Just West of the Midwest Chapter 16: A Lub Story

Don’t tell me. Let me guess.

I bet all of you have been sitting by your mail boxes for the past few weeks in eager anticipation of my next letter.

You’ve cancelled meetings, delayed chores, missed exciting social events.

All with the hope that the postman will bring a ray of sunshine in the form of a small white envelope from the Land of the Rising Sun.

And what follows?

Nothing. No letters.No postcards.No pictures.

Nothing but bills and big yellow envelopes announcing “You could have just won $3,000,000,000,000.00 from Ed McMahon.”

The Howie Fuggs Family were disbelievers too, but they sent in their forms and now they have more money than the Japanese have rice. Let’s talk to the Fuggs Family and let them tell you more:

Howie: God Damn, I’ve been scraping gum off the bottom of bus stop benches fer forty years. I never thought I’d have so much money!

Ed: And what are you going to do with all that cash, Howie?

Howie: What any man in my place would do, Ed. I’m going to finally buy myself that industrial-sized scraper!

Ed: That’s it? You’re going to buy a large scraper with 3 trillion dollars?

Howie: Hell no. I got my eye on a kick-ass leisure suit from Sears, plan to get my wife some electrolysis and move my family into a home they can be proud of – a top a the line Winnabeggie. And if I got somethin’ left after that, I plan to help make this world a better place!

Ed: And how’s that Howie? Donating to a wildlife fund, a peace organization, an environmental cause?

Howie: Hell no! I’m going to help put Jim and Tammy back where they belong – on God’s Playing Field.

Mrs. Fuggs: Amen.

Ed: …Someone hand me a hanky.

Mrs. Fuggs: Amen.

But I digress.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel too bad about not writing (only in the sense of not writing for writing’s sake) simply because I’ve had nothing to respond to. The least any of you could do is drop a brief, “Fuck off, whiner” note in the post. I mean, how sad is it that the last two letters I received were from – strangely enough – Ed McMahon (How did he find me here?) and Visa (How the HELL did they find me here?).

Whoever said, “No news is good news.” was full of crap.

As for things here… work has been extraordinarily busy. So, at the end of most days, I retreat to the seclusion of my apartment where I routinely procrastinate, avoiding all the things that might benefit me emotionally, spiritually, physically and/or intellectually. On the job front, I wasn’t sure (due to the usual bureaucratic red tape) whether I’d be able to renew my contract for next year, but was told yesterday that it was 99% sure that I could stay another year.

On the travel front, other than some weekends heading up to Hyuga or down to Miyazaki, I hadn’t gone anywhere until last weekend when Sam, Eleanor (another JET) and I went to Fukuoka (in the northern part of Kyushu) to see the Ramsey Lewis Trio at a bar there called The Blue Note. The concert was fantastic. Our table was just a few feet from the small stage and being the only westerners (besides the band) we were personally greeted by the trio as they took the stage.

And boy did they take the stage.

The Japanese crowd, although more lively than usual, was still quite subdued for our standards, so our snapping, clapping, swaying and tapping was looked upon with some curiosity. Later, however, the band revealed to us that they were quite happy to see some life in the audience. The concert ended to a standing ovation and the crowd began to pour out as if “Last Call” meant, “Get the hell out of here, before we sever a limb.”, until we found ourselves (with less than a handful of others) sipping our drinks and trying to figure out a way to talk to the band. As it turned out, we didn’t need a plan after all. The band came to us – or at least, Henry Johnson (rhythm guitar) and Chuck Williams (bass guitar).

Knowing they hailed from Chicago, I thought it would be a nice ice-breaker if I explained that that was where I was from, at which Chuck immediately said, “North Shore, right?” When I replied in the positive, the jazz guitarist with an apparent chip on his shoulder the size of the Sears Tower for my being born on the wrong side of town, soon departed. Henry didn’t seem bothered and ended up talking with us until we were kicked out of the Blue Note and then accompanied us to some other watering holes in the neighborhood until he had to call it an evening in order to catch an early flight the next morning.

Really nice man.

Failing to secure bus reservations for our return trip to Miyazaki, Sam called upon her latest beau, Hirada, who drove FIVE hours to come and get us.

Sam better put out for that fellow, or I will.

The trip home was through some of the island’s most beautiful scenery. We saw Mt. Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the largest in the world, the fjords and waterfalls of Kumamoto Ken and stopped at Kumamoto-jo, one of the premier castles in Japan – a spectacular sight with its 49 turrets. And the gardens were incredible. How can one properly describe the traditional Japanese garden?

Harmony. Serenity. Meticulously composed. Sheer perfection.

And to add to the experience, we were there just as the ume (plum) trees were blossoming. In fact, there was a line of photographers perched atop one of the castle walls which overlooked the largest group of trees, many of whom possessed camera equipment that must have cost the same as what a day in that damn Gulf War is costing. After strolling around the gardens, we soon found ourselves among the photographers and although we should have expected it, one of the photographers surprised us by turning his attention away from the magnificent scenery and asking us to go down among the trees for a few posed shots. Being very tired, slightly hungover and envisioning even more horrid images of us on public display, we politely declined, quietly skeedaddled and headed toward home.

On the romance front, I haven’t heard from Raymond and although I never really expected anything to come from a long distance relationship, there was, until very recently, a modicum of hope that he couldn’t live without me. I have tried to fill the gap by taking things a few steps further with Kyoto – when schedules permit – but I don’t think this will last too much longer. He made a fatal error – or should I say two – recently. One was mumbling something in his sleep about children – in English! As soon as I heard this, I picked my jaw up from the floor and quickly woke him from his dream with a few well placed slaps, a bucket of cold water and electric shock treatment. I didn’t tell him about what I heard and was hoping I misunderstood.

I didn’t.

Last weekend, after having a few cocktails and thumbing through his dictionary, Kyoto used the “L” word. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Oyasuminasai. Raishu ni hanashimasho. (Good night. Let’s talk next week.)

Kyoto: Anne. Chotto matte, ne? (Anne, wait a minute, okay?)

Me: Hai. Nan desu ka?(Yes. What is it?)

Kyoto: I…..I…..I lub yu.(I…..I….I love you.)

Me: Nani?(What the fuck did you just say?)

Kyoto: I….luuuuub….yuuuuuu.(He repeats very slowly as he lifts me off of the road.)

Me: Nani?!

Kyoto: %#^@%&&#%%*@&@^#!!!!!!!! I lub you!!!!(%#^@%&&#%%*@&@^#!!!!!!! I love you!!!)

Me: No, you don’t.

Kyoto: Hai.

Me: Kyoto… No… YOU DON’T.

Kyoto: Hai. I do!

Me: Kyoto, you don’t love me. You can’t love me. You barely know me. Hell, Kyoto, we can’t even hold a normal conversation!

Kyoto: Nani? Wakarimasen.(Meaning: I don’t understand a word you just said, but I still think I love you.)

… And the level of communication only went downhill from there.

He really is so very sweet. He’s also pretty dang good in bed AND we have had a lot of fun together. But the fact is, I don’t feel remotely in love with him and think it’s best I step away while he’s still busy thumbing through his dictionary trying to translate our last conversation. I really don’t want to hurt him anymore than I’m already going to by breaking things off now.

Damn my bewitching charm.

Seriously though, this sucks. I hate to lose his friendship… I guess I should have thought of that before I slept with him.


All I Can Say Is…

  • I’ve watched and listened with both horror and amusement to some of the popular bands in the Japanese pop music culture. I’ve concluded that most are utterly talentless, clueless and tasteless, insipidly superficial and chockablock with brainless bimbos. These nitwitted ninnies (the majority of which are girl bands) take the stage and sing with voices which bring to mind the strange mating calls of the Australian wombat I once saw during the nature documentary, “Orgy in the Outback”. Add this lack of musical talent to dance routines which regularly resemble Howdy Doody (with a couple of broken strings), and I find myself feeling more than slightly nauseated, as well as, thoroughly offended. All I can say is… if the music world depended on “talent” such as this, the Bay City Rollers would now be buried in Graceland.
  • I’ve been feeling a little put off by the pressure some people have been giving me about my current level of Japanese. It’s ironic really. Most people here study English for a minimum of seven years and can’t speak more than a handful of words. Yet I’ve been here only seven months and although I’m no linguist, I’m able to get by. This, however, is not enough for many people and I’ve found they expect one of two things: either you’re fluent, or brain dead. All I can say is… this attitude has really motivated me to expand my Japanese %$*&#%@#! vocabulary.
  • The other day there was a knock on my door. I answered it to find two gentleman, representatives of the Japanese Postal Service, looking incredibly apologetic as they handed me the remains of what once appeared to be an envelope from the States. Even though the plastic bag containing the shredded remnants clearly and officially indicated that the damage had been done back in the U.S., the postal workers before me were prepared to take full responsibility. Both men offered a rapid and heart-wrenching series of “Gomen nasai” (apologies) for this unpardonable postal catastrophe, as well as a number of gifts, including a handkerchief and a kitchen towel. I had the distinct impression that they’d be willing to do anything I asked of them to make up for it. All I can say is… where were they when I totaled my Mom’s Audi.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 23: Omar, Oh Men!

Two weeks after my return to Japan, I agreed to participate in an International Exchange Salon, held in Miyazaki. My friend, Vance, a CIR (Counselor of International Relations, yet another government program designed to enlighten Japanese to the Western world and vice versa) organizes these little get togethers and asked several of us to help save what had become international events of anti-social significance.

Known for our delightfully droll demeanors, we were to be undercover agents, of sorts, assigned to add some special, secret agent “social” to the scene. In accepting this mission, our main task was to participate in the televised learning of the Koto, a thirteen string instrument. This will now be my third appearance on Japanese television and I must say…

I don’t like it.

Not one bit.

Especially when the film footage consists mainly of scenes of me making a complete ass out of myself. This event was no exception. I believe I took being musically ungifted to an entirely new level. Even my sweet, demur, pint-sized-sensei wanted to take a slug at me for drawing such pain from the ancient, stringed instrument. Despite – or maybe because of my inhumane ineptitude – I was eventually able to draw several participants out of their shells and into conversations and the afternoon went far better than was anticipated. Especially after I spotted the arrival of… Omar.

Now who might… Omar… be?

Just this dark, handsome German who works at a local Italian restaurant, whom one can’t help but fantasize about. Not just because he has the looks of a handsome prince from a fairytale, but because he’s oh so much more than a drop-dead gorgeous hunk of man. Just to name two of the fascinating things about him: he speaks five different languages (rapidly approaching his 6th with Japanese) and is interested in studying the cultivation of shitake mushrooms.

Okay, I didn’t find the latter all that interesting, either.

At least I didn’t until I learned that one of the best towns for shitake cultivation is my sweet, little, town of Shintomi.

Seizing the opportunity and trying to remain as calm as possible (while still mentally undressing him in a forest of fungi), I ripped a piece of paper from the nearest source, wrote down my name and number, turn-ons and turn-offs, and handed it to him with an offer to take him out for dinner or drinks.

“See you in Shintomi, then,” Omar smiled as he floated from the room like a Roman God on a cloud chariot.

My female companions, all having watched my brazen behavior, stood silent and green with envy; while the men nearby whispered something about him probably being gay.

“Say what you will, oh jealous ones,” I sighed and smiled. “For I simply seized the day. Let’s just hope he finds me as interesting as mushrooms.”

“Tall order,” someone mumbled.

“I heard that!”

I have to admit that it must be awfully difficult to keep up with the men I keep mentioning, but honestly, they all seem to go nowhere – and quickly. For example, I unwittingly (I thought a group of us where meeting at a gallery opening) agreed to go out with Sunada, one of the boys from the computer room down the hall recently. The first stop on our night out was his mother’s art gallery in Miyazaki where there was no opening; just me, Sunada and his mother. It was a place I had passed by and admired on numerous visits to the city, so it was a pleasure to be invited in.

The gallery was filled with lovely pottery and ceramics from around Japan and in the back was where Sunada’s mother had her studio. Although I wasn’t terribly impressed with her paintings, there were several I liked and commented on. Sunada asked which was my favorite and I pointed out one which I was told was titled, “Last Supper.” The next thing I knew, both mother and son had decided I should receive the painting as a gift. Although I felt the painting was far too generous, here in Japan, it’s very hard to say “no” to such an grand gesture for fear such a refusal would be considered extremely insulting. So, I thanked Sunada’s mom profusely and then off the two of us went for dinner at a local tempura restaurant where he and I were having a lovely time eating and laughing.

That is, until someone in the restaurant recognized me. Oddly enough, I didn’t know the man, which makes what I’m about to relay to you even more bizarre.

The man who recognized me was the husband of one of my adult students at the community center – a lovely lady whom I’ve come to adore. Now mind you, I had little problem with the man introducing himself. The part that rubbed me the wrong way was that the next person he introduced me to was his mistress. Now what on earth would have made this cheating sack of dog shit decide that instead of continuing his two-timing tryst incognito (with me none the wiser), he would boldly introduce himself and his bimbo? And then, after ordering us a bottle of bogus wine, lecherously whisper in my ear that this chance meeting was “our little secret?”

I was pretty fucking mad. In fact, I was so pissed off by this unnecessary encounter that I dragged Sunada out of the restaurant, leaving the bottle of bribery unopened on the table and proceeded to have a bit of a meltdown. I know that extramarital affairs are a common occurrence here (so are the number of housewives who are closet alcoholics), but I don’t have to like it. And I certainly don’t want to be drawn in as a knowing party.

Eventually, I did manage to put this awkward event to the back of my mind, after which Sunada and I continued our night out. At the end of the evening, Sunada escorted me to my front door (after unsuccessfully urging me to spend the night at his apartment in Miyazaki) and was given a friendly kiss on the cheek. As I entered the quiet sanctity of my apartment, I grabbed the stack of mail from the entrance table, threw off my shoes, made myself a green tea, and settled onto my futon where I went through my mail. On the very bottom of the pile was a letter from Raymond.

He missed me, it said. He thought about me every day and hoped I hadn’t forgotten him.

He asked when I was coming to Hong Kong again.

I wrote back that night and ended the letter promising that if he got some time off, I would come. Thinking about Raymond while I drifted off to sleep… all the other men I’ve met here – even Omar – pale by comparison.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 27: With Friends Like This…

Where to begin, where to begin?

I was going to start by once again scolding all of those who have done diddly to keep in contact with me, but I have to be honest… if you haven’t made the effort by now, it’ll take nothing less than a miracle to get you to change your ways. So, you’ve been saved from at least another half page of bitching.

You lucky dogs.

I believe I told you in my last correspondence that I had plans of going to a Jazz Festival in Saito at the beginning of August. Well, I did go and the music was great. I went with a couple of my friends from the Town Hall who I always manage to have fun with. During the concert, we met up with some of their friends and for the very first time since being here, I encountered a group of people who were either too afraid to talk to me (despite my efforts), or simply weren’t interested in trying and I felt very left out of the whole scene.

I made up the excuse that I was going to say “Hi” to some people I knew at the concert (which was initially true) and then sat myself under a tree and enjoyed much of the evening solo. The highlight had to be the big band orchestra from Kagoshima which played a rousing set of Glenn Miller, Kay Kyser, Jimmy Dorsey and Count Basie. The band actually had the normally timid Japanese audience tapping their feet with more gusto than usual. Some even danced! What was even more remarkable was that every single band member was under the age of 13! That’s right, this was an ELEMENTARY School band.Talk about your mind blowers!

I also ran across another AET at the concert, Alan, who lives in Saito, and we talked for a little while. Now normally, I’ve found that spending any amount of time with Alan is about as attractive a prospect as spending two years on a deserted island with a guy named Vinnie, who resembles the missing link, except that Vinnie wears a leopard Speedo and enough gold chains around his neck and rings on his fingers to make Fort Knox take stock. But on this particular night, Alan was NOT coming onto me like a RUSSIAN in Pusan and even introduced me to two of his very nice friends.

At the end of the evening, I made my way back to those I came with and didn’t seemed to have been missed for a moment. Oddly enough, this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I was tired and musically satiated and just wanted to go home and go to bed.


I heard from Raymond several times at the beginning of the month. He wrote once and called twice requesting I return to Hong Kong for his 30th birthday. He was very excited about the plans and told me he would ask for the time off and call me back during the next week.

It’s been three weeks.

Raymond’s birthday was yesterday and I haven’t heard a word from him.


I want to try to focus on the positive here. Between sending money home to pay for the M.A. I received but am slowly losing all grasp of and saving money for Christmas in Malaysia, I probably shouldn’t be planning any trips to Hong Kong, but Holy Crap! I’d sell the family dog (Sorry, Bree) to see Raymond again.

I just wish I understood why he makes these plans and then disappears. I’m sure he has some valid excuse, right?

Such as: his arranged marriage was set for last week; all the phone lines in Hong Kong have been engaged; he’s been busy rounding up all the bad guys in the city and bringing them to justice.

Christ, I hope it’s one of these and not that he’s been injured on the job… or worse.

I’m not sure I can take these highs and lows and this long distance, non-relationship romance anymore.


I also heard from Sakimura last week.

I don’t know if I told you about him.

We dated for a little while a while ago. (Yes, I finally ended things with Kyoto and No, I haven’t been just sitting by the phone pining for Raymond.) Then I was unceremoniously dumped.

Sakimura is always a lot of fun to talk to. He’s also very tall, speaks English very well and is super handsome to boot.

No wonder he dumped me.

I should have guessed something was up when he called again out of the blue. We were having a very nice chat on the phone and then he began to hem and haw about something.

It went down something like this:

The scene.

It’s about 11 p.m. and I’m staring at some strange T.V. game show where the object is to make the contestants go through a number of incredibly ridiculous stunts so that they can win a “Hello Kitty” pillow and a free trip to the hospital for broken ribs. Sakimura has been trying to spit something out, but doesn’t know where – or how – to begin.

Me: What’s on your mind?

Him: Well… there’s been something I’ve been meaning to tell you.

Me: Yes?

Him: Remember when I told you I had many girlfriends and you said you didn’t believe me because I didn’t seem the type?

Me: Yes. I believe you were rather insulted.

Him: Well… the truth is… you were right. You’ve been the only one.

Me: Really?

Him: Well… this is very hard to say…

Me: Just say it.

Him: You’ve been the only one… except… except… except for my fiancé. I’m getting married in October.

Me: Excuse me?

Him: My fiancee is coming to Miyazaki at the end of the month.

Me: Well, congratulations. I’m very happy for you. (And the funny thing is, I was. After all, we only dated for a short time and I was well past the hurt of being dumped – yet again.)

Him: I’m sorry. Are you very upset? (Apparently, Sakimura, seemed to think my reaction would have been more akin to threatening suicide if he didn’t ditch his fiancé and run back to me.)

Me: No, Sakimura. I’m not upset.

Him: You’re not!?

Me: No, I told you. I’m very happy for you. I do wish you had told me this from the start, but I still think it’s wonderful news.

Him: But… I… well…

Me: Well what?

Him: I still want to be friends.

Me: Of course we can still be friends. (Now silly me. I was thinking he actually meant FRIENDS. You know, buddies, pals, etc.,)

Him: Even after I’m married.

Me: Of course, I’m sure we’ll be friends for a long time to come.

Him: (Once again feeling confident.) I would like to see you right now, but I’ve been drinking and don’t dare drive. I really want to spend the night with you.

(The lightbulb FINALLY flickers on.)

Me: Are you saying you want to continue sleeping with me? [I said we dated for a short time, I didn’t say we never had sex. (You try and watch “Basic Instinct” on a date with an attractive and charming man and see where it gets you!) You want me to be your mistress? (I laughed.) I don’t think so, Sakimura. Good luck to you… and even more so… Good luck to your wife.

Him: But…I-

But our conversation was over – as was our “friendship.”

Although I was a bit surprised, I wasn’t altogether shocked. After all, infidelity seems to be a time-honored male custom here in Japan. I must admit, he was so charming and handsome that I did – for a split second – contemplate the affair, at least until the fiancé arrived at the end of the month. But then I heard Sam in my head.

“What’s he like?” she would have said if she’d been privy to the conversation. “Forget it, Anne. He isn’t worth it.”

And the Sam in my head was absolutely right.

No man is.

Final Tidbits:
We’ve added a couple of Canadians to our list of favorite people to hang out with, Greg and Jeff.

Both Saskatchewanians. One from a place called Swift Current.The other from a place called Moose Jaw. Both derive great pleasure in slamming Americans (join the wildly popular club), but mostly do so with a wicked and witty sense of humor. I, in turn, do my best to retaliate and the exchange has become an entertaining challenge.

He’s a cop from Moose Jaw…

He’s a cop from Swift Current…

Together… they spell trouble.
(‘Cause they can’t spell it alone.)

Their job… to hunt down anti-Canadian sentiment.

Their mission… to ask people to PLEASE stop.

Coming to a theater near you!

“CANADIAN COPS: They can get you a beer… or they can get you dead!”