All Work and No Play Make?

All I want's a comfortable middle-class life
with nice teeth for my kids,
and nice shoes for my wife.

More than a few of you have written me asking about Japanese girls. And the answers are: "I don't know", "no", "I don't know" and "I haven't tried that one". I'm way too crazy to date anyone right now, and for some reason I'm totally OK with that. I guess I've learned how to be single by this point, and I don't sweat it. Yet.

I don't really have anyone in my life, to tell the truth. I talk to my roommates occasionally about how the other roommates don't clean after themselves. I text message one of my friends from Osaka about once a week and see them once a month, or less. But I rarely hang out with anyone. I work, I study, and what little time remains I spend on my own.

It's not ideal, of course. But it was how my Tokyo experience began, so until my social life picks up I might not even realize there is any other way to live in this city. I've finally achieved the monastic austerity I wanted, and there's a lot to be said for it. Sometimes it dawns on me that this was exactly what I wanted: get up early, stay busy all day, study for several hours, and sleep.

But this city seems somehow closed to me. Entertainment is a 24-hour business in this city and yet I can't even consider enjoying these diversions. I pass thousands of cafes, stores, restaurants, bars and clubs, and it's like they were built for someone else. It doesn't even occur to me to enter them. My life lies elsewhere; in the windowless dungeon of Berlitz, in a cheap cafe studying Japanese, or in my kitchen with a cup of coffee and my laptop.

With friends and a bit of spending money I would be having a much different experience and, I daresay, more fun. But I didn't come here for fun, not initially. My hope is that if I work my ass off now, without any distraction, fun will come later. Hopefully then I'm uncrazy enough to start thinking about girls.

I've been one crazy bastard these past two months. I've been so impulsive. It's like I'm frantically looking for a direction, any direction, in which to sprint. On my sixth day in Tokyo I was freaking out about not playing the drums anymore, and desperately tried to figure out how to get to a drumset. The very next day I decided I needed a sampler and some beat boxes. The next day I decided my money should be used for Japanese school instead. Then I started researching grad schools for an MBA. Then for advertising. Then Pacific Studies.

When I got hired by the Roppongi Hills Club about a month ago now, I had just read an article about the best Tokyo mixology bars. The obsession returned; I decided I would open a bar in Tokyo someday. No, actually, I would move to London and learn their techniques.  No, New York. No, I would go back to Minneapolis and start my own place. No, I would go to New York after all. But there are all these brilliant bartenders running around the world opening bars, so maybe I should just give it all up and go to grad school after all. Definitely, I decided. I'm going to grad school in Tokyo for Telecommunications Studies. No, design. No, Pacific Studies...

Worrying about crap like this was stressing me out, so I'm trying to focus on today rather than my mercurial multi-year machinations. I'm trying to take things in single-day servings. Today, I tell myself, the only things I have to do are: make lunch, take a nap, and teach three hours of English. If that's as bad as things get, my problems are pretty good. This helps restrain the crazy a little bit.

Happily, the good days have been increasing. Sunday, for instance, I took the loop line around the Tokyo metropolis, twice, and saw a whole bunch of city that I hadn't seen before. Then I took a monorail out across Tokyo Bay and back, and I saw cranes that looked like brachiosaurs and I saw the city from the middle of the bay, a crazy perspective on the scope of my new home.

I'm still crazy, though. Today I was walking with a spring in my step. (Probably the coffee.) I was loving Tokyo and felt great and happy. But two hours later I was squirming with restlessness, convinced I needed to move to Shanghai: Tokyo wasn't Blade Runner enough. My mind started racing, considering the options for studying Chinese and Japanese in Shanghai and how quickly I could leave. I figured, I could be teaching in Shanghai in about five months if I transferred with Berlitz. I was ready for action.

How silly the idea seems now. I make plans that sometimes stretch years into the future, and then I worry about those plans. Which is stupid. I can hardly plan tomorrow with any certainty. Why stress something a year away? "Tomorrow," someone said once, "has a way of happening by itself." I try to yank myself back down to Earth every time I realize what I'm doing. There is no good solution to this except time and patience but I've been trying to rush things. Eventually it will all fall into place.

I hope. Because if this is it, I'll be pissed. Teaching, as I've observed before, is a noble thing, but I despise every minute of it. I really, really hate teaching English. I want to scream and punch and kick like a six-year-old. I hate whoring myself out speaking slow, tedious English for six to eight hours a day despite being able to speak Japanese. It's humiliating and boring and frustrating. And useless: I really don't believe that the eikaiwa actually improve English ability by more than about 5 or 10%.

I knew what I was getting into when I started. In fact, it took several months to talk myself into teaching because I was dead-set against the idea for years. But it got me to Tokyo, and now it's like I buried myself with a shovel and have to start digging.

But which way is up? I have to figure that out first, and that's been a challenge. The first and most obvious way to improve my life is to crawl out from under Berlitz. Despite every attempt to be chill about things, manage my attitude and whatnot, I hate Berlitz so fucking much I see black. It makes me want to get violent. Every lesson makes me want to throw my book on the floor and escape this terrible steel trap, chew my leg off animal-like and take my chances.

I want to strangle the supervisor who gave me my schedule.

"You will burn out with this schedule," dude told me solemnly when he presented it to me. My face fell as I saw the four split shifts every week. "You will be miserable and exhausted in a month. You won't be able to sleep at night because you will be too wound up after your evening lessons, and then you will have to get up early the next day. I could not work a schedule like this, I hate it. Well, maybe we can do something about it in a few months." That is what he said to me, and just to prove to him that I could take whatever he could dish out--and what he couldn't himself take, apparently--I've refused to budge a single lesson time from the original schedule.

I've observed this before, but it is almost a deliberate hazing, this schedule, a test for the sucker newbies. I work at 8:30 a.m., go home at 12:15, then return at 5:30 and work until 9:15. The first shift ain't so bad, but the second shift puts me in a foul mood. I've just returned from the late shift and this mood is fresh in me. Watching the setting sun from the window of the the train back to that detested basement is heartbreaking.

Yet every time I consider complaining, all I need to do is think about my students to shut right up. I usually teach male office drones of all species who work for the enormous financial hives in the area. These poor guys work ten to twelve hour days, five or six days a week, for slightly more than my minimum Berlitz salary. They make like half what I make per hour. And they're in for life; turnover in Japan is nigh-nonexistent (though this is changing).

This can't be rushed, I think. I'm doing everything I can do at the moment, maybe too much. I'm working fifty hours, six days a week. I'm getting my translating chops and some journalism experience. I'll probably be applying to grad schools in several months. In a year my Japanese should be marketable, so I can take the JLPT aptitude test. Companies are much more likely to hire you--and pay you--if you have some papers. With some patience, I may be able to get a job in journalism, or advertising, or publishing. Or something completely different, perhaps.

Except today I want to make cocktails again!


No comments:

Post a Comment