Soiree

“Do make sure to try the canapé,” the host says to me before leaving.

I am profoundly relieved that he is gone.

Alone, I make way way through the party; room by room. The beautiful guests in their formal evening wear swim in my vision like watercolors in the rain, but the rooms and their furnishings are distinct. Expensive, ancient, manor style speaks to the host’s seriousness and wealth. A tapestry beckons; rich colors begging to be touched. But I mustn’t. People might notice.

Noise now. Sound. There are noises floating around me. I realize their source is a woman who is speaking to me. Not just one. Another. And men too. It’s a conversation. Oh dear.

These people are no more substantial than vapor in a breeze, but the noises they make must be language. Their noises reach me like I’m trapped in a tank filled with foam. Distant and incomprehensible. I can’t do this.

They turn to me expectantly. Nowhere to run.

But what’s this? Another set of noises. The people laugh. A pretty young wisp laughs and laughs, reaching out to touch my hand. Those last noises were my voice! My language! Intangible and meaningless they might be for me, but to these specters that surround me, they are well received.

Well, now, this all seems to be working out just fine.

I quickly learn to direct the outer shell of myself that the people interact with. That outer me is popular and skilled. Is able to manipulate those I want. The gossamer people are blown about at my will.

Well, then, who is it going to be?

That first young woman. Yes, her. I swear I know her from somewhere. She’s so familiar.

Her laughs give way to breathy sighs and we work our way upstairs to a bedroom. She is pliant and does as she is told, but none of her moist comforts reach through my outer shell to a place of true feeling. Still, the idea of it is rather nice all the same.

Back downstairs afterwards we part ways. Many more people, more of the same. This is all getting rather dull, I’m afraid.

There is the host, across the room. He stands with his cocktail, chatting amiably with his guests. There is something wrong about him. I don’t know what it is, but there is definitely something not quite right about the host.

Sensing my attention, the host turns to me and raises his glass in a wordless toast. His eyes meet mine, and with a shock and a rising tide of dread, I realize what is wrong. He sees me. The inner me. In that moment I make a further realization that I can see him clearly. He is no gossamer specter like all of his guests.

The host bores his eyes into me and smiles; communicating his understanding of my realization. He knows everything. The dread crests. I have to get out of here.

Rooms blend into rooms. Where is the fucking exit? The vapor people impede now; their vacuous infatuation with my outer shell drawing them in too close. Grasping with conversation. Finally, I make my way through them and find the front door.

Where the host waits for me.

“Oh, I do hope you aren’t leaving so soon,” he says to me with a sadistic smile.

I understand him. He sees me and I understand him. Right from the very beginning. How could I have forgotten this?

“Before you go, I just have one little thing I want to show you. Please, right this way. I insist,” he says.

I try to protest, but I have no voice here. Just my vapor noises for my fellow guests. Only the host has a voice. Only he has meaning.

He takes me by the arm to guide me and he is strong. So strong. But he has no need of it; I cannot resist.

To a door: old and heavy, thick wood and iron, in the back of the house. He opens it and flicks on a light. Moist stone glistens; a staircase down with a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling by its naked wires. Darkness below.

“After you,” the host says politely.

I cannot resist.

At the bottom, I move out into the dark. Knowing this is the end, but powerless to do anything to change it.

Another click of a switch. The buzz and flicker of florescent bulbs. Brightness.

A room, not so big. Concrete walls and floor, with thick, enamel white paint. It is stained, streaked thick with grease and filth. A steel frame single bed with a naked, soiled mattress is in front of me. Some carpentry tools lie scattered about.

I turn around. The host stands facing me. There is no exit behind him; it has disappeared. We stand alone in this cube of concrete staring at each other. “Your room,” he says, and starts unbuttoning his jacket.

As he undresses his face begins changing. It gets white and puffy, like a bloated, drowned corpse. His thick, purple tongue coats his swollen lips with spit. His eyes become pure black.

I hope I can wake myself up before he touches me.

Oh, God, I hope this is just a dream.

But perhaps it is hell and we’ve only just begun.

Humble Selfie

Muse Vassal

“Humble selfie” is the perfect oxymoron for our times.

I realize that most people who do the whole selfie thing probably have no idea what I’m talking about here. Not just that they don’t know what the word oxymoron means (although most probably don’t), but that they aren’t able to get why it is oxymoronic. It is like saying something like “noisy flower.” It’s just nonsense: does not compute.

The play on words that makes an oxymoron humorous is the juxtaposition of two opposing concepts. It’s funny because there’s no way for a selfie to be humble, but a lot of selfie takers probably have the self-delusion that some of their selfies are. So it’s funny. Ha ha.

Here’s the thing about selfies: they are inherently narcissistic and self-involved. It’s the whole point of them. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad, though. Don’t get me wrong: I like looking at…

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Character Concept

Name: Chad “River” Wakefield

Age: 26

Race: Caucasian

Nationality: American (”I really consider myself a citizen of the world.” #blessed)

Occupation: monetized positivity on social media; trust fund recipient

Passions (not hobbies): dreadlocks and beard maintenance; “living life to the fullest;” helping attractive people with their body positivity; oral sex; cultural appropriation; drugs (“consciousness expansion, please!”)

Catch Phrase: “It’s all about love!” “You are what you think!”

Hidden Shame: Used to wear pop-collared polos as a frat boy in college. Possibly raped a lot back then, but isn’t ashamed about it. (“Hey! I was wasted too. Maybe she’s the one who raped me, right?”)

Unwitting Role: syphilis and HPV carrier; poster-boy for unconscious white privilege

Possible Fates:

1) Beaten to death by a skinny tracksuit wearing Russian on a Mediterranean party island over a misunderstanding concerning the ownership of a large quantity of MDMA.

2) Decides to “get serious” about life and opens a shitty retail business once his trust fund matures. When business fails, gets “serious” again and joins his father’s business. Alcoholism. Gets fat. Stays rich. Ages poorly.

3) Dies after falling off a waterfall for his travel blog.

A Visit With Nancy and Endi

I was recently watching sumo with my Canadian friend, Nancy, and her Japanese cop husband, Endi, at their place. They’re in their sixties and have just built their retirement home on Endi’s family property to replace the house that was bust up in the big earthquake.

Nancy’s from Nova Scotia and is one of those lapsed church ladies that can be incredibly hilarious and crass without ever saying a bad word. She was my original teaching superior at my first job in eikaiwa in Japan (English conversations school). Since then she’s become something of a surrogate mom for me.

Her husband, Endi, is an odd duck. For example, Nancy was complaining that while she was on her last solo trip to Canada, he rearranged the living room furniture so that all the chairs and sofa were facing a blank wall.

“He likes to sit and stare at the wall,” Nancy said. “He’s says it’s ‘berry nice.’”

He also collects rocks, which for some reason drives Nancy crazy. Not crystals or geodes, mind you. Rocks.

Endi used to handle the dead body inspection wherever he was stationed. He’d be the cop that would decide whether to have an autopsy or start a murder investigation when a corpse was found. With us being in basically rural Japan, it was generally a lot of suicides and solitary oldster decomps. He was also busy after the Great Tohoku Earthquake dealing with all the tsunami bodies. That got rough, he said. Not just the ocean water victims with the crabs and everything (although he said that was causing the military boys a lot of psychological trouble), but also dealing with families fighting over remains in the hopes of having something to have a funeral with.

Endi has all kinds of interesting dead body stories. He can be pretty callous, as is to be expected, so he can be fun to talk to about that kind of stuff. He never says much about active police work though. People for him tend to fall into two categories: “Nice Guy/Lady” or “Berry Stupid Guy/Lady.”

Endi’s also pretty intimidating in his way. He’s totally chill, but he’s got a face like one of those Japanese Buddhist guardian angels, and has black belts in kyokushin karate (hardcore full contact) and judo. Even in his sixties, he looks like he’s been carved out of wood like one of those temple guardian statues.



The first outing I had with Nancy and Endi was with my wife. We went to a Buddhist temple that had two really fine guardian statues inside the entrance gate, flanking the portal. Endi kept sticking his head into their space and smiling up at them saying, “guard. Guaaaaaaard. Guuuuuaaaaaaard,” in a really low, guttural tone, like a growl. Then he looked at me with basically the same smile that the statue had. Message received.

Not that I was too worried; Nancy had already told me that Endi said I was a nice guy.

He’s semi-retired now, which means he got transferred to his home town and will be driving a desk at headquarters until he’s 65. To prevent corruption, Japanese cops get transferred every few years from town to town within their prefecture. This has given me cause to see much of Fukushima that I wouldn’t have otherwise, since my wife and I tend go to visit Nancy and Endi every couple months.

At their house last weekend, in breaks between sumo bouts, I was asking Endi what work’s been like. Apparently, guys in his position are used to handle the “problem customers” that police face. Endi’s regulars are old ladies with dementia who live alone and use filing police reports as a form of entertainment. One in particular is a widow whose husband used to be police. Every week she comes in and tries to file one of two reports: either her home has been burgled and her money’s been stolen; or, her home has been burgled and she has been raped. Endi says his duty is to listen gravely to the old ladies, take notes with all his years of report taking experience, assure them that all investigative measures will be taken, and then throw away the notes as soon as they leave.

Endi loves sumo, so it was interesting to watch it with him. Between bouts he was happy to tell me all about the personalities, rivalries, nuances, and conventions. He’s very impressed with sumo wrestlers. One time he was at an onsen (hot spring spa) and there was a pro sumo wrestler in there with him. Endi offered to wash his back for him, and was allowed to do so. It seems that this was his proudest moment in life.

From Endi I learned that it is true that sumos have subordinates wipe their ass and wash their hind parts for them. This is an honorable and useful endeavor for the youngsters, I was assured (”Berry good, yes. Berry berry nice for them.”).

It was also fun watching sumo with Nancy, since she likes having me around to crack jokes with. She’ll trot out her English master’s degree grammar to say wickedly funny shit over her husband’s head. They both liked it when I referred to one sumo move as “the titty grab.”

It was a fun visit.

Truth and Reconciliation

A few years ago, one of my Canadian friends here in Japan gave me a compilation CD of kids’ songs she had got from a discount bin in a store in Canada. It was a three CD set that had older recordings of many classic kids’ songs and sing-along standards. I was charmed that it had some of the old-school nursery songs with the original dodgy lyrics (“Three Blind Mice,” and so forth). So we put it in the car and into the mix it went.

My daughter was about two at the time, and she came to enjoy these CDs. By the time she was four, she was singing along with most of them. Quite charming.

Now, there was one song that was not so charming: “Ten Little Indians.”

Listening to the CD for the first time I had no idea what was coming next. I heard that song start, and I thought, “Oh dear.” And, as with the rest of the songs, the version was full-on. It was a kids chorus group doing the singing, with a war drum backing them, and doing all the war-whoops and chants. The whole routine.

Oh dear.

But, I thought, the rest of this CD is lovely, and as bad and racist as this song is, there is no cultural context for it here in Japan. With my daughter being too young to explain properly why this song is bad, I decided just to ignore it, as I did with so many other things she enjoyed that I did not care for.

The trouble was, the song became her favorite. And she would sing along and do all the whoops and chants without any notion of what it is all about. But I knew all too well.

Oh dear.

One of the fun surprises of parenthood is how you are able to re-experience elements of your own childhood through the eyes of your child. It is much the same thing as watching a movie you love with a friend who has not seen it. It’s great.

Watching your child go through things can also trigger all kinds of emotions and memories from your own childhood, both good and bad. So it went with my daughter and, “Ten Little Indians.”

Driving along, with her in the back seat war-whooping and chanting, and wondering what I ought to be doing about this, I had a sudden recollection of doing exactly the same thing as her. I remembered singing that song in exactly that way, with the whoops and the chants, not just by myself, but with a big group of kids. I remembered loving it.

This got me thinking, in a very bothered state: When had I done this? With what group of kids?

It took me some time to remember properly. It was in grade one of elementary school. We did that song in our music class. At least a few times.

Oh dear.

Now, in the last months as the truth and reconciliation movement has gathered momentum with the discovery of unmarked graves of First Nations children at residential schools, I have been drawn to think about this memory again. To put it into the wider context of Canadian society as it relates to this issue.

Oh dear.

I do not think that our teacher, in choosing this song, was thinking that she wanted to be a cog in the machine of cultural genocide. I do not think that as six-year-old children we realized that our performance was working to dehumanize First Nations people in our own perception.

But this is so. This is what we were engaged in, consciously or not.

Then I went on to recollect that there was at least one First Nations child in our class. I recalled that she went on to be the first outcast among us. I recall that I went on to treat her very poorly.

I do not think this is a coincidence.

When I widen my thoughts further, to the area of Edmonton where I grew up, I recall stories I heard from an older man I worked with. How he proudly related how his grandmother came to northern Alberta as a little girl in a chuckwagon with her family to homestead a farm. What a tale it was. And without diminishing the incredible story of that family, that is how immediate the history of colonization is in our land. This is not ancient history. This is our story.

Many people like to ask how it was that normal Germans could sit by and allow the Holocaust to occur. They think to themselves that if they had lived in those times, they would have done differently. They would have stood up. They would have resisted.

Well, something similar to the Holocaust did occur in Canada, for the entire duration of the twentieth century. A cultural genocide was conceived of, planned, and perpetrated by the Canadian and provincial governments and Canada’s major churches. Justified, in fact, with the same philosophies and academic theories that the Nazis used to justify their genocides. Racial ideology. Eugenics. The purity of the nation.

It is all the same thing, at heart. The Nazis just took it further.

And we must not forget that this genocide was perpetrated by Canadian society as a whole. For we cannot say that the average German bore culpability for the Holocaust without now turning that righteous judgment on ourselves.

A genocide was perpetrated, and what did we do? Did we stand up? Did we resist?

Ignorance is no excuse. It never is. The machine of the Canadian genocide of the First Nations ought to have been patently obvious to everyone. All it would have taken was the slightest bit of attention for all of us to realize what was happening. But we did not look. Instead, we sang, “Ten Little Indians,” and turned like predators on the other we had created.

And now we are discovering the atrocities of this genocide. “Discovering” them from the people who have been clearly talking about what was done to them for years; done to them by people who were lauded in our communities as paragons of charity. Perhaps we are discovering these things in the same way that the land of these peoples’ ancestors was “discovered” by Europeans so long ago.

I wonder how this new age of discovery will impact the culture. I somehow doubt it will make the same mark in the dominant narrative of our history. I also wonder if it too will be appropriated; this time as a vehicle of virtue signaling and patting ourselves on the back for our enlightenment.

And I’m not going to say, “I stand with you.” Because have I? Do I? I don’t even know what that means. It seems an empty platitude. I think you need to earn the right to say you stand with someone. Doing so requires some degree of tangible action.

I will say that I am sickened, depressed, and demoralized about what we have been “discovering.” And I do not know what to do about it.

But I will say: I am very sorry for my part in it.

Freedom

It seems to me that most of the whinging about freedom of choice isn’t about any real impingement of freedom. People have the freedom not to get vaccinated. What they are whining about is being criticized and stigmatized for their selfish use of their freedom.

You are free to do what you want. And I’m free to think less of you for it. Freedom, baby! Yeah!

I have the freedom to chain-smoke cigarettes in my car with my child locked in there with me. This is a freedom I have. Freedom!

But, no, I’m going to demand that not only do I have this freedom, but that I ought not to be criticized for doing so. Because it is my opinion that secondhand smoke is not harmful. That’s a myth perpetrated by the evil medical science cabal. How dare anyone try to tell me otherwise! What sheep they are. Do your own research!

And then, once my ever diminishing circle of reasonable friends and associates stop communicating with me, I will truly be a victim of oppression. What fun.

Dialogue in the Workplace

“Gee whiz, Dave, you sure do look worried today. What seems to be troubling you?”

“Well, Joe, it’s just that I’m growing concerned that Bob isn’t taking his responsibilities as an auditor seriously.”

“Hmmm… Well, that is a pickle there, Dave. I guess all I can tell you is that we all have had similar concerns regarding Bob. Just know that, like feelings of love, your concerns will probably pass with time.”

“Thanks, Joe. I feel a bit better just knowing that you’ve acknowledged my concerns. I feel perceived and valued.”

“I’m glad I could help, Dave. That’s what I’m here for. Well, that, and watching out for Bob!”

Dave and Joe laugh heartily together. Having bonded over a shared workplace trouble, their dialogue is in no way a waste of company time or resources, so long as they don’t linger too long after the laughter subsides.