Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Loud and Wrong

Sometimes you have to wait in line — a long line, without really knowing what is going to be said to you at the end of it when you finally get to talk with the person in charge at the counter.  It’s part of life, and at the airport, it is a chance to observe human behavior.

Our flight out of Japan was delayed by a day. We were deplaned after two attempts by the mechanics to fix a “part that is needed to fly over water,” according to the pilot. Since this was an 11 hour flight, most of which is over the Pacific Ocean, I was really fine with the decision to not fly. Some passengers grumbled. As we left the plane, there was already trash everywhere. Discarded candy bar wrappers, plastic wrap from the  complimentary headphones, and on each screen, a still of whatever movie was being watched. It was like walking through the last vestiges of a preteen sleepover.

We returned to our original gate seating, and waited for word on the delay. When the announcement was made that the flight was canceled, and wouldn’t be rescheduled until the following morning, we were told to “follow the woman with the yellow vest” through the airport. All 300 or so of us followed one tiny woman. We lost her at a couple of points, and had to rely on the herd of faces we’d already memorized as our fellow plane mates — the young Texan with the loose blonde ponytail, a Japanese man with his grandmother, a guy wearing white-rimmed glasses. A few airport employees held up handwritten signs with arrows along the way. What our pilgrimage amounted to was a very long line at the airline check-in desk, where we’d all started our day.

We stood with a young woman from Laos who asked us if we’d been through anything like this in our travels. Dan explained that we’d either be offered a hotel and meal voucher, or we’d get rescheduled flights. She seemed relieved. The line snailed along. Dan noticed that attendants at the counter had to share a stapler. Then we realized they had no printers, and had to walk away from their posts to print out hotel vouchers and boarding passes. Some of them rode the luggage belt to get to their desks faster.

I watched a woman at the desk pull out her hair from the same spot just in front of her ear, strand by strand. Another woman, at the counter the entire time we waited in line (about two hours), must have had a complex travel itinerary which was disrupted by the flight change. She took out her laptop to consult a world map. Her flights were rescheduled.

Americans are not good at waiting. It’s like they’d never spent time in a line before. There was a group of impatient, entitled ticket holders who decided to start their own line by complaining. One man oozed his way to the front of another counter and demanded to know why he and his wife had to wait. He was given a hotel voucher. I overheard him tell his wife, “It’s ok, we got meal vouchers too, and I have plenty of snacks.” No one was going to starve (I sat near this man on the plane the following day, and he ate during the entire flight). Then he felt empowered to let others know his success, and made an official announcement that “this line is the line to get into if you want a hotel voucher.” Some went into that line, which took away one or more attendants who could manage all the people in the first line.

The rube and his wife, the guy in the white rimmed glasses, and several others who befriended them, were the boisterous Americans who had all the answers before anyone else did. At the bus queue, one of them decided that one bus was designated for each hotel, and actually moved someone’s luggage. Each bus dropped people off at either hotel since the hotels were near each other. They were wrong. So they had the wrong answers first.

I have never liked the adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Sometimes the squeaky wheel is just a total embarrassment to the rest of the vehicle, and needs to be removed and replaced.

You know, like Trump.

When our plane took off, people applauded. My takeoff anxiety was in full-swing. We had 11 hours to go. Let’s make it over the ocean first. The pilots have a job to do.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Everyone in Tokyo today has a coat that is nicer than yours. Herringbone, grey, beige, long, short, collared or not, adorned with a small faux-fur scarf. I saw very few black coats. Nails on women were manicured. Hair was conservatively cut and styled.

In the year 2000, the fashion in Tokyo was intergalactic. Fifth Element short skirts, white eyeshadow, the highest of platform shoes (women died from falling on subway stairwells), bleached hair, bright colors. The white eyeshadow was a startling Liquid Paper for the eyelid. I forget what I wore. Probably stretchy pants and wordless tops. Everywhere we went I felt like a big loaf of bread.

In 2020, calm is the new wild. Everyone is wearing earth tones. The highlight color is mustard, if you are brave enough to wear a highlight color. Dan saw a guy dressed all in green, but I missed him. It’s easy to miss people in Tokyo, which is a mill and seethe of humans.

I packed layers, planning on cold days and evenings in the countryside with my sister and her husband, and didn’t pack anything I’d call fashionable. In Tokyo, I felt like a rock with legs. A monolith in my oversized grey sweater coat, like an avatar in a video game whose goal is to not bump into anyone or anything. I failed at that, I’m sorry to say.

I thought about the coats I could have brought with me and if they’d stand up to what I was seeing on people. Nope. The 10 year old black coat I bought in Germany? The other black dress coat I got at Target 12 years ago?

By our second day, I felt offensive. My hair, in piles on top of my head, got snickers from shoppers while we were in a paper store. I love the red, cashmere hand warmers my daughter got me for Christmas, up-cycled from someone’s sweater, and wore them everywhere, with the big grey monolith sweater. They stood out. The boots I purchased to be comfortable (which bore a tag on them that said “fashion” — knockoffs of some brand I don’t know), made my size 10 feet look like concrete blocks. They were comfortable for all the walking we did though.

I wondered out loud with my sister if I should style my hair differently for the next day. Was I offending people? “Wear it how you want,” she said, and she shared that in her early days of living in Tokyo she gave up on trying to blend in. You never will. Just be you.

What a relief.

In the countryside of Kamogawa, I felt more at home. Everyone wore relaxed, comfortable clothing. Layers. They smiled more, and even if I was ridiculous and loafy, they didn’t make me feel so. There were goats, dogs, chickens, and cats. None of them wore fancy coats.

But I still feel the pull of desire for a nicer coat, which is impractical for where I live. When I’m around people who have manicured nails, I want manicured nails, which is not wise for a woman who tends to goats on a daily basis and has to sweep out a barn. Yesterday I found myself on my knees in the mud, in my thrift store “goat coat,” holding onto the collars of Littleface and Brick, who decided that a visit with the neighbors down the road was a good idea.

My biggest concern these days is how to trim goat hooves. Goat manicures are on my mind. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube tutorials. My days of fashion, if I ever had them, are over. If you see me wearing a nice coat, it’s a loaner.