Thursday, December 27, 2007


I realize that I can't avoid making new technologies a part of my daily life concessions.  I still have never text-ted anyone.  Mostly because I have no dependents or friends under 25.  I remember the days when if someone was particularly gabby you would hold up your hand in the thumb to fingers representation of a mouth and move them rapidly together with that knowing look of exasperation on your face.  Lately, the hand gesture has turned into a wildly punching thumb as you point with your other hand to the person intently focused on their tiny phone.

Texting I can avoid.  That is, until I have children, but by then there will be a new more ridiculous method of unnecessarily bothering your friends and family.  Maybe you will just wiggle your nose like Samantha in Bewitched, or your index finger like the "Redrum" kid in The Shining, and we will all go around wiggling things in the air as we communicate to people miles away who are wiggling back.
This wiggle hypothesis seems very plausible to me, and brings me to a form of wiggle inducing technology that I can't avoid.  The SENSOR.  I realize that motion sensors are not new, but they have been recently infiltrating our public restrooms.  Forcing us to change our behaviors in strange and very public ways.  I find myself waving my hands beneath a faucet or in front of a towel dispenser, and a good portion of the time nothing happens.  Either the sensor is broken or there is a manual valve or crank that I didn't notice before the frantic waving began.  The interaction with restroom fixtures that yield no results really takes something out of me.  Like a swing and a miss.  I stand in front of the mirror with my hands, slowly at first and then more vigorously, attempting to activate the sensor that I know worked for the guy ahead of me. Maybe his hands were larger.  Maybe there was a sweet spot that I wasn't hitting.  Or maybe it is equivalent to a vampire looking into a mirror and getting nothing in return.  Maybe sensors only work if you have a soul for them to sense.  With this abstract bit of melancholy running through my head I leave the restroom with dirty hands and little pieces of my soul back on the tile floor.

Okinawa gave me a glimpse into the near future of sensors in America.  All the restrooms are wired for touchlessness.  It goes with their collective neuroses that keeps them behind filter masks as they walk the streets, and also why public restrooms dot every corner.  Of course this is all based on observation because I lacked the essential tools for communication, but it is my feeling that to relieve yourself in an alleyway may get you a life sentence.
Technology in the Japanese restroom goes far beyond the extrasensory.  Emma excitedly reported on her return to our table at an Izakaya that she had used the dryer.  Apparently a button on the toilet activates a butt dryer beneath the seat.  Other buttons on the keypad trigger a seat warmer, bidet and flushing sound to cover bodily noises.  I left Japan without ever experiencing the wonders of the Roboto toilet (domo arigato), given that my lodging was equipped only with the antiquated western style.  I did, however manage to attain sensory overload.  The culmination of which was when I inadvertently tripped a sensor in the Narita airport and a jet of foamy soap landed on the crotch of my pants.  Soapy residue leaves a dark stain that doesn't seem to evaporate as readily as the occasional water splash.  Unfortunately my choices in shirts of late had left me with little fabric to drape in front of a seemingly leaky personal faucet.   I stood in line displaying a soapy crotch waiting for the airplane to take me back to the comforting dark ages of my America.
To be continued... 


Monday, December 10, 2007

Beach Junk Girl

So, my co-worker Emma enjoys bringing dead things home with her from her days outings. Much like a cat or an 8 year old boy. Don’t get me wrong I find it as a strangely admirable trait. If only I could find the beauty in a fruit bat with maggots vying for space in a desiccated orifice. Well, appreciate it enough anyway to invite it into my home.

She not only gets excited over carcasses, but even refuse, mostly of the flotsam nature, however my first experience with her collecting habit occurred on the side of a forested slope. She wrestled a round object from the viney understory and held up the most horrific doll's head I had ever seen. It’s stringy hair was wet and greenish brown. One half-lidded eye resembled a severely beaten prostitute.

“I’ll cut off her hair and put it in my garden with the others.” She said


A few weekends ago she found an endangered sea turtle skull on the beach. Without hesitation she picked it up off the sand held it to her nose and grimaced. At that point I would have put it back and felt fulfilled just to have seen it. She never lost her grip on the rotting sea creature. In fact when I mentioned that it probably was not a good idea walking around carrying the severed head of an endangered animal she promptly set it in her shoulder bag. We ended up driving home with it rolling around in the back of the van. Greasy rot wafting up front every now and then with the breeze.

Now, we are housed in hotel rooms. Thankfully separate rooms. For a week she stored her prize in the bathroom sink.

“Yeah it’s bad when I go to brush my teeth in the morning and there’s this smelly turtle head sitting there.”

Like her need to collect unusual beauty, her determination was admirable. Two weeks later however, the head found its place just beyond the margin of the tree line behind our hotel. The only really viable option for that situation, but I anticipate more turtle heads in her future, maybe one will be a keeper.

I did not truly appreciate her eye for the discarded and decaying until she came back from a weekend trip to the northern beaches of Okinawa proudly displaying what she called “One Legged Orphan Beach Junk Girl”.

“Wow” I said.

It truly takes talent to make art of this substance. And by that I mean depth and creativity. As for substance I think I noted a doll leg, flip flop, rusty lure, bobbers, plastic webbing, beach wood and coral. Mercifully nothing that could be described as a vertebrate.

To me the sculpture seems somewhat of a self portrait.

“If only I had kept that old doll head” she said contemplating the pinnacle of her creation.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

For Your Happy Time

So there are a lot of ideas lost in translation here in Japan, but not the official beer of Okinawa. Yes, above the the stars of Orion's belt read the words "For your happy time". I couldn't say it better.
"Ichi biru o kudasai" I say and the waitperson looks at me with the uneasy expression that says "why is this Japanese man having such a hard time ordering a beer. He must be slightly retarded."
Anyway, I've come to the happy realization that living in a country without being able to read or speak the language isn't as big a barrier as it seems. All you need is a handful of useful nouns, the phrase "toriwah doko deska" (where is the bathroom?) and the disposition to dismiss obvious road warning signage as inconsequential having no idea what it says anyway.
Life in Japan is good.