Fifteen Minutes For Everybody

I managed to find some of my old phone lists and made a fair number of calls on Wednesday night. I still didn’t know when I was going to Winnipeg, and I wanted to make sure I made as efficient use of my nights as possible since most people had to work during the day. Unfortunately, only one person I got through to was free prior to the weekend, so I started booking up blocks of time during the ensuing week.


Thanks to my 2:00 p.m. wake-up call, I was still shifted over about six hours and I didn’t get sleepy until about 7:00 a.m. Thursday morning, but since I was meeting Psycho at 10:00 before he went off on his trip to Europe, I forewent sleep and resigned myself to trudging somnambulantly through the day.


Psycho was one of my co-leaders during frosh week in my second year at Queen’s, and it’s thanks to him that I started writing for the Star. Since he actually succeeded in transferring out of engineering after first year, he wrote the accompaniment piece to my big evil article in February. After a bit of driving and a McD’s breakfast, we were still talking in the driveway when my mom got out of the cab from the airport. She’d been in Winnipeg for two weeks staying with my grandparents, who’ve been in low spirits of late, partly since my grandmother recently broke her hand.


I had the unfortunate duty of telling my mom that while she’d just come home and my sister had been planning to come in from Waterloo on Friday, I’d been invited to go to Mr. Blond's cottage for the weekend.


“Well, I mean, Sis can still come to Toronto if she wants.”


“She’s coming to see you.”




I’d booked up to Wednesday morning with friends, with a tentative trip to Kingston on Thursday and a dinner with my sister and cousin on Friday, so I slated the span from Saturday to Tuesday for Winnipeg. Even going with a cheap airline, I got hit for $450. I kept thinking I could have done the whole trip from Japan for about $1250 if I’d just been able to book tickets a month earlier.


Of course, I could possibly have foregone Winnipeg. But last year cosmic forces caused aircraft to slam into skyscrapers so I could stop there and get my grandparents’ blessing to depart the continent. This time I figured I’d go more willingly and save everyone some trouble.


A total of eight people converged on Mr. Blond's modest and comfortable cottage near Collingwood. Everyone had managed to get smashed the night before, so the weekend featured a lot of subdued activity. I was disproportionately pleased to get my first-ever seven-letter “scrabble.” “Annulled.” Yay, me.


I did go swimming in crystal-clear Lake Huron twice, though, traversing a few hundred yards of slippery rocks each time to get out deep enough to swim.  


On Monday I made a run for all the CDs I’d been meaning to buy but couldn’t find or didn’t feel like paying inflated prices for in Japan. I took out $100 from the cash machine in the Eaton Centre, went out, and returned twenty minutes later to take out another hundred dollars. I felt so guilty over my explosion of self-centred consumerism that I made a point of buying an Outreach magazine from the homeless guy I’d passed on the corner four times.


I also bought the K.s $32 of postcards to go with the plush moose I’d purchased on the way back from Collingwood.


I spent that evening with Red, his wife and his daughter. My single twinge of homesickness in Japan had occurred when I felt a strong desire for one of Red’s blue cheese and steak sandwiches, and he’d promised to make me one if I came back.


Red was responsible for hiring me two summers ago, and he’s always been more of a friend than a boss. You can’t normally call the guy who hired you a “prick” for attaching twenty pages of appendices to the thirty-page document you’re editing and still walk home with a job at the end of the day.


He was disappointed by my appearance, though. From the rumours about my sudden facial hair, he’d been expecting a member of ZZ Topp.


Last summer while I was teaching Red and his wife sword fighting at their house, their infant daughter had grown very attached to me. The attachment seemed to have lingered. She was sitting on my lap or climbing me and showing me a million things all evening. I regret that I forgot the card she made for me. She even asked me to come along when she got tucked into bed.


I need to find a way to transfer this effect into girls my own age.


Watching Red and his wife ask their daughter diligent questions about history and geography whenever the opportunity arose, I realized that any kid under my care would never learn anything—I’m too interested in playing with my face and making unintelligible sounds. I can just picture this kid who goes to kindergarten being unable to say anything other than “Blam! Eergh! Nyaaaah! Awuggah…”


I showed as many people as possible the amazing Engrish training shirt the K.s had given me. Bold letters on the front clearly state: “Special ease and smartness.” The back says “The sure sign of finer style and tailoring.” My dad wanted one.


Tuesday was my day for fulfilling promises to Big Sis. I grabbed a CD she wanted and made a special trip specifically to eat a Crispy Crunch Blizzard on her behalf before I went out to meet one of my former housemates for dinner downtown. We headed to a rather hip vegetarian restaurant where half the menu was blended fruit drinks, going through Chinatown to get there. Chinatown had been one of my old havens while in Toronto, but it now seemed rather redundant since I usually went there to buy stuff from Japan.


On Wednesday afternoon I went out to try to renew my driver’s license. Since I only had a learner’s permit, I apparently had to wait until it actually expired on August 29th to re-take the written test. I only found that out after taking the time to re-read the driver’s handbook. I never did get it renewed.


Day to day, my itinerary was ridiculously tight. I actually had to consciously set aside time to go buy pants. One friend’s parting comment rang embarrassingly true: “Well, I got to see you for three hours this year. Maybe next year we can aim for four.” She further recommended I sell tickets to the travelling Mike show.


She was right, of course: it was all so much more about making appearances than actually spending time. It was even the same at home. I had to pencil my parents in for dinner, and I had to make it back from Kingston on Friday in time to eat with my sister and cousin.

Kingston & Winnipeg

When I got on a bus for Kingston early Thursday morning, what with all the travelling I’d been doing, three hours felt like nothing. It was actually a nice break during which I could just sit and think for a little while.


In addition to a variety of university friends, The English and The Canadian of Shizuoka fame had just moved to Kingston following a cross-Canada drive from Victoria so The Canadian could begin her master’s in Russian History. Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t able to find their new apartment.


Right after returning from Kingston, next up was Winnipeg. Since my sister wasn’t able to wake up in time to see me off at 4:30 a.m., my total face time with her had effectively ended with dinner on Friday night.


Once in Winnipeg—a paltry two-hour flight—my aunt had a little trouble finding me at the airport. First of all, I came in through an unusual gate; second, my mom’s description had her looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout my stay, my mother kept asking when I was going to the barber, and she insisted that she couldn’t send me to my grandparents “looking like a wild man.”


My Monday plans were all scheduled around a call I was anticipating from some radio station in Windsor that wanted to interview me. I’d expected it to be about my Evil Article in February, but they actually wanted to talk about the first article I wrote last summer about looking young and getting carded, a piece to which I can barely relate any more. Everyone in Japan thinks I’m 28 or something.


The guys at the radio station wanted me to comment on whether my aversion to adulthood was indicative of a general trend, but I’m probably the least qualified person to ask about what’s going on with the average individual my age. I thought it was pretty foolish of them to ask questions of me like I was a researcher. I guess they wanted some kind of grossly unqualified comment that would spark debate, but I said nothing significant. The segment probably didn’t even get played.


Every day I spent time with my grandparents. It looked much better than I’d feared, but my grandmother’s hand isn’t going to heal fully, so there’s concern as to whether they’ll be able to keep their house. 


I wanted to try to help lift their spirits as much as possible. It was really for their sakes that I’d chosen to go to Winnipeg, though it would have been too much trouble for everyone if I’d actually stayed at their house. Not that my grandmother wouldn’t have loved it, of course.


Thought she was initially aghast that she wouldn’t recognize me if she saw me on the street in my scruffy state, my grandmother therafter declared, as ever, that I was dashing and handsome. She amused herself by taking every Japanese word I told her and comparing it to an unrelated Russian word of vaguely similar pronunciation, and declared with satisfaction that the languages were remarkably alike.


I always feel horrible when I leave my grandparents. Every time we part, my grandmother looks like she’s convinced it’s the last time she’s going to see me.


There are times when you wonder if you’re being selfish by devoting your life to anything other than spending it with your family.


My alarm was set for 4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, and I was up until 2:00 the night before hastily grabbing files I wanted from my old computer. Exhaustion seemed to be my travel motif.


Both my mom and dad came along to drop me off at the airport for my 6:40 flight. You’d think there should be some sort of internal bell that goes off when you leave your home to go away for another year, but these moments somehow never feel all that significant to me. Maybe it’s just that my natural state these days seems to be that of motion, and leaving is really a return to the norm.


Following the virtually empty flight back to Newark, I anticipated yet another paranoid bomb-sniffing of all my personal effects at the security gates. I pulled out everything metallic and/or battery-powered on my person and hung around on the other side of the gate while they put my laptop on top of the x-ray machine and I waited for the routine to begin.


Nothing happened, so I just stood there for about two minutes.


One of the agents at the gate finally looked at me and asked, “What are you waiting for?”


I pointed to my laptop. “Don’t you want me to turn it on?”


“Nah,” she said casually.


“Oh… Okay.”


And off I went. Weird.


I couldn’t even doze, much less sleep, on the flight back to Japan. Since I’d already explored the worthless “entertainment” options on the way in two weeks before, it was a pretty agonizing thirteen hours. I am sad to report that Disney’s “That Darn Cat” turned out to be much better than I’d anticipated.


There are two customs lines at Narita: one for foreigners, and one for returning citizens. The citizens always breeze through the well-staffed gates on the left while the foreigners all queue for an hour as two or three agents take their time examining passports on the right. But I discovered that there was a third option: there was a single, inconspicuously-labelled gate for foreigners with re-entry permits. I had a get-through-immigration free card. Semi-citizenship has its benefits.


As I came out of the arrivals gate in Narita, I suddenly felt lonely. It was the first time I’d ever arrived in an airport without having someone there to welcome me.


I allowed myself the luxury of an express train back to Tokyo and felt horrible when I considered that I’d always made my visiting friends take the slow train. Having experienced the flight myself at last, there was no way I was going to start the five-hour journey home with an hour and a half on an uncomfortable subway seat.


I’d left my watch on Toronto time just so I could be sure exactly how long the trip had taken. I passed the 24-hour consciousness mark while on the Shinkansen listening to a story from some Japanese guy who’d lived in Ohio for four years and skied down Mt. Fuji a few times.


It was strange coming home. I felt like I’d been away longer than two weeks. I’d pretty much re-adjusted to life in Canada by the time I left.


Of course, I wasn’t thinking any of that as I walked from the bus station carrying my laptop, stuffed duffel bag, and a bonus piece of baggage I’d picked up that collectively refused to conform to any comfortable position as I trudged thirty minutes back to my apartment. It was 8:30 a.m. body time when I stumbled through the door at 9:30 at night: 27.5 hours yet again. And I had to go out to Shizuoka to get my visa renewed the next morning.  


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September 2002