January 17, 2004
1 cup (4 ounces) hazelnuts
1 cup (4 ounces) unblanched almonds
1 cup (4 ounces) raw cashews
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
7-8 ounces dried raisins, dates, etc.
Whole milk yogurt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on. Transfer to a large plate and let cool. With a rollingpin, crush the nuts until coarse. In a medium bowl, stir the oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, orange zest, and vanilla bean together. Add the oats and stir gently to coat. spread the mixture on a baking sheet and toast for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes to encourage even browning. Remove from the oven an let cool on the pan. Transfer the granola to a bowl and toss with the dried fruit and crushed nuts. Serve either with cold milk, or top with a the whole milk yogurt and honey.
2003 was a very good year, and December was its greatest month. The Israelis had the idea that we should take advantage of unseasonably warm weather at the beginning of the month to play soccer, and the Canadian, the Englishman and I were all up for it. We showed up at the Kyoto University sports complex one night and claimed an empty strip of field to play. We had no real business being there, but the Israelis are a confident lot who appear to know people everywhere they go, and no one bothered us. It was very crowded, with the field hockey team and the soccer teams hard at work. I was pleased to note that Kyoto University fields an American football team. The long-snapper and the place-holder spent most of the night rehearsing their roles with monomaniacal resolve. We split into teams and played soccer (football, isn't it, kids in the park, jumpers for goalposts) for a while. It was my first game in 15 years, and I was terrible, retaining no footwork or ball control skills whatsoever. The others were better, but the Canadian was pissed off at the Israelis for not passing to him, and the Englishman was the only real ace on both halves of the pitch. As such, when some guys from the Kyoto University soccer team came over and invited us to play them, I didn't give our squad much of a chance. As it turns out, though, our size advantage played a decisive role - they kept bouncing off us, falling down and apologizing - and we were ahead 30-2 when the stadium lights were finally turned off. They were very nice guys and we all promised to play again soon.
We had our school Christmas party late one Sunday night at a nabe restaurant called The Lockup. It was on a dark, unmarked side street in the massive shopping arcade in downtown Kyoto. (To be fair, all side streets are unmarked in this country, and the shopping arcade pales in comparison to its equivalents in Osaka, but I am trying to set the scene here.) I'm not that into being on time or having any idea where I'm going, so I showed up 45 minutes late and therefore arrived alone. Although there was an unlit sign over a wall-length window indicating the location of the restaurant, there was no door, and the other side of the window was an empty, featureless black space without any people. After busting some nihongo ("Lock-up wa doku des ka?") for a gang of drunk salarymen, I was led into a bar next door and guided to the entrance for The Lockup, which was several feet away behind some barrels. A hallway went to the featureless black space I'd seen through the window, and stairs led down to a tunnel with locked doors, distant screams and flickering candles. To my surprise, part of the floor had been replaced by deep sponges. I wandered around for a while until suddenly a waitress appeared, took me by the arm and guided me through a door and past several jail cells to a large cell at the end of the hall, where sat everybody from my school as well as some random Japanese people. I greeted everyone, took off my shoes and sat down to eat. The kim-chee nabe at our table was warming my stomach when suddenly the lights went out, black-lights came on, and monsters raced into the cell, tackling and hitting people. There were too many of them, and they could not be stopped. Then waitresses in tight mini-skirts appeared and shot the monsters with laser guns. The dying monsters crawled away as the lights came on and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" rose up on the sound system. Me and a random Japanese guy hugged each other. A waitress came in to take everyone's picture. During the Secret Santa, I gave two bomb-ass wooden monkey stamps and I received a nice houseplant.
I spent a few days traveling along the west coast of Japan after that, visiting the cities of Hiroshima, Onomichi and Kurashiki as well as the island of Miyajima; and when I disappear from the earth, those memories will be among the last parts of me to go.
It was profoundly disorienting to come home from a long trip and still be in Japan. Everyone was happy to see me back at the public baths, though. The owner, sentimental old coot that he is, grunted and pointed at a sign to make sure that I understood they would be taking holidays on January 1 and 3-5. Earning 'regular' status there is one of my greatest achievements and I am very proud of it. The yakuza guys asked me for the lowdown when a new foreigner walked in. (I didn't know him. They thought he was nuts for spending so much time in the green electrically-charged pool.) In the steam room, where gloriously tinny 1950s jazz is piped in through the ceiling, one yakuza asked me how the Chicago mob was doing. I meant to tell him that they were all pretty old, but I accidentally told him that they were my grandfather. (The conversations are all in Japanese, and mine remains shitty.) He nodded and seemed content with my answer. On another occasion, I chatted with a yakuza about The Last Samurai. He liked it a lot. He asked me what kind of work my family did, and I told him that my mother was an office worker. He said that he came from a long line of samurais and then he traced his entire family tree, identifying where and when each samurai lived, following that with a disseration on his wife's family tree, which was also chock-full of samurais. I said that was great, because I know the word for 'great'.
And now it is January, and I am back at work for undetermined months to come. My Japanese income tax return came back, and it was unexpectedly generous. My credit card debt has been vastly reduced and Citibank has learned that I am capable of being a fully ascetic motherfucker. Fred, a yakuza guy I have taken to calling Fred, just got the light-blue added to his full-back-butt-and-legs tattoo of a warrior slaying a demon. He's taking it one color at a time, which I think is wise. The weather has become bitterly cold, and there is no heat in my old house. Others have kerosene heaters, but I have read too many accounts of disastrous polar expeditions to go in for that shit.
IKUKO is in Kurashiki. I will leave it to the French speakers of the world to decide whether the Japanese work the same magic with their language as they do with English. I suspect that IKUKO knows about as much French as I do, which is to say that IKUKO has access to a French dictionary if IKUKO can be arsed to get up and find it, and if that is the case, I'm guessing that the Japanese are, in fact, capable of making some measure of magic with other languages. It's a risky move on their part, though. Say what you will about their various military capitulations throughout the ages, but the one thing the French will fucking fight you over is their language. I can only hope they accept IKUKO with, well, satisfaction, as opposed to rage or, worse, ennui.
Unless it was decided while I was out of the room that merciless dominion over the earth is a good thing, I am absolutely astounded by the Sony Corporation's decision to name their latest robot QRIO. In years to come, the scattered bands of survivors may well point to the moment when we let the machines break the 'u'-follows-'q' rule as the moment when robots realized they could get away with anything, so they might as well give the wholesale slaughter of human beings a try.
I will have comments in days to come on Cookie Monster (some excellent comments on that entry have gone unused thus far), space travel, very tall basketball players and other important topics, so you ought to return to this space soon.
But! Perhaps you are still annoyed because it has been so long since I have written. I am unreliable, you think, and I have abandoned you to the savagery of your cubicle too many times to be forgiven. Let me say, then, that those other webpages can promise you multimedia and regular updates and all kinds of other crap, but we both know that I am the only one in the world who can bring you a photograph of two monkeys staging the death scene from 'Camille'.
I think I've made my point.