It's a day, like any other. The cafe is closed, probably until Wednesday night, for remodeling. It's almost sick, how much a creature of habit I really am. I spent most of the day sitting in front of my computer, playing around with Poser and 3D Studio Max, trying to create a decent 3D image of SpiderMan, of all things. I'd been at it pretty much all day long, having woken up at around 10 AM and stopping at around 9 PM. That's far too much time doing, basically, nothing.

I had to get out of the house, if only just to eat. I was out of cigarettes, too, and I was in the mood for coffee. I hopped into the Blazer borrowed from Dad and set out for the cafe, eager to check my email, surf on the 'net, eat, smoke and drink coffee 'till I was jittery. Then it dawned on me: the cafe's closed.

They're redoing the kitchen and bar entirely, ripping out the old and replacing it with something new, perhaps something borrowed, too, like a marriage of reconstruction and deconstruction. "Fuck it," I told myself. "Get some smokey treats, toss a few dollars into a drive-thru window and see if they can use some help. It'll at least be something to do, better than sitting on your ass all night."

And that's exactly what I did.

Sure enough, the place is a mess. Chuck, the owner and the landlord for my own place (I'm a tenant in one of his houses in East Nashville), was standing in the front patio and chatting with a friend of his. The benches which normally rest in front of the tables on the patio were lined up along the sidewalk, like they were waiting to get back inside the cafe sometime when Hell freezes over. Everyone waits in line at Cafe Coco at one point or another, even the seating has to get in line. I find this to be amusing, for some reason. I think it was the mental image of countless regulars, like me, who decided to come to the cafe anyway, only just to sit on benches parked on the sidewalk.

There were no regulars, other than me. I offered to help out with the remodeling, but the job was well in hand. One thing they did need, though, was for someone to stand guard and tell people to, basically, go away and come again some other day. I gladly accepted the task. It was something to do.

I can't begin to express how much I truly enjoy being here alone, with no one to bother or interrupt me. I finally get to come to the cafe and not have some sniveling nit pick my head for advice when all I really want is just to be left alone for a few hours. No distracting laughter, comments, noises, shouts, music... nothing but sheer solitude. The only downside, though, is that there is also no coffee.

While sitting here, reading a book that a friend of mine wrote, a thought stirred within me. A line from the book, "Satan certainly wants me badly enough, while Jesus hasn't lifted a finger to pick me up since I was a kid." I'm not what you would call a subscriber to the Christian philosophy, but the thought that occurred to me is this: Christ doesn't need to make a power play for your soul; He already has it. "Satan", however, is on this world and has a limited chance at turning you away from God. If "Satan" fails in his endeavors to turn you, and you die still in God's graces, then you have nothing to worry about.

I dunno... it was just a thought that seemed kinda relevant at the time. Good / Evil. What's all the hubbub about? If you want to be good, then be good. If not, then why worry about guilt?... unless the guilt is inspired by a significant portion of your conscience which truly wants to remain good.

Guilt is such a strange thing to me. It doesn't really serve a purpose except to make people feel bad. Why curry the favor of guilty thoughts? The whole religio-polical thing aside, if you follow your conscience and consult with it from time to time, how can guilt possibly come into play? Do I regret things I've done in the past? Honestly? No. I rather like myself as I am, today, and I wouldn't be who I am if not for all my little (and big) fuckups. Guilt has no place in my life, no more so than the distracting voices of other people when I'm trying to write.

I am alone in a sea of people; I am alone in a cacophany of voices. I don't feel guilty about that one, tiny bit.

Go away. We're closed. Ciao.

Another passing thought: Does Nate ever sit back and watch E2, smiling with pride in his creation, knowing that there are people out there, somewhere, who are putting to good use the thing he toils over so arduously?

It's 7:25 in the morning, and I am dressed in what is just above the line of acceptability. These days I stumble down the stairs before another monotonous day at work begins, in search of something quick to fill my tummy, hair wet and in tangles, clinging to my neck. If my stairs didn't wind the way they do, or if carpet burn just didn't exist I'd likely just lie down flat on my back against the stairs and let gravity do the rest. I'd feel the edge of each step press against each knot in my spine and probably like it, as tired and sleepy as I'd be. I'd be happy just to be lying down. This is how every morning starts.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I turn right, towards the kitchen and proceed to toss around a couple of waffles, stuffing them in the toaster, making sure that they come out still a little cold. I like them like that. My mother's always telling me to set the toaster to 5, but I argue that it damn near burns my Eggos. I can't have my Eggos burnt. It makes me edgy, having to crunch into my Eggos. I always look to the same spot in the kitchen, though, as I'm blindly buttering my breakfast. I've always, in the back of my lethargic before-9-AM mind, wondered why it is this spot that attracts my glazed gaze, as it is not straight ahead of me or in another spot my neck would naturally turn towards. It is more than a 90-degree angle, where my eyes are drawn.

It is unusually quiet in the mornings. It's been quiet like this for over a year, but only lately have I thought about what makes it so. The missing white noise is the happy, chipper morning sounds of my cockatiel Sam, preening, drinking, stretching her wings. Her cage stood against the wall where my eyes now involuntarily find empty space.

She was a good girl, and in fact, her death makes me laugh a bit, though not in a vengeful cackling way that I might laugh, say, over a mosquito I had killed that was trying to infect me with the West Nile Virus. We'd always had a good relationship, and if I should have died that day instead of her, I'd expect nothing less than for her to crap on my forehead. If she were human, we'd have competed for guys, we'd have competed for clothes, and who'd get shotgun.

Anyway, the day started off buzz-buzz-buzzing with excitement. It was my graduation day, and I had spent the greater part of the night before memorizing my lines. My friend and I were to represent the Music Department. We were even elected to do the job by our peers, something which still baffles me. On and off during the day, I'd answer questions using bits of my speech, shaking off the confused looks I received in return. My grandparents flew in a couple of days before, and they'd been up since 5 straightening up our house as if it were theirs. After running a few errands, the time had come to put on the black. The outfit underneath the gown would be simple enough. Black shirt, black skirt, black fishnet tights and sensible black shoes. Going to an art school, this was pretty much what we called "concert attire;" black was an essential color in our closets, the music kids and the goths. Going to an art school also allowed for craziness, as far as non-uniformity goes. It was accepted, sort of, and almost expected that someone would wear lime green tennis shoes under their gown and every year there would be two or three with ice blue hair or glittery purple tights. It was Arts Magnet. We were "artsy." I, however, lived under the scrutinizing, watchful eyes of my mother who wouldn't have it, even if I had simply entertained the thought. Yes, I had some bright red tights and pair of ratty black Chucks that would have been perfect for the occasion, but 'would have' was as far as it got.

At the sound of my name, I trotted down the stairs, hoping that everyone would have already used the bathroom so we could just head out the door. One could outgrow their clothes waiting for my grandmother to use the restroom. Her hair never looked curly enough, poofy enough, flat enough, hairy enough. Instead, at the foot of the stairs, my mother stood with a disconcerted look on her face, a face she reserved for difficult bowel movements. "Something's wrong with Sam," she said, "Go look at her." I hurried to her and found her huddled in a corner on the floor of the cage, stiff, eyes half closed as if in mid-blink. She was frozen in a position that signified that a great beast had threatened her eggs, those eggs that she laid every month like a period, but treated like she would soon become the Cockatiel Madonna, hatching from an unfertilized egg the Cockatiel Messiah. Good God, what had she seen, I wondered. It's been a while since I'd seen a puma, or kimodo dragon in the city, much less something that was tall enough to peer down into her cage. She was grotesque, shriveled up and angry-looking. I was immediately saddened, but had little time to think about it, as I had at that moment 20 minutes to push my family out the door, into the car and make it backstage at the symphony hall where high school would officially end. It is downtown and I live a good 15 minutes away.

Word spread to the living room where my grandparents sat and right away my grandmother began the funeral arrangements. She's kidding, I thought, but no such luck. We mysteriously found ourselves gathering together the various items we needed for a proper burial. I gave up the notion of being on time for the line-up when my mother knelt on the small patch of grass we like to call our yard and started digging with her tiny shovel. We are completely unprepared for these kinds of things. If she had not found that thing lying around in our patio, she would have had to dig with a fork and I might have missed the ceremony altogether. Even my mother was beginning to get nervous about the lateness of the hour, but Memau took her time, taking steps toward the hole in the ground as if she were a bride meeting her groom. Step.....together.....step.....together, with the shoebox balanced on her upturned hands like a tray laden with glasses full to their brims with drink. 16 teens had become pregnant somewhere in the world in the time it took Memau to reach the hole. The prayer, which she also delivered, was long and laborious. I could my feel my skin sizzling as I stood in the Texas heat with my eyes squeezed shut, daring myself not to look at my watch. "Amen," I repeated, secretly resenting her, my bird, as she had chosen the worst possible day to die. Who did she think she was, that she could just die and steal my thunder? She was lucky I wasn't getting married that day, or else she would have gone down like Hank, my goldfish.

Since that day, I've wondered why my grandmother was so adamant in giving Sam such a burial. I mean, of course, I wouldn't have done anything else when it comes right down to it, but my uberSouthernBaptist grandmother seemingly wanted to "save" the bird, to make it "right with the Lord." She'd always been hesitant in her answer when asked by my younger cousins whether their deceased pets will be with them in Heaven. She manipulated her answer to be something like "Everything that makes you happy will be there with you, everything you need, and nothing you don't." I attributed her stutter to simply not wanting to hurt their feelings, but now I'm not so sure. I was 18, I didn't need to be spared. She could have told me that there was a separate, special Nymphicus Hollandicus Heaven and I still would have judged for myself if I believed her.

Now, as we all get ready for work simultaneously, I water my bamboo content with the notion that if this one dies, it'll be all my fault.


The mother of one of my best friends died yesterday morning. She'd been fighting breast cancer for over 7 years. During this time, she also raised two children alone--her husband died of a sudden stroke when the oldest child, my friend Katie, was 12; held a fulltime job; underwent genetic studies; took almost every experimental cancer drug known to medicine as they were developed; and ingraned herself in the hearts of all her children's friends as an amazing woman who became a hero or role model to most. This is who she was to those of us who knew her as "Katie's mom". I have the strongest suspicion that among our clan of friends, there will be a large number of young Vickies once we begin to have daughters.

Victoria had a history of breast cancer in her family; nearly all the females and even a good portion of men in the past two generations have come down with it. Her older sister already died of the disease. It wasn't really a suprise that she would get it--just when, and how long she'd survive. But Vickie is one of the bloody stubbornest people I've ever met, and she just put her foot down and REFUSED to die while her children were young. So she lived with cancer, which started as breast cancer, for seven years while it systematically invated every major organ in her body. She lived through treatments that kill most patients--one experimental bout of chemo, she was the only surviving patient from her test group. She lived long enough to see her daughter off to college and through her incredibly rough freshman year to a much more solid, stable one. She saw her son, Nicky, through highschool all save his senior year, when he'd finally settled down and was coping alright. She missed her son being 18 and her daughter 21 by only months, but from 12 and 9 that's a hell of a long time.

She never saw herself as a widow, really, either. She dated enough men until she found the exact right one, married him, and never wanted anyone else. She dated five red-headed Stephens before she married the sixth (although it's only fair to say there were three brunette Roberts in the mix as well). After his death, she dated only enough to satisfy the children clammering for her to so she wouldn't be lonely, but eventually they realized she was not. She always held the belief he was there watching over their family and that she would be with him again when she crossed over as well. This belief was even stronger than one would expect, because his view of the afterlife and hers were different. He was Christian. She was a practicing Orthodox Jew. The children were raised under both religions and never forced to pick either.

She had fought various bouts of chemo over the years, with brief pauses of remission between them. Six months ago she was healthier than she'd been in years. A month ago she was planning to move to New York city in a year, when Nicky graduated. A little over two weeks ago she went in to the doctor and was told previously dead tumors had quadrupled in size in the past month. Just under two weeks ago she still looked healthier than ever, and had hair growing back finally. A week and a half ago she went in to the doctor because she felt very ill--the regrown tumors were in her liver, which had been her last 'clean' organ. Two days later, Wednesday, August 7th, her test results came back and she was told she had about a week left to live. Yesterday, Monday August 12th, she died.

Thank you to everyone who's sent condolences, both to me as a friend, and to her family. Those for which it is relavent to do so, I will pass on. The rest, I will keep and treasure.

a day to regroup

weill in japan: day 42

Milestone: I have been in a Japanese class where pornography was discussed.

The day after our second midterm was spent on less than productive things in class. Half of our time -- the second and third hours -- was spent in the computer lab gathering information for our presentations tomorrow. The first hour was spent, as usual, on discussions about anything and everything. One student broke one of the biggest taboos in Japanese education and mentioned that he visited a store in Akihabara which specializes in products about "hageshii sekkusu." The word hageshii means "violent," and sekkusu is a transliteration of the English word "sex." He also mentioned hentai, literally "pervert" but also known as a name for animated pornography which often includes extreme imagery. I had to explain the meaning of that word to my classmate sitting next to me. She was... surprised. The discussion lasted a surprisingly long time, although people were reluctant to offer too much information. I mentioned that I had seen a pornography vending machine, but I hadn't used it.

After our colorful discussions and our two hours of lab time, hour four consisted of talking with Japanese people about topics related to our presentations. Our only homework assignment is to plan for the presentation tomorrow. Our written report is due Thursday, but I can finish that tomorrow night.

Today was a day of preparation, but no new material is being introduced this close to the end of classes. At the same time, our class continues to lose people. Today, only nine people showed up in the morning, our lowest level to date. The four people who were absent will likely miss the remaining three days and not do the project. If any other people miss the project, it would reflect even more poorly on the teaching staff for this course.

Presentations will likely be informal compared to what I've done in the past. After a semester that culminated in two 25-minute PowerPoint slide shows and two reports that totaled 19 pages in length, tomorrow's ten-minute presentation and subsequent short report are nothing.

My first day of money rationing went well. I went to campus with my ration of ¥1200 ($10.00) plus a few small coins. After selling my extra bus card for ¥300, or about half of its value, I had more than enough money for drinks during the day and a tasty off-campus lunch. I even dropped ¥200 for a game of Taiko no Tatsujin 3, leaving me with just ¥35 remaining. Tomorrow I won't have any extra source of income, but it won't be hard to spend my budget exactly.

It's going to be very hard to pack my suitcase exactly to capacity. I did a trial run with all my clothing. The clothing fits if it's all tightly rolled and packed. Even my laptop case will fit. I will need every last cubic inch of space in all three of my bags, but I am confident that I can pack everything. The only problem will be if I snap a zipper from packing too much.

Just three days of classes remain. My report can be done tomorrow on campus if I bring my laptop. Packing for home will be an experience to remember.

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