Follow @covillanueva c.o. villanueva in time and space: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009


Something sleeps on the surfaces
Solemnity dug down beneath
Bestial shapes of beauty snug
Safe between waves of words

Scenes so scary they transcode
Forms of profane speech to color
Becoming song
Becoming song

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

xmas cake

BusyBee, she's a girl I know. Twenty-nine years old & ready to marry. She's tired of playing the field. She says she used to be an expert at it. Now she's getting excited about Xmas.

When she was a little girl in her small hometown, she used to wake up early on the 25th & bake cakes with her mom. Last year she was living at home. On Xmas day she baked cakes for both her parents. They had to work.

Now she has a tiny little apartment next to the station. We stand out on her balcony sometimes smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, talking about life, watching the train go by. She has a pot of tomato plants & some herbs out there. I'm not sure what kind, but she uses them in her cooking. Sometimes we see one of those dark trains go by with no riders, like a ghost express, & BusyBee gets scared. It's kind of cute.

The other day she told me, "Vandelay, my microwave sucks. It's too small & I can't bake a cake in it. It doesn't have ... how do you say ... an oven." She says it so sweetly. I can't imagine her saying anything mean to anybody. She's like the opposite of me.

It seems there aren't any ovens in Japan, at least I haven't seen one. There are lots of fish broilers. My microwave has a reinji ("range") function, so I can bake up stuff, but I never do.

. . .

I walked to another pond today, during lunch. This one was not quite as nice as my pond. There was a chain link fence surrounding most of it, a sign saying "Dangerous. Do not swim." I imagined someone diving into those muddy waters. But on the other side the water looked less murky, & there was a new walkway, fresh grass. Two old guys were there fishing. One pulled up his rod with three minnows squirming on it. I'm not sure if that was what he caught or if it was bait.

Anyway I walked back through more rows of vegetables. Wow, the broccoli plant was huge. I was tempted to grab one & put it in my pocket. Broccoli Rocks. I saw some nasu (eggplant), cabbage, lettuce, radishes, etc. All of this made me want to be a farmer.

(I know this isn't so interesting. I'm currently fasting during the day & I feel like shit. My tongue is rough & I have a bad taste in my mouth. It's the toxins. I can feel my liver repairing itself. My body just wants to sleep. Earlier it wanted to eat & I nearly gave in. I grabbed a can of tuna but stopped just before opening it.)

On the way back, an ambulance went by, loud sirens, a man's voice in the loudspeaker probably said something like, "hey get the hell out of my way!" & the cars actually pulled over. In Japan, I've seen police cars, ambulances, firetrucks trying to get around idiots that won't pull over. Many just keep driving, not a care in the world. (I'm kind of pissed off at Japanese drivers now cause I nearly got hit twice on my walk.) That's why they use loudspeakers, I guess.

I also saw an interesting sign. It read, "No hunting in this area." What?! I was still in a residential neighborhood. The sign was official. I've never seen a gun in this country. I've heard of hunters here, but thought they were myths. Like Momotaro, the boy who came to Japan in a peach.

. . .

BusyBee tells me about the "illuminations" in Japan, how wonderful they are. She's right. They brighten up the city & it kind of feels like Christmas. Couples stroll through the lights holding hands. It's romantic.

Xmas here is for lovers. They drink champagne, eat cake, & other stuff. I imagine the love hotels are booked months in advance, but there are so many of them. Even if you are out in the sticks, I'm sure you can find a room.

Friday, November 20, 2009

a missing screw

An old man just fixed the door to the tissue culture room. The giant button that slides the door open was missing a screw. So the button, strangely, kept tilting.

This old fella saw me & got excited. He spoke to me in English:

"My name is Yoshiharu. I'm a maintenance man."

He bowed & we shook hands. It was an international moment.

He then started speaking to sensei in Japanese: "I used to work at Expo 2005. I was in charge of all the air conditioners. Every night I partied with the foreign people. I can't believe they drank vodka straight out of the bottle."

Sensei was translating but I could understand every word. This guy was real. The language he spoke was simple & to the point. And he gestured like he had latin blood.

"I had many girlfriends, black, white, yellow (Sensei lies & translates girlfriends as friends). All the gaijin had a Japanese girl."

Yep, that's what we do. Gaijin & the J-girl. Oh yeah. More on this topic another time.

. . .

So I want to write about the last two days. It has nothing to do with anything. But it might have something to do with me.

(The lunch lady just came & delivered a bento ("the boxed lunch"). I used to order them but don't anymore. There's an older lady that usually comes & she always smiles at me. She asked the secretary about me, "who is that foreign guy, why is he sitting there?" I thought that was funny so I started talking to her. She's always speaking quickly, passionately, so I can't quite catch what she says. I do grin & nod a lot. This makes us both happy.)

Anyway, my head has been pretty messed up recently. After I moved out to the inaka ("the sticks"), well close enough, & stopped dating that cool local chick who spoke clear English (she was just a station away), all I do is sit in my place & drink. I used to go to the gym a lot. But now I'm tired & just like relaxing at home. It's my escape. But I realized two days ago that I've gone completely insane.

It started with a dream, actually a nightmare then a dream. The first woke me up at 2am in shock, you know how terrible dreams are? And the second was the most amazing dream I've ever had. It was visual, exciting, an adventure through time & space. I wanted to make a movie out of it, but unfortunately I had to wake up & go to work. I forgot most of it.

I do realize that I'm living in a dream. It has been a nightmare & an improbable adventure, something like a film projector rolling a fairy tale behind my eyes, obscuring what's really in front of me. (This is going nowhere.)

But even a drunken begger on horseback goes somewhere, right?*

. . .

So yesterday I walked to the supermarket during lunch. The whole army of housewives were out, picking through the vegetable sales rack, admiring tomotoes, collecting tempura for dinnertime. And there was me. I got some tuna for my diet. Some tomotoes & saba ("the mackerel", so delicious here). Then I saw some pizza & grabbed two slices. Oh well. I can always eat healthy tomorrow.

On the way back I kept thinking about things. All the crap I've done, the jobs I've had, the places I've lived, all of it amounting to nothing, really. All those old goals, & girlfriends, the transitions, the new paths & "fresh starts" - all of it just nothing. Where is/are it/they/that/those that I really wanted?

But suddenly I realized that it all led me to the place where I was walking. I was walking down a street lined by vegetable gardens. The day was sunny. I could smell manure, but only briefly. It was perfect.

(I walked to the grocery store during lunch. That was all. And I really didn't want to be anywhere else. Really. Not wrapped-up in some woman's candle-lit bedroom. Not behind the wheel of that black Mustang rolling through the desert at a hundred. Not in Jack London square watching the fog fall into the bay, me making friends with those damned pigeons. No, not anywhere else but there, walking my manure-scented lane.)

Now tell me I'm crazy, that I'm missing a screw.

*Thomas Wolfe, from You Can't Go Home Again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

memories (for Ray Charles, a fellow Georgian)

(blog entry published in the Dec 09 issue of RAN Magazine)

Suddenly, walking down a street, be it real or be it a dream, one realizes for the first time that the years have flown; that all this has passed forever & will live on only in memory.*

I'm in a dream & she's there, sitting at the other end of the table at this nomikai (“the let’s get drunk & meet party”), maybe five couples separating us. I shout hi & yell my first words to her in Japanese:

Do you want to get married?!

It was supposed to be a joke, yeah, but it still made an impression & that joke led to another & yet another, a little of this & that, then this, that & the other. What was meant to be a one-year adventure in this land of rising sun had become something like a safari to nowhere. And somehow our blood, sweat & tears lasted longer than five years, up until this latest Feb 14th, when in place of a gift she told me on the phone: It was indeed finished.

Our dreams finished, my dream deferred.

I had a woman, way over town (in Komaki), that was good to me, oh yeah.

She saved her loving, for early in the morning,
(Ooh la la) just for me.**

(Thanks, Ray. These memories are a bitch.)

But hold on. This here that I'm writing is not about her. This is not about her. Not about her at all. It's about me. This is about me. I'm writing all of this for me. So,

Should I stay or should I go?

I don't know. I look back at my six years here, & remember when BabyFace told me he was leaving. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were both lifers. I said,

Why in the hell are you leaving, BabyFace? And you're leaving your beautiful girlfriend behind! Can't you see the love in her eyes? She loves you man.

BabyFace looked into the distance, then smiled his blue eyes at me. He said, "I don't know, I don't know what I'm going to do. I’m just going to go back to Indy & see what happens."

That was over a year ago. BabyFace is now in law school. I heard his beautiful girl is coming to live with him.


(I mean, BabyFace was a rolling stone, man. I guess we all eventually gather moss.)

And I remember how Zee did it. I'll never forget him, his long Osama beard that summer, his infatuation with 70's music & killing zombies on Xbox. Zee bought a one-way ticket then went into hiding three months prior to departure. He didn’t want anybody talking him out of it. That was over two years ago. I saw him when he came back to visit last spring. He had shaved his beard & joined the Marines. He had become a real Officer straight out of Platoon.


And there was that blonde from Ohayo who liked poetry & water. She lasted five years on this rock. She said the party's over. It has been over three years since that day we recited,

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.***

I heard she’s living underwater somewhere in the Pacific, wearing a mask, strapped to an oxygen tank, chasing fish.

From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire.***


There are more. There are too many memories of people leaving, of farewell parties, of me getting their stuff, like blenders, kotatsu (“the heated & blanketed table”), desks, beds, kitchen utensils, even barbells & squat racks, & cramming all of it into my tiny apartment with paper walls. I would then see my friends off to the station, us saying sayonaras & sharing hugs.

This has happened way too many times.

Where are they, the departed ones? Some are back home living in houses with harder walls, some working at insurance companies with weekly staff meetings, staring at computers, etc etc. It sounds so boring. But some are in Uni, others rampaging through the jungles of Southeast Asia, some living lives as expats elsewhere, writing books, learning how to write books. But all of them pursuing dreams.

What about those who didn't leave? Why did they stay?

I remember the sax player from California. We met on the Meitetsu line to Utsumi, the beach. Both drinking Asahi's on the train, naturally we gravitated toward one other. He was telling me about his beach pub crawl, how he did it every summer Sunday. I asked him how long he'd been at it.

"Twenty years," he said. "I came here on vacation & got stuck."


And then there are the multitudes of us who come here & get stuck living with Japanese in-laws. My friend SpaceMan found himself in this predicament, but he eventually escaped.

And of course there are those Japanophiles who love everything manga, everything Japanese drama, everything kanji, katakana & hiragana, they love everything Tokyo & Roppongi & Fukuoka ramen & Nagoya Yama-chan, tebasaki (“the chicken wing”) & & ad infinitum.

Those Japanophiles want to be stuck. I know cause I used to be one. Yet I’m thinking I'm not one now.

I had a woman, way over town, who was good to me (she left me). Oh yeah.**

(Thanks again, Ray. I think I just became unstuck.)

Sure, I like Japan. I like the food. I love the chicken wing! I like the sexy clothes, the J-girl thing. I even like the kanji & the terrible singing at karaoke.

But this ain't my home. These are not my people. This is not my country. And she’s no longer my woman, Ray.

I want to go home. And I want to go home now. Back to Georgia, where moonlight shines through the pines. This road leads back to you. (And the party's over.)

... suddenly, these memories intrude, rise up like ghosts & permeate every fiber of one's being.*

It’s all just a dream. Wake up.

*Henry Miller, from Black Spring
**Ray Charles, from I Got a Woman
***Robert Frost, from Fire and Ice

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

where's it at?

I sit at my desk, the rain falling outside, trying to clear my head to write. It ain't happening. This morning I woke up with a two-bottle-a-wine hangover & looked at the text I sent her. I got up, drank coffee, ate milk & muesli, got my stuff together for the walk to work. I could take the bus, but I didn't have an umbrella - it got destroyed in the last typhoon - so I put on my rain gear that I used to use before my bike got stolen.

It was a hot walk to work. Many people biked with umbrellas to the station. Some walked. One high school girl strolled slowly in front of me. Her skirt on this wet day looked like a beach umbrella, above skin sand-white, her long red hair the sun. She was on the phone giggling when I passed her. Then three high school boys nearly rode their bikes into me. They were staring at the girl & one fell off his bike trying to avoid hitting me. The other two laughed but the girl didn't miss a beat, still smiling to whoever it was she was talking to.

I sip some tea. I have fifteen more minutes before I have to go upstairs & stop the centrifuge. I'm extracting DNA from mouse tails. It's boring as shit. So, I couldn't find the pellet (DNA at the bottom of the tube) & now I'm worried that I'll get no results. Sensei looked at the results from yesterday & said "no progress." Thus, I'm repeating the extraction, but he's monitoring me, looking for the step where I fucked up before. I'm tired & still sitting at my desk.

. . .

What am I looking for & where's it at? Take me away from here, fly me away.