I don’t understand Japanese culture.

The Japanese don’t do candy the way we do candy.

Tucked away in the box of chocolate lacaba sent me for my birthday was a box of Japanese candy called “Botan Rice.” Imagine, if you will, something vaguely like a gumdrop, only cube-shaped. Seems simple enough, right? Oh, no, no, no.

First, there’s the packaging:

The box features a strange roly-poly man in vaguely Aztec garb holding…um, I’m not rally sure what he’s holding. It’s a handle of some sort, with a bunch of balls stuck on top, and he’s holding it in a way that suggests perhaps it’s used to bash somebody’s head in or something. (American culture is a lot more violent than Japanese culture, but as with many things, the Japanese seem to be better at it; they actually study this stuff, formally, with the result that any Japanese citizen over the age of two can singlehandedly kick the asses of an entire Montana militia group. But I digress.)

In any event, the strange man on the box is supposed, I guess, to tempt you with the sugary delights inside, or perhaps to suggest that he’ll kick your ass with whatever it is he’s holding if you don’t buy the candy. Assuming that the ploy works, you find yourself with a box slightly smaller than the boxes of gumdrops they sell at theatres, which promises “Free children’s sticker inside.”

Now that is actually a pretty effective gimmick. I know when I was a child, I could never resist the promise of a free surprise. I would spend hours in the cereal isle of the grocery store, agonizing over what to get (‘Cap’n Crunch tastes the best, but this box of Boo Berries has a glow in the dark whistle inside, and you can’t get enough of THAT for my entertainment dollar!’), so if Japanese kids are anything like American kids, the best way to get them to buy your product is good old-fashioned bribery. Hell, I would have bought laundry detergent if they put a glow-in-the-dark whistles inside…but again, I digress.

Once you open the box, things start getting stranger. The Japanese, with their legendary attention to engineering detail, have solved the most vexing of all gumdrop-like-candy problems: the tendency of the candy to stick together in a gooey, gelatinous mass that sides in one lump out of the box and onto your lap. No embarassing candy incidents here; each candy is individually wrapped in cellpohane, probably in the state-of-the-art robotic factory where multimillion-dollar robot arms carefully pick up each candy in a choreographed ballet of Japanese engineering supremicy and wrap each one before carefully slipping it in the box.

Take off the cellophane wrapper, shown on the right in the photo above, and you’re greeted with something like what’s on the left–yet a SECOND layer of wrapper. The second wrapper looks like cellophane, feels like cellophane, but here’s the trick–it’s edible cellophane! You’re supposed to eat it without taking off the second wrapper.

Doing this is a bit like what you’d expect if you, say, bit into a caramel square without unwrapping it first–but only for a second. Then the inner wrapper simply disappears, without a trace, and it’s all smooth sailing.

The candy itself is a bit of a surprise as well. You see, it’s not injected with flourescent Da-Glo dyes. Now, every citizen of th Western world knows that gumdrop-like candy is supposed to be injected with flourescent Da-Glo dyes, so you can tell what it is you’re eating before you eat it–the yellow ones taste like lemons, the red ones taste like children’s cough syrup, the green ones taste green, and so on.

The Japanese have dispensed with the Da-Glo dyes, preferring instead to let the candy speak for itself.

And it does. It’s really, really good. I mean really good. American candy makers should send their engineering teams to tour the Japanese factories, kind of like the American automotive engineers did in the late 70’s when we were still trying to figure out how to manufacture cars that didn’t magically turn into a pile of scrap metal the instant you lift the door latch. So good, in fact, that you could probably sell it to American kids without bribing them with free stickers.

Ah, yes, the sticker.

In America, the sticker would probably have a picture of a jet fighter or a corporate mascot like Barbie or Mickey Mouse on it. The sticker in my box of Botan Rice Candy had a picture of a strange, large-mouthed alien girl riding a skateboard…sideways.

Now, I’m no skateboarding expert, but I know you don’t ride skateboards that way. My sister rode a skateboard that way, once, when she was young, and she promptly broke her arm. So clearly, the alien girl on the sticker is either an amateur skateboarder, or has a reckless disregard for her own personal safety that borders on suicidal.

In the background of the sticker are three objects that represet either buildings or multicolored rectangles with smaller squares inside of them, I’m not quite sure which. If they’re buildings, there seems to be a perspective or size-relationship issue, as by my calculations, the girl would be…oh, about eighty feet tall or so. (Maybe that’s it. Maybe Skateboard Girl is one of those giant monsters that periodically comes along and flattens Tokyo….”Aaaah! Run! Hide! It’s SKATEBOARD GIRL!) I’m not quite sure what one would do with the sticker–put it on a skateboard? Use it to ward off giant city-destroying monsters?–but the candy is good.


I have chocolate!!!

lacaba sent me chocolate for my birthday, which is this Saturday. It is SO good…. 🙂

It’s been a long and exhausting week, and now that A. is back with her abusive hubby, suddenly I’m the bad guy. (Note to self: The next time a friend gets involved in an abusive relationship and asks for my help in getting out, say “no.” There’s no percentage in it.) So the chocolate was a welcome break.

Tomorrow Kelly is taking me out to a nice seafood restaurant, along with some friends, so I’m looking forward to that…

She had me fooled.

My wife kellyv called it right; I got it wrong.

She said A. would go back to her abusive husband. I had higher hopes than that; I sincerely believed that she had gotten away from him for good, and was willing to make the commitment to raising her child in an environment free from abuse.

Yes, I know this is the typical pattern of abuse, and yes, I know that battered wives rarely leave their abusive husbands for good. Still, I really thought she’d stay away from him.

But she went back, because, you see, this is what God wants.

I’ve always wondered about that. Why is it that all the really sick fucks–I mean, all the hardcore, twisted, violent sociopaths I’ve ever known–are religious? What is it about devout faith in God that attracts irrationally violent psychopaths like flies to honey?

I’m not saying that people who are religious are sick sociopaths; I’m saying that the sociopaths I’ve met tend to be religious, and to use religion to justify their mental illness. “God wants me to put a whuppin’ on my whore of a wife.” What the fuck?

I really do believe that in order to be truly evil–not merely wicked, but really evil, the kind of evil that thinks it’s OK to beat your wife or fly an airplane into a skyscraper–you almost HAVE to be religious.

Mere garden-variety wickedness is not wicked all the time, because the merely wicked are wicked for some kind of gain; if there is no gain, there is no motivation for wickedness.

But real, hardcore evil is irrational. It is evil at all times, regardless of the cost and regardless of the situation, because that flavor of evil is inspired by the motivation that believes itself to be good.

In any event, she’s gone. I already have a sick dread that I know how this is going to play out. Goddamnit, I’ve seen too many adults who were destroyed as children by abusive homes, and even if it’s too late for A. to escape the cycle of violence and abuse, I had hoped that having a child would make her want to try to save it.

And a fine evening to you, too!

, Angie, and I spent the Ides of March watching Jay and Silent Bob Strke Back (just for the record: Kevin Smith is one of the funniest human beings alive today) and chasing a Cuban tree frog around the kitchen.

Cuban tree frogs are one of the delightful little benefits of living in Florida. They’re green, they’re slimy, they stick to the wall, and they have a habit of jumping on you when they’re startled. Oh, and they’re poisonous.

It’s late. I’m going to bed.

The wedding

Gas fare to Pensacola: $60.
New air conditioner belt: $3.99.
Tools to install the air conditioner belt in the car in the parking lot of an auto parts store three-quarters of the way between Tampa and Pensacola: $30.
Per-night hotel rental in a fleabag motel, complete with fire-ant infestation: $49.95.
Attending a wedding presided over by a gay Catholic priest in which the bride spent the evening in the hospital the night before and one of the ushers had to be bailed out of jail for the occasion: Priceless.

Of Teachers and Dominatrixes

It was a long, but good, weekend. I saw A. on Friday; she successfully got away from her abusive husband and made it back to Florida in one piece. She stayed with us Friday night, which was a good thing, on the whole.

I took some pictures of her bruises and bite marks, so that if her husband tries to contest the divorce, she’ll have documentary evidence to support it.

Normally, I enjoy photographing her; she’s laways been one of my favorite models. But that was one of the most difficult and unpleasant things I’ve ever done with her.

Afterwards, we spent some time talking. She’s an inner-city middle-school teacher, with an interesting approach to maintaining order in her classrooms. She luses what she calls the “humiliation approach” to discipline.

Should a student forget his supplies, for example, she’ll make him walk up to her desk, where she keeps a bucket of crayons and a stack of the lined paper they use in kindergarten to teach handwriting, and that student will have to take notes in crayon on the handwriting paper. Or, if a student misbehaves, she’ll revoke the entire class’ privileges–a page borrowed from the book of US military boot camp.

Indeed, she was telling me the story of how she broke up a fight between two seventh-grade boys by telling them “You do not come to school so you can touch other boys!”–an effective strategy, given the psychology of most twelve-year-olds.

Who knew the skills necessary to be a middle-school teacher were the same as the skills that make a good dominatrix? The latter profession pays rather better, of course, but probably doesn’t have quite the same intangible rewards.