The Galaxy Chillout
…esta noche corazon…
It’s Saturday night, and I’m waiting for the last train bound for Kawasaki, so I can get off at Shitte and walk a mile and a half to Mikiko’s for a home-coooked bowl of convenience store udon. All things considered, I’m in a pretty good mood. Unshaven like Grizzly Adams, but content.
I’m listening to a questionable rip of [this journal’s namesake] Chicane’s The Galaxy Chillout, apparently off of some radio show. Everytime I queue it up it’s the same thing- I start with the intent of only listening to the incredibly catchy first minute and a half [Espiritu – In Praise of the Sun], but find myself caught in the quick, well-timed transitions from mellow vibe to vibe. Next thing I know it’s fifty-four minutes later and my mental playlist has evaporated with any corporeal misgivings I may have had.
Chill out is a genre I first discoverd during my Seattle rennaissance in a string of blanketed, sandalwood-permeated tents housing peaceful pockets of patch-bag ravers. The more esoteric variations are harder to find, living mostly on thin, vinyl planetoids in a cosmos of head shops. The slightly more commercial, European ballad strain is just as calming as its psychotropic cousin, though certainly more mainstream.
The music has been kind to me, always wrapping a corduroy hand around my cold shoulder when I need it. When I focus, I can feel the callouses of consumer living fall aways, and my muscles melt into velour.
Children really make me happy. I like being around them, playing with them, teaching them… Japan is supposedly in a population recession, but I sure see a lot of little kids around the city. Kids in strollers, kids toddling along behind their parents, kids in papoose-like structures on moms and dads. I think it would be fun to work in a daycare center, or an activity camp, as long as it wasn’t one of those oppressively religious ones.
Today is Saturday the twenty-eighth. I feel like there’s something special about today, like it’s someone’s birthday, or anniversary or something, but I guess it’s just the last day of February. Well, actually, tomorrow is the last day of February because it’ a leap year. I didn’t notice it was a leap year until yesterday. I also didn’t notice that Lent had begun until I saw Mardi Gras photo specials on the web. I guess that makes me a lousy Christian. Or I’m just fried from working way too much.
I feel cleaner today than usual. Maybe it’s because I intentionally took my time and made myself late for work. I’m so dead I don’t give a damn, and civilized living is just a fairy tale, for children.
I had a sweater…
but I’m not wearing it now. My clothes are a worn paper wrapper, from a small family supermarket, worn and thinning at the seams. I was so exhausted last night that I fell asleep in my clothes either during next gen, or immediately after, lights on and windows open. I removed this week’s pants only to place myself in front of water briefly. It is a mad, mobius strip of a dream that it has been two months without holiday and I am on the train to work.
People’s sneezes and coughings are starting to annoy me, not random ones, but the token old man who is unable to suppressing a frequent bellowing that rattles the finger-smudged windows. It’s kind of like being drunk. Yesterday, at the tail end of a seventeen hour stint, I was punchy and laughing easily, talking to myself. Now I’m irritable and foggy-minded. Soon I will just be incapable of hardly anything due to fatigue. People cope to varying degrees. One of the girls at work stares at her timesheet, smeared with streaks of yellow indicating holidays and weekends at the office.
Another coughing old man has sat down next to me. I change trains. An Indian woman talks on the phone, complaining how the local train stops at every station, her husband just stares, either at me or one of the ads above my head. It’s going to be a new day, but it seems like every one before it.
Tokyo is a lot quieter at half-past six. The center of the city is near empty; still; the roads with a few vacant taxis and service vehicles. The narrow side streets stremming off from Yoyogi station are cold, devoid of the caffeine-packed tension brought by a thousand weary faces in trenchcoats. The sun is still bowing to the silhouette of Glaxo Smith Kline and Docomo, the lesser buildings wrapped in a deep blue slate wash.
I make my way to the station effortlessly, indulging a half-honest yearning to play, swinging my filthy aluminum bicycle left and right absentmindedly. If yesterday was a painful struggle to get up, today is a mummified stupor. Cloaked in fatigue like an oily rag, I manage only part of the composure I desire for locomotion.
My mind grasps at things, never completely latching on. I cross my legs fitfully as more commuters board the train and slide farther off the seat. Japan is not a noisy country in public. People rarely talk, and if they do it’s in a voice softer and without bass. But this morning there is even less ambient noise, fewer footfalls and stifled coughing. The train bells echo longer, almost annoyingly so. My neck strains leaning against a thin rail. The hum of the radiator drones and pulses. More people get on and I recross my legs. Two acquaintances recognize each other and break the silence. I get off the train and walk behind a girl with curls in her hair and thick perfume. Doors begin to open and gates are unlocked, and this way I start again.
The search is over
At the height of crunch time at work, I have finally closed on a new dwelling. In a mere twenty days I will be free of my much-vilified, stuffy cell in Sendagaya and migrate slightly north-by-northwest, to the horn of Shibuya-ku, that I may reside in Honmachi. Mikiko and I found the place unexpectedly on what was making to be another fruitless weekend last Sunday, and since then things have fallen into place surprisingly well and without friction. Friday I said goodbye to four thousand dollars of savings to pay the requisite “key money” and other essentials that are mandatory when first renting an apartment in Japan. Saturday (before going into the office on the tail end of my cold) I signed all the papers and got my key. I now have the luxury of moving all my current belongings in over the next three weeks while shopping for modern conveniences such as a bed, washing machine, and refridgerator. What fun! I am now truly as the Japanese say a “salary man”.
The bedroom overlooks a small park, where one may see children frolicking in the afternoon, and bums sleeping to late morning. It’s not as big as I hoped, but such residences within a stone’s throw to Shinjuku are only for the business elite, so I am happy with the moderate increase in floor space. It’s also about the same price as I pay now, so no complaints for my independence. I’d go on about it in more depth and elegance, but I’m exhausted from not getting home until nine this morning, so you’ll have to excuse me.
Vitamin C can save your life
A popular axiom here is that there is no minor ailment that can’t be cured (or prevented) with an astronomical dose of vitamins and protein synthetics. Every convenience store great and small will assuredly carry a vast array of vial-sized bottles and cold packs, each touting several orders of magnitude in excess of the US RDA for some nutrient. How much the body can benefit from a five thousand milligram tablet of vitamin C I don’t know, but it sure does taste great.
When I worked for one of the evil corporations, I had a crazy, militant friend named Jeff. He prided himself on threatening TCBY managers in defense of abused soft-serve girls, and carrying two sizeable hunting knives while facing the dangers of VHS tape return. He talked often (in between assertions that he would rob a bank) about quitting the pit-stained blue collar world of video rental, and driving to Mexico to enjoy a life of unprotected sex with cheap whores and tequila. His strategy for deflecting the almost certain torrent of maladies that would befall him was hermetic- fifty grams of penicillin and a sack full of oranges. This plan of eternal health through the saturation of base antibiotics reminds me a lot of those tiny bottles of alphanumeric supplements available for a mere third of my daily food stipend. If being inundated with fruit extracts can’t save us, what can?
Where did the time go?
I’ve been in Japan now for two hundred and fifty-one days. I think I’ve gotten some stuff together, and there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t made hardly any progress with at all. I have a home, the beginnings of a domestic suite of appliances, half a dozen monthly payments, and a comfortable t-shirt. I like my hair, my pillow, and my bicycle. I spend most of my non-working time with a beautiful and caring girl, the rest on trains and in showers, trying to push away thoughts of frustration and loss.
It’s strange how time rises like a mountain; there are moments where I struggle with so much that I stand motionless, and others where it slides out from under my feet. As it becomes easier to be convenienced by a myriad of possibilities, the tide of indecision and partial completion rises then knocks me down. I’m ten years old and so afraid of the ocean. In thirty-four days I’ll be back in America again, for a week in the same place with fifty of former classmates on the other side, not looking for a job but trying to keep one, and maybe not staying up until 1:30 every night.
I think there’s a sunny place with a nice breeze and afternoon dreams that’s been running around in my head. Fortune is that I just may be able to hang a hook on it soon.
Japan is a very surreal place. It’s a country with origins in service, so there’s a myriad of intresting and sometimes strange details woven into almost every facet of consumer life.
Though the details of why and for what exact events are unclear to me, I’m quite a fan that JR East plays music at the platform before a train leaves. Infinitely more pleasing than just a shrill electric whistle, it never ceases to entertain me. The pieces are little ditties of pre-recorded synth music, with a lot of pads and bells. The audio fidelity is somewhere between radio and PA system, but I can’t tell if that’s from the age of the speakers or the music itself. My guess is they’ve been playing the same jingles since the bubble in the early nineties, but I’ve got nothing to back that up.
I suppose must people are desensitized to it, or don’t care, but I love it. It always makes me feel wistful and happy. I guess it’s kinda corny but I wish they had a CD of all the different melodies. There’s actually quite a lot, and they seem to vary by line and station. Maybe if I can get a decent quality digital recorder, I’ll go around and capture them all for an ambient train sounds piece.
Lost in Translation (thoughts)
I finally got to see Lost in Translation last night. I probably should have gone to bed since I was still beat beyond form from skiing, but I couldn’t contain my curiousity any longer. Usually when I hear a lot of public hype about a movie, I get let down. Case in point, Finding Nemo. Hundreds of millions at the box office, Japanese premiere, Sony Mediage and a twenty-dollar ticket- I’m exceptionally let down. It took two and a half additional viewings on the plane from DC to allow me to begin treating it with respect. It’ll still never reach the plateau in my mind I had it set up for but that’s life.
However, Lost… followed suit with other personal recommendations of less general appeal (such as American Beauty) and did not let me down. It’s not a Midnight Cowboy, but it’s a good film (as opposed to movie). I think it’ll grow on me more and more too, I listened to it while at work this afternoon.
A lot of people have asked me if Tokyo is really like that. Though I believe that no one picture can even show a fraction of this amazing city, they actually didn’t distort or blow anything out of proportion. I found myself thinking the camera filters (and/or post production) were a little kind to the outdoor atmospheric tinting, but that’s completely legitimate for cinema. Other than that, all the personalities and attractions were pretty on.
It’s a nice piece: the characters are real, the dialogue is interesting and absolutely nothing is phony. I think it’s the genuine nature and lack of phoniness that turns me on to it so much. The soundtrack works well but it’s too short. I wonder what forces govern how much of a CD’s seventy-four minutes are used at release.
It’s got me thinking, which is a good thing, but I think so much anyway so I’m not sure if that says anything.
Lost in Translation (reaction)
sometimes i spend a lot of time thinking about what would make me happy. like if i had this…thing, or set of conditions in my life, it would be good, and i wouldn’t get depressed, or be tired, or anything like that at all. but then i think maybe even if i had those things, i still wouldn’t be happy. if i had the chance to just be an artist and make things the way i wanted to make them, just for the sake of making them, not for money, or a living or anything like that. if i just had money, and didn’t have to work, then everything would be easy;.. but it wouldn’t. i’d get depressed that my life had no meaning, and everything just happened so it would all be shallow and fake.
it’s the same way with time. if i think about how i was at a certain time, and if i was that way again, it would be ok. but was i ok then? maybe i’ve never really been ok, and i just lie to myself and remember things better than they were. maybe things are always going to be not great. maybe that’s the way it is for everyone, and people just don’t complain about it as much as me.
i want something to mean something, and not worry about it, or have it make me feel sick.
i want to be clean, and do something and have it make my life better all the time, not just some of the time and in some ways.
i want to be loved, and i want to sleep… and not feel guilty about sleeping. feeling guilty about sleeping always makes it feel terrible.
The big yellow website
This entry is just about as impersonal as I can get, but I had to extoll the virtues of my near-perfect relationship with an (dare I say it?) ecommerce pioneer. Amazon rocks. That’s all there is to it. I’ll go on about it a little more though.
I’ve been an Amazon customer since I first overcame my skepticism of PI security on the internet and bought my first CD online in the good `ol days of 1999. Since then I have purchased thirty-eight individual items consisting of two DVDs, one VHS, four CDs, two video games, one controller, an MP3 player, smart media cartridge, 16 books, a cell phone with AT&T plan, and planet-eating robot for my best friend… in all together easily over a thousand dollars.
Brandon jumped on the boat before I did, but I think I preach about it more, due in part to the fact I got a stainless steel coffee tumbler [with great philosophers’ quotes] from CEO Jeff Bezos for Christmas 2000. Aside from that, they still maintain the best customer experience I’ve encountered at _any_ retailer, digital or physical. Every time I’ve had a question about an order, I have received a cordial and informative reply in less than eight hours. I have never had an order late, damaged, or inaccurate, and I continue to receive items ahead of when I expect them.
e.g.: Lost in Translation and A Life Less Ordinary were both released on DVD last Tuesday (US time). I ordered said items along with the Lost… soundtrack sometime early Sunday morning, February 1st. The order shipped Monday morning, slated to arrive (via my standard/slowest shipping option) between the 17th and 25th. I got the package this morning, one week after ordering, six days after the product release. Very nice. I noticed the items came from an Amazon distributor in Frankfurt. I could almost smell the bratwurst on the box of my (US hardware encoded) media. So much for region export restrictions, and expecting to be treated like anything less than the most important customer in the world.
I went to Nagano over the weekend for a ski trip with some of my friends from Sony. My friend Kaz, whom I met at IWEC two years ago when I first came to Japan. Fate seems to have generated a role for him to carry my incapacitated self home from every evening event we attend together, but fortunately that service was unneeded this time as I went to sleep at eight Saturday night from a very uncomfortable collision-induced headache.
The first time I ever went skiing was at Alta, while visiting the University of Utah after being accepted into their graphics program. That time, much like this one, I was in the company of people whose skills and yearning for interesting challenges far exceeded my own, and as a result I ended up with a number of very high-speed crashes and an unconfirmed concussion. I spent the following three days with a crippling headache and a bottle of aspirin.
However, this time around involved injury to a considerably lesser degree, and I managed to not only regain the beginnings of skill I generated three years ago, but also attain a decent grasp on the basics well enough to be able to enjoy myself. I ate a lot, skied a lot, slept a lot, and had two baths. Not bad for a hundred-eighty bucks.
I also took some nice pictures which no doubt stand on their own without Photoshop. It’s almost completely empty though as the majesty and scale of the view makes it possible for any tourist with a Polaroid to produce dentist-office quality landscapes. To me that’s probably the best metric for the value of a photograph, the ability to pull uncommon emotions out of pictures in unique ways. We’ve been so saturated with inspirational posters and Thomas Kinkade that we’ve forgotten what art is.
The special significance of this trip is that marks the last weekend that I don’t have to go in to the office until further notice. Continue reading Snow and the blizzard
Dean for America, the working man
When I read this ten or even two years from now, I’m sure myself (like most people) will have a hard time remembering who was intricately involved with the democratic momination (but who could forget Dukakis?), but as for the next five months, it’s relevant. Oddly, I find myself more caught up in this competiton than any before. Maybe it’s because I live overseas, or maybe because I’m four years older, or maybe just because I feel guilty I didn’t do more for the only politician I’ve ever cared for, Al Gore. In any case, I’m behind Howard Dean now, and like most Dean supporters I’m getting a really eerie feeling that something’s going south fast and there’s going to be two big lobbyist republicans on the ticket in October.
Politicians are funny: they rarely say what they mean, implement little of the policy that they promise, and perform any number of subtle tricks to win over the general public. The interesting thing is they work to a considerable degree. For example, on his website, Howard Dean has a picture with his sleeves rolled up. I heard somewhere that’s supposed to signify that he gets his hands dirty, that he gets things done, he’s a working man for the common citizen, the people’s champion if you will. I used to be quite cynical about stuff like that, but now I find myself actually feeling good about it. Maybe it’s because I can sympathize with the salary man’s plight now that I work over sixty-five hours a week myself (and will continue to do so to at least the end of February).
Today the boss said, “I’m going to have to ask you to come in on Saturday.” It took everything I had not to laugh.
The platform at Keio-Shinjuku seemed awfully quiet this morning. I arrived two minutes later than usual, though still with plenty of time. The train was sitting at the platform and most of the passengers were already seated, leaving the track area vacant and silent. Having the stillness to myself for a moment, I pulled back from the blood-peppered coughings of my worrying mind and wondered how old I would be before I could escape the grinding gears of a thousand analyses on my inefficiencies in life.
I set goals for myself to accomplish things clerical and artistic in a certain timeframe, and ultimately seem to meet seventy percent of them on schedule, with another fifteen one month late. This frustrates me as I know it’s hindering my ability to sleep, breathe, and work in peace. Get an apartment, cook healthy meals, run three days out of seven, finally reconcile my finances- leave the emotional attachment to a life where I don’t work sixty hours a week. It’s a decaying cycle that leaves me unbalanced with rack-upon-rack of quasi-failure that robs me of my memory, leaving a constant double-guessing of how things were better six months or three years ago and what I was doing right then. The occasional spurts of competency come like bush floods, dousing my thirst in an instant but quickly drying, taking any lasting benefit deep into the soil. It’s amazing I haven’t broken down yet. Fortunately, the excitement and satisfaction I’m deriving from my work has been risen dramatically over January.