Loco in Yokohama http://www.locoinyokohama.com ...Japan from a Human Perspective! Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:24:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 https://i2.wp.com/www.locoinyokohama.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/cropped-locohama-newsletter-screen-shot2a.jpg?fit=32%2C32 Loco in Yokohama http://www.locoinyokohama.com 32 32 13131814 Is Japan Really a Land of Opportunity? http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/06/18/is-japan-really-a-land-of-opportunity/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/06/18/is-japan-really-a-land-of-opportunity/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 10:58:48 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20768 The latest #BlackEye is up and atcha!

This month’s piece tackles the question of opportunity in Japan, and how viewing this country as such (or not) might just be a matter of where you’re coming from…literally and figuratively.

Here’s an excerpt:

In my time here I’ve met and spoken intimately with my fair share of non-Japanese Westerners. Most of them were Caucasian, but quite a few were of African descent. Many of these black folk — that is, those originating from countries where English is the official language (Canada, Britain, Jamaica, the U.S., etc.) — initially worked as English instructors in some capacity. However, to teach English is rarely the reason they left friends, family and familiarity behind. Doing so just happens to be the surest way to get situated on these islands.

However, this is often not the case for people originating from countries where English is a secondary or tertiary language. The lion’s share of black people I’ve met from African nations have shared with me that they arrived in Japan, day one, with the strategic intent of owning and running a business here. By comparison, I can count on two hands the number of black Americans I’ve met who’ve expressed similar ambitions on day one in Japan — and I would not be one of those fingers.

There was a moment in each of my conversations with African folk where they expressed some version of a common theme: that of Japan being a land of opportunity — the opportunity to earn money that can then be sent to family members back home to further their prosperity and increase their opportunities, or the opportunity to raise a family in a safe environment, or the opportunity to access advanced educational facilities, etc.

Oh I see, that makes sense … wait!

Japan? Really?

 

To Read the rest of this article, Click HERE

Hope y’all dig it and share it with your peeps.

Best regards,

Baye

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Maintaining Mental Health in Japan http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/05/21/maintaining-mental-health-in-japan/ Sun, 21 May 2017 12:33:35 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20751

…is not easy but there’s no need to suffer in silence and isolation. Sometimes you just need someone to listen, who gets it. There are services available here in Japan for people who might just need a mind trained to listen. And #BlackEye has spoken with a couple of these mental health and wellness professionals and they’ve provided a wealth of information. First up:

Kisstopher Musick 

Kisstopher Musick, an American trained psychologist / therapist since 1987, believes everyone deserves to have more good days than bad, and has dedicated her life to just that. For 15 years the California native lead a group practice in the US before moving to Japan with her husband and son in 2007, and proceeded to pick up where she left off.

“I began by working with individuals who were shut-ins,” Musick says. “A condition known as hikikomori, basically people who have withdrawn from society and from life.”

READ MORE HERE

Najwa Waheed Naohara

Najwa Waheed Naohara is an American serving as Outreach Coordinator at TELL Counseling here in Japan. Naohara has been living in Japan off and on for 21 years, and working with TELL for the past 3 years, and in that time has focused her efforts on awareness building and changing the image of TELL.

“TELL is an NPO that supports the mental health needs of the international community,” says the Atlanta native. “Whether the client is a foreigner or a Japanese who speaks English doesn’t matter. Here in Japan there are loads of resources for those who speak Japanese, but there are very few for English speakers.” 

READ MORE HERE

Just wanna thank Kisstopher and Najwa for sharing this valuable information with Black Eye. As a person who has felt the intense mental stress that living in a new culture can cause, and have friends who have suffered similarly, I really hope this piece finds its way to people in need. Please share it broadly, onegai shimasu!

Baye

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Congolese Architect Builds More than Just Buildings in Japan http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/04/16/congolese-architect-builds-more-than-just-buildings-in-japan/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/04/16/congolese-architect-builds-more-than-just-buildings-in-japan/#comments Sun, 16 Apr 2017 10:40:53 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20730 Growing up in New York, you tend to turn a blind eye on much it has to offer. Native New Yorkers generally leave all that gawking, oohing and ahhing to the tourists. Celebrities might get a nod…maybe. Museums get visited on school field trips. Broadway plays? Please. Only went to the World Trade Center on business and, til this day, the closest I’ve come to the Statue of Liberty is the view from the Staten Island ferry as it cruises by.

This was not done out of contempt for the things that have labeled New York the “greatest city in the world” though. It’s just that, at least to me, the places and activities that made New York great weren’t often the center of attraction to your typical visitor. And I was fine with that.

Private Home in Kobe, designed by Nsenda Lukumwena

There was one exception though, and if it weren’t for Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” I believe even this feature of New York would have gone under-appreciated. That’s in the area of architecture.

(If you’ve never read this novel, here’s the story in a nutshell courtesy of Thug Notes – love this guy! –)

After my first reading of her phenomenal novel I never saw the structures of New York the same again. Thanks to Howard Rourke, the novel’s protagonist, I began to see each skyscraper, apartment building, department store, even private home as an individual statement by its owner, speaking to the society and time period in which it was built, as well as a manifestation of its builder’s vision.

Private Home in Kobe, designed by Nsenda Lukumwena

So, by the time I arrived in Japan, enthusiast that I’d become, I found the structures here to be a veritable feast for the senses. While New York’s cityscape is home to architecture from around the globe, resulting in a hodgepodge of sensibilities, to encounter not simply a building but entire cities designed and built with the Japanese concept of architecture was astounding.

This month, Black Eye has been blessed! What an honor and thrill it was to kick it with one of the architects behind some of the awesome structures seen here in Japan, and much, much more!

Meet architect, professor, lecturer, and social activist: Nsenda Lukumwena!

Nsenda Lukumwena

Read the Complete Japan Times Article HERE

For more on this remarkable gentleman, follow the link here: From the Congo to Kansai

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How Do You Say ‘Dementor’ in Japanese? http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/23/how-do-you-say-dementor-in-japanese/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/23/how-do-you-say-dementor-in-japanese/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:46:32 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20722 This conversation took place today at a cafe in Yokohama between a student and I.

Me: Hey, how are you?

Student: I don’t feel so well.

Me: Physically or emotionally?

Student: Emotionally.

Me: Sorry to hear that…want to talk about it? I’ll understand if you don’t, though.

Student: Ok…it’s my new job. The people are nice, polite, very professional, but. every time I walk into the office, though… I don’t know why but I feel…I feel tired and bad. Really bad.

Me: I think I know what you mean. I used to have that feeling when I worked for NOVA. All I could think about was getting through the day. I’d look at the clock from the time I walk in til the time I leave.

Student: Yeah, something like that. But, worse!

Me: Sounds like you’ve got Dementors in your office.

Student: De…nani? (what?)

Me: Dementors…I don’t know how y’all say it in Japanese, but remember in the Harry Potter movies? They were these black shadowy creatures that fly around and suck the joy and happiness out of any space they inhabit…and eventually they suck it out of you!

Student: Oh yeah, I remember.

Me: You need yourself a Patronus! (student gives quizzical look) You know, that animal, it was a Stag, that Harry Potter would make to fight them off. He had to find a happy thought. A thought so full of joy and, you know, love and what not.

Student: A Patronus?

Me: It’s a metaphor, of course. But the same principle applies…

Student: Meta for? Ah, metaphor!

Me: That’s right! There’s dark energy in that office. I don’t know the source, and I doubt if it’s magic or anything like that, but it’s there and it’s real. You can feel it, right?

Student: Yes! Strongly.

Me: So, you’ve got to ward it off with positive energy. Otherwise it will suck you dry! Got a picture of a nephew or niece you adore? Got an award you won for your photography? Got a screen saver that never fails to make you smile…Stuff like that. You gotta arm yourself.

Student: Really? You think it’s Dementors?

Me: Definitely. I mean, why do you think those Harry Potter books are so popular, anyway? Sure, luck and timing were factors, but I think it’s because Rowling used her imagination and tapped into the ideas that most people believe in instinctively and just gave them magical names and qualities. You know?

Students: Metaphors, huh?

Me: That’s right! Me, I use music. I get a song that makes me feel amazing and I hum it all day!  Sometimes I even sing it. My students used to look at me like I was crazy. Now, hell, they sing along. Michael Jackson is my go-to guy, usually. Him or Stevie Wonder. Works like a charm!

Student: Thanks Loco, I feel better already!

Me: No sweat!

Loco

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Black Women in Japan are Winning!! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/19/black-women-in-japan-are-winning/ Sun, 19 Mar 2017 11:43:03 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20715 The latest #BlackEye is up! Featuring four of the members of Black Women in Japan sharing the recipe to the group’s phenomenal success!

It’s no accident that BWIJ has experienced tremendous growth since its inception three years ago. It’s the result of what women like those featured in this article bring to the group. And finally the time has come for their first national convention! It’s happening this month (March 25th) in Tokyo!

Black Eye chatted with four members of the group to get the details on why the group has grown so much and so fast, and how it’s helping women of color living here in Japan live happier lives.

Here’s an excerpt:

“One day, Stephanie and I went to this African Festa in Nagoya. All of the vendors there were African, but all of the entertainment was Japanese. There wasn’t even one black face. We were just sitting there shaking our heads, thinking, ‘This isn’t right.’

“It wasn’t that these Japanese performers were deliberately mocking African culture. I think they were trying to be very respectful about it, but they had forgotten to include African people in their efforts to represent Africa,” Haye Matsui says. “Usually in these kinds of multicultural events, there’s a sharing of culture, and it just wasn’t there.”

The two began putting together the initial plans for what would eventually become BWIJ. There were already groups centered around black issues, but none were tailored specifically for women.

So their mission was simple: to provide a destination for women of African descent who, for a myriad of reasons, are not seeing accurate representations of themselves anywhere — not in the media or on the internet — and feel fairly isolated here because of this. BWIJ became a place where they can enjoy a sense of community, peopled with knowledgeable and supportive women who have or are currently facing similar experiences and challenges living in this otherwise lovely nation.

If you’d like to read more about BWIJ, please follow the link here: Black Women in Japan’s First National Convention

And to join the group, here’s a link to their Facebook Page: Black Women in Japan Facebook Page

Thanks and enjoy.

Loco

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Butterfly Effect http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/13/butterfly-effect/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/13/butterfly-effect/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 10:48:10 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20707 Yesterday I was sitting in the outdoor section of a Starbucks near Yokohama station sipping coffee, when I noticed a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, checking out the cafe as if to see if it were a good place to settle down and raise a family.

At that moment something came over me…a wonderful feeling I’d never felt before. A kinda Disney feeling.

You see, for the briefest of moments I imagined myself as the kind of person who could extend a finger and the butterfly, sensing my, I don’t know, my inner Snow White, purity of heart and utter inability to harm another of the Creator’s creatures, especially one as beautiful and guileless and harmless as a butterfly, that it would descend sharply and land upon my offered digit.

But, that feeling only lasted the few seconds…

The few seconds it took for the butterfly to descend to a height parallel with my sight line, with that erratic style of flying they have that gives no sign which direction it would go next, whether it would dart across the street or directly into my face.

And once I get a good look at the pattern on its wings, which are a silky black speckled with the yellow of diluted urine, and its design suggestive of an intelligence equally ingenious and inhuman, well…

I suddenly remember that while I have had rare precious moments where nature and I have gotten along swimmingly, I haves NO love for any insects, ESPECIALLY winged insects,

…and I practically dive inside the café to finish my coffee.

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From 9/11 Til 3/11: An Evolving Relationship with Fear http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/11/from-911-til-311-an-evolving-relationship-with-fear/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/11/from-911-til-311-an-evolving-relationship-with-fear/#comments Sat, 11 Mar 2017 07:03:35 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20697

I was about to leave home for work- my office a mere 5 block walk from my apartment in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn where I had lived on the top floor of a 4-story Brownstone for about 7 years- when the world changed forever.

The woman I rented from was the mother of my best friend and I had known her since I was a child. My best friend also lived there, on the ground floor. I had a great relationship with both of them, and they were both very supportive of the changes I had set in motion in my life.

I had quit my secure and fairly well-paying  job of 6 years a few months earlier in order to have more time to do revisions on the book I’d written — and had secured one of the most prominent black literary agents in the country on the strength of — and it was one hell of an undertaking. For example, I had changed the entire 340-page manuscript written in third person to a 250 or so page first person narrative, so you can imagine all the work involved. But, this was soul work, the kind of work you wake up in the morning to with the eagerness you might wake up with on the morning of your big vacation to some caribbean island off the grid.

I’d also secured a consulting job where my main responsibility was to raise awareness in Bed-Stuy of funding available for corporate sponsored beautification measures, as well as scouting locations and securing the contractors necessary to convert empty lots into awesome gardens.

I was also volunteering  (again in my community) with a neighborhood home owners association to go door to door and to give talks at Block Association meetings to residents bringing to their attention the efforts of predatory lenders to separate them from their property through shady loans, and the complicity of certain government agencies in this.

On top of that, I was working freelance for a local newspaper raising awareness of the above issues, writing articles and editorials on the players involved, for which I had gained a certain amount of notoriety and respect in the community, viewed as a “comer” or a person to be reckoned with.

I was high on life. It was an awesome time to be me.

That all changed, or at least began to, on 9/11/2001.

It was a beautiful day. Blue skies, warm breeze and sun shiny. I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a light Polo jacket. I had an Afro then and it was freshly braided tight to my scalp in cornrows ornately and uniquely designed by a woman I paid 20 dollars plus tip to do every other week. I had a little money in my pocket and a lot of joie de vivre in my heart as I descended the stairs from my apartment.

As I was opening the door to walk out into the glory of another day being me, I heard my best friend call my name.

“You seen the news?”

“Nah, what’s up?”

“A plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers!”

“Say word!” and I came back in and joined him in front of  the TV set. And, sho nuff, one of the buildings had a cavernous hole in it coughing flames and smoke. “Shit!”

While it was most certainly news, it was merely the kind of news that would make for semi-interesting conversation for the next week or so, by NY standards. Just another chapter in the ongoing saga of life in the most major of major metropolises. Seasoned New Yorkers can roll with just about anything.

I basically made my own schedule as a consultant so I wasn’t stressing over being late to the office or anything. So, my best buddy and I were sitting there watching this scene play out, listening to the reporters’ speculations while speculating ourselves about the size of the plane and the chances of survival of the people above the floors now aflame, when the next plane hit right before our eyes.

“What the fuck was that?”

We found out a few minutes later…along with the rest of the world.

While the CNN guys were talking about more planes being expected I remember grabbing and holding myself, like a mother might hold her child…kind of protectively, and thinking aloud, “my God, we’re at war!”

And not that Smart-bomb-down-a-chimney in some Muslim country Wag-The-Dog kind of war, but the kind of war other countries have all the time. The kind of war the US always wages on others had, after a 60 year lapse since the Japanese pimp slapped Pearl Harbor, had finally come home. The kind where the enemy is dropping bombs (and planes) on US cities!

The kind of shit you never imagined happening.

And, I was living in ground zero, apparently.

My friend and I looked at one another and a new fear, not unlike a fear of God, was in both of our eyes. More so in mine than his, though, I think. He was always better able to compartmentalize and rationalize than me, something I’ve always admired about him. He was also more cynical than me, I think.

Or, rather, I felt. Thinking had been put on hold for longer than I like to remember. All I could do at that moment was feel. Feel my own mortal vulnerability, and that of my family.

I feared for the safety of my sister who took the subway to work, her train passing just beneath the towers. I snatched my cellphone from its holster at my waist. No service. The Land lines were out, too.

No communication only exacerbated the rising panic I felt.

Back to the TV. Back to the talking heads talking Doomsday scenarios, end of the world as we know it shit while in the backdrop of their prognostications the symbols not only of American financial might, but of pride for us New Yorkers, burned, and people leaped to their deaths live on TV.

This can’t be real…

I felt myself shaking, trying to process my place in this new paradigm, if I should survive!

“Let’s go up on the roof!” I shouted and was headed that way even before I finished the sentence.

From the rooftop, the two towers were clearly visible, the smoke from the fire was drifting over our heads (and would be in the air for days), a metallic chemical taste to it. I was breathing in the incinerated lives of hundreds, and God knows what kind of chemicals. Then, we heard a rumble and looked around. What looked like Fighter jets were flying overhead. But the rumble continued even after they’d passed. I looked back to the two towers, and realized there were only one and a half left. The other was falling from view like some kind of house of burning cards.

“Ohhhhhh Fuck!!!”

My heart was jumping all over the fucking place…there were screams from other rooftops.

I remember thinking I might as well jump off this fucking roof. Change doesn’t happen this fast…something is wrong with the world, with life. Everything I believe is wrong. Everything is wrong.

Everything.

I was pacing around the roof, looking for something to hold on to. It felt like the ground was shaking, was going to open up and take me at any moment, the same way it had just taken one of the world trade buildings. The roof was the worst place to be. I climbed back down the ladder into my home. It took much longer than the climb up to he roof had taken. My legs weren’t sturdy. The ladder felt hazardous. I didn’t feel safe.I felt helpless as a baby minus that carefreeness of not knowing that danger lurked everywhere, that fire burns and water drowns and plastic suffocates. There was no protection, no defense. People were dying, jumping from a burning building into the debris of another building that no longer stood.

I couldn’t walk or talk…I just had to get back to the TV. I don’t remember how I got back to it. Did I crawl? I got back though and I just stood there watching that building crumble to the ground in a storm of dust and debris that swarmed through the air like it was possessed intelligence of a limited variety, like a plague of locusts swarming down streets I’ve walked thousands of times. I covered my mouth, muffling a shriek maybe, watching on the news terror-confused people running hither and thither through roads I rode upon often on my mountain bike, shocked people standing on corners I’ve frequented, muffling their mouths.

I don’t know how long I stayed that way. Maybe until the second one dropped.

Somehow, though, the collapse of the second of the twins snapped me out of it. It had a certain finality to it, like a crescendo had been leading up to that moment. I was almost relieved to see it go. Like maybe this had been the goal all along by these forces that sought to change the world as I and everyone I knew saw it, and now that they’d accomplished that they would cease and desist, pull back and let us collect our wounded and fallen, pick up the pieces of our shattered images of safety and delusions of superiority and invulnerability and, at some point, god willing, use our brains to think again.

That this force would show mercy.

It would be a few hours before I could think, again, though. Before I realized that the fear I had experienced, and the shock, had traumatized and paralyzed me. It would be years, two years in fact, before I got sick- sick to death- of living in a city and a country still traumatized so much that it actually supported a man who told them (among many ridiculous notions) to go shopping to show the terrorists that they haven’t destroyed our way of life.

Such flagrant stupidity and gross negligence from our supposed leadership made it easier to cast my good life aside, turn my back on the Loco of my dreams, put my soul work on hold, pack up my shit and move abroad.

And it would be 9 and a half years until I felt anything even approaching that level of fear again.

I didn’t even think it was possible until 6 years ago today, here, in Yokohama.

*****

8 years living on this island, among these people, had already rocked my world, in a slow incremental way. So much so that I took on a new moniker, Loco. (That, and it had a nice ring to it.) So much so that I didn’t think it could be rocked much more.

I’ve confronted, endured and in some cases overcome all kinds of challenges. In some cases, doing so has changed me for the better, and in others, well, not so much.

For example, one change I’m particularly pleased with is that I’ve learned how to channel much of my frustration, resentment and anger into my writing, transforming those powerful emotions into compelling stories and essays.

An example of a change I’m not so proud of is the habit I’ve embraced of not looking at Japanese people when I’m out and about. I’ve found that the less I see of them and their sickening behavior (not all but more than enough of them) the less I have to restrain myself from acting on the thoughts triggered by their actions, which would likely result in my doing something regrettable. Not looking helps me achieve my version of patience and tolerance, of keeping my emotions in check and reducing stress.

Which is what I just happened to be doing at the time the earth decided to make a few ultimately minor alterations somewhere in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Japan.

This is where I was standing when it happened!

I was walking toward Kikuna station. The closer I got to the station the more populated the streets became. Being in the populace is no fun for the reasons I stated above. As soon as I entered the ekimae (area in front of the station) the Japanese shifted into “Oh no” mode. I received a number of gaijin salutes from people suffering from the tic. Several people gave me the perimeter or made the gaijin detour, leaping from the sidewalk into the street to make way for me.  You know, the usual Japanese foolishness. I lowered my head, gritted my teeth and carried on…thinking hateful shit.

It was about at that moment that the Earth, as if reflecting the rumbling vexation within me, started doing likewise. I barely noticed, I was so busy doing battle with my lesser angels.

Until I spotted two cops running towards me.

Great! The Thought Police. They’re gonna burn me at a community pyre all the homicidal scenarios that go through my mind!

But, they weren’t looking at me, they were looking up! I followed their eyes and saw that the power lines were swinging, and so were the poles they were connected to. Wait! Everything was swinging and shaking!

That’s when my legs got wobbly, like someone had given me a charlie horse. But I was cool. Eight years in Japan and you get used to these terrestrial hiccups that occur here almost daily. The tremors have their NY equivalents in my mind so I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with them. Like a subway train rumbling beneath your feet, or an 18-wheeled tractor-trailer whizzing by your window, the vacuum sometimes strong enough to rattle them. And these tremors are usually pretty short. You can forget they even happened in a matter of moments.

But, as I looked around, my hands stretched out before me like a blind man, trying to keep my balance, I realized this was not a tremor! Watching power lines and even poles sway and swing is one thing, but watching train stations and buildings sway is another. I heard loud noises, rattling, clinging, banging metal and glass, like a thousand chandeliers shaking. Sounds I’d never heard before were coming from all over, like the street was screaming. And the people all around me who were, just a few moments ago, “saluting” and making detours around me, were now at a lost for what to do, just looking around at one another, waiting for the end, whether it be in death, injury or other.

I was, too. Looking at people, that is. Maybe the last people I would ever see, the tachycardia in my chest warned me.

I staggered out of the street onto the sidewalk cuz traffic was still moving- some motorist were perhaps unaware of what was happening- and I groped for a building. I looked above my head. a sign was swinging on flimsy hinges. I moved away into the path of a building what looked like a lean-to, made of wood. Surely it would fall in seconds. To my left and right were things that could kill me, structures had became lethal. The dry cleaners was a two-story tall brick executioner on the Creator’s payroll. Yoshinoya (the fast food joint) was a ninja, armed with secret weapons, ready to kill anyone who came near.

So, I stopped trying to out think God. And God acknowledged my acquiescence by exploding a window near the area I had thought about running to for safety.

No screams. There would be screaming in NY.

I looked around into the faces of these people, these strangers I usually hold in such contempt, truth be told, and felt no spite, no disgust, no animosity, and no contempt whatsoever for them…

Nor from them. For the first time we were truly one!

They looked at me and saw a human scared shit-less, and so did I. I wasn’t the object of their fear. We were looking at each other but, to borrow the words of the late, great Zora Neale Hurston, our “eyes were watching God!”

It was a lovely moment.

Then, like an old car engine, with rumbling fits, the quake subsided. Nobody moved for a solid 15 seconds. If they were like me they were trying to hold on to that precious and rare view of eternity we’d all been given, that ethereal glimpse of the inner workings of the Universe, and our place in it. Just for a moment longer, to savor our smallness, our triviality, while at the same time silently extolling the bonanza of life.

My first step was Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

I followed it with another and another and before I knew it I was walking among the stunned masses without being noticed, immersed in our equality. Everyone was my kin. We’d shared something that no one- at least not immediately- wanted to discard.

Trains were out of service so I went to a cafe next to the station, and took a table, amazed at how the staff were hardly behaving like they’d just experienced the worst earthquake in their lifetimes. I ordered coffee. Others, realizing the cafe was open for business, came in and before long the cafe was full. The table nearest mine was not the last to be taken I noticed because it was so jarring an aberration from the norm.

Some of the older patrons were reading newspapers or chatting with friends. When the first aftershock hit, a pretty big one, the light fixtures started swinging like pendulums and from my window I could see flimsy buildings waving like metronomes. Some dishes fell behind the counter, crashing to the floor. The staff apologized for the disturbance like there wasn’t a clear excuse for it, like there wasn’t death in the air. And everyone else also had “the worst is over” prayerful nonchalance. Still reading, still chatting. It was creepy to watch, but in a beautiful way.

It was about then that I thought about 9/11.

How at that time I had been so focused on my fear that I didn’t take a moment to see the beauty of fear…I was so afraid that I’d gone blind.

I’d changed in the 9 and a half years since 9/11, most of which were spent here in Asia. Being the object of fear for so many years has slightly altered my relationship with fear, the same way the earth had slightly shifted its position on 3/11, changing that relationship in ways I had been too busy writing to notice.

I remember thinking (an epiphany really) that my writing is the earthquake resulting from this alteration; every story a tremor.

It’s the most profound and inspiring thought I’d had since 9/11.

It took me back to the days before 9/11, when life was so beautiful and I was so unstoppable, unflappable, I could do ANYTHING!

And it informed me, in no uncertain terms, that that beauty was still there, in me, and in everything and everyone around me.

It took an earthquake to shake me awake.

On 9/11/2001 I closed my eyes.

On 3/11/2011 I re-opened them.

Loco

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One Sunday in Savannah: A Birthday Post for My Mother http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/02/one-sunday-in-savannah-a-birthday-post-for-my-mother/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/03/02/one-sunday-in-savannah-a-birthday-post-for-my-mother/#comments Thu, 02 Mar 2017 01:50:53 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20686 One Sunday, in March of 1941, a child was born to sharecroppers in Savannah, Georgia. They named her Rosemary, and the whole of creation shouted, “praise the lord!” for she was a godsend, like all children.

She was a dutiful child, toiling beside her parents in the cotton fields, learning the ethics of hard work and reward, or lack there of, that would define her entire life.

Sunday mornings found her in Sunday school, afternoons she sat listening to scripture in the church and Sunday evenings might include a ride to town to see Uncle Rooster and Aunt Mary. Rooster would always have some catfish he’d caught and Mary would have fresh peppers from her garden. It was a good life. A quiet, humble, predictable life.

That is, until her father deserted the family for the greener pastures of another woman leaving her mother bitter and lonely. She began to drink and when she did she also took to gallivanting for days at a time leaving Rosemary to her own devices. And when she returned she’d become violent, for Rosemary reminded her so of the man who left her behind. By her teens Rosemary had grown tired of the abuse, and rambunctious in her desire to be free of her mother’s tyranny and the yoke that constrained her to that bucolic life in a rural southern countryside.

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Rosemary, beautiful and self-sufficient as the flower she is named for, longed to have her blossoming womanhood acknowledged. And at 16 she did just that when, in a visit up north with family, she took a man and found herself with child.

She returned to Savannah in this delicate condition, as they say, but decided that Savannah was not the place for her child to grow up; not with her father up north and a bitter grandmother who spent too much time with spirits. So she packed her belongings, kissed her mother goodbye and sadly left Savannah and its lovely Sundays behind.

She travelled to New York where she stayed with family, her brother Big Man and his wife, Julia in Brooklyn.

She gave birth to a daughter and this child brought her so much joy with its arrival that she named her Joy. 20130303-231227.jpg

But Joy’s father, George, she would learn, was not the settling down type. He had goals which required him to be freer than fatherhood would allow.

So, Rosemary, like her mother before her, found herself on her own with a child. And she, too, took to hanging out in the big city of dreams hoping to attract a man of substance.

Around this time she met her Ella, who would become her closest friend, her touchstone and counselor for years to come. Ella was streetwise and savvy, and showed young Rosemary the ropes, for she was adept at navigating her way around. Brooklyn was both dangerous and extremely exciting for this country girl straight off the turnip truck from below the Mason Dixon.

Pretty soon, she hooked up with a singer of some renown, by the name of Charles, and he wooed her like she’d never been wooed before; gave her a taste of a lifestyle she never knew.

Charlie, as he was called, liked Rosemary quite a bit as well, so he stuck around a lot longer than George had; long enough for her to have two sons by him. Then he too moved on like a rolling stone. With his band, he hit the road to pursue his dreams, and all the women scattered upon that road.

Eric and Michael were his son’s names and, with Joy, that now made three hungry bellies to fill…once again on her own.

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So Rosemary decided it was time to take her growing nest and fend for self.

She and Ella remained very close and supported each other through these tough times. Ella helped her get settled into a little apartment on Prospect Place near where she lived with her man and her two sons, Omar and Randy.

Rosemary met Ronald one night at a party, and he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. She fell madly in love with him, and he with her. Though he was clearly a smooth operator and a playboy he was also an intelligent, hardworking and responsible man. Despite the three children she had from previous lovers, his love for Rosemary and the responsibility he felt once she’d gotten pregnant prompted his proposing to her.

They were married soon after.

That’s about when I met Rosemary for the first time, face to face.

It was in late June when, with the help of the medical staff at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, I was yanked from her inner world into this outer world. She cried and held me to her bosom to ease my cries for the outer world was no match for the inner. She was the best thing about it.

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We were very close, Rosemary and I, as were Ronald and I.

I remember his laughter, and his joy that I was a boy. He’d had a son previously with another woman somewhere in the south but, from what I’d learn years later, his son was not born with all his faculties intact. I became proof that he was capable of making a man intact.

ronny and me
And together, Ronald and Rosemary made sure we had everything we needed.

We moved to a lovely brownstone on Decatur street in Bed-Stuy and there we lived for years.

A family.

I remember picnics in prospect park, frisbee throwing and fried chicken and potato salad munching. I remember bunk beds and enmeshed togetherness, laughter and music! Ronald was a guitarist with dreams of giving up trucking and going professional. He taught Joy how to play the guitar and had Eric and Michael taking karate lessons.

Yes, we were a happy family!

Soon another child was born, Nicole.

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And now with 5 children and a wife to boot, Ronald began to feel more severely the burden he’d taken on. His smile began to vanish along with his increasingly insufficient paychecks, replaced by bouts of anger and violence. A happy family began to deteriorate. Before long he transformed from a permanent fixture in our home to a mercurial one.

Then one day he, too, was unceremoniously gone.

I was almost too young to miss him.

But, I had Rosemary. We all did. And she alone made sure we had everything we needed.

It was around this time that Rosemary’s friend, Ella, a pretty radical sister turned activist, introduced her to the Pan-African movement. Ella had enrolled her two kids in a school that promised to make sure the kids were prepared for a world dead set on making negative statistics of them.

She encouraged Rosemary to do the same.

At 6, Rosemary brought me to this school and, for perhaps the first time in my life, left me in the care of complete strangers. I cried and pissed my pants. But, just as I was about to die of despair, there were Ella’s kids, Omar and Randy, who I called my cousins. I was so happy to see them. I cried some more before I settled in.

Soon all of my brothers and sisters were also enrolled in this experiment in Afrocentric community schooling.

It was about this time that everything changed. I now had a new family, with more mothers and fathers than I could count, strong black men and women on the frontlines of the Black Power / Pan-African movement.

And my immediate family, we all adopted new names.

Joy became Faraha, Eric became Changa, Michael became Sekou, Nicole became Iisha, and I chose the name Baye. Ella became Kiunga…

And Rosemary…

She became Waridi, gave up her perm for some dreadlocks (way before they were in fashion), gave up her skirts for clothing only a woman from West Africa could look as natural and comfortable in, and, most disturbing of these changes, removed Christmas from our lives and replaced it with Kwanzaa.

I asked Waridi why we had to change our names to these African names.
“Because we’re Africans,” she explained patiently. “And African people need African names. Those other names? Those were slave names! And we’re not slaves now, are we?”
“No…” I replied, pensively. “But everybody else has slave names…and they wear regular clothes, and…”
“If everybody jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you jump, too?”

She always got me with that one. I always wanted to sass her and say, “it depends…”

A few years later, from another boyfriend who Rosemary would send packing when he proved to be a jerk, there came another addition to our clan, another boy named Babu Juba. He would be the last.

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We bounced around Brooklyn and Queens for a while before settling in an apartment meant for rich white folk but once whites had abandoned Brooklyn, it became ours and we would live in it…and live nicely!

Here was the first place Waridi kept us long enough to call home. It was on Eastern Parkway. The place where Waridi would come into her own.

She kept our little abandoned palace glowing like it was intended to glow. She had a great eye for interior design and decorating as well as one for finding a bargain and diamonds in the rough. She began making collages that would stun the viewer and even built a thriving hair braiding business that drew people from all walks of life to her home salon. There these customers would sit before her in a hydraulic salon chair and look out on a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Museum and the lush green trees along the promenade of Eastern Parkway, as Waridi, with her skilled fingers and creative mind, made them look 10 times better than they had when they arrived.

These enterprises of hers subsidized the government assistance that sustained us.

Soon, Joy would disembark for the west coast, in pursuit of her own dreams, reducing our number to five.

Changa and Sekou would be sucked into the street life and fall into the hands of the criminal justice system from time to time. Waridi fought fiercely to keep her children out of the penal system, or to gain their release once apprehended, but the streets and courts fought as fiercely to keep them. She lost more of these battles than she won. And going before judges begging them for leniency for her boys had taken a toll on her.

Men came and went, but no one stayed around long enough for her to claim as her own. But she fought on, poor economically and poorly educated but rich in ingenuity and a sage understanding of humanity. I watched her through all of this and sometimes would climb into bed with her and hold her. My hugs became her joy and I would give them gladly, rocking her when I could sense the world was rocking her, threatening to shake her loose.

She trusted me and, like her mother had done her, often left me to my own devices. So I did all I could not to betray her trust and break her heart by forcing her to stand before another judge and beg; not on my behalf she wouldn’t. I stayed on the straight and narrow for her as much as for myself. The streets called me, as well, and I answered, but always cautiously, with her vulnerable heart informing all those crucial decisions I had to make as a black youth.

This kept me from dropping out of high school, though very little education was going on in there, and eventually prompted my taking on the challenge of higher education.

It was all worth it to see her face on my graduation day.

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Waridi looked at me that day and said, with tears of pride, “thank you, Baye.”
I said, “no, thank you…I couldn’t have done it without you.”

She didn’t believe me. She believes I’m a self-starter, that I would be anything I want to be with or without her prompting. She can’t grasp how a woman of modest education, none of which was higher, could bring into the world and raise children who would value education. 20130304-000846.jpg

She doesn’t get that it was her choices in life that made my opportunities possible. That she was the one who chose Kiunga as a friend, and who let her friend guide her towards choosing an institution that would instill within us the things she (and our fathers) could not. She doesn’t take the credit for that; the credit that is due her.

She thinks she did the best she could. She doesn’t know she is the best! That she is the same godsend she was that Sunday in Savannah 76 years ago.

I tell her these things but I struggle to show her these things til this day. My heart is overflowing with gratitude but I feel inadequate to express it. Maybe because I was buried in the middle of 6 children, some of whom were inordinately taxing, so I had to rely on and fend for self much more than I would have liked back then, and perhaps it has made me a selfish person. Maybe the scars I’ve accrued from troubled times affected me much more than I’m consciously aware of. I’m far from perfect. But, I know, in my soul, that I owe everything to Waridi’s sacrifices, for her giving of herself so that I could have what I needed to build up the wherewithal to live out loud as I do now.

And, after all the years of giving, with very little recompense to speak of, the Creator sent her the love of her life, Jason.

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A man who would not run and leave her behind. But would stay by her side through thick and thin and give her the kind of love she always wanted and needed, as Etta James sang A Sunday kind of love.

Who would allow her to drag him to her country home in Georgia to walk hand in hand along those dusty roads lined with mossy trees and memories…

One Sunday in Savannah a living legend was born, the strongest woman I know, who still tries to teach me, by example, how to love; a lesson I struggle with but know is possible thanks to her!

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…while the congregation says “Amen!”

Loco

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I’m Your Mamma, I’m Your Daddy, I’m that Nigga in the Alley! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/21/im-your-mamma-im-your-daddy-im-that-nigga-in-the-alley/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/21/im-your-mamma-im-your-daddy-im-that-nigga-in-the-alley/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 00:04:22 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20649 When I was a kid, so-called blaxploitation films were a hot ticket! Who wouldn’t rather see black folk kicking white ass all over the place? Not to mention black tits and ass!

 

When Superfly was first released, I was too young to actually go and see it in the theaters. But it was such a phenomenon — talked about in the black community with equal adoration, reverence, and sensationalism as, say, The Godfather was talked about in the mainstream community — that I felt like I had seen it 50 times over. I knew the whole movie, every scenario, damn near line by line, thanks in part to my older brothers (also legally too young). They went to see it soon after it was released and several times after that, and would come home afterward bragging and spewing spoilers.

Yes, it was the rave, which is actually saying more than you might think.

This was in the heyday of this genre…just a year before Superfly, Isaac Hayes’ well known theme song for Shaft had actually won an Academy Award. So, the market was proliferated with these movies. Quite a few of them starred black household names like Pam Grier, Richard Pryor, Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, etc… So, to stand out, even in the “B” heavy blaxploitation genre, was an accomplishment, particularly for a movie with no big black names attached to it.

Well, rather, only one big black name attached to it.

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Asking my mother to take me would have gotten me laughed at (“Boy, you better get outta my face for I go upside your head with this frying pan!”), and my father, well, he was a rolling stone and was out there in the streets trying not to gather any moss by this time. So I begged my oldest brother to take me, (cause he pretty much did whatever the hell he wanted to, our acting paternal figure). I just had to see what everyone was talking about, and eventually, maybe a year or two after its release, I wore him down and one day he dragged this whining ass 8-year-old third-grader with him.

Over the years I would get to see it again and again, for films stayed in circulation back in them days, if it filled seats. It was a crowd favorite on the 42nd Street of my youth. This was before VCRs and such, been when home entertainment in the hood was a 12 inch black & white TV with a hanger and aluminum foil for an antenna and a pair of pliers acting to change to one of 7 available channels.

The first time I saw Superfly was at the neighborhood theater, a raggedy rat and cat infested sticky-floored, rank smelling shadow of its pre-white flight glory, known to us as the Regent.

It was located on Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue, in the heart of Bed-Stuy, and I remember it well for it, and the Banco theatre, of equal description –perhaps worse — a block away, were the only theaters we were allowed to go to as kids where rating rules were never enforced. Rated “R” only meant there’d be tits and ass and blood, and that you had to be tall enough to be seen when you handed the cashier your $1.50. As long as you had the price of admission there was a seat with your name (among other unmentionables) on it.regent2

I sat through two other films before it. I think they were Trick Baby and The Legend of Nigger Charley, but one of them might have been Shaft (which I and anyone black with eyes had already seen) before the main event: the outrageously lauded Superfly!

It didn’t disappoint.

So, I sat there in the dark, distracted every so often by something furry brushing across my legs, or the cats patrolling the aisles apparently to keep the rats from taking over, absorbing this movie I was legally and emotionally way too young to get with my brothers only a handful of years older than I, feeling like one of the big boys;

a little child runnin’ wild.

“Little child, runnin’ wild, watch a while, see he never smiles. Broken home, father gone, mama tired, and so he’s all alone. Kinda sad, kinda mad, ghetto child thinking he’s been had.”

Familiar characters and locales filled the screen. I’d gone to Harlem several times and of course even in Brooklyn cats decked out in furs and pimping caddies were not a rare sight; nor were drugs and prostitutes. My father smoked marijuana like it was cigarettes and my streetwise brothers would point out the “hoes” on Fulton Street from time to time. No, nothing aside from the brief nudity and sex scenes stood out as anything I couldn’t see off the screen on the streets on any given day.

There was something else I realized was very familiar, as well.

It was the soundtrack!

The three of us, my brothers and I, and dozens of others in the half-filled auditorium, had a little singalong going through a number of the songs, particularly my favorite at the time, “Freddy’s Dead.”

“All I want is some peace of mind, with a little love, I’m trying to find. This could be such a beautiful world, with a wonderful girl, ooooh, I need a woman, child. Don’t wanna be like Freddy, now. Because Freddy’s dead.

Everybody’s misused him, ripped him up and abused him. Another Junkie plan, pushing dope for the man, a terrible blow but that’s how it goes. Freddy’s on the corner, now. If you wanna be a junkie, wow! Remember Freddy’s dead!”

See…

At the time, there was an epidemic making life in an already disenfranchised community even bleaker and far more dangerous. Black people were dropping like flies, either from having their souls twisted by essentially dealing death to their brethren, dead from overdose, or damn-near dead — real life Zombies walking the streets. Daily you’d encounter someone in one of these conditions. Heroin was a staple, the suppliers we called Pushers and the afflicted we called Junkies. And so well before I saw the movie and could put a face to the “Freddy” of Curtis Mayfield’s cautionary groove, I knew what Freddy looked like.

I knew him too well.

My school at the time (as I wrote about extensively in my book “Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist”), located not far from where I sat that day at the Regent, had made Freddy’s Dead a kind of anthem against being on either end of the drug transaction, a melodic, poetic warning that both dealer and user usually one way or another wind up the same way: dead.

It was true then and it’s true now.

“…if you lose don’t ask no questions why, the only game you know is do or die!”

Curtis Mayfield had found a way to disseminate a “stop this drug madness” caveat throughout my community, and black communities far and wide, like few others had been able to. He put it in song, tapping into a timeless oral tradition that kidnapped and monetized African bodies brought with them like spiritual contraband; this unsanctioned heritage they smuggled aboard slave ships from the motherland and kept it hidden, folded into their anguish.

Mayfield embedded this message of self-love, that unfolds and expands into a love of family and the greater community, in a musical missive…and not just a song, but some of the coolest effing music ever heard! Replete with tales from the soul of the ghetto borne by rhythms that hearken to tribal drums and ancestral assonance, the cries of the lost and found here in the wilderness of North America. Encoded with cool, decoded by the yearning heart of the blues…so much so that it became cool to actually stop doing drugs, or to never start in the first place.

You could always refer to something Curtis Mayfield sang:

I’m so glad I’ve got my own, so glad that I can see, my life’s a natural high! The Man can’t put no thing on me!”

That’s the power of his music!

Without evoking a god or a savior, without calling for or even mentioning prayer or meditation, every song on the album, EVERY Song, he laced with the keys to salvation. And though I couldn’t grasp all the adult situations the movie alluded to, the music was a miracle of exposition even a 8-year old could unwrap and savor.

And then…as I sat there singing and grooving to the irony in the lyrics of his ballad to the drug pushers, known as Pusherman, I saw him for the first time (though thankfully not for the last). Yep, there he was performing in the movie in a little nightclub in Harlem.

That Nigga in the Alley himself: Curtis Mayfield

“I’m your mamma, I’m your daddy, I’m that nigga in the alley! I’m your doctor when in need, want some coke? Have some weed…you know me, I’m your friend, your main boy, thick and thin, I’m your pusherman!”

Thank you Maestro for being there for us like a loving parent, and for being that nigga in the alley, chasing kids away and warning adults of the death that dwells down those dark corridors of the soul. You were our main boy, thick and thin, our doctor when we were in need…you were the ultimate pusherman, sir. Only, you dealt life through your music!

And what you’ve given us keeps us on a natural high.

Loco

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Amina DuJean: The Girl-Next-Door and a WHOLE Lot More! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/19/amina-dujean-the-girl-next-door-and-a-whole-lot-more/ Sun, 19 Feb 2017 11:25:58 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20654 The new #BlackEye hits the newsstands tomorrow, 2/20/17, featuring the “first black American idol” in Japan, Amina DuJean!

Amina DuJean: 黒人アイドル あみにゃん

Since her arrival in Japan a mere 2.5 years ago, the 20-year-old Amina has made it her mission to make inroads into an industry that has seen very little diversity when it comes to people of African descent. She loves breaking barriers and in doing so is squashing stereotypes and creating opportunities for non-Japanese moving forward. There’s much more to this industrious young woman than meets the eye!

In our conversation, she breaks down how she got into the Japanese idol game, its challenges and advantages, and how her skin color, in a game where appearance is almost everything, has been both an advantage and a hinderance. She shares some thoughts on cultural appropriation and gives advice on how others might go about achieving their goals, whatever they may be, here in Japan.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were white,” Amina says. “Because I’ve seen it before: A white girl who can’t speak any Japanese will get a bigger part than I could get. In America that white girl wouldn’t be considered beautiful, but because in Japan white is automatically pretty or exotic, they’ll get the part. So I kinda have some — how should I say, um — resentment towards that. However, at the same time, if I weren’t black, I wouldn’t be as special. Nobody would mind, nobody would care. I don’t want it to be a niche, but that’s what draws people in. Then I can inspire them with my personality and perseverance, and I think that’s for the better.”

Please pick up your copy of the Japan Times on a newsstand near you on 2/20/17. Or if you’re in an area where the paper version is unavailable, you can read the rest of Amina’s remarkable journey online HERE!

Click Pic to Read Article Online

Follow Amina on Twitter: @aminadujean 

Check out her Tumblr blog: www.aminyan.com

Loco

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See That Black Boy Over There Runnin’ Scared? http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/16/see-that-black-boy-over-there-runnin-scared/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/16/see-that-black-boy-over-there-runnin-scared/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:44:43 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20643 I was 9 or 10 and a 5th grader at a very revolutionary school in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. It was a Friday evening, I believe, and I was staying over my best friend and classmate Ketema’s house, as I often did back in them days, over on Herkimer Street in brooklyn. His father told the two of us to get our stuff together cause he was taking us to the city, meaning Manhattan. There was a concert being held at Columbia University and I remember feeling so excited because the man who was going to be performing that night, Ketema’s father informed us, was none other than the great Gil Scott Heron.Gil-Scott-Heron-Staring

At the time, his hit song (at least in my neck of the ‘hood), called “The Bottle,” was on everyone’s lips.

But, for some reason, and I can’t recall what it was, when we arrived at Columbia he informed us that we, meaning Ketema and I, would not be going inside.

That’s some cold shit, I thought.

He told us to stay out front and sell copies of Black News to people arriving for the show. This was a common practice, this selling of the newspaper, and at times was actually quite profitable. We’d get a commission on sales, not to mention whatever we could skim off the top with our little schemes, so I was kinda OK with it. Kinda. I mean, it was Gil-Scott Heron fr’chrissakes.

He grabbed a bundle of the papers bound with string out of the trunk, plopped it down before us, then gathered up his photography stuff (he was always taking pictures) and off he went, leaving the two of us behind.

So we stood out there on the outskirts of Harlem accosting concertgoers with, “would you like to buy the latest issue of Black News?” and lamenting that we couldn’t pull one of our favorite little profitable schemes which was to, in addition to selling the current edition, sell back issues of Black News. We had secured them because otherwise they’d usually be destroyed. And customers rarely checked to see that the date on their issue was the most current. Most were first-time customers so any issue was news to them. So we’d make a profit to splurge on pizza, pinball, skeeball, baseball cards and Boston baked beans, and nobody got hurt. But since his father hadn’t told us in advance that we would be on paper peddling duty that night we were stuck selling the latest issue, of which we knew all sales would be vigorously accounted for.

After a half hour or so, it was the start time for the concert and the number of arrivals dwindled down to none, so we just stood around listlessly waiting for his father to re-emerge.

I think I was the one who started singing…

“See that black boy over there, runnin’ scared, his old man’s in the bottle…
He done quit his nine to five, drinks full-time, now he’s living in the bottle…”

And then Ketema took over, “See that black boy over there running scared, his old man’s got a problem…”

20130208-195831.jpgThen together we sang, “…and it’s a bad one!”

And then we both fell out laughing, the way we always did at that part of the song.

“I don’t hear any music or clapping or anything.”

Ketema was right…the streets were dead quiet. It was a chilly night, wintry, but we were dressed warmly, parkas, hats and gloves and all. We stood on the corner, under a street light, looking at the front door of the auditorium.

Then, suddenly there was clapping, rhythmic, not like applause but like a cadence, like soldiers marching with their hands. The kind of clapping an anxious audience makes that insists upon your joining in whether you want to clap or not. I’d hear that kind of clapping from time to time at my school. On those nights when it would transform into an after hours speakeasy type club and the show didn’t start on time for any number of reasons, technical difficulties usually.

“I wanna go inside and see him!” Ketema cried, voicing both of our desires. “Got us standing on the corner like winos…”

He started staggering and slurring like we’d see winos back in Brooklyn do all too often. Ketema was a talented cat, had the wino moves down to a T.

“…look around on any corner,” I sang , trying not to laugh. “If you see some Brother looking like a goner…”

Then together…

“…It’s gonna be meeeeeeee!”

And we cracked up, again

Just then I saw a shadow coming up the street a few feet away. I tapped Ketema. He turned and straightened up, alert. The silhouette projected by the street light had a helluvah natural, Afro blown out like Angela Davis’. So, I relaxed. Real trouble never wore Afros.

…nor a dashiki! Looked like one of our teachers, or even Ketema’s father.

And then, there he was! Gil Scott Heron, in the flesh!

I knew his face from the album covers and show posters. He had been in Jet magazine, and Ebony, too. And there he was, just walking up the street like a regular person…looking right at Ketema and I.

He stopped before us, and said, “hey little brothers!”

We both said, “hey!”

“Y’all sounded good! Better than me!” and he laughed, big crooked white teeth springing from chapped lips partially hidden behind a rich, thick black mustache and beard. “What’s that you got there?”

20130208-195904.jpgI looked at my hands like they were someone else’s, and saw that I was still clutching a couple of issues of Black News.

I handed him one.

He looked at the cover art and nodded his head, clearly impressed by Brother Seitu’s (the school’s artist) artwork. He flipped through a few pages.

“This is dynamite!” he said, looking up at us with a gleam of profound hope in his eyes. “Can I get a copy?”

“Sure,” I said, then remembered. “Errr, but they’re a quarter.”

He pulled out a buck and handed it to me.

The clapping grew louder, only now it was amplified and intensified by stomping.

“Y’all be careful out here! I gotta get inside, sounds like a revolution’s underway!” and he winked at us and flashed a black power fist. “Stay strong, little brothers! And thanks for the news!”

He turned and began to walk away, saying “Keep the change,” over his shoulder.

Then he abruptly stopped and wheeled around on us, looking mad as a junkie with no junk.

“…but don’t buy no wine with that!” he snapped, pointing at us, and held the rage for about a second longer before he laughed again so warmly I felt like I’d known him for years.

We stood there, still a bit stunned, as he just strutted away towards the auditorium entrance.

He was the first celebrity I’d ever met.

Ketema and I looked at each other, lit up, glowing and grinning. It was just for a moment, but it was a moment.

Then Ketema looked at the buck still in my hand.

“You got nine cents?” he asked.

“Huh?” I had a buck in my hand, and he’s asking me for nine cents??

“A dollar-nine get a bottle of wine, a dollar-nine get a bottle of wine, a dollar-nine get a bottle of wine, a dollar-nine get a bottle of wine…” Ketema sang.

And we both fell out laughing and singing on the corner like winos.

*****

It’s difficult to label an artist like Gil Scott Heron. He didn’t fit nicely into any genre. But personally, I like to think of him as a poet. He was in fact, the first poet to prove to me without a doubt that poetry was cool!

Naturally, after meeting him, I wanted to be just like him.

I wanted to be that guy that people sat in crowded halls waiting for, clapped and stomped for, while he stood outside reading an article from a newspaper a couple of kids were selling on the corner, admonishing them to stay on the straight and narrow.

I wanted to be that poet able to capture the everyday and make it the stuff of timeless epics, that takes words that were otherwise ordinary, twists, molds and shapes them into ideas so accessible yet profound that people can hardly fathom how he manages to do it. Like taking the items found in the pantry of a family struggling to survive — half of which are bulk foodstuffs distributed by church charities and the government, the rest purchased with food stamps supplied by social services — and whips up a dish so delectable you hardly want to touch it for fear it might disappear.

That’s what I wanted to do. At ten years old, after hardly two minutes in the man’s company, I wanted to do what he did.

*****

It was around that time I started writing poetry.

I can’t remember any of it. Only the intense desire to take words and make something people loved to read or listen to, the way I loved listening to Gil Scott recite: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:

My school’s mission was to prepare us children for a revolution…or so our alma mater went.

To be honest, I didn’t fully understand what revolution they were talking about, not until people like Gil Scott started filling in the holes in my comprehension. I didn’t know what my teachers had been doing to me, at 10-years-old, the three years I’d been at their disposal. I didn’t know that they had simply been nurturing my mind into the kind that could listen to the poetry emanating from a soul like Gil Scott’s and grasp what went into it. They had been refining my tastes so that I could glimpse the poem’s recipe, taste its anguish on the tip of my own tongue, be sensitive to its bitter longing in my own maturing heart, discern its frustration and its fear, to perceive his efforts to harness all of this anger and dread with his art and the heart that informs it.

Sometimes I’d cry when I listened to Gil Scott, but could never quite understand why. I felt scared, afraid of this world he revealed. No, actually I was afraid to be me in this world! A little black boy, runnin’ scared, in the crosshairs of something from which there actually was no escape, something that could take any form, even people you know and trust. Your life expectancy depended entirely on its aim, its whim. Every goddamn day you, and everybody you know, are a coin toss away from casualty.

But, now, as a grown man, I get it…and I don’t cry anymore when I hear his work. I still get filled with that tragic joy that is the comedy of  life, but nowadays I laugh a lot more, like Ketema and I did when we used to listen to and sing his music as kids.

I laugh, and I clap my hands, and I stomp my feet. For I know that revolution is just another word for change. Revolution is part of the natural order of ALL things, great and small.

And to fear change is to fear life.

Thank you Mr Heron for sharing the complexity of your creativity with us, for making the heartrending effort to unleash your art, and showing and proving to me, by example, that there’s nothing wrong with being afraid as long as you don’t sit around waiting for shit to happen to you…because:

“The Revolution will be no rerun, the Revolution will be live!”

Big birthday shout out to my brother, Ketema. You will always live on in our hearts and minds!

Loco

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On Bullying, Hazing, and Backbiting in Japan http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/10/on-bullying-hazing-and-backbiting-in-japan/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/10/on-bullying-hazing-and-backbiting-in-japan/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 07:31:27 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20626 My eye caught the hand movement and spotted the projectile as soon as it left its source: Matsui-kun.

Takahashi-sensei (not her real name), the other half of my teaching team, was writing something on the board, her back to the class. She didn’t know she was a target. She probably couldn’t imagine being the target of anything thrown (or fired) by a student. Myself, along with most of the class, watched this object sail across the room, in slow motion, from the back of the class where Matsui-kun sat on a beeline for Takahashi-sensei, only to land short of its target somewhere between the first row and the teacher’s desk, then roll towards Takahashi-sensei’s feet. She never saw it.

But I did. And, immediately, I saw red.

It was the first time I’d felt rage directed at a student. I mean, as far as I was concerned what Matsui-kun did, even if done playfully, amounted to attempted assault and battery. And to make it worse, it was done practically in my face as if to say, “you don’t even matter in my world, Loco-sensei,” confirming my suspicions about how many people here consider my feelings and dislodging some other deep-seated insecurities as well, I suspect. On top of that, I have about as much tolerance for that kind of shit as my mother had for her kids cussing in her house: Zero!

…And, before I knew it, before I could consider the ramifications of such an act, I had hurled the piece of chalk in my hand across the room and hit Matsui-kun square in the chest. If I had been holding a coffee mug, that too would have been sent flying his way…perhaps anything as big as a dictionary would have grown wings in my hand.

Why? A little background:

First about Takahashi-sensei. She is still relatively new at this teaching thing. She has been at it for only a year so basically she’s still an apprentice, a New Jack English teacher. She’s very nice, smart, and her English is not awful. But, unfortunately for her, something about her rubs her co-workers the wrong way. At least that’s what I thought. I mean. I couldn’t imagine that the stern treatment, the accusatory tones and harsh criticism she received was simply hazing. Hell, I had been working with these people almost two years when she arrived and they had (with a few exceptions) from the start shown me a great deal of patience and consideration…even after my Gaijin Honeymoon (the special treatment and allowances granted because I was a foreigner) was over.

Even my closest friend in the school, Kawaguchi-sensei, who I’d never heard and therefore couldn’t imagine doing as much as even raising her voice, treats Takahashi-sensei worst than Burakumin were (are) treated.

Burakumin (Japanese outcast)

Every conversation any teacher had with Takahashi-san- in particular the other female teachers- they seemed to be at the brink of exasperation, like at any point they might either storm away, spit in her face or drop-kick her.

At first, I thought it was simply jealousy. After all, all of the teachers aside from Takahashi-san are well over 40 and some over 50, while Takahashi-san was 23, fresh from university, cute, fashionable, and to kick them all while they were down, she’s been blessed /cursed with bountiful breast; and she favors tight-fitting cleavage-accentuating sweaters. At least she used to. But, I couldn’t believe it was that simple. Whenever an answer seems to be arrived at without much thought I question it. It’s my habit.

So, I asked my buddy Kawaguchi-san (who seemed quite beside herself sometimes when she interacted with Takahashi-san) what the deal was. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that Tahakashi was a fuck-up and lies to cover up her fuck ups. I was shocked. Not at the prospect of Takahashi fucking up. She was a new jack. There were bound to be fuck ups. Not even about her lying about it. Hell, there are approximately two ways to deal with having fucked something up: face the music or duck blame. Most people, in my experience, duck blame if possible.

No, what surprised me was Kawaguchi’s venom and total loss of decorum. She’d usually hedge around harsh declarations…with her, nothing was ever absolutely wrong, it was always chotto chigau to omoimasu (a little wrong /different to my thinking.) Nothing tasted like shit to her, it was always aji ga chottoooooo (The taste is a little ummm….) She even uses fairly formal Japanese when she is addressing students, something very few teachers do. So, who the hell was this woman, I wondered.

She told me about how, on several occasions, Takahashi would screw up such and such a report and lie about it or she’d be late for meetings pretending not to have been informed about such and such and blah, blah, blah… While she was talking I just kept searching her face for some sign of the women that was there before Takahashi had joined the staff. The woman I knew wasn’t petty or malicious at all. Then again we had only worked and sat side by side for a year or two. How well does anybody know anybody anyway? Not to downplay the seriousness of these misdemeanors Takahashi was accused of (and being punished for) but Kawaguchi-san was going off the deep end over them.

In her first year, Takahashi-sensei was the home room teacher of a third year class, but this year, she was given a class of first year students. I actually thought it was a great break for her. The third year students know all the ropes and I figured they’d drive her crazy. Just last year, one of the crazy third year students hauled off and slapped the shit out of the home room teacher, but that student, Senri was her name, was certifiable…an actual future mental patient, and by no means represented the student body. The first year students last year had been soooo sweet. You could just eat them. They spent half the year shy and obedient and the second half obedient, fun and eager to learn. This year’s crop of first years, however, are another fucking story. It’s like there was some kind of rotation, equally dispersing the worst of the worst from the worst elementary school in the area among all the junior high schools in Yokohama, and it was our school’s turn to take on this lot from that Elementary school…

Poor Takahashi-sensei. It was bad enough she was being bullied by her colleagues, but now she has to figure out how to get a class of future nine-fingered Yakuza, hostesses and Pachinko parlor employees to appreciate studying anything, especially something as utterly useless as English. I started feeling sorry for her, despite my buddy Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Kawaguchi’s admonitions about her. I hadn’t even realized at first that I had become her ally. Maybe I commiserated because I saw some parallels between our predicaments. Like me, here she was in an environment where the natives treat her with hostility for reasons beyond her control. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty face and bodacious assets.

Sometimes she comes to school looking like she’s one harsh word away from losing it. What she would do then, who knows. In America, emptying a 45. automatic into your boss or several magazines of M-16 shells into everyone in the office or simply quitting might be option A, but here in Japan, people in her situation- disliked, and treated like shit, even due to the standard hazing at a job- have been known to off themselves; suicide seems to be option A and B. I became really concerned about her. I really didn’t want anything like that to go down on my watch, knowing I could have done something about it.

Sometimes Takahasi-san and I will have private moments together. Like in the recording studio when we’re preparing tests for the students and we need to record English conversations…we’d be alone in the booth behind closed doors and she’d give me some deep eye contact and say, “Tsukarechatta.” (I’m tired!) I’d heard that word used that way several times before. Like when I broke-up with my ex-girl. She’d begun using that phrase in reference to our relationship months before as our relationship slowly deteriorated. The nuance being more at “I’ve exhausted all options,” than simply “I’m tired.” At those times I’d share little anecdotes about my experiences with Takahashi-sensei. Stories from my first year at the school and how trying it was, and continues to be, to fit in but how, little by little, it had gotten more bearable. I’d end these stories with a “Gambarimasyou” (let’s hang in there) so she’ll feel less alone.

When I spoke to Kawaguchi-san about Takahasi-san, I never failed to mention how well she was coming along and give her examples of how she’d handle a particular problem or resolved an issue in the class. Kawaguchi-san was beyond appeasement though. She’d listen to me, not knowing where I was coming from, not realizing that I had taken on the task of Takahashi advocate, and counter every kudo I offered with some slander.

I couldn’t really argue with Kawaguchi-san though. I too noticed that though Takahashi-san was clearly qualified to teach English, she lacked certain other skills necessary to manage a classroom. She was at the bottom of the totem pole in the office, and scolded constantly, and it seemed the students (these worst of the worst students) sensed her feeling of powerlessness and instability, and instead of seeing someone they should handle with kid gloves, they saw easy pickings. Walking into her class was like walking on the set of a new TV series called: “Kids Gone Wild.” Whenever I joined the class and once they saw my face, a face they didn’t see everyday due to my schedule- but every two weeks or so, a ripple of uncertainty would course through the room. “Should we continue to act like we ain’t got no sense in our heads or comport ourselves in a respectful manner?” Most would go with the latter…but there are two kids who opt, unfailingly, for the former.

One is Satou-kun, a 13-year old future henchman / Yes man for some Yakuza boss. He doesn’t have a bone of leadership in his body, which is not unusual among kids of any country most especially Japan. He sits quietly waiting to see which way things will go. He takes his cues from another student, the leader:

Matsui-kun…

*****

A little about Matsui-kun…

I remember the first time I met him. I came to the class prepared to do my usual introduction lesson, where I talk about myself, in the simplest English possible, while showing pictures of my family back home in the US. In most cases this is the first interaction with a foreigner so I try to make it a pleasant experience and as entertaining as possible by hamming it up a bit. I always intend to withhold that I know Japanese because once they know that, well, what’s the sense of trying to speak English some of them conclude…that is, those who hadn’t come to that conclusion before they even walked in the door.

But, inevitably, I slip up by responding to something said in Japanese unwittingly or saying something only someone fluent in Japanese would say, or even behaving the way speaking Japanese modifies one’s behavior. Kids pick up on the slightest things.

Matsui-kun picked up on it first.

Matsui-kun is the smallest kid and has the happiest disposition of anyone in the class, maybe any student I’ve ever met; genki (energetic) to the Nth degree. At first glance you get the impression that he’s trying to compensate for his stature with his character, like some Japanese-version of the Napoleonic complex. Only he does it with a great deal of charm. And, you almost root for him, want him to be successful. He laughs and jokes non-stop and only speaks with the volume on max. One of those kids you’re more likely to use gentler terms like rascal or mischief-maker than menace or delinquent. Everything except his size reminded me of someone I knew.

It was clear from that first day who the leader of this class was going to be. Most of the students knew each other already having mostly come from the same elementary school, and Matsui-kun had probably been the leader back there, too. I didn’t think about any of this that first day, though. I was too busy trying to make a good first impression and to seriously assess the students. But, Matsui-kun…he was assessing me…aloud.

“LOCO SENSEI! YOU CAN SPEAK JAPANESE CAN’T YOU,” he yelled in Japanese with the kind of joviality that is hard to resist, joy in every word.

“A little,” I said, giving my pat answer.

“YOU’RE LYING!” he snapped with a raucous giggle. Then he jumped out his seat and started addressing the class. “HEY EVERYBODY, THIS GUY CAN SPEAK JAPANESE…BETTER WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!”

Takasashi-sensei was there beside me. This was her home room but I could see in her demeanor that she had already relinquished control of this class. Somehow, in the week before this first lesson, Matsui-kun had pulled a coup d’état and while she remained the figurehead lame duck Empress, he was Shogun. But, don’t think for a moment that this kind of thing is unusual. It isn’t. In Japanese schools, the teachers pretty much let the kids do as they please and because of the respect elements in the culture generally that means study hard and behave accordingly. But, maybe 10% of the time, at least in my experience, there are classes who decide that they’d rather run amok, and do.

“LOCO SENSEI, HOW DID YOU LEARN JAPANESE?”

Since the cat was out of the bag, I said, “I’ve been living here for a while so…”

“…YOU GOT A JAPANESE GIRLFRIEND, RIGHT?”

“…what?? that’s none of your business. Listen, sit down and let’s…”

“…LOCO-SENSEI SUKEBE! (horny / lecher) HA HA HA HA HA HA!”

Everybody laughed. I glanced at Takahashi sensei, again. She turned bright red and started scolding Matsui-kun. Her scolding fell on deaf ears, though. Half the class was held enthralled by Matsui-kun’s audacity while the other half seemed embarrassed or too scared not to laugh. Matsui-kun scanned the room while he held forth from his throne, siphoning energy from his audience. Then, he turned back to me.

“LOCO-SENSEI, GOMEN NE (I’m sorry) Matsui-kun cried at the top of his voice. He jumped up out of his seat again and ran towards me and leapt into my arms. I caught him instinctively, and he gave me the warmest most affectionate hug I’d ever gotten from a student — even warmer than some of the girlfriends I’ve had in Japan, truth be told. I was dumbfounded. Here was this little rascal in my arms, hugging me about the neck like it was the most natural thing in the world; I actually thought he was going to kiss me on the cheek. He was light as a toddler and I didn’t let him down immediately.

It was a moment.

We had bonded, somehow. Well, at least I felt something. And, I realized just then who he reminded me of:

He reminded me of me…when I’m drunk.

*****

From our first meeting on, this had become our routine: I’d come to the class a little early and catch him rattling windows with his vociferous screeching and menacing other students…upon seeing me, he’d stop whatever he was doing, holler, “LOCO-SENSEI!” and run-jump into my arms, all hugs and an irresistible quality.

Having routines with students was not unusual. I have about a couple dozen students with which I have a greeting routine, many consisting of some variation of the pound or the pound hug. They’ve seen in umpteen movies that black people have some of the coolest handshakes and most of the students had memorized their favorites and were dying to try them on the real thing — you know: me. Some of these handshakes I recognize, and remember the movie, video or TV show that gave them international fame, but some of them were obscure. Some of them, when executed proficiently by a sixteen year old Japanese boy, surprise the hell out of me.

But, Matsui-kun simply liked leaping into my embrace, like a loving son might do upon his beloved father’s return from a prolonged business trip abroad, or a chimpanzee might do when his favorite trainer shows up with a tasty treat. I think that’s the feeling he might have tapped into…something paternal and protective, because when I saw him I was all cheesy grins and open arms.

Yep, he’d found my weak point and charmed the hell outta me.

His charms didn’t work on Takahashi-sensei, though. She saw right through him for the terrorist that he was. He was a non-conformist, something I found admirable but Takahashi called, “trouble” almost from the start. It took me a little while to see through my sakura-tinted lenses, though. I was still seeing Spanky, not Damien.

Spanky

Damien

But it wasn’t long before I saw the “666” birthmark behind his ear.

One day, a couple of weeks into the semester, he decided that English class was recess, the classroom was the playground, his classmates were his flock, and Takahashi-sensei was the Jungle Jim, the see-saw and the swings…almost metaphorically speaking. I mean, he didn’t actually ride Takahashi-san, not physically anyway, and his classmates weren’t exactly overly willing participants, but the rest is a non-metaphorical description. All learning or even pretense at learning ceased.

I’ve been at this for a few years now but until this year I’d never had a class like this. Other ALTs would tell me horror stories and I’d be like, “that happened in Japan!?” “You’re exaggerating!” “C’mon…that’s bullshit! Ain’t no student spit on the teacher…get outta here with that!’

At this point, I should mention that I don’t work for the school, but for a contractor the Board of Education hires to provide English teachers for the schools in their district. And, the company I work for has handed down certain guidelines on reprimanding and disciplining students. And, to put it simply, the first rule of “The Company” is Don’t touch them, same as the second and third rules. Don’t touch them, don’t scold them. Don’t even think, dream or fantasize about touching them or scolding them. It’s not your job. Leave it to the Japanese teachers!

My first year at the school, there was an isolated incident where one student who was being bullied by another finally had had enough and went after him, in the middle of the class, with a pair of scissors. As I approached the student with the scissors stealthily from behind, the Japanese teacher practically dived in front of the damn things to stop him from slicing the other. The way he had thrown himself into the fray led me to believe that maybe the Japanese teacher’s guidelines say something along the lines of: in the event of an altercation, if there is blood spilt it had better be yours, or heads will roll.

So, when I walk into Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, and see Takahashi-san trying to go through the motions of teaching a class, almost on the brink of tears or collapse, while the class is going…well, berserk, according to my guidelines that come down from on-high, I should allow this. But, fortunately, I didn’t have to, at first, because most of the students were a little intimidated by me. Either by my gender, my height and girth, perhaps even my blackness was a factor, probably some combination of all of them, and these factors conspired to keep the mob in check. But, one day, it didn’t matter anymore. It only took me a moment to realize how I’d been neutralized.

Yep, you guessed it: it was Matsui-kun!

With all his running and leaping and hugging he’d shown all who’d previously been intimidated that Loco-sensei ain’t nothing but a great big Teddy Bear.

Like Poo-San (Winnie the Poo), only SUKEBE!

You gotta give him credit, though. He’s a bright kid. I watch him, sometimes. I watch how he manipulates the other students. One of the advantages of not being afraid to be in the limelight and having a very big mouth and no reservations about saying anything that comes to your head to anyone- students and teachers alike- is you’re uncommon, in Japan anyway. Damn near a working-class hero. Add to that he’s naturally charismatic with a Joie de Vivre, daring, funny… Yep, half the class was wrapped around his little finger and the rest kept their mouths shut.

And, if challenged, he was merciless before, during and after classes.

Last week, in the middle of my lesson, while I was getting the students to repeat some English phrases, Matsui-kun kept taunting another student, twice his size, sitting clear across the room. Telling jokes and making insults. Most of the class was laughing and the rest wanted to. At one point, the target of his derision said something I couldn’t understand. To be honest I can’t understand much of what they say- maybe 50% at best- because the kids speak in code and slang and sometimes the Japanese equivalent of Pig Latin, so it’s virtually impossible to catch everything unless you’re a thirteen year old Japanese student. But, whatever he said must have rubbed Matsui-kun the wrong way because at that point he got up, stood on his chair (he’s really short) and threw his pencil-case, with a little mustard on it, at the other student, who took the blow upside the head like he’d had it coming, his comeuppance for challenging Matsui-kun. Then Matsui-kun asked politely, at volume 10, for the student to return the case. And don’t you know…he got up and brought it back to him. Matsui-kun accepted it and thanked him with a nod/bow, like this was just the way it is and there was nothing either of them could do about it.

Then he looked at me. I’ll never forget his eyes that day. He was smiling that same 1000 watts of love smile he always shines on me, but his eyes…There was something there, like wisdom. Not like an adult’s wisdom, but definitely wiser than I feel comfortable with any child around me being. That look broke the bond between us, I think. At least for me it did.

The next day when he saw me in the hallway and came running, I side-stepped his leap. He landed on his feet like a cat, turned on me, and the smile was gone, replaced by something that was always there but somehow I’d missed it before; something dark and unforgiving and calculating. It was only there for a moment, just a flash of the real Matsui-kun, I think.

Then he turned away and ran down the hallway like the incident had never occurred.

The next day he threw something at Takahashi-Sensei…and I threw a piece of chalk at him.

“OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” the entire class exhaled aloud. As shocking as it was for me to see something being thrown at the teacher, it was even more so for the reverse. Students looked like I had taken a dump on him. Their looks were so shell-shocked I actually got scared and thought, “Oh fuck, what have I done now.”

Takahashi-sensei turned around from the board at the sound of the students and asked, “What? What happened?”

None of the students said anything, Not even Matsui-kun, So I said, “…I’ll tell you later.”

*****

Life here in Japan has slowly but surely re-wired my sensibilities as well as my expectations of people; in particular, kids. So that now, what wouldn’t have even been picked up on my radar a few years ago, sets off all kinds of bells and whistles: people dropping trash in the street, talking loud or talking on cellphones on the train, my roommates playing loud music at night, etc, etc… According to my old sensibilities, these were all misdemeanors, but with my re-wired sensibilities, they are definitely punishable felonies.

As was Matsui-kun’s throwing stuff at Takahashi-sensei…

Looking out at the crestfallen faces of my students, I regretted my overreaction and wondered how it could have come to be. Yes, I was in defensive mode – practically on suicide watch – when it came to Takahashi-sensei. I didn’t know if having things thrown at her by students would push her over the edge but it couldn’t have helped that’s for damn sure. Besides, I knew it was important for us to present a united front against the unruly masses, show that we had each other’s backs. Especially now because, to me, the object tossing represented an unacceptable escalation in bad behavior, and needed to be put down and deterred. He had to be made aware that that kind of thing was not going to be tolerated…and Takahashi-sensei certainly wasn’t going to do a damn thing. Someone had to do something.

But, aside from the power struggle going on, to be honest, I was a little hurt. I mean, he had really won me over. The bond we had was short-lived, but it lived. It was real. I liked his hugs the way my mother likes my hugs. I really like physical affection and I loved the way he ran and jumped in my arms when he saw me. It made me feel more human, and in a really dehumanizing society like Japan has been for me, I had, without really noticing it, looked forward to it every time. I didn’t care that he was a knucklehead and liked power. I like knuckleheads, and I like power, too. Some of my best friends were knuckleheads at some point but either grew out of it or learned how to put it to good use.

So, I guess you could say I kinda missed him already.

Matsui-kun stared at me for a long time after that, his face frozen in an odd expression somewhere between befuddled and despondent. He was really starting to worry me. Maybe the shock had been too much for him. Or, maybe he was simply thinking, plotting his revenge. After all, he’d lost face big time and he knew that the class was waiting to see how he would handle this situation. Perhaps he’d never been challenged before by a teacher. His henchman, Satou-kun, watched Matsui-kun with an open-mouthed gape. Occasionally he would look over at me with darkness in his eyes. I made a mental note to watch my back around that one.

Takahashi-sensei was walking around the class checking notebooks while I stayed up front trying to look relaxed and pretend like everything was normal, hoping this whole situation would just blow over and be forgotten. Pretending that all the tension I felt and the drama playing out in my head was just that: imagination. I do that sometimes.

However, when Takahashi-sensei reached Matsui-kun, she must’ve realized that he, and in fact the entire class, had been silent for going on 2 minutes or so which was unprecedented. She looked around the room at the various students then at Matsui-kun’s frozen stare at me and asked him what was wrong.

“Loco-sensei pss pss pss pss pss pss…” he whispered, another first.

Takahashi-sensei face dropped. She turned to look at me, then back at Matsui-kun, then down at the floor where the yellow piece of chalk lay, now crushed- no doubt beneath Matsui-kun’s slipper. Then, back at me. Then a light in her face went out…and I knew that whatever ideas I had about a united front were dashed.

When she rejoined me at the head of the class she whispered, “Loco-sensei? Matsui-kun says you threw chalk at him?”

Her tone was incredulous. Not like she didn’t believe him but like she couldn’t believe what I’d done. She was as shocked as the students. Though it was hardly a question I almost denied it. She probably still would have believed him.

“Yeah…” I said, after a moment’s hesitation. Then added, “but only after he threw something at you!” I said this in English and hoped she understood it was done in her defense. But her tone was all, Say it isn’t so, Loco… shock and disgust-laden and guilt-inspiring. It was like she hadn’t even heard what I said.

I peeped over at Matsui-kun as the bell sounded for the end of class. He was still sullen and looked on the brink of tears. I felt pangs of panic-tinged regret coursing through me. What the hell have I done?

I collected my unused teaching materials, lost in the contemplation of going and apologizing to him. I had been out of line, after all. Then, I caught a glimpse of movement in front of me and looked up.

It was him.

“Loco-sensei, I’m very sorry I made you angry!” he cried, at a barely audible volume.

“Eeee!” I snapped. “What?”

“I made you angry, right?” he said a little louder, his Japanese like a toddler’s Japanese. “And…I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”

“Uhhh…” Just then I caught a movement behind me in my peripheral and I wheeled around ready for a surprise attack. Satou-kun was back there, but he also wore a mask of shame. He didn’t say anything. He just stood there with his head downcast.

“Kochira koso,” (I’m the one who should apologize) I said, turning back to face Matsui-kun. ” I’m sorry.”

“No,no,…” He bowed and gave me a hug without looking up, his head against my stomach. Then he turned and marched out of the class into the hallway- Satou-kun in tow- without even a glance back. I stood there trying to figure out if this was a ploy or had his apology been genuine. Had I neutralized him with a piece of chalk? Was a brief flash of my anger enough to make him re-think his position?

As I made my way downstairs to the teacher’s office, I felt like a heavy burden had been lifted off me.

When I got to the office I noticed that Takahashi was already there. And, as was becoming a common sight, she was being chewed out by Kawaguchi-sensei. I wondered what the matter was but I had learned to keep my distance from my buddy when she’s getting in Takahashi’s ass about something. She’s like a different person. It’s kind of spooky. I felt sorry for Takahashi, as usual. She looked like she was being bitch-slapped by a pimp. The other teachers in the office were pretending not to notice this, but it was like not noticing a total solar eclipse. It was the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the room.

From what I could gather from hush tones that rose and fell, Takahashi-Sensei had handed in some report late causing blah blah blah to be blah blah blah-ed. More of the same shit. Kawaguchi-sensei ended her harangue with an awful funky, malicious “Ne!?” and walked away from her. Takahashi-sensei took her leave of the office, probably to run to the bathroom and cry. Poor thing.

My desk is next to Kawaguchi -sensei’s. As she passed by I put my head into a text-book and tried to act like I didn’t even know she was there.

“Loco-sensei,” she whispered. “Chotto kite ne.” (Come here for a sec…)

I followed her out of the office and into the conference room across the hall. Kawaguchi-sensei usually does this when she has something important to tell me that she doesn’t want the rest of the staff to know about.

She sat me down. “You know…Takahashi-sensei, she told me about what happened with the student in her class.”

“She did!?”

“Yeah, she told me that you threw a piece of chalk, and it hit Matsui-kun…is that what happened?”

“Yeah, basically…he threw something at her and I kinda lost my…”

“He threw something at Takahashi-sensei?”

“Yeah…”

“She didn’t tell me that part…”

“It’s not important anyway…I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it.”

“Yes, please be more careful…”

“I will…”

“Yoku Wakatta!” (I get it now!) She snapped, and laughed. “Ne, ne…” she whispered in the echoing conference room we were in, looking around like she was about to let me in on a great secret. “She told me about that when I brought up her latest fuck up. I tell you she is a sneak and a liar but I know you never believed me, deshou? (right?)! Hora! (See!) She was trying to get me off her back using you, deshou?”

“You really think so?” I asked.

Kawaguchi just smiled…

I’d like to think that I was the kind of person who wouldn’t be fazed by shit like this. I mean, I shouldn’t have expected her not to tell anyone, right? Hell, I might have been a danger to the students, having taken to throwing things at them. Of course she would feel it was her responsibility- in the name of student safety- to report it. But, I have to admit: I was fazed. I did feel betrayed.

And next time my little buddy Matsui-kun gets into one of his tyrannical states, and even if he starts to launch larger objects, whatshername: the dime-dropping fuck-up with the tits, a hazing episode or two from a suicidal date with fate via the front of some speeding train, that Bitch is on her own! well, let’s just say I’ll be hard-pressed to get involved on her behalf in the future.

Loco

For more stories and insights like those above, check out the critically-acclaimed best-seller: Loco in Yokohama

 

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Filling The Black Hole in the Space Program http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/08/filling-the-black-hole-in-the-space-program/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/08/filling-the-black-hole-in-the-space-program/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 11:57:22 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20613 When I was a kid, mankind had already walked on the moon, planted their flags in her and moved on to new business, mainly satellites. But, in Hollywood we were all over the galaxy.

At least white people were.

A handful of token blacks were out there, too, though. Back then, on TV and in film, blacks in space stood out for me like flies in milk.

I had a few faves though…

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Well, I’m sure you all remember that black woman from the original Star Trek TV series, Lieutenant Uhura, which bore a striking resemblance to my elementary school’s name, (Uhuru Sasa, a swahili phrase meaning Freedom Now). C’mon, you gotta remember that galactic receptionist with the mini skirt, killer legs and perm, played with a great deal of grace by Nichelle Nichols.? Of course you do.

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How about Colonial Tigh from the original Battlestar Galactica? I mean, sure, the show only lasted one season (though us diehard fans knew it should have gone longer, which explains the success of its comeback) but you gotta remember him. He was played by a fairly famous face at the time, especially if you dug your blaxploitation flicks. The actor’s name was Terry Carter.

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And, you may remember that black guy from the original Planet of the Apes? If you’re black you probably do. He was the black astronaut that wound up stuffed in the Simian Museum of Natural History. Yep, good ole’ Lieutenant Dodge. Played by an actor that, in his acting career, didn’t get much further than that museum, Jeff Burton.

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Who can forget Lando Calrissian, that space pirate turned businessman in the best Star Wars film to date, “The Empire Strikes Back”? Yep, Mr. “Colt 45, it works every time” himself, the black world’s consummate leading man, at least looks-wise, until Denzel came along, the great Billy Dee Williams.

I’m sure there were a few more (and feel free to shout them out in the comments) but Pre 80s there wasn’t much to look at if you were looking for blacks in space, and from my memory, this was the best sci-fi had to offer…That is, minus enough makeup to obscure their humanity, let alone their races.

People like: One of the original Black Girl Magicians, the great Whoopie Goldberg as Guinan on Star Trek: TNG

And the man with the visor! Commander Geordi La forge

And good ‘ole Captain Sisko from Deep Space 9

…just to name a few.

Then came the 80s, and suddenly sci-fi went ahead and got real on us. I mean, real outer space was all the rave with the invention of the Space Shuttle. Took off like your 60s/70s model spacecraft but damn if it didn’t land like an airplane/drag race car (parachute and all).

And they needed people to fly this thing, and people to do whatever they be doing up there: launching and/or fixing spy satellites and militarizing space. I used to wonder if they’d ever let any blacks up there. Richard pryor had some thoughts on this:

The eighties gave us a number of black astronauts.

The three I remember well are:

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Dr. Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.: His being the first African-American in space, I remember him best. August 30,1983 found him aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle mission as a mission specialist, a night launch, the first I believe. I remember watching that launch and feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement, fear and pride, all jockeying for control of my teenage heart. Dr. Bluford is an aerospace engineer with a Ph.D from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He is also a colonel in the US Air Force.

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Dr. Ronald McNair- I remember him well for a number of reasons. One being our names are very similar. The second being the park across the street from where I grew up on Eastern Parkway, which used to be named for some white guy whose name I can’t remember because all the parks, streets, avenues, hell, all the everythings were named after a bunch of white guys in Brooklyn, was renamed after McNair. There’s even a statue of him in the park and everything. And thirdly, well, because he was tragically taken from us too soon when in 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded a minute or so after its launch.

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Dr. Mae C. Jemison: Not only was, hell, is she a doctor and surgeon and engineer, but she was the first black woman to grace the galaxy as a member of the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor (pretty ballsy considering what happened a few years earlier) as the Mission Specialist.

Three remarkable people, who filled in the black hole in the space program!

And then there were the human computers, black women, Hidden Figures, working behind the scenes to ensure that the space program got off the ground. They were the focus a film nominated for a number of academy awards, but the true story of these women is even more fascinating then how it was portrayed in the film. Three of these women were featured in the film. They were:

Dorothy Vaughn

Mary Jackson

and Katherine Johnson

Truth be told, we’d likely still be dreaming of reaching the stars if not for these industrious individuals, so I just wanted to take a moment out to acknowledge them this BLM.

Loco

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If You Live in Japan and Never Use These, Consider Yourself Japanese http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/07/if-you-live-in-japan-and-never-use-these-consider-yourself-japanese/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/07/if-you-live-in-japan-and-never-use-these-consider-yourself-japanese/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 07:39:21 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20601

Over the course of my 13 years in Japan I have found that many of my feelings I just can’t express well in Nihongo. The Japanese “cuss” words just don’t do it for me. For example, all the feelings I would use “Fuck” to express in English, I simply couldn’t feel with its Japanese counterpart. So I was forced to create my own means of expressing the profanity in my heart that periodically needs an outlet. Feel free to use mine if you haven’t created your own already.

10- Shippai fucking chatta: Fuck me! Fuck, I blew it! I fucked up! I use when I do dumb shit. I dunno…long list of situations for when I’ve used this. One time I had a chance to bag a huge account for my consulting company but blew it because I was trying to bury any signs of “foreign aggressiveness”, and in doing so came off as unexpectedly (and disappointingly) passive…I could see it in their faces and knew it as soon as it happened. Fuck me!! Live and learn.

9- Wakan fucking nai! – I don’t understand a goddamn thing you’re saying! Fuck does that mean? That’s Japanese? You gotta be fucking kidding me…This can be used when your Japanese girlfriend (or boyfriend) or spouse gets angry at you and starts to spew all sorts of Japanese they know you can’t follow, ala Ricky Ricardo spitting Spanish at Lucy on the “I Love Lucy” show. (I pity the person who has never seen I love Lucy. Lucille Ball is perhaps the funniest woman to ever grace the idiot box) Midway through their harangue, you shout this and wave dismissively. By no means is this the way to de-escalate or resolve conflict and in some cases may even provoke further conflict, but you’ll feel better (at least I do) and isn’t that the point anyway?

8- Hotto ifuckingte! – Leave me the fuck alone! I started using this one, again, with my ex-girlfriend. She felt (and I really can’t fault her entirely) that I should de-prioritize my writing and upgrade our relationship’s. She had a point. A point she didn’t mind not pushing when she was studying to become an English language tour guide and using me daily for my bottomless well of English knowledge. Anyway, from my perch before my PC’s keyboard I used this little ditty occasionally…

7-UrufuckingseeShut the fuck up! Well, it can be used in so many different situations including the same situations you use numbers 8 and 9 in. If you need me to tell you more situations for which this ditty is useful then I envy you.

6- Miten-ja fuckingne yo! – Fuck you looking at? Why don’t you cut that shit out? Don’t you know staring at people for whatever fucking reason is fucking rude you asshole? I use this one on the trains or in cafes occasionally, when the intensity of the stare is higher than acceptable levels (laser intensity) or prolonged beyond what I consider to be apt time to get the “My God, he’s not one of us!” out of their system. Except kids…they can stare as long as they like (and they do, the little buggers!)

5- O-naka sui fucking chatta– Loosely translated it means: I’m so hungry I could eat dolphin sushi with fermented soybean gravy! Use anytime.

4- Mata fucking ka yo! – Not a-fucking-gain! Use any time. Like at work when I bring a bento of yakisoba and half my co-workers begin the daily chorus of “Yappari, Yakisoba!” or “Sugoi, you use chopsticks like a Japanese!” I can retort with this (in my head, or barely audibly under my breath, of course)

3- U-fucking-zai yo! – You’re getting on my fucking nerves! If you live in Japan and you can’t find a situation to use this consider yourself an honorary Japanese.

2- Osu fucking na! – Push me again and see if I don’t break my foot off in your ass! Sometimes I get pushed unreasonably and unnecessarily hard, generally by salarymen with attitude issues. This little ditty usually reduces it to reasonable.

AND NUMBER 1!! Drum roll!

1- Sumima motherfucking sen–  Excuse the fuck outta me! My personal favorite for obvious reasons. What? It’s not obvious? Well, sumima motherfucking sen! Allow me to explain…Sumimasen is the most ubiquitous word in the Japanese language, so the opportunities for uses are astronomical if you’re an habitual profanity user like me.

Well, I hope you find my list entertaining, if not useful. I have many more, of course. These are just the top 10. For a complete list Follow me on Twitter or  Facebook  I use them on occasion! Feel free to use any of the above, you can thank me later.

Loco

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Self-Emancipation for Dummies http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/06/self-emancipation-for-dummies/ Mon, 06 Feb 2017 08:20:59 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20576 World-renown black leaders like President Barack Obama, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) actually come from a long line of inspired intellectuals and gifted orators. From W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington, from Shirley Chisholm and Angela Davis to Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells. But, since childhood, my favorite has been a man who history has seen fit to record, but the focus of that record has been primarily on one facet of his life.

The man I’m speaking of is the great Frederick Douglass, and the focus has been, of course, on his considerable involvement in the abolishment of slavery in the US. All Americans owe Douglass a debt of gratitude, for while presidents ultimately make the final decisions (at least we like to think they do), it’s the advisors who guide them and Douglass, in their three historic meetings, no doubt steered Lincoln towards his “better angels.”

I learned as a child that Frederick Douglass, as a child and a slave, taught himself to read and write, taught other slaves how to do the same, and eventually used this self-education to escape from slavery. As he would later put it “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” And while the popular image of his time was of a slave getting his skin torn from his back by some sadistic overseer on some godforsaken cotton plantation, Frederick Douglass’ story also includes a fist fight with his master in which Douglass forcefully insisted that he never be beat again! And, after opening a can of whup-ass and coming out of the battle victorious, indeed he was never beat again.

It’s the kinda stuff urban legends are made of, right? Self-Emancipation for Dummies. And he was only just getting started.

I learned the value of reading and writing from studying about Douglass’ accomplishments. I also learned that, though the ability to find compromise is an admirable one, sometimes you just have to stand up and do battle, even if doing so will almost certainly result in an ass-whipping or death or worse. True emancipation, in every sense of the word, requires one to value it more than life itself, to accept that the only alternative is death, or some facsimile thereof.

Here was a compelling story. I was hooked. He instantly became my first historical hero. I read whatever I could find and comprehend about him. I’m certain my knowledge of Douglass, even as an elementary school kid, surpassed even my history teachers’ at the time.

About 8 years ago, however, I discovered a historical jewel. There I was thinking I knew essentially all there was to know about the man, when I stumbled upon this new bit of exciting information.

I was doing research for an editorial I was writing for a newspaper in New York that would run my stories from time to time. I had just returned from a three-week stay in Haiti, having gone there to visit a friend working for an NGO there (Haiti being the land of NGOs these days) and to witness the Bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution-the only successful slave insurrection in history, which laid the groundwork for the formation of the first and only Black Republic in the West.

Here was yet another little historical tidbit that doesn’t get the ink it deserves (I wonder why). While Haiti’s poverty, disease, political corruption and the recent natural disasters get ink by the barrel, not much is said about how Haiti came to be. Well, you better believe Loco gave it its due. (Here’s a link to the editorial I wrote about Haiti) I’ve read that a movie is “in development” and it’s rumored that either Don Cheadle or Jeffrey Wright will star. I’m hoping both. There were enough heroes in the Haitian Revolution to go around, most prominently Toussaint L’ Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Petion.

But, that’s for another post.

As I was reading through several books about Haiti’s bloody amazing history, I learned not only of the effect this revolution had on the French (having their chapeau handed to them by a well-organized army of fed-up slaves) but on the U.S., as well. In the U.S., VERY nearby and still growing by leaps and bounds on free labor stolen from the same shores these Haitian revolutionaries originated from, a tsunami of fear swept across the Caribbean and right into the heart of the slave-holding Southern States of America. Mind you, the U.S. was still wet behind the ears as a Republic- 20 something years old at the start of the Haitian Revolution..

Can you imagine the headlines on the tabloids of the time?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it: Overworked, Undernourished African Slaves kick Bonaparte’s ass! Take island by force and rename it Haiti! Want to open talks and discuss trade with the US!

No wonder they didn’t want slaves reading back then, right? Hell, the US slave trade probably would have ended, in blood (as all successful Revolutions do) long before Lincoln pulled his head out of his ass and decided to do what was best to keep the union together.

Yeah, well, Frederick Douglas understood the reason for black illiteracy perfectly well, and it only motivated him to study harder. Once he’d freed himself, he became a great orator and proponent for not only the Abolition of Slavery but for Women’s Suffrage as well. I mean, the man was driven and relentless.

I was a little vague on what he’d done after the Civil War. That’s probably why I missed this jewel. I came across it, ironically, not in my study of Frederick Douglass but in my research on Haiti. It seems that in 1889 the U.S., in its infinite wisdom, named Douglass the Minister-Resident and Consul-General to the Republic of Haiti. A post he held until 1891 when he resigned in protest of U.S. policies concerning Haiti. Not quite an ambassadorship but nothing to sneeze at either, especially in them days. Well, turns out that in 1893 Douglass gave a speech in Chicago that would send a chill up the leg of even President Obama.

A lithograph made of the meeting between Florvil Hyppolite (president of Haiti) and Frederick Douglass.

It has come to be known as:

1893 Frederick Douglass Lecture on Haiti at the World’s Fair in Chicago

Of course there’s no recording of this speech. But, if you read it, all 10000 words or so, you will understand not only Douglass, not only Haiti, but indeed the U.S. in a way that you’ve never understood them before. I mean, just when you think you know a man, you come across a lecture, and lecture is the correct word to describe this, that upon completion will leave you feeling like you’ve taken a course on the subject at the finest university money can buy.

Here are a couple of excerpts so you can see what I mean:

“My subject is Haiti, the Black Republic; the only self-made Black Republic in the world. I am to speak to you of her character, her history, her importance and her struggle from slavery to freedom and to statehood. I am to speak to you of her progress in the line of civilization; of her relation with the United States; of her past and present; of her probable destiny; and of the bearing of her example as a free and independent Republic, upon what may be the destiny of the African race in our own country and elsewhere.”

And,

“But a deeper reason for coolness between the countries is this: Haiti is black, and we have not yet forgiven Haiti for being black [applause] or forgiven the Almighty for making her black. [Applause.] In this enlightened act of repentance and forgiveness, our boasted civilization is far behind all other nations. [Applause.] In every other country on the globe a citizen of Haiti is sure of civil treatment. [Applause.] In every other nation his manhood is recognized and respected. [Applause.] “

And,

“Yet, there she is, torn and rent by revolutions, by clamorous factions and anarchies; floundering her life away from year in a labyrinth of social misery. Every little while we find her convulsed by civil war, engaged in the terrible work of death; frantically shedding her own blood and driving her best mental material into hopeless exile. Port au Prince, a city of sixty thousand souls, and capable of being made one of the healthiest, happiest and one of the most beautiful cities of the West Indies, has been destroyed by fire once in each twenty-five years of its history. The explanation is this: Haiti is a country of revolutions.”

Yes, indeed, Brother Douglass brought the noise to the Chicago World’s Fair that April.

Thank you so much Mr. Douglass for teaching the power of the written and spoken word and for helping me not to take for granted education for it’s truly a blessing. By example, like those Haitian revolutionaries, you showed us all what even a slave could do if he doesn’t allow perceived limitations to rule his self-determination, that once one emancipates ones mind, ones derrière will follow in due course.

Here’s a link to the complete lecture

Loco

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A Sojourn in Haiti http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/06/a-sojourn-in-haiti/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/06/a-sojourn-in-haiti/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 08:16:49 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20585 I had planned to write a travel piece about Haiti, describing how idyllic she is: the lush green countryside, the cloud-capped mountains, the clear blue waters, the wistful art, the dignified people, their soul-stirring courage, etc… Then give an account of the trouble in paradise, Haiti’s well-documented downside: The political unrest, the undermining corruption, the conspicuous caste system, the desperate poverty, the putrid slums, blah, blah, blah… Then finish on an optimistic high note about prospects for her future based on my observations: cyber cafes teaching computer literacy to children, food cooperatives, micro-finance for small businesses, road repair work, new residences under construction, etc…

But, I decided against it.

Haiti meant so much more to me than that. She impacted my soul, even drawing tears on a couple of occasions. I didn’t cry out of pity, even though there was many a sight my American heart interpreted as a damn shame. Rather, I was moved by something spiritual, and I would be doing a disservice to Haiti and to the reader not to make this the polestar of my piece.

Previous to my 22-day sojourn in Haiti, I was already infatuated with her. Being a history buff, especially that of the African Diaspora’s, I’ve always been intrigued by Haiti. She’s a rare historical gem. During the European slave trade there were many uprisings. But, Haiti was the only colony of African slaves to successfully rebel against the Europeans and take their independence. Haiti became the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, advancing the cause of liberty and human equality throughout the world. Then, there is my literary idol, Zora Neale Hurston. She wrote my favorite book, Their eyes were watching God, while in Haiti researching Voodoo. So, when a friend who’d been living there for several years invited me down for a visit, I accepted without hesitation.

However, as I prepared for my trip, ticket in hand, hustling around to get my passport (this was my first trip to a country requiring a passport to enter), I began to have reservations. Like most Americans, my mind had been poisoned about everything Haitian- in fact, anything even vaguely African is tarnished to some extent. The negatives of Haiti are splashed on the TV and newspapers so frequently that it is nearly impossible to think of her without the accompanying images of chaos and dismay: Kidnapping, murder, theft, starvation, refugees, AIDS, Voodoo, ruthless dictators, coup d’etats, corrupt police, Tonton Macoute, etc…The list is long and ugly. My friends bon voyaged me with warnings like: Don’t tell them you’re American-they hate Americans! or Don’t tell them you’re a writer-they kill writers! or Don’t come back a Zombie!

If not for my trust in the Creator’s Master Plan, I probably would’ve canceled my trip and ate the cost of that ticket.

Initially, the thing that struck me as frighteningly un-American about Haiti was that EVERYONE was black. Inside the archaic airport, the swarm of passengers, the customs and security officials, etc… And outside, the police officers, the horde of cab drivers accosting me with this African-intoned language called Kreyol, and beyond a fence, a teeming throng of curious onlookers. You’d think that having lived in the black community all my life, seeing predominantly black faces everyday, that I would be immediately at ease; even ecstatic on encountering black faces in roles I’d come to expect white. But, I wasn’t. In fact, I was traumatized, and it lasted for several days.

They say if you’re told a lie often enough eventually you start believing it. Even if the lie is something you consciously know to be a falsehood, somehow the lie attaches itself to your psyche. The lie I’m referring to is the lie that is ingrained in the American way of thinking. The lie that associates black people with danger, incompetence, ignorance, etc. And the darker the skin tone, the worse. Of course it’s nonsense, but I learned under the Haitian sun that this lie was alive in me. As pro-black as I consider myself, this revelation rocked my world. It’s no wonder the Haitians called me Blanc, the Kreyol word for foreigner. In French, Blanc means white, but I’ve come to understand it to mean anyone poisoned by the white lie about black people.

It came to a head the night I attended Carnival in downtown Port au Prince. Situated above the masses in bleacher seating sponsored by an international health organization and reserved for those few Haitians that could afford the ticket, I watched as Haiti rejoiced in bacchanal fashion. If you’ve ever been to Eastern Parkway on Labor Day, or to Mardi Gras, you know what I mean. I never thought much of Carnivals, to tell you the truth. I know it dates back before slavery, but I’ve always put it under the category of the time of year the masters let the slaves lose their minds, get that pent up aggression out of their systems, just so they could keep them under control the rest of the year. 

And, though I’d seen little for these Haitians to be celebrating so intensely since my arrival, that didn’t stop me from getting all swept up in it.I was mesmerized by the display, the music, and the beautiful women.

Then, suddenly a float appeared, draped in blue and white frills, three stoic black figures stood upon it, dressed like French colonial generals, the year “1804” emblazoned, huge and bold, on the side. The roar of the revelers, over a million strong, rose to a deafening pitch. The vibration rattled my chest and the bleachers.

My immediate reaction was, “Oh God, not here, too!”

Many times I’ve seen black folks in the US dressed in this Yankee Doodle Dandy colonial garb on the 4th of July, banging drums and playing flutes, in celebration of the American Revolution, and it sickens me every time.

But, then, it hit me! Quite hard at that! I wasn’t in America, and there’s no such thing as the 4th of July in Haiti. Right? There’s only January 1, 1804. This was a float honoring black heroes and a black independence achieved in-arms. These three men being honored were Toussaint L’ Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe, prominent leaders in the Haitian Revolution.

Joy, envy, and sorrow overwhelmed me at once and tears rolled down my cheeks. While I waved (I’ve never waved at a parade before) I wept for heroes like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vessey- African Americans who had similar aspirations as these Haitian heroes but were cut down by betrayal or superior firepower. I wept for the dignity shamefully absent in many African-Americans because our integral role in American history has been under taught, misrepresented, or altogether obliterated just for that purpose.

But, most of all I wept because I’d never before felt so free from the legacy of slavery, nor so much pride in my blackness, as I did at that moment. I owe Ayiti (Haiti, in Kreyol) a debt of gratitude for this souvenir- one that won’t collect dust on a mantelpiece, but reside in my soul forever. Merci anpil, Ayiti cherie!

Loco

]]> http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/06/a-sojourn-in-haiti/feed/ 1 20585 Nothing But Love for THIS Love Hotel! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/06/nothing-but-love-for-this-this-love-hotel/ Sun, 05 Feb 2017 23:34:18 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20563 One of my favorite areas in Yokohama is called Shin-Yokohama. It doesn’t have a lot to offer, but what it has, it has in spades.

For one there’s the ramen museum. Y’all know I’m big fan of ramen! (You can peek my ramen porn stash HERE).

Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama

But it’s not the ramen that draws me. You can also find me on the basketball court there all summer, but that’s not my major draw, either.

Nope.

Shin-Yokohama also has a respectably-sized Love Hotel district (Nothing compared to Shibuya or Shinjuku, but a wider selection than many other areas) on the far side of the Yokohama line tracks. Once you cross beneath the train tracks you’ll find yourself in the midst of a number of love hotels.

I can’t do a comparison for you. Why? Because I haven’t stayed at any other Love hotel in this area. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine any of them living up to The Scene Hotel. And, once you’ve done the scene it’s kinda hard to go back to the okie doke. It is a Love hotel Supreme!

(Cue ‘trane) You might want to listen while you dig this…

I’m serious, and you’ll see why in a moment.

The first time I went there a few years ago was my first visit to this love hotel area, and I had chosen it randomly, based purely on availability and convenience at the time. I had stayed at a number of Love Hotels by that time but, upon walking in the door, I was stunned at the classiness of the joint. I just knew it had to be well out of my price range.

Wrong.

Come to find out the place was designed! Yep, each floor has a different theme and all of the rooms were designed by renowned designers of some note!

Pause.

First of all, if you’ve never stayed at a love hotel, it’s going to be difficult for you to relate to this. Words like “designed by” are not even a consideration at your run of the mill ラブホ. Most of them look like something that Hello Kitty might’ve hacked up in a hairball, a rejected design by some Atlantic City pre-fab casino hotel developer, or a hentai otaku on molly was handed the task.

Nothing but overrated motel rooms. And that suffices if you’re simply there to get your jollies and keepit moving.

But…if you’re looking for something a little more extra.

I think to properly give “The Scene” its just due I would have to compare it to regular hotel rooms, so as to rid your minds of the image the words love hotel might conjure. Aside from its location and designated purpose, there’s absolutely nothing even remotely dodgy about this place. It’s in a class by itself, somewhere between a 5, er, 4-star hotel at a resort, or a nice spa.

But I’ll let the website above and the pics below speak for themselves:

Exterior

Entrance

Lobby

discreet reservation system

Point Card Prizes

discreet waiting area (with phone, candies, magazines, etc…)

And now for the room…

 

Massage Chair

Bedroom

 
Livingroom

A little Pulp Fiction “…and you will know, my name is the lord!” (-:

Whirlpool tub with HDTV

Projection TV…and a friendly game of baseball

If you’re ever in town with your significant other, or whomever the love du jour might be, looking to get your groove on, peep it for yourself.

 

Loco

 

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“Mannnn! You Come Right Outtavah Comic Book!!” http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/04/mannnn-you-come-right-outtavah-comic-book/ Sat, 04 Feb 2017 07:48:04 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20554 Seven-year old me sat in a rat infested cat patrolled theatre with my brothers, eating stale popcorn and sipping watery sprite, watching Chinese men have their eyes ripped from the sockets by other Chinese guys and having the time of my short life!

It was my first foray into the genre with the misnomer karate flicks (which would later be more accurately named Kung-Fu flicks). I fell for them instantly. The nineties would be Jet Li’s decade and the eighties Jackie Chan’s but the 70’s? Well, I must confess –keep in mind I was still a fledgling fan of a fledgling genre– I was torn between two martial artists, and mostly for racial reasons.

Who should have been my obvious choice for martial artist that ruled the 70s?

Bruce Lee, of course.

But I was a race kid being trained and taught and prepared for a war that must be fought by race men and women so, in my eyes, Bruce had some serious competition for the crown coming from a source no more in his league than Muhammad Ali was in an alien who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

I’m talking about the man who brought the orient to the hood, who could bring his feet and fist to a gunfight and bop away beneath a shower of his opponent’s blood and teeth, the undisputed world champion of taking shit from no one, the black power fists of fury, the shogun of soul, the sensei of sin, the monk of funk, the master of disaster, the man who kicked a hole in the great wall of china…y’all know who I’m talking about!

enter2a-1-660x450

That’s right, None other than the great Jim Kelly!

Those of you who weren’t around then probably can’t fully grasp his impact on the culture. But I do, for I lived with two older brothers that, while I was praying for the gods to send a radioactive spider my way, they wanted nothing more than to be Jim Kelly. While I lay on my bed with my head stuck between the pages of the latest issue of the amazing spider man, those two were practicing everything from his kicks and groin blows, to his facial expressions, to his super cool one liners like, “Bullshit, Mr. Han, man!!”

*****

My brother Changa, the oldest and a natural comic, was the most gifted with the catch phrases, but Sekou wasn’t no slouch. I was content to laugh at how ridiculous they looked and sounded, and read my comics, and they’d leave me to my own devices…

That is, until the day my bike got stolen from me. I came home from filling my tire with air with nothing but air to show for it.

nunchuck“Where the hell is your bike at, Buck!?” my oldest brother, Changa, yelled. Being the oldest male, he was acting father in my house and to this day I still think of him that way. He still calls me Buck.
I broke down in tears as I replied, heaving and sobbing every word out.

“…and then he, and then, and then he asked, he said can he get a ride, then he…but he…”

“What the fuck!”

My older brothers were two of the toughest cats in the neighborhood for their age group, and well known for it. If some shit went down they were usually in the mix up to theirJim_Kelly suede-front mocknecks. And ever since seeing Enter the dragon they never left the house without nunchucks they’d fashioned from mop and broom handles, electric tape and shoe strings to link the two sticks. They both acquired lifelong scars from practice and speed training but had gotten pretty proficient at their use as evidenced by the number of bruised up chumps around the way that hated both of them with a passion. Not to mention the lumps they’d given each other with their eternal sibling rivalry, being born a year apart.

Changa rode me on his handlebars back to the gas station and we crisscrossed the streets looking for this bicycle thief, but he was nowhere to be found so we gave up after a couple of hours.

“If you ever see that motherfucker you let me know! I’ll get your bike back!” Changa said, to stop me from my blubbering. “You know, we gotta toughen your ass up! Can’t be letting niggers punk you like that, I don’t give a fuck how big they is! Think Jim Kelly would go for that okey doke shit!? Hell fucking no!”

The next day, he decided to open his own dojo, right in our bedroom, and I was to be his first pupil. He stole me a gee and a belt from somewhere, probably from someone’s clothesline or some sporting good shop, and told me to put it on. Once I’d tied the belt around my waist 20130226-001049.jpgand tightened it I looked in the mirror. I was the spitting image of a mini Jim Kelly, ‘fro and all…

Well, kinda, anyway. Afro sheen and all that shit was expensive (-;

My brothers had studied judo and karate at two schools: the school we all went to, Uhuru Sasa (I was in primary, they were in secondary), with a few teachers who were also into martial arts.  But they didn’t get far because, let Changa tell it, the teachers were using these classes to exercise their sadistic inclinations and to reinforce discipline by kicking the asses of the school’s worst troublemakers, of which he and Sekou were perpetually a part. The other fighting school was the Academy of Hard Knocks otherwise known as Street Academy, which is basically the only school either of them attended with any regularity.

We used our mattresses for mats but they were mostly inadequate to the task for I found myself landing on the parquet floor and the medal frames of our beds more often than not…but I learned. Changa didn’t half-ass shit when it came to Karate. Every few weeks or so after I’d managed to finally get a kick or flip right, he’d dangle the promise of a new belt color. Changa of course was not a licensed teacher but when I made yellow belt in Changa’s Dojo, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. He even tried to recruit other members to join our little family Dojo, kids on the block and what not. And they wanted to, but their parents weren’t having any of that! They knew my brothers were responsible for a good deal of the mischief and mayhem going on in our little corner of Bed-Stuy; that they were the kids putting M80s in neighborhood payphones and robbing them, and what not. Everybody knew. So, I had no one my size to fight…that is, until one day one of my classmates, Oba, came over to stay with us for a few days.

He and his sister would and stay over regularly, his Moms and mine being very good friends. They didn’t have a television at their house — their moms being very serious about not wanting their minds corrupted by the idiot box — so whenever he came to my house I had hell dragging him away from our idiot box.

Oba was frail and asthmatic, kept an inhaler handy, but he was a borderline genius, played chess and Stratego for fun. Even taught me how so his arrogant ass could whip on someone besides his little sister. In fact, he beat me at everything all the time…so, an idea popped into my head, as I watched him sitting there in a meditative/vegetative state in front of the boob tube after I’d begged him repeatedly to come outside and play.

But before I could voice it, Changa came in the room, turned off the TV and declared they’ll be no more TV watching until after the karate lesson. Changa’s Dojo was open for business. I knew what Changa had in mind for he had told me a week earlier that I wasn’t going to become an orange belt until I’d had a real fight with someone in my own class.

Oba entered our homemade dojo and appeared intrigued, not unlike Mr. Spock whenever he learned something new about human behavior or the peculiarities of some alien species.

“You two are gonna fight!” Changa said as we stepped into the room. “Oba, if you win, you can watch as much TV as you like. And if you win, Buck, you will be promoted to Orange belt.”

“Hai, Sensei!” I said and bowed to him as he’d taught me over the past several weeks he’d been instructing me. I was ready! I’d been kicking and punching pillows and sofa cushions for over a month now. I’d even almost flipped Changa over my shoulder by the scruff of his gee. He’d created a little hellraiser in me!Black_belt_jones_movie_poster

I glanced over at Oba and bowed to him. He still wore that Mr. Spock ironic grin on his face, the same expression he’d strike when we played chess and he had my ass in check after I’d thought I’d finally gotten the upper hand on him–which gave me a moment’s pause. But only a moment…a moment was all it took to give his skinny ass a once-over and decide nothing would be more gratifying at this moment than to knock that arrogant look off his face. I had a good 10-20 lbs on him and maybe an inch or two.

And, I’d been training a solid 6 weeks!

220px-Black_Samurai

I was tough as nails, by my reckoning, and Oba was morphing, right before my bloodshot eyes, into that bike thief I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for ever since I got vicced (slang for victimized). I almost felt ashamed to be taking advantage of him. Here I was, a trained fighter, and he was a fucking chess player. I was about to ask had he ever practiced martial arts before when Oba opened his mouth for the first time since an hour earlier when he’d said, “I’ll join you outside once this program has come to a close…”

“Your conditions meet with my approval…” Oba said, all proper, enunciating each word in that irritating condescending way of his. He was an intellectual snob. I liked him, but I wasn’t about to let my personal feelings get in the way of the asswhipping I was about to dispense. I was gonna show him he wasn’t better than anybody!Enter_the_dragonOba took off his shoes, placed them neatly at the foot of the mattress and stepped onto it facing me with almost practiced skill. Again, my spidey sense was tingling. He inclined his head but his eyes never left me. I did the same. Then I jumped into one of the ready positions I’d seen Jim Kelly do many times. At least 5  times I’d seen him do it in Enter the Dragon, not to mention in Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way; thanks to my brother making watching his adopted sensei, Jim Kelly, part of my training. And back in them days, if you wanted to see the movie again, all you needed to do was stay in your seat, sit through the other film of the double feature, or the other two flicks if it were a triple feature, and wait for the film to come around again.

{Sometimes the other films were pure garbage but in the blaxploitation / Karate Flick era, you could count on the other flicks having black stars or being some kick ass flicks made just for people of a certain disposition…and we were definitely of a certain disposition, disposed to happily sitting through Blacula and Cleopatra Jones to see Three the Hard Way again. Or gladly sitting through Fists of Fury and Chinese Connection to see Enter the dragon again. Most gladly. Bruce Lee wasn’t hard to swallow at all. Quiet as kept, we all knew He was the God of martial arts…we just got off on this brother remixing and adding an unmistakable swagger to what was thought of as a Chinese art form, like what Coltrane did to the original Rodgers and Hammerstein’s,“My Favorite Things”}

20130225-232957.jpg

Changa shouted “fight!” and we began circling each other on the bed.

I could see by the way he was moving that he was no stranger to this but, hell, neither was I…but I convinced myself I had the advantage because Oba, to my knowledge, hadn’t seen any Jim Kelly movies and I had seen them all!

He didn’t have any swagger in his movements. I know I did. Changa made sure of that. Oba was more like Bruce Lee, minus all that hollering and gesticulating, eyes cold and confident, each footfall precise. He took another step to his left and the mattress exhaled, letting out a wheezy breath of ammonia from the numerous times I’d wet it over the years. Oba squinched his nose at the stench, knowing what it was, for I’d pissed on him more than once when we slept in the same bed whenever I’d stay over his house. This pissed me off even more. Rage caught flame in me.

Oba had his hands low and was kind of bent over a bit, so I swung a kick towards his face but just as I had he dropped low and swept my other leg and I fell hard, most of my body hitting the mattress, all aside from my 20130225-232920.jpghead which struck against parquet wood with a thud. I was so shocked and furious I hopped back up quickly, ignoring the throbbing pain and the jeers from my brothers.

Oba had hung back letting me recover, like a fucking gentleman. Now I wanted to kill him! All training tossed out the window, I charged with my hands reaching for his throat, but his throat faded back away from my reach at the same speed of my charge, then down it went. Before I knew what he was doing I felt his foot in my gut and his hands grasping the scruff of my gee. Then I knew what would happened next.

He threw me — a slow motion flight during which I could see everything vividly: the mantlepiece with Changa’s karate trophies, the probable place I would land, littered with objects just as likely to break me as to break my fall, the poster of Jim Kelly looking extremely poised and cool on the wall — and I landed damn near in the adjoining next room. I had been undone with one of the first moves my brother had ever shown me, the one that had earned me a yellow belt. I landed on the floor my hands breaking none of the fall, like a sack of potatoes.

And so that fight had come to a close, as Oba would put it, for I laid there in utter humiliation as he walked by me back to the room where the TV was. I could hear him turn it on even over my brothers howling with laughter.

I laid there a while looking up at my brother’s poster of Jim Kelly, upside down. He was looking at me with that same look of utter competence, with a hint of amusement and a dare aimed at any challenger.

And I could almost hear him saying to me, “Loco, you come right outtavah comic book!”

With mad Black History Month love, I send this out to the great Jim Kelly, the first black martial artist film star!

Loco

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The One-Eyed Black Jew Who Changed the World! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/02/03/the-one-eyed-black-jew-who-changed-the-world/ Fri, 03 Feb 2017 12:08:36 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20537 When I was a kid there was a TV show I watched every sunday called Wonderama. I really only remember a couple of things about the show…the songs mostly. One song in particular was performed by a black man, short of stature but with a name larger than life in the black community. He stood up there with all his jewelry, his perm looking Afro, and his glass eye and sang of this mysterious man who “could make the world taste good.”

Being a candy lover at the time, naturally I loved him, for the song he sang was called, The Candy Man. Every kid I knew loved him.
He would remain merely that, the candy man, for a while. Well, that and this very famous name that went around kissing famous white people: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, President Nixon, Archie Bunker…just loved kissing white people.

As the years went on, I’d pick up other little tidbits about him here and there, overhearing my parents, in barber shops and at my unique little school. I’d hear things like he was yet another Uncle Tom, in a long line of Toms, kissing white ass to get ahead…loved them so much he went out and became Jewish, which was about as white as you could get and still be black.

That he had hobbies like dating white women and hoarding diamonds, even had a diamond in his eye socket to replace the eye he’d lost. Soon, even the name Sammy became synonymous with sellout.

I remember the day I started questioning the opinion I had ignorantly formed of the man. You see, til this point I had only heard him sing or act…I hadn’t really seen him dance.

There’s something about dance…

Like most art forms, it’s founded, at least when it’s at it’s best, on truth. This is what most artists are looking to arrive at when they set out on a journey towards being artists, whether they’re aware of it or not. The truth about themselves and if possible some indelible truths about the world around them. And when an artist does arrive at this destination, it’s virtually impossible for it to go unnoticed…not by humans anyway. The truth steps out from the shadows of fraud and deception, knocks down walls of misinformation and misunderstandings, reverses unfair judgments and overthrows unjust verdicts, removes the veil of envy and low self-esteem that hides it, emerges from the darkness and shines.

20130212-230927.jpg

Sammy shined. On his worst day he was merely blinding, but on his best he cauterized souls.

Even my teenage ultra-rebellious, white ass-kisser hating, shucking-and-jiving negro eviscerating ass saw the truth when Sammy danced.

I made it my business to learn what I could about the man…people like Gregory Hines and Savion Glover made it easier, not just to learn about Sammy but to learn about a whole slew of other dancers who used their huffing feet to pave the way for the entertainers that followed.

Sammy, among them, mostly in the spotlight, took most of the heat and flack…took it like only a one-eyed negro jew could, like a man on a crusade, his gifts on parade. The world’s greatest living entertainer, he was dubbed in his day. A title even Michael Jackson would be hard-pressed to strip him of. In fact, I think MJ put it best:

Sammy took the hits for all of us…and he did it with style and a grace I can hardly fathom.

He was beautiful…just beautiful.

Thank you for mixing it with love, Baby! You still make the world taste good!

Loco

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Is This How The World Views Us? Part 3: Furious Styles Packs A .357 Magnum http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/26/is-this-how-the-world-views-us-part-3-furious-styles-packs-a-357-magnum/ Wed, 25 Jan 2017 15:01:05 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20437 If you haven’t read parts ONE: Loco in Cap-Haitien and TWO: Image is Everything check them out.

To me, the true point Chris Rock made in his stand-up routine (purposely or obliviously) is this:

Just as much of the world, even here in Japan, has come to fear or objectify or criminalize people of color, thanks to a media we have minimum control over, so have black people. We fear ourselves. Whether or not that fear is derived from experience or from what we’ve seen in the media, is difficult to say. Maybe a bit of both?

No one is completely immune.

Case in point: Back in ’97, I flew out to California for the first time to visit my sister in the Bay Area. (Side note: One night, we sat outside on her steps and I looked up at the sky and said, “What the HELL is that???” She looked up and said, “Huh? Oh, that’s Hale -Bopp!” Back in NY Hale-Bopp was a news story with no traction and could not be seen. Who gave a shit about a comet. But in California this shit (see below) was like THERE! I understood perfectly while those Heaven’s Gate Cult cats drunk the kool-aid then. It freaked me out, the way it seemed to be just hovering there. I’d seen shooting stars before, but this:

Anyway, I digress…

While I was there, in this elaborate plan to hit the Pacific Coast macking the mostest in the closest thing I could afford to a Porsche, I rented a Mustang convertible and drove down to LA to visit a friend living in Hollywood. Even took the PCH…seriously, you could tell me nothing then!

So, yeah that happened!

So, my second day down in LA, after doing all the Venice Beach, Beverly Hills / Rodeo Drive, Paramount Studio, Hollywood stuff, my boy Andy (a very good friend, white guy I worked with in NY who went west like most filmmakers eventually do) asked me did I want him to show me the Hughes Brothers and John Singleton’s LA.

“OH HELLLLLLLS DA FUCK NO!!” my heart screamed.

“Yeah, that’ll work,” leapt outta my mouth.

I let Andy drive so I could see the sights…and there were sights to behold, as the color of the cityscape shifted from white to brown. When I noticed we were driving on Crenshaw (a street name made infamous by “Menace…”) I swear my blood froze in my veins. I almost told him to turn my motherfucking rental around and head back towards lily white La La Land, cuz this ain’t working for me.

A scene from “Boyz” is the only thing that kept me from taking the wheel. Something Laurence Fishburne said always calms me:

It was almost a throwaway line, but not to me. It was said as Furious, his son and his best friend were getting out the car and looking around at basically the same LA I was seeing as Andy and I cut deeper into da hood proper in my open top convertible. The simple exchange went something like this:

Rick: Hey man, I don’t know about all this, Furious. Got us walking around motherfucking Compton and all, man.

Furious: Rick, it’s the 90s. Can’t afford to be afraid of your own people anymore, man.

I know it’s a movie and all, but shit, Furious was like a paragon of fatherhood to me. He was everything I wish my father was, a man I wish every Boy in da Hood could be fathered by. So his words, everything he had to say, I took to heart til this day, I mean, biblically so. (Big Props to John Singleton! You wuz robbed at the Oscars, man. Fucking Thelma and Louise, puleeezze…) So, with Furious in my brain, of course I didn’t confess to Andy that I was terrified to be within stray bullet range of Compton. I sat there in that car talking myself down from a ledge of cowardice and self-hate.

But, shit, even Andy wasn’t immune to fear (thank God). He knew better than I that there was just so far he wanted to take his white ass into Compton. And that so far was the “Welcome to Compton” sign. (can’t find the pic I took next to it) I was about a scared bitch posing for that pic, too, thinking that everyone in the vicinity was gonna peg me for a tourist, and that would be like advertising I was a mark (some of that gangbanging slang I learned from watching “Menace” and listening to NWA).

The moment revealed to me that I was a mess!

Later that afternoon after I’d dropped Andy off, guilt over disregarding Furious’ admonitions over just what I had felt started pinging me. And you know what I did right? Yep you guessed it. I drove my ass back to Compton, alone, in my Mustang convertible with the roof down, bopping my head to some gangster rap that was playing on the radio. I REFUSED to be afraid. Fuck that! I drove past that “Welcome to Compton” sign like I’d past it a thousand times on cruise control. And you know what? You probably guessed it cuz I’m still here.

But, I can’t say it was without incident, though. During my spirit drive through Compton, I decided to go to the drive-thru. Push this act of common sense disobedience to the utmost. Challenge my worst fears of my own people. Cause on every damn album, in every damn movie, there’s some mention or illustration of some fool getting jacked in the drive-thru. It’s damn near cliché.

But, there was Jack in the Box, an LA hood staple, and I’d never tasted that shit before. But as I approached the entranceway to the drive-thru, I saw some guys looking thoroughly thuggish standing off to the side looking my way, casing me, like, “damn, I’m glad we didn’t leave. Shit, there goes a mark right there! Those some busted ass rims, tho. Must be a rental, but fuck it! Better than a bust.” (An imagination is a terrible thing to waste) So, a third of the way into the turn into the drive-thru, I un-turned that motherfucker and kept going straight.

I beat myself up for a couple of blocks before I convinced myself that it wasn’t fear but shrewdness that I’d enlisted back there to save my ass. Shit, I’ve lived in da hoods of NY long enough to trust my intuition. Pretty sure Furious didn’t mean for his son to be no mark, either. Hell, even he packed a .357 Magnum and wasn’t hesitant to use it. At. All.

I spotted a Burger King a few blocks later and decided I didn’t need the stress of a drive-thru. I pulled into the parking lot, closed the roof, got out, and made my way to the entrance. In front of the door were some guys, regular people, my people, just kicking it and shit. I stepped through them with nods and shit, like Pryor in “Stir Crazy”. Probably looked more like Wilder, though.

I can’t say they exactly made way for me, but they didn’t block the way, either. So I went in. The place was packed with people. No one seemed to notice the “tourist” stamp I swore was tattooed on my forehead. I mean, there’s a certain kinda swagger and familiarity everyone seemed to have that I couldn’t even pretend to have. In NY, no prob. By the time I was an adult, I was absolutely unafraid to go anywhere…well, except Staten Island and The Bronx. (Motherfuckers are just this side of uncivilized in them outer boroughs, I’m sorry. And I only took Queens off that list cuz I went to school there, but them motherfuckers is nuts, too! Harlem and Washington Heights weren’t fun and games, either. Clearly I was not raised by Furious Styles).

I placed my order, and casually whipped out my wallet and paid for my food–to go of course. Wasn’t about to sit in there long enough for people to start to wondering where they might know me from. “He wit’ Crenshaw Mafia, right?” Nah he one of dem Crips…” Yep this was the kind of shit going through my mind as I grabbed my Whopper and Fries. As I exited, the cats by the door had gone about their business, thank god. I exhaled. Didn’t even know I’d been holding my breath.

But then I saw two of the guys that had been by the door standing near my rental, looking at it, searchingly. On my approach (which took every bit of fiber in my being to make) they gave me a once over. I’m pretty sure they spotted the tattoo.

“What up, fellas?” I said, as casually as I could, my heart racing like a Formula 1 engine.

“Oh, dat’s you?” one said, nodding towards the Mustang.

“Nah, that’s Enterprise’s,” I laughed as dauntlessly as possible, sounding like Tony Soprano I bet. Chockful of I give no fucks! “But it’s mine til tomorrow.”

“Right right right,” or something like that, the other said. Couldn’t make heads or tales of half their words. Some slang and accents are universal, but some are local as fuck, and these cats had already pegged me as very un-local. “Where you from, cuz?”

Now, some of y’all probably know there was an East coast – West coast feud back in the 90s, but fortunately at this time, it was in the way early days of that foolishness, so I didn’t hesitate to say New York. Never do whenever I venture to flyover America, which is basically anywhere but New York — to a New Yorker.

“Oh word!?” one said. He didn’t actually use those words but I could tell from his tone it was the Compton equivalent, so I’m just gonna translate that into New York parlance (if y’all don’t mind). “What you doing in these parts bruh?!”

“I’m a tourist,” I confessed. I’m always at my best when I tell the truth. I can’t lie worth a shit. “Seen y’all spot in the movies and wanted to see it with my own eyes! Figured it can’t be as ill as all that if millions of motherfuckers live here.”

“Trudat,” the other said. “It’s real over here, tho.”

“Real in Brooklyn, too,” I said.

They introduced themselves. Can’t remember their names though. Probably couldn’t understand what they’d said, or couldn’t hear them well over my heartbeat, cuz they looked like extras from ‘Menace to Society”.  You know the guys they surround the fake ass actors with, to give the movie that “real feel”? These were some real feel looking motherfuckers, and I couldn’t wait to see them in my rearview mirror.

“Yo, nice meeting you guys! Protect yo’ neck out there!”

“Yo, yo, you wanna hang out, man?” one of them said…I think. “There’s this party over in…”

“I’m gonna have to take a rain check on that, bruh! Got an early start tomorrow,” I said, easing behind the wheel of my automobile. “But good looking out!”

“No doubt.”

Anyway, I got away from my Compton visit unscathed – physically, at least. But, it was clear to me that my soul was scathed. It wasn’t their fault. They were just boyz in da hood. For a long time I tried to decide if those two cats were trying to set me up, or were simply trying to bond with probably the only person they’ve ever met who wasn’t Compton-minded, let alone from Brooklyn, NY (that’s how we New Yorkers think, or used to think; everybody is thrilled to meet us! And that was usually the case, too).

I’ll never know because my fear got the best of me, fear of blackness.

Furious would not be pleased. Please be patient with me, sir

Someday we’ll put it together and we’ll get it undone. Someday we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.
His judgment cometh and that right soon…

Conclusion to follow:

Loco

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Theories on Racial Profiling Discrepancies in Japan http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/23/theories-on-racial-profiling-discrepancies-in-japan/ Mon, 23 Jan 2017 09:45:48 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20484 Been getting so many comments on today’s #BlackEye article that I believe I’m going to have to do a follow-up. Perhaps even something investigative, either on my blog or on my column. haven’t decided yet.

Because these comments are ALL over the place!

(by the way, If you haven’t read the article, you can peep it HERE:

It seems these incidents just happen or don’t happen, case by case. Regardless of wardrobe or location or time of day or night, etc…

Perhaps even regardless of race. That is, as long as your race is non-Japanese.

I’ve got white commenters saying it happens all the time, and black commenters saying it never happens. I’ve got people in the countryside feeling targeted and people in the inner cities saying they’ve never felt targeted.

I learned from reading the comments on this story that one white gentleman learned that the police in his case were stopping foreigners just for training  purposes!!! (see the comment section HERE for more info on this incident).

There seems no discernible pattern. So hard to put your finger on a definite profile.

I’m beginning to think that it happens in waves everywhere…you know?

My theory is, it’s not a standing profile or order. But periodically there are sweeps (for whatever reason – an incident, a training exercise, etc…) that target foreigners and last for weeks or months, in any given area, and then stop. So you’ll get people who get caught up in these sweeps feeling the impact of the profiling, but once it’s gone people in that very same area will say they experienced nothing of the sort because somehow the sweep missed them.

Anyway, just hypothesizing…trying to discern a reason for the discrepancies. I would love to hear your thoughts or theories. Perhaps we can get them translated into Japanese and get them into the hands and minds of those who need to know what the objects of their training / profiling / random harassment (or what have you) are thinking and feeling.

As Jesse did so well in this article. Thank you Jesse for sharing your story with us.

Loco

PS: This is clearly a thing, so people who have not had this happen to them could you please refrain from suggesting that it doesn’t happen, or that these people are oversensitive and need to lighten up, or from suggesting it’s something that doesn’t require addressing because “at least they’re not shooting you or locking you up, like in America”? Why? Because it’s disrespectful to the people who have endured it consistently.

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How to NOT Get Racially Profiled in Japan…if You’re Black http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/22/how-to-not-get-racially-profiled-in-japan-if-youre-black/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/22/how-to-not-get-racially-profiled-in-japan-if-youre-black/#comments Sun, 22 Jan 2017 12:27:16 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20476 The latest #BlackEye is coming at you right now! Interviewing a brother by the name of Jesse Freeman who finds himself on the business end of police harassment way too often. In this interview he makes a clear case for why he is absolutely the wrong guy for the cops to be targeting! And about how these incidents generally go down and measures he’s taken to reduce their frequency.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

“That day, I was coming out of Matsuya when two cops rolled up on me,” he continued, referring to a popular Japanese fast-food chain. “They asked could I speak Japanese. At the time my Japanese was piss poor, so I said no. Then they said they wanted to see my ID, and I asked why. They said they’d been having a problem with Africans and I said, ‘Well, I’m African-American.’ I gave them the ID and they asked could they search my briefcase for dangerous items. I told them I don’t get why. I let them do it so I could get on my way, cause I was in a hurry. Then when I tried to leave they started being all apologetic, saying stuff like they like the Yankees and whatnot. I told them that this is very embarrassing and I have to get to work!”

Check out the rest of this revealing article on the Japan Times website HERE

 

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On Trump’s Inaugural Speech: Speechless, Sleepless and Shook! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/21/speechless-sleepless-and-shook/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/21/speechless-sleepless-and-shook/#comments Sat, 21 Jan 2017 00:55:40 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20458

Last night I couldn’t sleep.

I had received a lot of requests from friends and fam to boycott the Inauguration by not watching it. But I went ahead and did it anyway. You might as well be telling a nest of mosquitos, “listen, there’s this real bright light out there hanging on a porch, but whatever you do don’t look at it, and for god sakes don’t fly near it. It’s dangerous!”

Well, I couldn’t sleep last night cause I got zapped!

I couldn’t watch all of it, all the pomp and circumstance, but I did, regrettably, watch the speech itself. I only regret it because I needed some sleep and it left me sleepless, speechless, and shook. It was a very disturbing speech.

Till yesterday I simply did not fully feel the surrealness of this era we’ve entered.

Everything I’ve ever felt about Trump came back to me, went through me, and then vanished completely. A mixed bag of feelings.

For example, he DID represent money and power and greed and the gilded lifestyle of the rich and famous. In other words, he represented the most seductive aspects of the American dream, a dream that unfortunately guides the thoughts and actions of so many Americans, including mine for a very long time.

He WAS synonymous with a lifestyle I didn’t so much aspire to as I did envy in a twisted way, to watch fights from the front row in a casino with your name atop it, your name on the floor of the ring, your name ringing in everyone’s ears, you being the winner regardless of the winner of the match. I LIKED that!

And later when my idea of what rich and powerful is shifted a bit from the bling bling gaudiness of a Trump, to the geeky plaid shirt and blue jean philanthropic Bill Gates billionaire look, I begin to group Trump in more with the new money shamelessly run amok crowd.

Later, once I got more info on him and realized he was mostly image, bankrupt and bailed out again and again, I admired him a little more for pimping his name for its worth, for turning misfortune and failure into fortunes, and building an entertainment empire with little more than an image and the fruits of his insecurities (the latter something I had quite a bit of myself back then).

Anyway, all of those kind of assessments of him were swept away by that speech yesterday.

I remember the first time I realized that many Americans were comfortable with the idea of a Trump presidency, even more than they were with a Sarah Palin vice-presidency. And from that moment I started considering what a win by Trump might mean for America.

Well, for one, it would definitely put an end to all the ridiculous talk about a post-racial era, done by smug white liberal friends or these oblivious Generation Y kids. To me, that would be a good thing. Can’t resolve a problem when half the nation thinks there’s no problem to resolve. I figured, with him in command, there’d be no more looking at the morally ransacked and ratched ass shamble of a house on a hill that America is with rosy lenses…uh uh. Now everyone will see that we’ve been painting over rotted wood, thoroughly feasted upon by termites of racism for over 400 years; that we’ve been wrapping fully rusted piping with rags, and catching the leaks in buckets for centuries, foregoing repair, foregoing renovation, in favor of romanticizing this house.

Trump would be just what America needed to see what black people, and many non-white people, see every day.

That thought fueled a few posts on Facebook. Maybe I even lost a few friends and family over my positions. I didn’t care. Fuck it. Change is painful sometimes.

Pain was all over the internet, all over the media, reaching a plateau around election day, and then ascending even higher.

People were fully vested in the idea that America was headed in the right direction. As vested as white Americans were in Roosevelt’s New Deal, or in Truman’s GI Bill (acts that served the enfranchised well, but the disenfranchised, not so much, but are continuously held up as examples of American greatness).

People were also fully vested in that fresh coat of lead-free paint Obama had given the house, and the beautiful towels and buckets that Michelle and the kids picked out to manage the cracks and leakage from the corroded pipes. We believed somehow that the first family had actually refurbished it, made it a home for all of us, for the first time.

Even I was taken in, for a while.

I thought maybe I had been wrong about the house. Maybe it wasn’t as condemned as mounds of evidence has lead me to believe. Maybe it wasn’t fodder for a bonfire real Americans would dance around gleefully once it was truly set a flame.

But then I listened to Trump’s speech yesterday.

And I was shook.

Shook like I’ve never been shook by a president. I FINALLY saw the Trump that has been scaring people senseless. And I understood that even I wasn’t prepared for what I’d ironically been silently longing to see. His words spoke to me of this coming conflagration in no uncertain terms.

Trump stood before America’s seat of power, before a half dozen former heads of state, and said, “Y’all had your chance. Now it’s mine! And we’re gonna burn this bitch down, but good!” (I’m paraphrasing of course, but only by a little.) I’ve never imagined what such an agenda would sound like. Now I don’t have to. Trump has animated it, filled in its missing dimensions.

Yes, I was shook. I am officially spooked.

Not that I don’t think America still needs to be rebuilt from the ashes up. I do.

I just realized yesterday that I wasn’t quite prepared for what that would look like in real life. And now that I’ve seen it, I’m shook. I understand better why people fought so hard to keep this raggedy ass thing standing. Because the alternative is Trump, or someone of his ilk, coming along and giving it a proper torching, an inferno that will not only set aflame all of the things that made the house damn near unlivable for most, but also everything that made it slightly lovable.

It’ll all go up in flames together.

And that hurts. I felt the first sharp aches of that loss as Trump spoke.

Interestingly enough, that wasn’t what made me lose sleep, though. Not directly.

I think I had a particularly disturbing, but probably predictable, premonition. I could see how the tinders will be lit. Actually they were officially lit 8 years ago when Obama gave his inaugural speech.

I saw all the people who had a vision of America, and in no way did it have a non-white leader — EVER! To them that was as un-American as people feel Trump’s face on American money might one day be. And these people were compelled into action, drastic action, to “take America back”. They have their party, their leaders, their network, their advocates abroad, their lobbyists, what have you, all at their disposal.

They went to work, every day, more focused than ever!

They would burn down Obama and everything he stands for, his fancy paint job on their rotting planks, his fancy rags on their shitty plumping. They were tireless, aggressive, disrespectful, and refused to take “Yes We Can” for an answer.

“No The Fuck We Can’t!!” they said everyday for 8 years, to every and anybody who’d listen…and many listened.

Because as surreal as it was for me, and many of us, to see Trump being sworn in as 45. it was for them to see Obama sworn in as 44.

And what does that mean, my sleepless mind kept asking me til the wee hours of this morning.

It means, almost naturally, that those who were most comfortable, who admired, who fought hard to stir the paint in the cans, to support the facelift Obama gave the house, that they, with Trump’s victory, have been shaken from their complacency, and politicized, galvanized, perhaps even militarized, and will do everything within their power to keep the house from falling into further disrepair, to save this condemned house.

In this sleepless state I saw the launch of a liberal version of the Tea Party.

I saw democrats arguing among themselves to find leadership that wasn’t pussy, that wasn’t afraid to get ugly, get dirty, get Trump-ish, to take the fight to the White House and delegitimize Trump to his face, but with the wherewithal to actually be successful at it…cause many will fall in the process. You can count on that!

Republicans are just better at this. They live for this shit.

The Republicans don’t have a Mommy Problem. They’re Daddy, even in most democratic eyes. When we needed a strong, safe country, Americans didn’t turn to the party legalizing gay marriage, marijuana, protecting women’s rights and social security. We went to the warriors / warmongers who give no fucks about you, your woman, nor your domestic partner and agenda…they love to make money, they love their guns, they love to make bombs (and drop them), shock and awe and dance in the blood of their enemies.

Most democrats can’t stomach that shit. Many will vote to allow it, of course, discontentedly (or profitably), but they won’t lead the charge.

So this liberal tea party will need to be a new breed of democrat, ones that will make Hillary’s hawkishness look like pacifism.

My mind kept playing with these ideas til damn near sunrise. Then I woke up, and wrote this post, semi-stream of conscious…

Just felt like I had to get this outta my system before my feelings get all jumbled up.

And just maybe I could get some sleep now.

Loco

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Gaijin Hygiene http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/20/gaijin-hygiene-2/ Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:39:07 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20440 One of my favorite things about Japan are onsens (hot springs).

I was introduced to onsens on my first visit here, before I decided to relocate. I came to visit a friend and stayed with him for a couple of weeks. During that time he, his girlfriend (now his wife), a friend of hers and I went out to Saitama to a town called Chichibu and made papier-mache at a paper factory, picked grapes in a vineyard and spent the night at a ryokan (Japanese-style bed & breakfast type deal) with an indoor onsen. The paper making and grape picking was a little provincial for my taste but the hotel and the onsen were right up my alley. Turns out, it was a fateful night. Laying in the soft embracing warmth of the futons laid out on the tatami floor mats, feeling all squeaky clean with sulfur and other minerals coursing through my body and tingling my skin, I thought to myself, “I could do this…live in Japan for a spell.”

Well, that spell is 13 years and counting…

My friend John had explained to me at the time that you must wash yourself thoroughly before getting into the onsen because other people were going to use it and who wants to bathe in your scum?

“Wash before you bathe…ok, I’m with you.” Made sense to me. Like when you go to the swimming pool.

“Not wash…wash thoroughly!

Well, I didn’t think I needed anyone telling me how to wash my own ass. Until the first time I watched Japanese washing their own asses. Like surgeons before surgery, only their entire friggin’ bodies.

“Come on, man. Won’t a shower with soap and water suffice?”

“Not in Japan.”

“I don’t have to use antiseptics and disinfectants and shit, do I?”

“Nah, just soap and water.”

So, that night I took my first Japanese pre-bath bath. I stood near the door to the onsen and watched a Japanese guy do it first. He got a kick out of being watched by a jolly black giant, I gotta tell ya. He sat on the stool and used a large ladle to pour water on his hair, then used the liquid shampoo and washed his hair. Then he used the ladle again, pouring the water over his hair to remove the soap. Then he repeated this ladle-soap-ladle thing for every part of his body until I had to restrain myself from grabbing the shower head that was right in front of him and hosing him down.

Then he stepped over to the onsen and eased himself into it without a grimace.

OK, I can do this.

John was on the opposite side of the washroom doing it like a pro. He’d been living in Japan for a couple of years at that point. The stool looked bigger when the other guy had been sitting on it. He looked absolutely relaxed and comfortable, and he wasn’t that short. But, when I sat on it — that is, after hosing off his hiney juices cuz he had been butt naked sitting on it a few seconds ago. Last thing I needed on a vacation was to catch some Asian cooties — I concluded that unless you were a midget, a dwarf, a yogis, a child or some kind of contortionist, comfort on this stool was not an option. It was clearly for people accustomed to squatting or resting on their haunches.

I repeated what I had seen as well as I could, standing up every couple of minutes to stretch my legs. John had finished and had gone and got in the onsen. I sat there feeling all awkward trying to ladle water to reach the soap in the crack of my ass. I had to be doing it incorrectly. I envisioned soap bubbling to the surface once I got in the onsen.

Once I was satisfied I’d reached every nook and cranny I walked over to the onsen. And, the guy who’d been my bathing role model decided it was time to go.

I eased myself into it, step by step, cuz it was hotter than Georgia asphalt.  I kinda felt like Ken Norton in that movie Mandingo for a few moments. Mandingo was a fighting slave whose master had boiled him to toughen up his skin.

But it got better little by little, and eventually it felt wonderful!

“But, yo, what’s with the ladle?” I asked John.  “Why can’t we just use the shower head?”

“How the hell am I supposed to know? I’m not Japanese.” he said. “I guess it’s like those people who still use matches to light cigarettes.”

“Hrmph. More like rubbing two sticks together.”

Anyway, I’ve now been to onsens all over Kanto. Izu, Atami, Gunma, Saitama, Nikko, Hakone, Kusatsu, etc.

But, my favorite is in Kusatsu. Wanna know why? Closest thing to bliss you’re gonna find in these parts.

Onsen in Kusatsu

Onsen in Kusatsu

Kusatsu Onsen

Kusatsu Onsen

The entire river is an onsen and it’s located in a valley surrounded by snowy cliffs. Any of you asking why I’m still here, onsens would be high on that list. They make (almost) everything else tolerable. Whenever I need to get away, I GOT A GETAWAY!

*****

Years later, I would join a rather pricey gym not far from my house for two reasons: It had a basketball court (rare here) and it had an onsen. They actually import onsen-ated water from an hot springs in Nikko! So, after I work up a sweat in the gym, I can take a dip in the waters of a semi-natural hot spring.

That is, after I make a show of washing my ass before all of the Japanese men made anxious by my presence in their midst.

It’s a show because I refuse to go to the area to the side of the onsen and straddle that stool and ladle water all over myself. That shit is played. And, generally, it’s from that direction that people enter the onsen. When I come from the other direction, where the showers are located, how can they be sure that every crack and crevice of my body has been de-gaijinized?

So, here’s what I do, strictly for their benefit: I enter the rather large bathing area and make a big show of stretching, like it’s my pre-shower Gaijin Hygiene routine. Give everyone in the joint enough time to catch a glimpse of me, especially the gentlemen already bathing in the Onsen…it doesn’t take long, trust me. Even after having been a member for years now, and even having made a couple of member friends, I am still a Mack truck with no brakes on the sidewalk up in there, people diving out of my way.

Once I’m sure everyone has spied me, and are then wondering what the hell am I doing stretching in the bathing area, my franks and beans swinging in their diminutive glory, when there’s a whole 3 floors of gym outside the locker room designated for that, I make a beeline for the shower room.

While I’m in there I recite some of my favorite lyrics, like GZA and Meth’s “Shadowboxin’,” while I wash my ass oh – so – thoroughly. The shower ends when the song does.

Only then do I make my way to the onsen.

They still look a little ill at ease sometimes but they don’t head for the doors as soon as I arrive as often as they used to.

And that’s saying something in these parts!

Loco

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How to Avoid Becoming a Stalker http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/19/how-to-avoid-becoming-a-stalker/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/19/how-to-avoid-becoming-a-stalker/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:49:04 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20424 So, last night, I was out in Yokohama stalking random Japanese people  using my fearsome physique and menacing mien to threaten them with bodily harm or worse…actually I was headed to my friend’s house to watch the Warriors game, but here in Japan, one of the safest countries in the world, the difference between the former circumstance and the latter is often negligible, dependent almost entirely on forces beyond your control; primarily the whim of the people in your vicinity.

Being cognizant of this propensity can aid you in avoiding an impromptu stalking episode.

Case and point, last night about 9:30, I was transferring trains at Hiyoshi station in Yokohama, from the Toyoko line to the Green Line. As I approached the escalator, I noticed a woman approaching from the opposite direction, busy thumbing her cellphone, sending a text to someone apparently. She looked up as she reached the escalator, saw me doing the same. She stumbled in shock, lost her balance and almost fell down the escalator.

So, anyway, I wound up riding down behind her. She looked back once, then again. I whipped out my cellphone to try to ease her concerns. Perhaps if she thought my attention was elsewhere she’d relax. That sometimes works with the less shy Japanese. But after two more glances I knew this was going to be one of those imagined stalking episodes, my first for the day. After you’ve been in Japan for a while, you get to know the telltale signs of someone who would sooner treat you like a potential threat than a fellow human being for whatever reasons.

So, since we were both on the left side of the escalator, I took to the right and started to pass her, you know, to relieve her discomfort at having me in her blind spot. I’d feel guilty if she hurt her neck with all of that craning she was doing. But, we apparently had the same bright idea at the same time. And by the time I would have passed her by, we wound up awkwardly walking side by side. So, I stopped so she could keep going and, again, our great minds were thinking alike, for she stopped, as well.

Great.

But now I was in the passing lane, the right side of the escalator, and was causing a minor traffic jam, so resumed my descent. When I reached the landing I glanced back up at her. She had that lost in space look on her face the people here often get, staring at you, while at the same time staring into the abyss.

There’s a gate to exit the Toyoko and then another gate to enter the Green Line, but as I exited, the LED on the turnstile informed me that I didn’t have enough funds on my commuter card to enter the next set of turnstiles. Conveniently located between the gates, in anticipation of such an eventuality, there are a couple of Pasmo commuter card charging machines. So I headed for them.

A salaryman that had exited just ahead of me, and apparently had the same plan, noticed that I had turned to follow him. He noticed because he, too, was being extraordinarily careful this evening like the woman on the escalator  I wondered if maybe there had been a rash of robberies in the vicinity recently, but, then again, this kind of thing happens every day, everywhere, so I brushed that apologist thought aside and stopped my forward movement, a solid twenty feet from the machines. Which allowed him to go ahead and do his business without my being beside him or, worse, behind him.

He kept a wary eye out the side of his head on me as he pulled out his wallet to feed the machine a ¥10000 note; conspicuously so, like he wanted me to know that he was leery of me. Once he had completed his transaction and headed for the Green Line turnstile, that’s when I made my way toward the machines. I peeked over at him as he passed through the gate. He was still watching me. I looked above his head at the departure time for the next train. Shit! I had 1 minute! I put ¥1000 yen on my card and took off towards the gate.

The train departure tune was playing as I bounded down the stairs, and boarded just before the doors began to slide shut, huffing and puffing from the exertion.

There were several seats available, and no one standing. But all the free seats were between people. A number of eyes were looking in my direction, the anomaly that I am, and some people squirmed in their seats in anticipation of my taking the one beside theirs. I decided to forego the drama and stand by the door. I was only going a couple of stops anyway. I whipped out my iPad and continued reading a very funny book I was half way through.

When the train pulled into my stop, the majority of the people queued to get off– all at the other doors. Even the people who had been sitting closer to the door where I was standing. From the door I stood in front of I exited alone. From the other two doors, everyone else disembarked.

(Sometimes I feel strange describing the crazy antics that routinely occur here. I wonder if people who don’t live here read something like this and say, “you gotta be kidding!” All I can say is I wish I were.)

But, anyway, we all bottle-necked at the escalator, of course. I rode up behind a couple cooing and preening one another tenderly. The female of the two, amid their amorous whispering, with love in her glazed eyes, happened to notice me over her beau’s shoulder.

Tender moment gone.

She stiffened, whispered something in his ear vicinity that I didn’t need a hidden mic to know wouldn’t fall under the heading of sweet nothings. I could see him straighten up as well. Then he tried to surreptitiously sneak a peek at me, an effort that would have failed even if I hadn’t been aware of everything that was transpiring. I turned away just as he laid his eyes upon me. I hate to see such looks. They make me feel…icky. Suddenly they started climbing the escalator. I stayed where I was, both relieved and disgusted at the same time.

By the time I reached the top of the escalator the couple had reached the gate, both of them looking back in my direction. I just kept coming, at a slightly slower rate than my normal walking speed, hoping they’d have time to go about their business without playing a round of the stalking game with me.

When I saw them head for the escalator, I headed for the elevator. There were two people, a man and a woman, standing side by side before the elevator doors, waiting for it. I pulled up behind the man…though they tend to be less likely to adopt the role of stalkee and criminal prey than the women, the difference, again, is negligible.

Others arrived, hesitantly, at the elevators, maybe about 7 or 8 people…only one brave soul queued behind me, the others behind the woman. I never looked back. But I didn’t have to. I could see this, all the line switching and indecision involved, very well in the reflection from the elevator shaft’s glass enclosing.

It’s really some silly surreal shit to watch. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic, and sad.

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Once the elevator arrived, though, the people who had lined up behind the woman probably realized the absurdity of what they’d done and kind of just filed in…the elevator had doors on either side of the car, but the ones closest to me faced the opposite way from the door that would open, as announced by the elevator’s PA system.

The woman who had been in front of the other line saw something strange in the reflection from the elevator door and suddenly spun her head around urgently. She almost had me fooled, her alarm was so intense. I almost looked around, too. Others certainly did. And those who hadn’t known that there was something appalling among them, riding the elevator like that was the most natural thing, now knew, as well, that I was there.

30 tortuous seconds of this later we arrived at the ground floor and the doors slid open. The elevator empties onto a poorly lit plaza area, and from it, there were only two or three directions you could go. I stepped to the side and let several people exit before me, so they could make their way with haste to their homes without my seeming to follow. Then I made my way towards my friend’s apartment building, thankfully with no one ahead of me.

Just as I arrived at the building a woman emerged from the adjoining convenience store and turned into the entranceway to the building to which I was headed. I stopped. If I were to continue into that lobby, she was sure to overreact and do something provocative. Thank god they don’t have guns in Japan. I’d have probably been shot so many times by now that even Antonio Montana would say, “DAMN!!

So, as I stood there giving her time to safely enter the building without being aware of my presence, another woman exits the store, her eyes embedded in her cell phone. And she too was about to turn and go into the building I was waiting to enter. But as she turned, she must’ve noticed someone in her peripherals or sensed my presence somehow, caught a glimpse of me and froze like I’d ordered her to at gunpoint. I smiled, feeling awkward and foolish, just standing there without any clear purpose, seeing the world through her eyes, and not liking what I saw. Not one bit.

So, I headed to the building and left her frozen, cryo-brained, in front of the building. The woman who had entered the building moments earlier was still there, though.

Great.

I don’t have time for this shit…

She had a handful of mail she’d pulled from her box apparently and was flipping through it while she waited for the elevator. She was already safely inside the locked glass entrance door, though. She hadn’t looked up yet so I pressed my friend’s apartment number on the intercom system and was buzzed in just as she boarded the elevator. She looked up and saw me just as the doors poised to close. She had ample time to press the open button if she wanted to, you know, do the courteous thing.

Her finger jabbed a button alright…more than once, and the doors slid closed. I could see her eyes watching me through the elevator’s little panel window. They were not cold, not relieved, not even afraid.

Just black…and blank.

Loco

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Was Dr. King’s Dream Deferred? A Birthday Message to the Good Doctor http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/16/was-dr-kings-dream-deferred-a-birthday-message-to-the-good-doctor/ Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:16:32 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20412 Dear Dr. King:

In 1951, long before you made your “I have a dream” speech, the great poet Langston Hughes wrote the following poem, called “Harlem”:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

hughes

Langston Hughes

And the great playwright Lorraine Hansberry, borrowing the title from that poem, wrote a play called “Raisin in the Sun.” This was in 1959, also before that speech most people associate with your legacy.

The play was about a black family’s experiences in the Washington Park Subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood as they attempt to “better” themselves with an insurance payout from the death of the father. They planned to buy their “dream” home in a white neighborhood, but a white representative of the neighborhood they intended to move to, made a generous offer to buy them out. He wished to avoid neighborhood tensions over integration.

The family decides to not give up their dream and eventually moved to the neighborhood. That’s where the play ends. However, the story being based on events from Hansberry’s life, we know how the story ended. Not good…

Lorraine_Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry

You sir, took up this same mantle, and used your exceptional gifts and talents to try to reach the minds and hearts of those that couldn’t see that indelible truth: That we’re all in this muck together whether we like it or not. So we best figure out how to make it work, or mutual destruction is assured.

Well we haven’t made it work, yet.

Hughes’ Harlem went from disenfranchised straight to gentrified, and Hansberry’s Chicago remains a raisin in the sun, one of the most violent and racially-divided cities in the country. And, the America you sacrificed yourself to uplift? Well, strides have been made, but we’ve still got a long ass way to go.

When I was a much younger man, I regret to say, I didn’t appreciate you.

I was raised by revolutionaries with a much different mindset. I held the concept of self-defense in higher regard than self-sacrifice. The intentionally disenfranchised desperately appealing to the better angels of those enfranchised by our deplorable state was just humiliating beyond tolerance to me. I wanted no parts of it.

Dreaming is done in the bed, while despair and hopelessness is murdering my friends and family in the streets. And when we dare to protest the injustices that exacerbate our condition, we’re subject to the same by those who come in the guise of justice. We’re told we’ll be vindicated once we untether ourselves from our self-inflicted victimhood.

Why would I, why would anyone in their right mind, willingly capitulate before this foulness? Why would anyone purposely put themselves in harm’s way with only a faint hope that their sacrifice might awaken some sense of civility and compassion in the hearts and minds of people who have proven, time and time again, to be fairly heartless and utterly unresponsive to such gestures? A power structure that has historically only responded to and understood force? WHY?

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Martin Luther King Jr.

But, as I got older, I began to see you and your works in a different light You were playing chess, not checkers.

What I misunderstood to be capitulation I now recognize as a form of spiritual confrontation, calling their spirits to task. What I misconstrued to be passive, I see now was a sign of strength beyond measure, the discipline to use your opponent’s aggressiveness against him, a judo of the soul. What I interpreted as an appeal for sympathy, or for pity, was actually an invocation, an appeal to that great mystical energy that flows within all of us, that unites us regardless of our superficial differences. Something we all share no matter how we worship, and even if we don’t worship at all.

This energy is not readily accessible. Sometimes we need guidance to realize it, a voice to guide us to it, a human of vision, of faith, to help us believe in it, to make the unbelievable believable, to trust what we inherently have always known to be true: That we are one!

You were that voice, sir!

You were in touch with this spirit, gave it a face and a voice. Like few others in history have been able to do, you were able, not to make us dream, but to truly awaken us, ALL of US, to the possibilities, to our greatest potential, if only we’d hold on to that vision.

You deserve every honor bestowed upon you even if that was all you had accomplished in your brief time here. But you did that and so much more, and I, and every American, every person, owes you a debt of gratitude for it. If not in South Dakota, your bust belongs on the Mt. Rushmore in every American’s heart.

Thank you Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And Happy Birthday!

We Love You and we miss you very much!! The dream may be deferred but thank god it’s not interred. Those of us who honor what you died for will, in our own unique ways, keep on pushing ’til we reach the promised land.

Baye

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Traumatic Reminiscence at a Japanese Cat Cafe: Neko in Yokohama http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/14/traumatic-reminiscence-at-a-japanese-cat-cafe-neko-in-yokohama/ Sat, 14 Jan 2017 13:34:04 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20364 When I mentioned to one of my students that I liked cats, she recommended I check out this new Cat Cafe in Kannai, Yokohama called Cafe Miysis. So I made my way over there today to check it out. I’ve always been a cat person, since childhood, but the idea of a bunch of them swarming around me just didn’t work for me. I imagined that it, for one, would smell like god knows what in the place, and that, once the novelty wore off, I’d be this black guy, sipping cappuccino in a room full of finicky cats and flustered Japanese.

And that did not sound ideal.

But, I’m so glad I went because I got to meet Neko…

Cats are cool, but Neko won me over. MY kind of cat. Not needy in the slightest. Just kinda strolled by me, sniffed at my cappuccino, gave me the once over and went about his business like I’d left the building, or was never there. He was like a street cat feigning domesticity for food and shelter, while refusing to play their game, and act all cutesy for お客様 (customers).

Not Neko…uh-uh.

He was a Boss! Didn’t show anybody any love.

Think I heard him say “I” too. As in self-awareness!

“Did I pet you? No, right? Then don’t be effin’ petting me!” he snapped at me with a glance.

I don’t know about him, but for me, it was love at first snub!

The rest of the cats were your typical かわいい (cute) fare, executing antics YouTube empires were built upon.

But Neko was the one who brought it home for me, actually took me back to a childhood CATastrophe that permanently traumatized me. And as a result I haven’t gotten too attached to an animal since.

*****

I used to have this cat when I was 11 or so, went by the name of Napoleon.

I loved me some Napoleon.

My Moms, though, she was not a pet lover…she was more of a plant person. You know the type. Our apartment looked like a greenhouse. You needed a machete to get into the living room, pruning shears to look out the window. Loved her plants. Wasn’t fond of cats, though. And was even less fond of mice, which prompted the Napoleon acquisition (from a neighbor whose cat had crept out one day and came back fertilized. The little pussy had a big litter though, and my neighbor wasn’t about to feed 5 more feline mouths, when she had 3 human mouths to feed of her own).

So Mom acquired Napoleon mostly for mouse patrol. And he was an excellent mouse exterminator. Used to play with the things until they died and then he’d present them to you, or leave their headless carcasses in conspicuous places like the kitchen, the tiled floor smeared by blood trails, entrails in the pantry. He was also pretty nifty with cockroaches. Sometimes I’d be awaken by his scaling walls in hot pursuit of these critters, and he’d eat them, too. Sounded like Doritos. Napoleon was no joke.

Everyday, I’d race home from school to play with Napoleon, whenever he’d deign to play with me, which was rarely. He’d be in the window sometimes, or standing by the door meowing when I arrived. But only when he was hungry, which was often, because my mother had 6 human mouths to feed and money was always tight. So while Napoleon had a shiny coat, he often had an empty bowl, and so was skinny as one of the neighborhood dope fiends.

Mouse hunting wasn’t always for play with Napoleon. It was for survival. So most often he could be found in the kitchen, a sentry stationed in front of an area he knew mice tended to emerge from, focused and disciplined. Nothing besides the sound of something rustling behind the stove, or the sound of the vacuum of air escaping from a tin can of 9-Lives when the manual can opener pierces it, could break his concentration. No string, no yarn, no balls or even loud noises could draw him away from his post.

My mother didn’t know anything about training cats, and neither did I. We just got a little box, put some litter or cut up newspaper in it and figured he’d figure out what it was for. Sometimes he did. But sometimes… Once a cat finds another place to do his business, wherever that may be, and leaves his scent there, well, he’s bound to return to that spot. And Napoleon had found himself a spot in the living room. I’d catch him in the act and, mid-bowel movement or urination, rush him to his box so the scent would be there too. But then his scent would be all along a path from the living room to his box. I guess that got confusing for him. Started doing his business along this corridor I’d created. Then my mother treated these areas with some industrial strength ammonia, figuring if Napoleon came a-sniffing that ammonia would give him a rude awakening and he’d find another spot.

And it worked!

But Napoleon chose the wrong damn spot!

I came home from school one day and started kissing the air for Napoleon. After a minute or so I felt bubbles of anxiety in my stomach.

“Ma, where’s Napoleon?”

“Who?”

“The cat! Our cat, Napoleon!!” She didn’t even know the cat’s name. He was forever an “it” to her.

“Oh, that. Fucking cat shit in my plant.”

“Really? I’m Sorry,” I said, contritely, feeling responsible somehow. “Well, where is he?”

“Fuck you think?! I threw it out!”

“WHAT!!??”

“Did you hear me? It. Shit. In. My. Plants! My plants ain’t cat toilets. They’re living things! They–”

I ran out the house and scoured the neighborhood. No Napoleon. I did so everyday after school for about a week, no sign of him. Then after a spell, I gave in to hopelessness and cried piteously.

“I Hate You,” I’d mumble under my breath when my mother was in my vicinity.

“What you say, boy?!”

“Nothing…”

“I know you didn’t!” she’d say, but I knew she felt guilty. (She’d eventually get another cat, to shut me up, but it was never the same.)

One day a couple of weeks later, I was out front playing Chinese handball with my boy, when in the courtyard in front my building, I spied a cat. There were MANY stray cats in my neighborhood, so seeing one was nothing special. Hell, not seeing one was cause for alarm. But this one looked familiar. I called “timeout”.

Chinese Handball

“Why, what happened?” My boy asked.

“That’s my cat…I think?” I told him what my wicked moms had done.

“That’s fucked up!” he said, laughing. “Shit, my moms would have thrown me out if my dog shit anywhere in her house!”

I crept closer. It seemed he was watching me with equal curiosity. It had the same color pattern as Napoleon, all black, with a little puffs of white around the paws. The eyes though…or rather the eye! Napoleon had yellowish-green eyes, two of them. But this cat had been gotten the better of in at least one fight. Maybe several of them.

“Napoleon?” I whispered, kissing at him, and I saw his ears fluctuate and the head jerk in recognition. Street cats don’t do that shit. That kissing sound means “DUCK!! here comes a rock!” Every cat in my hood knew that!

This was my cat! But, oh my god, he looked almost mangy, with wounds in his matted coat that had barely healed, like he’d been mauled by some alley-dwelling beast. This was horrible! I almost started crying in front of my friend, which I would have never lived down.

I tried to inch closer but he hissed at me like a rabid mutt. He probably blamed me for his eviction, I surmised. He hated me for not protecting him from this awful outcome.

“Go over there…on the other side,” I snapped at my boy. “I want to trap him this way. Don’t let him–”

“Are you outta your mind?!” my friend hollered. “I ain’t going nowhere near that thing! And if you know what’s good for you, you wouldn’t, either.”

“C’mon man, please?!”

“What you gonna do? Take him home and patch him up? Man, can’t you see that’s a wild thing! If that was your cat, he ain’t your cat no more. That thing ain’t fit for apartment life. You best let him be!”

My friend was right. I could see it in Napoleon’s remaining eye, the madness. Whatever he’d survived over the past weeks in the street had siphoned all the domesticity out of him. He was wild now. A survivor, sure, but to survive he had to go native. Part of me was proud of him, that a house cat could make the transition to street cat mostly in one piece.

That is, the part of me that wasn’t heartbroken.

This boss cat, today, brought all that back…

I renamed him Neko in my mind. (Neko means Cat – I guess it’s like naming your son, “John Doe”)

And I’m pretty sure I’ll be back there to check on Neko sooner or later.

I would have taken a picture with him, but he wasn’t having it!

I LOVE that!!

Here are some pics of the place and the rest of the felines…

Overall, my visit to Cafe Miysis was a nice experience, one I’ll likely repeat. If you dig cats and in the area, peep it for yourself!

Loco

PS: If my mansion allowed pets I’d have a Neko up in here right now…thinking about moving now.

PPS: And I didn’t forget about you guys waiting for the conclusion of my series: Is This How The World Views Us? It’s coming soon, I promise.

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Is This How The World Views Us? Part 2: Image is Everything! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/13/is-this-how-the-world-views-us-part-2-image-is-everything/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/13/is-this-how-the-world-views-us-part-2-image-is-everything/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 12:50:09 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20348 If you haven’t read part 1Loco in Cap-Haitien, HERE you go!

I wasn’t in Japan long at all before I came to learn that here, particularly for non-Japanese, you are what the image of you portrays you as, nothing more, nothing less, until you’ve made personal contact. And, even then, you’re placed in the (awkward, at best, humiliating, at worst) position, with every new acquaintance made, of having to dismantle the image that proceeds you wherever you go. (Assuming you find the premise “Image is Everything” problematic – some people don’t, I’ve found, and these people tend to LOVE Japan unreservedly).

Nearly every substantial relationship I’ve managed to eke out with Japanese people — be it a co-worker, a girlfriend, a drinking buddy, what have you — was preceded by this course of action, this image dismantling. The duration of this course of action varies dependant solely on the height, width, and girth of the wall erected around you; a wall cemented by the power of that image, and its influence on the person you’re attempting to make a connection with (which of course is case by case).

Stereotype by stereotype, objectification by objectification, brick by ill-laid brick, chiseled away or jackhammered until at last I’m revealed to be the sum of my individual experience, and not the sum of everything said about people who favor me, often via the media.

Early in my time here in Japan, my response to being forced to undo the damaging impact of the media upon my reputation was to go the extra mile to prove that I did not fit ANY of the stereotyped-plagued presumptions about who I am and what I’m capable of that preceded me here. Not one. My efforts at assimilation were characterized as much by my emulation of the native customs as by my efforts to NOT meet any of the native’s preconception.

My goal was for every Japanese person, upon interacting with me, to respond with the Japanese version of: “GET THE FUCK OUTTA TOWN!! You?? But, but, but you’re Black?”

I aimed to be the ANTI-stereotype, to spit in the face of every expectation.

Not with my actions, though. Oh no. I’d been down that road before for the benefit of similarly afflicted white minds back in the States. I’d do the unexpected just for effect, play golf or go on wine tasting excursions,  to hammer home the point that neither “New Jack City” nor “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” synopsized my life.  I upped my vocabulary and swallowed my slang. Took the bop out of my stride and kept that chip that perpetually resides on my shoulder hidden beneath my suit’s shoulder pads (unless it somehow served me…or on those rare occasions when I’d “lose my natural mind” over some intolerable bullshit).

Sometimes I’d lose myself in a labyrinthine code-switching, lane-changing, identity obfuscating, integrity ravishing nightmare, in these perverse efforts to show that I wasn’t a credit to my race, but a credit to me! A self-invention.

The number of times I’ve been hit with white declarations that begin, “I didn’t know that, well, that, ummm, black p—, er, that Afro— er, African-Americans liked to so-and-so,” is fairly friggin’ high (I worked in corporate America for many years before coming to Japan). Each declaration taken as a victory, as a teachable moment I fabricated. And, with gusto, I’d respond with some version of, “Well, I can’t speak to what We do. We are over a billion people. I can only speak to what I do!”

But, eventually (as in a looooong fucking time later), I became self-aware. I realized that each occasion was a reflection of my insecurities as much as it was an illustration of their ignorance, that it fed this deep-seated desire to feel included in their exclusivity, their clique of affirmed humanity; affirmation achieved with every click of the remote control. All the while keeping my innate blackness intact.

I was an emotional clusterfuck navigating a minefield in my mind. Not to suggest it didn’t have “real world” implications. Better believe it did! My endeavors translated into opportunities and advancement…in other words, MONEY! But, the way I was going about it would have eventually lead to an asylum or my early demise, likely self-inflicted.

I don’t regret that phase of my development, though. It was essential. I mean, defining yourself by first establishing (and, in my case, emulating) who you aren’t, can be a vital step to ultimately uncovering and refining who you are.

So, no, I wasn’t about to go that route again with the Japanese. That path is fraught with peril.

Here in Japan, my insecurities again reared their ugly head, but this time around I decided to take a modified path. Early on I caught myself falling into those old patterns, not in action, but in my words. That need to impress, to contradict, to once again prove myself to be the anti-stereotype.

“Can I dunk? No, so sorry, I’m afraid not. But once I was caught underneath a tree at Augusta, about 150 yards out, with about a two foot window that I had to hit, right? I took a two-iron and smoked it! Ended up about six feet from the pin. What a stroke!”

“Yeah, sure, Hip-Hop’s cool, but have you heard Yeol Eum Son play Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 21 in C Major? My knees are still buckled!”

No, I would not go all out to win and influence Japanese as I did for white folks in America. But, almost instinctively, I fabricate these teachable moments, and relish each one. For there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s in the best interest of the meaningful relationship that might blossom from these artificial interactions. That is the impetus to put myself through it again and again. I’m of the mind that we need to be strangers before we can be friends. You need to not know me, or un-know the me you think you know, in order to clear the obstacles in your mind, and only then is there a possibility of getting to know the real me. And vice-versa. Many a potential friendship has fallen to the wayside as a result of this image nonsense.

It can be trying process, but this is such well-trampled territory I feel it’s a redundancy even tackling it as much as I have here. The territory that often goes untrodden however, by my reckoning, is the perverse sense of guilt or shame felt amid this process.

Guilt at knowing that we’re co-conspirators in facilitating this image. Shame in knowing that, though the preponderance of these negative images of us is out of proportion, a fair number of these images are accurate.

And an even deeper shame in knowing that, despite knowing the above, despite being a relatively responsible man, and a man capable of objectivity and even abstract thought at times, I TOO have fallen victim to the power of these images in the media.

Chris Rock used comedy to illustrate a issue…but I think he either missed the point (or went for the laugh instead of for the jugular).

I’m going for the jugular!

Part 3, coming soon…

Loco

 

 

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Is This How The World Views Us? Part 1: Loco in Cap-Haitien http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/12/is-this-how-the-world-views-us-part-1-loco-in-cap-haitien/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/12/is-this-how-the-world-views-us-part-1-loco-in-cap-haitien/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 18:22:15 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20328 In the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching two remarkable films, both of which have gotten deserved acclaim: “Fences” and “Moonlight”.

 

I won’t be spoiling anything so don’t worry if you haven’t seen these films. I’m not into film critique. This post is related more to the thoughts and feelings, memories and experiences, that watching these films, particularly from here in Japan, have inspired.

So bear with me if you will.

*****

Remember when the story broke a few years back regarding the SONY emails that got hacked / leaked? No? Well, here’s the gist:

“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African-American lead don’t play well overseas. When Sony made Equalizer they had to know that Denzel opens pics domestically, however the international gross would be somewhat limited.”

This was from the email of an unnamed producer.

That producer however was referring primarily to Hollywood films. Denzel’s film, “The Equalizer” was the film in question (which ironically had garnered 49% of its gross from the international box office).

How much truth there is to the statement in that email is, well, neither here nor there. I know racism exists in other markets besides the American marketplace. That’s a nonstarter. And I know that living here in Japan, amid what that producer might call a racist international motion picture audience, if it ain’t Will Smith or another black actor with a name as recognizable as his as the lead, it’s unlikely to get much play. I bear witness to that. Hell, some white leads be lucky if they get significant play up in this piece. But I have my doubts about that effect having as its cause the racism of the Japanese audience. I think it’s just as likely that Hollywood has perhaps gotten so used to serving up mediocrity and having an international marketplace lap it up to the tune of billions of dollars, that any time that figure dips below a ridiculously unwarranted return on their investment, they start looking for scapegoats.

But, I don’t want to focus on the quality or lack of quality coming out of Hollywood. It is what it is and it’ll improve when we, the consumers, demand, with our wallets, that it does. until then, we deserve what we get, be that Kevin Spacey or Kevin Hart.

Instead, I want to share the train of thought watching these films took me on, my ruminations on the power of media, its impact on the mindset of that above mentioned international marketplace, particularly as it pertains to black people. So, please, bear with me.

*****

Loco in Cap-Haitien 2002

Back in Feb 2002,  I actually got my first passport stamp, taking my first extended trip abroad. I was visiting a friend in Haiti, and stayed for 3-weeks in what, previous to my trip, I estimated might be the most dangerous island in the Caribbean, turned out to be the most awesome of all the islands I would eventually visit in the West Indies. I won’t dwell too much on this trip for the purposes of this piece, but suffice it to say Haiti is NOT what Americans have been lead to believe she is. She’s much, MUCH more.

The Haitians sent me back to the States with some mental and spiritual お土産 omiyage, souvenirs that I’ve taken with me wherever I’ve gone since then. I’ll only touch on one of these in this piece though.

The friend I was staying with, an American, was down there working in microfinancing and had a château in a relatively well to do area of Port au Prince. She had been living there for several years at the time and spoke both French and Kreyol, the Haitian patois. This trip, as per her clever planning, was during the carnival season there, so basically Haiti was in celebratory mode. Imagine an entire country having a two-week long damn near bacchanal. Like Mardi Gras without a white face in sight, and no one throwing beads and shit at you.

At the time, Haiti was also kinda pre-celebrating its bicentennial, two hundred years since it became the first black republic in the west, a feat accomplished in arms by the ancestors of these people, slaves at the time, who revolted against Napoleon’s France and took their independence. Imagine the pride derived from that! Imagine the party that celebrates that! That’s what it means to be Haitian. And as an African-American, descendent of a people who weren’t as fortunate, who rebelled and failed numerous times, this shit was totally alien to my sensibilities. But it provoked an overwhelming admiration in me that persists til this day.

Cap-Haitien, Haiti

At one point during my stay there, we made our way up north to Cap Haitien (ya’ll can google the fascinating history of this part of the island) and stayed in a hotel thereabouts. Fancy joint, devoid of tourists, and while my friend took care of business, I was alone, chilling in their open air lounge with sofas and mounted TVs and whatnot, catching the breeze off the beach nearby. There were a number of staff people around of course. All Haitian, some of whom had probably never really seen a young black American man in real life, particularly one who had disposable income enough for leisure travel and could stay in such luxury (though it was cheaply priced comparatively), judging from their openly bewildered looks. They’d been warned by management not to disturb the guests, but they found me too fascinating to ignore. They couldn’t speak a lick of English, so communication was hit-and-miss, but they managed to make their queries understood in a number of creative ways, and in this manner we had conversations where they could establish where I was from, what I did for a living, etc…

Now, while some of these maids and waiters might have had TVs at home (and that’s a big effin’ might), very few if any had satellite TV which beamed in channels like CNN, MTV and BET. However this hotel did, for guest, and the staff took full advantage of this perk on their break times. Everyone knew what time Rap City came on, I noticed, because it seemed waiters came out of the woodwork then. Even changed the channel from the news show I was watching on CNN unapologetically. This was their time! And they probably suspected that this young black man, from NYC no less, would MUCH rather watch some black folk performing the art form we perfected than some old white guys flapping their gums. Presumptuous of them, I thought, but I said fuck it, they’ve got me outnumbered, and I wasn’t about to make a fuss with people who cook my food.

During the entire program not a peep was heard. Pure concentration, mesmerization really. Short musical movies, starring guns and drugs, blood and guts, sirens and cuffs, tits and ass, dancing and fucking, bling-bling and bang-bang…  Like video poems, some so juvenile a child could grasp it, some so complex they’ve yet to be grasped. Image after image after image I watched with these people, torn between dignity and disgrace.

Their silence was ominous. But as soon as the credits rolled, cheers and high fives and what not all around. Then something happened that has left an indelible impression on me.

The guys, they kinda code-switched right before my eyes. Their postures, their mannerisms, even their facial expressions changed, transforming these quaint upright island laborers into entities I knew intimately a thousand miles north of there in NYC!!

Then, THEN, they started rappin’! IN ENGLISH!!

Their accents were strong as fuck so it was difficult to make out all the words…but some of the lyrics literally leaped off their lips:

MONEY-MAKIN’. DOUGH TAKING. GUCCI-ROCKING. BOOT-KNOCKIN’. BITCH-BAGGING. ASS-TAPPING. HOE-PIMPING. BRAIN-GETTING. MAD BITCH-SCRAPING. BABY MAMA MAKIN’. CHRONIC-SMOKIN’. ROCK-SLINGING. GAT-PACKING. TOOL TOTIN’. CAP BUSTIN’. 9-MILLIE DRIVE-BY. UZI-SPRAYING NIGGAS!!!

I just sat there, astounded by this litany of slang and profanity. Like Eddie Murphy said in one of his routines about “The Fuck You Man.” I thought Eddie was joking. He wasn’t.

A sort of cipher ensued, and evidently I’d been elected judge of this Cap-Haitien open mic. No doubt, in their minds, my point of origin over-qualified me for this honor. They kept grinning in my direction, checking if my reaction to their skills would reveal how impressed, or not, I was by their individual ability to spit slurs. Though they were just running off Tupac, Biggie and some other choice rappers’ lyrics, a couple of them were actually quite gifted at it — particularly for people who had little idea what they were saying. If I were Russell Simmons or Puff Daddy, I would have been thinking how to pimp and brand this tropical hip hop: Haiti Hop? Cap-Trap?

But –being me– I was thinking, “Geezus, what the fuck?!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I ain’t no prude or anything. I spit slurs and admire many a slur-spitter. I drop profanity at a drop of a hat. It’s just that living in the states most of my life, it’s hard to get a feel for how our products, our representations, translates in minds abroad, and the ramifications of that translation.

And it’s not like I hadn’t had similar thoughts when I first realized that hip hop had gone suburban, that black Americans were no longer the sole consumers of our product, and that white kids were trying to figure out how to recite NWA without dropping “nigga” every other sentence. I did. I just didn’t pay it much enough mind, then. I didn’t think it through. I didn’t have to.

Loco in Haiti – Always the writer, keep a pen handy 🙂

But, as I sat having my first face-to-face encounter with the international reach of my hometown creation’s growing global cultural influence, knowing these Cap-Haitien hip hop video connoisseurs were accrediting hip-hop to me as acting representative of the lives they’d just consumed on-screen, I seriously wondered: is this how the whole world views us? And should I care if they do?

Two years later I moved to Japan…

Part 2 coming soon…

Loco

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What’s The Status of Black People in Japan? http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/10/whats-the-status-of-black-people-in-japan/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/10/whats-the-status-of-black-people-in-japan/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 06:20:12 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20323 I received a Troublesome question on Quora about a term I’m not very fond of: “Social Status”. But unfortunately it is a reality we all have to live with and so I’ll answer this loaded question to the best of my ability.

I’ve lived in Japan for over a decade, and still reside here. If I understand your question correctly, I must say, in general, in Japan, if you’re basing social status on “race” (as opposed to economic, or other factors) then there are only two statuses: Japanese and non-Japanese.

This is the binary through which many Japanese see the entire world.

You can breakdown non-Japanese into different social statuses with race considerations (and many Japanese do in my experience) as well. That would leave you with conspicuously non-Japanese and inconspicuously non-Japanese. Through this perception, even Chinese and Koreans have a different (higher?) status than say a mix raced Japanese person.

And you can (and many Japanese indeed do) breakdown the conspicuous and inconspicuous non-Japanese into different statuses as well (in the case where the nationalities are known). For example, the perception of the social status of Chinese and Koreans would be different based on a number of factors including the historical relations Japanese have had with the people of these nations.

And among conspicuous non-Japanese, the status of blacks, whites, middle eastern and east asians is very different.

From persistent questioning of Japanese people over the years, and as a result of being fairly perceptive, there are different social statuses attached to people based on the color of their skin, and black / east asian and middle eastern colors invariably have a lower status than white.

To be fair, I don’t think many Japanese are consciously aware of this favoritism, but it’s clear nonetheless.

The problem being (IMO) that in Japan (as is the case in many countries) things un-Japanese are simplified. Complexities are mendokusai (troublesome) here. So, black is black and white is white…and anyone making a cursory glance at the outside world can see that the dominant culture they’re being exposed to from outside of Japan is Euro-centric. So it becomes easier to humanize a person of European descent because they feel more familiar with them. Their limited exposure to Afro-centric ideas and people (not to mention the bombardment of negative stereotypes brought to them via the euro-centric, as well as their own, media) has left them with very little choice other than to default to their stereotype-plagued presumptions about people of African descent, regardless of the country of our origin.

And so I’d answer your question this way— The Japanese look at the social status of people of African descent, in much the same way they do those of European descent: As utterly alien.

I’d only add that, based on my long experience here, and investigative efforts, when it comes to people of African descent, NOT ALL JAPANESE but many tend to add the status of dreadful, dangerous or best avoided and feel that to be justified to the point of common sense. This sometimes humiliatingly places the onus on people of color here to assert the diversity of our humanity in our everyday lives (“we are no more or less inclined towards good or evil than any other race — including your own!” “we have the same capacity to love and hate as you do” etc…) while we endure all manner of behaviors resulting from people’s discomfort in being in close proximity to people of such a status living in their “society”.

And short of individually becoming a celebrity here, I don’t see that status changing easily. But this is a change I strive towards everyday, cause I happen to love it here, the country and the people. And I believe Japan wants AND needs this. While many Japanese have an unwarranted fear of people of color, I’m thankful at least that it hasn’t been upgraded to an unwarranted hate like it has in some Euro-centric countries.

I can work with fear.

The next generation will have much less of it than the previous, if my and the efforts of MANY black people living here in this lovely country prove fruitful.

頑張ります!!

Hope that was helpful.

Loco

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Let’s Get Ready to Rumble…with WWW Diana! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/08/lets-get-ready-to-rumble-with-www-diana/ Sun, 08 Jan 2017 06:51:48 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20313 Last month’s #BlackEye featured Roni Nicole, AKA Big Bang Nicole, a a model, actress, dancer and , yes, Professional Wrestler doing her thing here in Japan.

Here’s an update on her schedule. She’s booked to fight this month TOMORROW (1/9 – sorry for the short notice) in Kawasaki at Lazona on the 5th floor at 5pm.

If you have time and wanna come out and support Big Bang, and the other remarkable women wrestlers of WWW Diana, time to get your Rumble on! You might catch me there, if I can work out my schedule.

If you need more info, you can holla at Roni Nicole!

Twitter: @glitterlicious Facebook: Roni Nicole 

Twitter (日本語で) for WWW Diana: @W_W_W_D

Loco

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I’m the Only Gaijin in This Mansion! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/04/im-the-only-gaijin-in-this-mansion/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/04/im-the-only-gaijin-in-this-mansion/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 06:16:59 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20287 You can count on a number of things happening during holiday season in Japan, and after all these years here, none of it even budges the needle on my WTFometer anymore. Once Mariah stops screeching about what she wants for Xmas, once those Xmas illumination extravaganzas no longer draw prohibitive numbers, and once all the kampai and bonenkai are done, Japan settles in for the actual holidays (that is, actual days off from work – Xmas day itself not being one of them) where people either rest, catch up with friends or make the obligatory trip back to one’s hometown to reunite with family.

During this time, as you’d expect, most shops and businesses are closed, and many services that generally run like clockwork are modified or suspended…including garbage collection.

Now, for the uninformed, garbage collection, in at least every place I’ve lived in Japan, is fairly serious business.

Particularly residentially, because unlike with a public receptacle, only at home can you be held fully accountable.

I remember when I first moved to Yokohama, I was living in a mansion tucked in the hills of Kikuna, 10 minutes by bike from planet earth. Even the nearest convenience store was a hike, so there were almost as many vending machines as there were mansions. It was in this residential desolation that I had my first (and last) run-in with a Gomi-Nazi for not separating my trash properly.

She was a neighbor (one who managed to be taking her garbage out the same time, or soon after I did, on a number of occasions when I first moved in). I was living with my GF then, but she’d never noticed any neighborly stalking. So I figured it was a gaijin thing (behavior reserved for non-Japanese) or maybe I was just more cognizant of such behaviors than she was. Still, I imagined her sitting at her window on gomi-days, waiting on me to emerge trash bags in hand.

The neighbor, a woman of 70 or so, petite with purplish-silver wispy hair and veiny age-spotted skin, was never without a kind smile and a formal greeting. Even small talk from time to time, on the weather and such.

And that morning when she pulled up behind me as I plopped my bag amid the bags piled these, she was very cordial.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” I replied, feeling the warm embrace of Japan. “A little cold today.”

“That it is,” she said, glancing around me at the bag I’d just deposited in the area.

“You know, that there, kind sir, is NOT burnable,” she said in the simplest Japanese she could muster, her finger jabbing at the plastic bento plate that had made its way into the trash bag with the burnables. “And neither is that.” Her finger was now aimed at a plastic egg carton.

“Well I’ll be damned,” I said in English, nodding. Then, in Japanese. “Sorry, next time I’ll be more careful.”

She smiled, but did not budge, certain that I was not getting the message that there was simply no tolerance in her neck of the woods for my gaijin slackness.

I was fitting to leave the gomi area and make the 50 yard trek back to my crib, when she smiled and pointed again. I looked to see where the offensive object was this time, but it seemed she was pointing at the same objects.

Eh?

Oh wait.

Oh HELL No!

Her smile said Oh HELL yes. There’ll be no plastics in with the burnables on my watch.

I began to walk away, saying, “Gomen nasai” over my shoulder.

“Excuse me, dear sir, but this, this here, is a no-go,” she said.

I could feel the chill in the air more sharply then and I froze in my tracks, literally (I was under-dressed for an extended stay outdoors). There was something in her tone that had a finality to it that was reminiscent of my own mother’s finality, the one she’d conjure up when my unflappable force met her immovable objection. A tone that spoke of repercussions of a regretful nature. And I wasn’t about to get into an altercation with my new elderly neighbor over something of which, by her estimation – and I imagined by expansion would be the community’s estimation – I was clearly in the wrong.

“I’m not sure how things are done in your home country, but this is Japan,” she said with gravity. “Here, this is a very important matter.”

“I see,” I said. “Sorry.”

So, I backtracked, unknotted the knot I’d fastidiously tied (damn near needing my teeth to do so, and trying not to glare at the woman as I did so) and reached my cold dark fingers into the bagful of shit appropriately called refuse, rummaging for the offending materials she’d pointed out. I pulled them out, praying that in doing so I wouldn’t reveal any other objects — of which I was sure there were a number.

And just in case I didn’t know who was the showrunner in these parts, she added, “And would you be so kind as to refrain from doing so in the future? I’m so sorry.”

I carried my cold ass, my grimy fingers, an empty bento plate and an egg carton back up the road to the mansion.

On another occasion, she (or another neighbor) must have come to the bin after me, seen the offending bag, and actually carried it back to my apartment where it sat until I was leaving for work. It squatted beside my door with a little pleasant-looking post-it note with a tiny kawaii anpanman stamp and some Japanese I couldn’t read written on it. A little arrow drawn on the paper actually pointed down at the offending object in the bag.

These motherfuckers!

After that bullshit, I damn near became a gomi-nazi in my own right…secretly hoping to catch my Japanese neighbors, or even my Japanese GF, violating the gomi-rules.

But they never did.

I’ve long since quit my gomi-nazi ways. It was fruitless, anyway. People, at least in my neighborhood, sort their garbage and take it out on designated days like it’s as integral a part of being Japanese as bowing and shoe-removal. I’ve learned that, at least in these parts, Japanese will invariably follow the rules.

But I do still check shit out from time to time, especially when a crisis occurs.

Like annually, when the city of Yokohama informs us residents that, due to the New Year’s holiday, the gomi collection schedule will be altered slightly. The result being that instead of the usual bi-weekly pickup of burnable garbage, all that funky burnable and increased holiday refuse will have to be retained in your home for an extra couple of days.

And, yes, that qualifies as a crisis in these parts.

I wasn’t planning on doing any nazi-ing but the rarity of rule-breaking caught my eye as I ventured outside to make my way to the convenience store. As I passed by the garbage bin reserved for people living in my mansion, I saw something disturbing.

Now, Wednesday (today) IS designated for boxes and bottles, so those are there as they should be, but you might be able to discern in that pic above that there are some burnable trash bags in there, as well.

Oh HELL No!

I’m the only gaijin in this mansion!

That means, unfortunately, if any of my other neighbors notice (or the garbage collectors themselves, who have been known to leave offending bags in the bin with terse notes attached to them, sometimes even in broken English!!) I’d be blamed.

…and the fucker who did it knows that!

Of course no one will directly confront me about it after the fact. Oh no, that would be unseemingly, being that it is, ultimately, circumstantial evidence. (A rule was broken, Japanese don’t break rules, one gaijin lives here. A+B+C=Gaijin). But, I’d have to endure the repercussions, nonetheless. The silent incriminations, the notices slid beneath my door (in poorly syntax’d English) reminding me of the rules I’d been following for going on three years, perhaps a resumption of vigilance from the mansion’s gomi-nazi party on the contents of my refuse.

I wish I’d caught that gaijin-ing nihonjin in the act, cuz I’d read his (or her) ass the riot act, politely, of course. Something like: すみません! あの, このゴミの日じゃないですよね–

They probably did it in the middle of the night.

Shit, that’s how I’d do it!

Loco

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When Hateful People Hate You! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/03/when-hateful-people-hate-you/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/03/when-hateful-people-hate-you/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 09:10:49 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20268
Just saw a link on my blog stats page. It sent some traffic my way so I followed it and it lead to a white supremacist website.
Before I could close the page (my normal response to sick minds) curiosity got the best of me.
Somehow I imagined, in almost a decade of having a prominent internet presence, that I’d been there, done that, heard it, and read it (pun intended), all before, all of it, and nothing, NOTHING, could faze me now. I have scar tissue on my soul.
 
You see, I tell myself (some variation of) if hateful people hate you you must be doing something right. You know, mantras like that. Not that I subscribe to these fortune cookie bromides wholeheartedly but I admit they have helped me get through some tougher moments.
 
But geezus, being at the center of all that unbridled scathing hate in one place…it was impossible to come away from it unscathed no matter what mantras you tell yourself. Right about now, I feel like I need to take a shower with a Brillo pad or I’ll never feel clean again. 
「brillo pad shower」の画像検索結果
Haters are like terrorists. If you give in to hate, the haters win.
I’m not gonna sit here and start spouting off about love conquering all. I’ve served up enough platitudes for one post. But just knowing that this shit is out there undermines any remaining faith I have in humanity. I’ll retrieve it soon I hope. I always do.

 

So, you know what I’m gonna do after my Brillo shower? I’m gonna knock out that other bottle of bubbly I was too drunk to drink New Years eve, and keep it moving.
Loco
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Funky Upgrades and Funky Outbursts http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/02/funky-upgrades-and-funky-outbursts/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/02/funky-upgrades-and-funky-outbursts/#comments Mon, 02 Jan 2017 09:37:36 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20258 The upgrades to the webpage are coming along nicely. Particularly the #BlackEye page, where every article I’ve written for the Japan Times can be found (if you’re interested, check them out HERE).

Also making some upgrades to my workshop. Anyone who’s attended over the past couple of years can tell you it’s pretty tight as it is, but it could definitely stand some fine tuning. I’ll keep you guys updated on the progress, but so far so good.

You might recall my first workshop back in 2015. I posted about it HERE!

Here’s the flyer:

It was a huge success, and has grown since then, but now I’m expanding it a bit. Anyway, more on that later.

OH!

Yesterday I mentioned my Hoppin’ John triumph. Tasty as hell, it was…however, there were some side effects.

Brings to mind a little ditty we used to sing when I was rugrat:

Beans beans they’re good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you fart

Ate some beans and they were loaded, went to bed and they exploded

Loco

PS: Anyone recall singing that song?

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Playing the Game of Resolutions http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2017/01/01/playing-the-game-of-resolutions/ Sun, 01 Jan 2017 10:28:18 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20248 I quit making New Year’s resolutions. I make mine on any day of the year except December 31st because then, technically, it’s not a New Year’s resolution.

It’s just a resolution. Right?

I prefer to just do shit without making breakable promises to myself. Because every time I broke a New Year’s resolution (and I’ve broken MANY) I feel like I’ve betrayed my number one go-to guy (me). And that’s bad form on any day of the year.

So, in order to avoid that ill-fated cold turkey method of stopping bad habits, or the just-as-jarring sudden start way of beginning things, I started the practice of making my New Year’s Resolutions early. Sometime in Autumn usually gives me enough of a head start that by the time the New Year comes around I’m already ahead in the game of resolutions.

For example, I’m a junk food junkie. Even here in Japan…they’ve got their junkfood here as well. Onigiri (a rice ball, usually filled with mayonnaise and something fishy, Tuna or Salmon) or some snack from the sweet bread section of the combini (I love me some melon Pan) for breakfast, Bento lunch boxes for lunch and whatever happens happens for dinner.

Seldom does cooking find its way into that rotation. And the result of this practice haunts me every time I step in front of a mirror. Spare tire doesn’t begin to describe what I see there. More like the trunk you store the spare tire in.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was so active, and my metabolism was such that I could consume junk at a prodigious rate and not have to duck mirrors. But those days are very much over.

This isn’t just a vanity thing either. My blood pressure is high, cholesterol level is high, and my risk for heart attack is probably a lot higher than it ought to be for a man of my age.

2016’s tally of dead didn’t help much either.

Not that I’m afraid of death. When it’s time to go it’s time to go. I Just don’t wanna skip line or anything, you know? I’ve got work to do before I check out.

So, I resolved one day in September to reduce my junk consumption by cooking more often…and cooking as healthy as my budget allows.

It’s been slow going with many, MANY, slipups along the way. But by getting an early autumn start, and gradually gaining my bearings and building momentum, and facing some of the challenges of such a life altering resolution without the pressure that the modification “New Year’s” puts on resolution, I’ve been able to gain my footing a bit…and just in time!

So, come today, January 1st, I’m a cooking ass mofo, and don’t feel all that resolution pressure.

Of course, as fate would have it, I have a whole pot of Hoppin’ John to put away…not exactly healthy cooking. But it’s the holidays. Gotta cut yourself some slack sometimes.

Life is too short…

So pass the peas like we used to do!

Loco

 

 

 

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Happy 2017 from Loco in Yokohama! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/12/31/happy-2017-from-loco-in-yokohama-3/ Sat, 31 Dec 2016 07:53:34 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20228 Just wanted to take a moment out to wish all of you happy holidays and a healthy, prosperous New Year!

Your boy Loco has had a lot on his plate for the past couple of years so content on this blog has taken a hit.

But this year I’m going to re-integrate LIY into my routine, so you can expect a significant uptick in posts in the coming year. I’ll be doing this as much for you guys who’ve been patient as I am to keep my fingers active and my mind focused, but hopefully it’ll result in the type of output you’ve come to expect from LIY and then some. There’s a little rust on this end so please bear with me til I regain my bearings. I’ll make it worth your while!

So, what’s coming up? Well, 2016 has been a rough year, grave and grinding. Loss so many good people. And consequently I felt little inspiration, and my productivity dropped a lot (the creative spirit just wasn’t there). But 2017 finds me optimistic with a number of projects underway, and several should see fruition in this coming year.

Highlights Including:

1- The upcoming Japanese version of “Hi! My Name is Loco …”

2- The upcoming work-in-progress “Winning Abroad”

3- My first fiction novel “Comeuppance in Brooklyn”

4- The third (and perhaps final) book in the “Loco” trilogy, yet to be named, but replete with original material.

5- An increased number of public appearances, readings and workshops (hibernation is over – time to step out of the mancave again).

I’m not gonna elaborate on these projects just now. Time to stop talking them up, and get them done. So, stay tuned, and thanks for your support.

I’ll endeavor, as always, to earn it.

Peace and Love,

Loco

PS: Now, I gotta get back to my Hoppin’ John!

Peas are clean and been soaking since yesterday…and they ain’t gonna cook themselves.

 

 

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Japan has its own Big Bang Theory http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/12/18/japan-has-its-own-big-bang-theory/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/12/18/japan-has-its-own-big-bang-theory/#comments Sun, 18 Dec 2016 10:47:21 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20214 It’s that time again. The latest Black Eye is up and atcha! And we’re closing out 2016 with a Big Bang!14875907_584988968355321_1888216486_o

Big Bang Nicole that is!

Actress, model, dancer AND Pro-Wrestler! She’s got a lot more than Hot Sauce in her Bag!

Here’s an excerpt from this amazing athlete’s story:

“I remember watching matches on TV with Kyoko Inoue, Manami Toyota and Aja Kong. So, to then go work for Inoue, I was just blown away!” Roni says. “All of these women have had such illustrious careers. And now here I am, part of that legacy, part of the Diana family! It’s just incredible.”

I’d seen some (OK, maybe more than some) women’s wrestling matches in the States back in the day, and to say it was anything more than a T&A fest with big hair, scant and/or outlandish outfits and unimaginative gimmicks would be overstating it. But, at Roni’s prompting, I watched some video of Inoue and Toyota having it out back in 1992, and I could see what had impressed her. The match was nothing short of off the chain!

“I’m very grateful that WWW Diana is such a great company. They are literally one of the only joshi (women’s) companies in Japan with all veteran members who are extremely old school, which is how I was trained back in the States. Japanese old school and American old school are not the same, but at the end of the day, it’s an older style and I connected with it more. I guess I’m old school too.

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“The training is extremely difficult, comparable to how Spartans were trained back in ancient times, I imagine,” she says, laughing. “It took me about three months to get used to how intense it was. Fortunately they adjusted it a bit due to my size. By the time you get used to one hell, they hit you with another one. But the training gets you to a level where you can perform consistently and effectively at a high caliber all the time, because we trained six days a week and wrestled two to three times a week.”

For more of Big Bang’s Theories, check out the complete piece HERE

And please SHARE it with your peeps!

Happy Holidays and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all of you!!

Loco

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Americans Might be Baka, But We’re not THAT Baka! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/11/21/americans-might-be-baka-but-were-not-that-baka/ Sun, 20 Nov 2016 15:10:50 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20208 The latest #BlackEye is up! Shared some thoughts on the recent election…

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Thousands of anti-Donald Trump protesters shut down 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower as New Yorkers react to the election of Trump as president of the United States on November 9, 2016 in New York City. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in an upset to become the 45th president. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Here’s an excerpt:

“Are you sure she’s going to win?” my Japanese co-worker seated beside me asked.

I leaned over and glanced at her computer screen.

I saw what had upset her. Texas’ results had just come in, and Trump had sprinted further ahead in what must have appeared to her as a feverish uncontested dash for the magic 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency.

“Texas always goes red,” I said, looking at that Lone Star State, red as the blood of James Byrd, a black man who’d been lynched there back in ’98, chained and dragged behind a pickup truck driven by white supremacists. Can’t ever think of Texas without thinking of James.

“Texas is George Bush country. I don’t even think Clinton’s an option on their ballots. Relax.”

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To read the rest of this article, visit the Japan Times page HERE

Loco.

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From Dakar to Tokyo: A Senegalese Musician Dances All the Way to Japan! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/10/16/from-dakar-to-tokyo-a-senegalese-musician-dances-all-the-way-to-japan/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/10/16/from-dakar-to-tokyo-a-senegalese-musician-dances-all-the-way-to-japan/#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2016 11:55:39 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20201 This month, Black Eye is proud to present the story of a Senegalese Muslim – who just happens to bear my namesake. He came to Japan 14 years ago, and brought the rich culture, music and dance of Senegal with him. And Japan is the better for it.

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Here’s a sneak peak:

Baye Fall’s big break coincided with his graduation from the cultural center. Open auditions were being held to find 11 new dancers to join the National Ballet of Senegal.

“One-thousand-five-hundred people auditioned for these positions. They only needed three male dancers and eight female dancers,” says Abdou. “But people came from all over the country, every town and village. Because if you became a part of the National Ballet, you can get great pay and many opportunities. And only through the National Ballet can you get a license to teach African dance anywhere in the world.”

The judges chose Abdou as one of the three males. It was a very big deal in Senegal. The winners were in all the newspapers and became household names.

As part of the National Ballet, in 2000 he toured Europe as a cultural representative of Senegal, performing in Italy, France, Germany and Portugal. And, in 2002, it was the National Ballet that brought him to Japan.

To read MORE of this remarkable gentleman’s story: CLICK HERE

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Enjoy. please share if you dig it!

Baye

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From the “Harlem of London” to the Theaters of Tokyo, One Woman’s Inspiring Journey http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/09/18/from-the-harlem-of-london-to-the-theaters-of-tokyo-one-womans-inspiring-journey/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/09/18/from-the-harlem-of-london-to-the-theaters-of-tokyo-one-womans-inspiring-journey/#comments Sun, 18 Sep 2016 11:57:43 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20187 This time around, #BlackEye brings you the remarkable story of a British woman who came to Japan with little more than a plane ticket, a passport, and passion, and was able to turn that passion into a blossoming career in the Tokyo Theater. Allow me to introduce Reina!

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Here’s an excerpt from her inspiring story:

“Originally I wanted to be an actress, because I was so in love with fantasy movies, magic, witches and theater. But my mom said, ‘No, acting is too difficult.’ By the time I was 14, I was obsessed with ‘The Simpsons.’ And then I heard Nancy Cartwright’s story — that she was considered too ugly to be an actress, and when she was offered a chance to audition for the voice of Lisa Simpson, was told she should try Bart. And she’s become one of the most famous voice actors in the West. Hearing her story was when I had the thought: ‘OK, I won’t become an actor. I’ll become a voice actor instead.’

“Later, when I was 16, I first saw the anime film ‘Fist of the North Star.’ In the U.K. it was rated 18, and I wondered why. Then I watched it and saw all the heads exploding and the blood spraying about, and I was shocked, excited and awed all at the same time. So that led to my love of Japanese anime.

But it wasn’t until she was preparing to enter university that she had the epiphany that would eventually lead her from London to Japan!

For more on Reina’s journey from the London Ghetto to the Tokyo Stage: Click Here

Thanks guys! If you dig Reina’s story, share it!

Also available at your local newsstand.

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Son of Zambian Freedom Fighter Makes His Home in Japan http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/08/14/son-of-zambian-freedom-fighter-makes-his-home-in-japan/ Sun, 14 Aug 2016 11:55:46 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20173 zambian japanIt has been brought to my attention that Black Eye has been fairly African-American-centered. Time to rectify that!

A review of the articles I’ve written over the past two years reveals that, while I have tackled Jamaicans in Japan fairly extensively, and once a British woman of African descent, the rest of the people I’ve profiled have indeed been American. I have covered a range of activities that has diversified the view of what people of African descent engage in here, but I focused on what these people were doing more so than where they were from.

So, moving forward I will endeavor to share with you guys people from more diverse beginnings, beginning with this month’s profile:

Axson Chalikulima, a gentleman from the Nation of Zambia.

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Samantha and Axson Chalikulima

Here’s a brief excerpt from the piece:

In 1984, on Summer vacation following his freshman year at University, Axson made his first trip to Japan.

“I had no interest in Japan, mind you,” Axson said. “I didn’t know anything about Japan, so I came here with an open mind and an open heart. And Japan blew my mind! When I’d gone to America, I thought I had seen The World, as far as advancement and technology are concerned, but Japan…my first thought was ‘what is going on here??’”

Axson ran off a list of observations that awed him, like highways that were actually above the streets, and unchained, unguarded vending machines that offered alcoholic beverages. By the time he returned to Connecticut, so taken was he with his summer in Japan that America lost its appeal. So he decided to alter the trajectory of his life once again.

“I was intrigued by Japan, and I became really inquisitive. I wanted to know more, and decided I needed to be at ground zero. I’ve lived around the world and when you live in another country or another culture, you have to become a child again because only then can you learn without judging.” 

This approach allowed him to see things about Japan that he feels some non-Japanese people who live here tend to miss. 

For more on the valuable life lessons learned living in Japan and around the world, as well as the philosophy he developed to navigate life in Japan:

CLICK HERE

After 30 years in Japan, teacher from Zambia is still learning

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The First Time President Obama Spoke To Me http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/07/29/the-first-time-president-obama-spoke-to-me/ Thu, 28 Jul 2016 18:37:12 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20163

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 27: US President Barack Obama and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wave to the crowd on the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

You know, I was sitting here thinking why has this speech, this moment, moved me so much! And I think I’ve figured it out…
 
Bear with me.
 
This was not the first homerun speech I’ve heard the President make…not even close. In fact, his greatest homerun speech was also delivered in Philadelphia back in 2008, in the midst of that Jeremiah Wright “God Damn America” race scandal.
 
No, it wasn’t just that he gave a great speech.
 
Let me explain.
 
I’ve gone thru phases with Barack.
 
Initially I think I was so taken with him because, well, he was a black man on the world’s stage, holding his own and being taken very seriously as a candidate to lead the country, versus a candidate that by all accounts was a shoo-in to win. I’m talking Hillary, here.
 
He was taken seriously in places where I had believed it was impossible for a black man to be taken seriously. In that heartland he described in the speech. In places like Iowa! I was like ‘get the eff outta here! He won in IOWA?” Yep, Iowa.
 
After that he had my, and the country’s, undivided attention. This was no Jesse Jackson.
 
Then in New Hampshire, where he got licked by Hillary, even in defeat, he gave the speech that defined his campaign, the much vaunted “Yes We Can” speech…and then he was off to the races, taking a healthy number of the remaining primaries and caucuses along the way, and giving moving speeches throughout.
 
The crowds kept swelling, and the rhetoric kept soaring.
 
And I was rapt.
 
The next phase of my Barack adoration, was once I was over the “black” thing, and started focusing in on the message and how effective it was.
 

Change. Hope. America Made ME Possible. More Unites Us Than Divides Us. Yes We Can. We Are Not Blue States and Red States, We’re The UNITED States. 

While there have always been black leaders, and scholars, and thinkers who were eloquent and thoughtful, most of them either for some reason intimidated the masses, were incapable of connecting with them, or were taken from us much too soon. Few sought the political top slot. So I was so thrilled that finally there was a black man that white people felt comfortable listening to, who was saying the things that needed to be said in a way that not only didn’t result in people retreating to their racial silos, but actually galvanized people into activism on his campaign’s behalf.
He was telling people who needed to hear it, and were indeed eager to hear it, that the time had come to embrace change, to insist upon it, even. That anything less was beneath the dignity of Americans. He implored them to find the audacity to hope, to unearth the courage to face the adversities ahead, and rise above the pettiness that has held us back and kept us divided. He inspired people to reject the notions that have deprived us of our best and brightest (which he clearly represented) for far too long. That only together can we accomplish this.
He utilized universal values and unifying principles, to sell people on the idea of a truly UNITED states. And people felt compelled to agree with him (or at least indulge him), or face up to the fact that they were hypocrites and that America was not a democracy, just an hypocrisy wearing the mask of a republic.
I LOVED that people had begun to actually listen and respond…In HUGE numbers, on all the stations, all over the internet, all over the world. People were showing him unprecedented love.
White people.
He was talking to them.
I never felt I was the target of those speeches. And if I were the target, then he was preaching to the choir.
  
Many black Americans (I wanna say most) knew (believed) that it was mostly the attitudes of many White Americans that was keeping the United States of America from uniting, from being the great country many a president had had the audacity to call it over the centuries. In addition to hard work and ingenuity, black Americans survived 400 years of tyranny and genocide due to our faith, the audacity to hope, and our prayers for change, imploring the Creator to show our oppressors the light so that WE, our country, might become a more perfect union. We prayed God would teach them, our former masters, the true meaning of freedom, and the error of their ways.
 
So, nah, he didn’t have to tell us that change was imperative. That would be redundant.

******

When I went to Pennsylvania in 2008 to canvass door to door for the Obama campaign, in lily white communities, I was greeted fearlessly with open arms. I was the one afraid.
 
It was shocking. And beautiful. It felt miraculous, what he was accomplishing.
Saviour-type miraculous.
 
I began to feel pride at being an American…for the FIRST time in my life! Just like Michelle Obama had said in 2008. I felt the SAME way she felt. THIS was an America I had never seen before, and frankly didn’t think was possible.

Today, marked a new first.
 
For today, I didn’t listen to Barack and feel his eloquence was aimed solely at White Americans.
 
Well, yeah, there was a portion of that speech that was aimed at Republicans (majority white). That whole section about the values of his white Grandparents and of the heartland…that was, no doubt, aimed at republicans who aren’t feeling Trump’s bombast, braggadocio and utter lack of humility, and don’t feel Trump represents their values at all. Barack clearly intended to snatch up some stray independent and republican votes for Hillary.
 
But for the FIRST time in 12 years, I felt a speech of his, THIS speech, spoke directly to ME!!
 
I was the democrat that he felt needed inspiration.
I was the one demonizing Hillary.
I was the one who entertained the notion of a Trump presidency longer than any rational person should.
I was the one unable to see that America IS in better shape than it was, focused as I was, almost solely and justifiably on issues of injustice and inhumanity against black bodies (issues which have not been resolved).
I was the one ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater, who was beginning to believe wholeheartedly that America needs an industrial-sized enema and Trump fits the bill.
 
I felt sad, cynical, angry, disillusioned, disenchanted.
My forecast danced dangerously and intimately with apathy and despair. I needed something I was beginning to believe did not exist.
 
Until today.
 
Until Barack spoke to ME, cut through my cynicism like a chainsaw through oak.
 
I don’t wanna over dramatize it. But I felt the need to mark this as a turning point in my attitude towards the current state of my country and the world, and prospects for the future.
 
Leaders are supposed to find and bring out the best in people, or remind them that they too are leaders. And leaders should use their time and energy to bring out the best in themselves and others. Obama does that. And clearly Hillary has as well.
 
Today’s speech did that for me. Just another reason to love the man, I guess.
 
Thank you, Mr. President.
obama and me
 
Baye
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To My White and Japanese Friends (Who are not Aliens): http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/07/20/to-my-white-and-japanese-friends-who-are-not-aliens/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/07/20/to-my-white-and-japanese-friends-who-are-not-aliens/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2016 05:21:31 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20150 Over the past days / weeks / months / hell, years (smh) quite a number of my white (and some of my Japanese) friends, upon reading my pieces or posts regarding ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬, or black feelings in general, say something to the extent of: “I sympathize with you but I can’t truly empathize because I’m not black” or “I don’t feel it’s my place to be outraged or to express outrage over what’s happening because I’m not black, therefore I’m racially incapable of fully grasping the situation emotionally.”

If these generalities are not you, then this is not meant for you.

For those of you who these statements do represent to some extent the thoughts that go through your head, I wanna help you out because PERHAPS you are an ally, and BLM needs all the non-black allies it can get.

Try this: imagine a close friend of yours, one of your black friends, a guy or girl you know to be of the finest quality person…imagine waking to find a Youtube video in your feed of him / her being stopped at a traffic light, getting into a dispute with a white police officer, in a heated exchange, saying something to the officer you might perceive as escalating the situation like, “Who the fuck do you think you are, talking to me like that??? Show me the same goddamn respect you’d show me if I were white! It’s my motherfucking taxes that pay your salary, too!!”travolta And then suddenly having his or her brain splattered all over the car’s interior (See John Travolta vs That Black Guy in Pulp Fiction — or dig through the archives of black snuff films on Youtube — there’s sure to be one that’ll help you with the visualization if you need visual aides).

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Now imagine the district attorney, friend to the cops, refuses to indict. And your president refuses to instruct the justice department to get involved (though it’s clear from the lines he drops in speech after speech that he gets it!).

Now imagine that cop has been reprimanded in years past for brutality, or has been admonished for his unseemly (for a law enforcement officer working in a black community) ties to certain fringe white supremacist groups.

And after a six month paid leave he’s transferred to another area and resumes his career. Just in time for the one year anniversary of the “accidental” slaying of your friend.

How would you feel? Do you feel like there’s been an injustice done? Do you feel like your friend would be alive now if not for his / her skin color? Do you think, knowing that no one is to be punished for this “accident”, that their life was lost in a manner that indicated that it didn’t really matter much? How would you feel if you checked the feed and every other story contains a video of your friend’s demise?

How would you feel if the biggest story on the network news that night is the ABSOLUTE OUTRAGE people feel over the killing of a lion by a fucking dentist? People are going absolutely apeshit because this guy took a picture with the lion and had the audacity to post it online for the world to see!

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How would you feel if the comments attached to the video of your friend’s death say things like “N—-r had it coming to him! Shoulda known better than to talk to cops that way! Betcha the next n—-r’ll show some respect for the badge!” Or if your liberal white friends say things like, “ALL Lives Matter!” “Blue Lives Matter More! They’re heroes, and they’ve got a right to go home to their families every night!”

How would you feel when you see your friend’s mother, distraught, overwhelmed with grief, say to you something like, “thank you for your kindness, for being a friend to my baby. He/She really treasured your friendship, spoke of you often…”

How would you feel if a couple of days / weeks later, there’s a rerun of this incident / accident. Not your friend this time. Just some random black person. BUT, almost the same circumstances (traffic stop, angry compliance, same excuse – he/she reached for a gun, had a knife, wouldn’t follow my orders, I was scared for my life!) same cellphone / street cam videos, same fiery protests, same indifference from your friends, same bullshit, and essentially the SAME outcome. Only thing different is your friends are done with the Lion story and have moved on Trump (the so-called new Hitler) or other current events of consequence…

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Now this part I don’t expect you to be able to imagine, but try. Imagine it happens again, and again, and again…imagine it has been happening since your friend was a child. Since his/her parents were children. Since his/her grandparents were children. Just that then it wasn’t on video. Wasn’t even televised, never made the news even. And it wasn’t just cops doing the “accidenting” It was the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, with white hoods over their heads. For almost the same reason…some n—-g got uppity and lipped off, or had an uppity look in his eye…

How do you feel? Feel like you could cry? Feel like you could scream? Feel hopeless? Feel angry? Feel tired? Feel emotionally exhausted? Feel like fighting? Feel like you could destroy something…EASILY? Feel panicky? Fear for your family’s safety? Fear for your own safety? Feel like you could kill somebody that actually matters, (cuz obviously your friend and people who favor your friend do not)? Feel like if this is as good as life gets, why would I wanna stay here? Feel like LOVE is gonna come and save the day? Feel like Jesus is gonna come back and save you from this hellish earthly existence if you follow his word?

Do you? Of course you do! Cuz you’re human. You’d have to be a fucking alien not to feel this!

So PLEASE stop telling me you can’t identify completely. You can.

Just takes an effort.

So what you gonna do now?

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Unpacking the Question: “Are Black People Safer in Japan than in The US?” http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/07/17/unpacking-the-question-are-black-people-safer-in-japan-than-in-the-us/ http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/07/17/unpacking-the-question-are-black-people-safer-in-japan-than-in-the-us/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 11:47:27 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20142 blm1

As a black American living in Japan, I’m often asked questions like “Are Black People safer in Japan than in the US?” or “Wouldn’t you rather be here in Japan in the throes of safety than in the US perpetually in harm’s way?

I endeavor to address this and other very complicated questions with my latest #BlackEye! Check it out!

Here’s an excerpt:

At the age of 7, I learned that racist cops kill black people they’re supposed to serve and protect, including kids, and that an unjust justice system will serve and protect the killers. That was the year 10-year-old Clifford Glover was slain by a cop in Queens, New York. The police officer that did the killing was actually indicted and tried for murder (a first) but ultimately acquitted (not the last). And, upon his acquittal, I found myself in the midst of a protest on behalf of a previous iteration of Black Lives Matter. (There have been several in my lifetime, and more before then.)

This demonstration was attended by everyone I knew, including my entire extended family. Even my teachers, classmates, their parents and the headmaster of my school were in attendance — several of whom were outspoken leaders of the event. We were all in dashikis, gowns and gele head ties, combat boots and dungarees suits, Afros and cornrows — black, beautiful, and mad as hell that this cop was set free.

Click Here for MORE

If you can dig it, drop a comment on the Japan Times site with your thoughts!

Loco

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Taking a Stand for Refugees in Japan http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/06/19/taking-a-stand-for-refugees-in-japan/ Sun, 19 Jun 2016 12:41:44 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20130 Black Eye marks its two-year anniversary with the story of a refugee advocate who goes the extra mile for Asylum-seekers here in Japan.

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His name is Alex Easley, and his story is truly a remarkable one! Here’s an excerpt:

The debate over Japan’s rock-bottom refugee recognition rate rages on. According to the Justice Ministry, out of 7,586 applicants in 2015 (up from 5,000 in 2014), Japan only recognized 27 as refugees (up from 11 the previous year). While supporters of asylum seekers condemn this high number of rejections, particularly of those applicants fleeing persecution or violence, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has argued that Japan needs to improve conditions for its own citizens — especially women and the elderly — before tackling the issue of refugees.

Fortunately for these vulnerable people, though, there are organizations here like the Japan Association for Refugees that exist to help meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, provide them with relevant legal and social assistance, and advocate for their rights in this country.

And then there are individuals who go the extra mile to help refugees in Japan — people like Alex Easley, an American expat who provides humanitarian support to recently released detainees via the prison ministry of Tokyo Baptist Church. A native of Pittsburgh, Easley originally came to Japan as a singer and fashion model more than 40 years ago.

Read More about Alex Easley HERE!

my 2nd Anniversary at The Japan Times

 

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We’re celebrating two years of sharing black lives, enterprise and experiences in Japan for the world to see! Thank you all for continuing to support my efforts, this little labor of love. I’m very proud of the work thus far and as long as the need exists I will endeavor to continue to make our stories accessible to all!

Love,

Baye

 

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On Making Manga and Taking the Show on the Road!! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/06/02/on-making-manga-and-taking-the-show-on-the-road/ Thu, 02 Jun 2016 06:34:33 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20113 You might have heard (or noticed) we reached our first goal of $5,000 for the translation of Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist.”

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YIPPEE!!

But what you might not have noticed is:

WE’RE NOT DONE!!

I’m so grateful to all of you and continue to be amazed by the support flowing in to help me realize this dream of bringing this work to the people of Japan. But now let’s take the next step!

FIRST STRETCH GOAL! —$10K

I’ve done a poll of backers and supporters and the poll resulted in a tie. Two ideas rose to the top. The first was the idea of the additional funds being used for a National Reading / Lecture / Workshop Tour around Japan (Maybe 5-10 cities nationwide), coordinated with supporters, backers, and interested parties in those cities. The funds would be used for travel expenses.

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Hosei workshop

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musashi workshop 2

thai workshop 1

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I’ve done MANY such talks and events since coming to Japan, at universities and townhalls and cafes and such. I’ve even done a few in the US. And they’re always well-attended and well-received.

However MOST of these talks have been relegated to the Tokyo / Yokohama area. So I relish the idea of meeting people nationwide! I’m very excited about this opportunity and, I suspect some of you are, as well.

So here’s what you can do:

Just click HERE! Then hit the green button that says “Back This Project” at the top-right of the Kickstarter page to get started.

SECOND STRETCH GOAL – $15K

The second goal is the manga-ization of “Loco in Yokohama”

LIY book cover

Those of you who’ve read LIY know these hilarious misadventures and poignant portraits of life in a Japanese Junior high School are perfect for illustration!

loco BW

Original artwork for “Hi! My Name is Loco…” cover

Characters like Matsui-kun and Mika-chan, Miss Betty and Loco-Sensei himself, beg to be seen in color!baye art

So let’s make it happen!

(Those of you who haven’t read the book(s), here’s your chance – again, click HERE. Then just hit the green button that says “Back This Project” at the top-right of the Kickstarter page and you’re well on your way!)

The funds will be used to enlist and pay the artist and publish the book. I’ve already approached several artists of note previously — for I’ve been looking to do this for some time– and though several of these illustrators were interested, the funding was never there.

Let’s change that TODAY!

Help me get this campaign to $15K and we’ll do just that!

Best regards,

Loco

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The #LocoLocalized Kickstarter’s a Success! Now Let’s Do Some Stretching! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/05/26/the-locolocalized-kickstarters-a-success-now-lets-do-some-stretching/ Thu, 26 May 2016 13:30:25 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20102 The #LocoLocalized #Kickstarter campaign is a SUCCESS! The initial goal has been REACHED!

reached goal 3

WOOHOO!!

So let’s discuss stretch goals, shall we?

The choices thus far are:

1- An Audio Book of “Hi! My Name is Loco…” in English (perhaps later in Japanese, as well) read by yours truly! Funds would be used for a recording studio and hiring the personnel required to get it done properly (engineer, editor, mixer etc…)

2- Manga-ization of book two: “Loco in Yokohama”
(Those of you who’ve read LIY know the funny misadventures at Syouganai and Mendokusai Junior high Schools are rife for illustration! It’s stars, namely characters like Matsui-kun and Mika-chan. The funds would be used to pay for the artist(s).

3- A National Reading / Lecture / Workshop Tour around Japan (Maybe 5-10 cities nationwide), coördinated with supporters, backers, and interested parties in those cities. The funds would be used for travel expenses.

I’ve started a poll, so if you have a chance (it’s very short, maybe it’ll take you 1 minute to do it) have a look.

https://poll.fbapp.io/the-localizeloco-campaign-needs-a-stretch-goal

Thanks,

Baye

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An Important Message to People Afraid to Come to Japan! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/05/19/an-important-message-to-people-afraid-to-come-to-japan/ Thu, 19 May 2016 13:34:55 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20082 1-Check out the video Here!

When you’re done leave a comment, let Sharla know what you think, share it, subscribe to Sharla’s channels, and all that good stuff!

And spread the word far and wide: Japan is nothing to be afraid of!

 

2- The Definitive Icebreaker

one week in 2

Well, we’re one week into the campaign now and more than 50% (pushing 60%) of the goal has been reached! YAY!

 

So what’s this all about?

First off, this isn’t a charity, and it isn’t a fantasy. This is a mission. Think of it as an exercise of will, if you will. An invitation to be a part of something exciting!

I’m not promising rainbows and unicorns here. But anyone who has read my work knows that this book, once translated, is CERTAINLY going to unlock some minds and open some hearts.

Not all, for sure, but definitely some.

I know this because, even in English, my work already has!

You know what I see? I see the finished product. I see this translated and localized work as something you might even keep with you when you’re out and about, like a social accessory, the definitive icebreaker, like a handbook almost, something you can hand to your Japanese friends, lovers, colleagues, hell, new acquaintances, and say, “You know what? I like you! Here, check this out! And, when you’re done, let’s have a talk about it!”

And the conversation that follows, THAT conversation will be the BEST convo, the most REAL convo, you’ve ever had with them, and they with you! Bonds will strengthen and genuine understanding will bloom.

sharla in japan 2

I see japanese readers picking up this book at their local bookstore, reading it and there being a national, “Holy S__t, I had no effing idea!” moment, replete with laughs and tears and head scratches and a shift in the collective consciousness. Something approaching genuine empathy. A real starting point. A recognition of a commonality that reaches beyond race and nationality, to the essential, at a level heretofore rarely seen.

They’ll be dying to talk to non-Japanese about it. There WILL be a national conversation about this subject matter, and that conversation WILL be fruitful to all involved.

That’s what I envision.

Call me a dreamer if you like, but I can see it! And I’m sure some of you can or would like to see it, as well. And here we are, this close to getting this thing underway! In fact, all we needs is an, er, KICKSTART, and it’s off to the races!

Maybe I’m wrong…but maybe I’m right, you know? I think it’s worth a few bucks to find out. Bucks that will garner you reward packages like these:

Early Bird Package #3- 4 Trade Paperback Books (2)

Early Bird Package #3- 4 Trade Paperback Books11

Early Bird Package #3- 4 Trade Paperback Books (6)

Early Bird Package #3- 4 Trade Paperback Books9

So, c’mon, skip a disposable pleasure just this once, that vendi starbucks, that takoyaki, those station brews, that trip to the IMAX to see that guy with the Star-Spangled Shield… they’ll still be there. Put those bucks into backing something that could potentially impact the status quo here in a positive way forever!

Let people know– including that cynic inside– that you give a s__t. That apathy, complacency and syougannai haven’t incapacitated you.

Cuz that’s the ultimate reward package! Eff what you heard.

And you know I’ll continue to do my part. Hell, that’s who I am. Who I’ve always been. Fail or Succeed, I’m gonna keep on keeping on. I ain’t never been afraid to put in the work, nor use my creative energy for an unpopular cause that makes some people uncomfortable, nor put my livelihood and reputation on the line for something I believe is important, nor have I ever been afraid to take the hits from haters.

And I’ll continue to choose my battles wisely and confront adversity head on. Cuz to me, that’s what winning is about!

But THIS backing part? This part is up to you, ladies and gents. You’re calling this shot. Not them others. You alone decide whether this project gets funded or not. Don’t convince yourself that other people are gonna support it so you don’t have to, cuz if one too many people do that, you already know what’s gonna happen: it’s gonna wind up under-supported.

(And KICKSTARTER is All or Nothing, meaning you either reach the goal minimally or the campaign receives $0!!)

So…

The place is here.

The time is now.

This pitch is done…

CLICK ICONS BELOW FOR CAMPAIGNKickstarter-logo

KS promo 1

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My Wife’s Parents Disown Her Cause She Married a Black Man! http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/05/15/my-wifes-parents-disown-her-cause-she-married-a-black-man/ Sun, 15 May 2016 12:21:50 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20060 …but the tale doesn’t end there. There’s so much more to this gentleman’s story than that! And I truly believe he’s one of the most fortunate men I’ve met since I’ve come to Japan!

My latest piece for #BlackEye is up!

kyle

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“When my wife had gone to see her parents to tell them about us, they arranged for the whole family to be there, to ambush her like an intervention,” Sexton says. “So when she came home, I asked her what happened and she said she’d promised them she wouldn’t marry me. But we were already married. I told my wife it was because I was foreign but she said, ‘No, no, it’s because you’re black.’ She said her parents thought of black people like those black GIs after World War II.

“When they eventually found out about the marriage, they disowned my wife,” Sexton says.

Read More about this remarkable man’s success story in Japan HERE

–PLUS–

I’ve Got BIG NEWS!

We’re 4 Days in and we’re already:

35% Funded!

 KS launched

Thanks Guys!!

We’ve got it going,

let’s KEEP it going!

Back the campaign and / or

Share this post with

your friends, fam and peeps!

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日本語訳出版プロジェクト 支援のお願い http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2016/05/11/%e6%97%a5%e6%9c%ac%e8%aa%9e%e8%a8%b3%e5%87%ba%e7%89%88%e3%83%97%e3%83%ad%e3%82%b8%e3%82%a7%e3%82%af%e3%83%88-%e6%94%af%e6%8f%b4%e3%81%ae%e3%81%8a%e9%a1%98%e3%81%84/ Tue, 10 May 2016 15:56:15 +0000 http://www.locoinyokohama.com/?p=20049 JTP2

nikki me

作家- Baye McNeil  と 訳者 – Nikki Tsukamoto Kininmonth

キャンペーンページビデオを見てください

 

Hi! My Name is Loco…』は祖国であるアメリカと移住先の日本において、マイノリティーである私の気づきや思いを記した本です。
礼儀正しく親切なことで知られている日本人ですが、単一民族としてのこだわりや日本人以外への偏見を持っており、精神的に鎖国をしているかのように感じられます。私にとって、このような日本という異国の地での生活は、常に人種や自らのアイデンティティーについて自問自答を繰り返すきっかけとなり、自分自身をより理解するための機会となりました。そんな私の思ったことや見たことがぎっしりと詰まった、ユーモラスかつ正直すぎるくらい正直に綴った作品になっています。

loco

英語版の『Hi! My Name is Loco…』と『Loco in Yokohama』は読者や批評家から好評をいただいております。「日本語で本を出版しないのか?」というリクエストもいただけるようになりました。私は日本に住む外国人という立場だからこそ伝えられる、人種や文化の違いからくるちょっとした出来事から大きな問題まで、さまざまなことを経験してきました。それはこの本にも書いています。ぜひそれを日本のみなさんに知ってもらいたい。

そんな思いで、執筆や教育、そしてイベントを開催しております。「日本語で本を出版しないのか?」という要望は、日本のみなさんにもっと知ってほしいという要望の声でもあるかと思います。この本を日本語に翻訳し、日本のみなさんに読んでいただくということは、そんな声に応え、よりよい相互理解につながるものと信じております。こういった思いで私は今回このプロジェクトに踏み切りました。

この本に込めた思いとスピリッツをご理解いただき、わずかでもかまいません、ご協力いただければ嬉しく思います。

本プロジェクトは、Kickstarterというアメリカのクラウドファンディングサービスを利用します。世界的にも有名で、多くのプロジェクトのスタート地点となった、寄付をするのにも安心・安全な、実績のあるサービスです。残念ながら日本語には対応しておりませんが、簡単に利用できます。つぎに利用方法をご説明いたします。ぜひご参考ください。

Kickstarterでの寄付のしかた】

1. まずは、キャンペーンページにアクセスCampaign Page HERE

2. 右下の「Back This Project (プロジェクトを支援する) 」と書いてある、緑のボタンをクリック。

3. リターンを選びます。支援額に合わせて、特典を選べます!

【このプロジェクトのリターン】

【友達】リターン $15

・本和訳出版プロジェクトの進行報告と、あなたの貢献がこのプロジェクトを実現させている実感を随時お届けします。

・TwitterまたはFacebookにあなた宛てに感謝の言葉が投稿されます。

・電子ポストカードの感謝状

・日本語版「Hi! My Name is Loco…」の特別先行デジタル書籍(PDFまたは電子書籍)

【親友】リターン $40

・本和訳出版プロジェクトの進行報告と、あなたの貢献がこのプロジェクトを実現させている実感を随時お届けします。

・TwitterまたはFacebookにあなたに向けた感謝の言葉が投稿されます。

・電子ポストカードの感謝状

・日本語版「Hi! My Name is Loco…」の書籍の特別限定初版(サイン付き)

【仲間】リターン $100

・本和訳出版プロジェクトの進行報告と、あなたの貢献がこのプロジェクトを実現させている実感を随時お届けします。

TwitterまたはFacebookにあなたに宛てた感謝の言葉が投稿されます。

・電子ポストカードの感謝状

・日本語版「Hi! My Name is Loco…」の特別限定初版50冊のうち1冊(サイン付き) さらに…

・「Hi! My Name is Loco…」の日本語版書籍のあとがきに、ご支援への感謝の気持ちを込めてあなたのお名前を記載させていただきます。

4. クリックすると、そのボタンの少し下のテキスト入力欄に、支援額を米ドル ($)で入力してください。

5. Kickstarterのアカウント・ログイン画面に移ります。 必要な情報を記入し、新しいアカウントを作るか、Facebookでサインインするかを選んでください。

6. カード情報の入力をしてください。

7. 情報を入力し終えたら、内容を確認して、ページ右下の緑の「Pledge」と書いてあるボタンをクリック!

8. Congratulations!と表示されたら、プロジェクトの支援は完了となります。

サポートが必要な場合やご不明な点がございましたら、
Baye McNeil  Email: baye@bayemcneil.com
までご連絡ください。最後になりましたが、本プロジェクトの趣旨をご理解いただき、ご支援いただけることを切にお願い申し上げます。

Baye2

Thank You So Much!!よろしくお願いします

 

Visit Campaign Here 

Kickstarter-logo

 

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