Friday, June 26, 2009

what am i, an asshole magnet?

Today is a really yucky day. Hazy, humid and gross - but not raining. So I brought the kids to the playground before going grocery shopping.

Brandon likes the "giant playground", but it's designed for older kids. He's able to manage it, but Jackson needs a LOT of help with it. I mean I literally have to climb with him and hold his hand. So naturally I prefer to go to the "small playground" nearby - designed for little kids, nothing too difficult for Jackson to manage, no gaps big enough for him to fall through, etc. Brandon really does love the Giant Playground, though, so I promised we could go there for a few minutes if we went to the Small Playground first.

Jack had never worn Crocs to the playground before - he usually wears his Robeez knockoffs, which are more comfortable for him, and harder for him to pull off, but also a lot more slippery when trying to, say, climb a slide. So consequently, he managed to climb up the slide all by himself for the first time. And naturally, he wanted to keep on doing it over and over again, with varying levels of success.

When it was time to move on to the Giant Playground, I was hoping Brandon would have forgotten and we could go straight to the grocery store - there were some much bigger kids there and I'm never comfortable when Brandon is playing in the same space as much older children. No such luck, though, he insisted, and I had promised, so off we went. Brandon hooked up immediately with a kid around his age, and I set to following Jackson around.

After a couple of minutes, we were joined by a kid who was around the same size as Jack, but judging by his speech and motor skills, was probably around 2. When I say that he joined us, I mean that he was following Jack around like a shadow, practically touching him, getting in between me and Jack and making it very difficult for me to stay close enough to keep him safe. He followed us down the slide, and then when Jack inevitably started trying to climb back up the slide, well, he followed along with that, too.

This was the big kid playground, though, and the slide was coincidingly bigger. Jack isn't that good at climbing slides yet - not even the small ones. I don't think it's ever a good idea for more than one child to climb a slide at the same time, even when they're both very good at it - but for someone else's child to be following my rank amateur? Incredibly unsafe.

So I turned to the little boy and said, "please don't get so close. If he falls, you'll get hurt." I turned back to Jackson and put my hand under his bottom to give him a boost and help to keep him from falling. Next thing I knew, the other boy was even closer to Jackson, and had his hand on Jack, too. I gently moved his hand and said, "no, please don't" - in the gentlest, politest way you could ever imagine. I was about to ask him where his mother was - because, honestly, this was getting ridiculous - when I heard a voice shout, "Excuse me, don't talk to my child that way!" Mother of the Year had apparently looked up from her engrossing chickenhead conversation on the side of the playground and was rushing towards me.

I was honestly confused, and trying to figure out whether I had done or said anything out of line, so I didn't say any of the things that this woman deserved to hear. I took the apologetic, confused approach - because that's honestly how I was feeling at that moment. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to come across that way, I just didn't want him to get hurt." This was 100% true.

"I think he just wants to play!" (She thinks. See, if she had been paying attention, she'd know that this was true. It was.)

"I understand that, but he [meaning Jack] is a lot younger than he looks and he falls down a lot. I didn't want him [the tag-along shadow child] to get hurt."

Not a word about how her child was creating an unsafe situation, not only for himself, but for MY child. Not a word about how he had been touching Jack. Not a word about how, if she had been paying attention to her toddler, she would have heard the first thing I said to him and realized that I was trying to keep him from getting hurt. (Because heaven knows that if Jack had fallen, and her child had gotten kicked square in the nose - which is what would have happened - then she would have held me personally responsible, because after all, I was right there.

Nope, not a word about any of that. I apologized again for coming across the wrong way, stated again that I just didn't want him to get hurt, then found Brandon and left. Between the irresponsible, quick-to-blame-others mother and the older boy who was repeatedly shouting, "I'm older, bigger and faster than you!" at the younger kids - I just didn't want to be there, and I didn't want my kids in that situation, either.

The thing that makes me a bit of an odd parent, I guess, is that when Brandon protested leaving, I sat him down on the back of the sit'n'stand and explained to him exactly why we were leaving. I never feel the need to dumb things down for him. "The big kids were playing too rough, and there was a mean mommy who wasn't watching her kid and who yelled at me when I tried to help him. We don't play with people like that." The really messed up thing is that I think he understood, because he stopped complaining.

Friday, June 19, 2009

it's the inability to boycott that really got me

I just had an incident at the Navy Exchange. Again.

I wasn't planning on going. I was just going to go grocery shopping at the Commissary. But by the time we all got out the door, it was 11am and time for lunch. So we had pizza at the food court. And then I thought, hey, why don't I pop into the NEX real quick and pick up some new floaties? We haven't been to the pool yet but I want to go, and we don't have any floaties anymore, we didn't bring them with us when we moved. So we popped in and I found a couple and I looked for an open register.

I got in a line with two people in front of me. When it was my turn, I put my items down on the counter, and the cashier held up her hand and said, "I'm closed."


If you're closing, you tell the people getting in line, "don't get in this line, I'm closing after this person." I've never been a cashier but I've certainly been shopping enough to know how things work. "You can move over to the next register," she said. So I picked up my floaties and walked over to the next register...where she was already ringing up somebody else!

"Excuse me, I was next." I was a little surprised at my vehemence and my apparent inability to conceal my annoyance. I'm usually much better able to retain control and, at the very least, a sugary-sweet, obviously fake, kill-them-with-kindness veneer of polite behavior. But this came out a little louder, and a lot more annoyed, than I usually allow from myself in public.

"He's been waiting a long time." Apparently the customer she was helping at the other register had been a few people in front of me in line, and had been waiting for a price check on a pair of pants. (I did not find this out until later.) And that's why she had moved over to the other register, the one I had waited on line at - to help a few people while she waited for the price check. Or something like that. I don't really know, apparently she didn't feel it was necessary to explain what was going on, other than, "I'm closed, move over to the other register" - in other words, get on the end of the line. Again.

I was not about to do that.

I left.

I was halfway to the Commissary (Brandon crying for the floaties, of course) before I thought the better of it and turned around. I told the employee checking ID's at the front door that I had to speak with a manager. While I was explaining the situation to the employee, the customer who was stupid enough to try to buy a pair of pants with no price tag came out and started yelling at me. As if I was complaining about him, as if it had anything at all to do with him. It didn't. As I explained to him, and the employee at the door, and then the manager - if you're only going to take two customers at a certain register, don't let the third person get in line. May I add, there wasn't anybody else waiting at the other (presumably original) register when my turn came up. (Because there wasn't a cashier there!) She could have taken the priceless pants guy ahead of me, at the register where I was standing, and then rang me up. But she didn't. She told me to get on the end of the line that had now formed behind jackass pants man within a matter of seconds. (Because it was lunch time and there were maybe two registers open.)

Pants Man's parting shot, "She did her job."

I beg to differ.

The manager asked where my merchandise was; he offered to ring it up himself. I said, "no, I'll come back later when different cashiers are working." (Accepting would have severely diminished the effect of my having stormed off, don't you think?) What I should have said was, "Yeah, right. All I was buying was pool floaties - I can get better ones, and cheaper, off base at Livin or Home's." Curse my slow-reacting brain.

I told him that I didn't know if it was a language thing, or a culture thing, but I've been to enough stores to know that when a cashier is closing a register, they tell the customers that they're closing and not to get in that line. (Or at the very least, they say, "This man has been waiting for a price check, so I'm going to take him before you, okay?") They don't wait until you have your stuff on the counter, then hold their hand up and say, "I'm closed." Then walk away. At least f&*@ing explain what's going on, for f*&*'s sake!! Am I that unimportant that I'm not even worth an explanation? If she had bothered to explain what was going on, I wouldn't have flown off the handle the way I did. I really think that's what bothers, and bothered, me the most - the utter lack of regard. I complained to one the Commissaries in Hawaii for the same attitude once: the idea that "Customer Service" means taking care of this customer, right here, just the one right in front of me, and to hell with the rest of them.

I was so shaken up that I went to the Commissary and bought all of the ingredients for the slow-cooker turkey chili I want to make...except for the ground turkey. Curses. And then when I was standing in front of the cans of beans, dumbfounded because there were four brands of dark red kidney beans but no black beans (turns out they were in a different section, goodness only knows why), I suddenly thought to myself, "I want to go home." And I started to cry.

It isn't the "otherness" of living in a forgein country. It isn't the language barrier or the inter-cultural misunderstandings. That stuff is fine, honestly. It's being tethered to this base, to this one grocery store and this one department store, with no other options. Oh, sure, I can go shopping off base - but if I want American-sized besheets? Strawberry-banana Juicy Juice? Hormel turkey pepperoni? Special K Chocolatey Delight? I have to get it on base. And if they don't have it...which they don't...well then I'm screwed. So we have plain white sheets, because the selection is nonexistant (you'd think that, knowing they're the only place in the whole damn country where you can get American sized bedding, they'd make even an infinitessmal effort); Jack doesn't get his favorite juice, Brandon doesn't get his favorite snack, and I don't get my favorite cereal.

In Hawaii, if the first Exchange or Commissary didn't have what I needed, there were any number of different stores I could go to. Stores on different bases. Civilian grocery stores and department stores. Malls. Drug stores. Even the evil Pearl Harbor Commissary that made me have panic attacks the minute I walked in. But here? There are no other options. There's no ability to say, "screw you, I'm not coming here anymore." There's no boycotting. They have you by the balls. And they know it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

the answer: round 4

Somebody finally got one! Congratulations Kerri! Yup, it's grape jello. Think drinkable yogurt, except it's drinkable jello. If I'm remembering right, it had little bits of solid jello in it too. (As usual, Brian was the one who drank it. He's much more adventurous than I am.)

Kerri, I was going to buy a prize for you at the 100 yen store today, but I forgot. :( I'll remember next time.

So, folks, that's what you get when you guess right: some kind of random inexpensive Japanese merchandise. Sent parcel post through the FPO system. If that isn't an incentive to participate, I don't know what is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

what's in that can? round 4

When you look closely at this picture, you'll probably think the same thing Brian did when he saw it in a vending machine at the train station in Yokohama: "Wait, is that...? No, no, it COULDN'T be!". It is. Really.

Friday, June 12, 2009

short thought, but too long for twitter

We got our driver's licenses today. Just because. We don't plan on
getting a car here in Japan - we really don't need to.

Brian: "This is the first time I've gotten a purely hypothetical
qualification - like, you COULD do this - but I'm not going to."

Me: "Oh, I have lots of those. This is number 3, at least."

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, June 5, 2009

cross-cultural conundrum

Situation: you live in a country where tipping is considered rude. You live on a US Military installation. You bring your child to the salon on base to get a haircut. The girl who cuts his hair does a truly excellent job, but she is a resident of the host country - where, remember, tipping is considered rude. Do you leave a tip? If so, how much; and do you leave dollars or the host country's currency? The haircut cost $10.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

an ode to my iPhone

Brian and I had a small disagreement as to whether or not I will bring my iPhone with me when we fly back to Philly next month for his brother's wedding. On the one hand, if I accidentally take it out of airplane mode and it starts transferring data over 3G instead of wifi, then we get slammed with international roaming rates.

On the other hand, it's so much more than just a phone, or even just a Facebook-and-Twitter device. It's a camera. It's an iPod (although I admittedly don't use it as one.) It's a calendar, a to-do-list, an address book, a calculator and an email checker. It tells me the weather and what time it is and what time it feels like (when I'm jetlagged). I use it for my shopping list, to check my bank account, and to track packages, calories and, uh, cycles. It's a digital book reader, an alarm clock and a photo album. I plan on getting an app to keep track of my knitting. I use it to play Solitaire, Minesweeper, BubbleWrap, and a number of different music games and quizzes that Brian downloaded when he bought his iPod Touch yesterday. (Still have to get Bejeweled!) It translates English into Japanese kanji and finds Japanese train routes; and it converts meters to feet and yen to dollars. (Although of course I won't have to do those last four in Philadelphia!) In short, it does EVERYTHING. I've had it a month and honestly don't think I could live without it. I've become completely dependent on the computer in my pocket.

"Look," I said, "all I have to do is put it in Airplane mode, then turn wifi back on."

"But what if you mess up?"

"I won't." I can't. I need this darn thing.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

the answer: round 3

This one was kind of tough because it was unclear what was actually in the cup. It's a clear cup with a red/dark pink label on it, so it's three separate layers, dark brown, light brown, and whitish.

Keith had the closest guess with coffee pudding. It's actually coffee gelatin. Now I don't mean some super sweet coffee-flavored jello - I mean black coffee with a gelatinizing agent added. Then a layer of gelatinous coffee with milk, then a layer of very sweet, vaguely caramel-flavored whipped cream, then caramel and nuts. There seem to be a lot of gelatinous desserts in Japan. I would almost say that they seem to prefer gelatinous over creamy, except that there's ice cream EVERYWHERE. (They call it "soft cream".)

On a related note:

Not really sure what a Coffee Jelly Frappuccino is. I guess I'll find out tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2009

so. that's 8 years.

So, today is my Blogoversary. I don't have anything special planned; for a while I had entertained the idea of revamping my design to commemorate the occasion, but let's face it, I haven't exactly had all the time in the world lately. I did change my tagline the other day, though.

You know how when you get to a certain age, birthdays don't really mean that much anymore? I'm starting to get to that point with blogging. I've been doing it for so long that the Blogoversary doesn't seem like such a big deal anymore. Maybe it's just that I have so much going on right now in the real world. But really, it's just such a part of my life that it's completely second nature to me; I hardly even notice that I'm doing it.

In other news, I would really like to post the answer to round 3 of "What's in that Can?" but I'm waiting to get more than one guess. (Thank you, Tara.) I KNOW people are visiting, but it seems I've got a bunch of lurkers. Even when I post content specifically designed to be interactive - nothing. Come on, people! What's the fun with no wacky guesses? Be creative! De-lurk!