Where ever you have to go next for this book, I’d like to pay. Hurry up and take the money before I die.”
So offered a very kind and arrestingly macabre family member a month ago, one who wished not to trifle with any crowdfunding business. What am I, too good for my goddamn family? I accepted and booked passage to Japan. An eye-opening and fruitful excursion followed, one that enriched not only my forthcoming book but also my friggin’ soul. Please enjoy some captioned snapshots from my journey below.
Thirteen million people live in Tokyo, so it’s a little congested (as you may gather from this morsel of skyline). Many of the city’s streets are unnamed as well, but if you’re good with landmarks you’ll have no problem getting around. And the subway isn’t that difficult to figure out. Even when it is, the staff down there are more than happy to assist the hopelessly confused. The first time I bought an incorrect ticket they knew before I did!
The four hundred fifty yen breakfast deal at Matsuya, one of Tokyo’s most beloved fast food establishments. Perfect for the language impaired tourist—punch your order in on the computer, take the ticket it prints out, sit down, give the server your ticket, BOOM, food. And tasty as all get out.
The Shibuya district at night. I don’t know if you can tell from this image but many of the crosswalks in Tokyo are at odd angles, curving and stretching diagonally as if to anticipate jaywalking patterns. Pretty clever.
Poorly translated bootleg apparel is a cottage industry in Japan and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Not even the Bortles are safe.
Physical media isn’t dead in every corner of the globe. To wit: the eight story Tower Records in Shibuya, an unreal monument to music and consumerism. Yes, they have the new BabyMetal. They have an entire floor for J-Pop (and one for K-Pop, and one with a book store / restaurant).
A tribute to fallen Megadeth drummer Nick Menza on the Western Rock floor of the eight story Tower Records. I tried to have a moment of quiet reflection but there were approximately five stereos within two feet of this display and they were all playing different things. There’s some noise pollution in Tokyo.
A fresh burger from Freshness Burger. That’s egg and chili on that bad boy (at least that’s what I think it was). No fries, or “potato” as they like to call it. Gotta cut back somewhere. Freshness Burger is reasonably priced but many an item or service in Tokyo is not. New Yorkers will feel at home.
Here’s what happens when you attempt to photograph an exclusive event occurring in / around the Harajuku area’s Tamagotchi store—an employee of the store will give you the big “no” while a cop tries to decide whether or not to yell at you. They were firm but polite. Those folks crowded around the window, they showed up so early—don’t cheapen their experience!
This is the interior of a Disk Union, a record store chain that has twenty or so locations around Tokyo. Every one I visited was crammed with stock just like this. Found lotsa rare greatness here but the favorite record shop I visited is Recofan (which is just one outlet in a mall) only because it has the largest, most varied (and cheapest) used section.
Some concepts are universal, like fishing programs on Saturday morning television. This woman was very excited to have caught her little buddy here. Later that day I watched a dubbed version of The Rocketeer. That film may have been a bigger hit Stateside had they sold it as a Japanese property.
I cannot lie: I ate at KFC in Japan. The chicken is prepared for an Eastern palette. It’s lighter, thinner, less “down home” (in the parlance of U.S. comfort food). Still plenty of grease, though. Yes, this particular location has an actual bar. You need a craft beer with your biscuits and gravy?
I don’t know what this is all about. I guess you can live out all your Nintendo fantasies in Tokyo, even as Captain America and Cookie Monster.
All the excitement of Doritos without the excitement! This is good place to mention if you’re out in Tokyo and you need help or directions, the average Japanese citizen would love to assist you but conversational English skills are rare. Learn to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, do you understand English?” in Japanese and conclude interactions with a bow (luckily some words, like “coffee” and “Barack Obama,” transcend cultural barriers).
The kitchen / office of my sublet in the Shinjuku neighborhood. Figuring out the microwave wasn’t easy but I eventually sorted out how to properly heat a dumpling soup from 7-Eleven (surprisingly high quality). Did I mention the jet lag from the U.S. to Tokyo? It’s Herculean. If there’s a secret to conquering it I still don’t know. Spent many hours standing around this room in a daze.
Recently I visited the cozy urban confines of Oslo, Norway to chew through research for my coming book on punk rock’s development outside the U.K. & U.S. (thanks, crowd funding). I found the people friendly, the food exquisite, and the water pressure in most bathrooms adequate. Here are a few images from my journey with the requisite commentary.
The bucolic Norwegian countryside as seen from your plane as it soars into Oslo. Unless my geography is total excrement, that body of water is the Vorma (Warm) River.
The days are long during Scandinavian Summer. Some argue they never really end. This photo was taken at three in the morning in downtown Oslo. My internal clock was definitely thrown by the lack of dark. I ended up sleeping in shifts of three or four hours throughout my stay.
Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where they award the Nobel Peace Prize. You would be surprised how close this esteemed building is to a T.G.I.Friday’s. I looked at the menu; they have the same Jack Daniels-battered crap as the T.G.I.F.s here. It all probably tastes better in Norway though since they have such strict regulations against preservatives and chemicals.
A group of teenage-looking guards at Norway's Royal Palace. There’s a whole protocol to be sure but it seems less intense than guard situations in England or the U.S. Getting a decent picture of the palace and its impressive surrounding vegetation is a little difficult—at least it is if you're me, a real not professional photo-taking guy.
Concrete proof they have more than one car in Norway. Let me also take this opportunity to dispel the myth that Norwegian money is wooden. It is not. It is paper and coins just like everywhere else.
My go-to breakfast spot on this trip was Kaffe Brenneriet, where you can get many a delectable item (like this ham sammy). They have a few locations around Oslo and their staff is quite pleasant enough I must say!
Indeed, we all demand den beste pølsa (the best icing) for our hot dogs. Your guess is as good as mine regarding the contents of this grocery store item. Not pictured: the Heinz brand American Hamburger Sauce.
Vibrant trees in Grønlandspark Botsparken, a recreation area just behind Oslo Prison. It’s the country’s largest prison but they only house three hundred fifty inmates. Might as well be an elementary school. America’s largest prison, Louisiana State Penn, is home to five thousand.
Everybody speaks English in Norway, as evidenced by this hilarious graffiti.
The fountain that anchors Sørli plass, a nice little area for reflection that rests near the intersection of several traffic arteries. Only the adrenalin junkies on mopeds gave me any kind of pause.
There’s a great three story record shop in Oslo called Råkk og Rålls and it’s the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful piece of crap on vinyl. Didn’t buy it because I needed a concrete reason to return.
Ain’t never seen a dog chewin’ on a palm frond until I went to Mexico. Actually, I heard it first; the sound of something slowly and methodically tearing through underbrush. I poked my head outside and there he was, some lazy hound gnawin’ on leaf. If my prolonged stare made the dog self conscious he/she didn’t let on. On the whole, the animals of rural southwest Mexico seem unfazed by the human presence. Dogs, cats, chickens, goats, iguanas—even bugs are relaxed, refusing to skitter about like lunatics as they do in the States. America, we’re giving our pets complexes.
What brought me to Troncones, a beachside village slipping out underneath acres of lush jungle, a village so tiny most buildings have no proper address? My friend John and his wife Karen currently work at an area resort, teaching yoga, giving massages, fishing, etc. They invited me, and how could I decline this ostensible paradise? I’m working on a book about punk rock around the globe anyway, thus the extra incentive of potentially uncovering Mexico’s answer to Topper Headon. Don’t snort; screen legend Hedy Lamarr spent her final years in an Orlando suburb five minutes from my current home.
I learned a lot about Mexican culture from these eight days, a handful of which were spent four hours inland amidst terrain and altitudes comparable to America’s southwest. The least important fact: flat screen televisions have come to the quesadilla huts that line the Mexican backroads. Washing down chorizo with a torpedo sized Coke, I caught half an hour of prime afternoon tube during one lunchbreak. There were ads for college, ads for antacid, even ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Just as my mouth began watering for those eleven goddamn herbs and spices, John announced the nearest city, Zihuatanejo, is bereft of the Colonel. No tenemos Harland Sanders.
So that shit happens here too. Commercials for stores that don’t exist.
Before departing the United States I made two purchases at my local dollar store: sunglasses and sandals. The sunglasses continue to work perfectly but the sandals could only handle about forty-eight hours of my oceanside trampling. In their defense, I’ve never been much of a beach person and I’m sure I was walking in them incorrectly. Maybe I’m just making excuses for shitty footwear. It doesn’t matter, I survived.
Will it surprise you to learn I am also not much of a yoga person? The resort where John and Karen work, Present Moment, is very yoga-centric. My brain has never been able to hook into that stuff—even when I was dating a high priestess of yoga who was known to yoga for up to nine hours at a time (I am not joking). This week was no different. I was assured my poor yoga aptitude is because I simply have not done enough yoga yet. So it’s like hard liquor. You must acquire a taste?
Present Moment, by the way, is not any kind of fortress resort keeping guests ensconced away from “the real” Mexico. There is little separation between its expertly landscaped courtyard and the local community of Troncones. In fact, there seems to be a good amount of symbiosis between the two.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Mexico if I didn’t try cacao, the magical base elixir from whence we get chocolate. Taken raw it can be a gateway to mind expansion, to hyper awareness and ultimate clarity, or so they say. I imbibed, sprawled on the ground, and felt…nothing. I mean, nothing aside from the usual weird slurry in my brain. What’s up with Daniel Radcliffe? Am I asleep right now? Are these girls next to me sisters or are they just friends who look alike? Is my t-shirt too tight? Is it too loose?
Driving from Troncones to the mountain area of Zirahuén was very scenic and exciting, the latter in part because we were stopped and searched at one point by men in fatigues with enormous guns. It was unclear who these men were, exactly, but I didn’t ask questions. I just smiled and sipped my bottle of Squirt as non-menacingly as possible. Military checkpoints aside, the rules of the Mexican highway are a bit fast and loose. Anybody can pass anybody else at any given time, and from what I heard DUIs are not considered a major sin. Driving at night can be particular trouble, so we didn’t.
Believe it or not the above photo was not staged—I stumbled upon the bottle just like that in the wild. As I was trying to capture the perfect photographic representation, a nearby construction worker paused from his job to try and figure out what I was obsessing over. Karen told him it was just a Star Wars bottle. The man chuckled but did not emit a full on laugh of recognition until I pointed to myself and said, “Mas loco.”
The million dollar questions about this Mexico excursion are, of course, did I drink the water and if so did the water make me sick? Non-filtered aqua is unavoidable if you’re ordering coffee from a bodega or roadside taco stand, and not everyone is boiling to ensure purification. Sure, I had some; it upset my stomach a little, but I’ve consumed things in New York that have made me far sicker. I haven’t had eggplant since 2011 thanks to some searing Manhattan Super Bowl dip. Ay carumba.
Not much else to say other than it was a fun, relaxing, and educational jaunt. Folks were incredibly kind and accommodating. Thank you, peoples of Mexico. My only regret is not buying the guitar pictured below.
A: Once, in the parking lot of an Albany area Chipotle. I was driving by, on my way to an event or meeting of some apparent importance, because I convinced myself not to stop. I’ll check it out on the way back, I reasoned.
Well guess what? That Wienermobile ghosted me. ‘Twas nowhere in sight upon my return. Just one of many defeats I suffered in the hands of New York’s capital city. Albany, I got a war with you.
They don’t serve wieners at Chipotle, do they? Seems like a ballsy move for the Wienermobile. Just showing up in some unaffiliated restaurant’s parking lot. Maybe the driver was simply picking up his lunch. A little south o’ the border nosh. Hey, I’ll never know. I thought I had to be somewhere.
My feud with Chicago is over. I had a grand time during my mostly “hey, why the hell not?” visit this week, taking in various sights (like the staircase from The Untouchables, seen above) and local delicacies (Dinkel’s cranks out a must-taste Woolworth sandwich). My jimmies were hardly rustled at all.
Like MacArthur I shall return. Three trips out there and I still haven’t seen the house from “Family Matters!” Or that big weird mirror thing!
[EXT. A PIER ON MANHATTAN’S WEST SIDE, OVERLOOKING THE HUDSON RIVER – SUNSET]
HER: [NERVOUS] I have to tell you something.
HER: You know [GAME SHOW HOST]? I dated his son.
HIM: Really? That’s pretty cool. Honestly. Was he nice?
HER: I mean, I say “dated,” but it was really a one night stand.
HIM: Oh, okay. You know, that’s cool too.
HER: I don’t want you to think I’m crazy or weird because of it. Or a slut.
HIM: [LAUGHING] Why would I think that? That’s just…life.
HIM: It doesn’t change my opinion of you.
HIM: You wanna get some fried chicken?
…In addition to fishing unused jelly packets out of the trash to rinse off and put back on the dining room tables (previously referenced in this post); what a feeling it is to watch an oblivious diner fiddle with a little plastic bin of grape jelly you rescued just fifteen minutes prior from a muggy grave of chewed hash browns and sausage upchuck.
– the dish washer who was obsessed with Dream Theater and tried to convert me every night
– the dish washer who was obsessed with Canibus and was constantly complaining about ringtone rappers
– the regular customer who always brought his own tiny briefcase of specialized condiments
– the other bus boy who exclusively addressed me as “James Bond Jr.”
– my employee evaluation; the only negative bit was “needs to smile more”
– the day I wore Converse to work instead of my regulation grease-proof boots to prove some kind of point (i.e. I won’t CONFORM to YOUR WORLD, oppressors); I slid around on the kitchen floor the entire night
– the Billy Drago-esque manager who raced Kawasaki motorcycles in his spare time and who could never walk out the back door without taking a deep breath, looking up at the clouds, and saying, “What a beautiful day to die!” (he was later fired for sexual harassment)
– being scheduled weekday mornings and having jack shit to bus
– being scheduled on Sundays and feeling like I was in trench warfare
– never being too mad about the servers not sharing their tips because they all had families to support and I was just some bozo in college
– the in-store satellite radio playing the craziest post-grunge (deep cuts from Green Day’s Nimrod, the 1999 Alice in Chains “reunion” song, etc)
– getting pied in the face on my last day of work by one of the servers (it was a hearty apple pie and I had pieces of fruit caught in my hair for hours)
– running into the lead manager at a nearby Waffle House several weeks after I quit; she told me I was a great employee and that I could come back any time (this was very nice to hear)
I’ve not set foot in that Perkins or any other since hanging up my bus tub.