Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

My Social Distancing hr629

I’m not good at being with people by nature. I always like to being alone and stay inside my room. Basically, any contact with others is uncomfortable. Not to mention phone calls, public places are dreadful for me unless they are near empty with few people. I hate to have a person standing right behind me at the checkout counter in a supermarket. Whenever I take a train, I search for a car that has the least passengers. My so-called ‘body bubble’ seems excessively large. I often almost utter a scream when a person bumps into or even slightly brushes me. Needless to say, chattering with others is excruciating. My apartment building has a communal spa for the residents and I use it everyday. The residents are inevitably acquainted with each other and small talk between them is rampant in the spa. I’m often caught up in it and desperately try to find closure of the conversation by sweating all over. To avoid an ordeal, I’m usually careful not to share time together with familiar residents as much as possible. When I see them, I practically run away. My partner calls me a robot because of my behavior.

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The time of recent social distancing shouldn’t bother a person like me. Social distancing has been already my thing for a long time. At least I had believed so. I had thought it wouldn’t hurt a natural ‘social-distancer’ as myself. But I found I was wrong.
One of my favorite Japanese comedians from my childhood was infected with Corona virus and was killed by it in a matter of days. Until just recently, he had appeared on various TV shows and his funny face had been the norm for TV. The daily TV time in a Japanese living room has changed suddenly, completely. He was a nationally popular comedian who earned the monstrous TV rating. When I was a child, my family gathered in front of TV for his show at 8 p.m. every Saturday and laughed so hard together. Kids at school would talk about the show next Monday and laugh again together. When I was in my early teens, I danced his signature gig called ‘Mustache Dance’ so frantically in the dining room that my foot slipped and I fell hitting my face on the dining table. Those memories made me feel as if part of me was lost with him by his death.
Among my familiar residents in my apartment building are a mother and her daughter. They are athletes and rough, thudding around restlessly and talking loudly in a vulgar tongue all the time. I heard that they were moving out soon. Since I was bothered with their noisy manner and pushy conversations toward me at the communal spa, I felt relieved that I could reclaim the quiet bath time. One evening during the days I had waited for them to move out, I saw them at the spa. They left for the locker room while I was still in the bath and I intentionally took time in there to avoid meeting them at the locker room, as usual. After giving them enough time to clothe and go home, I stepped out to the locker room, assuming they were already gone. On the contrary, they were still there, standing side by side courteously toward me. They had been waiting for me. The mother told me that they were moving out tomorrow and this would be the last time to see each other. She said politely, “Thank you so much for all these years. You helped us in various ways.”
I had known them since I moved in nine years ago. The daughter was still a small child back then, who was running and shrieking around the locker room. She is to be a freshman in high school this spring. She occasionally talked to me about her school days or her passion for skiing. The mother once broke her foot at her workplace and she had been on crutches in the spa. I got out of the tub to open and hold the door to the locker room for her every time until she stopped limping. When we were late together at the locker room that went black after the spa’s closing time, we would clothe together under the light of my pocket LED lamp. Those memories flooded back to me all of a sudden at the last time I saw them although I had thought it would evoke nothing as I had been looking forward to getting rid of them. While I was looking at the daughter’s liquid eyes that were staring straight at me, I was overwhelmed by inexplicable sadness and my eyes began to be filled with tears in spite of myself. I clumsily said goodbye and returned to my apartment. A robot couldn’t say goodbye well.

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A Fear of Aging hr619

Before pains from my fall at the communal spa have gone completely, I accidentally got my foot caught in the heavy sauna door the other day. I felt an electric shock in my foot that was swelling in an instant. The pain was so severe that I could hardly breathe. I dreaded to think that I had a broken bone. While thankfully it didn’t seem broken, I bruised again, the arch and both sides of my right foot this time. I have been living in pain so far, putting poultices on my foot and walking in large shoes with a loosened shoelace. What shocked me more than injuries was my recent careless behavior. I have seen myself become a blunderer and lose my edge. Simply, I felt old.
Between the two injuries, there was another happening. I got a pin that commemorated Disneyland’s 60th anniversary when I visited there a few years ago. The limited-edition pin was sparkling and super cool. I loved it so much that I hadn’t worn it because I couldn’t imagine how devastated it might be if I dropped and lost it. I had displayed it on the shelf for years but one day, I summoned courage and put it on my sweater when I went out.
As I had thought, my courage had worn out by the time I headed home. I just couldn’t bear the fear of dropping it any longer. I took it off and put it in my bag. A couple of days later, I noticed it was missing. I knew I had been a little drunk when I put it in my bag, but I couldn’t remember exactly where I put it. I rummaged the entire bag through pockets and pouches but it disappeared. I haven’t seen it since.

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It has lingered on my chest and I’ve launched a closet-wide search once in a while with no luck. Similar to the two accidents in the spa, my behavior shocked me more than a loss of the pin. I was upset over my mess incurred by a woeful lack of attention and my wretched state of concentration. I feared that my brain activity has begun to deteriorate.
I confided my fear to my partner. While I conceded that I had become old, he dismissed it easily. According to him, I had been like this since he first met me in my teens. Because he has seen my blunders so many, such as slipping on the wet sidewalk and opening the KFC’s automatic doors by doing ‘Home Alone’ which startled the salesperson, or, tripping on one of the stairs and rolling all the way down to the platform of a train station, he thinks my mess is better than in my twenties. He said that I was much more careless, messier and older in my youth than now.
His comment reminded me of a box of my scarves that I lost about six years ago. It was a cardboard box in which I stowed all my scarves that I had gotten through sales and outlets. The treasure box for me was kept in my closet. But one day, I found it missing. I had searched for years all around my apartment but couldn’t find it. The box was too big to be obscured by other stuff or to just disappear. I had developed numerous theories about the mystery during those years, for example, a thief exclusively for scarves took it, or my partner hid it out of spite, or it was sucked into a black hole of my apartment and gone to the galaxy far, far away. And then, it came out very unexpectedly, very casually. When I straightened up the closet, I put a label to each box. I mislabeled one box that was for scarves. All the while of my vigorous search, it had sit right in front of my eyes with a false label on it.
Like my scarves, I hope that my pin also appears out of somewhere, someday. It might as well though, I would have really grown dim by then and forgotten about that I had it and lost it to begin with…

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A Breakthrough hr616

The day arrived unexpectedly that the spell under which I had been for a long time was finally broken.

Because my mother had nurtured excessive self-consciousness in me since my childhood, I had cared about how I look, how I behave, and what others think of me more than enough. I would be drenched in sweat from chatting casually with others as a thought I should look my best tenses me up abnormally. I’m now aware that this nature of mine was the culprit that cornered me with pursuit of fame and wealth although I became a singer-songwriter purely from love for music in the beginning.
On that particular day, I got in the communal spa of my apartment building as usual.It was an evening bath time for the regular residents and quite a few people were taking a bath there. Among them was this woman who had moved in about two years ago. My bath time coincides with hers every day and hostility toward her had gradually grown inside me. She is thin and beautiful, a little younger than I am. She is always posturing and self-assured. For some reason, she imitates almost everything I do in the spa, from the way of taking a bath to bath tools she brings in. Whatever she does gets on my nerves, such as her way of walking, washing, and talking. She practices beauty exercises in the Jacuzzi, and does the facial treatment in the hot tub. Those routines of hers irritate me immensely when they happen to come into my sight. Since I don’t figure out why I dislike her so much, I asked my partner one day. According to his analysis, it’s because she is the one I want to become but I know I can’t become. It sums up all envy. That explains it indeed.

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It’s common that people don’t wear a swimsuit at a spa in Japan. This communal spa also adopts the Japanese practice, and the hot tubs, the Jacuzzi and the sauna must be taken all naked. I’m not thin nor beautiful, and I know it’s no competition between that woman and me. Nevertheless, I hold my breath and squeeze in my chubby belly as much as possible spontaneously whenever I pass her by. It’s so silly of me to try to look better, even in vain, but I can’t help it.

And the thing happened. I was taking the Jacuzzi when she stepped in and joined me. I stepped out right away because avoiding her was my usual habit not to let her see my unshapely body. I was squeezing my belly and walking beside her on the stone floor toward my shower booth hurriedly because I was inside her sight. Then, right in front of her eyes, my foot slipped and I saw in slow motion my body flying in the air like in ‘Home Alone’. I landed on the stone surface with my buttocks and my left hand.
Before a scare or pain, it was embarrassment that came first. I stood up immediately as if the fall had been part of some sequence of motion. Although other users were all washing their body in the shower booth, the only one that was in the tub and witnessed what I did was, of all people, the woman whom I didn’t want to let see most. She jumped out of the tub worrying, and kindly asked me, “Are you all right?”. Oddly enough, my instant reply was, “I’m OK. I do this all the time!” although I had never fallen there before. Even in the case like this, I still tried to make face by fabricating an accident into my custom. I laughed and shrugged off, and walked back to my shower booth.

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I noticed pain. But it was nothing compared to the massive amount of embarrassment that overwhelmed me. I couldn’t believe it really happened, nor could I imagine myself being any clumsier. I Home-Aloned naked before the cool woman whom I had regarded as a rival by flattering myself but in reality who had been way out of my league. I was literally stunned with an extremity of embarrassment. I sincerely wished to make time rewind. I sat in a hot tub dazed in shock and the woman joined in again. My mouth uttered weird words one more time, “I’m sorry my fall disturbed you. It’s a usual thing to me, but surprises others.” I was persistent to keep up appearances. She replied, “Oh, it’s all right, only if you didn’t get hurt.”
Back in my apartment, pain assaulted earnestly in my hand and buttocks. The palm of my left hand already turned purple and swelled. I dreaded to think about broken bones. But the embarrassment appalled me even more. I felt sick to my stomach with my outrageous self-consciousness. I wondered why I couldn’t admit I did the folly.
I’ve been clumsy all my life. I’ve been a comic who makes a blunder all the time. No matter how hard I pretend to be cool, it has never worked. I should have stopped denying that long before. The fall ordered me to accept it already. I felt as if I had looked at myself in the mirror for the first time in my life. The reflection of myself disappointed me but somehow relieved my burden. I came out of the illusion that pretending can change who I am. I’ve felt easy on my shoulders since the fall, walking around as my true self…

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An Earthly Paradise hr596

When I lived in California, the apartment I rented had an outside Jacuzzi. I liked taking it at night, seeing the sky above. Under the palm trees, I watched an airplane’s small dot of light blinking and moving through the stars. It was the moment that I felt like a winner who obtained a life in paradise by getting out of not only Japan but also my family to which I had been a bound successor. Prices in the U.S. were extremely low compared to Japan back then because of the strong yen. It seemed to me that everything was on sale and I literally lived in a bargain country. Sadly, my life in paradise didn’t last long, though. The Japanese economy crashed and yen turned weak. Inflation had edged up in the States as well. Price hikes assaulted me in all directions. I became unable to pay the rent even if I had moved into a cheap motel. I was practically kicked out of the States and the plane brought bitterly-discouraged myself back to Japan where I returned to a life of reality in a teeny-tiny apartment. Time went by, and I had benefited from technological advances like the Internet and computers, and also from the fall of housing value in Japan. Those benefits let me live in a condominium that has a communal spa. I take a Jacuzzi there watching a beautiful view of the mountains with lingering snow out of big windows. One day, I felt so euphoric that I thought this wasn’t real. I thought I may have already died from that northern Japan’s severe earthquake or from the subsequent meltdown of the nuclear plant, and must be in heaven now. That reminded me of the sensation I had felt in a Jacuzzi in California. I had never expected that I would experience an equally enraptured life here in Japan when I parted with it there. If I traveled back in time with a time machine, I could talk to my other self who was in despair on the flight to Japan from the States. I would say to her, “Years from now, you will get another chance to live in paradise!” I would tell her that she wouldn’t give up music and would have completed two songs back in Japan that had quality she had been craved for and entirely satisfied with. How easier the flight would’ve been if I had heard those words there. I was too hopeless to imagine so much as a speck of the possibility. I always find myself foolish in hindsight whenever I look back later. There are tons of things I have to say to my past self beforehand. The question is, what would my future self tell me now if she looked at me taking the Jacuzzi here. Would she say, “Embrace the moment. It’s the pinnacle of your life”? Or would she say, “Prepare yourself. It’s just the beginning”? I desperately hope for the latter…

 

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A Routine Thief hr593

I’m particular about almost anything. That’s why my daily routine is inevitably quite precise, especially for details in it. My routine includes taking a bath at the communal spa and exercising at the communal gym both located inside my apartment complex for the residents. One night, I found an unfamiliar woman in the Jacuzzi of the spa. This Jacuzzi has eight spots to sit inside and I have my particular spot I usually sit in. The spot isn’t popular, as other residents prefer different ones. But this woman was sitting right in my spot, which made me move to the other. The spa has a sauna that stops being operated early in the evening. I take it after its operating hour in the late evening as a low-temperature sauna since heat remains. No residents use it that way and I can monopolize it. One night, I found the same woman in the sauna, using it as a low-temperature sauna like I do. My days of a sauna monopoly are over. I’ve seen her more and more and it seemed she is a new resident in this apartment complex. I bring a big hook to the spa and put it on the wall of the shower booth to hang my bag of amenities from it. No other residents do something like that as they put their amenities on the booth floor directly. And one night, I noticed that new woman began to use a big hook on the wall of her booth. Now I was convinced it was no coincidence. She apparently imitates me. There are four tubs in total in the spa with different water temperatures and different tub sizes. I take every one of them. Other residents don’t take all, just taking a couple according to their liking. One night, the mimic woman began to take all tubs like I do. I exercise inside the hot tub while I’m submerged in the bath water, which no other residents do. And one night, the mimic woman even started exercising in the hot tub just as I always do. I sometimes have a chat with other residents when we share the locker room. And as she has become familiar to them, she also began to have a chat with them intimately and impudently while I still talk to them modestly. Before taking a bath, I exercise at the gym next to the spa, which is also one of my daily routines. The other night, I went in the gym as usual and, look, who was there, the mimic woman! She has started exercising at the gym and then begun to bring her husband there. They had used different machines beside me for several days, but her husband began to use the exercise bike I regularly use. Above all, she imitates my own timetable so that I see her every day, everywhere, doing exactly what I do. My spa and gym time was completely copied by her. Usually, it’s nice to find a person who has a lot in common with me. I would like that person and sometimes build a friendly relationship. In that respect, I should be pleased that I’ve got a new neighbor resident whose liking is the same as mine and with whom I have so much in common. The strange thing is, it’s not the case this time at all. This particular woman really annoys me for some reason. While I realize it sounds totally irrational, I dislike her so much. Every bit of what she’s doing irritates me and disgusts me. Her any behavior, the way of her talking, and even the tone of her voice get on my nerves. As I was curious what makes me loathe her, I studied her closely. She’s thin, pretty, and a showboat. She always has to be the center of attention. I’m jealous of her looks – that’s a given. And I’m indignant because she grabbed my routine that I took years to establish. But except for that, nothing is wrong with her. She’s just too much like me. I may be looking at myself through her. Now I see how I look to others. Does it mean I hate myself? Do others look at me as a loathsome person like her? I feel like they do. I can’t stand to look at my lousy behavior through her any more. Not to see her do my things, I had no choice but to change and reconstruct my routine schedule entirely…

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