Moderation (Week XC)
Saturday, July 14th
Saturday after work I went out with my staff. Our school had done very well the first six months of the year. Let me rephrase that, our business had done very well. To celebrate, the talking heads at HQ threw a few bones at us and told us to go wild. We visited our neighborhood Mexican eatery, “Mike’s” and had ourselves a fiesta.
I sat on one end of the table with Moto. We made a major commitment each and ordered the “hungry hombre” plate. I had a spicy enchilada, a burrito, a fajita, Spanish rice, refried beans and a frozen margarita set in front of me. Time to get to work.
I knew that if I stopped to talk or slowed down my pace that I couldn’t finish the meal. So I went into overdrive. Precise cuts made with my fork. Each bite chewed to the right degree. Drinking only when necessary.
15 minutes later and I had finished. I leaned back in my chair and loosed my belt. I knew the bloating would be arriving soon. I gave Moto a pat on the back as he finished his own meal.
Time came for another round of drinks. I wanted a Corona but I knew better. Instead I stepped up and bid everyone a goodbye. I knew there was going to be series of belches any moment and I didn’t want to be so crass.
“Goodbye, goodbye. おつかれさまでした。”
Back at home I laid down and examined my belly. There was a sizable bump below the sheets. I groaned in discomfort.
“Why did I have to eat the whole thing?”
Sunday, July 15
Monday was going to be a national holiday, 海の日 (Ocean Day). In order to beat the crowds I decided to go on Sunday instead. In the late morning Mari and I took a few trains down to Sagami Bay and set up camp on the beach.
The sand was a dark color. The water was opaque. Mari was disappointed by the conditions. She admits she’s spoiled from seeing the tropical beaches of Okinawa (沖縄) every summer for a decade. I’m used to swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and felt right at home.
The water was a little too cold for swimming. That didn’t stop us! The waves were gnarly and provided some great fun. We took breaks from swimming to enjoy homemade sandwiches and ice cold orange juice. A few hours was all we could take and we packed up.
Monday, July 16
Monday was Ocean Day and the actual holiday. Mari and I beat the beach and instead went into the mountains. Tanzawa (丹沢).
We were on the trail before 9 and left the hot summer air behind us. We climbed straight up, with the occasional switchback, for four hours. At 1 PM we pushed through the clouds and made summit; in a wind storm. A fierce wind tore across the mountain top and stole the heat from inside of us. We hunkered down behind a wall and had lunch in our jackets. When the clouds would occasionally clear we were greeted with a stellar view of the bay we had swam in the day before.
After lunch we set down a new trail. I hate taking the same trail twice. We left the misty mountain top and strolled along the mountains spine. We consulted our map and located two paths back down; an abandoned trail, or the long way out.
The abandoned trail was my choice. We had taken a similar one once before. Basically it was an old path from maybe a decade prior. The path had since become a washout marked only by ribbon-taped-trees. There are generally no hikers and it’s very exciting.
The long way out was just that, an hour longer. We had to go up another peak and then switchback down a mountainside. Probably all the while fighting hikers going up.
Mari, always the careful conservative, won the argument.
We found ourselves at a crossroad and a sign pointing down the mountain. I thought it was the long way down. Mari thought it was the abandoned route. (It was rather dark and menacing looking.)
We hoed and hummed and decided to push on a little further just in case.
We marched on for some time and came across some awesome hiking. A newly built, but nonetheless rickety bridge. Chain scaling up rocks. Just real great hiking. But after 30 minutes it became clear, we had missed the long way down. Now we were taking the really long way.
I consulted the map again. I did the math. We had hiked far enough that we were committed on this trail. It added an hour to the already one-hour long-way. A two and half hour detour.
I looked at my girlfriend. She was tired. I was carrying the bulk of her gear in my bag to ease her burden. Knowing we were two hours away from the finish would have been demoralizing. I folded up the map and tucked it away.
“Are we almost finished?” She asked.
“Not yet, but we’re making progress.” I chose my words wisely. It was not a lie, but it concealed some truths.
A little further into the trail and I found our next turn. It was down an abandoned route. Perfect! Mari got the long-route and I got the thrill of the unknown!
We set down the old path. Five minutes down and the path got confusing. I stood on a ledge to survey.
A tree root gave out and so did the dirt below me. I crashed down and landed between two old trees.
(Insert expletive here.)
“Oh my God! Are you okay?” Mari asked.
“Yeah I’m fine. No problem.” I jumped up and started limping down the trail.
“No you’re not! Sit down! We need to see your leg!”
“It’s just a scratch. I can walk it off. Let’s try hiking!”
I felt down at my leg. It was throbbing with pain and I felt blood soak into my shorts. I knew it was only a scratch and that a bruise would follow in a few days. If I showed her my leg now she’d have a panic attack. We couldn’t have that.
I continued walking and she ran to catch up. I had won that argument.
“ばか (idiot),” she shouted.
The hike down continued and we both forget about the slip. The trail was treacherous. It pushed my ability to read subtle signs and remain aware. It was awesome.
An hour later we emerged from the old path and took a break. We ate raisins and drank water. I pulled back the spandex to show Mari my wound. She grit her teeth.
“This is nothing!” I said and slapped the scratch bare handed to prove a point. My eyes crossed with pain. She didn’t notice.
We shouldered our packs and set down for another hour down the mountain. Near the end a police car drove past us with two hikers in the back seat. We all waved at each other. The cop spoke over his speaker.
“あとちょと少し。がんばってください。(You’re almost there. Good luck!)”
We laughed and waved goodbye.
We also found a stream of water coming down the mountain. We stopped to fill up our bottles to take home. Mountain water!
Not long later and we out of the woods, back on a bus and finally back home. It had been a memorable day in the mountains. We were both beat but ready to get back to do it again!
Friday, July 20
At work we often get confused strangers coming in. Our reception desk has the word “information” plastered on the front. A lot of people think we’re station staff and so ask us for information.
However recently we’ve had some really strange guys come in. The first guy came in three weeks in a row at the same. I think he had a crush on Yasuko san, a staff member. He even asked her what time she got off work. He looked like he had some mental deficiencies. Harmless looking but enough to make everyone nervous.
Fortunately I had an office hour when he visited. The ladies at the counter called my name and I came out of the teachers room. My sheer presence spooked the man. He plugged his ears with his fingers and ran away.
However on the third week of this repeating I had enough. Upon hearing my name called again I walked to the desk. The man saw me and ran away. I told Yasuko to call station security and I started following the man.
I silently followed him down three flights of stairs. Once on the fifth floor I heard a voice in my head. I’m not sure if it was Mari’s or my mother’s, but it was definitely a woman’s.
“Is this really a good idea, Alex?”
I thought better of it and stopped following him.
The next two weeks we had station security outside our office just in case. The man never came back and I assumed it was over.
Friday evening. Class time. I was collecting my students in the lobby when a strange man walked right up to me.
“Do you speak English?” He asked in a demanding voice. I smelled the alcohol on his breath.
“Yes I do. May I help you?”
He tried to walk around me and down the hallway. I sidestepped to block him. I puffed my chest out and raised my shoulders to look intimidating. I was shocked when he returned the gesture.
“Give me a job. Are you rich? Give me your money.”
He literally said “give me your money.” In most cultures this is enough to punch some right in the face and scream at them. He crossed my line.
“You need to leave. Now.” It was a command. Not a request.
His eyes got big.
Masayo, the assistant manager, stepped in. She asked him to have a seat. Moto sat down across from him and spoke. Masayo got on the phone and called security. I directed all of the students to their classrooms.
The lobby was empty. The man was distracted. Help was coming.
“Yo, Moto, we cool?” I tried to thread the needle. I used slang Moto would get but not the drunkard across from him.
“Yes, thank you.”
I walked to my classroom. My 45 year old student, Masaru, looked at me.
“Alex, nice!” He gave me the thumbs up.
All in a day’s work.
Monday, July 23
Lunch. Study session at a family restaurant with a drink bar. Karaoke. Afternoon beer. We were finished by five and I began a long trek home.
Unfortunately this series will be put on hiatus as the coming months are about to get very busy. More details to come later.
Everyone loves a good beer. The Japanese love a good beer in public. In this wonderful country there is no such thing as an “open container” law. As long as you’re not behind the wheel, it’s bottoms up!
I love getting a convenience store beer (コンビニのビール) after work and sitting outside in the cool night air with my coworkers. It’s cheap and relaxing. Not to mention I can avoid the smoke of a bar. I don’t always drink, but when I do, it’s outside.
While sipping at my beer a thousand people will walk by. No one takes a second glance at me. Public drinking is accepted here. What’s more, public drunkenness is accepted too. Public urination, while not encouraged, is generally given a blind eye.
I think this attitude is greatly a product of the culture. During working hours everyone is very buttoned down and monochrome. The only time a person can be outrageous is when drinking. And since the Japanese love to drink it can often get outrageous after happy hour. But the drunks are generally harmless. So they’re given a free pass to get home.
I think this is a case of the Japanese getting something right and America getting it wrong. The Japanese don’t fetishize alcohol. They don’t abuse it to American scale. It’s not a taboo. It’s a minor part of life and it’s given a minor amount of attention. I believe proportionally that Japan has fewer alcohol related problems than the US. And I think that’s a result of acceptance.
I think that’s the best way to deal with many of life’s problems. Accept it. Talk about it. Don’t hold on too tight.
Life, just like drinking, is about moderation.