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

Remembering and Remembrance

When I was a baby, I am told, that it was not uncommon for me to strip myself of my clothes, and run unaccompanied down the street to the local pool. Taking advantage of my lack of height I would run, unseen, beneath the turnstile, towards the pool and jump into the deep end. Invariably the life guards would fish me out, wrap me in a towel and call my parents. Throughout my formative years, and to little avail, my parents have tried to expunge this tendency from me. In recent years they have become more accepting, and even supportive, of this desire to dive headlong into situations that I am not entirely prepared for. 
When I was nineteen I attempted to move to Mexico. I had saved up little money and left my home and job in Albuquerque. The plan was to first stop in the Gila Valley in southern New Mexico to visit a friend, and from there continue south. I did not, however, continue south. 
Instead I came to the harsh realization that, due to my lack of preparation and planning, I was not going to be able to continue south. Having made such a stink about doing that, I felt I couldn't return to my home in Albuquerque either. I was, figuratively, naked and floundering in the deep end. Literally I was cold and alone in the woods with very little I could do for myself. 
I was in desperate need of a life line. I called my sister and explained to her my situation and desperation. She suggested I stay with my dad in Iowa for a time, until I got back on my feet. I accepted that what she had said had merit and that I had few other options to choose from. So with little enthusiasm I made arrangements to move back home. My brother kindly drove a few long hours to the Gila, picked me up, and drove me back to Albuquerque. After a few days, of trying their patience, my brother and sister wished me well and put me on a bus to Iowa.
 I was a very unhappy nineteen year old, debilitated by self pity and unaware that life is subject to improve, if allowed. I had lost faith in myself, causing my courage to dive into uncharted waters to disappear. It was in Iowa with this mindset that I spent the few months preceding my second trip to Japan.
My first trip to Japan was as a young child, maybe eight or nine years old. The impetus for travel was my brother Seth, who at the time was teaching English on a small island called Oki. In the interim of my trips Seth had continued to live primarily in Japan, with short bouts in San Diego, California and Florence, Italy. Deciding his place was in Japan he had returned, married a Japanese woman, Hisako, and had a child, Tofu. It was shortly before Tofu was born that I boarded the bus to Iowa.
A dreadlock discovered.
Upon arrival in Iowa I was a complete and total wreck; an absolute pessimist and a perpetual pain in the ass. I had given in to uncertainty and neglect. Uncertainty of my actions and neglect of my mental and physical health. I lived in never ending gloom and allowed my hair to grow long, greasy, and tangled. It was my habit then to wear the patience down of anyone in my proximity. It seemed to continue in this way would alienate me completely from the world and those who cared for me. I could have cared less, the better for everybody to just leave me alone. Thankfully, however, my dad felt differently and had the means to help. 
Early on a cold March morning my dad woke me with an abrupt shake and an announcement. He said, "Tickets to Japan are four hundred dollars round trip. Get your hair cut and promise to wear your pants around your waist while we are there and I will buy you one". Without a second thought I agreed to his terms. He left me laying in bed and I tried to return to sleep. Sleep being, at this point, my only escape from the world I felt so poorly about. 
Yet I couldn't get back to sleep that morning, and I didn't feel so poorly about the world. I thought it was the excitement of international travel that was keeping me up, but it turned out to be much more than this. I wasn't just shaken awake that morning, I was shaken from a deep and muddy slump. It wasn't just the idea of travel, but the thought that somebody, namely my dad, had enough conviction in me and the world to propose such an extreme reintroduction. 
In agreeing to my dad's terms I had unconsciously sparked something in myself I had all but forgotten. It was that spark I had felt as a child, the spark that caused me to strip and head for the swimming pool. The spark that told me not to worry, not to think too hard. It was the impulse to do for the sake of experience and it was being reinforced by my father, a person I trusted and trusted not to understand such impulses. I cut my hair, bought a belt and in a few quick weeks my dad and I were on a plane to Japan. 
I remember this trip much like I remember dreams, with little control. As with dreams, when I do try to exert control the memories become vaguer and less tangible. They simply slip away. One memory I have from this trip, however, that remains clear is something Seth told me. He said, "I some times feel that if I can't remember something it means it isn't important, so I don't worry about forgetting and later, if and when, I remember something I have forgotten it means it is significant in that moment". 
Rather than detailed memories I came home with a changed perspective and a few souvenirs. I had gained perspective that was very much in emulation of Seth's. An outlook that gave credence to optimism, bravery, and an overall enjoyment of life. This new, or renewed, way of seeing the world came as a great relief. It taught me that the best I can do with experiences and memories is allow them to come to me enjoy them for as long as they last. I didn't know how well this lesson would serve me. 
Less than a year later, tragedy struck. Seth had died. 
At the time, and still, it is an incredibly painful shock to my family and those that had known Seth. Seth was by all accounts an amazing human being and his passing came entirely too soon. However tragedy is worth nothing if it can not be used to improve the lives of those so affected, and as it was with Seth's passing. My immediate family, my parents, brothers, and sisters were faced with a reality that has only brought us closer together. 
Each of us have been taught the preciousness of life and the importance of living that life while the chance is there. It is impossible to say what exactly Seth has taught us, or what exactly it was that set him apart from other people. I believe it has something to do with his rejection of the idea that fear is debilitating. 
In terms of his artwork Seth approached this by developing his shortcomings rather than his inherent skills. In life he did this by roaming the streets of Tokyo naked as a means of overcome his fear of embarrassment. Anytime he was halted by fear he forced himself to find a way to overcome that fear. Anything that stood in his way he would attempt to jump over or break through. It was his desire to live and understand life that caused him to dismiss convention at all costs; specifically the cost of comfort. Seth's rejection of fear led to courage; a courage that is rare and contagious. A courage that allowed him to explore  himself unabashedly and encouraged others to do the same.  
"I want to explore my own mind until I find something
so hidden that it shocks even me"
-seth fisher
A Beautiful Mind
I am now in Japan for the third time and, though indirectly, it has everything to do with Seth. In September my girlfriend, Maggie, accepted a job teaching English in Japan. As chance would have it the job has her living in Gifu City, only a few train stops from Nagoya, the city Seth last lived in, and Seto where Hisako and Tofu currently live. These convenient coincidences and a series of strange and unpredictable events furthered my reasons and means of traveling to Japan. I bought a plane ticket with the return trip leaving three months from the day I arrived. I had spent most of my money on the ticket and still have no jobs lined up. I am, once again a happy naked toddler floundering in the deep end of life.

The day I arrived was a week ago last Saturday. Being in no real hurry to see the country, Maggie and I spent the weekend settling into our apartment. On Monday we had errands to run in Nagoya. The intent of our trip was solely practical. Maggie had to work early the next day, and as we have at least three months ahead of us, were not concerned with rushing to see the sites. The plan was simply to run our errands, get a quick bite to eat, then return to Gifu at a reasonable hour. The evening turned out to entail much more than this.
Our errands led us to Fashion Avenue, a bright and expensive stretch in downtown Nagoya. Nagoya is something of a fashion center and Fashion Avenue feels like a posh, Japanese, version of Times Square. The kind of place that makes you wonder how people can afford to live the way they do. A place with shops that emphasize their high prices by their lack of inventory. 
Where stores do better when left nameless. 
Where Goodwill doesn't mean second hand or second rate.
We finished our errands and headed away from Fashion Avenue with due haste. The streets were getting crowded, the night was getting cold, and hunger was creeping in. We left the bright lights and Maggie led me to a part of town where we could find cheaper eats called Osu. She assured me that this area would be more to my liking.
Osu is a semi outdoor shopping district; consisting of long covered corridors lined with shops and restaurants. A place with graffiti scrawled on walls and skateboards on the sidewalks. It was definitely more to my liking.  As we got close I was overcome with the sense that I knew this place. That this was where I had spent much of my time during my last visit. I expressed this to Maggie and she asked what I remembered. 
I explained that my memories were vague and that the only clear memory I had was a record shop. I remembered the shop because I had copied its slogan on to a piece of paper that Seth then wrote onto a hat. I had purchased this hat in what I was realizing was Osu.

Years ago I had worn the hat for years. Then I lost it was passed from friend to friend and I lost track of it. A few months ago while visiting Iowa the hat was returned to me. Despite having recently reclaimed the hat, I only vaguely remembered what was written on it. Something like, "we are covered with ideal society, I don't find myself. I find music...".  
We passed a record shop and Maggie asked if this was the one I had been to before. I told her it wasn't but it caused me to remember the name; Banana Records. Maggie said that there was a Banana Records in Gifu and this assured my memory was serving me well. We walked less then a hundred yards before we found it.
Standing in front of Banana Records I was overcome with memories I had thought long lost. As I looked around the littlest details began to spark the most vivid recollections. Excited, I took Maggie by the hand and asked her to follow me. We took off like detectives hot on a case. 
We turned a corner off the street into a covered corridor. I wasn't sure if I was guessing or remembering, but regardless I led the way with confidence. As we passed along shops and restaurants another detail came to mind; wedding gowns. I remembered clearly a store in a corridor much like the one we were in that sold second hand wedding gowns. Within moments we were confronted by a shop with a rack of wedding gowns in front. I still can't say if it was the same one, but it didn't seem to matter.
This memory led me to another; one of snake oils and vitality drinks sold in a vending machine. A few steps further we passed one, but I was sure that this was not the same machine. No less enchanted we continued on down memory lane. I pulled Maggie down one corridor and through another until we came to the end of a third. 
As we walked out from the bright florescent lights into the dark night we saw a large red and black temple. I knew that I had seen this temple. 

I looked to the left and sure enough there was the vending machine, still stocked with snake oils.  Around the corner from the vending machine was an unlit alley way. I pulled at Maggie's hand.
We walked down the alley until I saw a small cafe that I was sure I had been to. Past the cafe was a large street and to the right an even larger street. I knew I knew this street. We walked up to the larger street and a hundred meters down I saw a pedestrian bridge that went up and over the street. I had been on this bridge too.

We crossed the pedestrian bridge as I rambled to Maggie the memories that were exploding like fireworks in my head. I described the neighborhood that Seth had lived in. How it was an industrial flower district and many of the buildings were lined with garage doors that would open in the morning, revealing thousands of flowers. goose in the air. My actions were being dictated by instinct, and though I knew I was looking for something specifically, I couldn't say just what. 
I looked at the sidewalk across from where we stood and had a  clear vision of falling off of my skateboard. I remembered how Hisako had turned white and how I had told Seth to tell her to relax. Seth had told me that it wasn't so simple. That being her guest in the country anything that befell me, any injury I endured, even of my own doing, she would take  responsibility for. 
Then I saw it and I knew that this is where the path ended. We stopped in front of a modest apartment building. Nondescript in everyday except the ground level and  familiarity. 
On the ground floor was a small cafe, a stairwell, and a beauty salon. Every part of me, despite my complete lack of evidence, told me that this is where I had stayed. This was Seth's building. 
We looked around at the various signs posted on the building trying to discern which was an address. Thankfully Maggie has learned to read katakana and hiragana and was able to make an educated guess. She pointed to a sign and said this was probably the name of the building. I quickly scribbled it down to the best of my ability. For a few minutes we stood and I stared at the building. I tried to conjure up any other memories but was at a loss. Or, rather, I had found enough and knew I would have to be content to process this series of events. Maggie and I then found a restaurant and took the train home to Gifu. There Maggie translated the characters, I had scribbled, to romaji and I emailed our findings to Hisako who confirmed that this was indeed the place. 
Monday marks the sixth anniversary of Seth's passing. It seems like it was both a life time ago and only yesterday that I was an unpleasant teenager in desperate need of Seth's particular brand of quizzical and considerate wisdom. That in the years that have since passed I have not been with out my eldest brother, but rather I have been imbibed with his positivity. I have learned from Seth, and am reminded by his passing, that we cannot know what is to come, but this is not reason to resist it. Rather it is more than enough reason to be excited by our ignorance. It is by acknowledging ignorance that allows education to take place. The map can only get bigger if you are willing to go beyond the charted territory.
My family commemorates January 30th as Flowering Nose Day in loving memory of Seth and we invite all those who wish to embrace this day to please do so. Celebrating Flowering Nose Day can mean any number of things. I urge you to use your imagination. The more ways a thing can be done, the more ways it should be done. Celebrate diversity and seek it out. Celebrate enthusiasm and reveal in it. Celebrate kindness and embrace it. Celebrate fear and overcome it. Celebrate life and, for everybody's sake, live it. 

Seth Fisher
July 22, 1972-January 30, 2006


It is true and often said that a book cannot be judged by its cover. The same is true of an egg and its shell. It seems that these truisms, no matter how often repeated, are often overlooked. Especially in a day and age when packaging is so common place. A bag of chips for example is packaged so that the consumer need only recognize a logo and color. A major brand like Doritos has this down to a science. Blue bags suggest the cool flavor of ranch, whereas a red bag indicates the spicy flavor of its contents. Even in a place where one does not speak the language this can be tried and proven true. 
Here is a snack I purchased today at a Japanese convenience store. From the packaging I was able to quickly deduce that the contents would be a crunchy, corn based snack. I was able to infer by the shape of the product displayed that the snack would be something like Cheetos, with a Japanese slant of course. With only a limited knowledge of Japanese customs and traditions I was able to deduce that the package was a limited edition designed specifically for release around the new year. I knew this because on Sunday I visited a shrine that sold good luck charms that looked very similar to the design of the bag (note the fake string ribbon and faux embroidery kanji). 
Upon opening the package I found that my assumptions were correct. The snacks were in fact very much like Cheetos but the flavor of cheese, though delicious, was a bit off from the flavor of cheese snacks I am accustomed too. 
The ease of packaging can, however, lead us astray if we do not apply critical thinking and astute observation. Early today I was reminded of this when I attempted to buy a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. I looked over the machine and decided I wanted coffee with milk, conveniently labeled in English characters as Cafe Au Lait, and colored to look like milky coffee. I inserted my yen and pressed the appropriate button. I know I pressed the correct button as I have purchased several of these since my arrival. From the dispenser I removed a beige can and felt its warmth against my skin. With out examining the can I opened it and took a sip. The sweet flavor I tasted at first seemed to agree with my memory of this product. However with in moments I noticed that the flavor was far too savory, almost like sweet corn. In fact it was sweet corn. The machine, despite my proper operation, had dispensed a can of hot corn pottage.With a chuckle and no witnesses to feel embarrassed by I drank the corn soup and rather enjoyed it. It was a personal error with little consequence. 
Earlier this week I narrowly avoided a potentially more embarrassing situation for almost exactly the same reasons. I was having dinner with Maggie in Nagoya. I had ordered a dinner set that included a bowl of hot noodles, a cup of dumpling soup, a small salad, and, what I assumed was a boiled egg. When the food came it looked exactly as it had on the menu, with the exception of the dish that the egg was served in. The egg was served on a small metal dish that sat above a small soup bowl. I thought it was for the sake of aesthetic and being hungry and still overwhelmed by being in a foreign country, I appreciated the aesthetic. I did not apply critical thinking, nor astute observation. Had I would have recognized the small metal dish for what it was. Instead I judged the book by its cover, or as was the case, the egg by its shell. After tasting the rest of my dinner I set to eating the egg. The first step, naturally, was to crack the shell, and then peel. I gave the egg a good whack on the table top and as luck would have it the shell cracked only a little. A small piece of shell flecked off but the outer shell membrane remained in tact. Still thinking the egg was boiled I picked at the revealed membrane. To my surprise removing the membrane gave way to a hollow space. 
The egg was certainly raw. Dumb luck had it that I narrowly avoided smashing a raw egg on the restaurant table. As I began to understand what I was doing I realized that the small metal dish was nothing more than a simple yolk strainer. A device I had used daily when I was baker. 
The moral of the story I suppose is obvious, but because we live in a world that has, apparently, been so conveniently packaged I feel it should be stated in clear simple terms. Don't mistake the map for the territory, don't eat the menu, and never judge an egg by its shell. 


Fourteen hours on a plane that left on a Thursday morning and arrived on a Friday evening. I don't feel like I missed a day, just sat until I couldn't perceive time passing. Arrival was quick, I didn't even feel the wheels hit the tarmac. At customs they were a little baffled that I didn't have a printed itinerary or any idea of the flight number for my plane leaving the next day. 
They stamped my passport with a twenty-four hour pass anyway.  I was waved through customs with out a second look and soon found myself in the Shanghai airport. It was very modern.
I loaded up a pushcart with my luggage and realized I was very tired. The excitement I had had for a fifteen hour layover in a foreign airport was gone. So, taking the advice of an unexpected sign I decided to get a hotel and good nights sleep.

Like most international airports, this one had a few hotel representatives standing behind a desk and barking offers at passersby. I approached them and first they showed me a brochure for a four star hotel. I told them my price range and they suggested I might want a no star hotel. I agreed with no harm done to my pride.
Fifty bucks got me a ride to and from the airport, a suitable room and breakfast. They told me it would be a Chinese breakfast and I told them I expected nothing less, considering we were in China. They took my money, wrote out a receipt and pawned me off on a guy they said was airport staff. I was hesitant as it seemed like a pretty good setup for a scheme, but went along with it. 
Before I knew it I was sitting in the front seat of a little van rushing sixty miles an hour through Shanghai Airport traffic. The driver honked rather than signalling and I just let the experience wash over me. I was struck most by the amount of mopeds speeding through the dark and rainy streets with out a light or helmet.
In little less than fifteen minutes we pulled up to a very modest business hotel. A man walked out of the hotel and greeted us. He was exactly what I had hoped for. His age was indeterminable, some where between forty and sixty-five. His smile was wide and full of crooked yellow teeth; between his fingers was a meticulously crushed cigarette filter and the ash remains of an entire cigarette. He placed the cigarette between his lips and miraculously pulled a full drag from the nothing of a cigarette without displacing any ash at all.
With no English and little ado they gave me a key card and instructed me on how to find my room. I took my bags to the fourth floor and unlocked door number 8408. Inside I flipped the light switch and nothing happened. Standing in the dark I tried another switch, but it wasn't a switch at all, just a hard plastic fixture mounted on the wall. I opened the door to shed some light on the situation. In doing so I noticed some writing on the plastic fixture. It read, "insert key for power" so I did and tried the light switch again.
This time it worked and I was confronted with a very basic room. A bed, a TV, a water cooker, some tea bags and tea cups, an ashtray, and some matches. I filled the water cooker and plugged it in. I sat at the desk and lit matches as I waited for the water to boil. I was not surprised as only one in three matches caught and lit. As I did this I heard what sounded like a long and fast succession of gunshots. I pulled the curtains back from the window and saw fireworks exploding over the city skyline. Real Chinese fireworks, I had truly arrived on the orient. 
After a cup of tea I peeled my clothes off and stepped behind the sliding glass bathroom door. I took a hot shower and admired the tile work.
After the shower I flipped through the channels and found that even in a place as exotic and exciting as Shanghai, television is as boring as ever. I slept well on the concrete stiff sheets and woke rested in the morning.
Breakfast was provided and, as promised, was very Chinese. It consisted of steamed white buns and some sort of soup that I didn't think I could stomach. I ate a few of the buns and was then packed into another, smaller van. We arrived the airport and before I knew it I was on a flight to Nagoya, Japan. Where the layover lasted all night, the flight took a little less than two hours.