Monday, September 15, 2014

Bringing Home the Melon

The Life of a $14 Piece of Fruit


¥1500 = $13.97 (on 9/14/14)
Today we are here at the farmer's market adjacent to the famed (well it should be) Yamabe Winery in Matsumoto, Japan. The weather has been gracious here in the mouth of the Susukigawa River Valley, and someone is ready to start spewing his garbled genius out a mouth full of the best apples and grapes this side of Mt. Olympus.

No chopsticks needed here, just bring your appetite for fresh, healthy eating and a wheelbarrow full of napkins. Make no mistake, this is fruit at its finest, available for exhorbitant prices in a setting where your urge to haggle is politely smothered under a blanket of glib Japanese niceties from elderly men and women who would also bow if they weren't permanently bent over at the waist from a lifetime of tilling the soil with hand tools.

But breathe easy, suspicious traveler. This is one place you never have to worry about being short-changed (largely because you probably won't be getting any change).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 8

Caviar Emptor

What do Bedouins, bad neighborhoods and beachfront apartments with beach-less views have in common?

“They’re all things you are writing about for no money!”

Ah, the wife.

She’s right. But more importantly, they are all alluded to in our eternally-amusing Wall Street Journal Magazine April 2014 edition, in a string of advertisements so smooth and slick you’d think you were being hit on by Barack Obama’s teleprompter.

No Bedouins are seen in this magazine. No bad neighborhoods, no beach-less views. WSJ prefers images of diamond prenuptual agreement rings and confused metrosexuals sitting in the dark – images that obfuscate the truth of what’s being sold in these advertisements.

I say what could be more fun than to un-obfuscate the truth?

“How about un-obfuscating our mortgage situation?!”

Nah. Not nearly as fun. And so...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Deciding What Matters

Making It Home


My recent decision to move my family back to Japan has been met with tons of positive support and good wishes. For this, my wife and I are extremely grateful. The decision at the time was not an easy one.

There have also been those who, albeit with the best of intentions, have questioned the wisdom of our return, particularly with three young children. I don’t resent the questions; I’m not offended by the concerns, necessarily based on information that is debatable. We don’t know ourselves just what the present situation is, what needs to be done or what the future holds. No one does. Even the so-called experts disagree.

We saw in Fukushima the radiation meters – microsieverts per hour, displayed digitally on machines posted in parks, on school grounds and throughout the center of town. We read updates in the newspaper, day after day. We stared at the spectrum of opinion offered up in cyberspace, mostly from people thousands of miles removed from the reality those they are supposedly educating are living with every day.

Amid all this, we saw the people of Fukushima going about the business of living.

This is, simply, what my wife and I have decided to do.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Car Shopping in Japan

Treat Bags, Toys & Free Beer

My wife and I walked through the sliding glass storefront doors, our kids not trailing us so much as swarming around us like a nebulous cloud of sweet-smelling humanity. The people working looked up, all of them at once, and greeted us with a rousing chorus of ‘Irrasshaimase~!’ A young girl with a pony tail as crisp as her white blouse and black skirt ensemble walked over, bent slightly at the waist in that subtle and ubiquitous display of deference, and offered us a string of niceties like flower petals laid out at our feet.

Japanese hospitality never gets old.

Her beaming smile was genuine and steady and, outside of Japan, a rare attribute for 8 bucks an hour. She continued her bowing, bobbing show of polished civility as she led us to our table. Not waiting for us to be seated, she produced out of nowhere a pristine faux-leather-bound menu and proceeded to ask us what we would like to drink.

My boys shouted in tandem – ‘Melon soda!’ – and headed for the foam-padded play area in the corner. Their little sister followed, focused only on the red slide. My wife asked our waitress something about tea. I stood next to her, looking around at the other people sitting and drinking at their tables, and wondered what the hell was going on.

I’d never been to a car dealership in Japan. I now go to them every weekend.

Monday, August 25, 2014

enRoute to Tokyo

Canadiantertainment

 
Air Canada kicks ass.
 
I’ll give you three reasons why.
 
1. They have this check-in person named Janet who doesn’t care if every single one of the ten duffel bags and beaten cardboard boxes you throw at her goes overweight. “That’s what these are for,” she says as she sticks another bright orange HEAVY tag on another HEAVY box.
 
2. On overseas Air Canada flights the beer is free – and that includes the Molson, not just the crappy American beer in the stupid uber-patriotic cans.
 
3. Air Canada’s in-flight magazine is pure and genuine entertainment; unintentionally purely and genuinely entertaining. Like young children. The New York Mets. Donald Trump, you know.
 
Last month I flew Air Canada from Newark to Toronto to Tokyo. The 90-minute first leg consisted entirely of beverage service and my two sons wrestling for dominance over the arm rest controls. (If you have to ask why my two sons were fighting if they each had their own arm rest controls then you obviously don't have two sons). My kids kept hitting the call button, driving the flight attendants so absolutely nuts I began wondering how many more times it would be before they came down the aisle waving torches and pitchforks.
 
Talk about pure, genuine entertainment.
 
Settling in for the Toronto - Tokyo leg of the journey, while my kids were going bananas over the video entertainment system (and I was going bananas over the impending free beer system), I noticed that the seat pocket in front of me – and every other seat pocket within reach – still contained last month’s edition of enRoute, Air Canada’s mis-capitalized in-flight magazine.
 
My first thought: How can the guy on the cover look so happy carrying his twelve-year-old son around a museum on his shoulders? And while wearing red pants no less?
 
My second thought: Why can’t my kids just figure out the god damn touch-screen?
 
In-flight magazines are always good for a laugh. Continental/United offers up supercilious travel articles like this, while any given Chinese airline will, true to form, produce the cheapest crap on the planet, right down to the idiotic English translations.
 
Rarely, though, will an airline mag provide unwitting humor front to back. This sort of literary feat is normally only ever seen in the Wall Street Journal Magazine. But by the time I was finished confiscating my sons’ riot-inducing mini-pretzels and stuffing them into my seat pocket I’d realized two things. One, our plane’s video system was malfunctioning, not my sons’ brains as I had been suggesting for the past two hours. And two, Air Canada brings in-flight magazine entertainment to a whole new level. This back issue in my hands was so good, in fact, that I only had one beer the entire flight. One! And did I mention they were free?!
 
For any of you not lucky enough to have flown Air Canada lately (and who knows how long this June 2014 issue has actually been gracing Air Canada’s seat pockets), do not despair. For here I give you the 30 greatest highlights of this most recent outdated eNroUTe.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 7

SJ + JG = BS

Scarlett Johansson graces the cover of my latest greatest punching bag, the April edition of the Wall Street Journal Magazine. “Scarlett Johansson does it her way” reads the trite teaser down in the corner. I suspect the cadre of writers who became the billionth entity to use that one were trying to set a certain tone for their feature article: Scarlett’s supposed no-nonsense, to hell with societal expectations, Look you middle-class low-life, go pay your taxes style of straight shooting.

It also seems meant to imply that Miss Johansson’s accomplishments have all come of that damn-the-torpedoes attitude we’d all love to emulate if only it didn’t mean ending up at the unemployment office. Yet we learn – if we do our research – that dear Scarlett’s skin was too thin for rejection at those TV commercial auditions so her mommy agreed to drag her only to movie casting tryouts.

If you’ve been following this bonfire of vanity (and who hasn’t?) you are already well-aware that WSJ is clearly bent on feeding its readers page after stultifying page of bull turds, and Jason Gay, who picks up the pen for this feature on Miss Scarlett, wastes no time in exchanging that pen for a shovel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 6

Palatial Inheritance & The Shallow End of the Gene Pool

Failed CEO Laudomia Pucci.
Laudomia Pucci lives in a 15th Century, 150-acre estate in the Tuscan countryside. From the pose she strikes in the photo on page 85 of the Wall Street Journal Magazine that we simply can not stop making fun of, it is difficult to tell whether she feels embarrassed and awkward or stupidly entitled. She inherited the estate and the family’s fashion business in 1989 at the ripe age of 29 and, as stated in the article Fortress of Fashion (a title which will become clearly ironic in a minute), “took over both the business and creative sides.” As the next (and, one writer predicts, last) in a long line of fashion conquistadors, she found her unearned responsibility "a challenge.”

Presumably because working for Daddy all those few short cushy years wasn’t.

Her razor-sharp mind becomes immediately evident as we are told, shortly before we start barfing in repulsion at the photos of what this numbskull was born into, that Laudomia “knew” when she took over for her deceased father that her ticket to ridiculous wealth – the family’s “fashion legacy” as it were – was in trouble. And Ms. Laudomia, whose name sounds suspiciously like the Italian word for Laundromat, waited 20 years to do anything about it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 5

Time is a Waste of Money

The fifth installment in the series. These people have no idea the fodder they are providing.

Imagine: someone comes up to you and asks to take your picture. “Okay,” you say, because you’re cool like that. But then the person asks you to dress in this gold foil suit. And strike a pose like you are feeling the beginning stages of a hernia. “Now, look at the camera like you know you’re sexy!”

Um…come again?

Now imagine you are showing up at the studio for the eightieth time, to have people take your picture for $5,000 an hour. Same gold foil get-up. Same hernia pose. “Now, look at the camera like you know you are sexy!”

Not so hard anymore, is it?

Now imagine you are the cameraman. Or the guy who holds the big illuminated umbrella for the cameraman. Or the person who buys the magazine with Miss Golden Hernia on the cover.

No matter who you are, if it’s your first time the whole thing seems ridiculous. Why? Because it is. Stick around, though, and everything changes. No matter who you are – the model, the cameraman, the umbrella man or the chump who buys the magazine – this sort of thing goes to your head. “Now you know you are sexy!”

This has got to be the dynamic behind WSJ’s ridiculous magazine. Because if they saw their watch ads like a normal person - or like a person like me - they simply wouldn't publish them. Fortunately for the rest of us they are too into themselves to understand.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 4

Putting the 'nary' in 'luminary'.

Continuing our deconstruction of the Wall Street Journal Magazine, April 2014 Edition, we rate the (un)importance of six so-called "luminaries". But first, a dissertation in marketing in the 21st Century.

Add caption
Enough of this biology-blurring bullshit. Michael Jackson looked like a complete freak trying to make himself look white. So someone please give me a sane explanation for this ad for white shirts (I guess) that features an androgynous mannequin looking out a window, one plastic hand resting above what may be the swell of a breast in a sultry, sexy Does this mean I am a woman? pose.

Michael, you were a stellar performer but you had serious issues. And I’m not even counting the whole McCauley Caulkin thing. For anyone who is drawn by this androgynous marketing trend, hear this: Buying someone’s shirt is not going to help you figure out who you really are let alone deal with it.

How’s that for a theory?

This mannequin seems to be gazing with prescient confusion at the opposite page, where we see WSJ Magazine’s six April “columnists” – so dubbed because they have each managed to write something to fill one column of space. These people are also referred to as luminaries, which compelled me to do a little research – starting with the definition of luminary. This because WSJ’s first columnist, Simon Doonan, is said to be “the creative ambassador for Barneys” and I couldn’t imagine an ambassadorship to a purple dinosaur requiring or resulting in being luminescent.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 3

Have Nasal Dexterity, Will 'Work'.

They say when you lose one sense the others grow more acute. Nowhere is this postulate more evident than in the case of our perfumer friend Frederic Malle, made famous in Part Deux of our WSJ Magazine deconstruction.

This two-page fairy tale about Monsieur Malle would have us believe his super olfactory powers are genetic in nature and nurtured through the child labor imposed on him by his own mother. But considering he would on any day (let alone the day of his big interview with the Wall Street Journal Magazine) wear that suede Bordeaux and ox piss suit with a black-and-white checkered shirt and a tie as wide as the Seine and as depressing as the winter sky over the shores of Calais, it stands to reason that poor eyesight was the true catalyst for his supposed nasal dexterity.

And it is Frere Frederic's nasal dexterity that has brought him his success. Not as a wine connoisseur can tell at a whiff the difference between a 1986 Chateau Cos D'Estournel Saint Estephe and a 1989 Chateau La Conseillante Pomerol, but as the annoying guy two cubicles down who sticks his nose in the you-know-what of every person up and down the supply chain. That color scheme he wears is a tribute to, he says (and a thinly-veiled marketing ploy directed at, he doesn't say) big-time French book publisher (and, we can assume, heavy wine consumer) Editions Gallimard. Malle also endeavors to create fragrances "inspired by real people, such as his aunt or his father's charismatic best friend." I could never claim nasal dexterity, but I'd certainly bet a perfume that smells like anyone's father's best friend is destined for the personal care section at Wal-Mart.

"Mon frere, que ponce vous a.... Excuse moi, Monsieur Bruno,
why do you take ze perfume on ze tongue?..."
Whatever his father's charismatic friend smells like, something Friendophile Freddie is doing apparently works. Because assuming the rest of the article is fair representation of his professional life, there's not much else that one could call work.

Atop the second page of our expose on Frederic Malle we see him enjoying a light breakfast - Fage yogurt, some apple and English breakfast tea - to "maintain a clear palate" it reads. Pardon my French, but if you want a clear palate wouldn't it make more sense to just have a Perrier? There must be something secret in the way he eats that Fage yogurt.

"Do not talk to me about atmospere, zere is an avocado
in my Matryoshka doll!..."
So he gets his clear palate to his office and Skypes with his underlings in Paris - to make sure they haven't gone on strike - and then whispers with his assistant about his upcoming travel plans.

He goes to a fragrance manufacturer to "sniff scents" - next to a colleague who, evidently, prefers to taste them.

After a meeting with an architect, during which he puzzles over the rotten avocado someone left inside his Matryoshka doll, he heads uptown for a well-earned drink with Alejandra Cicognani, a high-profile publicist whose client list is noticeably devoid of any reference to Frederic Malle's perfume empire.

"No, I... Well, I... Yes, I will hold... Oui..."
On closer inspection we see that the photo of Frederic Malle and his drink is devoid of anyone named Alejandra Cicognani.

I'm no perfumer. Nor am I an expert on articles about perfumers. I didn't even know perfumer was a word until I read this article.

And after all this I still don't know what makes a great perfumer. Yet there's Frederic, a WSJ Magazine demi-god and purveyor of sweet-smelling snake oil.

I should get a publicist. Or maybe I just need to start treating my Fage yogurt like the magic potion it is.

NEXT UP: We (meaning I) will break down the comments of WSJ's six "taste luminaries," five of whom show extremely bad taste by talking mainly about themselves.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 2

The Value (or not) of a Name

This post is part of a series inspired by the April 2014 Wall Street Journal Magazine and the silly, self-and wealth-aggrandizing people who, I am guessing, have no idea as to the irony in their blither they put forth. Which makes for great fun for the rest of us. Check out the first part HERE.

When it comes to buying a car there are two ways to decide for sure which one is right for you.

One involves taking a test drive, to get a feel for how the car moves, how it handles, how it cradles your butt and how easily you are able to fiddle with the sound system while blowing through a yellow light.

The other involves how awesome you believe people will think you are because of the kind of car you drive. Think BMW.

Buick's advertisement in the April WSJ Mag involves neither a test drive nor a name that invokes even a slightly improved sense of worth. Instead they offer this compensatory bit of false allure:

The Buick Lacrosse: So comfortable it's like a mini-vacation between work and home.

Really?

Those who equate vacation with comfortable are generally the ones who prefer to spend their vacation stretched out on a chaise longue with a pina colada. In a Buick, this mini vacation would not occur between work and home but rather work and the ICU.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny

Humor Of the Moneyed, By the Moneyed, For the Rest of Us

I've had this Wall Street Journal Magazine sitting on my desk for three weeks. (No, that's not the funny part.) On the cover Scarlett Johansson looks back with an expression somewhere between sultry and amnesic. My wife doesn't like it one bit. Probably because she is not amnesic and thus has a hard time being sultry for me.

The topic of this issue is The State of Taste; below this a teaser that invites us readers in a very upper-class font to find out how Scarlett 'does it her way'. Titillating words, meant to induce the reptilian part of my brain to make me flip through, looking for a flesh-heavy photo spread if not a pull-out centerfold.

I was quite disappointed.

As consolation I know that our esteemed financiers are not letting leggy fantasies of Scarlett Johansson distract them from their main and very real purpose of screwing all of us equally.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

In Memory of March 11, 2011

In between getting the kids ready to leave the house and changing the kids' clothes and diapers to get ready once again to leave the house I'd like to take a minute to share three events taking place in New York City today, to commemorate the 3-year anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake.

1 - Consortium for Japan Relief - http://nyjapan311.org/

2 - Together for 3/11 - https://www.facebook.com/TOGETHERFOR311

3 - "Memorial services for victims of Earthquake and Tsunami" - http://www.jaany.org/monthly_events.html

Three years after the triple disaster over 130,000 people are still displaced. Please help by purchasing my personal account of being there in Fukushima: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0984364714

From Japan, thank you for your support.


Monday, February 24, 2014

In Support of Those Who Remain...

From my kitchen table in New York the events of March 11, 2011 seem a distant memory.

For those still living in Fukushima, for those displaced to other areas, some of them mothers and children separated from their husbands and fathers who remain in Fukushima to work, the rumbling has yet to stop.

Three years on, the rebuilding of towns, of communities, of lives continues - as it does anywhere disaster strikes. This is why I am grateful to be teaming up with Catholic Relief Services in the ongoing effort to give an assist to those who need it most.

Proceeds from the sale of For Now will be passed on to CRS, to help many thousands of people still in need.

So please, grab a copy, and a couple more for your friends. Help spread the word throughout your own circles. Influence others to help by sharing your thoughts on the book in an online review.

And please, keep those who continue to suffer in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sochi Recap #2: Slovenia 5 - Houston 0

The medal count slowly continues to rise in Sochi. And with the US sticking around the top of the leader board millions of Americans continue to scream "We're Number One!" for doing nothing but drinking beer and cheering from their barstools. And while I take comfort in China being out-medaled by countries like Switzerland, Sweden and Austria, I watch the US and Russia beating on countries one-tenth their size and I feel my nationalistic pride mitigated.

In high school sports (as least as far as I can recall - it's been a few years) teams were put in conferences and, particularly for state championship bragging rights, competed in groups based on size of school.

In college, schools are placed in divisions based on a number of factors including size of school, size of football stadium, scholarships granted and suitcases full of cash handed over in back-campus parking lots.

In the Olympics there are no divisions, no groups. Everyone competes on one big global playing field (figuratively speaking). So to speak of medal count as a measure of a country's success can be misleading. If Russia scores more medals than the Netherlands where's the pride, really? Russia is 8 times the size of the Netherlands in terms of population and, here in Sochi, they know all the best parking lots for handing over suitcases full of cash. So when considering the number of medals a country has won, that country's population (in terms of people and suitcases) should also be taken into account.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The 2014 Sochi Games

Update #1 (of at least one)

US snowboarder Danny Someone
showing off his point-scoring Stylus.
I’d love to be in Sochi right now, gadflying about, taking in this suicidal skiing event here and that narcissistic judge-based ‘Look at me fly around on my snowboard’ event there. I’d kill to get paid to post articles that regurgitate the same ‘stunning, heart-pounding’ results everyone else is spewing up while trading my per diem for Sochi cuisine and a non-alcoholic beer (judging from this video, which is about as dry as they make Sochi out to be). I'd even abandon my semi-warm New York home for a room in Sochi, in the athlete village that seems designed to double as a tribute to the failings of communism.

But the reality is I am at home – where I don’t even have a TV. (Technically I do have a TV, a nice flat screen someone down the street put out for the garbage man last month, but I have not subscribed to the dogma of the cable gods so it's only good for my sons' DVDs.) I did recently scored free wi-fi from my neighbor so my son and I could enjoy the Super Bowl on my laptop (giving me my first reason since the inception of The Simpsons to like FOX). However the powers-that-harumph at NBC have a different definition of modern corporate goodwill, magnanimously allowing my fellow Americans and I to view the Games online – exclusively through our cable provider.

So I find myself relegated to this whimsical Internet connection and staccato clips of a (maybe) blond Julie Donaldson still capitalizing on her 2000 Miss Florida USA title as she gets to read about the highlight videos from a teleprompter. Alternatively, I can read thousands of update articles that express no humor or irony in how these Games are playing out.

This is where I feel I must jump in.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

'Happy Wedding!'

The Japanese Wedding Industry

Photo courtesy of Jonelle Patrick (http://jonellepatrick.me/)
My fellow English teacher Yuriko just couldn’t be any more excited about her yellow wedding dress.

She giggled as she dreamed aloud of the church, decorated with flowers. The sound of heavenly music streaming in from somewhere overhead. The pews filled with happy, smiling friends and family (actually they’d only be a quarter full but we’ll get to that).

She stared through me into space, breathing visions of a robed, bible-toting celebrant declaring proudly and warmly (and completely unofficially) that she is now married to the man at her side (a man wearing a tuxedo he got from the men’s dressing room under the church).

Yes, standing before an altar that looks very real, beneath stained glass and surrounded by replicas of holy things, she and her beloved would hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes as their rent-a-priest recited religious platitudes no one in the building – not she nor her new husband, nor the carefully-selected congregation, not even the priest himself – could understand.

Welcome to the meticulous and non-sensical Japanese wedding industry.

‘Sounds nice,’ I said to my starry-eyed co-worker, who had invited me and the rest of the teaching staff to her wedding celebration, supposedly in two weeks. ‘I’m looking forward to it.’

No response. Still starry eyed.

‘So…what did you do this weekend?’ I asked. She was probably busy with all the preparation I assumed went into planning a wedding.

Yuriko’s face brightened. She looked gleefully into my eyes. ‘Oh, I got married!’ Then she grabbed something off a shelf and hurried down the hall.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Look At Us!


If the Huntington, NY town council had a mascot it would be the Greek god Narcissus.

It was in the waning days of August 2012 when I noticed the sign. I was cruising down Larkfield Avenue in East Northport. (A bit of clarification: here on Long Island villages are part of towns are part of bigger towns, it makes no sense,  please accept the weird fact that the town of East Northport is part of the town of Huntington).

John Walsh Memorial Park, read the sign in big proud letters. I wanted to stop and get a better look, both at the park and the sign but there were people behind me - people who, I'd learned in my first hour in town, didn't stop for stop signs. Plus my car had New Jersey plates. I kept moving.

But I had just decided I would be making my home here in this nice little town within a town along the north shore of Long Island. And I figured I'd have the chance soon enough to come back and find out who John Walsh was. I mean, not everyone gets a park named after him, old JW must have been something special, at least around these parts.

Alas, I'd not find out.