Little Guy

The garden at Randy and Junko’s house is apparently a magnet for stray cats. They have adopted four strays already, and more appear all the time. They have not, however, crossed over into crazy cat people territory, so when the new ones appear, they try to find homes for them elsewhere.

Randy has offered us a couple, but we barely survived the trauma of turning Twitchy into a civilized beast. But then Little Guy and his momma (Randy’s from Alabama) appeared in the garden a few days ago. We had been thinking that Twitchy is doing pretty well now and needs a little brother to play with. This guy’s extraordinary coloring and soulful eyes made both our hearts go pitty-pat.

Little Guy

Long story short, via bicycles and trains, he found himself at our house. And about four hours later, he disappeared into thin air. I wasn’t too concerned that night; cats are good hiders and can easily go 24 hours without eating. But we still couldn’t find him the next morning. We scoured the house but there was no trace. We thought he might have gotten out somehow, so looked around the neighborhood, but quickly realized how futile that was. Even on the vague chance we could spot him, we’d never be able to catch him.

We became convinced that he was gone and we were the worst human beings on the planet. We had torn him from his momma, transported him halfway across the universe to what we termed a ‘better’ life, and then let his tiny self escape, alone in an unfamiliar, dark, cold world.

Then Junko had an idea. Momma was still wandering around the garden, crying for her lost baby. Randy recorded her voice and sent it to my phone. I walked around the house broadcasting that forlorn voice, not expecting anything to happen. But when I aimed it  at the bathroom, there was an immediate response: equally forlorn, echoing and eerie.

I had a moment of panic. The bath is tiled floor to ceiling. Where the hell was the voice coming from?

Then we discovered a small gap between the panel on the side of the tub and the drain in the floor. It took some work but we got him out and moved him to a room upstairs, this room, where I sit typing. He is fed, warm, safe.

The thing is that, after fighting against it for years, I had just gotten the smart phone on Saturday. Little Guy came to stay on Sunday, and I used the phone to locate him on Monday. Two days before, I did not have the technology to do that. We might never have found him. He could easily have died in there, wedged between the tub and the wall, and we would have been none the wiser…until there was a smell.

I have grown to resent the way technology is taking over our lives. While making things more convenient it also isolates us from each other. We are increasingly becoming solitary islands connected only through the airwaves. But that same technology brought Momma’s voice into my bathroom and probably saved Little Guy’s life.

I can’t help feeling humbled.

Stop, Thief!


Despite it being the middle of November, the local supermarket currently has an extensive selection of tiny tomatoes. Customers can mix and match as we see fit, but they are horrifically expensive and to be honest, I’m rather tired of tiny tomatoes. (The plant in our garden is STILL bearing fruit!) However, while I consider myself something of an urban sophisticate, I realized much to my chagrin that I had never tasted a purple tomato. What if I were to run into, say, Brad Pitt and he asked me if I liked purple tomatoes and I wouldn’t be able to answer? This rankled.

At once, the curious kitten in me awoke, stretched and blinked her eyes. What might a purple tomato taste like? Grape Kool-Aid® (proudly produced by Kraft Foods since 1927)? A raspberry Popsicle® (accidentally invented by Frank Epperson in 1905)? An eggplant Pop-Tart® (Kellogg, 1964)? The mind boggles.

At the same time, there was something off-putting about the color; I have a bruise on my thigh about that shade. But still, I knew to the depth of my soul that I would toss and turn for nights on end and, if I were ever released into the sweet arms of sleep, my dreams would be haunted with angry killer tomato monsters chasing me down darkened alleys, leaving behind trails of purple-tinted tomato blood dotted with slippery seeds of Satan spawn.

I picked one up and held it in my palm. Then I tweaked off the stem and popped it into my mouth. It tasted like…wait for it…drum roll, please…

A tomato!

I was not disappointed; quite the contrary. There was once an Asian looking family in a supermarket in California, its members taking jars of things off the shelves, opening, tasting, wincing, and putting them back. Well, I can understand that. What if you tasted something that looked like tahini or miso but turned out to be Skippy® Super Chunk peanut butter (which is kosher and contains no cholesterol)?

Sometimes it is enough that things are what they are and are not trying to be anything else. If the eggplant Pop-Tart® scenario had played out, I could well have fainted right on the spot, then the tomato monsters would have gotten me for sure.

So now, if anyone asks, I can say I know what a purple tomato tastes like. I will sleep deeply tonight. And Brad, baby, bring it on. I’m ready for you.


It’s War!

121127_1411~01I was directing the narration of an NHK program today, one from a series about technology and innovation. Each time, two teams try to outdo each other in solving some sort of problem. This time, we had a team of brainy college students pitted against a group of mostly old guys, professional artisans, trying to build a bridge made of wood that can weigh no more than 500 grams but can support a ton of weight. Actually, what they said was the weight of seven sumo wrestlers, and as the teams worked on the problem, their success was measured in whole and partial sumo wrestlers. It was pretty cool.

At one point the narrator was introducing the students and was supposed to say, “They declare war on their adult opponents!” but what came out was, “They declare war on their adult components!”

I don’t even want to know what they plan to do to their child components.

Many times, I have sat in the director’s chair and wept as we worked on programs about the horrific events and their aftermath in Tohoku, but for once my tears were of pure joy, the kind produced by laughter that grabs you by the belly and refuses to let go.

That was pretty cool, too.

Jigsaw Joy

What better way to pass a rainy Sunday than to do a jigsaw puzzle, especially one as fun as this?


And what greater happiness than to find the missing piece, the one I thought Twitchy had eaten, on the floor under the table?

There are few things in life as satisfying as fitting in that last piece. It’s the ultimate act of closure, so complete. Life can be messy, complicated, festooned with loose ends and incomplete conversations and missed trains, appointments, opportunities, friends. So rarely do all the pieces fall into place so neatly.

Happiness is not something we can chase; it’s something we can choose. Happiness is not Disneyland and birthday cake and giggles. Happiness is something much simpler, more basic. We can choose whether or not to let things make us happy. The blue sky is always there, above the clouds, whether we can see it or not.

Happiness is a state of mind. It is calm, it is satisfied, it is accepting. It is the last piece of the puzzle falling into place.


Mother Nature in all her glory deserves our utmost respect and admiration. She manages to create feats of wonder and beauty that the human imagination can only hope to imitate, never duplicate. And one of her most impressive areas of expertise is not cherry blossoms, not autumn foliage, not gloriously multicolored volcanic mountain lakes, not even the elegant crane or the delicate chrysanthemum. While these are all greatly admired and accepted symbols of Japan, Mother Nature far outdoes herself when it comes to bugs.

A friend was once working for an American company that sold breakfast cereal. The company had the brilliant idea of cutting costs by removing the plastic bag and putting the cereal directly into the box. My friend vetoed that idea in no uncertain terms: not only would Japan’s humidity turn the delicate, crunchy flakes into gooey, sticky mush, it was virtually guaranteed that multi legged creatures would find their way into those selfsame boxes and make themselves at home. And they’re not shy about breeding, either.

Just imagine. You’re still half asleep, girding your loins for the nightmare that is Tokyo morning rush hour. You open the box, shake it over a bowl, and out tumbles a multi-generational family of winged creatures along with their offspring. The nightmare begins before you even put your shoes on. While you are writhing on the floor desperately trying to erase the image from your mind, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King link arms and dance a jig.

I once attempted to go upstairs and was greeted by a large black winged thing with a huge blue head clinging to the wall. Perhaps it was an acid flashback, but just to be safe, I opened the front door and returned to the living room, hoping he would make himself scarce. He did, and I never saw him again. For this I am grateful.

But sometimes Mother Nature has a sense of humor. On the way to lunch today, I came across this guy.


A good four inches long, at first I thought he was a plastic toy some kid had dropped, but then I looked closer. He was moving, moseying his way across the street toward some flowerpots. I was fascinated. I’ve come across worms and caterpillars of all sorts in Japan, but had never seen one quite like this one. I did a Google search for “green segmented caterpillar” and apparently this one doesn’t exist, at least according to Google, although there are plenty of other variations, most of which are nowhere near as cute as this little guy.

Go on. Google it. I dare you.

I hope he made it to wherever he was going. I had a look on the way home and didn’t find any green slime smeared on the asphalt. I’m stumped as to why he was in the middle of the street in the first place. Wouldn’t he have been more comfortable under a bush or crawling up a tree trunk or nestled in a box of Corn Flakes?

The Bucket List

Spending an evening tending a bar has always been on my bucket list. Tending the bar with a goth masochist in the lobby of a theater in Tokyo during a production of The Rocky Horror Show on Halloween was not on my bucket list. It was not on the list because things like that just don’t happen…until they do.


I had been to the movie at least a dozen times back in high school and could toss a slice of toast with the best of them, so when I got an email asking if I might be interested in volunteering for Front of House for the production, I jumped at it. If I agreed to do at least two, I could watch the show for free. Sounded like a good deal to me. I had never really done much volunteer work and I liked the idea of being at least marginally associated with the production.

So I did opening night where they had me handing out programs and generally making myself useful. And I got to see the show, which was at least twice as much fun as I had thought it would be. I mean, I hadn’t done the Time Warp in over thirty years, but it’s just like falling off a bicycle.

Although throwing things is an integral part of the experience, I didn’t. This is Tokyo, after all. Audience members were only allowed to toss the items in the goody bags available for purchase at the bar. They included confetti (instead of rice) for the wedding scene, a sheet of newspaper to keep off the rain, two playing cards, a rubber glove and a (Styrofoam) hot dog. At times I’m an old fashioned purist; if it wasn’t a real hot dog, it didn’t count. Shouting obscenities at the appropriate moments was enough.

I did both shows on Halloween, wearing a minimalist costume of tiny witch’s hat and chin wart. For the matinee, I took tickets and reminded people to turn off their cell phones. I guess I did a good job because I got promoted to the bar for the evening performance, which being on a Saturday night AND Halloween, was pretty crazy. And a lot of fun. Theater-goers tend to be very thirsty.

There was a director’s talk after the matinee and there I learned just how special the experience was. It is very difficult to get a license to produce the show; only the director’s persistent whining made it possible (his words, not mine!) And the cast, all talented actors and singers who were willing to don corsets and fishnet tights and march around in front of a bunch of strangers…well, all I can say is yet again I was blessed with a one-of-a-kind opportunity. They are the salt in my food, the wind in my willows, the breath in my lungs.


The Mole Massacre

At the drugstore today, I saw a mole using a power drill.

Seriously. Read on, dear friend. All will become clear.

Yet again, Japan has jumped clear off the cute meter and landed squarely in the absurd.

The drugstore lady said, “Oh, that was a freebie from a drug company. We display those for a while and then toss them out. Do you want it?”

You bet your Bippy I do! I need some time to ponder this. First of all, I wonder what a drill-bearing mole has to do with a drug company. A reminder to get your moles checked by a dermatologist and removed if necessary? Surely not with a power drill. Or is he associated with toothpaste? “Brush your teeth or you’ll face the drill.” Maybe. Very mysterious.

I also wonder about the wisdom of allowing small forest creatures to have power tools, especially when the mole’s primary purpose in life is to dig. And moles may be soft and fuzzy, but most species are rather creepy looking. Wikipedia describes what and how they eat; I now have some rather unpleasant images in my head that I can’t seem to shake.

On the other hand, why deny him the luxuries of modern technology just because he has some nasty habits? I know plenty of people who have worse ones. Moles are only acting on instinct after all. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt?

So I brought him home and told him to make himself comfortable. And then this happened.


What’s this? A spud lobotomy? Poor Mr. P looks rather alarmed, as he probably should. Peeling appears to be imminent; who knows what goring and mashing could follow? What could the evil mole possibly have in mind? Don’t let the pretty white ribbon bow at his throat fool you. The depth of his depravity seems endless: moles don’t even eat potatoes.

Surely this will not end well.

Potato Therapy

After a couple of rather difficult work weeks, some old friends popped into town with their kids. We spent yesterday together at Disneyland. It was a fun day with fun people and I’m not too proud to admit I rode It’s a Small World twice.

The Disney trend this year is over-sized plastic characters filled with candy covered popcorn.

Now, what could possibly cheer me up more than a ginormous popcorn-filled Mr. Potato Head?

A ginormous Mr. Potato Head dressed up as Dracula and giving a high five, of course!


During this morning’s meditation, I noticed the kink I’d had in my neck for the past few weeks was gone.

Chalk it up to Disneyland. And friends. And kids. And Potato Therapy.

The Kewpie Brigade

For reasons I don’t want to go into now, I found myself at the Self Defense Forces Central Hospital today. It was surreal.

Sitting in the window of the second floor cafeteria over a bowl of curry rice, I watched men and women wearing camouflage uniforms and army boots come and go. Looking at their faces, I felt a fundamental human connection: these people who go on peace keeping missions all around the world also get sick, just like me or anyone else. It was a humbling realization.

Then  I went into the hospital shop and found this:


Who but the Japanese would dress a Kewpie doll in combat fatigues and send him crawling into battle on a cell phone strap?

And who but me would bring him home and pose him with a squirrel and a couple of cacti?


Smiling Eyes

During yesterday morning’s meditation, I was just starting to flirt with the edges of bliss when the byatch who lives next door started opening the shutters on her windows, and she does this with a vengeance. Every evening she slams them shut and every morning she slams them open, always wearing over-sized slippers that make irritating thwack-thwack shuffling noises on the concrete. It would be funny if she were wearing a rainbow colored wig and red nose. She’s got all the ineptitude of a clown with none of the charm.

Randy clown(This is a real clown. His name is Randy. He’s very funny.)

The shutters make jarring metal-on-metal screeches that fire directly into my eardrums, a barrage of painful sound bullets tearing through my equanimity. The woman seems to be taking out her anger and frustration with the universe. My gut reaction has become a sudden eruption of seething rage, not unlike my champagne bubbles of light, but again with none of the charm.

Yesterday, it struck me that maybe she’s got things to rage about, too. The absurdity of my rage hit me, and by extension, the absurdity of me letting the noise bother me so much. I took a deep, cleansing yoga breath and let it go, and then discovered what it means to smile inside.

And just then I felt the corners of my eyelids curve into smiles.

I didn’t know they could do that.

Such magic doesn’t happen every time I meditate. Each session is different; some are sweet dewdrops of peace, others are the box of milk that’s been in the fridge a little too long. That unpredictability is the difference between fresh blueberries and blueberry jam, the thrill of the unknowable level of sweetness versus a homogenized jar of Smuckers, delicious but guaranteed, unvarying. While the comfort of the predictable is appealing, most of the time I’d rather take a chance on the unknown.

And maybe I need to get myself a red nose.



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