I tasted death today.

It was fairly innocent. My brother Ed and I had just bagged the second peak on the ridge, named Monte Cristo, which was knife edged at all sides but our route up. We couldn’t sit on the peak because of the dreadful flies that seemed drawn to the pinnacle, but we found a nice place on the ridge between both of the peaks to eat lunch. Between Mount Superior and Monte Cristo you get a fabulous view of Alta and Snowbird, to the point where my brother was pointing out all the ski and snowboard runs he’d done, and ones he wish he could do at Alta, even though he was a snowboarder who wasn’t allowed in. We decided to start back, as we didn’t have a whole lot of water.

Coming up to Mount Superior, we decided to not climb it and just traverse around, as we only needed to make it to the continuation of the ridge. We ended up on a path leading into a ravine, with no obvious exit other than down. It was either climb down with no ropes or helmets, or walk quite a ways around then up to the peak, something neither of us really wanted to do. I made the decision to continue, Ed wasn’t going to make it for the both of us. We could have turned around, probably should have, and in the end I wish we did.

It was a series of steep inclined steps, leading down in a staggered side to side fashion for a couple hundred feet. On either side were some decent hand holds, but footholds were lacking in any consistency. Everywhere, on every nice piece of rock, were little chunks of rubble that had fallen down the ravine from the peak above. Once we had committed to the descent, it dawned on me why I felt déjà vu.

Last summer my best friend Justin came out to visit me for a month in Utah. My family had just moved there a month previous, so I was all giddy about exploring the mountains. Justin, my littlest brother Monty (age 12) and I left early one morning to go climb a mountain. We picked a moderate one, one with a view, maybe 8 miles round trip with a couple thousand feet vertical. Getting on top was easy, but we decided to go a different way down. We must have dropped five hundred feet on scree fields that were so loose we couldn’t go back up. It could have occurred to me I was going exploring with my little brother and my friend who had never really been climbing before, but it didn’t. Our options of descent ran out when we found ourselves on top of a cliff. A single sinuous ravine stared at us as the only option other than hours upon hours of toiling to climb back up the scree field.

I told them to wait as I scouted, and I went down what I thought was about a quarter of the way. It was steep, but had handholds and was narrow enough to cross with relative ease. I stood at the bottom as Justin, with surprising ability, climbed down the series of rubble covered angle steps. Monty started down clumsily, and every moved knocked multiple rocks down that accelerated to high speeds by the time they reached me. In the absence of a helmet or a place to avoid it, I resorted to using my backpack to deflect the fist sized rocks. No amount of coaching would convince Monty to do anything different than what he thought was right. Every move was a goof, and I couldn’t get him to see his carelessness wasn’t safe for any of us. I continued down the ravine and saw it didn’t get any easier. The layout was a chute ending in a shear cliff. At the end of the chute there was a small climbing route to the side making the ravine route still doable. Monty knocked another rock down, and it narrowly missed my head. He had nearly slipped. I looked at the cliff again, and watched the rock fly off into the void below the chute. A slip that ended in a slide down the chute would result in death by twenty five foot fall onto jagged rocks.

The point when I realized this was the single scariest and depressing point of my entire life. I felt like I had single handedly brought my best friend and my youngest brother into a life endangering situation that only I was able to safely get out of, and for the sole reason of wanting to explore. I thought of sprinting down the mountain to the town in the valley, screaming for someone with a cell phone so that they could wake Monty up from his eye-open stare at the bottom of the ravine after slipping. I thought of the phone call to Justin’s parents, who were planning to let me stay at their house when I got back to Pittsburgh, and that I would have to tell them Justin wouldn’t be able to ski anymore, because he was paralyzed from the neck down, the result of breaking his back on those horrible jagged rocks.

I don’t know if they knew I was as scared as I was. I continued to direct them down the ravine, explaining moves to make, chiding Monty for standing up on such a slippery slope. We made it down the mountain in one piece, although ironically Monty slipped on some rocks near the flat section at the bottom next to the trail, scrapping his leg enough to make it bleed. I didn’t explain to my dad how scared I was, because he is an expert mountain climber, and I subconsciously wanted to impress him with my ability to not get fucked up on a simple day hike.

Back to today. When it occurred to me what I was remembering, I stopped climbing to watch Ed climb. Ed is a good climber, probably equal to me, but as we descended he kept kicking rocks down accidentally. As I looked up, I noticed two men standing on the peak watching us. One yelled down “You guys all right?” It occurred to me then I wasn’t the only one who noticed that we weren't skilled enough to descend safely. I yelled back “Yeah, thanks for asking!” He replied to his buddy in a voice I could still hear, “I don’t think there’s anything we could do for them anyway.”

Ed hadn’t been paying attention, and was doing a move along the edge when he knocked some rocks down again. One rock was so big it started a mini-rockslide, taking a couple hundred pounds of mountainside pummeling down into the valley. We edged our way slowly down the ravine, scouting for safe ways out of an unsafe situation. It took us a long time to finally get back on the normal trail, and exhausted, we collapsed into the shade of a tree along the ridge.

They say you should do something every day that scares you. Endangering your brother’s life shouldn’t be it.

Mountain Fall Kills Former Publisher
On September 4th, Daniel Rector fell nearly 200 feet to his death off of the approach to Monte Cristo, a 11,132 foot peak. He was an experienced climber and died of massive head injuries.

He took the same route we did.

I got up and took a quick shower. Didn't shave, didn't eat. Jumped in the car to go to an early morning board of directors meeting for the only club I belong to. Saturday morning is probably my favorite time of the week, the start of what is usually two days of doing whatever you want. But I was going to be a few minutes late since I waited until the last possible moment to get out of bed. I was elected to this lofty position at one of our regular club meetings when I was absent. The by-laws state that if you miss three or more board meetings you are off the board. Fat chance.

As Groucho Marx once said," I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member." My sentiments are the same. I was once a member of the K of C but it wasn't much more than a glorified drinking club. This club is an amateur radio club and I've found that just about all of them are brighter than me. But there is just as much infighting and conflicts as you would find among the women at a church supper. We have our meetings in the banquet room at one of the local restaurants. One of the highlights of the meeting is the breakfast. We always order breakfast at the start of the meeting and eventually have to take a break to feed our faces. We rehashed all the old news which became new news and then old news again. I was paying my bill a couple hours later and the waitress joked about how long winded some of them are. I think she likes me.

When I got home I took my son over to his friend's house and my wife and I went to pick up my dad's truck which I've been driving off and on. I have big plans for the weekend. I'm going to get a hell of a lot done (as soon as I make another cup of coffee). I say that every weekend. The road to nirvanna is paved with Seaglass. My wife skipped out to get some stuff on sale at K-Mart (K-Martha) and I jumped on the computer. Hey Ho, Let's Go.

I haven't daylogged in a long time. When I do, I tend to write (what other people find to be) dull, factually-based accounts of what I spent the day doing. Today is different, for no specific reason. It's tired and I'm late, and I'm cataloguing my thoughts.

I will never be one of Everything's Best Users. I will certainly not be one of Everything's Nicest, or Most Popular Users, because I'm not that sort of person. I write short nodes, mostly non-copyight material I thought we 'needed'. Back when I didn't believe that writeup does not mean reply, I wrote a lot of longer, original write-ups, explaining my views and ideas on things. The bar has been raised, and that kind of writing doesn't cut it any more. I feel like a wimp, because I can't work up the physical and mental energy to write nodes that I feel should go 'over the bar'. I didn't do the E2 user survey, even though I felt strongly about some of its themes. I'm a lazy user, in short. And I'm still just as opinionated, just as full of unformed ideas, just as unoriginal and jusr as likely to get out of bed on the wrong side and be an arrogant git, as I ever was.

But I like it here. I like the noders. Most of you are better people than I will ever be, and I like you.

I've recently recovered from a mild depression. I'd hoped that this would lead to more inspired noding, but so far I remain as slack and lifeless as before. My good intentions go to waste. And every now and then I piss someone off. Sorry.

I am, in some respects, an example of where you could get to before they raised the bar. For reference, the honour roll system, of which I highly approve, will make no difference to my level. Let the race be to the swift.

So the news finally got back to me. The ex is seeing someone new. Well, I don't know if they're seeing one another, but I know enough. This is one of those things I wish I could unlearn.

My initial reaction was pure shock. I don't know why. I thought I had already resigned to this fact. I cringed. I shivered. Why him? I remember the ex, who had had relations with this person just before meeting me, complaining of his personal hygiene and various other things. I felt physically sick picturing them embrace, his sweaty, meaty face pressed against hers.

I had just seen her tonight, too. I went to a party, and I only half-figured she'd show up there. In a way, I wanted her to, because I felt like I could just shoot the breeze with her. Another part of me feared it because I can't help but see that she's rapidly turning into someone I don't know. Just when it seemed like she wouldn't be, she did. When I saw her, I froze up and choked out a meek, "Hello". I instantly felt like I had blown it.

Now, after learning this, I don't even want to see her face. All I'll be able to do is picture them together, saying and doing things to one another that only we used to do.

It also kills me how fast she moved on. Just shy of two and a half years we dated. And now, two days away from what would've been officially two and half years, I learn this. I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt, but I know this will be the last time I feel this stabbing in my ribs. Because now I have the proof to extinguish the last hope of getting back what went away.

It's really crazy to see now how a part of me still thought we would just end up back together. It really freaks me out how well one can lie to themself.

To quote Trent Reznor:

"Nothing can stop me now cuz I don't care anymore."

I was riding my bike to kung fu grilling when the tube blew up.

I'd noticed that the tire was starting to lose air earlier that day on my way back from the co-op. This was not a big deal; bike tires periodically need more air, so I went to the gas station down the street from my house and filled the tire. As I was pedalling down the street, something about my bike felt funny, like I was losing air again, like I had another slow leak, but it didn't seem to be significant so I didn't stop.

When I got up to 25th, I stopped for a moment before turning the corner, and in the moment that I was stopped, there was a huge bang and my rear tire went flat under me. The neighbors came out of their house at the noise; they thought that local kids were setting off bottle rockets again. No, I explained, it was just my bike blowing up.

I chained my bike to the nearest post and walked down to my friend's place. I told him and another friend what had happened, and he said he had a repair kit, which he went to get. I went to get my bike.

Moving my bike was a bit of a trick since it was the rear wheel that was blown out, and it's a woman's bike, so I couldn't put the crossbar on my shoulder and just carry it. I ended up holding the frame and back wheel in one hand and the handlebars in the other and wheeling it down the street like that.

We took the tire off the bike. We in that sentence is mostly my friend, with me figuring out how to detach the little three-speed thing. We took the tire off the bike with the intention of patching the tube and possibly the tire if necessary, and found out that in no way was that going to happen. Whatever had caused the tube to blow up had torn a 6 inch gash in it. The tube was toast. We set the bike on the ground and went on with the evening, which involved grilling, Invader Zim, and wisecracks about exes and flavoring the food by burning the tube.

Two other friends helped me get my bike in its various pieces home again. I'm going to need a new tube, which, like filling up bike tires periodically, is a fact of bicycle ownership: sometimes tubes just explode and you have to get new ones.

out and about

weill in japan: day 11

Today was quite a busy day. I met up with a fellow student to do some shopping, went out to dinner with my host father, and managed to get some laundry done before passing out for the night.

toys, part 2

At about 10:00 in the morning, I met up with Justin, a student from Tennessee who I met at registration more than a week earlier. We took the train to Akihabara, Japan's "Electric Town," which I had visited for the first time a week earlier. Justin was as ecstatic as I was upon entering the Akidepa (Akihabara Department Store) before even leaving the station, particularly because he understands what all those rows and rows of comic books actually are.

One thing that I didn't notice last time: Akihabara has a booming trade in used games. By "used games" I don't just mean old PlayStation discs; there were stores that had heaps of old Famicom games, actual Famicom and Super Famicom systems for sale, and even more obscure systems like the PC Engine, 3DO, Virtual Boy, and 32X. We were both floored by the masses of games available, and some have apparently been elevated to the status of "collectibles." One store had a few games from Nintendo's first portable system, the Game & Watch. These games feature simple LCD screens with characters in various positions, accompanied by simple beeps to indicate game actions. Primitive to say the least, but these games started Nintendo's dominance of the handheld market from as early as 1980. Here, these unsophisticated gizmos were on sale for over ¥24,000 ($200) and climbing. I'll have to see if any of my friends still have their old games.

Lunch was at a small and surprisingly quiet noodle shop right on the outside of the shopping mayhem. Over udon and tempura, Justin and I discussed what plans we have for the future. I don't care where I end up, as long as I get a job; Justin has developed a fixation on Japan to the point where he wants to end up in this country. I have a couple of cousins who developed the same infatuation with Europe: after college, they both spent a lot of time traveling around the continent, staying in hostels and teaching English to make money. It's not an experience for everyone, obviously, but it sounds fascinating to say the least.

One side effect of becoming obsessed with a country is that the initial euphoria can lead to some problems. Every place has its upsides and downsides. Japan has an enormous consumer goods market, but a crippling economic depression and a rigorous structure of gift-giving rules. While foreign investment since World War II has enabled a miraculous economic boost over the last 40 years as a whole, many residents are still not accustomed to foreigners' presence in the country. America is far from perfect as well, but one should be cautious to just throw away all of their ideals to start life anew overseas.

As for the toys, Justin found a Beatmania II DX controller and a game to go with it; and I was able to get him the same deal that I got on an electronic dictionary. I picked up a SwanCrystal, the newest version of Bandai's WonderSwan system; Final Fantasy IV in Japanese for the SwanCrystal; and the puzzle/action game Kuru Kuru Kururin for my Game Boy Advance. I think I've spent enough cash on myself on this trip so far, having bought virtually no souvenirs or gifts for others.

walk this way

Japan, like a few other countries, drives on the left side of the road. In residential and small commercial areas, roads are so small that cars can barely pass each other safely. For pedestrians and bicyclists, the roads of Japan are a truly dangerous place. The police box nearest to my home lists the number of deaths and injuries caused by traffic accidents within its jurisdiction in the last day. On Friday, there were one death and 315 injuries. Many of those injuries were likely caused by a car striking a bicycle or pedestrian.

Knowing where to walk is very complicated, because of the left-side driving and the large amount of pedestrian and bike traffic. Generally speaking, the rule is to walk with traffic, so I try to stay to the left. Sometimes, particularly in train stations, the trend is to stay to the right; I don't understand why that is. The point is to stay vigilant, as a wayward bicycle could cause an injury in an instant. Already, I've seen a few near-misses. A collision would ruin anyone's day.


Because of that whole atomic bomb thing, some Japanese people harbor bad feelings towards Americans. This is mostly demonstrated in smaller towns with older, exclusively Japanese populations. Japan has had a history of being isolationist, with no Western visitors allowed in until the 19th century. Foreigners, literally gaigokujin, are often referred to as the contracted "gaijin." This term is not typically used as an insult, but it is used to single out foreigners. Some students have heard it at the supermarket directed towards them. I haven't heard the word to my face, but I have seen the ramifications of being a foreigner.

At the pre-departure orientation, students going abroad were urged to blend in to their cultures, without looking or acting overly American. I think that those instructions were directed chiefly towards white students visiting Europe or Chinese students visiting China, for example, because I can't look any more or less American without expensive plastic surgery here. Everywhere I go, I am an American. In Japan, kids look curiously in my direction, having possibly never seen an American in the flesh before. Most people on the street walk by without incident; I was pleased to see one elderly gentleman smile and nod at me near my home. At the restaurant where I went for lunch yesterday, my American friend and I were given a simplified pictoral menu with names written as to be readable by Westerners. Then I went out to dinner with my father at a yakitori and unagi shop near Ogikubo train station.

First off, I was absolutely impressed with the quantity and quality of the food at this restaurant, which serves all sorts of meat and vegetables cooked on large grills and skewered for easy purchase and consumption. The drink of choice is beer by the pint. Both of us were surprised to be directed to the second floor, as neither of us were even aware that such a small place had a second floor to begin with. A charming waitress greeted us and directed us to a table on a tatami mat, where we take our shoes off and sit on cushions at a low table. The waitress first looked at me and asked, "Tatami wa daijoubu desu ka?" (Are you OK with tatami mats?) I replied that I was, but knew that I had just seen my first Bad Sign.

Throughout the meal, from when a bowl of edamame (salty soybeans) was brought as an appetizer to when I was eating from my sticks, the waitress was looking at me. Every time I looked back, she turned away, trying to appear nonchalant. This wasn't even the first time that someone was staring at me that day; back at Akihabara station, one gentleman stared at Justin and myself and even threw his crumpled cigarette box at our feet. (Maybe he was trying to hit the garbage can near us, but nobody throws that poorly by accident.) The mood at the restaurant was not hostile, but I could tell that I was unwillingly the center of attention. In a hushed tone of voice, I told my host father what was going on, and he just laughed. Maybe it was just the beer laughing. In any event, the night ended without incident, and we headed for home.

I find it hard to believe that the waitress had never served an American before; hell, there was an American sitting at the bar downstairs when we left! Maybe she was impressed that I was able to eat the food there, as some of my Asian friends back in the U.S. are surprised that I know how to use chopsticks. Still, I don't want to be the center of attention. I want to blend in, impossible as that may be.

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