Third time lucky
Today was the third time I crossed the Arakawa, which literally means “rough river”, though it looked quite placid as usual. I suppose it has mellowed with age. I can only hope to do the same.
Second only to my much despised habit of getting plowed is my aptitude for absent-mindedness. It’s unfortunate that I so frequently lack “common sense”, as my grandfather would often berate me for as a child. I leave things, important things, all over the place. My mind must just be elsewhere. It is only with the favor of the gods that I still am in possession of some of my most treasured keepsakes. In the last two years I have lost my satchel or rucksack twice, once with the side effect of having it pilfered by some unscrupulous individual (further retribution no doubt for my similar unethical practice at Senior Week 1997), and then being relieved of my beloved Casio eXilim, GBA, and handmade case formed from Nobue’s father’s tie. In the end the bag was retrieved from a bathroom at Kanda station. Small comfort. The second time I was lucky enough to get the bag and all its contents back, but it seems that it was run over by a car as there were black marks all along the top, and my headphones and Nintendo DS were shattered. Amazingly my one hundred and twenty dollar cellphone escaped unharmed. I have terrible luck when it comes to portable gaming devices. I also have misplaced a good portion of my Japanese workbook somewhere near Chitose-karasuyama station, my voice recorder at a tonkatsu restaurant (which was recovered as no one noticed it silently taping two hours of background kitchen chatter), as well as an INCREDIBLY dear piece of equipment which I won’t mention now.
The clouds were a marble ceiling over Tokyo.
From all these lessons you’d hope that I would exhibit some sort of positive growth and wisdom, but unfortunately it seems that this fundamental self-awareness still eludes me. In the past three weeks, I have left behind my single most treasured position of all (my Seahawks hat) not once, not twice, but THREE DISCRETE TIMES. All three times I had given it up for being lost, and already begun a spiralling self-beratement for attachment to things, which is strongly condemned by Buddhist teaching. I know, I know. But it still happens, and only with absolute, barefaced luck had I been able to recover it, until I lost it today.
It’s rather depressing when you see something beautiful and afterwards the shot reminds you of Microsoft Windows. My suede Converse have seen many miles (and rainstorms) since I bought them in Bangkok a year ago. They still have a fascinating world all to themselves, however.
But this entry isn’t about the hat, because it deserves its own lovingly-crafted ode of an entry, which will come later.
This entry is about my trip to Saitama this afternoon, which though tainted by the loss of the lucky blue hat, was ultimately an exercise both physical and mental. The most perfect of all blue October days was given to me, and I humbly gave thanks to the forces of the earth by riding north to cross the Arakawa yet again. I got started at one because I had been waiting for Kuro Neko Yamato to bring me a wire rack (an Erecta knockoff) to support my stereo receiver so that I may migrate my games to the table beneath it, and surplus Japanese history books to another shelf.
In any case, I knew that starting that late in autumn would be a hindrance to the amount of ground I could cover, and hoping for something new I left the tripod at home and swore off stopping for pictures and gallantry until I got to Saitama. This worked well, and though I blew about eight to ten minutes on the phone trying to find someone to play with this evening (ultimately failing), I made it there in about an hour. I’m too apathetic to get up and measure exactly how far it is on the map now, but essentially we can estimate an average speed of twelve to fifteen miles per hour, making for a round trip of about twenty-five to thirty miles when all is said and done. I’m not sure really what a “long distance” to ride is, but mind you I don’t have a bicycle intended for much more than bringing back tofu and squid from the corner grocery store. I have, however, done well to get my money’s worth and put distance on my mama chari, so I can’t say that riding for three or four hours doesn’t even really tire me anymore. It’s just something that I do, and think nothing of, much like most people joyride around in cars aimlessly in the same way (or at least as my parents used to, though I realized later they were looking for a new neighborhood to move our family to).
A rare look at the artist behind the lens. See the eye that sees you, that sees life in rust, beauty in utility meters. The eye that dilates to a pin and looks into the sun, past the field, past the horizon, past every speck of dust that’s fallen through space. The eye that cuts and opens the flesh of the world for you.
I went into Oda-shi, but not too far because I was upset after I discovered that I had lost my hat somewhere along the way, and I didn’t feel much like random riding around. So I stopped at Fujiya, because I’ve been thinking about Mikiko a lot lately, and had a mabu dofu don (tofu blocks in a soy and chili sauce over rice) and a couple of cups of egg drop soup before the cheesy MIDIfied Michael Jackson background music drove me as Crash would say “into the depths of despair”. Or maybe that was Anne of Green Gables.
But the Arakawa has a lovely, wide park adjacent to each shore, and a steep, terraced verdant hill on the north. So I rode my rickety, rattling ride down through the wild grass and dirt pits to pull up virtually alone on a steep embankment about four hundred meters from the Oda city park. Here I laid my steed to rest and collapsed among the ragweed to berate myself and ponder how much of a mess I may be becoming.
There are many, many things that turn me on in this world. However, the finely crafted angles and curves of a bicycle are of unparalleled majesty, I believe. There is no finer example of harmony between nature and science. Man is at the nexus of art and function. He may move at much greater velocities and distances than are capable by his own form, yet nothing is wasted in its use. The shine of the chrome, the precision of letters embossed in aluminum and rubber, the tick of the transmission spinning unhindered. Oh were everything in my life as smooth and perfect…
The sun was warm and took the edge off of the riverside breeze, and laying on my back with my eyes closed I could not help but think of so many similar occasions that I had spent afternoons on The Lawn. I had an agenda of things to think through, and hoped to come to some great conclusions, but like every time I barrelled those two hundred miles down the PA turnpike from Pittsburgh to Frederick, I found it difficult to do much more than restate the problem a number of times, my mind wandering to more trivial and tangible mental exercises. I draw twitching, terrier-like satisfaction from the order and completion of menial tasks in an efficient and structured manner. Sorting dates, budgets, and dinnerware gives me the same lip-smacking pride as so many cats triumphantly returning home with dead mice hanging from their curling mouths. This is weak and ingratiating ego stroking, and a warm blanket to pull over my toes, a paladium for coping with so much festering self-doubt.
In the end, I had no problem identifying perhaps one of the most deeply rooted of all my problems, but not so much as a grain of resolution for it. I have a strong and compelling need for acceptance and validation. This is a malaise that grows deep and mossy into the gums of my psyche, blooming in squishy, fallow bursts, attaching itself to my conscience and cognition. It plays a lobotomized puppet game with my motives, and I channel so much energy into building and worrying, worrying and building, What am I doing and when will they notice the me that shines?
From raw materials come tempered grace; the latent power and speed of man surge forth, coursing through frame and spoke. Sing to the road, sing to the sky, over tarmac and concrete, grass and soil, with the wings of freedom beating steadily on my heels.
But this was only a part of my ruminations. I rolled back and forth for over an hour trying to get to sleep, wanting to curl up into the beaming open arms of the star falling west. But the grass was too familiar, too homelike, and with endless cilia cut tiny ridges into my skin, leaving me itching and restless. Sliding slowly down the hill with each readjustment of my sagging jeans, at the very doorstep of unconsciousness I felt the saddle calling and telling me it was time to go. So I rode, and I rode back the way I came, because I had a half-hearted anticipation that I could find my hat if I retraced my steps, even though I was certain there was only one of two places I could have dropped it.
But a bicycle belongs on the road, not a constantly bumping sidewalk, no matter how many indignant sports cars honk at one. And in time I recalled too well every stoplight from route 17 merging with Yamate dori all the way to Shimizubashi, I could see every temporary seam in the sprawling, ungracious, subterranean morass of construction. So I swung back to the left side of the darkening street and rode on; on and on past signals and subway, past old ladies with walkers and middle school girls sucking ice cream, in a zip and a dash, and darting, riding, piling it on ever southward, south to the wooden cradle of my self-righteous publishing house until I arrived at the Sunkus I hit on the way out earlier that day. And then, waiting in line heartbroken, stepping forward and seeing to my surprise, my hat right behind the round-cheeked checkout girl– my luck on a shelf, past the hot dogs and next to the Tom Cruise DVDs. Waiting, just for me, the most patient and dear thing I’ve ever cherished.
Another day gone, another gift to me. For all my foolishness and fraility, I was lucky again today to live. Failure or fortune, I will never stop riding forward, with verve and passion unbridled and soaring.
[For reasons external to my constant disrespecting of it, the hat is being discharged from active duty on the 22nd after Brandon’s wedding, and at this time I just can’t get the gasping phrase, “two days until retirement”, echoing out of my head. Be assured the hat will not leave this house again until I am on my way to Narita airport on the 13th, and when it does, it will be soldered to my skull.]