Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Politician Tries Minimum Wage For A Week

I almost never watch Lardball Hardball anymore but I caught a short segment on former governor Ted Strickland attempting to survive live on slave minimum wage for a week ($7.25). He characterized it as a failure. "Living nightmare" might be more accurate.

After taking rent and taxes (But, but, they say the poor pay no taxes!) into account that left 77 dollars for everything.

Most mornings started with eggs and toast, bought last Sunday during a grocery trip costing more than $15. Lunches were normally leftovers, macaroni and cheese or McDonald’s. There were no big dinners or coffee stops on a whim. But the challenges were beyond food.

Obviously he was not shopping at Whole Paycheck Foods for a week's worth of grub.

Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else.

Yup, familiar with the old bread diet! Fills you up for cheap! Of course, long term this sort of diet rots your insides but we care as much about slaves in these times as did ancient Rome. Work them till they die then throw them away. There's some Judeo-Christian values for you!

CEO pay in the fast food industry increased by 300% since 2000, 
while workers pay has increased just 0.3%.

Wednesday morning, I had a meeting about a mile from my apartment, but in the opposite direction of my office. I would normally take a cab, but this time, I took off my jacket and walked the mile in 90-degree heat, then walked back almost 2 miles to my office.

See! The poor are reducing our dependency on foreign oil! But there's nothing like arriving to the office all hot and sweaty as everyone in the elevator moves as far away as possible from you. People don't want to get "poor" germs on them - plus you stink. Sometimes you can get fired just for being poor.

And early in the week when I actually caught a cold, I felt lucky to already have medicine at home that would help with the symptoms. Medicine, along with any other unexpected or additional expenses, often prevents the budget from stretching as far as it needs to stretch. That was a lesson I learned when my budget ran out on Thursday evening.

Ain't no stress like poverty stress. There's absolutely NO room for mistakes. You can't get sick (or your kids or your cat(!)), no fancy new clothes or Cancun vacations or cars or practically anything else you see in a commercial (that's not fast food). But if you do need help, there's always a predatory lender waiting just around the corner to fuck you over.

Poverty is a prison, a life sentence at hard labor while spit on by the people who benefit from said labor. We are mostly silent on these issues of social justice, not realizing that the price of that silence is many multiples the price for correcting injustice. Must it happen to all Republicans before we change our ways?

What this is is a day by day rape squeezing the lives of millions in hopeless toil as politicians exploit their anger and the rest stay silent out of fear. It's like being buried alive with no one acknowledging your screams as the dirt is heaped on top of you. Show me a capitalist and I'll show you a real terrorist. God won't help us.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Making The World A Safer Place

"Billy, wake up! Time for school! But first write down all your thoughts for the past 24 hours."

"Aw, Dad!"

"Do it, you little brat! Don't make me look bad. I must check for terroristic thoughts!"

"But, Dad - "

"Don't you 'But Dad' me! I am your father god who must be obeyed!"

"But, Dad - "

"What did I tell just tell you, you little monster?! Disagree with me and the terrorists win! Do you want planes falling out of the sky and small children blown to bits?"

"Well, no - "

"Then do as I say!"

"But Dad, you're terrorizing me!"

I just got back from watching John le Carre's "A Most Wanted Man" about a Hamburg based anti-terror group. le Carre is one of a handful of people in the world I'd trust with a film of that sort. Most people prefer the Terrorism For Dummies version where a Bond like character saves the day and all is well. I believe watching those types of films lowers your IQ.

"A Most Wanted Man" is far more subtle but the ending is pretty obvious if you know what happens to people who are not politically astute. But the film does get you to thinking about "fighting terrorism" and as always le Carre asks inconvenient questions. When the woman from the CIA is queried about her motivations considering the often high price that is paid, she says she always returns the same answer to herself: "To make the world a safer place. Isn't that enough?"

Hah! A clever self-deception! The more you fight terrorism, the more you become terrorism. The more you fight terrorists, the more a terrorist you become. "But, but, we must stop the terrorists!" But for us, that's killing the baby to cure the disease. We want to fight the cancer cells, but not remove the tumor. We want to stop the dam from leaking, but not fix the foundation.

Terror organizations are all the same: it's about destroying the people you hate. It's our new favorite religion! God hates the same people you do! Got to kill them before they kill us! We must kill them not because fear them, but because we fear ourselves.

When a child is blown up in the streets, all the terror organizations cheer (including so-called anti-terrorists, as if there could be such a thing). The more bloody, the more outrageous, the more horrific, the more their power grows. And that's what this is really about about. From your TSA terrorist punk patting you down with a smirk to the President terrorist punk dropping bombs on a whim to the mad Muslim not getting laid to the father-god who must be obeyed, the only direction left to them is prevent as much freedom as possible - they have to in absence of taking responsibility.

I was probably the only person in the theater who snorted when the CIA operative replied she wanted to make the world a safer place. For you see, she did not answer the follow-up question, the question no one wants to ask or hear the answer to: A safer place for whom?

"Trust your father! I will only kill the bad people
(who threaten the empire)!"

A safer place for liberals? A safer place for environmentalists? A safer place for truth-tellers? A safer place for free thought and free discussion? A safer place for the "innocent masses"? A safer place for Jesus? God help you if you believe that garbage. By their fruits ye shall know them.

Instead, we're fighting to make the world safe for people doing bad. We're taking out the "bad guys" so profiteers can continue to profit off destruction, liars can continue to lie about why we die and the greedy may continue their plunder. When you know you're doing the wrong thing, you always live in fear of a righteous backlash. So of course you want to make the world a "safer place"!

Don't be a clown carping about any plots we've been saved from. That's like bragging about stopping bank robbers while the banks rob us blind by the trillions. Makes you look dumb and naive. And besides, most high profile plots have involved government agents anyway. We must first stop the terror from within if we are to stop the terror from without. And there's only one way to do that - the one way nobody wants to do or wants to admit, but we all know.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Time Out (NSFW)

This was her new go-to fantasy. She wasn't sure when it started but it had come to consume her "secret time". She'd be put in time-out nude, in front of everyone, and be made to stand there silently for as long as they said. Her body would be criticized for the slightest imperfections - a horror at her bloated age of 47 - and any other criticisms hurled at her she'd have to hear and endure. "Please, oh, please, put me in time-out!"

The obsession had gotten to the point where it disturbed her. She had to know why. Sitting alone with her misery and afternoon drink after a rough outing of shopping (not that shopping is rough!) she mustered up the courage to finally answer herself. "Time." Time itself was the problem. She had too much of it! It had come to squeeze her like a large descending weight from which she could not get out from under. And so, on the inside, she blew out.

If life continued like this, then her lifelong calculations had been wrong. She knew she could never make it on her own, a mere working girl without status, forced to find herself. No, the homecoming queen needed the praise to keep flowing in like an irresistible drug. She made her great escape from the world hooking a high dollar marriage from a college classmate. Right or wrong, she had to have that.

At first she resisted the chains, yearning to break free - and she knew the longer she waited the higher the price of freedom. An exquisite agony, that time. She wished the pain to depart but she knew as long as she felt that pain, she was still alive, still fighting, still on the side of the angels. Then one day she could fight no more - and gave in to the idea of having children.

After that, everything became "for the children". She had no time for pain anymore, children must be looked after! They were the perfect excuse for putting her life on hold, an excuse with which no one could argue. Like a vampire she fed off their lives - all the while fearing they'd learn to live as she had not. She carried much guilt from that time. "I put my children first. Isn't that what a mother's supposed to do?" she argued.

"Hi, Mom!"

Life rejected her arguments. The children are gone. What are going to do with your time? The questions are only going to get louder! Who are you? Do you even belong here? What have you really been doing with your life? There can be no exemptions!

But to answer those questions was unthinkable. Her head grew heavy, weary of the constant carping. If she dare go to sleep her worst nightmares came true in the dark, the weight of time crushing her in totality. She thought she'd been so clever, outsmarting the world and its endless cruelties, living off money from an enslaved male. But life itself is never deceived, the day of reckoning delayed but never ducked. She gave up fighting for the angels.

Touching herself, she imagined what would be said about "the fat cow in the corner." "She really is good for nothing. Pinch her butt and make her moo!" "Yes, she should entertain us somehow. All she does is shop and drink!" A laughing, derisive friend would write "Dumb cunt" on her clever back. They'd use her for practice kicking a soccer ball. She'd be left there for hours, for everyone to see and know.

"Yes, yes. Please do!" she moaned in relief.

A character actress in public, she was a star of the artificial world. The retail servants believed her lovely lies, never suspecting money could not cure the ills of their lives (everyone needs a god!). But what would the Nordstrom cashier think of the rich bitch in corner time? She'd kick the soccer ball the hardest. Anyone not happy with money should be punished! The game goes on, the chains stay on everywhere you look.

Oh, put a sock in it.

At one point, before the children, she'd tried blogging (she was an English major, after all) at an open writing site. She got some positive feedback and that excited her, taking a few tentative steps toward having an identity. But that dream seemed too far off, too fantastical to be true. She also realized that to keep writing she'd be revealing much of herself - and that she feared to face. In the end, she turned hostile to any compliments paid her, slamming the door shut insisting she was talentless and chasing a false star.

The secret time over, she must find a way to resume her posture like a good soldier, always pretending, pretending, pretending. Emotions don't exist. Needs are a myth. The army of the dead has no eyes nor ears, marching on to a fate it dare not admit (and furiously attacks anyone who does). All hail the glorious death of the dishonest!


Her husband stopped at an internet cafe on the way home from work. He too needed his secret time. Seeing a link for the trailer for the buzzing new kink movie coming out, he clicked it with relished anticipation. "Come on! Get to the good part!" There had only been a few flashes of his fantasy, but that was enough. However minimal, he had to make the connection to that world, to grab a few gasps of air. He knew his wife would rather die than ever do something unconventional and unapproved.

That night on TV came the story of how the trailer for the kink movie was "too hot" to be shown. The proper couple reacted properly.

"That sort of filth should be banned! Think of the children. Society sinks lower every day!"

"I can't understand why anyone would want to see that crap. It's just sick, a bunch of weirdos who don't know how to express themselves honestly. That's not what God wants!"

But it was what they wanted, horrified though they be to see their innermost desires displayed on the big screen for all to see and know. They stood frozen in the kitchen, righteous in their anger for all the world to see, propagating before God. Oh, how could anyone (not) know?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Diary Of A Mad Samurai

[Nobu "The Notorious" caused a national furor by choosing to run instead of accepting his sentence of seppuku for his infraction during guard duty. Hoping against hope his life had meaning outside the samurai code, his life on the run stretched into a miserable existence of self-pity and paranoia. Had he made the right decision?]

Day 3:

Sitting by the sparkling mountain stream in the bright cheery sun of the morning made Nobu feel as if he were in a dream. It was if the rest of the world did not exist, and if it did, then it was a place of inviting harmony waiting just on the other side of the mountain peak. The fish he'd caught tasted more wonderful than he'd ever eaten before - but then, he'd never eaten as a free man before.

Laying back between the fluttering trees to gaze upon the peaceful clouds, Nobu couldn't be blamed if he thought his woes and troubles mere figments of his imagination. Life is here and life is to be lived. How could any man argue with that? That simple fact should dissolve any arguments for death and destruction. Truth was on his side.

Day 6:

This is too much. I've been swallowed by the bowels of hell. I'm a fool beyond all measure, mocked by the gods. Who am I kidding? I can't stay out here the rest of my days. I must get to a bridge and leap into the void. A man ignores his life then one day hopes to walk away from his laments? My body is heavy, weighted like boulders. Why do I take another breath?

A hunter had come close to spotting Nobu. That jolted him back to reality, to his pounding heart of living fears. He'd let loose the desire to live and he was as on a runaway horse whose direction he could not control. Nobu lived with a foot in each world, splitting him in two. Where is home? Is there home?

Day 12:

The taiko drums from the village festival isolated Nobu into an invisible evening cell. They were the ones truly free, free to live their lives unchained to stupid rules without meaning. As he suspected, a likeness of his face had been plastered on reward posters. He'd been right to keep constantly moving without rest. The authorities were enraged at having been made a laughingstock. Not that a reward was necessary. The villagers would turn him over out of fear if nothing else.

Again, he could not understand the harm to the world were he to join the festival and dance in joy with the celebrating villagers. As a samurai, he'd never felt that urge, feeling separated from daily life to breathe only the rarefied air - or so he'd told himself. But it had been polluted air, poisoning his soul in the name of a higher cause that did not exist. This is difficult to acknowledge.

Day 14:

Kenbei! I have not once thought of him in these two weeks. They must be taking their wrath for me out on him. Do I truly know what I have done? He must have been furious at my departure. If I could ask for one thing above all others I'd ask he understand why I fled and broke the oh so precious samurai code. I fear I ask too much. Kenbei was different, true. But samurai hang their worth of following the code.

Can Kenbei mentally break free? Most likely I will die without knowing.

I have never known grieving such as this...never...this toll on my soul...

Day 21:

Slowly it dawns on me. What I have damaged I may not be able to undo. I have read of no samurai before who have pulled a stunt like mine. I am the worst in history. My heart is closed, never open. That has been the greatest guilt in my life. Oh, how I envied those with families. But how can a man build a house on a lie? Kimiko would not have wanted me had I not been samurai. For her to find out I was not a samurai at heart...she would have left me in an instant.


Dark thoughts and light thoughts. Which are real?

Day 25:

Part of me accepts my doom, part of me wriggles in frustrated torment. At least my disguise is working. But it takes the whole of my soul to keep fighting onward into endless white snow before my eyes. (Nobu had once seen a print of a winter whiteout and never forgot it, it frightened him so.) That young punk samurai I saw today...I could never go back to that, reading that stupid Hagakure [a book extolling the virtues of samurai code and conduct] like it was some sort of gospel. I see that type and think: "There goes a future fascist youth."

I can see no happy ending for this, my soul a scorpion's tail stinging me in the night.

Day 30:

Money is the demon of all demons! I was right on the foulness of this world. Godless merchants are the true rulers. How can anyone tell me there is a future in that? We must see the light and wake up before the ruin is irreversible. These beasts would destroy the love of nature for the love of a gold coin.

Nobu the samurai had been enslaved as Nobu the noodle maker, his taskmaster more fiercesome than any samurai overlord. "I pay you four mon for every hour! You work had now!" "Lunch break is one hour - not one hour five minute!" Nobu was too tired of a being to return to the mountains. The longest month of his life had left him a nobody headed nowhere. The breaking of his heart he could not stop.

Day 37:

"Help! Help!" Nobu screamed in his nightly nightmare, feeling he was drowning. Ever since he began his life as a noodle maker the drowning dream attacked him in his sleep. He'd wake up drenched in sweat, wide eyed in panic. In the culture of the samurai, Nobu had been often forced to say he did not fear death. But here, in the heart of the night, he feared it more than anything he could imagine.

Employing his old sense of duty, Nobu diligently pressed himself into making the best noodles possible, receiving high praise for them. No one understood his lack of appreciation for their appreciation. In every direction he turned, Nobu faced a different demon, poking him in relentless agony. "Please stop hurting me...please stop hurting me."

Day 42:

Nobu's life was reduced to that of a dazed numbness. He'd originally believed there was no way out of his dilemma and nothing he'd experienced yet had disproved that (except for flashing, intangible feelings of freedom he'd steal). His mind turned to philosophy and the alternative paths he'd always rejected. He remembered the stories of the Satsuma Christians and their fanatical devotion to a foreign belief. That had always struck Nobu.

The story of a sinless savior murdered for not joining the world of sin resonated in a disturbing way that Nobu never could get out of his head. If that man could not make it in this world, how could he?

He wondered how true this unthinkable story. He remembered that worm Ishida's reaction when there had been a discussion of the Christian savior. Ishida was a man who could foul the waters of a stream for miles on end simply by standing in it. "If he was sentenced to death then clearly he was not sinless!" Asshole Ishida always affirmed the wrong viewpoint, the viewpoint of the world. In this way Nobu knew the story was true.

Day 44:

Philosophy means nothing when it comes to paying the rent. In Nobu's confused mind, only Kimiko made any sense as a possible answer to his stricken life. He'd been desperately suicidal at the time of their break up, feeling that was the mistake of his life. He told himself he was doing her a favor, sparing her from a miserable life with him. But that made it no easier to live without her. A nagging despondence pestered him over the years, wondering how deep this mistake.

The folly of that decision revealed its full horror as he realized only in her arms had he found a home. In the heat of the moment he'd failed to trust her as he should and the price of that was the burning breaths of air he now inhaled. In an infamous letter written during that time of dark turmoil Nobu stated, "Don't you realize love is not meant for me?" Had he taken a fatal direction?

[Unknown in the closed world of Edo era Japan, but a scant fifty years later those same words would be written by a Frenchman to his wife during the disintegration of their marriage. Their names were Napoleon and Josephine.]

Day 47, Night:

Only the heavens accept me. The stars judge me not. I see the moon and dare wonder to reach it. Even I cannot imagine a world so wonderful as to meet this celestial friend in person. Surely, for that to happen all the dreams of the universe would be fulfilled! My consciousness is not of these times. I foresee this land will come alive someday but that day is so far off! I feel I have something to offer but exactly what I do not know. Maybe my time is in another life, when we the Japans return to life once more.

Nobu had been called out by the noodle shop owner. "Nobu! What's wrong with you?" A more sensitive boss than his last one, but this too posed danger. Nobu was quizzical in his look. "This is not a job for you. You're much too intelligent. What in your past are you trying to hide?" Ah, how to disguise the inside? This is what put Nobu on the road that night, staring up at the sky, wishing he were walking on the moon.

Day 51:

"Is is said,
"When one man sins
"We all sin.

"Is is said,
"When one man heals
"We all heal.

"So please,
"Tell me again
"What it is you wish."

Nobu had never cared for monks or priests. Benign at best, meddling destroyers at worst, Nobu's prejudice stemmed from Oda Nobunaga's travails with the warrior-monks who interfered in the drive for unification, placing their own petty agenda before the good of the nation. But the man he listened to now, he was a breed apart, dousing the flames of hell licking Nobu's heels.

As a samurai, he'd always had a ready made excuse not to do the right thing. Tradition demanded it, pride demanded it, the shogun demanded it - always something. The whole rotten system is rigged. Obey or pay the price. This left Nobu in a curious place: for the first time in his life to do as he chose. That scared the life out of him - he'd have no one else to blame anymore.

Day 52:

This is too much. I flounder and squirm with no direction home. I'm too old to make anything of my life now. Regret drenches me like a typhoon. All those years sitting in the dark with my thumb up my ass. All my brave talk has amounted to nothing. Just run, run, run. How ironic after my defiant stance I end up killing myself anyway. The only goal now is to die an unknown so no one knows of my ultimate cowardice.

In what would centuries later be misdiagnosed as "bi-polar", Nobu wandered hopelessly across the land imbibing his midlife crisis, realizing he'd fucked up his life in the worst ways possible. He'd suspected his life would one day come to some sort of miserable end. But not this soon. To go back in time, to say yes to Kimiko and leave the samurai life, would be to live as a man of respect.

What is the price of a lie? Everything.

Day 66:

"We need to get lives!" The drunken outburst came from one of four men sitting in the sake bar. Nobu was one of those lost souls sitting at separate tables commiserating in their loneliness and misery. He'd fallen into a viper pit of self-recrimination, biting him in his sleep in helpless terror. He'd made it his habit to avoid sleep as long as possible, medicating with sake and clinging to the tangential comfort of shared torment.

His only guess for an answer - love - was further away than ever. A runaway fugitive with no identity, he had even less to offer than before. Nobu obsessed on his lost chances. "Why leave the rot of samurai life? I could never make it in the real world," he had long told himself. That sentiment he'd been unable to dislodge. Only the enraging thought of the satisfaction he might give to his enemies kept Nobu from departing the world. But on the other hand, did not this boundless despair also give them delight, to struggle in vain as an insect on fly paper?

Day 70:

Nobu wondered how much longer he could stagger along. He drank deeply from his cup of despondency, facing for the first time the measure of his life. It was true after all: he'd lost everything when he lost Kimiko. He needed her now more than the sun and the moon and the stars. She completed him. What hope had he as a half-man? "I steal the air I breathe."

Three loud, obnoxious samurai burst into the sake bar. These weren't the usual country samurai. These three came from a city castle much as Nobu's had been. Arrogant, reeking with a smug superiority, you could see in their eyes the contempt they held for the "lower classes". Nobu visibly moaned in pain at recognizing his old self. All those years without ever looking in the mirror!

"Dear Buddha, what a bunch of assholes," he muttered. His eye of contempt had long left him.

"You there! What was that you said?"

Samurais were basically bullies, coddled by a subservient society. Nobu could count on one hand the number of times someone ever stood up to them. He himself had feared of having his bluff be called. Nobu spoke with a slow clear enunciation.

"I said: Dear Buddha...What a bunch...of assholes."

"How dare you, you peasant dog! Crawl to me and beg forgiveness and I might let you live!" The loudmouth's two companions laughed in expectation of the coming spectacle.

Nobu turned away, his stare going out the window to the street. "Go ahead," ordered the unarmed man.

"What? What you say?" Nobu's resolute response threw the samurai off balance. "Who are you?"

"He's the noodle maker," explained the shop owner, hoping to avoid violence.

"Noodle maker! Ha! Prepare to die. You've made your last strands of soba!"

Nobu calmly turned his head, glaring directly into the man's eyes, having seen the likes of him a hundred times over. "Go ahead." Nobu's gaze was unwavering. "I'm already dead."

"Ahhhhhh!" belched the samurai drawing his sword above his head. He'd been expecting an obliging peasant to make it easy for him. But those eyes! They recognized him, causing doubt and fear. To kill when a man sees your evil is to be marked for eternity. The shop owner sensed an opening.

"Please, sir, he's the best noodle maker we've got. Spare his life for the sake of the village. Drinks are free for the night!"

"Bah! To hell with you and your village! I shall not stain my sword with the smell of soggy soba! If I see you again you shall die from the cut of my blade!"

The three samurai cursed as they left, the leader still madly curious with himself for not being able to strike down Nobu.

I guess I won't get off that easy, Nobu mused. I may not be much of anything worth having, but at least I'm not like them anymore. Perhaps this hasn't been a complete waste of time after all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Die, Samurai?

"You reading again, Nobu?" sneered Yoshi.

"You feeling threatened again, Yoshi?"

"Why do you always have to talk like that?" an annoyed Yoshi demanded to know.

"Was just going to ask you same question," replied a monotone Nobu not bothering to look up.

When peace broke out in 1600 after centuries of internecine warfare, the samurai were left no useful purpose but to keep the peace. The central government never fully trusted the individual domains whom they feared might one day rise up in rebellion as before. Even now after a hundred years this suspicion had not been allayed.

Residing in a state of borderline paranoia and perpetual insecurity, the shogunate never failed to opportune on even the slightest mistakes of the outlying clans, harboring even more power to the central authorities. Of course, one suspects everyone a witch when a witch oneself. This enabled a slow rot among the ruling samurai whose moral authority they felt gradually slipping away in slow motion terror. (In another 150 years the samurai would finally lose all power and be outlawed)

With all the downtime, this made for cranky samurai. Long, hot days in the sweltering Edo sun presented an enemy no sword could slice: boredom. Waiting for a battle that never comes turns minutes to hours and hours to days. The oppressed mind is stretched to the limit wandering deserts of vast banality, all the while hunted by a new unspoken fear hounding every samurai: a life wasted. Tempers weren't just short this day - it was every day.

"Oda book again, isn't it?" Yoshi wasn't going to stop until he got his satisfaction. Nobu still didn't bite in oblivious contemplation. "Oda was a loser and a demon burning down temples. He got what he deserved when Mitsuhide assassinated him. Served him right!"

The chain yanking worked. "Idiot! Who are you to judge Oda? No other man could have started the drive for unification. Do not question his tactics unless you had been there and been him. Those were glorious times, wide open when a man could think and fight and make his way in the world."

"Time for thinking is over!" scoffed Yoshi. "Best to obey like the samurai dog you are!"

Much to Yoshi's delight, Nobu lowered his book in foaming fury. "There's two types of people in this world: those who think and those who do not. Each kind believes the other is immoral and a bane upon society. I think we know what kind you are, Yoshi, samurai lap dog!"

Kenbei, who had been lounging in the corner watching the dusty sun stream through the slatted windows, chuckled at this refrain. Was Yoshi's turn to lose his composure.

"Think all you want! See where it gets you. One day you'll go too far and we'll see who's crying then. If you had any real brains you'd be reverent and keep your stupid mouth shut."

"Only thing that scares me," retorted Nobu as he leaned back to his book, "is the thought of you 300 years from now piloting a 2,000 kilo car like a cannon ball down the road."

"Piloting a what?" Yoshi had been reduced to ashes, bamboozled and confused - and agitated to no end with Kenbei's returning laughter.

"Don't worry, Yoshi. Nobu has ridiculous dreams of flying palanquins and carts that travel twice as fast as any horse." Kenbei's face half hidden in the shadows made it impossible for Yoshi to read. He felt a lost fool standing between these two mental giants.

Nobu replied to Kenbei as if Yoshi had already left. "Wait and see, baka-san ["baka" is a fool], wait and see. Japan is the land of the gods and we will conquer the world!"

"That's baka-sama to you!" raged Kenbei in mock fury demanding his insult be suffixed with the higher title of sama over san. Both men laughed in appreciation - and laughed harder watching Yoshi retreat post haste chased by imaginary flying palanquins.


Less than a month later news spread like wildfire of Nobu's indiscretion. An unknown character had passed by him into the shogun's castle compound. Guard duty had always been an exquisite torture for Nobu and his unwilling spirit finally betrayed him. Lap dog Yoshi was right after all: the brain is dead in these foul times. Placed under house arrest, Nobu faced his fate with a caged heart.

Yoshi however could not have been more delighted. "He was probably busy reading!" he sneered still.

It's wasn't long before the shogun's edict was handed down: seppuku, ritual suicide. One small slip, in the blink of an eye, life's meaning had been lost. Kenbei and Nobu sat side by side staring directly ahead in the seeping night on tatami mats, waiting for the dawn execution. A fountain of frustration, Nobu wrestled with the ignominy of his fate until finally he managed a strained smile at his friend. Kenbei turned his head, digested the smile and snorted in understanding.

"They say we serve the shogun to maintain order." Kenbei's gaze had returned to staring straight ahead, speaking as if answering a question of philosophy.

Nobu appreciated the attempt to comfort him. "Order always has been overrated." Both men smiled in their minor mutiny. Ah, what it would mean to return to open warfare! A man could breathe then, his wits his greatest weapon - and men like Yoshi used as fodder for suicide rushes. The mere thought of this stirred their souls in glorious envy.

Yet the night crickets continued their commentary in dutiful disdain of the world around them. They cared not of the joys or sorrows of men. Nobu noticed their indifference, causing him too to ask, "What is it all for?"

"When I die will the world be a better place? Will it ensure the safety of Japan? Would my continued existence add chaos to society? Dare I ask, Kenbei, at dawn will I commit a meaningless act?"

The nonplussed crickets continued to chirp having heard nothing of relevance. Kenbei agreed.

"Did you dare ask if you should stay samurai?! Or were you weak, liking the privileges and power, your sandals never touching the earth. You let yourself be blown as a leaf in the wind. How can you now complain of the wind you let guide you?"

"It is true I turned my head from the questions I asked. But I believe every life is valuable. I protested each of the unnecessary deaths handed down over the years. What a waste!"

"And you thought that would protect you?! Baka! That only marked you and like an idiot you finally gave them an excuse. But if you think your life is so valuable, run! Live like a hunted dog the rest of your days. Too weak to leave of your own volition, travel to the end of your days in penance, never to be samurai again!"

Kenbei's eyes were burning deep into Nobu's soul, exposing the rot in his heart - the very same rot Nobu had protested in the shogunate. Nobu was startled by Kenbei's mocking suggestion. He had not considered running as an option but now having imagined that life he could see that was no life at all. No way out. Kenbei, a surgeon with words, approved of the effect he'd had on his patient.

"Your soul will rise with the sun in the morning. Spit in their faces if you must as you insert the dagger - that they will never be able to wipe off! And what can they do after you're dead? For them too it will be too late. Imagine what will be said of you. Glory can still be yours! No more this self pity!"

Nobu turned to match Kenbei's twinkling gaze. Then he started to laugh, Kenbei following, until the room was filled with laughter. "You always were the only one who could make me laugh." How glorious to put a permanent stain on these preening men who speak of honor yet act without it. What sweet justice for them to live with a tale of rejection from within, that every villager will see the shogunate in a different light. Ruthless is as ruthless does.

CODA: As the sun broke over the mountain Nobu was nowhere to be found. Disguised and disheartened he vanished into the mountains never to return. A reward was posted for his capture and every samurai in the country vowed to kill him on sight. But Kenbei's words had continued to echo in Nobu's head throughout the night - and "what would be said of him" changed not one whit his eternal fate.

Which was the greater self-pity? To die or to at last try to make something of himself and his life? It was true, he'd been weak and lazy, a loudmouth living in fear. His heart trembled in anguish like a man who'd piled up a lifetime of debt. Oh, how ever to pay it off! Could it even be done? Had he the courage to go forward? All he knew for certain was the welcoming sounds of the birds around him, inviting his sandals back to earth.

Kenbei too had shared in the fury of Nobu's departure. But he quickly despised the talk of samurai who boasted of deploring without end Nobu's failure to commit seppuku. Empty words from empty lives. Kenbei came to understand the vision of his running friend, of his complaints of the hollowing from within and the cowards desperate to conceal it. He held in his hand Nobu's departing note - a single Kanji character for "Life" - with a wry smirk, realizing where his true loyalties must lie for him to die a man.

Inspired by "When The Sun Falls" (HI-WA-OCHIRU) as shown at Asian Film Festival of Dallas

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Sun's Maiden

As the sunflower
Must face the sun -
Though it's fate a
Withering one -
So I too must die
If we are not one.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Value Of Raindrops In Time Of War

It was the honor of I, Mitsubishi Jiro, to stand as personal guard this evening as my liege lord Oda Nobunaga spoke with his most trusted general Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Meeting Lord Oda changed my life (you can read my story here) and I knew my fate was tied to his be it for better or worse. In this I am most happy.

My lord had changed recently, a man not so stretched in his aims as when he was fighting on many fronts. With eastern Japan under control we fought to finish the job in the west and finally unite us a country. Over the years this I knew for sure: no one but my lord could have pulled off this amazing feat. The rest were pretenders to the throne.

But while this was clear to me, it was not to the pretenders. Many saw only the power of the shogun's position and its privileges. The vacancy cries out to be filled as the country aches for a universal leader. But to me, I always believed one must be fit for the job at hand, whatever that fit might be. Each of us has our place and in finding that is true success.

But to the men who sought power, it seemed they never asked themselves this, they never asked if they belonged in the position of shogun. But one cannot overrule nature. My power is in realizing the harmony I can achieve and though it was a hard path to get here I thank the gods for the wisdom and perseverance to become who I am today. These men who fight nature fight themselves as well as their enemy. Of course they lose!

Listening to my lord speak was as listening to whispers of the gods in their heavens. I trembled hearing the direction of my country into a new and noble state. My lord is a man of high purpose. I too have attained purpose - but it is not in the mere following of him I have this. It was in him giving me myself I was able to find my own true direction. What excited me and thrilled me was the parallel between my life and the nation's. We were both growing into a new era.

It was of Tadaoki Lord Oda and General Toyotomi spoke.

"I know you value Tadaoki, monkey. He is fierce and fanatical and I'm glad he's on our side," mused my lord, calling his general by his pet name of 'monkey'.

"Then why not allow his promotion? He is the type to simmer in resentment."

"We must think of the future now. What it takes to conquer and what it takes to rule are two different things. Remember that! Tadaoki is a man without purpose. Today he takes great pleasure in immersing himself in our cause. We have the winds of destiny at our back and the men can feel it. We must submit to the times, to become one with the gods if we are to prevail."

"But what is wrong with a man who immerses himself with our cause so blindly?"

My lord paused to give his general a look, and then let out one of his what many saw as ill-timed laughs. He was very human when he laughed like that, almost as a poet would laugh I always imagined. Most times my lord does not explain himself but he took great joy in Toyotomi's company.

"You play the fox with me, monkey!" Toyotomi smiled. "You only ask the question when you already suspect the answer. Yes, I agree with you. Soon our cause of conquest will end and where will men like Tadaoki stand then? His contentment lies in not having to face himself and he will lose that when war ends. What should we do with such men?"

"Kill them!" mocked the general of my lord's sometimes infamously ruthless ways. Toyotomi was a master of manipulating men, even greater than my lord in some ways. It was his way of reminding Oda not to be too harsh in his assessment.

"Yes, quite," replied Oda before receding into himself, sipping that nasty foreign wine of his. (I think he only liked it because he knew everyone else hated it!) "Do not promote too highly men with whom we cannot share the nation's rule. Do not give them too much to lose. My true dreams are after the days of fighting."

This my lord had never before revealed. It was evident he just now felt comfortable with this revelation sitting on the doorstep of final victory. Toyotomi perked up same as I did. In his cruelty, we'd had sometimes wondered of our master; what of his true motives. This was our first hint.

"We all have dreams for our nation, the land of the gods," goaded his confidante.

"Is it a dream you would mock, monkey? How deep are your eyes?" Toyotomi was wise enough not to answer as Oda looked far into the twinkling night sky. "The sword conquers but the sword cuts both ways!" Fire flashed in his eyes. The burdens of conquest, of constantly judging the correct line between construction and destruction had weighed heavily on him. Selfishly, we had assumed our lord had a supernatural power that had exempted him of such torment.

Oda stood up, rising to his words. "I've always held tight the reins of power but comes a time when they burn the hand that holds them. We must loosen the reins, monkey, after we are united. Breathe fresh air into the country. Else we will teeter and fall into a stale withering state like a tree entering winter whose branches become bare."

Loosen the reins? Who could imagine such madness? Placing myself in my lord's shoes I can see the need to control in the face of chaos. But to give chaos its head, what good could come of that?

"The people need control. We are too warlike, itching for intrigue. Give them an inch and they'll bring us down castle by castle!"

"I didn't say now," scowled Oda very crossly. "Is everyone blind but me?"

The night sounds of insects were all that could be heard. But Toyotomi truly wished to understand.

"Forgive me my stupidity. I am baka."

My lord was in pain, alone in the world. Of what he knew he could not say. I had never seen him so vulnerable. I'd seen him rude beyond comprehension, recklessly intolerant and sometimes plain sadistic in frustration. Now I understood a bit more. What he played out on others was being played out on him from within. For a moment burned forever into my memory, his eyes seared into mine. What he saw there I do not know.

"This one time I will speak. Then never again until you see yourself. Is that understood!" Toyotomi bowed deeply in reply. I could tell Oda still did not want to speak, turning his back to us. We listened to the night once more. I thought I was going to live eternally in that moment.

"You starve a man into submission not because you enjoy it but because he must lose his appetite for the fight." My lord was speaking to the heavens above. "But to win, you must feed him in the end. Imagine his first taste of food! He'll never go back but want only more. Even you can understand that, monkey! First we choke the chain then loosen it. Freedom's taste will do the work of ruling for us. Once we turn the power over to the people we'll be as a rock no one can crush. We'll be the envy of the world!"

"I understand in part. We must win loyalty - "

"That has always been your forte!"

" - but to just give up in the end..."

Oda swung around, anxious to share his vision. "Don't you understand? Surrender is victory. All that I've achieved I've done through surrender. When I grew stubborn is when I made mistakes, demanding my own ways take precedence. I understand you do not understand and this must seem madness to you. But I do ask you trust me. To show you men will follow life before war once they have the chance to taste it. It will be as raindrops on a parched man's tongue. We will achieve what no nation in the world ever has. That is my dream, monkey. I wish this for my legacy."

Swept up in the emotion, the general replied, "I trust you. I trust you without doubt. What you say shall be."

My lord turned back to us with a wry smile. Then a very sad look covered his face with thoughts I cannot imagine. I suspect he knew he was a man before his time. The very fact he had to explain himself proved that. In less than 90 days hence he would be dead, killed by a man who asked not if he truly belonged as shogun; a legacy unfulfilled.