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

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.