Falsies Fake Booties and Failing to Cheer

During the same week where my vision of a mighty fist was destroyed by a teacher, I also had to dress up as a girl.

Because it was homecoming, there was a tradition where the girls played a football game against girls from other grades and unfortunate group of boys got to dress up as girls and be cheerleaders. I was one of those unfortunate boys.

I do not remember how the unfortunate were selected but I vaguely remember there being  some version of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. I think this has to be true because a couple of the popular guys were also cheerleaders.

Now, in other classes, it appeared that the cool and popular guys had volunteered. In a couple cases they also had acquired cheerleader uniforms from some of the girls playing football. Another class had acquired tremendous balloons to give them tremendous, um, appearances.

We, the unfortunate, however, rigged up something resembling, um, appearances and stuffed our shorts to give us something resembling “back”.

Unfortunately, the “back” appeared more like “accident” and many present suggested we needed a trip to the restroom.

Once the game began, we, the unfortunate pretty much stood around and did nothing except stand around. Eventually, it was our girls versus, I think, the seniors, and pretty much the entire school decided to support the seniors. (Including, if I remember correctly, a substantial portion of our class.) Despite one of our unfortunate members encouraging us to actually do a generic cheer, we ended up not doing a single cheer.

None of us wanted to be there and we weren’t going to pretend to have fun. I don’t know if that makes us cowards, rebels or jerks incapable of having fun. Either way, we were just a bunch of unfortunate unfortunates standing around with fake “appearances” and “accidents”.

That pretty much sums up all the class spirit we had. At least that year.

Homecoming Parades and Artistic Disasters

My first chance at creating public art ended in an unrecognizable disaster.

About a thousand years ago when I was a freshman at Hayden High School–or perhaps I was a sophomore–the entire class was gathered together to design our homecoming float for the annual homecoming parade. This was a bad thing for my class.

For some reason the class of 1985–at both HHS and later at Southeast of Saline HS where I would eventually graduate–had an intense dislike of planning such spectacles. I don’t know if this is because we lacked a leader or because, as I suspect, to a person we couldn’t have cared less about the parade. When asked to come up with designs we just kind of stared at each other and went “you decide”.

Eventually, someone, I think his name was Randy, suggested we just have a float with a giant fist in the center and nothing else. Because no one hated the idea, that became our plan. The next step was to find someone to design the float. Because I was interested in drawing random things, everyone looked at me and I was chosen.

If you are keeping score: for sports I was chosen last; for bullshit jobs I was chosen first.

I had no clue what I was doing but managed to produce a sketch of a fist made with chicken wire and we all met at someone’s house to build the float and “pomp” it. For the uninitiated, pomping involves twisting bits of paper and tissue into chicken wire to give the design “shape” and “color” and “life”. It is also one of those jobs where no matter how long you do it, you never seem to make any progress. In fact, it’s the closest you can get to Purgatory without experiencing physical death.

Things became complicated when our faculty adviser (I don’t remember his name) decided that the float needed more than just a fist. In fact, he decided, the fist should be punching the mascot of Whatever The Hell It Was High School (not a real school). This prompted a redesign and pretty much all my effort was ignored as all my designs were thrown out the window. (Many years later I’d read The Fountainhead and realize what I should have done to protect my vision. I could have even given a sixty page speech at my trial.)

For reasons I don’t remember, I wasn’t able to go pomping more than once. Apparently neither was anyone else in my class. The final float looked half finished and no one understood what it was supposed to be. We finished last in the judging. I don’t remember anyone caring much about that.

Once Upon a Time a Blatherer

One of the joys of being a Dad is being able to use Daddy Phrases. The more ridiculous the Daddy Phrase the better.

You grow up hearing these phrases. What you don’t realize is how much fun they are to use. You also don’t realize that they are a kind of test to see not only if you can hear, but also if you’re actually listening.

The old standbys are especially fun. “If you fall down and split your head open, you’re not getting dessert.” (For the record, this is factually correct.)

“If you break your leg, you’re getting a spanking.” (The trick here is leaving off the “eventually”.)

“Don’t talk to your mother like that!” (Even I don’t get to talk to your mother like that.)

My favorites are still “You can have that when you have a job and can pay for it yourself.” Eventually the child gets the money and you say “You can’t have that in my house. When you have your own house you can have anything in it you want.”

That dialogue leads to “Do you want a spanking?” Now, this one is tricky, because although the obvious answer is “no”, it often tricks Tweens and Teens into sarcastically saying “Yeah” and the results are, well, the results. This ends with me saying “Don’t say I never give you what you want.”

And the final classic: “You’ll never be too big to get a spanking.”

It’s also fun to invent your own phrases. When our oldest was learning to walk, we dedicated certain dangerous areas as forbidden zones. When she stumbled into one, my phrase was “That’s a forbidden zone, Oldest. You what that means? It means it’s forbidden.”

Once again, this is a factual statement that still manages to confuse children. That’s the most fun, especially if it means they are actually listening to you.

In the end, what I like about Daddy Phrases is I get to play the fool (which I am disturbingly good at). Then, when I suddenly reveal that I know everything my girls have been up to, it makes me seem kind of psychic.

Bad Blood Bad Throws and Broken Dictionaries

A couple boys were being boys today, which means I had to throw them out of class for a few minutes.

During an attempt to check answers to an assignment, I called on a student, let’s call him Koji. Koji gave the right answer but I mistakenly said he was wrong then corrected myself. This caused my worst student, let’s call him Abaddon, to stand up and start mocking him for being wrong. I told Abaddon to sit down and shut up–or, even better, shut up then sit down–and he condemned my soul to hell but sat down (something like that).

During the next assignment, when I was reviewing my notes and assigning a few marks, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Koji throw a pen at Abaddon who was teasing him again. I got them both quiet again and Abaddon vowed that demons would eat my heart in hell and that someone’s mother sews socks that smell (something like that).

Not a minute later, when I was helping a student realize that, yes, he too had to do the assignment, I saw something large fly through the air and heard a loud thump and crash. Koji had thrown the entire contents of his desk at Abaddon, including an electronic dictionary that ended up so mangled and bent I think it now counts as an iPhone 6.

As they moved toward each other for a real fight, my voice went to 11 and I told both students to get out of my class. Koji stormed out and sat in the hall by door at the back of the classroom. Abaddon suddenly got quiet. This meant he knew he’d crossed a line because usually he puts on a show for the rest of the class. I forced him to sit by the closest door and told both not to talk. They could come back when they were calmed down and ready to work.

Eventually they both came back and after class I marched them down to the teachers’ office to find their homeroom teachers. When I couldn’t find the homeroom teachers, I told the vice-principal what was going on and he went from happy-go-lucky to bad-ass in only one breath. He berated them until a homeroom teacher arrived.

Both boys confessed (although Abaddon only confessed to teasing Koji but didn’t say what he’d actually said that set him off) and the homeroom teacher explained that apparently they’d hated each other since junior high and this was just one in a long line of confrontations.

I told them that next time they fought in my class they’d get more homework than they could possibly imagine.

I also told Koji to just go over and punch Abaddon next time–unless he was really hoping to get a new dictionary.

No, I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.


The Slow Train to Anywhere

Twice in my life I’ve ridden Amtrak. It’s an experience I hope to never repeat now that I’ve actually repeated it.

The first train I rode was the train they call the City of New Orleans on a trip to New Orleans. New Orleans was great and very much worth the trip. The train they call the City of New Orleans was not. It was slow and at some point stopped completely after it hit a truck or a truck hit it or the driver went on strike or something. The only good thing was that I was traveling with my then girlfriend (a relationship that would not end so well) and I got to read a lot.

I tried to enjoy the scenery at times, but since the train moved slowly before it stopped, I got tired of staring at the same tree.

The next time I rode Amtrak I got suckered by low prices. I decided to go visit some Peace Corps friends of mine in Vermont and New York City. After careful research, I discovered that, because of a price special, a train ticket to New York was cheaper than a plane ticket to New York.

Forgetting my past experience, I bought the ticket and hopped the train to Chicago, at 2 a.m. or something like that, from an ill-kempt station in Memphis that reminded me of my one train trip in Albania. Several hours after I started I finally arrived in Chicago. Along the way I made friends/temporary travel companions with a Swedish lass (Svensk tjej?) named Marie who remained a long time pen pal, even after I moved to Japan.

I then took the next leg from Chicago to New York which involved a brief stay in either Purgatory or Buffalo, I’m still not sure which. At some point I arrived in New York, saw my friend there and then took a bus to Vermont to see my other friend. Eventually I ended up back on the train and ended up back in Memphis.

It’s no exaggeration to say I could have got to Tokyo and back in the time it took me to get to New York and back on the train. And I’d at least have been able to watch a movie.

The lesson learned from all this was that when the song says “I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done” it actually means “I’ll have abandoned the 19th century toy and hopped on an airplane”.

Enjoy the ride.

Me One Me Happy One Me Seventh Wheel

I had the unusual experience of being a lowly fifth level black belt in a group of experts today.

In addition to my sensei (an 8th dan) and the assistant teacher (a 6th dan) we were joined by an extra 8th dan and three extra sixth dans. They were all visiting our dojo/gym to practice for tournament that’s taking place in two weeks. Since it’s for sixth dans and higher I’m not invited which means I was at practice today to, well, pretty much take up space.

I mostly practiced basic moves and katas and then played practice dummy for one of the sixth dans. Basically I got to hold a sword vertically in front of him as if I were a killer taking time to explain that my victim should be honored to be split in two with an original Hattori Hanzo sword that is so sharp God will be cut. While I’m talking the defender does a couple simple moves with his arms that block me from cutting him. He pushes me back and then pretty much avoids my next three swings with different techniques. The entire sequence ends with me at his mercy.

I got to try the sequence a few times and did okay, although was making some small mistakes. The temptation is to push with your arms but the trick is to push from your stomach and legs. We are instructed to make life as difficult as possible for the defender. When he forgot to use his right hand to control my arms, I stepped left and showed him I could elbow his face and then remove his head or a good portion of his internal organs. When I tried using my arms to push, he stood fast and didn’t go anywhere.

Later, I got to watch the high level experts practice. They were doing one defender versus two swordsmen routines. The only rules are you have to do at least five moves and can’t repeat a defensive technique; you have to be aware of both attackers at the same time because they can slash you if they have a chance; and the attackers can’t help you by pretending you pulled them down. If one of the sensei’s thinks you’re just faking, they will replace you and see if the defender can still do the techniques.

it was interesting to watch. The problem is they make it look easy.


The Escalation of Pointy Stabby Things

Today I managed to sell more knives than I bought, even though I was very close to buying a couple.

Today was the Japan Knife Guild annual show. As has become tradition/habit/syndrome, I met my Canadian friend and we spent time roaming around the show. It was one of the best shows we’ve attended and we guess that 85% of the tables had something that made us pause and think rather seriously about finances and financing.

Before we started roaming around, though, I sold him four knives I no longer wanted. I’ve sold him other knives, too, which kind of makes me his dealer. (More on that later.)

One of the things about collecting knives (well, anything actually) is the way your interests change and escalate. You start off with a couple cheap knives and mock anyone who spends more than $50 on a knife. You tell yourself the $10 knife you have does everything you need and it couldn’t do more if it cost more.

Then you see a $60 knife you like and buy it. You tell yourself the knife has everything you need and the money you spent is worth it. And, hey, the better steel actually holds an edge longer than your $10 knife. The crazy people are those who spend more than $100 dollars on a knife.

However, every time you break a $50 dollar mark, it resets you to the next highest $50 mark. This means that, all of a sudden, $100 doesn’t seem that unreasonable because it lets you try better steels and handle materials. This continues to escalate until you’re looking at $1,200 custom flippers made from Damascus steel, Zirconium and Timascus and thinking “Well, it’s only $100  more than the last one I bought so that’s not too bad.”

The problem is, at that point, knives cease to be tools and become jewelry. Are you going to cut apart a cardboard box with your $1,200 handmade knife or your $50 mass-produced one? Are you really going to take a $1,200 knife camping or hunting even if it’s called the XYZ Hunter Flipper? I admire you if you do, but I doubt you will.

In my case, my purchases didn’t escalate that far, although they did escalate. As I’ve said before, as a form of tithing, I decided to buy knives from small makers, some of them just starting out in the business. This drove up the price substantially. I also, however, acquired some used from small makers I admire.

My most expensive knife, for the record, also included a stake in the company. (Disclosure: I don’t get dividends from all sales, only from sales of limited edition knives I choose not to buy. I also have the option to sell the stake, which is represented by the first limited edition knife.)

As for my friend, he also ended up not buying anything, although he plans to order one for his father. The only thing he bought was my four unwanted knives.

This purchase surprised me, though, because after buying a good quality fixed blade knife a couple shows ago, he swore off cheap knives, or as he calls them “crap knives” and has decided to focus on high quality makers.

Luckily for him, I also happen to have a couple of those around.

Don’t Report the Crime if You Don’t Have the Time

When I was in Albania I got to take part in the investigation of my own mugging.

All I really wanted was my money reimbursed.

Some time during my second year in Albania I got offered a free ride to Skopje, the capital city of the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia. I’ve probably written in down somewhere, but I can’t remember the names of the people I traveled with. He was somehow involved in the development community and she was his translator or employee (to this day I still don’t understand the relationship). They gave me a tour of some interesting sites and then told me how to get a bus back to Albania.

The bus arrived in Tirana after dark and I proceeded to the Hotel Arberia, which was my home away from home. About half way between the bus and the hotel, a man I’d seen lurking near the bus approached me from the front, at the same time his accomplice tried to grab my bags.  I was carrying a book bag and a small carpetbag. I locked my arms together and held on to both bags whilst having my arms and shoulders kicked. Since they’d seen me get off an international bus, they knew I had a US passport and were hoping for a quick store (which is why no knives were involved.) Luckily, it was winter and I was wearing a heavy coat that absorbed most of the kicks.

In the end all they got was my decoy fanny pack–which I carried for moments like this–and some cash that I’d lazily stuck in the decoy.

To get the cash reimbursed from the Peace Corps I had to fill out an official police report. Unfortunately, the person I was supposed to meet was on either a vacation or a honeymoon and I got the wrong person.

Important tip: when dealing with a bureaucracy, never get the wrong person.

This complicated things. The other complicating factor was one of the policeman who’d interviewed me had seen one of the muggers on the street before he mugged me. I was then invited to a late night investigation/man hunt which involved walking with the police and saying “not him” “not him” “not him” and going into bars to check out the patrons.

I kept mumbling that I didn’t want justice; I just wanted my cash back.

In the end, I had to go back to the police station where I eventually found the right person and I got my money reimbursed. The police never found the perpetrator and I never saw him again.

The only catch was, a month later I got a note from the police saying I had to be present at a hearing and if I wasn’t present I could go to jail. The hearing had taken place three days before I received the note. A few phone calls later and everything was cleared up.

Or there’s still warrant for my arrest in Albania.

History in Bytes of Bites

I think, when the issue is carefully considered, that selfies and lunch portraits make more sense than paper diaries.

A picture of the squid you ate for lunch with the caption “GIANT SQUID!” doesn’t seem all that different to me than recording what you ate in a diary. “Ate squid for lunch. Delicious. Texture of slimy leather.”  The main difference is time. Tweeting a picture of your drink next to your face is much faster than writing “I had a Pina Colada at Trader Vics. My hair was perfect.” (The photo is also less cliche and easier to understand than my handwriting.)

Similarly, a picture of your bloated, red-eyed, tear stained face with the phrase “Life after bitch” is much more effective than endless whinging about your break up and about how she didn’t appreciate you and “What does she see in that p&#@k anyway! I mean, besides a good job and lots of money and perfect hair and great fashion sense and his own private jet what’s he got that I haven’t got? I mean, like what’s a private apartment in Paris when you’ve got my wit and, well, my wit?” (Oh, like you’ve never been dumped for someone like that before.)

Granted, part of the problem with electronic files and storage is that the formats are always changing. I’ve spent many hours moving files from one format to another and making and storing various back ups. (I also now have no way to read old floppy discs.) If we can’t find a way to extract the old data, we lose large pieces of history, but I’m sure some enterprising soul is already working on that problem.

Selfies and photos of your lunch and photos of the jerk on the train and of the great sunset, when taken together, are a terrific record of a life. Even better, they’ve got color and expression.

Now if I just had a better filing system for it all.


Rites of Passage at a Self Service Station

A few years ago, I watched She Who Must Be Obeyed and father in-law pump gas for the first time in their lives.

It was fascinating, and vaguely familiar, to watch as they figured out how to choose the flavor of gas they wanted and pre-pay and then get stuck on what to do next.

Eventually I had to get out and help them.

Until recently, all Japanese gas stations have been full service in a 1950s sense. As you pulled into the station, an attendant would direct you to an open pump and then an entire team of attendants would descend on your car. They would wash the windows, check the air in the tires and, give you a towel so you could wipe the inside of the windows. If you didn’t smoke, they would give you air freshener beads to put in your ash tray. When they were finished and you’d paid, one of the attendants would block traffic so you could get going again.

However, a number of oil shocks eventually caused some gas stations to experiment with self-service so they could eliminate overhead. This was such a big deal it made national news. Now that people have figured out how easy it is to pump your own gas, the call of the lower prices has slowly driven out the full-service stations. There are still a few, but they have a lot of competition.

By contrast, when I was in the USA, I only went to a full-service pump once, and I only did that because I was in a hurry and it was the only pump open. I was met by an attendant who was one part bored and one part shocked that anyone had actually come to use the pump. He washed my windows and he may have checked the oil but that was pretty much it.

Lately, Japan has also discovered self-checkout lanes at large grocery stores, although it’s still at the phase where a nearby attendant is needed to deal with any issues.