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 naiveté. 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?”
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.
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.↩