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654 Episode 3.

Jennifer and Toca

Jennifer and Toca

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Subway dispensary.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to sniffle?”  She asked me, as she reached into her screaming purple crocodile-skin hand bag.  There was an odd rumbling as her hand passed through what sounded like a dimensional portal- there were whistles and beeps and metal scraping on glass, and what might have been a bark before she finally pulled out a small but impressive tissue holder, brimming with fluffy tissues.  She handed me one.

“Dank you.  She did dell be dot do sdiffle.”  I tried to smile but Sudafed had weakened the muscles in my cheeks. 

She sighed, “Everyone’s sick these days, it’s hard to stay away from it.  You need to get yourself some hand sanitizer and portable tissues.”  I refrained from asking her which tissues AREN’T portable, or how many trees it takes to make a box (I’ve been trying to take a handkerchief with me at all times, but I forget constantly).

I miss living in a country where it is socially acceptable to wear a face mask when you are sick.  It felt so comforting to see that people wouldn’t share their germs willingly, and it was nice to wear a wall between my mucus and the rest of the world.  In New York we have other ways of building walls.

If there’s an empty seat next to a coughing or sniffling stranger, no one takes it, even in a tightly crowded subway car.  If people DO sit near him or her, they sit as if it’s next to a guy who smells like urine – they lean away and turn their head in the opposite direction.

If those of us with coughs and drippy noses could just wear those fantastic Japanese hygiene masks (some even came in animal prints, denim or with playboy bunnies on them), we wouldn’t be so openly avoided or disgusting to fellow passengers.  There’s a part of me that wishes the nice older woman had said, “Odaijini!” and handed me a hello kitty mask. 

I shouldn’t be complaining, she didn’t lean away from me the entire ride and gave me extra tissues for the E train.

Consider me paused.

Synchronicity is real.  Happy coincidences (or accidents) occur all the time, some people call them miracles or fate or luck.  What do we call the darker things- the shameful, tragic or regrettable things that coincide and make for chilly accidents?  Ill-fated?

My second mother, whose son and daughter-in-law (two of my closest friends) were in Mumbai during the attacks, said she spent 10 hours putting pressure on different shakras (to maintain positive thinking) before she finally got word they were alright.  In an empty store, a tall person walks down the aisle where someone wants to reach an item on the top shelf.  Some twins can feel that the other is sick or frightened.  My mom thinks she knows when either my sister or I are in trouble.  My iPod plays the song I’m in the mood for.   If I’m thinking about someone, they contact me.

Late night or early morning drives on Route 9 have been haunting me lately.

I recall stopping at the familiar Lawson and smelling the mysterious fried things under the heat lamp, passing the bleary-eyed businessmen buying strange wake-me-up drinks in little colorful bottles, truckers and other uniformed men standing in a line, reading porn at 6 am.  The porn was always stacked next to the restrooms.  I passed them with wary, quiet steps.  I bought juice and coffee and some pastry that promised to be stuffed with cream.  If I was really tired I’d get the one filled with bean paste instead.

On these oddly timed drives, I liked watching the sun rise over Izumo, Taki, Oda, Shinji, Gotsu, Hamada, Yakami.  Rocky, bumpy faces turned orange and the Sea of Japan held tightly to its secrets, so to avoid tainting them with the garbage that washed up on Shimane’s beaches.

The Sea of Japan was an endless mystery and changed faces at every shore.

In Hamada it called toward the coast with blinking squid boat lights, asking me to swim to them.  Its sea-side park rocked with surfers and late night drinkers.

In Gotsu it was swallowed by industry and buoys, and where the Gonokawa River reached the saltwater, flying fish were illusive but leaped.

In Yunotsu, near my favorite beach and the hotel/restaurant LAUT, the sea was gorgeous and full of salt and play.  The sun set to a perfect pitch, with the smell of a good meal and the warmth of good company not far away.

Izumo’s sea was inhabited by towering beasts.  We could leap from their heads, or be crushed in their arms.

As I drove northeast, and remained on rte 9, I’d head further inland.  The water to the West would no longer be a secretive sea, but an open, expressive lake.

Lake Shinji was the beautiful gray mood ring of the north, where water fowl kicked back and fishermen dragged poles instead of motors behind their boats.  I say mood ring because a man who lived by the lake described it this way: “Lake Shinji. The famed 7th largest Lake of Japan (yes, we celebrate that here) is like the elephant in the room no one talks about. It seems to somehow mirror my mood (or vice versa?) on a daily basis.”

At sunset the Shimane Art Museum in Matsue had spectacular views of the water, framed or enhanced by the silhouette of cypress trees and meandering pedestrians with digital cameras.

My drives from Gotsu to Matsue were spotted with car trouble, snowstorms, bathroom breaks, broken Japanese, Mos Burger stops, illegal phone calls and random little adventures.

I stopped once- in a reflective mood -on a turnoff that faced a steep stretch of jungle.  It was thick and dark and made sounds I’d never heard in the mountains I’ve climbed in the states.  I remember turning my car off and climbing a little, toward something really far away.  It was a mound of green and looked inviting, warmer than the damp forest floor or the metallic cold of my little car.  I had half a dumpling in my mouth and climbed as far as I could before the earth dragged me back down in a muddy thump.

The Lawson stop that evening was squishier than usual, and the men reading porn watched a muddy American sweep by them.  Later after I reached home, I found a slug in my hair.  My bathroom tile retained its yellow smudge until the day I left.

Driving away from rte 9 and the Sea of Japan, if I drove East into the mountains during awkward hours, there was still a body of water that accompanied the drive.  The Gonokawa river cut through clusters of lumpy hills.  These plump companions played each of the four seasons well: they were decorated with hazy patches of pink and white in the spring; carried lush green vines in the summer; strutted autumn leaves then shook them off in a sudden rush toward winter, in which they stood weighted in quiet snow.  The river did its part to reflect and rise and fall during these many attitudes.  I’d watch the occasional fly-fisherman stand still in a mirror beside the road before entering the long tunnel through Kawamoto.  I used to stop at the Popura on the corner to pick up snacks to sit atop Lena’s kotatsu.  Funny how much those convenience stores were a part of the lifestyle.   We’d fumble with packaging and laugh at ourselves while the snow or rain fell outside.

These settings are still a part of me, just as tangible and fleeting as the hyaku-en (100 yen) socks that are falling apart but remain on my feet.  I’m still treading hard and feel like I’m walking with ghosts.

shimane_prefecture_detailed_map

654 Episode 2.

Toca's home.

Toca

Toca’s home.

Brief bit of fiction. 1.

Warning, what follows is a goofy ode to a fun evening.

(thank you Braden for the inspiration)

 

We raised him to be Braden’s boyfriend.

In the station I scratched your back

the train was leaving soon.

We’d rather we not have to part

and have more time to swoon.

 

With one hand in each other’s lap

the other on our faces

we drew a long and lengthy map

of all our favorite places.

 

In love time seems to tick and tock

in extra, anxious worry.

The hands spin around the clock

their path so quick it’s blurry.

 

How can we pause this time we share

without causing lots of trouble

perhaps if we meld from two to one

become single what once was double…

 

Then time will be shared at every step

at every pinch and giggle,

we’d get to touch ALL the time

from top to low to middle!

 

The problem that arises from

this risky sort of dream

is that you like boys and I like boys

with no straying in between. 😉

Metropolitan Diary

One of the things I wanted to accomplish with this blog (other than just writing on a whim without worrying about readers), is to discover the little things that aren’t mentioned about life in a city like this.  Violence, distrust, pollution (both noise, air and surface) tend to be the things that characterize a big city to those who don’t reside in one.  

My stereotypes about New York are continuously being overruled.  For example, I’ve met a lot of delightful, approachable and generous strangers on the subway, street and elsewhere.  People are not as taciturn or unpleasant as I was led to believe.  There are gardens, parks, and plants everywhere.  There could be more for sure, but a lot of empty or unused lots are being reclaimed as community garden and park space.  There’s an inspiring cultural freedom here as well, in that I find myself open to -or at least understanding of-diverse ideas, themes and lifestyles now that I’m exposed to so many.

A good example of a collection of these moments is the New York Times’ Metropolitan Diary.  Not only a good read but a great opportunity for you to share yours.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Dear Diary:

As I ride uptown on the No. 6, I place my leftover lunch of steamed vegetable dumplings under my seat. My focus is on making my way through the crowd that seems determined not to let me out at Grand Central.

Of course, I forget my dumplings.

I start heading back mumbling, “I forgot something,” but I am caught between the time it would take to go back through enemy lines versus letting go of a fully prepared dinner — a tough choice. I tell myself to let it go.

As I reach the platform, a hand comes out of nowhere and passes me my white, plastic bag from the subway car. Walking up the stairs, another man chuckles and says, “I hope dinner is as good as lunch.”

Leaving me to wonder: How many hands and hearts were part of the human chain that saved my dinner?

Judith B. Meyerowitz”