Sunday, 31 July 2016

In which a new velocipede is encountered, and we find ourselves briefly entombed within a House of Vice

Greetings from the ol’ Unlimited Drink CafĂ©!
It’s a weekend, and that means free rein to chug a “Money’s Worth” amount of coffee (generally estimated at about 17 cups), respond to all my e-mails for the week, and then write out a blog post with caffeine-palsied fingers.  Yahoo! Today will be something of a catch-up, relating a hodgepodge of nonsense from the past month and a half. And so first of all:
- We have another bike! Notice I deliberately did not say we have a new bike. He is not at all new. He is enormous (or perhaps only regular-size? Months of riding Bike have perhaps changed my perception of average bicycle-proportions), heavy, and ancient. And unlike Bike, it is quite obvious what he is called: his name is Rubicon. This is for three reasons:
1. Chiefly, it comes from his coloration. Bike has her rusty bits, no question. In fact, once upon a time, I would have described her as VERY rusty. Youthful  naivetĂ©. In point of fact, Rubicon is not a bike at all: to call him such is a simplification for ease of communication, similar to referring to a Portuguese Man o’ War as a jellyfish. In reality, Rubicon is a large clump of iron oxide which at some point decided as a unit to steal some tires and disguise itself as a vehicle.  Bike uses rust as decoration: Rubicon uses the concept of a bike as decoration.
2. Like the river, this thing is old as hell.
3. Also like the river, crossing Rubicon is an dangerous thing to do. He rides more easily than Bike, but less smoothly. Not having to hunch over the pedals is easier on the knees, but every five revolutions of the wheels results in an ominous and jarring CLUNK noise, and one rides with the disturbing knowledge that any wrong move could very well cause the entire contraption to dissolve into a crimson mist, leaving one sailing through the air, holding the rubber end of a handlebar and wondering whether the whole relationship might not have been a dream. Each CLUNK is a checkpoint, during which Rubicon’s hive-mind consults and questions whether or not it is still worth holding together, or whether it might be best to nod solemnly, shake hands, and call the whole thing off. So far, the Sanguine Swarm seems satisfied, but there’s no telling what effect a mishandled turn or jarring bump might have.
We acquired Rubicon from our landlord, whom we befriended by sheer chance. Friend of a friend of a drunken-girl-I-met-on-the-street kind of thing. Anyhow, shortly after meeting him, he declared, “I know you! You’re that guy who always rides the bike meant for children!” Obviously there was no point in denying this, though it would take finesse: any reply not wrapped in haughty pride would surely echo down to the garage and deliver unpardonable insult to the lurking Bike, with Dread Consequences for yours truly.
“The bike meant for GODS!” I shouted back, eyes ablaze1.
Stroking his beard approvingly, he nodded slowly and said something akin to, “Yes…yes, I believe you are worthy.”2  Silently, he reached into his pocket, then extended a hand. He opened his fingers, and for a moment there was only a flurry of carmine mist, whirling cyclonic in his palm. A blink later, there glinted a key, and before I knew it, it had been pressed into my own trembling grasp.
“Free” he whispered gratefully, the words rolling like gravel in his throat. And then the wind stirred and he flaked away before my eyes, leaving only a rusty smile to linger on the breeze3.
Looking down, I found that the key had already seeped into my palm, and was now busily imprinting itself into the DNA of my cells. I knew without knowing that the bike was called Rubicon, that he lurked in the corner of the garage closest to the shed, and that he would recognize me when I came to prostrate myself before him in the morning.
And so now Bike and Rubicon nestle together in the shadows, exchanging thoughts of Things Unknowable and telling one another ancient tales. And we who live and sleep in the floors above awaken now and then from strange dreams of reddened spokes and rusty altars, and find ourselves sometimes bowing low in the garage in the wee hours with little memory of how we came to be there. And in such times we simply give thanks to the Wheeled Ones as we were taught and return to our slumber, and pretend that the screeching voices we hear in our minds are merely some trick of the air conditioner.
- Also, Monsy and I went to a wedding! It was for John and Ai-chan, and was in Hokkaido. A great time was had by all. Old friends seen, soup curry eaten (though to our dismay, the best shops in Asahikawa had all closed in my absence (presumably because I was no longer there to visit them fifteen times a week)), and sweaters worn (a real treat, considering wearing a sweater during Okinawa Summer means Certain Death, and is I believe a traditional form of execution amongst the islanders for perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes).

Two notable events on this trip:
1. Our outfits. Monica opted for a puffy black dress with frills everywhere which caused her to remark while looking appraisingly into the mirror the morning of the celebration that she “[felt] like a clown”. She looked awesome though, naturally. For myself, I discovered the morning of that I had somehow brought disparate pieces of different suits instead of one complete ensemble, and so rather than endure the horror of appearing in various slightly-different shades of black, went full-reverse and wore green jeans and a vest with no jacket, with a pin from Undertale for decoration. And heavens no I didn’t shave. Monica said it best as we left the house: “Well…I guess we’re going outside dressed like this today.” And so we did.
2. Our accommodations. Naturally, we are super flat broke right now. Until Monny finds work, we must somehow both survive on my NPO salary, which amounts to us basically being able to spend about 5 dollars a day each, and necessitates us doing such things as washing our clothes in the bathtub and subsisting on the same bean sprouts over and over (we harvest them, add water to the bowl, wait for them to grow again, and repeat). So obviously, since the plane tickets and the wedding itself were not cheap, we couldn’t afford any kind of hotel whatsoever. Fortunately, there is a pretty decent park in town, and we kind of relished the idea of sleeping outside, especially in our wedding finery (we didn’t have to do this on Friday night because my old friend Doc, Hero of the Land, accosted us from a car as we squinted into the window of a hostel to see if it cost less than 30 bucks a night and demanded we spend the night at his place. He is a gentleman, a scholar, a jiu-jitsu champion, and probably a time-travelling space overlord because that’s a cool thing to be). As it turned out, though, the wedding celebration went until about 5 am, by which time the sun was up, joggers were starting to emerge from their hidey-holes, and sleeping in the park seemed like the sort of thing which might get us rousted in short order.
Now, when in this kind of situation and in Japan, there is recourse: love hotels! Love hotels, as you probably know, are hotels rentable by the hour which are ubiquitous, usually pretty swank, and can be VERY cheap if you go at certain times. Sunday morning/afternoon is definitely one of those times (Saturday night definitely is not: you have to wait until the sun is fully up to get the discounts). Fortunately, I happened to know the locations of a few of these thrifty pleasure-domes, and so we bought a ton of snacks and turned our steps towards the hotel known only as XO.
Imagine our delight when we found that the Sunday Deal at this particular establishment was as follows: Stay any length of time between 5 am and 4 pm, 30 bucks. An 11 hour stay for fifteen bucks each! Nice one! We snatched up one of the few remaining rooms (the others were assuredly taken by affluent lovers from the previous evening who were able to pay the exorbitant Saturday Night fee), and wandered in.
So. If you find yourself in Asahikawa and are in need of accommodation, here is a review of Hotel XO.
The rooms are pretty decent! Nice bed (obviously), quite clean, superb bathroom (spacious bathtub, complimentary fluffy housecoats, etc). No fridge though, which is a bummer (well, at least no fridge not stuffed so full of expensive mini-bar items that there's no room for anything else). As such, we were faced with the pleasurable/grim task of eating all the food we’d bought in one delirious sitting4, which we basically did. They also had pretty rad light control (colours and intensity all controlled by a panel next to the bed) and a pretty decent radio selection.

Anyhow, for thirty bucks a night, few complaints. But here’s the best part, which I’ve been speed-typing unconsciously through the last paragraph to get to. I’ve been LIP-GNAWINGLY eager to get to this part. This part was LITERALLY UNBELIEVABLE to me, even as I witnessed it. Brace yourselves.

Also, to fully appreciate this, you need to have read my previous entry, the one about bugs and toilets. If you haven’t, please do so before pressing on.

Ok. So, gorged with convenience store rice balls, we eventually fell asleep. And then, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by a strange sound. A strange, SEARCHING sound. A strange, searching, CURSING sound.  And I realized I was alone in the bed.

Some of you have no doubt pieced together where this is going. Some of you are no doubt even now feeling the eyeball-tingle of a dilated pupil, the spinal zip of disbelieving neurotransmitters, the neural thrill of loosed chemicals held in reserve against the day a very specific signal needs to jump the synaptic gap, the signal which simply states breathlessly, “No way.”

Monica was searching for the bathroom. Amidst a muttered stream of curses, she was opening drawers, closing them again, moving furniture around, raking her fingers down vents like a crazed xylophonist, all within about three feet of the yawning aperture which was her goal. A slow grin spread across my face as I watched the spectacle. She was casting about like a blind demon, clawing at anything unfortunate enough to come under her gaze. She cursed the labyrinthine architecture of the room. She peered beneath empty food wrappers and shifted cups, evidently hoping that the chamber she required might be found dimensionally folded into tiny sections of the table. To no avail.

And then, by sheer entropic chance, she found herself gazing at her objective. The inky dark of the washroom was laid before her like a sacred offering. All that stood in her way was a single tiny chair, its fragile wood trembling before her wrath. A final obstacle. Hesitantly, she reached out her fearsome claws, and gripped the item with a terrible gentleness. She lifted it, its small cries of terror practically audible. Lifted. Shifted it to the left, out of her path. And then, skeptically, she squinted at the floor just where it had lain. Only carpet. A cry of exasperation, and the chair was once again flung back to its original position, the flailing limbs were once again employed on everything in sight, and I chose this moment to intervene for the sake of our esteemed innkeepers and their property.
Amazing. If this continues, these posts are going to sound increasingly like some sort of deranged Robert Munsch book. “And then Calder woke up. And he heard a sound…” I could not be more pleased with this outcome.

And so anyhow, there was one more notable occurrence at the Hotel XO, which occurred when we were about to leave.  Now, most love hotels have a payment computer in each room, the better to preserve discretion. There is a screen, a slot for cash or credit card, and the whole transaction can be completed quickly and efficiently. On one’s way out, one simply consults the device, and pays accordingly, and no one need ever know who has lodged with whom on any particular evening.

Not so at the Hotel XO. Try as we might, we couldn’t find any such thing. How, then, were we to pay? Surely we didn’t have to interact with a living human: such a thing is practically unheard of at places like this. But there didn’t seem to be any other options. Shrugging, we decided to simply head downstairs and find the front desk. Though we ran the risk of looking foolish if an eye-rolling clerk were to inform us of some kind of hidden computer behind the bathroom mirror or under the floor mat (not that Monica wouldn’t have certainly uncovered such a thing in her somnambulist thrashings), it was the only way out. We tried the handle. Tried it again. Stared at each other in disbelief.

We were locked in! The ultimate puzzle room! Without paying, we could not escape! To prevent people from skipping out on the bill, they made the doors openable only from the outside, fire code be damned. No front desk option here; it was either figure out how to pay, or remain forever, living off the paltry mini-bar. And we had a time limit: 15 minutes or so until 4:00, when we would be charged for another hour.

Thankfully, there was a phone in the room (as in all good puzzle rooms). This was no time for pride. We used our phone-in hint straight away (after a brief moment puzzling over the all-Japanese phone instructions).

A polite clerk answered, and after our query instructed us to place the required funds in “the tube”. The tube. We asked for clarification. The tube to the left of the phone, we were told. We looked. We saw no tube. Was this some sort of love hotel inside joke? But no, wait. Probing fingers found a catch in the dresser. A hidden panel! We pulled it open and examined the interior.

There it was. The tube.  A PNEUMATIC TUBE. With a tiny cylinder within, jostling slightly under the air currents, awaiting our payment!!

“Good lord!” I cried into the phone, shouting to overcome the whistling noise from the rushing wind. “I just…I just stick some bills into this…this capsule?”

Affirmative, came the reply.

“And then, what, the change will…the change will just come hurtling back?”

Right again.

Disbelievingly, I opened the hatch, fought briefly to remove the floating canister from the raging vortex, and tremblingly inserted a few bills. Back into the tube it went, and upon the depression of an ominous Red Button, was sent whizzing off towards its destiny, practically causing the depressurization of the room as it went. We waited breathlessly. Ten seconds. Twenty.

FWOP!

Our brave little vessel had returned! Once more it was pulled from the maelstrom and twisted open, and this time a fistful of change came tumbling out. Stunned, we pocketed it and returned our brave messenger to its windswept home.  We stumbled to the door in a daze, to find the lock had been released: we were free. We emerged, blinking, into the late afternoon sunshine, casting a final salute back at that anachronistic temple to revelry/inescapable firetrap, the mysterious and fabled Hotel XO.

10/10, would risk fiery death to use the pneumatic tube again.

And then before we knew it we were on our way back to sunny old Okinawa. A terrific weekend, all in all, and it made me rather long for the good old days in the North. Plus I won a bag of rice for guessing correctly that John was INDEED capable of eating an entire hamburger in one bite, which Monica and I have been living off ever since.

And I reckon I’ll call it there for this one, but will have more adventure tales next week! Farewell!



1 Sadly only in my mind: in reality, I was probably more like, “Uh yeah I guess that’s true I guess I’m that guy but actually sir I think she’s a very good bike, very serviceable, indeed dare I suggest she is to be envied perhaps by uh basically all cycling enthusiasts and furthermore…“



2 It was more like, “Right. Well anyhow, I’ve got a rusty old piece of crap bike with no air in the tires in the garage if you’d like a bike which won’t give you long-term joint pain”. 



3 “It’s all yours” was what he really said. “Nobody uses it anyhow, so if you can fill up the tires, you can ride it as much as you want.” Then he went to get some grilled squid.



4 Is there a word for pleasurable/grim in English? If it doesn’t exist already, I offer, “ruejoyable”

Thursday, 7 July 2016

This one's mostly about bugs and toilets.

Whew!! Missed out on Sunday, but as I’m sure you’re all aware, that’s because Monica has arrived at last! She’s off impressing people with her natural grace and charm right now, so I’m going to try to whip up an entry real quick1. Here goes!

- I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but there are grasshoppers the size of birds here. A true fact. They zoom around on giant wings and if they didn’t land now and again and reveal their true form, you’d never know they weren’t birds at all, but rather enormous chittering horrors. Once, I saw one mistake a human child for a piece of bark and fly off with it. The distraught parents made an attempt to give chase, but were gently restrained by sorrowful, head-shaking friends who didn’t want to compound the loss. What the ‘hoppers want, the ‘hoppers take.
- Fortunately, the first line of defense against these airborn horrors are spiders roughly the size of dogs. Not a true fact. But they ARE about the size of one’s hand, and are considered quite lucky. I’m not actually sure if one could take down a ‘hopper, but I’m on the side of spiders in most matters, so I’ll assume they can. They certainly can demolish most any other bug, and a particularly rad co-worker of mine occasionally tries to catch them for the singular purpose of releasing them into her apartment, the better to keep it clean of other pests. They don't build webs either, so she doesn't have to worry about unsightly strands in the corners. They just prowl around looking for victims while making the downstairs neighbours innocently believe that someone is constantly drumming their fingers on the floor above them.
- In case you don’t like spiders, they are kept in check by (sadly, rather small, but still big enough to chase bugs around) lizards. These guys are everywhere, are awesome, and are also good luck.
- The lizards are (maybe? I haven’t actually researched this) kept in check by the fact that there are thousands and thousands of stray cats here. This is sort of a sad story, because the reason the cats are here is largely because they are routinely abandoned by irresponsible/cruel/immoral/worthless (pick one/all) military people who buy a pet for their two-year stay in Okinawa, then ditch it at the dump when they leave. This happens a lot (A LOT, by all accounts), and of course leads to a plethora of extremely tragic tales involving sickly animals Enduring Hardship. But it also leads to regal and majestic-looking felines prowling constantly in everybody’s peripherals, sharing in what appears to be a complex and thriving civilization of cats which exists parallel to and simultaneously with the paltry human one we sad lot are privy to. Equally at home skirting the edges of a drunken barbecue or draped unheeding upon some sacred and unreachable monument, they gaze disdainful and patient, awaiting the moment when the oily tottering skin-sacks will finally surrender their domain. Just as they step in at the end of a picnic to lap at the leftovers, so they will emerge from the alleys and forests at humanity’s end to rule as they were meant, and shall raise their kittens in our skulls.

Belfries that blackly against the moon totter,
Caverns whose mouths are by mosses effac’d,
And living to answer the wind and the water,
Only the lean cats that howl in the waste2.


- Another couple of things Japan does well are escalators and toilets. The quality of the toilets is, I think, fairly well-known. As all who have heard the Tales know, Japanese toilets are constructed in sacred temples concealed from the public not in space but in time, unreachable save by those no longer bound by temporal laws. Through creative use of specially engineered retroviruses, the blueprint for these majestic thrones was long ago written into the D.N.A. of every living human, the better to survive apocalypse. It is said that one cannot purchase a true Japanese toilet. Only through a life of virtue can one be chosen as the recipient of the sacred deus ex keramos. Should one be found worthy, certain Tokens will appear around the time one is renovating a bathroom, and the toilet will appear three days later, peeping shyly from between the curtains of a gaily-festooned palanquin carried by four stout and silent men in royal livery.
Some, driven by greed, undergo perpetual construction on their restrooms, intentionally never completing the work in hopes of receiving this tangible blessing, checking each day with frantic hope for the Silver Float Ball on their doorstep, or the Engraved Flush Valve beneath their pillow, little realizing that this faithless persistence is the very thing denying them what they so crave. Their efforts, if acknowledged at all, are rewarded only by the grim Cheukshin herself, who sends them a toilet of blood and onyx upon which they writhe forevermore.
And so it is that one may occasionally encounter toilets of surpassing beauty and function in the restrooms of pure-hearted individuals. Toilets which automatically raise their lids in welcoming salute the minute you enter the room (not kidding here, this really happens). Toilets with built-in bidets (warm fresh water, of course) and heated seats. Toilets which are adorned with swaths of buttons reminiscent of Death Star control panels and which are trained in the Nine Arts of Bottom-Pleasing. And all is right with the world.

But even if you haven’t led a semi-divine and blameless life, I still think two features should become standard on all toilets. The first is the Big/Small flush handle, which is pretty self-explanatory. If you want a large quantity of water to wash away your Deeds, you push the lever one way. If you only need a little amount, you push it the other. Saves tons of water. And the other feature is that many toilets have water spouts/sinks on top of the tank. Before refilling after a flush, fresh water is passed through the spout, so that you can use it to wash your hands before it disappears into the back of the toilet. More water saved! Well done, Japan.

As for escalators, they have sensors at the top/bottom which tells them when somebody’s about to get on, and they don’t activate until they know someone’s there to use them. Loads of electricity saved, though sometimes they malfunction and can be seen climbing eerily to nowhere without a soul in sight, bringing The Shivers to onlookers.

- One thing which Japan does NOT do well is Laundry detergent mascots. Check out THIS fucker:



 I often3 wonder about the different outlooks men and women gain based on their typical positions for washroom use (ie. standing vs. sitting). I myself have to stare into the dreadful grin of FaFa each day whilst micturating (as quickly as possible), slowly having my soul leeched from me (being “cleaned” as the empty-eyed Ursidea would have it), whereas female coworkers get to relax peacefully on the cushioned, heated seat, gazing happily at the back of the door, immune to the bear’s insidious influence. Or perhaps they spend the whole time nervously glancing over their shoulders and wondering if FaFa hadn’t moved just a bit while their back was turned. It’s hard to say. By the way, on the side of the box FaFa promises, "I'LL MAKE EVERYTHING WHITE".

- And so one more story before I call it a night. Now that Monica’s here, it just wouldn’t be a proper entry without a tale of her embarrassing herself4. Our apartment is basically the same layout as our old Toronto one, if our old one were sort of squeezed into a smaller space and all the interior walls except the one surrounding the bathroom were removed. So a big room, bathroom in one corner, closet pressed up against the bathroom. This will be important in a moment. Closet pressed up against the bathroom. Remember that. Now, in an effort to save space, we put the dresser into the closet (which is very spacious: we briefly considered just throwing the futon on the floor of the closet and sleeping in there, but it seemed too claustrophobic/musty. But it’s deep enough that if I lay down in there with my head towards the bathroom wall, only my legs from just above the knees would be sticking out). It's a big dresser. It comes up to my bellybutton, easy.

One night, shortly after Monica's arrival here, I woke up to hear a strange sound. As I gradually came to my senses, an odd scene presented itself. I struggled to make sense of it at first, but eventually realized that Monica had somehow, in some half-slumbering haze, concluded that the only path to the bathroom lay THROUGH the closet, and was busily (and with a plenitude of cursing) clambering atop the dresser to find the Secret Door which would take her there.

“What kind of apartment is this?” she was heard to remark with heated voice, her grunts of frustration echoing around the apartment and through the actual, non-secret door of the bathroom, ajar and welcoming just a few feet around the corner. “How the heck do I open this?” Through the gloom, only a pair of legs and a waggling pajama-clad bottom were visible, sunk deep into the closet.

“Uh…” I began, distracted by the increasingly furious scratching and clawing noises emerging from within. “Are you…are you looking for the bathroom?”
“Yes, of course!” came the cry, muffled by distance.
“Uh…” I began again, and eventually managed to overcome my bewilderment long enough to relay to her the true state of affairs w/r/t the means of accessing the I-might-remind-you ONLY OTHER ROOM IN THE APARTMENT. The scrabbling noise slowed, then stopped, and a moment later a sheepish-looking Monica emerged from within, inexplicably carrying with her an orange hair dryer as a souvenir from her Mysterious Journey.

And so I guess another thing Japan does well is not having washrooms which can only be accessed by secret trapdoors in closets, on which I think Monica really should have given them the benefit of the doubt.

And with that, I shall close this unexpectedly toilet-themed entry. We’re going to a wedding this weekend, so probably more stories to follow! Farewell!




1 Edit:  Okay, this one took longer than expected, so technically she’s currently rolling around on the floor learning about kanji.




1 Lovecraft, obviously.




3 Not that often.




4 I use “embarrassing herself” as shorthand for, “doing something which anyone BUT Monica would find mortifying, but which she emerges from completely unfazed”.

This one's mostly about bugs and toilets.

Whew!! Missed out on Sunday, but as I’m sure you’re all aware, that’s because Monica has arrived at last! She’s off impressing people with her natural grace and charm right now, so I’m going to try to whip up an entry real quick1. Here goes!

- I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but there are grasshoppers the size of birds here. A true fact. They zoom around on giant wings and if they didn’t land now and again and reveal their true form, you’d never know they weren’t birds at all, but rather enormous chittering horrors. Once, I saw one mistake a human child for a piece of bark and fly off with it. The distraught parents made an attempt to give chase, but were gently restrained by sorrowful, head-shaking friends who didn’t want to compound the loss. What the ‘hoppers want, the ‘hoppers take.
- Fortunately, the first line of defense against these airborn horrors are spiders roughly the size of dogs. Not a true fact. But they ARE about the size of one’s hand, and are considered quite lucky. I’m not actually sure if one could take down a ‘hopper, but I’m on the side of spiders in most matters, so I’ll assume they can. They certainly can demolish most any other bug, and a particularly rad co-worker of mine occasionally tries to catch them for the singular purpose of releasing them into her apartment, the better to keep it clean of other pests. They don't build webs either, so she doesn't have to worry about unsightly strands in the corners. They just prowl around looking for victims while making the downstairs neighbours innocently believe that someone is constantly drumming their fingers on the floor above them.
- In case you don’t like spiders, they are kept in check by (sadly, rather small, but still big enough to chase bugs around) lizards. These guys are everywhere, are awesome, and are also good luck.
- The lizards are (maybe? I haven’t actually researched this) kept in check by the fact that there are thousands and thousands of stray cats here. This is sort of a sad story, because the reason the cats are here is largely because they are routinely abandoned by irresponsible/cruel/immoral/worthless (pick one/all) military people who buy a pet for their two-year stay in Okinawa, then ditch it at the dump when they leave. This happens a lot (A LOT, by all accounts), and of course leads to a plethora of extremely tragic tales involving sickly animals Enduring Hardship. But it also leads to regal and majestic-looking felines prowling constantly in everybody’s peripherals, sharing in what appears to be a complex and thriving civilization of cats which exists parallel to and simultaneously with the paltry human one we sad lot are privy to. Equally at home skirting the edges of a drunken barbecue or draped unheeding upon some sacred and unreachable monument, they gaze disdainful and patient, awaiting the moment when the oily pink skin-sacks will finally surrender their domain. Just as they step in at the end of a picnic to lap at the leftovers, so they will emerge from the alleys and forests at humanity’s end to rule as they were meant, and shall raise their kittens in our skulls.

Belfries that blackly against the moon totter,
Caverns whose mouths are by mosses effac’d,
And living to answer the wind and the water,
Only the lean cats that howl in the waste2.


- Another couple of things Japan does well are escalators and toilets. The quality of the toilets is, I think, fairly well-known. As all who have heard the Tales know, Japanese toilets are constructed in sacred temples concealed from the public not in space but in time, unreachable save by those no longer bound by temporal laws. Through creative use of specially engineered retroviruses, the blueprint for these majestic thrones was long ago written into the D.N.A. of every living human, the better to survive apocalypse. It is said that one cannot purchase a true Japanese toilet. Only through a life of virtue can one be chosen as the recipient of the sacred deus ex keramos. Should one be found worthy, certain Tokens will appear around the time one is renovating a bathroom, and the toilet will appear three days later, peeping shyly from between the curtains of a gaily-festooned palanquin carried by four stout and silent men in royal livery.
Some, driven by greed, undergo perpetual construction on their restrooms, intentionally never completing the work in hopes of receiving this tangible blessing, checking each day with frantic hope for the Silver Float Ball on their doorstep, or the Engraved Flush Valve beneath their pillow, little realizing that this faithless persistence is the very thing denying them what they so crave. Their efforts, if acknowledged at all, are rewarded only by the grim Cheukshin herself, who sends them a toilet of blood and onyx upon which they writhe forevermore.
And so it is that one may occasionally encounter toilets of surpassing beauty and function in the restrooms of pure-hearted individuals. Toilets which automatically raise their lids in welcoming salute the minute you enter the room (not kidding here, this really happens). Toilets with built-in bidets (warm fresh water, of course) and heated seats. Toilets which are adorned with swaths of buttons reminiscent of Death Star control panels and which are trained in the Nine Arts of Bottom-Pleasing. And all is right with the world.

But even if you haven’t led a semi-divine and blameless life, I still think two features should become standard on all toilets. The first is the Big/Small flush handle, which is pretty self-explanatory. If you want a large quantity of water to wash away your Deeds, you push the lever one way. If you only need a little amount, you push it the other. Saves tons of water. And the other feature is that many toilets have water spouts/sinks on top of the tank. Before refilling after a flush, fresh water is passed through the spout, so that you can use it to wash your hands before it disappears into the back of the toilet. More water saved! Well done, Japan.

As for escalators, they have sensors at the top/bottom which tells them when somebody’s about to get on, and they don’t activate until they know someone’s there to use them. Loads of electricity saved, though sometimes they malfunction and can be seen climbing eerily to nowhere without a soul in sight, bringing The Shivers to onlookers.

- One thing which Japan does NOT do well is Laundry detergent mascots. Check out THIS fucker:



 I often3 wonder about the different outlooks men and women gain based on their typical positions for washroom use (ie. standing vs. sitting). I myself have to stare into the dreadful grin of FaFa each day whilst micturating (as quickly as possible), slowly having my soul leeched from me (being “cleaned” as the empty-eyed Ursidea would have it), whereas female coworkers get to relax peacefully on the cushioned, heated seat, gazing happily at the back of the door, immune to the bear’s insidious influence. Or perhaps they spend the whole time nervously glancing over their shoulders and wondering if FaFa hadn’t moved just a bit while their back was turned. It’s hard to say. By the way, on the side of the box FaFa promises, "I'LL MAKE EVERYTHING WHITE".

- And so one more story before I call it a night. Now that Monica’s here, it just wouldn’t be a proper entry without a tale of her embarrassing herself4. Our apartment is basically the same layout as our old Toronto one, if our old one were sort of squeezed into a smaller space and all the interior walls except the one surrounding the bathroom were removed. So a big room, bathroom in one corner, closet pressed up against the bathroom. This will be important in a moment. Closet pressed up against the bathroom. Remember that. Now, in an effort to save space, we put the dresser into the closet (which is very spacious: we briefly considered just throwing the futon on the floor of the closet and sleeping in there, but it seemed too claustrophobic/musty. But it’s deep enough that if I lay down in there with my head towards the bathroom wall, only my legs from just above the knees would be sticking out). It's a big dresser. It comes up to my bellybutton, easy.

One night, shortly after Monica's arrival here, I woke up to hear a strange sound. As I gradually came to my senses, an odd scene presented itself. I struggled to make sense of it at first, but eventually realized that Monica had somehow, in some half-slumbering haze, concluded that the only path to the bathroom lay THROUGH the closet, and was busily (and with a plenitude of cursing) clambering atop the dresser to find the Secret Door which would take her there.

“What kind of apartment is this?” she was heard to remark with heated voice, her grunts of frustration echoing around the apartment and through the actual, non-secret door of the bathroom, ajar and welcoming just a few feet around the corner. “How the heck do I open this?” Through the gloom, only a pair of legs and a waggling pajama-clad bottom were visible, sunk deep into the closet.

“Uh…” I began, distracted by the increasingly furious scratching and clawing noises emerging from within. “Are you…are you looking for the bathroom?”
“Yes, of course!” came the cry, muffled by distance.
“Uh…” I began again, and eventually managed to overcome my bewilderment long enough to relay to her the true state of affairs w/r/t the means of accessing the I-might-remind-you ONLY OTHER ROOM IN THE APARTMENT. The scrabbling noise slowed, then stopped, and a moment later a sheepish-looking Monica emerged from within, inexplicably carrying with her an orange hair dryer as a souvenir from her Mysterious Journey.

And so I guess another thing Japan does well is not having washrooms which can only be accessed by secret trapdoors in closets, on which I think Monica really should have given them the benefit of the doubt.

And with that, I shall close this unexpectedly toilet-themed entry. We’re going to a wedding this weekend, so probably more stories to follow! Farewell!




1 Edit:  Okay, this one took longer than expected, so technically she’s currently rolling around on the floor learning about kanji.




1 Lovecraft, obviously.




3 Not that often.




4 I use “embarrassing herself” as shorthand for, “doing something which anyone BUT Monica would find mortifying, but which she emerges from completely unfazed”.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

More Tales of Indoor Gym Class

Ok, so it isn’t Sunday, but some stories are just too good to wait.

Yesterday was pretty egregiously rainy, so once more we were forced to have phys ed. indoors (t’is the season, donchaknow). Instead of a dance party, this time we had an idea for “Star Wars” dodgeball, in which one team plays as Jedi, one as Sith, and each team has a secret “captain” (either Yoda or Darth Vader), the tagging of whom spells doom for the team.

The details aren’t too important, but there were some fairly amusing incidents, including:

- Unintentionally, but merely by virtue of having moral codes which have only had 11 years to develop, the Sith were really acting the part. They were often observed, if not exactly cheating, then certainly manipulating events with some sort of force-power. I could have sworn I saw Darth Sidious (obviously even non-captains took on roles) take a few hits, but he stoutly denied it, and I think they had some sort of quantum manipulation going on whereby the last person hit retroactively became Darth Vader since the beginning of the game. Also, they routinely blasted people with the ball during time outs and engaged in taunting breakdances, often while rapidly breathing in a Vader-esque manner and humming the Imperial March.

- Two extremely cute twin girls on the Jedi side, having been hit, both sat down next to each other in the middle of the battlefield (as per the rules) and, instead of the usual frantically-wiggling-around-and-calling-encouragement stance adopted by other fallen knights, simply sank into full lotus, delicately placed thumbs on forefingers, closed their eyes, and remained in blissful meditation for the remainder of the game. This would already be amusing enough since a) they’re ten-year-olds and b) to reiterate: they are identical twins, who were also wearing identical outfits. But in addition to this, the Sith just KEPT HITTING THEM. In the face(s). Like every third throw. It was outrageous. Please note that the Dark Side had nothing at all to gain from hitting them, as they were already out. Please note that the Dark Side, except perhaps on some deep, subconscious level, did not WANT to hit them, as to do so was a waste of a throw. Nor were Jedi callously using them as human shields. No, somehow, perhaps through the power of their meditative techniques, these two were DRAWING the balls towards them. Well-aimed shots at Yoda would turn suddenly aside, instead impacting a peaceful and forgiving cheek. Slow, lazy rolls would abruptly pick up speed, leap from the ground, and deliver thundering hits to motionless foreheads. Simple passes from one Sith lord to another would go horribly awry, flying across the gym1 and careening off contemplative noses.
My fellow P.E. teacher and I tried valiantly to stifle our laughter at this, though obviously it’s the sort of thing that just KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER, particularly as the twins never once flinched, voiced a complaint, or even opened their eyes during the buffeting, and also as the Sith lords began to become frustrated with themselves for continuously missing the active Jedi, so that eventually each impact was accompanied by howls of dismay from the Dark Side of the Force. The final straw came, however, when Vader himself, his identity revealed (by process of elimination, as mentioned earlier), came hip-hop dancing into view, doing some sort of “running man” routine while arrogantly beatboxing with his breathing machine (I think this was the intended effect, anyway), took a mighty throw at Yoda himself, and somehow managed instead to ricochet the ball off of one twin’s head and into the other’s with a hilarious, “Bim-BOP” sort of sound effect, at which point he collapsed to his knees with an end-of-episode-III-style “NOOOOOOOOOO”, and one twin, for the one and only time, broke composure to ask, incredulously, “Seriously???” before returning to her contemplation of the Force.

And so all that was pretty hilarious. After the game, when they were all trash talking, Vader was heard to remark, “Come on, guys! The war’s over! Let’s talk about something else!” which was also a pretty good line. But the best thing to come out of this game, by far, was the tale my co-teacher told me while we watched.
It seems that while working at a previous elementary school, this teacher and the rest of the staff were having a problem with discipline among the younger students. Try as they might, they simply couldn’t get the children to listen to them, nor to respect their requests/attempts at regulation. Meetings were had to discuss the problem, but no solutions presented themselves. Things were getting desperate.
Now, at this school they also were blessed with a great many quite serviceable costumes. The kids put on plays often, and enjoyed dressing up. Naturally. But as it turned out, via a stroke of genius from some inspired educational mind, these very costumes became the answer to the behaviour dilemma. For it was eventually decided that, should a child be caught in a misdeed, they would no longer be sent to report to their teacher or the principal, both of whom would only be jeeringly dismissed with audacious five-year-old insolence. Oh no. Instead, misbehaving children would be made to walk the length of an unused hallway, quivering and alone, the beginnings of tears forming in their widened eyes, at the end of which was a chill, dusty, cobwebbed room. And within that room, they would confess their sins to…


JABBA THE HUTT.

Yes. This happened. Apparently the school had a full-sized, pretty detailed Jabba costume, and when a kid was sentenced to this dread punishment, my coworker would swiftly and silently scurry down the hallway ahead of them (please note that my coworker is about six inches shorter than me, female, and cannot be easily pictured harming so much as a fly (indeed, a couple of weeks ago she somewhat heroically took a wounded stray dog to the hospital, but that’s a story for a different day)), climb inside this enormous space-gangster costume and prepare herself to meet the condemned child. She would then have to stay in character while demanding in a falsely deep and menacing tone that the trembling young malefactor explain their actions, and subsequently would have to mete out appropriate punishment (as if confronting an enormous alien slug in a closed room weren’t punishment enough). Somehow, Jabba’s edicts were always followed to the letter.
So this is basically the best story I’ve ever heard. The idea that there are a bunch of kids out there who will grow up having vague memories of having been routinely terrified by a Star Wars character at school delights me more than I would have thought possible. I think the best part of the story is that I suspect half of these children would never have even SEEN Star Wars and would therefore have no idea who the character was; to the best of their knowledge, there was simply an enormous sentient worm living in the school, and the teachers would thrust them into its lair when they had been acting up. I really hope that they talked to friends from different schools about this, and were dismayed to learn that, through ill luck, theirs was the only educational institution with an enormous crawling monster with a thirst for discipline living in it. It’s like something out of Roald Dahl or Tales From the Cryptkeeper. I love it.

Anyhow, I’ll likely have another update on the weekend, but I just couldn’t hold off on this one. Happy Tuesday, everyone!




1 Tiny room.