Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leader Of The Pack

So... today, July 28 marks the 20th anniversary of me leaving Toronto for Japan. Wow... what a long strange trip its been. I flew on NorthWestern flight 293 at 11:10AM from Toronto, stopping off in Detroit to pick up a few more passengers before heading off to Tokyo. It was a long and boring flight, but thankfully aside from voluntarily switching seats so a couple of women could gab, I watched all of the in-flight movies, ate all of the in-flight food, used the washrooms only once just before landing in Japan and stayed awake the entire time - I think it was 17 hours. As such, we did not land in Japan until the 29th of July. So that's when the fun really begins. Let's continue on with the blog I started yesterday which describes a typical day for me in those early years. yesterday was all about school/work and today's is all about the personal life. I hope you find it amusing.

After a day 'team-teaching' at Kaneda Kita Chu Gakko (Kaneda North Junior High School), I'm back at my apartment at 5:15PM. Last night, Ashley and I had a disagreement and were currently on the outs. Not wanting to let the first woman I'd ever slept with get away with or without a fight, I wanted to resolve the situation by calling her to apologize - even though I wasn't at fault. I had learned that even if it wasn't my fault, an apology would get me sex sooner than if I let it fester without apologizing.
Apparently after this initial apology, I would forget that bit of self-deluding advice.
So... while I wait a goodly enough time for Ashley to arrive back home from work, I ponder my navel. At 5:20PM, the doorbell rings - it's Ashley. Smiling.
Smiling? Never trust a smiling cat. I'm confused.
She hands me a large bouquet of flowers saying it's for me. Nice - I suppose. No one ever gave me flowers before... uh, except for the Japanese (now three or four times this past month). I'm a guy. What do I want with the flowers? Now maybe a beer? That would be guy stuff.
Anyhow, the flowers I received earlier that day from Kaneda Kita, well, I tell Ashley they are for her (there's no 'Welcome Andrew-sensei' card on there is there??!!). Hmmm, 20 years later it dawns on me that perhaps this similar sized bouquet of flowers she has given me may have been a present from her school. Hey! Waitaminute!  It's the thought that counts right? Right? That's what I thought.
We talk for a bit and iron out our difference (which I did not write down in my diary - probably because I had no idea what the heck caused the argument).
We're supposed to go out for an AET group function this evening in Yaita-machi town, maybe ten kilometers south of Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara city). We ride from my house to her place in Nishinasuno-machi (machi means town) to meet fellow canuck Jeanne Mance Blanc - another junior high school AET (Assistant English Teacher) who lives in Ashley's building. The three of us ride over to Nishinasuno-eki (eki means station)... we meet Matthew there, and an American guy working at Union Carbide on a work exchange.
We're going to Yaita (a really small podunk of a place) to celebrate the 34th birthday of Marshall... a senior high school teacher (like Ashley) in Yaita, who also has a crush on her (she's 21). Add in that he's taller, blonder, tanner, and more self-confident than me (I know, that sounds impossible, but in 1990 it's true - it's why I never asked Kristine South if I could visit her - not guts, no glory)... anyhow, I was not happy to be going on this trip, but Ashley wanted to go - and it was a way to see the other AETs to find out how they were doing after a month plus here in Japan.
Usha  (a Canadian girl of Indian descent - the dot not the feather, and who is a junior high teacher  in Yaita), meets us at the station and directs us to a nearby tempura restaurant (deep-fried, lightly breaded veggies and meat products - yum).
Before she leaves to go and pick-up Marshall from his apartment, Usha asks if I could make a witty speech to Marshall (because you're so funny, Andrew). Because of Usha's height (or lack there of), I'm sure she does not see my eyes roll back into my head, as the thought of having to do anything for Marshall makes me want to puke.
Timothy Mould is there. He missed the first month of the JET Programme experience because of mono or something like that. He's okay, I guess. A little dull, but okay. He seems a-way too straight and conservative. Ashley of course, makes a bee-line toward the guy to chat.
So I'm jealous. I'm always jealous. I lack self-confidence. (I know, I know - but it's true - even today in 2010).
Marshall arrives. surprise. whoopee. Maybe it's because everyone here is a nerd, but no one seems to know what to do at this party (Okay, Matthew and Brian have a handle on the drinking), so I start to lead them ... let's sing happy birthday, make him make a wish (did he look at Ashley when he did that?), and then cut the cake. Before we dole out the joke presents we all bought him, I give my speech. Not knowing what to do until I do it, I put the fun back in funeral:
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay our respects to Marshall. He WASSsss (heavy emphasis here) a young man..."
Everyone sucks in air at my audacity, but then they begin laughing.
I then change the speech to make it charming and witty - it's the old guy's birthday, after all.
Still, the speech kills - perhaps because we've already started drinking before eating.
Dinner was okay. I have maybe half a beer and then a lot of coke. I pretend my back is hurting to try and garner some sympathy from Ashley. Hey, I said I was jealous - not a moron. It works.
At 9PM, I can tell Ashley wants to leave because she is tired of Marshall's attempts at flirting... but Tim wants to talk with her now. Am I being paranoid?
Marshall keeps insulting me with semi-witty banner. Dude, you don't want to start with me... when it comes to witty retorts, for me it would be like battling an unarmed opponent.
I want to say something or drive my fist into his throat, but I can't do that on his birthday, so instead I swallow my pride and have another coke.
As we are leaving, the shop owner stops ME and asks if I will have a sake (rice wine) shot with him (I think he saw how much money I put in to the party kitty to pay the bill). Despite my mood, I'm here to internationalize the Japanese - and like it or not, booze is conversation lubrication. We have a couple of shots (this stuff goes down like water) - he slaps me on the back and asks me to come again. Now, perhaps my memory of this is skewed, but I think I was the only one to do shots with him.
At 9:40 we finally leave the establishment and catch the train back north (two stops). Matthew is tanked, but he, Ashley, Jeanne, Brian, Timothy (who live two stops north of Nishinasuno in Kuroiso-shi) and myself ride the JR train. It's always on time - what is a JR train? It's similar to an Amtrack or Via train traveling between towns and cities.
I sit on the right side of Ashley, Tim on her left. Bugger. Is he boring or annoying? (Tim did become a friend - and did have a decent sense of humour... and I guess I didn't take into account that as a newcomer in Japan he was lonely and wanted to talk with a fellow high school AET - Ashley).
Departing at Nishinasuno-eki to leave Tim to travel the last two stops by himself, we head for our bikes... Brian lives on the other side of the station and walks home. Jeanne decides to take us on a scenic route back to her and Ashley's place. Say bye (no kiss - because there are witnesses - or because she is plotting to sleep with Tim and Marshall??!! - okay, even though I'm jealous, I know it's because of the witness thing).
I ride back with Matthew - over to his place to make sure he gets home okay - I don't need the big guy to careen drunkenly into a rice field and drown when a farmer urinates on him. I bike home... it's 10:30PM and there is no one - I mean, no one - on the streets.
It's an interesting feeling to be prowling the streets of Ohtawara on my bicycle... I feel kind of like a ghost as I flit by the homes being careful not to ride my bike into an open sewer.
And that was my day, September 11, 1990. How was your day?

Somewhere going vroom-vroom,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title was originally sung by The Shangri-Las - a quartet who usually appeared as a trio when on tour - see the video here - DOWN-DOWN
And, for your entertainment pleasure, here's a Twisted Sister version, GET THE PICTURE?.
For your edification, in the photo above at Marshall's birthday party - can you believe I actually brought a camera, too??!! are (back row from left): Matthew, Brian, Ashley, Tim; (front row from left): Jeanne,  Myself (Andrew), Marshall and Usha. The photo was taken by my fellow sake shot putter and restaurant owner.

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