There Was an Old Lady

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I never saw her face, never knew her name. She was bent all the way in half, either from osteoporosis or gravity, I’ll never know which. She was out there day after day sweeping up the leaves that had dropped onto the street from the trees on her side of the fence. She and her stump of a broom together celebrating uncountable birthdays, she always wore a housecoat, with thermal pants in winter and sagging tights in summer. I admired her dedication and would have tipped my hat but I never wear hats and she never looked up anyway.

Then one day she was gone. Some days went past. The leaves piled up. In time, the workers came in trucks and vans. They brought jackhammers and backhoes and power shovels. They opened the gate and knocked down the decrepit outbuildings, no doubt sending whole legions of critters seeking new homes. Then they gutted the house and removed its bones. The trees went next; even their roots were dug up and hauled away. Finally, the fences came down. In what felt like a blink, there was nothing left to prove that the old lady had ever existed.

empty-lot

Perhaps she was the last of her line; perhaps she had survivors who didn’t want to survive in such an old house. All I know is that when the workers drove away, they took with them all traces of the old woman, her life, her history, her blood and breath quickly fading into the eternal whirlpool of what once was but is no more.

Walking past that empty lot doesn’t make me feel sad so much as embarrassed, like I need to avert my eyes. It’s as if the old lady had been stripped naked and left behind by the tribe. I hope that’s not the case.

My Pasmo Pal

pasmo

When I got off the train at Shibuya this morning, I noticed that my Pasmo prepaid train card wasn’t in its usual pocket in my backpack. After a moment of frantic scrambling, I realized I must have dropped it on the train. I scurried back and spotted my card lying on the floor just as the doors were closing.

SHIT! I said out loud.

It wasn’t a great monetary loss; there was only about 1000yen left on it. And in this honesty loving country, there’s a good chance I would eventually have gotten it back. It has my name printed on it and I registered my phone number with the train people when I bought it. But I would have had to go to the ticket counter, explain the situation, fill out a form, pay an extra fare, inconvenience throngs of other morning travelers, be late for work and get myself into a foul mood.

As all of that passed before my eyes, a young man on the train must have seen my expression and followed my eye line, because he immediately bent down, picked up my card, and waved it at me with a big smile. I nodded and smiled back with enthusiasm. Then we had a “what now?” moment and came to the same conclusion at the same moment. We both stepped toward the window, which he opened and passed my card to me just as the train started pulling out of the station.

ARIGATO GOZAIMASU!

I hope the unicorns of destiny did something particularly nice for him today. Grasping a moment to do something kind without thinking twice is a mark of all that is good in humanity. I have felt warm and fuzzy all day.

All aboard…if you dare

My dad was in the business of potato chips, as was his father before him, and I think another generation before that. Snack foods, particularly potato chips, were always a part of my upbringing.

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There was a whole drawer in my childhood kitchen dedicated to snack foods: pretzels, beef jerky, Slim Jims, and of course, potato chips. I was born with fried potato coursing through my veins. We mostly ate the salted ones, but if one was feeling particularly sassy, there were also Bar-B-Q chips and sour cream and onion for the truly adventurous. But that was it.

Enter Japan and its obsession with improving on what was pretty¬† much perfect to begin with. Now, to be fair, they came out with pizza chips a few years ago. Dusted with pizza sauce flavored chemicals and globs of chemically induced fake cheese, they’re actually pretty tasty.

Pizza chips

I could get on board with the pizza chips. But then something went horribly wrong this summer. The potato chip train started to careen dangerously fast along the rails of the acceptable.

I began to encounter flavors that could only have been imagined by sweat-covered minions stoking the engines of the locomotive bound for hell.

 

Wasabi flavored beef jerky?

Wasabi beef chips

Grilled eel?

Grilled eel chips

Green curry?

Green curry chips

As the express train bound for the outer reaches the unimaginable rattled toward its inevitable doom, I suddenly felt a horrific shudder as the train derailed and tumbled into the abyss when I saw this:

mikan flavored potato chips

Mikan chips

For all that is good and holy on this sweet earth of ours, how did this ever get past the censors? Granted, I’m a tad old fashioned and a bit of a purist, but what’s next? Soy sauce flavored ice cream? Sashimi served on a bed of cotton candy? Miso soup with marshmallows?

I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and plain old salted potato chips ain’t broke.

Glassie Come Home

I was waiting for the bus the other day and took off my glasses so I could see my phone. Normally I can hold both in my left hand. Unfortunately, I had my bus card in my right hand and that proved to be too many things for me to keep track of at once. I thought I tucked my glasses into my pocket, but when I was seated on the bus and ready to put them back on, they were nowhere to be found.

I went through a clumsy phase years ago and kept bending my frames by walking into walls and tripping over things and generally being an inept klutz. So I made the investment in unbreakable titanium frames and have had this pair a very long time indeed. It wasn’t the end of the world that they were gone, but we had spent some significant time together and I had grown fond of them.

It seemed a long shot, but we called the bus lost and found office the next day. They said, “We have a pair of gold rimmed glasses. We don’t know if they’re your gold rimmed glasses. You’ll have to come down and identify them.” I imagined a lineup of suspicious looking glasses standing awkwardly behind a sheet of one way glass.

Lo and behold, they were my gold rimmed glasses. I will never know if some kind soul turned them in or if the cleaning staff found them at the end of the day or if the goddess was just smiling on me again that day. At any rate we have been reunited and I am moved that someone somewhere respected me enough to turn in my glasses. I have renewed faith in humanity…except for Pokemon Go Zombies. They are invited to go jump in a lake.

monkey glasses

 

Trump That

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I saw a little girl, maybe four years old, go into nuclear meltdown today, screaming “Yada! Yada!” at the top of her lungs. (That doesn’t have an exact English translation. Let’s just say it means “No!”)

Her parents looked stressed out. I felt sympathy for a moment and then started giggling. I found it charming that the girl was young enough to still believe that if she yelled loud enough and long enough she could bend the world to her will and get what she wanted.

Remind you of anyone?

 

 

 

 

Me-ouse

Yes, I know. It’s been at least two blog posts since I mentioned the cats. Due to the many submissions to the bitter complaints department, I offer my profound apologies. Herein is an update on the feline invasion chez Mouse.

Grumpy Twitch

The matriarch of our little menagerie, Twitchy was whippet-thin and pointy when she first came to us, all skin and bones and well-toned muscle. This past winter, she often smelled of soy sauce. Now she smells like my grandmother’s afghan, warm and soft and knitted with 100% love. She recently swallowed a rugby ball, the only possible explanation for her current proportions. As you can see, she is ever-so-pleased about the new kitten and is making every effort to be warm and welcoming.

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Seemingly over night, Monkey Boy went from adorable puffball to elegant young man. When he and Little Man are not racing around seemingly ripping each other to bits, he drapes his shapely body over furniture, his eyes reflecting the wisdom of the centuries and his snow-white fur smelling of watermelon. While he still neither purrs nor meows, he does squeak. We have concluded that he must have swallowed a live mouse. A mouse in Tokyo. Oh, dear.

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Little Man is still looking for a name. In the meantime, we have determined that the size of his ears, eyes and paws can only be explained by the swallowing of a fox, a lemur and a couple of bear cubs. When I pick him up and bury my nose in his baby-soft fur, I feel his tiny ribs and pounding heart press against my open palm and a starburst of happiness explodes inside my belly. Then he twists and wiggles until he is released, impatient to discover what the future holds in store for him, or at least what might be hiding behind the curtain.

It’s funny how human cats can be. This morning, the boys were upstairs chasing each other and Twitchy started dancing around the kitchen, playing with a toy mouse. It’s as if she didn’t want them to know that she wanted to play, too. Many people think cats are standoffish and aloof, but I think they grasp the concept of cool. I’m down with that, as long as she doesn’t ask for a tattoo or a nose piercing.

Happy Cake

In this morning’s yoga class, there was only one other student, who turned out to be a tour guide, the type that accompanies Japanese tour groups when they go abroad. But, she said, she hasn’t been very busy lately because people are not traveling much outside of commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This is because there are too many terrorists in Europe and every American is armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and sub-machine guns.

Granted, many Japanese people are given to sweeping generalizations and melodramatic hyperbole but at the same time and for the first time in history, the governments of other countries are warning their nationals to avoid the States.

I told the other student and the teacher that not all of the States is a war zone and gun control is often a state-by-state issue. In fact, I told them, Hawaii has just recently passed some rather strict gun ownership regulations, thank goodness.

They seemed surprised that I felt that way. I was surprised at their surprise…and then deeply saddened.

So I came home and baked an orange cake because while warm cake might not solve anything, it makes things better, especially if it’s smiling.

I figure if cake can smile, I can, too.

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Honesty

When I went to Bali last year, I was once offered a beverage made up of Pineapple and Orange juices with coconut Water. Lets call it POW. It was heavenly. Until that time, I thought the little paper cup of guava juice I was given on an airplane was the best nectar of heaven to ever pass my lips. But guava is rather thick and sticky and can be cloying. POW is the delightful reward I get after morning yoga and a year later it has not cloyed even once.

The problem, though, is that in my car-free existence, it’s hard to carry such heavy liquids home. And coconut water is expensive. Enter Amazon. While the cost is about the same as the import store, delivery is free and doesn’t give me sore shoulders.

So we ordered a case of coconut water and it came. Then the next day another one came. So we wrote to the store and asked if they’d…um…made a mistake. They wrote back right away saying how much they appreciated our honesty and that we should keep the extra case at no cost.

Ah, Japan.

cocanut water

Rescue

My friend Randy hopped on his bicycle the other day to go do some shopping. He hadn’t gone far when he heard a “Meow!” and a splash. Looking toward some abandoned boats tied up at a dock, he saw a tiny kitten swimming toward shore. The kitten noticed Randy and swam toward where he was standing, which was at the top of a stone sea wall. When the kitten reached the wall, it started climbing up the barnacles growing there, but the barnacles only went up about two feet and when the kitten reached their end, he fell back into the water. But he was a persistent little tyke. He climbed the barnacles again and when he reached their end, he clung to them with both paws and his teeth.

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At last I understand the expression “tooth and nail”.

Randy called his wife, saying “Come quick and bring a rope!” But lovely Junko is a rather level-headed lady who quickly decided to borrow a net from a neighbor instead. And Randy used it to fish the little man out of the water.

boy in a net

Randy and Junko already have three rescue cats as well as a couple of strays that occasionally wander into their garden looking for treats. So they put this on Facebook.

be my mommy

We debated for a while. I thought the two-people-two-cats rule still applied but Rochi wanted him. In time he admitted he wanted the kitten for me. The thing is that neither Twitchy nor Monkey Boy particularly like me. They don’t not like me, they just don’t care about me much. I can pick them up for brief cuddles and Monkey likes to wrestle, but neither one will sit on my lap. I chose Twitchy from among hundreds of cats at the shelter, but she didn’t choose me. You can’t choose your cats any more than you can choose your parents. The funny thing is that I wasn’t all that unhappy about this situation. Losing Plato five years ago was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to survive. He was my little boy. In a way, I was grateful that Twitchy and Monkey Boy are just cats, more interested in each other than in me.

Then it hit me that little man is a genuine rescue cat. We call Twitchy a rescue cat because a volunteer group found her living alone in an abandoned house inside the no-go area in Fukushima, but she didn’t see herself as being rescued. For the longest time she looked at us as if to say, “What do you want from me? Why am I here? I was doing just fine on my own drinking dirty rain water and eating worms and frogs and baby birds.” Eventually, she came to see the virtues of a full food bowl that didn’t involve gills or feathers. She never even tries to escape anymore; instead she watches the world go about its business from the safe vantage of a window sill.

So we call Twitchy a rescue cat, but in a way she isn’t. Little man is, a genuine full-blooded rescue cat who wanted to be rescued. We’ve only had him for a day but he’s already one of the sweetest little fuzz muffins I’ve ever met. I’m having to type at an awkward angle because he doesn’t want to be more than six inches away from me. Maybe having a scrape with death gave him an appreciation of life. At any rate, he looks at me with love and gratitude and it’s been a long time since anyone looked at me like that, in that pure, clean way that only an animal can. I feel the love starting to flow and I weep with gratitude. Perhaps he will rescue me back.

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Yoga Cat

Passing the Time Popcorn Style

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I had to go renew my driver’s license yesterday. This takes place in a dreary Quonset hut tucked behind the local police station. You pay your money, take your eye test, have a photo taken and then sit through a lecture and video. I was sitting there waiting for the lecture to start when a man came into the room. “Sterner-san, I turned on the English sub-titles so you should sit up front where you can see them.”

(Grrr. I can see them from here; I just passed my eye test, you know. And you could have called less attention to me by dumping a bucket of confetti over my head.)

But I’m a good little citizen, so I gathered my stuff and moved forward. Then the lecture began with, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen and thank you for waiting. I put in the English video because we have a foreigner here today, but don’t worry. The words are the same as the Japanese narration, so just ignore them.”

(OK, make that two buckets of confetti with a rousing backup chorus of off-key kazoos. The kind part of me figured the man had one of the most mind-numbingly boring jobs in the universe and had to get his kicks somewhere. The not-so-kind part of me wanted to do unspeakable things to his danglers.)

Then he started to drone along about traffic statistics and such. The rest of the captive audience pretended to listen. I folded my hands in my lap, closed my eyes and visualized him as a popcorn machine happily pinging away in the lobby of an old fashioned movie house. The people’s voices coming from beyond the partition were other patrons waiting for the movie to start, but when it did we were all disappointed. It provided vital information like that we must always wear seat belts and drive slowly around children, especially when it’s raining, and mustn’t forget to stop at stop signs.

OK, I’ll try to remember all that.

There was one cool part, though, a demonstration of what happens when a car slams into a wall. At 50kph, the front end of the car crumples and the crash dummies inside it get whiplash. At 130kph, the front end crumples, the car raises its rear into the air and the whole vehicle does an elegant back flip, landing on its roof. There was no word on the fate of the crash dummies, but I fear the worst.

So, I now have a shiny new driver’s license which I will probably never use. I know that I should never drive the car I don’t own into a wall at 130kph. I will ALWAYS make sure my crash dummies wear their seat belts.

I was also reminded that a solid dose of boredom helps me appreciate the sunnier aspects of my life, of which there are many, and I continue to be grateful for that.

Oh, and a little popcorn goes a long way.

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