• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 20:58, June 17th, 2008

    It would be very unkind to laugh at the difficulties the new subway line in Tokyo is experiencing:

    Services on the newly opened Fukutoshin (Subcenter) Subway Line in downtown Tokyo have been disrupted for four consecutive days since its inauguration on Saturday due to technical problems and errors, its operator said.

    “A series of problems were caused by workers’ inexperience. We’ll assign experienced workers to help out in an effort to ensure punctual operations,” said a spokesman for the line’s operator, Tokyo Metro Co.

    At around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, circuit breakers at Wako and Asaka power substations in Saitama Prefecture were tripped, forcing trains to stop for 30 seconds, according to Tokyo Metro officials.

    The trouble delayed trains on the Fukutoshin Line as well as the Yurakucho Line and Tobu Railway Tojo Line, which operate through trains with the trouble-plagued new line, by up to 30 minutes.

    The Fukutoshin Line is of special meaning to me, since I walked between Shibuya and Shinjuku Stations via Meiji Avenue several nights a week for years. It was my constitutional. I loved looking at the cranes and earth-moving equipment in the street. I didn’t always love the zig-zag temporary sidewalks necessitated by the tunnel construction, but progress requires inconvenience. Much of the hard thinking I did while deciding whether I wanted to stay in Japan took place during these walks.

    The new train line probably will help to relieve congestion on the Yamanote Line. I’m not sure I agree (on this as on many other things) with Tokyo Metro Governor Shintaro Ishihara, though:

    Prior to its inauguration, an opening ceremony was held at Shinjuku-Sanchome Station in Shinjuku-ku on Friday morning, attended by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and other officials.

    “Whether an urban area can mature depends on efficient means of transportation. The new line will lead to the vitalization of Tokyo,” Ishihara said in his speech.

    Yes, of course, he had to say something upbeat. Still, the idea that western Tokyo, along the major artery of Meiji Avenue, needs a new train line to help it “mature,” is pretty inane. People already grit their teeth and take the Yamanote Line despite its cattle-car-ish crowds or just use cabs to get from Shibuya to Shinjuku and (if they must) Ikebukuro. The new line won’t be useless, but it won’t solve the demographic and economic policy problems that have held back the “vitalization” of Tokyo since the Bubble burst. Makes it faster for gay guys to get from Shibuya to Shinjuku 2-chome, though!


    Posted by Sean at 20:44, June 17th, 2008

    Japan–have I posted about this before? [rummaging] yes, actually–has a habit of executing people on death row with no warning. Even the families customarily don’t find out until afterwards. Yesterday, one of the country’s most infamous serial killers was executed after a decade on death row. This is from the English version:

    [Tsutomu] Miyazaki kidnapped a 4-year-old girl in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, in August 1988, murdered her in a mountain forest in Akiruno, western Tokyo, and burned her body, according to the ruling.

    He also abducted a 7-year-old girl in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, in October 1988, and murdered her in Akiruno, the court found.

    He was convicted of abducting another 4-year-old girl in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in December of the same year, strangling her and abandoning her body in a forest.

    He was also found guilty to abducting a 5-year-old girl in Koto-ku, Tokyo, in June the next year, murdering her and dumping her corpse. Moreover, he molested an elementary school girl in Hachioji, western Tokyo, in July of the same year, according to the ruling.

    On Tuesday, Yoshio Yamasaki, 73, and Shinji Mutsuda, 37, were also executed at the Osaka Detention Center and the Tokyo Detention Center, respectively.

    Part of Miyazaki’s MO was to send brutally succinct notes to the families of his victims describing how they’d suffered before dying. Whether sane or insane (which is still, I believe, disputed), the man was a fiend.

    I hadn’t heard of the other two convicts who were executed; according to The Japan Times :

    The two others hanged Tuesday were Yoshio Yamasaki, 73, and Shinji Mutsuda, 37.

    Yamasaki was convicted of murdering two people in a life insurance fraud in Kagawa Prefecture in 1985.

    Mutsuda was convicted of killing two people to take over a sex service shop owned by one of the victims in Tokyo in 1995.


    If that’s not depressing enough, it’s emerged that the man who rammed a crowd and then stabbed seven people fatally in Akihabara (a section of Tokyo) attacked people who had been helping his previous victims:

    Among the 12 victims are at least three people who were caring for those he had earlier attacked, according to investigators. The three include a 53-year-old assistant police inspector and a 54-year-old taxi driver.

    The three were attacked from behind and suffered serious stab wounds, local police said.

    I haven’t written much about Japan (or anything else) lately here, but the whole story is, of course, a big deal there. Images of Tomohiro Kato’s cell phone website postings, which warned that he planned to kill people in Akihabara, were all over the news. With the proliferation of point systems at and competition among electronics stores, Akihabara has lost some of its allure for shoppers, but the place still crowds up on weekends. Kato perpetrated his attacks in the early afternoon of Sunday, 8 June.

    Flavors of entanglement

    Posted by Sean at 14:10, June 7th, 2008

    Watching Hillary’s camapaign suspension speech. I will always find her worldview and policies repellant, and she and Bill have run one of the tackiest public households in American politics. But she’s grown a lot as a speaker. She sounds sincere. Her smile seems real. She seems confident and forthright and relaxed and very American in the best way.* (I’m kind of a sucker for that Gaboon viper combination of brown and teal for some reason, too.) I don’t like feeling contempt for people, and I feel much less contempt for her now than I did even just a few months ago.

    * Again, I’m talking about her demeanor. That part about how we have individual liberties, but what’s REALLY COOL is when we gather into collectives, made my flesh crawl.


    Faye Wattleton looks great! (She’s on the post mortem thing on CNN.) However, it’s a sign of the times that the first thing I thought when I saw her was, She has a terrific surgeon! She can’t have gotten that referral through Planned Parenthood…. But who knows? Maybe she’s had no work done and those long bangs are just a style.


    Mmmm…Bavarian Creme.


    I wish people would read more carefully. It would eliminate so very much unnecessary unpleasantness from life. A few days ago, Megan McArdle wrote:

    Even if you don’t like Barack Obama, I think you should be happy that the country has, with really very little fuss, nominated a black man with a very good shot at the presidency. (I didn’t support Clinton, but I would have been glad to know that we could nominate a woman–not that I’m saying this is the reason we didn’t nominate her.)

    Bill Quick at Daily Pundit replied waspishly:

    Megan is simply being racist here – it doesn’t matter what Obama espouses, we should be happy because we nominated a black man. Should we be happy if the black man was Al Sharpton? Reverend Wright? Just because they are black?

    I understand what Megan is trying to get at – that nominating any black man without rioting in the streets or the media is a sign of some kind of national maturity, or the true state of racism in the US – not very strong – but happiness is not a word I’d use to describe my feelings about an Obama nomination.

    “We should be happy because we nominated a black man” is at least within spitting distance of what McArdle wrote, and IIRC, she is, in fact, an Obama supporter. But she wasn’t talking about being happy with Obama as an individual candidate. She was talking about being happy that, in the blink of a historical eye after the Civil Rights Act, we actually have a black presumptive presidential nominee in one of the two major parties.

    What’s the problem with that? I say this as a libertarian who supported and still supports the Iraq occupation and who lived in East Asia for twelve years. The prospect of an Obama presidency scares the bejeezus out of me. And even if his greenness didn’t scare me, I’d be opposed to his political principles, such that one can divine them. I think lots of his supporters have been cutting him slack that they would not cut for another candidate because they’re eager to participate in the healing gesture of nominating a black candidate. Yes, I do.

    However, he’s the pioneer, and the progress made by pioneers tends to be rough. Presidential politics is not a forum in which we’re yet become accustomed to seeing black people (or, to a lesser extent, women). Because we’ve just watched Obama and Clinton duke it out for the Democratic nomination, it’s going to be easier for the first small-government, classical-liberal minority or woman candidate to be considered on policy merits rather than demographic “history-making.” I don’t think that pointing that out makes anyone racist.

    So, good on Obama. Now let’s make sure–please–that he doesn’t become president.


    I want to hug my air conditioner. I want to give it a foot massage and a scalp massage and feed it peeled grapes from a silver salver and clasp its head to my chest and whisper that it’s the only thing in this world that I can rely on to have my true happiness at heart.

    And it’s only the beginning of June.


    I didn’t post on the D-Day anniversary, but Eric did.

    I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend an evening with me

    Posted by Sean at 20:56, May 27th, 2008

    I spent part of the Memorial Day weekend going to a college friend’s wedding outside Harrisburg. Most of us from the old group gathered, so I got to see everyone and meet the latest babies. Very exciting. Funniest moment: four of us were from small-town Pennsylvania, and we all–independently of one another–looked the venue up and down and said, “A wedding at the fire hall–we’re so totally home!”


    I am in love with Dunkin Donuts. No, not the coffee–I know everyone loves that–the doughnuts themselves. I grew up with Pennsylvania Dutch sweets, so there was no shortage of real sticky buns and tender homemade kieffels and glorious pies–those transplanted Krauts make the best pies ever–but I went into Dunkin Donuts for a half-dozen on a whim a few weeks ago, and now I can’t stop. They’re so greasy they stick to the roof of the mouth, the cream filling tastes like chalk, and the crumb is about as tender as a Nerf ball. But I have two with a cup of coffee, and I feel American all over. Bonus points for the would-be sleek new box and stylized logos and tag line: “America runs on Dunkin.” Right, Dunkin Donuts provides fuel for, like, an active life. Didn’t you know that?


    The buddy I’m staying with has a few early seasons of The Simpsons on DVD. This is good. One of them includes that classic episode in which Sideshow Bob gets out of jail and marries Aunt Selma. Also good.

    Now I have Selma and Bob’s karaoke version of “Somethin’ Stupid” going through my head non-stop. This is bad. Very, very bad.


    Posted by Sean at 18:28, May 19th, 2008

    Eric discusses one of my pet peeves in this post, probably benefiting his blood pressure by not delving too deeply in:

    I hate the way Sunday has become official morality day.

    I say this not in criticism of organized religion or morality in general, but because I don’t like trickery, and I don’t like the way Sundays have become the official day for media to play preacher and promote morality — especially the newly manufactured morality which appeals to the non-churchgoers with unacknowledged spiritual needs.

    Fifteen years ago when I was in college, Camilla Paglia identified a certain kind of doctrinaire feminist as “desperate for a religion”; I assume from the way she discussed showily hip academic leftists and queer activists that she’d agree many of them have the same problems. At the time, I was just leaving the church in which I’d been reared. The idea that people would try to fulfill their spiritual cravings with trendoid politics struck me as weird. I guess it still strikes me as weird, but now I’m used to it.

    Nevertheless, it makes much social and political discourse extremely tiresome, and I really wish people would knock it off. If you need shriving, by all means go to confession or send a tearful prayer heavenward. Please don’t inflict your ecstasies of guilt and dogmatism on me while I’m trying to make small talk with a glass of wine at a party.

    I realize that Eric’s not really talking about polite conversation; he’s talking more about opinion pages and other spaces for serious commentary, where more serious value judgments are to be expected. I guess it would be nice if people whose scribblings are produced there could at least liberate themselves from formula a bit.

    Exhibit 1 is this op-ed linked by Eric, which I unwittingly clicked through to. In terms of finger-wagging social commentary, it has everything: a crack analogy, an appeal to some think-tank expert whose qualifications aren’t at all established, and compulsive genuflection to a supercilious Brit decrying the decline of civilization. Since I’ve been making the transition from the cell-phone culture in to that here in the States, I’ve actually been thinking about these things quite a bit, and I think the writer (and his Brit) are full of it:

    Sociologists and communitarians are somewhat obsessed with the idea of public spaces – places where strangers necessarily bump up against one another and form community. When we talk on cell phones in public, we are, as Rosen points out, intentionally removing ourselves from the public space in a form of “radical disengagement” with the public sphere. We’re participating in an activity that doesn’t just exclude those around us, it imposes on them too – in effect declaring our neighbors to be less important than we are. Or worse: It’s a little bit like telling them that they don’t exist.

    Perhaps none of this is surprising. The sociologists Christian Licoppe and Jean-Philippe Heurtin have posited that modernity is constantly deinstitutionalizing personal bonds at every level. The effects of the cell phone are very much of a piece with their thesis. We have traded the rich tapestry of social cohesion – chatting with the cashier at the grocery store or with the fellow in the elevator – for these tiny, often useless, individual connections with those we already know.

    Am I the only one who remembers life before cell phones? If you don’t, let me assure you that it was not a never-ending stream of chummy exchanges with new acquaintances–the grocery store clerk, the guy in the elevator, the woman you passed through the revolving doors on the way into the bank, and the janitor in the movie theater rest room–that left us all warmed to the core by our common humanity. Besides, some of us were brought up traditionally and disliked being chatted up while we were quietly going about our business. (Checking messages or the Internet on a cell phone is a wonderful deterrant in such cases.) And as for those who have very private conversations very audibly in very public places, they were no less bearable when they were talking to their friends across the table in a crowded coffee house ten years ago. Boors will find ways to use any communications medium boorishly; that’s what they do.

    I’ve noticed no dearth of brisk-but-pleasant interactions between customers and salespeople or those sharing elevators since arriving back to New York. Otherwise, I’ve seen few people practicing “radical disengagement” with public spaces, but a great many people who just want to find out which kind of milk their wives wanted them to pick up so they don’t have to make another trip back to the grocery store (even if it means not giving their undivided attention to others who are contemplating the dairy case). Most people will check their phone if it rings in the middle of an ongoing in-the-flesh conversation, but they’re at least as likely to decide it can wait as to say, “Sorry–I really should take this.” Perhaps I just run in bizarre circles, but everyone I know seems to have figured out how to make the group with which he’s physically spending time his first priority.

    One final thing: I find the disdainful use of the word “deinstitutionalizing” unsettling. Institutions are important, but one of the most precious things about our kind of society is that you get to choose those you want to belong to. You don’t have to stay in the church you were born into if you don’t believe its doctrines, you don’t have to become a member of your father’s guild, you don’t have to stay in your hometown and shoehorn yourself into a life that doesn’t suit you. You form your own associations if you wish. If you find that disorienting and yearn for the simpler and more traditional life in which we all know our assigned places, why not leave the city and embed yourself in a small town somewhere? Or find your spirituality and become a Buddhist or something? If you can’t control your cell phone and make it work for the kind of life you want to live, the problem is that you’re neurotic, not that it’s addictive. Sheesh.

    And I’ll send you letters / And come to your house for tea

    Posted by Sean at 00:13, May 19th, 2008

    It’s interesting that Alice should tag me with something food-related, given that my stomach is having more trouble than the rest of me adjusting back to life in the States. I’m not sure my answers will say much, but here they are.

    What’s your favourite table?

    My father made a beautiful oak trestle table for my parents’ dining room. (It is the table itself we’re talking about?)

    What would you have for your last supper?

    My mind would probably be too distracted for me to enjoy really good lamb or venison or beef, so I’ll say vegetable tempura, which is heavenly when the batter and frying oil are perfectly prepared.

    What’s your poison?

    My favorite whisky is probably Laphroaig 10. Not a particularly highfalutin choice, but the one I reach for most. I like them peaty.

    I do most of my drinking in merry, boisterous crowds, though, and I find that vodka and tonic (the well vodka wherever I am, unless it’s particularly nasty) is both tasty and non-staining when my arm gets jostled. I had a nail-biting near miss with a negroni the other night that I don’t care to repeat.

    I like wine, too, of course, but I’m no geeky oenophile, and I generally find that whatever group I’m in has at least one person who’s far more informed than I am, so I just go along with whatever he or she recommends we get.

    Name your three desert island ingredients.

    Peppercorns, sweet red bell peppers, unsalted butter.

    What would you put in Room 101?

    I guess it would be cheating to count strawberries, since I’m physically allergic to them.

    I find the texture of globe onions repellant, though assuming Julia’s like everyone else I know, she likes them and wouldn’t mind having to eat them in my place.

    Oh, and watermelon. I adore pink and green together, but I’m sorry–fruit should not be corky. (Don’t bother telling that good watermelon doesn’t have a corky texture. Yes, it does.)

    Which book gets you cooking?

    This may surprise some people, but in my case, Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. Yes, I think Brody’s too high-strung about nutrition and unproven dangers to health, but she genuinely seems to believe food should be enjoyed, and her approach in adapting recipes is often designed to bring the flavors of the star ingredients to the fore.

    What’s your dream dinner party line-up?

    I like large gatherings for parties, but not for dinner. Too many people makes lively shared conversation and pleasurably wicked confidences difficult, especially if several are new acquaintances.

    All of that is a roundabout way of saying I like dinner parties with close friends.

    What was your childhood teatime treat?

    The Pennsylvania Dutch make great sticky buns, with lots of nuts and moist yeasty cake and enough syrup to make the entire population of the Northeastern Seaboard diabetic.

    What was your most memorable meal?

    Hmm. Probably when I was eleven and we were visiting my Auntie June in England, because it was the first time I realized that my parents and family elders thought I was ready to start being introduced into the adult world in public. No, I wasn’t given a cigar and two glasses of port…just permission to order a main that came with artichokes and then after-dinner coffee. I like to think I still have my youthful energy, but I’m grateful I had the kind of family that still believed grown-up pleasures were something children should be taught to aspire to.

    What was your biggest food disaster?

    3 May 2001. Atsushi and I were giving a party over the Golden Week holiday for a few dozen friends in the afternoon. At about 10:00 a.m., I was julienning carrots for primavera sauce and lopped off the tip of my ring finger. I didn’t cut it off at the joint or anything, but there was blood everywhere. Emergency room, painkillers, huge bandage, stern admonition from doctor to keep hand elevated above heart for the rest of the day. Luckily, gay guys know how to pull together in a genuine catering emergency, so we had five or six friends who finished my prep while I tried to be useful with one hand and an addled brain.

    What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had?

    Let’s see. There was the Christmas dinner hosted by the owner of the bar that was kind of my local in Tokyo two years ago. It was oyster season, so the restaurant gave us its special ten-course oyster-themed prix fixe party menu. Have I mentioned that I can’t eat shellfish? There were oysters in everything: oyster miso soup, oyster stew, oysters au gratin, raw oysters on the half shell, grilled oysters–it was like the Spam episode in Month Python, only with oysters.

    I ended up snagging the two or three pieces of tuna and yellowtail sashimi that had found their way to the table, and then for the rest of the dinner subsisting on shochu and oolong tea and the occasional shiso leaf. When it was over, I collared my best friend and marched us to a little dining cafe in the middle of the gay district, where I demanded servings of their chicken karaage and steak-cut fries before they’d managed to get us sat down at a table.

    Who’s your food hero/food villain?

    My hero is whoever figured out that whipping cream turned it into whipped cream. My villain is the inventor of the no-taste tomato.

    Nigella or Delia?

    No offense to Nigella, but she’s always going on and on about how sloppy and casual and unstudied she is while cooking, and see how I made this lovely soufflé by just pitching some eggs and flour into a ramekin and shoving the lot into the oven without getting so much as a smudge on my cashmere twinset? Just wait for your friends to arrive, pluck the perfect complementary wine from your little wine cellar, and there–instant party!

    The problem is, a lot of cooking is engineering, and while it’s not as hard as running a nuclear reactor, it really isn’t as artless as all that. I haven’t seen anything Delia Smith has done in the last decade or so, but from what I’ve read and watched of her, she’s good at breaking down complex recipes into series of manageable steps and combinations of compatible ingredients.

    Vegetarians: genius or madness?

    Hold on–when I swallow this mouthful of steak, I’ll tell you.

    I don’t make a practice of passing judgment on other people’s dietary choices. I’ll only note that, IIRC, lack of milk and meat aren’t good for children’s early development.

    Fast food or fresh food?

    You will not get me to apologize for my once-weekly trip to Burger King for a Whopper w/ Cheese combo with the largest fries and Coke. There’s nothing quite like it to give you that pleasurable feeling of being at the very tippy-top of the food chain.

    If I eat that way every day, though, I start to feel clogged up and crave steamed vegetables and rice for a few meals. And as Alice said, some very quick meals are among the most wholesome and satisfying. I love buttery scrambled eggs on toast with some black pepper as a light dinner, and it takes ten minutes if that to prepare.

    Who would you most like to cook for?

    Uh…my mother cooked most meals I ate until I was eighteen, and my father worked to pay for the ingredients, so I guess it wouldn’t hurt to return the favor. I think they order in or eat out most of the time now, though.

    What would you cook to impress a date?

    I’m not sure “impressive” is what I’d aim for. It seems to me that a better precedent to be setting with date food is “luscious.” Maybe grill up lamb chops and rinse the pan with a glass of wine? And make some mashed potatoes, which are one of the best-tasting foods imaginable when fresh from the ricer and fortified with butter and cream.

    Make a wish.

    I wish for development of more and better GM crops, and for less sanctimony and skittishness on the part of governments about introducing them.

    We break bread

    Posted by Sean at 21:06, May 14th, 2008

    Hello, nice gentlemanly Woofie-boys.

    Why are you staring at me with those molten eyes?

    I know you missed me while I was out all afternoon, but you’ll have to wait before you curl up next to me while I read. Right now I’m trying to eat this hot pastrami sandwich. Yes, with all these puddles of gravy. And the french fries. It is as good as it smells, thanks for asking–aren’t you happy for me? Num-num-num….

    Now, come off it. You have the better lives by far in this arrangement. No one keeps a bowl in a special place for me and sends half my weight in kibble raining into it twice a day, like manna from heaven. I have to go out and get my own food.

    Okay, fine, if you’re going to be all technical, I didn’t go out and get it–I was feeling lazy and called the diner and had that nice man with the nice calves deliver it. I know you noticed the calves, too, because when he appeared you started shouting, “Woof!” Well, it came out “Arp!” as always, but I know what you meant. So I didn’t go out with a stone-tipped spear and hunt for my food and stuff, but I worked for it. And I had to get up and buzz him in and pay for it, which at least earned me the calories in the milkshake.

    Must you sharpen your claws on my favorite Diesel jeans? There, that’s better.

    No, for the last time, I can’t share food with you anymore. You know when Mommy took you in the cab to the man in the lab coat with the big, scary needle the other day? Well–

    Don’t you dare growl at me. If Mommy carefully avoided mentioning the big, scary needle so you wouldn’t freak out when she packed you up in the pet carriers, it’s not because I told her to! You didn’t ask whether there would be needles involved, did you? Thought not. (I mean, really! “We’re going to take a very special trip in the cab to see some pretty buildings uptown! Yes, we are! Yes, we are!” You seriously bought that?) So really, can you blame anyone but yourselves for having let your guard down?

    Anyway, when you hear what the vet told Mommy, you may think the shot wasn’t so bad by comparison: he said you’re a porker and need to eat less. Yes, you, Blond Woofie. You don’t think Daddy’s giving you less food at a time this week because he suddenly decided to economize, do you? You don’t want to turn into a dirigiwoofie, do you? The Goodyear Woofie. The Hindenwoofie.

    Fine, that was a little uncalled-for. Sorry. Just trying to drive the point home. It’s for your own good.

    Oh, for Pete’s sake, don’t give me the teary-eyed routine. Most of us don’t get to spend all day every day doing nothing more demanding than snuggling in while someone draws a blanket over our furry, sinewy little bodies and whispers that we’re adorable and should just lie still while he gets us breakfast.

    I am not a liar! I clearly specified “all day every day.” Sheesh. You know, you can keep your eyes and snouts glued to every morsel of pastrami I convey from plate to mouth, but you can’t listen to a thing I say. The last time I snu…never mind. It’s none of your business. You just sit there thinking your coarse, untoward thoughts. I can’t stop you.

    There’s just no reasoning with you two.

    Oh, for the love of…here. A quarter-inch square of pastrami for each of you. And NO MORE. Just the lean part so your Daddy doesn’t yell at me too much. Now stop staring!

    Those jealous dogs / Always on the alert

    Posted by Sean at 20:26, May 12th, 2008

    A few years ago, my buddy gave his wife a pair of chihuahuas as a present. Now that I’m staying with them, they’ve become my companions.


    Don’t they look adorable?

    Of course–in still photographs. In real life, though, they move.

    I call them the Millicujos.

    They open their little jaws and bark at the slightest noise, often for close to a half hour before settling down. Usually, it’s the elderly elevator in our brownstone that sets them off, but sometimes the stimulus appears to originate somewhere around the kitchen skylight–a creak caused by the wind? the piping of a bird? Usually I can’t make it out. No trouble making out their response, though.

    The blond with the limpidly innocent gaze is, you shouldn’t need to be told, the more implacably hostile of the two when the public isn’t around to observe. Not by all that much, though. His darker, younger brother is a willing accomplice.

    J. and his wife have nicknamed them “the Woofies.” This is a courtesy title, about as connected with reality as “Princess Di.” These two wouldn’t be able to produce a butch, baritone, thrillingly menacing “woof!” if they sold their souls to Cerberus. Even “yap!” errs somewhat in the direction of resonance, as far as I’m concerned. My conclusion–borne of repeated and lengthy exposure–is that “arp!” is the best transcription of the noise they make (and make and make and make and make).

    They’ve grown accustomed to me now, so they’ll sometimes jump up into my lap when I’m trying to type. Mostly, though, they still eye me with deep suspicion. Unless I’ve just cooked something along the savory/buttery/meaty axis, that is. Then I become their new best friend. Their little eyes liquefy, and (I swear) they pout. For those who’ve been wondering why they’re not hearing more about how adjusting to New York has been, a major reason is that I’m too busy defending my breakfast eggs.


    Posted by Sean at 10:11, May 10th, 2008

    Happy birthday to Atsushi. (I won’t specify which particular milestone it is.) We’re no longer partners, but he’s a true gentleman and has remained a friend and a real rock in time of need. I’m sorry I’m not there for the celebration, but his love of sweets is well known among our friends, so I’m assuming he’s happily chomping his way out from under a pile of cake as we speak.

    Candy shop

    Posted by Sean at 17:45, May 7th, 2008

    Everyone keeps asking whether the culture shock has set in. The question is delivered with a gleam in the eye and an eagerness in the tone that I can’t quite pin down; I hope my friends aren’t running about thinking, Won’t it be fun when Sean encounters some sassy-rude salesperson and just totally cracks? I make a practice of not cracking, thank you very much. And the adjustments I’ve had to make so far have mostly been pleasant ones.

    I do somewhat miss the Japanese cleanliness fetish. Back offices and kitchens and hospital rooms may be as grimy as they are anywhere else, but rare is the office or shop in Japan that doesn’t work overtime to ensure that no customer has to deal with so much as a dust mote. Grittiness on the street in New York is welcome and invigorating; grittiness in the produce section is less so. I also got my hair cut in New York for the first time in a decade today. It wasn’t a particularly exclusive place, but it wasn’t a dump, either. And yet, there was stray hair everywhere (including stuck inside the lid of the jar from which my cutter guy retrieved a good six cc’s of hair goop and plunked it on my crown before I had the chance to protest. New York moves quickly).

    On the other hand, the City, with its old brick buildings and stone and concrete detailing, has a much more earthy built environment. It feels like a place built by people for people. Tokyo’s steel-and-glass, its tiles, its molded HDP, give it a moon-colony quality that can be a lot of fun; but it can also be draining to navigate through, especially in the rain or snow.

    And of course, New York is noisy. We’re Americans, and we’re boisterous. I grooved to Tokyo’s brittle, reined-in, well-behaved hum, but of course the flip side is that people need to explode, forcefully, when they’re off the chain. You get used to being surrounded by people so drunk as to be near alcohol poisoning: hanging from straps on the train, roly-poly-ing down the sidewalk, tenderly placed face-down over storm grates by friends (who perch jauntily on a nearby curb and chat) so they don’t drown in their own vomit. No one will ever accuse New York of not drinking, but after-work life doesn’t feel like a 180-degree change from the business day.

    People do start drinking here earlier, though. In Tokyo, it’s still kind of a sign that you’re not important if you actually get out of the office at 5:00 or not much after. I’m not going to an office at the moment, of course, but everyone I know is, and I don’t think I’ve gone to an after-work gathering that started after 6:00 in the two weeks I’ve been back.

    Speaking of things that go down the hatch: there’s no point in my repeating in its entirety my rant about American food portions, but sheesh! You know things are cockeyed when even your flippin’ arugula salad is too big to finish. Arugula salad! Who gorges on that?

    Last night a friend asked me to go to the symphony at Carnegie Hall, and it turned out to be a charming confluence of things Philadelphia, Tokyo, and New York. It was the Philadelphia Orchestra doing its annual series, and last night’s piece was Mahler’s Eighth. (The Tokyo tie-in is that the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra is known for its Mahler performances.) Much classical music in Asia is very good, but there’s something nice about sitting in a Western audience, which shouts cheers and goes a bit over the edge when genuinely moved by a performance. The Philadelphia Sound had been put to good use.