By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
May 25, 2003
I will tell you only small things, and from them you will assemble some larger truth, in time, when you have collected enough of them. I know that you can do this.
Holed up in a temporary apartment on my first and second days, peeking at Japan from my balcony, attempting to apply Enigma-machine style decoding techniques to Japanese television, I had to eat eventually, and I gave in around 10am on the second day. I was hoping for some breakfast, but I soon found myself to be fucking hopeless in Japanese convenience stores, and I wound up with a pseudo-orange drink and some semi-barbecued potato chips. That was fine. It could have come off a lot worse, as it did a few days later, when I inadvertently bought a ham sandwich that I swear was deliberately disguised to look like an egg sandwich. (Seriously. There was a ring of egg salad around the outside of the bread, and a sneaky strip of ham on the inside.) There was a plastic bundle wrapped around the neck of the orange drink. Inside was a small plastic statue of a monkey sitting on a plate of spaghetti and lobster tail, opening a clam and looking quite disappointed to find an omelette inside. The inscription on the base of the statue read WORLD MASTERPIECE THEATER II.
I have no internet access at home. I am writing this from an internet cafe on the sixth floor of a shaky warehouse (where the elevator only goes up to the fifth floor), a building surrounded by hip-hop clothing stores and the ubiquitous tiny noodle shops, each with its own handful of silent Japanese men in suits, where even one so cheeky as I does not get the impression he should entertain thoughts of entrance. My actual place of residence is many miles away in Juso, the red light district of Osaka, which is right around the corner from Friendly Street and Very Friendly Street. A building simply entitled "Diary of a Nurse" is nearby. In three days of residence, my roommate Adam is the only other white man I've seen.
Today, while trying to find this place, I saw a woman with a shirt that read THIS BIG NEW WAVE HAS ME VERY EXCITED ABOUT THE FUTURE.
May 12, 2003
The pre-departure vagrancy tour now takes me out on the open road, away from computer screens for a few days. I should mention before I leave, though, because some readers have assumed otherwise, that I will continue to maintain this web-page while in Japan, so there will only be minimal interruption of service, except in the unlikely event that Osaka proves to be an exceedingly normal place in which to wake up.
May 7, 2003
I have tried, because I am cooperative and reasonable, but I can't manage to get swept up in SARS fever. Perhaps I'm just not ready to move on after Iraqattack 2003, because I never got the sense of closure I needed from a climactic warehouse fistfight between Saddam and Bush, say, or the discovery of actual weapons of mass destruction. But I think I've been fair, and SARS doesn't have what I look for in a global panic event. A hyped-up remix of the flu? This is truly an era of diminished expectations. I try to be polite to SARS followers and give a duly serious nod in response to their concerns about my heading to Japan, because that's what they're into, and one thing I've noticed is that nobody's really likes hearing how something they're interested in isn't all that good. Of course, I'll take the necessary precautions while I'm over there, such as not making any day-trips to small towns in China for a festive round of doorknob-licking. But, really, there's going to have to be a mutant SARS monster or something on that level for me to get into this.
My pre-departure vagrancy tour finds me in my friend Henry's apartment down in our old college town for the next couple of days, following stints in downtown Chicago and Wisconsin. He has a relatively new computer but still has the same keyboard from when we roomed together six years ago. From this keyboard, dwarves were sent forth to attack my trolls in Warcraft, and in brighter times, dwarf-troll alliances were formed against our other two roommates' dwarves and trolls. It's hard not to get sentimental. The collected grime of six years of use has taken its toll on this fine-tuned machinery, though, and I really have to earn each response from the space bar. We spent a merry night compiling research on the current projects of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. (The rumors are true: Hammer is, again, an MC. You can go home again, it appears. Tom Wolfe is therefore deemed unable 2 touch this.) A brief report:
MC Hammer: "Active Duty" (2001) album finds him wearing a number of horrendous outfits, many of which are entirely unsuitable for active military duty, such as fur coats; no longer raps, just kind of shouts in sub-DMX fashion. Unbowed, still refers to self as world's foremost entertainer and spiritual leader.
Vanilla Ice: "Bi-Polar" album (2001) combines two separate albums, one rap-metal ("Scabz") and one rap (hit single "Hot Sex"); both are crap, but do sound different. Has roped in an obscure affiliate of the Wu-Tang Clan for credibility, although said member is likely no longer possessed of vocal cords, as one imagines that loaning the Wu-Tang name to a Vanilla Ice project would be be rather difficult to explain to Ghostface Killah. Online store announces closing in April. "Word To Your Mutha" tour ambles through Canada.
Sir Mix-A-Lot: Still in his prime. Extensive documentation available of every critical list on which "Baby Got Back" (song and video) has placed higher than other, more commercially successful rap artists. Clips from UPN's "The Watcher" curiously unavailable.
May 6, 2003
I went to Wisconsin for the weekend. I am now back in Chicago, aimlessly stacking things near my luggage and making the occasional trip over to the Japanese consulate, just a few blocks away, right next to the Museum of Contemporary Art. With my apartment lease now expired, I am living in my mother's penthouse downtown, always a curious transition no matter where I'm coming from. I never know what to do about the doormen. I really prefer to open my own doors, but it seems kind of vicious to disregard the only thing they are being paid to do. They always get up from their chairs before I can open the door myself, so it would be a shithead move to wave them off when they're already on their feet, but then I have to wait for several seconds until they reach the door, seconds in which, as an able-bodied human being, I ought to be opening the door for myself. It's all very awkward, and I am tired of hearing about the suffering of Iraqi children when I am made to endure such things.
Last week was quite busy. Tuesday was my last day at work. Because he gave me a bonus check, I allowed the rabbi to recast our mutual history as one of shared prosperity and joy in various reminisces public and private. My replacement at the job is an excellent fellow who stands as good a chance as anyone at succeeding in the job. He was beginning to look quite overwhelmed by the time I left on Tuesday, but that will happen to you around the time you encounter the seventh alternate spelling of Hanukkah and begin to wonder if you're responsible for knowing which fits which context. My only concern is that I'm not sure if he has the ruthless streak that allowed me to handle those situations (immediately ceasing all work until someone comes by to explain it to me, or simply writing I DON'T KNOW, THIS WAS SECRETLY WRITTEN BY A GENTILE instead of the word). But they certainly did reduce me to a formula in the hiring process, because they chose another non-religious white kid with a Germanic last name and a background in literature from a state school. So I hope it works out for everyone. I keep meaning to call over there to find out how things are going, but then I keep not doing it.
The exit interview was tame. The HR director pre-emptively announced that the rabbi was a pain in the ass and that I'd done a splendid job with him, and also that my replacement was making $4000 less than I started at, so they'd prefer if I didn't mention that to him. (Did I fuck! Homey don't play no conspiracies of silence.)
The day was chock full of poignant moments. The rabbi announced that he'd be taking me to lunch, and then he didn't. He implied that my replacement would be far easier to deal with than me, and later he whispered that he wasn't sure if my replacement "was all there" and wanted reassurance. People with whom I had no relationship whatsoever began chatting with me about the trip to Japan as if we were old friends. They did the same thing when I grew a beard. Then, I replied with some of the most powerful set of blank stares yet unleashed within city limits. This time, I just shrugged and agreed that, yes, it was pretty exciting. (I mean, it is.) Several people requested that I speak some Japanese for them. I don't know any, but rather than take the time to explain that the job doesn't call for me to speak the language, I got in the habit of stringing together the few words I know, like dorobo saru no kansai, and claiming that I'd complimented them on their clothing, when in fact, I was referring to a thief monkey belonging to the region south of Tokyo. They tended to think it was great. I do what I can. The rabbi announced that if I ever got into legal trouble, I could call him and he'd help me out. (Everyone thinks I am always on the verge of trouble. Four people contacted me to make sure I behaved during the exit interview.) He thanked me for two and a half years of remarkable service and said that, from a substantive perspective, I was the best help he'd ever had during his thirty years in Jewish communal service. In truth, I was only there for one and a half years. As for the other statement, I will allow it to stand on its own. I hope things go well for my replacement. He really seemed like a great guy.
As I walked out of the building, people kept coming up to me and telling me what an amazing job I'd done handling the rabbi, and how I was the best they'd ever seen at it. It was all very surreal.
There were no such poignant goodbyes on my way out of THE LAND OF THE DOUBLE BONE HARD NIGGAZ, although they made their peace in ways traditional to the neighborhood, such as double-parking alongside the moving van (thereby blocking the entire street), continuing to holler at each other at all hours (yelling through windows: the original cell-phone), and, perhaps sweetest of all, making off with my toaster. I left it on a box near the dumpster because I wasn't planning to keep it, and sure enough, the toaster was gone less than an hour later. God bless Rogers Park.
And so, as I sit here in my mother's place downtown eating applesauce, writing out in the dining room because all of the other phone jacks are blocked by bookcases, I am led to reflect upon the time, many years ago, as an angry young boy, I spooned a bunch of applesauce into one of my stepfather's books, closed it real fast and replaced it on the bookshelf. It was never mentioned. Has he not opened that book in the seventeen years since that act of guerilla vengeance? I don't even remember which one it was.
I leave on May 19 for San Francisco and May 21 for Osaka.
May 2, 2003
I am free of rabbinic servitude, and am off to the hinterlands for a weekend of much-needed respite.
I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.
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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.