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.

 

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).

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.”

The Mouse Story.

1. The winter after my father died was one of the worst winter’s that my city and I had experienced in decades. I had just turned 22. I was also still living at home with my mother and coming to grips with the fact that all of the time I had been spending with my father (cleaning his apartment, visiting, making him get fresh air, taking him to doctor’s appointments…) categorized me as his caregiver. This was a fact that I was oblivious to until it was pointed out to me the week after he had passed.

That is to say, I was a dumbass.

For the record, it was a role that I had accepted because I knew (at least, subconsciously) that if I didn’t, he’d pass away alone and rejected and would be discovered in some state of decomposition.

He wasn’t a very social man.

As far as the weather was concerned, if it wasn’t snowing, then the sun was illustrating how far we were from it and that it had no intentions of getting closer to us any time soon. Point of fact? The tundra like conditions forced homeowners (who were lucky enough to have their own little piece of sidewalk and driveway) to stop fucking shovelling anything more than a couple of tire tracks for their automobiles and general access to their homes.

Back then, as someone who drove, as well as exercised his right to be bipedal, this pissed me off to no end.

Now that I am a less stupid version of myself, I can obviously see that to shovel at the rate of which the snow had decided to fall from the sky would have produced a lot of middle aged men who would be fooling their families into thinking that they were taking a snow angel break when in fact they were being crushed under the weight of a massive heart attack.

2. The front door to my mother’s house was a heavy, old door that had dual, arched windows. The windows started at waist height and went a respectable distance to the top of the door. It offered enough visibility to see who was knocking and enough coverage to hide behind in the event that the knock-ee had a current issue of The Watchtower in their hands.

Around this time, I had taken to staring out my mother’s front door late at night. I wasn’t being weird about it (my dick stayed in my pants and away from my hands). It just became a part of my late night ritual. I’d come home late from work and I felt like a wrecked individual. I had taken to staring out of one of the double panes because I liked what I saw: a quiet neighborhood, the sleepy houses of my mother’s neighbors, and a fuckton of snow that was existing in purity or some state of spoilage.

It looked and felt perfect. Which was not how I felt inside my own mind at that time.

On one particular evening, I had looked out of my mother’s front door and was greeted by one of the worst snow storms I had ever seen. Howling winds threw around sheets of snow and behind both of them was a goddamn lightning storm punctuating the scant silences. I honestly thought that a few houses would be lost before the sun rose the following day.

That’s the kind of winter that my city and I were experiencing.

3. Also around this same time, I had taken to drinking myself to sleep. Given what I had just gone through with my father combined with the fact that the weather was going all ‘end of the world’, it seemed like a logical thing to do. On top of that, I also had an unreliable familial and social network that would become further damaged by my inability to be seen as insecure. Asking for help under any circumstance or expressing my feelings wasn’t a tool in my toolbox back then. And still isn’t, to some extent.

Shortly after that storm, the weather had progressed from environmentally entertaining to potentially lethal. It didn’t matter what the thermostat was set at it in my mother’s house, it never warmed up. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the thermostat or the furnace, it’s just that the damn things could never catch up to the heinous fuckery that the winter was throwing at us.

4. It was upon one of these frigid evenings that I discovered ‘my new roommate’. There I was, knee deep in self pity, watching a rerun of Inside the Actor’s Studio when I spied a tiny brown mouse bravely poking his head out from underneath the dresser that I was using as a tv stand.

“This ought to be interesting,” I thought, raising an eyebrow.

In, out, repositioning, constantly rescanning the landscape… that little mouse exercised more caution than the entire human race has over a millennia. Eventually, the little fella said ‘fuck it’, and fully departed from the safety and dust bunnies that the under side of my dresser had provided. I watched him for a full minute while he sat in front of my dresser.

“That’s enough of that shit,” I said standing up. The mouse was gone before I even realized what had happened.

I knew then as you probably figured out now, that the little fucker was looking for a warm spot to crash. How can he be blamed? It was a brutal winter. That still didn’t stop me from putting my air rifle next to my bed. Don’t judge me: the air rifle was a throwback to my early teens. What’s more is that if my little friend was being that brazen about his presence, then it is a safe assumption that he has bunked with me before.

And that is gross.

A little about me. I was an ‘oops’ baby. Instead of my parents going above and beyond and really parenting the shit out of me, they decided to work out their dysfunctions and shortcomings through me. As a result, they generally let me do whatever I wanted. When it became obvious that ‘whatever’ wasn’t a good idea, they gave me a BB gun.

The thought was there: Give him something to do that gets him outside and has him use his brain to a degree. I started off with paper targets and eventually graduated to empty soda cans. I was taught right from wrong as well as proper “gun safety”. My parents felt confident that I wouldn’t screw up too bad.

One mail truck, a windshield, multiple moving targets, several groundings, and a stern talking to later, I learned that shooting things that didn’t belong to you was bad. So, I decided that shooting at the posters I had hung up in my room was an acceptable compromise. It didn’t take long before I made those four walls exhibit a texture like that of a Ray Liotta’s face.

No, giving a child a weapon is never the smartest idea. Especially when you leave said child alone more than you engage with him. The fact is that I was the youngest of four by a decade and when it came time for me to be parented, my parents didn’t know what to do anymore.

Suffice it to say, by the time I had made myself acquainted with my ‘roomie’ I was quite a good shot.

5. The next time I saw the mouse, I was ready.

It was a night just like all of the rest. There I was, just getting ready to nod off when my friend ventured forth from the safety that my dresser provided. I gave him a full minute to survey the landscape before I reached for my air rifle. Miraculously, he didn’t bolt when I did this. He kept creeping forward.

As he bravely made his way out from under my dresser, I had time to compare and contrast our individual motivations.

As a regular mouse, it stood to reason that there wasn’t a whole lot of cognitive thought going on in his rodent mind beyond instinctual needs. Further, the little fucker was just trying to keep warm. It’s not like he was taking little bites out of me without my knowledge. If that was the case, I’m sure I’d find him in some other part of the house trying to work off a contact high.

My motivations? I was lonely and creeped out by the fact that I didn’t know what a little mouse was doing to me while I snored my way through the night.

He moved a little closer. I lined up my shot. He crept forward a fraction of an inch. I followed him with my barrel. By now, he was a full foot away from my dresser and in the center of my room.

It was going to be a quick and clean death. One shot to his little, mouse head and then I could get on with my ‘routine’. I pulled the trigger.

At the last second, I had fired at the ground in front of the mouse. The little fucker jumped six inches into the air and made that sound that the Roadrunner makes when he leaves Wile. E. Coyote in the dust.

I never saw him again.

I couldn’t tell you what was going through my mind in the seconds before I pulled the trigger. Perhaps my recent dealings with death had turned me into an enlightened being, one who was able to express empathy towards creatures and people who were just trying to survive.

That’s probably galaxies away from the truth considering that my father’s death and having to deal with the related fallout, turned me into a soured asshole almost instantaneously.

In the end, I can’t tell you what I was thinking because I don’t recognize that ‘me’ anymore. But I can tell you that the ‘me’ now is proud of the ‘me’ then for letting the mouse live to fight another day.