Japan, My Foot – Installment 3

If you are just joining us

Foot without needles/poised like slug in restful state/still hurts like mo' fo'.

For the already initiated: when last we left our heroine, she was primed to submit her hurt foot to blind harpooning. Will the “hari” prove  too hairy? Read on …

In Japan, the blind are often trained in the healing arts because, it is thought, the loss of one sense leads to greater ability with the remaining senses. Half an hour later, I was pain-free. Until I stood.

I sat back down.

The acupuncturist suggested I come for another treatment in two days. In precisely two days, Cliff and I had a date with a friend we had not seen since she returned to Japan from Seattle three years prior. She lived two train rides, four hundred miles, and approximately five hours away from Kyoto.

“Ah,” she replied when I explained. “Your Japanese is very good.”

When a Japanese person says your Japanese is very good, generally, that is Japanese politeness in action. You’ll know your Japanese is very good when you find yourself in conversations and no one mentions you are speaking Japanese.

Back at Matsubaya-san’s, I pounded the ibuprofen until Cliff appeared. The volunteer in Nara turned out to be the president of the local guide association, and had come equipped with perfect English, a thorough knowledge of history and architecture, and—Cliff sighed—a car. She drove him all over Nara.

Cliff tugged on his beard, his habit when perturbed. “Why don’t we rent a car, at least until you can walk without pain.”

I forbade it. Our rail passes, over four hundred dollars each, allowed us two weeks of unlimited access to virtually every train in Japan. This was one of the few good deals in a country where a grapefruit costs six bucks and bargaining is not part of the culture.

Rather than rent a car, we decided that Cliff would carry everything.

Gasp and drama, two backpacks? Mensch, nothing; how strong is this Cliff guy? Will he survive this trip? Will this relationship? Will Japan?  See you tomorrow.

Japan, My Foot – Installment 2

When we left our UnSavvy Heroine in Kyoto, she was debating hari-kiri by Plaform Shoe. A voice from, apparently, nowhere suggests she go to the hospital. Who is this mystery person? Ghost of a geisha past? Yakusa hit-man?

“You should go to a hospital.”

That was Cliff.

“It’s the same tendon I strained in Vietnam. I know what to do.”

That was me, popping ibuprofen at a terrifying rate. Our third day in Kyoto, I woke unable to put weight on my foot.

Romanji. Water/held like Buddha's tears. Poet/not feeling as Zen.

Our plan that day was to head for Nara, a nearby city, famous for sites more ancient than Kyoto’s. Walking is the thing to do in Nara (You were thinking maybe bullet train? Why should anything be easy?): around the park filled with free-roaming deer; up a mountain; through the Daibutsu-den, the largest wooden structure in the world, built to protect and venerate Japan’s second-largest statue of the Buddha. We had arranged to meet up with an English-speaking volunteer guide. While Cliff was coming up with creative ways to allow me to visit Nara—crutches, rental car—I was remembering a sign spotted the previous day, reading Hari. As soon as Cliff departed for Nara, I cried for forty minutes, then limped down the narrow, wooden stairs to confirm with the chatty lady who ran our inn that hari meant “acupuncture.”

Matsubaya-san didn’t recognize the word hari, but seemed to understand my pantomime, the old “Needle Piercing Flesh” routine. If I didn’t find treatment, perhaps a cool tattoo?

The woman who slid open the door looked to be in her fifties. She wore a white lab jacket, kept her eyes closed, and held her head at an awkward angle. Blind.

While I refused to see an allopath, I was fully prepared to pay a blind person I had never met to jab needles into my wounded foot.

(Dramatic music) Again we leave our heroine in a crisis worthy of her histrionic nature. Will the blind acupuncturist turn out to be a tattoo artist? A hit-man? A hit-man in drag as an acupuncturist who rips open her lab jacket to reveal her true nature, a geisha showgirl? As what happens in Kyoto stays in Kyoto  … wait! Wait! I am receiving word that this blog has been granted special dispensation. Tune in tomorrow for more of this Unsavy tale.

Unsavvy Gal to Japan, Cambodia

As I am currently enjoying a boatload of over-indulgence, nay, addiction, I will entertain y’all (we sailed yesterday from Galveston; y’all) by serializing an essay which originally published in “The UnSavvy Traveler: Women’s Comic Tales of Catastrophe” (Seal Press, 2002, 2005). Installment the First:

Faces of Angkor: very famous

Some travelers remember trips by pushing pins into maps. I wound myself. New York City: tweaked elbow. Mexico: gash, left foot. Vietnam: strained tendon, right foot. I should just stay home. Instead, I was off again. It was January 2001. Cliff and I were preparing for three weeks in Japan, two in Thailand, and most lusciously, four days at Angkor Wat, the magnificent temple ruins in Cambodia. The night before our departure, in not so neat piles around my strapping new backpack lay approximately eight pounds of clothing, three pounds of hiking boots, and twenty-one pounds of non-allopathic first-aid.

“You can’t possibly need all that,” Cliff muttered, chagrined. I pointed to the electric heating pad and refreezeable gel packs. “Hot and cold contrast, if I strain a muscle.”  Instant ice. “In case there’s no refrigeration.” Arnica gel. “Joint pain.” Chinese herbs. “Diarrhea.” Different Chinese herbs. “UTIs.” Homeopathic tinctures. “Allergies. Should I go on?

“A-ha!” The news editor in Cliff pounced on an inconsistency: ibuprofen.

“When all else fails.” Besides, I reminded him, I carried my own pack. Someone who couldn’t carry her own pack shouldn’t be on the road. First stop, Tokyo.

Noses to our Lonely Planet, we undertook the Top Ten. Harajuku: many cigarettes, throngs of hyper-hipsters organized by apparel. Goth nurses. Rockabillies, twisting and shouting to the degree possible in really tight denim and leather. Modern mythical witches of the Japanese mountains, also called  yamanba, staggered about in eight-inch platform shoes and dyed blond hair and copious blue eye shadow, Goldie Hawn circa. Laugh-In. Not a good look for an Asian gal, but not potentially lethal. What, on the other hand, would occur should a yamanba topple off her shoes? Or worse, off the bicycle one mounted, platforms and all?

Ueno Park: a perimeter of modern high-rises juxtaposed with a pagoda-like shrine; a wide boulevard of trees which, come spring, would burst into pink blossom; cherry blossoms. Then Shinobazu Pond, whose brown-chaffed surface would slowly reinvent itself into summer, the blue-gray water disappearing beneath a blanket of green leaves, white flowers and yellow centers; lotus flowers.

Tsukiji Fish Market, 4A.M.: narrow, cold, and congested lanes lined by booths selling anything you could want pertaining to seafood. Toward the back and near the docks, a whole, frozen tuna, each five feet long, being marked for auction and dismembered—mostly by table saw, but a few Japanese Luddites wielded handsaws. On the moist cement, a fish head the size of a microwave. No corroborative torso in sight.

Was it the cumulative walking of the prior days, or the laze-inspired leap I took in attempt to avoid the short stairs between the tuna corpses and the tanks of live octopi? By ten o’clock, my right foot was hurting. By the next morning, it was officially on strike.

I refused to negotiate. We were an hour from bulleting to Kyoto, a city of more than two thousand temples and shrines. Our Lonely Planet guidebook listed three different walking tours; our Frommer’s, four. I heated and iced every morning, applied arnica gel throughout the day, and failed in my attempts to enjoy the gold, silver, and red temples and the flea market and the delicate, intricate meals and the the long hall housing one thousand statues of the Goddess of Mercy; and the quintessential Zen image to come out of Japan, the rectangular garden of raked pebbles at Ryo-an-ji Temple. My foot hurt too much.

“You should go to a hospital.”

(Dramatic music) What will befall our Unsavvy Heronie? Will she find healing, or will she purchase her own eight-inch platform shoes and end it all? Will the cad Cliff leave her for a foot-functional Goth nurse? Tune in tomorrow or leave a comment with your guesses. Please, leave a comment!

The Dog: Part Two

For those readers just joining us …  Returnees: proceed accordingly.

The summer after graduating high school, Rosie Goldstein stumbled across the chutzpah to hold a guy’s eyes for a moment longer than necessary. To talk about sex with blunt nonchalance, to French kiss, give a good hand job, a decent blow job, and eventually, to stop giggling. To occasionally benefit from reciprocation—though Rosie also learned to take care of that herself and preferred it. To let each man think he was the only one she wasn’t going all the way with. He was going to tell his friends she did, regardless, as she would hers. So no one, no one need know she was still a virgin.

Rosie hit upon these skills at the kibbutz her parents sent her to in hopes of Jewifying her for entrance to Brandeis University that fall. Men on the kibbutz were bronzed Army veterans of twenty-one or -two. They called her Rosie as if it were an adjective instead of her name and argued among themselves who would pluck her first. From watching Arab women at the market, Rosie discovered that a glimpse of the inside of the wrist was more entrancing then all the nubile skin American girls too willingly displayed. From experimentation, she ascertained that if the revelation appeared accidental, it was more hypnotic. And when you allowed him to talk you into it, you owned him.

While Israel proved that some men preferred not-blonde, Rosie didn’t expect to turn boyish heads at Brandeis that fall. Who knew, guys dressed right out of LL Bean wanted The Dog.

She had no idea why she couldn’t respond.

Rosie’s roommate was Lauren Erenberg. Lauren and Rosie met on the bus to Camp Moshav the summer they both turned ten. They remained “camp best friends” despite the 3000 miles separating their “regular” lives—through junior high crushes, first high school dances, first kisses (Rosie lied), and the college application process. Lauren’s Bubbe intended her for Jonathan, the grandson of Bubbe’s dear friend, Rifka, from Brooklyn. Lauren complained about it often enough. She was complaining about it, now, standing on her bed in her socks, taping a Wham! poster to the wall of their room in Massell. Rosie was about to wonder aloud how Lauren couldn’t tell the blond guy was totally gay, when the phone rang.

Rosie said, “It’s her again.”

“Don’t answer it.”

The phone stopped ringing.

Rosie grabbed one of Lauren’s Baas loafers, and held it to her ear. “Nu, what did you think?” Rosie switched the loafer to her other ear and dropped the Brooklyn accent.  “I haven’t gone to meet him yet, Bubbe,” she continued, nailing Lauren’s Midwestern nasality, “but I’m too nice a Jewish girl to tell you to fuck off.”

Lauren squealed with illicit pleasure, and flung her other shoe. Rosie caught it, easy out. Holding one, penny-side in, to each ear, she flipped between Lauren and Bubbe.

“Lauren, you promised.”

“Bubbe, you’ve been shoving me at him since I was into Shawn Cassidy.”

“Ach, you call that a hair cut? And here, for you, such a nice boy.”

The girls crashed on the bed, wailing dramatically. Nice boy was Bubbe-code for all right, not so handsome, but Jewish.

As the howls subsided into laughter, then toward a satisfied silence, they heard from the door, “So this is the granddaughter of Tessie from the ek velt, Ohio.”

It was, of course, Jonathan. Rosie saw a pale Polish Jew with dark hair and impossibly large shoulder for his thin frame. Nothing special.

Lauren was seeing Jonathan in person for the first time, as well, but what he looked like or didn’t look like didn’t matter. In the cadence of his Bubbe imitation was everything her family wanted for her, everything she resisted, and everything she wanted for herself. Hamesh. She was going to marry Jonathan Weissman.

From the doorway, Jonathan saw the friendly knot of girls on a bed. The one Bubbe had been after him about was what he expected, what those girls were always like. But the other—a real tsatske; sinewy, with well-designed little boobies and sun-bleached tangerine curls he yearned to wrap around his fingers like tefillin.

Tomorrow: the third and final.

The Dog: A Short Story, Part One

Females at Santa Cruz High School were divided into distinct categories: “babe” or “dog.” They had been since fifth grade, when boys started to notice who was getting tits and who looked like Farrah Fawcett.

By the fifth grade, Rosie Goldstein knew she would never be a babe.

She declared it a relief. God forbid any of those boys should like her; her parents would platz. She was too young to acknowledge that what hurt most was all her friends were. Babes—all those Jills and Julies with their long, straight, blonde hair. Rosie’s was russet and curly, a fact noted but not given importance—so Rosie thought—in third grade. By ninth grade, they all had perfect boobs to go with the blonde hair, and bikini-worthy butts when Rosie didn’t even have a waist. Not in fifth grade, when they took their measurements for home ec. and Rosie’s stomach registered two inches larger than her chest; and not by ninth, when Clark Edgars pushed her from behind in the hallway between geometry and French II and sneered, “Goldstein, you dog.”

Rosie Goldstein lived for stories where the fat girl went away for the summer and came back va-voom. But Rosie Goldstein wasn’t even fat.

Rosie Goldstein was a dog.

Rosie felt a rough rumble in her throat. At the same time, she heard a deep growl, but didn’t put the two together until she saw fear leaking from the corners of Clark’s surfer blue eyes. She growled again, almost able to acknowledge that her rage went deeper than Clark. But Clark would do. Then Rosie Goldstein—vegetarian from the third grade for political reasons—Rosie Goldstein chomped his head off.

He staggered in the hall like a decapitated chicken. Rosie lunged, sank her teeth, and shook him like a slipper. Jills screamed. Julies fled, splotches of red clashing with the delicate pastels of their Gloria Vanderbelt tops. “Oh my Go-od!”

Rosie loped playfully after them, dropping what was left of Clark to nip at their neat butts and pretty ankles. She chased them past Mr. Enrique’s English class and down the main staircase. At the door to Mr. Hurdy’s Social Studies, Rosie paused, arrested by the scent of salt water clinging to a boy’s skin.

Tommy Ray sat alone in the gray-white classroom. He glanced up from his Sports Illustrated to take in the huge, russet hound panting in the hallway. “Whoa.”

Rosie remembered the times Tommy had teased her from the fringes of Clark Edgars’ crowd, but also the times he hadn’t. And Rosie Goldstein padded on all fours to Tommy Ray, rested her triangular head in his confused lap, and whimpered slightly when he scratched gently behind her ears. Which was all she had wanted, all along.

Tomorrow: Part Two. Same dog-time, same dog-channel.