I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

December 30, 2004

One of the things that I really missed about America was quarters. They are a bomb-ass form of currency and life in other countries is poorer for not having them. The 100 Yen coin in Japan is shaped much like a quarter, but it is dangerous for Americans when the dollar-unit is not represented by a paper bill, because we are not taught to be serious about how we spend our coins, and therefore they can go pretty quickly. Japanese money doesn't involve paper until you get up to 1000 Yen. I have a special fondness for the Y1000 bill, because it features Soseki Natsume, a novelist from the Meiji era whose most famous book was a 650 page epic called I Am A Cat in which the narrator is a cat, written long before college rhet class students were writing stories from the perspective of a spoon. I wound up at Natsume's summer house once, by accident, and found a life-size black-and-white cardboard cut-out of him kneeling on the porch, racking his brain for ideas, and I thought of the words of another of his narrators, Botchan:

"Ever since I was a child, my inherent recklessness has brought me nothing but trouble."

One of my students quoted that to me once, in their own translation.

No! I am talking about quarters. I don't need to tell you why they are good: they make arcades come to life, two of them buy you a can of pop, one of them buys a fine gumball, or at least it should. It's the phone-call coin. I have never felt completely without options as long as I am in possession of a quarter. The fifty-cent piece tried and failed to subordinate the quarter. Any coin that is called a 'piece' is not a coin that I trust. God damn! I found a dime on the street in Osaka once and was understandably perplexed. How can a coin that small expect to compete? On one hand, you could always swindle my brother into swapping a big nickel for a small dime. On the other hand, when you did, you'd earned five extra cents. Way to go. What are you going to get with that? And the little bastard holds a grudge.

When I returned to the USA, I was excited to see the progress that had been made in the State Quarters series since I'd been gone. I used to enjoy a good evening sitting around the fire, talking shit about the quarters of different states. (In case any readers of this webpage have ever thought that it might be fun to hang out with me, that should set you straight about what you could expect.) Ohio has and continues to be the best, as it prominently features a moon-man; Indiana was generally acknowledged as the next best, owing to their use of a giant race-car. The quarter of my current home state, Connecticut, is for shit, which is, in that way, much like the state slogan. But what are you going to do? They elect Joe Lieberman to the Senate here.

As for quarters introducted after I left, everyone knew Illinois was going to go with Lincoln, but at least it was Action Lincoln. Wisconsin probably has a valid claim to best quarter now, which must be something nice to talk about on those cold, wintry nights. The one that interested me the most, however, was Florida:

Has anyone else noticed how interesting that is? I know what they think they're going for with that design, or at least what they think you think they're going for. But has anyone noticed the order of events there? The Spanish galleon is arriving just after the space-ship has left. They are saying that the space-ship was there first. In other words, the Florida quarter argues for a retrograde interpretation of history - either that, or it's suggesting that human beings were planted on the earth by aliens. That's a pretty fucking provocative thesis for a state quarter, especially considering their electoral history.

It is a lazy Thursday afternoon at the consulting company. For all of my bluster about keeping their expectations precisely modulated to ensure the perfect nexus of slack and paycheck, it turns out that I finished the first draft of my project too early, so I had to take an unpaid holiday on Monday until they had the revisions ready. I was much more careful with the revisions, leaving thirty minutes' worth of work to be accomplished today, so that I could not be left at home again while they catch up. This is a nice consulting company, though, and I wish them no harm. I do good work for them. In a show of school spirit that surprised even me, I used orange-and-blue as the dominant color scheme for the presentations I worked on. The presentations are all about building teams and being a leader. Interestingly enough, counter to the notions of some of my colleagues, they do not appear to recommend punching people in the face. I'm wondering if I should just go ahead and put that in there for them. They seem wise, though, and perhaps they do not need my counsel. For example, there are always snacks in the kitchen. They keep a basket stocked with chips, peanuts and chocolate. Why do more businesses not realize that the loyalty earned with free food far outweighs the actual cost to purchase it? If Beelzetron had kept me stocked with cookies they'd have saved a fortune on white-out.

December 23, 2004

Christmas is a wonderful time to be working at a consulting company. There is so much food in the kitchen of this office that even a concerted effort on my part has not removed it all. People must like this company; they give it many delicious presents. Beelzetron didn't get shit while I was there, but its operations were nebulous and diffuse, making tins of thank-you cookies unlikely to arrive in the small corner where I worked. In this one-floor joint, however, they do it up right. We got one of these yesterday and I inflicted fantastic damage upon it. (For those of you who clicked on the link and read the description, I can verify that the winter scene was, in fact, enchanting.)

December 22, 2004

I am trying to get my sea legs back with this whole web-page thing. It's been a while. I did my best to keep it current while I was in Japan, but the fact is, to me, weblogs are all about being stuck at work. I don't really understand people who blog from places other than work. What is the motivation? If you weren't chained to a keyboard, only able to half-concentrate among the piercing hum of a hundred office machines, why wouldn't you just go outside and play, or read a book? For all of the goofy talk about digital content revolution, it has always seemed to me that weblogs are just the new media scheme for caged birds to sing. Or talk shit, as the case may be.

Poo-too-weet. There will be new photo galleries added over the next few weeks and they will be tremendously exciting, each bringing vivid illumination to some fascinating corner of the world. Below, you can already find a link to one such visual journey, in which monkeys run wild over a sleepy Japanese suburb and the police are helpless to stop them. There is a story that goes along with that gallery, and now seems like a good time to tell it. The suburb in question is in the northern part of Kyoto, near the mountains. My friends Tianni and Travis lived there. One warm summer night, not long before I left, they had me over to their place for dinner, and we had a grand time. Travis told me that one of his co-workers had talked to someone who claimed to have seen monkeys running through the streets in that area once, a long time ago. The monkeys had come down from the mountains for whatever reason, and then the police had chased them away. We talked about how great it would be if that were true. Monkeys in a city, I thought. Holy shit. When it was time to catch the last train, I walked back to the subway by myself, calling out "monkeys!" along the way in that way that I do when I'm walking around and looking for something I don't really expect to find. (Friends of mine will know the tone of voice.) Then I boarded the train and went home. Tianni had the next day off, so I didn't see her until Tuesday. When she came into work, she pressed her digital camera into my hands without a word. The photo gallery below records what had happened the next morning.

Honestly, if you are not standing on your feet and cheering by the last photograph, I do not know you.

I went to the Mark Twain House on Saturday. Let me tell you, Mark Twain had a fucking awesome house. His wallpaper was 84% better than the best wallpaper I had ever seen before. They had the house all decked out for Christmas, which was nice. The tour guide said they hoped to have the kitchen restored by May, so maybe I'll go back and check out the kitchen.

December 21, 2004

I am sitting at a desk in front of a computer at a consulting company with nothing in particular to do. This is not a permanent assignment, but still: like Michael Jordan looking at a basketball court, I keep thinking, yeah, I've been there before. The game comes back to me, expectations expertly met, exceeded and avoided in all the right places. And then I am alone, invisible, just me and a computer.

But they are nice here, and I have done good work for them, when I have been working. They had several PowerPoint presentations that were ugly, and they wished for me to make them beautiful. "This grey funnel, for example," they said. "It doesn't look good on a white background. Can you do something with it?" So I tricked out the funnel, and then I sexed up the flowchart on the next slide, and everyone was pleased. Hey, that's what I can bring to a company. PowerPoint is such a hysterically bad program and I am full of affectionate loathing for it. I love to envision a conference room, lights down low, and two rows of beleagured businessmen staring blankly as my PowerPoint slides are presented to them. Into your lives I bring orange, businessmen. Lots and lots of orange.

The northern part of the east coast of the United States is cold, but there is only a light dusting of snow. I was led to believe there would be blizzards. Well, there's time left for those. I drive to work these days and I appreciate the time that allows me to spend singing at the top of my lungs at the start of the day. (Seriously, I am not trying to start a fight with speech pathology, but I remain convinced that singing in the car is one of the most important things you can do for your health and constitution.) It's fun to have a morning commute and to develop theories about which lane is the fastest and to see the people in all of the different cars and and look at them and think, the truth is that I'm a bad person, but that's going to change. I'm going to be just like you. I'm cleaning up and I'm moving on, going straight and choosing life.

My Christmas message to my enemies is that I cannot be killed. My Christmas message to everyone else will be written at some later date, as it requires the creation of new adverbs.

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.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.