I’m a 1989 SHS grad. I recently published a comedic memoir called The Idi-Odyssey (Book One: The Wedding Master)...
I’ve copied below a potential article called “The Road to Publication,” an Introduction to the book, two excerpts from the book, and an About the Author section. Some additional info, reviews of the book are available at www.idi-odyssey.com.
I hope you enjoy it.
Scott W. Stram
The Road to Publication
In the summer of 2008, I was promoted from Legal Counsel to Chief Operations Officer for a marketing technology company. It was a very stressful work environment; the CEO was a narcissistic ego-maniac on his better days, completely and utterly unreasonable the other five days of the week. Every day low-lights included bringing a racist dog that bit people to the office, forcing interns to work out with him in their work clothes, and spending a minimum of three hours at every Monday’s company-wide meetings ranting about such mind-numbing topics as his own humbleness, Project Awesome where everybody needed to be as awesome as he was, imaginary land grabs, and “How Not to be a Sith,” (despite his religiously maintaining all those very same Sith-like traits). There were also the mandatory drinking meetings at 5 pm on Fridays where he would push recent just out of college grads to chug beers in front of the whole company, not to mention the sexual harassment and age discrimination that seemed to follow his every move…and much, much more.
Two months after being promoted, he wanted me to independently decide to fire someone who was doing a great job. Unaware that this was the case (I was supposed to magically read his mind), and when I did not provide him with the “Yes, he should be fired” acknowledgment to prove we were on the same page, I was let go.
Like any bad relationship coming to an end, I needed time to recover before getting back into the game. I was in no rush to rebound with another full-time job immediately. So I picked up a few one-night stand-ish consulting gigs.
But family, friends, job recruiters and miscellaneous people on the street wanted to know, “Are you looking? Where are you looking? What are you doing? What are you going to do?” They meant well, but it’s very similar to the old standard, “Why aren’t you married already?” After a short while, it gets tiring. So one day, I just blurted out, “I’m going to write a book.”
I liked that answer; it seemed to satisfy the questioner and simultaneously change the subject. That answer served me well for a few weeks, until someone asked me how the book-writing was going. I had neglected to think my escapist answer all the way through. By waxing eloquent about my made-up plan to write a book, I had unwittingly honor-bound myself to the task.
Of course, I had no idea how to actually write a real book. It was not nearly as simple as a pithy email or a witty ode. And sitting in my apartment, trying to focus on the scope of a writing project beyond thirty pages held far too many distractions. Suddenly, doing laundry, painting, organizing the closets, all those things that were always put off, were used as excuses to avoid sitting down at the computer. When I eventually forced myself to turn on the laptop, I wasted time by purchasing internet domain names for the book, planning eventual book-signing parties, self-debating the cover art, etc. Ultimately, it became clear that I needed to get away, to escape to a fresh environment, if I was ever going to write more than a few words at a time.
The arrangements were made courtesy of Craigslist. Listed under apartment swaps, I’d found a studio condo on the beach in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. Lou, a chopper mechanic who owned the condo, would live in my place in New York for the next few months. I figured I would drive down there and write amongst the palm trees, alligators, manatee and coconuts.
After two days of traffic-filled driving and a broken car heater that made the drive from NYC to the Carolinas a frozen one, I arrived at a non-descript condo building called Pirates Cove. Lou had neglected to mention that the “brand new” condo’s walls were unpainted sheet rock with holes in them and in some places, the wiring was exposed. The one closet was completely filled with junk; broken pieces of wood with twisted nails sticking out, bags of opened concrete mix, and a broken vacuum cleaner covered in grime.
But the icing on the cake, so to speak, was a thick layer of sheet rock dust on everything, topped off with a healthy amount of dirt, dust and crud. You couldn’t touch anything, the walls, sink, clothes hangers, fridge, counters, cabinets, bowls or plates without getting that crap on you. I had left my apartment cleaner than at any time I had ever lived there, in return for a crap-tastrophe
There was more. Lou had previously explained that there were no blinds on the windows, but had insisted he had lived there for months and was not an exhibitionist. He had claimed they were tinted and one-way. I walked outside onto the little patio and could see directly in. The only possible explanation for “tinted” was that they were covered in layers of grime. And the bathroom, while new, had a glass door. If someone looked from the outside at just the right angle through the blind-less windows, they could see right into the can. Non-exhibitionist Lou apparently had lived with a see-through loo.
I woke the next morning with a fresh perspective, and a game plan. Lou handed me lemons, I would use lemon-scented Pledge. I started cleaning, and scrubbed like never before. I mopped one time, two times, three times, the floor, and not just the floor but the walls as well. I washed the windows. I took a longSilkwood style decontamination shower with all the hangers, bowls, plates, utensils and silverware. I emptied out the closet, and dumped all of the boards with the nails sticking out and other assorted junk behind the couch, under the couch, and under the bed. Eventually, after two days, it was livable and I could finally unpack the car.
The first thing I did was buy a beach umbrella to presumably work underneath. It remains to this day, never used, in my trunk. I spent the next few weeks doing anything but writing. I posted pictures of my exploits; there were girls in bikinis, fast food joints, Hooters, cougars, silver foxes, etc. My friend Captain Idiot, wrote, “Glad to see you writing. I had hopes for more Hemingway-esque images with whisky, deep sea fishing, guns and cats. But, it being you after all, dull expressions, cheap hooch and tramps should have been expected.”
The Captain was right. I had driven down South with a purpose, to escape the past, to write the story and gain some new perspective. Yet all I was doing was partying, eating poorly, lounging around, and running from gassy silver foxes.
I immediately grew a beard and started petting stray cats. I brought my laptop around with me wherever I went. I wrote at parks, on Bird Island, at scenic views along the causeways and at waterfront restaurants where squirrels and crows stole unattended french fries from your plate. I acclimated to the northern Florida lifestyle; the ocean and beach, the friendly laid-back people, the dolphins that populated the waterways and the many manatee warnings despite never actually seeing any manatees except for some of the rounder Floridians who looked like them. The relaxed pace was calming.
And within six weeks, I had completed a 120,000 word draft of my book. I’d also reconnected with a friend from high school who offered to draw the cover for me. Mission accomplished, I thought, as I drove back to New York, to reclaim my apartment and see what condition it had been left in by Lou.
The thrill of accomplishment soon faded. I had returned with a computer file. I wanted to write a book, but I had no idea where to go from there. My ninety year old grandmother, who did not own a computer or even know how to use one, suggested, “Why don’t you just blog?”
So for a few weeks, I did nothing. I found a full time job at a financial company and the book was placed on the back burner. Here and there, little things happened. I randomly went on a blind date with the literary agent for the author of He’s Just Not That into You. She gave me helpful advice about the publishing industry. I learned that a query letter was essentially a combination cover letter/resume for a book, and started sending them out to literary agents.
When one agent requested that I send them my book proposal, I responded that I would send it first thing in the morning. Then, I researched what actually went into crafting a book proposal and immediately regretted my excited, hasty reply. A book proposal was forty to sixty pages of information including an introduction, marketing plan, outline, and worst of all…other books it compared to. I had no idea what my book compared to. It was unique, in my mind at least.
So I went to a Barnes and Noble and wandered around for two or three hours, and came away more confused than before. All I had was that it was like David Sedaris, but that was just because someone had once compared my writing to David Sedaris, I had never actually read anything by him at that point.
As I tried to figure out the ins and outs of the publishing world in my limited spare time after work, I also went back to the draft of my book, figuring I would need to make some minor tweaks and revisions. I read the first page, and looked around thinking I was being pranked. I had essentially drafted a bunch of random, somewhat amusing, short stories that made no sense when lumped together. It was awful. I had a cover for a book that had no story.
I spent the next eight or so months simultaneously revising and making poor attempts at reaching out to literary professionals. I probably re-worked the initial draft five or six times before I printed it out. There is something magically different about reviewing work on a screen versus on a printed page. It’s like watching that beautiful girl (or guy depending on your preference) in the dark distance, as she comes closer into the light, revealing acne, warts, and hairy moles. So, after the print out, there was another several rounds of review and months of disgust with a project I had come to fear and loathe.
I had sent query letters to one hundred thirty literary agents, some of whom even represented the appropriate type of book I had written. About forty requested some form of follow-up or a book proposal. But every one of them had the same basic response, “It’s funny, I like the writing, but it’s not the right project for me.” This essentially translated to “I don’t think I can sell it.”
I could see where they were coming from. My book wasn’t written by a celebrity, or even a famous author. It wasn’t a self-help book, nor was it about wizards or vampires. And the traditional publishing world seemed to be in flux. I had by this time spoken with several published authors who complained that getting published meant nothing; they still had to do all the marketing and selling of their book. On the other hand, I had also spoken to a number of people who self-published with an on-line publisher, maintained complete artistic control, got the same or better royalties from the Amazon and Barnes and Noble website sales, and complained that they had to do all the marketing and selling of their book.
Finally, I had had enough. I had done this dance for over twelve months. I was impatient; I wanted to get it out. People had lost faith that I would live up to my promise of writing a book, most of them had even forgotten I had said I would do it. It was like the whole tree falling in a forest thing…if a book is written but nobody reads it, was it ever really written at all? And as a result, several months later, after some back and forth with an on-line publishing company, out came The Idi-Odyssey (Book one: The Wedding Master).
Literally, the second I approved the PDF copy they sent me, it was available for sale on-line. I had thought it would have taken a few weeks at least. I hadn’t even seen the physical copy of the book yet. I scrambled to set up a website and a fan page on Facebook, I looked into marketing materials, and sent out email blasts. I made business cards, flyers, t-shirts and a poster. I held a book-signing at a friend’s bar/lounge (that may have been more of an excuse to celebrate the publication than simply signing some books).
The book has been available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s websites for about three months. It has sold close to two hundred copies so far, and the people who have read it seem to genuinely like it. As I market and “spread the word,” I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m learning as I go. And the most important part, the book is out, tangible, available, and if nothing else, I kept my word.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott W. Stram, dubbed the Jack-ass of All Trades by several of his peers, has worked as an attorney, bartender, editor, high school English teacher, loss prevention consultant, non-religious minister, aquatic educator (aka, swim instructor), head of security, college radio disc-jockey, billing coordinator, rock band manager, Vice President of business development, intellectual property enforcer/monitor, mediator, lifeguard, Chief Operations Officer, underwear designer, referee/umpire, community relations coordinator and more. He is currently a Chief Security and Compliance Officer and an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey.
An English major in college by default, Scott has published many (several) articles in major (minor) news outlets (i.e. law school newspaper). His work has also been featured in college recruitment materials, New York City classrooms, medical center newsletters and brochures, as well as countless corporate contracts, confidentiality agreements and employee manuals.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, his “body” of work was also featured in a photo from an article in the February 4, 1992 edition of The Daily Pennsylvanian entitled “Woman Runs in Streak.” Despite shrinkage, he was not referenced in the title.
Scott competed for years in track and field (cross country, 3000 meter steeplechase and javelin). After changing his training regimen to dodge-ball leagues, flip cup tournaments and fried foods, he completed the New York City marathon (barely) in just over three hours despite staggering the final 10K with a walrus and elephant mating on his back.
Scott hails from and resides in New York. The Idi-Odyssey is his first book, and is available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
INTRODUCTION FROM THE BOOK
“Actually, I could ordain you right now if you like.” Ten simple words, spoken to me by the most confusing and unlikeliest of “holy men,” presented newly blonde, non-religious me with a unique opportunity that would ultimately shape much of the idiocy of the years to follow.
In the United States over the last ten years, twenty-three million couples have married. This is the story of my random journey through .000003% of those weddings. Within nearly every one of those “special” occasions, I was, for reasons unknown, called upon, sometimes thrust into, a role outside of the normal everyday guest.
Documenting the Idi-Odyssey came about as a direct result of the “Year of the Wedding” in which my younger brother married the same girl three times. Bombarded by questions from family and friends after wedding number one, where only six people were in attendance, I wrote a captain’s log to memorialize the details for everyone. While this fended off the questions in the short term, it led to greater and greater expectations after every wedding. Requests were coming in for the Japanese wedding log while we were still in Japan.
Coupled with a chorus of “What are you doing in law school? You should be writing,” all of the random scenarios led to an eventual melding together into an idi-odyssey of idiotic proportion.
EXCERPT 1 FROM THE BOOK
Part I – The Ascension
The San Francisco Treat
The first time I traveled out West, I married a box of Rice a Roni. The second time, a few years later, I was ordained. Both trips included San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, but that was where the similarities ended.
On that second trip, I would retrace my steps back to the west coast, this time with a non-starchy girlfriend, Tara, for her cousin’s wedding. Weddings often forced a re-visiting of places previously explored. Like Sisyphus, doomed to roll his stone up Mount Olympus, it was my destiny to continuously re-live past travels through wedding destinations, rather than use precious vacation days to discover new, uncharted territories.
After visiting and sightseeing for a few days, Tara and I left the city by the bay to drive to Lake Tahoe for the wedding. On our way out of town, we stopped at a non-descript barber shop so I could get my hair cut. We were in the Castro district. The entire area (shops, trees, benches, pets) was completely draped in thousands of rainbow flags flapping flamboyantly in the limp-wristed breeze. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. I knew San Francisco was a gay ol’ town, but had no idea that flying a rainbow flag was their Jolly Roger, so to speak.
I walked past the rainbow colored barber pole into the hair salon. It was filled with large muscular Australian dudes who were cutting, shaping, flexing and humping about to songs by the Village People (the songs may have been in my head). Either way, it was raining inside; raining men, that is. Macho men; macho, macho men. And for some reason, certainly the odds were against it, amongst all the male hairstylists, a petite Asian woman who barely spoke English cut my hair.
Tara left to take a walk. Feeling sassy and a bit gay but mostly in the happy and free sense of the word, I asked my Asian hair samurai if she would dye my hair blonde. I was in a weird mood and felt like doing something new and different. Tara and I had reached a calm level of boredom in our relationship. So to fill the void, I would change my hair color. Genius! Haircut equals attitude adjustment.
As a strictly “just cut the hair, no wash, no styling, no product, type-A haircut person,” it was a foreign experience watching this woman mix the coloring, paint brush it onto my head, and put foil in my hair. But something must have been lost in translation. Possibly as a result of her poor English comprehension, or that she was just a terrible stylist, slightly blonde looked a lot like completely bleached-blonde, boy-band platinum.
To further transition my weave from brown to blonde, there were a few additional steps added to the process. Tara returned from her walk just in time to spot me under a heat lamp, legs crossed, gossiping about husbands and children with the other sassy housewives I imagined were sitting in the heat lamps next to mine, while simultaneously flipping pages of a glamour magazine I was not reading.
New ridiculous hair in place, girlfriend’s laughter at me (not with me) ringing in my ears, we drove to Lake Tahoe; the handprint goodbyes from my new rainbow flag-waving friends still stinging my butt. We were greeted by Tara’s parents at the townhouse condos where we were staying. And before the car was even in park, Tara’s old school father noticed my newfound blondeness and sarcastically exclaimed, “Great, my possible future son-in-law is gay.”
The car window was open. Speaking without thinking, as was so often the case, I responded, “I’m with Tara just to get to you, fancy boy” and blew him a kiss.
A Soggy Rehearsal Dinner
Tara and I had arrived late in the morning of the day before the wedding. We were just in time to join in a traditional pre-wedding rafting expedition. So after waking up at the ass crack of dawn to drive three and a half hours from San Francisco, we would now turn around and drive halfway back to the American River.
Tara’s cousin, the groom, was a ski instructor during the ski season, and white water rafting guide the rest of the year. He enlisted his co-worker friends to take the entire wedding party and out-of-town family members down a bunch of rapids. All in all, we were forty or so people crammed into four rafts.
Less than ten minutes into the excursion, as we were navigating the first real set of rapids, I got the chance to introduce myself to Tara’s large floatation device Aunt. She had fallen overboard (walrus off the starboard bow) when her boat hit the first wave and nearly drowned going under our vessel.
Everyone else seemed disturbingly calm as I frantically groped under the raft and grabbed at body parts that will forever haunt my dreams before finally pulling her large, bloated carcass into our already very full raft. “Hi, you must be Tara’s Aunt. How are your cats?”
But the rest of the day was smooth sailing and uneventful. We gracefully navigated through the level three and four rapids with trusty Yukon Dave, the groom’s co-worker and river buddy, the epitome of Lands’ End meets J Crew, crunchy, outdoors, granola guy, as our guide. Eventually, Tara’s Aunt dried out, but she never did sober up.
Here Comes the Bride Minister; A New Beginning
We woke early the next day and drove straight to the wedding site. We were among the first to arrive. Standing on a beautiful hillside, I looked out upon the calm, glassy waters of Lake Tahoe. It was one of those perfect days where the skies and the water try to outdo each other’s shades of blue. A cool breeze rustled through the pine trees above.
The ground was covered in a bough of pine needles that made a crunching noise when you walked. Wedding guests began to arrive and as they walked down from the parking lot to the open seating area, it sounded like thousands of cereal nut clusters being chewed all at once. I had skipped breakfast again.
Large posses of squirrels frolicked in the trees above. They seemed to be giggling like Japanese school girls at the goings-on below. Every once in a while there was a much louder, almost gunfire-like sound, when a softball-sized pine cone was trod upon by a guest. Each pine cone explosion caused a tremendous commotion above as the school girl squirrels panicked and raced higher into the sanctity of their tree homes.
The guests filled up the seats which were all lined up on the side of the mountain; perched at a forty-five degree angle it seemed, making you feel like you were riding on a stationary roller coaster. I played with the last chair in the last row in the back, imagining that tipping it over might create a domino effect that would result in Tara’s Aunt, sitting all the way in the front, careening down the mountain and ultimately landing in the great lake; getting soggy for the second day in a row. But her Aunt was already sloshed and Tara, like a mind-reading Jedi, sensed what I was considering and told me to cut it out.
I noticed Yukon Dave, our rafting guide from the day before, standing somewhat awkwardly off to the side so I strolled over to him. We spoke for a few seconds before he abruptly excused himself saying, “Scott, let’s catch up later, I need to go take care of this.”
I watched in confusion as he walked up the aisle, crunching with every step. He marched past all the guests in their precariously angled chairs, stepped under the Chuppah, and turned to face us all. Yukon Dave had looked so experienced and trusty the day before as he had confidently guided us down the river. But on that day of the wedding, he looked tiny, bewildered and lost. In what must have been his only big-boy suit, a loosely fitting sports coat with way too thin trousers, he looked like a trout out of water, or perhaps more accurately, a white water rafting guide out of water.
The processional music began to play. I quickly took my seat, poked Tara to get her attention and whispered, “What the crap is Dave doing?” She whispered back “I don’t know. Stop poking my butt.” I looked all around and at the other guests but nobody else seemed to think anything was out of place.
The groom looked calm and confident. The bride, when she appeared, looked stunning in her long flowing white gown with a bough on top of her head and a bough of pine needles over her head all pointing at her. Yukon Dave, on the other hand, looked nauseous; like he was going to be the one to make a run for it. “Is there anyone here who thinks these two should not be united this day…by Yukon Dave,” and Dave would raise his hand before high tailing it back to his riverside home.
But then, a look of zen-like calm came over him. He took a deep breath and imagined, I supposed, that he was merely in a very large raft taking a whole bunch of tourists in tuxedos, suits and prom gowns down a ceremonial river. And other than fleeting moments of discomfort throughout the ceremony, his only obvious flaw was when he butchered the Jewish blessing of the wine. Yukon Dave, Jebus bless his soul, was clearly not a member of the tribe.
I caught up with Dave after the ceremony. He had snuck past the wedding couple greeting line and made a bee-line straight for the bar; which was really just a large table set up directly behind the ceremony. As people closed in all around us fighting for drinks, I purposefully marched right up to Dave with a forefinger raised in the air as if to say “What the crap, Dave,” with multiple exclamation points and question marks included.
Before I could get a word out, he lifted his face out of his pint of courage and said “I know what you’re going to say. What the hell is a guy like me doing performing a wedding ceremony?” He was exactly right. I noticed he, the wedding’s minister, said hell, and I responded with another exclamation of my forefinger in the air to wordlessly say “Yes, for crap sake!”
Dave proceeded to tell me of a church in Modesto, California, the Universal Life Church, the most wonderful church in all the land, a magical place that believes “in that which is right. Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right for him, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.” And blah, blah and blah, and they will ordain anyone.
A small flock of wedding goers and well-wishers had gathered around us but I did not notice. Before I could interrupt with several thousand questions, he continued “Actually, I could ordain you right now if you like.” Those simple words, spoken to me by the most confusing and unlikeliest of “holy men,” stopped my interrogative line of questioning before it could even begin.
A cross-road of idiocy had been reached. My secular life passed before my eyes. There was growing up in the Boogie-Down Bronx, then Money-Earnin’ Mount Vernon, and then most of high school in Scarsdale. There was also the University of Pennsylvania; competing in the three thousand meter steeplechase in England and Ireland; teaching scrappers how to swim; streaking; throwing the javelin; running the New York marathon; bartending; the various jobs/careers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, Iona College and Jobson Publishing; teaching high school English in the Bronx; masters programs in communications at Iona and guidance and counseling at Hunter; the failed stint as a rock drummer; and managing a rock band.
I was non-religious Jewish. I wondered, “Do I take this opportunity to become a minister, a holy man of the cloth? Ministers aren’t celibate right?” I had always considered myself very holy, but purely in the church of idiocy where I followed the creed of jackass-ivity.
But really, in the end, there was little to consider. It was clear to me that it was my duty, it was my destiny. So I raised that finger in the air one more time, and with an affirmative triumphant gesture, confidently gave Dave my blessing, “Ordain away my friend, ordain away.”
Hundreds of people of mixed ethnicities and religious affiliations wearing long white baptismal robes miraculously gathered around inside my head, clapping their hands and singing “wade in the water; wade in the water children…” And Yukon Dave retrieved from his river guide, discount rack at Filene’s Basement, sports coat pocket a plain postcard with the Universal Life Church’s name and address on one side. He then pulled from his ultra thin trousers a mini-golf pencil, and like a mini-golf scorecard, filled in my name and address.
Two weeks later, in the mail, I received a very official looking manila envelope which contained my certificate of ordination. It also included my clergy parking pass, which nobody should ever leave home without. And perhaps most surprising of all, it was legit. From their website, I discovered additional titles available for purchase. They included:
Abbe, Reverend of Rock 'n Roll, Abbess, Abbot, Angel, Apostle of Humility, Apostolic Scribe, Arch Deacon, Arch Priest, Archbishop, Arch cardinal, Ascetic Gnostic, Bible Historian, Bishop, Brahman, Brother, Canon, Cantor, Cardinal, Chaplain, Colonel, Deacon, Dervish, Directress, Disciple, Druid, Elder, Faith Healer, Evangelist, Emissary, Father, Field Missionary, Flying Missionary, Free Thinker, Friar, Goddess, Guru, Hadji, Healing Minister, High Priest, High Priestess, Imam, Lama, Lay Sister, Magus, Martyr, Messenger, Metropolitan, Minister of Music, Minister of Peace, Missionary, Missionary Doctor, Missionary Healer, Missionary of Music, Missionary Priest, Monk, Monsignor, Most Reverend, Mystical Philosopher, Orthodox Monk, Parochial Educator, Pastor General, Patriarch, Peace Counselor, Preacher, Preceptor, Priest, Priestess, Prophet, Rector, Rabbi, , Revelator, Reverend, Reverend Father, Reverend Mother, Right Reverend, Saintly Healer, Scribe, Seer, Shaman, Soul Therapist, Sister, Spiritual Counselor, Spiritual Warrior, Starets, Swami, Teller, Thanatologist, The Very Esteemed, Universal Rabbi, Universal Religious Philosopher, Vicar, Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality, Wizard, Gothi, Gythia, Psychic Healer, Minister of Rock 'n Roll, Rock 'n Roll Missionary, Rock Doctor (R.D), Rock 'n Roll Minister, Child of the Universe, Prince, Princess, Spiritual Healer, Saint, and last, but definitely not least, Pope.
Though mightily tempted by several options, especially those devoted to the religious right to rock, or being the Pope, I stuck with being a simple, humble Reverend/Minister.
So to tally the score, besides being non-religious Jewish, looking Scottish, drinking Irish, balling like the brothers, I had become and would evermore be a minister, keeper of the faith (whatever that might be), protector, healer and lover of all things. Blessings to all.
A few days after the wedding, feeling much more in touch with the spiritual side of the universe, I triumphantly returned home to New York City, a blonde minister. The prodigal son returns. Anti-climactically, I did not get a Pope’s reception or even a bullet-proof vehicle to cruise around in. In fact, nothing seemed different at all until I met up with my grandparents.
I showed up at their apartment in the Parkchester section of the Boogie-Down-Bronx to bestow upon them the great honor of providing me with lunch. We had eaten lunch together in that apartment countless times before. Only that time, they were serving lunch to a minister, and would be forced to treat me with the utmost respect and deference as was proper for a man of my position.
Upon seeing me, my grandfather Henry immediately bellowed “What the hell did you do to your head? You look ridiculous!” I forgot I was still blonde. Gramps had always complained about my haircuts. He would ask me where I went and how much I paid so that he could then wonder why I would go to that place and pay them just to get butchered or scalped. The conclusion was always the same; I should go with him to his barber.
And yet, this man, for as long as I had known him (my entire life) had never had hair on the top of his head. It was as if Krusty the Clown and Yul Brenner had mated. Bald on top with pure white tufts hanging off the side and back. And what tufts! Like thousands of cotton balls glued together in a cloud of marshmallow fluff around a horseshoe shaped noggin. And so I simply said to him, in a most Zen Confucius Dalai Lama manner, “He who lives with glass haircuts should not throw stone clippers.”
Henry, never one to back down from a comment without one of his own, started to go into stories of his majestic golden locks from when he was my age, when I abruptly added “and you, sir, shall address me with the respect appropriately due a man of my decree, my stature, my place on this earth.” I paused for effect before continuing, “For I am a minister. I am a holy man, magi, guru, shaman, a seer of all and doer of some, a man of the cloth (Banana Republic cloth). The prophecies bespoke of a Heebish man who would become a minister to lead all the strange haired men to freedom. Follow me. So it is written, so it shall be done. Amen.”
Perhaps it was the length of the soliloquy or simply that he was trying to gauge my level of seriousness, but my words momentarily silenced him. And that in itself was scary; Henry, speechless. Rumors surfaced from time to time of grandparents being silent in the wilderness but it was not something you ever expected to encounter in person or in an urban setting.
He paused, perhaps noticing that indeed there was something different. Though my frame had filled out to where I no longer looked like a larger than normal long-distance runner, I still appeared very young for my age; it was perhaps the round face, the ruddy complexion, clear blue eyes that flew on wings of sorrow and could see inside tomorrow. I stood five foot eleven, but the ascension to the ministry lent an appearance of someone much taller, someone who could dunk a basketball.
Apparently, the blonde hair, by itself, was a surprise. But a Jewish minister, and blonde hair, and being a minister, a blonde minister; the blonde hair mixed with being a minister equaled grandparent sensory overload. In his world, which included all people over seventy, and ninety nine percent of AARPmembers, it was clear that I had joined a cult.
From that day on, I always made sure to greet him with some form of holy-ish gesture; the sign of the cross, devil’s horns, clasped palms, the sign that signified it was time for the human sacrifice, etc. And he would respond by trying to slap me upside the head.
As word got out about my ordination (that Henry could gossip) people wanted me involved to greater and greater degrees in their spiritual needs. At the least, I was their back-up minister; the security blanket in case the official rabbi or priest got called away for a last second exorcism or some other emergency of biblical proportion.
I had not specifically set out upon that path, but I had found my calling nonetheless. I took my new title and spiritual duties very seriously. With great power comes great responsibility.
Tara’s friend Beverly was intrigued by my new role. With the sweet sincerity and naiveté of a baby deer caught in a car’s headlights, she asked if I would be able to perform a baptism ceremony for her. I was honored and also horrified that she would think I should do this for her. It was a situation that needed to be handled with dignity and care, territory Minster Stram was unfamiliar with.
We spoke at length about her reasons and why she felt it was important. As we were close to finalizing the details, setting the date and time, I could hold out no longer. I calmly informed her in a deep voice and in my most holy and sacred way that my baptism ceremony involved a toilet, her head, and a whole lot of flushing. The royal swirlie!
Beverly never spoke of getting baptized again, which was sad because it would have been a very important moment in her young and beautiful life; a moment that she, and especially I, would have cherished forever. “Bathe in the water; bathe in the water children…”
EXCERPT 2 FROM THE BOOK
Captain’s Log # 3 – There and Back Again, the Return of the King
Much had happened since wedding number two. Summer had turned to fall and winter followed soon after. The strength of Russ and Kaori’s marriage was strong, but not complete.
The two rings, exchanged in the board room of Scarsdale City Hall, then again in the cool mountain air of Upper Greenwood Lake, needed to be brought to Mount Fuji, to the land where Kaori was from, to complete the circle. Two rings to rule them all, two rings to find them, two rings to bring them all, and in the marriage bind them. The fellowship of the rings would have to come together once again, make their way halfway around the world, and assist in joining Russ and Kaori to each other for the final time, in the land of the rising sun; the land of shrimp flavored snacks.
But then Russ lost his one and only ring. Ruining the movie and turning his story into a bumbling sitcom, he actually lost his wedding ring two weeks before wedding number three. So in true storybook fashion, Russ ordered a replacement off Amazon.com.
Not to be outdone, there was a reason they kept getting married after all, Kaori forgot to pack the wedding cd’s when they left for Japan. And of course, days before leaving, Russ had locked himself out of his apartment and had needed my spare keys. As a result, I was unable to simply go to their apartment to get the cd’s since my spare set of keys was already locked inside their apartment. In other words, the fellowship was needed once again, even sooner than expected.
D drove into the city with his set of keys, picked me up, and after we got the cd’s, we sat in bumper to bumper traffic to get out of the city. At least it was not the holiday season and traffic was light, I sarcastically thought to myself as holiday tourists clogged the streets. The first “please kill me” moments of the trip and we had yet to leave my neighborhood.
In a stroke of utter genius, we had booked flights out of New York City the Saturday before Christmas. The lines snaked through the entire airport. There were lines to wait on lines to get to other lines. There were many moments that day when I wished the rings had never come to me. At that rate, shifting my luggage several inches per hour, we would get to Japan in time for the second anniversary of their third wedding, or maybe the third anniversary of their second wedding.
As fate would have it, Ronnie M., my hero, my savior, my French GPS, my cholesterol filled, heart clogging provider, would once again come to my rescue. The morass of lines strategically passed by a McDonald’s. Twenty McNuggets and a super sized fries later, no ridiculous out of control lines and no thirteen hour flight showing only chick flick, teen angst movies, would keep us from reaching our destination. Had I fully known the degree of trout that awaited me, I would have brought several thousand nuggets with me, and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
D loved the flight. It gave him a chance to rehearse his post-wedding, father of the groom, speech on a poor unsuspecting Japanese high school student. The poor kid re-wrote and edited D’s speech for him in Japanese, despite the fact that Japanese ESL students had already done that for him.
J sat next to a four foot tall Japanese woman who was married to a six foot tall Gaijin (whitey) and lived in the states and rode Harley Davidson’s. She had only gone back to Japan four times in twenty years. And I looked at the dude to my right, and thought to myself, “You lucky bastard. By the luck of the draw, with a one-third chance, you landed me as your seat neighbor.”
Scottosan, Sumo D and Harajuku J touched down in Tokyo on December 25 in the year of the wedding; konichiwa to all. I waved to the nonexistent crowd since my imaginary single had topped the charts and I was big in Japan.
Although we were in Japan and it was all Japanese to me, I sensed deja-kabuki-vu. Everything felt like it has been done before; like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. But I suppose that was probably just me being cynical again. Certainly it wasn’t because Russ and Kaori had been married two freakin times already.
We spent the first twenty-four hours in Tokyo acclimating to the cuisine, as if that was possible. So logically, we had dinner that first night at a Chinese restaurant. The next morning, we ate breakfast at a French cafe. On our way out, D, just being D, reached for a free bread sample, which turned out to not be a free sample. “Silly fat Americans, display items are not free.” Russ and I heard sirens in the distance and tried to convince him the Tokyo police were on the lookout for him.
In an attempt to make him blend in, be less conspicuous, and hide him from the cops, Russ and I used Grecian Formula Number Five to dye Sumo D’s hair and had him walk on his knees. Wherever we went after that, Sumo D was confused for a local celebrity sumo, the Tokyo Tumbler, the Japanese Jiggler, the Asian Apricot. A local legend spread that Sumo D had risen from the ranks of the underground sumo world by eating and wrestling at the same time. His big break came when the floor boards collapsed under him. “Thank you, good night! We’ll be hosting Takehashi’s Castle all week.”
His other big break came when the challenger to Grand Sumo Akebono fell victim to a case of Asian flu. All of the other sumos in line for the fight were eliminated due to a tragic laundry catastrophe; someone had mixed their white diapers in with the colors, turning them pink. Sumo D, the international Bayonne Bleeder, had no such problem since he did not wash his clothes. All of this story-line was developed by Russ and I as we hustled the non-repentant, “They shouldn’t put it there if it’s not a free sample,” thief out of the restaurant.
Japan was a land of contrasts. On the one hand, it was very clean; there were people in uniforms running around cleaning all the time. In the train stations for example, when a train puffed quietly and politely into the first or last stop, an army in pink uniforms appeared seemingly out of thin air. The gang of pink thoroughly and quickly cleaned each train car before anyone got on.
On the other hand, and in contrast to the cleanliness, the air was dry and thick from all the smoking. The Japanese loved their smokes. And the people, perhaps stunted from all that smoking, were small, as were their apartments, restaurants, and technological devices. But their buildings, on the other hand, were often huge and constructed with futuristic designs. Very advanced technology contrasted with tradition. In the crowded subways were posters that read “Ambitious Japan!” These posters showcased five random guys wearing business suits and holding briefcases racing alongside a train. That image described all of Japan.
Speaking of trains, Russ, D, J and I were waiting on a platform the day after we arrived. We were the only people on that particular platform, whereas the other platforms were all completely packed with people. Rather than say anything, I acted out my thoughts kabuki style. I pointed at the three of them while fake laughing, making it clear that I was miming, “Stupid fat Americans wait on wrong platform.”
Russ and D, looking around, noticed our train four platforms over. We raced down the stairs, wiggled through the crowds, and climbed the stairs to that platform, just in time to see there was no train. There was however, a very nice, accurately painted to scale, train-sized mural of a train on the wall; stupid tourists.
Little Old Lady Ninja Warriors
The people were tiny but there were many of them. Subway, market, department store, street corner and shrine crowds all made Times Square at its busiest seem like a rustic outpost. Any time you crossed the street it felt like you were marching amongst a horde of countrymen to do battle against the army of short people that approached from the sidewalk across the way.
Most Japanese people seemed reserved and shy, yet the girls and young women wore mini-skirts and high heeled boots. They were extremely polite, except for apparently every ninety year old woman in a crowd. The first time still feels as if it was yesterday. The scars remain.
It started in a generic department store, much like a very large Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s. But unlike the stateside versions, the department stores in Tokyo have supermarkets in their basements. We ventured down into the basement for no reason and got caught in a trout market tsunami.
It was complete chaos. I tried to maneuver my sumo self around the swarming masses of high pitched squealing Japanese women. It was like a manatee swimming through a torrential stream of trout, who were shopping for trout. I wiggled, dodged and darted off to the side, in search of safe refuge.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp jabbing in my butt. I turned to look, but there was nothing there. Another jab! I swiveled my head ninety degrees towards the floor to try and locate my attacker. I was trapped in a mass of people, and this three foot tall, nine hundred year old woman, she reminded me of an angry hobbit, was going to work on my right buttock like it was a speed bag; jab, jab, jab, and uppercut.
Thinking this must be a traditional Japanese greeting, and always striving to be polite and blend in with cultural norms, I returned the greeting with a knee to her butt. Of course, I only thought about kneeing her, as my ass continued to take a pounding that only gay men and prison inmates would understand. Moments later, I was swept away and almost out to sea in the mass of women, narrowly escaping only when some trout salesman hysterically yelled something that caused the tide to turn towards him and I jumped onto a staircase.
There were many more crowds throughout the trip, and on several occasions I tried to save myself by mimicking what the trout salesman had screamed. But I could never quite get the high pitched anxious squeal right.
For a polite and bowing society, the salespeople and sales process was extremely overdone and ridiculously dramatic. Everything was fast and loud with lots of flashing lights and hysteria. It was the same thing with their television commercials and programs. Sentences were spoken like they were one word, “IdidNotMeanToCrushYourFoot. ThatIsVeryFunnyhahahahaha. BuyShoesatShoeTown. ItsHappyGoFunCrazyShoeTime!” Like the old Crazy Eddie electronics store commercials, but even faster, louder and flashier.
The beatings by the silver foxes were sporadic but not altogether random either. Nobody could really explain the phenomenon. It remained a mystery, wrapped in seaweed and served as sushi. I guessed that perhaps their aggression was an evolutionary response that enabled them to survive the crazy enormity of the crowds, but being unable to separate them, the theory remained untested.
We encountered those grumpy golden girls on numerous occasions, but the most memorable was at the huge outdoor bazaar near the Tokyo fish market. The crowd was so thick, that at times you really were completely stuck and couldn’t move at all. Since D, J, Russ and I were the tallest people in the crowd, we couldn’t lose each other at least. I would see the floopy weave of J’s head, bobbing about far in the distance, and then some time later, it would be just a few feet in front of me, and thus knew that we were wedged in the same direction.
At one point, I was completely stuck, unable to move my arms or legs, with a wall of people ahead, behind and to my left. On my right were all the wooden tables, piled high and in organized rows with merchandise for sale. Once again, out of nowhere, appeared a silver hair and she started to work me over.
She apparently wanted to pass on my right side, where I was completely pressed up against a table. I started talking to Russ who was also stuck and wedged directly in front of me. “Hey Russ, check out Psycho Lady punching me in the butt.”
I then talked to the top of her head for a little while but she paid me no attention, which in fairness was really the only way to deal with me. At one point, she had managed to squeeze herself into an inch of space next to me and was pretty much setting up shop in my armpit. She never even looked up.
For the next five minutes of our brief but intimate time together, I continued to whisper sweet nothings to the top of her head. “I know you’re older, but I find myself becoming strangely attracted to you,” and “You had me at hello,” and “Since you’re down there, could you scratch my colon?” and “Whatever happened to dinner first? I need to be romanced,” and “You are one jab from a sexual harassment suit young lady,” and finally, “I love you.” She seemed to be there for a long time, I was running out of idiotic things to say.
When she finally extricated herself, apparently by scooting underneath the tables, I was still trapped and lost sight of her. She was a little person lost in a sea of short people.
I spent the rest of the trip looking everywhere, low and lower, for my lady love. I will never forget her. But while she had fully disappeared from my sight, I was able to watch her path of destruction by all the looks of surprise and pained exclamations as people jumped when prodded.
Apparently, the attacking nature of the silver foxes did not mesh well with the otherwise polite nature of the people. And for several weeks after eventually returning home to New York City, I was still pulling little old ladies out of my butt. I put three of them to work in my apartment making origami.
If it’s from the Sea, Let it Be
No tale of Tokyo, no Japanese journey would be complete if one were to neglect to discuss the trout. For crap sake, it was everywhere.
Back in New York, I’d been able to mostly avoid and live a trout-free life. Each side knew that the other existed, but left the other alone in peace and solitude. In Japan, however, there was no escaping all things trout and trout-flavored. I witnessed people eating things that no person should ever have to see. The things they considered food I would sooner use as clothing, as calking to seal up bathroom tiles, as sports accessories, toilet cleaners, gag gifts, pottery, anything but food.
If it’s from the sea, let it be. But in Japan, if it’s from the sea, then feed it to D, feed it to all you see, try to feed it to me, but I did flee. Dried trout, trout cakes, smoked trout of every kind, color, shape and size; it was a schmorgasbord of trout, everywhere. Even in desserts. Carts on the streets of Osaka were manned by troutmen squealing in high pitched Japanese fervor, “Octopus balls for sale!” And they were actually talking about selling octopus balls, not some sort of cool multi-armed basketball that dunked itself.
I thought Ronnie M. would yet again be my salvation; the availability of American restaurant chains surely would save me from near sumo starvation. But the Japanese were a very proud people, with a tremendously powerful culture and way of life. They were very intent on taking things and making them their own. So even when they would Americanize stuff, they still left that trout imprint as if to say, “We will eat your Big Mac, but our special sauce will be extra special,” wink, wink, vomit.
We sampled the Ja-pan-American fusion cuisine at Denny’s, McDonald’s and Wendy’s. But the Denny’s menu was almost as scary as the trout market. McDonald’s had promise but they put a disgusting combination of mayo, mustard and horseradish (aka, “ass” sauce) on everything. The only thing on the menu that tasted almost okay was a Teriyaki McBurger. But even that had more mayo on it than a potato salad.
The Japanese loved their sauces. They went on everything. If not for the fire hazard, I bet they would have smeared mayonaise on their cigarettes before smoking them. Since my communication skills held steady at konichiwa/hello, arrigato/thank you, and pointing and bowing, I was stuck with the assortment of sauces that was automatically doused on every purchase.
The other insidious danger was that you couldn’t see what was inside the food items you were ordering. You might think you had pointed and grunted at a plain omelet (it looked plain from the damn picture) but really you had just ordered a curry trout horror show in disguise that smelled like cab driver armpit, and tasted worse. And for breakfast, a simple roll or bun could turn into the same.
The trout nightmares were expensive mistakes, both to my wallet and my colon. Luckily, we had human vacuum, Yakisoba D there to eat all of those mistakes, and as long as you weren’t sharing his bathroom, that made them easier to forget.
The Slipper System
On our third day in Japan, we ventured forth from Tokyo. We took the Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train, to Kyoto, passing Mount Fuji along the way. The train served fast food in “bento boxes;” Russ got a pork cutlet, or pork katsu.
Once we arrived in Kyoto, we checked into a traditional ryokan, which was sort of an old-fashioned Japanese motel. We were served piping hot lotus tea as soon as we arrived.
In the ryokan, there were no beds; you slept on mats on the floor. And there were no real walls, just paper thin wooden dividers to preserve one’s modesty and give a slight illusion of separate rooms. The doorway was just high enough for me to hit my head every time I entered the “room,” causing me to continuously curse like a Japanese sailor.
Japanese culture required people take their shoes off when walking on wood, and for the most part, indoors in general. At the ryokan, the process started immediately upon entering as we had to take off our shoes at the front desk and then wear ryokan-supplied slippers in the hallways and rooms. I searched for a pair of size eleven’s but all the men in Japan must have had petite, women’s sized feet, size six or smaller.
As Russ and I were “settling in,” D and J stopped by thinking they looked cool in the ridiculous shower kimonos left for them in their “room.” It was like National Lampoon’s Japanese vacation and D and J were the Griswolds. I pointed at D’s clunky feet in his slippers and laughed and laughed until he pointed at mine and laughed back. That was not so funny.
There was something particularly humiliating about wearing ruby red slippers that covered only half of your foot. I clicked my heels together and said “There’s no place like home” three times. But I was stuck where I was, sharing a paper-walled room and hardwood floor with my Japanese brother who was still enjoying his lotus tea.
The slipper saga got even more complex and disturbing from there. The ryokan was apparently on the advanced two slipper system. If you went to the bathroom, you were expected to switch slippers, change from the red ones to an appropriately blue pair. You did not want to wait until the last second if you had to go really bad; in a rush, slipper transfers can wreak havoc. Our hero learned that lesson the hard way.
Later that night, after demanding that Russ commit seppuku for getting me into such wonderful sleeping accommodations, I had settled in on the floor, which despite the mats, still felt like I was sleeping on the floor. I had drank way too much tea, but only because it was politely handed to me so many freakin’ times. I didn’t even like hot drinks for crap sake, but they simply could not keep themselves from pouring me more and more tea.
I woke in the middle of the night, but tried to ignore the pressure and went back to sleep. Three wake-ups later, Barry, my impatient bladder, was urgently sounding the alarm. I sat up quick, it was go time.
I hustled to the sliding door, hit my head for the hundredth time, rapidly slipped the slippers on my bare feet, took one giant racing step, and slipped. The slippers were slippery. In a moment that took minutes, I tried to catch myself, flailing my arms wildly for something to grab onto, managing only to poke a hole in a paper wall before landing flat on my back and butt.
So I picked up the slippers and ran to the can. Without slowing the pace at all, I leaned down and I scooped up the second set of slippers, the blue ones, and raced inside. Sweet relief, I made it just in time.
As I held four tiny, ballerina sized slippers in my hands, I noticed my feet sticking to the gross and not so clean bathroom floor. The mystery behind the multi-slipper system had revealed itself. “Damnit,” I sighed in Japanese, “Damnit straight to hell.”
The slippers weren’t the only adjustments I had to make. The ryokan didn’t have private bathing facilities; they were communal. In all of Japan actually, it was apparently popular for men to bathe with other men, and women with other women. For some reason I did not and will never understand, D, J and Russ were really excited about this. Our hero, on the other hand, was not a fan of bathing with others, particularly not with men; “Down periscope!”
So rather than risk blinding myself by the unsightly sight of other “members” of the ryokan and the accompanying shrinkage, I woke up at six am to shower alone. The shower room had mirrors at knee level. During the trip, I had consistently come across mirrors that only went up to my neck, but knees? That was a new one. “Well, when in a ryokan in Japan,” I mumbled to myself and scrubbed the crap out of my knees and behind my knees making those areas shine like never before. I later learned that these low-level mirrors were for bathing while sitting down; or sitting in the filth that came off sumo D last night. Delicious, I’ll stand.
Chanukah – Samurai Style
On the last night of Chanukah, all the good little D and J children in Japan wanted to celebrate; sing songs of trout flavored latke, spin ultra tiny dreidels, and light the samurai candles.
Since we were cat-sitting and Kaori’s niece and nephew, Sho and Haruka, were allergic to cats, we could not have D’s Chanukah party at our borrowed apartment. Not to be foiled by such semantics, D volunteered that we would bring the party with us to Kaori’s parent’s house. Hatsumi and Kazuko lived in Shinjuku, two subway stops from Shibuya.
Unlike the small but livable apartment we were staying in, Kaori’s parent’s house was very tiny. There was no couch or dining room table. If they ate at home, it was sitting on the floor around a coffee table. It’s essentially an open bedroom upstairs, and a miniature living room, bathroom and kitchen downstairs. It made snug New York City apartments seem like mansions.
Along the way from Shibuya to Shinjuku, D wanted to buy ingredients to make sundaes. I have a little sundae, made it from ice cream, and when it’s sprinkled and ready, then sundae I shall scream? I commented that I did not recall any Chanukah traditions that included home-made sundae bars, but D was not to be dissuaded.
In a subway filled with millions of people, we somehow ran into Kaori’s sister Shino and she went with us to the store. D and J tried to explain what we were looking for by once again relying on their ever so successful communication techniques; repeating the same words in English over and over again.
Poor Shino raced around presumably looking for whipped cream and chocolate sauce although I doubt she actually understood D or J. I performed my own thorough search. The store had fifteen hundred different flavors of trout but no sundae ingredients other than ice cream. But ever the stubborn improviser, D bought heavy cream and chocolate bars and put Russ and I to work mixing and melting.
Maestro D, the Mozart of Meals, the Bach and Beethoven of Beverage, the Samurai of Sandwich, the Purveyor of Pork, the Lord of Lunch, he who puts the D in Dinner, would serve trout covered sundaes if he had to. We later found out that the reason Shino had moved so fast while trying to help was because she needed to go to the bathroom but was too polite to say anything or leave us. Ambitious Japan! So with little honor but much haste, it is my privilege to present the night D, the Chanukah Carcass, saved Chanukah in Japan.
The Carcass (D) that Saved Chanukah
He came with a big sack,
That he carried on his back
With presents, gifts and toys
For Ambitious Japan’s girls and boys
He brought menorah, dreidels, candles, ice cream
To fill every Jewish Japanese child's holiday dream
But then his plans were foiled, Drats
Because Sho was allergic to cats
And all could not come out to us
Whether by car, train or bus
Since there were many a cat
Living in our borrowed flat
Not bats, rats, gnats or colored hats, but cats
"Would there be Chanukah in Japan this year?"
Asked sweet little Haruka Who as she shed a tear.
No Chanukah in Japan, I fear
Would be like going to a bar and having no beer
Like having no mad cow in American steer
Like no old women stuck to my rear
Like January first with no new year
And all would seem far even when near
And from miles away you could see
The weight of that loss weigh on Big D
But wait, cried the Carcass with unfettered glee
We will take the subway to THEE
For with our train pass, it will be FREE
And that is the only way to travel for D
And there this year Chanukah will be
And we will make sundaes and light candles galore
We will sit on Kaori's parent’s floor!
And Chanukah will be saved for evermore
But our Hero stood blocking the door
“D, spinning a dreidel is a bore,”
And “lighting candles is like a chore.
Leave it alone, my butt sure is sore
From those old ladies, that crowd is war.”
But a cry went out among the ambitious Japanese
From their ambitious heads to their ambitious knees
More D, give us more D, politely, if you please
And fueled with Udon, Carcass did fly
A gassy American Samurai
So that the Japanese Jews would not cry
And Chanukah in Japan would not die
And then at Denny's they did feast
Where everyone had miso and roast beast
And gifts were exchanged and the menorah was lit
Even though in the house we did not fit
And our hero looked around at all the Japanese Jews
Without room to move and without booze
In spite of the smell of D’s socks without shoes
And despite the fact D had not bathed since the start
He played with the scrappers and was a part
Of it all, and took it to heart
That maybe, maybe there was a reason
For there to be Chanukah this season
That even though this was not the usual place
The spirit was shown in Haruka’s pretty face
And gifts were exchanged back and forth
From the east, west, south and north
And all swore that Chanukah would live on
Even after the Chanukah Carcass had gone
And to all the Japanese Jews in Whoville
A happy Chanukah, send Carcass the bill.
Later that night, on our way back to Shibuya, D poked me in the chest and said that Chanukah was a big success because everyone said they had a great time and thanked him. Because it’s what I do, I reminded D that we had both read the guide book where it said the Japanese are polite and will compliment you to your face and then laugh at you behind your back. But D would not be swayed. So I told him he looked very thin and handsome in his shirt that he had worn for five days and smelled like lotus blossoms, then turned to Russ and giggled like a Japanese school girl.
The following day, the day before Russ and Kaori wedding number three, Kaori got stuck in her wedding dress. She was trying it on and the zipper stuck. All the emperor’s horses and all the emperor’s men could not get Kaori out of her dress again.
How many parents does it take to help the bride get out of her wedding dress the night before the third wedding? The answer apparently was all four. They had to find a late night tailor/origami master to extricate her so that she could take it off that night only to put it back on the next morning.
If by their third wedding, Russ and Kaori had still not realized that the goal was to get Kaori out of her wedding dress AFTER the ceremony, then perhaps they really shouldn’t have been getting married so often. Yet again, proof that there were no grandchildren in the near future.
Ceremony the Third
Each ceremony up to that point had been unique and nothing like the one before it. But the finale really was completely different. It was like something out of an old foreign film with subtitles, The Three Stooges style slapstick, and lots of face paint.
The wedding locale was a large event complex that was able to hold multiple weddings at the same time. It was shaped like a single-tiered square cake with the entire middle cut out. In that middle, surrounded on all sides by the building, were lush gardens filled with cherry blossoms and meticulously sculpted banzai trees.
Interestingly, Kaori informed me that most Japanese weddings had become westernized. The in thing to do was to get married in a church. But Russ and Kaori were going old school, traditional Japanese wedding style; anything to further convert Russ into a little Japanese boy. The transformation was nearing completion. His feet and bathing suits were getting smaller.
D, J, and I arrived together, at which time we were immediately escorted upstairs to a changing room with many mirrors. My kabuki princess brother was in the process of being transformed by two tiny women into some sort of ninja wedding warrior. It took them about an hour to get Russ into his Shogun outfit.
Unfortunately for me, we were just in time to see Boy Naked getting into his leggings. The fruits of those looms, perhaps once upon a time had been proud and ripe. But no more, for they had long since passed their freshness expiration, and were rotten to the core. Pieces of not so white cotton were barely strung together like the last grapes hanging desperately to the vine.
But those two women, a miracle worker each, covered the Swiss cheese undergarments with layer upon layer of robes. Strangely, the more elaborate and ornate ones came first, with pictures of dragons and ancient warlords and fiery colors and designs. Those were then completely covered with a plain boring black robe. I didn’t get it. “What was the point of the emperor’s clothes if nobody can see them? If an ornate robe hides in the forest, does anyone even see it?”
Russ then put on sandals, only slightly more comfortable looking than the slippers we wore in Kyoto. He also was given what looked like a folded fan to hold and a strange fuzzy, rubbery, blowfish ball necklace was placed around his neck. With that, the final transformation was complete.
Growing up, Russ had always been into Asian culture. He had been fascinated with Bruce Lee movies, and had studied martial arts. He had even made home-made nun-chuks, and bought used Chinese stars which he once whipped at me after a fight. His prom date and his first real girlfriend were both Asian. As he grew older, he traveled all across Asia, and immersed himself in the culture. He took Chinese and Japanese language classes. He dressed up as a geisha girl on Halloween. A physical therapist by day, he studied eastern healing modalities and even became an acupuncturist.
But always, no matter how hard he had tried otherwise, Russ had always still appeared, for the most part, Caucasian (except on Halloween of course). But no more, for those women had changed him from his usual mild-mannered appearance, to a fierce, no, not so much fierce but mildly and comically intimidating, mostly amusing, Shogun samurai wedding warrior.
And then Kaori came upstairs to meet us. I informed her it was bad luck for the bride to see the groom before the wedding. She laughed, sarcastically patted me on the shoulder, and sweetly and patiently reminded me they were already married.
Kaori looked like an ornate elaborate figurine; like those porcelain thingies you can buy in souvenir shops. She was a character right off a piece of china. She was wearing an ankle length black kimono with colorful designs on it, a large jet black wig with crazy layers of weave on top of weave and some sort of Wonder Woman crown on top of that. On her feet were the traditional tabi socks that had a split for the large toe and sandals. And to complete the picture, she had white face makeup.
With everyone “appropriately” attired, we were then led into a meet and greet room with certain of Kaori’s extended family members. We were served a “special” lotus tea. It was saltier than salt, and strangely tasted a little trouty, though I may have been ultra-sensitive at that point.
Kaori went around the room, and as she introduced each person, they would stand and bow to us. When Kaori introduced me, a gentle and polite whisper went around the room. One very old silver fox, whose elbows looked familiar, loudly exclaimed, “Ah, soooooo.” Apparently, my reputation preceded me.
From the waiting room, the entire wedding party and all the guests were led in a long procession around the beautiful grounds and estate before eventually ending in an austere and tiny room. It was very plain, with off white/yellowish walls. The walls were bare except for a number of candle holders with candles that provided what little light there was. There were no windows.
Russ and Kaori were led to the center of the room where they knelt down in front of a small coffee table structure type thing that was only a foot off the ground. There was a bald priest in front, and several monkishly dressed people who played strange-sounding instruments at seemingly random times.
There were two rows of “seats” perpendicular to where Russ and Kaori were sitting. As we entered, Kaori’s family was led to one side, and the gaijins and assorted friends were sent to the other side. As immediate family members, D, J, and I were guided into the first row. But what they had not told us in English, although they had said something in Japanese, was that you were not allowed to film or take pictures from the first row. So there was a whole lot of back and forth that made no sense to me while that got sorted out.
But you could not stop D, you could only hope to contain him. His behavior brought great shame to our family, to our ancestors and to our country. If a sword had been available, I would have had to chop off his head in atonement. We were instructed, and this part was in English, that there were certain times during the ceremony when you absolutely could not take pictures. Not only did he take pictures, and not only did he take them from the first row (which had already caused my banishment to the second row) but his tortured camera was going through its final death convulsions.
That was back in the days before D made the switch, dragged kicking and screaming into the new scary world of digital cameras. D would not go softly into that technological night. His outdated dying camera made loud whirring, winding and grinding noises during the entire ceremony. And then at the most quiet and solemn part, during a time of inner reflection and meditation, D snapped the last shot on his roll of film. In the otherwise silent room, the thirty seconds it took for his camera to wind the film sounded like a herd of stampeding buffaloes wearing castanets. The stupid tourists had struck again.
I kept gesturing at Kaori’s family across the way in my silent ninja, kabuki manner that I did not know this photographer, or who had hired him, but that I would welcome his presence being forcibly removed. They were too polite to take action, so I was left to feel politely horrified on everyone’s behalf.
In spite of D’s shenanigans, the ceremony proceeded. The monkishly attired “band” walked around, shaking bells, chanting, miming, performing momenshantz and all sorts of other things you would only otherwise see on some educational PBS program. Russ and Kaori performed several rituals of bowing, drinking sake, and reciting words in Japanese.
Russ had memorized his speaking portion but then forgot parts of it as he spoke. He kept his cool though and just skipped the parts he forgot. You couldn’t even tell anything was missing but then again, it was all Japanese to me. Then sake was passed out to all of us in attendance and J got drunk on one sip. Even in Japan where she had a huge height advantage over the other ladies, she was still a lightweight.
At the reception that followed, a Master of Ceremonies was provided by the wedding site. Despite having never previously met Russ and Kaori, he nonetheless gave an intimate, ceremonial speech about them and their individual accomplishments. My translator was Jason, who was originally from the U.S. and had married a friend of Kaori’s. The MC had done his research. He talked about random things from their respective childhoods and that Russ used to be an incredible happysuperfast track athlete who excelled in the eight hundred meters.
Many people got up to give toasts. Jason told me that it was inappropriate for a person to fill their own glass. Waiters were constantly filling our glasses without being asked. Jason also told me about a drinking game. It started when someone filled someone else’s glass with a beverage. The recipient of the gift was expected to take a sip to show appreciation and acceptance of the gift. The recipient then, out of polite respect and drinking duty, filled up the glass of the initial gift giver. But if their glass was already full, the initial recipient can ask the other person to please make room. The initial gift giver was then obligated by the rules of courtesy to drink their entire glass so that it may again be filled up.
Jason was full of information, some misleading, some not. It was left to me to figure out what was true and what was not. Another piece of information he shared with me was that women were supposed to pour the drinks. Initially, I did not trust him on that one. I thought that perhaps it was merely an outdated tradition from the days of concubines and consorts. However, later that very evening, when I tried to pour myself a beer, several young ladies grabbed the pitcher from me and insisted that they do it. No wonder the businessmen were always getting so drunk. Good times.
While we were enmeshed in that drinking game at our table, I made the mistake of explaining the laws of trout to Jason. He spent the rest of the meal focusing his evil bi-lingual powers on convincing me that everything that was served was chicken. He got me once, damnit. Most of the time, it was easy to tell the difference but one trout surprise really had looked like chicken. Luckily, one of the girls at our table had just filled my beer glass again.
Later that night, there was a dinner party at an Italian restaurant. In Japan, the formal daytime wedding ceremony was usually reserved for family and just a few close friends, and the later party was more for the extended network of friends.
Somewhat randomly, Miyuki showed up. Her older sister had been childhood best friends with my ex-girlfriend, trilogy of horrors number two, Tara. But her family had moved back to Japan when they were younger. Miyuki had stayed with Tara and I when she visited New York a few years back, and she and Russ had become friends and kept in touch via email. Russ had invited her to the wedding but she had never RSVP’d; she just showed up and brought a girlfriend of hers. That seemed impolite and unlike anything Japanese, but I assumed she picked up those manners from her time living in the U.S.
During the dinner, Russ stood up and caught me completely off guard, announcing in Japanese and then in English that Scotto-san was going to give a toast. I had not been informed that I would be speaking to a crowd consisting of almost entirely non-English speaking people. Had I known, I would have prepared an appropriately funny greeting and trout story in Japanese. I told him in English that I was going to kill him. He patted me on the shoulder as he handed me the microphone, “Don’t worry, Jason will translate.” That was little comfort.
Jason and I had recognized the presence of idiocy in each other early on that day. That “toast” would become our idiocy’s defining moment.
I started with a standard thank you to everyone for coming, to Kaori’s family for their hospitality, etc. Jason translated, and Kaori’s parents bowed. After that, I free-styled a bit and gave a shout-out to my adoring fans, the little old ladies. But I forgot to pause to give Jason time to translate. In response to my wise and meaningful words, so important to the occasion, Jason got lost and translated maybe five words into Japanese, and then stopped and looked at me to continue, as if he had just translated my entire text. So thinking I was being funny, I then apologized to everyone for my translator being incompetent and slow.
Those were not the words of a wise man. I learned a very valuable lesson that day; never insult your translator. Jason translated something, and as he was translating, the whole room erupted in raucous laughter. Thrown off, thinking quickly that I had not said anything that was that funny, I then told everyone they should believe only half of what he says. Jason translated that as “Scotto-san most humbly begs your pardon for being so fat.”
Again, everyone was hysterically laughing. I paused, not knowing at that time what he had said but knowing that I needed another translator and fast. There was nothing quite like a battle of wits where one party was speaking a language that nobody else understood. My margin of victory hinged on thinking of a comeback in Japanese. But after all the drinking games that day, my mind was not sharp like a ginsu knife. I was beaten and bested at my own game. Domo arrigato, I raised my glass and finished the toast, while at the same time giving him a lightning quick crotch punch that at least prevented him from adding a last word.
Kaori’s Kendo team had all come to the evening festivities and those guys knew how to party. They were pounding beers, clapping their hands and chanting names to encourage people to participate; “Scotto, Scotto, Scotto, Scotto-San” over and over until their target chugged their beer at which point they would erupt in cheering. They even got Russ and Kaori to chug with them. J was amazed that Kaori could drink with the big boys. I patiently explained to her that not all women get drunk off one sip of sake.
After the wedding party, we walked Russ and Kaori back to their room in the Tokyo Tower, where Russ had initially proposed slightly over a year before, three whole weddings ago. This was now the second honeymoon for which D and J escorted them to their wedding hotel. Counting Kaori’s parents, it was the third wedding in a row in which they were romantically escorted somewhere by their parents after the wedding.
D, J, and I left the Tokyo Tower late, late at night, and just barely caught the last train from Shinjuku to Shibuya. As I blissfully drifted off to dream of geisha girls and non-trout-filled foods, it dawned on me that our mission was finally finished. The trilogy was complete, the fellowship had survived, and the year of the wedding was over.
A Shinto Hangover
On New Year’s Day, it was a tradition in Japan for everyone to go to a shrine. It was sort of a cross between going to Church and a carnival.
Not feeling so fresh from a mere two hours of sleep, I tried to convince everyone that I needed to perform my own ritual cleansing involving pizzas, buffalo wings and football bowl games. Unfortunately, Japanese TV did not broadcast the games, nor could I find a pizzeria to deliver. So instead, I convinced myself the New Year’s shrine was an important holy pilgrimage of idiocy, and turned towards Mecca five times while quickly showering.
Yet again, huge crowds awaited us at the shrine. There was tons of shopping and a wide variety of weird foods. The vendors sold trout on a stick, trout in a pancake, trout flavored hot dogs, and more. Russ and Kaori convinced us to try a weird cabbage, vegetable, egg, pancake thing called okonomiyaki that was very popular. D and J liked it, and of course, yet again, to me it tasted like trout.
Soon after arriving, they found me, the pointy elbows of the vicious and ambitious, four foot tall, ninety year old women. There seemed no escape. Those wee women followed me everywhere; my derriere their pied piper. They flocked to my buttocks like pigeons to bird crumbs. With no Florida to call their own, the snow bird wannabes all flew south to my Asscheek Estates for the winter.
Sleep-deprived from the night before, nursing a mighty hangover mixed with the day’s usual trout-on-a-stick horrors, I was too tired and weak to fight back. I offered my backside to the shrine and like throwing meat to a pack of starving she-silver-foxes turned she-silver-wolves, my cheeks were encircled and beaten senseless.
Six More Weeks of Japanese Winter
Japan’s system of government was more similar to England’s than ours. The top elected official, the prime minister, seemed to be the equivalent of the President of the U.S., but they also had a royal family, mostly for ceremonial purposes.
The Imperial Palace was open to the public once a year, on January second, so it was very important to D and J that we go despite the fact that Kaori’s family never cared enough to do so in the past. Like living in New York but never visiting the Statue of Liberty perhaps, which at least one of us had yet to do.
One did not actually enter the palace or meet the royal family. By being open to the public, they in fact meant that people may walk past the trout-filled moats and banzai tree-filled gardens, and stroll past the palace.
It was situated on a hill in the middle of the park, with trees and shrubs surrounding and shielding it from distant views. Seeing it up close, the palace wasn’t as big or elaborate as the shrines; it was a modern, drab, box-like structure. There was a long, wrap-around, bullet-proof enclosed porch and a large group of people gathered to wait below it.
We waited for about thirty minutes so that we might see the Emperor and his family eventually come out onto the porch, say a few words and wave. Punxatawney Emperor Akihito-Phil did see his shadow, and there were six more weeks of winter.
This is Kabuki?
That evening, as a “special” surprise, Kaori’s father Hatsumi bought us all tickets to the Kabuki-za theatre. It’s comparable to getting everyone orchestra seats on Broadway to see the Lion King or Cats or Les Miserables,but it seemed like a bigger deal even than that. And when Kaori’s family had visited New York the summer before, D’s version had been to take them to a Yankee game (which actually was much better). Hideki Matsui had hit a home run and all the Japanese girls and boys had gone wild.
It would take me a month to try and write down the horror and yet fascination that was kabuki. When we arrived at the theatre, there were huge crowds outside because Prime Minister Koizumi was inside seeing the early program. We got to see him when he left and ducked into the waiting limo. The guy had a strange weave/afro that was like a pompadour with a white stripe in it. It looked like he had a skunk sitting on his noggin.
The prime minister had been there for Program A. We were there for Program B, which started at four-thirty pm. There are several different performances within each program. The first performance, and the only one I fully made it through, was entitled Kamakura Sandaiki (The Chronicle of Kamakura). A Japanese version of Playbill that was translated into English gave us the story.
A rare performance of a classical history play from the Bunraku pupper theatre, which shows a heroic warrior, unbending mother and delicate princess in romance and intrigue on a grand scale. War has placed the young samurai Miuranosuke (Kikugoro) and his fiancé Tokihime on enemy sides. She takes care of his sick mother despite being on opposite sides, and Miuranosuke slips away from the battle to see his mother one last time. But she refuses to see him when he should be on the battlefield and he must leave, brokenhearted. Tokihime’s father (Koshiro) is the leader of the enemy forces and she is faced with a terrible challenge. She will only be allowed to be united with the man she loves if she kills her father. Featuring living national treasure Jakuemon as Tokihime, considered to be one of the most difficult princess roles in the kabuki repertory.
Something was definitely lost in translation. I saw none of that. The kabuki theatre experience was unlike any other. First of all, it took up five excruciatingly long hours. I had been worried it would be two hours, but five hours was on par with going to synagogue, or sitting through Uncle Ron's adult “I regret not having one as a child so I am going to make up for it now like a big boy” bar mitzvah. It could also be compared to a full day of shopping, or a full-length museum tour. In other words, it was torture.
I tried to sleep but the seats were too small and the random noises too bizarre. Unlike the tiny seats, the theatre was huge. Besides the stage, it included a mall with many shopping stores and restaurants. Kabuki was not a show, it was a lifestyle. There were several forty-five minute long intermissions. Intermissions made the place seem more like a baseball game; suddenly, the fancy theatre turns into a ballpark with people pulling sushi, rice, or pork cutlet bento boxes out of their backpacks and eating in their seats.
To describe the actual kabuki and do it justice would take tens of pages. The costumes were elaborate and painstakingly detailed, but they made everyone look bizarre and ugly with white face paint and ultra arching eyebrows. Men played all of the roles, including those of women. The noises these men made acting as women will forever haunt me. Women do not make such noises, not even Ru Paul. It seemed so wasteful for a country so ripe with petite ladyboy type dudes to ignore that population for the kabuki.
So-called living national treasure Jakuemon, who played the female lead, and the rest of the kabuki “chicks” were offensively ugly; large, chunky, indelicately featured effeminate but clearly male men. There was no suspension of belief like at Lucky Cheng’s where you double-check the neck for the Adam’s apple. These were clearly dudes. And it wasn’t Brokeback Mountain either, where it was supposed to be a love story between two guys. We were supposed to empathize with this emotional story between a man and woman, even though the woman had a bigger mustachio and looked more macho and manlier than the man.
The kabuki thespians performed intricate dance-ish movements, filled with great meaning and emotion, which visually interpreted as a need for the bathroom. In other words, kabuki was similar to that theatre offered free of charge on a nightly basis by the homeless denizens of New York City’s Tompkins Square Park. Also, the kabukis spoke with a weird bizarre constipated grunting. My headphones translated these fart noises into a story, but it still made no sense.
On the side of the stage, there were singers (really chanters) and musicians. The chantor (my combination of chanter and cantor) sounded exactly like Cantor Lee from the Free Synagogue in Mount Vernon. Cantor Lee always had looked so serious and silly as he sang, as though he might pinch a loaf at any moment. Chantor Lee, the Japanese Jewish version, looked very much the same, every detail the same, especially with the blood vessels bulging on his forehead. If not for the trouty octopus balls replacing the piggies in blankies,I might have been able to close my eyes and re-imagine the nightmares from my own Bar Mitzvah.
But the highlight had to be the random yelling from the audience. At first, it seemed simply to be part of the show, that behind the curtain people were just yelling things every five seconds. Kaori explained that it was actually members of the audience enthusiastically yelling the name of the actor who had just made some specific special movement or did something emotional and they were showing appreciation. I started paying closer attention and it was true. Every time something semi-dramatic (ridiculous) happened, noises erupted from the peanut gallery audience, like someone had just stepped on a sharpened barking spider, or ninja punched someone in the crotch.
Japanese people have an obsession with footwear indoors, as in not wearing it, particularly if the floors were uncovered wood. Having always delighted in taunting Kaori back home by walking on wooden floors while wearing my shoes, and then experiencing the ryokan and having her turn the tables on me in Japan, one might think I would’ve acclimated by that time. But no, in returning to my seat at one point, I went the same way as I had gone out. As I crossed over a bare patch of uncarpeted floor, three ushers ran at me with panic in their eyes as if my massive sumo frame was crushing the very precious wood floor beneath me. I jumped back as they freaked out in Japanese all about me.
I had not previously noticed the retractable red carpet, a mere centimeter of thickness that had previously made that very same route passable. Once the red carpet was pulled up, the wood apparently would be unable to handle being walked upon. The carpet was like a drawbridge, removed and my safe passage to my seat was forfeit.
As a result, I was required to traverse all the way around the theatre because heaven forbid that floor serve its purpose and be trod upon. My kabuki princess brother, the shogun weirdo warrior, my Japanese brutha by the same mutha, made the same mistake a minute after I did. His offense was ambitiously worse because I am just a stupid ignorant tourist, but he was hatamoto, a daimyo; he was my Mr. Yakamoto.
On the last day of our Japanese journey, Russ and I went to a baseball game. The Yomiuri Tokyo Giants were not playing, so we went to see Tokyo’s other team, the Yokult Swallows. Unlike the kabuki theatre, that was more my speed.
I proudly wore my Nippon Ham Fighters hat to the game. They were my favorite team simply because I liked the ham, and loved the ham fighting, whatever that might actually be.
Japanese baseball was an awesome celebration of sports, drinking, and song and dance. Although the people were usually reserved and polite, they cut loose at baseball games. Between innings, everyone sang songs and waved umbrellas in the air, like they just did not care. There were guys running around along the stadium aisles with flags, and random fans playing trumpets. It was a freaking carnival.
During the innings, fans continued to sing songs about each player from the home team when they would come up to bat. The chorus for Yokult Swallows centerfielder Norichika Aoki was simple and easy to learn, “Hey, hey, a-oh-kay. Hey, hey, a-oh-kay.” That’s the only part I knew and could translate. The rest of the song was in Japanese.
And they didn’t waste time or manpower on vendors selling hot dogs, or cracker jacks, or peanuts in the stands. Those items were all for sale inside the stadium. Instead, all of the vendors were beer girls; attractive women wearing beer uniforms with mini-kegs on their back. Genius! It was hard to believe that Anheuser Busch had not yet convinced American stadiums to follow that practice.
Somewhere amongst all the hoopla there was also a baseball game. The Yokult Swallows won, propelled to victory by a home run hit by one of the two ham-filled, but not ham-fighting, gaijins on their team. Japan only allowed teams to have two players from other countries on their roster, and they were often older or less famous players from Major League Baseball.
And by the end of the trip, I had learned a little bit of the language, but a whole lot about Japan, its people, traditions, culture and trout. At the beginning, I was homesick; by the end, ready to stay for perhaps a few more days (maybe just minutes).
And D and J seemed to glow with the happiness of new experience and pride seeing their little samurai son do what relatively few had done before, get married three times in one year. Even explaining to them on the flight home that Russ had used up the entire quota of weddings for both of their sons could not dampen their spirits.
And Russ and Kaori seemed even more married than ever. Regardless of what everyone else says about real couples in love getting married four times, three was enough. The reign of married Russ and Kaori began anew. And our hero returned to America triumphant. He did not defeat the hordes of vicious, nine hundred year old women, nor overcome the trout infestation of Japan, but perhaps victory was not to be found in domination, but simply in survival.
 An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. –Urban Dictionary
 An elderly, usually retired person. One who flocks to Florida once they retire to avoid the cold winters.
 See Appendix, Part 1, The San Francisco Treats for the story of the first trip and first wedding.
 Jewish wedding canopy, for the non-heebish readers out there. The bride was Jewish, the groom was Catholic, which lead to a non-denominational ceremony that entertained mixed cultural traditions.
 If it is from the sea, let it be free. If it is from the sea, it’s not for me. For if it is from the sea, you see, its all trout to me.
 Wee ones, aka children.
 Back then, Al Gore’s internet was still gaining traction. These days you can simply get ordained online and it’s free. It only takes seconds and I highly recommend it to all. But just like procuring pornography seemed more triumphant when you had to purchase it from a seedy rundown store on Forty-Second Street, somehow the postcard and Minister Yukon Dave made it feel more official and legitimate.
 Additional titles that had been previously granted included that of Admiral and Commodore. When donating money, charitable organizations generally included a box to check regarding one’s title. I had always sought out the most creative option, to better enjoy the avalanche of future junk mailings and solicitations addressed to Admiral Stram.
 American Association of Retired Persons
 Lord of the Rings
 D, J, Russ, Kaori and I
 There was a game show in Japan called Takehashi's Castle. One hundred people would try to take over a castle, but to get to it they'd have to go through obstacles, most of which were extremely dangerous and extreme. If you lost the game you were eliminated. Years later, Spike TV turned it into a show called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, or MXC. They dubbed it badly with funny, often perverted, commentary by the two hosts Vic Romano and Ken Blankenship. (Urban Dictionary)
 Inspiration for original Rocky movie.
 Reminder: all fish are trout and all trout are fish.
 See Appendix, Part 9, The Origin of Trout.
 Seppuku ("stomach-cutting") is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Part of the samurai honor code, seppuku was used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies and to attenuate shame and avoid possible torture. It was also used as a form of capital punishment for samurai who have committed serious offenses, and for reasons that shamed them. Seppuku is performed by plunging a sword into the abdomen and moving the sword left to right in a slicing motion and when the samurai was finished, he stretched out his neck for an assistant to decapitate him. The main point of the act was to restore or protect one's honor as a warrior. (Wikipedia)
 To the tune of, “I have a little dreidel…”
 Not as random as this would seem. While we were in Japan, there were reports in the news about mad cow disease in meat from the states and Japan had, at least temporarily, stopped importing meat from the U.S.
 I was at his graduation ceremony from acupuncture school, a two year masters degree. Someone actually played Queensryche’s song, “The Needle Lies” as they received their “diplomas.” I loved it.
 Kendo meaning "Way of the Sword," is a modern Japanese martial art of sword-fighting based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, or Kenjutsu. It combines strong martial arts values with sport-like physical elements. I looked this up on Wikipedia only after I started writing the book. I had no idea that Kaori had been on a sword-fighting team. I probably shouldn’t have messed with her as much as I did.
 Drag Cabaret Dinner Theatre. Dudes look like ladies.
 In the United States, the term "pigs in a blanket" often refers to hot dogs, Vienna sausages, or breakfast/link sausages wrapped in biscuit dough, pancake, or croissant dough, and baked. (Wikipedia)
 Enter “kabuki sounds” into any web search engine, listen to the example sounds, and enjoy.
 Honor (in my mind) required that I grant Russ another several hundred Japanese nicknames during the trip. A hatamoto was a samurai in the direct service of the Tokugawa shogunate of feudal Japan. Daimyo was a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lord in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from vast, hereditary land holdings. (Wikipedia). Mr. Yakamoto, I have no idea where that came from, but it seemed funny at the time.
 The name is actually that of the sponsor, a brand of processed meat, Nippon Ham, and the name of the team is the Fighters. But I preferred it my way, extolling the exploits of the proud, courageous Fighters of Ham who hailed from a small sea-faring town called Nippon. Kaori’s father Hatsumi, prepped on my love of the name, had honorably, politely and ambitiously searched far and wide to find the hat, which he then presented to me as a glorious gift.
 By way of example, see Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, pronounced Meesta Beisoboro, one of the worst sports movies ever. On second thought, don’t see it. Just take my word for it.