Wednesday we were lucky to have an unexpected snow...

Simply incredible

Wednesday we were lucky to have an unexpected snow shower. However, it remained largely unexceptional as it didn’t accumulate beyond half an inch in most places. Thursday I enjoyed glorious clear skies and sun, and rode my bicycle to Tokyo Bay. Today, however, we are not only back to snow, but it is the most gorgeous gently falling snow one could wish for. Hardly any wind, just delicate lace, “falling faintly through the universe” as Joyce says. And to top it all off, it has thus accumulated to at least a full inch blanketing all. Spectacular.

Though I must scrub the floors today, I much more so must go outside now and enjoy the quiet, graceful majesty of nature. Just walking, just quiet, just peace.

“His soul swooned slowly as he hear the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” – JJ

This essentially means, “be careful with fire...

Hi no youjin

This essentially means, “be careful with fire.” This is especially important during the winter here in Japan, mainly because the air is dry, people are using heat/gas, and old, wooden houses burn easily. I helped the choukai (the best I can translate is “town council”) with it this evening, which basically entails walking around our jurisdiction and clapping special pieces of wood together while calling “Hi no youjin!”.

When I first came to Japan in the winter two years ago I was a little frightened by it. I mean, when is the last time you heard ghostly calls and wood clapping in the middle of the night? But here, it’s a common thing and you even get some families who open their doors and say thank you. So, it’s a good deal. It makes me feel fulfilled to help out my community.

There are concepts giri and ninjyo that I have yet to fully understand (my initial estimation is they translate roughly to compassion and obligation for your fellow man), but the community support of the Japanese lies among their greatest strengths. And as I remain a burden and an obstacle to native life, I feel it even moreso my responsibility to help out and gain an understanding of people’s ideals and values.

Anyway, I hope it improves our chances of general safety, and I feel good about helping out. I feel even better after learning that part of the money raised from the bazaar last month went to aid the disaster relief of the Niigata earthquake.

It is a rare subtle thrill to ride through the city...

Song of the city, song of the road

It is a rare subtle thrill to ride through the city on mellow trance, piping muscles on tinging pads that resonate with a sensual multiplicity matched only perhaps by the same on motorcycle, a pleasure I have not known in two years since tearing over the foothills of Applachia on 90cc’s of carbureated intoxication.

But for now the bicycle is my sword, and narrow asphalt arenas my theatre for a singular stretching of nimble-bladed aplomb. Morning begats noon which begats eve which begats night, through which all I cruise unhindered, a rushing wind independent of time, light, or man.

Across the walk I drive, muscles tense and shoulders crouched angular in apprehension of the violating car that breaks only in my mind. Drag around a curve, the frame bends, and supple Chinese tires spread slow-wearing indifference to the pebbles and gravel that spray under tread. A bump, a jostle, one of forty dozen curbs I’ll hop today, auxiliary sweater and camera rustle inside the grey, glazed basket. Up on knees, here comes another, and with the down tempo the fork springs ever upwards, to come down in a thud that transmits up to my young knees. Elbows out, chin forward, the wax rolls on and on like my wheels, a treble punching through dimensions analog and digital, filtering down to tiny protein cilia oscillating in carbon caverns.

And the tune goes on, and on, I cannot stop, grind up the hill out of Minami-Azabu, swoop down brick pedestrian dovetails, and zip through a dead crosswalk signal undaunted.

Roll, beat, swing,
roll, beat, swing,
roll, beat, swing,

Through the shadows and over sun-drenched bridges, swerving and skidding from north to south, follow the Meguro river to the bay, then bunny hop and toe-in four feet from the water. Unwind cap with lithe, leather fingers, feel the cool of green leaf octane pouring into an engine so distilled and taut from pace.

Cool, quench, liquid, air. Gasp, sting, cap. Go.

Twisting an imaginary throttle beneath my chapped and damp right hand, torque the balance to the front and kick the tail around with my left heel. The drum roll pleases and the bass resumes, in concert with music playing in and outside of my head, the horizon is there, beyond my vision, beyond this moment, four hours after I can see it, the lights blurring and saturated in my weakened vision. The pace, a bell, threading my verve through a catheter.

It grabs and tosses me forward, the smell of sulfur and spread road salt thick in my nostrils and charged compulsion drumming on my patience. Wanton, the sensations are everything and the reason is nothing, it’s only moving forward, to be. Evolved states of comprehension fade away, and the dance is made only through existence, no other form of interaction is possible. Not even a line, but a ray, a pinhole in one dimension stretched out onto infinity. The path is before me, with no sense of then, only a now.

What have I been doing so far on my winter break...

Brak’s Comedy Gold

What have I been doing so far on my winter break, you may (or may not) ask? WELL, JUNIOR…

So far I’ve mostly been playing Chrono Cross (God I hope I beat it soon, PLEASE END THE TORTURE), reading two books and one manga at once, eating very poorly and in great quantities (a rarity), running in the snow, bicycling in the snow, retooling next year’s fiscal plan with MS Money, cleaning the pink goo from the crevices in the bathroom, frying eggs, watching Charlie’s Angels 2 (DAMN THAT LUCY LIU IS FINE!), “archiving” Spider-Man 2 (DAMN THAT MOVIE IS AWESOME), bringing my plants indoors for the winter, listening to love themes from 1982-1987, wearing multiple pairs of pants in my heat-bleeding wooden house, and in general making an extreme nuisance of myself towards my dear-departed routine of going to bed between twelve and one.

I don’t like coffee.
It makes me jittery
Here’s an impression of me on coffee
I just had some coffee
bllllblblblblblbblblbl
blblblblblblblblblblb
ablblblblblblbblblblblll
Hey! hey hey hey hey
What you doing?
What you doing?
What you doing?
What you doing?
What you doing?
What you doing?
What you doing?
I don’t know what you doing because I’ve had too much coffee
I don’t know!
Don’t drink too much coffee kids.

I told you never trust a monkey!
[…Pure Gold…]

今年の正月に私はいろな目的を決めました。一つは日本語が上手になりたかったです。特に会話のレベル位。実はビジネスレベルになりたいんです。それから、日本国内なんでも仕事をやれります。多分今の所には簡単会話だけを出来ます。これから、ちょっと残念と思う。来年中に...

Fallen

今年の正月に私はいろな目的を決めました。一つは日本語が上手になりたかったです。特に会話のレベル位。実はビジネスレベルになりたいんです。それから、日本国内なんでも仕事をやれります。多分今の所には簡単会話だけを出来ます。これから、ちょっと残念と思う。来年中にJLPT(日本語のオフィシュルテスト)レベル2がやりたい。けど、それは本当難しいそうです。今日紀伊国屋に練習本を見ましたが、ぜんぜん分からなかった。会話では皆は私の意味が分かりますが、それは足りない。日本語をちゃんと話したいんです。何時も正しい言葉を使いたい。

まあ、一年間頑張らないといけないです。今日研修本を三冊を買いました(高かった^^;;)。一つはBKB二巻、これは別の五百漢字を勉強の為にです。その他二冊は日本歴史について。一冊は一般な歴史(昔から現在まで)。他の一冊は戦争後での時代、米国の軍隊など。ちょっと心配してますが、現実の様子を知ってる事がいると思う。

では、も遅いですが、まだ約束が有ります。(自分で)

In a small way, today I reached a milestone for...

Hacking it

In a small way, today I reached a milestone for myself as an engineer. Today marks the first time I have ever “completed” a piece of software on my own time that actually has utility.

Fed up with the slew of images-to-HTML tools that either asked for money or some scripting knowledge, in the span of about five hours I wrote and tuned a piece of software in C++ that does exactly that (well, not the money or scripting requirement). The web pages from last week’s trip to Adachi were generated from said tool [HTMLGallery] this evening.

Basically, it’s just a Windows dialog with folder browsers and a handful of HTML options to set. You just give it a source directory where images reside, then click a button and “zing!” you get a bunch of linked webpages. Yes, the webpages are ugly now, and yes, the interface is clunky. Oh and yes, it does not actually generate thumbnails on its own (I currently possess other freeware tools adequate enough for the time being). BUT, it works. AND it saves me a lot of time and stress.

I figure after a couple more tweaks of the package (it only took me four seconds of use before I got irritated with how difficult it was to perform a certain operation), I think I may spread some good freeware vibes and chuck it up on the web for public consumption, following in the footsteps of many of my (far more skilled) software engineering brethren.

Anyway, I’m happy I put all this ridiculous MFC experience I have to some use other than in-house tools I can never show anyone. Go me.

If I were a baseball star, and my average quality...

To Adachi, over the rivers

If I were a baseball star, and my average quality as a human being were divided into day and night games, I’d probably be frequently depicted by the media as the weakest nocturnal player to ever walk onto a diamond. Since I am still grappling with the shame and self-loathing of last night’s endeavours, I will block it out for the time being and reflect positively on what I did while the sun was up for the Emperor’s birthday.

Initially, I was disappointed because I playfully killed my alarm and slept in until ten. But, ten is a lot better than four (see today), so I did my best to get my act together in an hour and managed to set out for some quality time in the city by eleven sharp. What proceeded over the next six hours was probably the second longest trip I’ve ever made by my own means over the course of a day.

While my music had been optimizing for the Rio, I had evaluated that today I would be heading north, since I travelled south so often on such previous occasions. I wasn’t really adamant about this, but I figured I would make my way to Akiba as fast as I could and then decide where to go next.

This ended up working pretty well, I only took about two dozen photographs on the way, and with a stop for provisions at a 99 yen store (gloves, batteries, tea), ended up right in front of Radio Center in an hour. This reinforces the general speed with which I can travel through the city, managing stoplights, pedestrian traffic, and the many bumps in the sidewalk from varying stages of construction. I suppose if I really wanted to I could get from Shinjuku to Akihabara in forty minutes. This is added to the other yardstick of being able to get from my house to Shibuya in twenty.

As much as I wanted to take in all of the fantastic sales and Santa girls going on in Akiba, I paid them little mind for I knew that I had other goals today and this was just a stop for food. Perhaps next week I’ll spend a whole day there and make a virtual shopping trip of all the things I could buy that would drive me to insolvency (and no walking space in my apartment). So I had my 290-yen bowl of tanuki udon at my favorite ticket-and-noodle joint and then cut away from all the hubbub, taking back alleys all the way past Ueno, circumventing a good thirty minutes of delay amongst the throng of shoppers between Chuo dori’s Yamagiwa and Ameyoko.

I’d never been farther north than Ueno, and it wasn’t long before I realized I’d hit Uguisudani, which aside from being a rather unimpressive station name on my JR Yamanote Line pin collection, has a dearth of interesting love hotels. Snaking through the narrow winding alleys reminded me a lot of Maruyama-cho, home of Love Hotel Hill at the other corner of the toshin. Following the trend over the last half decade or so of modest appearances, the buildings were not too much to look at on the outside, especially during the day. Only the occasional nuzzling couple stood out in the otherwise silent and empty town. Looking at the few run down apartment complexes I wondered what it must be like to live in a place so quiet at day but undoubtedly inundated with frisky lovers and neon at night.

I stopped to indulge myself with a little shoot of a beat up motorcycle set majestically in front of a bleak, whitewashed wall in the sun. I then continued on and pushed my bike up a steep incline to make my way over a long stretch of JR and Keisei tracks through a decrepit and largely residential part of town in Bunkyo-ku. For a moment I began to question my direction when I found myself in a graveyard with no clear exit (Yanaka cemetery), but taking my bearings from the sun, I found my way out of the north end and cut back across the wide swath of train lines to find my way back to a major thoroughfare.

At Nishi-Nippori I finalized my goal and decided to cross the Sumida and Ara rivers into Adachi-ku and see the heart of Tokyo from a true suburb. A little before two I took a series of overpasses and caught some spectacular views from Okubashi. Adachi-ku felt distinctly different from the inner part of the city. Things were more spread out, buildings were wider, and the services offered by the scattered commercial establishments were a lot less interesting. It was actually quite similiar to certain parts of suburban California we drove through during the ETC west coast field trip in 2002. That reminds of a very weird friend Don had out there, some guy in a beat-up neighbourhood with a strange, cold warehouse of half-made art. We all did some drawing exercise or something, it was kind of freaky.

By this point my stock battery for the PowerShot was about at its limit (one hundred pictures, about twenty percent raw), so I begrudgingly stopped at a McDonald’s for a hamburger but more importantly a power outlet to surreptitiously recharge my battery. After a good thirty minutes of impatient glancing under the table, I got back on the bike and headed west so I could work my way through southern Adachi-ku and loop back around from the north to come down Meiji dori into Ikebukuro.

I got some fantastic shots of the sun sliding down through a screen of brilliant clouds from the the bridge on my way into Daita, though I nearly lost my 99-yen gloves in the wind. I got the dirtiest look from a girl when I was walking my bike down a long stairway from the bridge, I’m not quite sure why. My only guess is because I may have looked like some kind of terrorist with my torn flannel shirt, beat red vest, threadbare Seahawks hat, CIA sunglasses, and pollen mask (which I discovered later I was bleeding through from my nose). I was thinking that I was looking a lot like the way Akira Toriyama draws himself in the Dr. Slump manga, but maybe not.

I got a painful reminder that sometimes my sense of direction is too good, and I plowed right into the virtually static mass that is the east side of Ikebukuro station. There’s just way too many train lines, people, and department stores there, it doesn’t work with a bike, even if you’re walking it. The problem was made worse by the fact that the roads all around Ikebukuro station are full of traffic circles, idling cars, and buses, so you really can’t hop down onto the street and make your way through quickly, let alone safely. So next time I’ll have to pull farther to the east or west and just avoid that area all together. It really takes the efficiency out of a long trip.

I cut back and forth through Baba and true to my form ended up coming the other way through some very familiar places I’d visited before. I enjoyed flying down the big hill from the station, but I think I would like it even more if I went down over the smooth asphalt on the street instead of the stone sidewalk.

When I got to Shin-Okubo I knew I was too far east so I rode down the main strip to Okubo station (which actually is quite a nice place to go shopping, reminds me a little of Shijo with its covered sidewalks). Then as the sky began to grow dark I ducked through Kita Shinjuku and crossed the Kandagawa for the second time that day, taking in a really nice view of Tochou behind some really beat houses. I kicked myself again for not having a tripod, because my camera is pretty much useless after sunset without one.

I got home at five o’clock exactly, a full six hours since I’d set out. I haven’t checked how many kilometers it was, but unfortunately not as many as I’d like to think. The heart of Tokyo actually isn’t that big at all, it just seems that way since there’s so much packed into a little space.

Anyway, after discarding test shots, I ended up with one hundred sixty-nine to archive, about five hundred megs’ worth. Unfortunately, some of my best shots were ruined by the annoying lens aberration I’ve developed on the PowerShot, I’m really going to have to take it into a shop and see if I can’t get it corrected before my big trip to Akita and the Sea of Japan next week. Still, warm memories, beautiful scenery, and one hundred percent clean transport. That’s a good day, I think.

All of the shots (unedited) are up in an easy to click through format, here. Again, apologies for that occasional lens aberration. I’ll have to clean it up manually on a per-case basis later.

[Note to self: The more I think about it, the Kandagawa is actually quite a useful landmark, for it runs quite a ways from the west outside of the heart of the city (the tip of Nakano-ku, it seems), and flows through the center into the Sotobori, which in turn runs farther east, all the way below Akihabara, and empties into the Sumidagawa, which is itself quite a useful landmark as well. And for the most part, there are little bits of park and jogging trails for all of these bodies of water, quite a nice non-automotive means to make your way through the city.]

Unsurprisingly, it is now a mere five days until...

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Unsurprisingly, it is now a mere five days until Christmas. I have been doing my best to rally the troops at the office with rounds of cocoa and soft, warm cookies served in front of a roasting CRT. I have also been listening to the requisite odd assortment of Christmas radio stations on SHOUTcast. (What kind of person devotes sixty percent of their playlist to the Sesame Street Christmas album, honestly?)

While Santa Claus does indeed conquer the Martians (this evening’s seasonal fare), I apparently am conquering the world of unabashed testosterone. I currently employ the “tiny scissors” method of shaving to keep my cookie duster free of marshmallow foam (which doesn’t always work). Additionally, due to an overpowering amount of personality [see above], I have acquired a new cat. He remains nameless at the moment, and is soliciting suggestions worthy of his character.

Here we see how a mustache makes me seem: casual (left), sensitive (center), and a good parent (right).

Yes, that sale balloon does indeed say “I’ll sticky about my favorite things.”

…how long can one listen to a .nsf rip of...

Mr. Turtle

…how long can one listen to a .nsf rip of Bubble Bobble without going crazy?

Apparently two minutes and nine seconds (basically the only tune in the game looped three times). I don’t know how I refrained from throwing a shoe through the television all those times playing it with my brother. I guess the constant sound effects of jumping, bubbles popping, bonuses, etc. form a dense shag carpet of audio to insulate you from the uninventive monotony that is a simple dozen notes played over and over in succession.

“I never made it without biting.”

return TRUE;

In the midst of the most hellacious month of anything...

The small joys of the order-obsessive

In the midst of the most hellacious month of anything I’ve ever coerced my body into doing, I take great comfort from small victories, such as maintaining a house far cleaner and more organized than most others in my commercial demographic. Aside from a few long-term sticking points (shower liner, floor smudges, refridgerator shelves), everything around here is neat as a pin. I can’t accurately describe the odd satisfaction I derive from the knowledge that the dishes are all clean. The laundry is all put away. There is no trash, and very little dust existing anywhere in my home (though the cables are beckoning for a wipe down and restringing).

I have Cheerios. I have brown rice balls with dried seaweed. I have grapefruit juice, a lit Christmas tree, and two moogles. Still wearing my velour jacket, I am comfortable with the windows open and it being a refreshing fifty degrees Fahrenheit inside. If only I wasn’t home “early” because we’re “pulling an all-nighter tomorrow.” ::le sigh::

And you’re running down a street, or at least...

Backspin

And you’re running down a street, or at least you thought you were. It seemed like something worth being upset about, or maybe that’s just the way it was. Behind the smiles and the handshakes and the numbers on the papers, the people all went home to families. Families big and small, of pets and children, of shiny plastic figures and lovingly hung posters of idols.

It was just a life. A life for everyone, that came together stitched in more than several places, that tugged and pulled and jostled and wore, painted over and rolled up, each piece large enough to look at closely but so small in a field so big it might just as well have been the sky.

High schools and linoleum, drop ceilings and balsa wood airplanes. How many times did we stand behind the football supply shed and walk through shadows, not listening to lawn mowers and overpasses and delivery trucks stopping and rolling in front of the 7-11 where long ago we had bought baseball cards with stale, talc paper gum after someone’s mother drove us back from the duckpin bowling alley?

It’s not a memory, or a promise, or anything else, it’s just the result of all your actions coming together at one point in time which may seem like the peak but fifty miles down the road was just a plateau, a service station where your mother went until thirty-five before learning how to pump her own gas. So you may have sat in the back and lost the head to your favorite action figure in that little hole where the seat belt comes out, or maybe it was your brother, the younger one that cried when you fell and chipped your tooth on the warm, rough pavement next to your very first front yard. You punched him once, or maybe a lot, and it hurt him, and it hurt you, and you grew up with some space between each other but at the end he’ll probably still share something in your eyes that won’t die.

So maybe you’re laughing, or dreaming, or life is a dream or something glib someone once said in a class that at the time was so important but now you’ve long forgotten the name of the teacher. Laughing is needed for living, but you’re living now whether you’re laughing or not, or in a pool or not, or walking across the deck of rusted cruise ship carrying a thousand bacchanal college students and a handful of old men with video cameras, all so some poor, smiling, sweaty guy can refill your water glass to send fifty dollars and some strange letters back to his family in eastern Europe.

It was laying on her lap in a darkened room, or driving down towards Pantops listening to the only half decent radio station in town, twitching with the excitement of power steering and a pair of dark eyes in a bucket seat. With another bicycle crash you flew past the handlebars, over a fence and into a tree, because the rain was coming down hard and no one slows down at the Fourteenth Street light. But you still played soccer in the muddy snow at night with a lanky boy, a few meters from the same spot you rolled in the grass chuckling about how hot someone was while riding your youthful ability to break down alcohol and the fact that no one was going to leave you for a girl at eighteen.

But you were going to do it, and you did, but you didn’t, and it hurt someone who cried but was big enough to still accept you for it four years later. Someone you’d swear at once you’d never meet but then have the chance and get excited only to see it play out entirely not how you were expecting, because you’re not the only one moving out in some direction. Outward and upwards, people’s lives come together like a zipper, then split apart like two helium atoms, swirling around and through the air, away, shooting off like a star never to cross again and then on one chance in a million come crashing down to the earth in the same place together. That, or just looking at a picture and imagining it.

Still, there are moments of alone that stretch on for so long maybe they weren’t even noticed; moments that were spent with an eye on canvas, or a heart tearing along a broken, frayed edge at the horizon, leaving a wake so narrow no one could remember what it even remotely looked like two years later. So the ink would swirl on paper, or charcoal, and there would be a girl, or there wouldn’t, and you had just dreamt it, because you had beat up U2 tapes grinding in a battery cover-less Walkman. And those tangents would come to sting, like the prick of a needle leaving beyond a hollow toothache of regret and wonder, molars taken but to where? Worn down with polish in the necklace of some high brow lady attending a show you’ll never hear of, and it started because you were supposed to just follow your dreams, whatever they were in a jar on a table, something you couldn’t have until a draft card.

With so many events pigeonholed into a small space, it seems quite impossible to equate those years with anything other than paradise. And the paradise rots, or more precisely burns, like a Polaroid on the wall, taking the beaten down sun every day for thirty years just to the right of the old, wooden paneled television. If you could pull the colors out of the print, all you’d have left are pastels, the Easter fallow moments with the occasional deep scratch through the upper right corner which you either live with or decide to cut off completely, making it unbalanced and misshapen in its smooth, analog perfections.

And all those promises came between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three, across the backs of a long string of plaintive tunes sung by youthful balladeers bottling a spirit that sears just like yours and wants to live, to scream, and cry through all history: LOOK-AT-ME… With the crashing coming afterwards that too was a blanket, jagged and broken in places, smashed like the cab of your first and favorite car, turned over in a ditch on Christmas Eve with your brother, coming back from getting some egg nog.

To let it go, and so to fade away. To let it go, and so to fade away.
I’m wide awake, wide awake…I’m not sleeping.