Category Archives: Fun and Games

When the Going Gets Tough…


…the tough go to the circus.

The Kinoshita Circus is Japan’s largest* and it’s a real circus, staged in a tent, complete with clowns, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and animals. It was pure delight from start to finish (except for the motorcycles in the giant sphere. That act was entirely too loud and scared the pickles out of me). It was charming, totally professional and yet not quite, especially when the juggler dropped his bowling pin for the third time and the acrobat missed the trapeze and fell into the net. Kudos to him, though, as he climbed right back onto the platform and completed the act. There was an aged elephant who stood on her front feet, then her back feet, then looked right at me as if to say, “Well, what do you expect?” Four bored-looking zebras trotted around the ring in one direction then the other, barely stifling their yawns, eager to get back to their cabbage and carrots.

George feet
We weren’t allowed to take pictures. Just imagine George’s feet times 100.

But then there were lions. There were eight lions, two each of tawny males and females, and four pure white females. They didn’t do much, just jumped through a hoop and did a couple of group poses. The males reared up, but there was no pretense at fierceness, no gnashing of teeth or snapping of whip. The tamer clearly loved them and was loved in return as he patted their magnificent haunches and tugged on their swishing tails. They walked around the ring, swaying their powerful shoulders and flipping their enormous paws. And we were seated less than ten meters away. I cried openly throughout the act, overwhelmed.

By the time we got home that evening, my scalp was beginning to show. So the next morning, armed with the lingering flush of being that close to so much feline magnificence, I plugged in the razor, took a deep breath and mowed a swath right along the top of my head from the middle of my forehead, a reverse Mohawk, an irreversible, total commitment. When I asked Rochi to help with the bits I couldn’t reach, he didn’t flinch, even though I know he was at least as scared as I was.

head shaving

Picking up that razor brought back the feelings of waking up after my second surgery. As I gradually became aware of the tubes leading in and out of my body, the machines I was attached to, the medical staff bustling around, the difficult and painful recovery that lay ahead, I panicked. All I could think was, “I can’t do this. I just did this. I can’t do it again! I can’t!” I wanted to leap off the table, yank out the tubes and run away from the sterile room, the sterile hospital, the entire sterile, surreal medical world.

Instead, I remembered a visualization I had learned. I closed my eyes and found myself sitting comfortably on a warm rock in a sunny glade under trees swaying in a breeze lightly scented with jasmine. Surrounding me was my tribe, who had taken the form of pastel colored unicorns. Waves of empathy, compassion and love flowed from their soft, gentle eyes, all toward the center of the circle, all toward me.

I experienced all of that in just a few moments but it was enough. My heart stopped pounding. My breathing slowed. I opened my eyes.

Over the past few years I have kept having experiences that left me thinking, “Wow. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” And I keep being wrong about that. But I have learned a valuable lesson: Courage isn’t a lack of fear. Courage is being afraid of something and doing it anyway. And I give thanks every single day for continuing to find that courage in myself and in the people around me.

*Big, squishy clowny hugs of gratitude to Randy and his friend for making this happen.

Yoga Queens

Kelly impossible poseI am loving the private yoga practices with Kelly, but we’re both pretty busy so sometimes it’s hard to find a time that suits us both, and once a week isn’t really enough anyway.

My gym offers a bunch of different yoga classes, so I thought I’d check some out. One class is called Queen’s Yoga. I’d heard of hatha yoga, and Kelly does vinyasa, but Queen’s? I just can’t see Elizabeth in her practical shoes and dopey hats trying to balance her whole body on one earlobe.

I asked a couple of yoga teachers and none of them had ever heard of it. So I showed up for the class at the gym and asked the instructor, who said it’s a trademark for their group and I wouldn’t hear it anywhere else. OK, fair enough. But why queen’s?

It was a popular class–there were about 40 students–but the movements and poses were pretty standard. So I was still puzzling about the whole queen’s issue when I noticed the instructor prancing around the room in his unnecessarily tight sweatpants and it hit me: they’d put the apostrophe in the wrong place.

Phone Zombies

I’m getting increasingly fed up with people paying more attention to their phones than to where they’re going. I just discovered that there is a name for these people: cell phone zombies.

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I spend a lot of time running around town, fighting my way through crowded stations, up and down staircases, dashing to catch trains, and the number of zombies trying to impede me is growing. I am ever-so-tempted to slap the backs of their phone-bearing hands from underneath so the phone goes sailing over their shoulder, hopefully crashing into a wall or falling into a sewer.

The funny thing is, I never really concerned myself with zombies. I don’t believe in ghosts and monsters. I figure there are enough real horrors in the world. There’s no sense in worrying oneself about threats that don’t exist. But phone zombies are very real, and a very real threat.

I heard the zombie population has grown so big that Sony Pictures wanted cash in on it and decided to do a series of films about phone zombies: Night of the Living Phone Zombies, The Texas Chainsaw Phone Zombies, Rosemary’s Phone Zombie, Silence of the Phone Zombies.

Unfortunately, nobody showed up for the auditions.

They were all too busy staring at their phones.

Good-bye, Testicles

We’re in the process of filming a couple of very basic English education videos for 3-4 year old kids. “Tedious” is a monstrous under-description of what that entails, and I have to be there  and conscious for every pains-taking, aching, dragging, agonizing minute. In the early days, I often went nuclear: “For Pete’s sake, it was fine the first 47 times! Why do we have to do it again?” But I’ve learned a lot over the years. There are still so many technical things that I don’t understand. There is almost always a reason why thirty or so people are standing around waiting with our thumbs up our noses. At this point, I could walk Job through Patience 101; one would not survive this kind of work otherwise.

It helps that the work is sometimes rather surreal. After all, what video would be complete without a potato salad Christmas tree?

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAnd Kiko’s Dorothy Gale Meets Barbie the Hooker costume was hard to ignore. I may have nightmares about it. I know she does.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOn the second day, I was sitting with Randy and Melinda. Randy is the funnyman in this series of videos, a down home Southern gentleman from Alabama and qualified circus clown. He wasn’t all that tired.

Melinda (the mother of the kid in the videos) and Skyla (the kid in the videos) had just flown in from the States, a fourteen hour flight. They’d come directly from the airport to the studio. They were tired.

I had sat through fifteen hours of filming the day before and we were coming up on the eighth hour of the second day with no end in sight, knowing we had two more interminable days ahead of us. I was tired, too.

And that’s when the sillies kicked in. I discovered a collection of truly inappropriate children’s literature

testicles…that had sent the three of us into paroxysms of giggles.  Most of the crew smiled indulgently at our antics.

Eventually, near silence once again descended. Melinda was shopping online. I was doing an online jigsaw puzzle. Randy was playing a game. It was pretty quiet.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAWithout warning, Randy (remember he has an Alabama accent) looked up and demanded to know:

Who you callin’ paranoid?

Fifteen minutes later, as we clutched our aching sides and wiped the tears from our faces, we finally pulled ourselves together. This time, most everyone ignored us.

After all, everyone knows all foreigners are nuts.

Blown Away

Yesterday, we went to a shakuhachi concert held in a Catholic church during a typhoon.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOur friend Alec, the one in the middle, invited us. The church was surreal, with a Japanese priest and a primarily Philippine congregation.  We arrived in time to catch the tail end of the afternoon mass and I realized I had never been inside a Catholic church before, except as a tourist, but we duly stood and sat as instructed and it was over soon enough.

I’ve always been fond of wind instruments in general, and the shakuhachi in specific. It’s just a bamboo tube with some holes drilled in it, and it’s played using only the five tone Chinese scale, yet by varying the angle they blow across the mouthpiece, wiggling their  heads around in weird ways and partially covering the finger holes, players can achieve variations of sound that are quite astonishing. A lot of it is based on sounds existing in nature, so if you close your eyes you can hear the wing flaps of soaring birds, the cajoling flow of water over rocks in a shallow river, the haunting, lilting cries of small animals in pain or fear, the wailing of high winds through mountaintop trees. The tones range from bottom-of-the-ocean deep to make-you-cringe shrill. Alec managed to create the sound of a nesting crane using the way you roll an R in Spanish.

They played a variety of songs. Some were traditional, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you if this is sheet music or a restaurant menu.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tall guy, Chris, is a composer and arranged this somewhat less traditional piece.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAYup. Look closely. That’s I Feel Good by James Brown, highly stylized. I didn’t recognize it beyond “gosh, that sounds familiar”, until I saw the sheet music.

The only negative was the two little girls sitting two pews ahead of us stuffing their faces with potato chips and shrimp crackers all the way through the concert. They should consider themselves lucky that there was an old lady in the intervening pew, because otherwise we might have clunked their skulls together. Their mother was too busy playing with her phone to notice so we probably could have gotten away with it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty groovy way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon. And when was the last time anyone got to use the words “shakuhachi”, “Catholic church” and “typhoon” all in one sentence?

Fifty Days

I had a good week. Not to toot my own horn too loudly, I had several rather nice moments in my professional life. I am building both my confidence and my reputation as a director and loving it.

On Wednesday, there was a new instructor at the dojo, so Yamamoto-san introduced everyone. “That’s Sato-san. She’s new but a pretty good puncher. That’s Suzuki-san. He hits pretty well but isn’t so great with the mitts yet. That’s Eda-san. She’s good at both gloves and mitts, so you don’t have to worry about her.” Purr.

On Friday, a good looking man (they are rare) smiled and waved at me in the station. It took me a minute to recognize the waiter from Jolly Pasta out of uniform.

A doctor visit on Thursday revealed that my cholesterol is down to an acceptable level, my exhaled CO level is down from 29 to 2, and I have only gained 3 pounds.

As of today, I am smoke-free for fifty days, so I offer you some pretty pink flowers to celebrate. I am smiling. I hope you will join me.PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

A Tale of Zen

Years ago, a friend and I went to Kyoto. While we were there, we visited Ryoanji Temple and its renowned rock garden. It was a cold, overcast weekday and nobody else was there. We sat on the wooden porch next to the garden and as we watched, a single snowflake fell. It was one of those rare and very special moments; I could swear I heard the sound of one hand clapping.

Unfortunately, most of the time, this is more like what my life looks like.

Zen garden school

Although I only very rarely dress up in an orange sheet, I do often feel like the guy at the side with his head in his hand. More often, though, I’m one of the clowns playing in the sand. And that’s probably just as it ought to be.


An extremely rare example of the Amphibianus Kermitosus frog, long thought to be extinct, was recently discovered in a bowl of ramen at Lai Lai Ken Chinese restaurant in Yutenji.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAIt is well known that the Kermitosus prefers a hot and humid, lightly salted environment and goes well with bamboo shoots and bits of crab meat.

When asked about her discovery, freelance editor and intrepid explorer Eda said, “This is a great day for science. And he was delicious.”