Thursday, February 23, 2006

Post-it Note Stuck to Cerebellum
Pee first, then the Tiger Balm.

Extra-wide Sharpie Tattoo on Back of Hand
(For Walking Around Tokyo)

Buy Nothing

The Best Part of Cappucino
The sludge cloud at the bottom of the cup, cut with espresso and sugar.

The Ol’ Truck Door in the Face Trick
A classic! I bike with the flow of traffic. Sometimes passengers get out of trucks stopped at traffic lights. I caught the door right in the face! Actually, I took most of it on the shoulder. Surprised hell out of the guy climbing out, too.

Chilling with Yakuza in the Sento
There’re just three of us, and we sit and sweat in the wood-walled steam room. A speaker on the ceiling pipes in the Muzak version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and comes very close to killing my soul.

The old yakuza guy on my left has the full-body tattoo hook-up. Arms, shoulders, back, thighs---his body is fully covered in tattoos but for a vertical stretch on his chest. All his skin is covered but for the parts that would be revealed when he wears a kimono. He smiles a genial grandfather smile and nods at me, then cracks open a manga comic about yakuza.

The younger kid now sitting on my right is the older man’s underling. He held the door open for the guy and waited a full respectful minute before entering the steam room. He’s since sprinted out twice with comic over-enthusiasm for the older man’s ringing cell phone. Comic because we’re all buck-ass naked, and there’s nothing funnier than a buck-ass naked man attempting to sprint on a wet tile floor with his dick flapping.

He’s got the beginnings of what will be the full-body tattoo hook-up, and he’s shooting sideways glances at the ink on my arm. It’s enough that I baldly stare back at him---man, I fucking hate being stared at like I’m not there, especially when I’m sitting six inches away from someone and we’re both naked.

I smile and point at his tattoos and say, “Nice.” He smiles and points at mine and says, “Very good!” We give each other the thumbs-up---two buck-ass naked guys giving each the thumbs-up and grinning like idiots. It’s not as comic as watching Junior hop around the corner at high speed on a wet floor. But it’s close.

Rice Ball Roulette
I’m not just subsisting on muesli and bananas---I’m also eating a shit-ton of hockey puck-shaped rice balls from the local Sunkus, AM/PMs, and 7-11s. Generally, I’m fairly sure what I’m getting---I prefer the sesame seed and red-bean rice ball---but when that’s not available ... spin the wheel, try your luck.

Lessons in Tokyo iPod Detournement
Directions: wander until lost. Set iPod on stun. Create dream-state meaning. Strip personal biography from the city; hijack Tokyo’s geography and history. Become an alien, make the city a strange and wondrous lunar landscape.

Round One: Leonard Cohen Versus Tokyo
“Famous Blue Raincoat” on the Metro; body pushed and pulled by the tidal wash of the crowds and the ebb and flow of the train; an ocean of humanity; “Did you ever go clear?”

Round Two: Krishna Das Versus Shibuya
4 a.m. bike ride to studio; Krishna Das’ bass-chord voice, perfectly struck, thrumming “Puja”; masked, helmeted, vinyl-suited astronaut construction worker waves me to practice with his twin orange flashlights; cold, cold, empty studio, don’t think, just do.

Round Three: Metallica Versus Akihabara
“Back to the Front”; jaw-clenching phencyclidine disconnection; “You will die/ When I say/ You will die”; technology in all its shapes and sizes; flickering, strobing, pulsing; raw wash of too much, too much.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ask Cereal Boy
Once again, Cereal Boy is here to answer your cereal- and yoga-related questions.

Dear Cereal Boy,
Is muesli considered cereal, and do you eat it?
Joseph Pasquale
Ramona, CA

Since muesli consists of uncooked rolled oats and fruit, it is frightfully less sugary than cereal, and therefore not as good for you as regular cereal. I blame the sawdust palates of the Swiss, who invented the stuff in 1900. Muesli is, however, part of the cereal food group. It meets all the vital criteria: it is packaged in bags or boxes, is prepared with milk in a bowl, and as Jerry Seinfeld famously noted, it can be eaten with one hand, while one is doing something else. Therefore I eat the shit out of it.

Dear Cereal Boy,
Does your well-known hatred of hippies extend to granola?
Franklin Rochester
Dubuque, IA

My hatred of hippies extends to many of their accoutrements---Birkenstocks, hackie sacks, patchouli, alpaca wool, folk singers---but stops short of granola. Granola, which consists of a baked concoction of fruit, rolled oats, nuts and honey, became part of the cereal food group in the mid-1800s---well before the hippie co-opted it so famously at Woodstock. I do, however, consider it one of last century's great tragedies that such a glorious breakfast treat has become a slang term for those unshaven sandal-shod cretins.

Dear Cereal Boy,
Is it true you subsist solely on cereal?
Anne-Marie Plodnitz
Redford, MA

No. I pour milk on the cereal. I also consume coffee, dark chocolate, and bananas by the branch-load.

Dear Cereal Boy,
Will cereal help my yoga practice?
Sean Fillmore
Vestal, VA

Fuck yes.

Dear Cereal Boy,
In your column in last month's Light Connection, you quoted a passage from the Shiva Samhita, a 17th century yogic text, as listing the many-fold benefits of cereal consumption. I've re-read the text, and I can't find any reference to cereal. I also couldn't find any reference to espresso as "the blood of the gods." What gives?
Lisa Woodrow, DDS
Blaine, VA

You are obviously reading an outdated and culturally myopic translation. I suggest you find a better one.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Tokyo, city of narcoleptics: Trains shuttle to and fro, every third or fifth person slack-jawed and unconscious, either slumped over on their seat or suspended on their feet by fellow passengers and force of habit. Chin-chested hunchbacks have taken over the corner seats in coffee shops. The coffee remains untouched until waking.

Yesterday on the train, the woman next to me slumped over onto my shoulder. Four women sat across from our unlikely coupling. Three of them nodded out during the ride, heads all bowed in the same direction and gently rocking in time with the train’s rhythms.

Mind you, this is mid-day, not early morning or late night.

Tokyo is a raw rush of the most intense stimulus on the planet---visual, auditory, sensory. Its inhabitants work ungodly hours, say 10 or 11 in the morning to 10 at night. Their long work days are often book-ended by hour-and-a-half commutes.

When they don’t work, they play. The karaoke houses are 10-story neon citadels. My daily 4:30 a.m. bike ride to yoga takes me past a karaoke center, and every morning, without fail, I pass drunk clusters of people emerging and heading home … doubtless to catch an hour or two of sleep before heading back to work.

The city seems in the grips of a sleeping sickness epidemic, a story from Calvino: People fall asleep in greater and greater numbers, on the trains and in the coffee shops, to be sure, but also in cars and in supermarkets, at their desks and on street corners, in plazas and skyscraper elevators, in parks and building foyers, until one is stepping over gently snoring bodies as one walks down the sidewalk. The three-story video displays, flashing neon signs and lambent window displays go unseen and unheard, their messages blinking and echoing down silent streets. One navigates once-busy train stations on tiptoes, careful not to wake those slumbering. The city’s ever-present background noise, its dull din, becomes the drone of millions of people, gently snoring.

Tokyo Yoga
Tokyo is the same as anywhere else. People struggle to fit a practice into their daily lives, juggling jobs, families, commutes, traffic, and winter weather. The yoga explosion in Japan, specifically the ashtanga explosion, mirrored its counterpart in the west, and there are many yoga students. They are passionate, driven, and hungry for information; in typical Japanese fashion, they adopted and adapted at hyper-speed.

There is a glut of yoga teachers, too, many foreigners here as well as budding Japanese teachers who have come to the yoga in the last two or three years. Smelling the money, corporations stepped in and sewed their dollars like dragon-teeth, from which have sprouted across Japan fully formed and ultra-modern yoga studio franchises.

Rents are hideous in Tokyo, so studio maximize all hours of the day. Yoga teachers are on the grind as they are in every big city, many traveling to different yoga studios throughout the day in order to teach two or three people. My flatmate Chama owns and runs his own studio. For a while, he was teaching 25 classes a week. He’s since cut back to 15. His studio opens its doors at 6:30 a.m. and has classes throughout the entire day, sometimes until 10:30 at night. I usually only see Chama in the mid-afternoon when he stops by the flat to eat a bowl of noodles. He then passes out until it’s time to teach the evening’s class.

It would be more unsettling---"the yoga trend," like all trends or fads, will end---if ashtanga weren't so difficult to undertake and so powerful in its results. It will never be too popular because it's simply too fucking hard. It doesn't rely on star teachers to encourage the opening of one's heart chakra. Its effects are immediate and bone-deep; you just have to do it.