Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Older Than the President of My Childhood

Perhaps you're familiar with the most popular entry of my modest blog, "The President of My Childhood." I've been in an odd frame of mind for the past week or so, realizing that our 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson, died at the age of 64 years 4 months and 3 weeks on January 22, 1973. I was a a senior in high school then, and he seemed impossibly old. His passing wasn't much noted by people my age, as the Vietnam War was still going on and the rancor of American involvement there was still very fresh.

You see, around the first of May, I turned 64 years 4 months and 3 weeks old. It's hard to imagine that I'm now older than LBJ was when he died, barely a month after this video of his last public appearance was recorded at the end of a civil rights symposium at the LBJ Library in Austin, TX. This might seem an odd fact to carry around in one's head, but there's a sort of following among those who have visited the LBJ Library and Museum, much facilitated by social media of course. He was a fascinating individual, tremendously conflicted and of two minds about most things. He hated the Vietnam War, and spent too much time listening to "experts" rather than following the intuition that told him that South Vietnam was simply too underdeveloped as a nation to resist the north's determination to unite the country under one government.

His true sense of pride, and the place closest to his heart, was the civil rights legislation passed during his five years and two months in office. If you understand the background and have a sense of history, this is a difficult video to watch. LBJ went into a deep depression after leaving office, resumed smoking and drinking heavily, and--aside from overseeing closely the construction of his presidential library--seemed hell-bent on his own self-destruction. Roy Wilkins and other leaders present were reportedly dismayed at the former president's appearance, the hesitancy with which he began his remarks. He got stronger though, and by the end had several audience members in tears. Jack Valenti described it as seeing the champ enter the ring one final time, not as strong as he was in his prime but rising to the occasion.

It is, in the end, a pretty good speech from a man who was not that good a public speaker. As one of the commenters to the link puts it, regardless of all that he did well and badly in his life, it's hard to see this man as anything but a good and decent person who loved his country. If you've gone as far as finding your way to this blog, give it a listen and try to understand the spirit of the times and the enormous changes his actions brought to American society in less than a decade since the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It makes me feel that my own life's accomplishments, and those of most of us, are but nothing in comparison.


LBJ was particularly proud of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
of Texas, shown here during the symposium with Vernon Jordan.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Wayfaring Stranger, 2019

It's getting onto summer vacation time. I've had unusual difficulty deciding what I want to do with the 12 weeks or so I have off between semesters. Now, I think I've figured it out.

Since 2012, I've had some consistently memorable summers. Even during Japan days, students would comment that I nearly always managed to come up with something interesting to do with my long time off. There, over several years, I attended all the northern festivals while making my way up to Sapporo from Osaka. One year, 1990, I climbed Mr. Fuji before hitting the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori. In more recent summers, I've travelled to Europe, taken a Colorado River raft trip, visited the hometowns and final resting places of relatives from both sides of my family, signed legacy gifts in Washingon DC and taken the train from there to Miami, re-visited Peru, ridden my motorcycle cross-country, and traveled around Mexico by train, bus, and ferry.

What does one do for an encore at age 64? Well, since 2014 the trips have been built around the concept that I have a home on each coast, in San Diego and Miami Beach, and can make my way from one to the other as part of the adventure. This time, I think I'm just going to buy a one-way ticket to Miami, then make my way back from east to west as I damned well please.

It fits into the general self-improvement kick I'm on at the moment as well. Though always on-the-go during vacations, I tend to spend weekends and days off during the semesters about as active as a beached whale. My San Diego condo isn't big, but it's filled with all sorts of me-stuff that makes it very comfortable just to burrow in and stay home when I don't have a lot of time to wander... even the exercise equipment I need to stay reasonably in shape. I suppose the self-centered nature of the place--and of its component part in Miami Beach--goes a long way toward explaining why I've never settled down with a woman. I like wandering around drunk and naked. I like eating what I want when I want it. I like burping and farting whenever the urge overtakes me, with no one around to take offense. I like being only a few steps away from whatever I'm looking for. I like having things just so.

Most of all, perhaps, I like the feeling of being affluent, and as secure as a person can be in an uncertain world. It doesn't take all kinds of expensive stuff and ostentatious consumption to feel this way, mind you; I also get a kick out of owning no computer of my own while having access to all of them I could ever need. I find it very cool that I can watch TV free, with an antenna, when I watch it at all. I enjoy dressing sloppy, and not shaving or showering, when I have no outside responsibilities and no one to impress. I like having a full head of long, wavy, multi-colored, completely natural hair that I suppose must be striking because so many people have told me that it is. If there's any social aspect to the enjoyment at all, it's in getting the stink-eye from some shallow, conventional soccer mom type, knowing that she'd probably turn instantly obsequious if she knew my passive income exceeds what most people make by working... and having no particular desire that she know.

For a time, the only concern about this pleasant if unhealthy lifestyle was that I might have been becoming something of an alcoholic. Now, however, I'm three weeks into a planned six weeks of drinking no booze at all, and am surprised by how little I miss it. At home--and only when I had nothing in particular to accomplish the next day--I'd been in the habit of going through entire fifths of scotch, rum, or tequila in a single sitting, waking up to a dead TV and splayed clumsily across my second-hand, custom-rebuilt sofa. In a social setting, on the other hand, I've always been pretty moderate, even watching out for other folks who've had too much. On a road trip, I never drink anything stronger than beer, and that usually only as a way to quench my thirst after a long summer day. This made me wonder how much my habit was actually a problem rather than simply an enjoyable form of relaxation.

In the end, I suppose it comes down to my being too wary and untrusting to truly bust loose and get scheissgesichtet around anyone but myself. As an old NCO during my time in Germany once put it when we were idly discussing such things while loading a truck, there's nothing you can do in a bar that you can't do better at home.

Besides all this, I have a rather ritualistic approach to booze. I own a matching set of rather fancy glasses of various types, accumulated second-hand over the years until they've evolved into something rather impressive to behold. Each piece is somewhat valuable, but acquired through garage sales and thrift stores. I always clean them nicely so that they won't have water spots or fingerprints, and--most of all--I'm always careful to drink the booze of my choice from the appropriate glass. I'd rather not drink at all than drink a glass of wine from a champagne flute or such. I can hardly even stand to drink scotch with ice from a tumbler, though I will if there's just a little bit of ice left and no soda water to finish things off.

Thus am I not too worried about my pleasant habit, but just the same it will be a healthy break to get out of town for awhile, and away from my comfortable surroundings and fancy glassware. The plan at this point is to buy a one-way ticket to Miami Beach, and hang out there for a few weeks. With my mostly matching set of glassware there, if I lapse into several drunken nights at the boat dock, watching the planes take off from Miami International, listening for dolphins surfacing to breathe, and dipping in the pool, so be it. I'll stay as long as I want, within reason, and then I'll head back by whatever way suits my fancy.

A song comes to mind, "The Wayfaring Stranger." My piano teacher gave it to me to learn when I was about 9 years old. I'd never heard it before, but it stuck with me. About a year later, I heard it sung in the movie How the West Was Won, but by then I was already familiar with it... and even a bit surprised to hear it somewhere else. Since I was that age in the mid-1960s, I've always had a vague image of myself as a much older man (until I in fact became one) wandering and drifting across this great wide land. I'd be dressed in rags--sloppy clothes anyway--with a floppy hat, a walking stick, an old backpack, and a few days beard growth. Other people dream of being a five-star general, or a corporate CEO, or the president of the United States or something, but I always fancied myself as a kind of carefree vagabond. Whenever I've had higher aspirations, I realize that this is really my essence, and that where I am is where I always wanted to be.

I suppose this is the summer where I "Live the Dream." The plan is to make my way north toward Minnesota. I'd like to take an old friend up on his long-standing invitation to see the rural paradise that he bought after marrying his wife, a former secretary at the first language school I ever taught at in Peru. Then I'll head west, hoping to see Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Missouri River, and some of the scenes in Montana from Robert Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In Idaho, I'll make a big left turn and maybe pass through Reno to visit my brother and his wife for a few  days (if it's OK by them). Then on back, via familiar roads, to San Diego.

Mind you, I'm the first to know that living like a vagabond is tremendous fun only if you have the means to head for the nearest airport and fly home when/if it all gets to be more of a hassle than a glorious adventure. This was, after all, what the whole sixties hippy movement was all about: a buncha spoiled white kids mooching off their parents and posing as counterculturalists. Me, I can do such things now without mooching off of anybody or shirking any of my life's responsibilities. I don't care if it's hypocritical or fake or what-not; it's what I want to do... and I'm old enough that I don't care what anyone else has to say about it.

The first of several sheet music illustrations
for the song, and the closest to the one I
remember from childhood.

Another sheet music illustration, and
perhaps the closest to the way I fancy

An interesting illustation, though not particularly like me.

Using the proper glassware is important to my drinking habits.

It drives me nuts when people drink
from the wrong glass.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Asian Fetish? Phooey! (or is it "Fui?")

Sometime in my early-to-mid twenties, while I was stationed in Frankfurt with the army between tours in Washington, DC, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to get an advanced degree in linguistics some day. It didn't seem like the most practical of things to study, but I took to heart the advice of a retired literature professor who'd taught some of the evening classes on Fort Myer that enabled me to start and finish my bachelor's degree while on active duty. He told us one day toward the end of a course not to worry too much about being practical, that studying what one is passionate about is the best way to prepare for a career.

Well-me-now, in the Age of Trump, I wonder just how practical it is nowadays to worry not too much about being practical. All the same, I finished up the coursework for a master's in linguistics in my hometown of San Diego after getting out of the service. The thesis would take a bit of time to finish, but I did it eventually. I was pushing 30, full of interesting life experiences but basically broke, so the important thing at the time of coursework completion was to find a way to make some money.

My coursework was itself broken up by a stint in Peru, where I studied at a university there and got a taste of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), the first cousin to English as a second language (ESL). The difference is that the latter is used to refer to teaching in the U.S., while the former refers to teaching abroad (or, at least, in a place where English is not used as the primary language).

I'd always had a soft spot for Latin America, but it was hardly the place to make money teaching English. I had a girlfriend in Peru whom I'd met in Washington during my last year in the army, and spent the year there deciding that she took me much more seriously than I took her. I was very fond of her, but didn't think the long-term prospects were good. Then, as now, I really think that intercultural romance is an overall bad idea beyond the, um... exotic aspect of it.

After a bit of research into the matter during the spring of 1984, talking to exchange students and to people who'd taught abroad in those pre-internet days, I eventually found my way into a choice between Saudi Arabia and Japan as potential moneymaker destinations that would serve the added purpose of giving me even more interesting stories to tell. I chose Japan, and ended up staying there off-and-on for over ten years in two different and distinct jobs and locations.

The first was "the fun job," in the northern city of Sapporo. I was there about two and a half years. Then I came home, finished off my master's thesis, and spent a few months in Mexico helping to start the UdeG-affiliated PROULEX program in Guadalajara. Early in 1988, I followed up on an interview I'd had the year before and got hired at an ESL/EFL convention for what would turn into an eight year stay, working mainly for Panasonic's training center in Osaka. The company was known then as Matsushita Electric Industrial Company.

During this time, I studied with limited intensity the Japanese language, and made progress year by year in both the spoken and written languages. Though never completely proficient, there was a time when I felt more comfortable speaking Japanese than Spanish, and I was able to take care of everyday business without translations or other help.

I left Japan in March 1996, feeling I'd satisfied my curiosity about the Mysterious East and, more importantly, that I'd saved enough money to never again have to seek full-time employment in the notoriously unstable field of ESL/EFL. Throughout the years there, my love life was hit-and-miss, mostly miss because I simply wasn't that interested in pursuing Japanese girls. I'd tend to have better luck when I'd come home each spring to attend that annual convention. After a few years in Asia, Western women came to seem somewhat "exotic" to me.

I'm not talking about the scowling water buffalo types who might as well wear a large chip on their shoulder at all times, the ones who cackled like Popeye's Sea Hag when that Bobbit woman cut her husband's dick off. I mean the ones who take care of themselves and thrive professionally, who can be logical--and assertive when necessary--yet gentle in their private moments. My "type" had long been Latinas, but living in Asia was giving me an appreciation for my own kind, though during army service I'd come to appreciate a nice down-to-earth black lady's company as well. Asians were on the list, but by no means at the top of it. In my more mean-spirited moments, I found their often fake cheerfulness tiresome, their deliberate blandness boring, and their appearance somewhat cricket-like.

By sheer law of averages and the age I was then, I had something of a girlfriend in Sapporo, but she was really a Japanese version of the one in Peru. I was fond of her, but had no desire to spend the rest of my life with her and, in fact, usually couldn't wait for her to leave after I'd cooked her breakfast in the morning after she'd stayed over. In Osaka, I managed to go the entire eight years without a girlfriend to speak of. A number of colleagues there had married Japanese women, and in one case I knew a female with a Japanese husband. Some of them were well-adjusted; living in Japan was like living anywhere, and Japan was where they'd ended up. Many others were miserable, often divorced with kids in limbo. I never devoted a minute to the thought of getting myself into such a situation.

Since leaving Japan, I've had no desire to return, though once in awhile I'll have a dream about being there since it comprised such a large chunk of my lifetime. I was reasonably curious about things while I was there. I went to all of the major summer festivals over the years. I ate a lot of good food, and drank a lot of sake. I enjoyed participating in teachers' conferences all over the country. I got along OK with my neighbors, and left them some of the souvenirs I'd collected in other parts of the world when it was time to pack up and leave. Once re-settled in San Diego, I became active with the Japan Society and the San Diego/Yokohama Sister City Society. There's a girl or two in Japan that I have pleasant memories of, even the one in Sapporo who so often overstayed her welcome.

What I don't have is any sort of "Asian Fetish." It's one of those terms that come up if you do some casual reading about Asia and the topic turns to romance and dating. It took much reading of these articles--usually written by self-righteously indignant Asian American females--to really gain awareness of what often turned me off about Japanese women while I was living there.

The self-esteem of women everywhere, I guess, is very much tied up in how they look, and whether or not men go to great lengths to look at them. Granting the differences between various Asian cultures--meaning East Asian of the type that used to be referred to as "Oriental"--as well as the great differences between a native-born Asian female and one American-born and/or raised, they nearly all have one salient group quality that stands out like a sore thumb: They are so full of themselves! Try doing a google search of men who don't find Asian women particularly attractive. What you get is a potpourri of indignant Asian women griping about how obsessed white men are with them. I mean, no matter how you word the search, you can't find a word about men who aren't obsessed at all with hitting on the nearest Asian female.

Though not a big-time user of dating sites, I'm reminded of the Japanese female attitude toward these things on the once-in-awhile occasion that an Asian female views my profile and contacts me. It's as if these women presume that all they have to do is wink their eye or send a casual "Hey there..." to have me panting after them like a thirsty dog. I made the mistake of dating one some years ago, a Vietnamese-American hairdresser who spent several hours talking about nothing but how hot she was, how living in America had made her more curvaceous and sassy than the average Asian girl. I was polite as always, but couldn't wait to get her back to her place so that I could drop her off and be rid of her!

It brings back unpleasant memories of nightlife in Osaka, where most of the time I simply wanted to relax with a few beers in a different sort of place, only to constantly have complete strangers drunkenly try to introduce me--in English, and always in English--to some simpering Ja-pa-neeez woman that I had no particular interest in dealing with. Once in awhile, the woman herself would approach me in an overly familiar way, apparently presuming that I would be captivated to be breathing the same air as she. I seldom to never was.

Asian ladies, you can whine online all you want about the horrors of being objectified by white men. I'm pretty old now, have been all around the world, and have been objectified aplenty myself. We're not all obsessed with you, and everything isn't all about you. I can hear a little of myself in some of your whining, but realize now that, sometimes after I'd had my fill of pretentious Asian girls or drunken salarymen's B.S., I could lapse into hypersensitivity. Every once in awhile, I probably saw things that weren't even there. The difference between you and me is that I don't have an entire cult following to keep reinforcing an inflated sense of myself.

You complain that this is a white male-dominated country, and you're right. Wouldn't it follow, then, that people might be curious as to what in the world you're doing thousands and thousands of miles away from the place of your ethnic origins? I know a thing or two about the construction of the southwest railways, the borax mines in Death Valley, the mass immigration of agricultural workers from Kyushuu in the late 19th century, the Vietnam War refugees. I know a bit about the different language families of East Asia. I see you as individuals, and being the polite and sociable person I tend to be, I might try to ask you a half-way intelligent question about your background. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm all that interested in you, and certainly, it doesn't mean it when you cop that Everybody-Wants-Me-Cuz-I'm-an-Asian-Hottie attitude.

In Sapporo, my buddies for hangin' out tended to be a fluid group
of housewives who studied at the language school where I taught.
Some were in my class; others were former students. They were
older, and I enjoyed flirting with them harmlessly. 

One of my best friends in Japan was actually happily married.
He owned a house in Sapporo, where I often stayed while on
vacation from Osaka.

The Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata, Northern Japan. No, I had
no romantic interest in the girls... but bought a festival costume
for my friend's little daughter when I visited later in Sapporo.

At Panasonic's training center. There were always more men
than women taking English classes, just as there were more
working in the company. I tended to like Japanese women
better when I knew them a bit from working with them.

At a teachers' conference in Matsuyama. I joked at the time
that the photo demonstrates a white man exploiting human
labor while presumptuously helping himself to the women.