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The Hammering Heart

Still beating.

Month

February 2009

The Water-Chugger Bachelor

The two of them sat, scoping out potential mates for Alessandra.

“I don’t know, Leene,” he said. This was short for Leena. “Look at that big thing of water he’s got. Look, he’s chugging it like he’s got a hot tamale lodged in his gullet.”

“How do you chug water?”

“Leene, there are two types of people who chug giant bottles of water that they brought themselves–health nuts, and emotionally unstable nutbags. And does he look like a health nut to you? Look at those chicken-ass legs. He’s got chicken legs.”

“Why do emotionally unstable people chug water?”

“It calms them.”

“Are you just making that up, or did you hear it?”

“Look, even if I hadn’t heard it from like a brilliant spectrum of sources–which I have–it would go without saying.”

Leena scrutinized him quizzically.

“Okay. Imagine, Leena, you’re at your wits’ end. Every day is pain, and the thought of getting up in the morning fills your mouth with bile. It also fills your soul with the spiritual equivalent of bile–grief.”

“Nice analogy,” Leena said.

“Thanks. You know what happens when people start to lose it?”

“They start tinkering with the insides of TVs?”

“Please. There’s nothing insane about my electric window idea. No, the correct answer is that they start looking for remedies. Anything to make them feel any amount better about anything. So they start thinking, ‘What’ve I been slacking on? How can I be a healthier person? Exercise more? Sure, that’d word, except, oops!, I can’t stand exercise, that’s why I don’t do it. Eat more greens? Okay!’ and maybe half of those people start cramming spinach down their yammer-pits whenever they get the chance. The other half say ‘Forget vegetables, they taste awful’ and resort to drinking more water instead.”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

“Do you know how much water people’re suppose to be drinking?”

“Eight to eleven glasses a day.”

“Yeah. That’s a day, Leene. Do you drink that much?”

“No.”

“Me neither. That’s because only looneyfolk are desperate enough to care. Them and health nuts.”

“Have you ever been one of them?”

“Health nut? Sure. I once swam the Baltic.”

“A loon.”

“Well, yeah. You think I get all this info off cereal boxes and such? A few years ago I was loopier than a noose, honey-pie.”

“So a few years ago you would’ve been just as ineligible as Louie McChuggerton over there.”

“Hell yes I would’ve. Leene, you wouldn’t believe it was the same person if you saw me back then. I was always ranting. Silently, or the other kind. I was a walking case of OCD, I tell you. My hair was brown back then too.”

“Wow. So did the carpet match the curtains, if you know what I’m sort of implying?”

“Come on, it was OCD. The spatula I used to flip my read magazines matched the curtains.”

“How ’bout your pubes?”

“OCD.”

“So I guess this guy might be as eligible as you a few years down the line then, huh?”

“Please. Look at those chicken-ass legs.”

Pretty Girls

There are pretty girls everywhere in Japan, even at gas stations in the countryside or at private kindergartens where I work. I attribute this to small serving sizes, fewer magazine genres, the absence of both Ben and Jerry, and enormous batches of oppression baked fresh daily.

There are pretty girls everywhere in Japan, but they are mostly the same girl repeated many times. I saw a girl today and thought to myself, “She’s pretty. She could be in the Japanese equivalent of the L.L. Bean catalog–R.R. Bean.” Then later, ascending the stairs of Kashiwamori Station, I saw a different girl making her way down. She, too, was pretty, I first noted, before also noting that she was, for all intents and purposes, the same girl as the first girl. All her clothes were the same, as was her hair and makeup. There was also something I couldn’t quite make out on her neck, but I believed it to be either a bar code or a smudge of biscotti chocolate.

This was the same staircase that shattered my two front teeth a few months ago.

Lonely in Nagoya!

Went to Nagoya alone today for two reasons: 1) To see the band OGST, who I am recently obsessed with and who rarely play out (it would seem), and 2) because a guy called Rob was having an art show/birthday party at Misfits and he asked me to come and play a few songs, even though we’ve only met twice and barely talked at all both those times.

I was misinformed about where to be and ended up alone for awhile at a completely different bar. I also accidentally bought two train tickets to get there because I’m a complete space case now. I was probably thinking about how I wish my life was a lot different than it is right now, since that’s usually what I’m thinking and it usually distracts me a lot from functioning like a normal human.

A guy showed up by random chance and told me OGST was on at a different bar at that exact moment. I dashed out, onto the train, off the train, and into the right bar, only to find that they were already finished. BUMMER.

The rest of the night I was sort of hauled back and forth between the two bars. I played at the first bar, which was apparently having an open mic night, met a strange American girl who kept assuming things about me, then became strangely flirty and then said “Oh, my boyfriend over there is gonna kill me.”

When I got back to the second bar to play for the guy’s birthday, the guy was just starting a fist fight with another guy. They were both drummers, so there was a lot of hitting. Funny Gregfact: I can’t stand to watch violence, despite all the violence I watch. A guy killing his zombified girlfriend with a chainsaw is all in good fun, but for some reason seeing a fist fight will ruin my whole day.

I waited for awhile as drunk people played drunk songs, then got pulled on to do my set. In spite of all the disappointments of the night, I was pumped and ready to go. I was counting off the first four clicks of “Bondage, Baby” and feeling good about it, when Rob, the birthday boy goes “Wait, hold on Greg. Mind if my buddy steps in and does backup drums for you?” His buddy was the guy he had just been pummeling/pummeled by. He was still bleeding from the eye when he asked me.

Anyway, the drummer kind of ruined my set. He wasn’t grasping the feel of any of my songs. Luckily, nobody seemed to care at that point.

I felt really alienated from everyone the entire night, which granted is due in part to the fact that I was the only one not drinking at all, which is due entirely to the fact that I’m having strange peeing problems and am on antibiotics that may or may not be solving those problems. But I also realized that I feel alienated from just about everyone all the time. The only times I don’t are when I’m at home with friends or family. Megan’s Christmas party was probably the best day I’ve had in months and months. Sometimes it occurs to me that there’ll probably come a time when we can’t all meet like that, or when we’ll never meet again, but that feels kind of wrong, like it’s a mistake. I don’t have confidence that I’ll ever make friends as close as my high school ones (with the exception of a couple college ones), and yet I’m not really talking to anyone from anywhere.

An aside about gas stations, words.

You may never find a people less eager to voice their personal opinions than the Japanese, and I’ve even met a few who claim that contrarily, they have no personal opinions. It’s a quiet and often lonely country full of Billy Bashfuls and Meek Marthas. Sometimes people even squeak, if you lunge at them suddenly.

But if there’s one case in which the Japanese don’t skimp on the gab-gab, it’s in greeting people at a place of business. No matter where you go, if it’s a profit-making enterprise of some sort–and that’s key–you can expect to have the shit greeted out of you by some greet-happy automaton. Greetings in Japanese are delivered in sonkeigo, which is bloody full-on, boot-lickingly polite, and which causes a perfectly decent word of reasonable length like “kue”–the tough guy’s word for “eat(!)”–to morph into a hideous abomination like “doozo omeshiagari-kudasaimase”, which takes countless eons to say completely, and translates to “Please grant me the honorable favor of the eating of the thing, though I am wholly unworthy. Also, might I add that these Birkenstocks taste exquisite.”

Store clerks, waitresses, and bank tellers are required to rattle out these greetings every single time a customer enters, exits, or takes any other type of action. To present an abstract example:

Man: Enters a store
Not one, but every godforsaken employee: Welcome and thank you for the entering of the store, kind sir and/or ma’am!
Man: Pulls out his own chair. Sits.
Server/Bottom-feeding clerk: Your generosity fills me with fear, good sir!
Man: Pulls out a sandwich, takes a bite.
Serve/Bottom-feeding clerk: Please forgive my obscene display of gratitude as I thank you for the eating of the thing.
Man: Leaves without having said a single word in response to any of this completely unwarranted praise.
Everyone: We extend our unending thanks to you, good sir. Your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be no strangers here. Please lean slightly in the direction of our humble and unworthy establishment the next time you should pass by, that your incandescent figure and intoxicating musk might caress our senses once again.

As a result, these jobs have employees streaming out scripts of praise all damn day like it’s some kind of Southern Baptist church.

Presumably due to all of the fainting and comas this has caused, as well as to the complete lack of sincerity behind any of these words, most greetings nowadays are abbreviated into a single, unintelligible spewing of sound, like a deflating balloon possessed by Satan and speaking in tongues. Example:

Guy: Walks into store.
Clerk: WHARRRRBLE-DEE-Hissssss.
Underling clerks: Sssss.

Now, these greetings generally sound the same no matter where you go, with the very notable exception of gas stations. You would think that with the barrier of a windshield separating customers and clerks, they might just dispense with the niceties altogether, but the truth is quite to the contrary. All Japanese gas stations have pump attendants that come at you in twos and threes, screaming as loud as they can so that their voices penetrate the metal and glass shield of your car. They wave you into your spot like air traffic controllers, shouting “Ourai! Ourai! Ourai!” until your car’s gashole is perfectly aligned with the pump. Each customer’s arrival is a celebration of life, like Cinco de Mayo. That’s a great thing, especially in this gray, gray country. But why do they shout “Ourai”? At first I thought it was some kind of Chinese phrase for “Come along now!” but I asked around. I’ve heard the facts, sister. “Ourai”, it turns out, is just them trying and failing hardcore to pronounce the English phrase “All right,” which is an abbreviation for “All right, keep backing up your car,” not for “All right, you can stop.” Why do they use this particular English phrase instead of “Okay,” which they have already thoroughly assimilated into their language?

My theory is that Japanese people just love to use English, as long as they don’t actually have to learn what the words mean or how to use them, kind of like how Americans treat French, or how Taco Bell treats Spanish. In so doing, these foreign words are stolen into the Japanese (and American) consciousness and given completely new purpose. Are these words mistakes? In a sense, yes. Are they “wrong”? Well, yes. In a sense. But arguably, the phrase “Ourai” and the phrase “All right” are simply two different phrases, or at least two different mutations of the same thing. It’s easy to say, “Hey, asshole, that’s not even a word!” Especially if it’s some pouty-faced haircut boy, or some guy trying to order a rubiladĂȘ. But what is a word? Many will tell you it’s anything that’s in “The Dictionary,” as if it’s just the one book. But to those people I urge, unwedge that elongated pole from your anus and give reality a try. When I was a kid, I often heard people in the know complain that “Yo” was not a real word. Imagine my shock when I learned that Yo! MTV Raps was 33.3% lies. Imagine my shock when I watched Yo! MTV Raps. This unreal word proceeded to spend the next twenty years pretending to be real, making appearances in both text and human speech. Most people didn’t even notice its fraudulence. James B. Regular would say something like “Yo, guy!” and Henry R. Examplesworth would think “Oh, my boy-boy Jimmie just used that word that means that thing that I understand.”

Don’t even get me started on the word “Oh”.

Before you knew it, all accusations regarding the non-word had ceased. Does this mean it’s a word now? That’s the only explanation I can think of, considering human beings still find the need to correct each other as frequently as possible. At what point does something go from being a sound with a meaning attached that everybody is aware of, to a word that people accept as part of their language? I don’t know the answer to this, but I’m sure it’s disappointing.

A friend of mine and fellow linguistic spelunker points out, however, that although English has also adopted any number of foreign words into its vocabulary to suit its own needs, in general these words come from languages of a shared origin, namely Latin and/or Greek. Consequently, most of said borrowed words are used in a more-or-less accurate sense, their original meanings preserved. Moreover, the majority of English’s borrowed words come from Latin, German, or French, all of which are languages of academics; you have to go out of your way to study them (or at least, you originally did). The presence of English in Japan, or in the lives of the Japanese, on the other hand, is entirely incidental. the final, mushroom-shaped events of the Pacific War left in their wake a generation of English-speaking G.I.s who inhabited bars, beaches, and bathrooms across Japan, from Okinawa to Yokosuka (or a place that’s further from Okinawa). As a Japanese, you didn’t have to be some decorated literatus to pick up the basic idea of words like “love” or “communication” or “style”; they were used all around you. But “basic” means “semi-impractical” in this case, and what resulted was an understanding for this language–spoken by a wholly resentable pack of invasive water buffalo–that was as fragmented as the Japanese archipelago itself. Sixty years of filtration through various economic conditions and the wavering state of the country’s balls have produced a society of people who almost instinctively find themselves fumbling clumsily with the English language and not knowing why. The final result? Bizarre, linguistic meat monsters like “nau-i” (nowwy), the adjectival form of “now” (e.g., “Those shoes are so nowwy”) (though it is admittedly and ironically out of fashion), and expressions that just completely miss the point.

“You have good style,” in Japanese means you have attractive proportions–long legs, a thin waist, non-bulbous forehead, comparatively fleshless face. “Style,” in other words, refers to the natural, unselected features of your appearance. The meaning is perfectly flipped.

A roller coaster in Japan is called a “jet coaster,” a jet being a rearward-thrusting device used to propel something, and a coaster being an object which moves without propulsion.

“Training pants,” which are, in reality, pseudo-diapers used to “train” kids to take command of their own urine, et al, are, in Japan, comma, what people call track pants. If somebody compliments you, saying “Your style is so good, you’d even look good in training pants,” don’t panic. Just remember to thank them. “Please excuse my obscene display of gratitude as I thank you for the saying of the thing, of which my ears are wholly unworthy.” Or if that’s too wordy, just give ’em a “Yo.”

Afterword: I’m always impressed by the kindness of gas station clerks in the U.S. But a trip to a Japanese gas station is nothing short of luxurious. The dangers of having throngs of employees constantly screaming at a place where they inject gallons upon gallons (sorry, liters) of flammable liquid into machines that turn on by “igniting” notwithstanding, I’d bet hard-earned yen that no other gas stations in the world offer service as considerate or attentive. At the end of each trip, attendants bow self-fellatingly low, guide you back onto the road, and, if need be, will stop traffic. Say what you will about their English; those guys are ourai with me.

#9: Modern Fashion

Well, I only own about six pairs of pants, and most of those aren’t even in regular circulation, so I don’t guess I’m the authority to go to on fashion. But come on. If you hurl a big bucket of puke at a guy walking down the street, he doesn’t have to be some world class food critic to know it’s foul.

Japan often prides itself on its flourishing fashion industry, which the outside world also thoroughly acknowledges, and indeed it is this pride that has managed to trickle down to even the most blockheaded, teenaged lump of apathy living in a dilapidated village near you (or me, rather), causing him to do elaborate things to his hair that American men had both started and stopped doing in that neon, cocaine-sprinkled string of terrible decisions known as the Eighties.

Now, I don’t live in Tokyo, or any big city for that matter, so I know I’m missing out on all sorts of horrific grotesqueries, but let me paint you a picture. Imagine the most metrosexual and/or emophilic man you’ve ever seen. Does he go to tanning salons? If the answer is “no”, pretend he does. Now imagine he has a sex change. Now, although it’s not exactly a fashion statement, imagine he treats both his mother and his girlfriend like shit, just as a bonus. What you’ve just produced is an image of the typical confident, (allegedly) attractive, young Japanese man. Again, if you dare, Exhibits A and B. Did I mention mullets are all the rage here? Yes, these photographs are an accurate representation of what I see in real life reality, for some reason.

The natural female counterpart to these female imitators is the “gyaru”, which is how the Japanese say “gal”, which in Japanese means a Japanese girl who is also a shallow, Californian white girl. Think Paris Hilton, except that instead of being born rich, they just leech off their male counterparts in exchange for sex or through devious mental manipulation. Before I proceed with a tirade on how I hate that they call themselves “gals”, and the word “gals” in general, let me jerk myself back on track and just complain that they’ve latched onto the most hated type of American there is and made a highly salable fashion statement out of it.

And therein lies the problem. The most “in” people over here are those who imitate two of the most arbitrary, hideous things you could think of–Valley girls and Rod Stewart.

Young people see me at the train station, with my lack of a perm or any loud accessories and my straight teeth, and they scoff at me. They laugh in my face. And you know something? It’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

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