The Normal Files

a caveat:

everything that follows is a work of fiction.

even that which has actually happened.

reality is what you can get away with

and i don’t think i could possibly get away

with you believing any of this.

if you did, you would only believe it subjectively anyway

Try as we might we all step in it.

Everyday, when we wake up, we take a risk. We step out of bed and take another. With each progressive step we take more risks, wearing out the soles of our shoes and taking us one step closer to death. Yet nobody can stay in bed in all day. Nature will call and life will entice us to partake.
My first few steps that hot august day, after nature had enticed me to get out of bed, were back and forth across the art gallery I called home. My steps were light; well fed, rested and ready. 
I was excited because I had made plans to spend the day with my nephew Blackbird. I was so excited that I had woken up hours before I was to meet him at the library. If anybody else were there in the gallery they might have told me to calm down. I was alone and didn’t want the criticism so I called someone I knew wouldn’t mind my excitement.
I called my friend Amelia. She answered in her soft, almost whisper, “Morning darling.” I replied, “How’s Boston?” as I stepped out onto the hot, sun soaked concrete. The sun outside was so stunning I almost missed Amelia saying, “It would be better with a friend like you.” I let the flattery of her words and the heat of the sun warm me from heel to ear. “How’s Albuquerque?” she asks. “It’s missing something” I replied.
I stepped back inside onto the cool, blue painted concrete. As if prompted by the change in temperature of my feet the tone of Amelia’s voice got cold. “It would be a lot better if I could stay out of the hospital too” she said.
Amelia had, at the time, lived in Boston for twenty-six days and been to the Emergency Room twice. The first time she went in was due to stress related bronchitis and the second was an incident that took place at a zoo, but she never went into explicit details. I began to chide her about those details and though she didn’t tell me, the conversation resumed its playfulness.
We talked for quiet some time. My ear grew warm and my elbow sore, but I didn’t mind. I was so engaged that before I even realized it I had stepped out of the house on my way to the library. My front door was locked; my shoes were tied and stepping. All the while Amelia and I told jokes and played with each other’s words. We were like children that had crawled under a blanket on some parent’s bed to hide. We walked down that dusty desert street separated by an America sized distance, but together under our comfort blanket in the dark.
Amelia told me she was homesick, so I was describing to her what I saw as I walked. I told her that the bronze man in front of the Barelas Chamber of Commerce was still reading Don Quixote. Playfully snide she asked if the bricks under his feet were still red. I told her they were. I told her when I passed the Red Ball CafĂ© that the patio was empty the way we liked it and she asked if I was hungry. I had just started to describe to her the Arrow Supermarket sign when something pierced through the imaginary fort we inhabited.
A man was ambling down the street and the way he ambled made me nervous. His steps were uncertain, some forward, some to the side, and some backwards. Then, for a moment, he stopped stepping altogether.
I stopped listening to Amelia. In Albuquerque the lights were on and the blanket cast aside, but not in Boston. I told her I had to go as I watched the man fall flat. I repeated myself through pauses, “I, uh, HAVE, huh, TO GO”, trying to explain what was happening. Somehow I managed the words 'someone needs help' and I started hurrying in his direction. My steps were determined, fast, and they left me no time to think about what I was going to do or how I had just so abruptly ended such a pleasant conversation.
I hadn’t run far enough to be out of breath when I came up on the man, but I was. My chest heaved against the hot summer air and I tried to assess the situation. The situation was a man lying on the side of his face at the base of a giant pink sign that read DRUGS. His back was to the road and his breathing difficult. A homemade tattoo on his arm read Dakota; the shape of South Dakota surrounded the letters.
I approached him slowly and bent down at the knees. I asked if I could help, if he could hear me. I observed him for a few minutes. I wanted to know if he was sick or just drunk. If he were simply drunk then I didn’t want to call the authorities and create trouble for him. He just breathed heavily and drooled a little. I was about ready to accept that he had had too much to drink and that Fourth Street was as good as any a place to sleep it off in this city. Then something stopped me.
It was a small drop of blood making its way down the man’s cheekbone. It started at his earlobe and soon made a trail to the tip of his nose. At his nose the blood accumulated into a drop and fell. It splashed on the sidewalk and was quickly followed by another. The blood in my veins accelerated as the blood leaving his beat the sidewalk like a metronome.
I starred at the blood falling for a few moments before regaining what was left of my composure. I followed the trail of blood back to his ear. There, I thought I would discover he had hit his head in falling, but I was wrong. The blood did not come from the back of the man’s head. It pooled in his ear and overflowed down the side of his face. I stood and called nine one one.
The phone rang once and I prepared to make a clear statement. The phone rang twice and my nerves were once again shot. I pressed the phone, still warm from my previous call, against my cheek and turned away from the man. I turned as if he shouldn’t hear me explain his condition to the people that were going to help him; as if he could hear me at all.
On the sixth ring they picked up. A woman very calmly said, “Albuquerque Rescue what is your emergency?” At first I didn’t say anything. It was as if by involving another person reality had become amplified. I felt like I needed to yell to make myself heard, but I couldn’t find my voice. “Your emergency,” she repeated.
The words staggered and stumbled out of my mouth. I described watching the man fall, the sound of his breathing, the blood. I told her to send a paramedic to Fourth and Cromwell. I told her that I didn’t know if the man wanted help, but that he needed it. I told her this as if I were an authority on head traumas rather than some helpless kid. “Someone is on the way” she assured me and hung up.
I stood there feeling empty, trying to think of what else I could do. I told the man that I had called an ambulance. I told him that I would wait with him; that he needed medical attention. I told him not to worry. He just lay there in his sweat, blood, and misfortune.
I began pacing around up and down the sidewalk. My feet had become heavy and I waited anxiously for a sign of help. I walked a few steps into the road to get a better vantage point. As I stood there in the street the man got to his knees. My head turned to watch him but my feet remained still. I was in shock because I thought he was in shock and if that were the case it didn't make sense that he was now standing and walking away.
I didn’t know what to do. I thought about calling the operator back to update her but realized that wasn’t practical. I thought about trying to force the man to stay but considering I was trying to get him medical attention that didn’t seem to make sense either. So I did nothing except watch.
It only took a few minutes before I heard the sirens. A fully equipped fire engine was coming down Fourth Street at full speed. I stood out on the sidewalk and waved to get their attention. Blocking the entirety of Cromwell, the truck pulled up next to me. I quickly explained that I was the one who had made the call but person in need had left. I was given inquisitive but concerned looks from the men in the truck. I pointed down the street to the man stepping slowly west down Cromwell and was quickly left alone.
Standing in the street with my phone in my hand I felt like I should do more, but my role in this drama was finished. I was a bit part player watching the play from behind the curtain. I wanted to step back on stage, to say something more but I could only drag my feet across the pavement in the direction of the library with my mouth agape. I began to think of what I would say if someone were to ask me what I had done that day.
In what felt like no time at all I was in front of the Albuquerque Public Library. I was a zombie as I walked into that library full of living people; it was as if I had forgotten how to relate to anybody. I was afraid the simplest of greetings might cause me to spill my guts. It was then I got lucky and I felt my shoes get lighter.
The first person to greet me in the Library was Blackbird. His two year old legs controlled his falling pace as he hurdled toward me. He screamed in joy at the sight of me. His voice pierced the expected silence of the library and heads turned. As his few teeth flashed in his smile I became giddy. “Blackbird!” I yelled in response to his shriek and the turned heads remained turned. I picked him up by the armpits and threw him around my neck. I squeezed him for all the innocence he is worth. 
As I sat in the kids section of the Library amid stuffed animals and building blocks waiting for Blackbird to pick out a few books I began to relax. I watched his little hands struggle with a book as big and colorful as he was. I watched as he balanced it on his knee as he tipped it off the shelf. I watched him lift his feet high for each step he took, struggling to hold the book and walk. I thought I would like to help him, to carry him in order to keep his feet from from wearing out his shoes, from accumulating too much risk. Instead I just watched him struggle, ready to help him up if he were to fall.

About a year later the family gathered to celebrate our late brother's birthday. We sat on Sarah's patio having drinks and sharing memories when Blackbird raised his glass of sparkling cider. He cleared his throat and immediately had our attention. Without being prompted Blackbird lifted his glass a little higher and we all stopped to do the same. Then in his infinite three year old wisdom Blackbird gave what I still believe to be the greatest toast in history. His toast was this 'To bang-ups and hang-ups." And so as today he turns six I toast to Blackbird, 'To bang-ups and hang-ups and the places you'll go'. 
Happy Birthday
Little Dude!

A Wolf in the Presence of Men part 1: Self Sufficiency

A wolf stands in a cafe and orders a coffee. He is disappointed it has come to this, he prefers self-sufficiency.

He watches in silence as the barista fills his cup with hot water and a tea bag. she smiles as she snaps the plastic lid onto the paper cup. The wolf stares at her with blank contempt. She smiles again, obviously looking to the wolf to do the same. The expression on the wolf's face is unchanged.

She sets the cup on the counter. She slides it across the counter towards the wolf. She almost has time to say 'have a nice day', but the wolf is quicker and hungry. His teeth flash like the blade of a butterfly knife. In a single motion he tears through the soft, lazy flesh of her throat.

A few moments later the wolf leaves the cafe, coffee in hand. His preference for self-sufficiency reaffirmed.


The night was late and the drinkers in the bar were drunk. Some more so than others. The four of us sat at a table crowded with beer and opinions. We argued and speculated over the scene that was happening in the bathroom.
The scene became a commotion and it was clear that if one had to pee they must do it else where. Elsewhere was far across a park under scattered showers. As we drained beers we tried to hold on, to hold it, in hopes that the commotion would end and free the toilet. Soon uncomfortable, our speculations as to what was happening in there grew grisly.
"Blood, teeth, and hair all over the tile floor" one said.
"I say they are just fucking" said another.
"Nah, just passed out" said a third.
"Fuck this. I got to pee. I am going in there" said the fourth.
The look on the bartender's face as he insisted not to go in gave the impression that at least one of our speculations was right.
One took a trip through the rain and the park. Then another. Then a third. Then a fourth.
They all returned dampened and the night went on. More beers were ordered. Conversation resumed its natural rhythm, but due to their uncomfortably damp clothing everything said came out sharper than they intended.
"You don't hate Eric Clapton, I mean you can't Hate him" one said.
"I really fucking hate him. That's what I am saying, I fucking Hate Eric Clapton." said another.
"Well you got to admit he's got talent." said a third.
"He won't, he really does Hate Eric Clapton." said the fourth.
The conversation moved on, the beer was drank and the urge to pee returned.
"How long have they been in there?" one said.
"Fucking too fucking long." said another.
"Who ever is in there is probably passed out cold." said a third.
"They have been in there long enough to wake up sober. Fuck this I am going in" said the fourth.
With this he stood and made for the bathroom. Again the bartender tried to insist not to go in, but the fourth said something to him and the bartender turned to follow him into the bathroom.
We three sat sipping the last of our beers and crossing our legs.
"You think they are taking pictures in there?" one said.
"What do you think he said to get in there?" said another.
"He probably just guessed the password" said a third.
The fourth walked backward out of the bathroom burdened by something heavy, the body of a very drunk person. A man who was not the bartender carried the drunkards feet. They moved through the doorway, down the stairs and out of the bar.
"Well I guess its open now" one said.
"Go find out" said another.
"My pleasure" said a third.
As she moved towards the bathroom the bartender popped his head out of the door. The expression on his face was pleading, both uncomfortable and begging forgiveness.
"Its not open." She said returning to the table.
"Bullshit!" said one.
"Bullshit!" said another.
They finished their beers. The bartender came out of the bathroom and bought us a round of beers.
"The bathroom is available" he said apologetically.
We three began to wonder where the fourth had gone. Then he entered the bar. He sat down grinning and signaled to the bartender for a beer. The three of us waited for an explanation or a story but all the fourth said was, "I should do that more often."
The bartender brought his beer, patted him on the shoulder smiling and said, "Gentle liar." and walked away chuckling.
"Was he talking about you?" one said.
"What did that mean?" said another.
"How did you get in there?" said a third.
"Let me just say that sometimes the only way to get back stage is to say you are a doctor." the fourth said.

Ordered a time lapse remote for my camera and bought myself a tripod.
More to come.

sound a sleep: louder in the dark

A few months ago while at the park with Tofu and Hisako we ventured into a little building that was home to many kinds of local insects. A kind old man monitored the space and gave tours to the people who stopped in. He gave us one such tour at the end of which he showed us something really cool. 
They are the larva of kabutomushi, or Japanese Rhinoceros Beetles. The kind old man asked us if we wanted one. Tofu quickly said he did and I in a moment of insecurity said I wouldn't know what to do with one. So the man found a styrofoam cup and filled it with dirt and a larva then went back to showing us around the place. 
As he showed us other critters and crawlers I found that I was no longer listening. I had gone to a place in my head where regret is all that is audible and I listened to my future self pine over not having said yes. The truth was I really did want a pet beetle, even if it was also true that I would have no idea what to do with it. So I pulled Hisako aside and told her how I felt. She just smiled at me and politely asked the man if it was too late for me to also have one. It was no problem, the guy had found a few dozen larva that morning in the woods. He found another cup and filled it for me with dirt and a larva. 

We left the park and headed to the pet store. Next to the rabbit supplies we found the beetle supplies and bought a big bag of dirt and some bins to keep our larvae in. 

The man told us they would have to sit in the dirt until June (this being back in February or March). That in may the larva would build a cocoon and in early June the beetle would emerge. He said to try no to disturb the beetle and things would work out fine. 
Over the past few weeks I would ask Tofu if he had been checking in on his larva. Other the naming it Nobunaga (a famous samurai of local lore) he had all of the patience and good sense to leave it well enough alone. 
I on the other hand, nearly twenty years his elder, couldn't help but pick up my box ever day or so and see the different places the larva had burrowed to. I often wondered if I shouldn't be moving it around so much but, like scratching a mosquito bite, I couldn't resist. 
A few more weeks past and the time when I would move to Nagoya was fast approaching. I was worried about my little larva for two reasons. The first was that on several occasions I could hear it rap-tap-taping its many legs against the bottom of the plastic container. I was afraid it had run out of clean dirt and was surely going to suffocate in its own poop. It would remain a larva forever and I would never get to see in its glorious beetle state. The second reason was that once it became a cocoon it really was not supposed to be moved. These little bugs, as larva, as cocoon, and even as beetle, are highly susceptible to dying of shock. I was worried the trip from Gifu to Nagoya would surely be its end. 
I moved it anyway and for the last month and a half it has been sitting in my closet in the dark. It hasn't made a sound, and it hasn't moved. It has done nothing and now we are in the later part of June. I am trying to get some sleep and my beetle pet was never my beetle pet. I am resigned to the fate of my beetle and try to resign also to my own. It is later than it should be and I am not as tired as I should be.  
The night does strange things to perception. The most interesting of stories can lull us to sleep. Garrison Keillor's voice, the BBC, the films of Fritz Lang all fascinating to me, and yet they are a sure step in the direction of snoozeville. It is almost a pavlovian reaction, as if I have been trained to fall asleep to these sweet soothing sounds. Sounds that are not so soothing have the same effect; rain beating on a tin rooftop, the incessant trains that rattle ten stories below my window.

I try very diligently to render myself tired. I drink a beer, I read, I watch part of a bad Ben Stiller movie that had successfully put most of America to sleep upon its release. I find myself bored, but not tired, so I turn on the latest episode of A Prairie Home Companion and crack my sliding door to let in the sounds of the trains. The bell rings, I spill a bit of drool and before I know it, I am wonderfully asleep. 
Two hours later I was met with consciousness and confusion.  As the loud and captivating had put me to sleep, the minute and annoying had brought me out of it. As if somewhere on the other side of my brain there is another pavlovian trigger that is flipped in reaction to a world both microscopic and deafening. The buzzing of a mosquito in my ear, the shuffling of a mouse in a trash can, and the tiny ping of cockroach legs against a drain stopper. Sounds I would never notice in my waking state wake me like waves of cold water.
Something was disturbing my blissful state. It sounded like a watch alarm going off several doors down. A high pitched, unstopping and inaccessible beep beep beep. A sound so small and yet so grating, like hearing someone trim their fingernails in public.  I however remained determined to sleep out the few hours I had left before a similarly aggravating sound would come from my alarm clock. I rolled over, I pressed my head against my pillow to muffle at least half the sound. Nothing doing. 
It was as if the sounds of things small had decided if anybody was to remain awake tonight it was me. The beeping stopped and was quickly replaced by the faint but growing sound of a mosquito. The sound grew until I was sure it was in my ear. I slapped it hard and it stopped. No more buzzing. Now just the faint ring of an ear that has been slapped with a cupped palm. I rolled over again and again. Still nothing doing. 
Then came the sound that would win the fight. A pinging sound so small and yet all together too loud for whatever was producing it. It was a small sound, but to be so audible the small creature making it had to have been very strong. A quiet yet forceful and all together disconcerting sound. The unmistakable sound of beetle feet. 
Where I lived in Albuquerque cockroaches were, to me, not so much pests as they were an interior design motif. They were not the target of scorn, but rather amazement. Amazing just how many there could be in a single sink, and oh look at how many colors there are. Now that I live in Japan my opinion of cockroaches has changed rather dramatically, and this surprises me. It surprises me because I have only seen one or two in the five months I have been here.
However the few I have seen have made quite an impact on me due to the force of impact I would have to inflict to squish one. They look like thick shiny black thumbs. They are unpleasant creatures that beg to be crushed. Yet I never crush them because as unpleasant as they are crawling across your floor, the thought of what they would look like smeared like spilled paint is far less pleasant. (Have you cleaned out an old fashioned mousetrap, or stepped on a frog?) Oh and did I mention that in Japan cockroaches can fly like birds?
So the sound of beetle feet somewhere in my room, the room where my bed is a short mattress on the floor, finally got me to stop trying to sleep. I sat up disgusted and discouraged and thats when I saw it. 
In the pitch dark that was my room there was something that was even darker. A gleaming black speck that was more of a spot than a speck and really more of a stain than anything. It looked to be about the size of a D battery and it was slowly making its way across the head of my bed to my pillow. Sitting upright I went through the same possible actions as I always do. First, smash it and feel no remorse. Second just let it go on its way, we are all creatures of the earth after all. I didn't like either option so I thought maybe I would just flick it really hard. It would surely fly a few meters from my bed, and with any luck it would hit the wall and die from some sort of internal injury. This would be the best option, no bug and no messy clean up, so I pressed my thumb to the nail of my middle finger and made for the approach. 
Within flicking distance I had the impulse to stop. Even in the dark something seemed particularly safe and sanitary about this cockroach. As if perhaps it wasn't a cockroach at all, but rather some strange and wonderful creature who's presence I had been anticipating for months. Still under the spell of a sleepy mind I couldn't really understand my own thoughts so instead I went with my gut. I didn't flick it. Instead I turned on a light and found my glasses. 
Though still rather shaken up and in a state of alarm what I found myself looking at filled me with joy. It was not the sewer dwelling, sky soaring, uncrushable monster I thought it would be. It was my new pet. 

He hadn't died at all. In fact he had escaped and had been wondering around my apartment for who knows how long. Excited I grabbed a plastic bin and began cutting air-holes in the lid. I wasn't sure if the guy would be hungry, but just in case I put a small drop of jelly in the corner of the bin. When I came back into the room he was right where I had left him. I anxiously approached him and tried to coax him into the bin. At first I tried sliding a piece of paper under his legs but his grip was to firm. I couldn't get between him and my bed sheet. So I decided I would use my fingers. Little kids all over Japan have these as pets so I wasn't worried about getting hut, but I was a little nervous all the same. I didn't know how strong it was, or how fast, or how fragile. I just tried to be care. I placed my thumb and index finger around its back and before I knew it it was scurrying up my naked arm. 
I got him in the plastic bin and after my heart stopped racing I fell back asleep to the unpleasant sound of a large beetle held in captivity in a plastic bin. Scurry, scurry, flick flick. When I awoke he had settled down and I ran to the convenience store to buy a banana. If he really had just come out of the cocoon he must be hungry and I wanted to give him a proper welcome to the world. On my way to the store I saw that someone had thrown out a couple of plastic dresser drawers. I saw that they might make an excellent terrarium so I snatched them up. I cut up the banana, ripped up some paper for temporary flooring and placed my new friend in his new home. 
He has been in there all day and he has not touched the banana, or he has and is taking tiny little bites. He also has not moved expect for when I have attempted to touch him and inspect him. From what I can tell he is a healthy male kabutomushi with six legs and two eyes. His nose/horn is a little crooked however and so I have decided to name him Gonzo. 

Dear Readers

Dear Readers,

The past few weeks (or has it been months?) I have been increasingly aware of how quickly time slips through fingers. That due to an absence of presence friends easily lose contact with one another. Specifically me with you. The simple joys of shooting the shit with a person you feel comfortable with can be easily forgotten and yet not forgotten. These joys are not present in my everyday life, but thoughts of all of my dear friends stateside and around the world most certainly are.
When I first arrived in Japan I found it somewhat easy to maintain this blog as a line of communication with those far away. I had an excessive amount of free time and was in a state of perpetual awe that seemed desperate to be shared. As the weeks became months it seems my free time has diminished, my state of awe took on the grayish hues of everyday living. However this is not exactly the truth.
I have become busy, and I have gotten accustomed to many things. Yet I still find many hours everyday that are exclusively mine and I still stumble on a dozen mind-blowing and noteworthy things here in Japan. I have just become lazy, and often preoccupied with inward concern. I have spent more time than I would like to admit watching MASH and telling myself that the place I live seems normal to me. Really though this is a coping mechanism. It is a means to convince myself that, somehow someday, I might really be able to fit in here. AS if to see this place as normal will allow me to be seen in the same way and somehow this will make life more comfortable. As if comfort was something that came from conformity.
I am pretty sure that it is not, and if it is, well fuck that.
I guess what I am trying to say is that when you are a million miles from the people you love, the people that appreciate your undeniable self, it is easy to forget that you are that person, that undeniable self, as a result of choice. One big choice made up of a million little choices and not one of them, at least the good choices, had anything to do with fitting in or pleasing people. Excuse the schmaltz, but they had to do with being myself. But who would I be with out all of you? I hope both enough and not enough.
Apparently it is easy to lose my sense of self in this ocean of odd and often disapproving looks. As this is the case, and this simple blog has been one way that I can pretend I am just sitting at a bar back home telling these stories to anyone of you, I owe it to all of us to maintain it.
So I solemnly promise you, my friends, my family, my readers, my self, to get up off of my ass and report back. I have dozens of stories to tell you. So many that they may lose the usual chronology and polish that I have previously strived for, but well fuck that.
Anyway I hope that this wandering and cathartic post will bring me to your minds. You are always on mine, honest.
Ja mata ne.
Barton Normal.

PS. I realize I almost posted this with out including a single detail about any of my experiences outside of watching MASH (which despite its hilarity and poignant views on the insanity of war is as much a non experience as all television). So before I go I would like to share a quick story about how strange Japanese culture can be.
It was last Friday and I was trying to get to the post office to pick up a letter that had failed to be delivered to my apartment. The letter, I had assumed, was concerning my enrollment in the Japanese healthcare system. A letter that I needed to turn in to my local ward office.
As I mentioned it was Friday.  It was around three in the afternoon and the ward office closed at five fifteen. They were closed on weekends and Monday was my first day of work. A day that marked the beginning of a new schedule for me, an unrelenting and unchanging nine to five kind of schedule. A schedule that would make it impossible for me to ever again get to the ward office. So I had to go, and the dire necessity of getting to the office was stressing me out, apparently impairing my judgement and map reading skills.
My apartment is about a block from what I thought was the main post office. It seemed close enough that I could dawdle a bit, and so I did. Though only a five minute walk I did not arrive at the post office until three thirty. At the post office I was informed that my letter was waiting for me at a different post office, one that was maybe forty minutes away by foot. The post man gave me a map and I rushed home to get my bicycle, my anxiety growing.
At home I figured it would be best to check out a map online and confirm that I knew where I was going. I couldn't afford to get lost; I didn't have time. After a difficult search (apparently the main post office in the third largest city in Japan is not very well documented), I found a building on the map that looked like a central post office, and to my good fortune I had ridden by it just the day before. I knew exactly how to get there. So I hopped on my back and made haste.
I arrived at the exact site I had seen on the map around four fifteen, but it wasn't a post office. It was a city run sports center, municipal buildings all look alike I guess. I consulted the map given to me by the post man, but couldn't find anything useful written on it. It may have told me exactly what I needed to know if I could read kanji, however I don't.
I peddled around a bit until I got the nerve to show the map to an old guy sitting on his bike smoking a very thin cigarette. I showed him the map, pointed to my desired destination and asked him 'Kore wa doko desu ka?'. He studied the map, looked at me and gave me a nod. Something about the way I looked at him must have said I don't speak Japanese can you just point me in the right direction because he didn't say anything. He just looked up and down the street and back at the map. He gave me a look that said pointing won't help, and it would be impolite to just leave you here. So, instead, exhibiting supreme Japanese etiquette, he offered to lead me there. We got on our bikes, I said a few 'arigatos, and sumimasens' and we rode off.
We hadn't gone far when I started to get a bad feeling. The direction we were heading in was back the way I had came, towards my apartment and the wrong post office. I tried to shake the feeling and concentrated my thoughts on the small spider crawling across the bright white nylon vest the man was wearing. It was a warm brown color and seemed to absorb sunlight. We continued in the direction of my apartment and the spider crawled to the inside of the vest and I was left to wonder if I was somehow responsible for the bite he was sure to be scratching later that evening. I mean I could have said something even if he wouldn't have understood, but I didn't.
This feeling swelled inside of me as we wound through all too familiar streets. It got to the point where I had to say something, if not about the spider than at least the way in which I was wasting this man's time. I called out to him and we paused at a red light. I pointed at the map again and told him that I needed one post office and not the other. He nodded and looked at me as if to say I know, I know, I know better.
We finally got to the street my apartment was on and I was certain we were heading back to the first post office. As I was about to show him the map again he made an unexpected turn and began heading beyond my apartment. I started to feel better. I began to think that maybe he really did know better.  After a few more blocks he made a few turns that seemed all to cyclical and we were soon passing the front of my apartment building, headed directly for the post office I had already visited.
At this point however it was too late to tell him anything, he had made up his mind that this was where I needed to be. So I followed him hoping that we wouldn't have to talk to the guy who had only twenty minutes before directed me away from this, the wrong, post office.
Thankfully we got two different post men and they explained to the man, with my help, that the I did indeed need the other post office. The post office I had tried so hard to point at on the map. The man said he understood, we thanked the postmen and left. We got on our bikes and again I followed him, this time a little more sure we were going to the right place.
The correct post office turned out to be in a perfectly straight line from my apartment. It was about a ten minute bike ride, but there were no turns, no detours, nothing that would have confused me had I simply trusted the map I was given, not the one I had sought out online, and not asked for directions. We arrived at the post office at four fifty. Time was running short if I hoped to make the ward office.
At the post office the man, who seemed to have lost his patience, helped me acquire my letter. I thanked him a dozen times, bowed and tried to look pitiful, as I think may be the polite custom. Outside I tried to make a gesture of friendship and in my best Japanese asked his name. He told me not to worry about it. I asked him for his name again, this time in English, and with a considerable chip on his shoulder he told me. He then got on his bike and rode away. As I watched him leaving I wondered if my Japanese was incorrect and he didn't understand when I asked his name the first time, or if he just didn't want to tell me. As if knowing his name would further bond us and he wanted nothing of the sort to happen. I still don't know.
It was already five and I had only a few minute to make it to the ward office with my letter. I hopped on my bike and let my intuition guide me. I knew I was short on time and I didn't know exactly where I was going, but I figured aimless wandering would be quicker than asking directions. To my surprise I stumbled on to the ward office in a matter of minutes. It just goes to show I guess.
At the ward office I hurried inside and pulled my unopened, and unexamined letter from my backpack. It was from my bank and had nothing what so ever to do with health insurance.

Parks and Preservation

Typically parks are simple places designed for the enjoyment of simple pleasures. They offer no more than a place to play and relax, and in doing so they are very generous. Other parks, such as amusement and water parks, try to offer more than simple pleasures. They claim to provide visitors with thrills and adventure. Though these are bold claims they are not completely unbelievable. Not nearly so unbelievable as the assertions made by a park I visited a few weeks ago.
It was an unbelievable park built upon a far fetched theory, claiming to be able to do something wholly improbable. The park is called The Site of Reversible Destiny. From above it looks like this: 
Closer up it looks like this:

It is a park, a piece of art and an architectural experiment based on the concept of reversing destiny. The concept of reversing destiny can be somewhat difficult to explain and even to harder to grasp, so instead of explaining it straight out I will explain how it unfolded to me.
I first heard of this place from Maggie who told me only the name and showed me a few photos. Both of us were very excited about the look of the place and the possibility that it would be conceptual art very much in line with our own thinking. Before going we spent some time discussing what Reversible Destiny might mean. 
We began our discussion with the idea of destiny. Was destiny something that lay at the end of a predetermined path, or was it points along said path? Was it both? What do people mean when they say things like: it was my destiny to come to such and such a place? Does achieving one's destiny in this way mean that everything that comes afterwards is not destined? Are destiny and freewill mutually exclusive ideas? And if they are, how can one have the power, the freewill, to choose their destiny, let alone reverse it?
Considering the contradictory ideas presented I came to the conclusion that in this case destiny must be the decisions a person makes in life that leads them along a path to points that they have, for better or worse, expected to arrive at. The Site of Reversible Destiny must then be a place where one is given the opportunity to go back and change these decisions. It must be a place that exists in a metaphysical space outside of time and space. Or the site is arranged in such a way that visitors are transported to such a metaphysical state where the past, or their perception of the past, can be altered, thus reversing their destiny. It seemed like a pretty big claim for a park to make, and it made me want to go all the more.
Upon arriving at the park we paid our entrance fee, a nominal seven dollars. Then I saw this sign, and I began to doubt the rather bold claim I had made on the park's behalf.
I began thinking the site might be geared to broader ideas of destiny rather than those more personal. That instead of allowing each visitor to reverse their own personal destiny it was speaking to a destiny all humans share. Given the phrase at the center of the poster I assumed the destiny the park sought to reverse was the inevitable conforming to societal norms that people face as they get older. Simply the Site of Reversible Destiny was a place where adults were encouraged, and allowed, to return to a childlike state of mind. That this place was designed in such a way that it did not cater to expectation and as a result visitors would be forced to interact with the environment with a sense of newness and awe. An outlook found most prominently in the minds of children. This idea spoke to me, it agreed with my own philosophical views and having no other information to dismantel this idea I explored the park with this in mind. It was incredibly fun.
The park is very suitable for this kind of thinking. It is a huge, adult sized playground. The complex contains several buildings with floor plans designed like mazes. The interiors were painted with over a dozen colors with no semblance of order or purpose. Each building had several entrances and exits, which visitors are encouraged to use all of. Not one building had a level floor which gave me the sense that I was in a circus fun house or having a psychedelic experience. Adding to this feeling are the ceilings, which are not an exact mirror of the floor, but are designed in exactly the same, disorienting maze-like way. 
The exterior portions of the park were much the same; no level surfaces, brightly and chaotically colored, with no sense of order to be found anywhere. Playing on this idea of disorder was a huge map painted over much of the park. This map was unlike most maps in that it was designed to disorientate. It was a map of several places; New York City, Berlin, Tokyo, Kuala Lampur, and each, I am pretty sure, less than accurate. 
The outer rim of the park was large, narrow, ascending path that led to a dead end. The path was so narrow that when we encountered visitors headed the opposite direction, we had to cram our bodies up against the wall to let them pass. Physical contact was inevitable. It was also hilarious because people, and Japanese people in particular, have a tendency to let that sort of thing become very embarrassing. 
The dead end was a crow's nest that overlooked the park, but was surrounded by such high walls that one could only struggle for the view provided. It seemed as if everything was designed as some kind of practical joke. As I was still in the mindset that the park was designed to make its visitors act like children, I thought this to be very clever. 
The center of the park was a valley surrounded by this high cliff like rim and the aforementioned map. It was mostly grassy, but also had sections that were paved, and others that were covered in a rubber mesh mat that I have encountered beneath sinks in restaurant kitchens. These mats were clearly there to provide traction for the visitors, and were the only safety precaution evident in the entire park. The park as a whole was a struggling podiatrist's wet dream, or a frail ankled individual's nightmare. 
As we explored the inner area of the park we came across a door way leading into the side of the surrounding hill. 
No light shone from inside and I was immediately curious. We entered the door and, using the light from the outside world, were led down a corridor. The corridor extended far beyond the reach of natural light and we soon found ourselves immersed in total darkness. It was creepy, but we knew we were in a park so we assumed it was safe. The corridor got progressively narrower as we continued. Having no light to guide us, we used the walls. When the corridor came to an end we felt around the walls. We found that there was a very tight space that led further into the space. So we squeezed through it and found ourselves in yet another very dark and narrow corridor. We continued following these paths and turns until we ended up in a small room. It was a dead end. We stood in this space and let the details of our situation set in. 
It was dark, we were underground, alone, and potentially very lost. Despite these details neither Maggie or myself felt very afraid. We were creeped out and possibly a little anxious, but it was more like climbing to the apex of a roller coaster than having fallen down a well. It was the kind of fear that instils laughter rather than panic, so we laughed until it seemed the excitement had passed. Then we easily found our way back to the out of doors. Once again in sunlight we explored the remainder of the park. We were satisfied, the cold was setting in, and the valley was growing darker. We decided it was time to go. 
In the following days Maggie started doing more research into the park's history and creators. She had much to report, namely that my idea of what the park was all about was way off. I was right that the idea of destiny they were thinking about was a broadly applicable destiny. I was wrong, however, to think that this destiny was conforming to the norms of society.
The creators had no intention of creating a space where grown ups could regain some of their childhood spirit, nor should children maintain it. (At site of theirs in East Hampton children are prohibited and adults must sign a waiver.) The destiny they had in mind was death. What they had intended was to create a space that would literally keep people from dying, physically dying. I was more than baffled by this discovery. I was disheartened, and a little insulted at the audacity of such a claim. 
The people behind The Site of Reversible Destiny are an artist couple who go by the names Arakawa and Gins. They have designed homes and parks around the world with the idea that specific architectural design, specifically non-functional design, can prevent death. Their idea is that by creating spaces that 'cradle tentativeness' they can fend of mortality. The point of 'cradling tentativeness' is so that the occupant will never be able to settle or get comfortable, ideas this couple associates with aging and dying. 
Though the Site of Reversible Destiny was wholly enjoyable the idea that death can, and should, be prevented is totally absurd and disparagingly arrogant.  
Little to my surprise it was not just this couple's ideas that were steeped in arrogance, but also what they had to say for, and about, themselves. Here are a few quotes from an article in the New York Times that illustrate their baffling sense of self-importance.
The interior of a house designed by Arakawa and Gins.

“After this, Gehry, Rem Koolhaas — boring,” Ms. Gins said.
“We should win a Nobel Prize for this,” Arakawa said. Asked if her husband was serious, Ms. Gins replied, “Of course he is.”
“It’s immoral that people have to die,” Ms. Gins explained.
“They ought to build hospitals like this,” she said.
“If Neil Armstrong were here, he would say, ‘This is even better!’ ”

Furthering the absurdity of their claim is the fact that Arakawa died in 2010, he was 73. Gins refused to tell the press the cause of Arakawa's death. Her only comment was, 'this mortality thing is bad news'. 
Death, in my opinion, is like rain. It makes our mood somber, it keeps us from playing outside, and it makes us want to sleep the day through. It is a natural process that often gets in the way of what we might otherwise have planned, but it also allows for growth, cleansing, and renewed outlook. It is not something that can be planned for nor can it be avoided. I think it is said best in the Hagakure, 'There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all.'