The Lottery 2040

The Lottery 2040

“You are now and always will be my friend, Aston, no matter what happens,” Mercedes soothed. “No matter what happens, I know in your heart that you’re one of us.” The words streamed off the raven-haired beauty’s tongue like a gentle brook.

Aston wasn’t convinced. And the lithe hand on his shoulder might as well be making things worse, not better. They weren’t kids anymore; they were nineteen now and had to register for the Lottery last year in accordance with their laws. Now that that they were entered, well, what if he won? Could they really remain friends?

“Excuse me while I worry anyway, ‘Sadie,” Aston muttered as he shook the young woman’s delicate hand off his shoulder. His fine blonde hair whipped on the wind as he skewed his chiseled jaw.

“Two babies were born last year and only one person died,” Aston continued in his crisp English. “Of course there’d wind up having to be a Lottery this year, just one year after we registered. What are the odds? Dammit.”

“It’s the price we pay to live the way we do. You know that,” Mercedes confirmed as she stroked her diamond necklace. She replaced her hand on Aston’s shoulder and turned him about with all her meager strength. She stared wide-eyed into his.

And the young man was soothed. Those clueless, doe-wide brown eyes of hers; they always got him. She just believed in it so much. His beliefs weren’t quite on the same level.

“I suppose,” Aston relented a touch. “At least your ex, Jaguar, is in it, too.” Aston never liked Mercedes’ ex, at least not since the pair hooked up about this time last year just when Aston began to have feeling for Mercedes. Mercedes and Jaguar broke up shortly afterwards, Mercedes saying they had different perspectives on things though she never said exactly what the difference was. “A good twist of fate will see to it that he wins,” the nineteen year old said dryly.

“Spoken like a gentleman,” Mercedes nodded softly.

Did she even hear me or is she actually that stupid? the young fair-haired man wondered. He didn’t really know why they were friends or why he liked her so much. Maybe she was the necessary antidote to his intellectually induced pessimism. Ignorance is bliss, after all. Or maybe it was biology; they were both young and hot. But then so was most everyone in their community. Aston turned back around towards the stage and tried concentrating on determining the future.

“There he is! The minister is approaching the podium,” Aston popped. He reached back to grab Mercedes’ hand and nearly crushed it with equal parts fear and excitement. She winced, then smiled, then brought her lips near Aston’s ear while the baby-faced officiant took up the stage.

“Aston, have you thought about what will happen if I win? Will you still be my friend?” Mercedes was forced to step back as Aston shooed her with both hands and said something like ‘sure, sure.’ His ambivalence went unnoticed by the young beauty’s naivety. She shrank back as the minister approached the microphone. Aston rose to his tippy toes and obscured Mercedes’ view.

“Bugatti Venyon…” the priest dribbled.

Aston’s fist rocketed into the sky, self-preservation assured. Best tp lay the part at any rate. “Wooo! Yeah! Bugatti! Get out of here you miserable slumdog!”

Aston’s theatrics were infectious to the point of violence. The prim-and-proper crowd of elitists began to boo and hiss like snakes. Like wolves, they began tearing at the tuxedo of the man whose name was announced.

The minister raised his hands simultaneously and scowled. “Settle down! Everyone settle down! Mr. Venyon forgot to sign his Agreement to Disperse Property form, that’s all. Settle down!” Aston and the crowd slacked back, fixed their ties and smoothed their dresses. Everyone raised their eyebrows and shrugged their shoulders at each other. No big deal.

Mr. Venyon, checking a scratch across his cheek with a white handkerchief, approached the stage, signed the form handed to him by the minister and settled back into the crowd, his eyes leery of his neighbors.

“Alright then,” the minister said as he placed the form on top of a large stack beside him on a table, “Let’s get on with the business at hand.” The smooth-faced magistrate reached into a bowl, whirled his hand, then quickly withdrew a folded strip of paper. He unfolded it, squinted, confirmed the name with the priestess beside him and approached the microphone once more. The crowd before him was silent, their mouths gaped like fish with hook in mouth.

“And the winner of this year’s lottery is…” A pin dropped but nobody heard it, “Mercedes McLaren. Mercedes McLaren.”

Aston spun around to find his best friend pale as a ghost. Her arms were folded across her chest and her chin brought low. “Aston?” she barely spoke. “You’ll still be my friend, right?” her broken voice and crooked brow asked. “You could come visit me. It’s allowed.”

He was trying to stare into her eyes but her eyes were closed to the dark energy reaching out to grab her, assail her, to reject her. In Aston’s peripheral vision, a score of hands emerged to blot out the sun. A sack of coal lodged in his stomach while his mind scrambled for something to say.

His thoughts were interrupted by the clarity of a memory though, of him sitting at his desk at home in the early evening with an ancient quill and ink well, spokes of sunlight piercing the thin white drapes, drafting his high school graduation essay on why the lottery should be abolished. The lottery wasn’t fair – an accident of birth landed the citizens of this community in their privileged society. So what if everyone agreed to participate? The choice not to got you sent off to the slums anyway. Who wouldn’t agree to stay? Then there was the matter of all people being created equal…

The lad remembered dotting the final sentence of his essay by driving the wet quill through the paper. Aston remembered staring at the essay for a long time after that, until well after the sun went down. Alone in a dark room, he carefully shredded the paper into small pieces. He tore it so slowly he could hardly hear it. He had to be gentle with the essay. Aston imagined there was a time ideas were respected and not blindly followed. As he swept the paper bits out his window onto a light breeze, a metal taste swept through the young man’s mouth when he realized his cowardice. He couldn’t blindly follow his own ideas, could he? At least he could defy them all somehow with littering.

Mercedes’ whimpers stirred Aston. Fingers, claws, were inches from her, ready to cast the lady down. Aston swelled with adrenaline; he knew he was strong enough. He could fight them off; break their fingers, rend their claws, frighten them into backing down. Only he’d never actually been in a fight, not one of them have. There was no fighting here; that’s what the poor did. Violence was reserved to give notice to those who’ve been outcast, to let them know they were unwelcome now. Those were the rules and they made sense to Aston, insofar as the lottery could make sense.

Aston, an unusual boy, saw his action potential stymied by his need to reason, to think things through. He saw it was too late to save Mercedes who – clawed dress and all – was hoisted above the seething crowd. This was the rule, there were no except…

“Proxy!” Aston shouted as loud as he could. The crowd froze and craned their necks back in the young man’s direction. “The rules state a proxy can take the winner’s place.” He said this knowing this had never happened before; no one had ever brought it up.

No one made a sound; not Mercedes, not the crowd. Everyone just kind of looked at each other. One man, almost 35 and soon too old enough for ritual death, finally broke the still. “Are you saying that you want to take her place?” he asked politely.

Aston stammered. “I…I’m just saying that’s the rule. I…” Mercedes, high is the air, hung her head upside down and shot her big brown eyes at him, wider than ever. Her mouth lingered just a touch open, waiting for her friend to come through. “It’s just that…that’s the rule. It’s a thing. I just wanted to remind everyone of that.” Mercedes’ eyes went super-moon as the crowd erupted.

“I will proxy for her!” a suave young Hispanic man with short, shaggy black hair roared. Not an ounce of fat on him, Jaguar’s muscles rippled from out his unbuttoned shirt. The conviction in his voice was as tall as he was. Mercedes was carefully placed back on her feet and the crowd lingered, thinking long about making a move on Jaguar.

“Step aside and I will leave this place quietly. None of you have to get hurt,” Jaguar spoke. The crowd parted like the Red Sea to either side of Mercedes. The Hispanic moved on air passed a dumbfounded Aston. He approached Mercedes and looked down on her, radiating love, burning her with sacrifice.

“I wouldn’t do it for you,” Mercedes whispered and turned away.

“I know, bomboncita,” Jaguar squinted. “But I could not live with the thought of you in the slums, dirty and scratching to survive. You don’t put up a fight against the rules, thinking you stand so little chance of winning the lottery and then winning anyway. Will you really go to live among those you’ve been taught to despise so that the rest of us can eat caviar? Do you know what really happens out there? You grow old if you are lucky, bombon, but if you are lucky you will lose your sweetness. I could not bear that in my heart. Besides, you know how I feel. I will still be the same man out there as I am here. Everyone is created equal no matter where you are from. Out there I will die with honor. Here, I cannot go into ritual death having never stood up for what is right.”

Aston throat burned with acid. Jaguar was taller, more muscular and better looking, and he’d slept with Mercedes. In what other damn ways could Jaguar be superior to him? Jaguar could love. Jaguar could sacrifice. All this superiority was intolerable.

“No! I will proxy for Mercedes,” Aston announced stepping towards the former lovers.

“Nooo,” Jaguar immediately lulled. “I do not think you will survive out there for long. I am stronger. I will do it. For Mercedes.”

“I, Aston Martin, will proxy for Mercedes Pullman. I volunteer to go to the slums and preserve your society. There, in the slums, I will be as equal among the people as I am here.” The whole town could hear Aston rev. “I won’t have your riches, your security, but I will have a dignity you could never take away from me!”

The young minister nodded and two men grabbed Aston by his arms. They fast-tracked him towards the town gate before he could spew any more nonsense. Jaguar winked at the hero and patted his shirt pocket as he was dragged by causing Aston’s face to curdle. With one hand around Mercedes’ waist, Jaguar’s other hand lifted a folded and heavily taped paper from the pocket and kissed it. Aston’s heart hollowed out. His head throbbed for an explanation. Thrown into the dirt outside the town’s gate he finally figured it out: Jaguar was smarter than him, too.

As Aston staggered away he thought he could hear Mercedes’ angelic voice. “You’re the best friend I ever had. You’re still my best friend.” Maybe she’d come visit him in the slums. Would Mercedes waste what little time 37 years gave her though? He wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

Secret Santa

Secret Santa

Stewart dare not touch the cookies. It was tempting, sure enough, the warm scent of doughy sweetness pervading the house, the cookies were meant for one very special man. The odd snowflake or two drifting to the ground outside the window in the twilight of Christmas Eve, Stewart tugged on his stocking to ensure it was secured to the fake fireplace mantle. He glanced at the small side table beside the armchair turned towards the fireplace. There, the plate of cookies were flanked by a tall glass of almond milk – Stewart was looking out for the Big Guy – setting the scene for Santa’s arrival. He could Santa not come here? The invitation was impossible to ignore.

“And don’t try to stay up to see Santa like last year,” Stewart’s mother had warned, “No one has ever seen him. He’s…he’s very shy is all. Just leave him be and you’ll get presents. Stay up too late and, let’s just say that bad boys don’t get presents.”

The seven year old’s mother had been warning the child off trying to catch a glimpse of many things lately, ever since the child’s curiosity saw him walk in on his parents embraced in a very unusual way. His parents should have seen it coming, of course; they were making a too much noise and had forgotten their child’s tendency to investigate the world. While they wanted this their five children, their explanation to Stewart for what they were doing was awkward and made them think he was too young to know about certain things. While they couldn’t protect their children from everything, they could at least warn them. It would be a child’s own fault if they didn’t catch on.

Stewart had already considered that his parents were thinking this and purposefully set out to expose all the world’s secrets. Why are mom and dad always trying to hide stuff from me? the lad thought as he glued a fishing line to a cookie before topping off the stack. So what if I see Santa? What does he care? Stewart ran the fishing line down the leg of the table, behind the Christmas tree, behind the sofa, around the corner and along the way all the way to his bedroom where he draped the other end of the line. There, he attached a bell he’d taken from the cat’s collar. As soon as Santa took the cookie, Steward would know the jolly old man was in the house. Then he’d know if Santa was for real. He’d been hearing things at school…

In the two minutes since he last looked at the time, a heavy wool blanket fell gently on Stewart’s eyes. He fought the sands of sleep, stinging his bottom lip as hip clamped his teeth down on it. As he bit harder to ward off the dream world, the cat’s bell jingled. The boy’s eyes flew open as he threw his blanket aside. A clever kid, though, Stewart stopped himself from setting his foot on the floor with too much fervor least Santa bolt like a reindeer. A ninja in a white dinosaur print onesie, Steward slid his own little hooves down the hall.

Stewart peeked his head around the corner into the living room and there he was in the glow of the tree’s lights – Santa Claus. His back turned to the Stewart, Santa appeared taller than the kid expected, though rotund enough for the occasion. With a cookie in one hand, the old man seemed to be taking stock of the Christmas tree, titling his head back and forth as if judging if the tree were worthy of having presents underneath it. Santa brought the cookie to his mouth, took a bite and quickly dropped his hand to his side. “Store bought,” he muttered without pleasure.

Steward had heard that tone before; his parents used it all the time. He stepped into the living room with no further hesitation. “Sorry, Santa. My parents won’t let me use the stove.”

Santa turned around without hurry and squinted at the youngling. To Stewart, the man’s garb didn’t seem so much as red as soiled grey underneath a coat of blotchy red paint. The kid would have taken Santa to be a little tidier but who really knows a person? This is exactly why Stewart had tried to catch Santa Claus putting presents under the tree.

“Hello, little fellow,” Santa said, “I’d ask you your name but you know that I already know what it is. Why are you up so late, Stewart?”

“I…I wanted to meet you Santa. Some kids at school have been saying you don’t exist. So, I just wanted to see for myself.” Stewart placed his balled up hands on his waist. The doubter were wrong. Right?

Santa stroked his wiry white beard. “Mmm, to them I might as well not exist. They’re bad children for saying that and that’s why they don’t get presents. Not from me anyway. That sad fact is that because they don’t believe in me, their parents have to buy presents for them.”

“I’m sure my mom and dad are relieved that their kids are true believers. Especially me!” Stewart closed his eyes, smiled and pointed his head to the sky.

“That’s all well and good, little Stewie, but you haven’t followed all the rules.” The boy brought his head down and opened his eyes at Santa. Saint Nick waved at the cookies and milk. “You sure did a good job of inviting me in. You’re up too late, though. Don’t you think there’s a reason you’re not supposed to see Santa Claus?”

Stewart scrubbed his chin. “Gee, I didn’t think much about it. Mom says you’re shy but I don’t see how that could be.”

Santa let out a big ho ho ho and slapped his belly. “Oh, it’s not that I’m shy.” Santa leaned in towards the boy and that’s when Stewart saw that Santa’s eyes had turned a fierce bright yellow. “It’s because whoever sees me must die.” The jolly old man raised his hands. Christmas lights and streamers came out of nowhere to bind and gag the lad before he could make a peep. Stewart fell on the floor bound up like a damsel on the train tracks. Santa licked his lips and glistened his sharpening incisors with saliva.

“You see, Stewie,” Santa half-giggled, half-growled, “I can only came to people’s houses who invite me in. That’s been a rule of vampires for…quite some time now. Inevitably some little boy or girl stays up too late thinking they’ll get to meet Santa Claus. Your parents tell you to go to bed for your own good. Your parents tell you to do lots of things for your own good. When you don’t do those things? That’s when other things happen; bad things.”

Santa turned around and placed some presents under the tree having grabbed them from seemingly nowhere. They were for the family but were any for Stewart? The boy didn’t know. He wasn’t thinking about that now as he wiggled and wormed and tried to scream for his parents. The old man from the north eventually turned back towards the child and picked him up with one hand. Santa slung Steward over his shoulder like a – like a sack of presents.

“Between you and undoubtedly several more children that pull this stunt every Christmas, I’ll be fed for another year,” Santa spoke cheerfully. Unnaturally nimble for his size, Santa slithered silently out the window he’d come in through. The window closed itself with a light thunk courtesy of some magic elf dust.

Stewart’s mother’s head popped around the corner a moment later. She’d just checked in on all the children and noticed that Stewart wasn’t in bed. Maybe the talking she thought she heard had come from the living room? Perhaps it had been Santa seeing how there were presents under the tree now and a cookie was missing. With Stewart unaccounted for, yes, it must’ve been Santa. The matriarch shook her head as she walked over to the glass of milk and took a sip.

“Some kids don’t know when to listen,” she said flatly. “Oh, well,” she shrugged. “This is why we’ve got four more of ‘em.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) December 2018 John J. Vinacci

52: An Anthology Of Strangeness

52: An Anthology Of Strangeness

My new book, 52: An Anthology Of Strangeness is out on Smashwords right now. I’ve taken most of my short stories and poetry from my blog, cleaned them up, edited them, and in some cases reworked them for your enjoyment. It like my Christmas present to you. Have a very merry – and strange – new year.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/914336

side of the cycle

My First Crush

My First Crush

I was watching an episode of Malcolm in the Middle on Hulu yesterday. It was the episode in which Malcolm finds himself confounded by the new girl at school, Cynthia. Malcolm finds she makes him happy, angry, amused, upset, and confused – worst of all, he just doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Talk about identifying with a character.

Christine Hodgekiss was my first crush. This was back in 7th grade I believe and she was one of my dance partners in my music class. I didn’t actually like her when that class began; she was just another classmate I knew who might as well been a GI Joe or Barbie doll from the waist down. Even as we danced – we did a lot of dancing and hardly any music appreciation and never played instruments – it was all completely innocent.

Then a new kid showed up, just some guy who had the misfortune of walking into a situation where he didn’t know anyone. As fate, or stupidity, would have it some of my friends and I got the bright idea to write the new kid a note saying Christine wanted to ‘meet’ him after school at the football field. Keeping Christine in the dark, naturally he would get stood up. For reasons I can’t explain, this idea was hilarious to us; maybe we were just dicks. But as the time approached to actually give the new kid a letter, I started to reconsider the idea, though I couldn’t place my finger on the reason why.

One of us went through with the note anyway and wouldn’t you know it, the poor sap bought it and got stood up. I remember seeing him walking down my block on his way home while some of my friends and I played football in the yard. (Your Honor, if it helps rehabilitate my character at all, when I saw him that day I felt like a jerk for helping to pull this prank on him.) A few days later – or maybe it was the next day – Christine caught wind of the prank and started talking to the kid. It was like someone lit a fire under the cauldron of my belly.

I remember sitting in the cafeteria one day, trying to eat but finding myself too confused to have an appetite. I kept asking myself, Why do I care? Do I ‘like’ her? Wait; what? That doesn’t make any sense. I went back and forth on this until it dawned on me and I accepted the fact that I did like her and not in the same way I liked my other friends. This made me petrified of Christine. What do I do now? Do I tell her? What do I say? How does this work? I had no clue. I didn’t have a whiff of a clue. And then we had to dance together.

When we started to dance and we held hands like we’d already done at least a dozen times, I must have been acting oddly because I remember her asking me if I was alright, or words to that effect. Jesus, no, I’m not okay. Total system failure in your proximity! But I can’t say that, can I?! Whatever the song was seemed to last FOREVER and I think I broke out in a sweat at some point. It was so bad I started to look forward to dancing with another girl I hated for being too tall for me. The class ended a few weeks later during which time I was a total basket case and never told Christine.

The crush didn’t last long after that. I soon found myself attracted to every girl who breathed my way. To quote a classic 80’s song, “I’m in love, yeah yeah, at least every minute or two / Until the next time a girl walks by, I think I love her too.” Oh, the names I remember. Unfortunately, if love were a game of chess, I finished out high school barely able to play checkers. As I would find out from some platonic girl friends years later, I had no game. As It turns out, I’m good with my hands so the jokes on everyone who missed out! Sigh, the wonder years.

What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Comment below.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) December 2018 John J Vinacci

Self Obituary

Self Obituary

[I’ve heard it said it’s a good idea to write your own obituary to 1) Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish in life and 2) So that someone else doesn’t sugarcoat the real you. Okay, I made up number two but this is indeed what I want said about me when I die; the unvarnished truth.]

This weekend, John J. Vinacci went to finally get some goddamn sleep. He passed after robbing a series of banks and GOP coffers, giving all the money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Amnesty International, and driving off a cliff after being pursued by police.

He was born and raised in New York City – not by wolves as he often claimed – the son of an electrician and a natural multitasker, meaning, a woman. He is almost the youngest of four children but took pride in being his mother’s easiest birth and quietest baby back when they didn’t know to watch out for the quiet ones. Eventually moving to Long Guyland, John attended William Floyd High school whose rallying cry was “We is the champions.” It is amazing that John turned out to be a writer, among other things.

Soon after turning 18, John joined the army knowing that he’d do that someday and wanted to get it over with. It was in the army that he met people from all walks of life and learned that no matter where a person came from they were probably batshit crazy. With some of these batshit crazy people, John guarded warheads (hence the extra pinkie), drank beer, and even formed a garage band that practiced in an attic. John served a total of six years in military service between active duty and the National Guard, mostly out of his deep love for red tape.

John eventually married in his late 30’s, figuring his widowed wife was the least crazy woman he could find that would still be with him. Together they raised two permanent four year olds, meaning cats, Niles aka Crackhead and the immortal Knucklehead who refuses to die no matter how sick he gets. It was also around this time that John attended college at Portland State University as a Philosophy major who excelled at saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time until the skill was perfected.

After completing his degree, John and his wife and their two fascist cats moved to Hawaii where John became a post-secondary teacher to students coming out of the nation’s worst high schools. As a teacher, John demonstrated incalculable patience as he taught students how to think and in some cases what not to believe. (This is to say that because a Youtube video asserts that 60 foot human giants used to roam the earth didn’t make such an assertion true.) Ironically, John was diagnosed with mental illness, which in American society apparently means equating reality with actual reality, and decided to go out with a bang instead of waiting to die at home. He is survived by his wife and two cats, his BC Rich guitar, his comic collection, and a collection of writings that have little to do with any previously mentioned reality.

His memorial service will feature a screening of The Matrix – always take the red pill – and a Tekken video game tournament. Music will be provided by the lesser-known 80’s hair-metal band Y&T. After the service his ashes will be spread wherever they are most likely to make people sneeze.

 

All Rights Reserved © November 2018 John J Vinacci

Ruminations On Time

Ruminations On Time

A glance over my fictional work and poetry reveals that much of what I write includes elements of time travel or time manipulation. I love sci-fi in general but it’s time travel that really gets my attention. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I’ve watched every movie and show about time travel with the exception of Timeless, but that’s up next. It was just the other night after wrapping up the simultaneously brilliant and terrible 12 Monkeys, though, that I earnestly began to question myself as to why I find time travel stories so alluring.

Is it ‘nurture’ perhaps? I wasn’t even a teenager yet before I discovered Dr, Who. The Doctor has always been brilliant, a character who will avoid using a weapon if his brains will suffice in a dire situation. What’s not to love about that? Maybe I wanted to be like him (now her). But that’s just a character and has little to do with time travelling itself.

Maybe I like to travel. I’ve long had slightly more than a passing interest in different historical eras. Who wouldn’t rather actually visit ancient Rome than ham it up a Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas? Who wouldn’t want to take a peek a thousand years into the future and see what today’s world evolves into? Of course such adventuring would be dangerous and perhaps that’s part of the point.

Is it the allure of power, how going back in time with your present knowledge could potentially change things? Sure, we could alter our own history but what about altering the fate of humanity? The potential to change history in any number of ways is an attractive idea, though, wouldn’t we all try to change something just to see if the universe would allow it?

I’m not sure what I would do or when I would travel to if I actually had the ability. It may be the case that this disturbs me as I think of myself as someone I know relatively well; I know the reason behind everything I do yet don’t know what I would do with this ability. Maybe it’s all of these things. It vexes me.

While I don’t believe time travel to the past is possible, it would be pretty cool if we could do that. Or, more likely, terrible assuming some nefarious person would get their hands on any such time machine. Maybe it’s the impossibility of it all – which is probably for the best – which makes the idea attractive. We always want what we can’t have.

Do you love time travel stories and if so, why? Kindly leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Travels – Japan

Travels – Japan

[Author’s Note: We vacationed in Japan from late May into the first week of June 2018. This was my second trip and my wife’s third.]

It had been 13 years since we last visited Japan and we were eager to return. Our trip in 2005 was nothing short of enchanting, experiencing a culture so new, so alluring, we don’t know why we hadn’t planned our return until now. Everything in its time, I suppose.

We arrived at Osaka Airport midmorning and quickly found ourselves unprepared not for the lack of English or readable signage, but for the volume of people we encountered. Having lived in Hawaii for six years now, you get used to a general lack of people being around. (Granted, we were a bit unnerved having almost forgotten a carry-on when we left the plane. Luckily, we were able to get back on the aircraft after everyone had deplaned without too much trouble. Thank you, Japan Airlines!) The lack of English was the ancillary problem; though I’d been studying Japanese for two months, everything went out the window the second I was actually in country. If we hadn’t been concentrating on getting where we were going so much, I would’ve been mad at myself. It is true that most Japanese can speak English and will ‘strike first’ if they suspect you are American, but I didn’t want to be that tourist. I was anyway, at least for now.

We took a bus from Osaka airport to Kyoto where we’d be staying a week before going to Tokyo for a few days. As we rode through Osaka, I couldn’t help but observe the many, MANY golf driving ranges dotting the metropolis. These people really like golf, I thought a least a dozen times. But my mind was more on Kyoto, which I loved far more than Tokyo our first go ‘round. Once we arrived in Kyoto proper, I was a little bit shocked to see the number of tourists; we certainly don’t remember so many of them last time though I understand Kyoto has risen as the ‘traditional’ Japan tourists desire, as opposed to cosmopolitan Tokyo. Off the bus, it was a perfectly pleasant day and found our AirBnB ten minutes away from the city’s famous train station with little trouble. Not a bad place and at least larger than the hostels we stayed in our first trip. Our little getaway also came with usage of the owner’s pocket wifi so we always had use of our smartphones, something we found to be absolutely indispensable. If you go to Japan and don’t speak/read Japanese, you’ll need pocket wi-fi.

After settling in, we were determined to have a good dinner since we had problems with food back in 2005. So, naturally, we wound up at an Indian food restaurant a half hour’s walk north of our abode. And this is one of my favorite things about Japan: You can walk around a strange city and feel safe while taking in things like small, simple shrines people place in front of their homes. Good thing, too, as we’d marked off more restaurants on Google Maps then we’d ever actually get to. (We might’ve gotten to more eateries if not for the fact that Kyoto Beer Lab was literally right around the corner from where we stayed, and that’s where we ended almost every day of our week.) While tiresome on the feet, just walking around Kyoto was a delight as it wasn’t unusual to see citizens vacuuming the sidewalk or using a broom to sweep canals. Interesting, while many Japanese building will be dirty or in disrepair, Kyoto’s people keep their streets and streams clean. Really clean. (Well, for the most part. Generally the more touristy an area the grubbier it gets, by Japanese standards anyway. More on this later.)

2
Kyoto Beer Lab – Small, as with all things Japanese.

With six more days to go in Kyoto, we had to get out and about, doing our exactly-as-planned ‘temple and garden’ tour with a few new twists.

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We’d be seeing a lot of this.

Day two – Ginkakuji/Silver Pavilion, Ryoanji shrine, Ninna-ji Temple, Arishiyama. The Silver Pavilion was small and crowded though we arrived before the gates opened. While we waited, we had our first of many doses of green tea ice cream cones whose first taste in years was like a shot of heaven straight to the brain. Then we congregated to enter the Pavilion, holding back, waiting for the hordes of school children to do their thing. (More on this later.) Ryoanji featured a small rock garden so bland it might as well have been pointless. Comparatively, Ninna-ji was a huge complex whose walkways were pretty neat and suspiciously light on people. Then we travelled clear across town to Arishiyama in a bid to find the mysterious Monkey Park we’d seen on Youtube. Arishiyama is a very touristy town but the climb uphill to the monkey park kept a good measure of people away. Once arrived, we found monkey’s roaming freely but not very camera friendly. Actually, they seemed to harass each other a lot, perfectly in line with their descendants. Fortunately the air was clear so you could catch a good glimpse of Kyoto below. Unfortunately, the town’s acclaimed bamboo forest walk later on was nothing to talk about; I’d seen better bamboo in Portand, in my backyard where I used to live. Day one’s dinner was a stop at a yakatori restaurant whose portions were so small I think they only used a quarter of the chicken. For a little more food, snacks really, we hit Kyoto Beer Lab again where one of the unpretentious co-owners turned out to be Aussie. Cool guy.

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The monkeys of Arishiyama. And there are people, too.

Day three – Kinkakuji/Golden Pavilion. My. God. The masses waiting to get into this place. How many people are there in this country? I thought they were all just passing through Kyoto Station. Do any of these people work? Do the school children ever go to school? The Golden Pavilion would be an amazing place without the people, but since there’s never not people there, it really is a shame. Then we walked across the city, to Indian food again, then Kyoto Beer Lab. We don’t actually drink as much as my recap suggests, except we do when we’re on vacation.

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Almost as impressive as the crowds.

Day four – Kiyomizu-dera  Temple in Kyoto’s foothills. The viewing deck of main hall that overlooks the city of Kyoto was closed for construction so I wasn’t willing to waste money going in. My wife did and while I waited, I figured I’d get some shots of the city from up here best I could. However, I was thwarted to this end as the best place to view the city from the temple steps was locked down by a European guy proposing to his girlfriend. She said yes and I said dammit as they embraced for what seems like the rest of their lives. I waited and they finally cleared out but before I could get to the viewing spot, it was annexed by two young Chinese ladies way too into themselves. Eventually I gave up as by the time my wife returned too many people had shown up. I don’t remember what we did after that but I’m sure green tea ice cream was involved. Oh yeah, we went up a super scary cable car to some trails in the foothills in another part of town where we somehow found ourselves in a French garden. What the heck, indeed, but then again this wouldn’t be Japan without random stuff like this around. And I don’t remember where, but my wife got a hold of a bell and rang it much to the dismay of some monks. Once we ran away and got back down into Kyoto proper, we had a terrible time trying to figure out the ticket machine which – with some help – found out you have to put your money in first before it’ll work. Then we ate dinner at Gojo Paradise restaurant, a place in Kyoto that seems to double as a hostel for Europeans. The food was surprisingly good, unsurprisingly small as is the case most places you’ll eat in Japan. This is how the Japanese stay thin, what with these portions also being expensive. EOD? KBL.

Day five – Phoenix Temple in Uji and Todaiji Temple in Nara. Uji is an under-rated town and I don’t say that because I successfully spoke Japanese here. The shops in this green tea haven are top-notch and I had the BEST green tea ice cream here as it was topped with matcha powder. That was followed by the best green tea gyoza ever, followed by the best green tea soba noodles ever. I mean, this little town fried my nervous system! Oh yeah, the Phoenix Temple was cool, too, an underrated attraction judging by the reduced crowds here. (Keep in mind we get everywhere early in an attempt to beat the rush.) From there we travelled to Nara to the Todaiji Temple that houses the largest indoor bronze Buddha statue. Todaiji is quite impressive despite the undulating masses that pass through its massive South Gate. But for me, Nara is always remembered as the place where the deer attacked me. Deer, regarded as messengers of the gods, roam the streets freely in Nara. If you want to feed them, you can purchase crackers from any number of vendors. But, my god, once the deer see you with the crackers, you’d better run. They will _ you up. Strangely enough, after fleeing the deer we ran into a German Octoberfest in the middle of town, so of course we had to have a few beers. (It was hot and we knew Kyoto Beer lab was closed today.) Somehow we made it back out of Nara with my nethers intact, but not before considering going into an owl café before deciding that was just too sad to elicit that business.

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Attack him!

Day six – We got up early to hit my favorite place in all of Japan, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, trail of the thousand tori gates. In the quite of morning, this place is magical and words cannot convey what I feel when I am here. Near the top, which is nothing special really – you just come back down – there was a man playing Japanese flute and it sounded so beautiful. On our way out of the area, my wife began her hunt for authentic Japanese ceramic blue bowls. Meanwhile, I had more green tea ice cream. This would pretty much be it today as we were quite tired from running around the previous few days.

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It actually looks like this.

Day seven – Breakfast at a quaint little coffee shop in Kyoto called Murmur. French Toast with a dollop of vanilla ice cream with dripped-to-perfection coffee = heaven. Then onto the bullet train to Tokyo! where loud, obnoxious Indian tourists have no respect for local culture. At least the view of Mt. Fuji from the train was nice. We arrived in Shinjuku Station to even more mobs of people than we’d seen in Kyoto! We are they putting all these people? How is this many people even possible? Walking through Shinjuku Station is like being a human pinball. Somehow we made it to the Hyatt Regency which was decent enough, I suppose, though the staff is the standout there. After settling in, we navigated back through the train station to the touristy side of Shinjuku which reminded me why I hate Tokyo – it’s downright filthy while trying too hard to be chic. On a more positive note, Shinjuku does have Godzilla popping over a building and a Godzilla store. I did score some Godzilla underwear of all things but stopped short of buying the mask. Talk about regrets.

Day eight – Big day; first down to Kamakura south of Tokyo. We arrived in town and hit a bakery so we’d have something to nosh on as we trekked across town to a bamboo forest. At the temple near the train station, we sat down to eat some of our food when we see a hawk circling overhead. We’re sitting under a tree and don’t think anything of it. Then – I kid you not – my wife is handing a pretzel in a bag back to me when something slaps my ear, I hear a crunch, and next thing I see is the hawk flying away with our food! Up, up, and away. “Did that hawk just steal our food?” I blinked. I’ve been around four decades and nothing like this has ever happened to me; I was floored! Good thing it didn’t take anyone’s fingers off with its talons, if we’re being positive. (Even though we had been here before, we just now learned about Kamakura’s thieving hawks.) Flabbergasted, we walked almost two miles across this German-influenced town to a bamboo forest that hosts a tea house serving the best matcha green tea I’ve ever had (I’m saying that a lot, aren’t I?) thus turning the morning around. We made our way to the Great Buddha after that which – surprise! – was mobbed with tourists and school children. Don’t these kids go to school, ever?! We must have been here before Japan blew up as a tourist destination because you couldn’t just sit and enjoy the statue’s stature. I have to admit, this was my second favorite place I wanted to go and was sorely disappointed. Dejected, we left the temple but found a kebob place nearby, a hole in the wall really, that served the best kabobs…ever. And by an authentic Turkish man who was super polite. On our way back to Shinjuku, we aimed for an area of Tokyo known as Odaiba, a fledgling Disneyland of sorts. We found it to be a surprisingly large area, making the time we had left before the attractions closed scarce. We were able to see the Museum of Emerging Technology and caught a glimpse of the famous robot Asimov in action. While the giant Gundam was cool, too, the Statue of Liberty here felt out of place and we just didn’t have time for the ferris wheel. Just as well because it started to mother-of-god pour. Figures, too, as it was the one day we left our hotel without an umbrella, not that you’re ever very far from an umbrella in Japan; they’re weird that way…

Day nine – We didn’t get up much in the morning; just a jaunt over to Harajuku in the morning where the local kids weren’t in their usually Cosplay getups, presumably because it was too early. We did go to one of Tokyo’s popular cat cafes which proved to be nerve-wracking – the cats seemed pretty stressed out, probably because the employees give you a strict laundry list of rules to follow. Somehow I felt stressed for the buggers. The coffee? Predictably terrible so we went to another café, some vegan place that is quite the novelty in Japan. You see, the Japanese really love to eat meat (and rice). You’d think given their general size they’d eat more veggies but veggies are actually scarce in restaurants in Japan. Why, I do not know. Without Harajuku popping we headed back to our hotel for some pool time before getting ready for the big concert – Ludovico Einaudi – the whole reason my wife planned this trip. While the symphony hall itself was beautiful and the acoustics marvelous, Einaudi’s piano music just doesn’t translate into the arena rock type of show he tried to pull off. I hate to say it, but the guy’s music is better heard than seen. We finished the night spending entirely too much for small portions at the hotel’s restaurant while seated next to a table of very jubilant teenagers having a birthday party. Sigh.

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Follow the rules!

Day ten – The trip home. We stocked up on food in Shinjuku station seeing how our twenty hour trip home would take a train, a bullet train, another train, a shuttle tram, a plane, another plane, and a shuttle ride home. Our cats may have been happy to see us when we arrived, until they sensed we’d been somewhere and cheated on them. Within two minutes they no longer cared. We longed to back in Japan already.

Some General Things I Noticed in Japan

1-They love steep stairs. Or very short, wide stairs. Or a strange combination of the two. They like stairs. Keeps ‘em fit.

2-Not as polite as I recall. Shop owners are, but the public in general, not so much. Given the influx and behavior of some tourists, I can’t say I blame them.

3-They like %$#&@ hot water. I’d forgotten but the blisters reminded me.

4-They love Cosplay, just not in the morning.

5-Their infrastructure can be interesting; they’ll build sidewalks upon sidewalks that have crumbled instead of repairing the whole thing. This reminded me of being in the army where we would just paint over anything sufficiently dirty.

6-They don’t mind capitalism inside their shrines.

7-Kyoto’s citizens dress very conservatively compared to Tokyo’s residents. Kyoto is the more modest of the two by far.

8-Indian tourists are the rudest tourists in Japan, that or we were just lucky.

9-Maybe my most fun experience in Kyoto was in Gion when I was interviewed by a schoolgirl wanting to practice English. None of the school kids claimed to know where Hawaii was, which lines up with Japan’s dark, secret underbelly. But I humored her when she asked what I like about Japan; let’s see, shrines, anime, and Godzilla. This gave her a good laugh. My wife was interviewed, too, and their teacher gave us gifts. Super cool Japanese!

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All Rights Reserved (c) August 2018 John J Vinacci