You've got a Baseball Face

For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter's myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers' dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport's poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.

From John Updike's article "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" in the October 22, 1960 edition The New Yorker.

Incomplete Unrest

I've been feeling, by turns, jubilant and desolate. I think I prefer jubilant.
Let's stick with that for a while.

I'd like to do my friends a few good turns sometime soon. I'm so out of practice with charity, however, that I don't know where to start. Perhaps I'll craft them objects and then present them with those objects. Seems to be traditional 'round these parts.

Talking in Bed
    Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
    Lying together there goes back so far,
    An emblem of two people being honest.

    Yet more and more time passes silently.
    Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
    Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,

    And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
    None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
    At this unique distance from isolation

    It becomes still more difficult to find
    Words at once true and kind,
    Or not untrue and not unkind.

                              -Philip Larkin

When I was searching the internet to find this poem the first thing I happened upon was an essay on its "style", whose first few sentences are the following: "Philip Larkin's 'Talking in Bed' (1964) is a poem about isolation, disillusionment and failure, about the gap between expectations and reality, about the ironies of love in the modern world. It is also about the difficulty of telling the truth and being nice at one and the same time."

This 'analysis' sort of sums up what's wrong with academics in general. What an extraneous, useless recapitulation in poorer words those sentences are. To say it is a poem "about isolation" is almost offensive. The penchant for analyzing and rephrasing things is what I really dislike about the university establishment. It's hell bent on re-production and regurgitation without focusing at all on production. This is, of course, less true in the sciences, as they approach the world almost entirely differently. The whole thing just makes me throw up my hands and yawn a thousand why bothers.

The discursive aspects investigated in the study, based on Halliday's three metafunctions, are images and isotopies - language, love, and nature; lexical sets, cohesive devices, representation of reality (field) and transitivity choices - processes, participants and circumstances; demonstratives, pronoun reference, interpersonal relationships (tenor), deictics and the deictic sub-worlds of the poem.

What a waste. Such INSIGHT.

*** ***

There's something so alluring in the way you've lived your life, so differently from mine. Not that I'd wish to copy it or repeat it, just that I'm fascinated and attracted to it. I want to understand it, and you as well (obviously). Primarily you. I wonder if I could hold your interest in a similar way, or anyone's for that matter. It seems dubious; my assuming posture with my bland choices and my easily known whearabouts. I'm rather uncommonly boring. (But through the democracy of the internet I still assume that I deserve this little soapbox, I still assume that there is sufficient warrant for someone to think of me).

On the verge of
work-weathered hands;
ancient all too early's
just not for me.

*** ***

More Larkin. Stop me when you're sick.

A Life With A Hole In It

    When I throw back my head and howl
    People (women mostly) say
    But you've always done what you want,
    You always get your own way
    — A perfectly vile and foul
    Inversion of all that's been.
    What the old ratbags mean
    Is I've never done what I don't.

    So the shit in the shuttered chateau
    Who does his five hundred words
    Then parts out the rest of the day
    Between bathing and booze and birds
    Is far off as ever, but so
    Is that spectacled schoolteaching sod
    (six kids and the wife in pod,
    And her parents coming to stay)...

    Life is an immobile, locked,
    Three-handed struggle between
    Your wants, the world's for you, and (worse)
    The unbeatable slow machine
    That brings what you'll get. Blocked,
    They strain round a hollow stasis
    Of havings-to, fear, faces.
    Days sift down it constantly. Years.

                                     -Philip Larkin 

I'm worried about how I'll turn out. I don't know if it's justified or not, presumably it is. (Wild mood swings, reckless commitments, etc.). But sure as death, I'll turn out somehow. That's a bit comforting, in it's own way, to know that uncertainty only extends to the coffin and no further. Or at least I don't (can't) care what happens after that. But am I really so entirely uncomfortable with uncertainty. Not all the time anyway. I do like sure things though. I'd like something solid besides my family. (A girl).

An Incomplete Day

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the J.J. Hoys of my life. I suppose they're largely jailed by now.

What would we talk about?
Likely as not nothing, I'd get a shiv in the ribs for my trouble.

So I'm back to my old work-hating self. I have to figure out a way to not work for the rest of my life. I really can't spend my days selling my time for money just so I can eat. That's just insane. I suppose I should find work I like, but what would that be. I can't imagine. I'm so immature in that regard, I'm so of my times. An "individual", a PRIVATE individual at that. What a farce. My ease made possible by the toil of trillions, of course. But my feeling for the ethical realm clearly doesn't extend past intellectual amusement these days. Horribility, &c.

One positive thing I could talk about is all the nice big computer drawings I've been doing. I wouldn't exactly say I'm proud of them, but I do think they're quite nice, and worth something to me. Even if they are only hour-whiling amusements (good ones). I've been thinking about printing them high-quality like and maybe trying to sell them. Who knows how that would go though.


In hindsight, it's kind of interesting (read: painful) that it all ended up being an impossible geometry anyway. Even though I described it as that in that wistful-hopeful-honeyed way that I hate (but use all the time). It really IS impossible, even though I can see all the angles so perfect-clear in my head. Everything ends up being like that part in Silk where they release the thousands of birds from the aviary. But the birds quickly turn on me and peck out my eyes and lungs. "All in a day's work, eh what?"

    "We slowed again,
    And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
    A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
    Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain."

My eyes are always so unfocussed these days on the train. I turn everything off.

Yeah, a dozen weddings got underway the other day and all I could notice was how filthy the brides' fingers were, year-soaked in tobacco and calloused with the loom. That's what you call a metaphor for my cantankerous disposition, friends. Find the gloom in things, latch onto it, force it to fake a smile, then release it back into the wild, allowing it to wreak whatever foul deeds it will on the good-hearted out there.

(Ah resisting the urge to call you).

It disgusts me that when things go sour I turn bitter and nasty. "Is this what I call 'love'!" What a lie I am. I don't even know if I feel these things or not: I feel like an actor almost to the core of me. Histrionics indeed! Oftentimes I try and arouse a feeling in me to convince myself. What's the technical term for that delightful little bit of self-delusion?

I think that if I can feel these things correctly (love, anguish) then I'm less a fraud.

But I also worry that me pretending to feel these things is my way of avoiding actually feeling what I feel and opening up the quick path to my insanity. "On the edge of a precipice," etc.

One of these days I should just allow me to walk around myself and stop closing all the doors to everything. Maybe I'm good somewhere in there. "Just an outline, sketchy but fine, I'll colour me in," some day soon no doubt. I can't keep living my dizzying vacillation between ultra-sincerity and its opposite. Or I assume I can't, my stomach just WON'T handle it. (But maybe I have little faith in my body when it is in fact the only thing that seems to function on my steady diet of desert air and printer's ink).

Deciding never got anyone anywhere.
Sloshing about in here only gets to me at night. In the day I'm an amusing parlour trick unfolding before a sympathetic audience.

It's too bad we can't turn to the virginy bosom of sweet lady Church these days, I mean without being even bigger liars than we already are. These heady days of science and post-colonialism, you know. When are they going to build that bridge across the Bering Strait anyway, and this space elevator is dragging its feet, and Eritrean independance is hardly the news issue it should be, right.

So the war continues on yet another incomplete day for you, my dear faithful nobodies.

An Incomplete Catalogue of My Repellant Aspects

Well, there's no day like today to do a little stock-taking. A list of my failings to follow. My "total knowledge (i.e. what I know)" of myself falls into roughly four categories: Women, Friends, School, "Personality"

Let's start with Women, as they are on my mind more often than not.

As pertains to women my failings are numerous and repetitive. My biggest problem when dealing with the opposite sex is "intensity". Not that I'm an intensely passionate person or anything, but that with me it's either 'on' or 'off'. I either LOVE YOU or you are not on my agenda, or only barely-briskly. This is a failing in two ways. First, because it off-puts most potential girls because they think I'm either kidding or that I'm "too much" (perhaps even a bit of a FAG). Second, and relatedly, its bad because it leads me to avoid girls almost entirely, except those rare few who I think could "DEAL WITH" my clingy-ness.

But when I get past worrying about being too much like myself and actually fall "IN LOVE" with a girl, I end up doing so in one of two ways. I either fool myself into thinking that they love me just as much as I love them and that we'll be 2gether 4ever OR I fool myself into thinking that they can't possibly be IN LOVE with someone like me (in all my wretched disgustitude) and then I get resentful and angry because I think they're constantly placating me for whatever insane reason I've concocted for them. Usually it begins with one and ends with the other.

Another particularly irritating feature of my personality is my constant feeling that I NEED a woman in my life in order to DO anything. I just can't shake that feeling, I mean I do do things when I'm "single" but I just feel a lot more invigorated with the companionship of a woman I love (or believe I love, at least). And, really, invigorated, like livelier and more robust physically and mentally. This feeling usually lasts well past its prime, even into those grim days of breakup makeup that I hate so much and avoid so poorly.

I want to be CHOSEN instead of fallen into.

But enough of women.

So, to Friends.

Friends are, alternately, far simpler and far more complex than WOMEN. Simpler in that no obvious or crippling problems arise with them (almost never) and more complex because the 'problems' that do arise are invariably related far more deeply to basic elements of my personality than the slap-dash grating of minds that happens with (some, not all) Wymyn. What I find chiefly repulsive in my dealings with my friends is my selfishness. I talk a good game about how important my small number of friendships are to me, but when it comes down to it I do very little to maintain their good standing. When I move to a new city, for instance, I've rarely made much effort other than MSN contact to keep in touch with people. And in those surprisingly numerous instances where people do not use the internet or messenger frequently, I all but lose contact with them save the occasional every-six-months whats going on sort of email. Jeremy is a prime example of this. One of my best friends and I almost never talk to him, and sadly enough I think about him all-too rarely as well. I complain incessantly about my loneliness and bla bla bla, but really I do very little to remedy the situation; a little effort would likely go a long way with friends who are willing to meet you three quarters of the way. "I mean, what does it take?"

And now to that empty friendless wasteland that I've poured 8 wasted youthful years of my life into, that festering sore of platitudes and pat-on-the-backism: School. Yes, School.

What chiefly forms a floodtide of barely restrained bile at the back of my throat in connection with "school" has been accurately summarized by one Matthew Furlong:

"I'm talented but I resent even my own capabilities because of my disdain for using them"

All false modesties aside for the briefest second, I am, at least according to the existing standards for measuring these kinds of things, a more than capable 'student'. On paper, I look good. I am indeed 'talented' but in the following way: I'm talented at presenting aspects of other people's thought clearly and revealingly. I'm not talented at 'research' in the real, productive sense. I'm not talented at producing original or engaging thoughts, or in producing insight of any sort of general interest. The things which I am capable of producing are either entirely and uselessly self-referential (i.e., this blog post, the 50 bad poems I produced earlier, my jokes, etc.) or too muddled in the specificities of scholarship to be of any actual value to any one, myself included. So when M. Furlong suggests that I am disdainful and resentful of my own capabilities, it is because my aim is to produce something of value, not something of merely scholarly interest. And I end up hating myself for what little talent I have because it constantly fails up to my own measure. And I end up hating school for it because it allows me to get a free ride to self-loathing and ambitionlessness because I'm so easily able to 'play the game' and so, cowardly, I refuse to leave.

And with that delightfully over-written bit of biliousness, we come to our final subject, my 'personality', the root of all the above failings. In such a minor catalogue as this we can only hope to scratch the surface of 'Mark Burke: An Uncomplicated Failure'. To PERSONALITY!

Let's begin again with some words of wisdom from Matthew Furlong: "You're rigged to find dissatisfaction in everything". This is my ultimate failing. Or at least it seems like it today, I'm sure come tomorrow I'll have become disatisfied with this assessment and found that my preference for banana milkshakes is the real thorn in my side.

I know lately I'm super Larkin-on-the-brain, but I can't help it, I'm reading his letters and they're anchoring my thoughts. I find that whenever I read something I really like, especially something like letters, I end up finding myself in all the parts I like. Larkin is particularly bad for this, because he actually is a lot like me in a lot of ways (or, rather, I'm a lot like HIM in a lot of ways): he thinks too much, he's too negative, he's got no ambitions, his dealings with women are fraught with indecision and self-doubt (and self-loathing) and he, like me, finds the 'greats' (for him: Auden and Lawrence, for me: Larkin and Foucault) so alien in their greatness even while they are to be aspired to. Anyway, so I don't know quite what to think of my admiration for Philip Larkin. He spent his life an unhappy, disconsolate librarian in various towns, notably the provincial backwater Hull. He sent letters to his few friends, he was unsuccessfully engaged, he had unsuccessful affairs, and was generally unable to produce what he wanted or to make a living off what he had produced. And yet, here we have The Whitsun Weddings and The North Ship and whatever else you care to mention. Here we have such perfect jewels of insight, some of the poems are just so crystalline, you see exactly what it is to be a failure for him, for instance (in "To Failure" below). God, if all it takes is a wasted life to produce something like "Talking in bed" well I don't know that it's not worth it. But MY problem (one of them) is that I'm not so insightful (and even though I just compared myself to Larkin, who compared himself unsparingly and unfavourably to Lawrence, I doubt I have it in me to say anything of note). I'm not a poet, but I don't have the drive to be a novelist; I'm not a scholar, but I really don't have the drive in me to be a philosopher either. I'm only nominally a graffiti writer, I'm certainly no artist, and I'm either too pretentious or not pretentious enough to be the kind of architect that I could actually admire. So the difference is that while Larkin lacked the ambition to do anything he didn't want to do, he nevertheless had it figured in his head that he wanted to do something even if he was largely a failure or at least not a significant success at it (i.e., at being a novelist). And I think having SOME ambition, even if you don't achieve it, particularly, can lead you to do something that is worthwhile. Maybe something unexpected.

Actually, I guess my ultimate problem isn't dissatisfaction with everything (how unsurprisingly fickle) it's my inability to foster ambition. It leaves me lying fallow for whole summers and winters, all piled into each other indiscriminate like. I feel like I have SOMETHING in me, but I don't know what it is, or who it's for. How can you encourage ambition? Doesn't it just come upon you like the wind or like a feeling for destiny. That's how I imagine it anyway. I was briefly wracked with desire, but that's passed impassed I should say and now I forget what it's like to need something. I haven't actually forgotten, but that's not ambition, its stubborn refusal and empty selfishness (I think ambition and desire are the same thing I just noticed).

(Can't I just be this hysterical bundle of conflicting thoughts and satisfy the demands of Art? Are we SO conservative!)

But maybe I'm wrong, and all I have in me is this. And this is all there is going to be.

I believe in too many things.

Philip Larkin's "To Failure" sums up the pettiness of my life up to this point.

    You do not come dramatically, with dragons
    That rear up with my life between their paws
    And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
    The horses panicking; nor as a clause
    Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
    What out-of-pocket charges must be borne
    Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
    That's seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.

    It is these sunless afternoons, I find
    Install you at my elbow like a bore
    The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I'm
    Aware the days pass quicker than before,
    Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
    They look like ruin. You have been here some time.

Such undramatic ruin, mine.

Two Presidents

One of the perks of working in downtown Washington, D.C. is the sightseeing. And I’m not necessarily talking about the museums and monuments, although those are nice, too. What I’m really thinking of are the various and repeated sightings of high-level government types and other political celebrities.

Happens all the time. I used to see James Baker, former White House chief of staff and Secretary of State, walking around in my old office at Hogan & Hartson. Seems there’s a Washington office of his Texas law firm, Baker & Botts, and they just couldn’t get him to go back to Texas after Reagan retired. I’ve seen Jack Kemp, former Interior secretary, presidential candidate, and quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, checking his bags at Reagan National Airport.

I’ve seen George Will a lot, oddly enough riding on the Metrorail to God knows where.

But the best sightings of all are, of course, Presidential. I only started working here in 1993, so there have only been two Presidents in office during my entire Washington stay. I’ve seen them both, though, and there’s enough of a story there to make it worth at least a daylog, if not a full node.

It Keeps You Running

Bill Clinton came first, of course. Big surprise. Just ask Hillary or Monica (ha, ha, I kill me sometimes). Anyway, I first met Bill Clinton one morning in Fall 1995, when I was out running on the monument grounds. When I was younger and bolder, I used to run into work rather than commute. It saved time, and kept me looking nice and trim, instead of the chubby hubby that I’ve become.

I was running on the south side of the reflecting pool. If you’ve ever seen Forrest Gump or video of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, you know that this is the shallow pool that sits in front of the Lincoln Memorial, facing the Washington Monument.

As I approached the west end of the pool, I saw a group of five or six men running in my direction. As we narrowed the distance, I could make out Bill Clinton’s head, complete with red baseball cap, surrounded by five very serious looking runners, each with an earpiece in his left ear.

When they were roughly twenty yards away, four of the men broke away and sprinted in my direction. Not knowing what was going on, I was a little distressed at first. But the men soon alleviated my concerns.

“Sir, we apologize, but we’re going to have to ask you to stop for a few minutes as the President runs by.”

I stopped running immediately, and told them “No problem.”

The four men surrounded me, standing no more than six inches away as the President, accompanied by the fifth agent, passed me. He smiled and waved, and said

“Good morning. Nice day for a run, isn’t it?”

I rather wisely chose not to raise my hand to wave back, but I did say “Yes, sir, it’s a fine day. Have a good run.”

Once Clinton had gotten maybe twenty or thirty yards away, the agents thanked me, apologized for any inconvenience, and sprinted off to rejoin the Presidential pack. Interestingly, I was never frisked, never touched, never restrained in any way, other than by the close proximity of the agents. Make no mistake. I knew that if I made one wrong move, they would have me down on the ground in a split second. But they didn’t use force unnecessarily.

Bush’s Posse

A decade later, my experiences with Baby Bush couldn’t have been more different. My present office looks out over the west entrance to the White House, so sometimes when I’m walking to lunch, I pass by the White House road barrier and security station. If Bush is leaving, uniformed officers stop foot and vehicle traffic for at least ten minutes before he drives off.

The contrast couldn’t be greater. Where Clinton’s men were courteous and polite, Bush’s uniformed guards go out of their way to be rude, even to tourist families with women and children. Where Clinton was accessible, out with the people, Bush is hidden behind tinted, bulletproof glass, heavy car armor, and dozens of agents willing to kill any American citizen who gets in their way in order to save the President. And where Clinton honestly acted as though he would stop and shoot the breeze with me, if he had the time, Bush looks like he couldn’t be bothered.

I couldn’t help but think that each President's public demeanor was a product of, and strongly reflected, the tone of his Presidency. Sure, Clinton may have gotten a blowjob in the Oval Office. So did JFK. And I’d rather have a President who did that –- and who acted as though he truly loved and cared for the American people -– than a President who, for all the world, looks and acts as though he wants to be a Roman emperor.

Next day

An explanation may be in order.

For the past two months and a few days, I lived with a Japanese host family in a small harbor city called Hakodate on the coast of the northernmost Japanese island, Hokkaido. During that time, I studied the Japanese language through a program by an organization called the Hokkaido International Foundation.

While studying, I also took to writing about my experiences in Japan on a semi-daily basis. After a long day of zig-zagging around various obstacles of culture and language (occasionally crashing headlong into them), I found it extremely relaxing to sit down and type out everything on my mind in a language I could actually speak for an hour or so. And by 'extremely relaxing,' I mean 'absolutely essential to maintaining my sanity.'

I posted these ruminations to my Livejournal, like the emo kid I am, and friends followed along enthusiastically with comments and e-mails of encouragement. Among these friends, a noder suggested that this material might do well on E2 as daylogs.

I agreed, but at the time I only had enough access to the internet to post my livejournal and catch up on a few blogs and news sites. Reformating for E2 would've stretched my limited time on the internet too thin.

A couple days ago, however, I arrived home safe and sound to a hearty ethernet connection and my own computer, so I've decided to repost my misadventures in Japan to E2. I'll be posting them as daylogs, though the dates obviously mismatch. Hopefully they'll be of some entertainment. And now, on to the first post!

I'm Not Dead Yet!

...I just haven't had an internet connection until now.

To start, the twelve hour flight was not as excruciatingly dull as I expected, but it still dragged on a bit. I tidied off every article in the Economist save the ones in the complex economics section and dug into a couple stories from James Joyce's Dubliners before I resorted to the in-flight showing of CSI: New York and what I'd brought on my iPod to entertain me. I didn't get much sleep, in contrast to what I’d planned, but I managed not to mangle my back sitting in weird positions in the oh-so-comfy coach class seats, so it was a fair trade-off.

When we finally reached Japan, my first impression was of how enormous Tokyo is. Chicago, my adopted hometown, is impressive from the air, but with only twenty-five million in the metropolitan area, you can see it trailing off into suburbs from sufficient height. Tokyo is a different matter entirely. It just sprawls completely out of view, houses and factories packed so tight they look like they're sucking their breath in just to fit, suburbs nowhere to be seen.

As we came closer to Narita, other signs immediately suggested We're Not In Kansas Anymore, or anywhere in the continental US, for that matter. There were farms around the Narita airport, but they weren't growing corn or wheat or other American staples. Instead, they shimmered from the air, reflecting the sunlight. Rice. And the houses tending these plots looked straight-out different from American farmhouses. Obviously, I was expecting Japan to look different, but I'd been girding myself for the possible disappointment that Japan wouldn't be all that different from the US at all. No need. From surface appearances alone, you could immediately tell that nothing of this scene would fit in anywhere at home.

As we landed, the first sign I saw in Japanese also had a helpful English translation. Some farmer right next to the runway had erected a huge billboard in allcaps announcing, "DOWN WITH THE NARITA AIRPORT!!!" Welcome to Japan. Disembarking was uneventful, if slow. The plane was packed with travelers, mostly Chinese-Americans transferring from Tokyo to Taiwan or the mainland, so it took awhile to get everyone off. The pilots, the flight attendants, and even the mechanics all bowed to us as we passed and rattled off rapid fire strings of "arigatou gozaimashita" at us in that peculiar sing-song intonation that signals deference in this language. I bowed back, bobbing like a duck until I made it to the lobby.

Customs involved filling out a card explaining what I was doing, noting that I wouldn't be there long enough to need a visa, and adding some clarification in broken, awkward Japanese to the customs agent. Fairly relaxed. My baggage came quickly and looked undamaged, so I was more or less satisfied.

Streaming into the terminal, I couldn't see the travel agent HIF students were supposed to meet with, so I wandered toward the exchange counter. An old Japanese man with white gloves directed me to fill out a little card. The card asked me for my address in Japan, something I'd forgotten and neglected to write down somewhere I could get to quickly, so I nixed the exchange plan and opted for a CitiBank ATM right next to the exchange counter instead. Eventually, I wandered into the travel agent, registered myself, and met up with my friend Lauren so we could talk in perhaps-more-rapid-than-usual English about the very little of Japan we'd experienced so far.

The travel agent spoke no English, but she made a valiant effort to entertain us along the half hour bus ride anyway, launching into various unexpected narratives over the bus speaker system about landmarks we were passing. She spoke too quickly and with too many unfamiliar words for me to understand what she was saying, but I know there was something about Tokyo Disneyland in there somewhere. We arrived at the hotel in the evening, moderately jetlagged but more hungry than tired, so Lauren, myself, and another HIF student we'd made friends with named Robert decided to set out into the Tokyo neighborhood to find food.

Our little section of Tokyo, I think it was called Ohmori, was a village. It was a jampacked, busy, beautiful little village in the middle of the biggest city on Earth with legobrick apartment buildings and shops and restaurants and konbinis everywhere. Everything here is so compact. It's extraordinary. Lauren smoked a long-delayed cigarette while we looked around for somewhere to eat and we passed a little store where a single middle aged woman was standing on a platform, wearing a full-out kimono. I stopped and stared in typically shell shocked gaijin fashion for a moment, she noticed me, smiled and waved. A huge grin spread over my face and I waved back.

We briefly considered stopping in to what looked like the Japanese equivalent of Denny's, where the young waitstaff in elementary school color uniforms probably spoke a little English, but instead we opted for a teensy little restaurant with a sliding paper door and those blue curtains that hang half-way down. As we walked in, the woman who took orders and a young man who looked like her son doing the cooking yelled out, "Irasshaimase!" The three of us took a seat at the counter, which was only about six seats long, and looked around for a menu. All the selections were written on yellow streamers that hung from the ceiling, scrawled in fluid kanji that none of us could make out. So that evening's meal was going to turn out an adventure.

The woman spoke no English, and our Japanese cuisine vocabulary wasn't exactly up to snuff, but between the three of us we managed to politely order something or other. While we waited, the woman poured us barley tea and offered us a free appetizer. It was soy marinated vegetables and pork with some kind of spicing. We insisted it was delicious in our limited Japanese. While we ate, a stream of blue-collar Japanese workers crowded into the restaurant until there were no more seats left, yelling out their orders as they did and conversing with each other roughly, interspersed with laughter. No one stared or paid us any much mind at all. It was absolutely wonderful.

After dinner, we bought some cheap wine at a konbini, drank for a while back in our hotel rooms, and finally crashed. Unfortunately, jetlag intervened and I woke up at 3:00am, unable to drift off again. With nothing to do until breakfast at 4:30 (we had an early flight out of Tokyo to Hakodate), I dressed and left the hotel to wander the neighborhood a bit.

Everything was so still. Taxis were parked all along the curb with their drivers napping in leaned-back seats. I passed a bar where I could hear a drunken Japanese man singing karaoke even at this hour. I sat down on a bench in a park next to one of the high-speed trainlines and just reviewed memories for a while. Eventually, it was time to eat "western-style." (french fries for breakfast? uh, if you say so.) Lauren and I swapped plans with Robert until our bus arrived to take us to Haneda Airport. From there on, the whole deal really kicked off.

Next up, my crazy awesome host family and how crazy awesome they are.

Hello E2,

How are you doing? It's nice to talk to you again. Yes, I know you don't recognize me. Last time we talked I had a different name with only a few nodes under my belt. The nodes were good, but I didn't like my name, so I made a new one. I hope you're not offended. I'm not going to make the traditional excuses that I "haven't had the time" to talk or that I've been "busy lately". I might have been somewhat busy, but I certainly could have spared some time by holding up on some of my other, less constructive activities. It's just that, at the time, I felt I couldn't hold a constructive conversation with you. I simply didn't have it in me, just didn't...feel it, you know?

You are a fantastic listener and will lend an ear to anyone who has anything to say. By this description, you are just like the rest of the internet. But you are different. You are more than that. And you deserve better. You deserve better than a couple random sentences thrown together in five minutes which lack any real thought or intent behind them. Right now, I feel I can deliver. Right now, I think I'm ready to start talking again.

Second day on the job. Things are a bit stressful, as should be expected. Having moved in less than a week ago, I am far from rooted in. Still got to visit the DMV. Still got to get a local phone number. Still got to get my own internet connection. At least I now have a kitchen table (sitting on the floor holding my hot hot dinner was starting to get uncomfortable).

The job has been a bit frustrating so far. Being a newcomer, I haven't yet any work to do. That alone makes me uptight. Without anything for my mind to crunch, I get upset, nervous. I start crunching things that don't need to be crunched and I end up just hurting my teeth. On top of that, people seem to act so strange, so awkward. It's absolutely PAINFUL. You know those kind of conversations that your mom and grandmom have over the check after eating out?

"I'll pay."
"No, let me."
"Mom, I have the money."
"No dear, I can cover it."


There are a lot of "conversations" like that at the workplace, but without the undertone of family familiarity. It makes me want to scream! People seem so AFRAID of each other. Afraid that they will somehow offend someone. Do you know what I mean, E2? This could just be part of the "warped glass" view I get of the world, the tinted and warped view we all experience that is shaped by our own unique pasts. But I don't think it's me this time.

And, of course, being a company that contracts out Uncle Sam, job security is high, so no one really has the motivation that comes out of the fear of losing their jobs. Therefore, execution times, at least appear to be, somewhat slow.

Because of this, you know what I did all day? I sat in my cube, with nothing to crunch. I ended up taking the initiative to get my car tag and my security badge myself, but that only kept me crunching for about a half hour (and that includes the time I spent wandering the unfamiliar cubical mazes).

On top of that, I was forgotten about. Ahh, lovely. See, Fridays are apparently "Taco Bell" days, so I was told by my boss that he would let me know when my team would go out to get Amer-Mexican food. I waited until 1:30 to stop by his office and ask when we'd be leaving:

"Oh sorry, I was just at a long meeting and decided not to have lunch. I should have had someone tell you when they were leaving."

Then, it was more awkwardness, because he really was sorry and he really wasn't sure what to do.

Him, Another Guy, and I ended up going to Subway together in Another Guy's pretty sweet convertible sports car. More awkwardness as to who gets shotgun. Of course, I would have preferred that he take the co-pilot's chair, since, you know, he's my superior and all, but he ended up taking the initiative to sit in the cramped back seat himself. I made a joke about it, just to show him that I knew where the lines of authority were drawn. More mind crunching. I'm probably making this more complicated than it actually was.

Lunch itself was alright:

Another Guy: "Do you want to eat here?"
Boss: makes an "ehhh" expression on his face
::short pause::
Boss: "Okay."

We eat, and make small-talk about the area and how I've progressed in terms of moving in. Another Guy has shifty eyes and a voice that trails off at the end of his sentences. My boss doesn't make eye contact much, but not in a negative or angry way.

When we return, I ask if I should just hang tight in my cube. He says yes. More hurting of the teeth. Yes, I have an internet connection, but I'm scared to use it for anything other than BBC News or Slashdot. Being a government building, all traffic is monitored and being a newbie myself, I don't know how strict they are in enforcing the internet surfing rules they laid out for me my first day.

I listened to you a bit, E2, but, as you know, you can be a little "riske" at times. I started with the daylogs which contained content which, if caught by some sort of filter that scans for keywords, could fairly easily label me as a pervert who can't wait for the end of the day to indulge in his adult fantasies. I visited some more neutral, factual nodes after that, just in case.

But I did find some very chewy gum written by a guy named Bart Kosko who has some interesting things to say about science and the big G. I think you'd find him very interesting, E2.

I hope tomorrow will present more opportunities to meet my co-workers and tune myself to the building's rhythm.

Thanks for listening, E2. I'm glad you're here.

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