Beginnings of a Seismic School Year
Hollywood got it totally wrong.”
He said this just as he set his beer mug down on the table and shook his head. I took several swallows of the cold, thin beer and then set my mug down as well, reaching across the table I picked up a stick of yakitori and waited for him to continue.
“There is no massive wall of water racing toward the skyscrapers or any of that shit. There’s no running down the street to escape it. ” He shook his head again as he stuffed some garlic fries into his mouth. I shook my head as well. I finished the yakitori.
“You saw the videos online. It’s as if someone left the facet on. The sink just overflows and it keeps coming and coming. ” He zones out slightly staring off at something only he can see and then just when I think he’s going to say something else, he just lets out a sigh.
“It was just consuming man. Cars, bicycles, houses -fucking houses- man.” I say and then pick my beer up again
“All we needed was Godzilla stomping around breathing fire and eating the citizenry and we would have had a hit Japanese monster movie. ”
That was one of the hundreds of conversations I have had in the last month and a half regarding the earthquakes and tsunami that absolutely ravaged northern Japan and set people all over the world on edge.
Japan is an advanced nation with resources, technology, money and means. If the earth can just stand up and slam one of the most powerful countries on the planet in the face with a wide flying right hook, than nobody anywhere is safe.
It dawned on me the other day as I stood at the bus stop outside MDC watching the rain fall on the pavement, the hills, the trees and the patches of gardens and rice fields. If nobody ever made another weapon or started another ridiculous war we would still all essentially be fucked. That’s how insignificant we actually are. Our arrogance usually blinds us to the fact that we need the earth, not the other way around.
Conversations like that one I had at a “270” izakaya in Shinjuku, there are 8 of them now within a 10 block radius (it’s like the new McDonalds), with Yosomono have dominated all discourse here since 03/11 and how could they not? Nobody likes having their entire reality questioned. Talk it away. Try to “figure it out”. Define small. Personify expendable.
“Where were you when the earthquake happened?” I asked her. I just say the earthquake despite there being earthquakes daily. There was one the night before just after I had gotten in bed, but when you say “the earthquake”, everyone knows what you mean.
“I was on the train. It was shaking so much. My whole body went cold I was so scared and when it stopped I realized I was holding onto some middle-aged salary man! My arms completely wrapped around him. I didn’t even know I had done that.” She was smiling as she recounted the story to me. At least Misa still smiles her smile, but 17 year olds can do that. Of course they can also lose it.
” I totally lost it.” Mayuko told me, almost running over Misa’s story with her intensity and the black shock horror she clearly still feels like it just happened. “I was at Tokyo Disney Land with my friends, and was about…about to take a photo with…Mickey…” She paused and stared at my eyes for a moment. I looked at Misa (still smiling) who was looking at Mayuko who was staring directly at me with a blank expression which proceeded to crack and devolve into something I never like to see. Tears from a woman. She continued with effort and necessity.
“…then everything started to shake. It was slow at first but everyone stopped moving, then it started to shake so hard and I started screaming. Mickey Mouse turned and ran off and I just screamed and clutched my friends who were also screaming. It was horrible.” Her eyes, shimmering nightmare mirrors, full of tears quivered for another moment and then the bell rang. Sixth period had ended. Disney land will never be the same again.
It was after the talk with Misa and Mayuko, standing in the freezing cold under the tin shelter at the bus stop listening to the rain drops popping off the roof trying to explain things to me. It was freezing that day. The morning had been bright and warm but by three in the afternoon it had become early February again.
I should have known something was wrong that day. I had awoken to a wine glass, left haphazardly perched on the edge of a bookshelf, clanging to the floor at 4:30 in the morning compliments of yet another earthquake.
Waking up in the middle of an earthquake is a unique experience that I will recommend to no one. The first half-dozen times this happened in the last 6 weeks, I flew out of bed like a member of a Chinese circus and was at my front door, cash-phone-passport in hand, within 30 seconds. One problem that has arisen amidst all this seismic activity, something I would not have predicted before, is the development of a totally lackadaisical attitude when confronted with any kind of earthquake less than say- a level 7. The earth-shaking and knocking over glasses or throwing pictures off the wall is “no big deal”, it’s on the same level of annoying as the cats making sweet feline love at 3AM outside my flat- and boisterously sharing their passion with me via sensuous kitty-cat screams.
The fact is, one should never answer the awesome physical dominance of the Earth with your hands in your pockets, a shrug of the shoulders and a half-hearted “meah“.
The shaking woke me up at 4:30 and I just laid there. I woke up, my eyes opened and I groaned a few explicatives but I didn’t move. I just laid there on my back, looked up at the ceiling and waited for the shaking to stop. After about thirty seconds, the heater/cooler on my wall, the one directly over my head came into view and I imagined it breaking off the wall and falling, crashing onto my face. This depressed me even more when I realized that I surely wouldn’t die from that, it would just hurt a lot.
Perhaps a minute later things had calmed down. My world had not ended. So I closed my eyes and let myself drift back to sleep. Approximately five minutes after the quake quit and about two minutes after I fell back asleep my mobile phone started screaming and strobing wildly. My “earth quake alert” had just gone off, warning me about an impending earthquake. The one that had happened five minutes before.
“Son of bitch I’m sick of these goddamn earthquakes.” Angry words thrown into the dark of my room for anyone, or no one.
“I hate Japan. I never wanted to live here again.” Miki couldn’t have said those two sentences with more conviction or more melancholy. I’ve known Miki for six years. When I first met her at a dinner party half a decade ago she spoke no English, and had no interest in learning it or learning about anything outside of Japan. Through a series of events so convoluted and ironic they deserve a quirky comedic motion picture, she moved to Canada and became a snowboard instructor somewhere around Banff. These days, she refuses to speak to me in Japanese. Her dislike of her homeland stems from things that might be best left unsaid, but she jumped ship and saved nothing for the swim back.
The thing is, life has this way of putting you where it wants you and after Miki’s cousin disappeared on 03/11, she couldn’t see any way out of it. She had to come home.
“They still don’t know where he is.” She sighed and then took a long drag from her cigarette. Newports. She had brought several cartons back with her.
“I don’t get why the hell he stayed up there. That place didn’t give him much at all. It didn’t give me anything except an excuse to run.” I didn’t say anything for a while because I didn’t have to. I know a fair share about needing to run myself and although our reasons surely are not the same, the impulse probably is and Miki knows enough about me to know when I know.
“So, your whole family is living in Saitama now?” I stretched out my legs in front of me on the park bench and slouched down with my hands in my coat pockets against the cold and wind. Miki sat on the bench indian style facing me. Her light brown hair peeking out from one side underneath a “North Face” beanie.
“Yeah everyone at my uncles place in Saitama. My dad is still in Tohoku but my mom and my sister came here. I’m glad, you know…I can’t go back. I know I need to be with them now though….so…”
We sat in the park until after sunset then went and got pretty drunk. Miki and her family found out a week later her cousin had died. He had drowned in his car and it took the search and rescue teams a long time to find his body due to him being buried underneath six feet of debris left by the tsunami.
“You know, we make more money than the people working at the nuclear plant in Fukushima.” BigBen (Young, Stoic, French), my current flat mate that lives in the basement, told me this early this morning. I had gotten up and noticing the lack of the unexplainable horniness which always accompanies a hangover I had done the morning after test: shake my head, flex some major muscle groups and then look in the mirror. If my head doesn’t hurt, if I have no odd pains or general discomfort and if my reflection is me and not some guy ten years older due to dehydration and the overconsumption of alcoholic beverages then I give myself a pat on the back. I didn’t drink too much last night. Friday night it can go either way since the usual suspects that come out to play are one and all pretty throughly functional alcoholics, madmen and wonderful.
I had wandered into the kitchen and made a coffee and had stood there noticing out the window that it was raining. Big sloppy rain drops this morning, like some kind of aggressive display being put on by someone. It was at that time that BigBen came upstairs.
“Bonjour. ” He said and I moved out of his way so he could go to the bathroom. I was still in the kitchen when he came back and that’s when he had told me about the Fukushima situation and the economic paradox of it all.
“Things are just getting worse. I heard the government is thinking about asking the Yakuza to get “volunteers” to help with maintaining the plant.” He stood by the stairs leading to his room and stared gloomily at me in a very French way and continued.
“They need new people to push the buttons or something. Nobody wants to volunteer now.”
“I guess that’s understandable.” I replied between sips of hot black coffee. I was standing by the kitchen counter in black sweats and a Marine Corps T-shirt. BigBen was wearing his standard issue white T-shirt and plaid boxers. Conversations with BigBen are a lot like dialogue from Dr. Katz.
“If that damn plant blows up, it will make life very unpleasant here. I just got hired officially yesterday, although my boss claims he hired me last week but nobody told me.”
“Well, congrats. C’est bien.”
“C’est vraiment fantastique. Parce que je n’ai pas d’argent pour payer le loyer du mois prochain.” He smiled nervously and gestured awkwardly.
“Well, rent is important. Tell your boss I said thank you.”
I went into my room, drank my coffee then I worked out for forty-five minutes. After a shower I sat on my coach here and started writing. The Earth does what it wants. We are literally powerless to stop this but I often wonder if we aren’t the cause of this. They call it “sensitivity to initial conditions”. Is humanities massive footprint affecting the earth in ways we can’t possibly understand because we tend to think of it as this rock we can just live on and use however we like? Whether we contribute to or even trigger the escalating natural disasters or not something of this magnitude gets all my wheels turning.
Hell literally broke loose on March 11th 2011 and everything else all over the world, even within the same country just kept going. If a ten story tsunami , thousands dead and the most paranoid and preparedness obsessed nation on earth totally pimped smacked with ease can be filed away and everyone can move on then who is going to give a shit about you losing your job or me getting hit by a car?
Talk it away. Try to “figure it out”. Define small. Personify expendable.
Food for dark thoughts.