Friday, June 23, 2006

Saturday June 24, 3:55 p.m.

Just finished my model lesson with another potential 008. She's quite pretty with a somewhat anachronistic Farrah Fawcett mane a la her Charlie Angels' days. And she looks like she works out quite a bit; her arms look phenomenally chiseled....yep, I notice those things. In any case, I've got the impression that things look pretty good since Speedy has just come out to get some further propaganda for her. I am pooped. A model lesson coming after my two kids will never amount to a full tank by the end...or even a half-full tank. But I've just been told that I've got the contract so I'll be taking care of the new 008 as of the 8th.

Speaking of Speedy, he's had a fairly tough time of it trying to find a new teacher and a new staffer to replace SB. At least with the staffer, it's a matter of pick & choose but with the new teacher, he isn't even that lucky. Pickins' are pretty slim in that department. But that's been a no-brainer...when it comes to the English teaching industry in Japan, we're frankly a dime a dozen. There are just simply more fly-by-nighters than dedicated professionals.

My must-see TV show was on last night. Now I don't have a regular show that I'm passionate about....especially when one considers the pap that regularly infests Japanese television. And in fact, this was a one-off on SuperChannel. It was one of those E! documentaries on none other Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. After having heard about all the slings and arrows thrown at him by his former fellow castmates on "Star Trek", I thought it would be interesting to hear his take on the feud. Not surprisingly, the feature was pretty biased for the good Captain. None of the other folks such as Jimmy Doohan or George Takei (the unhappiest of the bunch, I hear) were interviewed. And certainly the man himself wasn't particularly apologetic about what he has been accused of on set. He just thought that all the bricbracs about him being a scene hog and an uncaring man to his fans were an "idiotic" way for the other cast members to sell their autobiographies. And I have to admit that part of the reason for me to catch the show was to hear about this very topic. It was sad to hear his 911 tape, though, when he had called up Emergency to report that his 3rd wife had been found at the bottom of the pool.

Speaking about sadness, that story about Ms. Hatakeyama, the woman who murdered a boy because she had lost her own daughter some weeks earlier, is attaining Greek proportions in terms of tragedy. One morning news report told about her old high school yearbook getting signatures from her classmates such as "I hope I never see you again" and "I'll kill you if I ever see you again". Yeowch! I was never all that popular at school but I never received psychotic stuff like that. I did notice that there were more friendlier comments on the signature page but I don't think I would ever see that type of stuff. As much as I dislike the intrusive nature of Japanese tabloid journalism, I wouldn't mind seeing the rottweilers track down some of those punks who had written those comments and see if they've regretted any of them.

Now that the Japanese soccer team is now dead and buried after their early ouster from The World Cup, I wonder what's going to happen next. The Blue Samurai should be returning to Narita sometime this afternoon if they haven't already done so. It's a foregone conclusion that Zico will be on his way out; the newspapers have already been publishing possible successors for coach, and with the only exception of Team Japan winning the whole ball of wax, Zico's departure was pretty much assured. The print media have been treating the entire debacle like a "Dick & Jane" story: the newspapers were printing headings such as "Nakata gets really pissed off", then "Nakata cries on the pitch". I'm now thinking that the newspapers will next write "Nakata heads back to making millions of dollars hawking digital cameras". Still, I'll be looking at the rest of the survivors until the final game on July 9th.

All I've got tomorrow is JJ. However, I've got a couple of outings afterwards. One is that little lunch in Omotesando with MB and then last night, I got this call from Ms. Perth of the Beehive. She and her hubby wanted to thank me for lending him my crutches during his convalescence from a broken Achilles' Tendon so they're taking me out for dinner. Nice to be wanted.

Plus, I've got the gasman coming over to the apartment for his triannual inspection of the gaslines. He'll probably be heading over on Wednesday when I don't have any classes at all, the first time I can say that in over 2 weeks.

And finally, it looks like the government really wants my money. Since I am a freelancer, the powers-that-be have decided that they would figure out my income tax burden for Fiscal Year Heisei 18 in advance, and I'll have to make two payments of over 50,000 yen each by the end of this year. I'm now seriously thinking about getting that cardboard box in Shinjuku Park as my new shelter. On the good side, Speedy informed me that I'll be getting my highest payment from his school since I started due to the fact that I spelled for him last month.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday June 21, 9:56 p.m.

Just finished my model lesson. Not sure if she took the bait, though. She was fairly button-down about the whole affair, and over here people will just give the generic "Yes, I enjoyed the lesson" without giving away their true feelings about it. I wager it's 50/50. So if she indeed decides not to become 008, I'm gonna have a day off next week since both 001 and 007 will be out of the country. Well, at least I can watch "The Fountain of Trivia" for the first time in several weeks.

There's just something about handling new students that saps me of a lot of energy. Luckily, I've only got The Carolinan tomorrow so I can sleep in. All these years of teaching and I still haven't figured out why some students stick with me for so long while others just give up the ghost after a few tries.

Well, my first attempts to succeed in my diet of no sugar and snacks have already crashed and burned. Speedy offered some luscious apple pie that his wife had gotten. Resistance was indeed futile.
Wednesday June 21, 4:14 p.m.

Well, the first day of Summer has arrived, and it certainly feels like the beginning of the hot season. Mind you, we're still in the Rainy Season as well so we've still got a lot of precipitation on the way.

Not just the seasons are changing for me, though. I've got personnel changes coming up. Ms. Tulip of The Beehive will be heading for her new home in Toronto in about a month. And at the juku, The Salaryman started his first lesson with The Milds and McGirl last night. Not really sure if he enjoyed it or not although he said that the class was "interesting" to the boss. His temperament quite matches the demeanor of the Milds, though. So, whether he'll stay or scoot is anyone's guess right now. But just as soon as he gets in, McGirl said that she would be pulling out of the class at the end of the month since she'll be heading for fashion school. It's just as well since she wasn't all that serious for the year that she was with us. It was lucky that she had two kindly folks in the form of the Milds. The Siberian was nearly dead with fatigue last night in the last slot. He was weaving in and out of slumber all throughout the "lesson"; I kinda understand how he felt, though. I also get that way during my time with The Teacher since I see her after lunch.

Much to my chagrin, Student 007 pulled off a dotakyan an hour ago so I've got no lesson with him, but I still get paid since he did it at such a late hour. I've got 001 for her usual, but it will be her last one before she heads on out for that South Africa trip next week. With the fact that 007 will also not be here next week due to work, I may be facing an empty Wednesday except that if my model lesson tonight works out, I may get my lone student 008 for 8:30 p.m. I've also got another model lesson this Saturday for a lady who'll be coming for biweekly sessions. Since SB is no longer with us, I may have to be pulling greeting duties since Speedy will still be talking with interviewees for SB's old position. So far, Speedy hasn't found the right person yet. A lot of these young'uns apparently have never used a computer before...other than for first-person shooter games.

Unlike the Americans, the Japanese are currently sighing a big burst of relief right now. The SDF personnel who have been deployed in Iraq for several months got their marching orders to come home as of today. Always good to hear.

Tom Cruise has once again popped onto our shores again...this time to promote M:I III. He came in his speedboat through Odaiba in front of an adoring crowd of 3,000 fans. Considering that Odaiba is built on garbage, I'm surprised that the ground under those fans didn't sink below the water table. Then he and they had that sneak premiere of his latest movie at the Mediage theatres in the area.

I've been enjoying the World Cup matches on the telly at night for the past couple of weeks now. I can imagine that all of us will be seeing Zico's boys coming home to Narita on the weekend, unless the most miraculous of miracles hapens. But at least the other games have been fun to watch. The Sword of Damocles will be over Team Japan early Friday morning. And the executioner? The Boys of Brazil. Japan basically has to trounce Brazil like a bunch of nerds playing the beautiful game for the first time for it to have any chance of going ahead...which is kinda like me becoming rich and handsome by the weekend. Ain't gonna happen.

Skippy has given her regrets about not coming to Mr. Influence's cooking fest on Sunday. She said something about having to see her grandmother...which I think is a bold-faced lie but over here, people do that to save face. One does have to pay a little bit extra for Mr. Influence's class, no matter how economical Speedy says it is. And I think Skippy wouldn't take the bait. So, since she ain't going, I ain't going....which means I will actually make some money teaching JJ and then I may meet up with Movie Buddy for yet another session of burgers.

I guess all that built-up stress from meeting new students and saying goodbye to old faces is getting to me. My back and shoulders feel no less different that a block of mahogany.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Monday June 19, 3:52 p.m.

Well, the Japanese soccer fans are not crying in their beer, but neither are they crying for joy. They're in limbo, so to speak. But it's the sort of limbo or lull that usually precedes an execution of sorts. After the total collapse of Zico Japan last Monday night to the Aussies, the team managed to pull off a scoreless tie with Croatia, another Group F team in dire straits, last night. A scoreless tie? That's like kissing one's sister...the one with the mass of cold sores all around her mouth. And guess who the next opponent is? Just Earth's greatest team...Brazil. For Japan to pull off a berth in the next round, the team would need George Lucas' hopeless optimism, a Steven Spielberg round of direction and a John Williams soundtrack. If Zico and the boys pulled this one off, there would be mayhem in the streets of Tokyo later this week.

Back in my own little world, my weekend was a foodie extravaganza with the prices to match. On Friday, shortly after my last entry, the bunch of us at Speedy's held an unofficial goodbye party for SB at a nearby Taiwanese restaurant. It's an unassuming eatery but it does have a great deal in the form of a 3500-yen, 2-hour all-you-can-drink thingie with an 8-course meal. Not bad at all. The minimum number of people to take part in this Asian smorgasbord is 3, but even with us 5, we barely made it to the finish line (mind you, Speedy and I were the only two guys there and the bossman himself had downed 2 or 3 croquettes earlier in the evening). Still, the four of us treated SB to the free dinner so our shares of the bill were duly inflated.

Then, on Saturday night, I met up with Skippy in the trendy neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa for dinner. It had been several years since I last stepped into this area, popular with the university crowd, southwest of the teen Mecca of Shibuya. I got there about 90 minutes ahead of the 5 o'clock meeting time so I did a bit of a recce around. It's a pretty compact neighbourhood but as is usually the case with special Tokyo neighbourhoods, Shimo is packed with a lot of small shops and eateries. Just for big laughs, I took a look at the front windows of some of the real estate agencies. Sure enough, apartments with my sort of rent only offer half the space that I have. I don't think I'll be moving anywhere near there for a long while, if ever.

When I did meet Skippy, the two of us first made a beeline into the other side of Shimo. By the way she was navigating through the crowds and narrow streets, she was a veteran. She told me that her father had once lived in the area for around 5 years before tying the knot. She took me to a bakery that had the usual pastries and breads but had become famous for its curry-filled buns in the various forms of media. Getting oneself immortalized in the variety shows and on the pages of TokyoWalker is as good as gold...for a while. The bakery staff made sure everyone knew about the buns' fame through little signs on the trays. I bought one of the buns while Skippy bought about 12 which brought a few stares (and some grumblings, I imagine, from other customers); her father has a special love for the stuff. Then, Skippy led me to our destination for okonomiyaki restaurant called Otafuku. Otafuku usually means "mumps"....I'm not sure if the name refers to the condition of one's mouth after stuffing a whole bunch of savory Japanese pancakes. In any case, there is a sweet sauce which has the same name and which is poured onto them. The restaurant Otafuku was a small place, just several seats by the counter behind which the chefs do their cooking magic, and then one long wooden table just by the door. We got two by the counter so we ordered one order of Hiroshima okonomiyaki (more on that later) and a mess of tonpei. Of course, Skippy got her beer while I got my glass of Calpis. I'm sure the waitress assumed that I would be the alky with my gut.

Tonpei is kind of a mix between an okonomiyaki and an omelette. It's a disc of fried egg enveloping fried pieces of pork and slathered in stripes of mayo, ketchup and otafuku sauce. There's also a wide swath of Japanese mustard that adorns one side of the dish. It was the first time I'd ever tried it and I was a happy camper. Our Hiroshima okonomiyaki was frying up right in front of us. The Hiroshima variety consists of a thin disc of batter on which a ton of shredded cabbage and yakisoba noodles are placed with a mix of seafood and pork. Another thin disc is placed on top. At first, the entire pile looks rather unwieldy and threatens to fall over but then the chef takes two of his metal spatulas and proceeds to press the life out of the pile. All that water in the cabbage gets squeezed out and sizzles away. I'm glad that the sound is sizzling and not screaming since it probably would've broken several clauses of the Geneva Convention. After a few minutes and some slathering of otafuku sauce with ground nori, we were able to eat the concoction right from the grill. Skippy boasted that this style of okonomiyaki was very healthy due to the large amounts of cabbage although I wonder if the amount of oil, noodles and sauce largely offset the so-called health benefits. In any case, it was delicious.

The two of us were surprised when The Satyr suddenly rang up on Skippy's cell. He hadn't made any contact to the girl's original invitation but called up to see if it weren't too late to join the party. Skippy was more than happy to pick him up from the station. In the meantime, the older waitress had us moved over to the bench since there was a party of 4 waiting in the wings. The Satyr and Skippy returned where we ordered one more order of okonomiyaki since The Satyr had already eaten a little something with his girlfriend back in Shibuya. Otafuku was another restaurant which had found some fame in the mags and on telly. In fact, that's how Skippy, her ears and eyes forever open for the latest in culinary fame, found out about it. There were autographed cards on the walls by various tarento who had come knocking.

There would be a fourth person joining us but it would be for coffee and dessert. She was one of Skippy's classmates at the old school, Gabby. She was also friends with that disappearing act, Jazz Buddy. Gabby had had her own set of adventures over the past couple of years. She went to school for about a year in Santa Monica and roomed with a number of folk before returning to this side of the Pacific earlier this year and getting a job at some sort of architectural design firm here in Tokyo. Not surprisingly, her English gained a slight Valley Girl-like quality. The four of us then found a dessert place called Waffle something-or-other. We were seated next to a couple of Shibuya gals who either glared or sneered at us....ahh...why do I get the feeling that the renowned Japanese attention to good service and politeness will be extinct in another generation? The four of us shared a large waffle concoction covered in slabs of yogurt and berries. Gabby, during our wide-ranging talk, also spoke about Jazz Buddy. The last time she had heard from my former private student was back last Fall; apparently, she's still in depression mode. Still, it was good to have the chat although the entire night set me back about another 4000 yen.

Then there was last night. I met The Bohemian for the first time in a few months. We went to our default izakaya in Shibuya, En. Talking of depression, The Bohemian wasn't in too chipper a mood. He wasn't even attempting to flirt with the waitresses. His side business of daytrading hasn't been doing too well....although, I think that's usually the case with most folks who risk their savings on this Net venture despite what TIME and other journals might write about. And he's been busy going to school trying to get his certificate in teaching Japanese. He's been in limbo himself for several years: still living at home with his folks and not sure about his direction in life. He did mention something about getting an interest in opening up a club in the big city but that's even riskier than daytrading. We did our usual 3 hours at En. It was still just 7 p.m.; however, the two of us were just yawning by the end so we cut our night short. Not sure where the two of us will be the next time we meet. I know that my wallet was feeling even lighter. En cost me 6500 yen without breaking a sweat.

So that was my foodie weekend. Next weekend could also be a bit heavy in terms of calories and yen. Movie Buddy contacted me for a bout next Sunday. But Speedy asked if Skippy and I could occupy a couple of spaces in Mr. Influence's biweekly cooking sessions on the same day. It's pretty rare for one of his sessions to have empty spots but I'm not sure if Skippy is gonna jump at the chance. One spot costs 4900 yen. Mind you, that includes the instruction and the food. But 4900 yen is 4900 yen. So I've got some decisions to make by midweek about what I'm to do for the weekend. BTW, MB and his girl saw "The Da Vinci Code"; as expected, they were bored. So, probably I'll just wait til the DVD comes out.

I'm finishing this up just as Speedy is going through his list of interviewees for SB's old job. In fact, he's had so many of them that SB is still here doing extra duty manning the phones.