A Touch of Class

by Balls Malone

Classy Man is sitting enjoying a scotch on his sumptuous white leather sofa. He takes a sip and smiles at us. Some light jazz starts playing.

“You know, there’s nothing like a touch of smooth jazz to really loosen me up.”

Xylophone enters the musical arrangement. Classy Man closes his eyes and smiles in appreciation.

“Yeah. Oh, yeah. That’s getting into all those hard to reach places, isn’t it? That’s what I’m talking about. Why don’t you come on over here and join me?”

Classy Man shifts his weight to slide over on the sofa. As he does, he shits himself with the sound of a seasick drunk vomiting in a snorkel.

“Ohhhhhh no… that kicked in a little sooner than I expected,” Classy Man murmurs.

He gags as the smell of his shame hits him and slides off the sofa to curl into a fetal ball, his once pristine white leisure suit now an obscene ruin.

After choking down a sob, Classy Man rallies to prop himself up on an elbow with a wooden smile:

“Yeah, that’s jazz for you!”

Japanese Commuter Diaries

Intro here.

They are flooding the rice paddies now. The vistas of dirt fields are now filled with water; transformed into wetland almost overnight. In the evening light, they reflect the sky and mountains behind; like a placid lake segmented by the grids of paddy walls.

Looking down at the nearby paddies from the train, we can take in small, organic, squishy scenes. Muddy pools still, with baby rice seedlings poking up in their neat rows. Ducks and herons going about their business, clearly delighted. The little rice planting tractors at work, with the tiny farmer trucks supplying their trays of seedlings parked on the narrow roads between the paddies.

Later, these pools will become seas of deep green. And later yet, yellow: drooping low under the heavy burden of grain.

But for now it is water and mud. Ducks and rubber boot wearing oldsters in their straw hats going about their labors together.

The junior salarymen from my last instalment have put in another appearance. Just the youngsters, though: none of the managers are in attendance.

At first it was just two of them sitting in the booth opposite me on the morning leg. Nothing unusual here; with their pressed black suits, white shirts and striped ties, overly shiny patent leather shoes, briefcases and overnight wheelie carry-on bags. At the next stop down the line, however, they are joined by another of the lads. This one is different. He is rocking street clothes and has with him a full suitcase.

He sees his two compatriots are wearing suits. He expresses his concerned surprise at this with one of the many expressive Japanese vocalizations they use instead of words. (“ehh!?”)

His two chums are surprised too. You’re not in your suit? (“Sutsu? Sutsu?”)

Oh dear. Buddy in his trendy ripped jeans and rocker shirts whips out his smartphone and hurriedly accesses the email that summoned all of them on this excursion. He’s almost frantically scrolling through it now, looking for some way out of this nightmare. Perhaps the two guys in suits are the ones who misunderstood.

His two mates look on with a mixture of amusement and sympathy. Of course, there is also the subtle edge of predatory satisfaction over the failure of someone who is nominally your competition.

No salvation in the email, the street-clothed fellow sits with a stricken look as he contemplates whatever situation awaits him at the other end of the journey. Will he have time to change into the suit he has carefully packed away in his suitcase?

Not likely.

His pre-trouble embarrassment is not over yet, however. At each of the next two stops, another young colleague boards the train and joins the crew. Both of these fellows is, of course, wearing his suit and has a small overnight bag for his toiletries and street clothes.

Oh dear, oh dear. The one odd man out in the five. Not good.

Later, on the terminal platform, I watch the crew. They have been met by an older gentleman salaryman I have not seen before. He leads them off to their destination. The street-clothed chump with his oversized suitcase takes his place in the duckling procession following in the manager’s wake. Stone faced expressions all.

The manager has made no mention of the lad’s fuck up. Probably all the kid got from him was a raised eyebrow and a cleared throat. Maybe a cough.

This doesn’t mean he aint fucked, though. If they are on their way to meet a customer and don’t have time for him to put on his suit before they do, the manager himself is going to have to bow and scrape to Customer-sama for this breach of etiquette.

The subordinate’s fuck up reflects on the manager, you see. It is his responsibility. His bad.

But being anything other than five minutes early for an appointment is not an option either. Do they have time to handle this? However this plays out, it will not be forgotten. Careers have been torpedoed for less.

Oh well, sucks to be him. It’s the kind of fuck up that the managers will all happily bust a gut laughing about at the post-work drinking party, once the acute tension of it has passed. A “shit happens” incident that won’t truly upset anyone too deeply.

But that doesn’t make the youngster any less fucked.

This is Japan.

Corporate Capitalism Fucks the Gizmal

To start with, let’s get one thing straight here: capitalism isn’t bad. Basic capitalism isn’t the problem. People selling their goods and services for money that they can buy goods and services with is a fine way to function. There’s nothing wrong with this.

It’s the parasitic class of corporate capitalists that are the problem.

Let’s say I notice a hole in the market. I see there is a need for a product that does not exist. I form a company: Gizmo Inc. Then I make a small run of this product: The Gizmal.

The Gizmal works! I sell as many as I can make. Success!

However, I have a problem. I am not a multinational corporation. At this stage, I cannot afford to make all the Gizmals that I would be able to sell. I don’t have the capital to produce that much. But I only have a limited amount of time before other companies copy the Gizmal and exploit that market.

I have to scale up and make those Gizmals.

Well, thankfully, capitalism has developed a system for doing this. I take Gizmo Inc public to raise that capital.

The market analysts check us out and see that we’ve got something here. The numbers look good! We raise all the money we could ever need, and more, and scale the fuck up. Gizmals are flooding the market. It’s a hit!

Success!

In year one after going public, we sell ‘x’ number of Gizmals.

In year two, we sell 3x.

In year three, we sell 6x.

Our stock keeps going up and up! Gizmo Inc is flying high. With increases in sales like this, our profits are increasing at a level that makes the company very attractive to investors. The corporate capitalists love us! What could possibly go wrong?

Well, here’s the thing:

The market for Gizmals is finite. There are only a certain number of customers that need Gizmals. By year three, the market is saturated. Everyone who needs a Gizmal has a Gizmal.

Now, thankfully, we expected this, so our engineers cleverly designed Gizmals to only last for one year. They are designed to fail.

So, thanks to this clever planning, in year four we still sell 6x number of Gizmals. We also know that we will continue to sell 6x Gizmals every year until the Chinese figure out how to copy the Gizmal. But that will take them years. The profits will continue as before and we will keep churning out those Gizmals.

Good enough, right?

No.

See, the market capitalists are in the mix now, right? 6x Gizmals sold in year four is unacceptable. This is failure.

The market capitalists, with their analytics and projections, valued Gizmo Inc’s stock with the assumption that profits would continue to increase at the exponential rate of its first three years.

Getting the same profit this year that we did the last is not okay. This is failure!

Seeking to please the market capitalists, Gizmo Inc brings out some new products. We release the Gizmole, the Gizwizzle, and the Gizwizard.

Sadly for us, none of these new products are something the market needs. They sell okay for a year, but people quickly realize the products are bullshit.

The market capitalists need to be satiated, though. They need their fucking profits.

So, onto cost cutting. We slash jobs and move production overseas.

Success! Profits are up!

However, now the Chinese are catching up faster than ever, as our foreign production facilities hemorrhage workers to the competition as fast as we train them.

As well, the quality of our Gizmals plunges, effectively erasing the difference between our product and the Chinese knockoffs.

By year eight, Gizmo Inc is fucked. The market capitalists pick over the bones a bit, chop up the subsidiaries to sell whatever intellectual property still has value to the highest bidder.

Then it is done. Gizmo Inc is over.

And the market capitalists move on to the next host.

And begin the process again.

This is our world now.

A system requiring unlimited, constant growth trying to force its will on a finite world.

The highway has to run out sometime. Going full throttle right to the end of it might not be the best choice.

Scavengers

It’s the outrage scavenger hunt! Hooray!

It’s time to get offended! Time to get outraged!  What fun!

What’s this? Is that a white woman wearing a kimono?

Appropriation! Let’s all pile on and ruin her life!

It’s time to make a difference.

Did someone ignorant share an extreme opinion you don’t like?

We can’t just leave that alone to die a quiet death all by itself. No way!

Pile on!

This is important work we’re doing here.

Piling on. Ripping other little people to shreds.

Fixing the world.

One ruined life at a time.

 

Japanese Commuter Diaries

INTRO HERE

On the train.

Today I decide to change it up: sit in a seat other than my normal one. I can choose because I always arrive early enough to get the seat I want.

My normal seat is usually in the last booth on the train (my commuter train has two cars, generally), on the left side. I usually sit facing forward.

However, I have found that it’s nice to change things up. Usually I stick to the left side of the train, since that is the less sunny side, but taking a rearward facing seat on occasion is a nice change of scenery. When you’re used to watching what’s coming in your journey, it’s a new perspective to see those same scenes in reverse. A contemplation of where you’ve been, watching things drifting off into the distance.

Today is overcast, so I decided to really change it up. Right side booth, rear facing. Totally different world now. Like they say: sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Waiting for the train to depart, a group of seven salarymen get on the train. It’s a whole crew. The dynamic with which they do this is interesting.

First, the point man: junior manager. He snags my usual booth, but takes the rear facing window seat. He is followed by four juniors: young, fresh-faced keeners; all obsequious eagerness and jumpy bowing. They occupy the four sideways facing seats by the rear doors. Totally separate area from their manager. The train equivalent of the kids’ table at a big family function.

This remains the entirety of the crew for some time. Then, five minutes before the train’s departure, the two big dicks present themselves. Turns out, junior manager has been holding the booth down for them.

Middle manager takes the rear facing booth seat next to the junior manager, at the aisle. Then, senior manager gets the front facing window seat to himself. His backpack gets the empty seat to his right.

Bossman is the only one with a backpack. The rest have the ubiquitous salaryman briefcases. Bossman, however, can allow himself this small breach of professional dress code.

It is a very nice backpack. Black and grey. Has the logo of some prestigious international business conference or another. The wooden handle of an expensive, folding umbrella protrudes from one of the backpack’s side bottle pouches.

Bossman’s number two, the middle manager, leaves his seat and heads back to the kids’ section. He hunkers down in front of two of them, like a peewee baseball coach instructing his youngsters. I can make out a few words: “customer,” “office,” “meeting,” “presentation.” His juniors are all attentive heads bobs and squared shoulders. Coiled springs at tension, ready to engage.

His people primed, his duty done, middle manager returns to his seat.

Bossman acknowledges none of this. He has not looked at the youngsters behind him once. Nor will he.

Bossman is in his early fifties, with a greying crewcut. Fit. Very low body fat. Square jawed. Dark black suit. Purple and violet tie with a broad, interesting striped pattern that probably set his wife or daughter back a minimum of ten thousand yen (a hundred dollars). He is calm. Like a cat on its favorite perch, he watches quietly with placid eyes. Sure of his superiority.

Bossman likes gum. He works it like it is premeditated murder, with violent stabs of chewing. The base of his jaw thickens as he chews; the muscles there overdeveloped. Sinews and tendons spring out of his jaw and neck. Not just a gum chewer, then: a nighttime tooth grinder too. Unsurprising.

Bossman hands gum out to his two underlings seated opposite. They dutifully take it. He likes gum, so you like gum. Halfway through the train ride, having swallowed his first batch, Bossman hands out more. He actually throws a stick of it at the middle manager, who has to move fast to catch it in his open file folder.

The managers don’t talk. They spend the first part of the trip going through some paperwork quietly. Reviewing files and business propaganda materials. The Bossman has an interesting looking notebook in which he has glued papers and pamphlets amongst his handwritten notes, like some kind of weird scrapbook. Then, once all their preparations are done, they put their materials away and sit in silence.

They sit in silence because the Bossman wants silence.

When we reach our destination, Bossman and his two subordinates leave the youngsters in their wake, paying them no heed as they move to the escalators to get to the bullet trains. A little later, moving through the station myself, I am able to watch their procession heading up to their platform.

Bossman leads the way, talking amiably with the middle manager, who follows one step back and to his right. Then, a good two meters behind, follow the rest. The junior manager who held the booth seats leads the four ducklings, who follow along, two by two.

Bossman leads the way. Kicking ass for his company. Not a doubt in his mind that his people follow behind, doing everything exactly the way they are supposed to.

This is Japan.

Japanese Commuter Diaries

INTRO HERE

On the train.

In the daytime, the outside world offers itself as entertainment. Always something new to be seen. Some subtle thing about a place that I missed before.

This is my morning leg.

But what of the night? In the dark, the outside view is gone: obliterated by the bright light in the carriage and the reflections it casts on the windows. What to look at here?

Nature abhors a vacuum, though. So too does our mind. Denied the wide vistas to engage itself, our mind collects more detail from what it has to engage with. We can examine our fellow passengers in more detail now. Furtively, of course, with all the decorum that the social harmony of the car requires. What do a person’s shoes say about them? Their jewelry, or luggage? How do they choose to present themselves to the world, and what telltale signals of their inner self have slipped through?

The seating is the booth type on my train. Like restaurant booths without tables; two person sofas facing each other. When I get to the train early enough, I can get into a booth first. Then, later passengers will tend to avoid sitting in my booth until there is no other choice (they are still skittish about gaijin up here in the countryside). Even then, usually only one will sit; always on the opposite couch, and not directly opposite. Plenty of leg and elbow room still.

Like I said before: in the boondocks here. We are not overcrowded.

On the night leg, the window reflections become mirrors with which to watch fellow passengers. More opportunities present themselves this way. This can be both entertaining and titillating. Here in rural Tohoku, there are not that many gaijin around. And in this country, bedding a white person is still pretty high up on many people’s bucket list. This, along with me being something of a sexy bitch, makes me popular with the racial fetishizing crowd over here (yes, that goes both ways; and you won’t catch me complaining about it). Not bragging; it just is what it is.

As demure as they might seem, Japanese women do find ways to let their interest be known. Surgeons with the coy glances, they are. A nice hour of languid eye fucking, I have found, is a lovely way to end the public portion of my day. Harmless fun.

Not an everyday occurrence, certainly, but frequent enough to be a feature.

I do so love my commute.

Mental Hygiene: The Stop Sign

In order to heal and to improve ourselves it is critical to manage our thoughts. Not control; manage. Start by paying attention to your inner monologue. What kinds of things do you fill your void up with? Are these things you would enjoy hearing from loved ones? If not, you need to work on what you tell yourself.

When I was getting sober, I stumbled on a technique for mental hygiene that has proved helpful. When I caught myself thinking about things that led me into self-destructive mental cull-de-sacs, I would simply imagine a stop sign. That’s it.

This works because, from childhood, a stop sign is a potent symbol. We must stop what we are doing and take a moment to make sure everything is safe. Not only does it disrupt out process, it reassures us. The stop sign keeps us safe. It imposes borders, however illusionary, on a chaotic world.

So, when your mind is taking you someplace you’d rather not be, picture a stop sign. Visualize it as clearly as you can. Look at it. Then, pull the movie camera of your mind outwards. Where is the stop sign? Is it someplace you remember? Let your mind wander from that sign so long as it doesn’t go down any of those nasty, dark roads it likes so well. As soon as it does, crack the whip and get back to the stop sign in its simplest form.

At first I could only manage about five or ten seconds between stop sign mental reboots. But the longer I could stay focused on that sign, the better I got at getting free of those bad thoughts. If nothing else, it was a break from my toxic inner monologue. A break that did not require poisoning myself with booze in a search for oblivion.

If you don’t like what you’re telling yourself, what you can’t stop fixating on:

STOP