Category Archives: story

“Amrita” by Banana Yoshimoto: Tokyo pop culture and Magical realism

Amrita is the latest book I’ve finished. What a trip! It’s sort of difficult to pin this one down. All of Yoshimoto’s books read like the dairy of a Japanese high school girl or college student. What keeps her work from becoming another piece of YA (young adult) kid’s stuff is her fascination with death and the psychological depth of her characters. This is her longest novel, weighting in at 366 pages. Something told me there was a special reason behind the extended length of this book. Her other works are much shorter. It sat in my library for months. I’d pass it by wondering if it was the right time to pick up Amrita. My assumptions were correct. Amrita was a bomb of a book that went off in my brain.

The story is told form the first point perspective of a young Japanese girl, Sakumi, who lives at home with her family. The death of two family members greatly impacts everyone. Sakumi later suffers a serious head injury in which she loses her memories. Piece by piece she stumbles upon her old life. This sounds like the plot line of a stereotypical daytime TV drama but Amrita is anything but shallow. The characters are flesh and bone. Even people who only make brief appearances have a complete life of their own. What is so interesting about this book is the strong supernatural element in the book. Everything will seem entirely normal and then something surrealistic will occur, but it will happen in a way that’s eerily believable. It is a place where telepathy and the ghosts of the deceased are just the tip of the iceberg. Yoshimoto weaves a tapestry of reality, and then stretches it until the threads begin to bust. This is Magical Realism.

Amrita was a very enjoyable book that reads very modern despite being almost 20 years old. Sometimes I feel that her writing is better geared towards women readers because of her feminine style. When you read Amrita, you are in the mind of a young Japanese girl that thinks and talks like one. The quality though, is that of an experienced young writer. I believe Yoshimoto wrote this around the age of thirty. The greatest quality of this book is the voice. It is soft but strong. The story puts Sakumi through a lot of pain. The agitation in her soul is clearly reflected in her literary voice. Her inner strength is remarkable. What keeps the Amrita universe going is love. Whether it’s being shared between family, friends, or lovers, love is a central theme in this book. Yoshimoto’s genuine understanding of love allows her to create and destroy it as she wishes. She uses it to paint a sublime canvas. Magical, is how I describe Amrita.

You don’t have to be familiar with Yoshimoto’s older works to fully enjoy this one. Do not hesitate to experience the life contained in these pages.

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Grabbing Waves and Assholes in Safari Hats

Jibs was at home with nothing to do, boredom settled into him. Staying at home all day wasn’t his cup of tea but shear laziness had kept him indoors since waking up late this morning. He looked at the clock, 2:34p.m. Boredom irritated Jibs like a nagging woman. He tried to shake this dullness off without leaving the house. First he went through an entire circuit of calisthenics while listening to to the radio but after he finished he only felt more energized. He made a ham sandwich, it was good, and then it was gone.

“Grrrrrrrr……”

He was bored, yet still refused to go outside. Jibs didn’t particularly hate the day; in fact he loved being outside but a mild case of agoraphobia rooted into him. He looked outside and made a low growl to himself again. Desperate, he went to his library. His hand passed various classics the likes of Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, and Aldous Huxley until retrieving its target. He stared at the DVD box in his hand “Phat Ass’d Anal Princess’s Vol. 3.” He hesitated for moment, shrugged his shoulders, and inserted the movie. Half way through the first scene, he’d seen enough. Finally he gave in and decided the best thing to do now was go out for a drive. Jibs grabbed his car keys and headed outside to his 1972 faded lime green Monte Carlo.

Coasting aimlessly through the neighborhood began to lighten his mode. He took lefts and rights as his heart desired. Feeling the warm summer sun on his face made him smile. ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ He thought to himself with a smile. The car was a gutted out shit-box barely qualifying as an automobile. It was loud, there was no radio or windows, but Jibs could give a damn. A bad day was turning into a good day, and in his mind he was winning. Suddenly as if waking from a half-dream he remembered the joint in the ashtray. To this he smiled an even wider grin. Yes, Jibs was undeniably winning. His eyes went into scanning mode for a discreet place to smoke. After rolling through a few blocks he found it.

Jibs came to a stop in front of a tiny park and killed the engine. Opening the ashtray he found the neatly rolled joint and imparted a look that read a cool “Hell yeah.”  He put the joint in his mouth and quickly eyed around for any neighbors walking their dogs. The coast was clear and with the flick of a Bic the joint was lit. He dragged sweet marijuana smoke into lungs and let out a tiny cough then blew smoke outside the window. Three more puffs and he began to feel the intoxicating waves of ganja goodness span over him. He melted into the driver’s seat. Through half closed, puffy red eyes he wondered just what was wrong with the world. The answers to everything seemed so clear to him. In that soft lull he began to profess stoney wisdom in his mind- ‘ All the unnecessary killing and problems… Man everyone just got’s it all wrong. God and war… it ain’t nothing but’an illusion. The answer… is no answer, the answer can be found… in rays of the OOH SHIT!!!’  Jibs spit the joint on his lap and burned his pinky finger with the cherry. At the end of a block, facing his car, stood a man wearing black pants and a black jacket with a silver-grey badge sown over the left breast. In his stoned brain Jibs attempted to deal with the situation.

‘Fuck man a fucking cop! Awwww…damn where the hell he come from?! Shit, just my goddamn luck. Right when I start turning this shitty ass day around it has to find somehow to fuck me in ass… Alright man stay cool… don’t act suspicious, you’re just minding your own business. Alright check your eyes…’

Jibs looked into rearview mirror.

‘Shit! They’re red like the devil.. Ok man keep cool. Maybe he’ll just leave.’

Man proceeded to light a cigarette.

‘Damn it! .. Ok if I leave, it might look suspicious and he could tell me to pull over, but if I stay then I’ll be fucked for sure. Man, the hell with this, I’m outta here.’

Of all the times the Monte Carlo had failed to start on him this had to be one of the worst. The clicks emitting from the faulty starter grabbed the attention of the jacket wearing man and he walked towards the stalling car. Jibs cursed under his breath while hurriedly throwing a story together. The man was at his passenger window.

Montey won’t start,” asked the man.

                “Yeah … it just….uhh.”

Jibs gave up a big smile and laughed. The badge sown on the man’s jacket was the Raiders’ emblem.

Ha ha….man! I thought you were a cop”

A cop? Would a cop be out here… smokin’ weed?”

The man took a drag off a joint.

I’ll help you pop start her up”

Jibs was confused and relieved. The man got behind the car and yelled out to let off the break. Jibs gave him thumbs up and he started pushing. The car got rolling to a good speed and the man yelled “POP IT!” Jibs popped the clutch and the whole bucket rattled and bounced. The wheels gripped the asphalt for a second as the engine turned The tail pipe coughed out a fat cloud of black exhaust right into the man’s face. In the rear view mirror Jibs could see the man swearing between his coughs. Jibs gave him a friendly wave as he drove along his merry way.

Man, craziness. The last thing I need right now is some cop bullshit. The fuckers are always around to tug on your balls and never around when you actually need the bastards.’

He drove off. It was a close call and he knew it. Things were tough enough as is, now put an arrest, car impoundment, court date, and legal fees on top of the whole mess and what was a man to do? All anyone wants in this crazy mixed up world a little peace. This life can get to you.  Although the troubles in most people’s lives are everyday struggles, one couldn’t deny it would get under your skin and push your head underwater until you couldn’t take it anymore.

He drove out of the suburbs and got on to Highway 78 West. The car didn’t have a radio and so Jib’s listened to the sounds of the road and cars engines with their dull roars. Warm ocean air blew into his face and the sun moved west in the sky.  The highway looked like gold under the California sun. In Jibs’ mind he thought of very little. Just keeping his eyes on the road, he sped on towards the beach.

He arrived at downtown and eased his car onto the wide, palm tree and liquor store studded boulevard. You had everything there. Marines with their jarhead haircuts walked in packs checking out where to get the booze and some ass, street losers figuring out how to do nothing, surfers carrying boards, bikini girls, and all the nobody’s in between. This was his city and would always be his city. The warm sun felt like a blanket on his skin and he drove on from the south side of the 101 to the north and turned left towards the beach area parking lot. It was a pay lot but Jibs never paid for parking, for him it was a matter of ethics, ‘These places shouldn’t even be pay parking, it’s on the beach, man c’mon.’ But the reality was that parting with 3 dollars would put a sting in his pocket.

He pulled into a front row spot and watched the scene before him. The beautiful girls were sunbathing and surf was breaking in rhythmic pulse. There were other goings on but he wasn’t concerned. Waves built off in the horizon and every surfer jockeyed for the inside position and thus get that ride. All those waves were beautiful, but after the ninth set something special was happening. In the horizon there approached no ordinary wave but this majestic thing of power, a blue mountain rushing like a train from way out showing no sign of slowing down. It built continually higher, surpassing the crest of all the others, its perfect form seemed of the divine. The wave’s radiating energy refused to be ignored and commanded the attention of everyone on the beach. Some suffers paddled away for fear of everything it was, yet others fought to put themselves in alignment. The way it rose seemed impossible and still it did. Five surfers broke away from the pack and reached the magnificent swell. Paddling with everything in them, they clawed their arms into the slope driving themselves downward with every stroke. Two surfers took the lead position, each trying to out paddle the other but there was only room for one and the inside man wanted it the badest. Out hustling the other man, he moved ahead of his rival and stood. The wave curled directly behind him but he glided across the face like a bird against the blue sky, ducking just in time for the lip to throw over his head and explode on the surface in a thundering smash of white water. For three seconds he disappeared into the barrel and everyone thought he was toast. The wave blinded onlookers with a massive section of sun like a massive panel of curved glass. Then within this blinding light his dark figured raced out of the barrel while the wave behind him crashed into an avalanche. He coasted on pure momentum and raised his arms in victory then let himself fall into the sea. Whoever that guy was, he won, he beat life, he beat the odds and everyone else who tried to take this away from him. Jibs looked on and smiled. He got out and stood in front of his car basking in the collective glory of what he’d just witnessed.

That’s right, fuck you world. We won’t all give in that easy. Won’t cave in the way you’d like us to. There’s some of us who still got the will to fight. You can beat us down with all your bills and bullshit, kick us to the ground till we’re spitting up blood and you’ll think we’re finished. But, don’t look too surprised when one of us reaches under our bruised bellies and comes up throwing a face full of dirt and kicking you square in the balls.’

He heard something behind him and turned around. An overweight meter maid wearing a plastic safari hat with an electronic citation dispenser was taking note of his license plate.  “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hold on sir,” yelled Jibs.

“There is no ticket displayed on the dash,” the city worker replied without looking up.

“I do have my ticket!” Jibs moved up close to distract him from his little machine. The man looked up unconvinced with a bored expression as Jibs put on his best fake smile. “It’s in my car, sir. If you’d just gimmie a second. I put it in my wallet and it’s in the glove box.” The man stood there not finding Jibs’ smile contagious at the very least.  With a humble bow and raising a finger signaling it would only take a second, he backed towards the driver’s side opening the door, smiling all the while. He sat into the driver’s seat and stirred papers around the glove box. Looking into the rearview he saw the meter maid becoming increasingly agitated. Jibs cheerfully called back, “Just a second, got a lot of papers and documents in here.” But the man wasn’t buying and raised up his dispenser to finish writing up the citation. Jibs knew he was done. He stopped messing around the glove box for the alleged wallet with the imaginary ticket. Jibs watching the fat man spell out his inevitable 60$ parking spot, when a concerned looking women walked up to the man jabbering and pointing at a group of youngsters passing around an open container in brown paper bag. Seizing the opportunity, Jibs went for the ignition. The tires skidded backwards on the sandy lot as he reversed out while cranking the wheel to straighten out. The meter maid broke away from the lady and ran to the driver’s side pounding on the window screaming for Jibs to stop. With eyes strait forward in determination, Jibs punched the gas and sandblasted the fat man and nosey lady in a stinging shower. Jibs shot out of the parking lot, ran a stop sign, and was gone. Gone like a summer breeze.

Jibs made for Highway 78 and drove east away from the beach. With the sun setting behind him, the sky was a magnificent orchestra of reds, oranges, and yellows. He smiled the whole way because he knew that he’d won. He refused to be pushed around by the asshole, gigantic safari hat wearing world. No, not him, he was a fighter just like the surfer was a fighter. And now he was surfing that great beautiful wave and nothing could stop him. It was things like this that kept him going, the tiny victories in the face of overwhelming defeat. Those little neatly packaged “fuck you’s” we manage to pull off. Jibs lay back in his seat taking it all in. Tomorrow he probably wouldn’t be so but that was ok. Sometimes there’s just enough momentum to cruise safely past the next shit storm. After that, well, that’s another story.

 

photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethnoscape/339126182/

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Blubber Island Survival Guide #2

Please follow these directions.

If you’re reading this, you have successfully not died. Congratulations. The first segment of the “Blubber Island Survival Guide” focused on the key aspects of the Blubber Island universe. Today we’re taking a more sociological approach. Blubber Island is a highly complex, inter-dimensional environment, so it’s really easy for things to get mixed up and turn a little screwy. Don’t panic. We here at the Blubber Island Survival Institute have the best and brightest minds working around the clock to bring you the most cutting-edge information in anti-deceasing technology.

Death has to get through him first.

The number one thing to remember: Blubber Island is bubbling with Chaos. Randomness is at every turn. There is no sense of direction nor rock to stand on. The degree of shear senseless is enough to drive the average person bat-shit crazy. When you’re not getting chased by zombies with exploding heads, you’ll be dealing with an assortment of colorful characters. Let’s take a look!

“Can I fluff your pillow?”

The first kind of people you’ll run into are weirdos. At first glance, they seem like normal people–and then they speak. Unless you want to find out what a handkerchief dipped in chloroform smells like, avoid these dudes like the Plague. Blubber Island is basically a weirdo-hive. There’s no such thing as “normal” people. These are the “normal” people.

“Aliens!”

Next up are crazy bums and hobos. These characters claim to have god-like insight into everything going on. The strange part is that sometimes they’re right on the money. Other times, they’re just your run-of-the-mill crazy-ass bums. Whether you choose to take their advice is like spinning the Wheel of Chance. Statistics have shown a 100-to-1 odds of “crazy bum talk” versus “info that will save your life”. Think of these guys as walking casinos of knowledge.

“I’m gonna kick your ass and get away with it.”

Cops and any other type of security figures. These guys thrive on two things: beating the living daylights out of you, and, well… that’s it really. Hocked up on testosterone and countless hours of MMA Youtube clips, they’re ready to break your ribs before you get a chance to break the law. You’d have better luck trying to talk a rabid grizzly bear into riding a unicycle than convincing these guys you have rights. PCP will come in handy.

“Is that a free cookie?”

Next on the list are Greñudos, Latin for “stoner punks”. Highly intoxicated, free of all care, and totally lost, these will be your allies. Constantly keeping their ears to the street (mostly due to binge drinking), they are an abundant source of information. Unfortunately, their insatiable appetite for marijuana will cause them to forget most of it. Seeking out these lumbering pot heads seems counterintuitive, yet believe us, they will not let you down (sort of).

“Hold on a second, I need to murder you.”

Next up are homicidal Neo-Nazi with heroin withdrawals. If we need to explain why you should stay away from this guy, kill yourself now.

“No, you can’t hug us.”

Lastly are entities from another dimension. These ones are hard to find. However, if you do run into one, it means something big is about to happen. They’re not going to transverse through the space-time fabric to ask if you’re on Twitter. There is virtually zero information known about these strange travelers. All we can say is that some wish to help you along and others want to stick your head on a pole. It’s sort of a toss up, so you’ll have to play it by ear.

Not today, buddy.

Once again you have helped yourself keep that pesky Grim Reaper off your shoulder. We’re positive you’ll meet all kinds of people not listed here, but we’re closing up shop. The key is to keep a sharp eye and a groovy mind. Remember this blog when running into these characters, and you’ll be A-OK. Actual results may vary.  See you next time, and remember our motto: “No Dying Allowed!”

Photo Credits in order of appearance

1.  http://www.heyhotshot.com/blog/2010/06/10/dont-die-limited-edition-book-prints-by-justin-james-reed/

2. http://directgeek.com/

3. http://fashionnetworkseattle.com/fashion-blog/good-bad-ugly/good-bad-ugly-celebrity-mug-shots/

4. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevindyer/5719860925/

5. http://prof77.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/police-steroid-drug-abuse/

6. Random stoner

7. http://www.brobible.com/life/slideshow/face-tattoo-mug-shots-of-2011

8.http://themovieprojector.blogspot.jp/2011/09/cmba-guilty-pleasures-movie-blogathon.html

9. http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/4-places-where-dying-is-not-allowed.html

Blubber Island Survival Guide

Several of my friends and other brave souls have recently stepped ashore Blubber Island. They have entered a dangerous world in which nobody can guarantee their safety. As the author of this work, I feel somewhat responsible for the countless people (this includes you) who will end up deranged, scarfing down handfuls of their own “caca” [Latin for feces]. This realization troubled me greatly. “But Ismael,” you ask, “why don’t you just pull Blubber Island off shelves and ask everyone to stop reading it?”

Perish the thought, I say.

In order to tip the scales in favor of “not eating caca,” I decided to write an official “Blubber Island Survival Guide.” Blubber Island is a vast universe encompassing countless dimensions and worlds. It would be impossible and impractical to try and cram everything in one shot, thus I will instead focus on key elements. Follow these guidelines and you might make it out alive.

This is perfectly natural. (winsomeaunt.blogspot.com)

Exploding Heads are a natural phenomenon on Blubber Island. The postman could be handing you a letter from your friend in Monkeys Eyebrow, KY, and then you’ll make some offhand remark like, “Hey, my neighbor is sort of an asshole. You think I could fart into one of his letters?” The guy gives you a funny look and BAM! The mailman’s head blow up like pumpkin stuffed with cherry bombs. Whatever you do, do not stop and try to figure out why it happened. Just accept it and move on. There have been reports of chain reaction head explosions. Why risk it?

Think of an exploding head as a traffic light turning green. Head blows up, you move forward. Simple.

I’m sorry family, I wanna live! (all-funny.info)

Blubber Island is inhabited by flesh eating zombies. Exercise all traditional zombie survival tactics such as; keeping a sharp ear, running away instead of fighting, and abandoning infected/slower traveling companions (see Image of father above). Occasionally, zombies will seem to appear without warning. Be on guard for zombies bursting out of the ground or falling out of the blue sky. Much like exploding heads, don’t think run. The following film clip is for educational purposes.

Now wasn’t that easy? He made it and so can you.

They’re not doing any good just lying around. (tucsoncitizen.com)

Another natural phenomenon is the abundant presence of guns. On Blubber Island, they seem to pop up in the strangest places. But you can’t just reach into a bush and pull out AK-47. The rules of karma are that you must put some degree of effort into it. Think outside the box and look for secret compartments. If those zombies chase you into a kitchen, it wouldn’t hurt to check the refrigerator (if you get my drift). All guns come equipped with two things: unlimited ammo and unlimited bad guys. Learn to shoot while running at a full sprint, and I recommend learning from the pros.

They definitely read this blog.

This is a good crash course in dealing with the chaotic Blubber Island universe. I will continue updating the survival guide. Hope to see you next time. Keep your finger on the trigger and always aim for the head.

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