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.”

How I came to live in Japan.

What follows is an account of the events that led up to my family’s relocation to Japan. 

Thanks for reading!


I have never really been a fan of summer. Doubly so, since I have lived in Florida for the past couple of years. (I try not to stereotype, but there’s really no reason for anyone to actually live in Florida. Sure, a fraction of the general population leaves something to be desired, but nothing is helped by the fact that the Sun is essentially trying to kill everything that attempts to go outside between the months of March and December).
What also doesn’t help my general dislike of summer is the fact that it’s been designated as the time of year for vacations and hooliganism (e.g. kids tend to think that they should get a break from life around this time of the year).

What a load of fly-blown bullshit.

Vacations should happen whenever it is appropriate and economically convenient for the person or people involved. As far as kids thinking that they’re entitled to a break? Fuck that noise. I don’t get a break, why should my kids?

Every year, my wife and I have made a point of securing workbooks for our children for the grade that they would be entering in, in the fall. TO DATE, they have been consistently ‘better off’ for it. 2 out of the 3 children have maintained ‘honor roll’ status (the 3rd has been a solid ‘B’ student).

For the record: I’m not Hitler about it. They devote an hour a day to their workbooks and then they help out around the house. Other than that, they are generally free to do what they want as long as no one, and nothing, dies.

Point of fact? When I was a kid, my parents thought I should be able to “enjoy” my summer and “do what I want”. The following school year was always an educational nightmare for me because I retained little of what I learned the year before and no one was making sure that I was doing anything intellectually stimulating (defined as, the opposite of what I was doing: watching reruns of My Favorite Martian and playing endless hours of video games).

I digress. 

This past summer, through an unusual, but expected set of circumstances, my wife, a Captain in the USAF, received orders to relocate herself and her family to Japan.
That’s right: I am now littering the Internet from the Land of the Rising Sun. (Fun fact: while I haven’t confirmed this, I’m fairly certain that Japan is referred to as that because THE SUN RISES AT 4 IN THE FUCKING MORNING DURING THE SUMMER).

Suffice it to say, there will be more writings about Japan, our journey here, and the usual drek I tend to prattle on about.

In sum, I will leave you with how I found out that we were moving to Japan. You may get a chuckle out of it, or it may confirm what you all ready know about me (that I’m an idiot).

One day in the kitchen of my former, Florida abode, I was using our food processor to get down on some dinner prep before I had to pick up my kids from school. After I had cleaned up and was ready to leave, I go to put the food processor away and the damn thing slipped out of my hands and hit the floor.

Rather than try to save it or perhaps catch it on the rebound, I got the fuck out of the way because it’s heavy as hell and can easily break a foot when it is in a gravitationally dangerous state.

After I regained composure, I surveyed the damage.

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This is a present-day photo.

Naturally, I was sweating bullets because my wife had bought this a while back and she had come to think of it as a fourth child. The name plate was popped out and, as you can see, there was a massive crack in the housing.

My first thought was,”Welp: I’m fucked. There’s no way that this is going to work”. After I checked the remaining integrity of the base and popped the name plate back in, I plugged it back in to see how bad it was.

It worked perfectly fine. I switched out multiple attachments and it was still fine. (ETA: THE DAMN THING STILL WORKS!).

My next move, I thought, was fairly obvious. 

I packed up everything nice and neat, put it in the one cabinet that she’d never go in, and buried it under other kitchen gadgets. All of this was done with the intent of blaming it on the movers the next time we move.

Five minutes later, I got a text from my wife saying that we were moving to Japan this summer.