Rub Me the Right Way

Shimizu-san gives massages at the dojo a couple of times a week. Last year, I gave him some educational stuff for his kids because he’s eager to get them started on English. He liked the stuff and said he’d give me a free massage sometime. Well, I love massages and am always a big fan of free stuff, but didn’t know him well enough to know if that would really ever happen. Then today after class it did, and he gave me almost an hour. Now, Shimizu-san is simply amazing. He does a combination of standard massage, stretching, shiatsu, and some other kinds of arcane stuff that I don’t even understand. Sometimes he puts his hands on my back, no pressure, just heat, and I can feel tension being sucked out of my body. At one point he waved his fingers at my ankle without even touching it. I’m not sure what that was for. But when he was done, I didn’t get off the table, I floated off. Then we spent some time talking about synchronicity and the difference between power and strength. Very cool stuff. If he wasn’t a masseur, I could easily see him as a Buddhist monk.



The guacamole came out fine. The cake, on the other hand, was an unmitigated disaster, but fortunately I was the only one who knew it, since nobody had ever had “American” cake before. It didn’t rise and was thick and heavy. Maybe my 20 year old baking soda had something to do with it. But people said it was a nice change from sponge. There was much oohing and aahing about the chocolate on top, and many were were surprised that the icing wasn’t as sweet as they had expected. And not one person went into a sugar-induced spastic fit, for which I am very grateful.

People kept asking for my advice, too, like about how the dill pickles should be cut and whether they should be served with ketchup. At first I thought they were just being pestersome, but then I realized they really though I had something intelligent to say.

Go figure.

Sweet Nothings

One of the things I try to do here is dispel unfounded myths about Americans and life in America. One of them is that all American desserts are gut-wrenchingly sweet. Of course, that sort of thing is available, I tell people, witness the sundae I had in Florida—minimum order three scoops, slathered with hot fudge and extra on the side for good measure. Good grief. I could only eat half of it, and that left me with shaking hands and a pounding headache. But there are certainly less sweet and healthier options available.

Does this look artistic or autistic?

Well, I really shot myself in the foot with the cake I baked for tomorrow’s party. I wanted to go authentic American so I followed the recipe exactly. One and a half cups of white sugar in the cake itself (Ugh!) and three (Yes, three!) cups of powdered sugar in the icing. And I decorated it with chocolate piping.Everyone is going to take one bite and and slip directly into a diabetic coma. I can just see the sweating, twitching bodies writhing around on the floor, eyes crossed, gasping for breath. What was I thinking?

Far from the Madding Crowd

Japan whips itself into a shopping frenzy on the last couple of days of the year. Shops are packed, prices are hiked, lines are long, tempers are short. I would just as happily stay home and eat canned soup, but we were invited to a New Years party, and I was asked to teach the ladies how to make guacamole, so I had to get the avocados. They also requested a cake, and since cake here is invariably yellow sponge with whipped cream frosting, I decided to go all American and make a chocolate fudge cake with butter cream frosting. For this I need shortening, not something I ever buy. Little did I anticipate that this would require visits to at least six different stores. Halfway through, I nearly burst into tears at Seiyu as yet another old lady whacked me with her purse, another kid stepped on my toes and another shopping cart hit me in the small of the back.

Something is changing here. Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but people used to be more polite, even to the point of being annoying. Someone would bump into me. A nod and a “Sorry” should have been enough but it would take a long string of apologies and ample bowing to get past the moment. Now, more often than not, people bash into me and pretend that nothing happened. It’s not like France where people apologize first and then bash into you. It’s more like people are just oblivious to others. Maybe it has something to do with being so focused on their Smartphones that they’ve forgotten to watch where they’re going, or even that other people exist at all. I’m tempted to start wearing big hats and muttering to myself so people will think I’m nuts and try to avoid me.

Seiyu has become a very weird place, by the way, since it teamed up with Walmart a couple of years ago. Now it’s laid out like a Walmart, but the shelves are lined with mirin and dashi and katsuobushi and all the other makings of a typical Japanese meal. There’s no real cheese and only Kewpie mayonnaise, which is tasty but just won’t do for tuna salad. I’ve gotten used to the Walmart look, but it was very creepy at first.

Thousands of brownie points are raining down on Summit,where I finally found the shortening. Even after all these years, it still strikes me when something so mundane can be so hard to find. But now I’m home again, I’ve got my shortening and avocados and am safely ensconced in my ratty old sweats.

Bring on the new year. I’m ready for it.

Crashing the Creche

There’s a little church I pass on the way to the station. Every Christmas, the church people put up a small creche, which is actually fairly tasteful, but then they put a semicircle of bricks around it and fill it with sand. I assume the bricks are meant to deter people from messing with the figures, but they don’t deter the neighborhood cats, who often leave little presents in the sand. Perhaps they’re emulating the magi, but pooping in front of baby Jesus did strike me as somewhat sacrilegious, although I doubt that cats have strong opinions about religion.  But then it hit me that the original manger was set in a barn—no room at the inn, right? So there would most likely have been a fair amount of cow plop and goat goodies strewn about, so maybe the kitties’ contribution gives the scene an air of authenticity.  On the other hand, the blinking lights and plastic apples on the tree next to the creche rather detract from that theory.

Christmas at the Gym

Japan has a rather strange but wonderful relationship with Christmas. For one thing, it’s not a holiday here, so although we get all the same hype as in the States, normally it’s business as usual on Christmas day. Most celebrating is done on Christmas eve. Kentucky Fried Chicken and strawberry shortcake are the treats of choice. I’ve never figured out why.

But this year, Christmas landed on Sunday so people got silly at the gym. I can understand Santa and Rudolph, and these two are instructors so they can do what they want, but imagine punching and kicking to the rhythms of Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells while your classmates include a woman in a maid’s costume, two beefy guys in Chinese dresses and a guy dressed like a chicken. As with KFC, I can’t imagine where the costumes idea came from, although that might explain the chicken costume.

I managed to dig up a red t-shirt and thought that was enough. After all, I was the only foreigner in the class and it was my country that taught the world how to commercialize Christmas.

But then, who am I to make the rules?

Another Weird Day

Walking to the station yesterday, I passed a car flipped over onto its roof, shattered glass everywhere. I had to tiptoe through a pile of it to get past. There were a couple of guys trying to push the car up onto a flatbed truck. I was in a hurry so kept going, but it bugged me all day. The car was in the middle of a dogleg intersection of very narrow streets. It is impossible for anyone to have been driving fast enough to flip their car there. And checking on the way home, I noticed no damage of any of the buildings there, so it couldn’t have crashed into anything. Then I also remembered there were no ambulances and the people watching seemed more amused than concerned. How could this possibly have happened? It finally struck me that the car must have fallen off the truck and there was nobody in it. Eliminate everything that could not have happened and you’re left with what did. -Sherlock Holmes

When I got to the station, they were making announcements that there was a major accident somewhere and the entire line was shut down until further notice. OK. Back to the street, grab a bus to Shibuya where there’s a different train I can take to the office. In the end, I was only 15 minutes late.

Was there some kind of blip in the space/time continuum around 12:30 yesterday? At least all of this distracted me for a while from the gaping hole in my chest where my heart used to be.

In Memoriam

Plato died in my arms last night. I’m relieved that it’s finally over, no more injections or force-feeding, that he’s at peace and no longer suffering, but God I’m going to miss him. I keep thinking about never gonna. He’s never gonna trip me as I’m going down the stairs with an armload of laundry. He’s never gonna prance around on my bladder when it’s full in the morning. He’s never gonna charm me out of bits of my food. He’s never gonna sit on my lap and demand pets when I’m trying to work. He’s never gonna follow me around like a besotted puppy. He’s never gonna curl up in my arms and chocolate-syrup purr me to sleep. He’s never gonna be there, warm and soft and willing to be loved.


He’s buried in the garden with the sleeves of the nubby old green sweater he liked so much wrapped around him. He was the best, and not since my childhood have I loved anyone so completely.

Is there a doctor in the house?

This is our sainted vet, second from the right, at our favorite Nagasaki noodle shop. He came back on Wednesday bearing a large bag of needles and syringes and rubber tubing, so I’m all set to go into the heroin business.

Doing the IV isn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. And anybody who knows me knows I would rip off my arm and beat myself to death with it if it made Plato feel better. He is responding very well. Just a couple of days ago he felt like a bag of bones, but he ate solid food for the first time in a month this morning and is putting on a bit of weight. After he ate, he came back to bed and purred me back to sleep.

Rochi has started calling me Doctor Mommy.


I was considering cancelling the chicken party because I’ve been so depressed and worried about Plato, but I did promise, so we went, I cooked, and dull-as-dishwater chicken and mashed potatoes were a big hit.

While doing my research on how to deal with Plato, one suggestion was to find a vet who does house calls. Sound advice; Plato hates his vet, who is extremely loud, and I was afraid he might not be strong enough to deal with that. But even if such a thing as a house call vet existed, I can’t imagine what he might cost.

Shinsuke’s dad is a vet, but I didn’t even consider asking. They live in Otsuka, which is not close. But then, while eating his chicken, he offered to drive down here today and check on Plato. He gave him an IV, an injection, and a couple of kinds of medicine, all in the comfort of our futon, on the quilt my Ma made. And he wouldn’t let us pay for any of it.

That was two hours ago and Plato is already feeling better, offended but not traumatized. I am weeping with gratitude. God bless the lowly chicken. The milk of human kindness is flowing thick and rich today.

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