Good day all,

I have just uploaded the mp3 of the second podcast to my little miniserver here in my office in New Zealand. Unfortunately placed a pretty tight cap on the amount of bandwidth I was allowed to use, so I am now using my very own machine here, hooked up to NZ Telecom's ADSL network.

The machine in question is an ancient Toshiba Presario running Ubuntu and is also hosting my blog, so you will find that downloading the podcast is much slower, but at least it will work and not be capped. Rootbeer277 was kind enough to fill the first guestreader slot with a pretty cool node.

This week's nodes are:

Direct download at

Please use the new xml file at



    Today we have Prob and Lem

    Today we have Prob and Lem. Yesterday
    We had riding the pine And a fortnight tomorrow
    We shall have Eleven sentences about boiled tongue. But today
    Today we have Prob and Lem. The noders
    Eyeball their screens in an outbreak of breathless excitement,
    For today we have Prob and Lem.

    This is the Button A. And these
    Are Buttons B and C, whose use you will see
    In a moment. And this is a large two-way mirror
    Which in your case you have not got. The speaker
    Warms to his little nagging notes with ardent, unflagging apathy,
    Which in our case we have not got.

    This is the room which is neatly barren
    With a gentle press of a button. And please do not let me
    See anyone pressing their buttons. It is perfectly easy
    If you have principle on your side. The noders
    Are silent and motionless, never letting anyone see
    Any of them pressing their buttons.

    And this you can see is hard. The purpose of this
    Is to prevent the pressing of button A. We can press
    the space bar up and down: we call this
    Waking the computer. And rapidly up and down
    The noders are fumbling for pizza and spilling their cola:
    They call it ruining the keyboard.

    They call it ruining the keyboard. It is perfectly easy
    If your mind is attempting to cope with the quandary expert
    While your hands are engaged in juggling with buttons and pizza
    And trying meanwhile to secure a reasonable share
    Of Big boy chicken salad for grown-ups, which in our case we have not got:
    For today we have Prob and Lem.

    E. Haulfield

A blast of 80's synth-pop savages my ears as I saunter in. Everybody's already shitfaced. This is my kinda party.

I'm not late, but I'm not early. I prefer to be the first person at the party, so I can get good and drunk before the sophisticates arrive, but today I was held back by a very demanding game of Tetris. Never fear, though, dear reader — I had the foresight to pre-party and have heavily self-medicated myself.

It is not easy to drink whiskey out of a flask while wearing a Big Bird costume, but I am a professional, and sacrifices must be made for art. Unfortunately, even I, man of action, was unable to arrange any sort of sensible apparatus that would allow me to drink a beer in this thing. And I'll be damned if I'm going to take this mask off and reveal myself to these people. I'm fucking Captain Nemo* and I'm lasting until dreamland.

A masquerade ball creates a truly surreal social dynamic, especially one like this, with such a strictly enforced anonymity policy. At your average party a fair number of the guests know a fair number of the other guests and small cliques of talkers, drinkers, and gamers tend to form, with a few social butterflys flitting in between groups. Now everybody's acting like a butterfly.

A small group of people has gathered playing cards in the kitchen. They are drinking soda. I will avoid those people.

Dr. Doom is apparently as drunk as I am, but unable to compensate for his newfound liberated state. He challenges me to an arm-wrestling contest. From the avoidant stares, it appears that I am not the first.

"Shit, man, that's what they're doing out in the garage."

With a "Really?" he scampers off. In reality there's a Stormtrooper out there trying to get someone to play beer pong with him. They should make a nice couple.

After surveying the oddest of landscapes, a social arrangement of anti-social people without any ties of familiarity to guide them, I do what I always do in awkward situations, and head outside. There are even more people outside than inside, succumbing to the same instinct as I am, and smoking their dirty fags. I light up through a hole in the neck of my costume, and contemplate going to the bathroom so I can shotgun a beer in the shower.

"Who the hell are all of you people?"

*Rumors that I actually did end up fucking the guy in the Nemo costume are wholly without merit.

Wordmongers' Masque
Waking Up.

My eyes flicker back and forth. Open. Closed. Open. Closed. I’m exausted. No, more then that, I’m burnt out. My head feels like it’s splitting in two and I’m not sure if I can handle moving.

It looks like it’s going to be one of those mornings. You know the ones. Where you wake up and you can just tell everything is going to be wrong. Where you think, “I may as well stay in bed, because it’s going downhill from this”. Yes. Today was definitely going to be one of those and I’d barely opened my eyes.

“Morning babe,” a voice crept into my ears and it took a moment to register. Who the hell was in my room? I gave myself a few seconds to think about it. And it came to me rather suddenly. This wasn’t my bed. This wasn’t even my house. Things last night… must not have gone entirely according to my expectations.

Lips touched my cheek and I allowed myself that instant of blissful ignorance, before finally allowing my eyes a look around to determine where I was.

As it turns out, the answer wasn’t terribly shocking. Jennifer Michaels. A sweet girl who, despite my protests against, decided that I am the man for her. For the curious, I highly doubt I am that man. But, I guess, a leap of faith and a bit too much rum turned me around on the idea. Or she had knocked me out and dragged me back to her place. While appealing to my moral side, I doubted it was the latter.

“Morning,” a groggy well-planed response to her cheery demeanor if I ever heard one. Then again, I doubt anyone expects charm and wit at this hour of the day. Hell, I doubt people expect charm and wit from me at all. That’s how I like it.

“I was thinking of making some coffee, but since you’re already awake…” She let it hang there, as she crawled back into bed and rubbed up against me. “We can just… stay here for a while longer.” Christ. She’s a sweet girl. A sweet girl with a heart. Maybe her head’s in the wrong place, but it’s all about heart. That isn’t going to convince me that last night… whatever happened last night… was a good idea.

“Jen…” I try and think of something to say. Anything at all. Except, I don’t have a clue what I could possibly to make this right. Or not even right. Make this okay. Because she doesn’t know that this feels wrong. That what I did last night and what happened when I was drunk really don’t mean that I want to be with her. Christ. I sound like a complete asshole. A complete fucking asshole.

She just smiles at hearing me saying her name and kisses me on the chest. It feels nice to have someone snuggle up and be with me. It feels nice to be with someone. Even if I don’t want to be with them.

I tilt her head up and kiss her. She doesn’t seem to mind my morning breath and pushes her lips harder against mine. This still isn’t a good idea, but I’m not sure what else to do. Obviously, I screwed up somewhere down the line last night. Likely at the point where I agreed to come back to her place. But I can’t just drop her now. Certainly not like this. Not only would I be breaking her heart, but I’d also be destroying a friendship.

Jennifer Michaels. Seventeen years old. She’s still in high school. Not that high school means anything. College is the same game, with different people. More than a few people date high school girls. That’s not why I feel guilty.

It isn’t until our lips unlock that I realize I’ve been kissing her mechanically. I lay back down, trying to hide against her pillows. Trying to smile leaves me nothing but a crooked look on my face. I close my eyes again, hoping that something will change when I open them again.

I feel her hands sliding along my chest and I can hardly complain. It feels good to be with someone. She moves them further down playing with the elastic in my boxers. It’s not hard to guess where she moved next.

Let me explain something here. I’m not a total bastard. I don’t mean to be, anyway. But after a long enough time, you don’t really care who is doing it. Just that it’s being done. And hell, she’s not hideous. She’s rather beautiful.

Justifying is a wonderful thing.

Society is a masked ball, where every one hides his real character, and reveals it by hiding.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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And in other news.

Here are my mornings. I tend to get up somewhere between 6:30am and 6:50am, giving myself enough time to clean up my room, fold my futon, get dressed and go to the bathroom with no big rush before breakfast. Being the professional housewife that she is, my host mother always has a breakfast featuring at the very least a fried egg, fresh spinach and other greens, potatoes of some variety, pork or ham, cherry tomatoes, and rice ready by exactly 7:00am. I help set the table. It's one of my only chores around the household, so I'm pretty dutiful about it.

I generally wolf down my breakfast while Kou-chan, my four year-old host brother, whines about something or other and Sa-tchan, my nine year-old host sister, makes fun of him. He hates meal times. He's never all that hungry and his parents are pretty insistent that he finish everything. I think the mother gives him too much food to finish and meal times would be less of a crisis if they reduced his portions a bit, but I'm not a parent. I was a picky eater as a kid too. Except that instead of scream at the top of my lungs, I would eat whatever my mother asked me to and then promptly vomit all over the table.

As a result, my family really didn't have anything like a "clean plates club," and I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Breakfast inhaled, I'm generally out the door by 7:10am with an "Ittekimaasu!" to which the whole family replies "Itterasshaai!" I like Japanese ritual idioms. They give the day a nicely ordered feel.

My bike is a cheap, grey easy rider that looks exactly like every other bike in Japan, making it somewhat difficult to find whenever I park it among the two hundred thousand other grey, easy rider bikes with black baskets that will invariably be piled in front of whatever building I'm visiting. They're called "mamachari" in Japanese, "Mama chariots," but their most common riders are middle schoolers and high schoolers. I join the horde of them going to school every morning on my commute.

The neighborhood I live in is the Japanese version of a suburb: still tightly packed, but with open fields in the vacinity and the occasional miniature lawn. Mine is undergoing development as Hakodate grows, with lots of families with children moving in. Whatever the declining birthrate, the neighborhood is always packed with kids running up and down the streets, talking excitedly with each other, giggling, bashing each other with plastic toys, etc. It's like a scene out of the nineteen fifties. You'd never guess Japan was an aging society from where I live.

I pull out of the suburb and on to the main thoroughfaire leading to downtown Hakodate fairly quickly, which is when I start my kanji practice. The Japanese are extremely fond of vertical banners with mostly kanji on them to advertize various services. Restaurants and barber shops, in the main (the red/white/blue twisting pole stands for a haircut here too), but plenty of gas stations, convenience stores, and sundry.

I'm going beyond the point of seeing lots of kanji I know the meaning of, but not the pronunciation of in unfamiliar compounds, which was about my level when I arrived. It meant that often enough I'd get the general idea of what a sign was advertizing, but I'd be clueless if you asked me to read it out loud.

It's worth saying that however much I complain about the intensity of my class, my kanji reading is growing by leaps and bounds. Now I'm actually able to pronounce a good portion of signs out loud, just by remembering the Chinese reading of a particular kanji from some word I've seen it in. I'm not at the level where I know what all these words actually mean, in exact translation, but reading the sineage and placing the meanings and pronunciations of more and more kanji each day works out as excellent reinforcement of my lessons.

The road I take is long, straight, and littered with stoplights. I'm usually in a hurry in the morning, since the hour or so before class when I arrive is prime internet usage time, so timing the stoplights takes strategy. Often enough, there will be a very narrow street feeding into the thoroughfaire on one side, but clear pavement on the other.

Oh, forgot to mention, no one rides their bikes in the street here. Ever. Similar to Germany, where I also spent a summer studying two years ago, there are designated bike lanes along the sidewalk. It would be terribly convenient, if pedestrians paid the lanes any mind whatsoever.

Back to the strategerie, sometimes I can switch sides before a light turns and continue on my way at the same speed. I picked this up from high schoolers who smoothly passed me by while txt messaging each other with their cellphones. It's very gauche to actually pay attention to where you're riding among the youth here; you have to be chatting with a friend beside you or sharing rumors over the cellular networks or futzing with your MP3 player or holding an umbrella or reading a manga or doing anything except looking ahead of you.

But when I don't switch sides in time, then I have to judge the jaywalking potential. Coming from Chicago of course, my initial habit is to take red lights as a mere suggestion that you might want to slow down a little, maybe. But Japan being the sort of country that it is, things work differently here.

Even at streets that are little more than alleyways, pedestrians will wait patiently for the little green man to pop up, even if there are no cars in sight. Again, high schoolers ignore these signals wantonly--I'm sure they have some sort of sixth sense that allows them to stop when a car happens to be coming without ever looking up from their charm strewn keitai--but I think I'm held to different standards. I've been told police in Japan associate foreigners on bicycles with Trouble and Mayhem.

Still, though I respected every stoplight the first week, the itch to get a move on has grown too vicious not to scratch, so now I generally judge my crossing by whether there's a middle aged lady waiting at the crosswalk who would give me a dirty look or not. There was a Japanese word for these troublesome middle aged ladies with sour expressions, by the way: "obatarian." It combines the word for "aunt" (obasan) and "battalion" (batarian). Unfortunately, it died out in the eighties, but still, clever clever language, this one.

About a half-hour into my ride, I reach the one turn I have to make the entire time, at the gigantic sign with the single character for "rice" on it (kome marks the spot!). This is a bit of a challenge, as one of the big high schools is right near this intersection, so there's always a mass of surly teenage boys punching each other occasionally and tired-looking girls in sailor uniforms with their skirts hiked up enough to make me blush, all sitting on their bikes between me and my turn.

They're much cooler than lame-o, naive middle schoolers, so they make a very obvious, very conscious effort to completely ignore me. It's cute, except I need to get through so I generally have to yell various apologetic things in a not-so-apologetic tone to get on my way.

High schoolers. Meh.

The rest of the way is a road that hugs the railroad track, which itself hugs the bay. It's a traffic disaster during the morning rush, which makes every day a wonderful adventure of dodging cars coming barreling out of teensy eensy sidestreets or backing into parking lots that happen to occupy the exact same space as the supposed sidewalk. Did I mention Japan hasn't discovered the bicycle helmet yet? Not once have I seen anyone with a helmet on. I don't know, if we're talking games of Crazy Taxi with grumpy morning commuters, I kinda like something between my head and the asphalt.

About forty-five minutes into the ride and I can see Hakodate Bay, and all the stinky fish factories that entails, from across a vast plaza that fronts the main train station. This is the town's business district, so there's lots of garish several-story billboards and Japanese women yelling product slogans in that peculiar high pitched voice that everyone seems to like here.

As an aside, my host dad asked me what Americans thought of Japanese women, and I replied that they're generally considered attractive and fashionable, but disturbingly child-like. He sighed and said, "Yeah, I figured that. We have a thing for cute, don't we?" Uh huh yeah you do.

Because the traffic light at the Ekimae intersection takes foreeeeever to change, I generally swerve toward the bay here and take a back street toward Mt. Hakodate, bringing me past the morning fish market. I breathe through my mouth along this stretch of road. Nonetheless, it's entertaining, with all the squid frantically swimming around their tanks and the huge-ass spikey crabs trying to pinch people and the young men with headbands yelling after any woman who looks under forty, "Hey, hey! Where are you going?! Gimme yer number! Buy some fish!"

They use the extra not polite verb conjugation.

After the fishy market is another stretch I have to exercise caution around, because this time it's all Japanese tourists taking pictures (they do that here too) and staring at their maps, wandering randomly from one side of the sidewalk to the other. Three damn weeks and I'm already proud I've never visited this tourist trap section of town (the English signs mysteriously identify the neighboorhood as "A cluster of warehouses." Uh, thanks?)

At about fifty minutes, I finally reach the mountain itself, at which point I get off my bike and start the long hike up a street steeper than I think even San Francisco could stomach. It's cobblestoned and packed with pretty shops hugging each other the whole way up, but I'm generally too distracted by the exhertion to admire them. They're nice to give a quick glance on the way down, though.

Between fifty-five and sixty minutes later, I've arrived at HIF, which is near the top of the street before the heavily forested mountain starts in earnest. I pull my t-shirt out of my bag and don it over my sweaty tank-top (I hate walking in with gross sweat stains across my back from my backpack), lock up the bike with a lock a Chicago thief would be skip over with contempt, it's so flimsy, and climb three floors to the sweet, sweet lounge with its ethernet connection.

Which has brought you this not-as-gushingly-emo update.

Author's note: this post was written about two months ago. Izu is now back stateside.


Day One

The amount of force required to flick the well-oiled kickstand into parallel with the body of the scooter was sufficient to send a wave of needles up his foot. He didn't roll his ankle in an attempt to restore circulation. He didn't loosen the laces on his tight, well-shined dress shoes. He didn't consider going back inside, putting on a t-shirt and taking the bus.

Mark stooped to pick up his helmet. Cream-colored, like his Vespa. Seventeen hundred dollars well spent, he decided. Plus repairs, plus paint, he didn't remind himself.

He saw himself in one of the side mirrors. Grinning, a line rose to his mind. "You look like a gangster!" Bingo. He settled into the seat and started it up. It purred. One more year, one more chance at a fresh start. This one would be for the books.

Yellow buses stood practically still, revolving, as did the rest of the road, around one boy on what state law reminded him was a motorcycle. People might have been looking at the pinstriped suit, or the Vespa, or the rider. Mark didn't know, and tried not to care. Only once did he get caught be a light, the red glare off his well-shined everything illuminating his absurdity. He didn't try to interpret the looks of the girls crossing the road in front of him.

A deft couple of pulls on the handlebars, and he was parked. This was when practice payed. It took point six seconds for his helmet to be off, and shades to be on when in front of a mirror. The glasses disturbed the stripes of his breast pocket as the surface of a glass of water refracted the image of a straw. It slipped back into a seamless fold almost instantly. Mark had no stopwatch, but the one-handed application of glasses went smoothly. He started posing.

It takes a certain kind of person to stand completely still for any length of time. Human mannequins have pulled it off for hours; days. Through practice, Mark did five minutes, impeccably cool the whole time. Not a flinch when the bell rang. No movement when the last of the students filtered through the doors, done with last cigarettes and dreams of freedom.

The Piaggio logo flashed at Mark was he spun on his heel to walk into the school, an acceptable five minutes late on the first day. He had a sudden, giddy vision of firing a polygonal submachine gun off the front of a Faggio, racking up numbers. Twelve thousand people wasted, ninety six percent completion, Bach on the custom radio station. Mark shuddered. That was twenty pounds and a thousand dollars in fashion behind him.

Hard, uncomfortable dress shoes echo dramatically in empty halls. Period A English, junior year, day one. He grinned as he opened the door.

Focus meets Grundoon and Wertperch I have been on a road trip for the last week. I really wanted to attend G&W's nodermeet, but couldn't make it happen date-wise, so I asked if I could stop by early on my way through the state. They kindly said yes. But I digress... First, I had to get there. To Davis, CA. I had never been there. I had been by it, through it, over it, and around it on the way to or from other places, but never been to the actual town itself. I got checked into my hotel. At this point, I tried to chicken out and put off seeing them till the next day. I'm glad Miss Grundoon talked me into getting my act together and completing the mission. Revived by a bath, I decided I was up to meeting these scary noder people. (They were to be my first ever live ones, after all). I called Grundoon for directions. This was to be the first of many, many, MANY calls: Our conversation: Focus: “I decided not to be a sissy and come on over tonight.” Grundoon: “Okay. Are you on campus?” Focus: “No. I’m in my hotel across the freeway. Can you give me directions?” **Disclaimer in advance defending Wert's and Grundoon's safety and privacy: No one will be able to find their house using these directions. I promise. I know, because this story is true. Grundoon: “The directions are easy. Go over the bridge. You know, the freeway. You’ll come to this railroad trestle. Go under. It’ll kind of curve….I think right. Does it go right? Well, just follow it. There will be letter and number streets. You want watch for the number streets and just count to 8. At 8, you’ll HAVE to turn right or left. Turn left. Do your ABC’s till you get to Sycamore. Go left. Then to Colby. Turn right. We’re the only house with furniture in the drive way. See you soon! Click. Well. Now, never having met any actual noders before, I thought that this not giving an actual address may be some kind of test. Like if I could actually find them using these vague instructions, I would be a worthy addition to the clan. With this in mind and a stamp of determination between my brows, I set off. Now I have to tell you about Davis streets a little bit because I was driving around these streets for quite some time. For some reason they have given the nod to some other schools by naming streets after them. I saw Harvard, Purdue, and Clemson. It made me wonder what the criteria is for the street naming process. Do these other school towns have "UC Davis" streets? Is it like an exchange street sign program? Are students involved or just signs? Do they get any advertising revenue? What?? Also, as I was driving and searching and calling and driving and getting lost and calling and not getting the ADDRESS while calling and driving -- sorry, lost it for a minute there --
You’d think for a town built around higher education, they would count higher than 8 on their numbered streets. Well, maybe it’s okay to stop at 8 because unless you do some long division (driving-wise), "the place on 8th where you ‘have' to turn right or left (above)”, actually happens on 7th street. So you literally can't get there from here. It doesn't exist on 8th street. The ABCs are not fully represented either. I believe they stop at the letter "L". My theory is the founding fathers panicked and said, “Oh my god, we’ve got some numbers, we’ve got some letters, but we’ve left out the flora and fauna! Shit! Whatta we do? Whatta we do?” So they said to hell with "M" street and started with the trees. But even this is weird. I’m driving along: The premature end of the alphabet after the having to complete the equivalent driving maneuver of long division to even find 8th street prompts yet another phone call to Grundoon, whom, I can tell by her tone, thinks I am a complete idiot by now. She tells me, "DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE ALPHABET. WORRY ABOUT THE TREES. KEEP GOING." By now, I really, really want to find a Borders or a Starbucks and logon to E2 and find out if this is some kind of initiation rite...and maybe see if someone can take pity and just sneak me their address if they know it so I can just get there. But I trudge on. Now looking at tree signs: Cherry St.
Cherry St. (Again…what the hell)
Plum St.
Plum St.(Again..WTF..different varietals? What??)
Peach St.
(No peach Again -- guess they didn't like peaches)
Oak St.
Pine St.
Pine St.
No Sign – GOTTA BE SYCAMORE the way MY night's going!..I turn here on a wild hunch. I finally find Colby. I guess they got tired of trees and started in with the cheeses. I have had many phone conversations by now with Grundy due to the general weirdness of Davis streets and, ummm, how can I say this? THE DIRECTIONS. I say this with most affection and lots of grins, Miss G. I drive up and down this street. EVERY HOUSE HAS FURNITURE IN THE DRIVEWAY OR YARD. Except one. I give up. I know that I am failing some super secret E2 first time initiation test to find the veteran noders meet and greet test. I don’t care at this point. Ring. Ring. “Hi. It’s me. Again. Wouldn’t this be a lot easier if you’d just give me your address?” Grundoon: “I didn’t give it to you? Focus: “No.” Grundoon: “Oh.” Laughing all around. I was two doors down. Arrived safely. A good time was had by all. We talked well into the night and had an extremely enjoyable evening. Thank you SO much, Grundoon and Wertperch, for opening your beautiful home and making time in your hectic moving house schedule to let me meet my very first noders. You were wonderful. For me, the quote of the night is when we had that whole case of wine out on the table and one of the girls asked with complete disdain, “Are you going to drink ALL of that wine tonight?” Then, when we all started laughing, one of them said with equal disgust, “Gawd, they’re ALREADY drunk.” (We weren’t, for the record.)

grundoon's editorial disclaimer
'Tis true that E Street does not go through to 8th. Jog over one, though...Other than that, the actual directions? Take Richardson back over the freeway, then it will go under a railroad trestle. It turns into E St, altho at the intersection it curves slightly right. Turn left onto 8th street, go through 4 stop lights to the end, that's Sycamore. (I did at some point ask if she was writing this down....) Turn right, Colby is three streets up, right again onto Colby. We live at insert street number here Colby. Truly. I said it. Really I did. Just goes to show ya the difference between what we say and what we> Focus is a peach, we had a great time and kept the neighbors up laughing, and we will keep her. Covet her art.

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