I was in Japan on 12/20 and then suddenly, in this little pocket of the airport, people were large and kinda scary, and speaking English. It was like "Little America." A black lady in a wig of blonde ringlets and baby doll shoes slept so deeply I really thought she might be dead. A tall guy with a gut so big he could've been pregnant with me sported a mohawk. But it wasn't America yet; not till I stepped on the plane.
first impression of America, after living in Japan and not leaving the
country for two and a half years, came from a bossy old American Airlines flight attendant as I stepped onto the plane. She said, "Excuse me," with a tone that said, "Get the fuck out of my way." I laughed as I stepped out of the isle and said to myself, "America."
Knox isn't a big believer in sleeping, but he was great on the trip. We slept 4 hours during our approximately 20 hours of traveling that day. When we had woken up that morning in Fukuoka, there was blood all over Knox's pillow. Turns out that when he fell out of his hotel bed in the middle of the night, he had gotten a bloody nose. He wouldn't let me get in there to really clean it, so I could see blood in his nostril until he took his first bath in America. Here's my bloody child, America. How nice.
In Dallas/Fort Worth we had our first American meal at the airport restaurant TGI Friday's. I had a really great oatmeal with cranberries, nuts, brown sugar, and cream. I recommend it. As I ate, I watched people walking by and thought that Americans look disenchanted. There's this look on the faces blurring by that says, "I expect something shitty to happen to me today." And Americans are casual. It's quite true that Japanese people are more formally dressed on a daily basis than the average American, but I immediately thought that it's not just attire. Americans don't just sport the t-shirt; Americans ARE the t-shirt. Casual. Americans are more casual than Japanese in dress, attitude, speech, and body language, all of which are informed by our thoughts and internal dialogues. What beliefs and attitudes inform the more formal Japanese society? And the casual American society?
When you go on a job interview, you dress to make an impression, guided more by your impression of what they want rather than how you would dress given your choice. But, in the general consciousness, pressed, clean clothes equal a better impression of who you are. If, by choice, one society wears suits and the other wears sweatpants, I gotta say "Where we at, yo?"
So, does casual mean negative? Not necessarily, but when casualness or casuality, as I like to say, is the dominant and pervasive dress-code throughout society, what does that say about us deeper down? Maybe nothing, eh? But maybe something...
When I'm wearing something beautiful, like a cashmere sweater with tailored pants and I just came from the neighborhood Aveda salon glowing from a cut and a facial, I feel good about myself, it's obvious that I take care of myself, and the impression I emit has roots in those choices and many more, including the things I think and say about myself every day. And I believe the attitude we take with ourselves is much like the attitude we apply to everything else. In general, can the more formal appearance of the Japanese society be followed back to more positive thoughts and attitudes in general?
"Who cares?" you say, "Get back to the dag-on trip."
The hair in Texas was... (shifty eyes)... surprising. One of the servers, a guy around 20 I guess, had a buzz cut, but with bangs and just enough in the back to make a pony tail, and the longer hair in front and back had blond tips. The only words that went through my head were please stop. But some of the hair was really good, like this fat lady with great make-up and 60's hair. She looked great, Adele-esque even. At the end of the meal I realized the worst thing about America besides mental health disorders: TIPPING. I got the check and remembered, "Awe man, I have to tip. This sucks." There is no tipping in Japan, and it is in fact insulting to tip in Japan. I embrace with warm, open arms this cultural contrast.
From Texas to Florida Knox kicked the crap out of the lady's seat in front of him. Turns out she was really pissed. I did my best to tell him, beg him, coerce him not to kick the seat. It's just that the placement of the seat and the length of his legs on that one particular flight were in such perfect harmony. Shoganai. That means "no ginger". Which means, Oh, well, there's nothing that can be done now. I talked to this cool German lady on that flight who gave Knox a muffin and probably told me too much about her husbands health problems, including how he is losing his ability to talk. She told me about living in Germany and coming to America when she was 21, and since I teach English in a foreign country she was telling me about language learning in Germany. She was trilingual by the time she came to America...
I definitely wish foreign language study was more consistent in US schools. I studied no foreign language in elementary school, and only part of a year of Spanish in junior high. I took 2 years of Japanese in high school, but I really didn't learn much, and never took any meaningful exam in the subject. In Japan they have English from elementary school through high school, and there is an English section on all of their important exams. And although they have a regrettable lack of confidence, they have a pretty solid English base.
Anyway, we finally got to Tampa and I managed never to die of a heart-attack from all the flying. My friend Ayne picked me up, and Knox and her son Alex were fast friends, and actually they were babies together in our mommy group. My mom's 130 pound German Shepard, Rocky, was a hit with me and Knox. Rocky had been a subject of great concern with my mom, who thought my general dislike of dogs coupled with fear for my child would mean bad news for Rocky. She need never have worried. Firstly, it's not dogs I dislike, but their licking, jumping, clawing, and propensity to never leave you the hell alone for 5 seconds. Rocky had none of these issues. And secondly, Rocky showed no aggression and in no time I was actually forcing Rocky to stay with Knox when he played in the yard. I love Rocky. He is the best dog ever. He showed his speed and power when my friend Derek played soccer with him. And Rocky is so cute with his bones: My mom gives him a bone before she leaves every day. He saves it until she gets home whether it's 2 or 10 hours later, and will only eat if she watches and calls him a good boy. So funny.
I got to see Julia and Derek, Megan and her kids Mia and Gabe, had a great lunch with Susan, met my nephew Aiden, and got to spend really nice quality time with my brother Ted and my nephew Josh. My brother Timmy and his wife, Indya, were out of town a lot, but we got to spend some nice time together as well. I saw my mom a whole lot, and we didn't fight!! I asked her what had changed and why she was so agreeable, and she said it was because she almost died. Makes sense. She was great.
If you remember, I mentioned in a previous post that my mom got sick when she came to Japan. She got Legionnaire's disease, a severe form of pneumonia. Mostly older adult smokers with compromised immune systems get it. She fit the bill. She didn't recognize members of her own family at the worst of it. But, she came around, thank goodness, and has a heightened sense of gratefulness that was apparent in everything we did.
My mom has always been exceedingly generous, and again she dealt out present after present from under the tree, especially to the little ones, Aiden and Knox. My mom has an uncanny aptitude for choosing gifts. She got me a pair of scissors. Who could know my secret love of scissors? No one really knows, not because it's really a secret, but because... who talks about scissors? I have a hook designated for the kitchen scissors and a pocket designated for the bathroom scissors. But no one would notice such a thing, or know that I prioritize returning of scissors to their proper place right at the top, because when you need scissors, you really need them NOW, and they must be where they should be. Now, I have a great new pair of scissors with this beautiful pattern on the handles. How did she do it? Only God knows.
My mom also took me and Knox to the new Florida Legoland on New Year's Eve. Awesome! Knox had a great time on all the kid friendly rides and somehow, with 3D glasses, they got each burst in the great fireworks display to look like a lego. Legos exploded everywhere at KST (Kid Standard Time, 7pm). That night I got to eat at one of my high-priority American restaurants, Outback Steakhouse. I feel proud, cause instead of waiting 40 minutes on the list for a table, I immediately snagged a table in the bar and we were out of there before we would've even sat down. Crossing the bay on the way home that night was great, as I could see fireworks shows happening in several cities that sit on Tampa Bay. We got home and at midnight people started shooting guns and setting off fire-crackers and what-not. Our resident giant German Shepard was scared and we had to hold him. He even tried hiding in the tub, but apparently that didn't do the trick.
Oh man, there was so much more! Shopping day was glorious. My brother, Ted, mentioned wanting to get a mani/pedi, and of course the Peanut Gallery chimed in to which he responded, "Don't hate: It feels good." So I had a great time doing that with my brother and I even convinced him to get black toe nails. At around half-way into my vacay I had an allergic reaction. Bumps popped up all over my face, and I was scratching at it for days. On the 3rd and 4th day my whole face was kinda crusty and I was heaping on moisturizer. I was lucky though in that other people couldn't really tell, even though it was horribly itchy, bumpy, and flaky. I got to go shopping at Whole Foods, my favorite grocery store, and I also got to have a night on the town with my brother, my nephew, and a couple of their friends. We went to Maggiano's Italian Restaurant and then to Cigar City Brewery in Tampa. The whole night was really fun and I was soooo happy to spend quality time with them.
This whole experience made me feel light. I know my final 7 months in Japan will fly like the wind. I feel excited to go and excited to be here now. I feel the change and am really appreciating the beauty and value this final lap of my experience is affording me. I attended my English conversation circle last night, and as my Japanese friends arrived, my heart grew as I realized how much I missed their faces, and at the same time I was aware of what little time we have left in this phase. But I am here and here is good. I have goals but I'm not living in the future. No what-ifs plague me. Now is a good time.
I'm already preparing for my return to the USA. I had a beautiful bed sent to my mom's house for Knox, a bed I hope he will use for many years. I included dinosaur sheets and a pillow monogrammed with his name so when we get there, he will feel at home and happy. And a guard rail! No more bloody noses, by golly. I started Knox's college fund with Florida-prepaid and started saving for myself as well, since my next goal is to attend law school. Things are coming together and I have faith that the path will continue to wind and grow as long as I keep on walking it. And as the most brilliant woman I know said to me recently, "Things always work out... maybe they work out differently, but they always work out." I believe that. I feel peaceful and I'll take that as a sign that I'm doing the right things.