The End of the Affair

Friday night at Lala’s Last Resort. Snowflake sits in a dark booth at the rear, beyond the long, gleaming bar that dominates the room, lit up like a cabaret stage. Struggling to compose herself, she fretfully strokes the naugahyde of the bench. It is one of the reasons she comes here. She abhors leather.

In the glass frame of a forgotten singer’s photograph, she examines her reflection. Her lashes are preposterously long and her eyes…well now. Who can say how many reckless supplicants have been brought to ruin beneath the opulent light of Snowflake’s eyes? She is dazzling.

That won’t make this evening any easier.

Late as always, he shoulders his way past the swinging doors, and Snowflake feels a treacherous heat enter her, the old, potent cocktail of menace and arousal. His sheer physicality overwhelms, an animal presence that becomes, instantly, the white-hot center of every room he enters. With the usual short-list of unsettled reactions, the other patrons register his implacable progress down the long room. Snowflake fights an urge to flee, to overturn the table, to run and not stop.

Buttons reaches the booth, straining to press his powerful frame into the space between the bench and table. His enormous hump sets the lamp spinning. At the next booth, a fat man waggles frantic fingers at the waiter as his date succumbs to hyperventilation.

With a crisp, dry crack the bench sags as Buttons settles himself, then turns the full, awful weight of his attention on her. A searching, accusing gaze.

“Moo,” he says. Continue reading The End of the Affair

Little Women

For weeks, they have arrived on late afternoons when the sun begins to beat the distant rim of the hills to bronze. The little women boil out of gaps in the hardwood at the Wagon Wheel Lanes, and the known world takes a shuddering, leftward lurch.

As they stream beneath the Comfort Curve™ sofas and across the scarred linoleum, the anopheline hum of their gossip sets the beer glasses in the lounge ringing in sympathetic resonance. Whiskey dances in bottles laid against the mirrored tiles. As with the wings of certain butterflies, opalescent ripples flash across the floor as their minuscule sunbonnets turn this way and that. Witnesses swear that fleeting messages show in those patterns; images and drifts of script. A Fredericksburg kindergarten teacher is gladdened by a glimpse of the word ‘fandango’ and can’t say why. A produce manager from Salt Gap hears, in the calico murmur, the night wind in the bodark tree beside his bedroom window in a house that burned down thirty, no, forty years back.  ‘God is great,’ he announces, as the little women swirl around the ball return on lanes seven and eight.

It was learned early that they came for the wieners; brittle, skinless franks that have done penance since morning atop the rolling grill. All those gathered hand them around, solemnly breaking them into pieces and casting them into the shimmering throng, where they vanish.

Until Friday, when a toddler drawn by the rosy flush on an infinitesimal cheek pitched forward from his chair. In the instant it took to fetch the boy back, already lapsing into shock, his thigh melted away. The bone shone pink in the light of a caged bulb. And so decisions were made. For the wildest beauty, time must always be running out.

When the maple approaches are stripped, resurfaced and conditioned, wonder will have passed out of the world. Unless I can get there first, and gather them up, and run. A pilgrim carrying her destination with her, we’ll turn tramp, feeding on pinkelwurst and boudin rouge, on sharp mīrkās and slices of pickled bison’s tongue, white pudding in egg yolk and fragrant xue chang. There is sausage everywhere you go.

We’ll be out there. Follow when you can.


Meet the newest citizen of sunny Hagoromocho.

Born the day before Halloween, 2010, we named her Lila.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually bothered to check the name Lila online.  Seems to mean lilac in several languages, enjoyed a little surge of popularity in the 1920s, and is poised to make a demographic splash in the next few years.   I made the same mistake when I named her older sister Ema, unaware that Emma was the number 1 or 2 name the year she was born.  Guess I’m just another whore to the Zeitgeist.

Of course, the real reason she’s named Lila is that in the months leading up to her birth I was on a little western, cowboy kick, and Lila just sounded right.  It was going to be Lila, Juanita, or Belle and Lila is the only one I could make fly.  Congratulations, sweetheart.  Your dad’s an idiot.

In Japanese, of course, Raira, or 來良, if you’re thinking of a snazzy tattoo.

“The old priest’s eyes are bright.”

I’ve never posted a student assignment here before. There have been some good ones. Personal favorites include the girl who finished her report on “Pirates of the Caribbean” with the confession, “I like a jolly roger,” and another student who had the Greek gods tell Narcissus, “When you awake, you will fall in love with the first parson you see.” Another girl shared a special memory of how, after she had won an English Recitation contest, “all my friends were crapping for me.”

Generally, though, I don’t think teachers should put forward student work for laughs. But one of my favorite students, a real “beat of a different drummer” seventeen year old, just handed in a spectacular report on her recent homestay in Australia. Her classmates all wrote more or less the same essay about cuddly koalas and cute boys on the Gold Coast and how they “persevered every day to make a treasured memory,” a phrase that appeared so often that I think the homeroom teacher must have written it out for them on the blackboard. Then I came to this. Even the title is a trip.

No Attention, Please

I saw a lot of nervous friends.
There are many flying insects for everyday experience.
In my house, many ants are walking every day.
And, there are cockroaches, geckoes, and many flying insects.
I made friends with geckoes.
People are not afraid of them. I could not believe it.
Every student has their own computer.
Pronunciation in Australia is different from the Queen’s and the Americans.
I don’t know why my lunch is a sandwich.
There are many products made in China.
They are very low priced, but, indeed…
The young priest is odd.
The old priest’s eyes are bright.
No one can escape from him.
Everyone often eats mashed potato.
Rulers are long.
Water is expensive. And also juice.
Everyone eats a lot of apples which are not cut.
Young girls with dyed black-color hair are really into punk fashion.
We don’t have an under five-cent coin.
The color in the sky is vivid. The sea is lovely.
Meat is dripping blood. (I bought it in a shop)
People often use wrong Japanese word.
Ninjas and sushi don’t connect.
Rice salad is incomprehensible for Japanese.
Some children have Japanese games.
(Almost Chinese)
Some women show their underwear.
—–But when we look from the universe,
we have no frontiers.
And we may be able to be friends.

All Phone Calls are Obscene

Tomorrow the school smoking room will be converted to storage space, and there will be no more smoking anywhere on school grounds. Good news, it might be easier to quit. But a lot went on in that room, and I’m reposting an entry from a few years back as a farewell:

The smoking room doesn’t offer much at a first glance, but it’s a sanctuary for weary and persecuted soldiers of secondary education. Here there are no students, no teetering stacks of homework to be marked, not a trace of chalk in the still, poisoned air. In the short break between each class half the men in the school stand shoulder to shoulder, silently handing round cigarettes. Lighters appear and are struck. 18 men inhale, nod appreciatively to one another, and release. The air instantly turns that perfect 20th century blue, the color only of television in strangers’ homes and dense tobacco smoke in narrow rooms.

The walls, last papered in the 80’s, are a lustrous amber. A dead history teacher’s still-life hangs near the door, a thick gloss of tar lending it the gravity of centuries. There is one machine for coffee and one for tea, both of which sometimes work. Two couches and six chairs face off across a pair of scruffy tables. One of the couches is so soft that you are really, to be absolutely honest, sitting on the floor. The other has boards beneath its thin cushions; sitting on it is like perching on a window ledge while a crowd below urges you to do the worst. The tables are set with four cut glass ashtrays, a smaller wooden affair with buxom native dancers carved into the rim, and one with beach sand and discolored seashells trapped in glass. These last two are souvenirs of K. Sensei’s Oahu wedding.

“My God, it sounds magnificent,” I hear you murmuring among yourselves, and so it is but for one thing, the lone serpent fouling our Eden. The telephone. Continue reading All Phone Calls are Obscene

The Firefly Tribe

In the evening the shadowed verandas of the large apartment block near my house are lit by the orange embers of cigarettes. They rise and fall, tracing wild arcs through the air to emphasize a thought, each inhalation marked by the flaring and dimming of the little glow. Sometimes there are ten or more at once, for the most part completely unaware of each other. It’s a common enough scene across the country that the Japanese have invented a wonderful word for it: hotaruzoku, the firefly tribe, smokers who choose or are exiled by families to the balconies. Sometimes the tribe has a voice as well, one hacking cough sounding in the darkness to be answered by another, slightly deeper. If it were blues or church singing it would be a beautiful call and response, but the effect is more like a flock of ill wading birds trying to find one another in the midst of a swamp fire.

I know all this because the hotaruzoku is one of the very few Japanese tribes I’ve gained full access to, and by far the easiest. It’s also the entirety of my interaction with those neighbors in the apartment block. There in the gloaming, I gaze thoughtfully through the intervening space at their indistinct outlines and they gaze thoughtfully back at me. Then we turn and go inside. And that is all. I’ll leave you now. Through the open window, my people are calling to me.

…and a time to cast away

I think my long term relationship with National Public Radio is coasting to an end. It’s time. I think we hit a new low this morning when “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” used the Black Eyed Peas as a musical interlude, and the damned thing got stuck in my head. For obvious reasons, it’s ill-advised for a 140 kilo bald guy in his early forties to be strolling down the halls of an all-girls high school obliviously crooning, “My hump, my hump, my hump, ha! My lovely lady lumps. Check it out!” in a breathy falsetto, even if no one understands what he’s saying.

Unfortunately, that’s all I really took away from NPR this morning. That and the weather forecast for Minneapolis, nearly 9,000 kilometers away. I no longer care who gets Carl Kasell’s voice on his home answering machine. The Car Talk guys sound increasingly bizarre, though I freely concede that’s entirely my problem. The Driveway Moments are blending into one prolonged howl of bathos, and the promise of never hearing David Sedaris talk about his mother again fills me with a sense of hushed and happy exultation.

Why NPR, anyway? It’s just a sort of sonic security blanket. Listening over the internet, I could be listening to any English programming in the world. The BBC, or Australian Broadcasting, both of which are great by the way. Or why not go farther afield? Surely there’s something interesting coming out of South Africa, or New Zealand, or even Belize or Guyana. I always tell my students English is the key to a thousand doors, for which I suffer a great deal of eye-rolling, and here I am suckling at the teat of Liberal America. Well, no more! Goodbye, Peter, Karl and company. So long, Terry. Tom and Ray, old friends, I bid you adieu. And Sylvia Poggioli, you sorceress, how you inflame and unhinge me! But we can’t continue like this. We just can’t.

Wanted: One Fluff Suit, color unimportant

I really hope one of you crafty Martha S. types can help me realize a vision. I went outside with my coffee this morning just in time to stand witness to a border skirmish between several sparrows. They raised their feathers when they attacked, looking like angry little globes of eiderdown with beaks sticking out. It was damned impressive.

Wishing to achieve the same effect, I have a simple request. Could one of you assemble a shirt, or perhaps a turtleneck bodysuit, with some sort of mechanism allowing me to instantly puff up threateningly whenever I’m feeling peeved? I’m not sure how you’d do it. Maybe a pull cord, or something that causes the “feathers” to rise when I lift my arms menacingly above my head. I’ll leave the engineering of the thing to you. I’m just an idea man.

One thing, though. Instead of real feathers, I’d like something stiff, something that will make a satisfyingly sinister noise. Bamboo, I think, or thin slats of polished bone, something to rattle as I jiggle grimly in my displeasure. Can any of you manage it? Let me know.

“No, I didn’t do my homework.”

Fwoomp! Clackety-clackety-clack-clackety

“Moushiwake arimasen!  We’re out of honey-glazed today.”

Fwoomp! Clackety-clackety-clack-clackety

“Daddy, this is my fiancé, Daisuke.  He’s a drummer!”

Fwoomp! Clackety-clackety-clack-clackety hissssssssssssssss