John Turningpin’s Workload of Fear

A strange, ugly thing has appeared in my inbox, dear Reader.

Eventually, this thing will transform itself into money, something I seem to have offended somehow because it has been so cold and distant recently. In the short term, however, this thing is called hell, a translation project shat out by Belial himself that will unrepentantly gobble up my nights, my weekends, and — if not for sweet, sweet alcohol — my sanity.

October 15 is the date upon which I lash this project to a feathered shaft and fire it back into the stygian depths from whence it crawled, but until then, I regret that posting will be sporadic.

I have a few posts in progress and a few shorter ones I’ll be posting in the interim, so be sure to keep checking in; however, I’m afraid that for the next two weeks, there will be a comparative slowdown in the amount of witty postings on this blog. And you all know how full of wit I am.

John Turningpin’s Breakfast of Fear

1/2 can of tuna
1 raw egg
1 large scoop of rice
Wasabi-flavored ochazuke mix

Several twists of fresh-ground black pepper
Largish dash of white pepper
3-4 dashes of rayu (hot oil)

Makin’ it
-Insert all ingredients into chawan or similar compact bowl
-Add boiling hot water and spices
-Ingest alone or with one’s closest enemies

Came up with this one morning when very hungry but with barely enough time to throw a few ingredients together. It’s surprisingly filling, and a sick part of me likes it enough to make it once or twice a week.

Oh, yes. I’ll blog about it, but I’m not posting a picture of it.

Bad wind

It has not been a good day.

It has in fact been an extremely unproductive day, namely because there has been nothing to produce.

Work has crawled to a standstill. Today’s Pointless Meeting was prefaced by The Smile cheerfully saying, “Oops, I forgot to bring copies of the schedule. There’s nothing new on it, though!” which was followed by a heckle of “Uh-oh!” by The Man from UNCLE.

Normally, you’d find jokes about the company you work for quite possibly going under a bit disturbing. As luck would have it, you’d already decided that this day — with its news cycle dominated by $700 billion Wall Street bailouts, university massacres prefaced by videos uploaded to YouTube, workers in India killing the CEO who fired them, and the big UN coming-out party for Sarah Fucking Palin — can go screw itself. You find yourself just not caring as much as you probably should.

The Pointless Meeting thankfully concludes close to quitting time, which for you is 6:00 on the dot. Let the other robots hang around the next couple hours feigning work and self-importance — you just want to get the hell out.

The Tokyo streets are refreshingly cool, but you find yourself on edge. Out here, surrounded by the ebb of the crowds, you find the culmination of the nagging feeling you’ve had all day.

There’s something wrong.

Something is in the air, palpable and oppressive.

As if in validation of that feeling, you get to your station only to find an angry-looking crowd, the schedule completely disrupted. There’s been another jinshin jiko, a politely euphemistic way of saying that someone has decided to throw himself in front of the train rather than board it and go through another day of the monotony that has become his life.

You can’t take any more. Turning to walk toward an alternate train line at a somewhat distant station, you pull out your cell phone, begin dialing. If anyone can help you shake this sense of dread, it’s your friend Solace, whom you’ve come to rely on when things start becoming too chaotic.

“Hey,” she answers, in a tone that says she’s glad to hear from you.

“Hey,” you reply. “So, I don’t really have anything to say. I just needed to hear a friendly voice.”

She laughs, the sound of it pure, unaffected.

“How’s your day been?”

“Not so good,” you say. “At first I thought it was just me, but it feels like there’s…”

“Negativity in the air?” she asks, showing once again just how eerily alike the two of you think.

“‘A bad wind blowing,’ I was about so say. I’m sitting at work, I’ve got nothing to do, no new jobs coming in…” The words start to come in a rush. “There’s helicopters circling the sky, and just a couple hours ago, I talk about people committing suicide by throwing themselves in front of the train only to get to the station right now and find that’s exactly what’s happened.”

” Really? That–”

Suddenly, Solace’s phone starts beeping, an indicator that the battery is low. A second later, the connection drops.

Wonderful. That was nice while it lasted.

It takes you 20 minutes to reach the alternate station. You head past the turnstile, grateful you’re taking the outbound line because, astonishingly, the inbound line is running late because of yet another suicide.

Train ride. Changeover.

Another train ride, the cabin packed to capacity because of delays due to mechanical error. At least it wasn’t a suicide.

Finally, home.

Home and silence and another goddamn computer screen.

Everything is sandpaper — the surface of your skin, the back of your throat. You’re staring at the computer and it’s exactly like the one you’ve spent your entire worthless day in front of, pretending to be busy because there’s no work to be done, and for a moment you want to scream at the mundanity and unrelenting sameness of it all.

The kind of sameness that has people launching themselves in front of trains.

God damn it.

The Runner

I don’t know who The Runner is, but I hate him.

I hate everything about him.

I hate his big, beefy frame packed into clothes one size too small. I hate his cheap, 10-dollar haircut. I hate his short-sleeved business casual work outfit. I hate the fact that there is never any doubt that it is he who is coming up behind me, thanks to the unmistakable clomping of his frenzied, lopsided pace and the HUUH, HUUH of his labored breathing as he races to get to the station.

And I hate the fact that this happens Every. Damn. Day.

Jesus Christ, man. The Japanese public transportation system is arguably the most efficient of its kind in the world. You can literally set your watch to it, because unless some inconsiderate asshole has decided to commit Chuocide and use it as a means of offing himself (which happens easily once a month — yeah, I hate you guys, too), the train will be there exactly when it’s supposed to be. The vehicle that is scheduled to pull out of the station at 7:36 am will fucking leave at 7:36 am. There is no surprise involved! If your dumb ass would simply wake up five minutes earlier, there would be no need for you to go tearing down the street, damn near bowling into people and generally making a twat out of yourself.

Every. Damn. Day.


Magic Bus

One of the wondrous things about Japan is that it allows me to put my two most defining characteristics — namely, being a cheap bastard and a raging alcoholic — right out there into the public view with nary a blink of recognition.

Enter the Magic Bus.

What is this enchanted bus, you ask?

Every year, our chonaikai, or neighborhood association, organizes an outing where likeminded folk of our ‘hood can get together, hop on the aforementioned Bus and go farting around a pre-arranged set of touristy locations all day. This may not sound too magical on the surface, but the whole “excursion” thing is just dressing for the chonaikai’s true purpose — to spend 12 hours eating too much, drinking too much, getting free shit, and playing the obnoxious tourist in some areas you probably otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to see.

All for 3,000 yen.

These are my kind of people — both in principle and in deed, as evidenced when the head of the chonaikai started passing beer around the cabin at 9:50 am.

Folks, it is a beautiful thing when you’re used to quietly easing that pull tab open to sneak a couple sips in the morning because you know exactly what your day holds and you cannot bear the sheer weight of its monotony, but instead you find yourself surrounded by a staccato of CRACKs and “Cheers!” as people gleefully celebrate how much fun they will soon be having at someone else’s expense.

So, what exactly did the day’s itinerary hold? Prepare to be whelmed (whether under- or over- is up to you).

First up was a tour of an ice cavern. That was actually pretty cool. The constant litany of Samui! (“It’s cold!”) and Tsukareta! (“I’m tired!”) got old pretty damn fast, but overall it was sort of fun having to duck and crawl and wind our way through frosty tunnels surrounded by huge chunks of natural ice. One branch of the cavern was blocked off with a sign proclaiming that beyond there lay Jigoku Ana, or Hell’s Hole, so named because it was so treacherous that if you lost your footing you’d never find your way back. Apparently, nobody even knows how far it extends.

Fucking Hell’s Hole.

I really had to fight the urge to go in there.

After emerging unscathed from the cavern, we went to some hotel, I don’t remember where. They had an all-you-can eat buffet, which was nice, but they also had all-you-can-drink beer, which was far more to my liking.

Upon gorging ourselves (and “gorging” is no exaggeration: the guy sitting at the table next to mine had the hugest pile of spaghetti on his plate that I have ever seen), we headed off for a bit of follow-up binge eating at a vinery for some all-you-can-eat grapes. I don’t know if you’ve ever clipped grapes off the vine and eaten them right then and there, but they’re pretty damn tasty. We even got a couple bunches as take-home gifts.

Of course, being a vinery… I mean, come on. The guys aren’t idiots — they’d also been making wine for several years, and after head-spinningly working my way through samples of them all, I scored a massive bottle of wine for just 1,800 yen.

Now, the members of my chonaikai, being the rampant drinkers that they are, naturally decided that the only way to follow up some wine drinking was by drinking more wine — namely, by taking a tour of a local winery, at the end of which we were treated to all-you-can-drink samples of the goods. It was really amazing to watch all these middle-aged ladies turn into absolute piranhas, darting from drinking station to drinking station, emptying bottles at light speed while loudly declaring, “This is good!” “This sucks!” and “I’ll drink it, but I ain’t buying it!”

The last stop of the Magic Bus Tour was at an herbatorium, or whatever the hell you call them, a combination herb farm and purveyor of herb-infused goods. That was actually sort of lame, but the fact that our tour guide sounded exactly like Doraemon made pretty much everything she said rather lulzy.

On the way home, the head of the chonaikai, realizing that by far the greatest emptier of the HUGE sake bottle that was going around the Bus was none other than yours truly, finally just told me, “Why don’t you hang on to it?” and let me keep it by my seat. Much damage was done to that bottle on the ride back.

In conclusion: Oh, yes. The Magic Bus shall be visited by my presence next year.

p/s – As much as I hadn’t intended to make this blog about personal matters, they nonetheless seem to have started creeping in (case-in-point, the last two friggin’ blog entries). As long as I’m being all gushy and baring my soul to the internets, I’d like to give another shoutout to Tokyo Cowgirl, who also spent this weekend on the J-Winnebago but had considerably less fun doing so. You may have picked up on this, dear Reader, but TC isn’t simply a neighbor blogger — she is an extremely dear friend.

Hang in there, TC. I brought something back from the Bus for you.

Ask for me to-morrow and you shall find me a grave man

You may not have known it, dear Reader, but strange and bizarre machinations were at work this past three-day weekend.

In an event so massive it’s a wonder that central Tokyo didn’t implode from the sheer weight of it, several of this city’s most prolific bloggers decided to team up in the flesh for a night of drunken debauchery — at a horror-themed izakaya called The Lock-Up.

Do things in life get any better than this? I put to you that they do not.

In attendance at this Meeting of Meetings were:

Mr. Salaryman, the principal architect
Yours truly
Tokyo Cowgirl
Neil Duckett
Billy West
Green-Eyed Geisha

Being the bitter, disdainful creature I am, I have to admit I initially viewed this meetup along the lines of a social experiment. We bloggers are a strange and often reclusive folk, and I certainly didn’t expect to get along with an entire roomful of them.

Shockingly, that’s exactly what happened.

Of course, like any group of people meeting for the first time, there was that initial awkwardness, the pauses in conversation and inevitable queries of, “Who are you again?” Luckily, alcohol is arguably the single greatest invention in the history of great inventions, and thanks to the 1,800 yen all-you-can drink special, there was no shortage of it to help get things going.

Now, it cannot be overstated just how craptastic our choice of locales was. The photos do not do it justice — any restaurant that actually chooses to kill the lights and set off explosions while employees don gorilla masks and dangle from the ceiling in the name of “entertainment” is clearly not fooling around in the crap department. Apparently, however, we are all twisted enough to be able to take it in stride … and to not get too bent out of shape over our quite visibly pissed waitress, who had had more than enough of our rampant alcohol consumption.

Two or three hours later (not quite sure which — killing enough beer to free up the alcohol limit so we could keep getting Tokyo Cowgirl her glasses of wine took a rather concerted effort from our end of the table), the all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat special was concluded, so we promptly buggered off.

Incidentally, as fantastic as everyone was that night and as much as I look forward to seeing them all again, I’m going to have to single out Tokyo Cowgirl for a bit by saying that if any of you are thinking of meeting her in real life — don’t. She is so wonderful to be around that the minute she’s gone, running off to ice bars or wherever it is that cowgirls from Texas run off to once they’ve had enough of their drunken and altogether dubious company, it’s like suddenly losing several shades of color from your visible spectrum. Most unpleasant and not at all recommendable.

Luckily, your average guy is just a hair’s breadth up the evolutionary ladder from a tree-swinging baboon, and we were able to deaden the blow of having all three of the very nice ladies in our party simultaneously leave by drinking some more beer.

Next up was The Hub, a chain of izakaya that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a genuine English pub. One or two foreigners lumbering in usually isn’t enough to get the locals staring, but having five of the rowdy buggers come in at once led to a bit of staring that soon led to some friendly, protracted conversation. And by “protracted,” I mean that by the end of the evening, we were all in a bit of a dodgy state (some of us dodgier than others).

Thus, the first official meetup ended in my mind exactly as it should have — the members of our party scattered and chatting with strangers, with one of us half-asleep with his back drunkenly up against the wall.


The Lingerer

You don’t need to look up to know that The Lingerer is here again.

And he’s lingering.

Currently, he stands at the cubicle opposite yours, killing a not unsubstantial amount of time with Smoky the Raccoon, his default partner in all non ambulatory- related issues.

No mere dawdler, not content to engage in simple tarrying, The Lingerer is a true master of staying put, having earned his Doctorate in Advanced Loitering for Business Professionals.

What makes his lingering so 微妙 (bimyo, or “difficult to pin down”) is that all his hanging about is ostensibly work related. He engages in conversations that, yes, are applicable to the task at hand, but makes it such that what can be said in 10 words is instead said in 100 as he works through various scenarios, explores multiple permutations of, basically, “Do you think this will work?”

Needless verbosity and a penchant for using あのー (“Uh…”) every third word to make each sentence last that much longer aside, where The Lingerer really shines is his ability to be anywhere but at his desk for far longer than is necessary. Once the conversation has concluded — the fact that his speaking partner has turned his back to him and resumed work notwithstanding — The Lingerer will stay put for several moments thereafter, shifting his weight from the right foot to the left in almost Tai Chi-like fashion, ready to depart should the conversation have genuinely concluded, but primed to shift his body weight forward should the talking resume.

In this particular instance, it would seem the conversation is at an end. Smoky has taken a phone call, and while The Lingerer continues to stand there, perhaps hoping the call will soon end, thus providing the opportunity for discussing the contents of said call, it appears to be turning into a rather drawn-out exchange.

The Lingerer casts his eyes about, seeking out someone with whom he can engage in some protracted time-wasting.

Your eyes meet.

Hell, you’re free. You’ve never even talked to The Lingerer. It might be kind of fun to chat with him for a bit.

He turns on his heels and heads across the room toward accounting.