“They’re dead,” the fish said. I’m standing in a rice field next to Yuuki’s house. The rice has already been harvested. The stalks and chaff have been raked into a pile and are burning. It smells strange. Not like burning grass, something vaguely familiar though.
I scream. The sound of my shriek reverberates and expands like a shockwave. It’s not a pile of stalks and leaves, rather bodies, human bodies. I rush over and start stamping on the fire. There is the crunch of brittle burnt bones breaking. I grab a bucket and run for the river. I stumble on the steep bank. The flowers I planted there last fall are blooming. I crash headlong down into the water. I cut my hand on a rock as I catch myself. My knee feels funny as I stand and the black koi scatter.
“They’re dead, they’re all dead,” the fish tells me.
“Shut up! Shut up!” I snap back at him. I climb up the bank slipping and sloshing water as I go. I throw my water on the flames. They are already starting to dissipate naturally.
I scream again. I can hear it. A sound, coming from within the flames, it’s not so much a voice, it’s not so much words, and it’s not really sentences, but I can hear a murmur like countless indiscernible conversations calling out to me. Not crying in pain, but definitely with urgency. Drowning each other out individually, but together swelling up from the ash.
I rush back to the river. The white koi is waiting for me. “Don’t put out the fire,” he tells me.
“Shut up.” I tell him again, this time with set lips. My movements are mechanical. The clothes I’m wearing are now heavy with water. I lose my shoes in the mud. The fresh cut rice stalks cut my feet as I run back to the fire.
By the time I get the 6th bucket the fire is dead. I stand there looking at the smoking heap, I drop the bucket on the ground and it sloshes. Yuuki comes out of the house. She wrinkles her nose.
“I can’t smell anything,” I tell her.
“You never could. What happened?”
“They’re all dead,” I say in a detached voice, it sounds strangely even to me; the fishes words coming out of my mouth.
“You couldn’t save them, huh?” Yuuki holds my trembling hand. Her hand is cool and smooth and small, confident.
I turn to her. It’s not Yuuki. Well, it’s not my Yuuki, it’s not the Yuuki I went to college with, fell in love with and married. It’s Yuuki, but she’s twelve. She looks even more like her father at that age.
I walk back to the river and sink down on the bank. Yuuki begins tearing pieces off of a loaf of bread she’s been carrying in her other hand. The black koi come back cautiously. They slurp up the bread with great soggy sounding gulps. The white koi in contrast eats the smallest pieces as delicately as a court-trained princess. Yuuki giggles at how proper he is.
“I told you not to put out the fire.”
I look at him dead in the eyes. “Why Shogun?”
“Naturally because I started that fire.”
“Why would you do that?” I’m getting angry, I have a terrible temper.
“Careful,” Shogun swallows a piece of crust carefully. He pauses; he won’t speak with his mouth full. “Don’t get hot headed now,” he knows me well.
“Who were they?” I ask him.
“I think we both know that,” the fish admonishes me.
I put my hands to my face in horror.
Yuuki yells angrily at some of the black koi, “Stay back, this last piece is for Shogun!” She throws it into the water. Shogun circles it, the black koi watch as he downs it delicately.
“Why?” I ask him again once he’s done. Twelve-year-old Yuuki plops down next to me, she rests her hands against my shoulder.
“I did it for you.”
“Well, I had only your best interest in mind. It was for your own good.”
“Why the fuck are you here Shogun?” I growl. Yuuki looks up a little startled.
“Tsk tsk, temper temper,” the fish chides.
“Why?” My voice still simmers.
“I love bread.”
I plunge head long into the water reaching out for Shogun, but his body is slippery and in the water he is faster. My hands slide off his white scales and I lose my vision in a mess of water and foam. Sputtering I rise from the water only to see Shogun casually disappearing upstream humming to himself. Damn fish…
Yuuki looks disappointed that Shogun is gone. She stretches her arms out to me and says, “Piggy back!” I carry twelve year old Yuuki on my back. We go back to the fire. It’s still smoking. Yuuki taps my shoulder indicating she wants down. She goes to the fire and begins to rummage around.
I sit. My feet hurt from all the cuts, but it’s not so much a sensation of pain, but the memory of many pains.
Yuuki holds up a finger. It’s in perfect condition somehow.
“How?” I ask.
Yuuki shrugs, “You didn’t let the fire finish.”
We sort through the mess. There’s no telling how many people are here. I’m covered in the ashes quickly enough. I laugh a little, because of the irony of who I am and who I know they were. Yuuki rolls her eyes. There is more than just a finger preserved in the ashes. I pull pieces out one at a time. An ear, a leg, a toe, an eye, some hair, teeth, an entire shoulder, genitals; we lay them out in the empty harvested field like we’re paleontologists unearthing a new species of ancient man. In a sense we are.
Finally we’ve gone through everything. There are two separate piles now; a big one of charred indistinguishable remains and a much smaller one of perfect little preserved body pieces. I don’t know what to do now. I stare in horror at my small pile of pieces.
“We should put him back together.” Yuuki tells me. She’s crouched down on the balls of her feet, her knees together.
I nod, but then start to cry. I sit down next to my pile and cry. My tears pick up the ash off my cheeks and I cry big black tears. Yuuki comes over to me.
“What’s wrong?” Twelve-year-old Yuuki holds my face in her tiny hands.
“I don’t know how to put it back together.”
“Yes you do,” she reassures me.
I shake my head. I can’t do it on my own. I look at these pieces and I don’t see anything except pieces. How can you put something in pieces back together again? “Yuuki, I’m afraid. I’m afraid because I don’t know how. And even if I did, I’m afraid of what it will be.”
Yuuki looks at me and says, “You know you don’t have be afraid. I’m not afraid of what it will be anymore than I’m afraid of who you are.”
I cover my face with my hands.
Twelve-year-old Yuuki kisses my hands, “I understand. If you wish it, I will do it for you.”
If you wish it, that seems like weird way of saying something.
I nod. “Please.”
I wander back to the river. Shogun is back. He doesn’t look interested in speaking with me anymore.
“Why did you burn them?” I ask him.
“You’ve read Melville right?”
“Yes of course, Typee, The Confidence Man, Whitejacket, Moby Dick.”
Shogun laughs. “Ahab and his white whale.”
“Why did you burn them?” I ask him.
“It’s funny because he got a white whale and you got a white fish.”
I try a different tactic. “Why can you speak?”
“Ahhh.” Shogun swims sideways. “Who’s saying I can?”
“You’re not real are you?”
“I am real, very real, more real than you are here.”
I frown now not sure what to ask.
Shogun continues after some silence. “If you must know I didn’t burn them all by myself.”
“Who helped you?”
“Why you did.”
“What?” My voice is very small.
“You did, Yuuki did, all of Korea did, a family in Idaho, that tree on the west bank, the US government, the cavemen. Even ‘they’ helped me.”
“Why would ‘they’ help you?”
“Because,” Shogun starts, stops. He laughs, “You know better than I do. You really are a tricky bastard.”
I stiffen. “More like a man without a homeland. A child left behind.”
Shogun moves his body in a manner that can best equated to the fish’s version of a shrug. “You keep mentioning that to people eventually someone might pity you. Is that what you want? Pity?”
“No.” I tell him. “You know what I want.”
The fish thinks in silence for a bit. “You know, if you pursue this then you might find something. You might not.”
“But I will tell you this, you have the answer right here.”
Shogun swims away.
With my white fish gone I look into the water. I stare at my reflection for a time. I do that. Some people mistake it for vanity, when people look at themselves in mirrors. But in my case I’m not looking at myself when I look at my reflection. I’m looking for someone else. Actually I’m looking for many people. I don’t know the exact number, I know that it is at least two, but aside from that it’s the same as the bodies burnt in the fire.
Yuuki taps me on the shoulder. “I’m done, do you want to see?”
I shake my head. “I’m sorry I made you do that again.”
“Will you forgive me when I say you might have to do it again someday?”
“As long as you wish it.”
As long as you wish it…it is a funny way to put it.
I smile, “Thank you.”
“Do you need to see him?”
I shake my head and look down at my reflection. “No, I don’t need to.”
“Instead, let’s go down to 7-Eleven and get some ice cream.”
“Yeay!” Twelve-year-old Yuuki lifts one small fist into the air.
I’m no longer twenty something year old Matt. I’m ten-year-old Matt now, again, finally once more. You know I always wished it were this way ever since I turned eleven. Now Yuuki is no longer twelve though. She’s again twenty five year old Yuuki.
“Then,” I continue in my child’s voice that never falters, “we can grow old.”
So. I don’t know many Canadians. Of the ones I do know I like them all except for one exception. This has absolutely nothing to do with Canadians as it has to do with annoying selfish arrogant tactless young women.
Some back story
My first year in Japan I met a kid from Scranton, PA. I’m one of those people who can hang with a lot of different crowds. I spent elementary school home schooling, where I amassed scholastic information to last me until my sophomore year in high school. I went to roller rinks, Star Trek conventions, and had light saber duels with my best friend Andrew. How big of a Star Trek nerd was I? Well, I was Sulu for Halloween one year, I still have an unopened Spock figurine, and I played Star Trek the card game…
What’s the “Dilemma”?
In middle school I went back into the public school system. I got a crash course in the hierarchy and political landscape of teens trying too hard to grow up too quickly. Needless to say I was a non-player for my first year, but by the time I was in 8th grade I figured out that my safest course through middle school was allaying myself with the biggest names in the school, by helping them cheat on math tests.
In high school, I was a hyped baseball player as a freshman. Some how everyone believed I had to have ninja hands as an asian ball player. My high school consisted of 597 white Kentucky natives, a skinny vegan from India, some mustached senior who either had a great tan or was some sort of hispanic, and moi.
So when I started training with Interac, it was kind of like high school all over. Cliques formed frighteningly fast. The hipsters thought they were (ironically) the most awesome thing to hit Japan since the Beetles, the Aussies, Scotts, and one Irish kid were just waiting to go drink as they complained that the local brews were as strong as watered down urine, the anime nerds kept quietly to themselves, the hippie girls grossed everyone out with their hairy legs and armpits, no one could understand a word the Jamaicans said, and everyone wanted to fuckbedhookup with “hang out with” the hot girl from Trinidad with the big ass and cute upturned nose.
I befriended only two people at training, Josh and Dom. Josh, like me had a Japanese girlfriend and was a jockish jokester from Oklahoma. We have a similar sense of humor. Dom had studied Japanese, and turned his nose up at some of the other trainees who were oblivious to all things Japanese. He was a bit of a smart-ass, but he wasn’t an idiot, so it worked out.
The two of them didn’t really get a long too well ironically.
Anyway, Dom was the one from Scranton, PA. He played W.O.W. fairly competitively and he even met a girl in the realms of Kalimord or whatever it’s called. This girl’s name was Sara. She was a 22 year old who studied paleontology, liked dance-dance revolution, had an alarming amount of peach-fuzz facial hair that in the right light made her look downright furry, and was from Canada.
I thought about putting a picture of a bearded woman up… but I liked this picture better…
Isn’t it funny? If you meet a fat guy who’s pissed off and angry and is a complete douche bag you’re just as likely to say, “Damn, fat people are ass-holes,” when you should say, “Damn, that one dude was an ass-hole.”
How it works (xkcd.com/385/)
So I met Sara. At the time Dom was living in Shizuoka, which is 30 minutes southwest of Tokyo by the bullet train. I was living where I currently live in Fukuoka, the north area of the souther island of Kyushu, about 6 hours away from Tokyo by the Shinkansen.
My brother was visiting me in Japan for summer break, and I invited Dom to join us, and I even told him he could bring Sarah, who I had only met once briefly when she visited him in the spring. I would be remiss to mention that her father flew her out to Japan on a whim, when she told him she wanted to hang out with some W.O.W. buddies, and then he flew her out again, during the summer to continue hooking up (I mean hanging out) with her W.O.W. buddies buddy.
I didn’t have a problem with her the first time we met. She was the shy new girl friend. So I saw no ostensible reason to not let Dom bring his virtual turned 3D squeeze warrior dark elf.
That outfit doesn’t seem very battle worthy…
Man, what a mistake. I spent the following two weeks listening to her complain about everything from the consistency of the food to the fact that summer was hot to the horror that I the only shampoo I owned was a 2 in 1 conditioner/shampoo… and every little thing in between.
I don’t know how Dom put up with it. And he did break up with her about the day before they left, which to her credit she took in stride, if only to save face. She was smug, while inaccurate. She argued with me that it’s impossible to overdose on vitamin C because it’s healthy for you.In the process, she alienated me, my brother, my sweet little Japanese girl friend and her family who are the most gracious hosts.
If pure enough, bitchiness is a universal language.
I forgive her ahead of time… cuz she’s adorable…
After she had left I tried to erase all evidence of her existence. Luckily, all this required was burning the sheets and unfriending her on Facebook.
She wasn’t done annoying me though. She sent me this message.
I noticed you un-friended me on facebook. That’s fine. Can’t say I was surprised — you had some weird passive-aggressive attitude toward me the whole time we were in Fukuoka. I’m not terribly interested in being e-“friends” with someone who’s a shameless jerk toward me. I’d just appreciate if you’d extend the courtesy of telling me straight what your problem with me is. I felt like I’d been nothing but nice to you. I’d felt like we’d gotten along just fine on my previous trips to Japan. Dom said he thought you were annoyed at my “immaturity”, which I thought was ironic considering how your behavior struck me as pretty damn immature. I’m not a fan of drama but I’m a big believer in putting things like this out in the open, so there you have it. So what gives?
Ah, Sara, sara, sara. . . I just don’t know… where to begin. Maybe you shouldn’t ask me this question until you’re ten years older. I’m not saying you have to actually wait 10 full calendar years, but if you were to find some means to mature your personality by about 10 years then I wouldn’t feel so bad about saying this to a 22 year old. What the hell though.
You strike me as someone who is used to getting what she wants the first time she asks for it. Even having to ask for it at all gets under your skin just a wee-little bit. You’re not used to saying thank you, at least not in the English language. Well, here, I’ll open with a list of describing words for you.
I myself am several of those things and it is a list of very universal traits that many people share. However, when I am house guest at someone’s home, apt, duplex, tent, RV, windowless van, I become a slightly different version of myself… because I am a guest. If you wonder why we got a long at first it was because I nothinged you. I neither liked nor disliked you. You simply exhisted without me really caring. Then as I got to know the real you you were able to get me to hop off the fence about the whole thing. You didn’t change one bit throughout your 2 week stay.
Just because Yuuki’s parents don’t understand what you said most of the time, dosn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your opinions to yourself.
Dom: How is it?
Sara: I guess it’s more edible than _insert whatever you want into blank_.
I understood you. Dom could. Luke could. Yuuki could. Why do you think we never went to kareoke? Why do you think Yuuki didn’t go with us to the fireworks?
You took without asking and without saying thanks. (Aside from a few mumbled arrigato’s you really held off the thank you bit.) You stayed for free, you ate for free, you took freely anything you felt like.
You complained incessently. Now complaining isn’t all bad. Sometime’s it’s appropriate. But even with Mario Cart taken out of the equation, it was like listened to a broken reccord. The difference is between constructive complaining and just comentating on everything that doesn’t make your life wonderful. Life is a crap shoot and if you whine about everytime you land on a lot less favorable then there’s not many people who will want to stand by you and listen to that.
How many times did you thank me? How many times did Dom? My own brother thanked me all the time and whatever I have I consider equally his. Yuuki was impressed at how good Dom was at appreciating thngs. I was, but I knew Dom would make a good impression. There was a reason no one was interested in going to a Korean restaurant, something I usually have to protest about being dragged too. I was just embarassed that I had invited you too.
The only reason I didn’t call you out on any of these things was out of respect for Dominic. I did talk to him about you on a few occasions about any number of issues, but either he said nothing to you or you didn’t listen. I continued to hope you’d turn it around, until about the 5th day or so. Sorry, but I made my judgement call then. You are a young 22 year old who hasn’t seen much in the way of hardship or if you did it didn’t leave a lasting impression on you. You take whatever you feel like whenever you feel like, obvlivous to who’s hand your snatching it from ungratefully. I was passive agressive because I didn’t want to make Dom forced into a situation where he had to pick between sending you home and leaving early. Though in retrospect I should have just flown you back to Tokyo or just paid for Dom’s return ticket back to Fukuoka after shipping you off.
Bottom line we are not friends, never will be for at least another 10 years, but I’ll bet by then neither of use will care at all. Personally, I’m comfortable back nothinging you. Yeah, dealing with you was tough then, but sometimes life gives you rotten lemons and you just have to toss it all out.
Don’t worry, it’s nigh impossible to see the faults others see in you until you can look back retrospectively later in life. You wanted it so there’s the tip of the iceburg. Don’t bother replying, I don’t care what you think, how you think, or why you do what you do. Have fun digging up fossils and go easy on the Vitamin C…
After all was said and done I didn’t step back and think to myself, “Canadian women are terrible…” or “W.O.W. nerds are mannerless self-righteous pricks…” or “Girls with facial hair should shave…” (ok, I did think that last one)
No, I thought to myself, “Never ever act the stereotype of your age.”
So, happy Canada Day!!! I hope a run in with one complete pain in the ass never makes you say anything more than geeze, that person was a pain in the ass. Personally, I love Canada because it gives us maple syrup, Ryan Reynolds, and provides a buffer between American and Alaska.
I’d like to I say stowed away on a merchant vessel from the West Indies or brought my mongrel horde down from Mongolia or commanded a sperm whale to carry me from the coast of California, but as usual the truth is much more mundane.
Like any great story this one starts with a girl and an attraction stemming from a mutual appreciate for chaos and war. We met in the Amazon jungle one summer. She was tracking jaguars that she was taming and shrinking to sell as house pets. I was barehandedly fishing for full grown tiger fish when I rescued her Tarzan style from a crocodile and a bull shark that had formed an alliance of evil together. It was magic, we sailed six of the seven seas, ate walrus with the Inuits, hang-glided over eastern Bagdad dropping beanie babies and ketchup packets to give them a taste of what western democracy could do for them.
After a midnight raid of the Louve where we replaced priceless works of art with xeroxed posters of Stephen Colbert, we exchanged Facebook invites and we realized that we were both attending the same school in the middle of Kansas. How had we missed each other for the previous two years? Well, my underground fight club kept me fairly occupied most of the school year and she was busy triple majoring in molecular science, alien linguistics, and pole dancing.
The whirlwind romance continued, followed by a tearful goodbye after graduation and a promise to keep in touch.
After I watched her board the plane back to Japan, and not caring that I was crying in public I realized two things. I loved that little Jap and she still had kept my only copy of Van Wilder. I had to have them back!
To escape the tornados and Midwesterners who were oddly proud of their vast stretches of nothingness, disbelief in science, and limited vocabulary that made their ridicule of Mexican and Canadian immigrants highly hypocritical, I packed my bags and took to the Oregon Trail.
The real Oregon Trail is nothing like the game. If you’ve never traveled across western Kansas and eastern Colorado then imagine a small hill with tall grass. Then imagine traveling at 60mph for about a day looking at nothing except clones of that little grass hill. There are no buffaloes to shoot, there’s no squirrels, no rabbits, no bears. You can pick off a cow easy enough, but in real life carrying back 200lbs of meat is no small feat, so you cut off a few strip steaks and see if you can return nine hundred and ninety-eight bullets at the next WalMart you find or trade them with an Indian for more wagon tongues.
None of us died from Typhoid fever, snake bites, or broken arms. We did take the wrong trail at one point when our GPS got confused by the high altitude around Vail; and I did get projectile diarrhea after eating at a Carlos O’Kelly’s Mexican Café in Hays, but what can you expect from an Irish owned Mexican restaurant… I came out of the TEXACO restroom and my companions all said,
“Matt has dysentery.”
After the Rockies the scenery changes to scrub brush and large wind cut rock structures; again copy and repeat. It gradually transitions to desert and then there’s Las Vegas like a shiny watering hole in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Vegas has lots of neon lights, crying drunks, loose high school graduate co-eds, guys trying to date-rape loose high school graduate co-eds, and miniaturized world landmarks. Pizza is expensive, the lobbies are loud, and hookers will haggle as they sit on your bed refusing to move. Broke and bored at the end of the night we tore pages out of the phone book and sailed paper airplanes from our penthouse window into the glowing neon night. The hooker called us cheap [homosexuals] and left.
California is beautiful as long as you’re at least five miles from the ocean. You get too far away from the Pacific and you’re living in the goddamn desert.
I bought a used surfboard from a local. On the water it transformed into some sort of missile that shot me across the waves briefly, before violently tossing me into foam and froth while bronzed bikini girls giggled and watched. We made bonfires on the beach, drank Corona with lime wedges, and used strange new words, like “bra” and “stoked” and old words in new way like “epic” and “sketch.”
Between the red sunsets, pink desert sunrises, and trips to the beach while listening to TV on the Radio I went on four job interviews for teaching positions in Japan, because really I came to Cali for the interviews right?
I went to my NOVA interview one month before the company declared bankruptcy.
It was by far the easiest interview. I took an overnight train to San Fran the night before the interview, and slept in an empty row of seats.
After a shot of espresso, I wandered into the interview groggy and incoherent. A hot thirty-something brunette in a pencil skirt and a turtleneck gave us a little presentation about Japan and gave us a joke of a psychological test. The whole thing felt more like they were trying to talk us into some sort of pyramid scheme while at the same time screening us for sociopaths. Afterwards they checked if we had pulses and then offered us teaching positions in Japan.
At the time my goal was to get to Japan by any means necessary. I had done little research at all on companies and wasn’t aware that current NOVA employees were dressing in pink bunny suites and picketing to get paid.
After securing the NOVA job offer I went off to visit my lady in Japan and reclaim my DVD.
While I was in Japan this happened:
And by the time I got back from Japan the company that had offered me a job was gone and dismantled. I had my DVD, no job, and a sad little girl across the sea. (I also left my copy of J.D. Salinger short stories in her bathroom. Damn!)
I redoubled my efforts to find employment in Japan. In the meantime, I worked at Bloomingdales convincing rich women I could speak French as I sold them $1000 watches and sweaters for their tiny gay dogs. I also racked myself really hard on a wipeout and traded in my surfboard for a long skateboard, (fuck ocean).
My second interview was in LA with AEON, which is fairly similar to NOVA except not bankrupt, but just a douchetastic.
I took a Greyhound bus with a bunch of poor people to LA. The Greyhound station in LA I recognized from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In the game it’s the place you go to shoot migrant laborers for fun. (It’s kind of a fucked up game.)
The interviewers were two men this time. One was a short thin Japanese man. The other was a tall chubby blonde man with a bit of a northwestern accent. There were only four of us interviewing. Derek had gelled hair, wore glasses, and looked stoned. Drew fidgeted and was so unremarkable I passed over him when I was introducing myself before we started the interview. And A.J. was black.
Then there was me in a clean suit, Tommy tie, and smile that had earned me my own fan club in high school, but I was asian.
It was painfully obvious that from the start of the interview that we weren’t what they were looking for. Derek was too stoned. A.J. wasn’t white enough. And I was too Asian. I got the feeling like they were just going through the motions of another day at work without even considering hiring any of us. Where the NOVA interview had been casual, fun, and flirty, this one was cold, calculated, and dreary.
Oh yeah, Drew was too plebeian or something. I keep forgetting about him, his name wasn’t even Drew, fyi… I just can’t remember it now…
They gave us short little simple English tests that a 5th grader could have done while playing Wii Sports. We each had prepared a mock lesson as a presentation, which we gave using our fellow interviewees as students. The two interviewers talked about Japan and their company with bored sounding voices and they often stared out the window. When we raised our hands they’d keep talking until we gave up asking questions. I should have got up and walked out because they were being douche bags, but I held onto some sliver of hope that it was all an act on their part to see how we’d respond to people who are total tools.
They sent me a letter the next week saying “Fuck you, try again.” I called them asking what went wrong with the interview, if there was any particular reason I didn’t get the job. They told me once again to fornicate with myself and said that the information was confidential. I pissed on the letter and told the mailman there was a mix up and had it returned to the senders.
ECC has a long ass test at the start of the interview. It’s one hundred questions split into different sections covering grammar, spelling, and three other categories I don’t remember.
Was it difficult?
Was I nervous?
If my sixteen years of public education, English Literature Diploma, and narcissistic personality wasn’t enough to prepare me for a test over basic English comprehension then I probably wasn’t as awesome as I thought. But even though I rode on an overnight bus for twelve hours before the interview and hadn’t been asked to identify a gerund since middle school, I aced their little test in twenty minutes and then took a nap.
There was a mock lesson for those of us that passed the test afterwards. The sixteen of the original twenty that was left was divided into two groups and we gave our demo lessons for the group. My interviewer-observer-person was a silver haired Japanese man. I volunteered to go first in my group, so I could have the pleasure of watching the other applicants’ faces as they realized how much more talented I was than they. I launched into my lesson with games and songs and dance, lights, smoke, and enough CGI to make the Phantom Menace look like accidental byproduct of a Q-basic code. Not five minutes into my lesson the Japanese man smiled and clapped his hands and told me, “That was excellent. That’ll be enough.”
The mistake the other applicants made, aside from being in the same room as me without planning ahead and ordering some extra awesome for that day, was that they did their little lessons, but stopped when ‘they’ felt they were finished. Not when they were told to stop.
They would stop talking; look around with hesitant glances like a deer entering a meadow looking for bears. The Japanese man would ask, “Ummm, are you finished then?” They’d laugh nervously and nod.
The last part of the ECC interview a one-on-one interview. By this point I knew I was set. The interview questions were all pointed to the obvious: “Where in Japan do you want to live?” “Which is your favorite Sailor Moon character?” “You’re terrific, why haven’t I heard about you yet?” “Is there some sort of handsome cream you use or what?”
On the way home from San Francisico on the 2nd and final time I would ever ride a Greyhound for that long, ECC called me and told me they absolutely had to have me.
The INTERAC interview took place outside of LA. I rented the crappiest car I could find, which turns out in San Diego is a PT Cruiser.
The INTERAC interview consists of a personality test, a video taped self-introduction followed by a videotaped demo lesson that’s super short, and a one-on-one interview.
I had Yuuki write out my self-introduction in Japanese. The demo lesson was just to prove I could form English sounding sentences without vomiting on myself. The interviewer was a plump little twenty-something girl from Pennsylvania. By the end of short interview we were both laughing obnoxiously and she told me I was a pleasure to meet and she would recommend me for the job. I may have told her at some point that when she smiled it was like little bits of sunshine were leaking out, which seemed cheesy at the time, but I’m sure no one had ever told her something like that before. Looking back now someone with sunshine leaking out of their frigging face seems rather terrifying.
I wound up taking the job with INTERAC because they had better hours. I still get sad little emails from ECC as they continue to cry about their loss.
As I crossed the Kansas plains in my 1994 Toyota Turcel I thought for a turn about the ironies of modern holidays and their association with romance. The 2003-2004 school year held a lot of first for me. There was my first time moving out on my own, my first keg stand, my first time to vomit while upside down… lot of exciting new life experiences that were mostly forgotten after a few cleansing moments singing softly to the porcelain of a dorm toilet while my body rejected copious amounts of alcohol and Taco Bell meat filler.
I’m not one of those people who doesn’t realize things change after you graduate from high school. As soon as I took my diploma from my diabetic principal and then untangled myself after tripping down the stairs on the opposite end of the stage I was hit by two epiphanies. One: I should have worn something under my graduation robe; and two: I wasn’t going to be the cool kid in high school any more.
The one time I did try to go back the following fall semester I was impolitely escorted out for not having a visitor’s badge while beating up kids behind the stairwell. “How dare you!” I cried indignantly, “don’t you know who I am?” Sadly it seems resource officers have limited short-term memories, only jogged when reminded who the cool student was who rearranged the school’s Christmas lights into a giant penis visible from space, or at least by low flying aircraft.
Valentine’s Day evolves as you grow up.
In the first few years of grade school you start out by giving everyone and anyone a Valentine. Like baseball cards or herpes on a porn set everyone trades with everyone without discrimination.
Maybe around 3rd or 4th grade you start to realize that Valentine’s is a great time to be a vindictive little prick. Lisa cut you in line for frozen fruit snacks after recess? Jordan gets all the way to the top and then realizes she doesn’t have the balls to go down the fucking slide creating a logjam with you stuck halfway up the ladder? Dan laughed when you tripped while sneezing and drinking milk? Screw ‘em, they’re not getting your kick-ass Ninja Turtles Valentine’s cards. And when they come to give you their lame cards that don’t have any references to ninjas, mutants, or turtles, you watch their reaction as you slowly tear them into confetti and say, “Just because I can…”
Around the 5th grade you stop getting cards for the guys in the class because that’s kind of gay, and though you’re not sure why or what ‘gay’ is, it sounds worse than the cooties, and while you’re definitely not sure what those are you’ve been conditioned to associate them with something terrible like movies with Sarah Jessica Parker or Japanese pizza. But you’re still a little curious.
By middle school you’re making feeble attempts to imitate movie and TV romances which are your primary source for sexual education, because face it, your parents by now are probably fairly checked out as far as relationships go, and you sometimes feel like you’re the lynch pin holding together your traditional family. As for sex-ed in school, it’s such a laughably awkward endeavor that by the end the only thing you’ve come away with is how to draw Captain Condom and that girls will periodically bleed from their vaginas.
So you buy little candies and cards with your allowance for the girls who are homely looking enough that they wouldn’t reject your advances before at least seriously looking you over. And you apologize as you give it to them cuz it’s lame and gay, but well whatever… And sometimes you’re rewarded with a peck on the cheek or a hand job on the back of the bus (depending on the school zone I assume.) And you’re learning, as you dive headlong into puberty, that Valentine’s Day is a day where you can exchange material items for physical (and sometimes emotional) rewards.
By the time you hit high school you’re stocked with enough hormones to confuse you so much you’d fail a sobriety test in the morning and you gravitate to stuff you later figure out is terrible, like Abercrombie, Mountain Dew, and Nickleback. You continue to trade out store bought goods to buy favor with any and all tight bodied females in hooded sweatshirts and sweatpants with stuff like Juicy and Classy written across the ass. Sort of like dropping chum in the water, it doesn’t matter if you know the lady or not, you leave little secret admirer cards dropped through the slots of their lockers with a Valentine’s note and a photoshopped picture from the yearbook with the two of you on a fabulous date at someplace terrible, but disguised as decent, like the Cheese Cake Factory.
My senior year in school I went bachelor style for the day of love and bought two dozen cheap roses, some of them very near death, and walked the halls of school giving them out to girls who I knew for a fact had received no Valentine’s rewards; it was something I learned from watching lions devouring sick wildebeests, target the weak and solitary. It worked too, I had had three dates on Valentine’s Day with various lonely single women. That night, exhausted and broke I wondered if what I had just done was awesome or terrible.
Fuck, I got off topic…
February, 14th 2004
So back to driving across the windswept plains still covered with a dusting of snow, I finally pulled into a little suburban area with cookie cutter houses that looked like a collection of props from Happy Days.
After exchanging text messages and short phone conversations with a young brown haired blue-eyed girl named Megan, she had managed to convince me that taking her out for the evening was a good idea. Yeah she was still in high school, but I was less than a year removed from the same school myself so I assumed the age difference wouldn’t be too much to overcome. Plus she was aggressive and had perky boobs, which I were things I liked at the time…the latter is still something I can appreciate both appropriately and inappropriately.
Her dad was a large mustached man. I jokingly asked him when he had to return his glorious stache to Tom Selleck.
“Megan’s still getting ready,” he told me in response, in a deep voice with a tinge of that odd Midwestern accent.
Thinking he might not have been listening I tried it again but changed Tom Selleck to Burt Reynolds.
He sighed and told me I could come in and wait.
Deciding against a third attempt using Charles Bronson I said instead, “Women are always late getting ready,” I laughed, “and then they complain when we stop showing up on time.”
He gave me a bored look and rubbed his moustache while he stood guard at the foot of the stairs. Megan just then appeared at the top of the stairs wrapped in a pink towel that was quite short.
“Hey Matty,” she called down, “Just give me half a second.” Her face already had makeup on. “Be nice daddy,” she sang as she turned and disappeared with a flash of shiny dark hair and long clean legs. God bless high schoolers I thought to myself.
Her dad smiled and waved to her and then turned back to me, all joy gone from his face. “What are your plans for tonight?” he asked.
“I’m gonna start slow,” I joked. He didn’t seem like the laughing type so I told him, “Grab something to eat, then maybe head off to a movie. Probably go see something that’s been out for a while so the theater is nice and dark and empty. You know,” I gave him a wink.
“Where do you go to school?”
“I’m out in Lawrence,” I lied. It’s just something I do when I start to get bored.
“What are you studying?”
“Double majoring in Agronomy and Astrophysics.”
“You’re interested in farming?”
“Roads are a little slick from the last storm still. What do you drive?”
“A Toyota, but don’t worry it’s got front wheel drive.”
“No. Front wheel drive.”
He gave me a strange look then.
I winked again.
“Finished,” Megan cried as she bounced down the stairs. She was wearing a super short pink cotton skirt, a baby blue hoodie with beige ABERCROMBIE letters attached over the chest, a lined denim jacket, and some absolutely hideous brown boots.
“Meg, aren’t you going to be cold like that?” her dad asked.
“I think she’ll be fine,” I told them staring at her thighs.
Megan beamed at her dad and threw her arms around his chest, “Don’t worry, we’re not gonna be outside really anyway.”
He saw us to the door and watched us walk to the car.
“Your dad’s pretty cool,” I told Megan as we backed out the driveway.
“He’s a drag, but I’m a fan, so what’s going on, how are you?”
“Eh, the usual. School, work, parties, Frisbee-golf, time travel…”
“Yep, I’m traveling forward in time.”
“So, how about you?”
“I’m sooo good…” she proceeded to tell me why, but she was a speed talker who often departed her original narrative to extrapolate on strange anecdotes, which held little or no bearing to any previous topics. She shifted between narratives without pause or discretion. At first I tried to keep up and store one plot away for when she got back around to it and started connecting the dots, but the tale she weaved was less like a Guy Richie film and more like the artistic ability of a toddler who draws pink giraffes at airports riding surfboards across the tarmac and a stick figure floating just above the horizon that is supposed to be some boy named Jimmy apparently, but I have no clue who Jimmy is and apparently neither does the artist because Jimmy is wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and has cactus hands that are stabbing fiercely into the air and one of them has already impaled some sort of ball and a square-object with teeth, and now the giraffe has been converted into some sort of skyscraper, which seems like a safety hazard at an airport… and tree branches are sticking out of what was previously the neck of a giraffe and in the branches there are dinosaurs nesting despite there being no data on Pterosaurs ever being arboreal, but they’re in the fucking tree and now there’s a fish walking about on the tarmac, probably a missing evolutionary link and the fish is wearing high heels on it’s awkwardly sketched feet so it hardly looks probable and more like some hoax stitched together by a desperate and doped up Dutch explorer…
While Megan continued to pollute the very idea of speech with whatever the hell she was rambling about I took a magical journey myself to escape Kansas, cold Kansas weather, and the tiny hell my poor Toyota had become (in Kansas). First, I visited Socrates and asked him about love. Then I realized I didn’t understand a word of Greek and it wasn’t Socrates I was talking to but Socks, who was best known for being Bill Clinton’s cat and being the protagonist in an ill received Super Nintendo game appropriately labeled, “Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill.” Socks looked to me like he knew a thing about love, or at least had seen his fair share battles and disturbing images.
I abandoned Socks though, when he found out I had never bothered to switch my political party from registered Republican and when I remembered that I don’t understand a word of cat which is made up of mostly a series of glares, hisses, baby sounds, and bits of small dead animals left on your pillow.
Then I journeyed back in time to the festival of Lupercalia, which is the pagan holiday that Valentine’s Day was designed to replace.
Ancient Rome, I soaked in the splendor of the ancient empire of legend. It was a little weird wearing my toga without a beer helmet and 50 Cent’s latest blend of rap and autotune blaring in the background, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The architecture was white stone painted vibrantly and gaudily. The air smelled of grapes and baking. Women sang as they busted through their homes sweeping out dust and small rocks and then sprinkling salt around the briefly clean floors. I hiked through the streets and followed a flock of boys out past the city outskirts where the poor and sick people huddled and looked at me with hungry eyes full of sadness and greed.
We hiked up through the foothills and into the mountains to the mouth of the Lupa cave where the she-wolf had nursed Romulus and Remus as babes. The Order of the Luperci was gathered in red and white robes preparing a goat and dog for sacrifice. The dog let out a whimper, the goat chewed on some grass and stared vacantly at the priest approaching with the ceremonial bronze blade.
Two quick cuts and it was over and I guess the spirit of the she-wolf was happy and the priests had successfully slaughtered two helpless animals to mark the beginning of spring. The boys I was with ran to the goat and fell upon it. They tore the skin off the beast and cut it into strips about the length of my forearm. Dipping the skins in dog and goat blood we ran back to Rome in a frenzy, slapping crops and women as we went. The women let out shrill little shrieks of pleasure as we savaged them with our bloody hides, the crops didn’t complain either. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the romance of it all.
Actually, I got carried away, you can only slap so many women and fields of grain before you run out of blood. I slaughtered more farm animals as I went to replenish my ammunition, but eventually the city guards wrestled me to the ground. By that point I had replaced my strip of goatskin with a horse hindquarter that I was swinging about like a war hammer of fertility while drenched in the blood of a thousand barnyard animals.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” I asked Megan who had stopped talking at some point.
“I said,” she rolled her eyes, “What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, I want to go to Rome.”
“How romantic! With me?”
“Oh god no!” I shuddered. “There’s no way I’d slap you with my bloody goat skin and no that’s not a euphemism.”
“Ummmm…thanks? Let’s get something to eat,” the girl said seemingly unfazed.
“Maybe… Friday’s, or Denny’s, or IHOP?” she proposed.
“This is good,” I told her, “Let’s get all of your terrible ideas out at once. Got anymore gems? Should I go buy a Viao? Should I ask the Geek Squad to set up my Xbox? Do you wanna listen to Vanilla Ice while we make-out parked in front of Home Depot?”
She hung her head.
“Alright then. Let’s go eat.”
Not willing to spend much on a girl who I already hated not even 10 minutes into the date we went to the nearest Sonic where I had some expired coupons.
“I don’t really want to eat here,” she complained. She didn’t like eating where she worked apparently.
“See if they’ll give us an employee discount,” I told her. By now her poor young spirit was barely surviving. I was just grateful she was quiet.
We ordered our food. I convinced the kid who brought the food out to us to take coupons anyway. There was no way a guy wearing a visor, jean shorts, a mood ring, and a name tag that said STEFFAN was going get me to back down from saving $2.25 off my total purchase before tax.
Don’t feel bad for STEFFAN though, he got me back. He saw Megan in the passenger seat with her arms crossed and her little pink skirt hiking its way up her thigh and the little bastard said, “Hey Megan! What’s up?” This little comment spurred an intense 90 second conversation between the two of them that contained about 20 minutes worth of words, was about 30% giggles, and 100% uninteresting. It only ended because I started to slowly and dramatically roll up my window while staring at him vacuously. After he left Megan kept going. She started out by saying, “I can’t stand him,” in a tone that made me hate her hatred of poor STEFFAN while still not being too fond of STEFFAN.
I phased in and out after that. Thankfully I had my food to occupy myself with. If you’re gonna be a dick to fast-food workers be prepared to eat some spit or be able to out think them, not something that’s too difficult because they’re either really young, really old, or grew up in unfortunate circumstances that didn’t afford them the same intellectual training I received in my AP biology classes and my junior college statistics courses. I switched my food with Megan’s when the order came out.
At some point between eating and speed talking her way through 1500 calories Megan got ahold of my cell phone.
I’m not gonna brag, but my cell phone had hundred of names in it. Most of them women. She went through the list and made snide comments about some of the girls who she knew.
“You know Ashley? She’s such a slut!”
“OMG, Kelly is so stuck up, she’s such a bitch.”
“Is this Kristin Magnuson?”
“Is this Lisa blah blah blah…”
She made it to the M’s eventually.
“You know Matt Morrison? I love that kid!”
“Yeay…” I did a one man wave.
“Can I call him?”
“From my phone?”
“Yeah! It’d be funny!”
“Do it.” I had no idea who Matt Morrison was.
“It’s ringing! It’s ringing!” she cried.
“Phones do that when you call them, at least the good ones do.”
“Hi, Matt!” she said into the receiver. “No, it’s Megan. I’m with Matty right now.”
“He doesn’t know me as ‘Matty,’” I told her.
She ignored me. “What are you up to?” She nodded as she listed to him.
“He wants to talk to you,” she said offering me the phone.
I took it, still with no idea who Matt was. “Matt,” I said, “what’s happing bro?”
“Not much not much, just chilling,” an unfamiliar voice at the other end said back to me.
“You know Megan?”
He paused, “I don’t know, maybe. Megan who?”
“Megan G____, tallish, thin, brunette, bug-eyes…”
“She’s still in high school, she’s, hold on,” I turned to Megan and asked, “How old are you again?”
“Seventeen,” she told me like she was proud of it.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Matt.
“Yeah, okay. I know Megan,” I got the idea that he didn’t.
“Where do you live again?” I asked him.
“Antioch and 85th street.”
“We’re gonna go see a movie or something.”
I turned on the car and started backing out. “Heading there now.”
Megan seemed pretty stoked to get to see her old buddy Matt Morrison again. When we met him at the theater it turned out he was gangly looking white kid who looked like he listened to speed metal and used too much gel to hold up his spiked hair. He had a little soul patch that was too small and trying too hard to even seem a little pretentious.
“Sorry,” I told him as we leaned on some else’s BMW, “but how do I know you?”
“We had computer tech together at West.”
“We went to high school together?”
“Yeah… and you live in the same dorm as me now.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. What floor are you on again?”
“The 9th,” he said looking down at the ground.
“No way! Me too.”
“Yeah, I know. So where’s Megan?” he looked around.
“I sent her to go buy tickets.”
“What are we seeing?”
“Well, I gotta jet. I think you two are going to watch Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.”
“Are you fucking serious.”
“Look here she comes now.” I waved to Megan and she ran towards us waving the tickets. A winter breeze lifted her skirt as she ran, and even I had to admit that at a distance I didn’t mind her too much.
“You kids have fun,” I snickered.
“You’re an evil bastard,” he told me.
“Compliments won’t get you anywhere.”
“Hey Matt!” Megan came up and gave Matt a hug.
“Listen up Meg,” I snapped my fingers. “I gotta jet, I just remembered that I’m not allowed back in this theater whenever there’s a Ashley Judd movie playing. Court orders, ya know.”
“What?” she asked me.
“But you kids have fun. Really all the best. Hope Ms. Lindsaaay knocks it outta the park on this one, really I do.”
“Where are you going?” Megan asked me.
“I’m graduating,” I told her, and drove off into the sunset.