Stare.
 
2002 Notebook: Weak XX
 
   
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15 May 2002
No. 95 (cartoon)
Something died.

I smell it too.

That’s too bad.

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16 May 2002
A Failed International Collaboration
Long ago, I read that Japanese censors won’t allow any photographs that show pubic hair into the country. Instead of confiscating the offending images, though, they use a pen or marker to obliterate the pubic hair. At least that’s the story I heard.

That curious practice was the basis for a new piece, one that I’ve been thinking about making for at least a couple of decades. My plan was to bring innocuous photographs depicting the odd bit of pubic hair into Japan, where the dutiful customs inspector would blot out the offending bits. The altered images would then become the finished pieces.

Today was my first chance to realize my idea, so I flew to Japan ready for aesthetic fun. I copied a generic photograph of someone’s groin, then crudely altered it in my computer. I came up with a grotesque image of an androgynous being with a large, black hole where the genitals used to be. I printed twenty copies; I figured my customs collaborator and I would make a twenty-piece edition after I landed.

After my plane touched down in Osaka, I told the immigration control inspector that I had some photographs she should see. She ignored me, stamped my passport, and said, “Everything A-OK. Have nice day. Next!”

And now I’m stuck with twenty mediocre photographs of a distorted groin.

The Japanese culture police are nothing if not inscrutable.

17 May 2002
Made in Japan
I swam in the ocean for the first time when I was ten years old or so. On my very first swim, I remember an astounding epiphany: the ocean is salty! Of course, even at that age I’d been taught that the ocean was full of salt water. Even so, book learnin’ is one thing and empirical knowledge quite another.

I recalled my first dip in the Atlantic after my most recent trip across the Pacific. Although I’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean many times, this is my first time in Japan. (Going from plane to plane outside Tokyo doesn’t count.)

This is the revelation I had after my lamentably uneventful walk through customs: everyone here is Japanese!

The clerks and cops? All Japanese. The waitresses and waiters? They’re Japanese. Taxi drivers, school girls, and bums? Japanese too. That flood of dreary salarymen in cheap suits pouring onto my train? Yep, Japanese.

Virtually everyone on this grim, industrious island is Japanese!

Hai!

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18 May 2002
The Other Way Around in Japan
I love being in Japan. Everything’s indecipherable. Everything’s Japanese. Everthing’s perfect.

Hai!

I’ve seen a thousand ships in a hundred ports, but I never saw a large ship with an anchor in the stern until I arrived in Shimonoseki.

Perfect!

Perfectly inscrutable!

Hai!

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19 May 2002
Japanese Style and Western Style
Japanese toilets scare me. The high-technology urination and defecation devices in Japan have massive electronic control panels with an irrational number of buttons, gages, knobs, and scores of flashing lights. All the labels, are, of course, in Japanese. I’m afraid to test any of the features; it would be just my luck to push the button that turns on the stainless-steel chopping blades.

Whacka whacka whacka whacka whacka yow!

The opaque toilet technology frightens me. And that’s why I was delighted to come across an honest, straightforward, porcelain hole in the floor at the library in Asa. Of all places.

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20 May 2002
Infinite Beer
A diplomat friend of mine diplomatically smuggled me into tonight’s diplomatic reception presented by the Japanese government. I tried to pass for a sophisticated foreign visitor, but everyone recognized me for who I am: a gaijin! (As Yuminum later told me, “It might have been your torn jeans and hiking boots that tipped them off.)

In spite of my appearance, an old, balding bureaucrat insisted that I sample some dish with an indecipherable Japanese name.

“I’m sorry,” I said with a bow, “but I do not understand Japanese.”

“Actually, I was speaking in French,” the bureaucrat explained.

“Ah so,” I replied with another bow. “I am afraid I don’t speak French either. What is the name of this concoction in English?”

He pointed to a sign on the corner of table.

Soupe glace au Baleine fumé et “ MOZUKU ”
Cold Whale Bacon and kelp soup

“I’m very sorry, but I must respectfully decline your kind offer. You see, I am allergic to kelp,” I lied with a bow. “It’s a seaweed thing. Runs in the family. Bon appétit!”

I needed to wash the thought of chewing on cold, greasy bacon out of my mouth, so I headed to a nearby beer table.

The beer tables were my favorite part of the reception: I counted dozens of them! Each table had three half-liter bottles of beer, one from each of the major Japanese breweries. I poured a small glass (we’re in Japan, no?) of beer, and by the time I’d had a few sips, I found myself at another beer table for another refill. And so on.

The small bottles of beer were always full. Every time someone poured a glass of beer, one of the omnipresent Japanese servants appears with a fresh, new bottle. Legendary Japanese efficiency at my service!

Infinite beer! Made in Japan! Hai!

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©2002 David Glenn Rinehart