2014 In Review
I have a long-held belief that whatever it is one is doing at the stroke of midnight at the commencement of the New Year is a sort of metaphor for how one will spend the rest of the year. Not being able to afford to hold or attend any parties, I spent the evening of December 31st, 2013 playing Minecraft, drinking cheap bourbon, and listening to blues music. Now, these are my default states of being at any rate, so it is not surprising that I’ve spent most of the year drinking Jim Beam, hitting the Xbox, and listening to a lot of Freddie King. But I have also spent most of the year broke, so I guess that’s the takeaway.
I spent the rest of January struggling with Chinese classes, taking notes about the History of World War II, and being patronized rigid by a law professor who quite obviously hated having to teach an Intro class.
The second month in Seattle is always interesting. We have a sort of fake spring in the second or third week of the month, during which the weather approaches niceness and the temperature gets up around sixty. This lasts just long enough for suckers who have moved there from out of state to make outdoor plans for the following weekend, just in time for the weather to return to its state of godawful misery and damp grey coldness. This year was no different, although the Seahawks were in the Super Bowl.
“I’ll be able to watch, no problem,” I told my roommate. “I never work Sundays.”
Of course, when I went in to check my hours for the week, I was on the schedule, along with everyone else, and a snippy memo from Corporate to the effect that everyone will be working on Superbowl Sunday.
It was therefore an amazing coincidence that the front suspension went out on my car, and I caught triple pneumonia, and my grandmother passed away (a tragedy, to be sure, but the fact that it had happened some thirty years previously ameliorated the pain somewhat), and I had three different papers that were all due, and oh the hell with it, I’ve been waiting forty years for this, I quit.
The game is now a matter of public record and I still watch the highlight reel on YouTube when I need cheering up. My roommate and I have been Seahawks fans since we were kids, so we were sort of expecting the typical Seattle choke, but apparently Russell Wilson didn’t get the memo on that one. Good thing, too.
I spent a lot of time in March going to school, studying things at school, bringing things home from school, and trying to find money for school. I had already been accepted to university in Tokyo, but one of the conditions of the visa is that each student must prove access to something like thirty thousand dollars, including financial aid. With scholarships and everything, I was still about five thousand dollars short. Plus, I still had to eat and so forth. Fortunately, I was working at the school, so I had a little money coming in that way.
In April I had Winter Quarter Finals, and got A’s in everything. I also had some sort of birthday, which I celebrated by going out with some friends to, I think, every bar in the International District, ending with my buddy Joel and I eating in some Chinese restaurant at about 4 AM. So, not too different from any other birthday.
I forget. There were lots of classes. I was still taking Chinese, and Linguistics, and Astronomy. I probably had some coffee. There might be photos; I don’t recall. I was still sending out scholarship applications, not having realized yet that those are pretty much a dead end. I worked at school, was President of Phi Theta Kappa and the Go Club, and was Vice President of something called the Japanese Chit-Chat Club. I gave a couple of motivational speeches that were very well received, and I won a couple of awards at school, some of which even had a little monetary love attached. I was too busy to be stressed out, yet I still managed to find the time.
I made the financial deadline for my visa in the absolute nick of time and started the application process, and had a couple of lovely meals. Oh, and I also graduated with honors from Highline College. I walked down the aisle loaded down with swag; it was pretty cool. Afterwards, Joel and I went out for a drink or two, then hung out at my place the following night and drank and ate a bunch, then took the train into town the next day and spent the whole day drinking and eating with our Chinese instructor and other friends. If this was the party for my two-year degree, I can only imagine what the four-year will be like, and my MA might just do me in.
I was going to drive my ancient Volvo the fourteen-hundred-mile round trip to Twin Falls, Idaho, to visit my parents, but it was just too knackered to make the trip. A friend offered to lend me a spare car, but then had to lend it to a co-worker; in exchange, she bought me a plane ticket to Boise, and I used the money I had budgeted for fuel to rent a car and drive to my brother’s house. I spent most of the week helping my parents move into their new, smaller apartment, and about half of that time I spent trying to get my father, in his eighties and undergoing chemo, to sit down and stop trying to help.
“Dad, just tell me where you want this,” I would say, holding a box.
“I can show you,” he would reply, getting up out of the chair.
“No, just show me,” I said, “and if you get up again I’m going to tape you to that chair.”
Between that and explaining to my mother that World War II is long over, so she doesn’t need to save three-square-inch strips of used aluminum foil, it took a few days to move them. It was very nice to see my brother’s garden in full bloom, however; I’ve never been there any time other than Christmas.
I spent August getting ready for school. I sold a lot of stuff, cleaned up the house and boxed up my things as best as I could, bought the supplies I thought I’d need (namely a four-pack of Old Spice deodorant and loads of the Italian shaving cream I like), and visited the last few restaurants on my list.
The last week of August, I packed up my stuff and flew to Tokyo, having only a minor issue with the airline over whether or not I could carry my guitar on the plane. My position, backed up by Federal law and FAA regulations, was that I could; Singapore Airlines took the opposite position. It took some careful negotiation, but I finally let them put my Gretsch CVT in the hold of the giant Airbus A380.
The flight to Tokyo, when flying economy class from LAX, takes approximately three hundred hours, but I eventually arrived. I wrestled two suitcases, a guitar, and a laptop case containing a MacBook Air and two iPads through the Tokyo summer night (average overnight low temperature: four hundred and fifty degrees, with two hundred percent humidity) into a hotel in Ueno. I checked into the hotel, and, utterly exhausted, walked across the street to a Lawson’s for a can of Yebisu and to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger.
The next day, I made my way across Tokyo and into Hiyoshi in Yokohama, where our dorms were located. I got moved into a room not much bigger than the sleeper cab in my old International. It was tiny, and next to the train station so very noisy, but it had free broadband internet and an air conditioner, which I turned on and did not turn back off until nearly Halloween.
Classes started in September. I took Japanese, International Relations, Politics of Identity, and something called Superpower America. I started looking for work, and didn’t find any.
Classes continued, I kept looking for work, kept not finding any, and my savings ran out. Things, not to put too fine a point on it, were not good. I kept busy, though, walking a lot and looking everywhere for some work. Mostly, I just worked on classes.
My friend Ryan and I were referred to a nice apartment in Kawasaki and threw money at the landlord until he let us move in. We got bicycles and I started working a little bit at the university; enough to keep me from starving. I also had a lot of help from a lot of friends, way too many to name here. I wrote a lot of karma checks in November, and I’ll have to pay them forward and back.
Got all As, including from the instructor that I was told didn’t give As. Got signed up with two teaching agencies, and they started sending some teaching work my way. Not all of it worked out, but some of it has, and I’m pretty confident that after the first of the year people will start. Right now I’m looking at two lessons starting in January; that plus my financial aid money (considerably more this semester, as my matriculation fee and housing aren’t being taken out) should keep me alive; as I get more lessons, I’ll be able to slowly dial it in so that I’m not working too much but still getting paid a decent wage.
So, here we are. I’m sitting in my living room, watching Young Frankenstein on the TV and typing this. I’m slowly getting back into the habit of writing, which is an important habit to have in university. And grad school, as well; starting to look into those. I’m in debt, only have some change on me, and a couple of my credit cards are a little late, but everything is going to be okay. Sometimes I lose perspective, but everything will be okay.