Sunday, November 27, 2011

The International Date Line: Your Assport to Jetlag

Think the title doesn't make any sense? I don't care. I've been up 30 hours straight, flying with a six month old back from Japan. You get on the airplane at 6:00 pm then spend the next 12 hours of your life sealed in a tin can in the middle of the night. And I for one would find it easier to sleep through a stampeding herd of elephants than on one of those airplane seats.

My father-in-law died two hours before we touched down two weeks ago. We rushed to the hospital and spent some time with his body. He didn't get to see his last grandchild with his worldly eyes before he died. It still rankles me, but I think he's looking down on us, watching over our kids. Some pretty amazing things happened to us in Japan. The stories will have to wait. I'm just too damn tired. Apparently they do Christmas in Japan, but it's even more annoying than it is in the U.S. I know, it's hard to imagine.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part IV

This is continued from the previous post.

The next day we all went to the hospital.

“Hello, Oto-san,” my wife said, “ how are you today?”

“Good, good.” He then turned to me. “Shane, genki des ka?” How are you?

“I’m good, Oto-san,” I said in English. I know some Japanese, but not enough to converse confidently.  Despite his harsh ways, my wife’s father always treated me as though I were his son and not a son-in-law. “I have something for you.”

My wife translated and he looked at me with anticipation. I pulled a thin book from behind my back and handed it to him. He brushed some of the dirty on top away and some of the blue cover went with it.

Shigekazu froze. His breathing stopped, and except for a slight quivering of his hand, he was a statue. Then slowly he turned the pages.

“Sore wa,” this is, “sore wa,” he said. “This is my high school year book. I didn’t know we still had this,” he finished in Japanese. He turned the fragile pages like they were sheets out of a prized text. “This is me,” he pointed.

We all looked at the photo and then at my oldest son. They looked the same.

He turned more pages. “This is me,” he said. He pointed to a group of boys holding baseball gloves and bats. “I was president of the athletic club at school. This was my friend,” he pointed at a boy on the left. The pages continued to turn and he talked of his childhood in Gobo, a small fishing village, and his love of baseball.


A week ago I talked to my father-in-law on the phone. We hope when we get to Japan he’ll still be alive, but the doctor’s don’t think so. We have a new baby he’s never seen.

“Oto-san,” I said to him in broken Japanese, “I love you. Try hard. We’re coming.”

He didn’t say anything, but I could feel emotion weighing down the silence between us. I handed the phone back to my wife. She spoke for a few seconds before turning back to me.

“He said he wants to see you one last time,” she said.


As I write this I'm still in America, but I’ll have been there several days to a week when you read this. Pray for us, that all goes as well as can be expected.

This concludes the Crack of the Bat series.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part III

This story is continued from the previous day's post.

My wife and I sat in the kitchen of her childhood. The house around us could have fit into our garage back home. Dust blanketed everything above my mother-in-law’s reach to clean, which was a lot. At eighty four and under five feet tall, it was a wonder she kept the house tidy at all. Stacks of magazines reached from floor to ceiling in the halls and around the kitchen. Canned goods with expiration dates from twenty years ago sat under the table. Painting supplies populated random areas; piled on the chair, sitting in the refrigerator, obscuring the television. With three kids, 10 and under, it was an avalanche waiting to happen.

“What do we do?” my wife asked me.

“We roll up our sleeves and we clean,” I replied.

“There’s just so much.” She looked dazed.

Weeks of cleaning followed. We went to the dump tens of times. We had heated arguments over dilapidated furniture and moth eaten clothes that hadn’t been worn by my wife’s mother in thirty years. We accidently threw away a thousand dollars and my in-laws bank books randomly hidden in an old newspaper. And, the whole time my father-in-law was in the hospital. We made the trek daily from Iwade to the capital of Wakayama prefecture, Wakayama City. Shigekazu would be glad to see us, but tired easily of the kid’s energy. When one of them got a cold, he asked us not to come anymore, because he didn’t want to get sick. It might be understandable now as I look back, but after traveling across the world to see him, it seemed odd at the time.

I transitioned to cleaning the yard when the house started to get into shape. A jungle of roses outgrew their borders beautifully. The house had structures on either side, but to the front and back are large rice paddies. Dragon flies flitted through the new green rice blades, while frogs made a deafening chorus at night. Iwade is considered a rural community, even if the population is half a million. That is Japan for you in a nutshell.

Cicadas chirped incessantly as I approached the one thing I had dreaded since arriving. A large shed, fifteen feet by fifteen feet, sat like a demon in the back yard. When the floor had been completely covered decades ago, Shigekazu laid two-by-fours over that junk and created a new level. This had continued until the space was bulging from floor to ceiling, but the time had come to clean it.

Throwing out their bank books and money had traumatized me. I went through the storage shed as though every item might contain a treasure. It was painstaking work and disgusting, to be frank. The roof had leaked and bizarre bugs made it their home. My in-law’s nephew worked at a soap factory and so they had boxes of laundry detergent that looked centuries old, the leaking roof turning some into indistinguishable masses of gelatinous goo. Containers of moth eaten books came out of the shed, and then I found it, pure treasure; a treasure worth more than the bounty Ieyasu would have offered to unify Japan without war. It was something that might make all the work worth it; something that might give a dying man solace.

The next day we all went to the hospital.

This story is continued in tomorrow's post.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part II

This is continued from the previous day's post.
Years later a man probed the inside of a grand piano, center stage at an empty concert hall. There hadn’t been many days in which Shigekazu hadn’t looked back, and wished he’d nodded to the slow ball, or the slider. But, this day he hadn’t thought of baseball once.

“The piano tuning must be perfect, Shigekazu-san.” The concert violinist admonished. “This piece is like a love song between the violin and the piano, neh?” Her lithe fingers played in the air to emphasize the words.

“Of course, I’m almost finished.” Shigekazu smiled at the violinist’s analogy. His fingers glided over the strings. He didn’t use tuning forks. He didn’t use electrical devices. He tuned by what his ear told him. He felt the vibration of the sound board in his bones, through the air, as it circulated through the ground. It was why he had been called down to Wakayama for the special appearance of the national virtuoso.

After a slight tweak, Shigekazu slid free. “There. It is finished.”

“Let us see,” the violinist countered. “Hachiro, come and play with me. The concert is in less than an hour.”

A thin man deposited himself at the piano and began playing an evocative melody. The violinist retrieved her instrument and immediately fell into a trance of concentration. Her bow slid across the strings and the voices of angels filled the hall. Shigekazu listened, and consumed the performance as though it were just for him.

They finished and the women opened glistening eyes. “Arigato gozaimasu, Shigekazu-san. Arigato gozaimasu,” thank you, thank you. “It is perfect, absolutely perfect.”

“Doitashimashite,” Shigekazu replied. It would be the one thing he would remember above all others in his life. He packed up his piano tuning tools and went back to the small town of Iwade where he lived with his wife. They had no children at the time, even though they were in their mid-forties.

It was a few years later when his wife unexpectedly became pregnant with a child, a little girl. For what reason we are left to guess, but he enjoyed beer, sake’ and the bars in Osaka. He wasn’t home often and left his wife and child to often wonder when he might be home. The girl they sent to America to study at the age of fifteen. She stayed there, went to an American university and met an American boy she married. I was this boy, almost twelve years ago. A couple years after my marriage to his daughter, Shigekazu was diagnosed with liver cancer, a common ailment of people with Hepatitis C who also have a propensity for drinking. The doctors treating him exploited every possible surgery and natural remedy to extend his life. Last year he became a permanent resident at the hospital by all common measures. My wife and I took our family to Japan to see him in the heat of the 2010 summer.  It was not a vacation.

This story will be continued in tomorrow's post.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part I

Okay, so Elisa has asked us to open up a vein and spill blood for this blogfest, the one promoting the launch of her book, The Golden Sky. She said something about sharing a story of loss I think it was. If that’s what she wants then let’s go.

I may have already mentioned in a previous post that I am currently in Japan. My loss hasn’t happened yet, but it is imminent, like a boulder teetering on the edge of a cliff. I am in the land of the rising sun for this reason exactly. I get ahead of myself though. Let’s go back to a different time, to a different place, where a young Japanese man eats breakfast with his family.


“Shigekazu, when is your first minor league baseball game?” his mother asked and ladled a second helping of Ojiya, rice soup, into his bowl. The other three kids eyed the helping with hunger. It had always been the same. Their oldest brother, and the most successful among them, received special privileges.

“Tomorrow, Oka-san.” Shigekazu told his mother with respect. He slurped the soup, not giving the disproportionate size of his bowl a second thought.

“Will your sponsor from Yamaha Piano be there?” she continued.

“Yes, Oka-san.”

“What is your stipend again?” she rhetorically asked and eyed the other children.

“Issen yen per month.”

“Wonderful, just wonderful,” she crooned. The family finished breakfast in silence and Shigekazu headed out for the junior college.


A roar of local support funneled down onto the diamond, circled around the bases and emboldened the pitcher on the mound. Shigekazu rubbed the ball with his hands and contemplated the pitch he would throw. The batter dug his back foot in at the plate. His bat swung lazily in the strike zone, his eyes probing his adversary for any sign of predictive body language.

Shigekazu held the ball behind his back and eyed the batter. The catcher signaled for a slow ball, but Shigekazu shrugged it off. The pitcher already knew what he wanted to throw. He wouldn’t strike out the league’s best batter with guile; he would do it with flaming speed. The catcher called for a slider, and the recommendation was shrugged off again. The third base coach groaned. This kid on the mound had a mind of his own. The catcher flashed his fingers for a fast ball and Shigekazu nodded.

The human cannon went into the wind up like a coiling snake. His chorded arm twisted at an irregular angle behind his back and then catapulted forward. The ball launched from the fingers gripping the curling seam like blasting caps. The batter grinned, he had anticipated the pitch.  The bat came around and contacted the ball like a sledgehammer. The Shinto gods wailed as the energy drove the ball away from the bat and directly at the mound.

There was no time to react, Shigekazu still rocked forward in his follow through as the ball struck him in the face, on the nose. Blood splashed to the ground and the pitcher flew back as though his life had been ripped from his body. The coach ran to the mound with a bucket and propped up his star player. Blood filled the vessel from Shigekazu’s nose. His mother wailed in the stands in grief. Her son’s career as a baseball player was over. He would need a blood transfusion because of the accident. Health policies in Japan were not what they should have been during this time and he contracted Hepatitis C from the contaminated blood he received.


Come back tomorrow for the continued story.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fatal Heart

I'm in Japan, and my business here leaves me in a foul mood.

Do you ever feel something so strongly your heart swells in your chest, your sides bulge out, choking your breath? Do you fell the hurricane twisting inside, barely contained, seeking release? It rages. It roars, the unfettered beast.  Do you lock yourself in closets, proofed against sound and then yell yourself horse when no one's around?

Sometimes, I admit, I feel like this. Not always, but sometimes. Unfortunately for you, when I do, I write stuff like the following.

This not part of the Middle Damned book, but I imagine it is the beginning of an ancillary tale to be told there.

The hate rose from his pores like the stench of garlic the day after an all-you-can-eat scampi buffet. The smell impregnated the walls, saturated the polished concrete floor, frosted the solitary mirror on the wall. He hated and woke to the reality of a frail human body, incapable of being loved. The textured ceiling swirled with dim shadows cast by the nightlight he kept in the room. His mind created faces in the contrasting light and uneven surface. They mocked him. His soul descended the last degree into his body and he smelled the sweat beaded on his brow, the urine on his pants, the feces squeezing between his buttocks and the metal dentist's chair he sat in. It was always the same after a night in the Spirit Slip. Although only tenuously tied to the physical form while on the spiritual plane, the body reacted violently to the power expended there. The well used porcelain tub in the corner would be the receptacle of the waste. A hose would wash down the chair and then he'd squeegee the remnants down a drain.

A loud bang sounded on the double-dead-bolted door to the room. "Dad, what're you doingaaa?" a girl's voice bled with an incredulous inflection, "I'm going to be late for school. Dad, I have to go in early today. Remember?" his daughter Iris called.

A juicy, sucking sound annoyed him as he peeled away from the chair and he reminded himself. It's just another day.

The ritual cleansing brought a measure of comfort even though conducted in a rush. He almost felt like he belonged in the body by the end, but not quite. He opened the metal door and faced his daughter, who must have nearly had her nose pressed against the panel when it was shut. An open mouthed scowl destroyed her usually beautiful face, and he observed her tongue fidgeting with an upper molar angrily. He couldn't help it, she made him smile. He saw his little girl, regardless of the layered goth makeup around her eyes.

"Good, morning Iris," he said cheerfully.

"Good morning? Ugh." She stomped away. "I'll be in the car."

Dent Jolman followed his daughter, but stopped in the living room. The big picture window admitted a bounty of light. That was where the demon had entered to feed off of Iris in the Spirit Slip. For the demons, windows were the only way in or out. How he had managed to leave the drapes open before going to 'bed' in the safe room was a mystery. Maybe Iris opened them during the night, but why would she do that? Either way, the oversight had nearly been fatal for both of them. The car horn blared loudly, reminding him where he was going. He left the house and brought a very grumpy Iris to school.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Boss From Hell: Part II

Continued from yesterday.

The Boss From Hell

"Don't - say - 'I'," The Boss slowly enunciated. "You haven't thought of anything. You only do what you do because I first told you to do it. I told you to model the system. I told you to run the simulation."

My mind raced to understand the social ramifications of these comments in front of the senior staff. Accusing eyes stabbed from all around. "Well... When, we," I stumbled over the word, "ran the simulation, the benefits of controlling the torque evaporated in the extra energy required to change the gear ratio."

"What do you mean 'we'?" The Boss asked.

This was bad. "You just said..."

"I didn't come to that conclusion. Did anyone here come to that conclusion?" The Boss rotated his white haired head like a vulture looking for fresh meat.

"I'm just saying that the simulation indicated the power balance is negative and-" I flubbed again.

"What did we say?" The Boss cut off my words, and shook his head as if correcting a recalcitrant child.

"When the simulation finished, the post processing algorithm indicated a negative result," I said, avoiding personal pronouns entirely.

"Then what did you do?" He baited me.

"The data yielded an interesting perspective and then you came into my office," I told him.

"Who gave you the right to draw such volatile conclusions?" his face reddened.

"The data did." I challenged.

"The data is not in control," a vein throbbed in his forehead.

"No, physics is in control," I whispered load enough for all to here.

"NO! I am in control," he yelled and struck the table with a fist.

The rest of the meeting preceded in a similar manner, and I learned I was nothing to the man. I was a tool, a dog to be slapped down if I dared bare my teeth. I elaborated on the findings, describing the data, or the keyboard ,or physics itself as if they were Greek Gods announcing truths from on high. It infuriated him, but I didn't get fired. I don't know why. I suppose he preferred no one get credit rather than share it with someone else.

The story is a fitting analogy for the vast majority of us in the American Middle Class. Sometimes I feel stuck here, like it were a prison or something. The american ideal seems to be to breach the gap and become one of the financial elite. It is ingrained in us that every american has the opportunity to do great things, if only you are willing to work hard. I still believe this is true to a certain degree. On the other hard, it is harder to do so. And yet another part of me wonders what being in such vapid company as the ultra rich would really feel like. Bankers producing no physical products, real estate speculators owning nothing but the sale, Hedge Fund Managers betting against the economy as the markets dive? It is not appealing and I have resigned myself to the inevitable, to the ranks of the Middle Damned, a vanishing breed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Boss From Hell

So, what the hell is the Middle Damned blog? In the end it's just a lame attempt to promote a book I'm writing. And what is that book's name? Why, it's the "Middle Damned". But, at a deeper level there lurks a deeper meaning, as is true in the book as well.

My boss stalked the halls of the office, patrolling, his radar set to detect disparaging remarks. He whistled, like the preacher from Poltergeist, an off key drone strategically putting those in range on edge. At one time a brilliant engineer, his greatest asset was now the power of manipulation. Cultivated over a forty year career of dealing with government bureaucracy and greedy investment capitolists, he would get your mother to feed you to the lions on a dare.

I hadn't been with this particular division of the company long. I'd transferred from Tucson, up to Salt Lake City in order to be closer to family. Changing jogs is an adjustment, but this turned out to be something else entirely. I'd always prided myself on being honest, regardless of the risk. This attitude had worked well in my previous position, and suited my personality, but as I was learning, some people don't want to hear the truth.

My boss, The Boss, looked for the grand invention to enshrine his memory into the annals of history. The Boss searched for this one ephemeral thing, in the twilight of life. He'd already accomplished amazing things from a business perspective, but he wanted more, believed of himself better.

We worked toward developing an infinitely variable gear ratio. In essence, when given an input power this device would transform the output into any desired torque or force desired. It's a bit like saying you want to build a perpetual motion machine, but he believed. I had been tasked with developing and testing in the computer the physics of the invention.

One day the dissonant whistle approached from down the hall. The Boss walked into my office.

"What's the simulation saying today?" The Boss asked.

"That physics won't be denied," I replied enigmatically.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you can't get something for nothing. The power required to change the gear ratio basically wipes out any advantage of varying the output torque," I tried cautiously.

The Boss turned beat red. "Bring your results to the conference room so we an peer review the results," and he walked out of the room.

It was going to be bad, the stench of ire circling in his wake told me as much. I uploaded my simulation to the company repository and headed to the conference room. It had only been a few minutes, but The Boss had already assembled every senior engineer in the building. PhDs and thirty-year-veterens inspected me with pity as I walked in. I took the only seat left, across from The Boss.

"Okay Shane, so you think there's something wrong with my idea?" The Boss began.

"Well, when I ran the simulation it-"

"Wait," The Boss interrupted, "don't say 'I'."

"Okay... I, umm, aah, don't understand what you mean."

I started to panic. The meeting felt like a witch hunt or something where someone ended up tarred and feathered at the end. Come back tomorrow to see how things turned out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Siamese Twins

It would seem the blog war has escalated and Elisa now has a lieutenant to lob verbal bombs for her, Melynda, going under the moniker Craziness Abounds of the blog

Crazy world

 You may have noticed that Craziness Abounds has another blog where she describes how she lost 110 lbs.

How I lost 110 pounds

And of course there is Elisa's mammoth-success of a blog.

What she has failed to mention in this blog is that the 110 lbs she lost was actually her conjoined twin. And, you guessed it, her twin is Elisa. I didn't want to pull these out, but here are some little known pictures of the two of them before the operation to separate them in Taiwan.

There really is a reason why Elisa and Melynda are the butt of all the jokes.

They've preserved their looks rather well, don't you think? Is that a penis?!

My! What a long tongue Melynda has. (snicker)

Relaxing in the waiting room in Taiwan, before being separated. It was a happy-sad day.

And of course, in their youth on the farm.

I debated whether or not to put this one in. After all, everyone should be allowed to make the mistake of posing for a racy Siamese Twins calendar during their college years.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 3

This post concludes the Total Prankonic Reversal series.

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 1

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 2

I had had grand aspirations of deluding Elisa into thinking she had car problems with the two-way radio in her van. This went over like a lead balloon. I almost quit then, I almost packed it in and called off the rest. I'm glad I didn't, then I wouldn't have known I'd already pranked myself something terrible.

"Hi, mom," I said through the cell phone. "Are you ready to do this?"

"Yeah, but I'm a little nervous," she said.

"No worries. You go in, plant the radios and then give me a signal at the front picture window. I'll start making noises after that. Try and get something on your camera's video," I instructed her.

"Okay, I'll see you after it's over. Bye."


The overhead lighting glared accusingly from above the freeway as my phone rang. "Hello?" I answered.

"Hi Shane," Elisa said. "That was pretty funny."

"Yeah, you knew right away though."

"True, but I was afraid to look under the seat. But hey, I was wondering. So, the whole thing today, it was just a ruse to get the walkie-talkie into my van."

"Well, no, not exactly." I deprecated. I choked, unsure what to say.

"Anyway, that was a good one. I'll talk to you later, Okay?"


When I arrived at Elisa's house I parked down a cross street where I could see the front picture window. My mother's car had pulled into the driveway a minute before. She'd walked into the house, glancing furtively from side to side, looking guilty as hell. A couple more minutes passed and my mother, the master of subtlety, walked in front of the window and practically starting doing jumping jacks. Her hands waved through the air like she were doing the backstroke across the room. It was the most conspicuous sign I'd ever seen.

"What the heck is she doing?" I chuckled.

I decided to wait another 10 minutes to throw Elisa off the scent, but apparently mom had something else in mind. She was back and gesturing out the window in a fit of epilepsy.

"Oh great googly moogly," I groaned and dialed my mom's phone number.

"Hellooo." She answered sweetly. "Do it now. Do it now." She continued in an emphatic whisper. "Oh no, Cade's found one of the radios. Do it now!" she practically yelled.

I hung up the phone and started mooing over the radio. In the house my mom says Cade and Elisa frantically searched for the one remaining radio. The radio in my hand crackled to life, but not with my bovine serenade. Cade squealed in response to my mooing, like a pig wallowing in cow turd. The prank was over, or so I thought. I drove the half block to Elisa's house from my look out point.

Elisa stood in the driveway, her hand on a jauntily cocked hip. "I couldn't figure out what in the heck was going on. It smelled like mom was trying to prank me, but I couldn't figure out why. Mom said she was in the neighborhood and wanted to come over to visit, but then said she was half an hour away."

I smiled at our mom as she came down the entry stairs. "Yeah, she's a sly one."

Elisa turned to her, "So you didn't really come over to visit, huh?"

It was then I noticed Elisa 's eyes had that tired, red look after having just cried. It was then I realized I had just pranked myself worse than I had ever hoped to get Elisa.

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