|Bradenton, Florida. A shit-hole ghetto town about an hour south of Tampa. I think it was the summer of 1990. I remember it being really, really hot. I was in high school and my friend Chris suggested starting a band. He played guitar already and told me I should get a bass. I took that week’s paycheck from the grocery store I worked at and went to a local used music equipment shop and asked what that could get me, I bought whatever it was they suggested. In my memory it was a sunburst Fender but I honestly can’t remember. I didn’t know I needed an amplifier for it to work, and had trouble figuring out how to play it at home. The following week we got together in another friends garage for “band practice” which was a serious lesson in humility. I showed up without an amp, but luckily (or unluckily) someone there had a guitar amp I could plug into. This was the first time I’d ever heard what the bass even sounded like.|
Chris proposed that we start off playing “New Direction.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Chris pointed out that I was wearing a Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt at the time, New Direction of course was the first song on their recently released album Start Today. I didn’t actually have the album yet, I had a dubbed cassette copy that my neighbor Max had made for me which I listened to all the time – so once Chris started playing it I knew what he was talking about, but Max hadn’t written the names of any of the songs so didn’t know what any of them were called. Max would later sell me his blue and white swirled vinyl copy of that album, which has remained one of my prized possessions even to this day. Anyway, I knew the song but I had no idea how to play it, given that I had no idea how to play bass. I stood there in the garage all afternoon while my friends jammed one song after another that I knew but I had no idea how to play. That was the only band practice I ever went to, and I wasn’t ever invited to be any of their bands ever again, rightly so.
I kept that bass and every once and a while I’d pick it up and hope I’d magically learned how to play something. I never did. When I’d fantasize about being in a band I always pictured myself singing, so just never got motivated enough to try and learn it. Besides, my favorite band in town at the time, Tired From Now On, already had a bass player and a singer and I wasn’t going to even try to start a Tired From Now On copycat band. I think I sold it to my friend from Canada Kyle for $50 when one of his bands was passing through Gainesville a few years later. At least I’d spray painted it black so it looked much cooler than that crappy sunburst. I wonder if he still has it?
A few years later when I was working at Victory Records my co-worker Chuck told me he wanted to start a band and asked if I’d be interested in singing. Of course I said yes, instantly. He said he was getting the rest of the band together and we’d have a proper rehearsal in a few weeks. At that time I was often the last person to leave the office, which was in a 3 story condo in an industrial part of Chicago. My office was on the 3rd floor, and when everyone else would leave I’d often turn up my stereo as loud as it would go and jump around screaming along like an idiot to the loudest, angriest thing I had. It was excellent therapy. I highly recommend everyone try it sometime. My private karaoke included many bands, but vocalist Tim Singer’s bands – No Escape, Deadguy and the recently released (at the time) Kiss It Goodbye were in heavy rotation. I guess I always kind of related to his “I tried, but everything is fucked anyway” lyrical narrative. In my mind, that’s how I’d sing in a band.
Eventually Chuck would rope in the rest of a band and we’d all get together one evening after work in the basement of Bulldog Records, Victory’s record store in Wicker Park where bands like Blood For Blood and Murphy’s Law had recently played some already legendary shows. Drums set up, amps plugged in and blasting. I knew enough lyrics to enough songs that I figured there wouldn’t be a repeat of the New Direction situation and I was ready to go with whatever song they pulled out of the hardcore repertoire. Except the songs they’d written themselves and had already been practicing that I’d never heard before. Chuck handed me the mic and said “let’s go!” and I just stood there. I didn’t know what to sing, or what to say. I’d never written lyrics before, and certainly hadn’t anticipated doing it on the spot. I’d been daydreaming about doing this for years, and now when given the chance I froze. I convinced myself that anything I’d come up with would be so stupid the band would stop playing and I’d be laughed out of the basement. Of course, just standing there like an idiot had a similar effect.
Decades later I of course recognize how letting my insecurity keep me from doing the thing I was dreaming of doing, when I directly had the opportunity to do it, was just about the stupidest thing I could have ever done. I’m not really big on regret, we all do things that if given another chance we might do differently or applying hindsight realize our errors, but pushing past that fear and doing actually band with my friends sometime in the 90’s when I had countless opportunities is something that I’d totally should have done. If life had do overs, that’s where I’d use mine.
I mention this because totally out of the blue this week there’s a new EP out by Tim’s new band Bitter Branches and it’s incredible. It’s the last thing I was expecting in 2020, and after listening to it on repeat essentially since buying it I can attest it’s exactly what I needed. If anything I’ve mentioned in this sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s what you need as well. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to take the chances we have, when we have them. They won’t always be there and even trying and failing is way better than not trying at all.
Dispatch from COVID-19 occupied Tokyo, Feb 28, 2020
[The following is an excerpt of something I sent out to my newsletter. Subscribe to have future updates mailed directly to you.]
I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and with the exception of face masks and hand sanitizer being sold out everywhere which has been the case for a few weeks now, nothing else seemed any different. A few more masks being worn on the street but not enough that you’d notice unless you were looking. This is a stark contrast to the scene about 20 minutes away from here at Shibuya crossing where easily 80% of people are wearing masks, though most of those people are wearing them incorrectly.
And then late last night it was announced that all elementary and high schools will be closed for the several 4 weeks.
This morning people were joking that there was going to be a rush on toilet paper. This afternoon Tara walked over to the neighborhood pharmacy and they were completely sold out, she went to 2 other stores including the one at the train station near our house – all empty. At the train station everyone was wearing masks, and people were staring at her enough that she felt uncomfortable and put on a mask just to blend in.
I remembered I’d put a pack of toilet paper in my shopping cart on Amazon Japan and went to look but it had been removed as it was no longer available from the seller. Searching for toilet paper shows everything is out of stock. Literally everything. There are some 3rd party sellers who will let you pre-order a 4 or 6 pack for the equivalent of about $150 but with the caveat that they don’t expect to ship it until mid April. I bought a 24 pack on Amazon Dot Com for $25 and then paid $50 to have it shipped from the US to Japan. It’ll be here next week, so that’s fun.
Rumors are whispering that China has closed shipping borders and that paper products are coming from there, so this could be the tip of the iceberg – but I haven’t seen any real confirmation of that. Lots of rumors.
We actually have a really well planned emergency kit with fully stocked bug out bags and several weeks worth of supplies. But those are in Los Angeles. In storage. While some other staples like cereal and milk are also selling out, the vegan options seem fully stocked. I was able to order a few cases of vegan ramen delivered next day without any problem, but not sure how long that will last before the regular people get hip to the tasty vegan options.
Moments ago the major of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency and asked everyone to stay in their homes all weekend. Here in Tokyo, Disneyland has closed until mid-March and events are being cancelled left and right but we’re still not in panic mode, at least not outwardly. This evening I walked over to the grocery store and the shelves of perishables are empty. The shelves of disinfectants and cleaners are empty. Everything else is mostly well stocked. It feels weird, like simultaneously on the brink of something but desperately clinging to some semblance of normalcy. A slow motion explosion happening right in front of your eyes. We’re planning to go to a park tomorrow afternoon to see plum blossoms.
We still have power and internet, but if this was a zombie/apocalypse movie they’d cut out soon with no warning.
Feeling parallels to the days back in 2011 just after the Tohoku earthquake. But that was more of an aftermath with a hopeful eye towards the future with thoughts of rebuilding and this is an ominous hesitation about what is coming, but at the same time refusing to acknowledge the inevitable as if that will somehow prevent it.
Once Upon A Time In Bradenton
While walking home from the office the other day and talking to myself along the way I remembered a story from my childhood that I’d mostly forgotten. This was also when I was in 7th and 8th grade, I started hanging out with this kid named Erik-with-a-k who was as crappy of a skateboarder as I was so I didn’t feel too self conscious around him. We’d skate at a nearby school parking lot and sometimes visit a neighborhood ramp, he’d bring a little portable tape deck and blast Sex Pistols and Circle Jerks tapes. He’d tell me about a good friend of his who was a stupidly famous pro skater and I’d tell him he was full of shit. Then he’d tell me about him in front of his parents and they’d nod agreeingly so I figured maybe it was legit. One day he announced that he’d talked to his friend and this dude was going to be sending a care package of 25 complete boards for free, and Erik-with-a-k said he was going to give me 5 of them. This was huge because I was poor and had a really old really beat up deck, and the expected build was legit. Indy trucks, Slimeballs, Powell Swiss bearings and flypaper griptape. I’m embarrassed that I still remember this.
Anyway, separately there was a legendarily good skater in our small Florida town named Caleb who could ollie into the back of a pickup truck, you can ask anyone. And this new windfall of skateboard booty had given me an idea. I knew a girl who knew a guy who people said sometimes skated with Caleb and I asked her if she could ask him if he could pass on a letter for me. He said yes, and she said yes. So, 13 or 14 year old me wrote a letter to Caleb. I told him he probably didn’t know who I was but I knew all about him and his pick up truck oillie-ing. I asked him if he’d teach me how to skate, because I sucked and everyone I knew sucked and I just wanted some tips from someone who knew what they were doing. Keep in mind this was 1988 or so and there was no YouTube. Anyway I told him about the skateboards I was about to get, and offered him one of the complete builds in return for his skate tutoring. I gave the letter to the girl, she said she gave it to the guy, but Caleb never replied.
A year later I’d go to high school and it would be the same high school that Caleb went to, though he was a few years older. Being a punk or skateboarding wasn’t really a cool thing to do in those days, especially not in the middle of Florida. [As an aside that same year I’d run for (and lose) student council Vice President using the slogan Sean B for VP and my campaign posters had a drawing of a kid on a skateboard which I drew and thought was cool, but some other Sean B in my school who was a surfer didn’t take too kindly too and pulled me aside one day and told me to take every last one down or he and his surf friends were going to beat my sorry skater ass because he didn’t want anyone thinking the posters were his implying that he skated.] Anyway, During lunch all 5 or 6 people who were into punk or skateboarding or that kind of thing would end up sitting together at lunch and yes that meant that eventually I’d be sitting with Caleb, who by this time had lost all his mythos and was just a stoner in my mind. To his credit he never made fun of me, though one day he would ask me if I ever got all those skateboards. Which I didn’t, because the story from Erik-with-a-k was bullshit.
Turns out Erik-with-a-k was a pathological liar, the first I’d ever recognized. We’d stopped being friends the previous summer when his mother found a massive stash of porno mags under his bed and he’d played dumb by blaming them on me, saying I’d ask him to hold some things for him but told him he wasn’t allowed to look at them. His mother believed him and called my mother to tell her how I was poisoning the mind of her sweet innocent child and I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore. I got grounded because “you know what you did” though I didn’t know, and it wasn’t until I called Erik-with-a-k to find out what the fuck was going on that I learned what was going on when as he, over the phone, lied to my face about it. I told him to fuck off, he told me he’d kick my ass if he ever saw me again.
A few years later I’d see him again, he’d turned into a cowboy and was hanging out in the back of a pick up truck with some other cowboys in the parking lot of the Denny’s my friends and I would go to. When I say he turned into a cowboy I mean he’d started wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and had developed a very strong southern drawl. I said “Hey Erik-with-a-k what the fuck is up with the cowboy boots and hat and that southern drawl?” and he said “Boy! Whyount you comm’on over ‘ere and you’ll find out!” and I said “No thanks” and went inside the Denny’s. He and his friends drove away pretty quickly once more of my friends showed up and joined me inside. They were probably worried someone would throw a skateboard at their pickup truck and scratch the paint or something. When I got home that night there was a message on my answering machine from him, full hick-accent and with some good-ol boys a hootin’ and a hollerin’ in the background and conveyin’ the message that I got lucky tonight but he’d find me some other time when I didn’t have all my friends and teach me a lesson about respect.
I’m pretty sure I never saw or heard from him ever again though I passed some dude who looked a hell of a lot like him on the moving sidewalk at Denver airport about 5 years ago and I like to think it was him and he got scared because he didn’t have his rodeo clowns with him and ran anyway as soon as he got off the moving sidewalk. True story.
[This story was originally written for my newsletter/mailing list thing which you should subscribe to if you haven’t already.]
MMXIX: The Decade In Review
At the start of 2019 I wrote a blog post called Ten for Twenty Nineteen, which was simply a few things I was thinking about as I began the new year. It was primarily forward looking as opposed to the reflective Year In Review, In Photos posts which I published annually between 2007 to 2013. In 2008, I wrote about the previous year:
“I don’t know if 2007 was as shitty as I’ve been saying it was. It was certainly full of change, and mostly unexpected. It had some very low lows, but also some very high highs. I lost a lot, but I think in the end I’ve gained even more. And standing here looking back over the last 12 months I don’t know how much of it I’d change if I had the chance.”
I found significant value in revisiting the previous year with hindsight perspective and it often helped me appreciate my own narrative in a way that my memories alone hadn’t allowed. I remembered things in the moment, but the blog posts gave me a greater context.
I genuinely regret (unintentionally) abandoning the In Photos series, as I would love to visually revisit 2013-2019 (heres 2010, 2011, 2012). As I’ve mentioned before, when I started it I was actively “life blogging” so at the end of the year it was fairly easy to scroll through the posts over the last 12 months and pull out the highlights. In an attempt to improve my photography skills, I began transitioning from frequent documentarian cameraphone pics to more curated film photos, but I didn’t realize at the time that instead of posting them when I took them (easy to sort by date) they would now be posted when I developed them, sometimes months later. This significantly complicated my previously simple date search – something I learned too late. I also used to say that I moved away from Flickr because a series of unfortunate acquisitions made the future of the site questionable, but to move away would require going somewhere else, which I didn’t do. I had also slowed written blog posts from several a day to one a month, if that. So it’s more likely I was just burned out on it all. That said, this year I’m trying to put Flickr back into my workflow, so we’ll see how it goes going forward.
A friend recently told me that Russian Physiologist Ivan Pavlov had a thing where every 10 years he’d completely change his focus – arguing anything you can contribute to a field you can do in 10 years, beyond that you are just taking up space. I haven’t found direct confirmation of a hard and fast “10 year” rule, though he did work in many different fields throughout his life. I liked that idea and related to it deeply. I could see parallels in my businesses and wondered if this “10 year” thing applied to other interests and focuses as well? While I might not have the same kind of images to easily allow an almost week to week revisitation of the last 7 years, I can identify some major events and accomplishments. And so, with all that in mind I wanted to look back over the last decade, to put some things into a larger context for myself, as inspiration and motivation as I move ahead into the next, whatever and wherever that might lead. So here it goes.
How I spent The Last 10 Years…
I started the decade living in Venice Beach, California (USA) with my wife Tara. With our bedroom windows open, we could hear the waves crashing on the sand all night long. Ten years later I’m living in Shibuya, Tokyo (Japan) with Tara and our 9 year old son Ripley. On a clear day, from our bedroom window we can see Mt. Fuji. It’s my feeling if you spend more than a consecutive month in a single place you’ve lived there, and using that definition, in between there and here, we’ve also lived in Singapore (Singapore), Vincennes (France), Vienna (Austria) and Boulder, Colorado (USA) as well as the Los Angeles (USA) neighborhoods of Silverlake and Atwater Village.
In addition to residing in the aforementioned locales, I also bounced around the world for business and pleasure – several times. Sometimes with my family, sometimes with colleagues, and sometimes alone. I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dublin, Fukushima, London, New York, Paris, Sarasota, and Vancouver. I’ve also spent not a lot of time, but time none the less in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Climping, Costa Rica, Dubai, Florence, Geneva, Honolulu, Iriomote, Jackson, Kagoshima, London, Malta, Manila, Marrakech, Milan, Newark, Oman, Piza, San Benito, Siquijor, Savinja, Toronto, Venice, Winchester, Whistler, and the Yucatan. Among others, that was an incomplete “top of my head” list.
For new chapters to start, old ones need to end and with that in mind I decided to walk away from the blogging company Jason Defillippo and I started almost a decade earlier. I started (and ended) a coffee company with Stephen Morrissey, Peter Giuliano, Kyle Glanville, Brian Jones, Brent Fortune and Tim Styles. We built Coffee Common as an educational, inspirational mouthpiece and produced several absolutely insane events, then shut it down to move on with our lives. For a while after that I curated a coffee subscription project as well. As a board member of CicLAvia I helped people Los Angeles connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods. Along with Joi Ito, Pieter Franken and Ray Ozzie and countless volunteers I built Safecast which has become one of the most important citizen science projects ever. We changed the way the public expects to get environmental data, and the expectations researchers have about public projects. Tara and I recently started Street Sheets because most of you have crappy taste and we wanted to improve the aesthetics of the world around us.
Music has remained a constant and important part of my life. In the 90’s I worked mostly behind the scenes, in the 2000’s I embraced just being in the audience. In the 10’s I got on stage. I sang backups for a Strife record, joined Brevi, DJ Muggs and Andrew Kline as part of Cross My Heart Hope To Die, Massacred Saturday Night with Wil Wheaton, contributed a soundtrack to a short film by Uchujin, and dicked around with various other noises. I’ve performed live in front of audiences in Los Angeles and Tokyo. I started 2010 with no musical instruments or know how of any kind and now possess and play a few more than none with a growing fondness for guitar and synths.
In 2010 I sold my first artwork, some music related post-it note sized drawings as part of Giant Robot’s annual exhibition of the same. I have no idea who bought them, but I love that they are out in the world somewhere. The same year, I decided to get a film camera and thought it might be interesting to take photos of people on the streets. Since then my photos have hung on gallery walls and sold to people who buy artwork. I published a photobook of my Tokyo street photos and some of my other images have been published in the Leica published book Leica Myself, Souris Hong’s Outside The Lines, Too, Peter Gilmore’s The Devils Reign and Invader’s Invasion Los Angeles 2.1. While I officially ran away screaming from the world of music design in the late 90’s, I popped out of retirement to design the first Die Antwoord album, in collaboration with Clayton Cubitt and Gary Baseman and a bunch of merchandise for Bad Brains with Glen E Friedman. Yeah sex is cool but have you ever tried making cool art with your friends?
I wrote an introduction to Shepard Fairey’s book Covert to Overt, a few sidebars for Algis Tamosaitis’ Rock Your Travel, and cowrote a book about the future of philanthropy for the Shuttleworth Foundation, with whom I’ve been a Fellow since 2014. Morgen and I wrote books about Zombies and Oklahoma. Either I or my work was written about in books by Colin Harmon, Mike Walsh, Dr. Mamie Lau, James Wynn, Joi Ito, Shaka Senghor, Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, and others.
I gave dozens of talks about various topics to audiences all over the world. A few standouts including talking about minimalism at TEDx in Vienna, about Safecast at 29c3 in Hamburg and at CERN in Geneva, and about my life at Re:Publica in Berlin.
I learned to snowboard and scuba dive. I biked hundreds miles and skateboarded hundreds of feet. I snorkeled with sea turtles and hiked through rain forests.
I’ve lost friends and family to overdoses, diseases, suicides, honest mistakes and dishonest bullshit. I’ll cherish and remember the beautiful moments, and I’ll never forgive or forget the betrayals. I stay in regular contact with friends I’ve had for decades, who amazingly still put up with me. I’ve reconnected with friends and family who are important to me, but I’d lost touch with over the years. I’ve made new friends and new family, and my life is richer and more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined it would be because of them.
I’ve watched my son grow from a boulbous poop factory into a bilingual, dangerously smart young man with a razor sharp wit. He’s a pleasure to be around, and I can barely wait to hear what he says next. Currently a few months past our 11 year wedding anniversary, this decade was all about my love affair with Tara Tiger Brown. As a muse, she’s woven into everything I do. As a partner she always there to kick my ass or bandage my wounds, depending on what the situation calls for. She’s the architect of our adventures, and wind in our sails.
Even though I never really gave a shit about it and dropped out of college, in the last decade I’ve become a Researcher at MIT and a Professor at Keio University. Conversely, after decades of practice I now have the licenses & certificates to legally prove I’m both a ninja and a Satanic priest, fulfilling all of my 1980’s suburban American teenage dreams.
Not a bad way to spend 10 years if I do say so myself. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
Some thoughts about where I am today, on 3/11/2019
Landed in the UK and pelted with sleet upon arrival at Heathrow, moments outside of the door. Honestly, I’d expect nothing less. London for me has always balanced between quaint and brutal. Teetering from National Lampoons European Vacation to UK National Front.
Some people find that duality uncomfortable, preferring things to be one way or the other but that leads to disappointment as nothing is really ever one way or the other. There are extremes, and we all find some comfortable middle ground and occasionally bounce into the walls. This was what attracted me to punk rock and straight edge – goodie two shoes kids who ‘just said no’ but would also throw a brick through a storefront window or jump Skinheads in the park without thinking twice. And I enjoyed embracing that duality then, being impossible to fit nicely in any single box.
I think about that middle area a lot these days, I used to write off “moderate” or “centric” as a static form of inaction, unwilling to commit or take a stand. I saw clear lines and firm positions. Now, for me, I find these notions come more from intimate familiarity with the edges and the damaged that can be caused by running into them too hard, and the understanding that constant motion rather than fixed inaction is where I live.
I think about this in temporal ways as well, not just in immediate thinking. Where did I come from, where am I going and is there really only one path or several running concurrently. I guess as a kid from Florida who grew up on food stamps, with no lights in the house because the power bill hadn’t been paid, who is currently flying around the world on a Billionaire’s dime, that’s not an unreasonable thing to consider. Those pieces don’t fit nicely together, but it’s folly to assume they would should in the first place.
Our lives are puzzles. The already completed pictures are boring, the ones with lots of pieces that you can’t figure out where to put are vivid, challenging and exciting.
Here in the UK, today is March 11th. It’s hard to overestimate the impact the events of this day 8 years ago had on my life. Upon writing that I immediately recognize the criticism of making this about me, however that’s really the only thing I can honestly do and my best writing has always taken the form of introspective diary. It would be disingenuous for me to try to tell anyone else’s story – I’m not a documentarian and have never been good at that. There are thousands, 10’s of thousands of stories about people impacted by disaster, and perhaps millions more from the ripple effects – those stories need and deserve to be told but I’m not the one to do that. The only thing I can do is look at myself, consider how one thing leads to another and marvel at the chain reactions.
Without 3/11 there would be no Safecast, and suffice to say I wouldn’t be where I am today. Quite literally as I type this sitting in an old farm house in the British countryside that used to be a recording studio and birthed works by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Oasis, The Beat, Roxy Music and Whitesnake – me being here to to co-write a book about the future of non-profits and how open thinking can change the world. There’s no conceivable way I end up here today without 3/11, and that’s true for a hundred different reasons that spill over onto the people around me every day. That could be an entire essay itself, but this is to say I recognize that, and appreciate the people who have joined with me on this ride. Occasionally running into the walls, often correcting course and always dreaming of where we are headed next. We’re the compass people, eschewing maps, and I love you all for that.
Japan Stories: The ER
There is a stretch of sidewalk between the train station and my house that is a bit precarious. It’s narrower than usual, it has a telephone pole right in the middle of it and on the side closest to the building it passes in front of it runs right into a tiled 45 degree slope downward that is easily double the width of the sidewalk. Often, if there is anyone else on the sidewalk, rather than struggle with the lack of space, I’ll just walk over onto the tiled slope and skip past them without issue. Of course I’ve always done this while wearing the shoes I wear all the time.
The other day it was cold and raining pretty hard when we went out and I decided to wear my snow boots because they are more waterproof and also pretty warm. I’ve never worn these in a non-snowy situation and I learned quickly that the grip on their soles is lacking. It works great in snow, not so great on wet slippery pavement. All day long I was slipping and skidding, it was not fun. Walking home at the end of the day I was tired and anxious to be off the streets when I passed this narrow spot in the sidewalk which of course had other people on it. I thoughtlessly stepped off to the side like I had a hundred times previously without remembering that this slope was tile and that I’d been slipping in my boots all day. And I went down instantly, fast and hard. My back felt tweaked, my hip clearly took a direct hit. I felt really old right away. I also immediately noticed that my right hand was completely numb and had a big abrasion along the thumb part of my palm – as that seemed to have taken the brunt of my fall when I smacked it hard into the curb. I was pretty annoyed.
I got back up and as I continued towards my house I realized that my hand wasn’t getting any feeling back and felt very ghostly when I tried to squeeze it. I could squeeze it which was great, but the numbness was lasting much longer than it should have. I was also starting to feel a little nauseous. Having broken bones before, I wasn’t excited about this particular combo. I got home and put ice on my hand and immediately started googling broken thumbs. Over the next two hours while the numbness faded and the pain kicked in I read that the symptoms of a broken thumb were very near when I was currently experiencing. That and my hand had progressed to a solid 8 on a 1 to 10 pain scale. I also read that the longer you wait before getting medical assistance with a broken thumb the more likely you’ll have lifelong side effects of it, so I decided I should go see a doctor. And because no emergency in my family ever happens during weekday business hours, it was not 8pm on a Sunday and the ER was my only real option.
I’ve never been to a doctor of any kind in Japan and was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, though I’d been looking forward to the first time I got to use my fancy new National Health Insurance card. Heath care is socialized here in Japan and I pay $300 annually for my entire family to be a part of it. Compared against the $1000 a month we used to pay in the USA this was already an improvement but how would it work in practice? I was about to find out.
I got to the hospital and the check in receptionist spoke perfect english which was a relief as I didn’t know what to expect. The nurse he handed me off to didn’t speak a word of english though, and we had to communicate via a live translator who she called and we kept passing a phone back and forth. Apparently “I fell and I think I broke my thumb” is a new one in Japan and they kept asking me about my head, if I’d passed out today before falling or another day recently, or had been drinking. I finally conveyed to them that I didn’t hit my head, hadn’t been drinking and didn’t pass out, I simply slipped on some slippery tiles. They seemed disappointed. What a boring injury.
I was told that I’d see the specialist in about 30 minutes and about 10 minutes later he called for me. He spoke better english and went over the details with me. After looking at my now swollen hand and seeing where it hurt me when he moved it he confirmed that it was acting very much like a break, but he’d need x-rays to confirm the idea. I agreed and was whisked off to the x-ray room, which was right around the corner. When I’ve gotten x-rays in the US they cover me with lead aprons and the doctors hide behind several walls and layers of thick glass. Here, the doctor lined things up and just reached out of the room with one hand to fire the x-ray. It was so casual. The x-rays contradicted our suspicions and showed no break. This was good news. My hand was really killing me by this point though. The doc told me to keep it rested, put some ice on it and take these pain pills, then sent me home. I walked back in the door almost exactly 1 and a half hours after leaving. I also got hit with a $20 bill when leaving the hospital, a fee they were very apologetic about. There won’t be any more fees, that was the entire cost of this endeavor.
A few days later and the swelling has gone down and my hand feels much better, but I’m still amazed at how much easier the ER experience was here than eery time I’ve ever gone in the US. For comparison, even with insurance in the US, the last time I went to the ER I was there for 6 hours and walked away with “nothing wrong!” and a $5k bill that insurance didn’t help with at all because my deductible was around $10k. So, let’s just say this experience – all things considered – was pretty great.
Japan Stories: The Beginning
2 months ago we landed in Japan. Me, Tara, Ripley and our cat Vincent. We moved out of LA, packed half our stuff into a storage unit and brought or sold/trashed the rest. We dumped our LA apartment and US mobile phone accounts and got a house and new SIM cards in Shibuya, Tokyo. We moved to Japan. If you follow me anywhere else on the internet you’ve known this for a long time but I wanted to lay out the backstory here for later context. I keep thinking of things I want to talk about relating to this move and thought doing a blog post every day might be a good excuse to do that, as well as motivation to jump start the blog again. I’m fast approaching my 20th anniversary of having a blog, and it would be a shame for that to roll around and this place be covered in dust, I think anyway.
Today I registered my bike. All bikes in Japan need to be licensed and you get a little sticker which is like a license plate on your bike and the registration lasts for 10 years. There’s a lot of reasons for this, it helps reduce theft because cops can (and do) stop anyone on a bike at any point to check the registration. I’ve been told “anyone at any point” is a nice way of saying “foreigners only” but I’ve never been stopped and I know many Japanese people who have, so at least in my limited experience it’s a wash. I also know people who have had their bikes stolen, and weeks later returned thanks to the license. I also know people who have left $3k bikes unlocked outside restaurants in Shibuya and forgotten them only to go back the next morning and find them still there. Bike theft in Tokyo is seems is more the drunk guy accidentally grabbing the wrong bike and riding home than it was in LA where anything and everything loose will be stripped and sold off in minutes. In LA I used 2 heavy duty U-locks and had to super glue BBs into the allen wrench bolts on my bike to prevent people from running off with my saddle or handlebars, in Japan the tiniest cable lock is enough of a deterrent that sends the message. Anyway, I got my bike registered and it was a perfect example of a smooth and streamlined system that flies off the rails when something isn’t the usual. What I mean is, my bike isn’t a brand name, or rather, isn’t a brand at all. It was built by hand, in the 1940’s by a guy in Europe. There’s a number on it that passes for a 4 digit serial number but in all likelyhood that’s actually just the part number of the plumbing tubing that the bike builder used. The registration calls for a make, model and 10 digit serial number. The guy at the bike shop had no idea what to do. We laughed about it and he figured something out, but this is a common thing I’ve seen – There are 4-5 possible options and as long as you fit perfectly in one of these it’s smooth sailing, but if by some unfortunate luck you happen to be a combo of two of those, or worse – one they hadn’t considered, people get completely stuck and have no idea how to improvise. This is a operational and societal issue, but one of the many things that I’m seeing now as a resident, but never had reason to encounter as a visitor, even a frequent visitor for over 10 years.
The New State Of Things
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve started to write this and then given up and deleted everything I’ve written. I try to write something and then feel like I need to preface it with something else so that people don’t jump to conclusions and then feel like I’m second guessing myself and so on and it ends in a select all and a delete. So I decided to just tell some stories instead which may explain how I’m feeling better than if I just tried to write about that.
I’m vegan. Many of you know that and know that I’ve been vegan for approaching 25 years now. More than half my life. In my ideal world it would be illegal to kill animals for food, but I’m very capable of knowing the difference between my ideal world and the real world, and the difference between the two. I’m able to understand that just because I want something really badly doesn’t mean it magically happens. I decided a while ago – after years of taking the opposite approach – that it was more productive to lead by example and answer people’s questions when they took notice and asked, than to attack them and try and force them to change. That’s just me.
Additionally, I like to talk to people who have differing opinions than I do. I find people who always agree with me boring and like to discuss the merits of my positions with people who aren’t convinced. I like to be able to sharpen my take on things on be persuaded otherwise. I count many people with drastically different world views in my circle of close friends and I appreciate that they put up with my hassling them about how wrong I think they are. And they do the same. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing frequently with my friends on the right and the left.
I don’t fit well into any category, which I think helps me with perspective. I try to look at issues on their own and not based on which politician supports and decries them. I know this isn’t a common position, but it works for me.
I have friends who were die hard Hillary supporters and friends who were die hard Trump supporters. I was neither. In the early days of the primaries I was backing Bernie pretty strongly. I said several times during that time that I didn’t believe Hillary could could beat Trump and I really didn’t want Trump to win. Once Hillary got the nomination my position remained the same. I didn’t want Trump to win, but I didn’t think Hillary could beat him. I could write many long winded think pieces and hot takes on why I felt that way but it’s kind of moot at this point so I won’t waste anyones time. I’m in a few private slack teams and private email lists. Some of these are very political. Some of these didn’t take kindly to someone not jumping on the party line. I’m not, nor have I ever been a registered Democrat so party lines mean nothing to me. I vote for who I want to based on their own merits. So while Democrats were expected to all get behind Hillary, I maintained that hopes and dreams aside, that while I didn’t want him to win, I didn’t believe she could beat him. In some of these groups I was called a Trump shill. In some of these groups I was called a Bernie Bro and a misogynist. So I left those groups.
My friends backing Hillary ranged from being completely sure she would win, to being completely sure she would win in a landslide.
My friends backing Trump ranged from being completely sure he would win, to being completely sure he would win in a landslide.
I knew both of these groups couldn’t be right.
Again, I’m weird so I recognized that what I wanted to believe and the outcome I wanted might not have been the same thing as what realistically might happen. This was not a welcome opinion.
The echo chamber was in full effect. All these people were only listening to people who agreed with them, and who were saying things they wanted to believe. Most of these people wanted nothing to do with anyone saying anything other than that their candidate was going to slay it.
Then the election happened.
My friends who were backing Hillary are largely in shock. They keep saying things like “How did this happen?” and “How could we have been so wrong?” Someone who called me a Trump shill for saying Hillary couldn’t beat Trump asked me with a straight face “How could anyone have seen this coming?”
Tonight there was a protest in Los Angeles, condemning the pick of Steve Bannon as Sr Advisor to the president. I think Breitbart News is very good at stirring people into a frenzy and very bad at reporting the news. I think picking the guy who runs that for a position equal to Chief of Staff is dangerous. I wanted to go and take photos, my wife Tara wanted to go and hold up a sign. Ripley, my 6 year old son also wanted a sign but I’m not a fan of indoctrinating children to anything, and didn’t want to write up a political sign that him carrying around would suggest he was making the statement. I told him what the protest was about, and asked him what he wanted on his sign. I told him he could put anything that he wanted. He wanted a happy sign that would make other people happy too, so he decided his sign should say “I Love Cats.” I thought it was great. On the other side he decided the sign should say “It’s past my bedtime” because the protest was at night and he would be tired and this would show people that even though he was tired and it was late he was there with them. I loved this sentiment. We drew up the signs and headed out.
Tara and Ripley joined some friends of ours on one side of the crowd and I walked around taking photos. The mood of the evening was largely positive, people were protesting something they were upset about but the crowd working together. There were the expected “Ban Bannon” and “No KKK” signs, as well as some more original and light hearted ones including one older lady with a sign that read “I’ve been protesting this same fascist shit for 50 years!” and someone with a trans flag and a sign saying “This isn’t the kind of dick I wanted.” Anytime I was near my family people were taking photos of my son and his sign, with many people telling him they loved it and it was the best sign there, which made him smile big.
He got in on the chanting, memorizing the rhymes. He waved his sign for people and smiled when they took his photo. This was his first protest and he told me he really enjoyed it. He said he loved seeing all the people together, hoping for the same thing.
By 8:30 it was in fact well past his bedtime and we decided to leave. Tara and Rips started to move to the edge of the crowd and I was behind them. As I turned to leave two younger women tapped me on the shoulder. I only spoke with them for a moment but I’d guess they were late 20’s-ish.
“Hi, can we talk to you for a moment about your son’s sign?”
“It’s very cute, but we are concerned that if someone sees it and takes a photo it will misrepresent the feeling of this event.”
“Lots of people have taken photos of it all night, everyone has been enjoying it”
“That’s the problem, it’s sending the wrong message – I Love Cats? This isn’t about cats”
“He’s 6, that’s what he wanted on his sign. I’m not going to put my politics on a sign and make him carry it.”
“He doesn’t support immigrants rights?”
“There are lots of kids here with political signs”
“Sure, that their parents wrote for them”
“But what will people think if they see this sign”
“I don’t really care”
“YOU DON’T CARE?”
“Are you really upset that a 6 year old isn’t protesting correctly?”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you weren’t a white man, maybe you should meet an immigrant and find out how they feel, you are mocking the serious people here… Racist!”
I turned around and to walk away and one of them punched me in the back of the head.
I kept walking, they shouted something but I wasn’t listening anymore.
In the 5 minute walk back to our car, at least 10 more people said “Love that sign!!”
As some of you know, my wife is an immigrant.
I’m going to sleep now, disappointed.
The sun will rise tomorrow.
(A version of this was sent out to my mailing list last night. It’s the first thing I’ve sent out since the election. Feel free to subscribe if you want. All photos by me, I’ll probably post more on instagram as well.)