Recent weeks have felt like nothing short of a culmination, a climax…a fruition of various labors, if you will. Much like the blossoms of rapidly approaching spring, my long, silent winter labors have just recently been put to test, and borne fruits just as sweet as you please. During hibernation, I wrote how my life became a cyclic recurrence of a few simple actions. Run. Guitar. Sleep. Teach. Primarily that is. Unconsciously, I managed to form something typically alien to my life when left to my own devices: routine. And not just any routine, no, more a “regimen” seems the appropriate word. Lord knows, only someone as estranged from things like “self-discipline” and “perseverance” as I am could actually be surprised to find that such things often tend to produce “results.”
TEST 1: A (good) live performance.
It sounds like not a test at all…something I’m known to do, as they say “On the Reg’lar,” however it’s the (good) that makes all the difference. Having worked steadily for more than a year on not just my basic guitar techniques, but more recently, on putting together a solid, and mostly original set, it was put to me to give a competent and enjoyable live show for the fine folks at RANA cafe. My friend Mr. Hiroyuki “Jimmy Page” Furokawa from Larz Gallows also assisted me in preparing some of my favorite Led Zeppelin tunes together. For this I had to learn mandolin, a few obscure lyrics (who ever knew Bron-y-Aur Stomp is about his dog??), and some tricky bass rhythms. Called “EDO LIVE,” this event managed to produce in me an unimaginable amount of fear, neuroses, and just plain stage-fright jitters.
Not only had it been more than a year since my last live show, but this was to be my longest to date. I get nervous before each and every show, without fail, but for some reason I had more riding on this one. Though I had not declared it as such to my self at the time, I knew it was a test, a preview, a goal I have had while here in exile. I worked hard. I practiced every single goddamn day, without fail. I ran over the set till I was sick to death of it, and then ran over it again. Here is the set list in its entirety:
-Goin’ to California
-That’s the Way
-The Rain Song
-Hey Hey What Can I Do
-Stairway (yes, seriously)
…over two solid hours of Ed on stage – in front of a very impressive turnout no less – I was so nervous the day of that I could hardly breath. In the shower I thought I would puke. Then I taught my Saturday classes, and it all melted thankfully away beneath the games, snotty brats, trying to hit my butt, steal my inflatable baseball bat, or asking me how to say “poop” in English. The lessons finished just an hour before I had to get to the venue, and before I knew it, I was playing the best show of my life. I’m sure people always think it’s a habitual humility reflex when I wave my hand at compliments and obsess over what must seem trivial mistakes and falterings…but they’re not goddamnit. I’ve been well aware for quite a while how “sub-par” my stage performances tend to be, and it bugs the shit out of me, not because I expect to play a perfect show every time, but because I know the only reason I’m tripping up is because of lack of confidence and lack of discipline. Knowing I can do better kills me up there when my hand starts to shake and I have to stop mid-song or something. Edo Live was a turning point. There wasn’t a tremor, not even a semblance of disaster. The place was packed, all eyes on me, but somehow I completely shrugged it off. So, allow me my vanity when I say, “I was fucking great,” because hey, I was. That is, for me, for the first time, I was enjoying it instead of cursing it. There is, unfortunately only one existent video of the performance, which is unfortunately sideways, but nonetheless you get the idea:
TEST 2: A (completed) Half Marathon
Everyone who knows me understands that I’m not athletic…even people here who’ve never heard or seen anything about those miserable years composing absurdist variations of pop-song lyrics in Lonely Left Field understand that I’m not cut out for sports. My boss laughed at me when I said I’d be running the 15th Anuual Kyoto Half Marathon. I don’t blame her either. I’m just not cut out much for sports. Never have been. And that’s fine with me, really. I was never a natural at any sport, always got picked last for teams, always fucked up when the ball came to me, always finished last… so of course I quickly decided at a young age that sports were useless and stupid things that jock-types did. To ease the pain of knowing that all my younger brothers were better at these useless and stupid things than I was became immediately more bearable when I realized they were irrelevant, juvenile pursuits and I could best them in other ways. One way was to do whatever nobody else was doing. No competition = no humiliation. Thus, my brothers skied, I snowboarded. My brother’s did the soccer team, I did baseball, that is, the one with the least running possible. In high school, however, sports are an unavoidable fact. Even if you disdain them, you still HAVE to do them. I was the only senior on the Junior Varsity soccer team, and even still I was a bench-warming team captain (more essential for “leadership and moral support” than for physical ability, as the coach put it). I was let on the Varsity lacrosse team more out of respect for my senior pride and my 4 faithful years as Cate School’s worse Defenseman, and from that positively cozy bench, oh I cheered my ass off.
So why, as my mom recently put it to me, “what was it that made you suddenly decide to start running?” Well, I found it harder to answer than I expected, but I suppose deep down its just another kind of vanity, that and an intense desire to prove something to myself. I remember M. used to laugh when I told her I was running. She laughed whenever I suggested I would make changes in my life, eventually, somehow. She laughed when I said I would quit smoking sometime soon, “never gonna happen” she said. And, it’s true, I have a horrible track record with change. I promise myself something one day, ignore it 5 minutes later. My “Caprice,” we called it, back when I still talked to M. I have yet to quit smoking, though I have failed more attempts in the last year and a half than I could count. One thing I did manage, however, was to keep running. And when C. called me from Kyoto to say we should run a half-marathon, I saw it as a motivator, a kick in the ass to really put things in gear. It was a couple weeks before the marathon that I truly realized that my notion of “kicking things into gear,” was significantly less than other peoples…as C. and I ran side by side at the gym 1 week before the event. Sweat flew from him in all directions, but his face remained impassive as he chugged out a steady, humming 12~14km/hr pace for 10 k or so. It was then I realized that not only was I “a little behind,” at 9.5 km/hr, but I was actually plain “fucked.” From that moment on, I envisioned disasters n humiliations of all kinds, the likes of which I hadn’t thought of since the days before I decided sports were stupid and juvenile. C. was never patronizing or pushy, he said only, “all I ask is that you do the best run of your life. That’s it.” He even cooked me broccoli soup and pasta. What a guy.
See, the Kyoto race has “checkpoints,” and since you’re running through the middle of downtown Kyoto, they don’t want you taking your sweet time, exactly. Pass a checkpoint a few minutes behind a 2 hr pace and they’ll flat out stop you and take you back to the start in a van with all the other losers, clap on the back, better luck next time ‘n all. 21k in 2 hrs is a bare minimum of 10.5/hr, which isn’t all that fast I suppose, not for your typical marathon running type…but for me seemed like a death sentence.
Start gun is off at the huge temple gate in Higashiyama and I ran. Oh, I ran and ran. I kept trying to keep pace with someone in front of me, but they’d either get lost in the crowd or suddenly shoot ahead. I gave myself up to the kind of aimless thoughts that occupy a long run and just decided to wait for it to end, whatever way that might be. C. was long gone ahead of me, and I had no idea how far I’d run. THREE TIMES, race officials unfurled the big “zan-nen” STOP banner ahead of me just at the moment I was reaching the checkpoint, and so determined was I to finish what I’d started, that I picked, rolled, ducked, dodged, gave em the slip any way possible…my headphones drowning their frantic shouting as I kept on in an ever thinning crowd of the “giri-giri” people at the back. At one point I was neck and neck with the radio car bringing up the rear for the last stretch. I even waved to the drivers as the sweat poured in gallons down my aching body.
All along the course were droves of old ladies, pinching their wrinkled faces into enraptured smiles, their cheers reached me even through the pounding of the techno in my earbuds…”GANBARE!!! GANBARE!!! SAIGOMADE!!!” They clap in unison. Their expression is unchanging. I think how they truly, truly have nothing better to do than come see what kind of person is dumb enough to pay money for 2 hours of physical torture. I draw my strength from them when I have none left to give. It nears the 1hr 45 min mark, and I’m truly in the back of the line. All the other stragglers have been picked off by the Pace Police. I promise myself I’ll stop at 2 hrs, no matter where I am. I note the weird abundance of invalids watching the race. Old ladies and people in wheelchairs. There is something disturbing in it. A paraplegic, his face fixed in a drooly, saw-toothed grin, cradles a video camera that’s trained at the oncoming stream of runners. My drained, crazed mind thinks, “what the fuck kind of thing is this, anyway???” Suddenly, from my right, a man, he must be over 60, goes flying past me…chugging along at an even pace, the flaps of his saggy butt-cheeks flopping out of his near non-existent runner’s short-shorts. I think how pathetic it is that a 60+ year old man is burning my ass and try to coerce my limbs to move faster. It’s not the energy, I note, it’s the hinges, the bolts n springs. My achillies, my knees, my tendons, ligaments, joints, they scream in protest with every stride, “STOP YOU FUCKER!! GAHAHHHHHHHHAAAAAA WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME???!?!!?” I consider giving in to them. I look at my watch, it says 1 hr n 55 min since I’ve started. 5 minutes! I can’t do five more minutes, that’s fucking forever! And then it comes, like a beacon in the blackest night: the 20k marker. 1k?! That’s it?? I did that final kilometer in pretty much an all out sprint. I crossed the finish line like a true goddamn Kenyan- sweating, arms pumping, huffing, chugging, bulging neck n desperate eyes. 2 hours and 1 minute. 1 goddamn minute. And true to form, they had shut off the race timer at precisely 2 hours so I had to check my own watch. I half expected a crew of Pace Police to stop me 5 yards from the finish line and escort me off the course for being behind. I found C. and collapsed in his arms. He and his girl had finished about 13 minutes before me, and laughed as I lay prostrate on the concrete, unable to move. Pins n needles all over my body, my feet pulsating with each rapid heartbeat.
C.’s shrimpy, energetic girlfriend had kept up the whole way without even breaking a sweat. She had worn her usual heavy makeup throughout the whole race, and it wasn’t even smudged in the slightest. She wore a pair of pink terrycloth hotpants, short as could be, with little bows on the side…and a pink baby T that said “Juicy Life” in big curling letters. She smiled and said “Soooo fun da ne! Let’s marathon again soon!” I smiled weakly, and hobbled like an old man all the way down the subway stairs, to the car, hobbled to the onsen, hobbled home, and promptly sat immobile in my apartment for a couple days before the aching fire in every joint and muscle finally subsided. It was only then that the pride finally seeped in. I finished. 1 minute be damned. I finished the fucker, yeah!
Yeah. Let’s marathon again soon.