Man let me tell you, writer’s block freaking sucks. I can’t manage to get the poast I want down on paper so I guess in the interim, this will have to tide you over.
Back in my late high school/early college days before I became too destitute to afford a TV, I used to watch a comedy show called Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Now while the question of whether Conan is truly humorous or not (masturbating bear? that used to kill when I was 16, but now… well, not so much. Does this mean I’m growing up?) remains unanswered, he did use to have this one undeniably funny skit called “Channel Surfing” where he would flip through various made up channels and pretend to be shocked by their contents. One of these “shows” was a recurring bit called “Inappropriate Response Channel”. It was basically a bunch of ridiculously inappropriate scenes interrupted by this crazy red-headed guy in a black leather jacket with a guitar who would jump up in the front of the screen and scream “INAPPROPRIATE!! I don’t know why, but that used to crack me up every time. In fact, I’m even chuckling now just thinking about it.
Anyway, after I had to sell my TV in order to buy food, I forgot about Conan and that skit for a few years. That is, until I moved to Japan. Here I realised that if there ever was a country where we could make an actual show featuring a man running around, witnessing ridiculously improper situations and screaming out “INAPPROPRIATE!!!” at the top of his lungs, that country would be Japan. Because let me tell you people, sometimes Japanese people just have no idea what constitutes inappropriate comments by Western standards. And by “sometimes” I mean “always”. And by “Inappropriate” I mean “blatant remarks about sex or people’s physical appearance in painfully public places”. Don’t believe me? Allow me to present three scenes from recent memory.
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They’re not disabled, they’re only ill
Our first story takes place at a school. Occasionally in my line of work I have to visit a couple of schools for students with special needs. The range of “disabilities” at these schools vary from severe illness (in Japan this is often considered cause to be sent to a special needs school), to mental disabilities to actual physical disabilities. Anyway, the point is – and please remember this people – these are CHILDREN with special needs. Children people. And they’re disabled. Okay?
So there’s this young male teacher at one of these special needs schools. He’s lived abroad before and seems to want foreign friends. Thus, he is nice to me from the first time we meet and keeps inviting me to do things. Now usually I have a hard time making friends with Japanese guys (ironically enough, because they tend to say ridiculously inappropriate things that shock panda’s poor little sensibilities) but I figure this guy has lived abroad, so maybe he “gets” it a little bit more than most J-guys. Plus he is really friendly, young and seems nice so this might be a great chance to finally pick up some more gender and age appropriate Japanese language skills, instead of always sounding like either a 60 year old woman or a 12 year old girl every time I open my mouth. (sigh)
So when, after a couple of weeks, he invites me out to grab some shabu-shabu, I agree, all excited to make a new friend. What can I say. It’s a lonely life. Anyhow, he swings by on a Saturday night and we drive over to the shabu-shabu place in his car, while he blasts Aerosmith way the hell loudly over the stereo.
“Isn’t this fucking great music man?” he shouts over the din, and I’m sorry but it just seems awkward whenever Japanese people try to swear in English. Also, the line sounds like he cribbed it straight from a movie (which he probably did, but hey that’s how I learn Japanese so…)
“Ummm.. well I don’t really listen to Aerosmith but … uhh, yeah, it’s uhh… great.” I wince as the subwoofer starts forcibly re-aligning my lower spine from back forward.
“I fucking love this shit man!” As he shouts, I noticed he has clearly shaped his eyebrows since the last time I saw him on Friday.
“AEROSMITH FUCKING RAWKS!” again, straight from a movie, and I swear to you he pronounced it how I just wrote it. I have a sneaking suspicion he is trying to recreate what he believes is my natural habitat as a young American male driving in a car with another guy buddy. A sweet sentiment, but my ears are starting to bleed a little.
“hey … uhh.. can we turn it down a little?”
“What? I can’t hear you man!” he yells out as we swerve to avoid an old woman on her bicycle in a kimono whilst Steve Tyler really puts his all into the refrain “Walk This Way”. A very surreal moment, allow me to assure you.
“…nevermind.” I say, staring sadly out the window and hoping my health insurance will cover two replacement ear drums.
So we roll into the shabu-shabu joint and sit down. Soon afterward, a young waitress comes over to take our order. She is wearing a uniform that resembles a yukata, or informal kimono. It’s not what I’d call “sexy” but my companion starts making obvious eyes up and down as she leans over to light the shabu shabu pot. We place our order, and as she turns around and leaves our little booth area, he leans over and whispers to me in an exaggerated conspiratorial manner:
“I really want to have sex with that woman. How about you?”
I choke on the gulp of soda I’m drinking at the moment. Have you ever had coke go up your nose? It is painful. As my sinuses explode in what feels like a red hot carbonated magma inferno, I croak out:
“Don’t you just want to have sex with that woman? I mean, the waitress. Don’t you think she’s cute?”
I manage to swallow and awkwardly smash the side of my nose with the palm of my hand still clutching the glass of soda to try and shake down some of the coke rattling around in their with every haggard breath.
“Ummm… uhh, you know, I don’t… didn’t really, uhh… think about it.”
“I think she’s really hot. I want to fuck her. Do you?”
“I see. Uhh well, umm, dude, see, I’m just kinda hungry right now, so not really, uhh, thinking about you know.. uhh, that…”
“Oh… okay. Well… what kind of women do you find attractive in general?”
At this point I need to interject and explain a little bit about myself. A kind of “michaelpanda confessional” if you will. I am repressed. Not excessively so, mind you, but I don’t like to discuss certain things with people I don’t really know. These topics include sex, questions about my marital/familial status, and questions about my food. (Those of you who have never been to Japan might wonder what is up with that last question, so allow me to elaborate: Japanese are continuously fascinated by what “foreigners” eat. You will sit down to eat a delicious sandwich during those 30 precious minutes you have for lunch and just as it’s almost to your lips, someone will come over, start poking it and ask you questions that beggar belief, like “what are you eating?” “can you eat fish?” “do you have tomatoes in America?” “is there some Japanese food you cannot eat?” “we Japanese have a special vegetable called ‘eggplant’. Do you know it?” “did you cook by yourself?” “what is in your sandwich?” (answer: not strawberries, whipped cream and fried noodles, and if this comment is strange to you, please visit Japan someday and check out the convenience store sandwich aisle) “can foreigners eat rice” etc.) (Incidentally, this leads me to a corollary of the previous topic, namely: places you should never bother panda: when he’s pooping, when he’s eating or when he’s sleeping. Thank you.)
So anyway, being slightly repressed, I don’t like to discuss certain things – especially sex – with strangers. That’s normal, right? This is especially true when the person you’re talking to is a “manly” kind of guy, a “retrosexual” if you will. Because such people insist on using blunt language that makes panda all uncomfortable and embarrassed in public. The proverbial “tits and ass” if you will, which is always santised inside my head as “boobies and tee-hee”. Mentally, I really am like an 8 year old.
The young man sitting expectantly across the table from me, however, appeared to be waiting for an answer, my discomfort be damned.
“… well, I uhh… I umm, like … nice … uhh… funny girls.”
He is visibly crestfallen. Clearly he was hoping for a more graphic answer.
“Yeah. Funny, uhh, nice and umm…. pretty girls.” I add, feeling sad after seeing his disappointment. But sorry, “pretty” is all the further I’m going to go down this line of description.
“Oh… Well, I like girls with big tits.” he replies, cheering up a bit.
I wince at the t-word. People, I am not a “manly man”. I have a hard time talking about things like this with other men. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Scrubs, then you’ll know what I mean when I say I’m like Elliot Reed when it comes to sex: shirt on, lights off and my idea of talking dirty is substituting “bajingo” for what would normally be an awkward throat clearing and a vague gesturing of eyes towards the ground (well, I exaggerate, but with strangers I’m a prude) So you can imagine how incredibly uncomfortable I was at this particular moment, with this young, obviously undersexed young Japanese man trying painfully hard to engage in what I can only imagine he thought was “male bonding” brazenly discussing his preference for gigantic boobies. I mean, just because Sir Mix-a-lot can openly declare his love for big butts to the entire world in a rap song does not mean that you have a free reign to describe in graphic detail your love for gigantic mammaries at the dinner table, young man. Do you know why? Because he is Sir Mix-a-lot. And he is awesome. And you are not. I mean, he has a music album entitled “The Return of the Bump-a-saurus”. Do you? No. And this is the first time we’ve really spoken to each other for any extended period of time.
“…yeah, big tits. You know what I mean?” he continues.
Do you think this would be the right time for the red-haired, leather jacket clad guitar-sporting young man to leap in front of the scene and yell “INAPPROPRIATE!!!” ? Yes? Well you’d be wrong. It gets worse. Just you wait.
At this point the waitress finally appears (thank providence) with food and I set upon dipping the meat in the shabu-shabu pot with a ferocity and singularity of concentration that defies description. I don’t think I have ever focused so hard on dipping meat in boiling water before whilst steadfastly parrying all sorts of questions about American women and Japanese women and which do I prefer and why with noncommittal grunts and demurring “hmmmmmhhmm” punctuated by desperate attempts to steer the conversation off the topic of sex with comments like “wow, these vegetables are so tasty!” or “say, why don’t you explain – in exhausting detail – how Japanese people make tofu, and please don’t leave anything out”.
Anyway, so after a while, he starts to get the hint and for a few minutes I manage to enjoy my dinner in a peace filled with relatively benign chatter like “what’s your favorite Japanese baseball team?” (I know nothing about baseball so I just make up names: “the sparrow hams” “is that really a team?” “… uhh yes. I think they’re from.. uhh.. akita prefecture”) and “why did you come to Japan?” (answer: “I wasn’t miserable enough back in America.”) etc.
Then, just as I think everything has settled down and we’re all good….
“So…. panda. Do you ever, you know, find yourself attracted to the students in our school?”
Readers, I literally CHOKE on the food I’m eating at the moment. After a few desperate gaspy wheezing moments of panic, tears streaming down my face as I wonder if I’m about to meet an unfortunate end in the middle of a shabu-shabu restaurant in Japan with a throat full of half-boiled shredded beef, I finally manage to cough down my shock (and the food) and blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind:
“DUDE THEY’RE DISABLED…!”
Now granted, this is not the most politically correct thing to say, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying disabled people don’t need love too, but what I really meant was THEY’RE DISABLED CHILDREN and this conversation should not EVAR* be happening.
*(for those of you wondering, yes I can spell, but this is how I pronounce certain words. eh-vAHr. hence the spelling. consider it an endearing quirk.)
My friend – ahem – however, seems not understand my utter shock.
“Yeah, but you know, not so much at our school. Like most of them are just ill, not disabled. So it’s not really the same thing, right?”
Now, ladies and gentlemen, you can cue the “INAPPROPRIATE”.
More coughing and choking on my part. What the frick do you say to that? My mind starts whirring at a million miles an hour. Is this a sick joke? Is he having me on? Is this a test? Are there police hanging just behind the sliding paper door ready to pounce on the gaijin if he proves to be a perv? Is this young man insane? Should I report him to the police…!?
He puts a piece of meat in his mouth and drinks a sip of soda while he waits for my response. Dude, how can you be asking someone if they’re attracted to 12 year old disabled children and be eating so calmly at the same time?
“…uhh….you know… I uhh… uhhh”
Clearly, I am good at thinking on my feet.
He continues talking but I don’t hear what he’s saying. Finally I just interrupt him.
“Look… I’m not really comfortable talking about this.”
He looks sad for second, like he knows he’s offended me, but not sure why. (really? not sure why?)
“Oh… okay. Did I say something wrong?”
“Basically I… westerners… well, most of us… by which I mean most human beings… feel a bit… uncomfortable discussing children like this. “
“Oh… but you know, I didn’t mean the really young ones, I meant like the 2nd year high school students…”
I down the rest of my soda in one gulp and wave the waitress over. Clearly I’m going to need something alcoholic to get through the rest of the evening.
“Dude, that doesn’t make it any more comfortable for me. They’re disabled. they’re students. And they’re children. Even the 16 year olds. “
And here, my friends, if only the scene could have ended with a wild red haired man with a guitar and a black leather jacket jumping up and screaming “INAPPROPRIATE” as we cut back to Conan O’Brien sitting at his seat, clearly revealing this was all a big joke, it would all have been good. If only.
Instead, we finished out one of the most awkward dinners I have ever had in my life (seriously, it was like a blind date from hell, only we’re both dudes, and one of us – not me – was possibly a pedophile. AW-KWA-RD!), drove back in silence and then never really talked again except brief nods at work.
Now for act II of our “INAPPROPRIATE” triple feature, I’ll take you all the way to another office where I work at, and yet another young confused Japanese man who has mistaken me for someone eager to engage in some good ol’ fashioned male-bonding. This hapless and woefully misguided individual is someone that I have spoken to on several occasions, but wouldn’t “consider my homie” as we say back in the mean ghettos of Wisconsin. In face, he’s so far from “homie” territory I’d even place him squarely in the “acquaintance” category, a demographic which includes the old lady who does my dry cleaning (not this old lady, a new, much nicer one), the real estate man who decided to stalk me in order to get me to buy a hundred thousand dollar apartment building (I’ll have to write that up one of these days) and Yumi, the young bleach-blonde girl at the local 7-11 who commented on my curious (to her) pairing of a plum riceball with a refreshing bottle of diet coke. What can I say? I’m all about the “east meets west”.
Now each of these individuals – much like the young man about to make me incredibly uncomfortable as we stride down the hallway – provide an essential service for me: keeping me in clean clothes, making me sleep with all my windows locked and one eye open for fear I might get murdered in my sleep, providing me with delicious food and beverage combinations and in the latter case, handling some papers I needed processed. Despite this fact, I do not particularly feel “close” to any of them and I certainly don’t want to discuss my (non-existent) sexual fetishes with them. Why oh why, then, gentle readers, does the young man feel compelled to have this conversation with me as we head to the copy room?
“Hey panda, you know Matsushita-san?”
“You mean the older lady who gave me these papers?”
“Yeah her. What do you think of her?”
“Oh yeah, she’s really nice!”
“Well, that’s not what I meant…”
“Umm… how do you mean, then?”
“I mean, like, do you think she’s sexy?”
“…. uhhh, isn’t she married? Also, I believe her sons are probably just about our age.”
“Well, yeah… but you know, still. Don’t you find her slightly attractive?”
I start to get really really uncomfortable and wonder why the hell the copier in our room had to break, necessitating this little expedition to the 6th floor.
“…uhh you know, umm, I didn’t really notice guy.”
In my head I add: “what about my demeanor today made you think I would possibly be receptive to discussing my 40-something year old MARRIED co-worker in sexual terms with you on the way to the copy room?”
“oh… You know, when I was in college, I spent a couple of years studying in Europe?”
YES! I think to myself. A chance to change the topic! I pounce upon it.
“Oh really? That’s SO COOL! Tell me more about it, everything in fact, from start to finish, you know, don’t leave anything out. How was it?!”
“…it was okay. But you know what I really liked?”
“Like… I found middle aged white women so hot. I mean…. do you know what I mean?”
Readers, have you ever been driving down the road and spotted a piece of road kill smashed completely and impossibly into a small furry blob on the ground and tried to figure out for a second if it was like a squirrel or a bird because it sort of looks like it could be both, but clearly that’s impossible, so is that a big furry tail or is that a wing? You know the face you unconsciously make as your mind works through that conundrum?
Well that’s exactly the face I made.
“…Ummm…. I’m sorry.. but what…!?” My eyes start desperately casting about searching for a possible avenue of escape. There’s a fire door! Maybe if I distract him real quickly by shouting and pointing off to the left whilst darting right and out the door, he’ll never notice!
“…well you know, I mean… there is just something so… sexy about middle aged women, I mean, white women. I find them so attractive. Do you know what I mean? I mean, like… sexually.”
I feel so uncomfortable I don’t think it’s possible to do it justice on typed paper.
“Uhh yeah dude, I kinda got what you’re trying to say.”
“…well, do you ever feel the same way about middle aged Japanese women? I mean, like Matsushita-san for example.”
“… umm… you know… I uhh… I never really think about age, you know… don’t really notice and all. it’s so hard to tell with Japanese women anyway so yeah, no never think about it.”
“Oh… well for me, I don’t know, it really makes me excited” – cut to panda visibly cringing – “like, they remind me of a mother or something. Only they’re white. It makes me really koufun suru (興奮する: “aroused” in this case)”
I believe this would be the time to cue it:
“Oh…. my… god.” is all I can manage. He however, mistakes my utterance of total disbelief as one of shared mutual arousal (I feel so gross having just written that).
“Yes! Oh my god! I find there is something… it makes me very attracted to middle aged white women. Because they are like my mother if she was to be white” – he actually said it that way – “But I wonder if you find the same thing but opposite for Japanese middle aged woman?”
And that, gentle readers, is all the more I could take. What the fuck makes him think I would possibly be receptive to discussing a white mommy fetish with some guy I don’t even know at 9:30 in the am when all I FRICKING WANT IN LIFE IS TO MAKE THREE GODDAMN COPIES OF A STUPID DOCUMENT!? In a split second I make up my mind and stop making any pretense at politeness:
“Oh you know what? I think I need to use the bathroom. Like RIGHT NOW. Here, can you copy these for me? Thankyougoodbye!” and with that I shove the papers in his hands, whip around and literally run down the hallway to a bathroom at the other end.
And I stay there for 20 minutes.
When I finally leave, the copies are on my desk and I make it a point to assiduously avoid that man from then on.
Japan, seriously, what the frick..!?
There’s this actor I like…
So the last little incident just took place yesterday. I’m back doing a school visit and not in a particularly good mood. Why am I not in a particularly good mood, you ask? Well because my shirt sleeve is covered in spit and mucus. Why is it covered in spit you ask? Well because one of the kids spit up on me in class. They’re disabled, so it’s not like you can get mad at them for it, but you know, it still puts you in kind of an unhappy mood.
Squarely in the thrall of said mood, I head outside to sit on some concrete steps for the 10 minutes I have before the next class. I’m trying to be zen, you see, tell myself it’s okay, it’s not his fault, really, the spit and mucus isn’t that noticeable, or the snot either, plus I’m sure that will wash right out. There’s a tendency, sometimes, during the more trying moments of this job, to slip into the “I spent 4 years in university majoring in genetics just to end up doing this…?!” mentality, but you know, that’s counterproductive and only leads to more stress. So when spit happens (as it were), you just gotta lean back, take a deep breath and go outside to cool off and remind yourself of all the happy things about Japan, like the fact that my impossibly cute microwave plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when it’s done cooking and if that’s not a good reason to sell my soul, give up all hope of future happiness and live and work in a foreign country, then my friends, I don’t know what is.
The day is blustery, gray and cold, with damp whipping wind swirling all around me, and a dull colourless pallor
to the clouds painting everything in a sickly, sad monochromatic hue. The fact that I’m sitting hunched over on cold rough concrete steps, eyes cast down at the ground and wearing a high necked half-zip black sweater covered in spit with my hair being tousled every which way only makes the scene that much more angsty-emo-esque in nature.
Anyway, as I’m sitting there trying not to feel sorry for myself, I hear a noise and from around the back of the staircase comes a middle aged teacher whom I have seen once before in the staffroom. He seems like a nice enough guy, but it is painfully obvious to anyone to anyone who saw me at that moment that I just needed to be left alone for a few minutes – just me, my thoughts, and a sleeve covered in mucus.
Apparently – and showing remarkable insight for once – the guy seemed to get it, and after stopping for a moment, continues on his way without making a comment.
YES! I think to myself. Thank god this guy has some sense. I turn my thoughts back to trying to remember if I ever read a “Dear Eloise” tip in the back of my family’s Good Housekeeping magazines that dealt with removing dried snot-mucus from merino wool sweaters.
Then, from the periphery of my vision, I see the teacher stop, tilt his head to the side to think for a second, then turn on his heel and head back.
I force my unpleasantness down my throat and jam up as friendly pseudo-smile as I can manage. Why oh why sir, did this seem like an appropriate time to try and be international? Can’t you see my soul and how it suffers?
“What happened?” He asks, pointing to my shirt sleeve.
“Uhh, a kid threw up on me.”
“Oh.. Taihen desu ne” (“that’s unfortunate”).
“Yeah…. I guess that’s one way of putting it.”
“By the way, there’s an actor I really like.”
My mind stumbles momentarily on this sudden non-sequitor.
I realise suddenly that he is waiting for me to respond. I was not aware that what I interpreted as a simple declarative invited a natural response, but I guess he thinks it does. I heave a sigh and mumble out the first thing that comes to my mind.
“…uhhh….. what’s his name?”
“…………………………………You look like him.”
Now folks, if you do not know what Jack Black looks like, here is a picture:
Meanwhile, back on planet panda, I’m trying to figure out what the hell to say in response to this. I settle for silence.
He stares at me for a minute, this goofy ridiculous grin plastered on his face as if I was suddenly going to leap up and embrace him, proclaiming my thanks and eternal gratitude for comparing me to a scuzzy overweight pale white man who never shaves, has horrible hair, and was last scene in a movie that prominently featured him prancing around in a thong and a belly-baring ratty t-shirt.
“gomen ne!” (“sorry, hee hee!”) he finally blurts out. Giggling like a juvenile, he then turns around and runs – actually runs – around the corner and disappears.
Dude. What the fuck? I’m trying to avoid slipping into a depressive state whilst covered in puke slumped against a lonely concrete staircase on a cloudy damp overcast day and somehow this guy thought that not only was this a good time to compare me to Jack Black but that somehow – SOMEHOW – I was going to take this as a compliment.
Except the dude CLEARLY KNEW this wasn’t a compliment as evidenced by his “sorry hee hee!!” tacked on to the end just before he ran away.
Can we hit it?
And that my friends, is Japan and some of the ridiculously inappropriate stuff I hear on a daily basis. How is it that I haven’t stabbed someone in the face yet? I don’t know. But the day will come people. The day will come.
Anyway, I will try to overcome my damn writers block and get up another post soon, hopefully within the next few days. Stay tuned!
Now listening to: “Orbital – Halcyon +on +on +on (Live mix feat. Bon Jovi & Belinda Carlisle)