Thursday, June 30, 2005

Notes from the Bay

Years ago in China, I was riding a bus that was winding its way down out of the mountains of Yunnan. At one point, the person sitting next to the window on my right began to vomit. After a minute or so, the guy sitting in front of me joined in. They were then accompanied by the woman sitting across the aisle to my left. I was surrounded by a symphony of retching and heaving. So I began to direct it, using my hysterical laughter to lead the group throught the hard parts, collasping into giggles when they'd subside. What else could I do but howl.

I had a similar situation on my flight over the Pacific. I had hoped to sleep a little, to ignore the terror I feel at flying, stomach in knots at the absurd notion than an object weighing this many tons can stay up this high for 10 hours. I mean it defies physics man, doesn't it?
But sleep I was denied, first by the screaming infant who would occasionally shout "Papa!" into my subconcious. Then the man sitting behind me, violently coughing nonstop from take-off to touchdown. God knows what wonderful things he shared with the rest of us.
Anyway, flying the Friendly Skies, I remembered the old ad that featured Gene Hackman and Rhapsody in Blue. It was made ironic by the fact that Gershwin's original inspiration for the tune was a train journey he once took.
During the flight I was happy to finally catch Oceans 12, with its wonderful throw-away dialogue. The Julia Roberts gag was especially genius.

So I've been in the States now for a couple hours. I'm getting fatter by the minute, arteries firming up. Once I get my anti-depressants, I'll sue my parents for all my own flaws. It's good to be back.
But what am I doing here? I'm down in the Mission, man. I'm gonna go get me a burrito...

On the turntable: "The Hopper Room" (soundtrack, of sorts)
On the nighttable: W. Somerset Maugham, "Far East Tales"
Gunther Grass, "My Century"

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Overheard in the studio

Said by Amy, as she fell backwards out of a headstand, "My legs just went out from over me."

Watching another student having trouble with the same pose, this thought popped into my brain, for no apparent reason, "Wherever I hang my head, that's home."
Ah, we yogis are so deep...

On the turntable, Spoon, "Gimme Fiction"
On the nighttable, Anais Nin, "Delta of Venus

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The haze within, the haze without

Yesterday was truly hot for the first time this year. The sky was hazy and sat on the city like a lid, trapping all the heat within. It wasn't humid per say, yet simmering. It reminded me that next week I'll be in New Mexico for my first summer visit in 12 years. There was a strong hot wind blowing, not unlike the Santa Ana wind of SoCal. That wind is often accompanied by earthquakes.
I'd had a gig the night before which went late. I didn't sleep well, and awoke at 5:50 for no good reason whatsoever. Sleepwalked through work until 4pm. Tried to nap, body exhausted but mind racing as usual. Probably the cumulative effect of mainlining caffeine all day. I gave up when dusk's diffuse light created a Hopper painting in the room. To follow the theme, I threw on some Coltrane. A Love Supreme. A Love Supreme. A Love Supreme.
Had dinner plans with a friend, but due to fatigue, I couldn't make it past a single quesadilla. Begged off early. On the way home, the haze in my head had spread through the city, making the neon lights look like they were being powered off the same near-dead car battery. I wheeled into the arcade, passing small groups of two and three. Everybody looked big, much bigger than the locals. Many had large hair as well. I realized that a gig must've just let out at Belier, but with my exhaustion and the haze and the body size and the hair, it seemed like some apocalyptic drama was being played out in the 'Nog. Mutants now overran the city. I rode along the temples and the graveyards, and made the last turn toward home. The moon shone through wax paper.

On the turntable: Thelonious Monk, "Monk's Dream"

Friday, June 24, 2005

Down but not out


Oh hey. Yes yes, the 'Nog is still here. It wasn't destroyed by hackers setting off explosions in the Nuclear Plant up the coast. Not was it washed away by a tsunami, created by whales waving their tails simultaneously in protest of research burgers. Nor was it the Chinese, Okinawans, Taiwanese or Koreans, north and south. (Jeez. Does anyone not hate the Japanese these days? Not counting American otaku, of course.) No it was none of these things.

On Monday, I found that my internet service had been cut off. It was promised back yesterday. But before I could find out, my electricity was next to go. ( If you're beginning to see a theme, please click on the button below, the one marked "Donate!") It seems my bank account was bone-dry, at a time when western Japan is facing a severe drought. No electricity in an old house means no gas, no phone, no hot water. Like camping in a massive two-story tent. And the absence of music damn near killed me. I was a quivering ball of flesh pathetically humming old bubble-gum pop tunes, the ones written by Carole King in the days before LSD make feedback the soundtrack of gods.

Anyway, all is good again. It's been a crazy week with flea-markets (major book acquisition thanks to -c), two gigs, a quick trip to Kyoto for a party, a couple great movies (The Incredibles, too good to be true. Napolean Dynamite, one of the most hilarious films I've ever seen, and far too much like my hometown for comfort. It really got me fired up for my high school reunion next month.), much too much South Park, and an insane social schedule that has left me in a clammy, bruised, insomniatic haze. ( Last night, I finally got 10 hours sleep to catch up.) I have had few reserves for yoga, and have been focusing on breathing exercises this week. This has given me a strange, wired energy that somehow allows me to go on. The plethora of social events is due to my leaving next week for the summer, and trying to spend some hang time with soon to be dear departed friends. As happens every year, I strengthen a friendship with a person I barely know, just prior to their departure. I see the yearbook entry now: "Have a bitchin' summer." Signed with a cheesy heart...

Arrrggggghhh! Too much to write about today, but little time. I'm off to the beach in an hour. And you have to work.

On the turntable: Roman Rhodes and the Born Again Pagans, "Ripe" (Local Legend Tim is all over it, and I play shakuhachi on track 5. End shameless plug)
On the nighttable, "America (The Book)"

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Whoa, lo tengo!

Years ago, my friend Burnacle and I had an idea for a movie. We wanted to chronicle a day in the life of bicycle cops. The main actors would be total hardasses, and dress in the fashion of the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" music video, faces largely hidden by facial hair and huge shades.
This morning I thought about remaking "The Italian Job," using kei trucks and filmed on the linguine labyrinth of Tokyo streets. Instead of stealing loot, our heroes would steal the results of all the "research" done on whales over the past decade. The Norwegians would pay top dollar, or euro, or whatever it is they use up there.
* * *

Quite a few times in my life, I have an epiphanous day when I finally really "hear" a band I've been listening to for years. It happened with The Clash. It happened with Dylan. This week it was Yo Lo Tengo. This new compilation CD is blowing my mind (man). When I was visiting my brother in Iowa City last October, they played a gig, but we decided to blow it off.
These bruises around my testicular region are from me kicking myself.

On the turntable: Yo Lo Tengo, "Prisoners of Love"
On the nighttable: Ryu Murakami, "Almost Transparent Blue

Friday, June 17, 2005


I always start my yoga classes asking if anyone is having any "body issues," ie. injuries, menstruation, whatever. Monday night, one young woman thrust her hand into the air and said loudly and proudly in English, "Today is Ladies Day!"

* * *
I saw in the news this week that due to environmental concerns, Japan will finally start to do something about its insane bagging and wrapping policy. At the store, I always refuse bags, but occasionally they'll bag your purchase unnoticed as you're looking down into your wallet. Awareness is key. Yesterday, a second person came from outta nowhere and bagged my charcoal as I was paying the register jockey. Double-teamed!

On the turntable: Green Day, "American Idiot"

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Skippin' the light fandango

This afternoon at the hardward store, I caught myself loudly singing along to a muzak version of "Whiter Shade of Pale." I am far too ashamed to write anything else today.

On the turntable: Procol Harum, er Buffalo Daughter, "New Rock"

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

You want flies with that?

Yesterday's rant on emissions reminded me of an article in the latest Utne Reader. It mentions that we can give money to organizations that plant trees in order to offset the carbon dioxide we use. (Like carbon sinks on an individual scale, carbon finger-bowls, if you will.) Since my lifestyle consists largely of "making movies, making music, and fighting 'round the world," I fly hither and yon for no reason other than to keep boredom at bay. So I feel obliged to participate.

American Forests
Future Forests

Speaking of hazardous flying things...
A few weeks ago, I read (at Pure Land Mountain?) that crows don't view humans as threats but as mere annoyances. Yesterday, I saw a farmer prepping his rice field while riding one of those mini-tractors made by Tonka. Behind him, a crow hopped along, dining on the insects he'd dredged up.

On the turntable, "The Tea Party, "Edges of Twilight"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Isn't a heart of gold rock hard?

On the drive out to the airport this morning, I saw a lone policeman squatting in the bushes and pointing a radar gun at passing traffic. A few blocks up, a half dozen other police stood around, doing nothing apparently. (The 'Nog needs more donut shops, I guess.) I thought how wonderful the world would be if rather than a radar gun, the cops would hold up a device measuring emissions, citing those whose vehicles are polluting the world most.

I know, I keep harping on the Japanese disconnect from the world around them. It's often stated that even a century ago, there was no word for "nature" in their language, since there was no distinction between it and man. Similarly, before Buddhism, there was no word for Shinto, since the gods were a natural part of existance. (Ironically, I personally feel more "plugged in" when I'm in the forests or mountains of Japan, much more so than when I'm in the West. Mononoke Syndrone perhaps?) So this loss of the sacredness of the natural environment is depressing. I expect it from the West. Once man learned that he wasn't center of the universe, he placed himself there. For the Japanese, it's the gods who have changed. Money used to be considered dirty, always presented wrapped in white paper so as not to soil your fingers. Now the paper could almost be seen as sacred, a ceremonial symbol of purity, as in Shinto itself.

Money has been the "new god' quite awhile, of course. (I love how we use "denomination" both for religions and for the value of monetary notes.) Paper money has no value in itself. It's worth is based on faith alone. Commerce is indeed the only real religion left.

On the turntable: Leftfield, "Leftism"

Monday, June 13, 2005

Dead? Extremely sleepy

Short post today. Rain gods have shown favor and the sea beckons...

Behind Aloe Cafe is a large penned-in area where crazy little pug dogs can run around, pant, and look freaky. From within, two tall lean lovely women opened the gate and passed through. Behind them, a small black pug escaped through the open gate and followed them toward the cafe. Feeling a chivalrous itch deep within my Y chromosome, I sauntered over and smiling at the ladies, scooped up the dog and began walking back to the pen.
From behind me a voice said, "Excuse me. That's my dog."

Major shrinkage.

On the turntable: Holly Cole, "Romantically Helpless"

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Roberts Rules of Disorder

Miki is back in the 'Nam, giving me unlimited access to the car. I immediately found myself flagrantly and deliberately breaking one of the primary rules of the realm. That's right, I'm talking about driving and dialing. One or two of my three readers no doubt know that it became illegal to do so last November 1st. I was out of country at the time, and was curious about something. I directly approached a policeman one day and asked him if biking and dialing made me a profidious miscreant. I was assured that it was fine, as long as I were careful. So, dear reader(s), it shan't be long before I do my first moblogging by bike.
I have yet to drink and blog, however. Someone I know has been making it an artform, rapidly becoming the Bukowski of the blogosphere. I'd toast, but then I couldn't type.

On the turntable: Blue Man Group, "The Complex"
On the nighttable: Draeger/Smith, "Asian Fighting Arts"

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Stepping into the same river twice

Got a new camera the other day, to replace the one that grew legs and walked away to enjoy sightseeing in Kyoto. I don't mind so much except that it was pregnant with about 200 pictures from my UK trip. The new camera arrived at the exact moment that I was finishing the Trungpa book. Which begs the question. Can a Buddhist own a camera? Don't photos represent the ultimate in clinging, trying to hold on to a moment in time? Or is it a reflection of impermanence, viewing an old moment repeatedly, eyes fresh each time?

On the turntable: Joe Strummer, "Streetcore"

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bold man and the sea

After weeks of trying, I finally got into the sea. It was definitely worth the hype. There was of course that one brief awkward pause about crotch level, but after that, all was good. Absolutely perfect day, sky flawless with little wind. Water clear, embracing me for well over an hour. I shared the beach with no one, it being far too early for local sensibilities. Yep, that's me, the risktaker.
According to the extended forecast, the rain gods have decided to punish me with five straight days of rain.

Safety Tip! If you're thinking you might be spending some time in traffic, by no means should you listen to ska. The beat is lumbering forward, but you're just sitting there. And sitting there. And sitting there....
...and thinking. Stuff like how man has not evolved enough. Our sudden anger, displayed as road rage, is an instinct to even the score within a small society. This kind of genetic coding didn't take into consideration casual contact with an anonymous person.
So, while I'm sitting in traffic, a ladybug scampers up my windshield. Why walk when you can fly?

On the turntable: Ray Barretto, "The Best of..."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Oh, that reminds me...

Speaking of seafood. Years ago, I was walking the eponymous eight-hour hiking course which runs the length of Rebun-to island off Hokkaido. I dropped from wallpaper-inspiring flower-covered hills into a small fishing village. Two boys were pulling things out of the water with their nets. Seeing me, an alien fresh from space, one of them pulled out his pocket knife and cut open the sea urchin they'd just caught. I ate a glob of green sludge right off the knife's edge. Usually I hate uni sushi, but this was fresh and surprisingly tasty. The other boy repeated the ritual with a sea cucumber. I hate cucumbers too, but...
On another island, closer-to-home Oki, I was once served up miso soup which contained barnacles. I never knew they were edible.

* * *

Reading Graham Greene again. He and Somerset Maugham have made frequent guest appearances throughout my decade here. Their books are often set in exotic locales, the stories somewhat light, yet deftly written. Perfect read for expats or travellers. "The Razor's Edge" is my favorite book, a tale to model your life on. "The Quiet American" isn't far behind. I'd be hard-pressed to say which writer I prefer. Whereas Maugham is somewhat detached, telling his story through the eyes of a character he has created, Greene seems to be closer to the action, not afraid to get his hands dirty.

On the turntable: Catherine Wheel, "Chrome"
On the nighttable: Graham Greene, "England Made Me"

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

I can't quite seem to make it into the water this year. Sunday, I had plans to go swimming with some friends, but the rain gods chose once again to spit at me. We went to Tully's over in Matsue instead. As the caffeine cleared the fog from my head, the sky outside was going through a similar transformation. Four pm and bright blue! We decided to go for a walk.
Five years ago, Ben-chan and I had the brilliant idea of walking the complete length of the Shimane Peninsula, from Mihonoseki to Hinomisaki. It should have taken 3 0r 4 days, but we kept finding beaches perfect for loafing. (We only made it as far as Ichibata Yakushiji, and beyond there, there be dragons.) So far, the best beach we found was Kitaura, with it's small reef and rainbow of fish. Running a close second is Kaga, a place I first heard about from Lafcadio Hearn. And there my friends and I went.
There is a nice trail that runs beside the caves and tidepools. I told my friends about a large cave up ahead,but one of them misunderstood me, thinking I said there was a zoo. (Dobutsu vs. Dokutsu) Yet the variety of life in the pools proved her right after all. We had fun checking out all kinds of squishy edibles and I learned lots of new vocabulary. (Most already long gone.) The trail ran up a hill to a small plateau which contained a wooden platform. The perfect place for an acoustic gig. We lay on the deck awhile watching a dozen or so kites swirling above. I tried a screeching imitation and a few flew closer. I love making eye-contact with birds.
Later when the birds were gone, shadows lengthened and clouds snuggled ridges. Behind us, the sun made with a final tip of the hat, and was gone.

On the turntable: Tim Buckley, "Goodbye and Hello"

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Bellybutton Lint

If our cells replace themselves every 7 years, and if there is no personal identity outside my everchanging conditioning, then what holds "me" together?

On the turntable, Devo, "Q. Are We Not Men?..."
On the nighttable, "Chogyam Trungpa, "Crazy Wisdom"

Monday, June 06, 2005

Slow food for thought

...I realized my fatigue when I caught myself looking for prices at the 100 yen shop...

If you watch a wave from the time it forms, it can be agonizing in the amount of time it takes to break. I can imagine the wait for the three surfers. From a distance, their heads look like watermelon seeds. I turn my eyes from the post-storm swells to the beach. Are trees, eternally rooted, more satisfied than sharks, ever moving? Nearby, a swarm of gnats swirl in the warm air above a tombstone. I sit and watch the summer go by...

On the turntable: Gil Scott-Heron, "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox"
On the Nighttable: Nevil Shute, "On the Beach"

Sunday, June 05, 2005

When the music's over

OK, so I had a long week, alright. Besides physically taxing aikido sessions and djembe lessons, I taught Ashitanga yoga to my students for the first time. Six times. Rainy season is officially upon us, suddenly high humidity taxing muscles and drawing out fatigue. Plus I actually worked quite a bit, mindless hours bookended by commutes. So that's my excuse why I left the gig early.

Nami san came to town, as he does twice a year. The last time I'd seen him was three years ago, when I flicked a Guinness poptop as percussion, and Ken-chan tapped a metal cup arhythmically with a toothpick. Tonite, many of the figures who've appeared in previous posts were in attendance, making it akin to the final scene in The Wizard of Oz. (Pink Floyd optional.) It was a wicked set. Nami-san usually has two speeds: drunk, and therefore blazing through rock and blues numbers, or baked, all navel-gazing and ballady. Tonite he was all over the map. The livehouse was a new one, not much bigger than a parking space. Seriously, the stage took up half the club. When he's played bigger spaces (including my yoga studio, before it was such), there is the usual arm waving and foot shuffling that passes for dancing around here. All we could do tonite was sit on the floor and nod. Nami-san started out solo, then called a new person up for each song. Mii-chan looked cool swaying next to his stand up bass, plucking with eyes closed. I couldn't see Tim around the corner, but new sounds kept eminating from back there--mandolins, slide guitar, quiros, and maracas. I was gonna come up late in the second set. During one slow song, I went out to get nonalcoholic drink from a vending machine. On my return, I saw a few friends outside the club, on their way home. I was pretty wiped out myself, and practicality (my old nemesis) took charge. As the walls throbbed with a Japanese version of Psycho Killer, I biked toward the land of Nod.

(So why am I typing this the next morning at 7:30. Aaarrrrggghhh!)

On the turntable: Donovan, "Greatest Hits"

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A post when there's nothing new to say...

Americans are finally turning away from SUVs, due to high gas prices. Yet recently, I saw my first Hummer in Japan. In it were a couple longhairs, their surfboards fastened to the top. (I'm flashing Robert Duvall here.) This was down Wakayama way, near a long stretch of shoreline that I dubbed Death Beach, due to the black sand, vampire-repelling stakes strewn about, crows feeding on bird carcasses, and gnarly driftwood. (Read this last one in a literal sense, not in a Cali-speak way, despite the aforementioned surfers and their vehicle, a Hummer, the first privately owned one bought in the early 90s by native Cali-boy, Guv Schwartzenegger.) There were a few (vampire?) bikers drinking around a midday bonfire(!), looking tough in their black leather and chaps, yet one lost all street cred when he whipped out his hot-pink phone. Near this beach, I three times ran into the same elderly couple. Thinking I was out of earshot, the husband kept remarking on my long legs. There on Death Beach, did I narrowly escape a Dr. Mephisto-like plot involving transplants, my corpse to be found legless and picked at by crows and the undead? At that exact moment, I suddenly heard screaming, and wheeled around to see a trio of schoolgirls, shreiking at a sparrow which had flown too close. (Were only women groped on trains to act with such exuberance.) Close affinity with nature, and all that... Scuse me, pass the whale. Cheers.

In other news, while downing my Yellow Tail Cabernet, I was struck by its hint of vanilla. I think the winemaker, already high on his previous failed batches, dumped a whole dose of vanilla extract in each bottle. Like drinking a bake sale.

And tell me, Elvis Costello's, "Oliver's Army" is about Cromwell, isn't it. Jeez, I've been listening to that song for only like 25 years or so...

On the turntable: Bauhaus, "Couchella"

Friday, June 03, 2005

Where art thou?

Shell turned me on to Odyssey wine, a nice red at 500 yen a bottle. It's quickly becoming my favorite cheap tipple. Last night I heard its call. I looked all over town for some, going here and there, biking around for what felt like 10 years. I'd give my eye for a bottle. Instead, I turned my yellow tail and headed toward home.

On the turntable: Nina Simone, "Bad Habits"
On the nighttable: Keith Dowman, "The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

If Bruce Lee were a musician...

There's a point in playing music where you stop concentrating and "it" clicks. It's like the music finds you, shuts off your brain awhile, and starts to whirl you around. Everything else just stops.

* * *

Music is man's attempt to express his soul via the use of simple mathematics. It's ironic how digitalized music brings it back to numbers.

* * *

Man has become so used to music borrowed for commercials, or used as Muzak, that he no longer notices the flaws or cliches. When we hear the real thing, it sounds strange. This is not unlike English usage in Japan.

On the turntable: Great Big Sea, "Play"

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Twisted tongues and numb hands

Yet again, I went over to Kurayoshi. My train car was filled with a group of old women, cackling away like canned laughter. I took one Ipod as a remedy. Despite the crowds, I was left alone to my four seats. (Membership has its privileges.) Another flawless springtime sky looked down on those with important things to do, like the farmer throwing buckets of water on his tractor. Daisen looked incredible, a scallop shell on a blue platter. In one of its rivers, a cheating duck sat on a submerged stone. Some kids were playing tennis behind their school. Why is it in Japan, where the government pours concrete like the citizens pour soy sauce, are all the tennis courts dirt?

Once a year, I run a pronunciation workshop for English teachers. They all have good English, and collectively are a pretty quirky group. It's good fun and I'm not made to feel like a language whore. In today's class, Tsutomu (aka Tom) asked why women seem more adept at languages. Besides the obvious--that men are less patient--I theorized that in overtly male dominated societies (all of them?), college men seem to drift toward the "serious" paths of study like government and business, while women go for "soft" studies, like English or music. Later Tom asked the four women in the room why each of them had started studying English initially, and each of them said something like they hadn't gotten into the fashion school of their choice, or they'd changed majors, or they were lousy at sports or math. Without exception, they'd come to English by default. It's always fun to see one of your theories come to life before your eyes.

They all seemed to rue living in the country, with little chance to practice speaking to a native. That word came up again and again. Native. It conjured images of grass skirts and spears. Afterward, we all had lunch together, yet the lingua franca never strayed from the local dialect. I just don't get it.

Since I was in town, I decided to take my first djembe lesson from Arama. Now, I've been around drums for close to three decades, but there is always a place for new styles and rhythms. You just have to make room for them. Like in the old zen story, my tea cup floweth over. It took about 15 minutes to forget all I've ever learned, then another 15 for my body to clue into what my hands were doing. After that, all was steady in my universe.

On the turntable: Nick Drake, "Five Leaves Left"