daily preciousness

Saturday, April 29, 2000

resolved: 2000

I had lunch/coffee/breakfast/supper with an acquaintance last week/month. I was sipping on an organic soft drink/mocha cappa/orange juice/italian soda when I realized that I'm just TOO NICE sometimes. I let people ramble on and on about their little problems while my mind is wandering hither and yonder, paying only the slightest amount of attention to them.

My companion was talking about his/her job/pet/child/car repair/trip to Idaho/favorite radio show while my mind was busily planning my shopping list and dinner menu for the next week. This isn't fair to them or me.

Why do I get myself into this type of situation so often? Have I too carefully honed my skills at creating a faux-interest/concern look when I speak with people? What's up with that? How did that happen? Should I cultivate a disinterested air of contempt for people? No, that's not the solution.

I suppose that makes me a shallow, callous person. Well, I'll just have to learn to accept that, or else I'll have to declare loudly and boldly, "Please stop littering my conciousness with your petty concerns" the next time somebody begins to unload their spare tonnage of worry upon me.

I *care* about other people, I do, but I don't need a detailed account of their day-to-day life. (I can't give details of how people have bored me because I'd hate to think that they might read this entry and know that I was bitching about them.)

Of course, *I* was NEVER being boring. I'd like to think that I keep everybody around me sufficiently entertained and informed. But how do I know that I'm not getting the same treatment from everybody else?

My resolution for 2000: be more assertive in my time-management skills so that I won't be bored to tears while people launch into therapy sessions when I'm in no position to help them. (This physician must heal himself, first.)

Okay, I'm glad we got that out of the way. Ironic, isn't it, that I've just wasted your time by complaining just as others have so often done to me? Tragic. Such is the bitter irony of life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

the pigeon dirt-digger

You wouldn't think that a little kid would be so fond of heights. Yuki, at age 8, had proven his love of heights and depths in a most extrordinary way.

While he wasn't busy digging for new additions to his rock collection, he was diving off of rooftops. Yuki had earned quite a reputation around Koya elementary school. Known variously as "the pigeon" and "the dirt-digger," he was often found during recess trying to dig his way to the other side of the planet. Who would think that a soup spoon could be wielded so industriously? He managed to dig about two feet down (the entire length of his arm) within the span of a single day.

After his last class, he often managed to climb up the large iron fence that surrounded the schoolgrounds. He would stand there, attentively and with an owl-like fascination for the goings-on underneath him. I would often catch his eye as the school secretary drove me home after my day of work.

Every third week, when I attended his particular third grade class, I was the unwitting embodiment of playground equipment. Usually, I would be approaching the classroom or exiting it when Yuki would attack me from behind (frequently when I was kneeling down or squatting) and proceed to climb up to my shoulders. It was a peculiar form of guerilla piggy-back riding. Yuki was a fast one. And I had a difficult time saying "no" to students.

Looking back, I can remember my first visit to the school's vivacious and strikingly honest third-grade class. I say they were honest because I think that the third grade is a special point in the development of Japanese children because they're too young to be fully aware of "proper" behavior and they're still bursting with life, clueless about the impropriety of asking personal questions. It's all so new to them that they immediately accept things at face value. (Consequently, they have no time to think about losing face.)

Yuki, the boy with the shoebox rock collection and penchant for diving off trees, swings and jungle gyms, dive-bombed me the very first day of class. Figuratively and literally. "Do you have a big American penis?" he asked me, in a booming voice that was a giggle-cue for the other 28 youngsters. "American boys and men have penises, too," I started off, wondering desperately how I would complete the thought. My face was warm and I suspect as red as the rosy-cheeked girl in the first row. "And well..." seemed like the most culturally appropriate way to finish/not finish the thought, since everybody loved to use the uniquely Japanese answer with me. Why couldn't I employ this valuable counter-communication communicative technique also? So I did.

After the Q & A session, I got mobbed for autographs. I didn't mind this at all. (Indeed, it fed into my celebrity complex which continued, unabated, for the next three years!) The kids made offerings to me of origami cranes and Pokemon stickers. One kid with a snotty nose and a lazy eye even gave me his half-used eraser. How generous. Still recovering from the glow of student adoration, I was taken by surprise when Yuki dive-bombed me a *second* time, this time literally. He rushed at me and pounded me in the stomach with his fist, a maniacal grin on his face and mischievious eyes twinkling in half-crazed delight. This kid had more penis envy than a room of drunken salarymen. And I bore the brunt of it.

Sure, he was just an 8-year-old child, but when you don't expect a punch in the gut, it can be painful. I had the wind knocked out of me and I couldn't really hear the teacher's loud "No, Yuki! What do you think you're doing?!?" All my attentions were focused on assessing the damage to my internal organs, not listening to the angry instructor. But nothing was really hurt, just a little bruise.

After he punched me, he showed me his rock collection for the first time. I suppose that's why I remembered him so clearly, even among the sea of grinning brown-eyed, black-haired children at the school. Physically assaulting a teacher on his first day is a great way to make yourself unforgettable, I guess. That says a lot for his spirit. I think he offered me a rock from his collection, but I politely refused, saying that I had a lot of rocks in my backyard already and I didn't need another. Yuki's bravery was charming, because it takes a lot of strength to speak up in class and ask the "tough" questions to your new English teacher.

Anyway, I had to write this little memory down about Yuki. I left Japan nearly two years ago, but I dreamed about Yuki last night and I knew I had to write about him first thing this morning.

Friday, April 21, 2000

at Nottaway with Patrick

Just got back from a great picnic. I went with Patrick, a new friend.

While I've only known him for a couple of weeks, I feel like I've known him for 14 days! (Wow. How's that thought for ya?)

Patrick and I went to Nottoway, an antebellum home built in the mid-1800s by a sugarcane farmer. It was just downriver of Baton Rouge. While the pamphlet proudly boasts that it's the country's "largest plantation home in the South," we were miffed that only a small fraction of the place was open to the tour. It's also a bed and breakfast, so plenty of the rooms were occupied by guests. Also, the 92-year old widow of the former owner is squirreled away somewhere in her own little apartment.

The place, all three stories and 22 lilly-white columns of it, was really well kept. White freizework adorned every room and the furniture was American empire in design. The azure-blue china was all original and hand-made. A music room with a hand-woven rug offered a picture window view of the muddy Mississippi. There was a little boy in our tour group who provided us with other entertainment. He was about 8, wearing his Pokemon power T-shirt. He trampled the 200 year old rug, ran his grimy fingers over the white whicker tearoom furniture and made funny faces at the guide. Towards the end of the tour, there was even the obligatory "how the wife hid her family jewels from the Union troops during the War between the States" story. (She spirited them away in the post at the foot of her bed, in a hollowed-out section.)

Sadly, even cute little stories like this one couldn't make the tour very enjoyable. Our tourguide packed about as much punch as faulty airbag. Normally, the little old ladies that guide people through the homes seem to have an affinity for the family, the home and all the history. But our guide seemed like she couldn't care less about all the lovely historical tidbits and lovely surroundings. If you're going to be a broken record of home-history, you might as well enjoy it! Well, she didn't, so that kind of spoiled it for us.

After the tour, we took a stroll around the grounds and sat for a spell by the lilly pond. The cypress knees looked parched in the low water. I sat and hugged Patrick under a 200-year old oak tree with our backs to the mighty Mississippi. He has soft hair that fairly begs to be stroked. I obliged.

Before long, we had hunger pains from being such tireless culture vultures. It was time for our repast. We found a shaded picnic table, next to the lady wearing the hairnet. She brought a gallon milk jug full of iced tea. (I almost went over to borrow some. It looked ice-cold and refreshing.)

All we had was German white wine. But, it was made in Bingham, which is also where the day's soundtrack originated. (We listened to Hildegarde Von Bingham on the way there.)

Two honey-and-peanut butter sandwiches, chedder goldfish, one banana and one serving of tuna salad later, I was sated. It felt great to eat in the grand outdoors and enjoy the scenic view of the parking lot. And the sound of the car alarm going off every 5 minutes and the peacock's shrill, echoing replies to it completed the relentlessly un-pastoral atmosphere.

But the company was good. We laughed at the geometrical perfection of our neighbor's hairnet. (You could calcualate pi on that thing!) The two glasses of wine were refreshing. Best of all, I got a peanut butter and honey kiss from Patrick.

Nottoway Plantation, despite the bad tourguide, rocks like a pornstar.