2009 was, I'm sorry to say, a slow year for Chorus, Isolate, Confirm. I found myself with less time to write and less stuff to write about. I have no better excuse for my laziness from January 1 until December 22. As for the final week of the year, however, I do have an excuse.
Wife and I headed to Wisconsin to spend Christmas with my parents and siblings. It was my first Christmas in the US in six years, and it lived up to my every anticipation. Like all things, however, it had its pros and cons.
Truth be told, I had been thinking about the food aspect of my holiday long before I boarded the plane at Narita. My co-worker asked me about my plans for the winter break and I answered, "FOOD." When I filled out my customs declaration form on the plane, I wrote that the total monetary value of gifts and merchandise I was bringing into the US was "FOOD." At O'Hare Airport, the immigrations officer asked me where I'd be staying during my vacation and I answered, "FOOD."
Yes, food. The cornerstone of any family holiday function. In my family, the holiday season usually entails a big potluck dinner on Christmas Eve, a big brunch and then turkey dinner on Christmas Day, and a seemingly endless stream of cookies and Chex mix in between. It's enough to make your stomach disown you, cut all ties with you and change its name and address to stop you ever contacting it again.
CON: Winter in Wisconsin
Living in Tokyo for six years has weakened my tolerance for winter. It rarely drops below freezing and it rarely snows -- and when it does snow, it doesn't bother me because I don't have to shovel it or drive in it.
Wisconsin may not technically be the "frozen tundra" that local football fans would have you believe it to be, but it's not exactly the ideal winter getaway, either. Christmas week was dominated by a particularly troublesome storm. It delayed our arrival by keeping us grounded in Chicago for two hours, then proceeded to sprinkle the entire Midwest with a disagreeable mix of freezing rain and snow. Through all of this, the temperature held steady at around the freezing mark, making for treacherous roads and driveways. In its wake the storm left bitter cold, icy winds and snow to be shoveled.
And another thing: When it's December at 45 degrees north latitude, the sun seems like it's constantly right in front of you. From the time it rises to the time it sets (granted, that's only, what, nine hours?), the sun is on a mission to blind you while you're driving and tire out your face muscles by making you squint.
Dexter is my mom's cat. He's a big, fluffy dummy with a penchant for licking the bathtub after someone takes a shower. What Dex lacks in agility and brains, he makes up for by being friendly...at least by cat standards. Dexter is a very personable cat (if that makes any sense...people are personable, so are cats "catable?").
That's more than I can say for Muppy, my dad's cat, who'd just as soon sink his teeth into you as look at you. The name Muppy is a portmanteau of "Mister Puppy," a cat name that my sister and I came up with years ago. It's entirely possible that Muppy's misanthropy is a direct result of having that ridiculous moniker.
Wife took the below photo of Muppy looking like the mild-mannered host of a public television show. But don't be fooled. He's not introducing a Hitchcock film or comparing fine wines. He's thinking about eating your face.
PRO: America is cheap
Part of getting used to life in Japan is becoming accustomed to how expensive everything is. As such, when we visit the continental US, we feel like we've just stepped into a magical wonderland where everything is on clearance all the time. Observe this bargain basement find: Parappa the Rapper for the PSP, marked down to $4.99. You'd have to pay me not to buy that.
CON: America is stupid
On the other hand, a big of shopping reveals some of America's more troubling trends. For example, the Snuggie. Wife and I first saw an infomercial for this Harry Potter-esque garb in Japan and assumed it was some failed foreign invention, brought to Japan for a second chance at commercial success. The commercial showed a family of four, all wearing matching Snuggies and looking very much like members of some kind of warm, cozy religious cult. Imagine our shock when we saw every store in Wisconsin selling the things. And don't even get me started on Snuggie for Dogs.
Speaking of stupidity and shopping, consider this warning sign of America's descent into intellectual oblivion: I was most dismayed to find that the Fox River Mall in Appleton no longer has a bookstore. I walked up and down the mall, assuming that Waldenbooks had just moved to another spot or possibly been replaced by a Barnes & Noble, but there was nothing. I checked the mall directory and found only one store listed under the "Books and Software" category: GameStop.
God help us.
PRO: The Price is Right
At risk of coming across as a hypocrite after what I just said about America's intellect, I won't go into too much detail about this. I just forgot how much I liked this show back in the day. It isn't on in Japan, so I made sure to get an eyeful of it while I was in the US.
On Christmas morning, America shed a collective tear of sorrow. Not because our security was threatened by attempted terrorism...not because our holiday was marred by news of what could have been a large loss of life. No, we shed a tear in anticipation of all the stupid crap we'd have to put up with at the airport in the name of "additional security."
After hearing about the hot pants antics of crotch bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the news, Wife and I exchanged a look. We knew we'd be limited to one carry-on bag and no personal item. We we sure we'd have to walk through a Total Recall underwear scanner. We counted on being forced by nervous flight attendants to sit perfectly still, hands in our laps, looking straight ahead for the entirety of our 13-hour return flight to Japan.
Happily, none of our premonitions about came true. And on top of that, a Christmas miracle: Our tickets were magically upgraded to business class. So thank you, airline industry. I'll gladly surrender my privacy and convenience if it means I can have unlimited free champagne, lean my seat all the way back and order a BLT at any point during the flight.
Happy New Year from Chorus, Isolate, Confirm. May 2010 be a more bloggable year than ever.