A Letter to Tempe, Arizona

Dear Tempe,

As cities go, I don’t understand you at all.

As previously mentioned, my family and I have been residing in your confines since the summer of 2019. The only reason for this is the fact that you are centrally located to my wife’s place of employment. While some people might consider that a luxury, we found this to be a necessity given that most of this part of Arizona is covered with smog due to the amount of people who drive everywhere because they’re delicate flowers who can’t handle the heat. We can’t handle to heat either. But we also don’t want to make the environment any worse than it all ready is.

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If I had to guess, I would say that the air was “unhealthy” because of all of the driving and the running of air conditioning units at all hours of the day. And yes, I am one of those who is a part of the “sensitive group”. Short of all of that, Tempe you do have your interesting points:

  1. Tempe was founded in 1871 by Charles Trumbull Hayden. Supposedly, Hayden surveyed the area after being stuck their due to impassable flood waters on the Salt River. During his survey, he saw the potential in the area and staked his claim. The city was named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece. The Vale of Tempe being a valley in Greece located between Olympus and Ossa.
  2. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Tempe had a rather beefy music scene. Groups of note being the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms. Fun fact? The Tempe Library has a modest display documenting their cities musical history. Funner Fact? The Tempe Library is DOPE! Their children’s section is 18,816 SQUARE FEET. Proof that if you want a better world, you need to educate the children.
  3. Tempe is also the home of Arizona State University. The University, oddly enough was founded almost 30 years before Arizona was declared a state. Should you find yourself in Tempe you’ll notice “A” Mountain. It’s not really a mountain by scientific standards. It’s more of a butte. Regardless, it’s within the realm of the University and is also rubbing noses with the former home of the Hayden Mill. Yup: the same Hayden who founded Tempe was also a businessman.

Regardless of those bright sides, in terms of a city knowing what it is, Tempe, you are full of contradictions.

Yes, your library is fantastic. But the grade schools and high schools have garbage ratings. (For the record, the school ratings are bad enough that my kid’s have been home schooled for our desert year).

Your parks and green spaces are nice (for the 3 months out of the year that you can enjoy them) but the parks also seem to be magnets for people behaving poorly. Point of fact?  So far, I have borne witness to: a transient man, of sound body, relieving himself on a tree in full view of myself and ten other people (This was in spite of the fact that there was a bathroom within walking distance.), another transient person sleeping in a pedestrian tunnel (whom I almost ran over with my bicycle), and a mental handicapped man stretching out in front of his wheel chair, helicoptering his willy, while his caregiver half-heartedly played frisbee golf and alternately kept an eye on me (probably because he was waiting for me to say something).

On top of that, the relatively high taxes pay for your expansion and maintenance. But the same maintenance and expansion has been been raising the ambient summertime temperature by way of heat retention within the building materials that the very same cities have been using. And this rise in temperature has given birth to a rise in the man-made pollutants being put into the air that we breathe because all of the locals drive everywhere.

That’s fucked up.

Tempe, I’m for societal advancement and making things better but how your residents have been cultivating and maintaining you is completely masturbatory. Every improvement and advancement made has yield two steps in the opposite direction. I can only hope that the definition of the word enough will eventually be understood and achieved and you’ll figure out who you are.

 

My Best,

The Rank Spoon

 

This bird, you cannot change.

I’ve never been a fan of birds. I understand that everything and everyone fulfills some purpose when we consider things like ecology and the food chain. But when it comes to birds, short of sustenance, transmitting disease, and having a reason to take your car to the wash, they’re a nuisance more than anything else.

I blame my mother.

In the Beginning

Sometime during the late 80’s or early 90’s, my mother started to keep birds as pets. I don’t recall the species she’s had over the decades. I know that parakeets have held court in her life at various points, but that’s about it.

For a short while, one of my chores was to care for her birds. I don’t think that she had some nefarious parent card that she was playing. Like “Wouldn’t it be ironic if I made my spawn take care of the pet that only I care about?” as she steepled her fingers a la Mr. Burns. I genuinely think that she was trying to work some responsibility into me.

And for a short while, I enjoyed it. I have always gotten a satisfaction from cleaning. There’s a mindful mindlessness to the act of cleaning as a whole. More so when it came to her bird’s cage. Filling the food and water with fresh stock, finding new faces in the newspaper for the littler fuckers to shit on, knowing that I can walk away when I was done, and the birds, well, couldn’t.

I don’t remember how I got out of doing this chore. Maybe I started doing a shitty job on purpose, like most kids do? Regardless, since those sepia-toned days of yore, I have determined that the only birds for me are my wife (because she is the prettiest bird) and chicken (because it is the tastiest).

If you’re known for carrying disease, being loud at inopportune times, and randomly shitting, you don’t have a place in my life. (My children, if they read this, should take note).

Overseas Facts.

One time when we were still living in Japan, my wife and I determined that we needed a getaway. So we booked a hotel and stayed in a traditional Japanese room (tatami mats, futons, legless chairs, the whole spiel…) Because why not? Right? How often do you really get to walk a mile in someone else’s getas?

When we went to explore the surrounding neighborhood, we started to notice that there were heavy, lined nets bunched up by all of the trash receptacles that we would walk by. We could have inspected them a bit deeper than in passing but we didn’t want to confirm that we were weirdo gaijin’s who had a trash fetish.

For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out what the purpose of all of those nets were. Until the next day, when we were cutting through the park.

One of the locals had thrown a speck of some grain-based product. That’s what you’re looking at, below.

Once the speck had hit the ground, that motley bunch had apparated from their bird-y dimension and had laid waste to said sustenance. Take note of the pigeon in the bottom, right. Looks like he was making towards my toes, right? Well, he was. We didn’t stick around to see what happened next.

What is not pictured are all of the crows that were higher up in the trees.

You’d be surprised by the number of crows you’d find in central Japan. My family and I certainly were. After the jet-lag wore off and we were able to explore our immediate surrounding we were pleasantly surprised to see that we were in the middle of farmland. Naturally, all of the tumblers clicked into place and we were able to unlock the why of all of the crows. Know what else you’d be surprised about? During the summer months in Japan, the sun is all ready in the sky at 4am. Know who else knows wakes up with the sun? The fucking crows.

That’s right: The nets are “trash nets” for the waste that won’t fit in the bins because the avian population in central Japan is so gangsta that they will fly off with your shit.

Lesson learned? Don’t fuck with the birds in Japan unless you want to become the Rennfield, to their Dracula.

How Our Desert Year Started

Shortly after the wife and I got our housing in Tempe squared away, we were both pleasantly surprised to learn that children of a certain age can ride the transit system for free provided that they have to proper transportation identification. We were further delighted to find out that the Tempe Transit Center was roughly two miles from our home.

It went downhill from there for me.

Should you be new to the Tempe area, consider yourself warned: there is nowhere to park on the transit center property. On top of that, it’s not clearly marked. You’ll see the bus turnaround and the accompanying silver building. But you will not see the closet where the TC office actually is. (For the record, it’s next to the Bike Cellar).

After the wife and I had ground our teeth down to the nubs trying to suss out if Google Maps was punking us, we parked at one of the many metered parking spots that are parallel to the TC and began the Bataan Death March of shepherding our children through Downtown Tempe lunch hour traffic. Keep in mind that this was the middle of July as well. The temperature was “Screw You” hot. 

As we had begun to draw close to the TC, we had walked by the aforementioned bus shelters. Distracted by the heat and the chatter of my family, I took passing note of all of the birds hanging out, still and stifled from the heat. They looked dead and that gave my cold heart pleasure.

When I redirected my attention to my mission, one of said birds took note of me by scoring a direct hit down the length of my left forearm. Fun fact? When a bird that is heated by the desert sun shits on you, said shit is unnervingly hot.

Since then, I make a strategic point of noting where birds are in relation to my person should I find myself in a state of ambulation.

Present Day

Sometime after I was baptized by the spirit of Tempe, I had decided to be nice and get my wife an adult beverage from the neighborhood QT. It was in the early evening so it was relatively ok to walk outside.  As I crested the sidewalk and stepped foot on QT property, I saw something I didn’t think that I would see that day.

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Yes, someone who is not me, ripped the wings off of a pigeon.

Before fingers start wagging in my direction in an attempt to paint me as a sociopath with mommy issues, I’d like to share with you the one thing that Tempe has plenty of: bums.

They are everywhere.

Point of fact? It seems to be an Arizona thing. My family and I noticed a fair amount of pan handlers, and people who would openly talk about where they were going to squat that night, in Sedona of all places. Regardless, Tempe, close to the Scottsdale border seems to have the highest concentration of transients. Especially in “high summer”. I wouldn’t be surprised if some nimble fingered gypsy got desperate enough to trap a pigeon for their daily meal.

For what it’s worth, I did make an effort to locate a carcass. It was for naught. Regardless of my opinion on birds all together, you can’t not feel a slight pang of pity for the pigeon. In all likelihood, whoever did this had some sort of mental illness that they have been carrying with them for some time. It’s a common theme amongst most homeless people. For all I know, it could have been some dickhead showing off in front of their friends. That said, they probably didn’t kill the little fucker first. We can only hope that I am not right.

I know I felt a pang of pity. The pity pang lasted 5 seconds before I realized that my wife was waiting for me. Like I said, we all serve a purpose.

 

My Life as a Tree Slut.

Out of all of the things that I’d thought that would happen to me when I got older, I never once thought that I’d become a tree slut.

It started when my family and I had moved from Ohio to Florida. From childhood to adulthood, I, like most Ohioans, had marked the passage of time with the changing of the seasons. This marking of time typically started when the leaves would change color.

Leaved trees undergo their color change when the chlorophyll process begins to slow down. This slow down is usually the result of temperature changes and shorter amounts of daylight.

In Ohio, there are roughly 62 varieties of trees. Overall, various types deciduous trees (mainly, maple…) populated the yards in the neighborhoods that I had lived in. Pretty to look at when the weather cooled, but ultimately heinous when it was your turn to rake the yard (Those types of leaves tend to fall all at once, from my recollection). There were some birch, oak, and a few pine. But it’s always the maple trees that sticks in my mind.

When we arrived in Florida, the passage of time was of little importance. Housing needed to be secured, boxes needed to be unpacked, schools needed to have their paperwork filled out: there wasn’t enough time in the day for quite a while.

It was also my first time for a lot of things. Namely seeing palm trees in person. And then saying, verbatim, “I never actually realized how fuckin’ ugly palm trees were…”

To date, there are only 12 species of palm tree that are native to Florida. Amongst them are the Needle, Thatch, Silver, Royal, and Cabbage Palms (the Cabbage palm being the state tree of Florida). Palms tree as a whole are generally found in tropical to subtropical regions. As for their exact point of origin? Tree nerds generally agree that the first palm tree (the date palm to be specific…) was thought to of been born in Mesopotamia over 6,000 years ago.

Regardless of their heritage, palm trees can go to hell.

Regardless of the facts (and my opinion on palm trees as a species) it wasn’t until our first fall as Floridians that it hit me: there are no seasons in Florida. There is only weather. When fall happens in Florida, there is a slight decrease in temperature and the humidity lessened some, but overall? There was no seasonal change that said fall is upon you.

Eventually, my family and I parted ways with Florida in favor of living in Japan for a few years. What little you know about that country and the sense of density that comes from it being over-populated in areas? That much is true. To wit, that sense of population density also translates to urban planning, especially with respect to the placement of trees.

When we got settled, my family and I got lucky and secured a residence that is on the same geographic parallel as Tennessee. There were the normal amount of seasons, leaved trees that changed color at the appropriate time of the year, AND the cherry blossoms in the spring. Everything was coming up Milhouse for us! (And when I say ‘us‘, I mean ‘me’).

As of 2017, there are at least 126 million people living in that country.

If you wanted to turn this into a dick-measuring competition between Japan and America, well, you’re dumb. There are roughly 327 million live bodies in the States, and Japan as a country, is 26 times smaller than the contiguous U.S. That means that you’d have as much luck comparing an apple to an orange. Point of fact? Japan has half of the national parks that we do (Japan = 30, USA = 62).

Green space, in relation to populated areas, is at a premium in Japan. There ARE local parks, but the ratio of people (who need homes) to parks is wildly uneven.

Hence, the Japanese ideal of forest bathing. Essentially, forest bathing is this: you go to a forest, local park, or green space, you “unplug” and you take in the forest. You don’t hike, you don’t workout, you don’t do anything other than be present in the moment.

We don’t do that nearly enough in the States.

That brings us to the present day. My family is, as of this writing, 1/2 way through our desert year.

Speaking entirely for myself, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when it came to desert living. Yes, I knew it was going to be hot. Yes, I knew the desert would be vast. And no, no I had no idea how varied and how damn tall cacti could be.

Here, have some weird facts about cacti you never knew you wanted to know: There are 1,750 species of cacti and all but one of them are native to the Americas. The tallest cactus ever reached a height of over 6 stories (that’s 60 feet).

For the record, trees and cacti are not related. If you’re comparing a cactus to a tree, think of the cactus as the evolution of the tree in the desert climate. The spines on a cactus are known to be modified leaves and in terms of photosynthesis, the stalk of the cactus does all of the work.

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No real reason for this beautiful son of a bitch to be included other than it reminds of me a dragonfly.
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While I didn’t whip out a tape measure, this beast is at least 30 feet long.
Saguaro Cactus
If you’re curious about the scale of this behemoth, 6′ is just under the first arm on the right.

While my stay in the southwest of the contiguous United States is nearly at an end, I’ll say this much about desert living: it’s not as bad as you’d think.

Yes, there aren’t nearly enough trees for my liking. Yes, summer in the desert can suck a bag of dicks. Yes, it is super disorientating when you realize that it’s January and the leaves are just starting to fall off of what little tree coverage that may be in your neighborhood. But the locals are nice (for the most part) and everyone should see the desert at least once in their lives. Even if it is in passing.

And our love become a funeral pyre.

I have learned something about myself since I’ve come to Japan. When it comes to dealing with heights that border on astronomical, “heights” and the danger that the “heights” hold, will awakes make me their bitch.

This decline in the ability to engage gravity in a round of fisticuffs actually started at my sister’s house. One day, my family and I were departing her company and I had noticed that she had some weeds growing out of the seams of her chimney. After we had made comments about it being the only house on her block with such an adornment, I eyeballed the roof, got her ladder out, and began my ascent.

Once I got on the roof, away from the ladder, I fully saw that the pitch of the roof was actually deeper than it appeared from the ground and that to ascend further would be like watching a cat ‘free-climb’ a wall using only their claws.

I was fucked.

My sister, and my wife and children, were on the ground looking up at my ample backside as all of the macho bravado was pinched out of me, like air being pinched out of the throat of a balloon.

I wasn’t really fucked.

Not wanting to back out of the “commitment” I had made to my sister, and not wanting to look like a total fool in front of my family, I began my snail-like crawl to the smokestack and decimated the offending weeds.

With respect to Japan, being on the edge of vertiginous heights seems to be a way of life. And with good reason: Japanese men and women aren’t stupid. They know where the edge is and they know what awaits them on the other side should they step in the wrong direction. That’s why they tend to live longer than us: because they don’t engage in Macho derring-do.

I’ve been to Skytree twice since I’ve landed in Japan. The first time that I went was for a field trip that had me chaperone two of my kids.

The second time was with my wife. We went all of the way to the Tembo Deck.

The Tembo Deck is the topmost part of the tower that is open to visitors. Parts of the Tembo Deck are constructed in a parabolic fashion. Meaning, you step up to the railing and you see that the safety glass is curved, giving the walkway an almost tub-life feel to it. The affect is that you get not only an unparalleled view of most of downtown Tokyo, but also a bird’s eye view of God’s asshole.

When my wife and I exited the elevator, we walked up to the rail that wasn’t choked with tourists. As she took in the view, I let out a long sigh. “That’s enough of that shit,” I said, and proceeded to hug wall until I saw that it was safe.

And thus, I concluded: If we were meant to be that far from the ground, we’d come pre-loaded with wings.

The only way that I would have been able to get the whole tower in was if I was lying on my back. I tried (my wife wasn’t having it).

Jesus Saw My Mother’s Tits.

One

I wasn’t home much as a teen. At that point in my life, home was a rest stop, a place to regroup, refuel, and exit as soon as humanly possible. Any time that I did interact with my mother, it was usually in passing.

Like most children of the 1980’s, I grew up with my mother during the week and my father on the weekend. Throughout all of my childhood my mother was a commanding presence. And why wouldn’t she be? Her entire career as a parent was based off of her own childhood. She was 1 child out of 4. My grandmother stayed home with the children while my grandfather brought home the bacon. Her mother needed to be in charge and a presence as well. So in essence my mother was parrotting what had worked for her mother. On top of that, my mother had the added handicap of being a working, single mother for all of the 1980’s and most of the 1990’s. When mom wanted my attention, I had to give it to her, regardless of how full of shit I thought she was.

When Jack, the man who would become my stepfather, started becoming more of a presence in the house that I shared with my mother, it didn’t faze me. I did what most teens did when their single parent tries on significant others: I ignored the hell out of him until I absolutely had to interact with him.

It seemed to work well for the both of us. I had school, a social life, and a part time job that was practically a full time job. And him? He had my mother and he sold cars in a shitty part of town.

It didn’t take long for Jack to transition from boyfriend to fiancé, and then eventually ‘husband’. In fact, it took no time at all. Courtship to marriage, lasted about a year and a half. On top of that, they didn’t have a traditional wedding ceremony. They opted to elope and get married in Las Vegas.

Regardless of what the exact motivations were behind my mother’s elopement she was a happier and, dare I say it, more tolerable person to be around when they came back home.

A handful of years had gone by and in spite of of my own inability to comprehend what they saw in each other, they balanced each other out nicely. The thing that made Jack exceptional was his almost preternatural ability to be liked by most of the people that he interacted with on a regular basis. The thing that I had found the most jarring but ultimately grew to appreciate was that my mother actually listened to Jack. For me to have another male presence in the house, that could tell my mother that she was being an ass about any given thing and then, get her to laugh at her own silliness, it was akin to seeing the Big Bang.

What made the new household configuration all the more bizarre was the fact that my father actually liked Jack.

Point of fact? My father would routinely and unannounced stop over at my mother’s house in order to shoot the shit, if he knew Jack was home. More often than not, my mother wouldn’t know until well after the fact that my father had stopped by.

Two.

No one from my immediate family eulogized my father when he had passed away. At the time of his passing, I was about to be 22 years of age and he had seen fit to name me the executor of his estate.

In his 6+ decades of life, my family and I didn’t really know who the ‘real him’ was. When it came to communicating on a personal level, my father had a habit of riding that line between ‘tall tales’ and telling people what he wanted them to know. He seemed to favor this mode of communication as a matter of self-defense.

My father was born in 1938. When he was growing up, he lived in a single parent home. Of course, this is unremarkable by today’s standards. But during the 1940’s and 1950’s, being a child in a single parent home was practically unheard of. And when it was “heard of” the fractured family was treated like some newly discovered species of lizard: a thing to be observed, but not interacted with.

To make matters all the more weird for my father and his brother, their mother, who had to raise my father and his brother, swore off men for the rest of her life.

Completely.

That is to say, she felt that she had such a miserable marriage; she gave up physical, intimate contact all together.

Given his mother’s voluntary emotional detachment, I don’t think my father could be blamed for being as tight lipped as he was. Still, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. In spite of his obvious emotional handicaps and projected parental insecurities, I did like my father as a person. I only wish I knew him as the person that he was, instead of the person that he wanted people to think he was.

Having to plan a funeral is no easy task at any age. An item that I had working in my favor were the level of services that the funeral home had provided.

One of the services that they provided was oration. They had someone, either on staff or in a freelance capacity, who was qualified to eulogize your dearly departed in the event that no one wanted to, or felt up to, the task. Given that I was barely out of my teens, my level of life experience was practically nil, and the fact that I was going through a major trauma, I felt more than justified when it came to taking advantage of this service.

I regret it to this day.

To be fair to the Orator, my family and I screwed him. About a week and a half had passed between the time that my father had expired and the night of his funeral. In that time, the orator had reached out to me on three separate occasions. On all three times, I didn’t have much to give him. I petitioned family members but even they had a hard time trying to summarize who my father was. Being youthfully ignorant and in charge of closing out someone’s life gave me enough to contend with. And, selfishly, I didn’t want to engage in anything that remotely resembled having to think about the person that I had just lost. I had a job to do and I was having a hard enough time as it was.

Looking back on that part of my life, and the night of the funeral in particular, is like being shown a photo of yourself that you don’t remember being present for. You have a dim recollection of what led up to the photo, and, as you stare deeply into the photo, examining every aspect from the lighting to the look on your face, you can guess what you were thinking about as the shutter captured that moment of your time. But, as it is, you can only guess.

For what it’s worth, the Orator, in my opinion did a good job. As I am a grown man recalling a span of time from my younger days, I can’t say that I find the Orator’s success very surprising. Even though he didn’t have a lot to go on (which doesn’t help when you are trying to sum up a stranger’s life), he was a trained professional. If there was one thing that I do recall with absolute certainty, it was the amount of times that he locked eyes with me, as if to say “Jump in here, anytime, pal!”.

What I did find the most surprising about that night was the amount of people that had turned out to pay their respects to my father. Family, people he had worked with, people he hadn’t spoken to in a decades, even people he had impacted by dislocation, they had all showed up. He might have been equal parts tight lipped and storyteller with me but who he was, was certainly in that room that night.

Three.

A year and a half after my biological father had passed away, Jack was diagnosed with cancer as well. From diagnosis to death, he was gone in the matter of a summer. Having someone leave in that manner, who had such a huge impact in your life, and then have them leave as quickly as he did, creates a vacuum that takes years for the surviving family members to regulate.

After Jack died, the thing that I found the most shocking was how small and brittle my mother had become. In the span of two years, she lost the person she knew the longest (my father) and then the person she thought that she was going to spend the rest of her life with. To have to go through that amount of loss in such a short amount of time and then have to eventually wrap her head around having to live by herself for the first time in her entire life was a hard thing to have to watch.

My mother wasn’t the planner that my father was. When it came to planning Jack’s funeral, she was tying off loose ends as they popped up. One of the loose ends she needed to take care of was finding someone to eulogize Jack.

I knew she was going to ask me. Instead of just answering in the affirmative, I pretended to be surprised and gave it an ounce of consideration before I had said ‘yes’. In my defense, I was barely 23 and I wasn’t about to have a repeat of what had happened at my father’s funeral.

For the record, I have thought about this whole event at least once a month it happened. And yes my stomach turns every time.

After I had gotten over my own revulsion at my behavior when I had accepted the task eulogizing Jack, the eulogy itself was a piece of cake.

The night before the funeral, my mother had requested that I spend the night at her house. She wasn’t ready to start adjusting to solitude and having someone else in the house gave her a sense of security. Given her emotional state, declining would not have been an option. My only request was that my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, stay as well as she had wanted to be supportive to both my mother and myself. After my mother had turned in for the night, my wife and I had gone for a late night walk in my mother’s neighborhood. The two of us had been living together for nearly a year at that point and this was the first time that I had been back in the neighborhood since I had moved out.

The thing that had struck me was how small the neighborhood had looked. Perhaps that’s an unspoken facet of leaving your childhood home: once you leave, it’ll never look the same again.

The weather was mild that night. What we talked about, my wife and I, if we talked, is lost to me now. I had all ready written Jack’s eulogy the previous week. Maybe we had talked about how our day went. She was a bakery manager at the time, and I was a salesman presently on bereavement leave. Which is a nicer way of saying that I had spent the day, along with my brother, helping our mother finalize funeral arrangements and clean her house in the event that anyone had wanted to stop over after everything had concluded the following day.

Whatever we had talked about, it was dwarfed by the fact that a block into our walk, my wife and I had come across a home that had every single light on and every single window covering drawn open. Not completely out of the ordinary. Maybe they were having a dinner party and burnt the roast? Maybe the homeowner’s house was robbed and they were presently looking for clues? These are reasonable things to think of and I would not be surprised if past me had thought them as I examined the oddity of that house along with my wife during our stroll.

Everything had become clear as we drew level with the front room windows. The house lights were on for an obvious reason. And the homeowner had made a point of doing so and opening their living room curtains after nightfall so that all passersby could their fireplace-sized portrait of Ty Pennington.

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The summer that Jack had passed away was also the summer that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was popular, reality-tv show viewing.

The next day was Jack’s funeral.

In one of my mother’s more lucid moments, she had decreed that she was going to wear white to the funeral. Purity jokes aside, her reasoning was that Jack’s funeral should be a celebration of his life and wearing black would be the antithesis of that. What she didn’t account for was the dress that she had in waiting, she had bought when she was two sizes smaller. She was able to fit into it and she looked good. But it was obvious that she wasn’t comfortable.

The funeral itself was a church funeral. My mother and Jack being the Christian’s that they are, my mother choosing this venue wasn’t entirely surprising. What she seemed to disregard was the fact that unless you’re recreating the church scene from the Blues Brothers celebrating someone’s life in a church always falls flat. The color scheme is always dark, the seats are uncomfortable, and you’re surrounded by pictures of a skinny guy being tortured to death.

Four.

When thinking about Jack, the type of person he was, and the affect that he had had on the people he interacted with on a regular basis, the following scene had come to mind.

It was two Christmas’s before my father had been diagnosed with cancer; I was working in a local grocery store. After working the Christmas shift, I had come home to my mother’s house, exhausted and unaware that she was having Christmas Eve dinner. Sitting at the table, chatting like old friends were my father and Jack while my mother finished up dinner in the kitchen.

The gravity of that scene spoke volumes about the two men who had recently moved on from our lives. And it was something that I had conveyed to those who would gather to pay their respects to Jack.

When I sat down next to my mother, she had leaned over to thank me and give me a hug. As soon as she leaned over, her top had popped open and her brassiere-d bits were on display for the the priest, Jesus, and the rest of our seatmates to see.

To this day, I consider my mother’s inability to wear right-fitting clothing, and seeing something so wonderfully bizarre as a portrait of a semi-forgotten reality television host, so close to my mother’s home as an indication that belief is a matter of circumstance where death is concerned.

Dying is a thing that happens to everyone, what matters is that the people who are left behind are still able to appreciate the life that they have left and the odd things that are yet to come.

One is the loneliest number.

Once upon a time, in 2016, I was exploring the Tama River Trail via bicycle.
The Tama River Trail is a 30 mile stretch of asphalt path. It connects a good chunk of “Outer-rim” Tokyo with the rest of Japan. It also has numerous paths to the river and neighborhood parks connected throughout.

Ostensibly, it’s a major pedestrian highway.

It was phenomenal bike riding weather that day. The sky was cloudless and the weather was warm enough to make you sweat but not hot to the point of regret. It was the kind of day that made you feel like you could ride forever.

The photo below was taken on the way back home. 

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In the photo, on the left and in between the two pedestrian signs, is a black oval.
That is a little old woman. I saw her on the way out. Even though my observation of her was from a moving vehicle, I could tell that she was enjoying the weather as much as I was in spite of the lonely shadows that she sat in. Before I realized it, I smiled at her. And she smiled back. As I pedaled away, I thought that that was the end of it.

When I had set out on this trek, the only thing that I had known was that there was a path down by the river that I could ride my bike on. I had learned about 60 minutes prior to taking the photo, that the trail was indeed 30 miles long. I responded to that new knowledge by promptly giving that shit the finger and heading home.

After I took the photo, I saw that the old woman was still there. Happy with the photo, I headed home. As I rolled by her, I turned towards her, smiled again, and waved.

She returned the salutation, happy (in my mind) that someone saw her and acknowledge her. 

A Word on Japanese Claw Machines.

Don’t be fooled: This picture isn’t showing you a simple story of mechanical claw prowess.

The Cat’s in the Cradle.

The night before the photo, I had told my wife that I had wanted to go record shopping in a relatively close Tokyo neighborhood. At the time, we were a year and a half in to our three year stay in Japan. As a result of this stay, I had rediscovered my love of music shopping via records.

That morning, I just wasn’t feeling it.

I woke up tired and semi-infected with some manner of cold virus thanks to our children being incubators for all manner of disease. Catching a train (even though the rail system in Japan is superior to that of the States) that becomes a big petri-dish because of the amount of people that try to pile in, wasn’t something that I had wanted to partake in on that particular day.

As a compromise, and to ensure that I got out of the house (because she had threatened to make me miserable if I didn’t), my wife suggested that I take the boy. I quickly reasoned that that option was the way to go. He used to be a train fanatic (and still is to some degree), he’s almost always good company, and he’s been having a hard time socializing with other kids his age.

His reluctance to socialize started before we left the states. On top of that, getting a straight answer out of him when it comes to expressing feelings is a Herculean feat. Unfortunately, he takes after his father in that respect. If I had to guess, I’d say that the impermanence of friendships when you live a gypsy lifestyle really sank in when he learned we’d be living in a foreign country for a couple of years.

So I took the boy on a train ride. A short train ride. Because I was being a sick wimp. We got off at Tachikawa, had lunch at McDonald’s, and I alternated between me, tripping on the generally laid-back-ed-ness of the city and trying to get him to participate in our semi exploration.

Then we found an arcade. 

Arcades are plentiful here. These are old school arcades, the kind that used to be popular in your neighborhood shopping mall way back in the 1980’s. Fun fact? Most of the arcades that you tend to see in Japan are owned by SEGA. Funner fact? I have seen on occasion video game consoles in local Japanese malls. How the arcades compete with the now commonplace-ness of home gaming is a bit beyond me. Personally, I think that arcades have survived in Japan because a large part of the currency is coinage.

Everything less that 10 USD is coin, you could probably apply my numb-but logic to the popularity of gambling here as well.

The Boy perked up as soon as he realized that he was actually in front of an arcade, not watching about them via YouTube. After a quick once around in order to see what this arcade had to offer, I surmised that the video games he wasn’t interested in so much. Claw machines? That’s his shit. Claw machines are even more of his shit when one of those machines has a clock in the shape of a cardboard boy.

Are claw machines rigged? The short answer is yes. A lot of the rigging has to do with the strength of the claw and how much the owner of the claw machine wants to nefariously twirl their mustache like the villain that they are. The real question is, are claw machines rigged in other parts of the world?

25 dollars and a half an hour later, we had attracted the attention of the Arcade attendant. Being amused by my dedication and my son’s fanaticism, he offered some pointers before going back to tending the other machines.

10 minutes laters the attendant came back to see us still at it.

Graciously, he opened the case, rigged the box to where a light breeze would have blown it over and said to me in perfect english, “Hit it right there”, while pointing at a crucial area of the box.

I did what I was told and everybody won something that day. My son got a good memory and a temporary object of desire, the attendant got to witness a father’s dedication to his son, and me? I made everyone involved in this story, including myself, a little bit happier.

Continue reading “A Word on Japanese Claw Machines.”