It took me about a year of living in Japan before I had my first dream that included Nihongo, and about 3 years for my dreams to take place in Japan. I had such a dream here on Ma’s couch in Brooklyn. I couldn’t remember all the details. All I remember is that I was at an Onsen in Nikko with girlfriend and she was laughing…I woke up to the SKYPE line’s ring.
“Hello.” I just knew it was my girlfriend.
“You coming?” it wasn’t. It was Sharlene.
“Oh shit, what time is it?”
“It’s after 7.”
“Aight, give me a sec…”
I bounced off the sofa Ma had allowed me to crash on and made my way upstairs into the empty apartment where I had lived for the 6 years before I moved to Japan, and took a shower in my old bathroom. It felt strange being in my last home in NY without any of my old furnishings. Memories rushed at me. I’d lived a good portion of my life in these rooms. Major events. Love affairs and crazy break-ups. The novel I wrote in my little home office space. The end of the Clinton years, where I did very well, and the first of the Bush years, when i abandoned ship. 9/11- from the roof above I watched the Twin Towers fall and the fighter jets darting by overhead. A grand party celebrating my independence from corporate America. An emotional farewell party before I left for Japan. All in these rooms.
My landlord had done some renovating, changed the tile in the kitchen, added a doorway, a new fridge, some lighting fixtures, and she’d gotten rid of my purple. I’d painted the whole living room 2 shades of purple. I loved it. I guess the tenants that followed me weren’t feeling it, though. The apartment was unheated and that reminded me of my duplex back home in Yokohama…
15 minutes later I was at Sharlene’s door tapping the first few notes to shave and a haircut on the horn. I felt weird doing it, like I was disturbing the peace. I rarely hear horn blowing in Japan. A guy was standing on the corner near her house. He was looking my way. “Sorry about that” I said and nodded and smiled/grimaced. Then Sharlene and her daughter came out of her front door. Damn, i remember when she was born. Now she’s a teenager and filling out them jeans, and the guy standing on the corner turned out to be her boyfriend. I aged about 20 years with that knowledge.
“Hey you,” Sharlene chimed.
“Hey. What time is the train?”
“It leaves at 8:20. We won’t make it.”
“Hell we won’t.” It was about 7:50. From Bed-Stuy to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, minus Traffic, is about a 20 minute bounce. I’ve done 42nd Street, where i used to work, in 20 minutes, if the bridges are clear. I raced that rental through Brooklyn to the bridges and crossed them no problem, green lights all the way up 6th Avenue to 34th Street and like clockwork the four of us got on the 8:20 train to Philly.
I’d never canvassed for a politician before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never cared that much about any particular candidate before. I’ve always been interested in politics, though and after 9/11 i became a political junkie. But, it never really made a big difference to me who the president was. And, local politics in NY is just fucked. I used to cover it for a local paper. You got a bunch of useless, untrustworthy black politicians in Bedford-Stuyvesant, from Assembly and Council all the way up to Congress…and as far as Senators are concerned, you got Hillary Clinton, the shameless carpetbagger extraordinaire.
But, Obama changed my opinion of Black Politicians. In fact he changed a lot about my outlook on things in general (more on the Obama Effect in a later post.) He was changing the game entirely. Pennsylvania is usually a Democratic state. But, the rough primary race with Hillary Clinton had made the state a little iffy. New York was steadfastly democratic, a shoo-in for Barack, so many New Yorkers had volunteered to take the 2-hour ride down to Pennsylvania and pull some PA coats get the PA votes. I’d been canvassing people in Indiana by phone from Japan (SKYPE made this possible) on my free time, but I was a little apprehensive about doing so face-to-face. I’d never even been to Philly before.
“Good Morning…umm, well, uh…my name is Loco and I’m a volunteer for Obama/Biden 08 and, um, well, you know…” I stuttered to a pair of eyes peeking through a cracked open door.
“Did you say Obama?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m a volunteer for…”
“OH!” The door swung open, and I stepped back (prepared to breakout if necessary) as an elderly white woman strode out on to the porch. “Oh yes, me and my friends and my children and some of my grandchildren are all voting for Obama. He is a wonderful man, don’t you think?And…and he’s going to change this country for the better, by god. And it’s about time, isn’t it? Are you ok?”
“I’m fine…I’m just…well…”
“Where did you get your cap and t-shirt?” she asked “They’re really nice! Do all volunteers get them?
“Well, actually, I bought it from Obama’s campaign website.”
“Ohhh…well, it’s very nice.”
“Thanks…thanks a lot,” I stammered. I didn’t know why I was so rickety. I decided to stick to the checklist and script I had on the pad I was carrying. “Ok, so do you need a lift to the polls on Election day?”
“No thank you, kindly, that’s my car right behind you. I’m taking myself and all my friends…”
“Ok, do you know where your voting site is?”
“Why, yes, unless they changed it since the primaries…I voted for Hillary, then,” she smiled and winked a little. “The polls is a few blocks away. I may even walk there?”
“Ok…Will you be available to volunteer for the campaign on Election day?”
“Oh, no, I can’t on Election day. Sorry. I have to work, dear. I volunteer at the Senior Citizen center downtown. I’m a retired teacher, you know. But don’t you worry. I know these people in this area and they are going to support Obama. You mark my words. ”
“Ok…well, thank you so much for your time, and sorry to have disturbed you so early on a Saturday.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, you know old folks are early risers. I’ve been up since 5am, young man…” she said and smiled broadly. “Where are you from? Because I know you’re not from around here.”
“And you came all the way down here…that’s impressive! When you first came I thought you were Jehovah’s witnesses, that’s why I didn’t open the door. Anyway, you go ahead and wake up these other folks around here if you think you need to. But I know them and most of them are going to support Obama.”
Well, she was right on. Over the course of the day I knocked on about 80 doors and about 60 of them pledged their support for Barack, 10 for McCain and the rest were unanswered or undecided (wasn’t much difference between the two at this point.) No one volunteered though. They were all white, working class, mostly of Jewish, Russian or Polish descent, some first generation American, most 2nd and 3rd generation. Some gave a short, kurt responses, some were long and talkative. And, no one was rude. No guns. No drama whatsoever. By the end of the day, I felt like I’d personally handed Pennsylvania to the senator.
When we got back to the campaign office to hand in our paper work it was as busy as a beehive. In an office suitable to hold a maximum of 50 there had to be 3 times that many. Even when we were leaving more volunteers were just arriving in droves. I overheard conversations of people who had been doing done what I’d done that day everyday for weeks…and the people coming and going, hustling and bustling, were predominantly white. I’m talking 90% white. It was absolutely remarkable, to me. This has never happened in American history. I’m certain of it. I almost started weeping right then and there as an overwhelming pride I’d truly never felt about America, and shame at the wasted prejudices I’d held for so long, swept through me, but I managed to keep it together.
Jet lag caught up with me on the train ride home and I slept all the way back to NY.
That night, I popped over to Myrtle Avenue again. This time, to my favorite hero shop, number two on food tour list. It’s called Farmer in the Deli. This is something I truly craved while I was in Japan. Japan has Subways but their sandwiches, comparatively, suck. Forget Subways…this deli is the ultimate hero shop and if you’re ever in Brooklyn, you MUST go there. They know how to make a manwich. The lines can get a little long and now that it’s catching on like the Soup Nazi’s soup kitchen back in the Seinfeld days, I’m sure the prices will go up too. I stood in line trying to figure out a way to smuggle a few back to Japan.