Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in Cleveland, Part I

Yup, it's my first time back in the states since we moved a year and a half ago, and there is no place that epitomizes America to me more than Cleveland, Ohio. We're mostly adjusted to the time difference (it's pretty much backwards), but there were a few rough early mornings and afternoon naps.

Cleveland is cold, dead, and flat in the winter. There was some snow when we got there, but it was gone after a few days. The streets are wide and seem almost empty. Houses are immense, and the yards humongous.

This is Matt's house (Jeff's nearest-oldest brother), where we are staying, mostly:

We've been busy every day, so there's no way I'm giving a blow-by-blow. Here are some highlights:

We all discovered ourselves awake at 6 am, so we went to go surprise Will & Ben at Appetite, their bakery/deli with the awesome food, before it was even open.

Our first night out, in Madison, at a sports bar to watch a football game. We were there in time to catch the Jager Girls, but resisted the urge to drink the shots. There was some dancing, of the sort you just don't see in Japan.

We went to see the Gore Gore Girls at Beachland. Jacki, Noelle, and Valerie met us there.

We went thrifting. The thrift stores here are beyond compare when it comes to bargains. Leather jackets for $5. No kidding.

We've been visiting places we used to live. We are driving all over Cleveland anyway, so swinging out of the way to see an old house for 2 minutes seems no big deal.

This is where I used to live, near Coventry, before I was married. The apartment stretched the whole depth of the building (called a 'railroad flat' for this reason). It had 3 bedrooms, (filthy) hardwood floors, and cost, I think $545/month.

This is Record Revolution, which used to be a great record store on Coventry. It is now 1/4 of its former size and has like 25 records and some bootleg DVDs, which is what got them in trouble in the first place. Very sad.

Sunday, while the Davises were all at church, the small boys and I went to go visit Blix where he is living at his Uncle Will's. I drove for the first time in a year and a half!

Then we all met at Appetite again for a big Davis family brunch.

I got picked up by Jennifer (Halloway) Creadon, whom I hadn't seen in over 15 years, probably. We went out to Noelle's for a big "let's introduce our kids" party.

We passed the Terminal Tower, lit up all pretty for Xmas.

After, Jeff & I ended up at her place (and her husband Dan's) in Chardon, drinking, discussing Cleveland's future (ha), and making pies til about 4am, when I passed out on the couch.


Xmas Eve we opened family presents at Matt's (D had to be woken up for it), . We ALL slept there and Xmas morning, we did Santa's presents.

That's my niece Analee with M (and D asleep in the bg). She's from Guatemala. Total Davis.

The whole gang:

This was the scene Xmas morning:

In the afternoon, we went to my (step) sister Dawn's for Xmas with the Silvermans (yeah, I know, that sounds funny). The food was so Ohio: kielbasa, ham, pork loin, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, deviled eggs, and of course, Jell-o mold.

The family:

The neighbors, picked up last year, apparently. Total characters:

Dawn had made a collage-in-progress of old photos. I loved watching my hair go through so many transformations. This is a favorite:

Day after Xmas, we went to Marc's to track down Paul, who still works there after 15 years or so. We also discovered cheap produce:

After all the meat and potatoes we've been eating, we had to make a salad. Glorious.

Last night, we went to The House of Swing (Where Jazz is King). They never seem to play either swing or jazz, only blues. My dad and Joyce were there for awhile (after having driven past the place for over 20 years), and then we were joined by Jacki and Jenny Jacobberger!

M was spending the night at Noelle's since he and Marcus had gotten on so well, and D was at grandma and grandpa's, hanging out with Analee. It's the halfway point of our trip, so a separation was a good idea. Jeff has gone to pick up M, and I am refusing to leave the couch until I have to. Which is in just a few minutes because we are all going to get our teeth cleaned and going out to dinner. To a Japanese restaurant. Yeah.

I could write a lot more detail, but I am out of time, and honestly, too tired to type anymore. Go see all the entertaining pictures and see the real Cleveland here and here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rock n Roll

The ginkgo leaves are beautiful right now. Just had to say that.

We went rollerskating on Saturday. I've been wanting to do that for ages. There is a community sports center near us, and once a month, they have a rollerskating day. We met a bunch of kids from school there, and had a blast. D was very unsteady in his wheels at first, and fell a lot, but instead of getting frustrated, he persevered and was soon skating like a champ.

Now, it wasn't like when I went skating back in tha day. We had the Roller Palace, a disco-on-wheels with flashing lights, loud music (Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" comes to mind), and a snack bar. No helmets or pads; the only required equipment was a comb in the back pocket. And none of this rollerblade nonsense. Proper skates, which I found are called "quads" now.

I have a pair, back in Seattle, and my weak ankles like them much better. But whatever. We had a lot of fun and the kids are already bugging me to go again next month.

The only other adult in the party was Hamza's mom, who only speaks Turkish and Japanese with a smattering of English, and who I thought didn't like me much. But we got along great and even went out to lunch after.

Sunday was the community Christmas party at the local elementary school. I was better prepared this year, despite the fact that a pack of neighborhood kids came to our door before we were quite ready to go. One of them had a slip of paper from which she read "We are going to the school at 9:45. Will you join us?" So cute. Now I know how the Japanese feel when I try out my Japanese.

Jeff was impressed by all the kids sitting in their orderly rows, awaiting instructions.

It was the same as last year, with games and a craft activity. And I remembered to have slippers for everyone this time, because they cannot manage to heat a gymnasium and it was freezing. The kids complained the whole time and wanted to leave early (they knew what was waiting at home), until they won big at Bingo.

What was waiting at home was the Davis Pre-Christmas, to go with the spirit of the day.

We didn't want to lug the wrapped presents to Cleveland, and thought the kids' gifts would come in handy there. D got a digital camera and M got an iPod Nano.

When I was a bit older than they are, maybe 12, I got such items as gifts, too. But my camera was a Polaroid (10 pictures per pack of film),

and I had a Walkman (big chunky thing that played one cassette tape at a time).

They don't realize how lucky they are to have such advanced technology. They also got the Little Rascals mega-pack: 88 episodes on 11 DVDs! We love it. Damn, those kids were cute, and so clever. I watched them a lot on TV when I was a kid, and I decided that my kids needed to see them, too. It's amazing how timeless they are.

And a sweet electronic keyboard, since they are both displaying interest in making music. They are already jointly composing horror movie soundtracks. I'd put a movie of it right here, but I really don't have time to mess with that, sorry. Too much to do. Jeff got me a lovely flask in which to carry my Maker's Mark on cold evenings, and $100 to spend at bookstores in Ohio. Jeff knows me well. He got a new turntable with USB hookup.

Later that night, we went to go see Kota's new band Golden in Shinjuku. I love a man who can rock a mandolin.

Jeff had to keep reminding me that there were other band members.

Ja-ane met us there, with her husband Daisuke. After that show, we went to a cool bar where the DJ was a guy Jeff met through Jane the other weekend. His name is Hiroshi, and he thought Jeff was cool because he came from Cleveland. It's nice to have someone realize that at last.

Here is Daisuke enjoying a Cannabis beer. I don't know what they actually put in it, but it had a scratch-n-sniff label that sure smelled authentic.

On the way back home, we saw this guy:

Not that weird, you see poor unfortunates all the time standing in the road wielding their mini light sabers, directing traffic, but this one was animatronic! Hard to tell the difference.

The next update will be from Cleveland, Ohio, where I will be reporting on the reverse culture shock. Since the kids and I haven't been in the states in a year and a half, it will almost be like visiting a foreign country. I have been told by family that it is snowing like mad right now, so it looks like we'll have a White Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Autumn and Local Color

I skipped posting last week, yeah. I had this great plan to go to Osaka two weekends ago, but then Aunt Flo came to visit, and I was not about to drag her on a train for hours. Anyway, I was then thinking I could join my boys for their planned weekend events, the hot rod show and the robot show, but no, I couldn't face hours of standing and milling about in crowds. So, could I have posted pictures that Jeff took of the events? Sure, but I'm bitter and it's my blog, so screw it.

Moving on.

Last Friday was Miss Cynthia's birthday. She's a lushy sort (as all my favorite girls are), so I figured dinner would be a relaxed affair for me. To my surprise, the guests were mostly teachers from the kids' school, including M's homeroom teacher and the vice principal (his name is Mr. Hole. His email address starts with "ahole@". No kidding. Nice guy, really). I didn't think I could relax around these people.

That's a big problem I am having here. Not feeling like I can really be myself, because I am surrounded by people from different cultures, and I don't know how they are gong to take my Sandiness. I feel like a freak, like I haven't felt since I was a teenager in Cleveland and people yelled things out their car windows at me. I at first missed that feeling when I moved to Seattle, initially, where funny hair and tattoos are totally commonplace, but I have since gotten comfortable with that anonymity. Freakiness has become more and more mainstream in our era, mind you, where the likes of Avril Lavigne and her peers have brought Hot Topic to every mall and pink and black striped shirts with glittery skulls to every store in Harajuku. The bite has completely gone out of it and it's as threatening as Punky Brewster.

That being said, that sort of fashion is the realm of the teenager, and it's only temporary and surface, as easily taken off as a pink pleather studded belt. In Japan, it's still weird for people to have tattoos, and even weirder for girls. And the attitude does not come off, either. I do not know how to act like a Japanese woman. I don't even look very weird, (tho I have been labeled with "goth," which boggles my mind) I am pretty tame, being an old momlike thing, but I just feel so other all the time. Kids and old ladies on the street stare and scowl at me, respectively. I always feel like I'm on display, like I am being watched to see if I will do something bizarre or incredibly rude, and I would probably not even know it if I did.

Whew. I don't know where that came from. It really is beside the point. Yeah, the usual tattoo questions happened at dinner (does it hurt? how long does it take? what does that one mean?), but my anxiety came not from that stuff, it was more like, can I get comfortably drunk around my kids' teachers and vice principal? They all hang out together and drink together and are peers, but I am a mom of students they see every day. Would they look at me and say "oh, that's why M & D are the way they are"? Could they relax around me, either? I felt like I was infiltrating a secret club or something. They are a mix of nationalities, too, and I've noticed that most ex-pat teachers are of a certain temperament. I guess they are kind of freaks, too. They didn't feel like they belonged in their own country. Anyway, they are mostly (with some notable exceptions) pretty sedate people, non-partyers, early-to-bedders, but maybe they are different in small groups of themselves.

All my anxiety was soon irrelevant, as they toddled off to bed right after dinner (pretty good Italian food), Michael & Shingo showed up, and the rest of us (including OSamu and some random older Japanese guy Cynthia invited sort of accidentally) went to the local hip-hop bar. This really wasn't as bad a sit sounded. Yeah, the music was as expected, but it was really just a decent-sized, interestingly-decorated casual place. It was covered floor to ceiling with what looked like Sharpie-and-White-Out sketches by someone not without talent.

There were also very realistic-looking gun lighters at the bar. They can get away with that sort of thing in Japan. They have super-realistic-looking pellet guns for kids, too. Could never get away with that in the states. Someone would get shot by a cop. These were hours of entertainment after the rest of our party left and it was just Cynthia and me.

Our drinks kept getting replaced by the random guys at the other end of the bar. Sometimes there is an advantage to being so visible, and with the birthday girl. The result of this was that I slept through most of Saturday while Jeff took the kids off to do some shopping in Ooguchi.

Sunday was a lovely day, so we headed to the Sankeien Gardens to hopefully catch the tail end of the autumn colors. Fall comes later here. I know it's supposed to be winter, but for the first time in my life, the season follows the calendar, and winter doesn't really seem to happen til the end of December, and the trees don't start changing until mid-November. The main part of the park was mostly full of already-bare trees and I was initially disappointed, but other parts lived up to my maple tree dreams. The kids had fun feeding the creepy ravenous koi and brave foot-nibbled ducks,

and I went into my meditative state of looking at the pretty colors and snapping pictures.

See all the pretty colors here.

Changing gears now. There's your segue.

Jeff and I had spent an entertaining night last week drinking and watching funny old Cleveland stuff on YouTube. There is an advantage to marrying someone who grew up in the same place at the same time. We have a lot of shared bricks in our foundation. If you are not formed from Cleveland in the 80s, you can't realize what a unique place it was, filled with DIY spirit in music and entertainment, with many endearing quirks. ANYWAY, this evening started me on a brief binge the next day of watching 80s music videos. I forget, as much as I love my New Wave, how horrible most of the music was. However, I came across the video for Cyndi Lauper's "She-Bop." This was the first time I'd ever seen it as a grownup. Everyone said it was about masturbation at the time, but I thought it was in a vague coded way, like Tori Amos' "Cornflake Girl" supposedly being about female circumcision or in an in-the-know kinda of way, like "The Day The Music Died." (actually, there is a cool breakdown of the symbolism here) But no. It's really obvious, and I just never really got it as a teenager, especially the bit at the end, where she can't catch the hat and cane, because she's blind. It's actually really funny. Check it out:

Wow, is it obvious that I haven't been doing that much? Perhaps excessively wordy to compensate for lack of action? Mmm-hmm. I'm resting up for Cleveland and the holidays. We put up our fake xmas tree over the weekend, too, and D had the idea of decorating it with popcorn strings. I'd always wanted to do that.

We are having a little family pre-xmas here on Sunday. There is one of those fantastic (read sarcasm) community events at the local public school, and then we are going to exchange our family gifts so we don't have to take them to Ohio with us or wait until we get back. I don't think I am getting anything, because I waived my right to xmas and birthday presents this year so I could get my tattoo in Okinawa, but I'm excited to give Jeff and the boys their stuff. The kids sure are getting older, because their presents are getting more expensive and sophisticated. You'll see next time!