seat to sit nearer to me after making eye contact several times.
Of course I don't respond to her gestures, (married and happily so) but it struck me that with Christmas coming up, a lot of these girls are, desperate to have a "romantic" Christmas.

Any port in a storm, I guess....
Lookin' for the Love Boat in all the wrong places.

I guess with less than 5 full days to go, they better get crackin'!

Busking along, singin' a song....

I have never really done much busking with my sax....and I really don't know why that is, but about 2 months ago, I got the bright idea that my alto student should start practicing some jazzed up Christmas tunes. I half jokingly said, ..."and then we'll go out on the streets and play!"
She (lets call her "Vixen" to keep in the holiday spirit) immediately perked up and said, "Really!? Really!?".
When I saw her response there was no choice- I had to do it.

For the last 2 months worth of lessons she has been plugging away, working on articulation, intonation, synchopated rhythms....and today was the big day (or night, I should say).
We met in the passage of the subway station and donned our Santa caps, set up the boombox and minus one CD, music stand, opened the case and put a "Help feed the reindeer" sign inside the case with a 500 yen coin to start the ball rolling.

Vix was a bit nervous, but soon settled into it and did pretty darned well. I should also mention she is a heck of a lot cuter than me.
We played about one hour before the cold got to be too much and pulled in about $12.00 US (after I withdrew my starter 500 yen).

It beats the hourly wage at McDonalds, right?

And I have to wonder how much I would make without her standing there in her white getup and boots and the cute Santa cap?

Funny experience playing Christmas tunes in Japan. It seemed that only the young and quite old showed much interest. Also there is literally no Christmas spirit here~` Japanese Christmas is celebrated in much the same way Americans celebrate Valentines day, only without the chocolate.
About the only quasi-vestiges of an western-style Christmas are that parents are coerced into shopping at Toys-R-Us for their young children, anorexic Santas standing on every street corner passing out flyers or free tissues, and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" or Wham's "Last Christmas" blasting from every store's sound system. I am convinced that Mariah's song becomes the Japanese national anthem at Christmas time and that Colonel Sanders statues dressed up in red Santa suits beckoning all to come in and get a Christmas chicken are as about as real as it can get.

By the way, most Japanese people think the Colonel is Japanese and that KFC is a Japanese invention.

That's OK....most Americans think Bayer aspirin is an American company.

And that is where I am heading right now, for one of those grand, all-American conforts, the Bayer aspirin bottle.
Six more days until the fat man cometh.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

End of the year Oh-souji (That's "cleaning house" to we lesser mortals)

Being married to a very unconventional Japanese woman has it's advantages.

One of the things I love about my wife the most is that she doesn't feel so terribly bound by the customs and traditions of Japanese society. For those of you who know little or nothing about Japan, let me just say that life can be pretty oppressive for a Japanese woman living in Japan. Social rules/conventions, superficial human relationships and the constant watchful eye of others who will quickly inform you that you are sticking out (when you should be fitting in) and disrupting the group harmony are the main reasons- in a nutshell.

But my wife, she really doesn't have much truck with Japanese society simply because she avoids it in most cases.
Knowing Japan and Japanese people as well as I do makes her all the more astounding. This of course makes life a lot easier and smoother for me too.

But on occassion, my dear wife "Japs-out" and one such time of the year is the end of December, when she, usually on the one day I want to rest or nurse a cold, decides that the entire house must be purged of the following:

1. Everything (materially speaking) that I hold dear.

2. All the warm air inside the house (something else I hold dear when it is 35 outside). She opens all the doors and windows.

3. All the stuff she should toss out during the whole 12 months preceeding this fateful day, but failed to do.

4. The last 3 weeks worth of dirty laundry.

Following said purging, a terrrible cold or headache soon follows.

Now I realize that this end of the year stuff is a Japanese tradition and all, but coming from my wife, well, it makes it all the more strange. It is as if she has been repressing her need for fullfillment as a Japanese national all year and then lets go with a vengeance!

I guess I shouldn't complain about the house getting cleaned.

Even stranger is that I am somehow infected, or rather influenced by all this frantic floor sweeping. Three weeks of free time are staring me in the face. I have to do something~ cleaning, organizing....

Maybe I will sell off some stuff on Ebay?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Johnny One Note: December 16th and all is quiet on the home front....

Had a very interesting experience last night.
I was watching the Brad Anderson movie, Next Stop Wonderland on DVD.
Near the end of the movie there is a scene on a crowded train and in that scene I spotted who I thought was the front man for a band I belonged to in Boston in 1993 called Johnny One Note.
I checked the credits and sure enough it was our bands singer, James O'Connell. Even more surprising to me was to see a Johnny One Note song, "Johnny The Bat" listed in the credits (but not appearing in the soundtrack, alas).
Jim is friends with director Brad from way back, evidently.

Johnny One Note started in New York with Jim, Hugh and Rob Speck around 1990 and reformed in Boston with a new guitarist, Ron Kuper (of Cakewalk software fame). Never got to meet Hugh personally, but heard a lot about him from the guys.
There were several bassists, whose names I don't recall, so if any of you guys are reading this, be sure to fill in the missing info! I know one of them was Jim's girlfriend ;-)

J.O.N. recorded an album (on cassette) right before I joined and evidently made songs for Brad Andersons seminal work, "Frankenstein's Planet of Monsters" (also right before I joined).

In 1993 I moved to Boston to go to Berklee and got part time work teaching English at a school where Jim worked. He invited me to come sit in with the band and soon after I became the 5th wheel in Johnny One Note.

I think the addition of sax to the mix really worked well, and Johnny played several local gigs during the year I was in Boston. We also recorded a lot of material on 4 track tapes for a new album, but alas, I have never heard the finished product, although Ron did run me off a rough mix tape one snowy night in January 1994.

I am not sure how long Johnny continued on after I left in 1994, but sadly, I don't think it was too long. I think careers and personal lives took the members in very divergent directions.
Hey...I ended up back in Japan, married with 2 kids!

I think our two biggest claims to fame were: 1. JFK Jr. was fan of ours, and 2. we were 1st runner up in Music Magazine's "Best Amature Band in America" contest.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing to me about Johnny was that it was a true ensemble. The sum of its parts were far greater than any one member. When a group like that comes together, musical magic happens.

Johnny One Note goes down in my memory as the BEST playing, sounding, original, talented and enjoyable band I have ever had the privilege to participate in. I have searched long and far for another Johnny, and am still searching.

I only wish that we could have continued on. All amateur bands dream of making it big; but I am certain that Johnny had the stuff to actually do it, and do it well.

My hat remains forever tipped to you Johnny One Note- the best band I ever played in and the best bunch of guys I ever knew.
What do you think guys, reunion this summer?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

FIRST post.....

Today my oldest and very innocent daughter (8) was dragged into a fray on the playground. A big boy, who is a bully (and I believe slightly retarded-hereafter to be called "mongo") had been picking on her friend and my daughter's friend decided that she should get a small gang together and go beat mongo up. She dragged my daughter along....

They did. Not seriously at all mind you, but enough that I don't think mongo will be terrorizing them anymore.

So where does that leave me?

Well, I am not happy about my daughter being in a group that kicked a bully's butt. I would probably have been ok with it if it had been her against the bully....but I am left in the dubious position that I shouldn't condone any violence (even if a kid has it coming). This kid, mongo, REALLY had it coming.

So we have given her the non-violence lecture, she wrote apology letters to her teacher and mongo.

How do I teach my kids to turn away from violence, but not be doormats?
(Rhetorical question here....)


Next, who really will read this blog? I can not even begin to imagine...let me know who you are.
As I progress, I will be adding pix and links....etc....

And as cap'n Kirk once screamed in a fit of over-acting,