Tag Archive | idiots

Return of the Coffee Review: A Maxim Adventure

I’ve been staying up way too late recently. I’ve also been able to sleep in very late but that’s mainly due to a sharp decline in my “working schedule” due to a number of students either moving away, going on long trips, or just…vanishing into the maw of the city. Which means they don’t answer my emails. But I’m happy and healthy and progressing in things I love which is nice.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, coffee.

Now since most of my business takes place in coffee shops I’ve become quite an expert on coffee. Like did you know that most coffee shops call the wringings from the cleaning rag a “small regular coffee”? Now you know.

So usually I get tea at most places. Being from the South, however, I have an affinity for ice tea which takes far more work at home to produce. (Wait for the tea to cool? Why I never!) This lack of willingness to exert any effort on these beverages is what first led me to the idea of the “instant” coffee sticks. You might remember when I reviewed those with the Blendy coffee stick brand. In fact as I write this I am drinking from a cup of 1/2 calorie Blendy blend brew. Which, hilariously, is in fact literally only about half as much powder as a normal stick. Cheeky bastards.

I was in the store the other day when this other brand of coffee sticks caught my eye because they were on sale. For about 10¥ less than the Blendy brands. So, thinking there might be a blog post in this somewhere I snatched up a box of each type they had on offer. Not the best idea perhaps given my financial prospects lately but we have to press forward. Read More…

Flash Fiction Challenge: Alliteration

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge. This time was to come up with a title that has alliteration in it and then write out about 1000 words from that. I pulled “Jimmy’s Job” out of thin air while taking a shower. The story below took a little longer than that, but not by much. Enjoy and comment if it so pleases you.

Jimmy’s Job

Jim pressed down on his truck’s loose brakes and screeched it to a halt. He’d let the pads wear down well past the warning sliver of metal that scraped against his wheels like fingernails on chalkboard mixed with a touch of reverb. Jim had gotten used to the sound over the weeks. Money was tight these days and he had better things to spend a hundred dollars or so on than a new set of brakes. The old truck still stopped when he needed it and that was good enough for him.

Jim popped open the door and gave it a shove. The heavy steel door swung open, locking its hinge with a well made ‘clunk’. Dust and the stale smell of old foam padding rushed up through Jim’s nose as he climbed out of the seat into the hot summer sun. He slammed the door shut before moving around to the bed of the truck. His mud-flecked boots crunched over the dry patches of grass that clung to life amidst the rock-choked clay dust this field called soil.
In the back of his rusted yet dependable pick-up were all the tools and self respecting man of the South needed and kept. Two shovels both long and short handled, caked in dried mud and clay. A length of sturdy rope and a coil of wire. A battered toolbox. Two car batteries that were dead and one that still worked, probably. Last but not least, a plastic cooler full of beer. Jim grabbed the handle of the cooler and slid it towards him from the center of the truck bed. He popped open the top and fished around in the icy stew inside until he came up with a can of booze.

Jim walked over to the back of his truck and then leaned against the tailgate. He snapped the beer open. The foam boiled up from the mouth of the can as Jim stood there for a moment, looking out across the field. The rough land stretched out for at least a mile, in Jim’s estimation, before it was swallowed up by a pine forest at the edge of the property line.
Jim drank his beer as he listened to the cicadas kick up a strong whine against the breeze that blew in from God knows where. Once he finished he grabbed the long handled shovel from the back of his truck and set about digging the hole.

Jim was about half way done with the ditch and close to two beers further along when he saw the dust cloud rising up from the old access road that led into the field. He glanced at his watch, a beat up plastic digital number that wasn’t fancy but did the job of telling time pretty well. According to it, Jim’s appointment was two hours early.

He kept digging as the cloud drew closer, but Jim didn’t stress himself. Another pair of hands had almost arrived after all. After about two or three more bites at the rough dirt with his spade, Jim’s appointment rolled into the field on a pick-up with a slight bend to its axel. The front left corner lifted up and down as it came to a slow stop near the back of Jim’s truck. After it came to a rest in the hot dust and the crackle of the emergency brake split the air, the driver shoved open his door then stepped out.

The man was too fat for pleasant euphemisms and wore a pair of mud splattered overalls that strained against his bulk.
“Ain’t it finished yet?” the overalled man said, punctuating his displeasure with a healthy spit of tobacco juice.
“You’re early,” Jim said, not taking his eye off the widening pit or his shovel. “Cooler of beers in the back there.” Jim jerked his head in the direction of the cheap plastic container.
“You’re welcome to one if you like,” he said, “Might take me another hour or two to finish here. ‘Course there’s another shovel back there if you’re in a hurry.”
The heavy man waddled over to the edge of the pick-up bed and peered over.
“Reckon I’ll have a beer first then help you with the pit.”
Jim just nodded and wiped the sweat off his brow before turning back to the work.

An hour later the fat man and Jim had made a decent pit. Six feet deep as is standard.
“Help me out with him,” the fat man said, “Starting to turn in this heat.”
They swatted at the flies, thick as quarters they were, that swarmed around the burden sitting heavy in the back of the fat man’s truck.
“Where’d you find this one?” Jim asked.
“Down near the river,” the fat man said as he and Jim grabbed the dingy cloth that wrapped the bundle and slid it across the rusty truck bed.
The two men grabbed each end of the load and crab-walked it over to the lip of the pit they’d dug. On a three count they pitched it into the depths. Some of the canvas tarp came loose, exposing a patch of dark skin here, blood-matted hair there. The fat man spat a final disgrace on the bundle as it sank into the cool sandy clay at the bottom of the hole. The thick glob of nicotine laced phlegm splattered against the shroud.

The fat man in the overalls patted Jim on the back before returning to his rusty vehicle. As his client drove away down the dusty road, Jim went to his cooler to get the last beer. He stood there as he drank it, looking down into another unfortunate ending to a day’s work. When he was finished, he chucked the crumpled can into the pit and slowly set about filling it in once more.

30 Days Sober

I’ve always had a bit of a reputation as a heavy drinker since I came to Tokyo. It’s not hard to do, the city and the culture support alcohol in a big way. In fact it’s legal and easy to walk into a nearby store, buy a beer, and crack it on the street. No one will bat an eye. I can’t think of a place back home that would offer “all you can drink” specials. Sure it’s only two hours but a guy like me can put away quite a lot.

And there the problems start. Looking objectively, I’ve wrapped a lot of my personality in drinking. Alcohol lowers the drawbridge of my mind and the hordes of my thoughts and emotions a let loose. For the most part, it starts with the jesters, gamboling and dancing. Throwing confetti and pies, doing cartwheels. Entertaining for awhile perhaps. Depending on the mood and the room maybe the philosophers and political pundits come out instead. More often than not the night ends there. The drawbridge closes as the jesters and philosophers return to their rest.

Some nights do not end soon enough.

Should the bridge stay down, the chains snap, darker things come out. Swirling shapes cloaked in shadow with swords made of pain. These dark creatures flood out in a great tide, cutting down the jesters. Snickt

Lately I think I’ve lost control of these dark creatures. More and more come out when they are set loose. Frankly I’m rather surprised that I still have friends. Recently I’ve been literarily picked up off the street in Roppongi and taken care of by good people I’ve only known a few months. I’ve yelled my problems at my friends in the dead of night and they’ve listened and tried to help me even though I’m beyond remembering anything.

I’ve been a difficult person to be around because I’ve hated myself for reasons I know and others I can’t put a finger on. Far too often I’ve tried to drown that hate in booze. But hate is a strong swimmer.

I suppose that part of how I justify this behavior to myself is by saying “writers drink”. For most people they can probably control their intake, know when enough is enough. I can not. I’ve been told this several times. There’s a point for me when drinking suddenly becomes automatic. I’ve recognized this myself but I can’t stop doing it.

Last night I blacked out and did and said a lot of crazy things. Luckily in the grand scheme of things I’m a pretty decent drunk. Don’t start fights. My drunk texts are usually spelled correctly and legible if absurd. I might break things sometimes. My problem is I don’t remember much of anything after a certain point. A risky move in Jenga is about the last point that the time line is cohesive. This morning I had to call in sick to one of my jobs. I could barely drink a cup of coffee without spilling it on myself. I often pride myself on being a logical, thinking, intelligent person, so why do I keep doing stupid, stupid things?

Hence the title of this post. I’m going to go the next 30 days without any alcohol. I was able to quit smoking for the last two months so perhaps I can do this too. I’ll try at least before I’m forced to remove “functioning” from “alcoholic” and replace it with “full blown.”

Though I doubt I’ll say much more about it on this blog. I already wrote about my struggles with myself in the story “Brand New Monster”. In case you didn’t figure it out. If you haven’t read it give it a look, I wrote it in a fugue state bombed out on a bottle of wine. People seem to like it.

For those of you that like to worry (you know who you are), I’m not planning on hurting myself, on purpose. But every time I wake up at home without remembering how I got there is a time I wonder how I didn’t fall in front of a train or down a long staircase. Drunk autopilot I guess.

Anyway, I also don’t want to talk much about my decision in person either. I’m not writing this as a cliche cry for help. I’m not looking for that kind of attention. (What? A blog on the internet not a cry for attention? Are you high??)

I just feel more comfortable jabbering into the aether.

I need to slay the darkness within, or at least lock it up tighter, banish it to a dimension of gold and fuzzy kittens. These 30 days will hopefully help me to do it, but I am the one that will have to strap on the armor and stab the night with a gleaming sword. It is my burden. My trip to Mordor. My overwrought metaphor/copy-write violation.

There are people far worse off than me. I understand that. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have a problem. I’m just extremely lucky to have friends that will pick me up when I fall down. Thank you those that know.

Stay tuned.

(PS: Payday is tomorrow, I’ll count the 30 days as when my next paycheck comes. Goal is November 25.)

PSS: Here’s a really goofy video I like. 

Customer Service in Japan.

Customer service in Japan? It’s the best in the world right? I call bullshit. While for the most part and predominately in certain industries (sit down food service is some of the best I’ve ever experienced) customer service in Japan is decent. However there are some things endemic to Japanese culture that crap the bed when it comes to customer service. To be fair, these things are based on my own experiences as a long time foreigner living in Tokyo with middling Japanese ability. I can handle normal conversations but complicated matters like banks and cell phone contracts escape me. But that will come later in the list.

1. Keigo

Keigo is a form of hyper-polite Japanese that most people in customer service of any kind seem required under pain of death to use. The problem is keigo is almost an entire different language, with different verbs for the same actions and peculiar tricks of grammar as well. English does have its polite form and casual/rude form.

“What ya want?” vs. “What would you like to order?”

However in Japanese the difference is closer to:

“What would you like to order?” vs. “What consumptionary would you deign to partake in this anon.”

My Japanese friends have expressed to me just how frustrating this form of conversation can be even for them. To a person with my level of language ability it’s like moon-bat gibberish.

2. Most Japanese people, who don’t actively seek to, are deathly afraid of speaking English.

Lots of Japanese people love to speak English. Those people are great. They pay for my food, shelter and booze. However, a great many of them act like having to speak English is equal to having fire ants poured into their underwear. Given that, it is surprising how many of these people take jobs at essential and complicated services (i.e. cell phone stores) that guarantee interaction with non-native Japanese speakers at some point. And most non-native speakers default to English because languages like French or Chinese are far less common in these types of customer service jobs.

I’ve been harping about Softbank for days now because they seem to be full of this. I was kicked out (read: politely suggested to go to another store that is known for having English speakers) because the staff gave up trying to communicate with me. I know in America we have the stereotype of “Learn English or Get Out” but I’ve never heard a story of someone straight up being refused service because of a language problem. That didn’t have an undercurrent of actual racism that is. In America we’ll at least try to talk to you like a baby first. I’d take that over getting brushed aside any day.

3. No one can break the rules ever.

In the U.S typically you can’t outright haggle over price. Unless it’s a used car dealer. But even there, extra value is to be gained through extras. The “I’ll throw in a free air freshener” bit. Or perhaps the contract on something can be made a little more forgiving for long time customers.

In Japan, fuck that idea right in it’s ear. I once had my wallet and bankbook stolen from my place of work. So I have no money and no way to get more. I went to the bank with a student of mine and we tried to get things sorted out. We started at a desk clerk and eventually worked our way up to the branch manager. Why? Because even though I could prove my identity beyond a shadow of a doubt, (passport and inkan, gaijin card was in stolen wallet) even though I had a police report about my stolen items, even though I made clear I had zero money and they even checked my account to prove the thief hadn’t gotten any of my cash, the bank wouldn’t let me withdraw anything without my bank book. Which they graciously said they could rush me, in a week.

A week. With no money. In the most expensive city in the world. All because it was against the rules.

Luckily it worked out in the end, my student loaned me money. Borrowing cash is one of my absolute least favorite things to do ever though.

To sum up I’ll leave on a positive story. I recently opened an account with Shinsei Bank. Ranked behind the three largest Japanese banks, Shinsei has decided to be the English friendly bank. Very few of the staff actually speak English but when I went in there none of the problems I mentioned manifested itself. The best thing was the staff spoke simple Japanese, had all of the difficult information ready to go in English, and walked me through the process without getting scared or frustrated. It took all of 30 minutes and I had my new account. No questions about my visa status, no difficult Japanese, no bullshit.

It was a wonderful customer service experience. If the rest of Tokyo could follow their lead, then this article wouldn’t be necessary.

If you have your own stories, good or bad, leave them in the comments! (^_^)

Tales of Saucery

This is going to sound stupid but my co-worker said “Saucery” in relation to drinking alcohol and this idea got stuck in my brain until I could excise it with a rusty scalpel. Basically it’s a standard swords and sorcery fantasy type story except magic is powered by alcohol with properties dictated by what kind of booze is consumed and the tropes associated with drunks of that type.

Let me know in the comments if I should pursue this idea further or kill it with fire then shoot it out back Old Yeller style.

Saul the Learner took a heavy swig of his whiskey. His teacher coughed in disapproval. Saul downed the rest of the glass and threw it against the dusty stone wall. The heavy crystal shattered into a billion sparkling shards of what-the-hell-man?

Grimder the Lush nodded and motioned for Saul to continue. Saul staggered around a little as the whiskey set fire to his belly. He twisted his fingers around, tracing out the hidden lines of Saucery, the liquor fueled magic. The sparkling motes of glass began to swirl into a small tornado. Saul coaxed the whirlwind closer.

“What’s up?” he said. The glass tornado rushed Saul and engulfed him in it’s glittering cloud.

“Dude! What the hell man?” Saul shouted. The shards burst outwards covering the room. Everywhere they landed a blade of grass began to grow. Soon, the entire laboratory looked like a verdant meadow. Saul scratched his head and turned to look at his teacher.

Grimder sat in his chair. Grass and colorful wildflowers covered him as a dusting of heavy snow. He stroked his long beard, that was starting to attract bees from somewhere, and took a sip of wine.

“Not bad,” he said. Grimder finished his wine. He set the glass down before withdrawing a small piece of cheese from his pocket. He nibbled on the cheese.

“This goes well with the wine,” he said. As he spoke the incantation the lab returned to as it once was, the grass swirling away out a window.

“You have a talent for the Wiskeydrunk school, young Saul,” Grimder said, “A pity you haven’t found a way to make it do something useful.”

“Forgive me Master Grimder,” Saul said, “But I always found whiskey to be too strong for my taste. Perhaps if you were to show me a little of the Wineandcheesery you are so powerful in,” he let the suggestion hang in the air, eyeing the bottle of rich red wine on the table. Grimder laughed the laugh of a parent whose child asked to have a taste of beer. Kind, yet condescending.

“In good time young Saul,” the old man said, “Wineandcheesery is one of the highest arts in all Saucery. You will learn in due time.” Grimder stood from chair, hands on his lower back. He muttered and cursed to himself before shuffling over to his bottle of wine. “I think it is best I retire for the evening. You should find young Ergol and go over your Beertrips before doing the same.”

“I’d rather go into town and practice my Whoremancy,” Saul said as the old Winester was at the door.

“What did you say?” Grimder asked.

“Nothing, master. I’ll go to the kitchens and get a six-pack right away.”

The old mage squinted his eyes in thought. “Better make it a case. Ergol needs the practice.” Grimder left the laboratory, drinking from the bottle as he went.

 

Saul finished his second beer and dropped the bottle on the floor. He practiced making a small wooden puppet dance on a small silver stripper pole. Ergol kicked the door open and screamed his greeting.

“WOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

“Wooo,” Saul said. He made the puppet clean up some of the dirty dishes left on the table. Ergol took a seat next to him on the couch.

“What’s the matter roomie? No wine again?” Saul didn’t respond except to crack open another bottle of beer the puppet brought him.

“Well don’t worry, bro,” Ergol said. “I managed to sneak something you’re going to love!” He pulled a dusty bottle of amber liquid from a rough sack. Saul’s eyebrows lifted.

“Is that?”

Ergol held the bottle to the light and shook it. Inside a small worm danced on the eddy currents in the liquid. Saul jumped to his feet then scrambled over the back of their couch. He hit the floor with a heavy thud. A few moments later he popped back over the edge, two short glasses in one hand.

“Shots!” Ergol and Saul said at the same time.

An hour and half a bottle later the room was dark. The candles had burned low, wax pooling on table tops, chairs, the floor, empty bottles. Ergol was passed out on the couch, limbs splayed in each of the four cardinal directions. Saul walked in slow circles in the center of the room.

“Think you’re so tough?” he said between swigs of the amber liquid. The candles flickered. Saul began to gesture with his free hand. He spilled some of his drink on the floor has he continued to circle.

“You’re not so tough,” he said. The candles flickered sharply and there came a low rumble. Ergol shifted in his sleep as if he were having a bad dream.

“You want to start something?” Saul shouted to the darkness. That turned out to be the wrong thing to say. The candles blew out. The air became thick and humid. Saul took another drink from the bottle.

“Come on then pussy,” he said. He wiped his mouth. The wall across from him burst into flame. A great circle opened in the flame. Though it Saul could see a burning tortured landscape stretch into infinity. His view was soon blocked by the demon as it passed into his world. An eldritch being made of fire and pain looked down at Saul.

What did you call me? It did not speak so much as crawl into Saul’s brain.

“I called you a pussy,” Saul said. Then he spit in what most resembled the demon’s face.

Saul woke up sometime later. It was morning by this point. He knew this because he could see sunlight streaming in through the massive hole in his wall. He reached for his bottle but only found a few broken pieces of jagged glass. When his vision cleared he noticed the faces Master Grimder and his roommate Ergol. Ergol covered his mouth with one hand, shoulders shaking with poorly contained laughter. Master Grimder frowned so hard Saul was worried for a moment that his face might fall off.

“Dude, you in so much trouble,” Ergol said.

How to improve travel in Tokyo pt. 3

This has been a pretty decent well to return to. This post will be mostly about things I wish were true, with very little regard to the practical or the financially responsible. So here it goes.

More pedestrian bridges.

Or even better, tunnels. No I don’t care if it’s structurally unsound. Do I look like an engineer? No, if I was I’d have a nice steady paycheck designing speed bumps instead of slinging English like it was crack. Anyway, my point is I hate waiting to cross streets. Tokyo already has a lot of these to be honest but tunnels would be so much better because of how fucking much it rains around here.

Designated walking lanes.

That’s it. Are you an octogenarian out for a stroll to the bakery to waste a few meaningless hours? Move to the left. Are you a group of drunk business men celebrating a 1% increase in profits for the quarter at a company mandated liver-pickeling? Move to the left and die in a fire. Are you in a hurry to get somewhere? Are you just someone that doesn’t walk like they’re oblivious to everything that isn’t within a one inch radius of their face? Move to the right. Enforcement of punishment for misuse of the lanes left to the citizens.

Jetpacks.

Because that would be awesome. Next!

Moving sidewalks.

I’m talking about those flat escalators that you see at airports and on the way to Tokyo Disney. I love those things. It feels so cool to walk on them and standard escalator conventions apply. People who want to move slowly stand off to the side and allow people to pass. I have no idea why this doesn’t happen on a normal street. Seriously, these things are great because when you’re drunk you can try to walk in the opposite direction and it’s hillarious.

Education.

Maybe just a pamphlet or two. Since old people are the largest targeted demographic for this, make up some scary stuff about illegal immigrants stealing handbags of people that don’t walk correctly. That kind of stuff works in the U.S. all the time!

How to improve travel in Tokyo pt. 2

Ticket gates

First, stop buying paper tickets. They are hold overs from when they actually needed someone to stand at the gate and hole-punch each ticket. I’ve seen video of it. It’s been 20 years at least. Buy a damn train pass.

If you have a train pass and you screw up and it beeps at you, you have failed. Your turn is forfeit, please don’t stand there until it resets so you can screw it up again. These are highly efficient magnetically controlled machines. If something went wrong it’s a 99.9% chance that it’s your fault.

If you are they type of person that follows someone closely so you can skip through and avoid paying the fair, sand blasting your colon is too good a punishment for you.

Seat Rules

First, pick a seat if you’re going to sit down. If you switch destination seats, block me, and cost me the other seat I thought you were going for originally, I will want to stab you with an umbrella made of fire ants.

If the train is fairly crowded the rule is, if someone directly in front of you gets off the train, then that seat is yours. If you don’t take it, everyone feels awkward unless it’s one of those reserved for the olds or the injured/pregnant. If it’s a regular seat some jerkwad will push through the crowd and claim it, leaving you looking stupid and me pissed off for a wasted seat.

Personal space

Look, I get it when the train is way above capacity. You gotta get close. Be quicker on making the room in that case or I’ll push your kidneys into your stomach with my elbows.

But when there’s lots of room and I’m chilling by the door, get the hell away from me. Since I quit smoking I’ve discovered just how terrible everyone on the train smells during summer so get the fuck back please.

Not everyone is on your schedule

This is huge. Just because your train isn’t pulling into the station right this second doesn’t mean you can hog the stairway/escalator. Someone behind you (me) trapped by your douchbaggery apathy will not appreciate having the doors to the other train (usually there’s two directions per platform, didn’t you notice?) shut in their face because you don’t feel like walking up an escalator that’s only wide enough for one person. Especially if it’s a fairly local line where catching one train and having to wait for the other can be the difference between making it to work on time and being late! I’LL KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ummm, sorry about that. Just stop being so shit about moving around the city, Tokyo.

Deal?