Noilly Prattle: March 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Happy Vernal Equinox

Kokubunji Temple Pagoda
on the First Day of Spring

world on a string in Springtime

green rain

pink plum pagoda

white and blue

pastel rainbow

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Dog Sh*t War

WARNING: This article contains bad language and unpleasant images.

     Our neighborhood has enthusiastically jumped onto the bandwagon of wars on just about everything.

        Let me explain more or less briefly.

        Japan is a very organized society. We have associations for everything here. I wouldn't be surprised if we had an association to promote better regularity. It could be called the Association for Better Bowel Movements (改善された便通協会). There is a thing called the Neighborhood Association that every household is required to belong to on pain of ostracism. We the members have to pay dues and fulfill certain duties, including twice yearly neighborhood cleanups. There is a local neighborhood chief who is required to serve a period of one year. The chieftaincy rotates to each household in the neighborhood from year to year. The chief is responsible for passing out circular notices (回覧板) to each household. These notices are usually pretty bland and innocuous. But the one we received today was quite startling in its graphic directness about a dispute over doggy doo.

        People here are usually pretty fastidious about politeness and decorum among the neighbors as well as keeping the neighborhood clean. The Japanese border on fanaticism about cleanliness. It leaves “next to Godliness” in the dust.

        Anyway, the dog poop scoop.

        We used to have a dog, Alfie was his name, and I used to take him for walks for exercise and to do his business. Alfie was pretty fastidious about where he deposited his turds. It's a good thing because there was no way I was going to hold a baggie under his ass and wait for him to fill it, which is what many local doggie walkers do with spoiled pets urging and cooing little Mignone to poo-poo for Mommy. No, Alfie was a man's dog who had the smarts to crap in the grass instead of on the sidewalk. OK, end of preamble.

        Lately, on our health walks in the neighborhood, we've been noticing un-picked up dog turds along the side of the road. Now, this can be very annoying if you step in a freshly deposited pile—as anyone who has spent any time in Paris will know. I started muttering under my breath: “This neighborhood is going to the dogs.”

        So, today, this circular comes around to our house about a dog sh** fight in the neighborhood. One of the neighbors (Number 1) who was on the receiving end of another neighbor's (Number 2) dog's deposits got angry and told the offending neighbor to pick up their dog crap or else they'd call the cops. Neighbor 2 ignored the threats and so neighbor 1 called the cops, who said they couldn't get involved in such a trivial dispute. Their main occupation is setting up speed traps for unwary motorists whenever the department is low on money.

        The offended neighbor (1) decided to take the law into his own hands and poisoned two's dog by giving it food laced with an agricultural insect poison easily available from any home center. Whereupon, the pet's owner (2), understandably upset, began a screaming contest with the poisoner (1). I don't think it deteriorated into pitching dog turds at each other though. The wars went on and on at escalating decibels until the Neighborhood Association decided to step with its usual persuasiveness by issuing a circular notice.

        The circular politely suggests that everyone please cooperate in picking up your dogshit so as to avoid such an unpleasant and unseemly display of bad manners. (If I were the neighborhood chief I would have invited the combatants to join the senior citizens gate ball association, where, if push came to shove, they could have swung gate ball mallets at each other. Better than flinging dogshit, I'd say.) 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Looking Back: 26 – Good-bye campus life . . . Hello, real world

Fuller and one of his
geodesic domes
     In June of 1969, one of my discussion group friends, MD, joined Buckminster Fuller's World Game Seminar in New York City. P and I helped her move to an apartment in the West Village before I had to go back to Amherst for my summer classes.

Andy Warhol
the Factory
        One of M's friends in Manhattan was associated with Andy Warhol's second Factory on Union Square. One day she invited us to visit the Factory around the time Warhol was recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by a disgruntled radical feminist who had been a marginal figure in the Factory scene. Warhol was there, looking rather more pale than usual, but he was very friendly and accommodating in showing us around the factory. All I can say is that it was a really funky and innovative atmosphere that fully lived up to its reputation as a hip and hedonistic hangout for artistic types and people from a kind of latter day demi monde. It was an unforgettable experience.

        Good times (bad times) come to an end although the memory lives on. But, in the real world you can't live on memories. With graduation, which I finally achieved at the end of the Summer of 1969, came the end of the GI Bill checks and the State housing grant. In short, it was time to move on and get a job. Graduation broke up the old gang. Some went on to Graduate School, P joined the army, my roommate M set up a commune in the Berkshires and married a Gentile and is now the CEO of a line of gourmet sauces Chef Myron's Sauces, and I went back home to look for work.

"I guess this means NO?'
        Liberal Arts degrees don't qualify you to do much without further training or higher education on the graduate level. I was neither sure if or what I wanted to pursue in a graduate program, nor did I have the money to do it. When in a state of indecision it's best to do nothing. But, I needed an income and I applied for a management training position in a bank. I got to an interview and things seemed to be going well, until the manager noticed a 2-week gap in my, shall we say colorful, resume. I hadn't been aware of the fatal “2-week gap”, and reacted with surprise and, I guess, incredulity at such a silly, in my estimation, fine-tooth-combing of a resume. The man all but accused me of dishonesty and trying to cover up some nefarious deed (like doing time, I imagine) which simply would not do in a bank employee. That was the end of the interview and the end of my stab at a conservative workaday lifestyle. The university experience had affected me far more deeply than I had realized.

        Still, I needed a job and an income. I figured if a bank didn't want me, maybe a mental institution would. (Although you'd probably have to be slightly insane to crunch numbers in a bank all day long—full blown schizophrenia seemed far more interesting.)

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Looking Back: 25 – * “...a nation at war with itself”

     Neither MB nor I had enough credits to graduate at the end of the Spring term in May 1969. We both had to take some summer courses to earn 120 credits to graduate, so we extended the lease on our apartment to the end of summer. We were out riding on M's motorcycle one day in the early summer and, unfortunately, I was not an experienced rider in those days. I was riding pinion when we leaned into a curve in the road and I (feeling that we were going to topple over) leaned in the opposite direction. Since I was heavier than M, he was unable to compensate for my weight and couldn't negotiate the curve thanks to my stupidity and we flew off the road. I went flying about 10 feet through the air, landed on my right side and broke my right wrist and arm. M broke his collarbone. To my shamefaced relief, M was unbelievably generous and forgiving as we rode in an ambulance to the hospital. His motorcycle, miraculously, wasn't badly damaged. It was comical how we managed to get to classes in my VW for a while. I could steer the car but couldn't shift with my right arm and wrist in a cast and sling. M's collarbone was broken on the right side, but he could shift with his left hand while I manipulated the clutch and accelerator. We got pretty well coordinated in a very short time and we both learned to write with our left hands.

original poster for the
Woodstock Music Festival
the scene at Woodstock
       It was in August of that memorable summer of 1969 that the Woodstock Festival was held, famously, in a dairy farmer's pasture in Bethel, in upstate New York. Woodstock was the defining moment of the counterculture revolution in 1960s America. All of the best aspects of the movement came together at Woodstock, especially its emphasis on community, opposition to the Vietnam War and its ideology of peace and love and good music and dope. The festival is, of course, legendary for living up to its ideals. M, being more attuned to the hippie movement, went to Bethel with some other friends and attended the festival. Neither I nor my other friends did, we went to the beach in Rockport instead. Hearing from M about the weather and mud conditions that actually occurred at the festival we were rather glad that we hadn't gone. (That was before it had become legendary, of course.)

       In May 1970, the turmoil over the Vietnam War and the recent political assassinations came to a head in Ohio at Kent State University. As a result of the killing of four and wounding of nine other students on the Kent State campus by the Ohio National Guard rioting broke on campuses all over the country and spread to the capitol in Washington DC. President Nixon was taken to Camp David for his safety.  * “The 82nd Airborne was in the basement of the executive office building, […] they're lying on the floor leaning on their packs and their helmets and their cartridge belts and their rifles cocked and you're thinking, 'This can't be the United States of America. This is not the greatest free democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself.'” 

       Can a nation so divided against itself stand as a free and open society, I wondered?

* Counsel to the President, Charles Colson.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Looking Back: 24 – the late 60s in a nutshell

 motel balcony on which MLK was shot in Memphis, TN
     1968 seems, in retrospect, to have been a watershed year. The Vietnam War was becoming increasingly problematic for students approaching graduation with the prospect of losing their draft deferments. The violence going on in Vietnam showed no signs of easing up nor of ending in anything that could pass as a victory. Worse still, was the reverberating unrest at home in increasingly violent protests and demonstrations on college and university campuses. And then the apostle of non-violence met with his own violent end in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King was gunned down on a motel balcony under circumstances that have always remained cloudy.

assassination of Robert Kennedy
        The turmoil in the fracturing social fabric was reflected in the presidential campaign of that year. It was a year of violence, political turbulence and civil unrest. Riots occurred in over 100 cities following the assassination of King. Adding fuel to the fire, Robert Kennedy, a Democratic presidential hopeful, was shot and killed in Los Angeles in a hotel restaurant kitchen on June 5, 1968, again under circumstances that remain unsatisfactorily resolved--the second Kennedy brother to fall to an assassin's bullet. 

police at the Democratic National Convention, 1968
       The now famous Democratic National Convention of August, 1968 was held against a backdrop of nationally televised rioting by police and protesters with chants of “Hell no, we won't go!” (to Vietnam) degenerating into taunts of “Pigs are whores,” spiced with roiling clouds of mace and tear gas. The convention eventually nominated Hubert Humphrey as its Democratic presidential candidate, but it was said at the time that that night America voted for Richard Nixon, who had campaigned on ending the Vietnam War.

with my niece and Lance (a boy I was
working with as a Big brother)
        Nixon was sworn in as President in January,1969. Things seemed to calm down for a while on the campuses while we awaited the promised ending of the Vietnam War. It seemed a long time coming, but life went on on campus as usual. My roommate, M and I deciding to stay together, pooled our State living allowances and move off campus. I had my Volkswagen and M had a motorcycle, we rented a 2-bedroom apartment not too far from the campus and got on with our classes and activities. I was a History Major with no particular minor, choosing elective classes as the spirit moved me. M was majoring in Psychology but seemed more interested in cooking. In fact, he was something of a gourmet chef. When he cooked we ate very well, when I cooked it was hamburgers and hot dogs. While I was still more interested in our discussion group activities and my elective subjects, I did give my Major coursework more attention and pulled my grades back up to A and B levels and eventually graduated with honors.

        Euphoria rang out the 60s, but horror ushered in the 70s.

To be continued...