All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The One with the Crazy Cat Lady

My dad has a cousin who's a crazy cat lady. She's almost sixty years old, but she hasn't left her house in over thirty years. Other than her caretaker, who buys her groceries and checks up on her, she has had very little contact with anybody in all that time. Except the cats. She has approximately thirty-five cats in her tiny, ramshackle house. She spends most of her time watching QVC and ordering things on the telephone. When the packages arrive, she doesn't open them -- she just stacks them in the garage where the cats claw at them, pee on them, and ruin them.

None of this is funny. She's a sad lady, and I wish I knew what made her so unhappy in her own life.

What is funny is that I've been accused of having some cat-lady tendencies as well, and if there's any sort of genetic predisposition, I might be screwed. Let me clarify though, because unlike my kooky cousin, I don't like all (or even most) cats.

I'm really only crazy about one cat.

This is Ben:


I got Ben when I was in college. Like most single, teenage mothers, I had no intention of going down that road, but the temptation overwhelmed my weak moral character. Now I'm all grown and so is he, and in retrospect, I can see that bringing him into my life was one of those glorious mistakes that reaped undreamed-of benefits. Case in point, right now, my toes would be cold if he wasn't sleeping on them.

Reader, I don't usually burden you with unnecessary displays of emotion, but I was rummaging through some old fileage today and happened upon a poem I wrote while I was a college student -- about a year after Ben entered the scene. At the time, he was living with me, my three roommates, and our obnoxious theater major housemates in a rundown place in the stetto (ie, "student ghetto") a few blocks from campus. Don't worry -- this isn't an ode or a sonnet or any other gushy form of poetry. It's a ridiculous parody of Wallace Steven's o-so-serious "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Presented here for your enjoyment, with my sincere apologies to Mr. Stevens, who is doubtlessly rolling over in his pine pajamas...


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Yellow Cat

I. Among seven restless college students
The only sleeping thing
Is the yellow cat.

II. I was of two minds
To sleep or to eat?
The dilemma of the yellow cat.

III. The yellow cat tore through the cluttered room
Upsetting notebooks, papers, empty pop cans.

IV. The couch and the blanket
Are one.
The couch and the blanket and the yellow cat
Are one.

V. I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of sound
Or the beauty of stillness
The yellow cat purring
Or asleep.

VI. An unmindful fly fills the room
With a distracted buzz
The shadow of the yellow cat
Stalks it, silently
Half-hidden, twitching
Eager for the kill.

VII. O thin men of campus
Why do you watch the black squirrels?
Do you not see how the yellow cat
Is a lion among them?

VIII. I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms
But I know too
That the yellow cat
Is also lucid, noble

IX. When the yellow cat drifted to sleep
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles, many dreams.

X. At the sight of the yellow cat
Curled in the sun
Even six shots of espresso
Leave you heavy-eyed.

XI. He scrambled up a tree
With an acorn
Once, a fear pierced him
In that he mistook
The shadow of his tail
For the yellow cat.

XII. The moon is shining
The yellow cat must be prowling.

XIII. It was evening all afternoon
It was snowing
And it was going to snow
I slept
Curled up with the yellow cat.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Assident

My friend Big'n'Tall likes to play with words. He likes to say "apposa" instead of "supposed to", and he calls pickles "piggles". Anything remotely resembling a bucket or a basket is a "busket". He also calls an accident an "assident". This seems like a pretty accurate interpretation to me.

Today, I got in an assident.

I hate getting into traffic collisions. I'm sure no one particularly enjoys them, but any time it happens, no matter what the circumstances, I get that feeling that I'm being sucked into another dimension via a black hole in the pit of my stomach. It's decidedly unpleasant.

Whenever my students tell me a story in which they are ultimately guilty of something stupid or irresponsible, they always start it with the phrase, "See, what had happened was..."

Between the copper, the insurance agent, and my mother, I've already explained this more times than I care to, so here's a little diagram to illustrate. Essentially, I was trying to get home, turned in front of a bus who was stopped behind a Hummer who was trying to turn behind me, and should have waited two more seconds before so doing. For my male readers, I have put everything in military terminology to help you understand.

See, what had happened was...

(Note: References to the Hummer as the "Enemy" are purely due to the fact that I think everyone who drives a Hummer hates nature and ergo is no friend of mine. This is not at all indicative of the driver's behavior before, during, or after the Incident, which was exemplary.)

I actually T-boned the Bogie. My mother thought I misspoke -- in her head, it seemed like the Bogie T-boned me -- but she underestimated the Bogie's velocity, which was a significant factor. By the time I saw the car at all, I was looking through its back window. The force of the impact pushed the Bogie toward the curb, and the driver then over-corrected and slammed into the passenger's side of the Hummer.

Technically, the assident was my fault, which I suppose makes me the ass who caused the dent. I expect, based purely on past experience, that when I'm in an assident, whether I was the ass or not, the other driver is going to bitch me out. It's kind of how people do things around here. I got out of my car fully expecting to get it from the driver of the Bogie, who turned out to be a little old woman on her way to work at the local home for down-and-out teenage moms. The driver of the other car was a college student who was approximately thirty-seven feet from her home when the Bogie slammed into her. Once we confirmed that nobody was bleeding, neither of them seemed upset at all. A bit shakey, perhaps, but nowhere near slapping me or pulling my hair. In fact, I didn't get so much as a dirty look from either of them.

How is this possible? Well, here's what I figure:

I made a left turn without ensuring that the coast was clear and so was guilty of the moving violation that caused the Incident.


The driver of the Bogie was exceeding the speed limit by approximately 20 mph, which is naughty in any case, but she was also doing it while passing a school bus on the right. That's not exactly a crime, but it's criminally stupid, especially considering how much traffic there was.

Additionally, it turned out that the teenage driver didn't have her license! Another big no-no.

When the cop arrived to write the report, we were all hanging around chatting in pretty good spirits. There was no finger-pointing, just calm explanations of what happened. He was so flabbergasted that instead of writing tickets for all of us, he wrote no tickets at all. He just looked at our cars, filled out the report, and took off.

Ultimately, I came up with a new theory of traffic collisions, which is thus: When guilt is equally distributed among all parties and all parties are of such a moral fiber that they accept responsibility for their own guilt, a altercation may be easily avoided by shrugging and saying "Shit happens".

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Home for the Holidays


I spent only one Christmas in Japan. While my family was trimming trees, wrapping gifts, and diving into a double batch of my aunt's famous bourbon balls, I got up as I did every other Sunday morning and caught my subway train at the normal time. In general, the Japanese ignore Christmas, but my gaijin friends and I had taken a few measures to make sure the time-honored Western holiday didn't pass entirely without notice: we had organized a little gift exchange among the teachers in our office; we had begged and bribed the Japanese staff to arrange the day's schedule so that we all could eat lunch together; and Dom had made a dinner reservation for a large group of us at a pub in Kyoto.

I met up with Dom on the subway and we made our ritual morning stop in Starbucks. The Bux in Yamashina is right next to the train station -- the commuting caffeine addict's dream -- and we call it "The Bux" as if it were an old drinking buddy of ours, which it sort of is. Somewhere between the half'n'half and the platform, I got a call from my mother. Because of the time difference, it was still Christmas Eve at home, and I wasn't surprised to have her call me from the treeside with a little holiday cheer.

She wasn't calling with holiday cheer.

She was calling to tell me my grandfather had just passed away that afternoon.


I knew before I went to Japan that my grandfather was dying. I had spent most of the previous summer driving him back and forth for dialysis three times a week and buying him Frosties and ginger ale, since he couldn't keep anything else down. By the time I had my bags packed, he was bed-ridden, and when I saw him for the last time in mid-September, he was so thin that only his ribcage and his feet made any noticeable lift in the bedsheet. He told me to be careful and have fun and send him pictures of Japanese cars.


Working on Christmas Day is depressing enough, but it's unbearable to work on Christmas Day on the opposite side of the world from where your family is coping with the loss of its patriarch. Particularly when you don't have any bourbon balls to help ease the pain. I told Dom what had happened while we waited for our train, then I locked it in a small back closet of my brain to be dealt with at a more convenient time.

When we arrived at the office, we skimmed the daily schedule. Much to my dismay, the staff girls had shifted my lunch hour back one time slot to accommodate a student. This meant that the lunch we'd planned -- with pizza and our gift exchange and the very naughty bottle of wine tucked in my purse -- wasn't going to happen. All the guys still had their break together, but I was scheduled to eat alone on Christmas Day.

I was already resigned to this being the worst Christmas ever, so I sighed and started heading upstairs. Dom, on the other hand, had this interchange with Mariko, the Japanese staff girl who happened unluckily to be nearby:

"Why did the schedule change? Last night, we all had the same lunch."

"O, sorry, Dom-san. The student wanted lesson."

"Well, call the student back. We're having lunch together."

"Eh? No, I can't, Dom-san."

"Mariko, it's Christmas!"

At this point in the conversation, between his bright orange hair and his face flushed in frustration, Dom was starting to look like a human fireball. I don't know if it was nervousness or panic, but Mariko made the terrible mistake of giggling. Then she shrugged at Dom and said, "Christmas... it's not so important to Japanese."

O no, no, no. Foolish girl. You don't giggle at a man who is spending his second Christmas away from his mother and who has put all his excess energy into salvaging some little bit of holiday cheer for this motley crew of gaijin who are the closest thing to a family that any of us have.

"Christmas... it's not so important to Japanese," she said, and she shook her head at him.

Dom drew himself to his full height. By Western standards, he's not a tall man, but he positively towered over that little Japanese woman. I thought he was going to shout at her, but when his answer came out, it was a low growl, dark, and full of danger: "Well... we're not fucking Japanese."

I knew Dom had that stereotypical ginger-headed temper, that he'd been known to say and do things hastily, but I was floored. I knew that he didn't hate Japanese people. In fact, I knew he liked this particular staff girl quite a bit. But she had crossed a line. He slammed the door and remained in stony silence as we rode the elevator up to the fifth floor. A few minutes later, another staff girl came up with a new copy of the schedule.


We had our lunch together that day, and we had our wine and pizza. I gave Dom a scarf and Tasi gave me a plush Tasmanian tiger. And that night we met up with about twenty friends for mashed potatoes and corned beef at the pub. Even Erica, who would normally not be caught dead in public with us, came out for dinner. It certainly wasn't a perfect Christmas, but in spite of the rough start, the long work day, and all the students who stared blankly at us every time we wished them a Merry Christmas, that dinner stands out as one of the warmest evenings I spent in Japan. We were all wretchedly homesick and much more subdued than usual (apart from a brief incident involving a popper and an unfortunately placed votive), but we took comfort in the discovery that sometimes your family is who you're born to and sometimes your family is whoever happens to be close by when you need someone to care about you. It wasn't perfect, but it was enough.