Monday, November 09, 2009
Yes, it is!
I mean, it goes without saying that my sister's birth was the more momentous occasion in my life. I have only vague memories of going to the hospital that day, and I doubt very much that nearly-three-year-old me had any concept of what a new baby meant. Records from that time suggest I didn't take to my new sibling very well, as I began taking out my frustrations on other children at nursery school. I actually became a bully during this time, if you can believe that.
Our relationship had real ups and downs as the years passed. There were times where we found common interests and played games together, but there were also times when I believe we seriously hated one another. It rarely manifested itself physically, but there was a lot of tension in the house by the time we were both in high school. Then again, with my parents' divorce I guess the entire family was quietly tearing itself apart so two kids arguing wasn't really a big deal.
Things improved vastly once the four of us were no longer expected to live in the same house anymore. First it was Mom and Dad that separated, then Salena started college and I moved out shortly after that. I can remember going through a lot of difficult personal issues at that time, but at least fighting with my sister was no longer one of them. It didn't take long for our relationship settle in a very cordial position and I think it's stayed there ever since.
When I look at my son and I see myself (let's face it, he looks just like me) I often wonder what would happen if we had another baby. It's obviously something Mako wants, and I think deep down I want it too. I think back to the bad times my sister and I had, of course, but as nasty as things got that can't overshadow the years of good times, particularly as adults in the last decade or so. Go and his theoretical younger sibling would clash over dumb things like the television remote and who got to sit on the pillow in the backseat of the car, but eventually the two of them would be able to go to the movies together and laugh at their parents' behavior.
Let's face it; a brother or sister is often the only person you can really talk to about your parents. If Salena hadn't been there to commiserate with, I would have needed twice as many psychologists and therapists to discuss all the stuff that went on in my head. In my mind I see myself being a loving and attentive father, but I'm going to make mistakes. When that happens, won't Go need a safety valve, a partner in crime, a comrade-in-arms?
Alright, I've turned this birthday greeting into a tortured look at my own past/horrible vision of Go's future. My point is, my sister means a lot to me despite the fact that we now only see each other once or twice a year, tops. If we never spoke again I'd owe her for the years that she was there for me. I certainly didn't offer much older brotherly advice in the ways of the world; hell, for years she was the one doing everything right and I was the one who needed guidance.
So thank you, Salena, for *cough cough* years of being there for me and nevermind the three or four when we made each other miserable. I know you're in the middle of a lot of stuff right now and I can only hope that my recent happiness has, in some small way, helped you figure out what you want to do next. If yes, I still owe you, but at least I could partially make up for the time when I wasn't much of a brother.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
For those unaware, Super Potato is a videogame store in Japan. There's more than one outlet but it's not a chain on par with Softmap or Yodobashi Camera. The shop I frequent is located at the outskirts of Osaka's Den Den Town and is sandwiched in between two similar-looking stores. Aside from the silly name it's quite easy for the uninitiated to take one look at it and decide it's just another game store before walking off to the nearby subway station.
Certainly, the first floor offers nothing out of the ordinary; their display of Wii and DS games spills out of the shop and onto the sidewalk because those are the hot properties in Japan right now. Even if you step inside, you'll be greeted by the usual Japanese videogame retail environment. The narrow shelves are packed with games (new and used) and there's the din of non-stop advertising, both from full-size TVs and from mini-monitors on the shelves themselves. There's not enough room to bend over to look at the bottom shelves, but if you're quick you can squat down and stand back up before someone accidentally steps on your hand.
It is on the second floor of Super Potato where all the magic is kept. Just climbing a few steps is enough to drown out the aggressive noise of the first floor with the charming tones of the 8-bit Famicom. There's a TV in the stairwell that runs a (seemingly) never-ending countdown of classic Nintendo games. Whether these are best-sellers, fan favorites or simply a random, nostalgia-driven assortment, I couldn't say because I've never asked. What I do know is that I always linger on those stairs to see what's "playing." It doesn't matter if it's a game I remember or one I've never heard of, because I am entertained either way.
The top of the stairs might as well be a time machine, because the entire floor is dedicated to retro gaming. The layout is similar to the floor below: there's still lots of TV screens and impossibly cramped conditions, but while the first floor is a cacophony the atmosphere of the second floor couldn't be more inviting. For starters, the shift from plastic and metal shelves to wooden panels is much warmer and soothing to the eyes. Likewise, the TVs don't show advertisements for games, they just show games. Some you can play, others are just demos, but both serve as a more honest and direct representation of gaming than any commercial.
And then there's the games: thousands and thousands of games. There's a rainbow-colored assortment of Famicom games on one shelf and stark-white rows of PlayStation games on another. Grey Super Famicom cartridges, golden Sega Saturn CD cases, massive black Neo Geo ROM carts, every console of the past twenty-five years has a shelf to call its own. I remember once seeing an entire arcade joystick board for sale, ripped from its cabinet and modified to work on a home console. I would have been tempted to buy it if it hadn't been larger than my dining room table.
For me, the main attraction is actually the "shelf of dreams" as I call it: all the consoles one needs to play the games in the store, individually shrink wrapped (or occasionally in the box) and stacked to the ceiling. I stare at it and think of all the birthdays, holidays and special occasions that these devices represented. I spent months saving my allowance whenever I wanted to buy a new console. Now I can look at this shelf and, with whatever cash I've got on me, walk out the door with at least five or six different machines. If I were to hit the ATM first, I could probably buy enough software for three entire childhoods of memories.
In short, Super Potato is love. There are plenty of retro game stores in Japan and at least ten of them are on the same street in Den Den Town, but none of them will tug at your heart, reach into your brain and ignite your passion for videogames like Super Potato can. I'm no longer into collecting but I still go out of my way to visit Super Potato every few months to bask in its warmth and live vicariously through its stockpile of nostalgia. I can go into an arcade and entertain myself by watching the attract modes and other players, but I can put a huge smile on my face just from staring at all the plastic sitting on Super Potato's shelves.
Which brings me to my original point: in a digital distribution retail environment, there won't be a Super Potato. Sure, the Wii and the PlayStation 3 will eventually be stacked on their obsolete console shelf alongside purple Gamecubes and Virtual Boys, but no one's ever going to be reminded of the summer of 2008 by looking at copies of Braid or Mega Man 9. If (when?) discs are ever completely eliminated from the videogame market, then the products we love will never be enshrined in any dedicated store like this. While I admit the online store model is a hell of a lot more organized and convenient for people like me who deplore the tediousness of handling all these discs and boxes, there's no emotional value to be found by pressing "browse by title."
A great example is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a game so beloved it can be found on both the PSN and Xbox LIVE as well as hidden inside Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP. I've clicked past it on the list of PSOne titles dozens of times without ever putting it in my shopping cart. But when I saw it among used PlayStation games here in Japan, I felt the memories flood my mind and I ended up buying it at twice the cost of PSN if only to play it in Japanese for a change.
Another example is Doom. Thanks to an insane New Year's sale on Steam, I bought the original and its sequel for ninety-nine cents apiece. I've barely touched them in the months since, but how could I resist such a deal? I've spent more than ninety-nine cents on novelty flavored Pepsi, so two of the great PC games of my teenage years was a no-brainer. However, I can promise you that seeing those titles on my list of installed games doesn't have a fraction of the impact that picking it up in my hands does. Whenever I see a used PlayStation version, I immediately recall the night my friends and I gathered all our resources and rented a copy of the game so we could have two PlayStations running on two televisions in order to play co-op mode. It was only one night but I'll never forget the sheer giddiness of the experience as I cackled at seeing my friend's space marine run across my screen.
I am a realist as well as an optimist. I think buying games online and having them "delivered" instantly to my hard drive is a wonderful thing. I resent juggling Blu-ray discs every time I want to watch a movie because I keep BioShock ready to go in my PS3 at all times, so the ease at which I can go from PixelJunk Eden to PixelJunk Monsters is very convenient. Yet the prospect of an all-digital (or all-streaming) future is a bleak one to me because I'll miss the colorful charm of Super Potato, where the games all cost money but the memories are free.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Friday, June 26, 2009
I was born in the 70s but I grew up in the 80s and, as a result, Michael Jackson was the undisputed ruler of the planet for a stretch of my childhood. We had a copy of Thriller and we played it a lot, more than any other contemporary music that we had. I'm sure I don't seem to be a very musical person, but I cannot stress how many times I listened to that record and watched him perform on the once-great stage that was MTV.
In a way, his death reminds me of the conflicting emotions I experienced five years ago when Ronald Reagan died (ironically, Michael died in a medical center named for Reagan). Both men were superstars of the 1980's and both were inescapable; there wasn't a channel on television or magazine cover that didn't feature their image on a regular basis, to say nothing of video games and comic books.
Once the 80's ended, the two of them went in very separate directions. Reagan all but disappeared from public view while Michael only became more famous - just not for his music. Between the molestation charges, his increasingly bizarre appearance and the scores of rumors, Michael Jackson the performer became a memory. It was a really great memory that we all shared, but with each new story the Michael Jackson we saw made it harder to look back with fondness on the Michael Jackson we all loved.
So in a sick way, Michael's death is the best thing to happen to Michael's musical legacy. Unlike Ronald Reagan, his very public life was actively denigrating his past accomplishments. When Reagan died, everyone looked back on his presidency and wondered whether he was right to do what he did. Michael's music is unambiguously positive; it was the lingering pedophilia questions and oddball child-rearing habits that was negative.
The more I think about it, the dirtier I feel for ever having condemned Michael for anything he did in his personal life. Yes, I thought that Martin Bashir special made him look creepy as hell, but why and what did that matter? The man was an incredible singer, dancer and performer. Who cares that he had his children wear masks and fancied himself to be Peter Pan?
I guess in the end, it doesn't matter at all what any of us thought about him because he's dead. And when someone dies, especially someone with young children, I feel awful. Goodbye Michael, we never knew you but deep down we all loved you.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Oh, were you expecting something more relevant to recent events? Fine, look at this:
"I'm Batman." What, like he knows I'm fibbing?
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, April 30, 2009
I bring this up because when I bought my Xbox the first game I wanted to play on it was Braid. The game was released last summer and I had heard all of the acclaim surrounding it, but aside from seeing a few bizarre screenshots and having a brief playthrough of the first World in February, I hadn't a clue what the game was actually about.
One of Braid's strengths is its simplicity, at least as far as the controls and premise are concerned. You're told that you're trying to rescue a princess and your character jumps on monsters' heads to defeat them. This has all been done many times before, and playing the game in this way is extremely simple. I would wager that any player could "traverse" the first five worlds in a half-hour without much effort.
Of course, Braid is not simply about running through the levels and looking for a princess. Each World contains a number of puzzle pieces scattered throughout and in order to reach the epilogue, players must find them all and correctly assemble them. The pieces are not hidden and do not require any searching at all, nor are the puzzles themselves hard to put together. However, almost all of the pieces are located just out of reach or behind locked doors. Discovering exactly how to obtain them is the real puzzle of Braid.
Making all of this more complicated (and more entertaining as well) is the player's ability to manipulate time. There are no lives or continues to worry about in Braid. If you screw up a jump or run into a monster, you just rewind into the past and try again. While this proves instrumental in solving certain puzzles as the game progresses, I really appreciated this feature from a pure convenience standpoint. As an adult without much time for games in my life right now, I find the "punishment" notion that most games apply to be a real turn-off. Rather than being sent back to replay the previous stage or restart the game from the beginning, Braid allowed me to just play at my own pace thanks to the built-in "undo" function. This didn't make the game any easier to complete either, it just meant I wasn't frustrated by pointless repetition.
That lack of frustration was the key that made Braid so much fun for me to play. I never felt lost because the levels were small and completely linear (even when they went backwards). There were plenty of head-scratching moments when it came to collecting the puzzle pieces, but this never led me to get pissed off and run to the Internet for help. Instead, careful experimentation and the occasional night's rest led me to discover the solutions on my own, each time resulting in that same wonderful "Ohhhhhh..." exclamation that The Usual Suspects elicited all those years ago. The puzzles were just hard enough to make me stop and think about them, but easy enough to let made me feel smart by solving them without much personal anguish.
If anything got to me, it was a few of the trickier, timing-based puzzles. It's ironic that a game where you control the flow of time would have challenging portions that required precision timing, but there were a few parts where I struggled. It was during these sections that I grudging went online for tips, feeling a little guilty in doing so because Braid really rewards self-discovery. Amazingly, during my online searches I discovered that the game features a completely hidden bonus section that requires finding eight stars across all six worlds. I had never even seen a star in my playthrough and the game's Achievements did not mention them. I hope to replay Braid at some point to see if I can discover these incredibly well-kept secrets.
Another reason I have for going back to Braid is to try and make sense of the game's rather clunky story, which I am still struggling to interpret. While I have no doubt that the in-world gameplay, the paintings that are assembled via the puzzle pieces, and the final stage play a larger role in the game's story than I understand at this time, the primary on-screen story is delivered through long passages of text at the start of each world and in an extremely verbose epilogue. I have nothing against reading but considering how well the game handles teaching you how to play without using any words, flipping through pages of exposition feels terribly awkward. I cannot hold this against the game, however, because I am positive that there is simply something I have missed and must further consider to understand the story. Unlike The Usual Suspects, there is no dramatic unveiling of the game's secrets in the finale. The curious decision to make "World 2" the first stage and "World 1" the last one is another hint that the game's story is another puzzle that needs to be solved rather than simply read through to the end.
Braid may be a very short game that seems expensive compared to other XBox LIVE Arcade titles, but the simple fact that I continue to think about my experience with the game weeks after "completing" it demonstrates its long-lasting impact on players. It is fun to play, yes, but solving those puzzles was an absolute thrill. Until I manage to solve them all, including the game's deceptively complex story, I shall revisit Braid again and again. That's more than I can say for the big-budget disc-based games I've purchased. Hell, that's more than I can say for most of the movies I watch or the books I've read. With the game's recent release on PC I strongly recommend that everyone, not just Xbox owners, give Braid a try.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Friday, April 10, 2009
Before I did that though, I went outside to just take a walk around. Hana Town is a very quiet place and this school is one of the more removed ones from anything resembling urban or even suburban life. The school sits on top of a hill surrounded by farms and fields. I walked to the end of the playground and went down a stairway I never descended before. I knew it was there, because I've seen a number of children head towards the corner of the yard and disappear after school, but in all these months I never actually saw it for myself.
The stairs are stone and uneven and they offer yet another view of the farmland that dominates Hana Town. I spent a good ten minutes on that stairway, not climbing or descending but just standing there and looking out at the countryside. I saw a tractor and I could hear the occasional car in the distance, but I couldn't see any other people or machines. Mostly what I saw and heard was pure nature - birds and bugs with the wind rustling the bamboo.
Staring out at the peaceful side of Japan, I was suddenly nostalgic for my own childhood. No, I didn't grow up around farms or forests, but in suburban Westchester there is plenty of nature for children to enjoy. We had a yard with trees on our property. I could walk from my home to two different parks, one with a playground and the other with a river. More than anything, it was quiet throughout the day and night. Our street was not a busy one. The biggest vehicles that came by were the school bus twice a day and the garbage truck twice a week.
I know I tell people "I'm from New York City" and I mean it, but it's somewhat of an exaggeration. I was merely born there and I grew up loving it from afar, living in its humongous shadow in my small village. I know I enjoy city life and I feel like where I live now isn't urban enough to satisfy me, but standing on those stone steps and just being outside in the quiet outdoors, it felt great. It felt really great.
So do I really want what I say I want? Would I be happier living in a house in Osaka or Kobe? Or would I prefer to live in this rural area where my family would have more space to ourselves? Either way I would be choosing to distance myself from one type of environment by selecting to live in the other. What's better to be close to: people or trees? Stores or farms? Trains or tractors?
Ultimately I would have to consider Mako's feelings, as this is not the kind of decision I can make by myself anymore. Mako grew up in a much more urban setting. Her childhood home is just a few hundred feet from a major rail line that has frequent express trains rocketing past every few minutes. I remember I could hear them over our Internet chats quite clearly. Where we live now, we're close to a train but it's not a major artery. The bells of the automatic crossing gate are louder than the trains themselves.
But really, more than actually making a decision here, I'm suddenly caught up with trying to understand my own though process. I know I enjoy myself more - MUCH more - when I spent time in an urban center. Yeah, I hate dealing with crowds and Japanese cities are even noisier than American ones because of everything and everyone here seems to have a loudspeaker or a megaphone to get your attention. This doesn't change the fact that my entire mindset and feeling of self-worth increases when I'm navigating subways and walking down dim alleyways. Put simply, I feel more alive when I'm in a busy city with tall buildings and underground passageways.
Yet there is a significant part of me that just wants to run away from all that. I want to have a house where the neighbors can be seen through the window but not heard through the walls. I want to wake up in the morning to birds rather than clanging bells. I want to fall asleep to the sounds of insects rather than motorcycles. Growing up, I had all that but I kept dreaming of living in New York. Even having spent about ten months staying with my father in Manhattan during my college years, I still can't say with any certainty that it was better than the lifestyle I knew as a child.
With a son on the way I'm forced to ask myself the same questions my parents must have asked themselves in 1976. They both grew up in New York City but they chose to leave. Was it for my sake, because they wanted me to play outside rather than be holed up in an apartment? Or did they simply dream of a suburban life that they themselves never knew but always wanted? It certainly wasn't for convenience's sake, as my father would spend the next twenty years commuting into the city for his career. Is my lifelong desire to live in a city an ironic reversal of their intentions?
Taking it one step further, which country do I really want to raise my son in? Japan offers me more opportunities for steady work and a decent wage, but I fear the cramped living conditions and the "memorization over problem solving" system of education. America would mean more familiar (read: comfortable) surroundings and less cultural ostracization for me, but then Mako would have big hurdles to overcome and I have no idea what kind of job either one of us could find in the United States right now.
Whichever environment we choose for our family, be it Apartment vs House, City vs Suburbs, or even Japan vs US, I suspect we'll always wonder what things could have been like had we chosen differently. If I can keep that in mind, I might have less trouble making the "right" choice and just choose what feels best.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Yes, I made my very first blog post on April 1st, 2004, beginning my journey into the blogosphere. I knew my primary motivation at the time was to force myself to get back into the habit of writing, a task I have always struggled to perform. My failure to write papers and essays in a timely fashion drove my English and Social Studies/History teachers crazy and nearly failed me out of high school (and practically sunk my initial college aspirations). I simply couldn't get myself motivated enough to sit down and start writing when school demanded it, even though I was always OK with writing stories about myself. Eventually my disdain for writing drove me to leave school altogether, much to the chagrin of my parents.
Even as I scorned the usefulness of academic writing, I occasionally had flashes of productivity for my own needs. I kept a very thorough journal during my first visit to Japan in 2001, filling an entire notebook in only three weeks. I found the experience extremely satisfying even though hardly anyone read it. I wrote about myself for myself and it felt great. Three years later, I was nearing the end of my postal service career and on the verge of launching myself back into school, so I knew my life would undergo some major changes and I would have to start writing again. This knowledge, combined with the general "hipness" blogs were enjoying at the time, prompted me to start my own blog in the hopes that writing regularly about my life would help break down my resistance to writing on an assigned topic.
I've already admitted that my grander ideas for the site have completely failed, but aside from a dry spell than covered most of my initial year in the JET Programme, the blog has been a success for me. It didn't exactly make writing papers in school easy but it certainly trained me to sit in front of a keyboard for long stretches of time. Its greatest moments were unquestionably during my study abroad experience at Kansai Gaidai, serving as both a portal into my life for my family and friends back home as well as offering me a record of falling in love with Mako. Spending nearly every evening writing about my new environment as well as my new relationship forced me to really think about what was happening to me.
What does the future hold for this site? I would say my aspirations have changed even if my motivations remain the same. I still want to practice writing but the new goal is not academic but...dare I say it...professional. As insane as it sounds, I think my future is in writing despite all of the problems I've had with it over the years. I don't know whether that means trying to break into journalism or trying to write fiction, but I know that when I write, I feel like I am genuinely accomplishing something. Even though I haven't "improved" in any tangible sense (my readership and my productivity are a fraction of what they once were), my attitude has completely changed towards writing. It's no longer a burden or an obligation, but an opportunity.
Speaking of the future, the birth of my son is now a mere ten weeks away (give or take). I know that once the baby is here there will be a struggle on two fronts to maintain my interest in writing. One will be the simple issue of finding time to write while taking care of a brand new human being. The other is avoiding the perils of becoming a vacuous "baby blogger," where suddenly every single post is about my son and the issues that come with raising a child. I've seen so many others turn their blog space into banal accounts of diaper-changing, baby's-first-everything, and cutesy photos that it frightens me.
On that note, I feel the time is right to finally reveal the name I have chosen for my son. I know I resisted this but I can't stand sitting on my brilliant idea any longer: the baby's name will be...
Yes, 5. Not Five, but 5. With my son growing up in an international, bilingual household and having to juggle at least two different cultures as he matures, it is unfair to label him with a name that is rooted in only one language. By naming him 5, my son can adapt to any environment because numerals are universal. English speakers can call him "Five," Spanish speakers can call him "Cinqo," and Japanese people can call him any number of things because Japanese numbers are weird like that. But that's the point: with an entire globe of different words and ideas, my son cannot simply retreat into one familiar tongue and insist that strangers address him in one way. He will be forced to open his mind and learn new words with each new person he meets. At the same time, he will be free of the burden of correcting anyone on the pronunciation of his first name. His last name, sadly, is another story.
Why 5 instead of 7, 10, or 42? Well, I felt a single digit was important for brevity's sake (have you ever heard 99 in French? Interminable!) and of all the numbers from 0-9, 5 felt both masculine and manageable. It's a nice round number that's easy to count with. Plus, if he ever forgets his business card or a pen, he can simply open his hand and point to his fingers. 0 sounded cool, but it has some negative connotations and, let's face it, you can't count to 0 easily. 1 looks like I, 2 looks like V or "peace" on your fingers, 3 is too mockable (it looks like boobs or an ass), 4 reminded me of golf, 6 is too close to "sex," 7 is written in Europe with a line through the middle, 8 looks like "infinity," and 9 would cause too many problems in Germany.
No, 5 it is. I'm weighing potential middle names just so he can have another initial to work with (5F isn't quite right) but I'm not sure what other symbols I can use. It can't be another numeral because that would complicate his first name. People would see 5 0 Feit at start calling him "Fiddy" or worse, "Five-o." Perhaps we could use a kanji as a nod to his Asian heritage? How does 5 伍 F look to you? If you don't know what it means, you can look it up.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I am not, as a rule, frightened by public radio. Neither the concept nor the content are typically unsettling. Most of the time the stories are quirky, interesting, or even thought-provoking. I guess this latest episode about parental worst-case scenarios falls under the latter category, but it did so while absolutely scaring the hell out of me.
My wife and I talk a lot about our forthcoming baby, mostly focusing on the necessary preparations that we need to make before he is born, but we do ask ourselves the question: "What kind of baby will he be?" We look at her sister's kids as two wildly different baby archetypes. Her son Daichi is loud (I should say LOUD), lively, and constantly demands attention. Her daughter Mizuki is quiet and rarely makes a fuss. Mizuki may very well turn into Daichi over time (she is only sixteen months old) but I have been interacting with Daichi for some time now and I feel like he has always been a noisy, active child.
This American Life forced me to think about what kind of teenager my son will be, thanks to two terrifying tales of families nearly destroyed through a few simple mistakes. One mother found her young teens drifting away after she divorced their father and when she tried to pull them closer, they rebelled and eventually ran away from home. While she certainly treated them with a bit of a heavy hand, I'm not sure how else she could have responded. Had she gone easy on them after they started skipping school and partying all night, surely that would not have reeled them back in? Then again, when they ran away they descended into even more self-destructive behavior and one of them almost died from a heroin overdose. Given the choice, I think I'd rather have my son disrespect me in my own house than not know if he's dead or alive on the streets.
The second horrifying story was a teen who screwed up at school. His grades were sinking, he was caught stealing school supplies, and when he threw some lit matches in a gym locker, he feared the worst when the school threatened to expel the guilty party. Despite having friends, a caring older brother and two "disappointed" but obviously attentive parents, he tried to kill himself. It wasn't even the first time and he openly told other students he was going to commit suicide. Again, the parents and teachers were right to disapprove of his outright criminal actions, but how could they have better expressed themselves so as not to lead him to choose suicide as the best response?
I think back to my teenage years and it scares me even more because I wasn't too far off from these kids. No, I never got caught doing anything outrageous like arson or theft, but my friends and I did a lot of stupid things that could have easily gotten us into a lot of trouble. I destroyed school property on a number of occasions, and when things got bad in high school I would cut class. In the real world, I shoplifted once or twice and I had plenty of opportunities to drink or smoke whatever I wanted (although I never did while I was in school). Had someone ratted me out on my bad behavior, had a store clerk been a bit more attentive, had I been more receptive to the offers of alcohol or drugs...basically, I was a few coin-flips away from being in the exact bind that these kids got themselves into.
Yet here I sit today in a very fortunate position, happily married with a decent job and a baby on the way. I narrowly avoided wrecking my life and instead merely put myself on the shelf for a few years before getting back on track. Was it merely luck? Did my parents do something right? Was there something else they could have done to prevent the (shallow) ditch I dug for myself? These are now the questions I'm asking myself, both in looking back at my own life and looking ahead to my son's future antics. If he strays or puts himself at risk, will I make the right call? Worse yet, is there a right call to make? That's the scariest thought of all.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, March 19, 2009
In the days leading up to the ceremony I tried to think back to my own elementary school experiences and remember what, if anything, we did to commemorate "graduation." First, I doubt we used that word to describe the occasion. Second, I can remember wearing a nice shirt and pants on that day. Third, I can clearly recall Principal Rubin, who had served in his position since before I came to the school, announcing that he was retiring during his speech to all of us. And lastly, I can remember walking home with my close friend David which was unusual because we almost always went home by bus.
Besides these snippets, I can't remember what else there was. Did we each receive a certificate or diploma? Was there any singing or coordinated "ceremony" of any kind? Or was it just an assembly like any other where the principal said a few words and we all left afterwards? I have to assume our parents attended and took pictures, but then why would I remember walking home? Surely my mom or David's mom would have driven us home had they been there.
Whatever I can or cannot recall, I can promise you this: elementary school graduation in Japan is way nicer than it is in America. Hell, yesterday's ceremony was nicer than my high school graduation. It may have been a little dry at times and formal to a fault, but if there's one thing Japan does right it's ritual. There's a reason they spent weeks practicing, and that's because they wanted to give these kids a proper farewell.
I got very lucky in that this year graduation fell on a Wednesday which meant I got to see some of my best students at the good school where English is taken fairly seriously. Since I have worked with these particular students every week since I got here, I actually had an emotional investment in seeing them off. Had things worked out differently and I ended up at one of the big schools where I don't even know the students' names, yesterday would have felt truly hollow. Instead I came away with a new appreciation for all the seemingly mindless rehearsals I had watched in the previous weeks.
I will admit the day started out on the wrong foot. I wore a suit which of course looked nice but neckties are hardly comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I was feeling the tightness by the time I got off the bus in front of school. The ceremony didn't get started until 10 but I had to arrive at my usual time and then just sit in the staff room and wait. I actually went into the gym early to take a look around at the numerous decorations before the younger students filed in early and - you guessed it - practiced everything one more time. Thankfully, there was precious little nitpicking about sitting down together.
When the parents trickled in I got to play the matching game in my head - whose mom and dad is that? There were more moms than dads, of course, but I was happy to see how many couples came together. Good to know that this qualified as one of those special occasions that could draw Japanese men away from the office. I didn't see many grandparents though, and there were only two young siblings among the guests.
After the parents sat down, there was a group of people who came in to the gym alongside the principal. These were "distinguished guests" (来賓 raihin) who collectively sat at their own special table across from the teachers, giving them a closer view of the ceremony than the parents. This struck me as bizarre. Why would these people get a more intimate perspective on the proceedings than camera-carrying relatives?
When the sixth graders finally entered the gym, we started applauding. This turned out to be the first endurance challenge of the day. Even though there were only seventeen graduates, they each entered the gym one at a time and walked slowly and deliberately to their seats, making each step and turn in a robot-like fashion. Have you ever played Resident Evil? They moved just like that, stopping and rotating at each juncture. The entire entrance seemed to last forever and my arms got tired.
From that point, things slipped into extreme formality for about a an hour and forty minutes. Each step in the ceremony was announced by a teacher with a microphone. We all began by singing two songs: the national anthem and the school song. While I had heard both many times before I didn't know the words to either. The school song's lyrics were written in the program but the anthem was not. Maybe they should have been because I looked around and noticed that most children didn't even know the words. To think, all that practice and they forgot something? That can't be an accident. Maybe it's just for adults to sing?
Curiously, the very next step was handing out the diplomas. I would have thought that would be a nice climax, but that's not how they do it in Japan. The principal inched his way up to a podium, then the vice-principal rigidly carried up the diplomas to him before slowly returning to his seat. The sixth grade homeroom teacher, wearing a kimono nearly as elaborate as the one I wore for my wedding, stood up and called out the students' names in an authoritative bark. He didn't use the microphone which was right next to him because he didn't have to. Think back to Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef and you can imagine what this guy sounded like.
When the principal handed out each diploma, he said the student's name, birthday (?) and what "number" they were. I'm not sure, but given the alarmingly high numbers I am presuming that was a count of all graduates in the school's 100+ year history. Of course, the students did not merely take the diplomas. There was a strict order of operations: take the paper with two hands, pass the paper into the left hand, tuck it under the left arm, step back, deep bow, turn around, and then bring the paper to another teacher who rolled it up and put it into a tube.
Then came the most absurdly formal thing I've ever seen. With all the diplomas handed out, the principal marched across the gym back to his seat. The teacher announced that "the principal would like to say a few words." The principal then stood up and went all the way back to the same podium. What the hell was that about? Keep in mind that the teacher and the principal were in two separate locations. There was no scarcity of microphones, they just had to make sure that each phase of the ceremony was distinct from the last. I have to wonder what that accomplishes.
The principal's words were the first of a long line of speeches. Indeed, the rest of the program was just "so & so says a few words." Each of the guests had a few things to say to the graduates. The man at the mike read aloud congratulatory messages from former homeroom teachers, going all the way back to first grade. Eventually he gave his own speech because he had been their fourth grade homeroom teacher. And yet at no point did their current teacher, the man who also taught them last year, say anything other than their names. I really found the whole thing inexplicably stiff and awkward.
But the longer I sat there, I slowly began to feel moved by the process. Maybe it was in spite of the coldness of it all, but I started to come to terms with the fact that these kids were no longer going to be my students. I kind of liked them, even if they didn't necessarily like me. They were noisy at times, bored at others, but mostly they listened to what I had to say. They asked questions when they didn't understand something. In fact, these had been the only kids to actually ask me questions in English when I delivered my clumsy introduction back in September of 2007. This was their moment; their elementary school finale. It's funny, but even though this graduation doesn't mean much in the long run (later ceremonies and school events will carry much more impact on their lives), six years is an eternity for kids at this age. The middle school may be just up the road, but they are leaving behind a huge part of their lives. I'd probably be scared if I was in their position. Could the elaborate formality of this ceremony be designed to suppress anxiety and emotional outbursts?
Eventually it all wrapped up with the oft-rehearsed exchange of encouragement and thanks from the younger students. They sang a song, the graduates sang two songs, and then it was time. When they filtered out of the gym, we all stood and clapped again. This time I managed to pace myself better, knowing it was a clapping marathon that lay ahead. Once we left the gym as well, we all gathered outside the main entrance where we saw them off again, this time with a lot more smiles and handshakes because (surprise) it was clearly not as structured. After spending the morning watching them hold everything inside, it was a relief to see them act like kids again.
Everyone (students and parents) seemed to leave at that point, surprising the hell out of me, but it proved to be only temporary. After we ate lunch in the staff room (again, there were speeches and posturing) we all went to the gym for a kind of goodbye party. There were tons of snacks and soft drinks, two cakes (one chocolate, one not) and everyone just talked for a while. I was a little sad that no student or parent ever approached me during this time, but I had a few conversations with other teachers instead.
At some point they broke out musical instruments and then things got weird. Someone started playing a song I've never heard before and all the teachers (me included) got up and did a dance. No, I wasn't prepared for it but I just followed the others' lead. Then the students played a tune or two and tried to sing, but the instruments were louder than their voices. By this point I was actually in danger of missing the bus home, but it all came to an end and I made my exit.
Looking back on everything I saw and felt yesterday, I'm still kind of processing it all. I was initially questioning the gravity of it all but I now can see the reasoning behind the (at times) heavy-duty seriousness. I wish those kids the best, certainly, and I'm glad I was there to see them go. I wish I had gotten a chance to actually say goodbye to them (I had my hopes dashed for a farewell lesson last week) but I can only blame myself for not trying harder to talk to them at the party.
In the end, little has changed. I'm still the foreigner here to teach English and in a few weeks, there will again be a full compliment of students for me to work with. In three months I won't be able to remember the graduates' names - will they remember mine? I'd like to think so, but the real goal was getting these kids to think about English and foreigners in general as less "foreign." Even if they forget about me I hope they don't forget what I tried to teach them. I know won't forget what they taught me.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Wil asks people to pick four "classic" arcade games and one pinball game to have in your house. Money and maintenance are no object. Here's what I picked, feel free to share your own choices below.
 Star Wars "Trilogy Arcade" (1998) would have to be number one if only because it has never been ported over to a console, as doing so would ruin half the fun. A sit-down rail shooter that took you through the highlights of the original Star Wars films, back when they were still the ONLY Star Wars films, wasn't very challenging but it was a hell of a ride. With practice, I could finish the whole game on one credit, making it the ultimate version of those quarter-operated motorized spaceships that used to sit outside the supermarket.
 Fighting Mania: Fist of the North Star (2000) is another game that cannot be enjoyed in a living room because the game requires you to actually beat the crap out of moving padded targets. Considering Fist of the North Star is all about a guy who can punch people faster than the speed of light, this game doubles as an intense workout as you try to hit the targets as fast as he can.
 Captain America and the Avengers (1991) isn't the greatest four-player cabinet from that era, but the kitchen-sink approach to bosses offers a wide range of famous Marvel foes to defeat. The four playable characters are all really cool as well, especially the Vision. But the best part of all is hearing the machine yell "I...can't...move!" when you lose, just like a comic book hero would.
 Golgo 13 (circa 2001) was a tremendous sniper action game where you filled the shoes of the legendary assassin from the Japanese manga. Unlike other sniper games where you were always fighting soldiers, this game offered a constant variety of targets. I remember shooting a diamond out of a crooked fat-cat's hand, disarming a bomb on an elevator by cutting the wire with my high powered rifle, and even sniping a lady's high heeled shoe so that she fell down a stairway...because sometimes, it's gotta look like an accident.
My classic pinball game is FUNHOUSE with the big dummy head at the top. He talked a lot of smack as you played, making shooting balls down his throat all the more satisfying.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
What makes people collect things?
I feel like I should know the answer inherently because I have, at one time or another, collected all kinds of things. There were toys at first, mostly Transformers but also G.I. Joe and the like. I didn't just play with the ones I had, I always wanted to get more. In fact, when my friends and I would play with one another, if there was a character we didn't have we would actually build a proxy version out of Construx. I can't say what motivated us to keep expanding and expanding our rosters. It's not like we could ever possibly play with all of the toys we had, but somehow more toys equaled more fun in our young minds.
It wasn't long before I moved on to video games. My parents were passively accepting of my video game habits without actually aiding me in my efforts to buy games. Aside from an initial compromise from my mother who agreed to pay for half of an NES if I achieved a certain amount in the sixth grade, I was always on my own for purchasing new software or hardware. I found it surprisingly easy to meet my goals by saving my allowance, money from my paper route or whatever other funds I happened to come across.
Once I bought a game I played it as much as I could. Even if the game wasn't good (Anticipation, anyone?), I always kept at it for a long while before moving on. When a game was "done" (a state which varied from game to game) I just put it aside and thought about what might be next. Certain games were never "done" while others were occasionally resurrected when I learned something new about them or when a friend came over and had never played it before.
It was years before I even considered selling old games to make way for new ones; eventually that became my modus operandi. I was in a near-constant state of flux, selling and buying, trading things for store credit then immediately cashing out. Since the process was never a one-for-one deal, my collecting days were over as I began playing more and more titles. As the console competition began to increase, I actually sold entire systems in order to buy new ones. Maybe it was commercial peer pressure that drove me to cannibalize my collection so that I could keep buying newer/faster/bigger games and systems, or maybe I simply realized that holding onto games I didn't play was meaningless.
Then again, perhaps I just substituted one collection for another. As my stockpile of games and paraphernalia decreased, I started spending more money on movies. At first it was VHS tapes, but I became one of the "early adopters" of the DVD format. My interest in movies was nothing new, as I had always been nuts about going out to see new films in theaters and I was the major catalyst in our family's video rental membership, but it wasn't until high school or so that I really started buying a lot of movies and keeping them in a closet. Part of it had to do with my new-found interest in foreign films and anime, few of which were even available for rent in our local store, but I owned plenty of mainstream Hollywood films as well. My collection certainly wasn't just for show - I actively watched and re-watched everything when I had time, and I took great pleasure in loaning or showing new things to my friends. At my urge's strongest point, I honestly had a "buy first" rather than "rent first" attitude. Sometimes this led to pleasant surprises (Unbreakable is still my favorite M. Night Shyamalan film) while other times it led to extreme disappointment (insert random kung-fu flick here, especially since they often cost double or triple a domestic film).
Things got really ugly when collecting became a means to an end. Owning more toys, games or films doesn't enhance your ability to enjoy them - it just means you have more stuff. When I discovered Magic: The Gathering, that was not the case. Buying more Magic cards gave me more options for playing the game and the constant introduction of new cards, combined with the power of rare-by-design cards, drove me to spend thousands of dollars on the game when I rarely earned more than a hundred in a week's paycheck. Once I started working at the post office and earning a real salary, I spent even more. The game was, and still is, tremendously fun. I cannot deny enjoying those late-night sessions I spent facing off against my friends using our various decks of cards. However, the collection aspect of the game demanded too much of me. Not only was I spending money on new packs of cards in the hopes of finding rare cards, I was buying individual cards to strengthen the decks I already had.
As my collection grew I needed to spend money (and goodness knows how many hours) on binders, boxes and folders just to keep all the cards in order. Then came the magazines and buying guides that both showed me what cards might be useful to me and how much my current cards were worth. I spent less time playing Magic: The Gathering and more time just Gathering my Magic. Looking back it was a kind of sexy nightmare; a gilded cage I built for myself, loving every minute of it even as I poured money out the window. When the time came to shed my massive collection, the whole thing netted me $300 - surely less than a tenth of what I had spent.
So what now? All my collections from the past have been scattered to the wind and now sit in at least three separate locations, sitting in someone's closet or basement thousands of miles away. I no longer buy any toys or movies (at least, not since dropping 9000 Yen on that Japanese copy of Grindhouse *_*) and while my video game buying habits are still strong, you could hardly describe my handful of titles a "collection." Have I gone cold turkey? Am I just one new obsession away from succumbing to the cry of the collector?
At this point I believe my collection needs are being met virtually-speaking, thanks to the PlayStation 3's trophy system. They are the perfect collectible, honestly. They have no mass and cost no money. There are no "limited editions" or artificial scarcity. I will never need to re-acquire an old trophy or replace one with a newer version. They cannot be broken or stolen. All I can do is earn them by playing video games which is a hobby I already practice. Best of all, they have no use whatsoever. I am free at last.
Today's post was inspired by the second episode of Robert Ashley's brilliant
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, February 09, 2009
It was just last week that a teacher asked me what "scrapbooker" meant, forcing me to recall a period decades earlier when my parents actually kept a scrapbook of sorts about me. Beyond the usual vacation snapshots (which my father still has), there were a surprising number of clippings from local newspapers about me, be it school related or just random photographs from a soccer game. I don't know if I just kept getting lucky or if the local paper was simply starved for material. Either way, there was a real thrill to seeing my name or face in print (provided I was fully clothed and not eating when the picture was taken) even years later when looking at childhood photos was otherwise considered humiliating.
Years after that local paper which must have been tailing me closed down, I was a very excited contributor to our high school newspaper. Well, by "newspaper" I mean "simple packet of pages stapled together," but it all we had in our small school and I was thrilled whenever I managed to get an article included. Mostly I wrote movie reviews covering whatever I happened to get to see at the multiplex. Knowing my quirks, the movies I watched probably weren't interesting to a majority of the other students, but if it was interesting enough to the editors of the school paper it qualified for inclusion. While my review of Star Trek VI was an easy sell, they were less convinced when I pitched a lengthy series of James Bond trivia questions.
The point of all these fuzzy memories is that there was always something special about having my image or my words published in any format, and that feeling does not translate well in the digital age. With my own website running for almost five straight years, I have easily transmitted my ideas and photographs around the world to thousands of people. Yet I do not feel as proud of feitclub.com as I was of the time that my pitifully simplistic student website in 1995 was heralded in a UR alumni newsletter. At the time, being selected for inclusion in a printed publication, any publication it would seem, trumped all electronic forms. Part of me still feels that's the case today.
Perhaps it's not a matter of being printed on paper as it is passing the necessary vetting process for making it onto the pages of a newspaper or magazine. The ease of digital "publishing" lowers the stakes and subsequently the standards of choosing what material is "fit to print." If something is misspelled or if a fact is mistaken, it's never more than a quick online edit away from being corrected. When ink and presses are involved, everything must be checked and rechecked before making the expensive commitment to actually publishing anyone's words. I can't recall ever reading a typo in copy edition of The Onion, but I've certainly come across the odd error or two in the electronic version.
I'm not going to be one of those people who feels that everything was better when they were a kid or that the convenience and affordability of the Internet somehow invalidates its ability to send ideas worldwide instantly. I know an upgrade when I see it and the speed at which information now moves is an amazing leap forward from the lumbering card catalog days of my youth. However, just like every touchscreen voting machine protestor in the world, I know that there is an added value to recording something onto paper. The idea that somewhere in our village library or inside a filing cabinet in my high school lies a collection of my old material is very comforting. I'm not going to shed any tears over EGM in particular, but if print ever truly dies it will be a sad day.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, January 22, 2009
When you get right down to it, going to the movies has got to be my favorite thing to do in the whole world. Sure, I've been playing video games for three decades, TV has always been there for me, and I find myself growing increasingly involved in the intricacies of the Internet, but nothing gets me excited like sitting in a theater and having the lights go down. Even when the movie sucks, I feel pretty good about having experienced it. Hell, some of my best memories involve some spectacularly shitty films, a few friends, and a modest amount of alcohol.
I should stress that as much fun as DVD and Blu-Ray are, they still cannot compare to the theatrical outing in my mind. I appreciate the ability to catch up with movies I didn't get to see the first time around, there's certainly a comfort level that watching movies at home, and as TVs get bigger and wider the inadequacies of home viewing vs a movie screen get narrower by the day. However, the convenience of watching a movie at home is part of the problem. Going out to the theater is a trip, a deliberate decision to isolate yourself and commit two or three hours to watching a film. There are constant distractions at home, so much so that I rarely manage to watch an entire movie without hitting pause at least once.
Of course, there's also no chance of a shared experience with a crowd at home. I consider the explosive reactions of the audience as an integral part of the fabulous evening my friends and I had when we saw Grindhouse in a packed White Plains multiplex to be one of the highlights of that year. Even if my fellow audience members are quiet or scarce (or both), there is a vicarious feeling to being in public that adds to the humor/tension/drama of whatever is flashing across the screen. When a friend and I saw The Big Lebowski in a tiny arthouse cinema outside Danbury, we were the only two people who seemed to "get" the movie. We laughed and laughed at the top of our lungs while the other dozen or so patrons sat quietly. Two other friends and I had a similar evening watching Napoleon Dynamite surrounded by teenagers who must have been drawn in by the MTV ads but were clearly not interested in the tweaked sense of humor at work.
Obviously things are different here in Japan. No one ever seems to laugh in movie theaters in this country and all my friends are thousands of miles away. The tickets cost extra and by the time I get to see a movie around here, the rest of the world has already made up its mind about it which stings. Despite all of this, the "high" of the cinema is no less fulfilling here than at home. Here's hoping I don't have to spend the next two months in withdrawal.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, January 01, 2009
It's a few minutes into 2009. This awkward sounding number has prompted me to look back at the other -9 years I've experienced. In 1979 my sister was born. At the time I wasn't too thrilled about it but in the long run this has proved to be a very fortunate event in my life. In 1989 I first attended the CTY summer program and after some initial discomfort, I learned to fully embrace the opportunity to study and explore topics that interested me in a rewarding, supportive environment. As much as I loathed regular school, that's exactly how much I loved CTY. In 1999 I moved out my temporary basement hell-hole and into my first real apartment. I would spend five years in that apartment and, while I never fully accepted it as a "home," it was the closest I've ever come to truly living on my own.
So what can we say about 2009? Much like 2008, I will probably spent the entirety of the year living in Japan with only the occasional trip overseas. I foresee no major employment or residential shifts - this job and the apartment that comes with it are both entirely satisfactory. I'm hoping 2009 is the first year I will get to see some of my very close friends pay me a visit here in Japan because I'm eager to share what I love about this country with guests, but that's not up to me and the weak dollar isn't going to make things very easy on American tourists.
But who am I kidding? 2009 is going to be the year my first child is born, and that's an automatic Best Year Ever marker. Normally I'm more of the reflective "this was a good year" type rather than the optimistic "this is going to be an awesome year" type, but we all know childbirth is one of those game-changing life events that people get gooey about for decades, even when their little babies are fully grown. I can't say I'll be thrilled handling a baby and responding to its every need, but I know what this baby means to me and Mako and I.
So once again, Happy New Year and I look forward to seeing everyone again. Hope your year is as good as mine looks.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, September 08, 2008
I had some "me" time this weekend because Mako went to Kobe for not one but two B'z concerts, both times returning home around midnight. I turned my lonely-frown upside-down by renting a film that I could watch and enjoy alone that she had absolutely no interest in seeing. It wasn't until I got to the video store that I realized the perfect choice had just hit the shelves this weekend: Cloverfield.
I found the movie to be extremely compelling. As a fan of The Blair Witch Project, I was an easy sell for the "gimmick" of Cloverfield wherein all the action is presented from a single hand-held camera's perspective. They cheat a little bit with professional edits that don't jive with the notion that somebody is just sitting there recording everything, and there were occasions where the gimmick strained my suspension of disbelief (instead of "Don't go in that room" I found myself thinking "Put the camera down and run, asshole!") but otherwise the choice to use hand-held photography made the movie far more enjoyable than if it had just been presented like a typical monster-destroys-New-York movie (US Godzilla, I'm looking at you). The central characters weren't the most interesting bunch of folks but the gimmick forced them into the spotlight and kept them there for the entire story. The more time they spent on the screen, the more I couldn't help but identify with them, in at least some small way or another.
Cloverfield reminded me of the excellent Korean-made monster flick The Host (which I saw last year), in that both films kept the action tightly focused on a small group of people. The Host didn't use the first-person-cameraman idea but otherwise it and Cloverfield follow an extremely similar set-up: the audience meets the protagonists and gets a glimpse of who they are before things get crazy. Once the monster arrives, the audience and the on-screen characters have to deal with the situation together - that is, neither the characters on-screen or the people watching the movie know more than the other about the creature. Cloverfield slightly missteps here because the opening titles actually reveal more to the audience than we need to know about how the "footage" we see will end. I wouldn't call it a spoiler but it's decidedly unnecessary to try and "explain" why we are watching the events unfold from somebody's personal camera. The Blair Witch Project needed a reason as it was tied to the premise and marketing of the film as a documentary about still-missing film students. Cloverfield is obvious fiction from the first scene, so the framing device is completely superfluous.
By contrast, bigger, broader, and dumber disaster films insist on a giant cast of players, spreading themselves way too thin across standard character stereotypes. The loser trying to redeem himself in the face of sudden adversity, the clueless authority figure unwilling to make the hard choices to solve the crisis, the brilliant scientist who tries to warn others but is ignored, the hardcore soldier who puts his duty ahead of his own well-being, etc. etc. etc...none of these dullards show up in Cloverfield and I think the gimmick helped to keep them away. With a single camera recording the entire film, there can be no cutaways to City Hall or NASA or anywhere.
If I had a problem with Cloverfield, it was the far-fetched notion that these people could continually and apparently randomly keep running into the monster again and again. I know Manhattan isn't the biggest island but it's large enough to make me wonder how these tiny humans might possibly encounter the lumbering behemoth so many times, even when they are doing their best to run away from it. Slasher films do this a lot, but at least in those cases the slowpoke killer is actively chasing the protagonists. I'm not sure why the creature in Cloverfield seemed to happen upon the same unarmed civilians so often, because there's no reason to believe it was trying to find them.
However, I got more out of Cloverfield than a good thrill. As a New Yorker who has been dealing with his share of homesickness lately, I found myself getting a little emotional due to all the New York memories the film reminded me of. Right from the first scene near Central Park and Columbus Circle, I thought of a New Year's party my friends & I managed to get into in a penthouse a few years back in that neighborhood. The trip to Coney Island was a nostalgic one made all the more painful by today's news that Astroland may be closed for good. Even throwaway scenes like shopping in a New York deli made me feel like I was missing something in my life here in Japan.
Speaking of Japan, there was another element that spoke to me personally. All of the main characters are gathered at a surprise "farewell party" for one guy who's going off to Japan for a new job. While watching the party scenes, my mind wandered a bit and I started to feel sad that I've never had a farewell party, let alone a surprise farewell party. Then I started thinking about all the parties I have attended in New York and how awkward I always managed to feel, so even if I had such a party I don't think I would be able to enjoy it. This reminded me of the fun we did have this March when I came to town, followed by frustration by the fact that I came to New York to celebrate my wedding and I barely had any time to relax with my friends - arguably the main goal of the trip in the first place.
Wow...as you can see, the movie overwhelmed me for a variety of reasons. Let me just wrap up here with a strong recommendation of Cloverfield and add a forceful declaration that this November, things will be different. And if a monster attacks during our evening of karaoke, I volunteer to hold the camera.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, June 28, 2004
I'm sure you're wondering why I've been updating so often. Is it my new commitment to put aside real-world tasks to maintain my blog? No, I've just had a lot more free time. One of the advantages (?) of having a shitty job where you don't feel like you're needed is, well, often you're not needed. So I had the luxury of watching an old baseball game on TV today, a game I actually attended and remember quite well.
Sunday, September 4th, 1993. Labor Day weekend. My life was in shambles. I had just flipped out and nearly flunked out of high school and I had been relegated to a "gifted handicapped" (my favorite oxymoron) program in another school district. To make matters that much more complicated, this was the start of my senior year, and that meant picking a college to go to. So I was leaving everyone I knew behind and I had no idea what was going to happen and I was about to make some huge decisions which I wasn't ready to make.
We (my mother, sister, and I) had purchased tickets for the game earlier that summer, but the weather that day was pretty ugly. Gray skies and drizzle made my mother question whether or not we should bother going. For those uninformed, the New York Yankees don't always win. In fact, at that time they were struggling just to keep pace with the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. So Yankees' tickets were fairly inexpensive and easy to get, the complete opposite of what they are today. Thankfully, I insisted, as our seats were under the Loge level (third-base side, for those who care) and therefore we would not get wet. But there was a more important reason I wanted to go to the game: Jim Abbott was pitching that day.
To most of you the name Jim Abbott doesn't mean a thing. To me, he was a very big deal. I had become fascinated by Jim's story when he won 18 games with the Angels in 1991. I was thrilled when he came to Yankees in a trade and I remember clipping out a story on him from the New York Times on December 25, 1992. What was the big deal? Jim Abbott was born without a right hand yet he was a successful pitcher in the Major Leagues. How did he do it? He rested his glove on his stump, threw with his left hand and, continuing that motion, put his glove on his hand. I can't say exactly why I liked him so much. It's not like I'm missing a hand or anything. I guess I was just amazed that someone could overcome an obstacle like that.
The game ended up being a momentous one. The visiting Indians were a young team full of future All-Stars like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and current Yankee Kenny Lofton. They made 2 errors on one play in the third that allowed the Yankees to score three runs, a score that ended up being more than enough. Aside from an occasional walk, Abbott shut the Indians down. None of them made it to second base, thanks to two double plays and some really exciting catches, especially one play Wade Boggs in the seventh. By then the whole crowd realized that a no-hitter was in the works so the response was huge. Mom wanted to leave late in the game but I convinced her we should stay. I was only 12 but I knew how rare a no-hitter is. We compromised by heading to the other side of the stadium where we parked without leaving the seating area so we could still see all the action. I remember after the final out everyone cheered and I don't know why but I got really excited and I hugged my mom right away. The final score was 4-0.
I think the whole day made me feel a little bit better about myself. Both teams would improve in the following years and the Yankees would end up kicking some serious ass in the World Series. I would not fare as well, nearly failing out of school again and laying an egg at college, but things are starting to look up now.
Whew...quite a lot to write. Aren't you glad I don't do this everyday?
つづく...(Click here to read more)